Those Other Guys
By Kenneth James
Mildred mentioned it first. It was a Monday morning and
they were getting ready for work. The kids had already gone off to school and
she was in the bathroom when she called to Frank, “Honey, have you started
smoking your pipe again?”
“No,” he called back from the walk-in closet, where he was
picking out a shirt and tie, “why, Babe?”
“I swear I can smell pipe smoke. Been smelling it off and
on for a couple days.”
“Huh. That’s strange.” He was distracted, looking for his
peacock tie, the one his boss hated. Might as well start the week off right and
get the old fart heated up.
“Not only that, but I think somebody’s been going through
my dresser drawers.”
“One of the kids, you think?”
“Could be, I guess, but I dunno…”
“Well, kids go through that, y’know. They get nosy. Wanna
learn all about adult stuff.”
“I just wonder if maybe somebody’s coming in here when
we’re at work.”
“How could someone do that? I mean, with the alarm system
and all…” He finally found what he was looking for and took the singularly ugly
tie and flipped it around his collar. He walked out of the closet and into the
bathroom as he tied a neat Windsor.
She looked up at him in the mirror, marveling as always at
what a handsome guy he was. She was lucky and she knew it. Frank could have had
almost any woman he wanted and he had picked her. He always said it was her
legs. He was definitely a leg-man and she definitely had ‘em. Short skirts had
been her thing ever since she’d married him, and she hoped she’d never lose
that certain shapeliness and sleekness he loved.
He kissed the nape of her neck, letting his tongue taste
her clean skin briefly and sending shivers down her back, hardening her nipples
and dropping a sudden bomb of desire into her gut.
“Hey, cut that out, Mister, or we’ll never make it to
He slipped a friendly hand around her and cupped a breast.
“We could call in sick…”
“Nope. No way. I’ve got too much catching up to do as it
is. Rain check, though. Okay?”
“You betcha.” As he stepped away then, he smelled it too.
Just the faintest whiff of pipe smoke, it was enough to identify: Cherry Blend.
“Millie, how many times have I asked you not to use my
razor on your legs? Dammit, this thing’s dull as a hoe.” Frank was digging in
the cupboard for a new razor, and Mildred stepped in the bathroom with him.
“I didn’t, Babe.”
“Well, somebody damn sure did, and they didn’t rinse it
worth a damn, either.”
“Maybe it was Pipe Smoke Man,” she said, only half joking.
For some reason that gave him a start, and he looked into
the mirror, directly at her. Looking right back at him, she looked about half
“The toaster quit working, by the way. I think something’s
jammed in it.”
“Damn kids,” he muttered as he began shaving. Then, as she
left the bathroom, he bent down and pulled the used razor back out of the
trashcan. He examined it more closely and saw heavy black stubble, several
days’ worth by appearances. His own beard was not nearly so dark. “What the
fuck’s going on here?” he whispered to himself.
The toaster had a knife dropped into it. Its heating
elements were welded together and Frank wasn’t about to plug it in. When the
kids got home that evening, he sat them down and in patented parent fashion
gave them the third degree about the toaster. They not only adamantly professed
innocence, but seemed totally mystified and maybe even a little intrigued.
In order to damage the toaster like that, he reasoned, it
had to be plugged in at the time. Therefore, it should have blown the breaker
for that circuit. He hadn’t been to the breaker box in years. In fact, he
barely remembered where it was. He made his way there through the far reaches
of the dusty, musty old cellar. As he reached to open the box, he suddenly pulled
back, almost as if it might be unsafe to touch, itself electrically charged.
But that was not the reason he hesitated. No. On the dusty cover of the box was
a large clear handprint—not a child’s, or Mildred’s. A man had been
here, and very recently.
Frank took a couple steps back and sat heavily on an old
bar stool left over from their last house. The thought of Mildred having
another man in his house had never occurred to him before. But that thought had
just slammed its way aboard, and nearly took his breath away with the shock of
it. Mildred having an affair? Oh,
God no. Please, not that.
