By S. J. Tellor
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2017 by S. J. Tellor
All rights reserved
It’s funny how things turn out. I had dreams once, just like you. I always thought that by the time I reached my forty-fifth birthday, I’d be living it up on my own private yacht somewhere in the Bahamas, snorting coke off a nineteen-year-old’s butt cheeks. But I’m not.
Nope, I’m sitting here in the same old place at the breakfast table, wearing the same old tired suit, eating the same old tasteless cereal. Preparation for another long day of monotonous drudgery. I’ve got an unsatisfying job, an unsatisfied wife, a less than satisfactory bank balance, and a sex life that’s not even worth mentioning. Oh yes. I think you can safely say . . . I’m living the dream.
I take a sip of my coffee and place the mug back down on the table. Gloria, who’s been wiping down the countertops—the already immaculate countertops—for the past five minutes, freezes. She turns her head to reveal her usual scrotum-shrinking scowl.
“What do you think coasters are for, George?” she asks. “Decoration?”
Rookie mistake. I don’t respond, there’s no point.
“That wasn’t a rhetorical question,” she continues. “Do you think I enjoy being stuck here all day, wiping your coffee stains off of the furniture? Jesus! A chimpanzee would have learned how to use a coaster by now. I mean, how hard is it? It’s right there in front of you.”
“Sorry, dear,” I say, without looking up to make eye contact.
I move the mug over three inches to the left and place it onto the floral ceramic coaster.
“Just do one thing right for me, George. Make sure to be home on time tonight. I’ve put a lot of effort into arranging your party, and I’m not going to let you ruin it. My friends are all very busy people, they’ve got a hundred and one other things they could be doing with their Monday evenings.”
“And try to look at least vaguely surprised. Last time you looked like you were trying to pass gas without anybody noticing. It was embarrassing.”
“Don’t worry, dear. I’ve been practicing my surprised face in the mirror all year.”
Gloria gives me another scrotum-shrinker of a scowl.
“Oh, was that supposed to be a joke? Was that meant to be funny? Don’t try to be smart, George. It doesn’t suit you.”
She takes off her apron and hangs it on the peg beside the door.
“And Barnie’s had another accident,” she adds. “Clean it up before you go to work.”
Gloria leaves the kitchen. I look across at the geriatric Labrador lying asleep in his basket in the corner. A pool of urine slowly seeps across the floor.
I leave the house with my briefcase in hand and close the front door behind me. In the adjacent driveway, my neighbor, Teddy Krelboyne, is helping his elderly, wheelchair-bound mother into his car. From a distance, she looks like a sweet old lady. But don’t be fooled by appearances, she’s the meanest old bitch you’ll ever meet.
Teddy notices me. He grins, and waves eagerly.
“Hey, George, happy birthday,” he yells. “I’ll give you your card and present at the party tonight. It’s the usual time, right?”
“Yeah, usual time,” I reply. “Morning Mrs. Krelboyne,” I say, as gleefully as I can. “How are you today?”
She looks at me with disdain, as though she’s just scraped me from the bottom of her mean old shoe. She then turns her attention to Teddy.
“Teddy, you can stand and chinwag with him anytime. We haven’t got all day. I can’t get myself into the car, can I?”
Teddy looks half embarrassed, half apologetic.
“Well,” he says, “have to dash, buddy. See you tonight. Have a good one.”
“Yeah, you too.”
I drive into the office parking lot. I’m a little later than usual so, as expected, it’s completely full. But wait a minute. What’s that up ahead? An empty space right next to the main entrance? Someone up there must be giving me a break for a change. In the entire twelve years that I’ve worked at this shithole, I’ve never once parked closer than three rows away.
I speed up a little to make sure nobody gets there before me. I drive straight into the parking bay, slow the car to a gentle stop, pull on the handbrake, and turn off the engine. Perfect. I grab my briefcase from the passenger seat and get out the car.
A Jaguar XK convertible, with the top down, screeches to a stop behind me.
“George!” the driver yells. “What the hell are you doing?”
This is Jeremy Llewellyn, the obnoxious prick. He looks like a thirty-year-old meathead in a tailored suit, and that’s basically what he is. But he’s also the future son-in-law of our firm’s CEO so was recently promoted, over me, to section leader. Even though I’ve been carrying his useless ass for the past five years. I wonder what would happen if they found out he’d impregnated Tiffany from Finance?
“Hello, George. Is there anyone at home?” Jeremy yells.
“Morning, Jeremy,” I eventually reply. “Nice car. You pick that up at the weekend?”
“Yeah, you like it?”
“It’s incredible. A Jaguar XK convertible? I’ve always dreamed of driving a car like that.”
“Yeah? Well, just let me know when you’re free, you can take it for a spin sometime.”
“No, George, I am of course joking. Do you know how much a car like this costs? More than your annual salary my friend, that I can guarantee you. Now, go and find yourself another space. These are reserved for senior management only.”
These spaces aren’t reserved for senior management. They aren’t reserved for anybody, I checked with the Estate department once to make sure. I don’t have to move . . . but I do anyway.
Floor seven, this is my stop. The doors slide open. I step off the elevator and stroll into the open plan office that is abuzz with fifty-something worker bees all busily typing away.
Jeremy’s perched on the edge of a desk, laughing flirtatiously with the attractive young intern sitting on the other side. She started last week and is about fifteen years Jeremy’s junior. Not that this minor detail deters him in the slightest. If anything, it’s an incentive. “The younger, the better,” is one of his catchphrases. That, and my personal favorite: “Any hole’s a goal.”
Jeremy notices me.
“Well, look who’s finally decided to grace us with his presence,” he exclaims.
The people within earshot all look my way.
“What time do you call this, George?” Jeremy continues. “We’ll have to discuss your punctuality at your performance review next week.”
As usual, I don’t respond. I just stand there looking like a schmuck in front of everyone.
Jeremy stands up straight to command the attention of the office.
“Old George here tried to nab himself an executive parking space next to the main entrance this morning. Isn’t that right, George? You felt like seeing how the other half lives for a change.”
Now pretty much everyone in the office has turned around to gawp. Some smile. Some giggle. Some straight up laugh. I want to punch all of these giggling bastards right off their chairs and not stop putting fist to face until they’re either dead or unconscious, whichever comes first.
I drop my briefcase. I run toward some sniggering bitch and punch her straight in the head. Her arms and legs flail as she falls backward off her chair and hits the floor like a sack of bricks. Without hesitating for a second, I sprint straight on up to Jeremy and rain down a barrage of punches into his obnoxious, loudmouth face while letting out an animalistic roar.
Back to reality. I blink my eyes. I’m still holding my briefcase. I’m still just standing here like a schmuck. The drones are still sniggering. Jeremy’s still an asshole.
The sniggering subsides as the drones turn back around and refocus their attention onto whatever the hell they were doing a moment ago. Jeremy perches back down on the edge of the intern’s desk and continues his lechery.
I sheepishly walk on over to my cubicle, sit down at my desk, and turn on my computer. Now I’m about to spend the morning responding to e mails from horrid idiots while I wait for the onset of the Monday migraine.
“Hey, George,” Jeremy shouts as he approaches. “Listen, I need you to give a presentation at the section leaders’ meeting on Thursday.”
“Me? A presentation about what?”
“Don’t worry, it’s just a progress update. You know, who’s doing what, where we are with various projects. All that shit that you’re good at.”
“Shouldn’t you be giving the presentation at the section leaders’ meeting, Jeremy? You know, on account of the fact that you’re the section leader.”
“Don’t try to be a smart ass, George. It doesn’t suit you. I’m up to my fucking eyeballs looking after you lot. I won’t get a chance to prepare anything good. And, you know, I just thought it might be a good opportunity for you to get your face noticed by the people who matter in this place. You don’t want to be stuck as a grade seven Data Analyst for the rest of your life, do you? I mean, I’ll happily give the opportunity to Graham if you don’t want to do it but I just thought I’d ask you first because, to be honest, I think you deserve it a bit more than he does. Anyway, what are you? Ten, fifteen years older than Graham? And he’s a smart guy, too. There’re plenty of opportunities for a guy like Graham in this place.”
Graham couldn’t do the presentation, and we both know that. I mean, he’s a nice guy, but he’s even more fucking useless than Jeremy. I should just say no, and make him do his own work for a change. Or even better, let him fall flat on his smug face in front of the senior management.
After a moment of contemplation, I nod my head in agreement.
“Okay, sure. I should be able to prepare something in time if I put in a few extra hours.”
“Good man, George,” says Jeremy, as he slaps me on the back of the shoulder like he’s congratulating one of his locker-room buddies. “I think this will be a great opportunity for you. Just buy me a drink sometime, and we’ll call it even.”
The intern walks past my cubicle with a handful of papers, probably on her way to the copier. Jeremy leers at her.
“Jesus Christ,” he says, “look at the ass on that. I don’t usually go for the pale, flat-chested type but I’d bend her over and pound that pussy into the middle of next week. She’s only seventeen, started last week. I think she could do with a bit of closer supervision. One-on-one if you know what I mean.”
Jeremy walks off after her. He looks back over his shoulder.
“And make it good, George,” he shouts. “You don’t want to let the side down.”
That fucking prick.
The sun’s setting. I leave the office building and look out across the empty parking lot. Well, it’s not quite empty. In the distance—far in the distance—there’s a solitary car. Guess whose it is.
There’s a rumble of thunder. I look up at the dark, ominous clouds just as it begins to rain. Not light rain. Not even normal-size rain. I’m talking big-fuck-off-drops-the-size-of-marbles rain. The type of rain where if you look up at it for too long, you’ll probably drown.
I hold my briefcase over my head as a makeshift umbrella and begin to trudge on over to my car.
It’s just after eight o’clock. Smartly dressed party guests in their forties and fifties are standing in small groups in the living room. They make awkward small talk to one another and sip champagne. There’s a banner on the wall that reads ‘Happy Birthday’, and a long buffet table full of pretentious-looking finger food.
Teddy stands by himself next to the buffet table. His usual attire—khaki shorts and Hawaiian shirt—ensures that he stands out like a sore thumb. He has an empty champagne glass in one hand and a half-eaten slice of quiche in the other. He attempts to make conversation with the small group of party guests standing closest to him.
“Hi there,” he says, interrupting their chatter. “Great party isn’t it?”
The people turn to look at Teddy. The expressions on their faces are partly quizzical, partly disgusted. They smile politely and then continue chatting among themselves.
Gloria enters the room. She’s dressed up to the nines and holds a bottle of champagne.
“I’m ever so sorry for the delay everyone,” she announces. “George would be late for his own funeral, which, incidentally, may be a lot sooner than he thinks.”
There’s a ripple of polite laughter.
“But in the meantime,” she continues, “who’d like a refill?”
Teddy holds his empty champagne glass out in Gloria’s direction. She ignores him completely as she saunters over to some other guests.
I pull in to the driveway and turn off the engine. The rain beats down hard on the roof of the car. I sit for a moment to gather my thoughts.
I think by most people’s standards I’ve had a pretty shitty birthday up to now. And it’s about to get a whole lot fucking worse. I’m not kidding. I’d be more comfortable in front of a firing squad than in a room with this bunch of pretentious, Botox-faced bastards. The only reason Gloria throws these parties is to see which of her conceited friends has had the crappiest facelift recently.
I enter the house and close the front door behind me, intentionally slamming it a little harder than usual so that my waiting guests know of my arrival. I can’t see anyone from the vestibule, but I can hear the nearby chatter subside to a whisper.
I walk along the hallway and into the living room, where I’m confronted by Gloria, Teddy and a room full of semi-familiar faces. Suddenly, and in unison, they raise their concealed firearms. Uzi 9mms, AK47s. Even old Dorothy has a pump-action shotgun.
“Surprise!” they yell, before pumping me full of lead while laughing maniacally.
Back to reality. I blink. There are no weapons, just raised champagne glasses. There’s a small ripple of applause before the guests resume where they left off with their awkward small talk.
Gloria approaches. She leans in close to whisper into my ear.
“And where the hell have you been?” she demands. “Audrey and Malcolm couldn’t wait any longer and have already left.”
I have no idea who they are.
“I’m sorry, dear,” I say. “I had to—”
“Take this,” she snaps, shoving a glass of champagne into my hand. “At least you looked surprised this time. Or was it terrified? I’m not entirely sure. The gift presentation is in precisely three minutes so don’t you dare leave this room. I want everybody to see what I got you.”
Gloria hurries away. I take a sip of the champagne as Teddy approaches.
“Hey, George,” he says, as enthusiastically as ever.
“Hi, Teddy. Glad you could make it.”
“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss it for the world. This place is rocking.”
We look around the room. It’s not rocking. Small groups of people, who either don’t know us or don’t care that we exist, chat quietly among themselves.
“Yeah,” Teddy continues, “I’d say it’s almost as good as your fortieth.”
Yes, he did mean that sincerely. Poor, Teddy. Poor, poor, Teddy. I try my best to muster half a smile.
“Hey, why the long face buddy?” he asks.
“I don’t know. Have you ever thought that your life just hasn’t turned out the way you expected it to?”
“What are you talking about? You’ve got it all. A lovely home, a gorgeous wife, a good job where people look up to you and respect you. I mean, I don’t mind saying that you’re a bit of a role model to me.”
“Oh, come on.”
“No, I’m serious. Out of everyone that we went to school with, I think you’ve come out on top. I’m proud of you, buddy,” Teddy says, his voice breaking slightly.
He rubs his eye and sniffles slightly.
“Teddy, are you crying?”
“No, no. It’s just allergies,” he replies. “And just look at all these people here to celebrate with you and wish you well. That alone should show you just how much the folk around here think of you.”
