Jane stopped by the coffee maker on her way to the interrogation room and poured herself a cup. She wasn’t sure whether her head was pounding from the hangover or from the anger she felt at being blackmailed into talking to Emily. The interrogation room was just down the hall from homicide. It was a tiny room, about eight by ten feet square, designed to make suspects feel pinned in and anxious. The walls were painted lime green, or as some called it, “D.O.C. green” for Department of Corrections. The floor was covered in tough, “industrial-strength” carpeting. The walls were empty save for a cork board where evidence was placed, a writing board for the suspect, a nondescript clock, a calendar and a “No Smoking” sign in bright red lettering. Fluorescent lighting beamed down on the suspect who sat across from the interrogator at a small table. Hidden in the corner of the small room was a camera and microphones that videotaped the entire scene. A computer monitor sat nearby, connected to a keyboard in the narrow observation room on the opposite side of a two-way mirror. During questioning, an observer who was monitoring the interrogation, could type a question into the computer for the interrogator to ask.
Sergeant Weyler stopped first at the observation room and poked his head in. “Here she is.”
Chris popped his head outside the door. He looked weary with bloodshot eyes and tousled hair. It was obvious to Jane that the Lawrence case was occupying his nights and days, leaving little time for sleep. Chris acknowledged Jane with a tinge of attitude in his voice. “Glad you could make it to my case!”
“I’m not grandstanding, Chris,” Jane said, irritated as she leaned her leather satchel against the wall. “I’m only here because Weyler strongly suggested I help out.”
Chris moved closer to Jane, catching a whiff of her boozy aroma. “You’re fucking hungover!” Chris addressed Weyler. “She’s hungover!”
“Hey, why don’t you talk to the kid?” Jane yelled back. “You’re such a people person, I’m sure you’ll bond!”
“Alright, you two!” Weyler said. “That’s enough! Jane is not going to screw up your case, Chris. The child simply asked to talk to her and not you.”
“Fine.” Chris said, sounding like a petulant child. “Just find out what she saw and whatever important thing she has to tell you so I can solve this crime and get the media off my ass.”
“Oh, like you don’t love having your face splashed across the local news shows!” Jane exclaimed.
“Did it ever occur to you that maybe I don’t like being hounded by the media? Constantly being asked if we’re as inept as we appear?”
“Have I got to pull the two of you apart?” Weyler interrupted.
“No, sir.” Chris said, scowling at Jane. “Just get the information we need. And keep your eye on the monitor in case I come up with questions. Don’t act like some one woman renegade in there!”
Jane turned toward the interrogation room. “Your confidence overwhelms me.”
Weyler gently knocked on the interrogation room door. Martha Durrett opened the door and slipped out, closing the door quietly behind her.
“Detective Perry! You don’t look well.” Martha said, her voice laced with apprehension. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Oh, Christ,” Jane said, turning to Weyler. “I don’t need this shit!”
“There you go with that inappropriate language again! You can’t say those words in front of that child!” Martha turned to address Weyler. “Sergeant Weyler, I don’t feel this is a good idea. I’m almost positive that with a little role playing, engaging the child in some sort of artistic endeavor and maybe incorporating dolls that represent her family, I can convince Emily to disclose information to me.”
Jane rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe the state allows you anywhere near a kid!”
“Sergeant Weyler, the detective is out of order!”
Jane grabbed her throbbing head. “Hey, am I going in there or not?”
“I don’t think this is a prudent idea!” Martha exclaimed.
Weyler took Martha by the shoulder and ushered her into the observation room. “Martha, go inside and wait for me.” Martha reluctantly disappeared inside the narrow room. Weyler turned to Jane with a frazzled look. He grasped Jane’s shoulder tightly and looked her in the eye. “All I ask is that you do your job.” Jane nodded. Weyler turned, went into the observation room and closed the door behind him.
Jane walked into the interrogation room and shut the door. Emily was seated across the table from the two-way mirror. A stuffed animal shaped like a brown bear sat on the table in front of her, next to the computer.
Emily looked up at Jane, a look of slight surprise on her face. The girl seemed out of place in the room, sitting there in her denim jumper and cheerful yellow and red polka dot, short-sleeved shirt. “You’re here!” Emily exclaimed.
“In the flesh, kid,” Jane said as she slid into the chair opposite Emily.
Emily intently stared at Jane in utter fascination. After a second, all the kid could say was, “You’re here…in the flesh.” Emily looked stunned. The seeming worship by the kid made Jane feel uncomfortable. Nervously, she rubbed her head with her bandaged hand and let out a sigh. “Are you okay?” Emily asked Jane, genuinely concerned.
“Of course, I’m okay?”
“You look kind of sick.”
“I’m not sick.”
“What’s that smell?”
“You smell like my daddy when he gets drunk.”
“Oh, this is great,” Jane said as she pulled out a cigarette from her shirt pocket and lit up.
“I don’t think they let you smoke in here,” Emily said, motioning to the “No Smoking” sign.
“Is that a fact?” Jane said, taking a deep drag on her cigarette.
From inside the observation room, Chris buried his head in his hand and muttered, “I knew she was going to fuck this up.”
Emily’s eyes were drawn to Jane’s bandaged hand. “What happened to your hand?” she asked.
“It got burned.”
“In the kitchen?”
“No. In the line of duty.”
Emily looked at Jane, examining her face very closely. “What happened to your head?”
Jane was caught off-guard. “What?”
