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Countdown

By Edward Davies All Rights Reserved ©

Humor / Mystery

Chapter 1: Tony

My name is Tony, and at the time of this interview, I am already dead.

How’s that for an opening statement? Mysterious? Intriguing? Makes you wonder where I’m going with this, doesn’t it? Well, you won’t have to wait for long...

I really hope not.

I always fancied myself as something of a writer – everyone has at least one novel inside them, and it just takes the right kind of diet and a lot of pushing to get it out - and now I finally get the chance to have something written down that everyone can one day see. It’s just a shame that this will be the last thing I ever have written down – and I won’t even get to see it get published. Assuming it does get published of course, and isn’t just covered up by which ever corrupt government was responsible for what happened to us.

It wasn’t any government...

You see, something strange happened on that fateful day – something that you really wouldn’t expect to happen in the middle of West Acton on a Saturday afternoon. The skies were filled with jet black planes, dropping parachutists and explosive devices every which way…

…But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Me and a bunch of friends had got together to celebrate Ted and Marie’s forthcoming nuptials. My girlfriend Sarah-Jane had organised for Marie to head off with some of her friends for a hens day – you can tell you’re getting old when you hold hen and stag do’s during the day – and the rest of us lads had all come round to my place to celebrate with Ted.

Originally we’d planned on going to a cheap strip club that Sam knew about, but after the two of us had checked it out, I unilaterally decided that the combination of over-priced drinks and the kind of women you’d expect to see in middle-ages re-enactments wasn’t conducive with the atmosphere we was trying to create. In the end I’d brought in loads of booze, organized a stripper with the help of Sam, and invited some of Ted’s closest friends, although using Sarah-Jane’s FaceBook account probably wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever come up with.

I’d ended up inviting Dev, someone I never really liked due to his creepy stalkerishness (is that a word? It is now) but assumed Ted still got on with, but sadly they’d had a bit of a falling out a few years back and I guess I never got the memo. Still, I blame Ted for not un-friending him. Dev was sat in a corner of my living room - drinking what was either tepid tap water or straight vodka (either was possible with this guy) and he’d only really spoken to Dave the whole time he’d been there.

Dave’s another story altogether – he’s one of those people who come across as socially awkward, but he really does try his hardest. I don’t really like him, but I’ve never known him to not at the very least try to speak to everyone in the room. It’s a quality that, grudgingly, you’ve got to admire, especially in someone who, ever since I’ve known him at least, has been missing a tooth and never really been bothered about getting a false one stuck in its place.

I always considered myself to be Ted’s closest friend, but his oldest friends Sam and Peter were here too. I’d known Ted since college, but Ted, Sam and Peter had known each other since secondary school. Sam and Ted had bunked off PE together for three years (I assume they did other things in between bunking off PE and didn’t just disappear into the woods for three years), and Peter had been in Ted’s double-science class for three years as well. Once we’d all got to college, I soon joined and dominated our core group, which was completed with the presence of Jacob.

Interesting story; the main reason we know Jacob is because I started going out with his best friend Julia. We dated for a total of two weeks, in which time I realized she was never going to put out, so I sort of dumped her. I told Ted I’d dumped her anyway, and when he asked how it happened I was forced to admit it hadn’t actually happened yet.

You didn’t tell her first?

Perhaps telling her first would have been a good idea. Still, after that Jacob sort of carried on hanging around with us and we soon found he was a pretty good guy and decided to keep him.

Lastly for Ted’s really close friends was Will, who used to work with Ted at some import company or something. It was through him that Ted met his fiancée Marie – sort of. Marie was flatmates with another colleague of Ted’s, Sarah (there are a lot of Sarah’s in this story, at least three I can think of), and they organised work drinks one night. Marie came along and she and Ted hit it off. So I suppose Will didn’t really introduce them, but he was there at the time so we’ll give him that.

