God, there has to be an easier way to make a living. Dave Parker was on his back in the loft of an old detached house in Surrey. The owner, who had recently been widowed, was having some work done on the house before she put it on the market.
The Private House Sale Act of 2007 compelled the vendor to indemnify the purchaser of a property in the event of any major work needing to be done in the two years immediately after the sale. It was possible to get insurance cover for this contingency, provided the property had been surveyed and subject to an approved contractor repairing any defects found. The company for whom Dave worked, Brown & Co, was such a contractor, and had been appointed to undertake the remedial work on the roof timbers.
All these old houses were the same. There was always a lifetime of accumulated junk stored in the loft. He had been forced to move much of it around in order to undertake the ultrasonic scans and he was sweating freely from his exertions. He was now wedged in the area close to the eaves, right where the roof trusses met the joists. There was hardly any room to move. Not only that; the loft had been insulated with fibreglass and it was already irritating his skin. The dust mask he was wearing merely exacerbated the sense of claustrophobia.
Still, at least the old biddy that owned the house was very pleasant. She would regularly make him coffee and there was always a plateful of biscuits too. He had got talking to her the day before and she had told him that she was selling up because the house was now far too big for her following the death of her husband. She was moving to a smaller, more manageable house, not too far from where her daughter and her son-in-law lived.
There was one last section of the joists to test. He would have to shift some wooden boxes to gain access. He was able to move the first box without any trouble but the second one seemed to be much heavier. He managed to drag it far enough along the boards to allow him to crawl behind it. It was quite dark in this area and he was obstructing what little light there was.
Fortunately he had a torch with him and he was able to attach the probe without too much difficulty. He began to ease himself out and then something caught his eye. He shone his torch at the object in question. A thick manila envelope, covered in dust, was resting on the fibreglass insulation. Maybe it had fallen from one of the wooden boxes that he had just moved. He wriggled over to it and picked it up planning to put it back.
"Dave," he heard her say, "I've made you a cup of coffee."
"Thank you, Mrs. Mayhew, I'll be right down." He slid back into the main area of the loft and putting down the envelope and his torch, he climbed down the loft ladder to the landing. She had left him a mug of freshly percolated coffee and a plate containing a generous helping of biscuits.
He carefully placed the mug on the plate and holding onto the ladder with his free hand, he returned to the loft. He had forgotten about the torch until he trod on it. He lost his balance and in his efforts to regain it, the mug of coffee slipped across the plate, discharging its contents as it did so. The plate was awash with coffee and sodden biscuits. Not only that, there was coffee on the floor too, and it was already permeating the envelope. He quickly picked it up and mopped at it with his handkerchief.
It was already soaked so he promptly removed the contents. There was a videocassette and a bundle of loose papers held together by an elastic band. The video was entitled, 'Majorcan Pleasures' and judging by the name, was one of those scenic videos that tourists used to buy as a souvenir of their holidays. The cassette was only slightly wet and he was able to wipe it dry with his handkerchief.
But it was not that simple with the papers; coffee had already begun to seep into the edges of some of them. Mopping at them would not make much difference. It made more sense to wave them about in the air and to try and dry them that way. So that was what he proceeded to do. And then a four-letter word caught his eye. He looked more closely at the top document.
The word only appeared once amidst the mass of close typed text that filled four fifths of the page, yet his eyes had somehow alighted on it. He read the sentence containing the word and then the paragraph containing the sentence. Then he read the whole page starting from the heading 'Chapter 1'.
He was intrigued and he carefully removed the elastic band from the bundle in order to read the next page. It was a continuation of the text, the figure two at the foot of the page confirming the fact. He thumbed through the other sheets. They were all consecutively numbered and he realised he was looking at the manuscript of a book.