“Teddy, besides Gloria, you’re the only person here that I actually know.”
“Well, I’d switch places with you in a heartbeat. Of course, I have Mother to think about. She’s struggled on for this long. In her fragile state, I don’t think she’d last much longer without me.”
Fragile? She’s about as fragile as a rock. After a nuclear apocalypse, the only things left alive would be cockroaches and Teddy’s mother.
“Only the other day,” Teddy continues, “I was taking her to get the hard skin removed from her feet and—”
Teddy’s phone begins to ring. He takes it from his pocket and looks at the screen.
“Oh, speak of the devil,” he says, as he answers the call. “Hello, Mother . . . yes, I know what time it is . . . no, I won’t be too much longer, Gloria’s just about to give George his present and then . . . yes, I know you have your bath at eight thirty, but I’m just going to be . . . no, I don’t want to disrupt your morning bowel movements but . . . yes, I know Mother but . . . okay, Mother. Okay, that’s fine. I’ll come home now. Okay, bye Mother, bye.”
Teddy ends the call.
“Sorry, buddy. I’m gonna have to take off,” he says apologetically.
“No problem, Teddy. Thanks for dropping by.”
“My pleasure. I gave my card and present to Gloria earlier. I expect you’ll get to open them later on.”
Gloria enters the room. She has an envelope in her hand.
“Well, it looks like it’s time for the main event,” Teddy says, excitedly. “You’re gonna love what she’s got you this year. I’ll let myself out.”
Gloria grabs the glass out of my hand and taps the rim with a pen. Ching, ching, ching.
“Sorry to interrupt everyone,” she says, “but can I have your attention for just one moment?”
The chatter subsides once more, and everybody turns politely to listen.
“It’s finally time to give the birthday boy his present,” Gloria announces with a beaming grin. “Here you go, darling,” she says, handing me the envelope. “And remember, it’s better to be over-the-hill than underneath it.”
Gloria laughs overenthusiastically. A few of the guests chuckle politely. She got that joke from the front of the birthday card that she gave me last year.
“Thank you, darling,” I say, trying to force my best fake smile.
I open the envelope and take out a white card. I read the writing aloud.
“A voucher for one session of past life regression therapy with world-renowned psychotherapist, Dr. Susan K. Godwin.”
Last year she got me a voucher for colonic irrigation.
“Isn’t that absolutely fabulous?” Gloria asks.
There’s a ripple of excited chatter among the guests.
“Wow,” I say. “I’m really lost for words. Thank you, honey.”
I kiss Gloria on the cheek.
“It’s the latest trend in Hollywood,” she says. “All the big A-list celebrities are doing it. I thought you could give it a go and if it’s any good, then I might give it a whirl.”
Gloria saunters off again to mingle with the guests that she desperately hopes to have just impressed with this year’s bizarre offering.
I look again at the voucher. I’m genuinely speechless.
It’s just after midnight. The party’s finally over. After four tedious hours of feigning interest in the lives of pompous cretins, I can at last relax. At least until next time.
I collect the empty champagne bottles from the kitchen countertop as Gloria walks in.
“Wasn’t tonight fantastic?” she asks, sitting down at the kitchen table. “And did you see Jim and Amanda? She swears she’s just changed her moisturizer, but the pair of them look like they’re permanently stuck in a wind tunnel. Moisturizer can’t do that; I don’t care how expensive it is. I bet they’ve been to Dr. Silwana. I wonder if they got a husband and wife discount. You know, two for the price of one. Or maybe buy one and get the second half price.”
Gloria laughs to herself and then takes a sip from the half empty glass of champagne in front of her.
“And did you see the present they got you?” she continues. “A bottle opener! I mean, it’s a nice one, but what the hell? The pair of them earn three times what you do, and they buy you a bottle opener. A 1995 Château Margaux would have been more appropriate, but I bet Jim drank that on the way here. I’m sure he’s hitting the bottle again, he was already shit-faced when they arrived. Wait until I tell the girls about this.”
“You know,” I say, “I’ve been thinking.”
“Oh, mind you don’t hurt yourself, dear,” Gloria quips.
“This whole past life regression thing.”
“Well, do you really think it’s for me? I mean, it’s a lovely thought, but maybe you’d enjoy it more than I would.”
“What are you talking about, George? Regression therapy is for everybody. And if it’s good enough for A-list celebrities then it’s more than good enough for the likes of you. Anyway, I’ve already booked you a session so don’t try to back out now. It’s tomorrow at four o’clock, so you’ll have to leave work early. And try not to be late. I know that matching the little numbers on your watch to the little numbers in your planner is of great difficulty to you, but Dr. Godwin won’t wait around like a fool, as I do.”
Gloria picks up a gift from the few that remain unopened on the table top in front of her. She tears off the wrapping paper.
“What the heck is this?” she asks. “Teddy got you a framed picture of himself.”
She holds it up to show me.
“No, it’s of the both of us. On the hiking trip last year.”
“Hiking trip? It looks more like your honeymoon. I think somebody has a bit of a man crush. Wait a minute, do you think that’s why he’s never gotten married? Do you think he’s secretly in love with you?”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. He’s never gotten married because of that decrepit old bag on wheels.”
“Relax, George, I’m only teasing. It’s lovely. Maybe you could hang it in the shed.”
Gloria lays the picture down on the table and gets to her feet.
“Right,” she says, “if I’m asleep when you come to bed, try not to wake me.”
“Well, I was thinking I could leave this for now.”
“Why?” Gloria asks. “I don’t want to be faced with it all in the morning.”
“I was just thinking, you know. Because it’s my birthday, I thought we could—”
“Oh, come on, George. I’m absolutely exhausted. I’ve hardly sat down all day trying to get this place in order. It’s not easy organizing and hosting a party, you know. I’ll tell you what, why don’t you throw me a party for my next birthday and then afterward I’ll ask you for sex and see how you feel? How about that? Goodnight, George.”
Gloria turns and leaves the kitchen.
Well, happy fucking birthday to me.
About an hour later, I enter the bedroom. Gloria’s sitting up in bed, reading in the dim light from her bedside lamp. I take off my clothes and get in next to her. I lean over for a kiss.
“I said no, George,” she snaps, without even taking her eyes off the page.
I stop my advance, think for a moment, and then settle down for the night without any further discussion.
I leave the house. As per usual, I see Teddy getting his decrepit old mother from her wheelchair and into his car. He notices me.
“Morning, George,” he yells. “Wild night last night.”
“Morning, Teddy. Thanks for the picture.”
“My pleasure, buddy. Just a little memento from our trip last year. We’ll have to do it again sometime.”
“Maybe we could take a different route next time. You know, go up along the old—”
“Teddy! Do you want me to die of old age sitting here?” rants the crippled old bag. “Get a move on you big, useless lump. We haven’t got all day.”
“Sorry, Mother,” Teddy replies as he hurriedly tries to get the mean old bitch into the passenger seat of his car.
I get into my own car and set off for work.
I’ve just had my lunch, and now the drowsiness is kicking in. I’m sitting in my cubicle, staring blankly at the spreadsheet on my screen. All of the numbers just blur into one as I struggle to keep my eyes open. I try desperately to stop myself from dozing off and falling face first into my keyboard.
Jeremy approaches. I blink a few times and try to regain full consciousness.
“Hey, Jeremy,” I say, waving my hand to get his attention.
He stops at my cubicle.
“Yeah, what is it?”
“Listen, I need to use some of my time owed and leave a bit earlier today. It’s just that it was my birthday yesterday and Gloria’s booked me into this—”
“No can do, George,” says Jeremy, shaking his head. “I’m playing golf with RT at two thirty, and I need you to supervize these knuckleheads while I’m gone. How’s the presentation going?”
“Fine. I just need to get this month’s figures from Terry, then we’ll be pretty much good to go.”
“Good. Remember, don’t let the team down,” Jeremy says, pointing his finger.
He struts off to wherever he was heading. Probably to lust over the intern again.
I take the voucher out of my shirt pocket and look at it for a moment. Well, that’s it I guess. At least I can tell Gloria I tried. I drop the voucher into the wastepaper basket underneath my desk. It spins through the air, and when it lands I notice something that I hadn’t spotted before. There’s some writing on the back. I pick the voucher back up and examine it more closely. “Become the person you were meant to be”, it reads.
I sit on an old wooden chair and nervously clench by briefcase to my lap. I look around the small waiting room. At the far end, the receptionist sits behind her desk. She chats on the phone while polishing her nails.
Sitting directly opposite me is a scruffy, bearded man who looks like he’s spent the last month sleeping in a bus shelter. We accidentally make eye contact. He just stares at me with his dark, menacing eyes.
“Hi,” I say in an attempt to dispel the awkwardness.
He doesn’t respond. He just continues to stare.
“It looks like you’ve made a friend,” says the guy sitting a few seats to my left.
Now, this fella must be about three feet tall. A primordial dwarf I think you call them. I saw it on a documentary once. His legs dangle off the edge of the chair, his feet a good ten inches off the floor. He’s got some style, though. I’ll give him that. I suspect his suit cost five times what mine did. Even if he did buy it in the kids’ section.
“Are you talking to him or me?” I ask.
“Oh, don’t worry about crazy Derek over there. He’s harmless when he’s sedated. I’m Stuart, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, Stuart. I’m George.”
“So, what are you here for, George? If you don’t mind me asking, that is.”
“No, not at all. Actually, my wife gave me a voucher for a session with Dr. Godwin. I’m supposedly being regressed to a former life.”
“Oh, there’s no supposedly about it. Susan, or Dr. Godwin I should say, is an absolute genius. She helped me overcome my fear of oranges. This time last year I couldn’t even say the word without breaking into a sweat.”
“Well, how about that.”
“I remember my first session,” Stuart says, reminiscently. “You must be really excited.”
“Tentative might be a better word. To be perfectly honest, I’ve got absolutely no idea what to expect.”
“It’s only natural to be a little nervous before your first session. I certainly was. But let me tell you, this is a pivotal moment in your life, George. After you leave here today, things won’t be quite the same again. I guarantee it. Your life begins right here, right now, my friend.”
“Well, I could certainly do with a change.”
“You’ve come to the right place.”
The receptionist puts down the telephone.
“Mr. Chapman,” she says, “Dr. Godwin’s ready to see you now.”
“Well, here goes nothing,” I say to Stuart as I stand up from my chair.
“It was nice speaking to you, George. Maybe I’ll see you again sometime?”
“Yeah, you never know. Take care now.”
I make my way toward the door to my right. I knock a couple of times and then turn the large brass handle. I push the door open and step into a room that wouldn’t look out of place in a British period drama.
Dr. Godwin, a smartly dressed woman in her fifties, sits behind a desk at the far end. She looks up from the notes that she’s writing and smiles.
“Mr. Chapman?” she asks.
“Yes,” I reply, nervously.
“Don’t sound so worried. Please come in and take a seat.”
I close the door behind me and approach Dr. Godwin. I take a seat at her desk.
“So, Mr. Chapman,” she continues.
“George. Please, just call me George.”
“Okay then, George. What is it that I can help you with today?”
“Well, I don’t actually have any problems as such. You see, my wife gave me a voucher for my birthday and kind of insisted that I come along to see you.”
I take the voucher out of my shirt pocket and hand it to Dr. Godwin. She just lays it down on the desk.
“Apparently, it’s all the rage with the A-list celebrities,” I add.
“Well, I wouldn’t know about that,” she replies. “But that’s fine. You don’t have to have any problems, as you put it, to benefit from past life regression.”
“If you say so.”
“You don’t sound convinced.”
“Well, I don’t mean to seem disrespectful, Doctor.”
“Please, call me Susan.”
“Okay, Susan. But I think I’m quite a skeptical person in general. Especially when it comes to this kind of stuff.”
“This kind of stuff?”
“You know, spiritual stuff. Psychics, past lives, the afterlife, reincarnation, ghosts, goblins. I’m not even particularly religious.”
“You don’t have to believe in past lives and reincarnation. I’ve treated literally hundreds of people just like you. In fact, most of my patients are initially very skeptical until they experience the regression for themselves. There are many skeptics of this form of therapy who argue that psychotherapists simply hypnotize their patients and allow them to create the past life memories from their own subconscious. Whereas people who have experienced regression firsthand swear that they are taken back hundreds of years to former lives, and are able to see and hear through the eyes and ears of people they once were. And often in situations that have an impact on the way the person thinks or behaves today, in their current life. Whichever scenario you happen to believe is ultimately irrelevant. In all my thirty years’ experience, I’ve never once encountered a patient that I couldn’t regress. And furthermore, who didn’t admit afterward that the experience had a significant and often life-changing effect. Regression therapy can unlock deep-seated feelings, emotions, and desires that you never even knew existed.”
“Hmm, I see.”
“But the only way to find out for certain is to experience it for yourself. So, with that in mind, shall we begin?”
I recline onto the brown leather chaise longue. It’s actually much more comfortable than it looks. Susan sits on the chair beside me with her pen and notepad ready.
“Before you ask,” I say, “I’ve never fantasized about my mother.”
Believe it or not, that was meant to be a joke. But Susan doesn’t smile, not even to be polite. I try to break the awkwardness with an embarrassed chuckle. Well, I half chuckle, half clear my throat. I’m such a dickhead.
“I’m glad to hear that, George,” Susan eventually replies. “Now, just relax. Put your head back, close your eyes, and try to clear your mind.”
I do as I’m told. At this point, Susan’s voice becomes much softer.
“Just concentrate on my voice, George,” she says. “Don’t think about anything else. Breathe deeply. In through your nose, out through your mouth. You will feel yourself getting tired, and you’ll begin to drift off into a light sleep. Just relax, you’re doing fine. I’m now going to count down from five to zero. Count down with me in your mind, and when we reach zero, you’ll be completely relaxed. Here we go. Five, four, three, two, one, zero. Now, George, I want you to tell me what you see around you. Where are you? What are you doing?”