Obviously there were some people we were forced to invite round. One of them was Ted’s brother-in-law Justin, who makes boring look like bungee jumping into an open shark’s mouth. Likewise Ted’s sisters Anne and Jane had been invited to Marie’s hen do, so I guess she was having to suck it up too.

Because Marie was friends with Bella, her husband Adam had come along to the stag do. He was a nice enough guy, but none of us really knew him that well - even Ted had only really met him once or twice. Still, he’d brought with him a crate of beers and some of my favourite Mount Gay rum, so he was okay in my book.

And surprisingly Jonny had turned up. Jonny was the long-time boyfriend of Misty, one of Sam’s friends from university who had somehow wormed her way into our group. Funny story, the first time Ted and Misty met was when Sam had tricked a bunch of people into going out on a singles night. They spent the whole evening wondering why all of Sam’s strange friends kept coming up to them and asking them what they did for a living. Anyway, somehow we didn’t expect Jonny to show up because, to be fair, he rarely did, but here he was, sitting on the sofa with a bowl of kettle chips in one hand and his fourth beer in the other.

Plus there was Luke. I didn’t know much about him, other than he was friends with Sam and Misty, but I didn’t really like him that much. He didn’t have much to say for himself, anyway, so that made things a bit easier in that I didn’t have to make any effort with him because he had pretty much been keeping to himself.

So that was us, sitting and standing around in my living room, waiting for the stripper to arrive.

Oh, I almost forgot, did I say my name’s Tony?

Yes, you did.

Oh well, don’t waste your time trying to remember it, I doubt I’ll get much of a mention after this interview. Is it okay if I tell you what happened like it’s a story?

Go ahead.

Awesome. Okay, here goes.

“What’s the hold up?” Sam asked, taking a sip from the gayest looking drink I have ever seen, and I drink a rum that has gay in the name! Not that Sam was gay – as far as we knew – he was just really, really choosy, “Shouldn’t the stripper have been here by now? We paid good money for Ted to look at huge plastic boobs.”

“It’s only one o’clock,” I pointed out, “There’ll be plenty of time for strippers once we’ve got a few more drinks in us. And there’s always time for huge plastic boobs.”

Jacob, who was sitting on the sofa with a beer in his hand, chuckled. Clearly he’d found something funny in what I’d said, but I’m buggered if I could ever figure out his sense of humour. Maybe it was because I’d said boobs.

Hah, boobs.

Don’t you start.

Sorry.

“I can’t believe you organised a stripper,” Dave smiled, showing off that missing tooth of his, or at least the gap where it should have been, “I’ve never seen a stripper before – well, not in real life anyway. I’ve seen plenty of them on websites and stuff, but never in real life. This is the coolest day ever!”

“Well, consider this a learning experience,” Sam smiled. I’d heard all about Sam’s exploits when he worked at Channel Four. Apparently he and some of his colleagues had frequented what could only be described ironically as a ‘classy establishment’ where, for fifty pence, you could get a private lap dance from one of the less than salubrious ladies that worked there. Seriously, for fifty pence, the lap dancer was probably over sixty and toothless, and that would be one of the better ones.

Peter, who was sitting in an armchair watching the news and being anti-social as usual, looked up from the screen, “What’s she going to teach us?” he asked, smiling crookedly in that way only he can manage.

Ted grinned, “In your case, I’d imagine quite a lot,” he said.

Peter furrowed his brow, turning back to the news report on the screen. It looked boring to me, like some sort of military strike in Afghanistan or something. Stupid Americans, always blowing people up just because they don’t fit in to their perception of the so-called American Way.

Dev, who as I said earlier had up until now pretty much kept to himself, decided to choose that moment to stick his nose in where it wasn’t wanted.

“You should have come to me to organise the stripper,” he smiled at me, a serpentine smile that sent a shudder up my spine, “I could have found you one for very cheap, and she’d have done anything you wanted her to.” He leaned in close to me, so close that I could smell he clearly hadn’t been drinking tap water, “Anything.” He emphasised.

