Bob Kent closed the gate and mounted his bicycle, a smile on his face. His next port of call was the one he always looked forward to the most. He had been working since five o’clock that morning and fatigue was gnawing at him, even though the time was only approaching ten o’clock in the morning. One of the disadvantages of being a postman, he frequently thought, was the early starts, but this was balanced by normally being finished for the day around the time most people were contemplating lunch. Even so, it was tiring work cycling round his particular suburb of London, day in, day out, whatever the weather. Still today was Thursday, not long to the weekend. He was looking forward to a quiet time with the family.
He cycled up the road until he reached a discreet entrance to a rough track that served as the driveway to his destination. Carefully, he negotiated the winding lane up to the house; the uneven loose gravel made a treacherous surface for cyclists. The building had once been a stable block belonging to an adjacent farm and had fallen into disrepair. Then his old friend, Jack Conrad, had bought it and invested a considerable amount of time, effort, and money in converting it into an unusual and attractive cottage. Bob Kent always left any deliveries to Conrad’s house until last, as they often turned into social occasions. He and Conrad had been in the same class together at primary school, and had remained friends over the years, despite their respective lives moving in different directions.
Bob had been happy to leave school as soon as he could, marry his childhood sweetheart and settle into a regular, if unspectacular job delivering the mail. Conrad, it seemed to him, was forever chasing a dream. Whether it be in his career or with women or even his obsession with flying frighteningly small aircraft, he seemed always to be reaching for an experience that stayed tantalisingly out of reach. That’s what Bob thought anyway, preferring more certainty in his own life.
He dismounted and walked the final few steps to Conrad’s front door. He hoped his old friend was in today as he felt in the mood for a beer and a chat before knocking off for the day. Conrad had been away and it would be good to catch up. He knew that being a freelance journalist, Conrad was often to be found working at home and, if he timed it right, was likely to be in the mood for a break and a can or two of lager. Bob, for his part, often had to deliver packages of CD’s that were routinely sent to Conrad for review or reference. Today was one such day, and these packages were always heavy, so Bob felt a can of lager was just reward for his efforts.
He rang the doorbell only to be met with a disappointing silence and distinct lack of movement from within. After a second ring elicited no reply, he concluded that Conrad was, yet again, elsewhere. No matter. Whenever Conrad was unavailable, Bob was empowered to use the spare key and leave any packages inside.
Reaching up to the lip of the architrave surrounding the front door, he located the key by touch and inserted it in the lock. It turned easily and he pushed the door. Normally it would swing open freely, but today there was some resistance. He pushed harder and heard a slight click before the door moved.
It was the last sound he ever heard.
The whole front door and its immediate surrounds suddenly erupted in a huge ball of flame accompanied by a loud explosion amidst disintegrating wood and brick. The force of the blast projected outwards and blew Bob Kent fully ten metres back down the driveway. His bicycle followed, a twisted mess of metal and rubber, until it too came to a shuddering landing on the gravel close to where the postman lay. His body was a mass of broken bones, the uniform smouldering and bloody, and where his face had once been there was a gaping wound of blood, brains and splintered bone.
Dust settled all around as the reverberations of the explosion died away, to be replaced by a haunting silence, broken only by the sound of an occasional brick falling from the gaping hole blown in the front of the house.
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