‘Dave….somebody keeps leaving me Bourbons.’
Mike looks worried, but I’m not listening to him. We’re in the Debenham’s cafe at Westwood Cross, and I’m watching an old couple giving the duty manager a hard time about absolutely nothing. As far as I can tell, the old buzzard who lacks the balls to stand up to his dominating wife is nevertheless complaining – quite vigorously – about the butter being smaller than it was the last time they were there. He’s waving a bony finger while the crazed heifer he married is poking him in the ribs and muttering to him, throwing out the odd expletive along the way. Every few seconds, I can hear the edge of a ‘f*ck’ or the slightest hint of a ‘b*llocks.’ I’m completely fascinated that these two rotting tortoises are working themselves into a frenzy over a small square of wrapped butter. It’s EPIC, and I feel like sticking two of my own pieces together and shouting over ‘My butter is MASSIVE!’ just to make the thing go into extra time….
I manage to pull my attention away from the scene.
‘What’s up, mate?’
‘Somebody keeps leaving me Bourbons.’
I nod. ‘Sounds good. I loved Bourbons when I was a kid. My nan used to get out a biscuit barrel full of them ready for when I got home: it’s no wonder I was fatter than a whale omelette.’
‘It’s a bit weird though, right?’
I stop watching the old couple and give Mike my undivided focus. The poor guy actually does look anxious.
‘How is it weird? A pack of bourbons on your desk every time you come off lunch probably just means you have a secret admirer or something. Any girls on your floor showing an interest?’
‘They’re not on my desk, Dave…and it’s not a pack. I’m talking about a single Bourbon biscuit on my doorstep every morning when I first get up.’
I just stare at him.
For a long, LONG time.
Then a terrible realisation dawns.
‘You’re not f**king eating them, are you?’
‘Of course I am.’
I sit bolt upright in the chair.
‘Are you bloody crazy? What’s WRONG with you? They could be poisoned, dude! Who eats something they find on the doorstep? Who DOES that?’
‘You never – and I mean positively not EVER – eat something you find on your doorstep.’
‘Because it’s disgusting, mate…and proper bloody weird. I mean, even if you dropped it yourself…well, okay: you might pick up a biscuit you dropped, but just opening the door in the morning and eating a biscuit…is mental. I assume it was, like, totally unwrapped?’
‘Oh, yeah…it was bareback.’
‘I’m scared for you, mate. I’m actually scared for you.’
‘Seriously, Dave? I can never tell if you’re messing about.’
‘I’m NOT MESSING ABOUT, dickhead. How many have you eaten?’
‘Three.’ He looks down for a bit, and mutters: ‘One, two, yeah, three. I…er….I waited up on the second night, but nobody came through the front gate. So then I just forgot about it, and on the morning after the third night, sure enough: there’s another one.’
‘…which you ate?’
‘Yeah. I do feel sick, actually: I’ve felt rough for a while now.’
‘For about a week, you mean?’
‘You complete TIT.’
I sit for a while and try to think about everything that’s happened to Mike since he moved out of his mum’s in 2008.
Then it hits me. ‘What if it’s that girl from Spain?’
He looks up, sharp. ‘Emily?’
‘Yes, that’s her: Emily! She told you that she hated you, dude: that she’d get her own back on you no matter how long it took. She even TOLD you she was going to poison your drinks! Remember?’
‘No way. You don’t think it’s her?’
‘Well….it’s a long shot, admittedly. I can’t quite see a bitter girl who’s upset about a failed holiday romance waiting two years and then leaving a series of poisoned bourbons on the doorstep of her lost love, but I guess it could happen. I mean, it’s a bit Scooby Doo….but the world is going to hell in a handcart: so who knows? I don’t suppose you have her number?’
‘No, but my SISTER does….because there was all that fuss with the police and-‘
‘Should I call her?’
I nod. ‘Do it, mate: do it NOW.’
While Mike calls his sister, I order another mocha (and a tea for him). When I return to the table, he is just getting through to Emily, a girl he met on holiday who is now living in Oxford. Unfortunately, Mike decides not to ask an honest question of her and chooses instead to be ridiculously over-friendly about the whole affair.
‘Em? Emily? Is that you? Ha! It’s Mike: Kelly’s little bro….from Spain. Yeah! Hi! How’s it going? Really? Great! How’s life in retail? Fantastic! I’m really glad. Listen, I’m only ringing to ask you a bit of a crazy question. Sure, sure. Well, I just wondered: do you like biscuits? Yeah, packs of biscuits! Hahaha! Brilliant, brilliant. What’s your favourite biscuit, Em? What’s that? No, I’m sober. Honestly. No, really: don’t be silly. Whatever: can you just answer the question? Why not? What’s your favourite biscuit? Why are you getting funny about such a simple question? You don’t have anything to hide, do you? Just answer. What IS your favourite? Ok, fine: cool. And your second favourite? Er….say your second favourite again? Yeah: I thought that’s what you said.’
His expression suddenly changes, and he gives me a sinister ‘thumbs up’. Then, without any word or preamble, he suddenly growls into the phone: ‘I’m not stupid, and I never did anything wrong by you. We were never together when I met Rita, and it was only two FECKING days…so you can stop leaving your pathetic little biscuits outside my door. I’m going to the doctor this afternoon, and if I’ve been poisoned I’m going to the police right afterwards. Do you hear me? DO YOU HEAR ME?’
He hangs up the phone and slumps down in the seat.
I put a cup of tea in front of him, and take a sip from my mocha.
‘It might not be her, mate: you should have waited a bit, maybe?’
‘No way, Dave. I’ve got to go to the doctor because of this girl: can you believe that?’
‘It was just an idea, Mike: you don’t KNOW it was her.’
I lean back in my own chair and quickly cover a heavy yawn.
Mike puts down his tea. ‘Are you okay, Dave?’
‘Me? I’m fine.’
‘You look a bit tired, mate.’
I let out a deep sigh. ‘Yeah, well….I’ve had a lot of late nights, recently, and I can’t lie: leaving bourbons outside your door at two o’clock in the morning has really beaten the sh*t out of me.’