“I’m in a kitchen,” I say. “It looks old, very old. Maybe two or three hundred years ago.”
“And what are you doing?”
“I’m at the sink. I’m washing the dishes. There are lots of dishes, it must have been a big meal.”
“Are they your dishes or is this your job?”
“It’s my job.”
“How old are you?”
“And what’s your name?”
Of all the people I could have been. A Roman gladiator. A military leader. A gun-toting cowboy. But, no. I was a twelve-year-old dishwasher called Dorothy.
“Now, George,” Susan says, “we’re going to leave this life for a moment. Let’s come a bit closer to the present day. Just relax. Count down with me in your mind. Three, two, one, zero. Now, look around. Where are you now?”
“I’m in a bank. It’s old fashioned. Maybe 1950s.”
“What’s your name and age?”
“Johnny Farrell. Twenty-nine.”
“What are you doing in the bank? Do you work there?”
“No, I’m waiting in line. The cashier has just waved me over, I’m approaching the counter.”
“And are you—”
“What is it, George?”
“I have a gun. I’m pointing it at the cashier. I’m demanding money.”
“And what’s the cashier doing, George?”
“She’s panicking. She looks terrified. I’ve just thrown her a bag, she’s filling it up. Bundles of notes. There must be—holy shit!”
“What? What is it, George?”
“A gunshot. Somebody’s shooting at me.”
“A security guard. I’m returning fire. Oh, fuck!”
“What, George? What’s happened?”
“I hit him. Everyone’s screaming. It’s chaos.”
“Okay, calm down, George. It’s going to be fine. Just listen to my voice. You’re no longer in the bank, you’re perfectly safe, nobody can harm you. Three, two, one, zero. Now, take a look around. Where are you now?”
“I don’t know, a small room. I’m strapped into a chair, I can’t move. I can feel something on my head. There’s something in my mouth, too.”
“Are you alone, George?”
“No. There are people watching me. They’re sitting on chairs, about five rows deep. They’re just staring at me. I don’t know what they want. Some of them are crying.”
“Okay, George. Just listen to my voice, you’re leaving this place. You’re returning to the present day, and you’re perfectly safe and secure. Just stay calm, breathe slowly. Everything is going to be fine. Now, open your eyes.”
I open my eyes and sit up slowly. I feel weak and dizzy. I must be white as a sheet. Susan gently puts her hand on my shoulder.
“It’s okay, George,” she says, reassuringly. “You’re in my office. Nothing can harm you here. You’re perfectly safe.”
I think I’m gonna throw up.
I wander out of Dr. Godwin’s office building. A little dazed, a little confused. I make my way through the small parking lot toward my car and get in. I sit for a moment and stare blankly ahead. I look down at my open palms. They’re red, almost blistered.
It’s a beautiful sunny morning. I leave the house for work and, as per usual, Teddy is helping his mother into the car. I give them a wave.
“Morning, George,” Teddy replies.
I get into my car before the old bag can complain.
I’m sitting in my cubicle. I click reply on my e mail and type ‘Problem exists between keyboard and chair’. I click send.
I arrive home from work. I pull the car in to the driveway, get out, and enter the house quickly.
In the bedroom, I slip off my suit jacket and throw it across the room. It lands on the nightstand, knocking the lamp onto the floor. I kick off my shoes. One hits the wall with a thud, the other clatters down onto Gloria’s dressing table. I then whip off my tie, belt, and trousers.
I turn on the stereo and stand in front of the full-length mirror. I look at the out-of-shape middle-aged man staring back. The knobbly knees with the slight paunch. I don’t care, though. In this moment, I don’t care.
I slowly begin to nod my head to the beat. Next, I begin to tap my right foot. Now my arms are moving. Now my shoulders. Now my hips. Before I know it, I’m in full flow. I’m not doing any dance in particular. I’m just doing what feels natural. What feels good. Man, I haven’t danced like this since I was a kid.
There’s a loud knock on the door. I stop dancing and turn down the music. I walk over to the door, open it ajar, and look out. Gloria’s standing on the landing holding the laundry basket under her arm with a somewhat puzzled expression on her face.
“What are you doing in there?” she asks.
“Okay,” she says, disbelievingly. “Who were you on the phone to earlier?”
“I wasn’t on the phone.”
“When you came in I heard you talking to somebody on the phone. You said ‘Ronny,’ or ‘Johnny,’ or something.”
“I was talking to myself.”
“You were talking to yourself?”
“Yes. Rehearsing a presentation I have to give. With Ronny. Don’t you ever talk to yourself? You know, when you’re stuck here all day wiping my coffee stains off the furniture.”
Gloria looks taken aback.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” she asks. “Last night you hardly said two words. Now you’re dancing around the bedroom with no trousers on. Is this the midlife crisis finally kicking in?”
“No, dear,” I laugh. “I had that last year when I fucked the intern at work.”
Gloria looks both shocked and perplexed.
“I am of course joking, my love,” I say with a smile. “You know you’re the only woman for me.”
“Hmm,” says Gloria. “That and the fact that nobody else would have you.”
“So, nothing happened yesterday? With Dr. Godwin.”
“No, I told you. It’s a load of nonsense.”
“Okay, if you say so. Well, I’ll go and prepare dinner,” says Gloria as she looks me up and down. “I hope you’ll be dressed a bit more suitably by the time you come downstairs.”
Gloria turns away and carries on along the landing. When she’s out of sight, I slowly close the bedroom door.
I wander into the dining room, still wearing just my shirt and underpants. The food smells delicious. I’ve worked up quite an appetite from all that dancing. Gloria’s sitting at the dining table with the evening meal laid out in front of her. She’s obviously annoyed; she doesn’t even look at me.
“What the hell time do you call this?” she demands, angrily. “The food is almost completely cold.”
I don’t reply. After a moment, Gloria looks up.
“Where the hell are your pants?” she asks. “And why are you only wearing one sock?”
I look down at my feet. She’s right, I am only wearing one sock.
“Because I feel like it,” I reply, taking my seat at the table.
“Because you feel like it? You came home from work and thought to yourself, ‘I feel like wearing only one sock’?”
“It probably came off when I was dancing.”
“George, what the hell has gotten into you? You’re acting like a crazy person.”
“A crazy person? Why? Because I’m only wearing one sock? Does that make me crazy to you?”
“Yes, when you’ve never acted like this before in your entire life.”
“Well, I’m glad you don’t do the psychiatric assessments up at the Garlands. With that kind of logic, the whole city would be in there. Everyone apart from you and your uptight cronies, of course. I mean, it’s not at all crazy to spend your days polishing the kitchen taps, buying overpriced face cream from the Amazon flipping jungle, and steam-ironing your underwear. I’m just doing what I feel like doing.”
I pick up the steak from my plate with my bare hand. It’s medium rare, so it squelches slightly as I take a bite.
“Now that is enough,” asserts Gloria. “You’re a grown man, not some kind of feral animal.”
“We’re all animals,” I shout, throwing the steak down hard onto the table.
It lands in the gravy jug and splatters everything within a six-foot radius, including Gloria. She just sits there looking absolutely dumbfounded, with gravy trickling down her face.
I calmly pick up my napkin and wipe the meat juices off my fingers.
“Now,” I say, authoritatively, “you and I are going to go upstairs, and we are going to have sex. And, more importantly, you are going to fucking enjoy it.”
I throw the napkin down onto the table, get up from my chair, and leave the room, with Gloria looking on in astonishment.
I believe the expression is “TOLO”. Tits out, legs open. Gloria’s on her back. I’m on top, fucking her hard. The bed creaks and the headboard slams against the wall with every thrust of my hips. Gloria sounds like she’s being impaled by a lot more than just my manhood. She digs her nails into my back and chants, “Yes, yes, yes! Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me!” Her orgasmic screams get louder as I slam harder.
Yeah, that’s right. I’m making this bitch walk the ceiling.
It’s another beautiful morning. I leave the house for work like normal, but today I’m feeling a bit more rugged. My suit jacket and tie must still be on the bedroom floor, and my face hasn’t touched a razor.
I glance across at Teddy who, as per usual, is helping the miserable old bitch into his car.
“Morning, George,” he shouts. “Nice aviators. Did you get those for your birthday?”
“Nope. Found them in the attic,” I reply.
“Stop gassing about his stupid sunglasses and get me into the car,” the old bag rants at Teddy. “You’re gonna make us late again. Get a move on.”
Now, if I were Teddy, it would be at this precise moment that I’d be bouncing the old bitch’s head straight off the side of the car.
“Well, have a good one, buddy,” Teddy says with a smile.
“And you,” I reply.
The traffic signal ahead turns to red, so I slow the car to a stop. I have the window rolled down, and the stereo turned up.
Another car pulls to a stop next to me. I look across at the attractive young female in the passenger seat. I catch her eye, so I tip my shades and smile. The driver of the car is probably her boyfriend. He notices me looking at his girl and doesn’t seem too happy about it, but I just keep on smiling. The lights change to green. I push my shades back on and put the pedal to the metal.
I drive into the office parking lot and zoom down the first aisle toward an empty space. At the last moment, I slam on the brakes. The tires screech as I come to a stop in the parking bay just an inch or two from the steel posts in front. I grab my briefcase from the passenger seat and get out of the car, slamming the door shut behind me.
Well, look at that. Parked right next to me is Jeremy’s brand new Jag. I look around, there’s nobody else about. I step a bit closer. I can see my reflection in the immaculate paintwork. I look around again, still nobody. This is it, this is my chance. My palms begin to sweat as I clench my car key tightly. After one last check to make sure nobody is watching, I dig the tip of the key into the perfect paintwork and proceed to scrape it down the full length of the car. Sure, it feels wrong to deface a thing of such beauty, but the thought of Jeremy’s reaction makes it feel oh so right.
Everyone’s busily working away. I just sit at my desk and sip my coffee. My monitor’s blank. I haven’t even switched on my computer this morning.
Jeremy dashes over.
“George, where’s your tie?” he asks. “Jesus, you’re meant to dress up for these things, not down. What’s the matter with you?”
I don’t respond. I just take another sip of my coffee.
“Ah, fuck it,” he says. “Come on, we’ve got to go. I hope you’ve prepared something good to say in there.”
“Oh, don’t worry, Jeremy. I have.”
The plush meeting room has floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides. I sit at the large glass table, accompanied by twelve of the most overpaid pricks in the entire organization. They tap away on their laptops and tablets while chatting in their project management lingo.
Jeremy’s sitting next to a lecherous old jackass in his late fifties. I can’t remember his first name, but he’s affectionately known around the office as Molester Mobbs.
“As far as I’m concerned,” Mobbs says to Jeremy, “anybody below a grade eight is simply a peasant and should be treated as such. Unless, of course, they’re below the age of thirty and have a nice pair of tits.”
They both laugh out loud. I just sit quietly and continue to sip my coffee.
Richard Taylor, the CEO, enters the room. The chatter subsides as he takes his seat at the head of the table.
“Well,” says Richard, “shall we make a start? I know most of us have luncheon reservations to attend. I trust that you’ve all read the agenda. There are just a couple of things I’d like to add. First of all, Vanessa sends her apologies. She’s been held up in traffic and will be joining us as soon as she can.”
“I hope she’s submitted an E37 form,” quips Ponytail Guy, a greasy looking moron in his late thirties.
Everyone around the table laughs. Except for me, of course.
“However,” Richard continues, “we are joined today by . . . ” he looks down at a print out of an e mail conversation in front of him, “James Chapman, a Data Analyst from Jeremy’s team.”
Richard looks directly at me.
“Now, do you prefer James? Or can we call you Jim?” he asks.
“Well, I suppose you could if that was my name,” I respond.
There’s an uncomfortable silence.
“It’s George,” says Jeremy. “George Chapman.”
“Oh, well,” says Richard, slightly embarrassed. “George is going to be giving us an overview of the work they’re doing in Jeremy’s division.”
“That’s what I call effective delegation, Jez,” says Ponytail Guy. “Just get one of your minions to do your job for you.”
“Well, I just like to give my guys an opportunity to get out from behind their desks every once in a while,” Jeremy replies. “You know, see what they can aspire to. It does wonders for morale. Isn’t that right, George?”
“Oh yeah,” I say. “I mean, I’m practically giddy with excitement.”
Again, there’s another uncomfortable silence. Jeremy smiles awkwardly.
“So, George,” he says, “I believe you’ve prepared a presentation?”
“Well, I was going to, Jeremy. But then I decided to spend all last night fucking my wife instead. I felt like that was a much better way to spend my evening.”
The overpaid pricks glance at each other with bemused expressions.
“You see, Jeremy,” I continue, “I’ve been carrying your stupid ass for the past five years. Now I think it’s about time everyone knows just how fucking useless you really are.”
“What the hell’s gotten into you?” Jeremy asks.
“I’m just telling it how it is,” I say, nonchalantly. “That’s how I roll these days.”
“How you roll? What the hell are you talking about?”
Jeremy turns to Richard.
“I’m sorry about this, Richard,” he says. “He’s never acted like this before.”
“That’s right, Rich.” I confirm, “I haven’t. Now, do you prefer Richard or can I just call you Dick?”
“Okay,” Richard says, calmly. “I think you’ve said just about enough for—”
“Oh, I haven’t even started, Ricky boy,” I interrupt. “Jeremy’s right, though, I’m never usually like this. But that’s probably why this horrid, egotistical, philandering little bastard has been able to walk all over me for the past five years and get where he is today. Right up at the top with the rest of you degenerate scumbags. I tell ya, it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you’re not burdened with a soul.”
