Authors: CHRISTOPHER M. COLAVITO
“And you're sure you saw what you're saying you did?”
“Absolutely. He was his usual self, just without as much energy. You never would have noticed anything was different if you didn't spend every day with him.”
“Thank you for your help.”
“Of course, detective. And whenever you're ready to open yourself up, let me know. I would love to help you.”
“Don't sit up waiting.”
Fruit Juice and Murder
Detective Knox emerged from the interviews without a clear picture in his mind. In front of him, he could see a web of stories, the threads spun and hung in ornate patterns. He followed each strand towards the center, but they broke apart and drifted off in the wind before he could arrive at the hub. The answers existed, he was sure, but they were hidden from his sight, taunting him as he sank deeper and deeper in his futile attempts to extricate himself from the fog.
He refused to admit that he might not be able to piece the case together and find the killer. It was a reality in every case he was assigned, but it weighed heavier on him this time. There was a moral imperative to solve every murder, to find killers and bring them to justice, to give comfort to the grieving survivors by providing them with closure. Detective Knox knew it was his duty to give that to every victim, but certain cases unfold in a manner that makes that impossible, where doing the right thing isn't enough. In those cases, he would carry the regret home with him, and allow it to eat away at his soul. It did not matter to him that he hadn't committed the crime, merely that not being able to do what he was tasked with was enough to consider himself a sinner.
This case was different, he knew, because if the killer continued to walk the streets of the city without fear of being caught, if the public knew that no one was safe from random acts of evil, it would be more than a mere sin to be washed away through a religious rite. Not catching this killer would end Detective Knox's career, either as a direct result of being a scapegoat for the failings of the justice system, or as an indirect result of never being able to live with himself if he let down the people depending on him.
Detective Knox took his seat at his desk, dropping heavily the last few inches into the chair, stressing it to see if it would spring back. His body landed stiffly, the wheels creaking as the chair tried to move through the sticky varnish of grime, giving up the fight before it could budge. The chair gave him hope, as much as he allowed himself to feel. If it could endure through time and his abuses of it, there was hope that he could do the same, that he could rise up from the pit of doubt he was in to stand his ground in a war against injustice.
His interior monologue was interrupted by Detective Lane, who placed a fresh cup of coffee under his nose, leading him back into the conscious world with the temptation of caffeine. Knox was not a man of many indulgences, not that he considered coffee to be one, but he felt it an integral part of the process. Only by drinking a brew as dark and bitter as he considered life to be could one become connected with the spirit of evil that imbued the sorts of crimes he investigated. To Knox, fruit juice and murder were not conducive to one another. It had to be coffee.
“I don't know what to make of those people. They're all weird, even for people overcome by grief.”
“Well, kid, I think the problem is that they aren't grieving. They don't seem to be giving much, if any, thought to the fact that a man who was a big part of their lives is dead. You're a normal person, so you see that as bizarre. I've never been accused of being the most human of people, so I understand it a bit better.”
“Really? You do?”
“Not entirely, but to a degree. Just because you're family doesn't mean you have deep emotional ties that bind you together. When you're rich and entitled, you get separated not just from the people you supposedly love, but from people as a whole. Money rots you from the inside, so there's not really much left to feel when something like this happens. People like the Hobbes' aren't really people anymore. They're sort of living dolls that look and act like normal people, but when you crack them open, you only find empty air and corrosion where their heart's power supply died.”
“Did anyone tell you what a vivid storyteller you are?”
“Do you get what I'm saying?”
Lane bit down on his pen, hard enough that Knox expected to see an eruption of black ink. The thin plastic held, sparing Lane the indignity of tasting the dark fluid.
“I think so. You're saying they're all so detached and self-absorbed that they don't understand what really happened, and how they're supposed to react.”
“More or less, yeah.”
“That must be a trip. I can't imagine what it must be like to not be fundamentally normal.”
“Trust me, you do.”
“Very funny. But seriously, what do you make of what they said?”
“I think they're all either very good liars, or they don't know anything. Either one is likely.”
“And what about that bit about him looking sick or tired? Could that mean anything?”
