“Oh… no…” was my first reaction.
Profuse palpitations to Himalayan heights was my second.
I will explain- try to explain what happened, to the best of my ability… but I am not betting on your understanding.
Betting… yes, that is where it all began.
Steve was a dear friend from the office. We grew close when I hit the office lottery. In fact, he was so sweet that he introduced me to the wonderful world of betting cause in Steve’s words “why come down when you can keep going up?”
One Friday night when we had gone out to celebrate the lottery, he took me to this small back room of a Chinese restaurant and introduced me to a bunch of strangers who took my money and asked me to choose my favourite. The bet was to see which one can dance; the Labrador or the Rottweiler.
“Labs are cute but it is the Rotts that get all the bets.” Steve had suggested. So nice of him to go out of his way and share such precious advice even though he had already placed his money on the Labrador. I gave it three tries; different bets each time. Steve said I should not lose hope after just one defeat. But it wasn’t his fault that I had ROTTen luck! And because he is a man with a golden heart, he stuck around to console me when I lost the entire lottery money along with the office-car in one single night.
Now I am not proud of this, but it did go on for some time. Steve would graciously bring me these betting deals and I would royally mess them up. But no matter how useless I was, Steve was always there for me. He cared for me.
Or so I told myself.
One day, I realised that I was in debt. ’How’ you ask? Well, when my bank account started losing weight, Steve was good enough to suggest that I should borrow from him and pay back whenever I could. Turns out, there was a deadline, after all, I just never checked with him; silly me!
And to top it off, the one who came to collect was Steve himself! He was the one running the betting joints where he used to take me. So technically, I had lost all of my money to him and now I owed him his money. In a separate part of my brain, I couldn’t help but feel amazed at how he managed that side business while working full time at the office. Well done Steve the liar!
Thankfully, I am not married so my wife didn’t leave me but I had a fish and I think it farted its brains out when Steve broke down my apartment door two hours ago, around nine ‘o'clock.
It went something like this:
“Matt, buddy, you know you have to pay back the money I gave you, right?” Steven said as he flipped the dining table chair and sat on it, backwards.
“Steve, I will pay you back, you know me!” I begged.
“That’s not good enough Matt. I need it now, or I’ll have to send you somewhere far, far away.” Steve said and he pulled out a knife from his right boot.
“Are you going to… kill me?”
“Of course not, you’re a friend!” What a gentleman! “But I will need you to lap dance at my gay club so that you can pay it back ASAP.” He owns a strip club?! How many jobs does he have?
That is when I understood for the first time. Steve wasn’t all sunshine; somewhere deep, deep inside him, there was darkness. Maybe all the good I saw was just a mask. Either way, I knew that I could no longer trust him.
What happened next was purely accidental, I swear on the wife I might have! I tried to run past him, he grabbed me, I shoved him and he… hit his head on the table! I didn’t know what to do so I packed him up in a suitcase and went where I knew I would get help; my best friend’s house.
Now, you must think that the friend of someone klutzy like me will be equally stupid. But Jack is different; he’s a genius! I have known him since college and not once has he not been smart. There’s so much more to him than sassy remarks and a knack for tact; the guy is a walking-talking solution-er. He can slip out of any slime and you won’t even see him wiggle. Plus, he never lets his emotions get the better of him. Some might even call him a brick-faced douche, hell I know they do! But not me, I know who he truly is.
So now, I am standing in front of his house with my suitcase full of Steve.
I just hope he’s home.
Matt’s POV ends
“Coming” Jack’s voice came after a few seconds. He opened the door and popped his head out cautiously. A lean man with a pointy jaw; his eyes looked tired and his hair was a puff of messy brown “Matt? It is eleven… and you look like a ghost-”
“I know, I know… I need your help.” Matt pushed inside the house with his large suitcase.
“What’s that? A body?” Jack joked, tightening the belt on his dressing robe. Matt froze for a moment before straightening his back and slowly nodding his head.
“It is… Jack, it’s a body.”
Jack stared at Matt, waiting for his featherhead of a friend to burst out laughing and say something foolish like ‘Got you!’. But Matt just stared back with upset eyes.
“Seriously, that’s not funny-”
“It’s not a joke! Look!” Matt unzipped the bag and out fell Steve’s motionless body.
“OOHHH!” Jack instantly smacked Matt on the head “You pigeon-hole what have you done?! Why did you bring him here?!”
“Please, Jack! You’re the only one who can help me, please!” Matt begged with tears in his eyes. Jack hadn’t seen his friend cry since graduation. But there was a dead body in his house, presumably killed by his best friend. Various conclusions kept popping in his mind until he took a deep breath and calmed himself. He could not report Matt but also did not want to hide the dead body because that never goes well.
Jack bent down and turned the body slightly by pulling on Steve’s shirt. There was a bloody wound on Steve’s head that had smeared on his floor.
“Okay, first of all, let’s not panic. Tell me what happened and be explicit.”
“… okay, so it started when I won the office lottery…” Matt told him everything. After listening quietly, Jack closed his eyes for a moment before speaking again.
“We need to put him inside.” He said matter-of-factly. He got close to the body and asked Matt to hold the suitcase. But the moment he touched Steve’s skin, Jack pulled his hands away. “He is warm… he’s still alive!”
“What?” Matt extended his hand to feel Steve’s pulse but Jack pushed him away “Thank God!” He exclaimed and pulled up Steve in a sitting position.
“Are you sure? I swear that he wasn’t breathing when I…” Matt eyed Steve’s face incredulously.
