By Daniel Ellis

Ian was pointing a gun at Ruthie and me. We had gotten to this place because Ruthie had figured out that Ian killed Alex. I didn’t know why Ruthie thought it was a good idea to go to Ian’s restaurant and reveal this knowledge to Ian rather than, say, the police. They knew when Alex had been killed; they knew that Ian was onstage at exactly that time. I’m sure they would have been interested. She could have just told that Detective Hansen who’d been hanging around for the past month. Instead we went to Ian’s restaurant, ate, she went to the restroom, returned with Ian (who had a gun at her back, it turned out a few minutes later), signed for the check, and we all three, and the gun, got in her car. And there we were.

Where we were was sitting on a couch in Ian’s small but tasteful apartment – nice modern design all around, clean lines, etc. Ian was standing on the other side of the coffee table (again, nice design etc.). Ian was about medium height really, maybe 5’9”, but from the couch he had us sitting on, looking up at him standing there with the gun in his hand, he seemed taller, though to be honest not much – like maybe 6’1” or 6’ 2”. Still, with the gun, intimidating. Ruthie was steel-nerved, though. “I know why, and how, I just want you to tell us.” Even though she was looking up from the couch, Ruthie stared straight at him, unflinching despite him having the gun pointed right at her. Her voice was steady and strong, but there was maybe just a slight hint of concerneven pityin her tone.

He leaned over the coffee table, the gun close to Ruthie’s face. “You always were such a smart bitch. But you just ended up being a dumb bitch – maybe even a dead bitch.” He was almost spitting, partly mad, partly scared.

“I don’t know if that language is really justified,” I suggested, reasonably, I thought. The look Ian shot me suggested he didn't find it reasonable.

“Why are you such a jackass James?”

“Seriously? Why’d you do it? You didn't really think you were going to take over the drug trade? I mean, this is” and here I took a slow, dramatic look around the apartment, again, tasteful, but, as I said, “hardly the palace of a drug kingpin.”

Well I suppose Ian didn’t want to hear it. He spun towards me, faster than I’d have guessed he could move, and cracked me across the cheek with the pistol’s barrel. “You really are a fucking jackass,” he spat towards me as I lay sprawled on the ground, my face in my hands. The funny thing was, it hurt, but not as bad as I would have thought. But it seemed wise not to let that be known. I just let out a long groan, authentic enough.

“It wasn't really about drugs at all, was it?” Ruthie asked. “It was about the record deal.”


“Record deal. It was about a record deal. Alex had promised you financial support for a deal with 4AD. You were in talks with A&R, and then Alex pulled out. You wanted revenge.” Lying vaguely crumpled on the ground, I found her staccato sentences clicked into place for me.

Admittedly, I had not thought too much about it all. Certainly not to the extent that Ruthie, as it turned out, had. I don't really know why she was so concerned about it all, about Ian’s recording contract, about Alex’s murder, except that she and Ian and I had been friends way back in high school. We really hadn't stayed friends since then, had lost touch once we all went to college, and never really got close again, despite the fact that we all ended up in the restaurant business. But I guess we all worked at different levels, and moved more or less in different circles. Ruthie was always smart and hard working. She owned three restaurants around town, all southern-inflected restaurants, all at different markets: lunch joint, upscale casual, and fine dining. Ian was the manager at a new American place. I bartended. I was the underachiever, but like Ian I put my energy into music, although I was way better than him, or at least more successful. The same night Ian was playing drums in front of twenty people, I was playing guitar in my band in front of two hundred. We did a smooth reggae funk sound that people really dug – you could dance to it, you could get high to it, whatever. Good stuff. And then, besides all being in the restaurant business, Ian was the guy to go to for coke, which I only did every once in a while, but which Ian always had on hand. Ruthie was the same as me, as it turned out, liked a little coke every once in a while, and so she'd see Ian then, but must have kept up a little better because I didn't know anything about Alex’s connections with the recording industry, although we all knew Alex because he was the real cocaine deal and was always in the restaurants. He'd come into my bar once a month or so; I was always friendly but I definitely liked to keep a little distance.

