HIM AT NUMBER THREE
Manchester, England, 1955.
Jim potted the red and lined himself up for the pink. Nail that, and he had won. He took his time, stretched his legs, bent low and checked the angle.
Chas and Mike looked on with amused expressions on their faces.
Jim lined his cue up.
“Jenny seen any more UFOs?” Chas asked, as Jim brought his cue forward. It was a customary tactic that Chas and Mike used when they were in danger of losing. They knew it put Jim on edge, put him off his shot, somehow affected the coordination between Jim’s hand and his brain.
“Bollocks!” Jim exclaimed as the pink hit the edge of the pocket and rebounded back into play. He glared at Chas. “You did that on purpose.”
They were the three amigos, or as their other friends often named them, the three stooges. Jim was long and lean with a hooked nose. Chas was short and slightly overweight with a beard that made him look ten years older than he really was. Mike was somewhere between the two, and sported a trim moustache beneath his rather bulbous nose.
“All’s fair in love and war,” Chas quipped, as he nonchalantly potted the pink and black. “That’s a tenner you owe me,” he said to Jim. He blew on the end of his cue and placed it back in the rack.
Jim and Jenny were UFO freaks, and Chas and Mike knew it.
Mike rammed the question home. “Has she though? Seen anything recently?”
“You could say that,” Jim replied.
“How d’you mean?” Chas asked, with a sly grin at Mike.
Jim squared up to the other two. “She’s been abducted,” he said.
“What! By aliens?” Chas queried, left hand tugging at his beard.
“More likely by him at number three,” Mike remarked. They all knew about him at number three, and had him down as a cheapskate womaniser who couldn’t be bothered finding his own wife.
The comment hit a nerve, and Jim brandished his cue like a weapon. “Take that back, you moronic weasel!” he yelled. He was turning red in the face.
Mike held up both his hands in mock surrender. “Just kidding.”
“What’s happened?” Chas asked, trying to diffuse the situation.
Jim put his cue on the table and glowered at Mike. “I need a drink.” He gestured at Chas. “You’re paying.”
“How could I refuse,” Chas rejoined.
They walked through into the bar, grabbed three beers, the type that lasted all night, and retired to a corner table where nobody could overhear them.
“So,” Mike said, keeping his face as straight as possible, “Jenny’s been abducted by aliens.”
“Correct,” Jim replied matter-of-factly.
“What makes you think that?” Chas asked, as he took a sip of his beer.
Jim sampled his own beer and said, “Keep quiet and I’ll tell you.”
All three of them settled in their chairs and craned their heads forward to form a male coven equal to anything that the bard’s Macbeth could ever conjure.
“It was two nights ago,” Jim began. “Something woke me up, Jenny leaving the room probably. I remember looking at the bedside clock. It was half past one. There was a light shining against the blinds, quite strong. I looked for Jenny, but she wasn’t there.” Jim looked at Mike and Chas in turn, as if checking whether they believed him or not.
“I went to the window and raised the blinds. Jenny was in the back garden bathed in this strong light. The bedroom window doesn’t open, so I ran full tilt downstairs and went outside.” He looked earnestly at the other two. “The light had gone and so had Jenny. It was pitch black.”
“Abducted by aliens,” Mike said.
“Definitely,” Jim said. “She kept going on about how cool it would be. Totally believed it would be life-changing.”
“I guess it would be,” Mike remarked.
“I hope you don’t mind me saying so,” Chas commented, “but you seem to be taking it remarkably well.”
Jim shrugged. “They always get returned, don’t they? She’ll be back in a week or so. No doubt fully chuffed at being chosen.” He looked at his watch. “Better get home. Need to walk the dog.”
After he’d gone, Chas and Mike looked at each other. It was a competition to see who would break out in laughter first.
“Bloody hell!” Chas pronounced. “Is he deluded or what. How can he be so stupid?”
Mike nodded. “Aliens, my ass,” he announced. “It’ll be him at number three. He’s always fawning after Jenny.” He’d made sure his own wife, Jean, had never come in contact with the man, and had told her to stay clear of him in no uncertain terms.
“Him at number three,” Chas mused, knowingly. He’d actually had occasion to warn him off his own wife on one occasion. “We should help him—Jim, I mean. Put it to rights.” He glanced at his watch. It was only twenty past nine.
