The two men let themselves into the Health Club using their electronic key cards. Things had been disappearing from the locker rooms recently. When a large sum of money went missing, security was stepped up and the cards introduced.
The tall man carried a blue sports holdall. He was slim and tanned and looked very fit for a man of his age. His companion, bald and twenty pounds overweight was clearly more in need of the health club. He had an expensive cream and brown leather Nike bag with the club, purple and green striped towel draped through the handles. He looked pale and anxious and seemed agitated. Given that he had tried to strangle his wife the night before, perhaps that wasn’t at all surprising.
The tall, fit looking man had something on his mind as well. His investments were doing badly and the worry of it had brought on headaches and dizzy spells in recent weeks. He had asked Arthur, to meet him at the club. He knew that his friend had made a pile of money on the stock exchange. He told him he needed a confidential chat in the steam room. With good advice maybe he could get out of the financial mess he was in. The club was ideal. It was usually very quiet in the middle of the afternoon.
Phil the duty manager smiled a welcome as the two men headed for the newly refurbished changing rooms.
“Hi fellas. Good to see you both. It’s too quiet in here for my liking. Only one in the pool at the minute if you fancy a swim.”
“Thanks Phil,” the tall man with the blue bag, whose name was Jim, said,
“We’re just going to have a chat in the steam-room today. We’ve a few confidential things to talk over. We were hoping it would be quiet this afternoon, weren’t we Arthur?” Jim said.
But Arthur had already gone through to the new locker room.
‘Is Arthur OK?” Phil said. “He looks a bit rough.”
‘I know. I thought that when he got out of the car.”
“By the way, what’s the barrier code number today?” Jim said
“1:7:1:4, we changed it this morning. If Arthur isn’t well, I wouldn’t stay too long in the steam room. Give me a shout, if you need anything,” Phil said.
“You’re quiet this morning Arthur.” Jim said, as they checked the lockers.
“I was hoping you could help me sort out the mess I’m in with my investments. I haven’t told Mary but we’ve lost over £20,000 in the last year. The house needs a fortune spending on it and it’s getting me down to tell you the truth. We can talk about it another time if you’re not well.”
It was then that Jim was shocked to see the huge bruise on Arthur’s arm and shoulder as he pulled off his shirt.
Arthur was hardly listening to his friend Jim. His mind was still focussed on the horror of the night before. Life with his wife Elsie, had been good with one very important exception – their life in the bedroom. Within six months of the marriage, Arthur realised that his wife was totally obsessed with cleaning. Cleaning the house. Cleaning anything and everything. Cleaning was Elsie’s only real passion. Sex was something to put up with, a dreaded diversion from keeping the house spotless.
Frustrated and unhappy, Arthur sought advice. The psychologist told him that ‘obsessive cleaning syndrome’, as a substitute for sex was extremely common.
“In fact my wife is exactly the same, if that’s any comfort to you,” the psychologist had told him. “Fastidious attention to housework and washing is preferred to sex by a surprisingly large percentage of women,” he went on.
Arthur quite liked the house to be spotless and the notion of counselling on such a subject seemed ludicrous. In any case Elsie would think the idea preposterous. There were rows about it of course but these were few and far between and Arthur gradually adjusted to his enforced celibacy – until yesterday that is.
“Good God Arthur! What the hell has happened to your chest?” Jim said.
“No wonder you look bad. We should never have come. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Elsie did it.’ Arthur said. Almost the first words he had spoken since Jim had picked him up at the house.
“Elsie!” Jim was incredulous. “How the hell did she do that, for God’s sake?
I can’t believe it.”
“She threw a litre bottle of Mr Muscle at me from across the kitchen.” Arthur said, looking more miserable than ever. “For the first time for months I told her I fancied her and she just hurled the bottle at me. I thought she’d cracked a rib. I just rushed across the kitchen and tried to throttle her.” Arthur’s voice trailed away to a whimper. “I could have killed her Jim, if she hadn’t hit me again with a roasting tin. It was awful.”
Jim was aghast. “What was she doing when you – you know?”
“Cleaning the inside of the oven.” Arthur’s response was barely audible.
“How were things this morning when I picked you up just now?” Jim asked. “Has she been to the police?”
“No,” Arthur replied, “ She was up a step ladder cleaning the conservatory windows.”
The two men were only in the steam-room about ten minutes; there seemed little point in burdening Arthur with Jim’s finances.
When Jim got back home, he faced the usual mess and detritus of the kitchen. His wife Mary was a bit of a scruff where house-work was concerned.
As he reached the hall, Mary called down the stairs.
“Is that you Jim love? I’m up here trying on the black lace underwear I bought in John Lewis yesterday. Why don’t you come up?”
“I’ve decided money’s not everything,” Jim said to himself, as he shot up the stairs, two at a time.