“Who are you calling degenerate scumbags?” asks Molester Mobbs.
“Well, you, for one. In this room, there’s at least one embezzler, two recreational drug users, and a registered sex offender. And we all know which one you are.”
“Philandering?” Richard says to Jeremy. “What’s he talking about?”
“I have absolutely no idea,” he responds.
Jeremy’s obviously a bit shaken up by my revelations. He squirms awkwardly in his chair and looks like he’s breaking into a sweat.
“Oh, haven’t you heard, Dickie?” I ask. “All the time old Jeremy here has been engaged to the apple of your eye, he’s been putting the blocks to just about every vaguely attractive female in this place. And some of the ugly ones too. That includes Blondie over there,” I say, gesturing to a woman in her forties sitting directly opposite me.
Now, Blondie is one of those women who you can tell used to be a stunner in her day. However, she’s now on the wrong side of forty and looks a bit like she’s started to melt.
“You know,” I say to Blondie, “for years I’ve been watching you totter around in your high heels and miniskirt, fluttering your eyelashes at every poor, undersexed bastard in this place to get them to tend to your every beck and call. And that led me to believe that you were one of the most useless wastes of skin in this place. However, according to Jeremy, you’re very skilled in the bedroom department. So, theoretically, you may be useful for something after all.”
“Fuck you, you spiteful little bastard,” she says with quite a bit of venom.
I smile, and then turn my attention back to Richard.
“And, of course, there’s Tiffany from Finance,” I add. “To give you a clue, she’s the one on maternity leave.”
“Oh, this is complete bullshit,” Jeremy insists.
“It could be,” I say, “I’ll give you that. There are an awful lot of terrible gossips in this place. But a simple paternity test will clear things up once and for all. I hear you can even do them by post these days.”
Jeremy looks enraged.
“George, you better shut your fucking mouth before I—”
“Okay, Jeremy,” Richard interrupts, “I’ll handle this.”
Richard composes himself and then looks directly at me.
“Mr. Chapman,” he says, “this kind of behavior is not welcome in my meeting room or in my organization, for that matter. So, from this moment on, you can consider your contract of employment with the company terminated, and you should leave the premises immediately. Do I make myself clear?”
“Crystal,” I reply.
But I don’t show any signs of leaving. I just take another sip of my coffee which, incidentally, is now almost completely cold and tastes quite disgusting. There’s an awkward moment as everyone just stares at me, not really sure what to do or say. Then Richard finally breaks the silence.
“Do you have any further questions?” he asks.
“Yeah, why don’t ducks’ legs get cold? I mean, in the winter the water must be freezing.”
Richard doesn’t look amused, but he manages to remain surprisingly calm considering the situation.
“I think you should go and clear your desk before I call security.”
“Clear my desk?” I ask. “No problem.”
I march into the office. As per usual, I go by unnoticed. I make my way over to the window and slide it open. I then march on over to my desk and begin to unplug my monitor.
The people in neighboring cubicles notice what I’m doing. They slowly stop typing and watch me curiously.
I get the cables loose, pick up the monitor with both hands, march on over to the open window, and hurl it out as far as I can. I don’t look to see where it lands but, after a second or two, there’s a loud crash followed by the sound of a car alarm.
Now quite a lot of people are watching.
I march back over to my desk and grab the telephone. I don’t bother unplugging that, I just wrench it free with a mighty tug and throw it as hard as I can against the wall. It smashes into several pieces on impact.
Pretty much everyone in the office is watching me now. I wish the dimwits could see themselves sitting there with their idiotic expressions. The absence of the constant typing and chatter makes the place eerily quiet.
With a final swipe of my arm, I knock all of my remaining desktop items onto the floor.
“There we go,” I announce, “all clear.”
I stroll through the office parking lot to my car and get in, slamming the door shut behind me. I just sit there for a moment.
“I can’t believe it,” I say to myself after a few seconds. “I did it. I finally fucking did it.”
I let out a shriek of excitement and thump the steering wheel hard with both fists. Johnny, who’s now sitting next to me in the passenger seat, casually lights up a cigarette and takes a drag.
“Yes, you did, George,” he says in his usual calm and collected manner, like nothing in the world can bother him.
He smiles at me and exhales the cigarette smoke. Man, I love it when he does that. He’s so fucking cool.
“I’m proud of you, buddy,” he adds. “How long have you been dreaming of this day? Playing it over in your mind. Again and again and again.”
“That’s right, George. You let those people walk all over you for too goddamn long. But not anymore. That was the old George, this is the new.”
“Hell, yeah,” I agree enthusiastically. “Hey, you don’t think I went overboard, do you? I mean, when I threw the monitor out the window. I know we didn’t plan that, but it just came to me in the heat of the moment.”
“It was perfect, George. Perfect. We can’t plan everything, right? Sometimes you have to act on impulse, react to the situation. And that’s exactly what you did. I couldn’t have done it better myself.”
It feels amazing to hear him say these words. It’s like when you’re at school, and the older, popular kid knows your name. I can’t contain the grin that creeps across my face.
“So,” Johnny continues, “are you ready for part two?”
“Well, I’ve been thinking about that. Do you really think it’s necessary? I mean, I reckon we’ve taught Jeremy a pretty good lesson already. He’s gonna be in big trouble after today, that’s for sure. He can kiss goodbye to his career here and any chance he had of a happy-ever-after with the boss’s daughter.”
Johnny just stares at me with a dispassionate expression. I don’t know whether he’s annoyed, disappointed, or both.
“Have you forgotten how this man has treated you for the past five years?” he finally asks. “Think of all the times he’s taken advantage of you, George. Think of all the times he’s humiliated you. Think of all the nights you’ve had to work late to do his job as well as your own. And who took the credit for it? Who got the big promotion and the fancy car?”
“Well, he did.”
“That’s right, George. He did. Now, does that seem fair to you?”
“And should we just let him get away with it?”
“I guess not.”
“You ‘guess not’?”
The more I think about how Jeremy has treated me over the years, the angrier I become.
“Hell, no,” I say. “We’re not gonna let that son of a bitch get away with it.”
“That’s more like it. Now, get the stuff.”
I lean over into the back of the car and grab the baseball bat that is lying on the seat.
“What else?” Johnny asks.
I open the glove compartment and take out an old World War II Colt pistol. I just hold it in my hands for a moment.
“We’re just gonna scare him, right?” I ask.
“Of course. Just tuck it into your waistband so he can see it. So that he doesn’t fuck with us. Now, do we need to go over this one last time?”
“No, I know what to do.”
Jeremy exits the office building carrying a box containing a few personal items. He angrily marches through the parking lot to his Jag. The top’s down, so he just tosses the box into the passenger seat and then rummages around in his trouser pocket for the key. He stops still when he notices the huge scratch that runs down the entire length of the car.
“What the hell?” he says to himself.
I walk up behind Jeremy as he’s admiring my handiwork. I stand about twenty feet away, clenching the baseball bat in my hand and with the gun tucked into my waistband.
Johnny casually takes a seat on the hood of another car and gets ready to enjoy the show.
Jeremy seems to sense that he’s no longer alone. He slowly turns around to face me.
I hold up two fingers. “Part two,” I yell.
“George, what the hell are you still doing here?”
“Well, Jeremy. To paraphrase the Duke, it’s time to kick ass and chew gum. And I’m all out of gum.”
“George, I think you need help.”
“Well, it’s awfully nice of you to care about my well-being, Jeremy. But I think at the moment you should be more concerned about your own.”
“What do you mean?” Jeremy asks, almost as if he doesn’t really want to know the answer.
“How did your little chat with Dickie go? Still number one future son-in-law, are we?”
“I can handle Richard.”
“Yeah. In fact, why don’t I have a word with him for you? Maybe I can calm him down and, you know, maybe get your job back.”
“Gee, thanks, Jeremy. But I don’t think you need to concern yourself with my career prospects anymore.”
“Oh, and why’s that?”
“We’ve got bigger fish to fry, Jeremy. Bigger fish to fry.”
“I mean the royal ‘we’.”
“Get on with it, George,” Johnny commands.
“Right, enough of the chitchat,” I say. “Let’s get down to business.”
I grasp the baseball bat with both hands and start approaching Jeremy.
“George, don’t do anything stupid,” he warns. “There are witnesses.”
I stop and look around.
“No there aren’t.”
“Security cameras,” Jeremy says, gesturing back toward the office building. “You’re always on camera.”
“I know, that’s why I combed my hair.”
I continue to approach, gripping the baseball bat even tighter.
“No, please, George,” Jeremy pleads.
As I get within striking distance, he holds up his arms in an effort to protect his precious face. But I don’t hit him, that’s not my style.
“Stand aside, Jeremy,” I say. “This could get messy.”
Jeremy looks a little puzzled, but he obediently moves out of my way. I walk up to the front of the Jag and adjust my grip on the bat.
“George, take a moment to think about what you’re doing here,” Jeremy urges. “It’s not a good idea.”
“Oh, I beg to differ. See, I’ve thought about this long and hard and I think it’s a pretty fucking awesome idea.”
I raise the bat up above my head.
“George, please. Do not do this.”
I slam the baseball bat down hard into the passenger-side headlight. The glass smashes.
“Too late,” I say, with a smile. “Damn, that felt good. How’d it feel for you, Jeremy?”
“George, you’re gonna regret this,” he replies.
“We’ll see. Now, look at that, Jeremy. Now it’s uneven. We can’t be having that, can we? Don’t worry, I’ll sort it out.”
I raise the bat again and slam it into the other headlight. Shards of glass fly in all directions.
Again, Jeremy cringes. He looks around, desperately hoping there’ll be somebody nearby to help.
“I don’t think anybody’s gonna come to your rescue, Jeremy. People around here hate your guts. In fact, I’m surprised they’re not lining up to take turns.”
Jeremy starts edging away.
“And where do you think you’re going?” I ask, putting my hand on the gun. “We don’t want you to miss this.”
He stops in his tracks.
“Now,” I continue, “I don’t think you need two side-view mirrors, do you? That’s just greedy. Which one would you like to keep?”
“You said ‘we’ again.”
“Answer me, Jeremy.”
“Erm, the driver’s side.”
I walk around to the passenger side of the Jag. I grasp the baseball bat with both hands and prepare to swing.
“Fore!” I yell before swinging the bat hard, smashing the mirror clean off the side of the car.
“Do the other one,” shouts Johnny.
“Okay, now let’s do the other side,” I say.
“Hold on,” says Jeremy, “you said I could keep one.”
“I said no such thing. I asked which one you would like to keep. That’s all. Pay attention, Jeremy.”
I walk around to the other side of the car.
“Wait, George, wait. I can pay you. A grand if you stop now and I’ll forget it ever happened. What do you say?”
“I say ‘fuck you’. I don’t want you to forget. And I certainly don’t want your money.”
“Then why are you doing this?”
“Payback. For years you’ve treated me like shit. Well, not anymore, Jeremy. Not anymore.”
I windup the baseball bat.
“Anyway,” I add, “now that you’re unemployed I think you’ll need all the money you can get.”
I swing the bat hard into the driver’s side mirror. It smashes clean off the side of the car and skids across the parking lot.
“This is fucking exhilarating. You’ve gotta try this sometime, Jeremy.”
“You’ve completely lost your mind, haven’t you?”
“I know, it’s liberating. Now, how about you jump in and see how it looks.”
Jeremy doesn’t respond.
“I’m not asking, Jeremy,” I say, putting my hand on the gun.
Jeremy reluctantly opens the car door and gets in. I stand back and take a good look.
“Not bad, Jeremy. Not bad. Although, there’s something missing. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Ah yes, of course, the pièce de résistance.”
I run toward the car and jump up onto the hood. I then proceed to smash the baseball bat repeatedly into the windshield, like a battering ram. Smash, smash, smash.
Jeremy ducks for cover.
Eventually, the glass gives way. It’s shatterproof, of course, but I manage to create a hole about the size of a fist. I let go of the bat, leaving it dangling through the hole, and jump down from the car.
“That’s it,” I say. “Perfect.”
Jeremy slowly opens his eyes and sits back up straight, speechless.
“Well, we have to go now, Jeremy. I’d say it’s been nice knowing you but, quite frankly, it hasn’t.”
“Goodbye, Jeremy,” Johnny adds, and together we get into my car.
I start the engine, pull up alongside Jeremy’s Jag, and then I roll down my window.
“Oh, one last thing, Jeremy,” I say as I take the gun from my waistband and point it straight toward his face.
Jeremy closes his eyes and grimaces.
“Please don’t, George,” he pleads. “I’m sorry for the way I treated you. It was wrong, I know that. I’m fucking begging you. I’m too young to die. Oh, fuck.”
I pull the trigger. Click.
Jeremy slowly opens his eyes.
“Jeremy, I’m hurt. After all these years and you think I could do a thing like that. Hurt, Jeremy. Just hurt.”
“Oh, you motherfucker,” Jeremy says, slowly realizing he could easily have kicked my ass ten minutes ago.
I grin as I put my foot on the gas and begin to drive away. I look in the rearview mirror and watch Jeremy start yelling something in a fit of rage. I can’t quite make out what he’s saying, but I doubt it’s anything pleasant.
I’m cruising along the highway.
“Oh man. I’ve been dreaming of doing that for years,” I say to Johnny, as he casually takes a drag from his cigarette.
He sure does smoke a lot.
“And now you have,” he replies, as he exhales the cigarette smoke. “How does it feel?”
“Amazing. Although, you don’t think we went too far, do you? I mean, at the end, with the gun. Did you see his face? I think he may have shat his pants.”
“He’s still alive, isn’t he? Got off lightly as far as I’m concerned.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Why am I feeling sorry for that asshole?”
