Jeff stared at the bare ceiling. With great effort, he wiped his eyes – clearing his blurry vision. Exhaustion overwhelmed him. He felt as though he hadn’t slept in weeks. Waking up was the hardest part of his day. He did sleep, though. He could vaguely recall the nightmares he’d had. Small, blurry visions filled with blood.
It took all of his willpower to keep himself from staring at the empty space next to him as he slowly slid out of bed. He’d hoped everything would be over soon, then he could finally rest. Not now, though. Today was important. Today would be the day he killed the man who killed his wife.
He grabbed his glasses from his end table and slowly sauntered into the kitchen – scratching his long, unkempt beard. The sun was shining through the window above his kitchen sink. It was beautiful outside. There was a time when he would have taken advantage of such a wonderful day. He’d loved to play soccer or bike along the seawall. Now he couldn’t remember the last time he’d left the house.
Jeff placed a cigarette between his lips but didn’t light it. Reaia hated his smoking. She would never approve of it in the house. He lit the tip with a wooden match and blew the smoke at the closed window. It bounced back and surrounded him – blocking his vision of the outside. He needed a coffee.
Flicking on the coffee maker, Jeff took another long drag from his cigarette. The smell of the percolating coffee slowly pushed its way through the smoke. It moved through the house like a warm breeze. He sighed a long, heavy sigh as he searched for a mug.
He searched through the pile of dirty mugs and plates in the sink to find something clean enough to drink out of. As he pushed through the dishes, the familiar smell of mold and sour food seeped out. He’d barely noticed it anymore. Defeated, he reached under the sink and pulled out a sealed, brown box with the words “KITCHEN” written along the top in black letters.
He’d been living out of boxes since he’d moved in. There were a few empty ones that Reaia had unpacked the day of the move but they had contained mostly books and small nick nacks. He tore the tape on the top of the box and folded back the flaps. Dishes piled to the top without any hint of organization. This must have been one of the boxes he’d packed. She really gave him a hard time about how he packed. Jeff caught sight of a small, ceramic mug handle sticking out from underneath a large dinner plate.
Pulling the pots and plates out of the box, he placed them on the counter. He stared at the small white mug that was laying at the bottom. Reaia’s mug. Memories flooded into his head at a rapid pace. The kinds of memories that never really go away, just grow silent. They now screamed in his head. His thoughts rushed passed the happy memories – first kiss, wedding, anniversaries; they were just a blur. He tried desperately to hold onto them. It was like blowing up a balloon that slips from your fingers. You try to grab it as it flies through the air – darting this way and that. You try to pinch the end and keep it whole but it quickly deflates and falls to the ground.
He wished he could wallow in the sad-happiness created by those memories. Instead, he could only think of her death. His thoughts slowed, recalling every moment in painstaking detail. He heard the ghostly sounds of his shoes scuffing against the walkway as he’d made his way to his front door. He could remember the sobering worry that came over him when he’d realized the door was open. The deafening creek as he had pushed it to reveal his wife laying on the floor.
Her book, “The Vegetarian Myth”, had laid crumpled on the floor next to her, as if someone had trampled it. Rushing to her, he’d dropped to his knees. He’d quickly checked her pulse and her head had fallen limp in his hands. Grabbing his phone he’d dialled 911. He had screamed something into the phone – a chain of words he could no longer remember. For an eternity he’d sat there, holding her in his arms.
Police had rushed in through the opened front door. He’d barely noticed them. They’d shouted something at him but he couldn’t make sense of it. He’d only stared down at his wife and stroked her dark hair. One of the officers had gripped his shoulder. Jeff remembered looking up to see a friendly face in a blurry sea of strangers.
Jordan Lidstone was a friend, he was Mark Lidstone’s brother and he was also one of the best cops in the Vancouver area. Without saying a word, he’d helped Jeff to his feet and led him outside. Jeff could only watch as a mob of people swarmed his dead wife.
The coffee maker beeped – pulling Jeff back to reality. The cigarette between his lips had burned away leaving behind a long cylinder of ash. He tossed it into the sink and grabbed the mug from the box. He felt much more than just sadness now. He was blinded by grief and anger.
After filling his mug, Jeff pulled a dirty one from the pile in the sink for his guest. The mug smelled of spoiled milk and a thick fuzz covered the bottom. He filled it with coffee and the mold floated to the top. He carefully carried the two mugs of steaming coffee down the stairs to his basement.
After Jordan had lured Jeff outside on the night of Reaia’s death, he’d stayed with him. He’d watched Jeff smoke without saying a word. Once the majority of police had left, he’d sat on the stoop next to Jeff. “Do you have any idea who could have done this?” Jordan had asked.
Jeff had known exactly who it was. He’d watched his neighbour flirt with Reaia that entire day. Tommy eyed her with eyes that wanted more than just sex. He couldn’t tell Jordan. Jail was too good for that son of a bitch. “No,” Jeff lied.