“Matt-” Jack said, “You drove a breathing man packed in a suitcase for thirty miles?” Jack’s face was expressionless except for a slight dent between his eyebrows. Matt nodded slowly “…he could’ve died you know.”
“What should I do?” Matt asked, sitting down on the sofa. He was still stressed but his face was a better colour now, maybe because he knew that Steve wasn’t dead.
“I have a plan, but you’ll need to do exactly what I say.” Jack walked up to Matt and sat down beside him. Steve lay with his back against the suitcase.
“Whatever you say, I’ll do.” Matt promised.
“Good. So the story is that this guy tried to strangle you for money and hit his head on the table while you were defending yourself.” Jack said.
“You take him back to the apartment and place him exactly where he had hit his head. Mess up your room and yourself, and- this is important- set your table clock at eleven and break it. It should look like the clock broke when he was trying to strangle you.”
“Okay… so far so good... but why eleven? He hit the floor after nine…”
“Because the next step involves you calling the emergency services and reporting the crime. If you set it too back, they will ask you for the unaccounted time.” Jack explained. Matt looked at his friend and ran multiple simulations of the plan in his head, trying to figure out if it was at all feasible. “Don’t think too hard Matt, it's your only option.” Jack said calmly. Matt nodded to himself in agreement.
“Okay. I’ll do what you say.”
Jack packed Steve into the suitcase and kept it open at the mouth to let air in. He placed the bag in the back seat of Matt’s car and waved bye as Matt drove away.
After reaching home, Matt followed Jack’s instructions down to the last detail. He placed Steve at the exact spot and messed up the room pretty bad. He set the clock at eleven and slammed it on the floor. He took a deep breath and punched his own face on the wall multiple times till his eyes and cheeks were swollen purple and blood trickled down his forehead. Finally, he called the emergency numbers in a frantic voice and even called an ambulance for Steve.
The sirens sounded ten minutes later and police walked up to Matt’s house. He let them in and staggered to the crime scene to stay true to his story. Matt was taken to a hospital and his house was inspected thoroughly.
The next day, Jack visited Matt with a bouquet of flowers.
“How are you feeling? Your face looks pretty bad…” Jack touched Matt’s forehead lightly and he winced.
“Yeah, I wanted it to look real. How have you been?”
“Me? I wasn’t the one running around with dead Steve at night.” Jack smiled kindly and patted Matt’s shoulder. “Oh, and I talked to the police.”
“Steve died?! You talked to the police?!” Matt’s jaw dropped to the food tray on his lap.
“Yes, he did. And, yes I did.”
“When?! What did they ask you?”
“First of all, one question at a time. I’ll tell you about the police. They asked me what I knew about your relationship with Steve.”
“… What did you say?”
“Just the truth that Steve was borrowing money from you.”
“Wait, no… he wasn’t the one borrowing…” Matt stammered. He felt the anxiety from the previous night returning in leaps and bounds.
“Wrong. Steve was manipulating you to spend your money on his gambling joint. So it’s the same thing. When the police asks, you’ll say that when you wanted to stop, he came to convince you and it turned into a heated argument. As he was pummelling your head on the wall, you pushed him and he hit his head on the table. This can be true as there are no signs of struggle on Steve.” Matt still looked unsure and Jack continued with his story, “The guy has a history of debt and this story matches with two other victims. He’s a debt creator and you are the victim.” Jack looked into Matt’s confused eyes.
“I don’t think that’s entirely true… it was my fault too you know…” Matt said, lowering his head in regret.
“I wouldn’t know that. I told the police what I perceived to be true. Sometimes, there is more than one truth. Don’t beat yourself up, it was an accident.” Jack placed the flowers on the table beside Matt’s bed “Call me when you reach home” he said and left.
After two more days of hospital care and police questioning, Matt was free to go home. He had followed Jack’s story to the last detail, again. They didn’t seem exceedingly convinced but based on Steve’s past records and the other two victim’s testimonies, Matt was let off with only minor inconveniences. After a couple of days, life was slowly getting back to normal. But something was bugging Matt, actually, more than a few things didn’t fit the puzzle. So he made the call.
“Hey, hi Jack, how are you?”
“Matt, been waiting for your call buddy. I am fine, how are you?” Jack said happily.
“I am coping. Listen, thanks for all you did… I owe you a big one.” Matt was genuinely thankful for Jack’s help.
“Don’t mention it.”
They both stayed silent for a while before Matt spoke again.
“…Jack, I wanted to ask something.”
“Sure, what is it?”
“When exactly did Steve die?” Matt came out with his question directly.
Jack didn’t say anything for almost a minute but Matt waited. Then he sighed and asked, “Do you have to know?”
“Yes” Matt replied.
Jack took another long pause and said, “I think right before you reached my house.”
Matt felt his legs wobble and leaned on the phone table for support. Accusations popped into his mind, accusations on himself. He could’ve saved Steve if he’d have gone directly to a hospital instead of 30 miles south “I could’ve saved him…”
“You didn’t know Matt… you thought he was dead.” Steve said slowly.
“And why didn’t you tell me?!”
“I couldn’t… In order to make a lie true, the first step is for the liar to think it’s true. The police would’ve never believed your story if you yourself weren’t convinced.” Jack had taken his chances with Matt. The whole cover depended on Matt’s performance!
“What if it hadn’t gone as planned?” Matt whispered into the phone.
“We’ll never know that, thanks to your faith in me.” Jack said. Matt could hear a smile in his friend’s voice. Good or evil, either way, Jack had solved Matt’s headache in his own weird way.