Short Story: Dead Men

It wasn’t possible. It just wasn’t. Not in a million years. Jake was dead. The trial was over. Martin was cleared of all suspicion. He’d done everything right. He’d passed all the detectors. His lawyer had made all the right arguments. Yet here he was, staring at what appeared to be a live image of Jake Cooper; recent adulterer and still-fresh corpse. The body hadn’t begun to decompose yet.

It had to be a tech trick, he knew. There was no explanation otherwise. He’d broken Jake’s neck himself. Felt the snap. He’d done it in just right, too. He’d had to. Otherwise, there would’ve been no doubts of reality.

As it was, he’d almost cooked his own goose leaving evidence suggesting he knew of the affair. The prosecution had a field day with that. Both Martin and his lawyer stood firm; he knew, but he’d still been deciding how to handle it. He was torn between disbelief and refusal to admit it to himself.

It worked. That was what mattered. The courts, the jury, the judge, his lawyer, everyone believed his version. They believed, per usual, he and Jake had been drinking heavily at his home; that he’d passed out on the couch; that Jake got up to piss; that inebriated as he was– and his BAC concluded– he fell, broke his neck against the bathroom sink; that he wasn’t found until Martin awoke around noon, hung-over and in a panic.

Everyone believed it. All of it. It was a masterful play. One for the ages. If he could only tell someone.

Courtney was still off somewhere, quietly mourning the asshole dicking her despite the five-year relationship with Martin. She was the type to want cake and eat it too. Or in this case, want cock and eat it too. He should’ve known years ago.

He found out in the most mundane way. It still angered him to think about it. He deserved better than looking at Courtney’s phone, being suddenly met with Jake slamming her from behind. Hell, they’d been friends twenty years. He wasn’t even snooping. He was looking for something from an old party. A picture of the two of them. If he’d wanted to snoop, he would have.

But then, there it was: her getting railed from behind. In front of a dirty mirror. Her face half-visible and Jake’s blotted out by the flash. All the same, Martin recognized the tattoos, had seen that filthy mirror often enough. He didn’t need to guess anything.

In hindsight, Martin was proud of himself; of his handling of things. Premeditated murder notwithstanding. He didn’t fly off the handle, and for all he knew, Courtney still wasn’t sure he’d seen the picture. The trial’s nonspecific terms, and his own lies, put the revelation on a discussion that had never taken place. The conversation said the adultery was formed of another, drunken circumstance. Courtney too, enjoyed getting shit-faced. And dicked too. The two collided.

She was just lucky he couldn’t bring himself to off her too.

Martin had killed Jake with his bare hands. Premeditated. No fit of passion. No irrational rage. Rather simple, measured vengeance. Intentional. Indifferent. Not cold. Not hot. It just was.

Just as it was that Jake now stared at Martin from the other side of a vid-call.

Tech. Pre-recorded.

But Jake didn’t know shit about computers. He worked janitorial. He wasn’t the brightest bulb. For that matter, neither was Martin. Nonetheless, he didn’t know shit about tech. He could barely program numbers into his cellphone– though apparently he knew how to coordinate taking a photo with dogging his best-friend’s girl.

The dead-stare in Jake’s face contained the slightest hint of amusement. It told of more to the state of things than a simple VOIP-call.

“SurprisedI’m back from the dead?” Jake asked suddenly. Martin vaguely noticed his own repulsion. “I seethe terror in your face. Don’t worry. My death’s our little secret… for now. I just wanted you to know why I did it. I figured the time would come, sooner or later, when you’d find out.”

Martin cast aside all doubts of a recorded message. It was clear by his implication. Jake managed to pre-record and program a vid-call. He wasn’t sure he’d ever known how to, but he was too focused now to care.

“Fact is, Mart, you’ve always been a cunt.” Martin reeled. “Can’t say I really cared for you most of the time, but brothers’re brothers, right? Can’t choose your family. Just happens. Something kept us friends all these years. Until…”

“Until you start railing Courtney, you fucking asshole,” Martin blurted.

There was a laugh. Too on-point and lag-free to be software. Or maybe not. Fucking eerie. It forced a shudder along Martin’s spine. Goosebumps rippled his limbs.

Jake was chuckling, “Yeah. Courtney.” A “hmm” trailed off into an obvious “mmm.” Martin grit his teeth. Jake ignored it, either in life or death, whichever was represented. “Fact is, Marty ol’ boy, you were a cunt. A royal one. You treated her in accordance with that mentality. You manipulated her with small nudges, quiet words. Everything an asshole does.

“And you drove her straight to me. And I let you. Because she deserved better. Hell, you didn’t even know how to fuck ‘er. Just spasmed on top’a her like a dying fish. Then you had the nerve to go and off me for giving her what she wanted. What she needed.”

Martin’s eyes doubled in size.

“Oh yeah, I know. Dead or not, I know.” He smiled, chuckled. “Funny thing is, Martin, I know a helluva lot more’n you do. A helluva lot more’n you think. For instance, I know how to wire an entire apartment for video and sound without making it look it. I know how to continuously offload that data to an encrypted, remote-server, to spool forever– or until the cameras are destroyed.

“I also know how to automate a botnet to search for relevant news keywords and program it to await specific phrases. For example, “Idiot fuckhead cleared of murder charges in killing of friend.” Then have it send the collected data… well, wherever I want. To an old girlfriend, say.”

Martin’s pulse began to race. He wanted to flee, knew it would do no good. Not yet. He had to know the rest. Had to know what else he was missing.

Jake smiled; a sinister smile. It told Martin more was coming than he wanted. “I know how and when to strike to get the best drop on people. I also happen to know there’s no conceivable way a dead man can be convicted of murder. Even if he were, I know he wouldn’t have two shits to give anyhow.”

The sinister smile tightened. Darkened corners emerged in Jake’s face that terrified Martin. He’d never seen such a monstrous creature before, especially not one in the guise of someone he knew so well.

“Most of all, Martin, I know if you mix a series of house-hold chemicals into a clay-like block and place it in the vicinity of a proper, electrical charge, it will level a building. A charge that, say, could easily be generated by the short in an overclocked computer chip.”

Martin was up, fleeing. Malevolent laughter followed him. He bridged half the distance to his door. Then, nothing– for dead men do nothing more.

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