Snakes & Ladders - Book cover

Snakes & Ladders

Cherie Mitchell

Chapter Two

“This one’s for you.”

Sam, the mailman who serviced every level of the city’s high-rise police building, tossed a slim package onto Detective Sergeant Darryl Kimberley’s desk as he rattled past with his cart on his morning rounds.

“Probably an invite to join a new retirement fund. We seem to be getting plenty of those lately. Nearly everyone in the place has had one now. Make sure you read the fine print. Those things can be hard to get out of once you opt in.”

Darryl looked at the plain yellow package without much interest.

He was about to toss it to one side, where such envelopes would normally sit for months before eventually finding their way into the rubbish bin, but an anomaly on the front of the envelope caught his attention.

Rather than a generic computer-printed label, his name, his department, the building’s PO box number, and Brisbane, QLD 4000 were neatly handwritten in black Biro on the thick paper.

He picked up the package and studied it. These days, not a lot of mail came addressed by hand. Curious, he slid the end of a pencil beneath the gummed flap and opened the envelope.

The item tucked inside the package had him even more intrigued. He pulled out what looked to be a cheap kid’s board game and unfolded it to lay it out flat on his desk. He nodded as his first impression was confirmed.

Snakes & Ladders. It had never been a favorite of his, although he’d certainly spent a goodly number of hours shaking the dice in a small plastic cup and moving his counter up the ladders and down the snakes.

His brother had usually won the game, but that was only because he cheated. Wayne had always been a cheat, and he probably still was, as far as Darryl knew.

The brothers hadn’t spoken for a couple of years now, not since they shook hands in the parking lot after their parents’ funeral.

The elderly couple had gone together, wiped off this earth in a car accident that had taken them before their time.

“A blessing,” people had murmured sympathetically after the service. “They would have wanted it that way.” As if that somehow made it better.

The last Darryl had heard of Wayne, he was living up in Far North Queensland. Cairns or somewhere like that. Port Douglas?

Knowing Wayne, he was probably living the good life on someone else’s dollar. Darryl’s brother had always found a way to feather his own nest while expending a minimal amount of effort.

Darryl gazed at the board now, confused as to why he’d been sent it.

There was nothing about the game to suggest that it was any different from any of the board games sold at those discount stores in the mall. You could pick one up for a couple of dollars any day of the week.

Two dollars to keep the kids amused for an hour. It wasn’t quite a bargain—and did today’s kids have any interest in such tame pastimes, anyway?

Probably not. They were too busy with the latest gadgets and electronics to pay any attention to lame cardboard games.

His own daughter was grown now, well past the age to engage with such activities, although he couldn’t remember her having much to do with board games when she was younger, either.

Nintendo and Game Boy had been the main drawing cards whenever the question of childhood amusements came up in the Kimberley household.

He turned the game over, mildly amused by how flimsy and light the cardboard was. Cheap as shit. The back was printed with a generic white filigree pattern against a background of navy blue.

Again, there was nothing here to indicate anything out of the ordinary about the game. It was also free of advertising slogans, company icons, or twee marketing phrases.

He picked up the envelope again and peered inside, looking for some clue as to who might have sent it or what it was supposed to represent.

There was a small slip of paper at the bottom of the package, and he shook it out onto the desk, expecting to find a banal marketing gimmick printed on it.

Probably something cheesy like, “Are you GAME to try a new retirement fund? Check out our website now!” Instead, the paper contained a single sentence printed in the same handwriting that appeared on the front of the envelope.

“Your move.”

He frowned down at the words, utterly perplexed as to what they could mean.

“Here’s your coffee. You need to get off your ass and go down and get the next one. I’ve paid for the last three.”

Rod Schneider sat a takeaway cup of coffee on the desk next to the board game.

The coffee they sold at the in-house cafeteria tasted like weasel piss, but the café down on the street made a good brew.

They also offered discounts to the cops who frequented the place, cunningly recognizing the chance to lure in customers and grabbing that chance with both hands.

“They’ve got a new waitress working down there. Lisa. Blonde bird with big tits and lowcut tops. It’s worth going in just for the joyous mountain view.” Rod gestured at the board game. “What’s that?”

“Dunno.” Darryl picked up the coffee cup in one hand and pushed the game toward Rod with the other.

“Sam’s just dropped it off. The envelope is addressed to me by name. There was nothing else in the envelope except for this bit of paper.” Darryl showed his friend and colleague the note.

“Ha. It’s not one of those chain letters, is it? Do you remember them? They were big in the eighties and nineties.”

“No, those were different. The chain letters were written in the form of an actual letter, and they generally threatened the receiver with dire consequences unless they posted copies of the letter onto several other recipients.

“Death, bankruptcy, ill health—all the good stuff. They used to terrify people, but I could never see the point of them. What was the benefit in sending them out? What did anyone have to gain by doing it?”

“People are nutters. I shouldn’t have to tell you that.” Rod had picked up the note to inspect it further and now he allowed it to flutter back down onto the desk.

“Marketing ploy. Bound to be. You’ll get another one tomorrow. That one will contain all the guff about where you should put your hard-earned dollars.

“Part one is designed to pique your interest and part two will have the details of where you should sign up.”

“Yeah, that’s what I think.” Darryl took a cautious sip of the scalding hot coffee before placing the cup back down on his desk.

He refolded the board game, tucked the slip of paper inside the cardboard fold, and slid it all back inside the envelope before tossing it into his overflowing In tray. He leaned back in his chair and looked up at Rod.

“How’s everything going with you, anyway? Any update on the casino fraud case?”

Rod wrinkled his nose. He had one of those red, pockmarked noses that people used to call drunkard’s noses, back in the days before everything got too PC and people got too afraid to make a joke.

An aging alcoholic’s bloom stuck in the middle of Rod’s face. Funny thing was, Darryl knew that Rod hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol in years, and he was only a year older than Darryl was.

His unfortunate nose was just a sad quirk of genetics, a physical remnant passed down from his whisky-loving, permanently sozzled forebears.

It was a shame really, because Rod would have been a good-looking guy if it wasn’t for that nose.

“I guess I should take that as a no?”

Rod rolled his eyes. “It’s basically one step forward, two steps back. You know what it’s like.”

“I know what it’s like,” Darryl agreed. He looked at his watch, discovering it was later than he’d thought. He made a move to get up from his chair.

“I’m about to go into a meeting. Thanks for the coffee. I owe you one.”

“No, you owe me three,” Rod said darkly, although his eyes twinkled with mischief. “And yeah, I’m keeping tabs.”

Next chapter

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