Creepy.

Tell me about it.

I swallowed nervously, “We’ll remember that for next time,” I said, hoping that there wouldn’t be another situation where Dev would be in the same post code as me, let alone the same room. I never should have invited him – he’s just so creepy. I was pretty thankful when Dev simply nodded and turned to walk back to the corner of the room he had adopted for his own.

Ted glared at me as Dev walked away, “Why did you invite him?” he asked, “I told you ages ago that I couldn’t stand the guy! Do you have any idea how long it took me to finally get rid of him? Nine months! That’s full term for a pregnancy, and my reward at the end of it should have been a bouncing baby not-Dev! Now the little shit’s back and he wants child support!”

I arched my eyebrows, trying to look sorry, “Honestly, I don’t remember you telling me any of this. I thought you two were pretty close.”

“Pretty close?” Ted scoffed, “Do you not remember me telling you about the time he said he was going to visit that girl at her halls of residence, and it turned out he was actually going there to propose to her with a cheap-ass Claddagh ring he bought from a Buffy fan site?”

I felt my eyes widen as I remembered the story, “That’s right,” I nodded, “So that was him was it?”

“Yes that was him,” I sensed that Ted was getting angrier, “It was him that took me to some strange girls flat so he could propose marriage – and do you know what else? They weren’t even going out! They’d barely spoken to each other! And she already had a boyfriend! That’s not the sort of person I want at my stag party!”

“I’m sorry,” I insisted, wanting to put an end to the conversation, “Can’t you just let it lie?”

Ted breathed a heavy sigh, “For now,” he conceded.

“Thanks,” I smiled.

“But whatever you do,” Ted warned before he walked away, “do not tell him where or when the wedding is. If he finds out and turns up, Marie is going to kill me. And then I’ll kill you.”

“I don’t see how you’ll kill me,” I smiled, “Won’t you already be dead.”

“Then I’ll come back as a zombie and enjoy a very small meal,” Ted growled, “do you understand me?”

“Okay,” I rolled my eyes. I wish I’d known then that I could have told Dev whatever I liked and neither Marie nor Ted would ever get the chance to punish me for anything I might have said or done to spoil things for the two of them - because I was dead less than thirty minutes from that moment.

It was at that point that I got a phone call. I pulled my mobile phone out of my pocket and swiped the screen, “Hello, Tony speaking,” I said, then smiled. It was the stripper.

“I’m at station,” the stripper spoke in an accent that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in an old episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle, “make sure you have money.”

“No problem,” I nodded, even though she was talking to me on the other end of the phone and couldn’t see my head gesture, “see you soon.”

“Bye,” said the stripper flatly and hung up.

“The stripper’s on her way,” I announced, putting the phone back in my front jeans pocket, “Judging by her accent, she’s probably called Natasha. She’s just got off the tube and should be here in five.”

“About time, too,” Jonny commented, stuffing another fistful of kettle chips into his already full mouth.

“So, are you going to have sex with this stripper?” Dev asked from across the room. Ted glared at me, and he didn’t have to say anything for me to know what he meant by that glare. This is a prime example of the sort of inappropriate behaviour you could expect from Dev. All those stories were coming back to me now, including the one where Ted was about to get somewhere with this girl Chloe he liked at Uni when Dev walked in and threw a packet of condoms at them, claiming he wanted them to be careful. What a cock-blocker!

Sounds like a really horrible person.

He was! Anyway, where was I? Oh yes.

“No, he’s not going to have sex with the stripper,” Sam rolled his eyes at Dev, then whispered to me, “We didn’t pay that much for her, you know.”

As Ted poured himself another drink, he said to me and Sam, “You guys didn’t have to hire a stripper, you know. I’d have had just as much of a good time if it was just us guys.”

“Well, I wasn’t about to strip for you!” I quipped.

Ted rolled his eyes, “You know what I mean.”