“Absolutely, it could. And equally it could mean nothing. We don't know enough right now to be able to say if it's important. We'll keep it in the back of our minds, and when we get more information, it might start to make sense.”
“We've been saying that a lot. It's getting frustrating.”
“You don't have to tell me.”
Detective Knox returned to his coffee as the conversation paused, regretting his verbal engagement with Lane, as a liquid matching the room's icy temperature passed his lips. Coffee needed to be hot, because it needed to be dangerous if it was to be effective. Cold coffee might be as potent, but not nearly as satisfying as surviving the danger of being burned. Finishing a cold cup did not feel like a victory over anything, except perhaps bad taste.
Thankfully, as Knox believed, he was interrupted before he had to endure the remainder of his tepid drink. A faceless drone caught the corner of his eye, racing towards his desk with all the haste of the tortoise, as the hare napped. Knox should have known the man's name, he realized, but between his own indifference to people, and his reputation for being cold and aloof, his knowing people was not something either side was keen on exploring.
He handed Knox a file, turning before Knox had secured it in his grip, retreating hastily. The drone seemed genuinely terrified of spending more than a few seconds in Knox's presence, which was not at all an unwelcome development, but did stir a line of thought that made Knox ask if there would ever come a time when his coarse exterior would rub someone the wrong way in a time of need.
Detective Lane got up, circling around Knox so as to read the file alongside his partner. As Knox’s partner, he was well aware that he would only be given the bare minimum of information, so he sought out the rest on his own. Knox would not take kindly to the invasion of his personal space, or the lack of trust the move indicated, but he was not going to protest and create a conversation that would last even longer.
Inside the creased manila folder, dented in the shape of white fingertips clutching with the power of a racing heart, sat a single sheet of paper. It was worn thin, as though it had already been through a lifetime of handling, and the ink was a gray shadow of what a proper document should have been. Like everything else in the city, the department's printer was dying, and he held the symptoms in his hands.
Reading with the care of a frenzied beast, Knox found the key words, skipping over the boilerplate language that made every paragraph three sentences longer than it needed to be. It would have been a waste of paper, he agreed, to simply print the three lines of important information on a page, but it would have saved everyone time and trouble. Knox could feel Lane's breath on his neck as his partner pored over every word. Knox shut the folder, not waiting for him to finish.
“Hey, I was reading that.”
“Then you should learn how to read.”
“I know how to read.”
“No, you don't know how to read reports. You read every word like they're all important.”
“They could be.”
“No, they never are. You have to understand, everything that's ever on a page was written by someone who thinks their words matter. That means there's going to be a lot more of them than there need to be, just because the writer wants to justify their own existence.”
“And you know this how?”
“Observation. It's what we do.”
“So while I was wasting my time, you read the important stuff. That's what you're saying.”
“Yes it is.”
“And if I ask you what that is, you'll be able to tell me.”
“It's a simple blood report. The blood we found in that building belongs to the deceased George Hobbes.”
“Yes, that's it. Like I said, not every word is important, but the information is.”
“Because now we know that Hobbes was in that building, so we know the kidnapping was real. It wasn't just a story.”
“Finally thinking like a detective.”
“But what does it mean?”
“It means we have a lot more work to do.”
A Monolith Of Murder
Over the years Detective Knox had learned that an investigation, unlike time, is not a linear progression. Facts had a way of spinning the world off its axis, sending him careening off into unexpected places. What at first appeared simple would later turn out to be an intricate lattice of lies, trip-wires waiting to rise up and cut off an investigation at the knees. The job, Knox knew, was not just about being able to wade through the muck and mire long enough for the truth to be forced to the surface, it was about seeing every possible route through the maze.
Detective Knox thought about how crazy it sounded in his head, that he was working a case in which a man murdered in a locked room had been kidnapped the day before, with no one knowing anything about either incident. Such a scenario was implausible, even for the myopic denizens of the city, but yet it appeared to be the truth. He turned the thought over in his mind, letting the dark, rich soil at the bottom come to light, hoping to find a buried molecule of reason amidst the tilling.
