He'd had that dream again, last night. He somehow knew he was near water and he could hear two people laughing at him. It was such a vague, silly dream that he had not thought to mention it to anyone, not even his wife...
They were already a good part of the way to their destination, when Derrick's Satnav flashed up an alert.
He glanced at it, frowned and said: "Paul. You haven't got anything better to do, have you?"
Paul, his companion on the journey, said in an amused tone of voice: "No, well, not really. Why? What's up?"
He replied: "There's been a bad smash on the motorway, two junctions ahead of us. I'll just get my satnav to work out an alternative route. If we take the next junction we should be able to take a detour and bypass the crash and get back on track. We'll be late, but at least we'll get there."
Half a minute later he groaned. "Oh, famous last words! The alternative route is also blocked. Looks like we would not be able to make it to the Northern office much before 6pm at the present rate. Instead of trying an alternative route, I'll get the next junction and rejoin the southbound traffic and head back to London."
He pointed to his hands free phone in its dashboard cradle. "Paul, mate, do me a favour, please? Call the office where our appointment is and tell them what's happened. Give them my apologies, too."
Paul keyed the number in and made the call. When he terminated the call he turned to Derrick and asked: "Do you want me to phone HQ and tell them what's happened?"
"Please!" his companion responded.
But when Paul tried to dial the number, nothing happened. He frowned. "Sorry, I think I just buggered your phone up!" he said, apologetically.
"Oh, no! Not again! It's nothing you did. I keep telling our IT people there's something wrong with that bloody phone! I think there's a faulty connection, somewhere. I'll go directly to IT, after lunch. Got some errands I might as well run, before I do that. What'll you do with your unexpected time back at the office?"
"If we get back by one, I might just go straight into my wife's office and take her out to lunch! She's been working on a number of special projects, recently. I worry that she's being overdoing it, these last twelve months. She always seems so tired."
Derrick paused for a few seconds, waiting until he had passed a caravan before he replied. "Sorry about that. But caravans always make me nervous out on the road! Yeah, your wife is the PA to Gary Briggs, the company CEO. I understand that you and Beth know Gary and his wife Sally, socially? Doesn't that cause any problems?"
Paul replied easily: "Well, you'd think it would, that it might, but it's made no difference between us. Well, no difference so far, that is. We generally keep work and pleasure separate."
Derrick accelerated past a garishly coloured Hackney Carriage before speaking again. "You going to phone your wife to tell her that you are already on the way back?"
"I'd love to," said Paul, grinning. "But guess who left his mobile phone in his briefcase in the boot?!"
"Ah, never mind. I'll pop in to see David Banning my line manager after lunch. He can call the people up north to reschedule the meeting."
He gave Paul a fleeting glance, quickly returning his eyes to the motorway that was taking them back toward London. "What about you? Who is your line manager, now?"
"It's still Gary. He's still the person I report to."
"Oh! I wondered if there'd been a demotion for you? After all, following all your high profile projects of the last few years it must seem a bit of a comedown, with you having to sit in on sales presentations and regional office meetings like the one I had planned for today."
"It's not a demotion, though I can see why it would look like it was. It's a bit of a curious one, I have to admit. Although I am not entirely certain about this, it's just what I have surmised, it seems that Gary got a bee in his bonnet about certain people who he felt were underperforming.
"But he did not know what to do, as he was unsure if their failings were caused by them, or if they'd somehow been let down or failed in some way by the company training programme.
"And as he had a big part in designing and implementing the training programme himself, he wanted to make sure everyone got a fair shake before appropriating any blame."
Derrick said "Yes... I see. I suppose that makes sense. Still, doesn't seem to be a good use of your skills. Unless he has an idea to somehow identify the root cause of the problem and get you to create a director-led programme to deal with it?"
Paul nodded, saying: "You could well be right, though he has said nothing about anything like that."
They then began to talk of non-work related matters, the chances of Aston Villa or Chelsea to win the cup, or the contenders in the Grand National, and other such topics men talk about on long, boring car journeys.
They got back to the North London suburban HQ of their employer, just before 1pm. Derrick parked the car and walked out of the car park to a nearby parade of shops, whilst Paul, briefcase in hand, entered the vast complex that made up the Hyperology Corporation.