“You got me.”
“Okay, fuck him. So where next?”
Lisa and Gillian are sitting in the living room drinking chamomile tea from Gloria’s finest bone china teacups. Gloria enters holding a plate of neatly arranged cookies. So neatly arranged, in fact, that it would almost be a shame if somebody took one and ruined the perfect little pile.
“Anyone feeling naughty?” she asks.
“Always,” Lisa cheekily replies.
“I shouldn’t really, I’m on a diet,” says Gillian. “But—”
“But you will anyway,” Lisa interjects. “Where have we heard that before?”
“Well, we can’t all be stick insects,” Gillian replies, defensively.
Gloria places the plate down onto the coffee table, and the women help themselves.
“So, Gloria, what’s all this I’ve been hearing about George?” Lisa asks. “A changed man, is he?”
“Oh my god,” replies Gloria as she takes her seat in the armchair. “That’s the understatement of the century. Ever since he got back from his session with Dr. Godwin, he’s been acting like a completely different person. He swears the therapy didn’t work, but it must have done something. He’s been more confident, more assertive, more self-assured. Basically, more manly. Especially in the bedroom.”
“Lucky you,” says Gillian. “Maybe I should send Barry along to see this doctor of yours. He’s in need of improvement, to say the least.”
“Do it,” Gloria urges. “Seriously, if she can do that to George the woman must be a flaming miracle worker. I’ve booked myself an appointment for next week. Remind me before you leave, I’ll give you her card.”
Suddenly, a loud crash startles the women.
“What the hell was that?” asks Gloria, as she jumps up out of the chair and hurries across to the window.
She peers out between the blinds.
“What is it, Glor?” asks Lisa.
“Somebody’s just crashed their car through my fence.”
“Oh my god. Are they okay?” asks Gillian, as she and Lisa join Gloria at the window.
All three women stand and watch Jeremy get out of his smashed-up Jag. He marches up the driveway toward the front door with the baseball bat in hand.
“I recognize him,” says Gloria. “I think it’s somebody from George’s office.”
Jeremy starts hammering on the front door with his fist. Bang, bang, bang.
“What’s he doing here?” asks Lisa.
“That’s what I’d like to know,” replies Gloria as she turns and begins to leave the room.
“You’re not going to open the door, are you?” Gillian asks, slightly alarmed. “He looks enraged.”
“He’s just crashed his car through my garden fence and completely flattened my petunias. Yes, I’m going to open the door. He’s got some damned explaining to do,” Gloria responds angrily.
She hastily walks out of the living room, marches down the hallway, and opens the front door.
“Where is he?” Jeremy demands, before Gloria can utter a word.
“Where’s who?” she asks. “George?”
“Yes, fucking George. Who the fuck do you think?”
“Well, he’s not—”
Jeremy barges into the house, almost knocking Gloria over in the process, and storms down the hallway. Gloria quickly regains her balance and runs after him.
They enter the living room together. Both Lisa and Gillian just stare at Jeremy, unable to muster a single word between them.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” Gloria demands. “You can’t just barge into somebody’s home like this. I should—”
“George!” Jeremy yells at the top of his voice.
He turns and barges past Gloria again.
“And where the hell do you think you’re going now?” she barks, as Jeremy leaves the room.
“Gloria,” Gillian whispers, “I think you should call the police.”
“No, wait. Let’s find out what’s going on first. Why does he want George?”
“To beat him to death by the look of it,” says Lisa.
Gloria doesn’t look amused.
“Sorry,” says Lisa, realizing her comment wasn’t particularly helpful.
“Just wait here, I’ll try to talk to him,” says Gloria, just as Jeremy storms back into the room.
“So where’s that little bitch hiding?” he asks.
“Don’t you know forced entry is against the law?” says Lisa.
“Shut up, you little rat-faced bastard,” Jeremy shouts, pointing the bat at her.
He then turns his attention back to Gloria.
“I’m only gonna ask one more time,” he threatens. “Where’s George?”
“He’s at work, where he usually is on a Thursday. Why do you want him?”
“He’s not at work today. Or ever again after I get hold of him.”
“Why, what do you mean? What do you think George has done?”
“Just tell him he’s in some serious fucking trouble,” says Jeremy as he turns and storms back out of the living room.
His footsteps can be heard as he marches down the hallway and out of the house. The three women rush over to the window again, and watch Jeremy get back into his Jag. He reverses off the lawn, leaving huge tire marks on the grass, and then drives off quickly down the street. Gloria turns to Lisa and Gillian, who both just look back at her in astonishment. She bursts into tears.
I slow the car to a stop outside the luxury car dealership and turn off the engine. Johnny and I sit and gaze at the magnificent vehicles on the forecourt. They glitter in the sunlight like big precious jewels.
“This is it, George,” says Johnny. “This is what you’ve always wanted to do, right?”
“Well, yeah. I suppose so.”
“You suppose so? Haven’t you driven past this place every day for the past twenty years and dreamed of getting behind the wheel of one of these things?”
“Well, yeah, of course. But not like this.”
“So how exactly did you plan on doing it? Work weekends for the next forty years? Or are you expecting a big promotion anytime soon?”
“No. It just doesn’t seem right.”
“Right? George, do you think it’s right that rich pricks like Jeremy get all the good things in life? The best houses, the best cars, the best opportunities, the best women.”
I don’t respond.
“What d’ya wanna do, George?” Johnny asks. “Just forget about it? Just drive on by? This is the only opportunity you’re gonna get to do this. Think about that.”
“But I can’t steal a car.”
“It’s not stealing. Not if we bring it back when we’re done. It’s just a test drive, that’s all. A bit of harmless fun.”
“Hmm, so nobody loses anything?”
“Nobody loses anything.”
“And nobody gets hurt?”
“And nobody gets hurt. What d’ya say?”
I think for a moment, and then nod my head.
“I say fasten your seat belt, we’re going for a ride.”
I begin to open the car door.
“Hold on there, cowboy. Not so fast,” says Johnny.
“What? What is it?”
“Load the gun.”
“Hang on. You said nobody would get hurt.”
“And they won’t. As long as they don’t fuck with us.”
“Wait a minute. We didn’t plan this.”
“Listen, I’m not saying we shoot anyone. But if we get into a tricky situation you might need to fire a shot in the air. That way people think twice about being heroes.”
“I don’t know about this.”
“George, I’m not asking. Load the fucking gun.”
Gloria’s sitting on the couch in floods of tears. She’s clenching her phone in one hand and a tissue in the other. Gillian and Lisa are doing their best to console her.
“Listen, Gloria,” says Gillian. “I really think it’s time to call the police.”
“Gill’s right, Glor,” agrees Lisa.
“But what if George has gotten himself into trouble?” says Gloria. “With the police, I mean. What if he’s done something illegal? No, I’m gonna try to call him again.”
She presses redial and holds the phone up to her ear.
“Is it ringing?” Gillian asks, after a moment.
“No, it just went straight to voice mail again. What the hell’s going on?” Gloria asks, in desperation.
“Call the police, Glor,” Lisa urges.
“And what do I tell them? That I can’t get hold of my husband and that somebody wants to beat him to death with a baseball bat? What will they do about it?”
“They could try to track him down. Put out a call on their radios or something. Anything to get to him before that maniac does.”
“No, they won’t do anything. George hasn’t even been missing for an entire morning yet. Let me try one last thing,” says Gloria, as she begins to dial another number.
The small, cramped shop is packed full of role-playing games and intricate miniature models of dragons, goblins, elves and the like. Unfortunately, there are no customers to appreciate the magnificent display.
At the back of the store, Teddy’s sitting behind the counter, engrossed in a comic book. He’s startled as the telephone next to him begins to ring loudly. He quickly closes the comic, sits up straight, clears his throat, and answers the call.
“Good morning,” he says, gleefully, “this is Teddy’s Dungeon. You’re speaking to Teddy Krelboyne, store manager and proprietor. How may I help you?”
“Teddy, it’s Gloria.”
“Oh, hi, Gloria. Fantastic party the other night. The best one so far in my opinion. Really sorry I had to leave early, though.”
“That’s fine, Teddy, don’t worry about it. Listen, have you seen or spoken to George today?”
“Well, I saw him briefly this morning when he was leaving for work.”
“Did he say anything to you?”
“Say anything? Like what?”
“Anything, Teddy, anything at all. Or was he acting unusual?”
“Unusual? No, not really. Although . . . ”
“Although what, Teddy?”
“Well, come to think about it, he did seem more upbeat than usual. And he was wearing cool shades.”
“Yeah, almost like he was excited about something. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, Teddy. I think something’s happened to George or that he’s been involved in some kind of incident. Some madman from his office just barged his way into the house wielding a baseball bat.”
“Oh my good lord! Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine. But he said George wasn’t at work today, and when he couldn’t find him here, he just sped off in his car. I’ve tried calling George at his office, but the line’s completely dead. And his cell phone just goes straight to voice mail. I don’t want to involve the police just yet in case I’ll be getting him into even more trouble, but I don’t know what else to do. I’m going out of my mind with worry here.”
“That does all sound very peculiar,” says Teddy.
“Teddy, I wondered if you could go out and look for him? You know George better than I do these days. You know where he might go.”
“Gee, I wish I could, Gloria. But Mother still hasn’t forgiven me for closing the shop that time I accidentally glued my hand to the counter. Plus, I have to pick up her prescription at two o’clock.”
“Oh, Teddy, I’ll go and speak to your mother if that’ll help. And I’ll reimburse you for any lost earnings.”
“Oh, no, what am I saying? I’m being ridiculous. George is my friend, of course I’ll help. Anyway, what Mother doesn’t know won’t kill her. Right, Gloria, you just sit tight. I’ll begin the search.”
“Oh, thank you, Teddy. You’re a good friend to George.”
“Gloria, consider him found.”
Teddy ends the call, jumps off his stool, and quickly makes his way through the shop to the front door. He turns the “Open” sign around to read “Closed” and then exits the store, locking the door behind him.
The automatic doors slide open. Johnny and I stroll through into the bright, air-conditioned showroom. I expect there isn’t a car in here worth less than a hundred grand. Everything glistens, even the floor.
A camp-looking salesman appears from nowhere. He greets us with a beaming smile.
“Good afternoon, sir. My name’s Marvin, and I’d like to welcome you to the showroom today.”
“Hey, Marv,” I say. “How’s it going?”
“I’m fine, thank you, Mr. . . . ?”
“Just call me George.”
“Well, how can I help you today, George? Are you looking for anything in particular?”
“Something fast,” says Johnny.
“I’m looking for something fast,” I tell Marvin.
“Well, you’ve certainly come to the right place. And what kind of price range are we working with here?”
“Money’s no object, Marv.”
“Ooh, I wish I could find a boyfriend just like you, George,” Marvin says, flirtatiously. “Follow me.”
The silver Porsche Carrera GT convertible is a thing of beauty. It takes pride of place in the center of the showroom. I glance at Johnny. He’s as impressed as I am, I can tell.
Marvin opens the driver’s door.
“Get in, George. See how it feels.”
“Why, thank you, Marv.”
I get into the driver’s seat and place my hands on the steering wheel. A rush of endorphins surges through my entire body. There are butterflies in my stomach like I haven’t felt for years. I don’t know how a car can make me feel this way, but it does. I can hardly contain my excitement; I must be grinning like a fool.
“Now, this is what I’m talking about, Marv,” I say, once I finally get a hold of myself long enough to string a few words together. “This is what I call a car.”
“Oh, you’re not wrong there, George,” says Marvin as he gets into the passenger seat next to me. “Six hundred and five horsepower, five-point-seven liter V10 engine. Zero-to-sixty in four seconds, zero-to-one hundred in seven, and a max. speed of one hundred and ninety miles per hour. The steering is perfectly balanced with race car suspension. They’ve even increased the width of the wheels on this model for extra traction.”
“Well, that was nice of them,” I say, still grinning giddily.
“Would you like to take it for a spin?”
“Marvin, I thought you’d never ask.”
I’m cruising down Main Street with the top down. I’m turning heads, and it feels fantastic. It’s genuinely a dream come true to drive a car like this. But in my dream, Marvin wasn’t sitting next to me.
“Just listen to that engine, George,” he says.
“I can barely hear it.”
“Exactly, George, exactly. It’s as smooth as silk, and with a bit more gas it’ll purr like a pussycat.”
“Well, let’s see if we can make this pussycat roar.”
I give it more gas. The engine does indeed roar, and we accelerate sharply. The brute power is incredible, and so is the adrenaline rush. I’ve never felt anything like it. Marvin looks a bit concerned, though. He’s clutching his seat tightly.
“Careful there, George,” he says. “We don’t want to get pulled over.”
“You’re absolutely right, Marv. Good thinking.”
I slow back down to thirty.
“That’s much better, isn’t it?” says Marvin. “Just cruising along on a day like today with the warm summer breeze through your hair. There’s nothing quite like it.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Marv.”
“Why? What’s the matter, George?”
“Well, cruising along like this is fine but I just don’t feel like we’re doing the car justice. I mean, this car was made to go fast, right? Why have six hundred and five horsepower, a five-point-seven liter V10 engine, and a max. speed of one-ninety if we just potter along at thirty? It’s like being Superman and taking the bus to work. You know what I mean, Marv?”
“But we’re on a public highway, George. There’s a speed limit, it’s the law.”
He has a point I suppose. It would be both irresponsible and dangerous to go any faster. But fuck it, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I can’t resist.
I step on the gas and the engine roars. Marvin holds on tightly as we accelerate quickly. He looks absolutely terrified. I shouldn’t find that so funny, but I do.
“George, slow down,” he yells, “you’re gonna get us in trouble.”