Detective Lane watched from across the desk, trying to figure out how the mechanism was turning in Knox's brain. Though he hadn't been a detective long, he was confident he had the aptitude and skill to succeed, but his partner was inexplicable. With each passing day, Lane's confidence in himself waned, bleached by the power of Knox's star. There was much he could learn from Detective Knox, but Lane grew frustrated that he was not being given the chance to prove himself, that he was not given the trust to be let in on the secrets of the process
Left to himself, Detective Knox would have spent the entire day lost in his own thoughts, oblivious to the world around him. It was a process Lane had watched before, one that he could not grasp. The art of detection, he was told, lay in looking past what you already know to make connections that are not always clear. By avoiding discussion, by removing the opportunity to see the evidence from more than one perspective, Lane felt that Knox was limiting himself.
Detective Knox thought that the process Lane preferred was flawed, that seeing new perspectives was not always enlightening, that it often opened doors that led straight into brick walls. Knox had solved enough cases in his career to trust himself, a feat he had not yet encountered with Lane. Knox did not doubt that Lane could be valuable, but he knew the likelihood of seeing the truth was greater if he focused on himself. He owed it to Lane to correct that, in time, but they were always entrenched in one case or another, and he was not going to jeopardize an investigation for the sake of being a good teacher.
Detective Lane was hesitant to speak, but he knew that Knox had blind spots, and needed to be pushed out of the way, before being run over.
“There's someone else we need to talk to.”
Detective Knox's focus broke, his eyes snapping back to attention, the color flooding back as he began to see again. His head turned slowly in Lane's direction, a dramatic movement that was an affectation of intimidation.
“What are you talking about?”
“We asked the family if they knew anything about the kidnapping, but we forgot someone.”
“The neighbor, Anna Summers. She sees everything that happens in that neighborhood, so there's a chance she might have seen something, don't you think.”
“Actually, you might be on to something. That's not a bad idea.”
“Is this where you trot out that line about blind squirrels finding nuts?”
“Nah. At least the squirrels know what they're looking for.”
* * *
George Hobbes' house was quiet, dark, and stood against the sky like a Gothic still-life. The black outline against the gray sky reminded Detective Knox of a Victorian funeral portrait. It could have been the house itself that was the victim of the most horrific crime. Despite standing for generations, and housing life from beginning to end, the black stain of murder poured over every inch, turning it into a sideshow attraction. No longer would a family look at the facade and see the hope of a rich life, nor would those walls serve as a comforting sense of security. Instead, the house seemed to stand as a monolith of murder, a reminder of the ugliness that lives inside us all.
Knox watched the house from the other side of the street, where he assumed most everyone would stand from then on, only a morbid few daring to venture closer for a better look. It had become a curiosity, a thing to be pointed out while driving by, destined to forever remain the setting for ghost stories. At least, Knox thought, in that way it would continue to live. It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing.
Detective Lane threw his fist against the door, his bony knuckles striking with a sharp, shrill sound. Knox was once again startled out of his thoughts. This was a habit he needed to cure Lane of, if their partnership were to flourish. He watched the door move, slowly creeping away from the jamb, exposing only an inch of the silent interior.
“What can I do for you, detectives?”
“If you can open the door,” Lane offered, “we just need to ask you a few questions.
Anna pulled back on the handle, sliding the door open enough for her slim frame to slither through the opening, clutching the knob behind her as she stood in the weak daylight.
“What do you think I can help you with?”
“Did you see George Hobbes the day before his murder?”
“Yes, I saw him almost every day.”
“But you didn't talk to him.”
“Did you notice anything unusual about him? Anything that, with hindsight, seemed suspicious?”
“When something like that happens, everything seems suspicious.”
“I suppose so, but is there anything in particular you think would help us?”
“No, he didn't seem any different than normal. He was doing the same things he always did.”
“Did he look sick, or injured?”
“I couldn't tell from over here. Sorry I can't be of more help.”
