A Story About Who Else He Might Have Been

This week's prompt at Sunday Scribblings is "Who else might I have been?" Which has naturally inspired a weird and silly story from me.

The first thing I should do is to link to this strangely relevant post by Neil deGrasse Tyson at the almighty Planetary Society Blog.

We all like reading and hearing about the challenges navigated by people who became successful in life, but in my experience, none of those stories comes close to what can be told by adults in entry-level positions -- challenges that draw from mental or physical disabilities, family disruptions, educational derailments, encounters with the justice system, or simple bad luck.

Now, onto the story. It's interesting how, after all the episodes of Law and Order I’ve seen, I still have no idea what it’s really like to be a police officer. Everything in the story below is made up, including the procedures of the imaginary police force in this imaginary world.

As I often like to do, I assembled many of the names in this story by opening an old dictionary to random pages and picking unusual words. Except for Alfred Finnegan. It doesn’t take any effort to come up with a name as ugly as that.

Finally, apologies are due to Edgar Allan Poe.


Sunrise casts an eerie red veil over the spires and peaked rooftops of the city. Car tyres thump rhythmically on the cobbled road, the drumbeat slowing as I park. A woman I don’t know walks up to me as I get out. She waits silently as I clip my ID to my jacket pocket and smirks. I’m used to that by now, I ignore her.

A couple of kids are kicking a football around across the road. One of them sees me and calls out, “Hey, Jonathan!” in a sing-song voice.

“Alfred!” I shout back. “My name is Alfred Finnegan, and I am a cop.”

Both the kids run off, laughing.

I turn to the woman. “Where’s DS Hawfinch?” I ask. I don’t bother to meet her eye, only take in the ID card clipped to her blouse.

She takes a few seconds to answer, an unpleasant smile on her face. “She’s in labour.”

“Really? It’s early isn’t it?”

She shrugs. “I’m DS Levant. I’m going to be working with you until she gets back.”

“Oh. No-one bothered to consult me in advance.” I offer a hand. “Nice to meet you.”

She shakes my hand limply. Her palm is cold and dry.

“What did you do to get this assignment?” I ask her.

She looks right at me. I can’t help but notice how striking her sharp brown eyes are. “I requested it,” she says carefully.

I sigh and put my hands in my pockets. I can’t say that I like this, nor where I see it going. “Oh. Well, that makes me highly suspicious, if you don’t mind my saying. But… whatever. We have a job to do. Let’s do it.”

She nods and leads me through a door flanked on either side by uniformed officers in stab vests.

“It’s a murder?” I ask.

She stops suddenly and I take just one step too close to her. I can feel her trying to intimidate me, although I have only the vaguest notion of why. “A great start,” she says, “for building trust between us, don’t you think?”

I don’t say anything. She waits just a little bit too long for me to answer, so I step past her and into a shadowed living room, fashioned in trendy, minimalist furnishings that utterly lack warmth. A woman lies on her front on the carpet in a pool of blood, surrounded by forensic scientists in white coveralls. One of them steps up to me carrying a large, clear plastic bag.

“The murder weapon,” he says.

“A golf club? Okay, take it back to the lab.” I turn to Levant. “This is going to be a tough one. I hate golf. Can’t stand it.”

She raises an eyebrow. “I’d like to imagine that you don’t much care for murdering people either.”

“Well, yes, but I’m used to putting myself in the shoes of a murderer by now.” I turn to a nearby uniformed officer. “Where is he?”

We’re directed out back, into the garden. The grass is neatly trimmed, as are the beds of exotic flowers. They might be beautiful in the daylight, but they are painted unwholesome colours beneath these pinkish clouds. Two more officers in stab vests are standing out here, keeping an eye on the man who sits in a lawn chair, wearing a shirt and tie and a very expensive pair of shoes.

As I approach, he looks at me with resignation. “I knew that you’d come,” he says. “Alfred Finnegan.”

I smile and pull up a lawn chair next to him. Levant stands on the grass beside us, her notebook open.

“What’s your name?” I ask the man.

“Noways Keck.”

