The phone call came as something of a shock – I hadn’t heard from Gareth in a long time.
How long? Probably four to five years. In fact, yes, it was just over four years ago when we’d had the final confrontation, which, quite frankly was the straw that broke the camels back.
I walked out of a trying, five-year business relationship and eight-year friendship and resolved not to let it bother me, nor hold out any chance of patching things up. Things had gone just too far to even think of a recovery. Gareth, in his careful, manipulative, structured way, made me feel as though I was the one doing the wrong. Gareth was a master at lying with a straight face, which is probably what made him such a good salesman and why I fell for his lies for all those years.
I re-ran the whole distasteful episode in my mind many, many times and regardless of which way you looked at it, Gareth was caught out, pants-by-his-ankles sort of stuff, purposely defrauding not only his business associate, but also his supposed friend.
I walked away from my investment in his company and managed to recover enough emotionally to get on with my own life and to survive and thrive financially.
Gareth had always joked with me saying, “not to worry Harry, you’re a Survivor.”
Which was more than Gareth had apparently managed to do.
After I had laid Criminal charges against him, he’d served less than two years of a three-year sentence in a minimum-security prison, which was quite frankly, more like a hotel than a prison.
A couple of long standing friends felt they were doing me a favour telling me of chance meetings with him over the years, normally in some state of drunkenness, crying on the worlds shoulders and trying to work out why he’d been dealt such a bum hand. “Bitter and Twisted” was the general summary of his emotional state.
I had scrubbed his name right out of my vocabulary and the only time it reared its ugly head was in the by-chance encounter in the small world of Veterinary Pharmaceuticals in which we both operated. I normally walked away from trying to compete with him, contented at not having to risk digging up the past, starting the mud-slinging and possibly involving others in the ugly episode.
The friendliness of his voice was what made the caller un-recognisable.
“Harry! How the hell are you?” was his opening line.
No “Hello,” “Good morning,” or even a “ Hi there,” just a “how the hell are you?”
It froze me on the spot and had me speechless for a few seconds whilst I tried to work out, no, deny the fact that this was actually Gareth, having the audacity to call.
“Who’s this?” I asked into the phone, hoping I’d be wrong.
“Oh, come on now Harry, surely you haven’t forgotten your old friends now, have you?”
“Gareth?” I asked.
“Who else Harry?”
A pause of about twenty seconds felt more like an hour as I decided not to initiate any conversation.
Finally, I broke the silence.
“What is it you want Gareth. I’m really very busy right now.”
“O.K. Harry, I’ll not beat around the bush,” he said brightly, “ I needed to talk to you, to make contact and to tell you that I’ve had something of a change of fortunes lately and, based on our mis-understandings of the past, thought it was time that we made amends.”
“Look Gareth, I’m not really interested…”
He cut me short.
“Just hear me out, please Harry, listen to what I have to say and then, take your time, think about it, and then let me have your answer.” He said.
I didn’t respond.
“Now Harry, as I said, I’ve had a change of fortunes lately and your name was one of the first that came up in my mind. Now, please Harry, just listen! All I’m asking is that you join me and a couple of others for supper and a few drinks so that, if nothing else, I can get this load off my chest, make amends, and then move on from there.”
“I really don’t think that would be appropriate…”
Again, he cut me off mid sentence.
“Friday evening, 7.00 p.m. at my place. Have a drink over supper, listen to what I have to say, you don’t even have to talk to me, just listen, and then you can decide for yourself.”
He then gave me an address and said that he hoped to see me there for “a lesson in survival,” whatever he meant by that.
He hung up and left me holding a beeping handset.
I thought about the phone call many times during the day, wondering about his “change of fortunes” and what drastic situation or events could have changed his life so dramatically to warrant the contact.
When I got home that night, my Wife, Sally thought that I was being a little bit too sceptical and suggested that maybe he’d won the lottery or had some aged Aunt or Uncle leave him a fortune and that maybe he was now in a position to make things up financially.
I doubted whether he’d come by any fortune, and even if he had, I doubted that he’d done it by any legal means based on my past experiences with him.
