I’m hungry and I’m cold and the floor is hard beneath me. The air is thick and static. It smells so bad. What is that smell?
I don’t want to know.
I leaned back in the chair and rubbed my stomach. Gave it a gentle slap. I could have done with a little more time to sleep, but otherwise, I felt pretty good. I closed my eyes against the whiteness of the light and watched the shapes forming and breaking against my eyelids. Kaleidoscopic.
A cough from across the table got my attention, which was its purpose.
I lowered my head slowly until it was level and then sat up straight. I opened my right eye and looked at the two men across the table. Both were watching me. Both waiting patiently. The calm assurance of the game won. I opened my left eye and smiled. “I’m sorry,” I said, sweetly as you like. “Where was I?”
“You were telling us about the bodies,” said the one on the right, as I looked at them, the one who tended to do the speaking.
He was younger, slimmer, better groomed than his partner. He looked like he took care of himself. Looked kind of old fashioned, the way he presented himself. The haircut and tie just so. Dobbes, his name was. I liked him, somehow.
“Yeah, that’s right,” I said, looking from Dobbes to his partner, Trellow, who was still scowling, then back at Dobbes. “I nearly forgot. Where was I? I killed them. I said that, didn’t I? It was me. It wasn’t any type of thing. Not really. Killing’s easy, you know? And I’ll tell you what, you keep these wings coming, and a big bowl of hot sauce, with something fizzy and cold to wash it down, and I’ll tell you all about some more that it doesn’t even seem to me that you know about. If you’d be interested in such things, you understand.”
Trellow visibly bristled. Seemed to me he couldn’t keep his emotions out of his body language. Dobbes, though, smiled back at me calmly. “You’re saying you’d like to tell us about more crimes?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Better out than in. That’s the saying, isn’t it?”
“It’s a saying, sure,” Dobbes agreed.
“And this really is some good chicken. Where did you say you got it?
“I don’t think I did,” Dobbes said, which was true.
“I can find out for you, if you’d like?”
“That would be great,” I told him.
“Of course,” said Trellow. “It doesn’t seem you’ll be going for a walk to any chicken shops any time soon.”
I nodded, dipped another piece into the plastic tub full of hot sauce, took a bite and made them wait while I savoured it. “That’s too bad,” I said, looking right at Trellow. “Too, too bad. It always seems the best things in life are snatched away just at the moment you discover them, doesn’t it?”
Trellow tensed. His buttons were huge. Hard to miss. He didn’t get a chance to speak though. Dobbes spoke first, keeping it calm. “I think we can all sympathise with the sentiment, Mr Devortin.”
“Alfred,” he corrected. “And we’ll put in another order for you shortly, but we’re not here to talk about chicken.”
“True. But we might as well be.”
“Why is that?”
I smiled. I was going to wink, but I thought it might be a step too far. “It’s all bones.”
I didn’t know what else to say. I really didn’t.
“I know what he said in his confession, sir, but everything is so non-specific.”
“Meaning that unless we find some bodies, any of them, it’s just a story.”
The captain looked off to the side. He tapped his front upper teeth with the nail of his right index finger. He scratched his right earlobe between the thumb and index finger of his right hand. He was agitated. More agitated than the man we had locked up. “Would you say there is a chance that you don’t believe him?” he asked.
“No,” I told him. “Not at all. That’s just it. He seems…” how to say? “I believe him. I absolutely believe him. But what we have is a confession to multiple murders, with potentially even more to still be revealed, and no evidence of any murders having taken place.”
“Nothing at all?”
“No. Just a speeding violation and a bag full of assorted knives and other tools, all of which are immaculately clean.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. We have everything that fits the crimes, except for any evidence of them taking place.”
“I’ll tell you what to tell me. Tell me you have good news. Tell me you have evidence. Tell me you have bodies, one body even. Tell me you have blood. Tell me you have some damn DNA. Tell me you have something. Tell me within 24 hours. Got it?”
I stood tall as I left his office. As I walked down the corridor. I went into the bathroom and slumped, a crumpled mess, in the end stall. I loosened my tie, then took it off completely. I wrapped it around my fist and punched the concrete wall. I knew the guy was playing us, but damned if I could tell the game.
“You know what?” I asked as Dobbes took the latest round of junk food from the officer in the doorway and brought it over to me. “I’m starting to feel like Hansel.”
Trellow curled his lip. “What?”
But before I could answer, Dobbes took over. “So you view us as the wicked witch of your scenario?”
“Hey, if the cap fits…”
“Why don’t you…” Trellow began, standing, but Dobbes tapped him on the wrist.
The two exchanged looks. I think they like each other less than they like me. Trellow slowly sat back down again. “I don’t know what this crap is,” he muttered.