“Trouble? Come on, Marv. Live life on the edge. If you don’t live life on the edge, you take up too much room. That’s what I say.”
I give it a little more gas. Marvin holds on to his seat even tighter.
“George, slow down right this instant,” he demands.
“Marv, we’re only going sixty. At least let me get it over seventy.”
“George, I am legally responsible for this vehicle, and I am ordering you to stop the car immediately, or I’ll be forced to call the police.”
He takes out his phone.
I move into the oncoming lane and zoom past the cars in front. I swerve back into line, narrowly avoiding a collision with an oncoming people carrier.
“Oh, shit! That was close,” I say, giddy with excitement.
“George,” Marvin yells. “I’m warning you. Stop this car right now.”
I glance across at Marvin. He’s clutching his phone in one hand and gripping the seat with the other, clearly petrified. I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for the guy.
“Okay, Marv,” I say. “Don’t panic. I’ll pull over.”
I slow the car to a stop at the side of the road.
“There we are, Marv. How’s that for ya?”
“George, turn off the engine and get out of the car. Right now.”
“Why? You’re clearly in no fit state to drive. I’m taking us back to the showroom.”
“I’ve got a better idea, Marv. Why don’t you get out and I’ll take the car for a spin by myself? Then I’ll drop it back off at the showroom when I’m done. Okay?”
“You must be completely out of your mind if you think that’s ever gonna happen.”
To be honest, I thought he’d object. In that case, there’s only one thing I can do. I slowly pull the gun out from underneath my shirt. I remember what Johnny told me. Keep it low, out of sight of passersby. Marvin looks terrified. He immediately holds his hands up in surrender.
“Put your hands down, Marv,” I say, glancing around to see if anybody saw.
He does as he’s told.
“Now, Marvin,” I say calmly, “please get out of the car and don’t make a scene.”
That’s another thing Johnny told me. You stay calm, they stay calm.
“Okay, George, don’t do anything hasty. I’ll get out of the car, and you can just drive away. Nobody need get hurt.”
“Thanks for your cooperation, Marv. It really is appreciated.”
Marvin gets out of the car, gently closing the door behind him.
I slip the gun back into my waistband.
“Thanks, Marv. No hard feelings. Okay, buddy?”
Marvin looks like he’s about to cry. And then, all of a sudden, he does.
“My boss is gonna kill me,” he mumbles through the tears.
Oh, man. In that instant, the excitement that I felt just moments ago is replaced with shame and guilt. I feel utterly dreadful. Am I a bully? Am I becoming Jeremy? I can’t bear to look at Marvin any longer as he stands at the side of the road, sobbing his eyes out. The only thing I can think of to do is drive off quickly, flee the shame. So that’s exactly what I do, leaving Marvin behind.
“You’re doing well, George,” says Johnny who’s now sitting next to me in the passenger seat. “You did that exactly as we planned. I’m proud of you. You having fun yet?”
“Yeah,” I say, lacklusterly.
Johnny tilts his shades and looks at me.
“What is it?”
“What is it, George?”
“I just can’t help thinking about Marvin.”
“What about Marvin?”
“Did you see his face back there? He was petrified. Doing it to Jeremy was one thing, that asshole deserved it. But Marvin never did anything to me.”
“Don’t worry about Marvin, he’ll be fine. Just a bit shook up, that’s all. You may have even done him a favor.”
“A favor? How’d you figure that?”
“You put some excitement into his dull existence. He’ll be telling this story for years.”
“Yeah, to a therapist. I’ve probably just traumatized the poor bastard.”
“What?” I ask. “I’m serious.”
“I know you’re serious, George. You’re a nice guy, but that’s also your weakness. That’s why people could take advantage of you. You need to toughen up. Marvin will be fine. He got a bit of a fright, but he lived to tell the tale, right?”
“I suppose so.”
“Come on, you’re doing what you’ve always dreamed of here. Enjoy it. Don’t ruin the moment by worrying about something you can’t change.”
“So, how does it feel? The car I mean.”
The grin creeps back onto my face.
“It feels absolutely amazing.”
“As good as you imagined?”
Jeremy’s sitting in his beat-up Jag at the side of the road, listening to the radio.
“Good afternoon,” the newscaster announces, “and here are the headlines at noon. Local police are appealing for witnesses to a shocking armed robbery that happened within the past half hour. A man in his early to mid-forties, average height and build, with short dark hair, and going by the name of George, has reportedly stolen a luxury sports car while out on a test drive. The salesman was left extremely distressed but otherwise unharmed on Linthorpe Road as the suspect headed north in the silver Porsche Carrera GT. Police stress that the man is armed and extremely dangerous so must not be approached under any circumstances. But if you have any information that could help the investigation, then please notify the authorities as soon as possible. In other news, a local woman has become the first person in history to receive a double—”
Jeremy switches off the radio.
“Oh, I’m bringing you in, motherfucker,” he says, as he starts the car and revs the engine.
Teddy drives along slowly. Something in the road ahead catches his attention.
“What the heck’s going on here?” he says to himself. “Is that your car, George?”
Teddy slows to a stop outside the Bridge Street car dealership, directly behind a police cruiser.
The showroom doors slide open, and Teddy enters.
The receptionist looks up from behind her desk.
“I’m sorry, sir. We have to close the showroom for the rest of the day.”
“Oh, okay,” Teddy replies. “It’s just that I saw my friend’s car parked outside and thought he might be in here. Obviously, he’s not. Sorry to bother you.”
Teddy turns and begins to leave.
“And which car would that be, sir?”
Teddy stops in his tracks. He slowly turns back around to face the receptionist.
“Erm . . . ”
“Is it the blue station wagon?” she asks.
“Well . . . ”
“Sir, please come with me.”
The receptionist walks out from behind the desk and heads toward the back of the showroom.
“Well, I don’t want to cause any commotion, miss.”
“This way please, sir.”
Teddy hesitates for a moment and then reluctantly follows.
In the back office, the showroom manager is playing footage from the surveillance cameras on the wall-mounted television. A police officer stands next to him and examines the video closely.
Opposite, a female sales assistant sits next to Marvin and does her best to comfort him as he sobs into his handkerchief.
“The worst part,” Marvin says, “was when he had the gun pressed up against my head, and he asked me if I was feeling lucky. I thought he was gonna kill me right there and then.”
Marvin bursts into tears. The sales assistant puts her arm around his shoulders and does her best to console him.
“It’s okay, Marvin,” she says, in a gentle voice, “you’re safe and sound now, with us.”
The office door opens, and the receptionist enters.
“Excuse me, sir,” she says.
“Yes, what is it?” the showroom manager replies without taking his eyes off the television screen.
“I have a gentleman here who knows the owner of the blue station wagon.”
Everyone immediately turns to look at Teddy, as he sheepishly enters the room. He smiles and gives a nervous wave.
“Hey there,” he says, “what seems to be the problem?”
“Sir, do you know this man?” the police officer asks, pointing to the footage on the television screen.
“What’s happened?” asks Teddy.
“Sir, is this your friend?”
Marvin blows his nose loudly. Teddy stares at him.
“Sir,” the officer says, authoritatively.
Teddy shifts his gaze back to the officer. He then looks at the footage on the television.
“Um . . . no,” he finally replies.
“No? You don’t know this man?” the officer asks.
“No, Officer. I’ve never seen that man before in my life.”
“Well, this is the owner of the blue station wagon that’s parked outside.”
“Sir, you said that was your friend’s car,” the receptionist says, accusingly.
“I’m sorry,” Teddy says, “I’m obviously mistaken. Cars all look the same to me. It’s certainly the same color as my friend’s car.”
“What’s your friend’s name, sir?” the police officer asks.
“Fred,” Teddy answers quickly.
“Does Fred have a last name?”
“Fred Stallone?” the officer confirms.
“Well, he’s an old work colleague actually,” explains Teddy. “We’re not that close anymore. To be honest, I haven’t seen him for years. You know what friendships are like, they drift apart.”
“Well, if you haven’t seen your friend for years, sir, then how can you be so sure that this man isn’t Fred? I mean, the angle’s not very good.”
“Fred’s black,” Teddy replies.
“Yes, he’s from Uganda originally.”
“Fred Stallone from Uganda?”
“That’s right,” Teddy confirms.
“Are you sure, sir?”
“Yes, I’m absolutely positive. That’s not my friend. I’ve never seen that man before in my life. I’m ever so sorry for wasting your time.”
The police officer just stares at Teddy for a moment. Teddy stares back.
“That’s okay, sir,” the officer eventually replies. “You’re free to go. Thank you for your time.”
“Sure, no problem. I’m sorry I couldn’t be of any assistance. I hope you find your man soon.”
“Oh, don’t worry, sir. We will.”
Gloria’s sitting on the sofa, clutching her tissue. She has big black mascara streaks down both of her cheeks. Gillian’s sitting next to her, holding her hand.
Lisa enters the living room carrying another pot of tea. She places it down on the coffee table.
“George will be fine,” Gillian says as reassuringly as she can. “I’m certain there’s a reasonable explanation for all of this.”
“Okay, I’m calling the police,” says Gloria, as she picks up the telephone and begins to dial. “That maniac could have caught up with him by now. George could be lying half-dead in a ditch somewhere for all we know.”
The doorbell rings. Gloria shoots up off the sofa and runs to the window. She peers out to see who’s at the door.
“Who is it, Glor?” asks Lisa.
“I’ve got no idea. Some man in a trench coat, smoking a cigar.”
Gloria turns around and dashes out of the living room.
“Be careful, Gloria,” Gillian shouts after her.
Gloria rushes along the hallway and opens the door.
“Yes. Can I help you?” she asks.
“Are you Mrs. Chapman?” the cigar-smoking gentleman asks.
“Mrs. Chapman, my name’s Detective Mathers.”
“Oh my god. He’s dead, isn’t he?”
“Are you talking about your husband?”
“Yes. Who else?”
“George isn’t dead, Mrs. Chapman. At least not as far as I know.”
“Then where the hell is he?”
“Well, I was going to ask you the same question.”
The lights ahead turn to red, so I slow the car to a gentle stop at the crossroads. It’s a quiet street, there’s nobody else about.
“This is fucking exhilarating,” I say to Johnny.
“I’m glad you’re finally starting to loosen up and enjoy yourself.”
“That’s good, George. Real good. But don’t forget why I’m here. Don’t forget what we still have to do.”
I know exactly what he’s talking about and my stomach turns just thinking about it.
“Yeah, I know,” I reply, halfheartedly.
The traffic signal turns to green.
“Listen,” I say, “about that. I’ve been thinking.”
Johnny slowly turns his head to look at me.
“Go on,” he says, calmly.
But he knows what I’m about to say, I can feel it.
“Well, maybe it isn’t such a good idea. You know, to—”
A car horn honks loudly. I look in the rearview mirror, and see a red Volvo sitting directly behind.
“Yeah, just go around, buddy,” I yell, waving my arm to signal the driver to pass.
The Volvo doesn’t move, though. The driver honks his horn again. A long, loud honk. The kind that hurts your ears. I look back over my shoulder.
“Just go around,” I yell.
The Volvo still doesn’t move. The driver honks his horn again. Honk, honk, honk.
“What the hell’s this guy’s problem?” I ask, rhetorically. “Yeah,” I yell, “I hear you. I’m making my mind up. Just go around.”
The Volvo driver revs his engine. He creeps forward slowly until he bumps into the back of the Porsche. I quickly pull on the handbrake to stop the car from shunting forward.
“Oh, this guy’s asking for it, George,” says Johnny. “You just gonna let him treat you like that?”
I get out of the Porsche and turn to face the asshole in the Volvo. It’s a scrawny little bastard in his thirties. Looks even geekier than I do.
“What the hell’s your problem?” I yell. “I said you could pass.”
The Volvo driver rolls down his window and pokes his head out.
“What’s my problem?” he says. “Rich picks like you who think they own the fucking road, that’s my problem. When the light turns green that means you go, asshole.”
Johnny gets out of the Porsche, too. I turn and look at him. He just stares at me. He doesn’t say a word, but I know what he’s thinking.
I turn back to face the asshole in the Volvo.
“You know,” I say, “it never ceases to amaze me.”
“Yeah, what’s that?” the guy asks.
“How people act when they’re behind the wheel of a car. When they’re encased in a ton of steel and toughened glass, even the scrawniest little bastards think they’re invincible. Why don’t you get out and we’ll see how tough you really are?”
I begin to approach the Volvo. As I get within a few feet, the driver quickly closes his window.
“Yeah,” I say, “that’s what I thought.”
I turn around and begin to walk back to the Porsche. As I do, I hear the car door open behind me. I look back over my shoulder to see the guy get out of the Volvo, holding a milkshake. He throws it at me as hard as he can. The flimsy cardboard cup bursts open on impact, and I’m drenched in ice cold strawberry milk.
“Fucking dickhead!” the guy yells.
The freezing liquid knocks the breath right out of me. I feel abused. I feel humiliated. I feel like I’m about to fucking explode.
Without thinking, I pull the gun out from underneath my shirt and turn to face the scrawny bastard. I can tell by the expression on his face that he wasn’t expecting this. I march furiously toward the guy. He quickly gets back into his car, slamming the door shut behind him. As I get closer, I can see him frantically trying to put the Volvo into reverse. But in the panic, he stalls.
I try to pull the car door open, but he locks it just in time. I don’t know what I’m doing; I’m just blinkered with rage. I start hitting the window with the butt of the gun. Bang, bang, bang. It’s toughened glass, but it eventually smashes.
I reach into the car with my free hand and grab the guy by his shirt. With all my might, I pull his scrawny ass out through the broken window and let him fall face down onto the road.