Sally suggested that I had nothing to lose, and with a definite reservation, finally decided to go along, even if it was just to reinforce my distaste and disgust for the way he’d treated me in the past. Maybe he had hit a lucky streak and decide it was pay-back time; Who knows, I might just walk out of there with a cheque for the thirty thousand pounds he’d stolen from me to feather his lavish lifestyle?
If Gareth had had any windfall, it certainly wasn’t apparent by the fairly familiar address he’d given me and even more so when I drove past a rather seedy looking row of terraced flats that Friday evening. Judging by the cars on the street, all in various states of decay, I’d say that Gareth had probably hit rock bottom before his “change of fortune” came around.
I parked under a street lamp about three hundred yards beyond the entrance to his flat and walked back, surveying the neighbouring properties. A couple of obvious hookers, elbows on the window ledge, made suggestions to me as I passed their ground floor flat.
I mounted the three chipped and unpainted stairs to the front entrance and rang the doorbell indicating the number Gareth had given me. Surprisingly, the intercom worked and I was buzzed in through the front door with Gareth’s voice calling out, “Up the stairs, on the left, you can’t miss it.”
Gareth’s front door was as tatty as the threadbare carpet on the stairway, with signs on the paintwork that the occupant had lost his keys on several occasions and had to resort to kicking the lock in.
The door opened and there stood Gareth. I was shocked, both by the lack of expression on his face and by his physically neglected appearance. Gareth had always been somewhat overweight with a bright, ruddy complexion and well presented deportment. What stood before me was the stooped, shadow of the man I knew. I reckoned that he had lost at least forty pounds and the once ruddy complexion was now pale and almost waxy.
“Join us in the dining room, in there, on the left.” his muted voice appealed as he retreated, without greeting, down the passage to the Kitchen.
I followed him and stepped into a dimly lit room furnished mainly with a cheap Formica dining room table with four seats already occupied.
I nodded to the others present and received various impatient grunts in reply. No one smiled or offered an introduction so I took the liberty of introducing myself.
Again, no response.
I sat down at the last empty seat next to the head of the table where Gareth would obviously be sitting.
“Help yourself to a drink and I’ll join you all in a few minutes.” Said Gareth’s voice from down the hallway.
A side table held an assortment of grubby wine glasses and two carafes of decanted wine, one red and one white.
I helped myself to a glass of red, sniffing the somewhat dull bouquet as I returned to my seat.
“Well, I wonder if we’re all here for the same thing?” I suggested to the table.
Again, there was no response other than the short, fat guy on the far side of the table looking impatiently at his watch. “Christ,” he muttered, “I wish he’d get on with whatever it is he’s got to say instead of wasting our bloody time.”
More mumbles from the rest of the table.
“I really don’t know why I even bothered,” said the red haired man. “I can’t stand to be in his company, and don’t know why I even accepted this damned silly idea.”
“Last time I saw him, I wanted to break his fucking neck,” said the short fat guy. “took every last fucking penny I had, the filthy bastard!”
The table broke out into a cacophony of curses and muttering and general agreement that no-one really wanted to be here and that everyone seemed to have had similar experiences to myself.
The man next to Fatty, dressed like a nightclub bouncer in black leather, black polo neck and a thick gold rope chain stood up, scraping the chair on the uncarpeted floorboards. “I’m getting’ outa here,” he said firmly. “I should be twisting his scrawny neck for him on the way out and not listening to his crap! He’s already wasted another twenty minutes of my life”
The fourth man, who looked like everybody’s idea of just what an accountant should look like, suddenly spoke up. “I’d like to suggest that we all stay, listen to what Gareth has to say and, if after his confession, we’re not entirely happy, we simply leave. Let him get on with his life and we with ours. We’ve all been burned by this man and whatever he says today can’t damage us any further now, can it?”
A few minutes later, the door opened and in walked Gareth, carrying a huge oven-clay pot between two grubby looking dishcloths.
