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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

Mr. Ben's Syndrome
by Matthew Langford

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Stacey jumped when she heard the knock at the door. Sheíd drifted off thinking about her brother Dean and their past and almost forgotten about Dave. She got to her feet and shuffled slowly towards the door.

...So this was it, she thought. ...Months of frustration and Iím about to find some serious stuff out.

She slowly opened the door and peered out. A tall, tanned man was being held up by the warm, moist night. He was wearing a long, brown jacket and a pair of round glasses. He looked at Stacey and flashed a self-satisfied grin.

"Youíd better have something important to tell me or Iíll kick you so fucking hard..."

"Relax, Stacey." Interrupted Dave. "I know absolutely everything there is to know. Iíve come here because Dean wanted me to..."

"...You know where Dean is?" screamed Stacey.

"Iíll tell you everything in the order that it needs to be told. Dean felt guilty that he hadn't got in touch, and he obviously canít come himself. So he asked me to come and tell you everything that happened... and I mean everything."

Stacey invited him in and started to cry. Dave said nothing and walked into the lounge. He gazed around the room with an air of disregard and sat down. Stacey came in after him wiping tears away from her eyes. She picked up her glass of wine and stood by the fire.

"You must excuse me but Iím a little pissed and emotional," said Stacey.

"Donít worry," said Dave. "Youíre probably in the right frame of mind in that case. Thereís a lot of stuff you wouldnít even have imagined. For a start Dean didnít just kill Clara that day."

Stacey looked at him with horror and astonishment battling for supremacy on her face.

"He killed other people?" she asked.

"One other person. All that will become clear, however. Youíll need to hear it from the very beginning to understand what and why." Replied Dave. "Iím not going to sugar-coat this or leave anything out just to make you feel better. Once Iíve told you youíll wish that youíd remained ignorant. The outcome is a hell of a lot worse than you would imagine. If you take my advice just accept that Dean is OK and will remain safe for the rest of his life. You will never see him again, Iím afraid, but heíll let you know where he is and how heís doing. The best thing for you will be for me to just go and leave it at that. It depends on how inquisitive you are."

Stacey thought about this. She wanted to remember Dean the way he was and not imagine him as some brutal killer. But she already knew that he was. She could not go through the rest of her life not knowing what had driven him to it. She loved him too much for that. Plus she was very inquisitive.

"Fuck it!" she stated. "Whatever happens Iíll never believe in Dean the way I used to. Tell me the whole fucking story."

Six months before, Dean was stepping on to a train back to Brighton. He and Clara were returning from holiday, and he had finally battled his way through all the crowds, suitcases, people and ticket offices to the finish.

They journeyed back in silence, enjoying the memories of their until recently current holiday. It had been a simple package affair to Southern France. Nothing expensive or extravagant, just a week away from England, work and monotony. Theyíd enjoyed the local wine and the local beach with fragmented pleasure.

They arrived back at Claraís flat late in the evening, quickly unpacking before going to the pub. They sat at a table in silence for a few minutes, quietly watching the bustle of the pub and thinking gently about the dayís events.

"Itís good to be back," said Dean. "You start to miss little things about home when you go away."

"We only went away for a week!" said Clara.

"Yeah, I know," said Dean. "But itís enough time to get homesick."

"You werenít even homesick," said Clara. "You were culture shocked."

Clara laughed as she said this.

"How can you get culture shock in France?" asked Dean. "Itís hardly any different to here!"

Clara continued to laugh.

"Fuck off! So I got a little homesick!" pleaded Dean. "Itís hardly a good enough reason to start laughing at me."

Clara calmed down a little and gave him a stare.

"Ok... I admit I couldn't cope with missing a few little things like telly and football, but that hardly means I was culture shocked."

"You spent six hours on Sunday looking for a newspaper so you could check up on the football results!" said Clara.

"So I get a little obsessed with my passions, whatís the problem."

Clara had stopped laughing by now.

"More like you get passionate about your obsessions," she said.

Dean silently admitted defeat ≠ he couldn't be bothered to argue.

They returned to their gestureless slouch and surveyed the busy room. The Practical Pig was the nearest and the dearest pub to Claraís flat. It catered for the young people of the area by fusing student prices with local appeal. It was fun, not too loud and brightly lit. Massive Attackís Unfinished Sympathy was playing in the background.

