Jez Daniels was good at making bad decisions, especially when drunk: “We’ll walk.”
His best friend, Phil Bellamy, frowned. “Y’sure, Jez? Taxi’ll have us home in ten and we can wait inside where it’s warm.”
Glancing through the windows at the cosy interior of the Byron’s Arm’s, then up at the soft flakes meandering down from the cold December sky, Jez shook his head. “Nah, fancy some fresh air.”
It was a decision that neither of them would be granted an opportunity to regret.
The two men set off, laughing, often clutching at each other for support as they made their way through the short, but dense woods that bordered the sleepy Yorkshire village where they’d spent their youth, their adolescence and now their respective middle-ages. Jez was a stocky, bearded man with a crew-cut, clad in jeans and the red shirt of his favourite football team, whereas Phil was short, balding and thin, wearing a blue check shirt and grey, business-like trousers. When sober, Jez’s face was dominated by pale blue eyes that never seemed to blink, whereas Phil’s eyes were sunken and seemed always on the verge of hatching some fierce new plan. Right now though, both men just looked inebriated, grinning as they recounted their already dim memories of the evening.
“Should’ve seen your face!” Jez slurred. “Looked like you were ready to run out the pub!”
Phil nodded, hooking a thin arm as far as it would reach around the other’s shoulders. “Arr, she was a big lass alright. Can you imagine the mess she’d ‘ave made of me?”
“You’d ‘a lost parts of your anatomy!” Jez roared. “What there is of it anyway!”
Sourness showed through Phil’s drunken reaction. “You’re just jealous because I’m single and you’re not.”
All of a sudden, Jez’s eyes grew grave. “Might be soon.”
Phil stopped, his grin vanishing. He regarded his friend in the low light. “What you mean? Pat said sommit?”
Jez nodded. “Didn’t want to mention it tonight, least not till we were sure, but – what the hell – you’re me best mate.” His voice had sobered, even if his carriage was still a little unsteady.
“You’re splittin’ up?”
Jez nodded again, and Phil felt a small bright burst of hope begin inside him. He kept it absent from his face, plastered commiseration there instead. “Bloody hell, Jez, knew somethin’ was different about you.”
“Been on the cards long time. What y’get for marrying your childhood sweetheart I s’pose.”
Phil ground his teeth. “Sorry, Jez.”
The two stood silent for a moment – branches crackling ominously above – then Phil said, “She gunna move out? Might be a bit weird, but I could put ‘er up for a bit, if you two need some space?”
Jez’s narrowed eyes were accompanied almost at once by a grin. “Nah, she’ll go to her mum’s. To be honest, I’m actually kind-of looking forward to it, having the place to m’self. You an’ me can have some great parties! Bring that busty lass from tonight along, maybe a few of her mates too, eh?”
Phil smiled in reply and the two resumed their walk.
At length they reached the small stream that dissected the woods, indicating the halfway mark of their boozy trail. Jez started fumbling with his zipper. “Need to take a piss.” He staggered off into a nearby bank of foliage, leaving Phil to stare at the twinkling moon in the water’s reflection. Although inebriated, Phil’s thoughts were moving quickly, running through these new possibilities, imagining the various scenarios that might play out in the coming weeks . . .
His eyes had been on Pat from the beginning.
He’d even confessed as much to her, a few months earlier (although he was still waiting for an answer on that score). Jez just wasn’t right for her, that much was obvious. Football and pub-quizzes every night, what kind of life was that for a woman? A girl like Pat, with her class (not to mention those curves!) . . . If Jez hadn’t snapped her up, back in school –
All at once he heard Jez cry out then start shouting his name in a panicked tone. Hurrying towards the source of the cry Phil found his friend zipping up his flies and pointing excitedly through the trees. He followed Jez’s finger and all thoughts of Pat and her curves left his mind. His mouth fell open.
It was a two meter wide, unmarked silver sphere.