As always my thanks go to my proofreaders LadyCibelle and SH, and to everyone else who keeps writing to encourage me to post my demented ravings.
Clarification: - In the UK, although they are termed "Public Houses" licensed drinking establishments are in fact "Private establishments" and a Publican has the right to refuse entry to and/or to serve any member/s of the public that he/she chooses. The publican is not required to give a reason for doing so. The act of banning a particular person from the bar is often colloquially referred to as the Publican having "Put the bar up!" to that person. Obviously its roots are lie in - or are connected with - the customer being "barred" from the Public House, but I have no idea how it derived into the phrase.
Tuesday usually was a quiet night in the pub, and after eating my evening meal, I was sitting there watching a couple of young lads teaching their girls how to play darts; but very badly. It had become my habit to have one decent meal a day, usually in the pub of an evening; the rest of the time I ate fast food. Not the healthiest of diets — what with all the beer as well — but I didn't really give a damn any more.
Also, as usual, I was alone, having been away so long I had lost contact with most of my friends. Well to be honest, most of them were really our friends — Carrie and mine — and almost all couples. And I do believe that most — if not all of them - would have taken Carrie's side anyway, she'd always been far more popular than I'd ever been. The group had really grown around her old classmates, and their respective guys.
So after that night, I would have felt like a sort of the gooseberry being around them, and I should imagine I'd feel awkward or at least make the others feel unsettled.
Mind you, he'd never appeared to be awkward when he was with them, and to be honest I've always wondered whether it had been going on for some time before everything came to a head that evening. Had they all known and none of them ever even given me a hint? That was the question that had revolved around in my head ever since that evening.
I'd always known that he had a soft spot for Carrie and obviously she'd had a softer spot for him than I'd ever realised, or it would never have happened. But if it had been going on as long as I'd feared it had, then it really made no sense to me, why Carrie hadn't broken off our engagement a lot sooner and just shacked up with the bastard.
But then again, maybe Carrie just hadn't really liked the idea of living in Canada for two years and it could have been that which made her suddenly jump ship after six years? It just goes to prove that you never really know anyone, no matter how much you love them.
The darts players finished their dangerous game — loose darts had been flying everywhere — and moved over to the empty pool table.
There had been a time, just over two years ago, when this pub - or rather this particular bar of the pub would have been ... well not exactly crowded on a Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings, but full of our group. Out of curiosity I had stuck my nose in one night just after I returned to the country and had been surprised to learn that the whole group had moved on to some other hangout.
"Dunno what happened to them, lad." The govner had told me when I'd enquired. "But about two years ago they just stopped coming in as a group anymore. We see the odd one or two of them now and again, but as a group they must be partying somewhere else."
I'd always liked the pub; so as Carrie and the gang weren't using it anymore, then I figured that I might as well use it as my local now that I was back. Well the food was as good as it had always been, even if the pub was a lot quieter. And I've got to admit that the place didn't do my general demeanour any favours; when I was in there I was forever having flashbacks to the good times we'd had in there. Okay, not as many flashbacks as the flat gave me, but it could be that is why I spent so much time in the pub.
Yeah, I still had the same flat; the one Carrie had shared with me until that night. Carrie had moved out whilst I'd been gone though; well, she didn't have much choice really she'd been served with an eviction notice whilst I was in Canada. For some reason, I couldn't bring myself to sell the place though; I'd had the estate agent let it out on a short lease whilst I'd been in Canada. It had been his job to get Carrie out of the flat. I suppose I figured that she'd moved in with him eventually.
From what I've just said you might get some idea of my general demeanour and how my mind was forever living in the past. Carrie had been out of my life for two years, but she'd never really gone out of my heart or my memory. Isn't that what they say about your first true love; you never forget them!
Something — possibly the door opening - caught my attention and drew my gaze away from the young bird as she leant over the pool table - in a very short skirt - whilst her boyfriend tried to explain to her the intricacies of cueing a shot. I glanced in the door's direction and saw that two guys had entered the bar. One of them was Mike, a guy who'd teamed up with one of Carrie's friends, Lydia, about a month before everything turned to shit.
