This is the sixteenth part of a fiction serial, in 795 words.
Thomas Halloran checked his emails, already convinced she would have replied before he had even logged on. It was predictably easy. The lonely chubby ones always took the bait. They were his favourites anyway, as they had no self-assurance, little or no confidence, and sucked up compliments like a man dying of thirst finding an oasis in the desert.
The trick was to take your time, never rush things. But that was also the hardest part. Thomas had learned patience over the past twenty years. The patience to leave no clues behind, the patience to learn when the moment was just right. The Internet was a dream come true for him. Before that, it had been pen-pal letters, lonely hearts advertisements in local newspapers, replying to box numbers.
The world wide web was his wonderland, as if it had been designed with him in mind.
Easy enough to find a photo of some dull woman wearing a housecoat and sitting on a bed. What were they thinking of, putting photos of themselves like that online? They had no self-respect, so why should he respect them. A fake profile, access to a forum, and there they were. Any number of photos to choose from, ninety-nine percent of them completely uprotected from copying. Click right on the mouse, choose ‘Save As’, and it’s in the folder. One day, it will be useful.
Names were often tricky. They had to sound right, so as not to be suspicious. Charlotte Calder was an actress in a popular drama serial. But she was at least number twenty down the cast list, in her role as a shopkeeper who only appeared in the first couple of episodes. Nobody he was interested in was ever likely to bother with looking at cast lists, something else he was sure about.
Email was a wonderful invention. No handwriting to disguise, no stamps to buy. No need to travel halfway across the country to make sure the postmark had no connection to where you lived. Then no letters to have to find and destroy afterwards. And an even better invention was the software that allowed you to disguise the origin of your computer. Choose a name or make up something silly, be either sex as it suited, any age you choose to claim to be. Nobody would ever know.
Mobile phones helped immensely. You could buy a SIM card that changed the number, pay for service without having to sign up to a contract and give personal details, and send an email from anywhere you happened to be without access to a computer. Sometimes, Thomas would sit quietly with a glass of good Scotch and just marvel at how technology had freed him to continue his interest in life.
Living a public life in his home town as a respected craftsman allowed him flexibility. His bespoke joinery allowed him to pick and choose jobs, and to charge more or less what he wanted for the finished pieces too. It gave him a reason to be away from home, making deliveries in his unmarked white van, or working in the houses of customers, creating wonderful staircases or fitting out libraries in grand mansions. Though not rich, he was very comfortable. He had enough put by to be able to refuse commissions or take time off as it suited. He paid his taxes and his bills, drove carefully, and never came to anyone’s attention unless he was working on a job for them.
Ouside of his business, he was a nonentity. An average-looking unmarried man in his late-forties, average build, and average height. He looked like thousands of other men, someone who nobody would turn to look at, or remember passing on the street. That suited Thomas very nicely.
Smiling at the screen on the laptop, he typed his reply.
Dear Gill. Thank you for letting me know your name, I really appreciate that. Since my sister moved out, I also have issues with putting out the rubbish. Luckily, there is a cupboard on the landing of the block where I live. We put our bags in there, and the caretaker sorts it out for collection. So I just build up my courage and dash from my front door to the cupboard, throw it in, and run back inside again. I have no idea how much longer I can cope though. I often wonder how other people like me manage, as my bills are piling up, and my income from benefits is hardly enough to cover the cost of basic living. That’s why I am dressed like that in the photo, as I can’t afford new clothes.
Thanks for being my friend, it means a lot. Charlie. xx
He pressed ‘Send’, and closed the lid of the laptop.