“Gentlemen, please! Let us not be hasty or foolish here, having people wanting to rush off and mess up the whole evening! Let’s all just have something to eat and then I can get down to the business of why you’re all here tonight.” Said Gareth with something resembling a smile on his lips.
Gareth placed the pot in the middle of the table and lifted the lid.
The one thing I always enjoyed about the many evenings I spent socialising with Gareth was his ability to cook up a superb meal. Tonight was going to be no exception as my taste buds and sense of smell concurred when he lifted the lid.
“It’s my famous Guinness and Beef pie.” He said, offering the serving spoon to the leather clad bouncer who hesitated for a second and then dished himself up a mighty helping of thick, puff pastry and steaming meat and gravy.
The rest of the table followed suit. All except Gareth.
“Gentlemen,” he started, “I will eat a little later to give you all the opportunity to fill your mouths and to keep you from interrupting as I speak.”
Gareth sat down at the head of the table on my right, as the dish was passed around and the invited guests helped themselves.
I had enjoyed his Guinness and Beef on several occasions and I got the feeling that most of the others had had similar experiences judging by the size of the servings. Another of Gareth’s clever, calculating moves, designed to keep us glued to our seats, mouths full, and listening to his obviously well prepared speech.
I tucked into my meal; now eager to hear just what it was that had brought Gareth to arrange this meeting with five of his very obvious adversaries. Without a doubt, each of us had been through a similar, lesser or greater experience of Gareth’s devious business dealings.
“Gentlemen,” he started, “Firstly, I’d sincerely like to thank you all for coming along tonight, particularly in view of the fact that it took a lot of emotional control on my part considering you’ve all contributed in a big way to our somewhat troubled relationships of the past.”
In spite of having our mouths filled with food, there was a sudden mumbling from everyone around the table, my own thoughts being the damn cheek of the man, suggesting that we’d all “contributed”; we’d all been gullible enough to fall for your lies and bull, more like it!
“And if you’d just let me continue uninterrupted,” he went on, “I’ll be able to get to the whole point of this evening.
The group continued eating enthusiastically.
As I indicated to each of you when I finally plucked up the courage to call you, I’ve had a definite change of fortunes lately, and, this has brought about my change of heart.” His voice tailed off in an attempt to grab our attention further. This was a tactic he discussed with me often and used in business presentations in the past to “see if I’ve got my audience’s attention” he would proudly say.
“Some of you may have noticed the physical change in my appearance and here, I’ll get straight to the point. Gentlemen, I have been diagnosed with inoperable and most definitely, terminal cancer.” He said, again tailing off, appealing with his masterful voice, to our sympathy levels.
There were a couple of nervous smiles around the table as everyone continued to munch on the supper. As much as I hated Gareth for his past dealings, I would never wish something like this upon him, and I admit, at that moment in time, looking at his wasted frame, I actually felt sorry for him. I spooned another fork-full of food into my mouth, partially as an excuse for not having to say anything in response to his revelation.
“I don’t want to go into all the details but enough is said that I have about three to four months to live.” He went on.
“So, why go to all the trouble of inviting all of my arch-enemies over for supper to share in my change of fortunes you may ask? Why not just accept my lot and get on with the business of dying?”
“Yeah, Why not!” mumbled the bouncer before shovelling another mouthful of pie into his crumb-encrusted mouth.
The others around the table mumbled through their over-filled mouths.
“Because, Gentlemen, there comes a time when all those little things that have influenced your life, things that you’ve pushed aside over the years, come back to haunt you. To make you look at life from a different perspective and to ask yourself, what did I do to deserve this? Where did the wheels fall off? What could have been done differently to change the path of my life and to have put me in a position where, instead of skulking off to my poky little flat to curl up and die, I could have been in the best clinics, receiving the best treatment and postponing the inevitable?”
“Maybe if you’d been more honest and not such a fucking scumbag of a thief, life might have been quite different.” Chirped Fatty from an overstuffed mouth.
“Let me finish please,” Gareth interrupted.
“Yes, Gent’s, Life could have been much different if it wasn’t for the relationships I had with each of you. Each of you in your own special way, contributed to my demise. So… Now it’s payback time!”