Mike hadn't noticed me and I quickly returned my attention to the pool table and that short skirt. But I kept an eye on the two guys in one of those convex security mirrors the pub had on the wall, so that the barman could keep an eye on the goings on in a hidden corner of the bar by the pool table. I'd long ago learnt that those security mirrors can work both ways.
Mike and his mate ordered their drinks then stood at the bar chatting together. Eventually though Mike took a look around to survey his surroundings and his eye ultimately fell upon me. In an instant he'd recognised me and turned back to face the bar, pulling his friend back around with him; then their heads went down as they began to whisper to each other.
A couple of times Mike's mate risked a quick - supposedly nonchalant - glance at the girls with the two guys at the pool table. But it was obvious to me that he was really checking out whether I'd spotted him and Mike and whether was looking in their direction. After much head shaking by the guy, I watched in the mirror as Mike got his mobile phone out of his pocket and made a call. It's not often that you hear — or rather see - folks whispering into mobile phones, but it was pretty obvious to me that was what Mike was attempting to anyway do. He actually risked a quick look in my direction, before giving up and heading out the door; where I assumed he could talk normally and the person he was calling had some chance of hearing him.
Five minutes later he was back, and he and his friend ordered another pint, then moved to one end of the bar; where they settled themselves on stools that they carefully positioned so that Mike's mate could watch me over his shoulder, as they pretended to talk to each other.
I had no idea what the buggers were up to, so I figured I'd put the cat amongst the pigeons; finishing my pint I headed for the bar for a refill. Mike purposely turned his head, I assumed in an attempt to make sure that I didn't recognise him.
"Fuck you too, arsehole!" I thought to myself, "If you want to avoid me, then I'll just pretend that I don't recognise you either."
I could have made a scene and even called the wanker outside; for by that time as I have said, I had convinced myself that all of the old crowd were well aware that something had been going on behind my back, between Carrie and the tosspot. But had I got all-uppity, then surely the govner would put the bar up to me. I just quietly took my pint, returned to my seat and continued surreptitiously watching the two guys as they kept glancing in my direction.
I had no idea what the wankers were up too, and I didn't really care! But at the same time I had to watch my back, just in case Mike had any nefarious thoughts in mind.
I suppose it was about ten minutes after I got my pint that I saw Lydia enter the bar. She went directly over to Mike, they exchanged a quick kiss and then Mike gestured in my direction with his head. Lydia took a quick look over at me, nodded to him and then without another word to Mike left the bar again.
Conscious that both of the guys were by then staring at me, I kept my gaze firmly on the four youngsters at the pool table; hardly daring to lift my eye to that mirror, for fear that they'd spot a slight movement of my head. I had no idea what was about to happen, but I was mentally preparing myself for just about anything.
Several minutes later the door opened again, and half a dozen or so of the old crowd walked in along with their girlfriends and joined Mike at the bar. The guys buying drinks, whilst all the girls once they'd located me, glowered in my direction.
Shortly another couple arrived, followed very quickly by several more couples. I suppose it went on like that until nearly two thirds of the old crowd were in the bar.
My problem was that - for reasons I didn't completely understand - with growth numbers, they had all gotten bolder, even Mike, and when not talking to each other, they were all glowering in my direction.
I really couldn't understand their obvious animosity towards me. Yeah, I had dumped Carrie when I caught her out back with the tosser; but I would have thought that anyone else would have done the same. Jesus, Carrie had been all over the guy that evening when they'd been dancing together, surely they had worked out what was going on when they disappeared, the same way I did. What did they expect me to do, condone Carrie and the little shit making out in the car park? Bleeding hell, we were supposed to be getting married less than two weeks later.
By that time I was feeling very uncomfortable and maybe a little anxious. A confrontation of some kind was pretty obviously in the offering. Now Mike - and maybe his unknown mate - I was sure I could handle, but the rest of the guy's; shit I'd have no chance against all of them.
As surreptitiously as I could I took my mobile phone out, unlocked it and punched in 999. If the shit hit the fan as I suspected that it was about to, then I only needed to hit the call button. I also weighed up the distance between me and a pool-cue rack. Not a very effective weapon but far better than sweet FA in my opinion.
The status quo remained the same for about another five or ten minutes and then the door opened again and Lydia returned, followed by, of all people, Carrie. Lydia joined the crowd at the bar, but Carrie crossed the room on a mission, heading for my table.