Without a word Clara shot up from her seat and raced across the bar. She reached a tall man whose back was turned and whispered something in his ear. The man turned round and saw Clara. They laid welcoming hands on each other, talking and laughing loudly as they did so - although Dean couldn't make out what they were saying.

Dean returned to his drink and felt a little disgruntled. All he wanted to do was enjoy a quiet pint and go home for the night. Now heíd have to contend with meeting an apparent stranger who was likely to shatter his in intentions of slumber.

"Dean!" screamed Clara.

Dean rose laboriously from his seat and wondered towards Clara and The Man. Halfway he stopped and remembered that heíd forgotten his pint, so made a big deal of going back to his table and getting it. He turned round and walked towards Clara and The Man.

"Dean! This is Harvey from Chichester ≠ we worked together in the Café where you and I met. I havenít seen him for over a year!" said Clara.

Dean politely shook his hand and said hello.

"Where are you staying?" Clara asked Harvey.

Harvey was actually very tall and thin. He was wearing small glasses and sported a short, ginger hair cut. He spoke quite quickly.

"Well thatís the problem you see," he said. "I was staying with a mate in Gloucester Road but we had a bit of a falling out. I havenít got anywhere to stay. I was hoping that the pub might put me up for the night or I was going to go down to the Backpackerís hostel and fake a German accent."

Dean knew it was coming. There was nothing he could do to stop it and once it had been said there was no way he could resist for fear of looking like a complete cunt. Any moment now she was going to say it... there it is!

"What? No I couldn't possibly," said Harvey.

"No honestly. Come and stay at my place for the night," said Clara. "Iíve just come back off holiday so thereís no food and itís a bit of a mess, but at least you donít have to pay anything. Iíve got a couple of bottles of wine as well! We can have a drink and a chat!"

"Itís tempting," said Harvey. Dean was looking at a patch of wall about three feet to the right of the bar.

"Dean will be staying the night as well so it should be quite a laugh. What do you say."

Harvey thought for a few seconds.

"Oh, go on then." He said.

"Excellent!" screamed Clara. "You donít mind do you, Dean?"

Dean dragged all his reserve sincerity as close to the surface as he possibly could. He couldnít believe it! The first night back from their holiday and some tosser heíd never met before was going to be snoring in the next room and pissing in the toilet.


"Yeah, of course I donít mind," said Dean. "Iíll even go out in the morning and buy some eggs for breakfast."

To his surprise Dean found that he was enjoying himself immensely. It was nearly three in the morning and theyíd polished off the two bottles of wine and were now halfway through the reserve bottle of cheap Vodka Clara kept at the back of her food cupboard.

Dean had initially done his best to stay out of Clara and Harveyís conversation. Theyíd spent twenty minutes talking about old times and how they exploited their obvious talent for soft-core mischief. Rudeness to ugly/impolite customers, stealing tea and coffee, spitting on teacakes and exploiting the seemingly constantly pissed manager were the main topics of conversation.

They soon bored of this and started talking of the present and future. At this point Dean was involved and pretty soon became the engine of the conversation. It was his area of expertise... if there was one thing Dean excelled at it was the ability to talk at length about his many theories concerning the future.

The wine flowed; the Vodka followed. The sickness began pretty harshly for Dean who played his usual trick of talking and drinking in equal amounts. He came back from the toilet the first time feeling fairly refreshed and continued to laugh, converse and drink. The second time he came back he felt like death. It was ten past three and all he wanted now was to go to bed.

"I canít believe this," said Harvey. "At ten o'clock I was expecting to be spending the night in some fuck off dirty hole, and here I am at three in the morning drinking Vodka with one of my best mates."

"Are you having a good night?" asked Clara.

"Itís been great. I think Deanís starting to flag a bit, though."

Dean lifted his head as far from his right shoulder as he possibly could. He was slouched on the floor with his back against Claraís sofa. Heíd had far too much to drink and his head was spinning wildly. He hadn't eaten properly for hours so the vomiting had made him feel terribly weak. Despite this he still felt mentally strong and was fully aware of what was going on. He was just finding it difficult to convey this awareness in a physical way.

"Iím fine." He grumbled. "Bed Ďould be nice vough."

At this point he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer and clasped them shut. Clara and Harvey silently stared at their glasses for about two minutes.

"Itís good to see you again," said Harvey.

"Itís been weird you not being around. I know that coming here was part of it all and I think Iíve coped with everything quite well, but..."

