Sunlight cuts through dusty blinds creating fractured shadows across an archaic, cluttered desk. Among the clutter is an old-fashioned typewriter, a battered looking radio emitting some low crackled jazz, a deck of cards half-dealt out in a game of solitaire and an overflowing ashtray. A puff of smoke billows out from behind the desk and a dishevelled figure leans forward to stub out a cigarette.
HAL REYNOLDS (NARRATING)
Business was slow. Hell, business had damn near stopped. Judging by my empty box of cigarettes it was around midday and I hadn’t had a single call. But that was about to change.
A silhouette appears outside the glass door which swings open moments later.
She blew in like a Summer’s breeze on a Winter’s day.
I’ve got a problem, its my husband…
Hal points to the sign on the door which reads “Reynold’s Stationery Supplies; The Pen is Mightier than the Sword.”
The P.I.’s is next door.
The woman apologises and makes a hurried exit as Hal pulls another packet of cigarettes from his desk drawer. A second silhouette is seen at the door accompanied by a knock.
A small, elderly woman wearing thick glasses and an unenthused look enters the room.
I wish you’d stop people barging in like that.
I did my best sir.
Dorris coughs from the smoke, shakes her head disapprovingly and walks over to the window.
Those things will kill you you know.
She opens the blinds, followed by a window. Daylight illuminates the room revealing a seemingly modern day-office surrounding the antique desk. In one corner is a photo-copier/fax machine. In another, a computer which looks like it hasn’t been used in years.
You won’t hear me complaining. Did we get any orders today?
If you’d just check your e-mails…
You know I can’t stand those things.
Dorris lets out a sigh of exasperation and opens her mouth to speak.
Alright, alright I’ll check. If it saves me from another of your lectures on the virtues of those damned machines…
Dorris rolls her eyes.
She walks to the computer and switches it on, then leaves the room briskly, closing the door behind her. Hal starts to light another cigarette but is interrupted, shuddering as the Windows start-up theme chimes eerily through the tinny speakers. He sighs and reluctantly rises from his chair.
When my father set up this business he said “The pen is mightier than the sword.” His mistake was never pitting computers in the fight.
He sits down at the humming desktop and awkwardly navigates his way through the emails. Atop the inbox (of mostly junk/funny-cat links) is an email titled URGENT, STATIONERY!!11!. Hal reads said email (muttering along as he does), then grabs the telephone on his desk.
Dorris? Hold all my calls. I’ve got work to do.
Hal’s rickety station-wagon drives steadily through a sparse industrial estate.
The email was from BERT BRAMFORD, the warehouse manager. Missing Staplers? In February? This was bad. Hell this was the worst case of missing staplers I’d ever seen. I was going to have to start at the bottom, even if this went all the way to the top.
EXT.WAREHOUSE PARKING LOT.DAY
The car stops outside a warehouse. A cigarette butt drops out the window. Moments later its crushed by Hal’s foot as he steps outside. On the side of the warehouse is a billboard ad for the new i-Corp computer system.
I didn’t want to spend too long on this side of town, I could feel a hangover coming on and I hadn’t touched a drop last night.
Hal enters the warehouse.
The warehouse is a discord of robotic whooshing, mechanical clinking and gruff yelling. Sparks fly from corners where groups of burly men operate heavy machinery. A large sign hanging from the ceiling reads Stationery Supplies. Hal is met by the suit-clad Bramford in an area towards the back away from the din. They nod to each-other in greeting.
What can I do for you Hal?
Start from the beginning, when did you last see the staplers?
There was really no need for you to come all the way down here, you could have just replied to the email, or called…
If you want something done right…
Right. Well like I said, the clients e-mailed earlier today to complain that their order of staplers hadn’t arrived, but I saw the courier off with them yesterday. I called the courier’s head office but it keeps going to voicemail.
Let me get this straight, you’re saying that the staplers just vanished off the face of the earth?
Well, no… I’m sure its just a mix-up.
Something stinks. What’s the courier office’s address?
Its not listed.
Then how can I reach them?
I have their e-mail address here…
Alright, give it to me.
“PREMIUM, RUSH, AT YAHOO DOT COM.” That’s all lower case.
Hal finishes writing in his Reynolds’ Moleskin Journal.
Thanks for the tip Bert, be seeing you.
Hal exits from the direction he entered leaving Bramford scratching the back of his head.
INT.BACK AT THE OFFICE.DUSK
The blinds are down once again in the dim, smokey office. Hal is standing facing the glowing computer, his hands gripping the seat in front of him. A clock ticks on the wall adjacent to it.
I didn’t like it, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Hal sits down at the computer and begins to write an email delicately typing with only his two index fingers. On the screen we see letters materialize slowly on the subject line: U R G E N T ! ! ! 1 1 ! The clock hand lapses from 4:05 to 4:15. On the computer screen Hal has written about twenty words. 4:15 to 4:20, another twenty words. As the clock moves towards 4:30 Hal is finishing the brief email; Kind Regards, Hal Reynolds. The mouse cursor hovers over the send button then clicks.
Now we wait.
Hal leans back in the chair smoking as more time drops by. Another hour has passed on the clock when the email notification finally sounds off through the speakers. Hal lurches forward out of a daze and opens the email which appears on the monitor:
Dear Mr. Reynolds,
In regards to your query I’m afraid that the courier assigned to that job was fired last week. We suspected him of stealing deliveries but unfortunately we have not been able to charge him. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you and will reimburse the delivery if you so wish.
Mark, Premium Rush.
It looked like someone had crashed the party and was eating all the cake. The reimbursement would save my money but not my reputation, those staplers still needed to be found.
Hal sits there for a few contemplative seconds, then reaches across the desk and picks up the phone.