“Get out your chequebook then, you slimy motherfucker.” Shouted the red headed guy.
“Whooaah! Just a minute,” Gareth said loudly, “ I think maybe you’ve got the wrong ideas here!”
“Before we have any more emotional outbursts,” Gareth continued, “ Let me just tell you all about the position we’re in right now and then maybe we can move ahead clearly and logically.
Can you please let me have just five more minutes without interruption?” he asked.
Everyone returned their attentions to their plates.
“Then, if you’d be so kind…” He waited for any further objections.
“As you all know, apart from the many different business ventures I’ve been involved in with all of you over the years, my staple, bread and butter business has always been Pharmaceuticals. More specifically, in the field of Veterinary Anaesthesia, utilising products developed in laboratories to combat sickness in farm animals, specifically in the areas of poisoning and toxic contamination. Oh, by the way, is everyone enjoying the Supper?” he said looking at the almost empty plates.
Like a movie that has been put on pause, without exception, everyone at the table suddenly stopped chewing what was in their mouths and froze.
“What the fuck are you up to Gareth you slimy little snake?” screamed the bouncer, attempting to get to his feet.
“Now, sit down please,” said Gareth calmly, “ You should know that increased activity leads to an increased heart rate and all that serves to do is circulate the poisons more quickly through your bloodstream and into the brain.”
Bouncer plopped down in his seat. The others just sat there frozen to their seats, what remained of the food in their mouths being slowly spat out.
My mouth suddenly recognised a sweetness, sharp but sweet, tingling at the sides of my tongue.
“Yes, Gentlemen, Payback time! Judging by the empty wine carafes, I trust you all enjoyed your glasses of wine, which incidentally, was not poisoned. It merely contained a muscle relaxant to calm you all down, just in case any of you decided to get a little bit too physical tonight.”
Oh my God! Glancing around the table, I couldn’t help but notice the changed faces of the others, eyes now slightly drooping, shoulders now stooped, at the same time noticing a feeling of drowsiness that had come over me in the last few minutes.
“So, the bottom line is this,” Gareth, now the Master of the Table went on, “ each of you has now got enough Exidaxitrine circulating in your bloodstream to kill a small horse. Exidaxitrine, as a few of you may know,” he said, looking at me, “is used to Euthanase large animals and is considered by most Veterinarians to be one of the most painless and humane methods of putting useless and troublesome animals out of their misery.
WHICH IS FAR BETTER THAN YOU LOT DESERVE!” he shouted, an inane twisted grin on his lips.
Fatty suddenly started frantically patting his pockets and finally pulled out a cellphone.
“I’m afraid you’re not going to find that much use in here,” smiled Gareth, “I have a signal jamming device sitting just outside the front door which, incidentally is firmly padlocked, not that any of you will have the strength to try to force the door open mind you.”
“But, and here I say a very big “But,” there is hope for you. Not all of you, but at least one of you will survive tonight.”
“Exidaxitrine is also used as a sedative, administered in smaller, controlled doses, it can be used to maintain a level of painless, semi-consciousness whilst surgeons do their thing on the animals. In uncontrolled larger doses, it is fatal. Posidaxitrine, on the other hand, is used to bring the patient around to a recovery condition, provided it is used in the correct doses, the animal will recover almost perfectly!” He grinned. “Although there have been a few cases of permanent paralysis and brain vegetation over the years, but that was when the wrong doses were given.”
“So, Gentlemen,” he said, looking at his watch, “we have about twenty-five minutes before you’ll lose control of your muscles and another five after that before your brain starts to shut down. Just before that, your bodily control functions will cease and in all likelihood, you’ll shit your pants!” He laughed.
Fatty tried to stand up, obviously wanting to attack Gareth, but didn’t even manage to raise his bum off the seat before sinking back down with a whiter shade of pale on his face.