"Just tell me why?" she demanded, as she slipped her shapely backside into the seat opposite me. But before I had a chance to reply she went on. "After what you did, why did you have to mess up what chance little chance I had of being with someone else?"
"I have no idea of what you are talking about, Carrie." I replied. Carrie really had lost me the moment she opened her mouth.
"They killed him you know. Run him down and left him for dead in the street." She spat back at me with real venom in her voice.
"Carrie, I have no idea what you are talking about; who ran who down, and why?"
"Peter, I know that you had someone kill him, because you couldn't have me."
"What are you telling me, that Peter Sharp is dead?" I asked.
Carrie had me confused for a minute there, but then suddenly the penny dropped and I managed to work out what the hell she was going on about. Apparently after I'd dumped her and gone off to Canada, she and Peter had become an item. That made complete sense when I thought about it; after all it was catching the buggers together that had caused me to break off our engagement in the first place. It was also blatantly apparent - well I assumed I'd guessed correctly - that Carrie and Peter had been planning on getting married until he'd been killed in this road accident she was raving on about. "Could she really believe that I had something to do with Peter Sharp's death?" I thought to myself. But before I could say anything, she went on.
"As if you didn't know!" She spat at me.
"Carrie, the last time that I saw Peter Sharp, he was trying to find your tonsils out in the car park." I pointed out. "That gave me enough reason to want the arsehole dead, but I don't go around killing people or arranging for them to be killed. When did this happen anyway, he was healthy enough when I last saw him."
"As if you didn't know? It was last year, two weeks before our wedding!"
The "our wedding" she was talking about, it was obvious to me referred to her and Peter Sharp's wedding.
The two-week timing she mentioned was very significant as well, because it had been exactly two weeks before Carrie and my own, planned wedding, that I had found her out in this same pub's car park with Peter Sharp. And after landing just one punch on his kisser, I had walked away from the pair of them forever. By nature, I'm not - and never have been - a violent man; in my mind, that one punch had sufficed to show my feelings towards both of them.
Being all packed and on relocation leave, because right after our honeymoon Carrie and I were supposed to be moving to Canada where I was taking up a very lucrative two-year position for my employer. When I got home I had called the airline and managed to change my ticket; within hours of landing that punch on Sharp's jaw, I had been flying over the north Atlantic, alone!
"Last year I was in Toronto, Carrie; although I suspected that you and him were going to be an item after I left. Or to be honest I thought you had been messing around with the shit before I left; I just couldn't understand why you agreed to marry me if you were getting it on with him. I've always wondered just what the fuck you were playing at, and why?"
"There was never anything going on between Peter and I until after you left." She retorted angrily.
"Don't; give me all that shit Carrie. You and Sharp were all over each other that night. Right there on that dance floor over there by the jukebox. How do you explain that, and me finding you snogging the little shit out in the car park?"
"I wasn't snogging him, he was comforting me after showing me some pictures of you and Kelly Horton at Bill and Jean's party!"
"What the hell are you on about Carrie, what bleeding pictures?"
"These bleeding pictures!" she spat back at me taking several crumpled Polaroid photographs from her handbag and throwing them on the table before me.
Straightening the pictures out, I had some difficulty in seeing what I was looking at. I remembered the party in question all right, but only just. That weekend Carrie had gone back home to check out the final arrangements for our wedding that her mother was organising. Bill and Jean had thrown a little shindig for me; they said because I wasn't planning on having a stag night. Not that I remembered most of it, I think some wag must slipped me a Mickey Finn or sometime during the evening because I passed out quite early in the evening and missed out on most of the fun. Shit I'd had the biggest hangover of my life the following day.
As I studied the pictures I began to realise that they were of a bed, and guess what idiot was lying in the middle of it. Further more Kelly Horton, an obnoxious bitch - who I hadn't been able to abide for many years - was sat astride me, as if riding me cowgirl fashion. And yeah, my trousers were down around my knees somewhere.
I looked at several of the other of the pictures and they all apparently showed Kelly Horton and myself partaking in one sexual act or another. The only conclusion I could come up with was that either I was so out of it that I didn't know it was happening, or at least I didn't know that it was happening with Kelly Horton.