There were several clusters of office buildings and a modest factory floor area where trial versions of the company's products were built for testing and for the designs to be finalised before they were to be constructed in the main manufacturing plant just outside Cheadle Hulme, near Manchester.
Paul dropped his briefcase in his office, noting that his attractive secretary Rhonda was already at lunch. Pity, he mused. She could have booked him and his wife, Beth, a table at one of the nearby restaurants. Still, no matter. There was a Wetherspoons in the High Street. No need to book there, he told himself.
Besides, lunch with Beth would be good, even if it was a case of popping into the local Aldi store, grabbing some bread and cheeses and some of those dinky little bottles of wine with the screw caps and dining alfresco in the nearby park, that would still be magical, as far as Paul was concerned.
The offices of the senior executives of the Hyperology Corporation where all on the first floor. So it was a fairly short walk from Paul's office to the offices of his wife, Beth and of their boss, Gary. Gary and Beth had offices that were side by side, with a connecting door between them.
Paul walked into the outer office of Beth's assistant, Gill. When Gill saw Paul she froze. He failed to notice the stricken expression on her face. "Afternoon, Gill!" He said breezily, as he opened the door into Beth's office.
"Please don't go in Paul..." bleated Gill, but it was far too late. As Paul opened the door, he himself froze, as he saw Gary fucking his wife Beth on her desk. They were talking, or rather, shouting at each other as they fucked. "Does your pathetic husband fuck you like this?" "No, Gary! He doesn't! Only you fuck me this well!""Whose cunt is this?" "It's yours, my love, my handsome lover! Yours! All yours!"
Their heads both snapped round at the same instant as they realised they weren't alone. Gill said, in a quiet voice, "Beth! Your husband... is... you... I..." she stopped; suddenly realising she was talking utter bollocks.
Paul looked, but he did not look at the errant lovers, rather, he looked through them and beyond them. They returned his glassy-eyed stare, horror etched into their features, caught as they were in mid copulation.
Paul turned and lurched away. Nothing was said by anyone as he passed Gill without seeming to acknowledge her existence.
Presently, Rhonda returned to her office and she noticed that the door to Paul's office was open. She wondered who could have been in his office in her absence. Then she saw Paul, sat in his chair, it was up against the corner wall, far back from his large desk.
"He looked so poorly that at first I thought he'd had a heart attack," she confided in a friend, later that day.
"Mr Augustine? Paul? Are you alright?"
She approached him and she noticed that he was staring blankly into space, and shivering so badly that his teeth were chattering.
She touched his neck to find his pulse. It was weak and rapid, his skin felt clammy and cold, she noticed that his breathing was rapid and shallow, his lips were blue.
She had worked as a nurse for several years before deciding to go into the corporate world and she had kept up her First Aid training so she knew that Paul wasn't actually suffering from a heart attack, as she'd first surmised. "Shock?" she thought to herself.
"Paul! Paul! Are you OK?" she asked, an edge of concern in her voice.
He slowly looked toward her, he answered haltingly, "No, Rhonda. I am not. I just found out that my marriage is over. I found out in the worst way possible."
The next several hours were a blur for Paul. Somehow Rhonda had managed to get him to drink a cup of hot, sweet tea ("how terribly fucking British!" he had thought) but the tea had, like all the books on old wives tales said, somehow helped him to feel better physically. But mentally? Not so much.
He knew he should speak with Beth, and with her lover and with his wife, Sally. Christ! That was going to be awkward! How to tell Sally that he and she were being cheated on?
Rhonda and someone else, a man, maybe Phil from Accounts, he couldn't be sure, had managed to get him home. They'd asked if he wanted them to stay, but he had politely waved them off. He wasn't sure what they knew and didn't want to risk breaking down in front of them.
He sat in his lounge, wondering what to do next. He wanted to phone his wife but found that he had not got his head around what he would be able to say to her, after what he had witnessed.
Fifteen years of marriage? And all gone in an instant!
Then he became angry that Beth had not bothered to come to his office to see how he was feeling. Had not even bothered to phone him, let alone come home to check up on how he was. He believed that this told him this was because she really didn't care a fuck about him.
