Sub Text

Some days it all comes together. Not very often, once or twice in a career, but when it does, it’s sweet, very sweet.

I was over at the guys place, doing what I liked to call a ‘Columbo’ on him. I knew he’d killed his wife’s lover, everybody knew it but nobody could prove it.

Especially me.

Joey Price had been poisoned. He had been given some sticky acidic stuff that had eaten through his guts and caused him no small measure of agony before it finally dispatched him.

My guy had been in another county at the time, or so he said. He had a rock-solid alibi but you can buy those if you know which solid rock to turn over.

Basically I was fishing for Probable Cause. I figured if I could get into his underwear drawer, I’d find something to pin the tail on the donkey. Trouble was, I couldn’t get in, I had no reason to go searching, the guy was innocent.

Yeah, right.

I was doing my patented small talk on him but he wasn’t liking it much. He kept looking at his watch as if he had someplace better to be. Just like on Columbo.

“Still, it must be a burden,” I said.

“What?” Testily. ‘Testily' is good.

“The name – your name – people must poke fun at it all the time. “I’ll have you on the rocks” or “what proof are you”. That kind of thing. Does that happen a lot to you sir? Does it?”


Did I tell you his name was Smirnoff? No shit. Peter Smirnoff.

I had a little bit of information to tease him with and I was trying to figure how best to feed it to him. It’s a bit like fly fishing. I wanted to present the bait to him, get him to nibble, then reel his ass in.

“Mr. Smirnoff, something has come to light…”

My phone went. I yanked it out.


But it was a text. I can’t tell the difference in the ring tones, like some people can. I’m not technologically sound.

The text said, “Where R U???”

Gerry, my partner is better with phones and stuff than me. He can use letters in place of certain words to save space and time. It’s admirable, I guess. I don’t admire it but it is admirable. Me? If I’m forced to send a text, I have to use that ‘predictive’ thing where the phone guesses the word you’re going to write. I usually prefer to call back.

“Where R U???” Shit.

Gerry was sick in his bed, that’s where Gerry’s ‘U’ was at. He called in and proudly announced that he had the ‘Man Flu’. I don’t think he knew what it meant. Gerry is good with phones and not much else.

“You can reply to that if you want,” offered Smirnoff magnanimously.

“Nah. It’s my partner, he’s needy but he’ll wait.”

Smirnoff poured himself a drink. Orange juice actually.

“You were saying,” he said, “something come to light.”

“Was I? I said, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, the text. Funny it was a text, isn’t that funny?”

“What text?” Testy again, someplace better to be.

“Joey Price, we found out he sent a text before he died.” I studied Smirnoff, not too obvious. He twitched. That’s a sure tell, when they twitch that way.

“We know this,” huffed Smirnoff, “He texted Kathy, “Help me dying,” he texted. We know all this.”

Time for the bait.

“Not that text, sir. You’re right, we all know about that one . I mean the other text.”

And that brought a big twitch. Maybe I could still land him after all.

“What exactly are you talking about Detective?”

“Joey, he got one more text out before he died. To his mother. We didn’t see it ‘cos he fell on the phone and damaged it and poor Mary was too distraught for a week to check her messages. Understandable, I’d say…

“What did it say?”

Old Vodka Peter was doing more than twitching now, he was palpitating, flapping. It was a shame I didn’t have anything, anything good.

“Tell me what it said? Did he name a name?” Smirnoff was red. Red label, geddit?

“What if it did? I pushed him, “What if it named you?”

And that’s where he went calm, that’s where I lost him. He was smart, this Smirnoff guy. He realised I was out fishing for him with no real bait and that all he had to do was stay calm. So that’s what he did.

“Tell me what it said, please.” He said, all cool and collected, and I knew he had slipped away from me.

My phone buzzed, another text.

“Tell Me Where U R AT.”

I ignored it again. Man Flu my ass. Oprah was finished and now he wanted me for diversion.

I sighed.

