Clarence felt let down by his friend of forty years. should he perhaps not have listened
‘Where’s Peggy tonight?’
‘Gone to Bingo, Jimmy. Thank God.’ Clarence stretched out his legs toward the gas-fire, ‘I couldn’t bear to listen to her voice for one more minute today. I swear I nearly did something drastic.’
‘She has a piercing tone, alright. I’ll give you that,’ Jimmy agreed
Clarence impersonated his wife’s voice. ‘What are you doing, Clarence? Have you mowed the lawn? You said you’d do it yesterday and there you are, just sitting in that old chair.’
Jimmy laughed, turned to his friend and whispered, ‘Ever thought of doin’ her in, old chap?’
’You may well joke, but yes, it has crossed my mind, occasionally.’
‘Just how would you do it, though? You wouldn’t want to get caught and spend the rest of your life in the nick, now would you?’ Jimmy’s eyes widened. ‘I’d be lost without you, mate.’
Clarence turned to look at his friend. ‘Aye, we’ve been through a lot together, haven’t we, Jim, me lad?’ he said softly.
‘Nearly all our lives, really. When was it exactly we were first introduced?’
’During the war, when we entertained the troops.’ Clarence reflected, ‘I enjoyed my time in the army. The entertainment corps was a good gig, just keeping up the morale of the lads.’ He paused, remembering those days. ‘We did a good job, didn’t we, mate?’
The pair sat in companionable silence for a while. The ticking of the grandfather clock, the only sound. When the chimes struck ten, Clarence jumped out of his chair. ‘You’d better get cracking, Jimmy. Peggy will be home soon. The last game finishes at nine-thirty.’
’That’s okay, Pal. I’ll say goodnight then.’
’Goodnight, old friend.’
Ten minutes later, Peggy hung her coat in the hall. Clarence looked up from the TV.
‘Hello, dear, any luck tonight?’
‘That Mrs Jenkins won the jackpot, again.’ She scowled.
’Had a nice time, though?’
Peggy glared at her husband; her lips pursed like a cat’s bottom. ‘And what have you been doing?’
‘Just waiting, all alone, for you to come home.’
’You’ve had that Jimmy around again,’ she said accusingly.
‘Not at all, I know you don’t much like him.’
‘You should just get rid of him. He’s not good for you.’
‘It’s only occasionally. We go back a long way.’ Clarence defended his friend. ‘And anyway, he’s harmless.’ Clarence hoisted his body out of the armchair. ‘I’m going to bed.’
The next time Jimmy paid a visit, Peggy was visiting one of her bingo friends in hospital. He perched on Clarences’s arm rest. ‘It’s been a while, Clarence, how’s things?’
‘To tell you the truth, Jimmy, not good. I’ve been wanting to talk to you, but you know how Peggy is where you’re concerned.’
‘You’re looking tired out, mate. Is there anything I can do to help?’
Clarence grimaced, ‘There is, actually. You know what you suggested the last time?’ Jimmy stared vacantly. ‘You know, about doin’ her in.’
His pal’s eyebrows lifted as he recalled the conversation. ‘I understand, need some help?’
‘ ’Just a few suggestions. Y’know, something not suspicious.’
‘ ’There’s that top step down to the clothesline. Might you not loosen it a little?’
‘A broken neck? Mm, that would do it. Good idea, old son.’
‘For God’s sake, Clarence. How many more times do I have to ask you to do just a bit of maintenance around here?’ Peggy hobbled in through the kitchen.
‘Something wrong, dear?’
‘I nearly broke my neck on that top step. I suppose I’ll have to get someone in to fix it. You’re bloody useless!’
‘So, how did it go?’ Jimmy asked the next time he made an appearance.
‘Bloody failure, mate. It cost a hundred pounds for some handy man to cement that top row of bricks. What a rip off.’
‘Plan B then?’
‘What’s Plan B?’
‘Electrocution. There are a few ways you could go. How about an appliance in the bath?’
Clarence’s eyes lit up at the possibilities. Peggy loved a long soak in the bath. Saturday night was Peggy’s favourite time to pamper herself. She would run a long hot bath, fill it with bubbles, and listen to music on her portable radio.