Careful not to spill the hot coffee, Jeff flicked the light switch with his elbow. The light revealed a small basement filled with sealed moving boxes. In the middle of the room, laying on the floor covered in blood and duct tape, was a man. His arms were bound to his sides and his legs were taped together in four thick strips of duct tape. He looked like some kind of morbidly twisted caterpillar. “Coffee?” Jeff asked without a hint of humour.
Jeff took a sip of the black coffee floating in Reaia’s mug. He recoiled when it burned his lip. He approached the man and watched him struggle to open his eyes. Without saying anything, Jeff poured the entire cup of coffee over the moaning man’s face. His screams were muffled by the tape that covered his mouth and he bucked his head back in pain – shutting his eyes.
The mere sight of Tommy sent Jeff into a fit of rage. With great force, he slammed his own mug of coffee onto the whimpering man’s head – shattering it as he did. He watched Tommy squirm in pain. He sobbed against the tape as blood from his fresh head wound trickled into his eyes.
Jeff silently lit another cigarette. The smoke billowed around him as he slowly exhaled. Torturing the man who’d killed his wife brought no satisfaction, no relief, nothing at all. He saw it only as a task that needed doing – and it had gone on long enough.
Dropping his cigarette to the floor, Jeff promptly stomped it out. He reached to the shelf above him and grabbed a knife. He pulled it from it’s leather casing and stared in wonder at the blade. The knife had been sitting there for days, waiting for this moment. The blade was stained with blood and he couldn’t understand why.
He paused as he felt a memory slowly trying to creep its way into his thoughts. It was like a dream promptly forgotten upon waking. He knew it was there, he could almost remember traces of it. It was blurry and faint but slowly coming into focus.
“Jeff.” A voice from behind him shattered his concentration. He looked back to see the bleeding man struggling to raise his head from the hard floor. The tape had unpeeled from his lips. “What are you doing, man?” he asked. “It’s me.”
Anger and frustration overwhelmed Jeff. “Shut up!” he screamed. “You don’t get to talk.” He stormed towards the bound body.
“No, man. Don’t. Stop.” he screamed in protest.
Jeff dropped to the floor and pressed a knee into Tommy’s chest, pinning him down. He pressed the tape back over his mouth – muffling his screams.
“You killed my wife,” he moaned. “You killed her!” Spit shot from his mouth as tears and mucus flowed down his face. Tommy quickly shook his head and cried against the tape.
Jeff brought the knife down into the left side of Tommy’s throat, burying it to the handle. Blood oozed out and pooled onto the cement floor. Tommy’s body twitched and convulsed as Jeff dragged the knife along his throat – sawing at it like a piece of thick beef. The blood bubbled at the wound for a short while until Tommy’s body finally went limp.
Jeff’s hand shook as he pulled them away, leaving the knife in Tommy’s throat. He buried his face in his bloody palms and cried uncontrollably. There was no relief. Only anger. With a scream of frustration, Jeff grabbed the knife from the throat of the dead man.
Pain shot through his body as he was pushed hard to the cement floor. His face scraped the rough surface and a heavy boot pressed firmly against his hand, forcing him to drop the knife. Two hands roughly grabbed both of his arms and brought them around his back, tightening steel bracelets around his wrists.
Confused and winded, Jeff looked around to try and ID his attacker. Two heavy black boots stepped in front of him. He tilted his head up and saw the barrel of a gun and a shining police badge. He’d suspected this would happen eventually. He had only hoped he would have more time.
Jeff watched as the officers circled his basement – their boots clicking against the floor. The cop in front of him spoke into a radio attached to his shoulder and a crackling voice responded. Jeff watched a younger cop searching for something. The cop’s eyes were red and his body retched. Jeff caught the senior cop take notice and eye him wearily.
“You alright there rookie?” the officer asked him.
“Yes, sir.” The rookie gagged and buried his face in his sleeve. “The smell. It’s getting to me. Real bad, sir.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it,” he answered. “Just find what’s causing it.”
Jeff didn’t understand what they meant. He couldn’t smell anything. He panicked when the rookie cop started unstacking boxes marked “REAIA’S STUFF”. Those boxes belonged there. They were supposed to stay there.
“Hey!” Jeff shouted. “Don’t touch those. Don’t you fucking touch those boxes.”
Jeff was jerked to his feet and shoved towards the door by the officer who had tackled him.
“Sir,” said the younger cop. “I think we have something over here.” He pulled away the boxes that were leaning against a wall and revealed a door. The door seemed strangely familiar but Jeff couldn’t remember ever opening it. He could barely even remember being in the basement since the move, other than to deal with Tommy.
The senior cop let go of his radio and joined the rookie. Together, they pulled open a door revealing a dark storage room. Jeff struggled to see what was inside but he was pushed towards the stairs by the large cop who had tackled him.