“Let’s give it twenty minutes,” Mike said. “Finish the beers. She won’t be going anywhere.”
Him at number three was a middle-age man called Sam Cunningham. He was what Chas and Mike called smooth. He drove a posh car and never went into the pub. He was also silver-haired and silver-tongued.
There were no lights showing at number three.
“Doesn’t mean they’re not in,” Chas said meaningfully.
“Let’s go round the back,” Mike suggested.
Across the road at number eight, Jim watched them with a gleam in his eye. They were so predictable: took the hook and bit deep, to use a fishing parlance. He counted to ten, went out the front and scuttled to the phone box at the end of the road.
Within two minutes he was back home again.
At number three, Chas and Mike found the back door ajar.
“Strange,” Mike said. “What happened here?”
“Aliens?” Chas responded, a huge grin straddling his face.
Mike ignored him and pushed on the door. It swung open to reveal a small kitchen, dishes lined up on the drainer, a half-open cupboard. Chas and Mike knew the layout. All the houses in the street were the same.
“Do we go in?” Chas asked uncertainly.
“Why not,” Mike replied. “The door’s open.”
The same thought passed through their minds. If they found Cunningham and Jenny together that would be unbelievably great: a huge one-up for the three amigos, and ten down for the posh drip Cunningham.
Mike led the way up the stairs. It was dark, but there was enough moonlight filtering through the upper landing window to see the bedroom doors.
Chas put a finger to his lips. “Shhh.”
Mike chose the second, front bedroom, always the biggest in these mass-produced homes. He quietly opened the door, and put his hand inside to feel for the light switch.
The light went on and they charged inside, like two children at a party.
“Surprise!” they yelled together.
It was a surprise alright.
Cunningham lay propped up on the bed, an open book held in one hand, and half a snooker cue sticking out of his chest.
“Shit!” Mike exclaimed, gripping Chas’s shoulder. “Is he dead?”
They were both frozen: frozen to each other and frozen to the bedroom floor.
Chas’s face was deathly white. “He’s dead alright. And that’s the bloody snooker cue I used tonight.”
They stared at each other, uncertain what to do. Run? Call the police?
They didn’t have to.
“Police!” came a stentorian yell from downstairs. “Stay where you are! Don’t move!”
There came the thud of boots on stairs. Chas saw the title of Cunningham’s book: They Came from Outer Space.
“They say you told them some cock and bull story about aliens abducting your wife.”
“Ridiculous,” Jim said, regarding Detective Sergeant Sanders with feigned incredulity. “She’s away for a few days at her mother’s. Check, if you like. Her mum’s well-off enough to have a phone. The number’s on the hall stand and there’s a public phone box three doors down.”
The DS nodded to his sidekick, a young constable by the name of Hicks, who promptly left the room to undertake the aforementioned check.
“They say,” the DS continued, “that you’re a UFO nut.”
“Interested, that’s all,” Jim replied. “Don’t you think it’s interesting?”
The DS grunted. “How well did you know Sam Cunningham?”
“I didn’t know him at all,” Jim said. “Just a nod in passing if he was in his front garden. He kept himself to himself.”
“That’s not what they say,” the policeman pushed home his point, looking Jim straight in the eyes. “They say he fancied your wife something rotten.”
“Nonsense,” Jim said. “He’s never spoken to Jenny. Ask her, if you like.”
Jenny will deny knowing him, of course, Jim thought. She always has done. Even when he’d threatened to cut her ears off.
A few pointless questions later, the constable poked his head around the door. “She’s there, alright, sir,” he said. “At her mother’s.”
“We’ll talk to your wife,” the DS said. “But for now, that’s it. We’ll be in touch.”
“This makes me really sad,” Jim said to the police as they left.
Be in touch all you want, Jim thought, as he shut the door. You won’t connect me to anything.
He returned to the lounge. Jenny would be home tomorrow and he’d have to give her all the details. He didn’t suppose the constable told her much. She’d be upset, naturally, but she would keep it bottled up inside.
Taking the cue had been easy. Straight out of the pub with it, he’d snapped it into two, an act that had given him a lovely sharp end—all the easier to push into Cunningham’s chest.
All with gloves, of course: no fingerprints. And there would be none in the phone box.
Jim sighed. He supposed it was the end of the three amigos.