Deanís cough and mutterish request for more drink if bed wasnít a viable option stopped Clara from finishing her sentence. Even though his eyes were shut and his head was spinning he was still listening to the conversation and understanding every word.

"Donít say too much," said Harvey.

Harvey and Clara continued to sit on the floor opposite Dean. They stared at their glasses without saying a word. The flat was deadly silent now that conversation and laughter wasnít filling the void. A dog barking a few streets away was answered by a drunken laugh just outside the flat. Whoever had been so amused by the dog lost some form of control and dropped a glass bottle outside Claraís front door. The sound of glass against pavement made Harvey and Clara jump. Dean didn't stir.

"Itís quiet," said Clara.

Harvey nodded in agreement. He looked hard at Clara for the first time since Deanís head had supposedly announced that he would no longer be taking part in the evening.

"Massley quiet," said Harvey.

Dean allowed the words to settle before making any judgements. Occasionally things are said or things happen and you try hard to understand why you feel so unsettled. Some might say that itís deja vu which is nothing more than your brain playing tricks on you. Sometimes, when you see something or hear something that really shouldnít be seen or heard, you start to shit yourself. Dean made his judgement and decided to act.

"Iím going to bed." Dean announced. He opened his eyes wide and looked hard at Harvey. There was something in his face that was unsettling. Where there shouldnít have been anything familiar there was something Dean suddenly saw. A brightness in the eye; a turn of the mouth; a lift of the chin. Although Harvey spoke quickly there was a tone to the voice Dean recognised. The way Harvey sat there holding his glass awoke a distant feeling in Dean.

Dean suddenly felt very drunk and put the strange sensations down to his extreme state. He tried to get up and immediately fell straight back on to floor. He looked at the guilty face of Clara.

"Can you help me please?" he asked her. She put her wine down, looked at Harvey with an expression that Dean missed, and lifted Dean from the floor and on to the sofa. Dean looked up again and saw a very faint smirk on Harveyís face.

"Good night, Harvey. I hope you sleep well and enjoy the comforts of the floor."

Harvey continued with his half hidden smirk.

"And a good night to you, Dean. Iím sure the floor will offer the same pleasures as your bed. Sleep tight."

Between them both, Dean and Clara (who was also starting to feel very drunk) managed to stumble into the bedroom. They undressed in silence and got into bed. They lay there without touching or speaking for ten minutes.

"He seems quite sound." Dean said eventually.

"Yeah," said Clara. "Heís a really nice bloke."

Dean decided to close his eyes and sleep.

"Massley good night, Clara."

Clara replied with silence.

Dean woke at midday feeling very well considering his exertions from the night before. He looked over at Clara and saw that she was still asleep. He slowly got out of bed and put his clothes on whilst trying not to disturb Clara. He opened the bedroom door and walked to the end of the hallway and visited the toilet. He splashed his face with water and looked in the mirror. He felt mentally prepared.

He left the bathroom and walked back up the hallway to the door that led into the lounge. He walked in and saw Harvey fast asleep on the floor. He carefully picked up the keys to the flat from the floor, walked around Harvey and went to the front door. He opened it and stepped into the bright, demanding day.

The fresh air injected a little vigour into Dean Wivelís calm mood. He walked towards the corner shop surveying the surrounding buildings and busily hurried people. Everything seemed very calm and relaxed as he reached the shop and gently purchased some eggs, a loaf of bread and a pint of milk.

As he left the shop a man in round glasses and a long, brown coat approached him.

"Dean Wivel?" he asked.

Dean was a little surprised to hear a complete stranger say his name.

"What? Yeah. Hello." He replied.

The round spectacled man shuffled uneasily as he looked at Dean.

"Look, I know this may sound very strange and bizarre coming from a stranger, but you must listen to and act on what I say." He said.

Dean wasnít as fresh as he thought he was when heíd left Claraís flat. He suddenly felt very tired and hung over.

"What? Who are you?" he asked wearily.

"It doesnít matter who I am. You canít go back to Claraís flat. You must leave Brighton now and never come back," said the Man.

"What the fuck are you talking about!" said Dean Wivel. "How do you know me and Clara?"

"It doesnít matter!" shouted the Man. "If you go back there youíll regret it forever. The worst possible thing is waiting for you. As soon as you walk through that door your life will change."

Dean smiled and looked at the Man through a haze of midday illness.