Ruthie and I were in a little different place. We had developed a sort of on-again-off-again relationship, meaning after parties we’d hook up and then when I’d call her to ask her out later she’d blow me off. This all started really after we met when she came to a kung fu class I was in. I’d been doing it for years; Ruthie came in with her then boyfriend, and they took a couple of classes then dropped it, but shortly after that for some reason I saw her at a party, she had just dumped the boyfriend, we talked about kung fu for a minute and music for a minute and food and lots of other stuff all night, went back to my place, she was gone when I woke up, I called her and she blew me off. That had been going on for a good year-and-a-half now. 

I think she just didn’t think I was a serious enough person to be in a relationship with. Like the other day she was over at my house, had just stopped by after we had a brunch with some mutual friends. A package had come and I opened it while she was there, a couple of electronic drums I had ordered.

“But you don’t play drums,” she said, which, to me, seemed to miss the point. “You play guitar.”

“Well I know that. I just wanted them. I am a musician. I mean, I can play drums.”

“How much?”

“Well, I guess maybe I'll play them some, that’s why I bought them. I don’t know how much I'll play them.” What did that even mean?

“Don’t be a jackass James. How much did they cost?”

“Oh. Right. I don’t know. A thousand dollars?”

“A thousand dollars for two drums?” Her voice had raised just a bit as she stared, somewhat incredulously I would say, at the drums I was then assembling.

“Well yeah, but they’re really high quality. And I can run them through my computer, lay down beats, and then play the guitar over them. And they don’t even sound like a drum machine, but like real drums.”

“A thousand dollars,” she said under her breath.

“Yeah, but it's worth it for my music. I mean, I could make beats for a whole song or set of songs and then just compose guitar lines over it, mix it all down on the Mac, go to town. I can even just run a beat for an hour, or more, forever, go out, come home to it still playing, if I felt like it. Know what I mean?” I don’t think, though, that she knew what I meant.

She now had that sort of distant look that meant I wasn’t going to see her for a while. She got up to leave, paused for a moment like she was going to say or ask something, then shook her head, turned, and walked out the door. And we didn’t speak again until a couple of days ago, when she called and asked me to go to brunch at Ian’s restaurant. She didn’t mention that she was planning to prove that he had murdered Alex, or I might not have gone along. Maybe.

I emerged from this reverie (maybe Ian had done a little better work with the pistol whipping than I first thought) to see Ian, with the gun at his side, staring into space, and Ruthie, sitting up straight on the couch (long, fine legs crossed and hands in her lap, hair falling over her shoulders and just barely down her back), almost dictating to Ian, and definitely in control.

“It didn’t make any sense that Alex’s killing would be about drugs. First off, he just wasn’t that kind of guy – he didn’t go in for any violent stuff himself, and it’s hard to believe that if he found some kind of confrontation he wouldn’t have found a way to work it out. Because at the end of the day, he wasn’t really that committed. I had lunch the other day with Detective Hansen.” Oh man, I knew she had a thing for him. Dammit. “We were talking about how Alex was important in the drug trade here, but not that important; he wasn’t really central to any of the big gangs or organizations in Charleston, and didn’t, in the grand scheme of things, move that much. He certainly had a good niche, made good money, and he clearly had good connections in Texas and in Mexico, though whether through his family or just endeavor who knows.” I liked the way she used words like endeavor and made them seem natural.  “So basically, drugs were possible, but not likely. At least that’s what I thought, and Hansen agreed.” I bet he did.

“No. Drugs are obvious, and they’re easy,” Ian said. He was waving the gun around a bit, gesturing with it almost. “The cops don’t really care about ‘why’ anyway.” He was unfocused though, had lost the edge he seemed to have when he was knocking people – me – around.

“Yes, that’s true. They don’t really care about motive. They just sort of look who’s around the victim, and then worry about who could have done it. But that’s the other weird thing – no one could have. You were as good a suspect as anyone, any of us. But we all had alibis. Yours was great too. Onstage, playing drums.”