Dorris can you come in here?
Dorris appears in the doorway.
If I wanted to buy second hand stationery supplies where would I look?
Have you tried Googling it?
Dorris leaves the room wearily as Hal reverts to deep thought.
She was right. Again. The computer was my best bet.
Hal turns to some tattered, yellowed photographs, framed on the wall. One shows a proud looking man with his arm around a young grinning Hal. They are stood in front of a shop window, the sign above them reads Reynold’s Stationery Supplies.
Back then business was booming. The golden age when everybody needed stationery; pens, pencils, pencil sharpeners, pencil cases, you name it. But computers changed that.
Hal looks at the picture next to it which is almost identical, only the man looks fatigued and worn and Hal is now a teenager with an uncertain look on his face. The shop sign is missing a few letters and now reads R old’s
Stat nar Sup lies.
In the late 90’s computers changed everything. The “Digital Age” they called it. No one needed to write letters anymore. Or keep written records. Or even draw pictures. Computers did it all. My father tried to adapt by selling novelty mouse-mats but by then the damage was already done. He was never the same after i-Corp released their first model and passed away a few years later leaving the business to me. And now I had no choice but to use that same model to save the very business it had nearly ruined. The irony tasted bitter. Like a lemon.
Hal is sitting back at the computer
OK computer. Do your worst.
Hal slowly types Second Hand Staplers in to the search engine and hits enter. All at once a wave of information washes over the screen. Hal’s eyes squint trying to take it all in. Second on the list is Adverts – Staplers. He clicks on the link and a list of Staplers for Sale appears.
I was diving head-first into the deep net with no life jacket. I’d have to kick to stay afloat.
Hal clicks through what looks like a hundred adverts as the computer clock lapses from 18:00 to 18:30 to 19:00. He seems at the point of giving up when one in particular grabs his attention.
I knew them the second I saw them: The Swingline® Optima® Desktop Full Strip Stapler with a 40 Sheet Capacity. The advert read “cool staplers – mint condition”, confirming what I already knew; the culprit didn’t know what he was dealing with. Or who.
Hal begins to reply to the ad:
I am interested in purchasing one of your fine staplers. Were can we meet?
He hits enter, sending the message.
Hal sits inside his parked station wagon on the side of an empty city street. Dingy streetlamps create pockets of light along the cracked sidewalks and highlight the dents in the beat-up car.
It had been a wild goose chase but the foie gras was finally in sight. Coolguy14 had set a meet here and it looked like he was right on time.
A hooded man appears out of an alley-way and leans against the wall under one of the street lamps. Hal gets out of his car and makes his way across the road.
Nice night for a stroll.
It beats being stationary.
They briefly size each other up.
You got the merch?
Coolguy14 gestures to the kit-bag he is holding.
You got the cash?
Hal produces a brown envelope from inside his coat.
Its not often people are so quick to part with such an ergonomic stapler.
Coolguy14’s eyes narrow.
And at such a low price. Its practically a steal.
His body immediately goes rigid.
The jig is up Coolguy. Just hand over the staplers and I won’t turn you in.
Alright, you got me…
Coolguy14 pauses for a moment, then begins to hand the bag to Hal. At the last second he spins swiftly, hitting Hal with the bag, then sets off down the alley-way at a sprint.
Against my better judgement, I went after him.
Hal catches his balance and pursues Coolguy14 down the alley. Coolguy14 desperately throws a trash can down behind him followed by a pile of boxes, followed by some exponentially more awkward debris, all of which Hal narrowly avoids, steadily gaining on his prey. Coolguy14 takes a sharp corner at the end of the alley causing him to stumble, Hal seizes the opportunity and tackles him to the ground, subsequently pinning him down. Hal is wheezing laboriously at this stage.
Dorris was right about quitting smoking.
Why’d you have to go and make me run?
Hal reaches for his antique cell-phone and inputs three digits as Coolguy14 wriggles beneath him, protesting profusely.
Hello police? I need to report some criminal activity…
Please man, not the cops!
Hal continues to talk on the phone.
I’m not the one you want, I was just doing what I was told!
Hal’s interest is piqued and he lowers the phone.
What are you talking about?
I was just trying to make an extra buck selling those staplers, the real money was for stealing them..
You better start making sense, and fast; I think I hear sirens.
Someone contacted me online, they wired money into my account and said I’d get the rest after I stole your staplers.
Who contacted you?
I never met them face to face but their user-name was Blackwidow19.
Hell I didn’t ask, that was part of deal!
A head pokes out of a window on the 2nd floor of a building looking out on to the alley.
Hey keep it down out there, people are trying to sleep!
Hal distractedly turns his head to the source of the yell. Coolguy14 sees an opening and takes it, flipping Hal off him and jumping to his feet. He is long gone before Hal even has a chance to stand up. Once upright the beleaguered Hal slowly dusts himself off and picks up the bag of staplers, then makes his back towards the car.
INT.BACK AT THE OFFICE.NIGHT
Hal enters the office throwing his coat on the rack then walks towards his desk.
I’d found the staplers but lost the perp. I should’ve been happy to even get them back but something Coolguy said had left a bad taste in my mouth. I needed a drink to wash it out and clear my head.
He conjures a bottle of bourbon and a glass from the desk drawer and adds them to the clutter. Pouring himself a generous double he takes a long drink then sparks a cigarette.
Something told me this wasn’t over; I’d gotten tangled up in the world wide web and all I could do was wait for the spider to appear. My first lead had vanished down an alley and I wasn’t sure if I could trust the second…
Hal looks over to the murmuring computer as a Windows screen-saver bounces vapidly around the box.
One thing was for sure, I’d have to start checking my emails.
NEXT TIME: A CASE OF THE MONDAYS