by Robert Lopresti
Envelope, a photo by augenbuch on Flickr.
The office wasn't much like I expected. The building itself was shabby and worn out, but the office was brightly lit and neat as a pin.
She opened the door herself, a short woman with sharp eyes, short hair, and a white lab jacket. She had a slight accent; vaguely eastern European.
We introduced ourselves and she said: "Did you bring it with you?"
I nodded and pulled it out of my jacket pocket. She winced and I sensed that this was not a good beginning. "A plastic bag would have been better. Your finger prints and bodily oils..."
I suddenly felt grubby. I muttered an apology.
"No matter, no matter. Put it here."
I grasped the envelope by one edge careful too late, and placed it gently on the black metal surface of the table in the center of her office. She picked up two large pairs of tweezers and expertly removed the letter in less time than it would have taken me with my ten clumsy fingers.
She unfolded it and laid it gently on the table, using small magnets to hold it flat. Satisfied, she turned to me. "And you brought another? From...happier days?"
I had. I pulled it from my jacket and we repeated the whole exercise so that the two pages were lying side by side.
To my surprise she then backed away. She frowned at the two pages, first one and then the other."
"I think--" I said.
"But you're looking at them upside down!"
She sighed, rather dramatically, I thought.
"I am perfectly aware of that. But there is much to consider before we get to the text itself, and the text is distracting. May I continue?"
I nodded. She continued to peer at the pages from different angles; and then pulled a magnifying class from her jacket and moved in for a close examination.
"Interesting," she muttered.
"What is it?"
"The gentleman who sent these items... does he have any staff?"
"A part-time assistant, I think."
"Part-time. That's not very helpful. If the same person had sent both letters, it would be more conclusive."
"What would be? What have you figured out?"
She gestured with the magnifying glass. "The older letter has crisp and even folds. The more recent one is sloppy."
I was impressed. I hadn't noticed the difference, in all the time I had stared at that page. "What does that suggest?"
"If the same person prepared both letters then he was clearly in a different mood. Calm and controlled when he folded the first, agitated when he did the second."
"Agitated? You mean, upset?" I thought that might explain a lot.
She shrugged. "Upset, angry, frightened, in despair. There is a limit to what we can tell from a fold. The watermark is the same in both pages, by the way."
I was feeling both impressed and baffled. "What does that tell us?"
"Alas, not much. If the quality of the paper had diminished that would suggest a change of fortune, yes? But, who knows? Paper supplies may last after luck runs out."
Again she used the glass. "Interesting. Notice that in the older letter the block of text is perfectly centered. Proper office format, which you don't see all that often these days."
"And the new letter?"
"The text is up toward the letterhead, while the bottom third of the page is empty. That suggests the message was shorter than the typist expected it to be."
I puzzled over that. "You mean, he meant to add something and changed his mind?"
"Possibly. Or perhaps he wrote less than he usually does in such cases."
I didn't like that idea at all. "What else?"
"Time to examine the text. Hmm. He addresses you the same in both letters. The closing is the same as well. This indicates that the man himself hasn't changed much, nor have his essential feelings about you."
"Then what gives? " I asked, losing patience. "Why did the editor reject this story after buying my last few?"
She straightened up. "Ah. I think that is clear. He didn't like it."
"Didn't like it!"
She nodded. "He says so. See?"
"I know he says so! I was hoping you could tell me why he didn't like it!"
Another shrugged. "Perhaps it wasn't very good? Where you going?"
I shoved my rejection slip and acceptance letter back into my pockets, not giving a damn about fingerprints and bodily oils. "We're done here."
"But my fee-"
"Send me a bill."
She did. I sent her a rejection slip. Let's see her investigate that.