Detectives Knox and Lane turned away and before they had taken a step, they heard the sound of the door shutting behind them. Knox could not blame her for wanting to stay tucked away from the greater world. He would have done the same thing, if he hadn't been hardened to feel a violent end was inevitable. People who have hope should be scared, he thought, because hope is terrifying.
“Well, Lane, how did it feel to lead an interview?”
“It either felt like an accomplishment that you relinquished a bit of control, or it felt like you just wanted to be lazy.”
“Now that you said that, you know which one I'm opting for.”
“Speaking of control, I suppose this is when you're going to tell me that we need to get back over to the kidnapping scene to see if we can find any additional clues.”
“There's no hurry. Nothing is going to change if we wait until after lunch to get over there.”
“I'm glad to hear you say that.”
“Oh you are, are you?”
“Yes. I have something I need to go take care of, so I will meet you there in an hour. How's that sound?”
“That sounds fine, but now I want to know what you're up to.”
“Use your skills of detection. I'm sure you'll find out.”
“Don't fly too close to the sun, kid.”
* * *
Detective Lane ducked into a corner booth, away from the windows, hidden from view. He felt guilty sneaking around like this, not telling his partner what was going on, but getting off the leash was sometimes necessary. Lane put his hand up, signaling for the waitress to put the ubiquitous cup of coffee on the table in front of him. He began sipping reflexively; drinking was a nervous habit more than anything else. The addiction began as a means of filling the stereotype, until the caffeine established a foothold. Now, he struggled to make it through a day without feeding his need, lest he fall prey to withdrawal.
Lane knew nothing of real withdrawal, the pain that comes with cleansing your body of the poisons that give it life. His was but a mere inconvenience compared to those with real problems, but even so, he could sympathize with those who lived their lives in the shadows of their inner demons. Perhaps that made him unfocused, unable to shut off everything else in pursuit of the truth, but he felt it made him a better detective. Being human allowed him to see things Detective Knox could not, even if the proof of that hypothesis had yet to be unearthed.
A man took the seat opposite Detective Lane, slumping down on the ragged vinyl with the weariness that accompanies a life spent uncovering monsters. The look on his face was not one Lane had come across often, one that said more than any words. Still, he pressed on.
“I want to talk to you about your former partner, Dylan Knox.”
“You mentioned that. You work with him already, so what else do you need to know?”
“I'm trying to figure out if he has something against me in particular, or if he just holds all of humanity in contempt.”
“I see, you're at that point where you think he should be acknowledging that you contribute to the team, but he spends most of his time off in his own little world.”
“That's exactly it.”
“Don't sweat it. That's just the way he is. He was like that the day he got his desk, and it never changed. It didn't matter to him that he was low man on the totem pole, he knew he was good at his job, and he didn't think being collegial mattered as long as he was right. Turns out, he wasn't wrong.”
“I get that, but I want to know how you managed to get past that. How did you get his respect?”
“Who said I did?”
“You worked together so long, you had to have a better rapport with him than I do.”
“We got along, but that's because I figured out the key to handling him.”
“Staying out of his way. If you let him do his thing, and chime in with a good idea now and then, things will go just fine. But if you insist on trying to show him what you're capable of, and muscling in on his turf, you're going to get shut out.”
“All I want to do is learn how to do the job well. I can't do that when he doesn't work with me.”
“That's all part of the education, kid. If you watch long enough, you start to see how the whole thing works. It's not that he's trying to shut you out intentionally, even if he does hate you. He's trying to show you, in his own misguided way, that procedure isn't everything. You have to find your own way of working, your own way of thinking. It’s not about drawing a murder board with straight lines. If that's what you're expecting, you're probably in the wrong line of work.”
“Because life's too complicated for that.”
“It is if you're actually trying to get to the truth. Look, it's one thing to solve a case. It's a whole different task to figure out what really happened. That don't always mesh.”
“And what he does is try to figure out the big picture, not just the little bit we get to see.”
“Pretty much. There's more to a mystery than who did it.”
“Finding out the how and why is as important as finding out the who.”
“Now you're starting to get it.”
“Thanks. You've been a big help.”
“That's a first.”