Butch looked at the blank wall that offered him no answers. His buddy was in the next room, or the same building at least. They’d been split up because of their supposed scheme. The holding cell was painfully bright with its fluorescent tube lighting, silent apart from the sound of shoe soles on shiny floors.

Butch had no idea how he’d ended up there. He was guilty of plenty of crimes, albeit petty ones. But what he was being accused of was of a different calibre entirely: the murder of his best friend, Troy. Butch, Tommy and Troy had been buddies since before they did drugs, or even knew what they were. They’d grown up in the same stiflingly small town with nothing to do for entertainment but drink and feed their addictions. There was nothing for youths to spend their time doing, nothing productive to lure them away from the call of painkillers. The best you could hope for in Alpena was to stay out of jail and keep the clothes you were wearing on your back.

A policeman strode into the room, disrupting Butch’s stream of thought. The directness of his gaze unsettled him. Butch was typically an audacious character but didn’t respond well to being pinned down one-to-one. The cop sat down opposite him, his chair screeching as he pulled it out from under the table.

“Coffee?” he asked Butch, coolly.

Butch nodded. His throat was so parched he could barely employ his swallowing reflex, never mind talk. He hoped a drink might oil the rusted wheels of his conversational skills. He could steal a loaf of bread without so much as an elevated pulse, but when a policeman asked him to give his full name he drew a complete blank.

The policeman shoved the cup across the table to him, like he resented having to award him the slightest kindness. Butch took a loud sip from the cup, stalling every syllable he’d be forced to share. He knew nothing about the death of his friend, but the fact that they thought he did made him conscious to not appear guilty. He was aiming for calmness without indifference. Too much nonchalance would make him look guiltier still.

“Well,” said the police officer. They were being recorded, so Butch had to carefully consider every word that exited his mouth. “Why don’t you tell me what you know about Troy Jones?”

Butch gave an elongated pause before he spoke.

“There ain’t much I don’t know about Troy Jones. He’s like a brother to me. We grew up together. Me and him and Tommy were always hanging around together, as long as I can remember.”

“So, what’s your motive for killing him?”

“I don’t have one. I didn’t kill him, man. That dude’s like family to me.”

“Are you sure he’s dead?” asked Butch. He fumbled in his pocket for a cigarette, before remembering he’d been on his way to buy them when the cops picked him up. His hand shook, and he worried the police officer saw it and attributed it to nervous guilt.

“Man, I need a smoke,” said Butch, explaining his shakes. The cop pulled one out from behind his ear and tossed it in his direction. Butch lit up and did an exaggerated exhalation.

“He’s presumed dead,” said the cop. He turned his pen onto the pen point, flipped it upside down, and pressed the spring release against the wood of the table. Watching him doing it somehow tautened the tension in the room.

“Well, how can you bring us in when you don’t know if he’s dead?” asked Butch.

“He has been listed as a missing person for several weeks now.”

“Did you check he ain’t in his house?” It wasn’t irregular for Troy to go missing: it happened every single time he went on a binge.

“None of his neighbours or family know of his whereabouts. He has just mysteriously vanished.”

“He’s probably hiding out in the woods,” said Butch.

“I think you’re right,” mused the cop. “But not in the way you mean.”

“So, what makes you think Tommy and I would want to harm him?”

“The main suspects are often the last known people to see the victim: their nearest and dearest. We found a note which backed up our suspicions. It was one between yourself and Tommy, discussing your wish to end his life.

“I know the note you mean,” said Butch, no hovering around the point.


“It ain’t what you think. We were just messing around. It was a joke after he spiked my drink. We’re always playing pranks on each other, have been since we were kids.”

“We’re going to have to keep you in,” said the cop, crisscrossing his fingers on the table with conclusiveness.

“What about Tommy?”

“You’re both in the same boat.”

Butch was moved to a cell. Dinner arrived, and he poked his mashed potato around with a plastic fork. The spongy consistency of the meat kept him clear of that portion of the plate. He got a glimpse of what jail would be like; it was enough to put him off stealing dinner and hoping to outwit CCTV again. There was a jingle of keys and the policeman walked into the cell. Troy was walking behind him, smirking a little.

“What the fuck, dude?” asked Butch. “Thought you were dead.”

“I’m not.”

“He just got back to town and heard you were in here. Came to bail you out. You guys should count yourselves lucky.” He shook his head like Butch had wasted police time.

Tommy, Troy and Butch walked out of the police station, their three shadows moving along the ground. They’d seen their shadows growing in front of them as they’d walked together for twenty years, always in the same configuration, with Troy at the centre of the row.

“Where were you, man?”

“Hiding out,” said Tommy, with self-satisfaction. “I got you guys good. Try and top that one.”