“Jesus Christ!” screamed the senior officer after the door had been opened. He gagged and quickly buried his face into his arm. The junior cop turned away – dashing for the corner of the room leaving a trail of vomit in his path.
Jeff didn’t understand what was going on. Even the officer dragging him away began to gag. Jeff struggled, trying to break free. He needed to see what was in that room.
“What is it?” Jeff screamed at them.
The giant officer grabbed him with both hands now and pushed him up the stairs. He left behind the sounds of the buzzing radio and the vomiting rookie.
The room was empty and the walls bare. Jeff tried to adjust his arm to relieve some of the discomfort caused by the handcuffs that kept him bound to the cold, steel table. He could hear the officers speaking on the other side of the door. He felt a slight sense of relief when he heard a familiar voice join in the conversation.
“What happened?” he heard Jordan ask the group of officers.
“We got a call from the neighbours,” said one of the officers. He didn’t recognize the voice and assumed it was the man who had handcuffed him. “They were complaining about a terrible smell coming from the house.”
“It was bad, sir.” Jeff recognized the voice as that of the Junior officer that had thrown up in the corner of his basement. “We could smell it as soon as we pulled up.”
“We knocked on the door but there was no answer,” said the first officer. “We were about to leave when we heard screaming from inside. The door was unlocked so we rushed in and followed the sound into the basement. We found this sick son of a bitch crouched over the body.”
Jeff felt no remorse for what he did. Tommy deserved to die. There was nothing he could do that would make him feel the pain that Jeff had felt. Jordan would understand that. He would help him.
“I found a storage room,” said the junior. His voice was a mix of pride and disgust. “Two more bodies inside. It was awful, sir.” He paused. “The smell…”
Jeff stared hard at the door. Bodies? He didn’t understand what they meant.
“We’ve identified the victims, sir,” said the first officer. “It’s all in the folder.”
“Thanks,” said Jordan. “I’ll take a look at it. I’m going to have a word with him.”
The door slowly opened and Jeff watched his friend enter the room with a sombre look on his face. He wore plain clothes and his badge dangled around his neck on a rope. He carried a brown folder with a case number written on it. He sat at the table across from Jeff.
“What did you do, man?” Jordan asked with pity in his voice.
“He deserved it, Jordan,” he answered. “He killed Reaia.”
“Jeff, Tommy killed Reaia.”
“I..” Jeff started.
“Tommy is dead, Jeff. He died weeks ago, don’t you remember?” Jordan’s eyes were filled with concern and fear. “We went to his house together, the night Reaia died. You told me it was him. We went in a found him hanging from his bathroom ceiling.”
Jeff looked down at his hands in confusion. “No, that…” he shook his head to clear his thoughts. “I killed Tommy. I had no other choice. He needed to die.”
“No, Jeff. You killed three people. We found the bodies in the storage room.” Jordan rubbed his eyes and shook his head. Jeff watched dumfounded as Jordan opened the brown folder and stared down at the paper. It was mere seconds before Jordan’s eyes darted back to Jeff’s. They were filled with horror and his face paled. Jeff frowned at his friend in confusion.
“What?” Jeff was afraid to ask the question. He forced a swallow. “What does it say?”
Shaking his head, Jordan looked at the files again. Jeff watched Jordan’s face tighten as he swallowed profusely. A sudden sob escaped his lips, starting Jeff. He tried to ask him what was wrong but Jordan covered his mouth and shook his head as tears dripped from his eyelids.
Jordan pushed himself up from the table and Jeff watched him walk to the door on shaking legs.
“Jordan.” Jeff pleaded for some kind of answer.
Jordan paused for a moment, leaning against the handle as if to regain his composure. Repressed moans escaped his lips as he left the room, closing the door behind him.
Jeff didn’t understand what was happening. With his free hand, he pulled the folder towards him. There were three sheets of paper covered in writing. Attached to each one, with a paperclip, was a Polaroid. Two pictures were of partially decomposed bodies bounded in duct tape. A hint of familiarity emerged from the back of Jeff’s mind. The pictures were labelled “Eric Wada” and “Ryan Eves”. That couldn’t be right. They were his closest friends. It didn’t make any sense.
He looked at the third photo. It had been taken shortly after he’d killed Tommy. Something wasn’t right. Everything was how he left it but it wasn’t Tommy laying on the floor. He read the name underneath. “Mark Lidstone”.
The shadows cast by the barred windows stretched along the floor. Jeff felt nothing. His whole life felt like a blur. He was in jail but he couldn’t remember why. His only real memory was of holding his dead wife in his arms. Whatever the reason, he was grateful to be there.
He stared across his cell at his sleeping cellmate. “Tommy,” he whispered to himself. Today was important. Today would be the day he killed the man who killed his wife.