“The text he managed to send to his mother only had one word in it.”


I sighed again.

“’Poisoned’, he texted the word ‘poisoned’”, I said.

Smirnoff nearly laughed.

“That was kind of stating the obvious, wasn’t it?” he smirked.

“Well yes sir, it was, and that’s what’s been bothering me,” I was starting to sound a bit too much like Columbo, truth be told, I should move on to ‘Murder She Wrote’ or something, “It’s been bothering me all night. His killer must have left him for dead but he woke up and got one more text out. Why would he text that?”

Smirnoff looked at his watch for the fiftieth time.

“I have no idea, Detective,” he sighed, “And now I really have to go.”

My phone went again, another text.

“Can U Call ME at Home? OPRAH is over.”

I did some sighing myself.

“Would you excuse me a moment sir, I’d better reply to my partner, he thinks I’m lost.”

Smirnoff nodded impatiently and I set to the painstaking task of drafting my reply.

“Can you leave me alone?” I punched in, “I’m with Smirnoff.”

And then I looked at what I had done.

And then I looked again… and scratched my head… and laughed, out loud. I actually laughed.

Smirnoff exploded.

“That’s it detective, I am leaving now and I will seriously consider reporting you to your supervising officer_”

I held up my hand.

“I’m sorry, sir, but you can’t go anywhere. I’m going to need you to come down to the station with me.”

“What? I have no intention _”

“And I need to inform you that you are under arrest for the murder of _”

“Have you gone mad?”

I looked at him through my one good eye and grinned. I really couldn’t help it.

I showed him the text I had written to my partner. He read it.

“I don’t understand,” he said, “why did you write that? “I’m with poisoned.” What does it mean?”

“That’s just it sir. I didn’t write, “I’m with poisoned”. I wrote, “I’m with Smirnoff” but this predictive text thing I have to use – well, it turned your name into that word.”

Smirnoff’s mouth fell open. I couldn’t really blame him, it really was one hell of a catch.

"Who'd have believed it?" I said, "You type in Smirnoff and it comes up 'Poisoned'."

Sometimes they fall that way. Not often but when it happens, it’s sweet, really sweet.

And I couldn’t resist one final swipe.

“Don’t worry Mr. Smirnoff,” I said, “we’ll make sure they put you on ice for quite some time.”

© Ken Armstrong 2009


Lyndi said...

Every time I read your stories I am totally taken aback. Wow, you have got loads of talent. You will have to write this novel, I need to know what happened to Smirnoff.

Lette said...

Clapps profusely!!! WOOOOO WOOOOOO!!!!!! so whens it being turned into a movie????

seriously tho ur writing is truely awsome :) loves it :)

Susan at Stony River said...

Well, I didn't know that 'small fact'--I even plugged in my dusty old phone so I can try it LOL. Cool stuff, and loved the Colombo - Murder she Wrote comment; clever and fun.

Dashed off in a day? Dayum.

Ken Armstrong said...

Lyndi: Thanks Lyndi, these are like sketches in a sketch - nothing too serious. I'm pleased you enjoyed it though, it was a good start to my day to hear it.

Lette: (Bows) I love a bit of applause me. Funnily enough, my first film starts shooting on July 1st. Post on this very subject due soon.

Susan: I love the fact that you tried it! I had to try it too when I heard it. It's fun innit (the little fact, I mean). This stuff comes out very fast once I get it clear in my head - funny how lots of stuff that didn't seem to be anywhere in my head just appears on the page when I start getting it down. Writing is such fun! :)

Jim Murdoch said...

Since I hate predictive text with a vengeance - the first thing I did when my wife got me my last phone was turn the damn thing off - I also did not know that little fact.

Nice one, Ken.

R. Brady Frost said...

Very nice Ken! I liked that, very clever!

I don't have a cell, so I guess I don't hate the predictive text as much as Jim. There's nothing to turn off. :)


Margaret said...