Although I had poured myself a glass of wine, the cheap metallic flavour and cheap bouquet didn’t encourage me to drink more than a sip, so I wasn’t feeling as drowsy as the others who had been topping up all the time we were waiting. As for the food, I was wondering how much of the poison I’d actually eaten as I’d only taken two, maybe three mouthfuls at the time of Gareth’s announcement. My Wife and my Mother always complained that I was s slow eater. Maybe this could be my saving grace? I could certainly feel a numbness creeping into my extremities as I looked down at my fingers, which were starting to refuse to respond, and although my wrist movement was still fairly mobile, I could feel a stiffness creeping into the joints.
“Gentlemen, your day of judgement has arrived. Now, is the final moment of truth, time for you to make amends!” sneered Gareth.
“I’ve allocated two minutes to each of you during which time, you’ll be given the opportunity to apologise for your wrongs and at the end of the two minutes, I’ll score you and make a decision as to who will be the Survivor, who will receive this,” he said, producing a small syringe of clear brownish liquid from his pocket.
The man with the red hair sloppily made a grab for the syringe, only to have Gareth pull his hand away quickly. “You’ll have to be much quicker than that.” He said smiling, a taut pencil line smile starting to sneer across his face.
“Fuck you Gareth,” slurred the Red head, “If you think I’m going to tell you a whole bunch of lies just to satisfy your guilty conscience for all the times you fucked me over, then Fuck-you, big time, Fuck you!”
Gareth laughed out loud. “ Fuck me? No my friend, Fuck you! That was your two minutes and, let me see… We’ll give that a score of two for that ballsy effort! So, who wants to go next?”
The Accountant put his hand slowly into the air.
“ You must understand Gareth, that my job entails accuracy and a special attention to every last detail. My only sin towards you was uncovering the irregularities in the books of Fincham-Tate and it was my sworn duty to bring this to the attention of the Directors” he said, smiling a nervous, accounting sort of smile.
“If I knew that my actions would lead to this tragic situation, I don’t know what I would have done differently without labelling myself a criminal in the process.” He continued.
“I’ve a Wife and two lovely young children at home waiting for me and to not be able to say my goodbyes would be my biggest failing. I’m terribly sorry things have come to this……….”
“But your two minutes are up!” chirped in Gareth looking at his wristwatch.
“A heartrending story, but alas, not one that makes me feel even the slightest bit sorry for you, or your Family for that matter. I think I’ll give you a four point five for effort though.”
He stared metallically around the table.
“How about you, Mr Bloody Big-deal Bouncer? Are you ready to plead for your life like you’ve had others pleading for theirs in your dirty, sordid little business?”
“I really don’t know what you want from me Gareth? If you want me to lick your arse and tell you I’m sorry, if that’s what is needed then tell me and I’ll satisfy your failing ego.” He waited for a response but none was forthcoming.
“We got into business together Gareth, because you enjoyed the sordid, dirty little world of Night Clubs, booze and Prostitutes and the big ticket money it could spin for you. I thought it was great to have someone fund my little venture at the beginning but when my Protectors starting hitting on me for not being paid enough, I found out that you’d been skimming off the top right from the start. Cost me more than a hundred grand that little episode did! You’re lucky I didn’t do more than put you in hospital back then. I should have had you snuffed, you dirty fucking cheat!”
“Which brings your little effort to a close and a lousy three and a half point score. You should learn to control your temper, Mr Bloody Big-deal Bouncer” interrupted Gareth.
Looking around the table, I could see the others looking more and more like they were about to fall asleep. I felt a little drowsy, slightly weak but not half as bad as the rest of the table looked. My slow eating had done me a bit of a favour this time, or had it? Maybe my death would just be more drawn out and painful?
“So, my long lost Partner,” said Gareth, looking at me. “How well can you kiss my arse? Better than the other three, I hope? Let’s see how much you want to be the Survivor.”
“What can I say?” I hesitated. “ When I got into business with you, all was well and good for a while. But, and having many years of thinking about the “but’s,” we both went into the venture with our eyes wide open and, as they say, choosing a business Partner is more difficult than choosing a Wife.” I continued.