‘Here Peggy, love, I’ve bought you a cup of tea.’ Clarence knocked on the bathroom door before entering. He gave an involuntary shiver when he glanced at his wife’s scrawny breasts floating in the bath water.
Her reaction was strident. ‘What do you want? Can’t I have five minutes’ peace?’
‘I just thought a cup of tea would be nice.’ Clarence moved closer. His wife had balanced the radio on the edge of the bath. ‘I’ll put it just here, shall I?’
‘Just leave it on the toilet. I’ll drink it later.’ Peggy waved in dismissal.
Clarence nudged the radio into the water. The switchboard’s circuit breaker immediately cut off the electricity. Peggy stood up, bubbles still clinging to her wrinkly old body, and screamed. ‘You’ll be the death of me, you stupid man. Don’t you know you could have killed me?’
‘So, no luck electrocuting the old bag, then?’
‘Jimmy, I’m going crazy. She’s got to go, but your suggestions aren’t working. I’m reaching the end of my tether.’
‘Okay, Clarence, how about slipping pills into her bedtime Horlicks? Then, when she goes to sleep, you could make out that she fell out of bed. Perhaps she could crack her head open on the bedside table, or even strangle herself on a sheet. You could tell the police she was addicted to pills, that she took too many and that you’d warned her about the dangers.’
‘I’ll give it a go. It could work.’
‘How was Bingo, dear?’
’There’s some fiddling going on down there.’ Peggy whined, hanging her coat on the hook behind the kitchen door. ‘That woman, Mrs Jenkins, she’s in league with the bingo caller. I’m sure they’re having an affair. She won the jackpot again! I’m going to put in a complaint with the committee.’
Her husband made sounds of sympathy. ‘Just relax, dear. I’ll make you a cup of Horlicks, shall I?’
In the kitchen, Clarence slipped six crushed sleeping tablets into the warm, milky drink.
’Here you are, sweetheart, stop thinking about those fraudsters down at the Bingo hall.’
Peggy had gone to bed, unable to keep her eyes open. Clarence said he’d be there later; he’d just watch the late news. He entered the bedroom an hour later and stood in the dark listening to Peggy’s slow breathing, then switched on the light.
She didn’t stir.
He prodded his wife hard before lifting her unconscious form to the edge of the bed, raising her upper body to a sitting position. And lining up the bedside table, he slammed her head down hard on the sharp corner. Immediately, blood poured from her temple, covering her flannelette nightgown and soaking the bed.
It was the following morning when he called the police, telling them he’d only just found his wife dead in her bed, that he’d used the spare room as his wife hadn’t been sleeping well.
Clarence stood on the path, watching the emergency vehicles leave. The ambulance was carting the body of his wife to the morgue and the police cars on their way to the next tragedy.
It was several days later when he had a call from the police, saying he hadn’t satisfied them with his story. Apparently, according to their family doctor, it had been Clarence who’d requested sleeping pills. Peggy was in fine health, he’d told them, and had no trouble sleeping. The investigator told him he wasn’t to leave the house; they were coming to pick him up and take him to the station. Clarence saw red, he’d thought he’d pulled off the perfect crime. Why hadn’t Jimmy seen the flaw in the plan?
He stormed around the house, talking out loud. ‘Ha! Call himself a friend? I’ll show him.’ Opening the cutlery drawer, he rummaged until he found what he was searching for.
‘I’m coming for you, just you wait.’ Clarence stormed up to the upstairs flat, throwing open the door, and grabbed Jimmy by the lapels of his bright red jacket.
Jimmy saw what he had in his hand. ‘No! not that, anything but that,’ he begged. ‘Please, please.’
Clarence was unmoved. He couldn’t hear the pleading from his friend through the rage that had built up inside him.
‘Yes, you asked for it. Traitor.’ Clarence threw open the lid of the enormous trunk at the bottom of the bed, grabbed Jimmy by his scrawny neck, and hurled him into it.
As the lid slammed shut and the lock turned, using the big brass key from the kitchen drawer, Clarence could still hear his friend of forty years begging for his freedom as he stormed back down to the flat below.
Clarence wiped tears of self pity from his eyes when he heard police sirens in the distance. As they gradually came closer he gave one last look at the framed poster on the kitchen wall. It showed him and Jimmy doing their ventriloquist act at Blackpool Pier Theatre, forty years ago.