I'm willing to admit that there were several females in our circle of friends who I had fantasised about laying; but Kelly Horton had never been one of them. Being that I was completely pissed - and admitting my thoughts about a couple of the girls - then I've also got to admit that those pictures could possibly have been genuine. But if it hadn't been Kelly Horton, then I would have been more likely to understand those pictures. Furthermore the animosity between Kelly and I was mutual; Kelly Horton couldn't stand the sight of me with a vengeance. So I could not understand why it was she in those damned photographs.
"These have got to be faked!" I eventually said. I'm not sure, maybe I was clutching at straws when I said that.
"They're Polaroid's Brian, you can't fake Polaroid's." Carrie rebuffed me.
"They have to be, that's Kelly bleedin' Horton. Where did you get these, who took them anyway?" I demanded angrily.
Carrie's demeanour suddenly changed. She looked at me with an astonished expression on her face. "I don't know who took them, but Peter gave them to me that evening."
I'm not sure what was going around inside Carrie's mind, but a very quizzical expression began to come over her face.
At this instant, Lydia came over to the table bringing a drink for Carrie.
"Do you know who took the pictures?" Carrie asked her.
Laying emphasise on the words "the pictures" and leaving me with the distinct impression that they had become infamous within the group.
"I've never seen them Carrie." Lydia replied. "Of course I know about them, but you never showed them to anyone. But thinking about it I believe that the only people who had Polaroid cameras were Barry and my Mike."
"Well, which arsehole took these pictures?" I demanded.
Probably not quite the right way to put the question to Lydia, considering one of the guys in question, was her boyfriend, or possibly her husband by then.
"I'll ask and see if anyone knows." she replied, sounding a little more than slightly annoyed. Then she went back and joined the crowd at the bar.
"What has slut-face Horton had to say about those pictures?" I asked Carrie. I figured Carrie had at least had it out with the girl, in the intervening two years or so.
"I never got the chance to ask her," Carrie replied, an even more quizzical expression coming over her face. "Didn't she go to Canada with you?" she asked.
"Why the hell would she come to Canada with me? I couldn't stand the sight of the slut and you full well know it."
"I know that you always pretended not to like her, but everyone knew that she fancied you. She was always annoyed with you and me, because we were together."
Carrie I'll admit that Kelly and I had history; I think everyone knows that. I dated the bitch years ago when we were in college together and I thought that I was in love with the cow at the time. But I found her getting shagged by some little shit in the back of his car one night. What feelings I had for her turned to hate and as far as I knew she didn't like me because for a time I wasn't shy about telling everyone about what I'd found her doing. Turned out that she is a slut, who will drop her knickers for just about anyone; but she didn't appreciate me telling all and sundry.
I suddenly became aware that Lydia and Jean had returned to the table along with their respective men.
"Mike says that he left the camera lying on the sideboard and just about anyone could have used it." Lydia informed us.
I looked up at Mike. His face now not looking quite as hostile as it had done not ten minutes before.
"Peter took a few pictures in the lounge, and asked me to show him how to reload the camera." Mike volunteered without anyone asking.
I looked back at Carrie, who was by then looking very unsure of herself. Then I looked up at the other four again. "Tell me, who brought Kelly Horton to the party? I don't remember seeing her there."
The four looked at each other with blank expressions on their faces.
"Well it could only have been one or two of the guys, because most of the crowd were courting. I'll see if anyone else can remember." Mike said as he turned and left to return to the bar.
"It looks very much like those pictures were a set-up Carrie. I don't know how, but I suspect that somehow Kelly must have slipped me a Mickey and then set that little lot up to get her own back at me. Probably she had Peter take them, or gave them to him because she knew as everyone else did, that he wanted into your knickers."
"Peter!" Mike suddenly said from somewhere above me. I think everyone looked at him waiting for an explanation. "Oh, it's the consensus of opinion that Peter brought Kelly Horton to that party, he definitely took her home afterwards. That's assuming they went home, you know Kelly's reputation."
I put my elbows on the table, clasped my hands under my chin and looked Carrie right in the eyes.
"Right, I don't know what you make of it, but as I see it, it went like this. Your sweetheart brought Kelly to the party. Sometime during the evening he slipped something in my drink and I passed out." I looked up at the four of them again. "Who put me on that bed anyway, the last I remember I was on the couch in the lounge?"