This story is by Loring Felix and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
One Way Out
The place felt cold, sterile, hostile. Institutional disinfectant scarcely masking the odor of unwashed bodies. Harsh florescent lighting bouncing off stainless steel benches, making it impossible to think clearly. Phillip was frozen, his legs numb. The thin, worn pajama bottoms did nothing to alleviate the chill, the iciness invaded his entire body.
Hours passed. Detective Lentz ignored him. He was separated, kept alone. The other lost souls were led, one by one, to a hidden room along the rear of the building. Each emerged in washed-out, striped jumpsuits, the colors varied from green-to orange-to red, their street clothes left behind.
Most looked bewildered, out of their element. Others acted as if they’d come home, fist-bumping fellow returnees.
Not all sat on icy benches. Some were curled into fetal positions, claiming empty corners, shaking off whatever demons possessed them.
Why was he singled out? He didn’t have multiple tattoos or scars crisscrossing his face. He was average, ordinary, boring even. Just another guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Had they been told why he was there? Doubtful.
But Phillip knew why. And that’s what terrified him.
They said he’d murdered someone. Again.
Eight Hours Earlier.
Phillip drove as fast as he dared, anxious to terminate the date from hell.
“I had a good time tonight,” Melissa said, “How about you?”
“I don’t know how you could say that. I thought we got along great.”
“Do you have any idea how obnoxious you were? You guzzled a bottle of wine before the food even arrived.”
“I was trying to have fun Phillip.”
Sighing, “Yeah, I know.”
“The night doesn’t have to end. You can stay if you want.”
Phillip thought of a hundred ways to answer her, but none seemed…safe.
“So…” Melissa pleaded, “Will you stay?”
“I said I’d go out with you Melissa, but that’s it. I told you, I have to get up really early.”
He parked next to the apartment complex’s entrance, left the motor running, and willed her to get out.
“At least walk me to the door,” she said. “It’s dark out there.”
Reluctantly, Phillip shut off the car, and got out.
He walked to the passenger side, mumbling, “When will I ever learn how to say no?”
She still hadn’t budged. So, he did what he was forced to do and opened her door. She took her sweet time getting out, giving him a clear shot at the gap between her bare thighs. She was hot.
That should have been his first clue he was in over his head.
Walking toward the building, she tried to hold his hand. Phillip faked a cough and put his hands in his pockets.
He opened the lobby door and said, “Well, good night then.”
Melissa gazed up at him, “You can’t just leave me here. I’m on the second floor, and this place creeps me out at night.”
“Please Phillip? It won’t take long. I promise.”
Holding back a sigh, he swept his arm, indicating she should lead the way.
She pushed the elevator up-button.
Once inside, she grabbed his hand again. Too quickly this time for him to pull away smoothly.
At her door, she handed him the key and waited. Once the door was opened, she shoved him inside and kicked it closed behind her. She was on him before he knew it. Her hand found its way down the front of his jeans so quickly he wondered if she practiced the move.
Three minutes later, he pulled his zipper up again. He thought she’d fallen asleep, but she stirred. Chocking back a sob, she said, “You can’t leave me now, I love you.”
He didn’t know how to respond. No witty comeback came to mind. He was too frightened to move.
The crying increased, the pleading grew stronger.
“Please, Phillip? Stay with me.”
Still at a loss for words, Phillip turned and grasped the door knob. He actually thought he was going to make it until she said, “I’ll kill myself if you leave. I swear I will.”
Phillip released the knob and just stood there. His back to her, waiting. He didn’t know how seriously to take her. He barely knew her. Before tonight, it was just a flirting game, a game he never expected to win.
“Please Phillip,” she implored. “Turn around and look at me.”
He bolted and didn’t look back.
The incessant pounding woke him.
Are you kidding me right now? First the nightmare date from hell, and then this. It had to be his neighbor.
“Alright already,” Phillip yelled.
He shuffled across the polished wood floor, grabbed his neighbor’s spare key off the hook, and snatched the front door open, “You’re not Tom,” Phillip said.
“No, I’m not.”
The cheap, rumpled suit and the scuffed black shoes should have been clue enough, but Phillip wasn’t feeling compliant.
“Who are you? And what could you possible want at 3:00 am?”
The suit moved his wrinkled jacket aside and showed him the badge clipped to his belt. “My name is Detective Lentz, and yours is?”
“You knocked on my door,” Phillip said. “I would think that would be obvious.”
“You always this funny when a cop knocks on your door at 3:00 am?”
Barely disguising his mounting frustration, Phillip said, “Detective Lentz, I had a long night, and I need to get up for work in a couple hours. What can I do for you?”
The detective rummaged through his beat-up notebook and said, “Do you know a woman named Melissa Barrett?”
“Not really? You sure you wanna stick with that answer?”
Phillip’s mind was reeling. What had this crazy woman gotten him into?
“Mr. Tripp. Can I come in?”
“I’d rather you didn’t”
The detective chuckled and not in a nice way. “Then, we can continue this conversation down at the station.”
Phillip moved aside and allowed the cop to enter. Detective Lentz walked around the apartment, inspecting his things.