I grab the back of his neck with one hand and place the barrel of the gun to the top of his head. He freezes stiff. The feeling of godlike power over another human being is absolutely incredible.
Johnny approaches, clapping and cheering loudly.
“Yes, George,” he yells. “Teach him not to fuck with us.”
“You couldn’t let it go, could you?” I ask the guy. “I tried to walk away, but you just couldn’t let it go. You treated me like shit. Just like everybody does.”
“Do it, George,” Johnny shouts. “Blow his fucking head off.”
I can feel the guy literally trembling with fear.
“I’m sorry. Don’t shoot me,” he pleads. “I’ve got a family. I’ve got a daughter.”
“Shut the fuck up,” I yell, squeezing his neck even tighter. “You should have thought about that when you were picking a fight.”
Johnny walks up behind me. He’s close enough to whisper into my ear.
“What are you waiting for?” he asks. “There’s nobody around. Just pull the trigger.”
“I can pay you,” the guy murmurs. “I’ve got savings. It’s not much, but you can have it all. I don’t care.”
“He treated you like shit, George,” Johnny whispers. “He deserves to die. Now, stop being such a bitch and pull the fucking trigger.”
I try to block Johnny’s voice out of my head. I’m not a murderer. I just wanted to teach the guy a lesson, but it’s already gone way too far.
After a moment, the rage subsides, and I begin to think more clearly. I slowly release my grip on the guy’s neck. His sense of relief is palpable. I then slip the gun back into my waistband.
“What are you doing, George,” Johnny asks.
I take some money out of my wallet and drop it onto the ground.
“Here,” I say, “get your window fixed.”
I turn and walk back to the Porsche, leaving the guy sitting in the road and Johnny looking on. I get into the car and drive away.
Detective Mathers is sitting next to Gloria on the couch. He’s looking at a framed photograph.
“To be honest, I have noticed a change in his behavior recently,” says Gloria. “I just can’t believe he would do anything like this, though. I mean, stealing a car at gunpoint. He doesn’t even own a gun. Apart from his grandfather’s old Second World War Colt in the attic.”
“Is the pistol still there?” asks Mathers.
“I’ve got no idea. Are you absolutely certain that it’s George?”
“I’ve seen the surveillance footage with my own eyes. If it’s not your husband in that car dealership, then it’s his identical twin.”
“What could have possibly happened to make him do this? He’s never done anything even remotely illegal in his entire life. Do you think he’s in some kind of trouble? He must have been put up to it by somebody. Maybe he’s being blackmailed.”
“Well, we’re not ruling anything out at this stage, Mrs. Chapman.”
“Maybe he’s had a mental breakdown,” suggests Lisa.
Gloria scowls at her.
“Sorry,” says Lisa.
“Has George been under any stress recently?” Mathers enquires. “Any family issues? Problems at work maybe?”
“Oh, you’re not seriously listening to this are you?” asks Gloria. “If anyone’s got mental problems it’s her. The woman’s just been given indefinite leave from her job because she’s fallen in love with her twenty-six-year-old assistant and started stalking the poor boy.”
“Gloria!” exclaims Lisa.
“Sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that. I’m just very emotional at the moment.”
“That’s understandable, Mrs. Chapman,” says Mathers, “but if you could think of anything at all that could help the investigation, you need to tell us now, before things get any worse. You mentioned that you’ve noticed changes in George’s behavior recently. What kind of changes are we talking about?”
“Well, he’s just been acting much more—”
Mathers’ phone begins to ring.
“Excuse me,” he says, “I need to take this. I’ll be back in a moment.”
Mathers leaves the room to take the call in private.
Teddy enters the donut shop and walks up to the display cabinet. He can’t help but lick his lips as he looks through the glass at the colorful confectionary. There must be at least fifty donut varieties on offer.
There’s a spotty teenager behind the counter. His name badge reads “Greg”. He smiles at Teddy.
“Hello, sir. What can I get for ya?”
“Hey there,” says Teddy. “I think I’ll have two strawberry for Jane and Dan. Two vanilla custard for Mary and Vanessa. Two apple for Steve and Ross. And I’ll just have a plain old chocolate.”
Greg just looks at Teddy with a cheeky grin.
“They’re all for you. Aren’t they, mister?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Teddy replies, defensively.
“Yeah, right,” sniggers Greg.
“Just do your job,” says Teddy, sharply.
Greg begins to fill a takeout box with the donut order.
Teddy’s phone begins to ring. He answers it quickly.
“Hello, Mother . . . yes, I know there’s no answer at the shop. I’m just at the chemist picking up your prescription.”
Greg places the box full of donuts onto the top of the display cabinet.
“Here’s your donuts, sir,” he says, loudly.
Teddy glares at Greg, who just grins back.
“Okay, Mother,” says Teddy, “I’ll get back to the shop as soon as I can. I just need to do a couple more things and . . . yes, I know we could get a customer at any moment . . . yes, Mother, I understand, but Gloria called and . . . you know Gloria, from next door. She and George are having a little trouble at the moment, and I’m just helping them out . . . well, no, Mother, that’s not strictly true. She does visit at least once a year at Christmas and . . . okay Mother, okay. I’ll go back to the shop now. Yes, I won’t be late for dinner either. Okay, bye, Mother. Yes, bye-bye.”
Teddy ends the call and then looks at Greg who’s still grinning smugly.
“That’s six-fifty,” says Greg.
Teddy hands him some money.
“And yes,” says Teddy, “I want the change.”
I’m just driving. I’m trying not to think about the destination. Johnny just sits there next to me, quietly taking drags from his cigarette. There’s an uncomfortable atmosphere between us. We haven’t spoken for a while now. He slowly turns his head to look at me. I can feel his stare, but I don’t acknowledge it. I just keep my gaze fixed firmly on the road ahead.
“So, do you wanna talk about what happened back there?” he finally asks.
I don’t respond immediately. I’m still seething.
“We never planned to hurt anybody,” I eventually reply.
“The way that man treated you, George. He deserved to die.”
“No, he didn’t. He was an asshole who deserved a good slap maybe, but that’s all. I’m not a murderer. Unlike like some people.”
“Yes,” I reply, angrily.
“What’s so funny?” I ask.
“Well, look who’s beginning to stand his ground. I like that.”
“Look, we were just never meant to hurt anybody. It was never part of the plan.”
“Okay, you’re right. It was never part of the plan. But there are some things you just can’t plan for. Don’t forget why I’m here. Don’t forget what we still have to do. When it comes down to it, you’ll have to do whatever’s necessary. Is that understood?”
I don’t respond.
“Is that understood?” Johnny asks again, this time more forcibly.
After a moment, I reluctantly nod my head in agreement.
Teddy’s sitting in his parked car on the side of the road. He’s eating a donut from the half-empty box next to him. His phone begins to ring. He looks at the screen.
“Sorry, Mother,” he says, as he cancels the incoming call.
Teddy then selects another number from his contacts list.
“Come on, George. Where are you, buddy?” he says, as he holds the phone up next to his ear.
Suddenly, something across the street catches his attention.
“George!” he says with great surprise as the silver Porsche approaches and then quickly passes by.
Teddy tosses his phone and half eaten donut onto the passenger seat. He then starts the car and sets off in pursuit.
Jeremy sits at the bar in the Black Horse Tavern. He takes a swig from his beer while gazing intently at the television on the wall. The local news is showing.
“Also today,” the news anchor reports, “police are appealing for witnesses to a brutal road rage incident that happened just moments ago at the Gresham Road intersection. The attacker reportedly beat and robbed the victim, 36-year-old Philip Simpson, at gunpoint. The man that police are looking for in relation to this incident is 45-year-old George Chapman, who earlier today stole a Porsche from the Bridge Street car dealership. The suspect was last seen heading west on Gresham Road toward the city center. Police have stressed that he is armed and extremely dangerous, so nobody is to approach him under any circumstances. However, if you know the man’s whereabouts or have any information that could be helpful to the investigation, then please contact the local police authorities immediately.”
Jeremy throws some money down onto the bar and grabs his suit jacket from the stool next to him. He then dashes out of the tavern, almost knocking over an elderly couple in his haste.
Teddy slowly drives along the busy main street. He spots the Porsche parked-up at the side of the road. It’s empty, but it’s beginning to draw a crowd. There are ten or so people gathered around it taking photographs with their phones.
“Gotcha,” Teddy whispers to himself.
My stomach’s in knots as I enter the bank with Johnny by my side. His nonchalant demeanor has changed. I’ve never seen him this animated. This alive. He looks around with a grin on his face and a glint of excitement in his eyes like a kid in a toy store. But the only thing I can do right now is try my best not to vomit.
“Things certainly have changed,” Johnny remarks.
“Yeah, no shit,” I say, glancing around. “I count three cameras. That means we’ve already been filmed from every angle. Oh, this is ridiculous. We can’t go through with it.”
“George, shut up, calm down, and join the fucking line. We’ve been through this already. It doesn’t matter about the cameras. Just keep your shit together, and in a few minutes we’ll be on the open road and out of this shithole for good.”
I do as I’m told and take my place at the back of the line that leads to the cashier desks.
“This is fucking crazy. What’s the temperature in here? It feels like it’s a hundred degrees, I’m sweating through my shirt,” I say, wiping the beads of perspiration from my brow.
The old lady in front of me glances over her shoulder. We make eye contact, so I smile politely.
“Afternoon,” I say, trying my best to, in Johnny’s words, “hold my shit together”. “Nice weather we’re having.”
The old lady smiles and nods before turning away.
“That’s it, you’re doing well,” Johnny says, encouragingly. “Nice and natural.”
I just continue to smile and nod my head to acknowledge his remarks.
Now the young woman next to the old lady glances back at me. All I can do is continue to smile nervously like a goddamn grinning idiot. After looking me up and down for a second, she smiles back and then looks away.
“Oh, shit. They’re onto us,” I whisper. “They know we’re up to something. We’ve gotta get outta here.”
“Shut up,” Johnny commands. “You look like you’re talking to yourself. They don’t know shit. If you stop acting so fucking crazy we’ll be fine.”
“If I stop acting crazy? Oh, I think it’s a bit too late for that now, isn’t it?”
Suddenly, a hand grabs my arm. I turn sharply to see Teddy’s pudgy, red face.
“George,” he says, trying to catch his breath.
“Oh, fuck. Get rid of him,” says Johnny. “He’s gonna fuck everything up.”
“Teddy, what the heck are you doing here?” I ask.
“Looking for you.”
“Looking for me? Why? Shouldn’t you be at work?”
“Yes, but Gloria called. She said you were in some kind of trouble.”
“You’ve spoken to Gloria?”
“Yeah, earlier today. Apparently, some crazy guy from your office came round with a baseball bat. And the police are saying that you stole that Porsche outside. At gunpoint!”
“Keep your voice down, Teddy,” I say, looking around anxiously to see if anyone overheard.
A couple of people in front of us in the line are beginning to edge away.
“George, please just shoot him,” says Johnny. “He’s fucking up the plan.”
“Teddy,” I say, “that’s all just a big misunderstanding. I’ve only borrowed the Porsche. We’re gonna take it back this afternoon.”
“We?” asks Teddy, quizzically.
“I mean me. Just me.”
“But they’re also saying on the radio that you pulled a man from his car and robbed him.”
“Robbed him? That fucking liar.”
“Oh, George. Please tell me it isn’t true.”
“Of course it isn’t true. We just had a heated exchange of words, that’s all.”
“George, we haven’t got all day,” Johnny interjects. “Either get rid of him or shoot him so we can get on with this.”
“Listen,” I say to Teddy, “I’m just gonna make a small withdrawal, and then I’ll go to the police station myself and clear this whole thing up.”
“Okay, great. I’ll come with you. No, wait, I shouldn’t really. Then they’ll know that I lied.”
“You’ve spoken to the police, too?”
“Yeah, but I didn’t tell them anything. I knew there’d be a reasonable explanation for all of this.”
“Okay, listen, Teddy. Why don’t you go back to the house? Tell Gloria that everything’s okay and that I’ll be home shortly.”
“Oh, I can just call her.”
Teddy takes out his phone.
“No, Teddy. I think it’s better if you tell her in person.”
“But she’s dying to know that you’re okay. I’ll just give her a quick call, then I’ll pop back and see her when you go to the police station.”
The bank doors slide open and Jeremy marches in. He’s clenching the baseball bat in his hand.
“George!” he yells at the top of his voice. “Outside, right now. I’m taking you in.”
“Oh, my lord,” Teddy exclaims.
“Oh, fuck. Shoot him, George,” Johnny commands. “Shoot him now.”
“I’m not shooting anybody,” I say, vehemently.
“What?” Teddy asks. “I didn’t tell you to shoot anybody.”
“Oh, you want him to shoot me?” says Jeremy. “Well, I’ve got news for you, fat man. There are no bullets in that gun.”
“Gun!” exclaims Teddy.
Now everyone within earshot is really beginning to lose their shit.
“What’s he talking about, George? You don’t have a gun, do you?”
“George, get the hell outside now,” demands Jeremy, “before I come over there and drag you out by your fucking hair.”
“George, just shoot them both and let’s get on with this,” says Johnny.
“I told you,” I say, angrily, “I’m not shooting anybody.”
“I’m not telling you to shoot anybody, George,” says Teddy, with a bewildered expression on his face.
“Oh, fuck this shit,” says Jeremy as he begins striding toward me.
Panic sets in. My body goes stiff. I can’t move, I can’t think. My heart’s pounding through my chest.
“Shoot him, George,” Johnny urges, “you’re out of options. It’s either him or us. You decide.”
I pull the gun out from underneath my shirt and point it at Jeremy.
“Stop right there, Jeremy,” I command.
But it’s no use, he continues to approach.