"Look... everything is fine at Claraís. I donít know who you are or what you know about me but there is nothing unexpected at Claraís flat. Everything will be fine. Just go away." Replied Dean.

Dean turned round and started to walk back to the flat. The Man stood motionless for a second and then ran to Dean and stood in front of him.

"Please listen to me!" he pleaded. "You donít understand. Really bad things are going on with Clara..."

"What bad things? What has Clara done that means I have to go away? This is my home, where I work, where all my friends are. Itís taken me years to find a place that feels like home. Why should I suddenly leave all that behind on the word of some complete nutter?"

The Man looked at Dean with an expression of horror.

"I know it sounds stupid, but you must listen. If you go back there..."

"I know." Interrupted Dean. "Bad and weird things. Please, itís nothing I canít handle."

"What?" said the Man.

"Now please. Leave me alone."

The Man allowed Dean to walk off.

"I couldnít believe it!" said Dave to Stacey. "Heíd just been approached by a complete stranger and told something utterly stupid - and he just dismissed it. I wasn't expecting him to just agree with me and leave Brighton without resistance, but his reaction seemed very unusual."

"I still donít get what happened," said Stacey. "Why did you tell him to leave Brighton? Why were you hanging around Claraís flat waiting to see Dean?"

"Iíd been waiting all night to see him. Iíd been waiting for three years to find the right moment and talk to him."

"Why?" asked Stacey.

Dean arrived back at Claraís flat and opened the front door. He was a little shook up following the unexpected meeting with the stranger, so he quickly walked through the lounge (hardly noticing that Harvey had disappeared from the floor) and into the kitchen. He poured himself a glass of water from the tap and drank it quickly.

He slowly unpacked the small bag of shopping and poured himself another glass of water. Feeling a little more refreshed he walked out of the kitchen and up the hallway to Claraís room. He placed his hand on the doorknob and was about to walk in when he felt a sudden urge to use the toilet again. He went back down the hallway and into the toilet. He splashed his face again after going for piss and felt a lot better.

He left the toilet and walked back up the hallway to Claraís room. He reached her door and opened it. As he walked in he looked over towards the bed... Harvey and Clara were sat up in bed totally naked with beaming smiles on their faces.

"Massley good fuck meíyoung chapster," said Harvey.

Dean stared open mouthed and fell gently against the wall.

"Jeremiah Craven," whispered Dean.

"Jeremiah Craven!" screamed Stacey.

"Jeremiah Craven!" agreed Dave.

"Jeremiah Craven," announced Clara.

"Jeremiah Craven," said Jeremiah Craven. "Who else?"

Dean stared at Jeremiah Craven and Clara Bodge for a few seconds before turning his head and looking out of the window. He was completely unable to summon a word or a phrase to account for his horror. He slowly slid down the wall and ended up sat on the bedroom floor. A tear washed down his cheek.

"Cunts." He whispered.

"Did you really think somebody as stunning as my little Clara here would go for a scrawny little twat like you!" laughed Jeremiah. "Sheís mine, mate. I was fucking her years before you got your dirty little paws on her."

Dean continued to stare out of the window.

"Come on, Dean," said Clara. "You must admit he is amazing. You donít really believe that at any time over the last six months Iíve felt anything other than complete loathing towards you? You! Compared to Jeremiah? Youíre nothing."

Dean sat motionless and expressionless on the floor.

"Iíve waited five years for this moment, Dean Wivel." Announced Jeremiah Craven. "I never thought that youíd fall for it. All I had to do was lose a bit of weight, put on a pair of glasses, dye my hair and talk a little more quickly. I knew you wouldnít recognise me."

Dean slowly turned his head towards the two people in the bed.

"I sussed it last night." He spoke disjointedly. "Well, I thought I had. I put it down to being a bit pissed and tired and, but..."

As Dean drifted off into some other world Jeremiah and Clara laughed hysterically.

"Iíve always had this theory," giggled Jeremiah. "About the whole Mr. Ben syndrome thing. If you enter another Mr. Ben totally out of context then you can be whoever you like. The fact that you know me inside out means nothing. Give it five years distance and change the shape of things ever so slightly, I could enter your new Mr. Ben without you even noticing."

Dean wiped the tears from his face.

"You wonít believe how much work Iíve had to put in to get this far, Dean Wivel," said Jeremiah. "Iíve slowly encroached into your life over the last five years until I reached the point where I control everything. Thatís right, Dean, I control absolutely everything in your life. I control your bird, I control your jobs, I control where you go on holiday ≠ fuck it! I even control your shags!