“I let you in. I didn’t say you could riffle through my stuff.”
“Do you have something to hide Mr. Tripp?”
Ignoring the question, “What do you want detective?”
“What happened at Miss Barrett’s apartment?”
“Nothing happened,” he stammered. Knowing it was a mistake as soon as the words left his mouth.
“Phillip, Phillip, Phillip,” the detective said. “This isn’t going very well for you.”
“I went out with the…lunatic, okay? When we got to her place, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. She practically raped me.”
Detective Lentz laughed again. He waved his hand in front of Phillip and said, “Are you trying to tell me that Miss Barrett couldn’t control herself around you?”
“It’s the truth,” Phillip sputtered. “You saw what she looked like. What was I supposed to do? I was in and out in five minutes. She got what she wanted, and then she freaked out. Said if I didn’t stay with her she was going to kill herself. She said she loved me. It was a first date for god’s sake.”
“Do you always get so lucky on first dates Phillip? Because, I just don’t see it.”
“No. This never happens to me.”
“You see,” Detective Lentz said, “That, I can believe.”
“So, what did she do?”
“It’s not what she did Phillip, it’s what you did.”
“What do you mean, what I did?”
“I mean, someone killed her. You were the last one to see her alive. So, you tell me.”
“You can’t be serious,” Phillip said. “She was fine when I left.”
“We found empty wine bottles, crushed-up pills, and two glasses on the coffee table. One with your prints on it. So what am I supposed to believe?”
Visibly shaking now, Phillip asked, “How did she die?”
“Someone, probably you, smashed her head into the bathroom mirror. We found her face down in her own blood. Her face completely destroyed.”
“No way,” Phillip said, backing away.
“Get your shoes Phillip, you’re coming with me.”
“But…I didn’t do anything.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot. Get your shoes.”
Phillip started toward his bedroom, when the detective said, “Where do you think you’re going? Put those on,” pointing to the work boots by the front door.
Phillip still hadn’t eaten. He could hear the rumbling of his stomach, over the chattering of his teeth.
Lentz finally showed up with a tray of food, “It’s not much, but it’ll fill you up.”
“Lotta pepper,” he said.
“It’s not pepper,” Lentz said, “It’s sand.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
“Nope. No joke. This way you get your vitamins, and your minerals at the same time.”
“No, not really, dumb-ass. No wonder you’re in trouble. Come on, you’re
Looking over at the stripe filled benches, Phillip asked, “How come, I’m not in one of those?”
“Do you want to be?”
“No, I was just curious.”
“Stop asking questions.”
The detective hustled him past the curious stares of jump-suited men, and left him in a small cell. Alone. Cold. With sandy greens.
“Stay here. I’ll be back later.”
“Where am I gonna go?”
Hours later, Lentz drove across town and parked in the rear of the building. He took the elevator to the second floor and stopped at her door. She opened on the first knock and said, “Did you teach that loser a lesson?”
“Of course, I did. I always keep my end of a bargain,” Lentz said.
“So do I,” Melissa said, grinning mischievously.
Once inside, Lentz said, “Why don’t you put on something a little more…celebratory, and I’ll fill you in.”
“Okay. Don’t miss me too much.”
Lentz took notice of the bottle of wine and what looked like the remains of white powder on the coffee table. Taking a fresh wine glass from the kitchen, he walked to the beat-up couch, poured himself a glass, and topped hers off with the wine and half a baggie of white powder.
Melissa came out wearing very little. A pair of black thong panties and a skimpy see-through blouse. Phillip hadn’t been wrong, she was hot. And crazy.
“Come, sit with me. Time to pay up.”
She giggled like a little school girl and jumped onto his lap. “Not yet Melissa. Let’s have a drink first, then I’ll fill you in.”
Impatient as ever, she slammed her glass of wine and said, “Now tell me.”
“Okay. I woke your boyfriend up at 3:00 am, and…”
“He’s not my boyfriend.”
“Anyway,” Lentz said, “I grilled him at his apartment and listened to him lie a couple times, then I took him to the station.”
She interrupted again, “Where’s he now?”
Lentz said, “I ran his prints and learned a few things about your boyfr…, about Phillip, that you failed to tell me.”
“What are you talking about,” she slurred.
“He’s been in trouble before. More than a little actually. Seems he was the prime suspect in his first wife’s death. The cops questioned him for days until he snapped. Turned out he was innocent, but he ended up institutionalized for 14 months anyway. If I knew how unstable the guy was, I never would have left him alone in a cell. With his boots on.”
“Why” she slurred again, worse this time. “How did I get so high?”
“Maybe it was the four oxy’s I put in your wine.”
“You what? Why?”
“Because Melissa, your twisted little games forced me to book a corpse. Do you understand what I’m saying? Your boyfriend hung himself in his cell. I’m sorry, but you only left me one way out. And you’re it.
She tried to get up, so he placed his service revolver on the table in front of him.
“Just sit tight. It’ll be over soon.”
Detective Lentz watched as the drugs kicked in, and her life flowed out. It was too bad really. He was looking forward to collecting her end of the bargain.