His thoughts swirled as he considered the possibility, then
abruptly dismissed it, for two reasons. It was not that she could not attract a
lover, had that been her desire. But Mildred was the most honest person he’d
ever known. He seriously believed she would leave him first and would tell him
exactly what was going on. It was not in her nature to be sneaky. And then
there was the pipe smoke. If she’d been hiding an affair, would she have
mentioned it? He didn’t think so.
Slowly, he stood and went to the box and opened it,
examining the breakers. The one for the kitchen outlets seemed a little cleaner
than the others, but was that just because he’d expected it to be? He closed
the box and went back upstairs, lost in thought.
By week’s end paranoia was beginning to set in. Both he and
Mildred were paying strict attention to how they left things in their house,
how much mileage they put on their cars, what foods were bought and consumed.
Frank was even marking the level of the liquid in his bottle of aftershave. And
things were disappearing. Considering the things they were now noticing,
they wondered how they’d ever failed to notice before.
The one that was really strange, though, and almost funny,
was the toothpaste. Each of them had been accusing the other for years of
squeezing the tube in the middle. Now, they realized it was neither of them. It
was someone else.
Mildred was the first to come up with the idea of a hidden
video camera. When she mentioned it to Frank, he couldn’t understand why he
hadn’t thought of it himself. That same afternoon, he got out their video
camera and checked it, and installed a new tape. If they could get evidence of
what was going on at their house, then they could approach the cops about doing
something. Without that proof, they’d sound like idiots, or worse, mental
They set it up at the far end of the house, on a shelf,
tucked back in amongst some books, where it had a view of their bedroom
doorway, the adjacent bathroom doorway, and through into the family room. In
the distance, one would be able to see a small portion of the kitchen and the
doorway into the laundry room, which also let out into the garage.
This left the two other bedrooms, the front parlor and the
dining room blind, but it was the best they could do with one camera. Just
before they left for work the next morning, Frank reached back between the
books and carefully pressed the record button.
When Frank arrived home that evening, he found Mildred
sitting at the table in the small breakfast nook and the kids parked at the
table with her. They were definitely subdued, not playing or cutting up like
“What’s up, guys?” he asked, and, to his amazement, Mildred
burst into tears. In a moment, as he was going to her, she was up and into his
arms, shuddering and sobbing against him.
“Hey, hey…calm down!” he said, stroking her back and
feeling her shake, “What’s wrong, Millie?”
“Luh…Luh…Look at the t-t-tape! It’s…oh, God, it’s scary!”
As soon as he could get her calmed down, Frank went to the
VCR, where the tape from the video camera was already cued up. He picked up the
remote, and, with some trepidation, hit the play
He watched as he and Mildred and the kids set the alarm and
went out through the laundry room and left, exiting into the garage. The time
on the tape showed 7:41AM. There was a lapse of two minutes, during which
nothing occurred, then, without warning a man just arrived, walking from
the laundry room into their house. They watched as he stopped at the alarm
panel and keyed in a code and disarmed it. In a moment, a woman appeared,
seemingly from out of thin air in the kitchen. She went to the back door and
let the dog in—their dog—Roscoe. He seemed just as happy to see her as
he ever did to see Frank or Mildred and their kids.
Then, from off camera came two kids, a boy and a girl,
running to play with the dog. They passed right through the family room and out
to the kitchen, where the woman was already fixing them breakfast.
Frank reached behind himself and felt for his recliner,
carefully sitting down before his weak knees caused him to fall down. “This is
incredible,” he said, half under his breath. They spent the next few hours
watching complete strangers move about their daily business of living in their
house. When the tape ended, they were still there. After all, it was a six-hour
tape and they had been gone over eight hours.
Frank sat for a few minutes, lost in thought, then suddenly
got up and grabbed the phone.
