The front door opened, and thirty-one-year-old Brenda emerged in a state of some alarm. She hurriedly unlocked the door to her Ford Escort, which stood on the drive, and climbed inside.
After being impeded by her agitation, Brenda finally inserted the ignition key and started the engine. The tyres issued a short, sharp squeal as they gained purchase on the concrete drive, and the car sped out of the cul-de-sac, towards which destination Brenda didn't know; she just had to get away.
In the two years Brenda had been in a relationship with him, Eddie had never once raised his hands towards her, but he was currently demonstrating a whole new level of anger that frightened her. She considered escape her best option, like those fleeing an erupting volcano.
But then, she understood his anger.
It had all come about when Brenda started running a bath, and Eddie asked if he could quickly use the toilet beforehand. She reluctantly agreed. After Eddie had gone about his business, and was washing his hands, he spotted Brenda's phone on the windowsill.
Eddie had always respected Brenda's privacy, but there, safely hidden behind the locked bathroom door, he succumbed to the temptation to peek. On opening her messages folder, Eddie saw that Brenda had received a text only twenty minutes earlier from Dave, a good friend of them both. It read:
Cant w8 2 c u Wed. So horny 4 u xx
Eddie read the message over and over, each time with an increased feeling of nausea. This startling revelation was the emotional equivalent of being hit squarely in the face with a shovel. Yet, despite his anguish, and what further pain he might be about to uncover, Eddie couldn't resist the urge to delve further into the messages folder in order to ascertain the level of Brenda's participation in what was clearly a prearranged tryst. What that search uncovered did little to ease his upset, which was rapidly morphing into rage. Brenda's last text to Dave had been sent an hour earlier. It read:
Pick me up Wednesday. Same place, 8.30 xx
Trying to restrain his imagination from running wild with all kinds of scenarios, Eddie put together a simple jigsaw of supposition. Her date with Dave had been arranged for Wednesday night, when, as usual, Eddie would be away playing darts at the Cromwell Arms.
That he'd been a chump was beyond question in Eddie's mind, but that train of thought was immediately overtaken by fury.
There was a knock on the door. "What are you doing in there, writing your will?" Brenda said. Eddie opened the door, and before he uttered a word, his very demeanour caused Brenda to cower.
"You dirty, devious bastard," he said. Brenda knew precisely what Eddie was referring to; she had realised she'd left her phone in the bathroom, and had been worried that Eddie might sneak a peek at her messages. She ran downstairs, and into the living room, closely followed by Eddie, who continued to shout abuse at her.
"You dirty, cheap, two-timing slut," he said, and he threw the phone at her.
The missile missed, and bounced off the back of the settee. Brenda grabbed the phone from a cushion, and her car keys from a bowl on a coffee table, and she ran from the house, leaving Eddie to simmer in his own rage. If she could get away in the car, at least she'd be beyond his reach.
In the kitchen, Eddie stood with his elbows on the counter top, and his head in his hands. He sobbed, but then the tide of anger returned, and he took his own phone from his pocket. "You bastard," he said, getting up Dave's contact details. Then he remembered that Dave was in Hertfordshire that day, and so he abandoned the call. "Wait till you get back," he said, "I'll wring your bloody neck."
Dusk was falling when Eddie rang for a takeaway pizza. He had stifled his anger sufficiently to have rediscovered his appetite, and he'd had nothing since his breakfast cereal that morning. As he waited for the delivery, he stared out of the window into the gathering gloom, tormenting himself with visions of Brenda and Dave enjoying intense sexual pleasure, while laughing scornfully at him.
The ringing of the house phone snapped Eddie from his miserable contemplation. He hurried into the living room, where he picked up the receiver.
"Yes?" he barked.
"Is that Eddie?" a man said. On recognising the voice, Eddie immediately changed his tone.
"Yes. yes, it is."
"This is Chris Tarrant at Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Did we call at at a bad time?" Eddie heard the audience laugh.
"Sorry," Eddie said, "some coffee went down the wrong way."