I didn't know it either, Ken. I'm not sure my phone has predictive text on it as it has never offered a word before and I'm always backing up to re-type something, too so evidently doesn't have spell check.

Very entertaining story here my lad!


Rachel Fox said...

I've never used predictive text so I don't understand why it would do that! Aren't the letters too different? Good story though! Very sleazy.

R. Brady Frost said...

You know, I couldn't stop thinking about this last night. It seems one of the side-effects of the antibiotics I'm on is sleeplessness...

Now, suggestions are a dime a dozen and opinions can smack the face like a fish, but hear me out and take it for what you will.

Colombo always had a way of making the perp feel so much better than him, it let him get closer to pick up the details he needed to crack the case. In the current form the fact that your protagonist has a male partner is quite pronounced. So here's the rub:

If you ever decide to expand this out, what if you were a little more sly with who is sending the text at first, then maybe slip the word 'partner' out of your protagonist's mouth like bait on a hook. It could be enough to catch Mr. Vodka off guard as he's about ready to leave and give him something to poke fun at. Then when your guy cracks the case, joke's on him.

It may also be a trickier way to handle the situation for people who may feel a bit like Smirnoffs themselves when you introduce the relationship, but it's sneaky because when Smirnoff laughs at your Colombo-esque character, it will only build sympathy and dissipate any prejudices. (In most cases - I hope!)

Yarr opinions are like butts, everyone's got one and they all stink. :(

Ken Armstrong said...

Jim: Good movie title there - 'Predictive Text With a Vengeance', I'd be in the queue.

Brady: Thanks mate! Good to see you. :)

Margaret: I think it's a setting you can turn on or off - the world (from where I'm sitting) seems equally divided on who uses it and who doesn't. If I am writing my friend Berta's name it always changes it to 'Bestia' or 'Cervic'.

Rachel: 'Sleazy', I will take! Thanks. Predictive Text is, in my experience, anything but. :)

Brady: It's a good idea. I'm particularly pleased that I messed with your sleep. No it wasn't the anti-B's, I'm claiming it in the name of seedy fiction. :)

The fun with this type of quick sketch is to just run with it and see what happens. Personally speaking, I like the 'solid rock' gag and the 'one good eye' reference which I knew nothing about until I had typed them.

I like to pretend this was dashed off but although was written and put up here in a matter of a few hours, it was worked and worked and worked again in that time (and edited three times since yesterday) :)

Thanks again for spending time and energy on it.

R. Brady Frost said...

Okay, I'll let you claim the insomnia, fact is that this story kept running through my head and just wouldn't let go.

I've got a zombie short coming up soon that I'll be posting to the blog, I'll let you know when it's up. :)

Ken Armstrong said...

Brady: I'll look forward to that Zombie Short, 'sounds right up my street. Always a pleasure dude! :)

Jena Isle said...

Hi Ken,

I use predictive text because when I don't use it, I tend to use the short cut even when I write.

Many people I know hate predictive text, but it's really very practical and it facilitates texting. I disliked it too before but when I learned how to use it, I don't write without it.

I'm a heavy cheap and very convenient.

and I tried texting smirnoff and I did come out with "Poisoned". Very clever Ken and very original. I enjoyed the story enormously.

All the best.

Ken Armstrong said...

Jena: I'm glad you liked it and particularly pleased that you tried the text thing... and it worked. :)

Fiendish said...

I'm a predictive text user but rarely have the occasion to be writing the word Smirnoff, so I had no idea. Great story. I love those eureka endings.

Ken Armstrong said...

Fiendish: Does this mean you can see me again? Phew. :)

travelmaus said...

I love your stories! *Applause*
I tried the predictive text on my iPhone - sadly it doesn't want to co-operate or maybe it knows a good vodka when it spells it ;)
Can't wait for the next story. Brilliant !

Anonymous said...


Pam Nash said...

This is absolutely brilliant, Ken! πŸ‘πŸΌπŸ‘πŸΌπŸ‘πŸΌ