“I could no more forecast that you would screw me over any more than you could foresee me screwing you over. So, life’s a bitch, get over it! Which is what I have done Gareth, I’ve gotten over it. In fact, I learned so well from our little encounter that I went on to become stronger and certainly wiser. To sum it up, I suppose I have you to thank for that. Today, I’m not a victim, I’m a Survivor. And Yes, I am sorry! Sorry for where you are today and the position we all find ourselves in. I only wish we didn’t have to get to this.” I concluded.
“Clap, clap, clap, clap,” coming from Gareth’s palms slowly patting together.
“Oh very, very touching I must say.” He smiled. “If I taught you nothing else, it was how to appeal to people’s emotions and to kiss backsides to get the deal.” He laughed. “Let’s see – 22 months I spent in prison for you, divide that by your four other co-conspirators, Yes, a very credible five and a half survival points for you!”
“Which leaves our Fat little friend about two minutes to make his plea.” He said, relishing his display of control.
“Gareth, I think that my being totally honest with you will only cause me to fuck up any chances I have in this little judgement,” began Fatty, “ So, instead of being honest, I’m going to rather “do-a-Gareth” on you and tell you what I think you want to hear. Give it to you, the way Gareth would give it to you!” he hesitated for a moment.
“Gareth, I’m sincerely sorry that my involvement with you has caused you to be in the position you find yourself today. If there was any way I could undo the damage done by our relationship, I would undo it right now, take things back to that fateful day we met and make everything right from there. I’m truly sorry Gareth, now, please, let me have the antidote?”
Gareth stood up and took a few steps back from the table.
“A nice ending but a terrible beginning, I’m afraid. Certainly not as appealing as others but, probably worth, let’s see, a five and a half.” He said, turning his back to us.
He was fiddling with the syringe, holding it up to the light.
“Which means we have a tie for first place now don’t we?” he said, looking back over his shoulder at us. “And, in the case of a tie, guess what?” he paused.
“I get to be the winner!”
What happened next took us all by surprise.
He’d been preparing the syringe while his back was turned towards us and, turning round, plunged it deep into the prominent blue vein in the crease of his elbow.
He held the syringe in that position for a few seconds; “ Gent’s, in the drawer under the side table, you’ll find a packet with some little capsules in it. You can decide who’s going to take them or not? A few minutes after you take it, you’ll be on the road to Salvation.” He looked down at his arm.
“The worst thing about dying is knowing that you’ll die alone.” He said, quietening his voice almost to a whisper. “I really don’t want to die alone, in some grubby little hospital ward with some grubby little nurse throwing a sheet over my head. No, I wanted to share this moment with all of you who have been influential in my life. As for my little game – well, let me say that you were all so soft and gullible and if I could fuck-you-over once, why not fuck-you over again?”
At which, he plunged his thumb down firmly on the syringe, the brownish liquid emptying into his veins.
Two seconds later, his legs collapsed, and Gareth lay in a heap on the floor.
No one spoke. Everyone was focused on Gareth’s crumpled, motionless body.
“I think I can still walk to the table,” I suggested to a semi-comatose audience.
Without any response from the rest, I pushed my chair back and was shocked to find enough strength in my legs to lift me out of my seat. Resting my arms on the table edge and then onto the shoulders of my fellow sufferers, I made my way slowly to the side table and opened the drawer.
It was empty.
I pulled the drawer right out and explored the insides with my numbing hand.
A plastic packet, zip-loc hospital issue, came into view as I scratched around.
I opened the packet and, true to Gareth’s word, there were the capsules, each containing a reddish liquid. I counted them out – four of them.
I took one out and then made my way slowly around the table, putting one into each of the open mouths, starting with the bouncer and ending in the accountant.
“Bite down on that” I instructed each of them, making my way back to my seat for their recovery and my gradual demise. Yes, I had a choice, take one for myself and leave one of the others out. But which one? Maybe I’d survive because I hadn’t gulped down the wine and attacked the meal like a starved savage? Maybe I’d just pass away slowly, no pain, no feeling, just like the animals this stuff was intended for?
I sat down and through blurring eyes, looked around at the others at the table.