"How does that feel Dean? I want you to feel bad. I want you to feel like you canít go on. I want you to feel like thereís nothing left in your life that means anything. I want to control your feelings. I want to control your destiny. And hey, guess what? I do."

Dean looked at Jeremiah and shed another tear. He glanced at Clara quickly before fixing his gaze at the wall, unable to look her in the face.

"Havenít you got a mind of your own?" Dean said slowly.

"Of course Iíve got a mind of my fucking own!" laughed Clara. "Iím not here because Jeremiah forced me to. You see I actually believe what Jeremiah says. I listened to what he told me about you and what you did to him. I love him so much that I agreed to do whatever it takes for him to get even with you. The way I see it, you destroyed his life so he deserves to destroy your life."

"Youíre both fucking evil and screwed up," said Dean, softly.

"Itís got nothing to do with that, Dean," said Jeremiah. "Itís about revenge. Itís about setting straight what youíve screwed up."

"What have I done?" asked Dean. "I didnít do anything!"

Jeremiah laughed at this. He lent over to Clara and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "Go and make me a cup of tea."

Clara got up and walked over to Dean.

"Take a good look at this body, because youíre never going to touch it or look at again," she said.

Dean continued to look elsewhere. Clara laughed and walked out of the bedroom.

"You always did have a weird control over people, Jeremiah. I donít know how you do it, or what it is about you, but thereís something about you ≠ something indefinable. You can make people do whatever you want them to do. You can get into peopleís heads and screw them up."

Jeremiah laughed.

"Iím glad you recognise that because thatís what Iím having the most difficulty with. Thatís the very reason why Iím here. I thought you were going to do whatever I wanted. I thought that weíd established a Mr. Ben so well defined that it could never be broken. But you broke it. You destroyed what Iíd built and just walked away. Why did you do that?"

Dean looked across from the point where heíd been staring and back at Jeremiah.

"I didnít do anything. All I wanted to do was move away." He whispered.

"You betrayed me you fucking wanker!" screamed Jeremiah. "All those times we had, all those laughs we had, all the people I ignored because I thought Iíd found somebody I could fuse with. You and me, Dean. We couldíve been something really special. We couldíve been the greatest. And you walked away."

Dean slowly rose to his feet and stood limply against the wall.

"Now the punishment for that is you lose everything. You now have no girlfriend. You will lose your job. You will lose your flat. All you have left is that shitty little village and that slag of a sister of yours."

Dean continued to lean faintly against the wall.

"I canít believe it," said Dean. "I thought Iíd finally done it. Iíd found a place where I was happy, I fell in love with somebody I thought was perfect and I had a life I didnít want to leave..."

"...And it was all down to me," said Jeremiah. "Must make you feel sick, Dean Wivel. Iíll bet it doesnít feel half as bad as I felt. I thought Iíd lost it. The ability to make people do whatever I wanted them to do. Fuck me I was wrong! It gave me more power, more will and more intent."

Dean looked at Jeremiah and shook his head.

"And thatís what I want you to find out, Dean. I want to see how much power, will and intent youíve got compared to me. I can build and destroy somebodyís life. I want to see if you can end it."

Clara walked back into the room with a tray of cups. She put it down on the floor and picked one up to give to Dean. He ignored her totally. She laughed and gave it to Jeremiah instead.

"Iím hungry," said Dean.

Clara picked up her own cup of tea and got back into bed.

"Now Dean," said Jeremiah. "I want you to do something. Look in the top drawer over in that corner and tell me what you see."

Dean slowly turned round and walked towards the chest of drawers in the corner. He stopped for a second and took a long deep breath and opened the top drawer. He stared for a few seconds at the object resting on a pile of underwear.

"Itís a gun," said Dean.

Jeremiah and Clara laughed in unison.

"Well spotted," said Jeremiah. "Iím glad youíve recognised what it is because thereís a lot I want you to understand before you use it. First I want you to tell me how youíre feeling."

Dean left the gun untouched and closed the drawer.

"I feel sick Jeremiah. Everything was so good and the way I wanted it to be. Youíve been here five minutes and now everything is the complete opposite. Thereís nothing left for me. Itís all been destroyed. I donít understand what Iíve done."

Jeremiah said nothing for a little while.

