'Sorry,' Mandy said as Martin tried to wipe the hot coffee from his jeans with a towel. 'I just don't know how that happened.'
'It's all right,' Martin said. 'But I think I'll have to go and change these trousers.'
Mandy knelt down in front of him to mop up the steaming pool of coffee on the floor. 'I'll make some more coffee for you when I've done this.'
'All right.' Martin felt the soaking jeans steaming wetly against his leg as he shuffled out of the kitchen, trying not to think about the way Mandy was just kneeling in front of him. His trousers were already tight, hot and damp enough as it was without having those kind of thoughts.
Back in his room, Martin found a clean pair of jeans, then eased himself out of the coffee-soaked ones that were already cooling tackily on his legs.
He heard the doorbell ring.
A moment later, as Martin finished fastening his trousers, Sam put his head around the door. 'It's for you.'
Martin shrugged in surprise and walked out to the front door. A man in a nondescript blue-grey uniform was standing on the step, holding a delivery-tracking device. He was picking his nose with the end of a plastic stylus as he stared up at the bedroom windows of the houses on the opposite side of the street. Martin coughed and the man turned to face him.
'Mr M. Laws?'
'Mr Martin P. Laws?'
'Mr Martin P. Laws, 12 Keats Terrace?'
The courier stared at him, as though he was waiting for Martin to break down and confess to being a compulsive liar, fraud and – quite possibly – a fugitive from the law. A few moments later, satisfied by the lack of an immediate confession, the courier nodded once.
'Right.... Sign here, here, there, print your name there, your address here, and your phone number in that box in the bottom corner.' The courier made various ticks and crosses on the device before handing it, and his nasal-exploration device, to Martin.
The courier leant close over Martin, watching carefully for any sign of trickery or forgery as Martin filled in all the necessary information and ticked the required boxes while trying to avoid holding the stylus too tightly.
Martin handed the device back to the man, who flashed a brief smile, before turning away, giving Martin a chance to wipe his hands down his jeans, before remembering they were clean on only a few moments before.
'Come on, there's a parcel for you.' The courier looked over Martin's shoulder at Sam, who was standing in the hallway. 'You can help as well. I can't lift anything heavy.... Doctor's orders.'
'What is in the parcel?' Martin said, but the courier was gone, stowing the delivery device in the front of his van.
'What is this parcel going to be then?' Sam stood by Martin at the rear of the van.
'I don't know.'
'Ah, another mystery,' Sam said. 'This must be your lucky day.'
The driver ambled slowly around to the rear of the van and opened it. He climbed inside the van and pushed four or five boxes towards Martin and Sam. Martin recognised the name of the company on the side of the box. He shivered in excitement. Only a few weeks before he had been dreaming of owning an ELITE BOLD X350 as he meandered through several computer retailers' websites with his laptop seemingly on the verge of total collapse when Martin – rather unreasonably – expected it to go to all the trouble of displaying yet another web-page.
Martin knew he really needed some sort of new computer, even though he couldn't really afford one on his current salary. In fact, Martin had concluded that on his current salary, even a child's toy abacus from the toyshop in the High Street was probably beyond his reach.
Surely, there must be some mistake; Martin almost called out to the courier. For almost a complete second, Martin thought about complaining, refusing to accept the computer until he knew where it came from, and who had paid for it.
'I know what you are thinking,' Sam whispered. 'Don't be stupid. If anyone's made a mistake, let them sort it out. Meanwhile, grab the other end of this box.'
'You're right.' Martin took the other end of the box. 'There's an old computer hacker saying: Don't look a gift computer in the expansion slots.'
'What?' Sam said.
Back in the house, Lisa was standing at the foot of the stairs. 'What's going on?' she stood to one side of the hall, watching them struggle through the door with the awkward boxes.
'This bit of trouser you secretly fancy has got himself another mystery gift,' Sam said. 'If I were you, I'd try to stick with him. He seems to be a lucky bastard.' They carried the boxes into Martin's room and put it down on the floor.
Back outside, the courier was sitting in the back of the van staring up at the bedroom windows of the other houses in the terrace. He tapped a pile of three more boxes.
'There seem to be a lot of young woma... er... people living around here,' he said as Martin stacked up the two smaller boxes.
'Oh yes, there are a lot of students around here. In fact, a couple of female post-graduate students share this house with us.'
'Students, eh?' He winked at Martin. 'Is it true what they say?'
'Is what true?' Martin passed a box to Sam. 'Who are they and what do they say?'
'Oh, you know. The drink, the drugs, the parties, the sex orgies and all that?'
Martin had never really seen anyone leer before. 'Oh yes, I see. Definitely, it's non-stop shagging all the time, basically. All instead of getting a proper job as well, of course.'
The van driver leant closer. Martin smiled and looked at his watch. 'I'd love to tell you all about it, but I don't want to miss the early-morning orgy. Is this all of it? Right. Goodbye and thanks.'
YOU ARE READING
Juggling BallsScience Fiction
Martin Laws hates mysteries. So why has someone sent him a bag of juggling balls? Why has he no memory of buying a new computer? Why has that new computer decided Martin needs to go shopping? Why does a hairstylist he's never met before keep s...