“But you’ve got to have a stripper for your stag do,” Sam insisted, “That’d be like not wearing a mortarboard for graduation, or not wearing a backless gown for surgery.”

Personally I think the real reason that Sam wanted a stripper was that he didn’t think he’d ever get married – at least not while his mother was alive. He only liked white girls, and as a strict Muslim his mother wouldn’t stand for Sam bringing home any girl who wasn’t at least as dark as she was. Even if she was Bangladeshi through-and-through, his mum would still go ballistic if she was Hindu or, heaven forbid, a Christian.

There was a knock at the door, and everyone suddenly perked up, “The stripper’s here!” I announced.

I put down my drink and walked to the front door, rubbing my hands together gleefully in anticipation of whichever saucy temptress the agency Sam had contacted had chosen to send us. I pushed down on the door handle and pulled the door towards me as I held a hopeful breath...

“Hey, Tony. How’s it going?”

“You’re not a stripper...” I observed as I looked at Andy and Han standing on my doorstep. They were two more of our semi-regular gang, and until they arrived I’d forgotten all about them.

“Not the last time I checked, no.” Han smiled, pushing past me into the hallway, “Sorry we’re late, but the tubes were absolutely terrible!”

“There’s a stripper?” Andy asked excitedly.

“Not yet there isn’t.” I sighed as Andy followed Han through the hallway and into the living room.

“Those don’t look much like strippers,” Dave observed as I followed Han and Andy into the living room, “That one has a beard, for starters.”

Dave had never met either of them, which could be considered by some to explain his confusion, but then I’d never met the Queen of England but would be able to tell she wasn’t a stripper if she happened to walk through my front door.

“That’s because they’re not strippers,” Ted smiled, “Hey guys, how’s it going?”

“Not bad,” Han replied, “but I don’t know what’s going on out there. The tubes are murder, and there’s some sort of aerial display going on. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Maybe it’s the Red Arrows.” Will suggested.

“Not unless they’ve changed their name to the black arrows.” Andy piped in.

“Black arrows?” I repeated. That sounded weird, and pretty unlikely. I wondered to myself what that was all about, but a knock at the door drew my attention away from that particular train of thought.

“Stripper!” the guys chorused as I headed for the door.

Sure enough, I opened the door and there stood the stripper. I tried not to look disappointed, but she wasn’t great to look at. Granted, she had huge boobs, but to be honest it didn’t look like she’d paid much for them. I tried not to grimace as I invited her into the house.

“I am Greta,” the stripper smiled, showing her slightly crooked lipstick-covered teeth. She reached between those teeth, taking a wad of gum out of her mouth and placing it between the folds of an old sweet wrapper, “So, who is birthday boy so I can do the sexy dance?”

“I think you mean stag,” I corrected.

“Whatever,” she brushed my correction aside, her thick Eastern European accent making the word sound guttural and filled with phlegm, “it all mean the same thing to me; dance, get naked, get money, go home, same tomorrow. Lather, rinse, repeat, no? Now, which one is he?”

I pointed at Ted, and the stripper smiled. I could see the look on Ted’s face as the stripper started to prepare herself for the show. It was not an expression I’d normally associate with the expectation of naked dancing.

“Do you have stereo?” she asked me, reaching into her handbag and taking out a CD. I gestured to the stereo in the corner of the room, and she shimmied over to it. Ted took the chance to approach me.

“What the hell is that?” he asked, gesturing over his shoulder with his thumb at the stripper who was now bent over, fiddling with the stereo controls, “She looks like Borat’s less attractive, more hairy sister!”

“Don’t ask me,” I shrugged, pointing at Sam, “He organised her.”

Ted glared over at Sam, who smiled, “You’re welcome.” Sam grinned, not quite noticing the utter disappointment he had brought to the proceedings.

The stripper switched on the stereo, and what can only be described as hateful noise was projected into the room. It sounded like foxes having sex with an electric guitar, and I winced as this was accompanied by a techno synthesiser.

