Vic felt the stiff metal of the chair pressed up against his back. The sweatshirt stuck to his skin and chafed around his neck. Inside the interrogation room, it was dead still with no AC blowing through the vents.
Just another old trick that they play. Keep the suspect in the room, make him sit there worrying about what he had been brought in for, what do the police know… Literally to make him squirm and sweat. Vic surmised.
Then they will enter all smooth and nonchalant. Offer up a cold soda to get me to relax a bit. One of the cops, the good cop, will offer to take the can or glass away to throw away. Secretly they are gathering more evidence for fingerprinting and DNA for later.
He frowned and adjusted his chair.
Stop that! His mind scolded. They are watching you. Remain cold, emotionless. Don’t give them anything to work with. When they come in, you have to be the investigator. You’ve got to learn what they know.
His skin crawled with the feeling of their eyes upon him, observing him through the two-way mirror. Judging him not only on his past history, but by his race as well. He understood the reality of things. Yet, he still hated it, but he wasn’t going to fool himself to thinking that he would not be held accountable to a social stereotype either.
The last day and night had become surreal. It was as if he drove to that wealthy neighborhood and parked his car in another parallel reality. Nothing had made sense since he had stepped into her house.
He had to find answers if he was going to get through this and out of the elaborate steel trap that he was in.
A subtle knuckle rap at the door announced the entrance of the case detectives. The first was an older white cop with a scruffy, grey goatee, brown and unkempt hair above a set of sharp blue eyes. The detective following him stood a good five inches taller. A black and athletic man, close-cropped hair and a strong jawline. Although he seemed more of a younger, model-type, there was a sense of confidence that surrounded him.
Each had a drink in one hand and several manila folders tucked under the other arm. They joined Vic at the table, sitting across from him and opened their file folders without a word.
I am this week’s guest star on Law & Order. Madre! Vic made the dumb joke inside. His nerves were ragged. Outside, he remained stone and stoic.
“Vicente Vargas, age 23,” said the black detective in a monotone announcer voice.
“Before we start, champ, you want a drink or something?” the other “Good Cop” offered with a shark grin.
There it was… and so we begin.
He shook his head with a tiny movement.
“You sure? Kind of hot in here, no?”
Vic stared away from them and did not acknowledge the offer. The longer he could drag this out, the better his chances were of getting information to be slipped out.
It was the exact tactic the two seasoned detectives were angling for.
Good Cop stepped up, “I’m Detective Chad Ellis. This is my partner on this case, Detective Payton Kemp.”
He still gave them nothing.
Detective Ellis continued to lead the conversation. “I see… you are a person of few words. Okay… Well, let’s not start that way. The more open you are with us, the more we are going to be able to help you out, Vicent.”
“Vicente.” Corrected Detective Kemp.
“Uh, yeah, sorry.” Ellis coughed into his hand and restarted, “Why don’t we go over the facts and then you can fill in some details for us?”
His eyes remained locked on Vic’s, looking for any signs of cracks in the foundation. The scan was penetrating and precise. Those eyes were focused, experienced and yet somehow haunted.
Like Cory Tames, Vic mused. The kid had been a meth junkie since he was eleven years old and had been serving his sixth drug sentence when he met him.
When Cory talked to you, his mouth said one thing, yet his eyes were alive with ghosts running around in his head. You almost could see them flash by.
There was something that the heavy-set detective had seen that reminded him of Cory. Something still hovered over him. Ellis hadn’t let go of it and it had stained his soul. Vic made mental note – Could I use that somehow?
“Yesterday evening around 4:30 to 5:30 pm, at 1718 Lioness Estates Drive, Shari Renee Thomas was stabbed to death. She had been butchered inside her parent’s house. At 2828 S Margo Drive, Vicente Anthony Vargas parked his 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt. Inside it, Officer Dan Reccard discovered her body.” Kemp read aloud to the room, then he sat back in his own steel chair. Both detectives waited and watched.
Don’t give them anything. Vic repeated to himself in his head. Shari Thomas, remember that name. Wait.. They said she was killed between 4:30 to 5:30. I wasn’t there until after 6! I can use… No, they may be baiting me. Giving me false rope to hang myself. Dammit!
“Vicente, listen. You are in a world of hurt here. I want to understand what happened. Help yourself and take my advice. Now is the time to tell us your side of things. Tell us what she did.”
Their game of pleading, threatening, bribing, pretending went on for another half hour. He didn’t give them anything.
A knock at the door interrupted their little performance. After he answered it, Kemp rushed out of the room holding another manila folder. Five minutes later he returned and whispered into his older partner’s ear.
“Yeah? No shit?” Genuine surprise came out.
They both turned to look incredulous at Vicente.
Bullshit. Bullshit games, my main man, whispered Rory again in the dark recesses in his head.
Kemp returned to sit at the metal table across from the young Hispanic.