The Bouncer seemed to be rolling his head from side to side and the red head was shaking his up and down. A slow glance around the table showed that everybody seemed to be having a similar reaction, obviously as the antidote started working through their systems.
My vision went blurred, in fact, so blurred that it seemed that all of the mouths around the table were wide open and were filling with shaving foam!
My eyes cleared for a moment and I could swear that Fatty had put his head on the table and that the Bouncer had fallen sideways off his chair.
An electric pain, like the sort of pain you get when the dentist exposes a raw nerve and then pokes it, shot through my entire skeleton.
My God! Surely poor animals don’t have to go through this? Surely, my death will come quickly?
The pain stopped. The four dinner guests were now all lying in some crumpled form or other and judging by the state of their faces, I would say that they had all expired.
I nudged the accountant with the little strength that I had left in me only to have him slide off the seat and onto the floor. Like Gareth, he lay in a crumpled and obviously dead heap.
I finally lost consciousness thinking to myself that Gareth truly had “fucked us over one last time.”
Patching the pieces together later, I learned that Sally had worried about me after trying my cellphone unsuccessfully until about eight thirty. At eight-forty-five, she decided to call her brother Tony and together they had come to Gareth’s address and after kicking in the door and finding it padlocked from the inside, Called 999.
I was in a deep coma for more than a week after having my stomach pumped and according to the Doctors, it was touch and go for a while.
The Newspapers were onto the story from the start, calling it a “suicide pact” and wondering why five-seemingly-perfect and normal people would meet and do such a thing.
It still didn’t click.
Only after I got home from hospital some ten days later and was lounging in front of the TV, did the question hit me.
Sky News was on the box and I listened closely, fascinated that the story was still making headlines well after the event.
The announcer recapped the story to date and further posed the question, “Why?”. He then went on to name the four dead people and me as the only survivor.
I frantically grabbed the phone and called Sally down at the Charity shop she worked in part-time.
“What the hell happened to Gareth?” I almost screamed into the telephone.
“He’s disappeared, everyone’s trying to find him” she replied, trying to calm me with “Slow, down, calm yourself!”
I dropped the phone, as the reality of what she was saying started to sink in.
Sally arrived home about twenty minutes later and a Detective Inspector from the local Police Station arrived a few minutes after that.
When Sally and Tony arrived at Gareth’s house, she explained, they had to call the police to break in the door and upon entering the dining room, found four people dead and me hanging on to life by a thread.
There were only five of us in the room and as much as my wife tried to tell them about the invitation and Gareth’s phone call, no one had yet been able to confirm whether he had actually been present at all that evening. Amongst the other checks that they did, it seemed that Gareth had left the country and had taken a flight to Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport more than three weeks beforehand and so far, had not re-entered the Country. No one had been able to track him down yet and the Police still wanted to talk to him.
“As far as we can determine, there is only one entrance into the Flat and that was padlocked from the inside. Unless your friend managed to get out of a locked bathroom window two story’s high, we can only conclude that it was just the five of you in the flat.” explained the D.I. before suggesting that I might be able to help them further, now that I was coherent enough to recall events.
They really needed to know why the contents of my stomach, a snake venom extract, were very different from the Cyanide based doses in the other four victims.
I was considered a “suspect” in the case.
I made an appointment to see them the following day down at the Police Station.
Three months went by since that night and the Police indicated that this was still an “Open Case” and that they were still treating me as a suspect.
Between a Criminal Psychologist, Lawyers, Police and Sally’s Family, the phone seemed to never stop ringing. It had got to the stage where I would often ignore the ringing phone, preferring to let the answering machine take a message.
This time, I was walking down the hallway when it rang. What made me answer was the LCD panel on the phone, which showed the number of the person calling.
I recognised it as an International dialling code.
I picked up the phone.
“Harry! How the hell are you?”
I froze. Five, ten, fifteen seconds….
An operator with a German or Swiss accent suggested that the caller should deposit more money in the callbox.
“Don’t let the Police hassle you Harry, – either way, in Prison or a free man, you’ll get by. Not to worry Harry, you’re a Survivor!”