“Now we’re cooking,” Sam beamed, shaking invisible maracas to the offbeat beat like a suntanned Bez. What more would you expect from a man whose favourite band is Girls Aloud?

What’s a Bez?

Seriously? You don’t know Bez? From The Happy Mondays?

Are they a religious group?

No, they’re a band.

Oh, right.

“I am going to throttle him,” Ted mouthed across the room at Sam, “I am going to reach my hands around his neck and throttle the very life out of him,” Sam smiled cluelessly and gave Ted the thumbs up sign.

“I’m sorry, okay.” I whispered to Ted, “But you have to remember that I’m not working, and this is the best we could afford on our budget.”

“You’d have been better off not bothering,” Ted replied, crossing his arms in a gesture of ill temper, “You could have saved the extra money and used it to buy some more plastic cups - instead you wasted it on her plastic cups!”

And I’d been pissed off too. Sam had promised me that the place he’d organised the stripper through actually had some decent women working there, but clearly all the decent women were busy today and all that was left was their pet dog. Honestly, I’d wasted my half of the ten quid for nothing!

Ten quid? Is that all you spent.

Well, like I said, I wasn’t working.

The stripper began to dance in a circle in the middle of the room, much to the discomfort of everyone there (apart from Sam and Dave who actually appeared to be enjoying themselves). Even Peter didn’t turn away from the television to watch the scantily clad woman’s gyrations, and I can’t imagine him ever turning down a half-naked woman, especially one that cost as little as Sam’s bargain basement stripper.

At that moment Ted’s phone rang, and he picked it up, “Hello?” he said, “Oh, hi Marie.”

Honestly, Marie was calling in the middle of the stag do! I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but Ted’s side of the conversation went something like this.

“Not that great.” Ted continued, then said something that was unforgivable, “Sam hired the worst stripper I’ve ever seen.”

I couldn’t believe it! He’d told his fiancée that he was watching a stripper! What sort of an idiot tells his fiancée that he’s seeing a stripper?

“Yeah, why?” Ted continued, then he paused, “But it’s my stag do – we have to have a stripper.”

Quite right too. A stag do without strippers is like a... like a... like a thing with a really important element missing. I’ll think of a better analogy later, you can add it in, right?

“But it’s for the other guys too.” I listened as Ted insisted, “And she’s really ugly.” Then the conversation seemed to move on to something else.

“Not much, so far as I know? Why?”

Pause.

“I’ll run it past the rest of the guys. What pub were you thinking?

Was he serious? Were they organising to meet up after their respective dos?

“Sure, what time do you think? Around 7pm?”

Yep, he was organising to meet up after their respective dos. And it sounded like we were all being invited along.

“Luke and Jonny?” he suddenly said, “Why?”

I’m still not sure why he said their names. I guess I’ll never know now.

“Okay then,” Ted concluded, looking around then whispering, “Love you.” I nearly threw up.

“Bye,” Ted hung up his phone, then he turned to me, “That was Marie – she suggested we meet up in Shepherd’s Bush after this for a few drinks.”

“And you said no, obviously,” I asked.

Ted looked confused, “No, I said we’d be along at seven. What’s the big deal?”

I rolled my eyes in disbelief, “You can’t go and see your fiancée after your stag do – it’s bad luck!”

“Well the wedding isn’t until next weekend,” Ted pointed out, “and it’s only bad luck to see the bride the night before the wedding.”

“Whatever,” I tutted, folding my arms and turning away from Ted to watch the stripper. Man, was she ugly, but right then I hadn’t wanted to look at Ted.

“Hey, guys,” Peter suddenly called from across the room, “You should take a look at this.”

Now normally if a woman was taking her clothes off in front of me there would be very little that could pull my attention away, but in those circumstances I happily wandered over to listen to what Peter had to say, as did pretty much everyone else, which was unusual because generally we just ignore him.

