The walls were starch blue and appeared as bored as Jai. As the door swung open, his gaze broke.
"Good evening junior," Kent, the senior of the two said out loud. Without waiting for a response, he continued, "report?"
Jai waved it at him while sipping coffee. Kent did not take it, but pushed his coat lapels apart and sliding his thumb under the waist of his brown pants, he waited. He was a man with a curly beard and almost no hair. Jai pulled back the report to himself. It was titled: "Marjorie Levinsky, Case File"
Shifting his gaze from the title to his senior he inquired if the victim was alright.
"Junior, she just had a freak accident while performing ballet. She might not be able to get back to dancing again. If you were in her place, what a sight would you be to behold?"
Having spoken, Kent immediately loosened his tie and sat down to take the spare cup of coffee on the table. Soon after a sip, he spat it back into the cup.
Jai twisted his face into livid scorn.
"That was mine," he said, hurt.
"You could have told me that before I spoiled it" the senior replied with disgusted and a faint smile.
"Facts now, junior, facts," he added. "Who was the first one?"
"That pale girl, Lenina Whitaker."
Lenina was waiting in the questioning room. Before going inside, he had observed her through a gap in the fins to the window, quivering and fidgeting, then relaxing as if reminded that she had to behave normally.
"Whitaker. I will tell you everything," she spoke with complete certainty. To her, he looked like a tower of stacked parts. His suit accentuated that effect; one could flick at him and he'd break apart into the individual parts that made him, all falling down like a house of cards.
"Sure, that is what we exactly want."
As Lenina began to speak, Jai raised his hand to stop her.
"You will answer only those questions which I ask of you. I hope that is clear?"
Lenina held a fierce gaze, then blinked and nodded.
"Your file says you were present today, at the Ballet Theatre down the fourth block, when the accident happened. In that regard, you have been framed a suspect."
Lenina simply nodded. She didn't know what else to do.
"When did you arrive there?"
"Sometime after the show had already started."
"Around ten minutes."
Jai drummed his fingers on the desk. Lenina leaned ahead, confidently.
"Do you want coffee?"
A curt reply came back, declining the offer.
"Why were you late?"
"My sister. It was her first time."
Jai raised one of his eyebrows.
"I think you get what I mean, officer," she said, with an emphasis on the last word.
"What all did you see when you went inside."
"I went through the aisle to the first row and next to the empty seat was Angela-"
Lenina nodded. "She was sitting on the edge of her seat and I think she was crying or was about to. I don't know. It must be Justin and Marj," she said with some irritation.
Jai sighed, pushed himself back, and asked, "What about them?"
"She thinks something is going on between them," with a slight indication of jealousy.
"Since when? You are her friend, you might know."
A little after thinking, Lenina answered, "Since the group was formed."
Clicking his pen a few times, Jai twirled it, and looked from side to side before he got up without any announcement and walked to the door.
"Oh, your interrogation is over," he finally declared.
Looking at the window, her chin resting in her hand, Lenina nodded and he was gone.
"Feels empty," Jai summarised.
"Can't rule out the possibilities. She's still a suspect."
"She was released."
A fierce gaze from his senior had made Jai explain, "we didn't have much cause to hold her back when she requested that she had to go, check up on her sister."
"Bah!" Kent exclaimed. "And you let her go?"
"We could not keep her here."
Kent shook his head.
"So what after her?"
"Angela Whitman?" Jai asked sympathetically, but she immediately starting sobbing. He sat down in his chair, intertwined his fingers, and waited, patiently.
A few moments later, the girl raised her head and looked outside of a blurry vision, at Jai.
"Angela Whitman, I shall keep my question short. I'd expect your full cooperation so we can make it easy for you and us. Do you understand?"
A nod was received but with reluctance.
"When did you arrive at the theatre?"
"Be precise. How much earlier?"
"Around thirty minutes? I think."
"I was with Justin, backstage."
"What were you doing there?"
Angela looked up, incredulous.
Jai repeated himself.
"He is my boyfriend. What question is that? What do you expect to be doing backstage with your partner with nobody around?" Angela lashed out at Jai, who remained unperturbed.
"Suspect," a stern voice that surprised them both, hissed out, softly. "Sit, back in your chair."
Angela leaned back.
"When that was over, where did you go and what were you doing?"
"I was outside-"
"Immediately after it was over?"
"Look -" she caught herself and continued.
"Officer, I can tell you all of it." She bit her lower lip and paused. "All of it," she said.
Jai, calm as ever, said airily with a smug smile, "Just tell me, how long after you arrived there did it get over, your thing with your boyfriend, and what were you doing outside."