“You aren’t giving us much choice here, bud. I know we asked you earlier if you wanted your lawyer and you refused, but maybe this is your ploy. Are you a gamer, Vicente?” Ellis started.
Vic felt more sweat gather at the back of his neck. He still averted his eyes, staring at the back of his hands in front of him. Something had changed, shifted in their favor.
“I know you are smart. You know a lot of the system since you did your earlier stint. Did you get taught some legal magic in jail? You learned some good tricks that will work this all out?” Kemp jumped in with a mocking taunt.
“Thinking that if there’s no lawyer maybe you can say that we didn’t allow you counsel or didn’t advise you to get one?” Ellis pointed at a corner in which a camera was directed at them, a tiny red light blinked.
“It’s all on tape. Just like the recording of you leaving the Thomas residence. “ He paused again to let that sink in.
“You need to start working this out with us, Vicente.”
Stone cold silence. No show of emotions.
Kemp turned in his chair and looked at Ellis. “Samantha Troy? Do you think…?”
Ellis scrunched his face and then shook his head slowly. “I hadn’t thought of that, but why?” He shifted back to Vic, leaned over the table and clasped his hands in front of him. “We have the body. Are you going to admit to this? Perps like you have gotten themselves away from the death penalty by being cooperative and leading us to the other bodies.” His tone was flat and matter-of-fact.
Yet, when he said “Perps like you” an expression flickered across his face. A crack in his practiced foundation. A glimpse behind the detective mask to the disgusted and angry hero wanting justice. That look scared Vicente. It was an honest and deep emotion — brief but revealing. He exposed a truth: they have actual hard evidence.
Oh god, I am in so deep!
Vic met the detective’s gaze for the first time, his top lip involuntarily trembled. “I didn’t hurt that girl. I didn’t know her.”
“Who is this then?” Kemp slid a head shot of a dead woman at him. A pretty, red head with cloudy white eyes stared up at the photographer, but Vic felt those dead eyes pierce into him.
I don’t know you!
“Who’s hands are these?” Kemp slid another photo of the hands from the backpack.
The older detective slapped his hand down on the pair of pictures startling Vicente. “Why do you have them if you had nothing to do with their murders?”
“WHAT?” Vic blurted. “Murders?”
“I am going to run her DNA and find out her name soon enough. You would save us a lot of time, you would give her family closure and you would go a long way to bettering your situation, IF YOU TELL ME WHO THIS WOMAN IS!” Ellis pointed at the cut hands.
Two dead girls. And they think there’s more.
“Is this Samantha? Did you kill Samantha Troy?” Kemp asked in a more even tone.
It was like a one-two punch followed up with an uppercut to his jaw. The detectives had him boxed in and on the ropes. He even felt like the room was spinning.
“I want a lawyer.” He rasped.
The detectives sighed in unison. They felt that they were on to something. A confession, a rant, a breakdown, something… It had been close in hand. Whatever it was, it didn’t happen and their window had past.
Kemp spoke out loud for both Ellis and their prisoner to hear, “He’s scheduled to be brought downtown on the transfer at 9 am. We can speak with him and his lawyer then. Give him time to rethink his story and be more willing to save himself the needle!”
Vic lowered his face into his hands.
Bernice Baxter was a bitch.
She knew it, she embraced it. It normally made her job and her life easier. Or at least easier to get her way. People did not like conflict and many would give way rather than stand up to you.
Once more and for the seventeenth time that morning, she looked at her watch. It was 8:12 AM.
From behind her she heard the familiar jingle of The Price Is Right playing on the television in the front room. With her hands on her hips, she glanced over her shoulder. She saw Anna Witherspoon, Bernice’s shut-in patient who sat propped up on the couch with three pillows behind her. She giggled and smiled through her oxygen mask at the TV as the show began.
The rotation of “Idiot TV” was starting — first The Price Is Right, then The Jerry Springer Show and then Judge Judy all before the lunch hour. These shows were dumbing down America she felt and were exactly what was wrong with this country.
Don Witherspoon, Anna’s oldest son was overdue from his work shift. He should have been there by 7:30 AM.
Bernice hated her work taking care of elderly. She was always disgusted and dismayed at how the body deteriorated at the end of life and it often required a lot of care support.
Days like this one she wondered again how she fell into this line of work and how she managed to stay in it. Her lack of bedside manner had kept her out of any nursing positions, but her lack of ambition had stalled her life early in her twenties. Her late husband had kept them afloat with his antique shop. Now a widow and making due with her low wages, bitterness was her true obsession in life.
“Can I have some cereal at least?” A petite, brunette girl whined from the upstairs hallway near the bedrooms.
“Shellie, I don’t get paid any extra for you to eat. I am not here to take care of you.” Bernice berated her in icy tones.
Don’s only child was a seven-year-old oddball. Currently she had the girl sitting in the corner on a little footstool.