She and Gary were probably together, laughing at him! That dream... could they have already really been laughing at him, together? Mocking him? Had he somehow read their thoughts? Seen into their dirty minds?
Although he wasn't one for drinking, he suddenly felt the urge for a drink. He looked in the drinks cabinet and noticed, right at the back, a litre bottle of vodka that someone --he couldn't recall who- had brought back with them on a holiday from Eastern Europe. Neither he or Beth particularly liked vodka so it had languished there for a couple of years.
He reached in and got the bottle out, snagging a tumbler at the same time. As he broke the paper seal on the bottle's neck he had another idea. A darker, nastier idea. He remembered something he'd read about in a school history lesson. It was what Sir Walter Raleigh had said as he had fondled the sharp blade of the axe that would take his life when he was executed: "'Tis a sharp remedy, but a sure one for all ills."
He left the bottle and glass on the coffee table in the lounge and walked into the kitchen. He opened the drawer that they'd dubbed the medicine drawer, where all prescription and over-the-counter medicines were placed. He rummaged around in it until he found what he was looking for.
Out of force of habit he closed the drawer and walked back into the lounge. He stared at the bottle on the coffee table, then looked at the two packets one in his left hand, the other in his right.
"The cures for all ills" he said out loud. He filled the tumbler with vodka and opened both packets. Good. They were full. They'd serve his purpose. Be the sure remedy for all his ills.
He had a savage feeling of vengeance within him. He imagined what would happen. The two lovers would slink into the house. Then, they'd find his cold, dead body in the lounge. Bastards! That would teach them!
In his left hand, the super strong opiate painkillers Beth had been given when she had hurt her back and in his right hand, the sleeping tablets she'd also been prescribed. But she had used neither.
He took a painkiller, then a good swallow of vodka. Then he took one of the sleeping tablets and another even bigger swallow of vodka. He took another painkiller, popped it in his mouth and reached for the vodka.
Meanwhile, three very unhappy people were sitting in the dining room of the mansion-like house of Gary and Sally Briggs at 12, Damson Glade.
Sally spoke first. "Oh, you stupid, silly little shits! Of all the fucked up fucking things to do, you had to let him catch you together, screwing each other's brains out! Jesus Christ! What the hell was going on in your minds? As for you, Gary, you are the CEO of your own highly successful company, supposedly of superior intelligence, and yet you let your dick do your thinking for you and you allowed our very dear friend Paul to see you and his wife fucking!"
Gary shugged and swallowed a finger of Scotch before speaking. "Well, Sal, I know it sounds bad, but, well, it IS bad, but we were trying to be discrete about it, you know, but we kind of..."
"Completely buggered the whole thing up! Bloody hell! If your idea of discretion is fucking your lover on her desk with the door unlocked, then you have no chance! You do realise this will be all over the company by now?"
"Oh, Christ! Really?" asked Beth.
"Yes, really!" responded Sally, her voice a little cross. "When we started this whole thing off, didn't we agree that we would not want or allow Paul to know anything about what was happening? "To protect him?
"You... we... we all knew he'd never be OK with the idea of you two being fuck buddies, that we had to keep him out of the loop in order to keep him happy. And what do you two do? Out yourselves to him in the most callous, horrible, public way possible!
"You humiliated him publicly and you broke his fucking heart, you idiots! You do realise he may never get over this? May never forgive us? Have either of you spoken with him?"
They shook their heads, saying nothing, like naughty children before the headmistress.
"Oh, really!" now the anger in her voice was palpable. "Beth, you at the very least should have made sure he was feeling OK... or at least asked him how he was feeling! Where is he now?"
Beth spoke up: "He is at home. Or at least I think he is. I got my secretary, Gill, to check. Apparently Rhonda his secretary and some man from accounts helped to get him home."
"Well, that's something, I suppose! Do you want to phone him, now?"
Beth shook her head. "No, I can't really think of anything to say to him."
Sally shot her a dirty look. "How about: "I'm sorry? How about that?"
Beth said: "But sorry for what? Sorry I am helping you and Gary out? No, I can't say I am sorry for that. Sorry I hurt him? Well, of course, yes, to that. But I feel too ashamed to phone him, yet."