"Whereís your FIE, Dean Wivel?" He asked, eventually.


"Your ĎFuck It Elementí you twat. Whatís happened to your ability to say ĎFuck Ití and do whatever? In order to exploit this life to which we have grown accustomed, meaning you and me in this flat, you must possess the need to say ĎFuck Ití at any given opportunity. A situation presents itself and you must grab itís bollocks and announce ĎFuck It you cunt!í

"I said that to you once and you didn't get it... you didnít get it at all. In that gun there is a single bullet. You have to decide which one of us is to receive it.

"Remember the power, the intent and the will? Well, if you have the power then youíll kill me, because then you would have righted the wrong you think Iíve done you. If you have the intent then youíll shoot Clara, because sheís the main reason you feel this bad. You loved her; she made you happy. If you really loved her that much then youíll recognise that she has to die. You can then live on, in some prison cell, slowly festering and rotting - hating yourself and everybody around you.

"And if you have the will, youíll use it on Dean Wivel. How can you go on? You know that your life is over and that Iíll haunt you forever. If youíre brave enough, if you possess enough will, you will use that bullet on yourself."

Dean turned round and stared at Jeremiah in disbelief. He stood completely silent unable to comprehend what was being asked of him.

"What if I just turn around and walk away?" he asked. "Youíve done what you wanted ≠ youíve destroyed my life, youíve got the girl. Why does there have to be bloodshed? Just let me go and try to get over it and leave me alone. Why do you have to push it even further?"

"Because I want to see how far you will go. We jelled, Dean Wivel. You might not see it now but we built an unbreakable friendship. Our Mr. Ben was totally rigid and unbreakable. It still is. To break it one of us has to die and that will be the end. If you walk away I will pick that gun up and shoot you in the back. It has to end."

Dean looked at his feet. He didn't speak for what seemed like a lifetime.

"I get it." He said, finally.

Dean turned round and walked back to the chest of drawers. He slowly opened the top drawer and picked up the gun. Without closing the drawer he turned back round and walked to the foot of the bed.

"I do get it, Jeremiah. Iíve always understood what it meant to you. The problem was you didn't understand what it meant to me. Fuck all, thatís what. Itís a game. You donít understand that the whole thing is a game. You canít make new rules or try and change the old ones. Whoever you want me to shoot it will ultimately be for the wrong reasons. Itís not up to you to make the choice."

"Thatís where youíre wrong, Dean," said Jeremiah. "Thereís only one person who understands the reasons. Iíve already made the choice. Itís up to you to work that out."

"And how do you feel about this?" Dean asked Clara. "You havenít said anything for ages. Donít you care that he might want me to shoot you?"

"I told you, Dean," said Clara. "I donít care. After what you did Iíd do anything for Jeremiah. Iíd even die for him. Thatís what love is all about."

"No it isnít." announced Dean. As he said this he opened the barrel of the gun and let the bullet fall to the floor. He kicked it under the bed.

"There isnít a winner or a right choice. You know, Jeremiah, that nobody will get killed now. You just want to play little games. You think that Clareís a weak woman, but sheís not. She knows that I wouldnít shoot her. She also knows that I havenít got it in me to shoot you or myself. You think that youíve won, but you havenít. You also know that it is just a game. The whole Mr. Ben thing means nothing. It may be a simple way to describe people and psychology, but it means fuck all.

"Thereís only one question youíve asked that has had any relevance ≠ have I got the will? Well...Yes I have."

Dean smiled as he said this.

"What?" asked Jeremiah.

Dean reached into his pocket and pulled out two bullets. Before either Jeremiah or Clara understood what was going on heíd put the bullets in the barrel, pulled back the trigger and pointed it at Jeremiah.

"As I said, Crave, Claraís not a weak woman. She wouldnít agree to die for you. You might have convinced her that it would be a laugh to get me to fall in love with her before you unleash your little plan, but sheíd never die for you."

Jeremiah looked absolutely mortified.

"What are you doing?" he cried.

"I knew that the gun was in the drawer. I also knew that you were too piss weak to put a live round in there, so I took the trouble to go out and get a couple!" shouted Dean. "One for you and one for her!"

As Dean said her! he turned the gun towards Clara and shot her square between the eyes, killing her instantly.

"Oh my God!" squealed Jeremiah. "What have you done!"

He leant over Claraís bloodstained body and tried to lift her head. Unfortunately, most of her head was dripping off the wall, so he caressed her naked body instead.

