2008 Short-Story Contest: 2nd place winner "Within Reason"
Published: January 12, 2009
There were only three good reasons to kill a man, Jason Tripper thought. Money, love (and by love he meant sex), or revenge. Occasionally the line was blurred between the three or they became inextricably tangled, but that was basically it. There was also killing for the sake of it, for the pure thrill, but that would make you a sociopath and Jason Tripper knew he was no sociopath.
Jason took a long, slow drag from his cigarette then ground the ember out on the sole of his boot. He touched the end to ensure it was out, put the butt into his pants pocket, and pulled on black leather gloves. It was chilly for May and he zipped his jacket up closer to his neck.
Jason looked down at the body of the old man. He never thought of him by name. This was revenge, pure and simple, although he'd had no beef with the old man. There was that line, blurring again. Jason frowned. The body was too hidden from view. He bent and grabbed the old man under the arms and dragged him out a couple of feet from behind the dumpster. Didn't want him lying there for days. The nights were chilly but May days could really warm up.
From an inside jacket pocket Jason produced a zip lock bag and extracted a cigarette butt. He placed it next to the dumpster. From the same bag, Jason removed a used piece of chewing gum. This he placed just under the shoulder of the old man. God, he loved DNA. Whoever invented the stuff should be given a medal. Jason took a final look around. He contemplated removing the cord from around the old man's neck but decided it was a nice touch. He still had a crumpled napkin but figured that would be overkill. After all, Ricky Davis wasn't stupid.
Ricky Davis was a low-life, drug-dealing waste of skin. At least that was Jason Tripper's opinion. And it had been Jason's information that had been the final piece of the puzzle, the final piece that had put the cops over the threshold into Davis's house. But the search warrant had been tossed in court. Even though the cops had scored big time. Almost 100% pure cocaine. And in not so many words the judge had called Jason a liar. Had basically told him that he was lucky he wasn't being charged with perjury.
The drug-dealing scum got off and he, Jason, was left feeling the criminal. That he had perjured himself was not the point. That the information he had provided for the search warrant was fabricated was also not the point. The kilo of coke was the point. It had been there. And Ricky Davis had been caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar.
Finding himself in the same coffee shop with Davis several days later had been fortuitous indeed. Jason had been sitting in a rear booth near the washrooms when he noticed Davis come in and sit down at a table facing him. They made eye contact and Davis smirked, depositing his gum onto the side of a plate. Jason maintained a stony stare. His lunch eaten, Davis wiped his mouth and tossed the used napkin onto the table. He lit a cigarette with a black disposable lighter, stood, and walked towards Jason. As he passed his table Davis muttered something, about how Jason wasn't out harassing anyone that day. Jason muttered in return that the day was young yet. The washroom door closed on his words but Jason knew Davis had heard them.
When the door whooshed open again Jason prepared himself for another smart exchange of words. Instead, Davis stopped beside the table and ground his cigarette out on Jason's unfinished plate before walking away without a word. Jason stared at the crushed butt. A slight smile creased his face and he picked it up with a napkin. He placed both carefully in his pocket. Leaving the restaurant, Jason stopped briefly at Davis's table. On the pretext of taking a napkin from the metal dispenser, he carefully lifted the gum and slipped Davis's empty water glass and used napkin under his jacket.
And what of the old man? Jason had been trading porn on line with him for months. He'd also been pretending he was an eleven-year-old boy and their long anticipated meet had come just at the right time. Now he was dead and a glass bearing the fingerprints of Ricky Davis was sitting on his kitchen table. No loss to anyone, Jason Tripper believed, and maybe he had even performed a community service. Now it was just up to the cops to do their job.
It didn't take long. Several days after the old man's body had been found, Jason was asked to meet with the plainclothes squad. He was taken to a video monitor room. The camera was trained on Davis sitting alone in a room barren of furniture save for a desk and two chairs.
"He wants to talk to you." The officer monitoring the camera flipped a switch and the screen went blank.
"Me?" Jason's heart pumped harder and he knew immediately that had he been hooked up to a polygraph, he would have failed the test.
The officer shrugged and nodded his head towards a closed door across the hall. As Jason took the door handle in his hand, he glanced back at the monitor room. The officer was clicking off the audio recording and turning off the lights.
Jason entered the interview room and sat in the only other chair in the room, the one without wheels. It flew in the face of all good interviewing techniques for the prisoner to have the chair with wheels. Jason looked at Davis. He had been the one who wanted to talk to him, so let him talk.
"You show me yours and I'll show you mine," Davis said.
"Meaning?" Where was this going?
Davis made to reach into his jacket and Jason went automatically for his service pistol on his right hip. Guns weren't allowed in the interview rooms, but Jason had never been much for the rules.
"Settle," Davis said to him as he slowly pulled open his jacket and reached into an inside pocket. He laid a wallet size black leather folder on the table and flipped it open with one finger. One side held a photo id card; the other, a shiny gold badge, identical to the one Jason carried in his back pants pocket.
"You're UC?" Jason knew the answer but asked the question anyway. "Why didn't anyone tell me?"
"Now isn't that the point of undercover?" Davis gave Jason a you-stupid-jerk look. Then he leaned forward and whispered, "I know what you did."
Jason began to short-circuit his imaginary lie detector machine. Pulse racing, palms sweating, shallow, rapid breathing. Concentrate, he told himself. Slow it down. With his elbow on the chair's armrest, Jason placed his left thumb under his chin and rubbed his upper lip with his index finger. Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. Slow it down. His left hand was in front of his mouth covering the breathing exercise. In and out; slow it down.
Jason could feel the tension leaving his body. "What is it you think you know?"
"Everything. The old man, the DNA plants, the fingerprints." Davis ticked them off on his fingers. "Oh, and the porn. Nicely done. Couldn't even trace it back to you."
Jason allowed himself a hint of a smile. "Who else knows?"
"Only those who need to. Everything is need-to-know. You'll see."
"What does that mean?"
"We could use a man like you." Davis sat back in his chair. "Someone with your … let's say … skill set."
"What about the old man?"
"Taken care of. Call it your initiation. Interested?"
"Does it pay?" Jason asked. "I mean, on top of regular salary."
"Of course it pays, friend. Nothing's free."
Jason smiled. Money. One of the three good reasons.
--Posted Jan. 12, 2009