“Noways Keck,” I repeat. “Interesting. Mr Keck, who’s the woman you killed with the golf club?”

“My wife. She- Her nose made this little noise as she breathed. All the nagging, the guilt trips, the shopping sprees, the other men, I could’ve coped with anything if she’d just stopped making that damn noise.”

“Uh-huh.” It’s always nice when they’re co-operative. Often they’ll open up to me, but it’s rarely this straightforward. I look at Levant. She’s writing it all down. That should be all we need for now. I just want to ask him some questions for myself. “You play golf?” I ask.

He looks a little surprised at the question. “Every weekend.”

“Wow. Me too. Who’d have thought we’d be so similar?”

He laughs weakly, and then the smile fades and he looks at me with a slightly frightened expression. “These people, they think I’m some sort of monster. But you don’t, do you? You understand that anyone could end up where I am. It’s just a matter of circumstance.”

I smile sympathetically, but shake my head. “Two years after I became a police officer, I had to kill someone to protect my own life. Well, I say that I ‘had to’, but really, I didn’t. I could choose to do nothing, to let them live, even though I knew with absolute certainty that they would kill me. Do you know what I did?”

He looks dumbstruck, offers no answer.

I’ve grown rather adept at telling this story. I don’t even have to think about it anymore, just proceed in a soft monotone. “Mr Keck, I did nothing. I couldn’t bring myself to kill another human being. My certainty that I was going to die turned out to be unfounded. A police marksman had him in his sights and did the deed for me. But I learnt then that I am not a killer. Different circumstances can lead us to different problems, even push us towards certain actions, but in the end, it is all up to you. To you and no-one else.”

Keck looks rather distressed. “But… but you’re me! If you and I had swapped places in that first instant, we’d have done exactly the same things!”

I shrug. “Maybe. Maybe not. We used to be the same person, that’s all we can say for sure. All that matters now is that you have your wife’s blood on your hands and her body on your carpet.” I stand and gesture to the two uniformed officers. “Take him to the station. Give him to the forensics guys first, though, if you haven’t already.”

As he is led out he fixes me with a fierce look. “You could’ve been me,” he says. “You could’ve been me!”

Levant steps up to my side. Too close again, but I resist the urge to step away from her. “He’s right, though,” she says, “surely.”

“We’re all responsible for our own actions. Whatever the circumstances. I was led down a path where everything was pushing me to kill someone. But I didn’t. And if I didn’t, he could certainly have bloody well divorced her.” I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Okay, there’s nothing but paperwork left for this one. I don’t think we’re going to have any trouble getting a conviction.”

Levant closes her notebook and tucks it away. “Don’t you have any sympathy for him?”

“I have sympathy for the wife.” I take a step forward, then stop and look back at her. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

She looks away sharply. “You’re just different. From what I expected.”

Great. Now I’m certain. I have to nip this in the bud quickly. “Look, I don’t know who he is, but you have to realise that he’s not me. Are we going to have a problem? Who is he?”

She bites her lip for a second, and then looks at me defiantly. “He was my husband.”

“Divorced or dead?” I ask bluntly.


I suppress an irritable laugh. “And so by requesting an assignment with me, you hope to, what?”

She shrugs. “It’s not you I’m interested in. It’s the ones you investigate.” She steps right up to me. I hold my ground. “I loved him so much. And you know what? Even after he hurt me so badly, I still love him. And it hurts like you wouldn’t believe.” She smiles breezily. “So I want to learn to hate him instead.”

“Right. I’m going to request that you be transferred.”

She smirks. “No-one else wants to work with you. I do. You won’t be able to get rid of me.”

I study her carefully. She’s beautiful, I have to admit. Not in any way that would get her on the cover of a glossy magazine, but in a way that seems to jibe with some personal preference of mine that extends back to the girls I crushed on in school. The sooner Hawfinch gets back, with her cynical jokes and half-moon reading glasses, the better.

“Okay,” I say with a sigh. “As long as you do your job, I don’t see what business of mine your feelings are. But I do like to imagine that maybe you’ll see we’re all different, even if we do look pretty similar.”