"What have you done, Dean." Cried Jeremiah Craven. "You cunt! Youíve killed her! Youíve killed her! You werenít supposed to kill anybody! Oh my God sheís dead! Youíve mutilated her you bastard!"

Dean smiled and pulled the trigger back on the gun.

"The will to win," said Dean. "Must far exceed the otherís will to win. It wasn't about winning for you, Jeremiah; it was about playing a game. You didnít take the game seriously enough - which is why she has died."

"How did you know about the gun?" sobbed Jeremiah, shaking uncontrollably as he held what was left of Clara.

"Because youíre a dumb cunt, Jeremiah Craven!"

There was a wicker chair in front of the chest of drawers. Dean walked towards it and sat down.

"Leave her alone and listen to me, Jeremiah."

Jeremiah looked over and saw the gun pointed at his head. He carefully unwrapped his arms from around Claraís body and sat round attentively to look at Dean. He was totally naked, covered in blood and crying his heart out. He painted a sorry picture.

"The tables have turned somewhat, eh, Jeremiah?" said Dean.

"Fuck you!" screamed Jeremiah Craven.

"Watch your mouth, please. You have to understand, Crave, that I know exactly whatís been going on and I know exactly what youíve been trying to do from the very day you started. You really should be more careful when youíre hatching schemes to destroy the person you live with, especially when they have their ear pressed up against the wall."

Jeremiah looked wearily at Dean.

"You knew what I was doing?" he asked.

"From day one!" Announced Dean. "From the day I overheard you telling some cunt on the phone what you were going to do, to when you arrived in Brighton yesterday. Iíve known your every movement for the last five years. I knew exactly where and when you met Clara, I know that it was you who called the caterers and asked specifically for me to go to the café. I thought about making it more interesting by ignoring her and leaving it up to you to push harder, but I wanted to get it done with."

"How? How could you possibly know?" asked Jeremiah.

"Because youíre dumb! You donít plan a scheme as grand as yours without leaving a mark. There were people you freaked out along the way. I simply posed as a kind of understanding uncle figure and got what information I wanted out of them. You thought that youíd tied everything up and made the whole plan watertight. You fucked up Massley style mate."

Jeremiah looked at the gun pointed at his head and leaned back a little.

"Are you going to kill me as well?" He asked.

"Yeah, in a minute. First, though, I want to know why you did it. Why did you devote your life to the effort of destroying mine."

"I just thought it would be... a bit of a laugh. You did hurt me, you know. I donít know why, but..."

"It had nothing to do with Mr. Ben syndromes or friendship," said Dean. "Itís because youíre a fucking faggot, and you wanted to fuck me, isn't it?"

Jeremiah looked angrily at the gun.

"What?" Answered an astonished Jeremiah. "Iím no fucking queer! What the fuck are talking about!"

"Which fucking word didnít you understand! Youíre a queer cunt and you wanted to fuck me. As simple as!"

Jeremiah Craven was clinging desperately to what remnants of reality remained.

"Dean!" he shouted. "Youíre talking shit! Iím not queer! Iíve been shagging Clara for the last three years! How the fuck could I be queer if I was doing that?"

Dean looked at Jeremiah and smiled.

"Yeah, I know." He said whimsically. "Just checking. It all comes down to who wants it the most and who possesses the bollocks to see it through. I just chucked in the queer thing on the off chance that you actually were."

"What?" said Jeremiah Craven. "Are you some sort of gay basher, then. Have you sunk that low that you want to humiliate and hurt queers? Youíre fucked up, mate."

"No." said Dean, coldly. "Itís just that Iíve been planning this occasion for a while and I promised myself that Iíd throw in a few teasers for you, just to throw you off guard. All I want to hear you say is that youíve lost."

Jeremiah Craven adjusted his position on the bed so that he was leaning back a little more.

"Fuck you!" said Jeremiah Craven. "Iíve got nothing to lose now. Just shoot me and get it done with. Iím not giving you the satisfaction of saying that youíve won or that Iíve lost. Yeah, I fucked up and I shouldíve been more careful. But you broke our friendship! You took away the one thing that meant more to me than anything because youíre too weak and pathetic to stick to anything.

"All you had to do was stick around a bit longer. Another year ≠ whatís a year? But no, you had to fuck off back to little Stacey because you couldn't hack it."

