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Friday short story time: "Bad Identity"

It’s Friday, which means I was up until two in the morning constructing another so-called “quick” short story. I’m not sure this is quite as polished as last week’s masterful effort, but I quite like it. Without further preamble, it lives below:

Bad Identity

By Nick Bryan

‘Um, hi, is that Beth?’

‘No, it isn’t Beth.’

‘Oh. Are… Are you sure?’

‘Yes, I’m fucking sure.’

Enraged, Bob threw his mobile to one side. It crunched into the wall, and he dashed over to check it wasn’t broken. This rather undercut any sense of drama he’d tried to create, but it wasn’t as if anyone was there to see.

He glowered down on the prone body of his mobile. But before he could poke to see if it was dead, it started to ring loudly. His ringtone was awful, and it was another unknown number.

With heavy dread, he answered. ‘Hello?’

‘Hey, Beth about?’

‘For crying out loud.’

He hung up, but refrained from any melodrama this time.

Bob was not Beth. Bob had never met Beth. If he did meet Beth, only social convention would prevent him punching her in the face. Hitting women, he knew, was frowned upon.

He had heard of the tactic of giving a fake number to random men in bars. But “Beth”, whoever she might be, seemed to be abusing the manoeuvre a little by always giving out the same number. Namely his number.

Was she stupid, or was it an elaborate practical joke? Was Beth even her real name? Was it all a conspiracy?

But he had gleaned a certain insight into her life from this ludicrous exercise. For example, today was Sunday. Beth seemed to mostly go out Saturdays, as the calls were often clustered around Sunday afternoons.

Or perhaps she went out on Friday and the boys were trying not to look too keen?

Bob sighed. Knowing his luck, she was actually a prostitute, the number was on cards around London and this whole episode would lead to his arrest on charges of big pimping.

As if on cue, his phone rang again. His screen didn’t flash up ‘Number unknown’ this time, and for a second he thought it might be someone who wanted to speak to him. But no, it was a number he had labelled “Idiot”, which meant it was one of his frequent flyers.

He thought about not answering, but that just wasn’t the British way.


‘Hi, I’m just calling to see if Beth’s about, or…’

‘Was I not clear before when I said this isn’t Beth’s number?’

‘Well, I just thought…’

‘Yes, you’ve said before. No, I’m not Beth’s dad, or her jealous boyfriend, or her prison warden.’

‘Or her headmistress?’

‘Or her headmis… what? Fuck me. Why do you keep calling?’

Another week passed. It contained another seven phone calls, but Bob had a new strategy.

‘Greetings, can I speak to Beth, I’m…’

‘Yes, fine. Where did you meet her?’

‘I’m sorry, is this her father?’

‘Shut up and answer the question, you little prick.’

This happened a few times. He had a map, it was on the wall with pins stuck in it, each representing a different Beth sighting. Bob tried looping string through and around the pins, connecting them together in a spider-like web. He had seen this done on various television programmes, and hoped it would show some kind of pattern.

It didn’t, at least not at first.

So he kept yelling at people. Kept criss-crossing.

‘Yo, izzat Beth, I…’

‘Speak English, you turd.’


‘’Christ. Look, tell me everything you know about Beth and I’ll let you go.’

‘… dawg?’

Some of the calls were harder work than others, clearly, but it was coming together. Quietly, Bob was proud.

And then, one day, as he carefully tied together pins on the map which took up most of his kitchen, three of the frayed lines crossed. A couple had met before, but this was an unprecedented convergence of string. For a few minutes, he could only stare at it, dumbstruck.

Once that grew boring, he ran to his computer and looked up the exact location of the three-way intersection on Google Maps. In a moment of sudden alarm, he realised it was Friday night and she could be out giving her number – his number! – to random idiots at that very moment.

Not pausing to comb his hair or change out of the worryingly sweaty clothes he was still wearing, he raced from the kitchen, to finally confront his tormentor.

Through his brutal and often profane interrogation of her weak-willed suitors, he’d extracted a few key points about Beth. Blonde hair, they said, except when it was brown. Average height. Quite pretty.

Well, good, thought Bob. Finding a girl who matched that description on a Friday night in London would probably be quite easy. Probably the one who gave out “her” phone number to every man in sight would be a good start.

He thought, with a pinch of bitterness, that there were words for girls like that. But since he’d never met her, that would be rude. Maybe if he found her tonight, he’d feel more comfortable using some of them.

Outside a crowded bar, Bob thought, his chances weren’t great. He tried to enter, but was blocked rather totally by a huge bouncer almost the size of the door, as gaggles of men with gelled hair and polo shirts shoved past him. Maybe he should’ve showered before venturing out, in retrospect. Changed clothes, done various hygiene things.

But just as he was about to slope away from the door, a female entering the bar caught his eye. He caught sight of her tucking a piece of paper into some guy’s front pocket and Bob felt his fist clenching. Still, he decided not to assault anyone yet. Odds are, Beth wasn’t the only girl to give someone their number. Let’s wait a moment.

He lurked. The bouncer near him got increasingly aggravated as she approached. She was quite attractive, Bob thought, her hair was blonde this week, and he was out in public, dressed as a tramp and being turned away from a bar.

Perhaps starting an argument immediately would be a bit much. He thought, with a hideous sinking feeling, that he was on the verge of becoming one of the array of infatuated morons who kept phoning him.

Finally, she reached his earshot, and Bob tried his opening gambit.



There was a pause. Then Bob remembered that talking to unknown women in bars was not, in fact, a strong area for him. He decided to skip to the one conversation starter he had.

‘So, are you Beth?’

She didn’t seem particularly surprised that he possessed this information. ‘I am. And you are?’

‘I’m Bob, I…’

‘Look mate, time to move along.’ The bouncer behind him clearly didn’t rate his chances with her, especially not dressed like that.

This was becoming awkward, not to mention threatening. Finally, he blurted out, ‘Did you give your number to seven guys in the last week?’

Surprisingly, she seemed unimpressed at this accusation. ‘What are you trying to say, exactly?’

‘Well, I…’

‘And how do you know that? Was one of them you?’

As Beth became increasingly aggravated, her face set into a rather harder mask of annoyance. Despite the fact he’d come here to yell at her, Bob felt a little disappointed. The familiar feeling of being shot down started to stir within him, much to his own fury.

And still she continued: ‘Look, I give the dull ones my cousin Robert’s number ‘cause he has the same surname! Make it harder for them to stalk me in the phone book.’

‘Cousin? But…’ His synapses fired so hard that he flinched a little. ‘Beth? Elizabeth? Little Lizzie?’

At this, she at least dropped the teeth-gritted look of rage. ‘You’re Robert? Man, I don’t remember you being that fat.’

‘And I haven’t seen you since you were ten, I mean I…’

In quick succession, three things now happened to Bob, each of which made him progressively more upset.

Firstly, his cousin Lizzie laughed at him, no doubt for being fat and poorly dressed, and swanned past into the bar, where she would no doubt continue to give his number to boys she didn’t want to see ever again.

Secondly, the bouncer tired of waiting for the scruffy idiot to get out of the way, so pulled him around by the shoulder before shoving him quite hard back into the streets, where he proceeded to trip over his own feet.

Finally, as his face picked up a layer of grit, Bob remembered that he’d been thinking earlier about how attractive he found his cousin. He decided to just lie there a while, at least until the police were called.

As ever, I made this up, copyright me, etcetera. Email me to request permission to steal it or tell me how good it is(n’t).


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