Gary pulled out his mobile and made a call. He spoke into it: "Hi, Paul. This is Gary, here. Listen mate, what you saw... although what you saw must have been a terrible shock to you, please, you must believe me when I say we never intended to hurt you like that. And what you saw might... well, if you let me, us, explain to you what it was all about, I think it will answer some questions that you must have. Please don't think this has in any way harmed your marriage. Because it hasn't. Not really, not if you don't want it to.
"Please come to our house at ten am tomorrow and we will all have a decent, civilised chat about the situation. We do need to explain some stuff to you and speaking quite frankly, you do deserve an explanation."
The call had gone straight to the answerphone service of Paul's mobile.
Whilst Gary was speaking, Paul had been busily and almost mechanically keeping to the routine that he had set himself: left hand, painkiller, swallow vodka, right hand, sleeping pill, swallow vodka, then repeat...
The next morning at 10am sharp, Paul rang the doorbell on the doorpost of the Briggs household.
An anxious looking Gary open the door and ushered him in. They walked from the hallway through the door on the right that went into the lounge.
The two women were waiting for him, sitting side by side. That puzzled Paul. He realised that if they could sit so closely together without tearing each other's hair out, that perhaps the message from Gary that he'd listened to at just before 8am had been correct when he had said that some stuff needed explaining. Paul stood, staring at them.
Gary stood awkwardly by his wife, it looked a little like one of those stiffly posed Victorian studio photographs. Paul said to them: "You three look like one of those bloody Victorian studio photographs. All very stiff and formal. Yet all the corruption and vileness just bubbling away beneath the surface."
They didn't know how to respond to his off the wall remark, so remained silent.
"Nothing to say, anyone?" said Paul. There was a sardonic and almost brutal quality in his voice that unnerved them, but especially Beth.
"Paul," said Beth, "this isn't like you. Where is my husband, my lovely, kind, gentle, warm, loving husband?"
"He's dead. You killed him." Said Paul, cruelly.
Beth buried her face in her hands and started to sob. Sally cuddled her, comforted her. Sally looked at Paul, hard. There was something strange, different about him. He hadn't shaved and he had a haunted look. He looked pale, deathly pale.
She swallowed before speaking: "Paul, I know what you saw must have come as a terrible shock but... how are you? What did you do last night? Did you get any sleep at all? Have you eaten?"
Paul trembled before speaking. "No, I haven't eaten. Couldn't eat. Sleep? Not really. None to speak of. And as for what I did last night, well, I sort of got to feeling very sorry for myself and in a moment of madness I am sad to say that I tried to commit suicide by drinking a litre of vodka and downing two boxes of tablets. Unfortunately, I was let down at the last minute. It appears I overdid the vodka. It made me vomit up all the fucking pills."
They looked at him, appalled at what he had said. Gary was the first to react. "Oh... Christ! Oh, Paul, mate. I am so sorry! We knew that what you saw would have upset you, hurt you, but driving you to try to take your own life? Oh, fuck!"
Beth looked at him, tears streaming down her face. "But what would have happened when we found your dead body? What would we have done?"
"You'd have all laughed at me, again?" asked Paul, shrugging. They all looked puzzled at his remark.
Suddenly he felt very, very tired and he sat down in an easy chair that was facing them across the room.
He looked at them. "Why? How long?"
They looked at him, Sally spoke up, first. "Look, Paul, I realise that us all being in a group together facing you is all wrong. It must be ramping up your sense of betrayal and loss and making you feel so much worse. Can I come over and sit by you, please?"
Paul shrugged his acquiescence. Sally stood up and walked over to him. Paul, to his credit did not make the mistake of sitting down by Beth. He remained standing where he was, a silent observer.
Sally sat on the wide and well-padded right arm of the chair. She snuggled up to Paul, but he didn't respond. She put her left hand on his right hand and said: "Paul, I am so sorry for how things have worked out. But if you will let me explain how things got started and what has been going on, I hope that we can all move on and that we can help you and Beth stay together as a couple."
She squeezed his hand and said: "Remember in the early part of last year when I was rushed into a private clinic with a gynaecological condition? Well, they had to operate on me and as a result of the operation, which I think they botched, I became physically unable to ever have sex again.