Dean remained silently smiling in the wicker chair.

"What do you think that really did to me? How do you think that really made me fell? Maybe the Mr. Ben thing is just a load of bollocks, but all that friendship stuff is true. Iíd never had a mate like you before. We could pull birds together, smoke puff all night, talk bollocks for days on end. It was the best few months of my life. And just because you were bored - because thatís all it came down to - you fucked off home. Ok, I admit the big plan was out of order and wouldíve hurt you really badly if it had come off, but I never meant to kill you. It was just a bit of a laugh."

Dean lowered the gun.

"None of that matters to me," said Dean. "Iíve been festering for five years. Whatever plan I had to stop you has totally gone. That was five years ago. Iíve discovered something better, stronger... something that will out live your pathetic little desire for ditsy friendships and bonds. Iíve got power."

With that Dean pulled the trigger and shot Jeremiah Craven in the head. He died instantly not knowing that Deanís own plan was just beginning.

Staceyís eyes were red and puffed up. Sheíd just been told a story about three people whom she thought she knew. Now she realised that she didn't know either of them, especially the one she thought she knew best.

"When I heard the second gun shot I banged on the door. Dean let me in and told me everything," said Dave.

"How come nobody knew about Jeremiah? If heíd been shot then surely his blood would have gone everywhere."

"It wasnít easy. We had to clean and paint the walls, change the bedding and clean the room as thoroughly as possible so no trace of Jeremiah Craven was left. We waited until it was dark and wrapped him up in a bin bag. We then drove Jeremiah to the New Forest and buried him where nobody will ever find him." Replied Dave.

Stacey sat down on the sofa next to Dave and sobbed.

"I wish that youíd never told me any of this. At least I felt better not knowing what had happened or what Dean had been up to. Jeremiahís plan was bad enough ≠ Deanís was just... calculated! This way round I feel worse. My world doesnít exist anymore."

"I did tell you."

Stacey wiped her eyes with her hand and poured herself another glass of wine. Her whole existence had been turned upside down. The person she trusted most in the world, the person she loved and understood more than anybody was a complete stranger. He was a psychopath, a cold-blooded killer whoíd slain two people. Why hadnít he just confronted Jeremiah all those years ago? Why had he waited until the time was right? ≠ Heíd waited patiently for five years so that he could shoot Jeremiah. Heíd never loved Clara. In fact he must have hated her to kill her like that. Jeremiahís plot may have been horrible and brutal, but Deanís counter-plan was down right evil.

"If he could wait all those years for Jeremiah just so he could get him back, what else is he capable of?" asked Stacey. "Heíd lied about everything for five years: is he out to get other people? Is he out to get me? Am I part of the Great Big Plan?"

"Who knows?" replied Dave. "Maybe Iím for chop. At the moment Deanís in hiding with myself and a couple of others who were involved. Iíd been roped into the whole thing by Jeremiah years ago. I got out just at the right time and disappeared. I discovered what Jeremiah was planning and got down to Brighton whilst Dean and Clara were on holiday. All I wanted to do was warn Dean ≠ I didn't realise that heíd already got a plan. I donít really understand anything about him to be honest. I donít think that heís planned anything else and Iím pretty sure that he genuinely loves you and cares for you. But as I said, who knows? Maybe youíve got an elaborate scheme to kill him!"

"Oh donít be ridiculous! How can you possibly say that?" said Stacey.

v"How could Jeremiah know that for every move he made against Dean, Dean was always peering over his shoulder? Who knows anything? If Jeremiahís failure teaches you anything itís that every outcome is possible. If you get yourself into something make sure you are aware of each eventuality."

"Thatís not very comforting, and to be honest I donít want to hear any more. Iím getting more paranoid by the minute, thanks very much. Iíve just discovered that my brother is utterly evil and into premeditated murder. I would therefore prefer to be depressed in peace. I donít think thereís anything left to say."

Dave saw his cue and decided enough was enough. He left without saying a word and walked through the rain to a waiting car. He got in the front seat and stared out of the windscreen.

"Well, she knows everything. Everything we decided to tell her anyway," said Dave.

Dave looked at the driver. Through the darkness the driver looked back at Dave and began to laugh hysterically. Dave reciprocated with further hysterics.

"Excellent," said the driver. "Sheíll keep for a while longer."

"How long?" asked Dave.

"In Massley good time, meíyoung chapster. Massley good time."

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