A Stamp Of Distinction
by euhal allen
Quorn Sulti gaveled the meeting to order.
“Quiet, sirs. We must have quiet, please. I now call the 7,346th monthly meeting of the Martio-Jovian Philatelic society to be in session.”
Throughout the Great Hall, all eyes were riveted on Chairman Quorn. All across the system, those not fortunate enough to attend studied his face on their screens. There had been rumors of an announcement.
Quorn, in a most gentlemanly manner, cleared his throat, took a small sip of water, and began to speak.
“Gentle sirs, I know that rumors have flown about the system. That such things should happen are certainly most sad. It is quite unfortunate that some do not have an established sense of loyalty to those things higher than they. Pity, they have had to be cancelled... from our membership, of course.”
Waiting for the meaning of those words to take effect, he took another dip from his crystal goblet.
“We do, indeed,” he continued, “have an announcement of some moment. Sir Gregory Piffle has been located.”
Pandemonium broke out in the Hall. Backs were slapped, hands were shaken, an atmosphere of glee prevailed until Quorn could make himself heard again.
“Gentlemen, please, not in the Hall. We must not loose our decorum, sirs, especially not here.” This he said in a most stern and proper manner. “Yes, the scoundrel has been found and our young associate, Geoffry Martin, is even now seeking to physically impress upon Sir Gregory the need for a short conference with our Executive Council.”
* * *
Bernadette Carter sat at her work station, placing envelopes in the rows of boxes stacked fifteen high in front of her. “Why,” she wondered, “couldn’t some smart person invent a mail sorter for Star Routes?” It was hard enough to cover her quarter of a million miles in six hours without having to sort the stuff first. Sometimes she wondered why she had ever let anyone talk her into taking asteroid route III.
Kwince Hathaway, the postmaster, came back to her station frowning at the envelope in his hand.
“You’ll have to collect postage on this one, Bernadette. It has some really queer stamp on it, one that certainly is not issued by the post office.”
Glancing at the envelope, Bernadette shuddered. “Candice Piffle,” she cried. “Oh, no, Kwince, not her. You never know where she is going to be living from week to week. Two weeks ago, she was staying with Johnston on the Blue Bonnet, last week she skipped over to the Dreadknot, but Tuesday night she cracked Petie’s skull with his helmet and left, and I haven’t heard where she is now.”
Kwince, hefting his cup of coffee up to where he could look at its inscription (Every Postman Is a First Class Male), sighed, pursed his lips, and said, “Grim.” Then he brightened and said cheerfully, “Isn’t it great the way postal work keeps you up on things.”
“It would be greater if people would stay in one place like they used to. I have to know who is living with whom, who’s mad at whom, and who’s on vacation, and when they’re getting back just to sort my deliveries! Heaven help me if I didn’t try to keep up with all the events in my part of the Belt.”
Kwince pursed his lips, looked thoughtful, and said, “Grim.”
* * *
Geoffrey Martin stepped into the dim hallway and searched the nearby doors for the number 6-B. Spotting the correct door, he quickly made his way to it and gave it a light and, he hoped, friendly sounding knock.
In the apartment, Sir Gregory turned and, facing the door, said, “Come in, Geoffrey. I’ve been expecting you.”
* * *
Candice Piffle was bored, bored, bored. She had been flitting from ship to ship and man to man in the Belt for a year and a half now, and she was tired of it all. There must, she thought, be some way to get more money out of her father. If he would spend just a third as much on her needs as he did on those stamps, she would have it made.
* * *
Bernadette was glad to be almost through with her route again. Just the last swing up past Tunnel Rock to Stellar Place and she could head in and finish sorting second class mail, and then go home.
“This has been a rough one,” she said to herself. “First, those Clancy brothers fighting again with Gordon refusing to take John’s letters and telling me if I wanted John, I could just find him, and then Mrs. Van Grew telling me that she had been back for a day and a half and if I would just read the social column I would know that, and where was her mail? And that Candice Piffle not being anywhere on the route. It is enough to make me talk to myself!” With the sudden realization that that was just what she had been doing, she shut up, thought for a moment, then, looking into the console mirror, she grinned at herself. “At least,” she and her reflection said to each other, “we don’t get bored, do we?”
* * *
Geoffrey Martin sipped his tea and munched on his third crumpet, while listening to Sir Gregory.
“That’s the whole story, Geoffrey, and as you can see, I have taken the best possible steps to rectify the situation.”
“A most interesting story, Sir Gregory,” admitted Geoffrey. “One that, I’m quite sure, could not have been initiated out of thin air. If the loss were not so serious, we could allow those steps to come to fruition. However, it is so serious, I’m afraid that we shall have to hurry matters a bit. My ship is at the port now and I shall be most happy to have your company on our little journey.”
“You don’t mean that we should go there to collect it. Don’t you realize that if we go there, she will realize its worth and she will extort every possible penny she can for it?”
“I’m sure,” said Geoffrey, caressing his needle gun, “that you won’t mind my coming, will you?”
* * *
Quorn Sulti turned off his screen. “Perhaps,” he thought, “old Sir Gregory had been telling the truth. Strange story, if true. Hopefully, his opinion of the little wench was overblown. Geoffrey Martin would earn his stipend on this one.”
* * *
“What do you mean, postage due?” screamed Candice. “I won’t pay anything.”
Bernadette winced at the volume coming out of her speaker, then in her nicest voice, considering the circumstances, said, “Very well, Miss Piffle. I’ll take it back to the office and we will dispose of it. Goodbye.”
“Wait,” said Candice. “Who is it from?”
“I’m sorry, Miss Piffle, but we really can’t say until you pay the postage due. We will hold the letter for you for one week should you change your mind.”