"Well, don't choke yourself just yet," Tarrant said, to more audience laughter, "we've got your friend Dave here, and he's doing very well. He's on one-hundred-and-twenty-five thousand pounds, and hopefully, with your help, we can get him up to a quarter of a million."
"I'll do my best," Eddie said.
"Dave will ask you the question, but the good news is that he's used his fifty-fifty lifeline, so there are only two possible answers remaining."
"The next voice you hear will be Dave's, and you have thirty seconds to answer. Good luck, Dave, your time starts, now."
"Eddie," Dave said.
"Which country's currency is the forint, f-o-r-i-n-t, is it Poland or Hungary?"
"It's Poland, Dave."
"Are you sure?"
"One hundred percent. I went over to watch England play there in a friendly, and they definitely use the forint."
"Cheers, mate, I knew I could rely on you. There'll be a big drink for you when - "
The line went dead as Dave ran out of time. If Dave gave the answer that Eddie had confidently told him was correct, he would lose ninety-three thousand pounds. Eddie had been to watch England play a game in Poland, and while on that trip he had learned that the currency there is the zloty.
They say that revenge is a dish best served cold, but Eddie reckoned that it felt pretty good when served up fresh and piping hot too.
Some fifteen minutes after the quiz show call, as Eddie ate his pizza, his mobile phone rang. It was Dave. Eddie ignored it, and, after a dozen or so repeated calls, he switched the phone off and went to bed.
At noon the following day, Eddie prepared sandwiches for his lunch break at work, where his shift was due to start at two o'clock. He looked at his phone to see if there had been any messages from Dave or Brenda. When he had checked his texts that morning, Eddie saw that Dave had sent a message saying:
U R DEAD.
The doorbell rang, followed by vigorous knocking. Eddie went to answer, ready for Dave's angry assault, but still stoked enough by his ex-friend's treachery to deliver an onslaught of his own.
Eddie had barely opened the door before Dave attacked. "You bastard," he said, throwing a punch that caught Eddie on the temple. Eddie grabbed Dave's throat and tried to push him back through the open door.
"You're the bastard," Eddie said, "I know all about you and Brenda."
Eddie forced Dave out of the house, and into the front garden, where amidst lots of shouting, the two men traded blows and grappled on the lawn. A neighbour called the police, who arrived in minutes. Two officers got out of the car.
"Right then," said a burly constable, "what's all this about?"
"That bastard deliberately gave me false information that cost me nearly a hundred grand," Dave said, dabbing a bleeding lip with this fingertips.
"Yes, because he's been screwing my partner behind my back," Eddie said. Dave denied the accusation.
"Someone's phone's ringing," a policewoman said. Eddie went inside, where he saw that the caller was Brenda. He answered.
"What do you want?" he said.
"Look, Eddie, we need to be grown up about this. These things happen in relationships all the time, and we have to pick ourselves up and move on from them."
"So?" Eddie snapped.
"Well, I'm at my mum's just now, but I'm going to move in with Dave. There are some things I have to get from the house; just a few bits and bobs. I need an assurance that I'll be able to retrieve them safely, without threats or angry accusations."
"Well, Lover Boy is here right now, so why don't you tell him what you want, and he'll bring them over."
"What are you talking about? Dave's sitting here with me. We're having sandwiches." Eddie's stunned silence prompted Brenda to ask, "We are talking about the same Dave here, aren't we?" Then, the penny dropped. "Oh, my god, Eddie. Did you think it was Dave Greenaway?"
"Yes," Eddie said, in barely more than a whisper.
"It's not that Dave," Brenda said, "it's Dave from stores at work."
Eddie dropped his phone onto the floor and stared out of the window as though in a trance. The policewoman came up behind him.
"I know you must be raging at what he did behind your back, but these things are best solved when both parties - "
"It wasn't him," Dave said.
"It wasn't that Dave. It was a case of mistaken identity."
"Oh, well then," the policewoman said, brightening up, "that should make things easier to smooth over. Come on, let's go and tell him."
"Yeah," Eddie said, grimly, "I'm sure he'll see the funny side of it."
He turned, and walked towards the front door.