Angela didn't know how to answer that.
"It got over when we heard footsteps. Soon, Stanton walked right in with his two friends, both girls. I don't know them. I went outside for a smoke."
"And when did you go inside for the show?"
"On time, along with the crowd. Went in and just sat there in my seat."
"What happened after that?"
Angela recounted the whole accident.
After a long pause when both were either processing or tired, Angela managed to ask, "How is she now?"
Jai was still thinking. Angela repeated herself a second time so he'd respond.
But he narrowed his eyes and thought, before answering dismissively, "Suspect, we are done here."
"But when will I be released! I did not do anything, you know that!" she shouted after him as he waddled outside. She added, "I am, not, lying!" It all fell to no effect upon the blank walls for the officer was gone.
"Not much here either," Jai spoke.
Kent nodded in agreement. "Loose ends," he said. "What's next?"
"Bravo McKinnies" Jai said while looking at his file, "you are a suspect in the case of-"
"I know this story officer. Look, my brother is a detective too, and I know how it works so I will tell you all that you need to know and you don't need question me aight?"
Jai stopped, amused, and looked at the other person with mild interest.
"Suspect," he rumbled, "you are the one sitting on the opposite side here, handcuffed. Do you want me to make sure you don't get out of here? I can lay it all down on you and have you sit your ass in a rotten jail. Do you want me to do that?" his tone persisted and quivered in strength till it rose so high, that Bravo, a man of color, six feet tall and bulky, was left cowering.
Jai sank down back into his seat, breathing long and hard from this little exertion, but hiding it well.
"Now," he began again, leaning forward, "will you tell me what I ask or not?" Bravo nodded sincerely.
"And don't you interrupt me again. Consider this your first and final warning. Violate it and I shall have you thrown into a lockup. Nobody will be able to get you out. The man outside is a sharpshooter. You saw on your way in how tall and bulky he is. If I were you, I would be cautious, extremely cautious," Jai warned.
Bravo meekly nodded.
"When did you arrive there?" Jai started.
"I am an officer of law, not your friend! Do you fail to understand your position and how you have to behave here, suspect?" Jai thundered.
Composing himself, and rubbing his bald head with both his hands, Bravo tried once again.
"Officer, I don't remember much. I went in, and everyone around me started sinking into their seats. The show started. I was zoned out. Soon, a lady on my right gasped and some screams gave rise to a god damn commotion."
"Uh-huh, uh-huh. And you were, sitting? Sitting where you were supposed to?"
"Yeah m-, yes, officer. I was there where I was supposed to be."
"How did you arrive there?"
"Bosco and Brahm. They drove me there."
"The officer that stopped you on the Church Street says you were drunk."
"But Bosco was driving the-"
"Did I ask who was driving?"
Bravo shook his head.
"Your uncle, Isaac. A violent member of a very notorious, black extremist gang. Three cold murders in a white family."
Bravo froze at this and though he tried to say something, nothing came out.
"This makes you a strong suspect, you know that?"
"Officer, I did not do it. I don't even know what happened with her till them cops came out my door and took me in. What really happened to her, I don't know! How could I have anything to do with something I don't even know about!"
"You are just an easy suspect. You had an invitation from the victim to attend her show."
Jai continued, "tell me, Suspect. Did you have some beef with her? She call you a nigger?"
Bravo shook at this and when he remembered all those times Marj had used their racial difference to chastise him for nothing at all, he burned with rage and looked down.
Kent thinks it over. "Might rule him out. He is too dumb for it."
Jai laughed. "He is too scared apart from being dumb."
"How many left now?"
Kent nodded, but he was evidently zoned out. His eyes were straining at a blank space on the wall and thinking something.
"Hey, did I lose you? What are you thinking?"
"Just, Lenina, and her sister," he said and shrugged.
"Go on," he urged Jai.
Skin was sitting casually in her seat, in a gray tank top, hair dyed blue. Were her wrists thinner by another millimeter, she could have easily got out of the handcuffs which bound her to the desk. She didn't seem to be giving it much thought. Besides, the cop outside kept coming in to keep a file on the desk and take it back. She knew he was checking her out. Not bad, she thought, but then her mind took her back to that slender man in the third row from the top and she forgot all about where she was till Jai entered in a hurry.
"Suspect, remain silent. I shall ask you questions and you will answer me back only then, alright?"
"When did you arrive there?"
"Before anyone else did."
"I was with Justin," she said bored, while looking at the walls, and added, "backstage."
This was strange, but Jai didn't raise his eyebrow.
"What were you doing there with him? Were you both alone at that time?"
"I think so. I heard no one else and.."