With that, she shut off her communicator and headed off on the last little bit of her route.
When Bernadette returned to the post office, she was so tired that she just tossed her almost empty carrier tray in the store room with the others, and went to her work station to finish the sorting.
Kwince came over and soon was sorry since he was treated to the entire bad day.
Pursing his lips, he said, “Grim.”
* * *
During the trip to the Belt in Martin’s ship, Geoffrey became convinced of Sir Gregory’s story. He also became convinced that if Candice Piffle found out the value of the stamp on the letter, she would try to rob the Society blind. Considering the price paid for the stamp in the original purchase, the Society could hardly afford a second such robbery.
Touching down at Port Ceres, the two philatelists headed for the post office.
Kwince Hathaway looked up from his desk at the two expensively suited gentlemen.
“May I help you?”
“We,” said Geoffrey, “should like to know the address of a young lady, a Miss Candice Piffle, if you please.”
Kwince grinned and asked, “Do you want the address of a young lady or do you want to know where Candice Piffle is? You can’t have both.”
Geoffrey, turning to Sir Gregory, said, “I see that your daughter is at least known in the area.”
Kwince winced. “You’re Candice’s father? I am sorry about my little joke, sir.”
Don’t be sorry, young man. I am not one to hide from the truth. We just want to know where she is, if you would be so kind as to tell us.”
“I can’t tell you, sir. Post office regulations. If, however, you were to write her a letter with address correction requested printed on the front, then for a fee we can correct the address for you.”
“Consider the letter written, and please correct the address for us.”
“She moves around so much that only our route carrier, Bernadette, knows her whereabouts. Bernadette won’t be back for another hour at least. If you would come back then...”
“We will be here. Thank you, young man.”
Geoffrey and Sir Gregory left the post office and floated leisurely over to the Ceres Coffee Shop and Bar.
Sitting at a table, Geoffrey said, “I still don’t understand how you came to put the stamp on the envelope in the first place. It is the only one like it in existence. No known postal system has any record of its issue. No other stamp is anything like it. How could you have made such a mistake?”
“Geoffrey,” the older man said bitterly, “you obviously have never had any children. They can be either a great blessing or an eternal vexation. Either way, they are yours and you are compelled to love them. Candice drives me to blind rage at times. I was in such a mood when I wrote that letter and mistakenly put the stamp on it. After it was mailed and the stamp was missing, and I had realized what I had done, I set about to quickly get it back. If Quorn had not found out about its being missing, I should never have had to leave.”
While they were talking, a slim figure left the booth next to them and slipped out the back door.
Kwince Hathaway looked up and frowned. “Hello, Candice. You father is looking for you.”
“I’ve already seen him, thank you. I’ve come for my letter. I’ve decided to pay the postage due. How much is it?”
“What letter is that?”
“Bernadette had a letter for me the other day, postage due. I did not have the money then, so she brought it back. I have the money now, so I’ll take it.”
“Oh, yes,” said Kwince. “You mean the letter with the funny stamp. I’ll see if it’s here.”
Kwince went over and began searching the cubby hole used for postage due.
“I’m sorry, Candice, but it doesn’t seem to be here. You will have to wait for Bernadette to come back. We can ask her then. Shouldn’t be too long now.”
Bernadette, Sir Gregory, and Geoffrey Martin arrived at the same time.
Candice was still berating Kwince, demanding the letter, and demanding it NOW!
“Hello, Candice,” said her father. “I see that you are still the same cheerful person you always were.”
“Get lost, Father. I don’t need you.” Turning to Kwince, she angrily demanded, “I want my letter. There is Bernadette. Get my letter. I don’t like the company in here.”
Kwince turned with relief to Bernadette. “Miss Piffle has come for her letter. The one with the funny stamp. She will pay the due postage now.”
Sir Gregory, startled by the description of the letter, jumped to the counter. “The letter, let me see the letter. It is very important that I see it first.”
“The letter is addressed to me,” screamed Candice. “It is my private correspondence. I want it. You can’t deliver it to anyone else. It’s against the law, you know.”
Kwince and Bernadette looked at each other in confusion.
“The letter, Bernadette. You had better get it if you know where it is.”
“I known where it is. It’s in the store room. The other day, when I tossed my carrier tray in there, it fell out on a shelf. I’ve continually forgotten to put it up front.”
With that, she hurried to the storeroom and returned with the letter, giving it to Kwince.
The postmaster looked at the envelope and then at Sir Gregory. “I am afraid she’s right, sir. It is addressed to her. She has the legal right to it.”
As Geoffrey’s hand started for his pocket and his needle gun, something stopped him.
Sir Gregory, pulling Geoffrey’s hand away from his gun, said to Kwince, “If you look at the return address, you will find that I wrote the letter.”
“Yes, sir, I see that, but it is addressed to you daughter. I must deliver it to her.”
“I wrote a number of things in that letter that I want her to read. By all means, she must have it,” he said. “However, I know that when someone forgets to put a stamp on a letter at home the postmaster often allows the mailer to have a chance to buy the postage for it. I should like to see that the letter is legally delivered to my daughter at my expense.”
Candice, for once, was speechless with shock as she watched Kwince hand the letter to her father who deftly clipped off the offending stamp, giving it to Geoffrey, and replaced it with the proper postage.
Kwince took the letter and, canceling the postage, offered it to Candice.
She spit on it and left the building, followed shortly by her father and Geoffrey.
“Such a fuss over that strange stamp,” murmured Bernadette. “I wonder what government issued it?”
Kwince looked at her thoughtfully. “I wondered, too. I tried to find it, looking through the old manuals. Nothing they show issued was green with a red S and H on it. Grim.”
Copyright © 2004 by euhal allen