“Who are you calling?” Millie asked.
“The goddamn cops, who’d you think?” he replied. “Damned if
I let these people live in my house and freeload off me. This is bullshit!”
“Are you sure that’s wise?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, think about it, Babe. You saw how they just…seemed
to show up. What are the
cops gonna think when they see that? They’re gonna think hoax.”
Frank carefully replaced the phone in its cradle as he
stared at Millie. “You’re right. But what do we do?”
“I dunno. Set something up? Catch them here? Catch them in
the act and confront them, I guess.”
“Sounds dangerous to me. And it might not work at all, you
know? What if…well, dammit, what if they’re ghosts?”
Now that he’d finally said what they’d both been thinking,
it didn’t sound so farfetched. What if there was a whole family who had somehow
died in this house and didn’t realize they were dead? Their whole existence
seemed to dovetail with Frank’s family, filling in the blanks whenever they
weren’t there. Would a confrontation lead to something worse?
It was Dianne, their daughter, who came up with a better
idea. “Why don’t we just leave them a note? Put it right on the kitchen table
for them to find. Tell ‘em we know they’re here and ask them to go live
It sounded good to Mildred and Frank, so he sat down at the
computer and wrote a carefully worded letter ‘to whom it may concern’ and they
left it on the table the next morning. They also reset the video camera, so
they could see what happened.
Frank got home first, that evening, and went straight to
the video camera and pulled the tape, rewinding it and placing it in the VCR.
When Mildred got home she found him parked in his recliner,
staring at a blank screen as it rewound for the third time. He showed her the
tape. Together they watched the other couple finding and reading the note, then
watched the man go to the phone and dial. And in a little while they watched as
a police officer arrived and took a report from the man and woman, presumably
about an intruder in their house.
“This…this is not what I expected at all…” Mildred said.
“I think it’s time we called the cops ourselves,”
“Wait a minute. There’s one more thing…”
“The crime reports are listed in the paper. Let’s wait and
see the name of the guy. Then we can research him a little, see who he is…”
“Yeah,” Frank replied, his own enthusiasm starting to
increase again, “we could check things like the obituaries down at the paper,
see if they really are ghosts.” He was no longer joking.
When the paper hit their doorstep the next morning, Frank
was waiting for it. In the crime reports, he found a Robert Travis had reported
“suspicious activity” at their address. Robert
Travis. Well, at least they had a name. Time to get to work on it.
At the offices of the Herald Reporter, they paid the
required fee and sat down at another computer to check obituaries for Robert
Travis. They ran a search on the name and found two other crime reports, both
over five years old, but nothing in the obits.
Mystified, they sat for a few moments, considering what to
do next. Idly, Mildred typed in her own name and hit the search key.
Her name popped up with two entries. One was an obituary
entry and the other a second-page article about the death of an entire family
from carbon monoxide poisoning the previous year. She and Frank stared at the
pictures of themselves and their kids. The only one spared, according to the
article, was Roscoe the dog, who had been left outside overnight.
At closing time that evening, the clerk at the counter
thought it odd that she had never seen them leave.
Kenneth Crist, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.blackpetals.net, of Wichita, KS, wrote BP
#78’s “Those Other Guys,” and the SF serial (starting in BP #76)
SURVIVING MONTEZUMA (+ “The Big Well” & “Virtuality”
#75, “Gift of the Anasazi” for BP #73, “The Weeping Man” for BP #72, “Pebbles”
for BP #71, “The Diner” for BP #67, “New Glasses” for BP #61, “Ones and Zeros”
for BP #50, the novelette Joshua) and
has edited BP for many years, continuing as Editor Emeritus, then
Coeditor/Webmaster. Widely published, esp. in Hardboiled and on Yellow Mama, he also has four chapbooks
currently for sale in Kindle format on Amazon.com, Dreaming of Mirages, The Gazing
Ball, Joshua, and Groaning for Burial, his latest zombie