MULTIPLICITY • by Robert Swartwood

Jeff was broke. He had lost his job and the bills kept piling up and his ex kept calling bitching about him needing to pay his alimony and she wouldn’t let him see his son, Jeff Jr., no matter how much he begged. Nobody would hire him. He called around to some friends, asking for a couple bucks, anything they could spare. They all turned him down. One of his friends, though, a guy named Jeff, said he might be able to help him out.

“Just how desperate are you?” Jeff asked Jeff over the phone.

“Very. Why?”

“Meet me tomorrow night. I got this friend — believe it or not, his name’s Jeff too — and I think he might just be the person to help us both out.”

The next night Jeff and Jeff met Jeff at Jeff’s place over a bar in the city. Jeff took one look at Jeff and said, “Do I know you?”

“No,” Jeff said. “We never met before.”

Jeff turned to Jeff. “Then why the fuck would you bring him here?”

“Look,” Jeff said, “he’s cool. I vouch for him.”

“Oh,” Jeff said, raising his hands. “If you vouch for him, then he must be cool.” Jeff snorted. “Give me a fucking break.”

“Look,” Jeff said, “I don’t want to cause any trouble here. Jeff said you might be able to help me out, so that’s why we’re here.”

Jeff studied him for awhile, rubbing his chin with his fingers. “So you’re desperate, huh?”


“Just how desperate?”

“Desperate enough.”

Jeff looked at Jeff, then back at Jeff. He seemed to be thinking to himself, nodding slowly. “Okay then, here’s the deal.”

Two nights later the three Jeffs rode up a long narrow drive to a mansion just outside the city. The mansion, Jeff said, would be empty. Jeff knew one of the housekeepers there, an old girlfriend who said the guy who owned it — “Get this,” Jeff said smiling, “his name is also Jeff, can you believe that shit?” — kept a lot of valuables around. What kind of valuables exactly, Jeff didn’t know, but with three guys they should be able to clean the place out pretty quick.

“Even better,” Jeff said as they drove, “my girl knows the code. Gave it to me for a piece of the cut.”

The mansion was dark. Jeff parked the van around the back and they all got out. Jeff looked at Jeff and took a breath.

“You okay?” Jeff asked him, and Jeff nodded, said he was. “Good,” Jeff said. “We go in and out, it’s that simple.”

Jeff pulled a gun out from behind his pants and checked the magazine.

“Whoa,” Jeff said. “What do you need that for?”


“Protection from what?”

Jeff ignored Jeff and went to the backdoor. He punched in the code and the little red light on the panel turned to green. Jeff used the butt of the gun to break the window, then reached in and unlocked the door. He opened it and smiled at the two Jeffs.

“After you,” he said.

They started with the downstairs. The place was filled with stuff, but nothing that looked like it was worth taking, at least not yet. Then they came to the second floor and an old man in a wheelchair was waiting at the end of the hallway, a shotgun pointed at them.

Jeff pulled out his gun and pointed it back at the old man.

“Don’t be stupid, old man,” Jeff said.

The old man — the owner, Jeff — said, “You’re the ones who are stupid, coming into this house. Now leave.”

“Not until we get what we came for.”

“Hey,” Jeff said softly to Jeff. “Let’s just go.”

“Are you crazy?”

Jeff stepped forward and tried to pull Jeff away but Jeff squeezed the trigger, shooting Jeff in the throat. Blood gushed out and as Jeff slumped forward in his wheelchair he pulled the trigger of the shotgun, sending out a blast. Jeff spun around, reaching for Jeff, but Jeff was already running away.

“Where the fuck do you think you’re going?” Jeff said, raising his gun, but Jeff, now on the floor, grabbed his foot and yanked it out from under Jeff’s body.

Jeff, halfway down the stairs, paused, turned, and hurried back to find Jeff wrestling Jeff for the gun. Jeff punched Jeff in the face, made a grab for the gun, but then Jeff kicked Jeff in the crotch and Jeff dropped the weapon. Finally Jeff took the gun and shot Jeff in the face, then turned to Jeff, the gun aimed.

Jeff held up his hands. He almost felt ready to piss himself. “Don’t shoot!”

Jeff slumped down onto his knees. The gun fell from his grasp. More blood was on his front than Jeff had at first thought. Jeff rushed to him, asking him if he was okay.

“I got shot in the fucking stomach,” Jeff said, his face pale. “What do you think?”

Jeff crouched down, took hold of Jeff, and helped him to his feet. They went down the stairs, slowly, then weaved through the rooms toward the backdoor. Jeff was getting heavier, his feet starting to drag more with every step.

“Come on, come on,” Jeff said to Jeff, trying to encourage him, but by the time they’d reached the van Jeff had become dead weight.

Jeff coughed up blood. “Just… let me lay down. Right here… is fine.”

It was the last thing Jeff wanted to do. He wanted to get out of there. He wanted to go to his ex’s place and see Jeff Jr. Instead he laid Jeff down on the ground and cradled Jeff’s head so it wouldn’t hit the pavement.

“The stars,” Jeff whispered. Blood covered his mouth. “Look how… many there are.”

“Shh,” Jeff said.

“No… look.”

Jeff, his hands covered in blood, tilted his head toward the heavens.

Robert Swartwood doesn’t know many other Roberts. He is the editor of Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer, forthcoming from W.W. Norton.

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