We start to walk back inside.

“Exactly identical, don’t you mean?” she says.

I stop and unfasten my tie and then begin to unbutton my shirt. Levant’s smirk upgrades itself to a sneer. I open my shirt just enough to show her my tattoo.

“What,” she says, “is that?”

“It’s an eagle. An individualist, unbound by gravity.”

“It’s supposed to impress me somehow?”

“Did your husband have one?”

“No, he wasn’t that dumb or crass.”

“Well there you go.”


“I came in someone else’s car,” she says. “So you’re stuck with me.”


I slide into the driver’s seat and she gets in next to me, grabbing the newspaper off the seat. “The Daily News? My husband hated this paper.”

“Me too. I get it to remind me why I do what I do.”

She reads the headline aloud. “Jonathans Out! Leading think tank recommends deporting majority of ‘Jonathans’ to protect the genetic future of the nation.”

I start the car and pull out into the road. “Read the rest. It’s very informative.”

“Eight years after physicist Jonathan Pluvial’s reckless teleportation experiment led to the creation of over a hundred thousand copies of himself, identical to the atomic level, we are all encouraged to believe that these clones have assimilated themselves into society as distinct individuals, bringing us many benefits. To argue otherwise is to be accused of Pluvialist discrimination.

“Yesterday, however, a leading think tank defied the climate of political correctness to argue that many if not most of the so-called ‘Jonathans’ should be deported to other countries. Their argument was not of the moral or religious kind that is so often denounced by the PC establishment, but instead a scientific and biological one. As increasing numbers of Jonathans marry and start families, the genetic diversity of the nation is threatened. Like a once proud royal family made weak through in-breeding, we must face up to this new challenge, or risk a rash of otherwise avoidable genetic diseases.

“Many who oppose the large concentration of Jonathans on other grounds are delighted with the report, saying that it is only the latest of many good reasons for such a policy. They also cite problems with integration, identity politics and crime.”

I snatch the paper from her hands as she finishes the last sentence and toss it onto the back seat. “You know something? Compared to the rest of the population, we’re actually ten thousand times less likely to commit a crime. I should know, I’m on the case for almost all of them. It’s easy to point to a bunch of convictions and show that all the criminals have the same face. But it’s cheap. And it’s wrong.”

I look at her hands as they sit in her lap. “You still wear your ring?” I ask.

She grasps the ring firmly in a balled fist and, with great difficulty, pulls it from her finger. I can’t help but wonder how long she was married to him. Then she lowers the window and throws the ring out. The wind snatches at her hair as we pick up speed, framing her face in an appealing halo of waving dark curls.

“I really want you to get a transfer,” I tell her again.

“Tough. I’m an unavoidable circumstance. How you react to me is up to you, isn’t that what you were saying?”

“It doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

“I think you’re going to fall in love with me,” she says softly, pursing her lips.

“Whatever,” I say gruffly, trying to push the image of her cupid’s bow from my mind.


Michelle Fry said...

I like how creative you got with this week's theme.

commongal said...

Very well written.
I think that the name "Jonathan" was code for Yankee during the American Civil War, but I'm not sure. In Hebrew, it means, "Gift from God." You use it cleverly here -- I'll check on the code issue sometime today or soon after.

commongal said...

Actually, it was a derogatory term for American Revolutionary, during the American Revolution. This link refers to the "Brother Jonathan" cartoons which were British send-ups of future Americans.

Pacian said...

I didn't know that! It's odd to think that people have been up in arms over 'Jonathans' in the past...

paris parfait said...

Very interesting twist on the prompt. Great imagination and attention to detail.

Michelle said...

I love what I see as a twist on the idea of individual responsiblity, or rather, a case for it. Your writing is, as always, entertaining.

Roadchick said...

Very interesting...the 'chick will be thinking about it for some time to come.
Thank you!

commongal said...

It's odd to think that
"Jonathan" has been a name associated with anything terrible, as the first one, the fellow in the Bible, was such a good egg. But, I have a close friend with that name and so I've grown to pay attention to it when I see it.