This story is by Eric Holdorf and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
After Jonesy was found crumpled over from a kneeling position in a pool of blood, it was an odd first question. For Ken it was an execution – a bullet hole in the back of the head, exit wound on the face – then Phil said, “Why make coffee if you’re gonna off yourself?”
Ken turned and gave Phil a look of ridicule, goading Phil to respond, “C’mon, why kill yourself over some broad?”
Ken wasn’t sure how coffee led to a dead Jonesy on the yellow linoleum. He was first in the house, going past the couch and the flat screen TV to the kitchen, where Jonesy lay. All the windows were locked, and nothing was knocked over or broken. All the white cabinets were closed. Everything looked normal, except for Jonesy. Was it natural to fall like that? And his coffee was set on the floor, as if following an order to set it down. Jonesy flopped next to, but didn’t hit the coffee. Ken squatted down and looked under the table. It was clean. Phil breezed in after a few minutes and asked why make coffee.
“But why the coffee on the floor?” Ken waited to see Phil’s reaction, then reached over and picked up the coffee cup. “Smells like coffee. It’s cold. I’m confused.” Careful not to look at the exit wound in Jonesy’s forehead, he set the mug on the table and planted his hands on nearest table corners to hold himself up, and hung his head. He had shared a lot with Jonesy: rookie detectives and trial separations, and both splits turned permanent.
Phil sat at the opposite end of the table and pulled out a cigarette and popped it on his lips.
“How do you get to suicide?” Ken said.
“Of course, it is. The gun’s a Browning nine millimeter.” Phil leaned over and looked at the feet of Jonesy. “Dollars to donuts, it’s Jonesy’s.”
Ken made his right hand into the shape of a pistol and reached behind his head. “It’s awkward, makes it hard to shoot straight? Why not go through the mouth, and save your face.”
Phil hunched his shoulders, “I think he killed himself. Look where the gun is.”
Leaning over, Ken nodded. The gun could land there from Jonesy’s hand behind his head, but it’d be easier for someone to blow Jonesy’s brains out, then toss the gun there. “There’s a higher probability of messing up and wounding yourself instead of offing yourself.”
“If you’re suicidal, you don’t think straight,” Phil said.
Ken went to the sink and looked out the window. He and Jonesy drifted apart when Jonesy went undercover. It took a while, but Jonesy busted a huge drug ring. He was feted by most, but given the cold shoulder by some. In the two years Jones had been back in investigations, they’d say “hi” to each other in the hall while Jones was slowly unravelling. Looking at Jonesy’s bare feet, Ken wished he had stopped by to say “how you doin’,” when Jones was put on paid leave. Jonesy’s ex, Marie, called this morning and said she hadn’t heard from Jonesy in a week.
Ken turned around and said to Phil, “You think Marie had something to do with this?”
“No, not Marie. She’s truly a sweetheart. Maybe the other one he got caught screwing when he was undercover.”
Ken felt awkward, but he had to ask about the rumor. “Was Marie seeing anybody on the force?”
“Not a chance,” Phil said.
A quick response when Ken expected Phil to chew over what he might say. Ken never talked in absolutes unless he knew the details.
“Who’s the other woman?” Ken knew, but wanted to hear what Phil heard.
“Swetlana. You met her?”
“I met her once or twice. Cute. I didn’t know they were serious.”
“Old Jonesy wanted his cake and wanted to eat it too. He and Swetlana went through a lot undercover. When he came out, he wanted to keep Marie and Swetlana. A harem is never a good move. Marie deserved better.”
Ken didn’t like the way Phil said it and felt he was missing something. He shouldn’t ask it, yet went ahead: “What was Swetlana saying Jones should do?”
Phil looked at him like he was embarrassed by the question.
“I heard through the grapevine she wanted him to …” Phil put a finger gun to the back of his head and mouthed boom.
They looked at each other, surprised, like they didn’t know each other.
The silence lasted a few moments, as Phil toyed with his lighter, didn’t light the cigarette, and Ken stared at him.
“Cut the shit,” Phil said as he slammed his hand on the table. “You got your piece?”
Ken didn’t take his eyes off of Phil’s eyes as he patted his jacket near his right hip. Phil did the same. They stared at each other for a few more moments, until Phil kicked the chair. “Sit down. You make me nervous.”
After Ken sat down, Phil said “Don’t believe what you hear.” He motioned between himself and Ken with the lighter. “We got to stick together.”
Ken didn’t respond.
The silence pushed Phil to say, “It looks obvious. Right?”
Ken shook his head. “You think she had something to do with his mental state?” Ken wanted Phil to talk, to paint the floor. Would he paint himself into a corner or a doorway out?
“Yeah. She likes guys doing stupid things,” Phil said.
“You either go undercover because you’re crazy, or you come out crazy. When you’re cut off from your old life, it’s hard not to diddle someone else. I thought he was giving up Swetlana. Said she was vindicative.”
“Was she ever. Said she’d spill the dirt on some undercover misadventures.”
Ken had talked to Jonesy about the questionable things he did when under, and admitted some, saying everybody took a little. However, Ken was surprised Phil knew so much because when Phil came up in conversation, Jonesy said he would never trust him. So how would Phil know? He wasn’t so senior to be briefed on undercover.
“What was she holding in the bag?” Ken asked.
“Jones was enjoying Swetlana and one of the floozies from a different drug boss.”
“Not cool, but living the high life doesn’t put you behind bars.”
“Swetie claimed Jones was skimming off the top. He didn’t report on some of the heavyweights.”
Jonesy had shown Ken some texts Swetlana had sent, and they detailed a knowledge of police operations you wouldn’t get unless you had a connection, enticing Jones to remark: “I got more than a love triangle, I got myself a Love Parallelogram, because the connections aren’t straight but they move in tandem.” At the time, Ken asked Jonesy, who was the fourth corner, the fourth dot, besides Marie, Swetlana and himself. Jones only shook his head.
Ken looked down at Jonesy, thinking he was dead less than two days because there was no stench, only a faint off smell. He looked back up to Phil. “So how does Swetie spill the beans on Jonesy and not get dirty.”
“She’d probably get dirty. Being in love, she’d spite her face to get back at her nose. Plus, the one who tells first gets some leniency.”
“Still, it’d be her word against his word. As bad as Jonesy was, he was more trustworthy than Swetie.”
“You’d think so, but she’d get some support on the inside.”
“I don’t know. Claimed she had a love parallelogram.” Phil laughed.
Ken felt warm and sweaty, then cold and clammy. He stood and went towards the window again as he felt flush, thinking of the four corners of a parallelogram. The skyscrapers loomed in the fading sun. Another cold night. It’s a big world out there. Some people, like Phil, said it was filled with good and evil. Not true. It’s filled with people. Looking at Jones, the faded jeans, the gray sweatshirt, he thought how strange the body would never move again. He’d be haunted for years, knowing the killer, and knowing he skipped away. If he didn’t put the fourth dot behind bars, he’d resign. Looking at Jonesy’s brown hair, matted like he hadn’t showered, he reminisced; they used to be friends, but Jones was no good for a while. He could say the same about Phil.
“Give me a minute.” Ken walked outside, sitting on the picnic table, in a strip of sunshine. He took out his cell, dialed. Phil looked at him from inside the kitchen window. Ken smiled at Phil and made a fake laugh while he waited for the line to be picked up.
“Bob, this is Ken.” He turned away from the kitchen window. “I’m at one ten Wentworth. I need back-up immediately. There’s a murder suspect inside.”