Chapter 1: A Phone Call to End All Phone Calls
The world we live in is rife with questions. Many of which are so existentially daunting that no man can find their answers. Why are we here? Where did this universe come from? What’s that smell? Where the hell is the postman, its 1 o’ clock already? Truth be told, in many of these cases we will never find an answer. Especially the last one. Seriously, the post office has gone to shit lately.
This is especially irksome to many, setting up entire fields of thought provoking study that, in truth, are no closer to answers than that guy who’s always at the pub, smells like rhubarb and tells everyone who will listen his skewed, and slightly racist, take on the matter. However, some men find answers. Not to every question, no man is omniscient (That I know of. I have theories, however) yet sometimes one rare instance will occur, almost entirely by accident, where a man shall find the perfect solution to his equally perfect problem.
I am such a man. I had such a problem. To compare yourselves to me would be unfair, how could you measure up? I mean, really, have you met me? You don’t stand a chance. We will get to that in time, however. For now, though, I want you to know that no matter how pressing a matter may be, a solution will present itself. Probably not to you, but to someone. Perhaps that person will tell you, I don’t know, I have yet to meet him. Or her. Women can solve problems too, which is also a part of this tale, but I am circumventing the point.
I am Jamie Heath, and my question was this; What Happened to Charlie Carmine?
Before we continue, it is of utmost importance that you know that this story, barring some minor details, is 1,000% true. That’s ten 100%’s for any among you who failed maths. No judgement, division is bullshit. Now, I’ve had to change some names here and there. Not mine, of course, the people need to hear the name of their newest Great Sage and Eminent Wiseman, but most of the others are made up. Charlie is really called Charlie, but his last name isn’t Carmine. In reality, it doesn’t even begin with a C. Can’t have that, his name is in the title. Alliteration grabs people’s attention. I had to change Katie’s name as per her request. Not that she didn’t want the fame, or the glory, or the money, but her real name was just so dumb and off-putting that she would have died of embarrassment should it ever hit the printing press. Personally, I like her real name. It compliments her dumb face. Also, I had to change Ricky’s name because…. In truth, I couldn’t remember his real name. We always called him by his street name; “Hairy 7”, because he was very hairy and 7’ foot tall.
Besides, I couldn’t ask him anyway. He lives in the woods now, and I can’t go there anymore. Both due to personal preference and because of a pesky totem that…Sorry, I really am getting ahead of myself now. Just know that everything that happens in these pages really happened, in the rustic town of Torchton, in the year 2016, despite how all of the names end with an “ee” sound. I was trying out a theming thing. The theme is me, Jamie, being the centre of everything. Which I was. I can prove it. With this tale. My tale. The tale to end all tales, and inspire a new breed of tale. “Jamie Yarns”, they shall be called.
This story begins the same way that many of my stories do; I was drunk and screaming at a stranger over the internet. It was about 10:30 at night, and I was playing Undergawk, a competitive team based first-person shooter. Only one of my team mates apparently hadn’t gotten the memo about that “team based” part. He was totally out of position and ignoring my strict, yet fair, orders. I don’t mean to brag, but I am among the top 15,000 players in England. I know what I’m talking about.
“I don’t mean to brag, but I among the top 15,000 players in England! I know what I’m talking about!” I screamed at him for what must have been the 6th time this match. “Shut up, loser, I’m just here to get some practice with the bow.” he dismissively stated. The bow? THE BOW!? Why does everyone in this game want to use the bow? Bows are an archaic and ineffectual weapon, especially in this, a futuristic setting! I seethed with a rage so mighty my neighbours must have felt it. Not that I had neighbours, of course. I lived above a sandwich shop, most of the other rooms on my level of the high street were office space. I was quite lucky, really. My room was meant to be an office, but the owner of said sandwich shop needed to consolidate his income, as a Subway had opened around the corner. Good old chain store proliferation; forcing small businesses to rent space to sketchy individuals since 2008. Of course, this was nothing new in Torchton. We were one of those smaller, rural towns that the rich moved in on and renovated into a classy, secluded suburb. A suburb of where, I haven’t the foggiest. We were in the middle of nowhere with woods encompassing us to the east, and fields as far as they eye could see to the west. Still, though, lovely area. If you don’t mind spending a fiver on a pint, that is. I did, of course, but I’d lived here my whole life. What was that old adage? Oh, yes; “I was born here, I’ll die here as young as I can, so as to ensure that I leave a beautiful corpse and bring down property value.” Classic folk wisdom, there.
