Virginia postman James M. Rook this week did what most workers only fantasize.

On a balmy spring-like morning, the 21-year veteran of the Postal Service loaded his red, white and blue mail truck in Norfolk as usual. Then he headed not for his appointed rounds but to a friend's house in Richmond 90 miles away.

The Postal Service -- which brags that neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor hail nor gloom of night shall deter mail deliveries -- naturally was disturbed to find it had an employe who was no match for a sunny day.

"I have something to say about all this, but it might get me in more trouble than I'm in already," said Rook yesterday. He surrendered himself, his truck and his mail Tuesday evening in Richmond and will be arraigned next Wednesday on a charge of delay and detaining the mail. He faces a possible fine of $500 or five years in prison, postal officials said.

Postal authorities say they are determined to prosecute Rook for several violations arising from his excursion, but Rook's coworkers in Norfolk couldn't discuss the incident yesterday without laughing.

"We've kidded his boss a lot about it," said one employe who declined to give his name.

Postal Inspector James Buchert, to whom Rook surrendered, said he was told late in the afternoon "that the man was missing. Then we got a call saying he had telephoned from southeast Richmond and wanted to turn over the mail he was carrying."

The situation, Buchert said, "was unique for me." William Reeves, assistant inspector for the Postal Service's security and internal affairs division in Washington, hastened to assure a reporter that Rook's escapade "is not a common occurrence."

Rook, meanwhile, was not back at the Postal Service's office. He took calls at his Norfolk home but refused to elaborate on the reasons for his trip to Richmond. "I may have something to say later," he said.