“Why am I even listening to you?” Ian asked. This was a good question. Ian was pacing about now, hearing Ruthie but seemingly in his own mind.

“But there was something about that show you played – I’ve seen your shows before, the part where your vocalist and guitarist are in the spotlight for like twenty minutes, and you and the bass player are playing behind them in the dark.” An interminable part of a tedious show, as I recall. “And then the other day James said something about how he could set up electronic drums to play a beat while he was doing other things, while he wasn’t even there, presumably, and it clicked – you weren’t there. The club is on North King Street; Alex’s apartment is on North King Street – ten minutes there and back, and another five to garrote him with a guitar string – which is ghastly by the way.”

Ian had stopped right in front on me, right by my stomach. I thought he was going to kick me for pointing out that he could have set up a machine to keep his uninspired beat, but he turned back towards Ruthie. “Why would I do that? Don’t you think that kind of killing looks like a drug killing?”

“It does look like a drug killing. But too much like a drug killing – it’s like something from a movie. And so then that’s where the motive starts to matter. What I’m saying is drugs didn’t make sense to me, Ian,” Ruthie said. She spoke in a firm voice. “But I always knew how much you wanted a record deal, to be a rock star – that you wanted that more than anything, and here was your only chance, your last chance. Sometimes I thought you even only sold drugs so that you could keep pushing Alex about getting a contract. And it worked – you convinced him, you thought. But then he got nervous – maybe his income was falling off, but really I think he just didn’t believe in you, once he saw you with the record company executives. And that was what really hurt – that he didn’t believe in you. That they didn’t believe in you. And you couldn’t take it – all your dreams over, just like that. And you snapped.” She had touched a nerve. Ian had turned back towards me, and for a second pointed the gun at me – I was stirring around a little bit now – but then threw both his hands up to his face and let out a cry--something between a scream and a groan. He was consumed – by grief, by anguish, by rage, I don’t know. But consumed.

In kung fu they teach us that if you hold the back of someone’s ankle while you push on the front of their knee, that person will inevitably fall over backwards – they can’t help it, leverage plus the body’s instinct to protect the knee joint. As long as the basic principle is followed – back of ankle, front of knee – this can be done any number of ways. I did it in this case by hooking my right foot behind Ian’s ankle and pushing – kicking really – his knee with the bottom of my left foot. Ian fell over backwards, hard, fast, smashing into his coffee table. The gun spilled from his hand and Ruthie leapt up like lightning from the couch and snatched it up. Just as quickly I was on Ian’s chest, wailing on his face, throat, and head. I think he didn’t even know I took kung fu, although he seemed to be getting the idea.

Just then the door exploded open and swarms of cops burst through. They tackled me of course, got the gun from Ruthie, held all three of us down, cuffed us, and took us in. It was all good, of course, by that point, and within five hours or so, as the evening was drawing on, Ruthie and I walked out. Hansen tried to say something to her on the way out, but she just smiled and thanked him and kept walking out with me. My face was swelling pretty good, and I had a serious headache, but that blow off made it all ok.

Walking back to her car, just a few blocks from the station, I asked Ruthie how the cops knew to come.

“When I signed the check I wrote a note: 911 and Ian’s address.”

“Jesus you’re smart. And ballsy.”

“You know what James?”

“What’s that?”

“Ian was wrong about you being a jackass.”

“You think?” She had taken my hand in hers. It felt good.

“I was too. In fact, I could see us being pretty good together.”

“I’d say you’re just saying that because I just saved us. Only you seem to have had the whole thing under control the whole time.”

She squeezed my hand a little tighter. We were coming up to the car now, but we kept walking, past the car, past Ian’s building, holding hands, talking.

Daniel Ellis received an MFA from the University of New Orleans, a PhD from Temple University, and currently teaches English at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, NY. His fiction has recently appeared in The Apple Valley Review, while his scholarly writing has recently appeared in Rhetoric Society Quarterly, among other places.

Copyright 2014 Daniel Ellis. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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