Anyway, I was just about to lay into this bow-stringing, arrow flinging piece of shit, when I got a call. There are only 2 people who call me; Tim, my nervous land lord, and Charlie, my best friend. Only friend, really, but with Charlie I didn’t need any others. Quality over quantity, and all that. We had the same sense of humour, liked the same video games, and he earned enough money that he could lend me anything I needed and still have enough to keep his cunt of a fiancé happy. Some people say you can’t call women cunts, but I think it’s appropriate to any gender if they are, in fact, a cunt.
Charlie and I had been mates since we were 7. I threw a Q lettered block at his head and he bled everywhere. We were firm friends ever since. Violence and circumstance are really the catalysts to all male relationships. We had an absolutely smashing 11 years together, until he met Katie. Things were never the same after Katie. She was driven, smart, active, had boobs. She was everything I wasn’t. I couldn’t compete. Luckily, I have astonishing taste in people and Charlie never left my side, much to Katie’s chagrin. “He holds you back.” She would tell him “It’s like you completely regress when you’re with him. He’s a bad influence. He brings out the worst in you. He smells. He called me names and threw my potted plant over the balcony. Blah, blah, blah.” Ever since we met she has been trying to destroy my character. Although I totally did throw her potted plant over her balcony. Smug little cactus was mocking me. No hard feelings, though. With Katie, not the cactus.
Okay, some hard feelings. Lots, actually, now that I think about it, but we made the best of it. Charlie and I, of course. Katie took it upon herself to pout, should she ever be reminded of my existence. “You know, she’s great girl, if you give her a chance.” Charlie told me one time. “I’d need to get a chance to give one out.” I countered, after which he went suspiciously silent. Won that argument.
Look, friends and significant others are never going to get along perfectly. We’re competing for the love of the same person. Some amount of sibling-like squabbling is bound to happen. Katie was just incorrigibly against me from the beginning, however. When I am presented with a challenge, I fight back. My heating goes out? I wrap myself in a miasma of fabric and fight the winter head on. I get fired? I go on hunger strike against the injustice. I get fired again? I post them an unmarked envelope full of cat sick. Someone being a bitch to me? I am an utter, unforgiving, merciless cunt to them. Shock and awe, gentle reader, is the greatest way to succeed in combat.
More to the point, Charlie rang me on that fateful night. Fucker. He knows I’ll be drunk and playing Undergawk. Hell, he’s probably calling to sneak a few games in under Katie’s nose. Is it odd that I’m so okay with being a mistress? Inconsequential! I’ll call him back once we capture this objective. Just need to send Captain bow master a death threat real quick. Maybe he’ll do it himself. If you’re the kind of person to spread hate in an online video game, you have issues.
After a swift and wildly unfair loss, I disgruntledly scoured my small flat for my phone. If I weren’t such a perfect specimen of adaptability, I couldn’t live like this. Mould and damp on the ceiling, dirty clothes everywhere, mixed in with the really dirty clothes, more plates than an antique china shop littering any surface that wasn’t too off balance, cans and bottles encroaching upon the land like the white man descending upon the Americas. Upside: it was too messy to see the bugs. When you think about it, that’s prioritising. I finally found my phone on charge underneath a jam stained flannel shirt. Odd, I couldn’t remember the last time I had jam. Can’t remember where I put the jar. It’s still in my place somewhere, though I hazard to bet that it’s ant territory by now. Still, the phone was clean, so I thrust that bad boy to my ear just as soon as I hit ‘Call Back’. He picked up on the second ring, someone was eager.
“Dude, Jamie?” he asserted, less like a question, more like he just wanted to remind me of my own name. “That is I. Charlie?” I playfully responded, flopping myself down onto a beanbag/washing pile. “Yeah, you nailed it. Listen, I wanted to talk to you about the voice mail you left Katie yesterday night…” he trailed off, expecting me to pick up and run with the conversation. The fact of the matter was, I had no idea I had left a voice mail yesterday. I had no idea people even still had voice mail, I just assumed they tried for three rings, gave up then sent a goddam text. So, naturally, I deflected him with a cunning witticism. “Uuuuuhhhh…”. I made that sound for at least 15 seconds and did not at all receive the desired effects.
“You got drunk and forgot about it, huh?” he pitched. I had to say, that sounded like me.
“That doesn’t sound like me.” I asserted, wiggling side to side, fruitlessly attempting to sit up on the bean bag.
“Actually that pretty much sounds exactly like you. Listen, you said some really hurtful things on that message and it was over the line, even for you two.” He baldly stated, going full reproachful Dad voice. I have never responded positively to that voice and he knew that. What did he expect other than childish indignance? Honestly, it must have been what he wanted, or he never would have tried it.
“So, what? Does she want an apology, or something?” I said, accepting my fate and letting myself slide further into the deep realm of beans.