Dobbes turned to me. “You talk a lot about things you’ve done,” he said. “But is it just talk?”
I laughed. “First you want me in here, now you’re questioning whether I should have come? What is this?”
“You tell me.”
“I think,” I told him. “That you want me to do your job for you.”
Dobbes smiled at me. No mirth there. “Maybe you just want to play games.”
I sat forward, leaned on the table with my elbows. “So what do you want from me?”
“Give us some bodies,” he said. “Real bodies. Not just stories.”
When he dropped the bombshell, it was like I was blinded and deafened by the blast. Ground zero. Over in a flash.
“What do you mean the living or the dead?” I asked slowly, watching him closely.
He was enjoying himself. A grin spreading across his face. I could see he’d been waiting for this. Biding his time. Twisting the hoops and lining them up, hitting go and watching us jump through them. He bit into a piece of chicken and I thought that Trellow might have to stop me this time. But I tried to stay calm. I waited.
He nodded his head appreciatively as he did so, picked up a wing and held it out towards me, but I didn’t react.
Hesucked the bone clean, put it down on the plate gently, licked his fingers, then his lips.
“I don’t believe I ever said,” he began, then picked up the next piece of chicken. “That all of the bodies were dead.”
Trellow was up and out of the room, shouting names.
“Tell me,” I told him.
So hungry now. I feel like my stomach is eating me from the inside.
When I slept it didn’t feel like sleep. It felt like a nothing that wasn’t supposed to end, but then it did. It ended and I fell into this. I fell from sleep into something else. Into darkness.
The cloth in my mouth. I suck it. It’s wet. It tastes old and dirty, but it’s wet.
I haven’t heard his voice now for some time. I hear the traffic. The cars. They are close, I am sure of that. I hear them going past. Never stopping. I think sometimes one will hit me. Throw me through the sky to come crashing down into a new darkness. I try to wriggle, but the plastic digs into my wrists, into my ankles. I think I might be bleeding.
Somebody is coming. Somebody has to come.
Every time. Every time I am asleep. Every time I wake up. These things don’t happen. They are not real. It is not real.
The room is empty. Bare walls. Tiled floor. Everything so bland. I could do with a cushion, but it doesn’t seem that anybody is coming to me soon. Or maybe they will. There’s always more questions. Through the window in the door, I see heads going back and forth. It’s a fish tank at feeding time. Speaking of which, I’m running low on chicken.
The last thing Dobbes said to me was about time running out. It shows how little he understands. Time is not running out. Time is not going anywhere. Everything is happening at once. I can close my eyes and see it all. Bodies or not are just a matter of air.
When I was younger, I used to fantasize about running away from home. I watched horror movies after school with Jen before her mum got home from work. Her brother had a collection of video tapes, but her brother was never home. We’d rummage through his room and see what we could find. Magazines. A box full of knives. A pink bra. School books with the covers ripped.
I remember the knives. I stole a small one in a leather pouch. I could fit it in my sock. It felt good there, rubbing as I walked. I would imagine pulling it out and slicing into whoever was speaking to me or about me. Whoever was saying things. I wore it in the classroom, taped to the small of my back.
If I had it now…
I must have slept again. The darkness changed. I try to lift my head, but it’s so heavy.
Dobbes came back into the room. Not with Trellow. Somebody else. A woman. And then another man came in behind them. They spread a map over the table, pushing my empty containers aside. I suppose that means they’re not bringing me any more chicken.
“Show us,” said Dobbes. “Show us on the map.”
I looked it over. “What do you want to see?”
“Enough with the games,” said the man who had come in behind them.
He is older and Dobbes and the woman turned to him. Deferred to him. Clearly a boss. He looks tired. Fed up. I gave him a lazy salute. “Whatever you say, boss.”
“Show us on the map,” said Dobbes, tapping it with his index finger. “Show us where we can find them.”
“You know what I mean. The bodies.”
I was about to ask which ones in particular, when the boss man spoke. “You said there might be someone alive.”
“There might be,” I told him. “Who can predict such things?”
“This is not a joke,” he said.
“No joke,” I agreed.
I could see Dobbes wanted to speak.
“If you can help us to find anyone who’s still alive, it will go better for you,” the boss man said and tapped at the map.
I looked at the finger and up it at the face of the boss. The lines. The skin. Taut here, loose there. He was sick. But did he know? Maybe that conversation was yet to come.
I ran a hand over the map, tracing the lines, imagining the ups, the downs, the intersections. I like that word. It works. I could feel the earth between my fingers. The bodies beneath, the flesh falling from the bones, becoming one with the world. They wanted me to show them the bodies. The bodies are everywhere. I could tell him this. I could draw great lines of them linked across the countryside. Across time. I could ask for a pen and colour between the lines. Make patterns. They could analyse them for meanings. Things would go better.