"I was making out with him."
"Where did you go after you were done? When did you get back inside?"
"Went out and had a taco. Went in with the crowd and took my seat at the back-"
"You weren't supposed to be there."
"What do you mean?"
"Your ticket. You were supposed to be sitting in front. It was booked by your friends."
"The last seats were empty, so I went-"
"I asked why."
"Honestly, there was this beautiful man on the third row down from the top. I think he was the judge who was there to rate the performance."
"How did you know that?"
"Justin told me."
Skin looked sideways, annoyed.
"When he invited me over phone," she said.
Jai threw his pen on to the table and pulled his hands behind his head. He stared at Skin, trying to make some sense of it all. Then he stood up and headed for the door while announcing that the interrogation was over.
"I think she is lying," Kent said.
"I think so too. Something doesn't connect here," Jai agreed.
Kent waited for him to go on.
"We should get that man in the third row as a suspect. Come to think of it, Justin tells her that there is gonna be this man to judge them and she sits back to watch him. I think they were suspecting him."
Kent sighed, exasperatedly.
"A good question but one more important is, was she really with Justin there, at the backstage?"
Tapping his foot, Jai replied, "I was going to come to it."
But Kent just said, "last suspect now."
Jai entered the door carelessly but closed it with caution. The suspect looked delicate. He felt even a slight noise might shake Justin. Though a detective is supposed to do exactly that, he didn't. He wanted to smile warmly at this beautiful specimen, but he held himself back and had only a stern face to show.
"Justin Garrick. You are a suspect in the case of Marjorie Levinsky and you will answer only when I have finished my question. No more, no less. Do you understand?"
Justin simply nodded.
"From the time you arrived there, to the time it happened, slowly and carefully, avoiding no detail, take me through it all."
"I went backstage and found a couple getting cozy in the dark. I could not recognize them but I didn't want to disturb them. I went to my place. I reached there and they were gone. I switched on the lights and saw it was Vic. Upon asking, he told me he was having fun with Skin in dark. Soon, in twos and threes, all of them arrived. Marj too. She was alright and she was happy, beautiful as she always is. She was nervous. The Ballet Emporium was going to come and judge us. I assured her that she would do fine and she would get through." He stopped again.
Taking a long breath, he began, "She has been dancing ballet since she was four. Had been. I knew she would steal the show, she is right in every way for it. I think it made her feel good, after we talked? We went outside, we started. Fifteen minutes or so into it, it happened."
Tears started flowing down his cheeks as if a gentle faucet had been left open. Jai was about to offer him his handkerchief but he restrained himself.
"Were you going to be in the contention for the judging?" he asked.
"Since when have you been dancing?"
"Since I was six."
"Why is this important? Being judged by the Ballet Emporium"
"Why, they are like the Booker for authors, the Pulitzer. An artist works for himself but he also wants fame. The Emporium is the quickest path into the history of ballet."
"How many spots are there for it?"
"Usually they select the best from the entire group but this time, they were going to select only one."
"So they would not select anyone from your performance now?"
"I don't know, I, don't know," Justin burst into a free flow of tears at this.
"What do you think about this?" Jai asked, looking up.
Kent was walking around the room and stopped to lean against the cabinet. He shrugged.
"Strong suspect," is all he said.
For an hour and more, the officers kept discussing, cleaving apart facts and putting together conclusions, but none of the suspects were dismissed.
"Where are you going?" Jai asked when he saw Kent heading for the door.
"Have a slice at the Pizzeria. Why?"
Kent looked surprised
"Oh you want to come?" he realized, disappointed.
As they were going out of the precinct, they turned a corner and found themselves in front of Angela. She was coming back with a can of coke. Kent stopped, but Jai continued walking, stopping after a couple of steps.
"Hey Lenina, isn't it?" Kent asked her. She denied.
"Angela then?" She nodded.
"My partner had questioned you, I believe. I have one more question. Will you be true to me?"
She nodded again.
"You are friends with Lenina, right? Chums?"
"So you'd know if she has a sister or not?"
Angela rolled her eyes at it. "Oh, she is a nutcase. She keeps making up these imaginary people in her head. Really, she has no one in her life. No family," she said and walked away with her can.
Kent went back to Jai, who was waiting for him while he talked. He had heard the conversation.
"Yeah, I know what you are thinking," he said.
"This wasn't so difficult, was it now, junior?" Kent exclaimed jubilantly.
"But why would she do it? What motive does she have?"
"Aah, teenagers?" he paused and took out his phone. "Let me call Clarke and ask him to bring her up," he said in a calm tone as they got out of the precinct and headed to the Pizzeria.
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