“You have to shoot him, George,” says Johnny.
“Stop right there, Jeremy,” I repeat, this time more forcibly.
Jeremy still approaches. He’s getting really close now. A few more steps and he’s got me. There’s only one thing I can do. I aim the gun just above his head and pull the trigger. Bang! The bullet ricochets off the far wall, and Jeremy stops dead in his tracks.
All of the customers start screaming and running for the exit.
“Stop them,” Johnny orders.
“Okay,” I yell, “nobody fucking move.”
A couple of people make it out of the door, but everyone else stops where they are, hands raised in surrender. Metal shutters begin to lower down in front of the cashier desks.
Now shit’s just got real.
Gloria’s pacing up and down the living room.
“Oh, this is unbearable,” she says to Gillian and Lisa. “It’s the not knowing. I can’t stand it.”
“Don’t worry, Glor,” says Gillian. “They’ll catch up to him soon. I mean, this place ain’t that big. You couldn’t stay lost for long if you wanted to.”
Detective Mathers enters the room. Gloria quickly turns to face him.
“Any news?” she asks.
“Yeah, we got him.”
“Oh my god, where? Is he okay?”
“The Main Street bank. He appears to be unharmed. Units are on the way there now. I’m going too.”
“Oh, thank goodness.”
“See, Glor,” says Lisa, “everything’s going to be fine.”
Gloria smiles and nods. She wipes tears from her eyes with her handkerchief.
“Wait,” she says, “what’s he doing at the bank?”
“Well,” says Mathers, “he appears to be attempting a robbery.”
Gloria’s eyes roll back in her head. Her body goes limp, and she collapses to the floor with a thud.
It’s fucking chaos now. The bank customers are panicking, crying, screaming.
“Everyone on the floor, face down,” Johnny shouts.
“On the floor. Now. Face down. That’s everyone,” I scream, trying to repeat Johnny’s instructions the best I can.
Everyone does exactly as I tell them.
“Not you, Teddy,” I say. “It’s okay, you can stand up.”
Teddy tentatively gets back to his feet, still holding his hands up in the air.
“Put your hands down, Teddy. I’m not gonna hurt you.”
Teddy warily lowers his arms.
I run over to the cashier desks and look through the gaps in the metal shutters. There’s nobody there.
“Oh, fuck. They’ve all gone,” I say, panicking.
I turn back to face Johnny.
“So how the hell we gonna get the money?” I ask.
In my peripheral vision, I can see Teddy’s curious expression as he watches me talk into thin air. And for a split second, I realize just how fucking crazy I must look.
“Who are you talking to, George?” Teddy asks.
I don’t respond. How can I even begin to explain this shit?
“George,” Teddy says, “are you okay?”
Jeremy looks up from the floor.
“Isn’t it obvious, fat man?” he asks. “He’s lost his fucking mind.”
I point the gun at Jeremy.
“Shut the hell up, Jeremy. I’m not afraid to use this.”
I turn back to Johnny.
“What the fuck do we do now? This isn’t how you said it would go. You said just point the gun, ask politely, take the money, and leave. You said it would be easy.”
“Shut up,” Johnny snaps, “I know what I said. I’m thinking.”
“Oh, this is fucking hopeless,” I say, despairingly. “We’ve gotta get the hell outta here. They must have triggered a silent alarm. The police will be on their way right now.”
I begin to make my way toward the exit.
“Mr. Chapman, this is the police,” says a loud voice coming from a megaphone outside.
I freeze. The panic hits again like a tidal wave.
“We’ve got the building surrounded,” the voice continues. “There is no way to escape. Please turn on your phone so that we can talk to you calmly.”
“Don’t, George,” Johnny warns, “they’ll mess with your head.”
“Mess with my head? That’s rich coming from you. I knew this was a terrible idea.”
“Hey!” Johnny shouts. “You wanted to do this too.”
“Wrong. I wanted to stand up to Gloria. Yes. I wanted to quit my job. Yes. I wanted to teach that prick a lesson,” I say, gesturing toward Jeremy. “But I never wanted to steal a car. I never wanted to rob a bank. That was all you because you fucked it up the first time.”
“What did you say?” Johnny asks, squaring himself up in front of me.
“I think you heard,” I reply, staring him straight in the eye.
At this moment, you could cut the tension between us with a knife. But it’s swiftly broken as a phone begins to ring. I look around to see where it’s coming from. Everyone’s lying on the floor in silence, staring up at me with worried faces.
“Whose phone is that?” I demand.
“Sorry, George,” Teddy says, timidly. “It’s mine.”
“Oh, it’s okay, Teddy. Who is it?”
Teddy takes the phone out of his pocket and looks at the screen.
“It’s Mother. She’s probably wondering where I am. Shall I answer?”
“No,” Johnny says, abruptly.
“Yeah. Go on, Teddy,” I say. “But don’t be too long.”
“What the fuck are you doing, George?” asks Johnny.
I ignore him. I can’t even bring myself to look at him right now.
Teddy answers the call.
“Hello, Mother,” he says, cheerfully. “Yes, I know that I’m not back at the shop yet, but I’m in a little bit of a tricky situation at the moment . . . yes, I know you need your laxatives, but you’ve still got at least two days’ supply in the bathroom cabinet next to the . . . yes, Mother, I’m still helping George because . . . well, I don’t know how long it will take but . . . ”
Everyone’s staring at Teddy, listening to this one-sided earbashing. I can see that he’s getting embarrassed and agitated. He bites down on his fist.
“Yes, Mother!” Teddy suddenly screams into his phone. “I know what you said, but George is in a little spot of bother at the moment, and he needs my help. It will take as long as it takes and I’ll get home when I get home. Is that understood? Now, leave my dinner in the oven. I’ll eat it when I get in. And you better not put garlic in the gravy again. I didn’t like it when I was a child. I’ve never liked it. And it doesn’t make everything taste better.”
Teddy ends the call. Everyone just stares at him in shocked silence.
“I’m sorry you all had to witness that,” Teddy says, calmly.
“Teddy, you just stood up to your mother,” I say in astonishment.
“Yeah, I guess I did. And I’m not gonna lie, it felt pretty damn good.”
“All right, Teddy. Good for you. It’s been a long time coming.”
“Oh, whoopie-fucking-do,” says Johnny, mockingly.
He steps in between Teddy and me. His face is so close that I can feel his breath.
“Listen, George,” he says, “we’ve gotta do something here. Forget about the money now, we’ve just gotta get out.”
“Yeah, and how the hell do we do that?”
“Do what, George?” Teddy asks.
“You’ve gotta kill someone,” says Johnny. “Show them that you mean business. Get them to stand down, and we’ll get out of here with a few hostages for leverage.”
“I’m a good person,” I say, vehemently. “I’m not killing anybody.”
“Yes, you are a good person, George,” Teddy agrees. “A real good person. And you don’t have to kill anyone.”
“Oh, shut up, Chunk,” says Jeremy. “Can’t you see he’s not talking to you?”
“Quiet, Jeremy,” I yell, waving the gun at him.
“Kill Jeremy,” says Johnny. “You can’t tell me you’ve never wanted to.”
“Yes, but there’s a big difference between fantasy and reality.”
“Well, kill the old lady. Her time’s almost up anyway. Just put the gun to the back of her head, look away, and pull the trigger. She won’t feel a thing.”
“I’ve got a better idea.”
“Yeah? What’s that?” Johnny asks.
“How about I kill you?” I say, pushing the barrel of the gun into his chest.
Teddy sees the gun pointed in his direction. His hands shoot back up in the air.
“George,” he says, “we’ve been friends our whole lives.”
“You can’t kill me,” says Johnny, smugly.
“And why not?” I ask.
“Because I’m a figment of your fucking imagination.”
“I may not be able to shoot you. But I can certainly kill you.”
“You need me, George,” Johnny says with a smile. “You can’t get out of this alone.”
“Get out of this? If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be fucking in this.”
“No, that’s right, you wouldn’t,” Johnny agrees. “You’d be stuck in your mundane existence. Still taking it up the ass like the bitch you’ve always been.”
I can feel the anger inside me rising with every word he says. I push the gun harder into his chest.
“Okay then,” he says, “do it. If you don’t need me anymore, pull the trigger.”
“I will. I’ll be better off without you.”
“So what are you waiting for?”
Johnny leans in closer, pushing his weight against the gun. I struggle to keep my balance.
“Come on, George,” he goads. “Do it.”
My finger’s on the trigger. All I have to do is pull it, but I don’t.
“See, you can’t,” says Johnny. “I fucking knew it. You’re a bitch, George. Always have been, always fucking will—”
Everyone starts screaming. My ears are ringing with all the commotion. I feel weak, like I’m about to faint. I blink my eyes and try to refocus. When I finally regain my senses, Johnny is nowhere to be seen, but Teddy is slouched against the wall in a pool of blood.
What have I done? It’s all too much. My legs give way, and I drop to my knees. The gun falls out of my limp hand and clatters onto the floor as I break down in tears.
The bank doors slide open and armed police officers storm in. Two of them grab me and push me flat against the floor. I don’t resist, I deserve this. I deserve everything that’s coming to me. And there’s a part of me that’s glad. Glad that it’s all over.
It’s a bright, crisp winter’s morning. There’s ice on the path, it crunches under our feet as we walk. Teddy and I stop and take a seat on a bench.
“This place is amazing,” says Teddy. “So tranquil. That must help a lot.”
“Yeah, I’m lucky.”
We sit for a moment and enjoy the peace and quiet.
“I saw Jeremy the other day,” says Teddy.
“Yeah? How is he?”
“We didn’t speak. He’s selling kitchens at that place on Rutland Avenue. I was just in there getting some tiles.”
“I always thought he’d make a good salesman,” I say.
“Yeah, he looked pretty happy. Laughing and flirting with some pretty young female. He seemed to be in his element.”
“Sounds like Jeremy.”
“And Gloria seems well. She can’t wait to get you out of here. I pop in a couple times a week to see if she needs anything.”
“Yeah, I know. She told me you’d been looking after her well. Thanks, Teddy.”
“Just being neighborly.”
“No, I mean it. Thank you, Teddy. For everything.”
“George, I told you. You don’t have to say a word.”
“I know I don’t, but I want to. You’ve been a good friend through all of this. Not many people would stick by a fella who almost killed them.”
“It was just a flesh wound,” Teddy says, dismissively.
“But it could have been worse. A lot worse.”
“But it wasn’t, and that’s all that matters. What’s done is done. I know it wasn’t you in the bank that day. I mean, the real you. Anyway, the chicks love the scar. Think I’m some kind of hero.”
“Oh yeah. Gloria told me you had a new woman in your life. She’s a nurse, right? She looked after you in the hospital?”
“Yeah. Her name’s Sheilah.”
“Yeah, it’s going pretty well actually. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m absolutely over the moon,” says Teddy, barely able to contain his excitement. “She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. She’s funny, intelligent, attractive. We’re planning on moving in together in the new year.”
“Oh, that’s fantastic, Teddy. I’m really pleased for you.”
“We’ll have to build an annex at the back for Mother, of course.”
“How’s she taking it? Not having you all to herself, that is.”
“You know Mother. But she’s getting used to it. She doesn’t have a choice in the matter. I tell you, I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. It should be me thanking you.”
I laugh out loud.
“No, seriously,” Teddy says. “I mean it.”
“Well, I’m glad things are finally working out for you, Teddy. You deserve it.”
“It’s working out for us all I’d say. I mean, you seem to be doing pretty well.”
“Yeah, I suppose I am. It’s just nice to have a name for it, you know. ‘Dissociative Identity Disorder’. ‘DID’ for short. I think Gloria still blames herself, though.”
“So was that the cause?” Teddy asks. “The regression therapy?”
“The latest theory is that I was a ticking mental time bomb just waiting to explode. I could have gone off anytime. The therapy may have been the trigger, but nobody really knows for sure.”
“So are you cured now? I mean, do you still . . . ”
“Do I still see Johnny? Sure, he’s right over there by the fishpond.”
“Oh,” says Teddy, slightly alarmed.
“No, don’t worry, Teddy. I’m kidding.”
“Hell, George. I’m not sure my heart can withstand another encounter with that fella.”
“That makes the two of us. Seriously, though. I haven’t seen Johnny, or any other fictitious characters, since that day in the bank. But I can’t get out of here that easily. I can’t just say that I’m cured and expect them to let me go free.”
“Well, I hear you’re beginning the day-release program soon. That must be a good sign.”
“Yeah, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. That’s for sure. It’s only one day a month at first, fully supervized, of course. But if that goes well, they might consider something on a more regular basis further down the line.”
“Well, I for one can’t wait to have you back out in the real world. And I know Gloria feels the same way.”
“Well, it’s been good seeing you, George. But I’m afraid I have to dash. I’ve got a hot date,” Teddy says with a chuckle. “I still can’t believe I get to say that. And for it to be true.”
“Enjoy it, Teddy. And thanks again for coming, I appreciate it. It’s great for me to see that you’re doing so well.”
We both stand up from the bench.
“I hope to see you again soon,” I say, holding out my hand.
“Of course,” says Teddy as he leans in for a hug.
We embrace, and I pat him on the back.
“Are you coming back up to the house?” Teddy asks.
“No, I think I’m just gonna sit out here for a little while longer. Get some fresh air.”
“Okay, buddy. Well, take care. I’ll be back to see you soon.”
“That would be nice, Teddy. Thanks.”
Teddy gives me a kind smile and then begins to walk off up the path. I watch him for a moment and then sit back down on the bench next to Johnny.
“They should give you a fucking award for that performance,” he says as he lights up a cigarette. “We’ll be outta here in no time.”
“Yeah,” I reply with a smile. “And there’s gonna be hell to pay.”