“Yes, actually, that’s exactly what she wants.” Is all I got back. I bet he’d be crossing his arms if he didn’t have to hold his phone. Suck it, body language! You have no power in telecommunication!
“How exactly? How does one apologise for something he doesn’t remember doing? Hell, even if I did do it, she would just turn her nose up and tell me I wasn’t being genuine. Which I wouldn’t be, as I have absolutely no context for what we’re talking about at all! This is entrapment! Drunk me managed to get one over on her, and now she is just trying to construct a bullet proof shell around the situation so that everything goes exactly as she wants, thus placing her back on top of the moral high ground!”
What followed my passionate little speech was a deep, haunting sigh. Charlie never sighed at me. He finds my impishness endearing. Yet, here he was, genuinely exasperated.
“Moral high ground, Jamie? You screamed at her about our relationship being a sham, then went on a paranoid rant about how she was only marrying me to force you out of our lives! It was delusional and, to be honest, hurtful to both of us. While, granted, she is the one demanding the apology, I would appreciate one too because, frankly, you were throwing hate at me as much as her. Saying I was tricked by her womanly ways? Jamie, you went full paranoid schizo in that message, mate. Now, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt because I know what you’re like…” what I’m like? What I’m like?! The man he is describing in this message is a charlatan of utmost embitterment, and now he’s telling me I’m like that all the time? Fuck this guy. I mean, I love him to pieces, but fuck him to hell and back. My mind was awhirl with righteous vengeance but he would not be perturbed. “…And I know you don’t mean most of what you say when you’re drunk but, mate, this time was not okay. Are you still taking your meds?”
Of course it comes back to the meds! Meds, meds, meds, meds, it’s all anyone ever wants to talk about with me! So what if I had a little episode a couple years ago, so what if I took a few too many Ibuprofen with a much too large drink of vodka? So what if some condescending quack at the NHS had some course words to describe my mental state? Pills do not make the man, God fucking damn it!
“Charlie, BPD can’t be treated with drugs. It was all in the literature. The fact that they even still issued them to me is downright offensive. I mean, why tell me I can’t be treated with medication and then continue trying to get me to take medication? Price gauging, that’s why! I swear, they just want every penny I have and…”
Then the bastard cut me off. He knows I have a flare for the dramatic, and he still cut me off. Let me soar, Charlie! Let me feel the theatrical winds beneath my wings!
“The pills are for these God damn, fucking paranoid delusions!” Another sigh followed a short and slightly awkward pause. This time it seemed to be more a self-directed sigh. Lost his temper. Hey, haven’t we all? “Look, buddy, I know that things are hard for you right now, and there’s no easy fix for borderline personality, but the Thorazine is meant to be for…well, this. All these paranoid thoughts and feelings, the mood swings, it’s…” sigh number 3. This was a defeated man, but by who’s hand? While our battle was still at hand, no clear winner was yet decided. I bet it was her.
He started over once more, “Listen, all I want is for things to be easier for you. Though that can’t happen if you keep making things hard on Katie. It’s no secret you guys have never gotten along, but that’s just a…a personality clash, y’know? There’s no reason for you to keep trying to spill each other’s blood, and this isn’t just aimed at you. Her and I had the same talk once we’d both had dinner. Look, mate, just come over tomorrow. It’s Friday, we always have lunch at home on Friday and I think that if you came over, apologised and cleared the air, we could really bury this hatchet for good before the wedding. That alright?”
It most certainly was not. Katie was a thrower. Not as I she would throw things, she would throw me. She’s freakishly strong, and I’m but a wee lad. A face to face confrontation would be the signature on my death warrant. I expressed myself firmly and calmly; “I don’t know…” holding that W sound for as long as I could, to really drive home the message.
“Jesus, okay, look, I didn’t want to tell you this, but she has really taken issue with you this time, man. She says that if you don’t apologise, you can’t come to the wedding at all.”
These words hit me like a charging elephant upon the plains of the Serengeti. I was the best man. I had bought a suit. Okay, I hadn’t bought one, but I found a really affordable place to rent from, and that’s a level of pre-preparation unheard of from me. I could almost hear my spirit tinkle to the ground like shattered glass.
“S…she can’t do that.” I stammered out.
“Afraid she can, mate. She’s the bride. Plus, her Dad’s paying for the whole thing, I have no power here. I’m as much of a participant as you are…Well, could be. If you apologise.” With that, he had trumped me. He threw me into the deepest pits of Tartarus, then shone a spotlight upon a ladder I could only access by fulfilling his request. I had been bested. Resigned to my grovelling fate, I had no choice but to accept.
“Okay…Okay, I’ll come over tomorrow. 12ish?”