“What is it?” Will asked, looking at the television screen that Peter hadn’t taken his eyes off since he’d arrived at my house.

“It’s this news report,” Peter said, “Apparently the US is threatening an attack on the UK!”

Han snorted derisively, “What are you watching Peter, Brass Eye?” he chuckled, “Seriously, why would America want to attack us? They’re much too busy blowing things up in the Middle East to waste their time here.”

“I couldn’t hear properly what they said because of that God awful music,” Peter replied, “I think it had something to do with foot and mouth, pigs or something. They might have mentioned terrorism too.”

“Oh, it’s just a joke,” I said, brushing Peter’s fears aside, “It’s probably just the BBC a little late with the April Fool’s pranks this year.”

“Maybe the entertainment department hired Mel Brooks,” Andy suggested. That one took me a minute, but you get it right?

Yes, Men In Tights came out two years after Prince Of Thieves.

You’re catching on. Not to mention Spaceballs. The whole Star Wars franchise had ended four years before that got a cinema release!

Anyway...

Sorry.

“Are you guys wasting time on politics when we’ve got a stripper in the house?” Sam called across the room from where he and Dave had taken up their positions in front of the unattractive performer, “Come on, this is supposed to be a party, not a political debate!”

“Strippers are awesome!” Dave added.

“Look, it’s clearly not a real story,” I concluded, “Just turn the telly off Peter and get back to the party.”

Peter looked at me and furrowed his brow, but eventually he got up from his seat and switched off the television set, wandering into the main living room.

“So, who wants another drink?” Ted asked loudly, trying to take people’s minds off the negative news report that Peter had brought up, and trying to be heard over the stripper’s choice in music, “There’s loads left in the kitchen.”

Everyone seemed to liven up after that, and eventually even the stripper seemed to be a bit more entertaining – she wasn’t that bad a dancer for an ugly bird, but that might have been the alcohol talking. Either that or she’d practiced to be an awesome danced to distract people from her ugly face.

You’re pretty harsh on her.

Wait until you meet her!

Anyway, that was when we noticed the strange humming noise coming from outside.

“What’s that horrible sound?” Jacob asked, putting his hands over his ears.

“I think it might be part of the CD’s soundtrack,” Jonny suggested.

“Can you turn that off for a bit?” Ted asked, gesturing at the stripper. She stopped dancing and shrugged, bending down to turn off the CD player, but the sound continued.

“That is so annoying,” Ted grimaced, “I’m gonna go outside and see what it is.”

“Oh, come off it,” I protested as the others followed Ted towards the front door, “It’s probably just some new fangled car alarm. Just ignore it.”

“We can’t ignore that,” Sam scowled as the noise increased in intensity, “It’s just horrible!”

This was ridiculous – even the stripper was drifting out with Dave in tow to see what all the noise was about. I couldn’t believe how badly this stag party was turning out. Resignedly I wandered to the front door and stood on the front stoop as I watched everyone else walking out into the road.

“That air display seems to have gotten worse,” Han noted, pointing up into the sky. I looked up from the front stoop to see what he was pointing at.

The sky was filled with black planes, slowly flying overhead in the direction of what seemed to me to be Heathrow airport. Their formation was so close together it was surprising that none of them had collided into each other.

“I told you,” Peter shouted, “I told you that report was true! It’s the Americans! We’re under attack!”

“Nobody’s attacking anyone,” Jacob said calmly, “it’s probably just an aerial display, like Han said.”

It was at that moment that a huge puff of smoke exploded in the air and one of the planes started to spiral out of formation.

“Shit!” Jonny shouted, surprisingly being the first to start moving, “Run!”

The others began running away from the house as the plane circled closer overhead, but my legs wouldn’t move. I swallowed nervously as I watched the plane explode into my house, scattering my body parts near and far.

Excellent. Well, thank you Tony. Send in the next one on your way out.

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