Bernice didn’t like her from the start. If she had been seven years old too she would have gathered a group to jump Shellie and would have beat the snot out of the brat. In her day, that was just what you did to the oddballs — the ones that didn’t quite fit in and they didn’t get why.
The mousy girl always had her face in a computer screen or eyes glued to her smartphone. That morning Bernice had walked in on her watching Youtube videos on the basics of computer hacking. When she had reached for the laptop, Shellie had shouted at her and pulled away.
Bernice had slapped her a hard sharp smack across the top of her thigh. The girl’s shorts would hide any marks or bruises that formed.
She smiled knowing that the girl would be too modest to undress in front of her daddy so there was little chance of being discovered accidentally. Shellie was smart though. She wouldn’t say anything to Don and risk getting worse from Bernice. This wasn’t the first time one of her patient’s had a brat to deal with.
Bernice Baxter was a bitch.
“Next we will have our winners Spin the Wheel after these messages from our sponsors!” Drew Carey bellowed in the background.
Don Witherspoon burst in out of breath through the kitchen door. The clock on the stove said 8:26 AM.
He was covered in sweat and his beige uniform had several patches of sweat.
“I am so so sorry, Ms. Baxter!” He apologized.
“No more,” she shook her head in emphasis. “I am quitting. Not only are you late again, but your daughter kicked me this morning! And on top of that, I am going to be stuck on the 202 an extra hour due to the morning traffic! Too much. I am done!”
She’d practiced the speech in her head almost a dozen times while waiting. He had no one else to go to. Timing was critical and finally she had enough to threaten to quit… unless he offered her more money. She had him by what her Eddie would have called “the short hairs”.
Swiping her big green purse from the table, she brushed rudely past him and out the door toward her rusting 2006 Chevy Impala parked on the street.
He raced after her begging for another shot. She made him suffer until she reached for her car door handle. Finally turning to face him, “The only way I can put up with Shellie and your mother any more will be if you pay me an extra $2 an hour. NO LESS!”
Don blanched in surprise and then sagged in defeat. He shook his head in agreement. “I will have a talk with Shellie, I promise. Can you come by tomorrow? The register locked up today and I will have to go in to the laundry mat early tonight to balance out the drawer. Please?”
“Fine.” She didn’t care about the extra time tonight. Her victory elation overshadowed the inconvenience.
As she drove away she watched him in her rearview mirror. “Dumbass!” She laughed and then headed for the freeway.
At 9:12 AM, Bernice pulled out from the onramp and merged into the rush hour crowd.
It was hot already, the radio stated it was nearing 96 degrees. She frowned and punched the button to look for a country music station.
At 9:16 AM, the Impala lurched forward and sputtered like it had a gas hiccup.
“What the hell?” She shrieked. However, the car continued to race along at 48 mph. There were no red engine lights or any other dashboard signals to account for it.
“I just got this damn thing an oil ch—” The wheel yanked to the right on its own and the car brakes plunged to the floor by themselves.
Car horns blared and deafening tire screeches surrounded her. The Impala skewed to a parked position in the fast lane. Cars whizzed by close and narrowly avoided her.
Bernice screamed and smashed her foot on the gas to try to get the car moving again.
“Oh dear lord!” She mouthed the words as she tried the door handle. Her breath taken away from her intense terror.
The door wouldn’t open, all were locked.
The Impala growled and then revved fiercely as if it were alive and had a mind of its own.
Again Bernice screamed as the car ripped across the three lanes of oncoming traffic. It barreled through the cement barrier. Flung forward, she broke her sternum on the steering wheel at the same time the air bag deployed.
At 9:17 AM Bernice Baxter’s car nose dived through the air, plunging over 80 feet onto the unaware traffic below.
The blinding air bag prevented her from seeing the impact of her car as it plowed through the front cab of a long, grey prison transport bus. A bus headed for the downtown Phoenix Jail.
Bernice Baxter blinked for the last time as her eyes filled with blood. She hung against the bus’ hood and partially out of her shattered driver-side window. The back door to the bus burst open and men clad in orange jumpsuits fled in all directions down the freeway ramp.
Flames flickered and scalded her pulped legs as engine oil and fluids flooded the ground. Her skin darkened and her flesh sizzled like bacon.
She didn’t feel the heat or the pain.
Bernice Baxter would never see her extorted raise.
Bernice Baxter had finally ceased being a bitch.
At 9:20 AM as Don Witherspoon scolded Shellie on how her abusive behavior had cost him, a miniature, green light blinked three times in a rapid series on her laptop. It had laid abandoned in the sheets of her bed.
A fire engine horn blast followed by the sounds of several wailing police cars could be heard somewhere north of their house. Neither of them noticed nor heard the emergency sirens.
Neither of them noticed nor heard the single bleep and soft hum of a file download beginning.