I could almost feel him smile. I Could definitely picture it, that crooked little grin. Charming crooked, though, not like a Dickensian villain.
“That’s great, mate, really great. Call it more like 1ish, we’re on late lunches. You alright to get up here?”
Charlie and Katie lived in the penthouse of a block of swanky, upmarket flats developed under a year ago right at the edge of town. A whole gaggle of grumpy pensioners petitioned against them being built, but what can you do? If you present a petition to a man of business, all he sees is a place to wipe his arse.
“Yeah, of course, it’s only down the road.”
“20 minutes down the road, Jamie.”
“Please, I’m a born rambler. I’ll make it in 12”
“Trust me, I am deftly aware of your ability to ramble.” At that, I heard the tell-tale beard rustle of a shit-eating grin. He was getting his humour back, that was a good sign. We would be back in our regular rhythm in no time.
“Please, Charles, I only speak in the most concise of syntax, and upon topics of fine grandeur.” I responded, affecting a little voice I referred to as “Lord Tottingtits”, a highly exaggerated stuffy, upper class English accent.
He had a little chuckle at that. Tottingtits never fails.
“Of course, milord, of course. So how’s you anyway? Playing Undergawk?”
“Of course, milord, of course.” I said in a voice I referred to as “Jamie”. “Sick of all these pricks who use the bow, though. They need to get rid of that whole Ninja class, entirely. How about you? Good day? Y’know, besides all the real talk. Sorry about that, by the way. I’ll do it properly tomorrow, but I know you hate getting real and I’d like to apologise for that.” Pure brown nosing, but I was in no position to try and Alpha him out now.
“Nah, no worries, just make it sound genuine tomorrow. Other than that bollocks, been a fucking boring day, all things considered.” Shocker, I know. A man working in an office having a boring day? Stop the fucking presses and get me the Queen of England. “Course, there was one weird thing earlier, as I was leaving.”
Juicy. Charlie’s frequent forays into the outside world were always a great gateway to the freaks and fuck-ups that shared this down with us.
“Do tell. Was it that old woman who wipes her dogs arse when it shits?”
“Fuck no” he scoffed “been avoiding Mable like the plague ever since I said ‘Morning’ to her once. Apparently, she took that as a sign I was her biographer. Nah, this was a new one.”
My curiosity sent a wave of adrenaline through my body so strong I actually managed to stand up in one try. “Stop keeping me in suspense, I demand details, man! How many hats was he wearing?” I had a thing for hats and ever since we saw a bloke rocking a bowler hat over a beanie. I’ve been enthralled with the idea of meeting someone wearing three stacked to the heavens.
“Simmer down, Mr. milliner, only the one hat on this one. Like, a brown….I guess it was a fedora. Matching trench coat, too. Proper Humphrey Bogart wannabe, he was. Massive beard, though.”
Instantly, my head went to the one place we could no doubt both see coming; “It wasn’t Hairy7 was it? That’s not news, we talk to him all the time.”
“Nah, I wish it was Hairy7. Although, after a day like today, I could have used some Sasquatch stories.” Hairy7 was a local homeless guy. Usually hung around the petrol station round the corner from mine, looking for someone as drunk as he was to scream at them about the time he saw a Sasquatch. In fucking England, of all places. Proper nutter, but I liked him. Gave him the odd cigarette, or beer, if I had one spare at the time.
Charlie continued his account; “Weirdest fucker I’ve seen in a while, though. Good old Hairy included. I don’t want to sound paranoid, but I could’ve sworn he was following me to the shop and back.”
“Well, man in a trench coat, probably a flasher. Must have sensed your yearning to see some skin a mile off, but got put off by your intensity.”
We both had to laugh at that.
“Dick. Seriously, though, felt like I was gonna get mugged. Only popped down to Tesco for a pepper, and I get this freak putting a tail on me. It was surreal.”
“He wanted your secret stir fry recipe, no doubt. I heard some MI5 chatter about you just the other day.”
“Alright, I get the point. I’m crazy, and the guy just happened to be going the same way as me. Listen, it’s getting late, I should probably stagger off to bed. See you, tomorrow, yeah?”
“Throw in some left over Chinese and you have a deal.”
No laughter any more, not even a titter. Shit, we’d gone serious again.
“Seriously, Jamie. For me, if nothing else. Please?”
I sighed this time. I had been serious when I said I would go over. I was double serious about the Chinese. I take my MSG very seriously, and the Great Wall of Diner won’t let me in anymore after an incident with some duck rolls.
“Seriously, Charlie, seriously. I’ll see you tomorrow, mate.”
Little did either of us know, that I most certainly would not see Charlie Carmine the next day.