“The scar on your forehead.”
Jane readjusted herself in her seat nervously. She could feel the prying eyes of Weyler, Martha and Chris behind her. “It’s just a scar.”
“How’d you get it?”
“I got it…in the line of duty.”
“That must have hurt really bad.”
“You’re a real detail-oriented person, aren’t you?”
“You see small things in a big picture.”
“I guess so.”
Jane felt uneasy and took another drag. “What’s your bear’s name?” she said pointing to the stuffed animal.
“I don’t know. Martha gave it to me. I’m supposed to talk to it and tell it secrets.”
“Really?” Jane wanted to roll her eyes, but restrained herself. “You doing that?”
“No. Why would I tell a stuffed animal secrets? It’s not real.”
Jane could feel a slight smile forming on her face but did her best to hide it. She looked over to the monitor. A sentence scrolled across the screen in capital letters: ASK HER WHAT SHE SAW! Jane knew the message was from Chris. “So, you got something you want to talk about?”
Emily sat for a moment, composing her thoughts. “That lady yesterday with the gun. I saw what you did and I heard what you said to her.”
Jane turned her head to the side and spoke, directing her response to Martha without Emily realizing it. “Yeah, well, you were not supposed to be up there.”
Martha turned to Weyler. “Was that comment directed at me?”
Weyler, eyes focused on Emily, ignored Martha.
Emily leaned forward a bit. “Well, I was there. Were you scared?”
“How did you know what to say to her?”
“I just told her the truth.” Jane took another nervous puff on her cigarette.
Emily leaned forward. “But you knew how to save her?”
“From doing something stupid? Yeah. Look, if you wanted to talk about that Mexican woman, you could have chatted up anybody around here!” Out of the corner of her eye, Jane saw the frantic typing of Chris transferring another message: ENGAGE HER, DAMMIT!!! Jane slammed her hand against the monitor and pushed it away so the screen faced the wall.
“What the hell is she doing?” Chris yelled.
“She knows what she’s doing,” Weyler said, keeping his eyes forward.
Emily sat back, sizing up Jane. “I can’t talk to just anyone,” Emily said softly. “Most people lie. My mommy lies and so does my daddy. My best friend moved away and they wouldn’t tell me why. And when I ask them if they love each other, they say they do, but I know they’re lying.”
“Yeah, well, if everybody told the truth, there would be no secrets. And I can’t imagine a world with no secrets, can you?”
Chris pressed his forehead against the two-way mirror. “Is she seriously trying to kill my case?”
Emily leaned forward. “You know stuff, don’t you?” Emily questioned. “Important stuff?”
“Yeah, they call me an encyclopedia of knowledge here at Headquarters.”
“If I ask you a question, will you tell me the truth?”
Jane took a hard drag on her cigarette. “If I know the answer, yeah, sure.”
Emily leaned her body against the table, resting her elbows on the edge. She hesitated and then spoke. “Are my mommy and daddy dead?”
Jane looked Emily straight in the eye. “Yes,” she said quietly.
Emily’s eyebrows arched upward ever so slightly. Her body tightened as her eyes traced the top of the table.
Martha turned to Weyler in a rage. “My God! How could she do that? The child is not ready to hear that! Didn’t you advise Detective Perry of this? Pull her out of there!”
“Let’s see where it goes,” Weyler instructed.
Jane carefully watched Emily’s every move. “I’m sorry, kid,” she said in earnest.
Emily looked up at Jane, eyes wide. “Who’s gonna make my lunch?”
Jane was caught off guard. She searched for something to say. “Somebody will make your lunch and your breakfast and your dinner and you will be okay.”
Emily looked off to the side. She seemed to go into a daze. Jane sat back, waiting and hoping that whatever was buried within Emily would stay buried. As the child zoned out, her breathing became slightly heavier and her eyes stayed fixed on her reflection in the two-way mirror.
The trio of onlookers in the observation room stood transfixed.
“Jesus,” Chris said quietly to Weyler. “The kid does know something.”
Emily came out of her daze and stared at herself in the mirror. “I know a secret.”
Jane felt her body stiffen. “Is that so?” was all she could manage.
Emily got up and slowly made her way toward Jane. She hesitated briefly before cupping her hand to Jane’s ear and whispering.
Weyler and Chris strained to hear the microphone pick up any sound but it was useless. “What in the hell—” Chris said under his breath. As Emily whispered into Jane’s ear, Jane remained stone faced. When Emily finished, Jane kept a poker face but turned her head slightly toward the two-way mirror. Chris shook his head in frustration. “I don’t fuckin’ believe this.”
Emily pulled away from Jane, never once taking her eyes off her. Jane gathered her thoughts. “Is that all you have to say?”
Emily stared absolutely transfixed by Jane’s face. “It’s really…weird…”
Jane’s gut unexplainably clamped down. Staring back at Emily, she felt slightly disoriented. “What’s…weird?”
Emily looked off to side as if she were trying to remember something. “I can’t explain it.” She carefully crossed back to her chair and sat down.
Jane did her best to shake off the disjointed sensations competing for her attention. Damn, the booze. “Well, I’ll leave you be.” Jane plopped the cigarette butt into her coffee cup and got up. But before she could take a step, Emily reached out and tightly grabbed her hand. An electrical jolt raced down her spine as she locked eyes with the child. The deeper Jane sank into those eyes, the closer she came to losing control. She had seen the exact same eyes filled with fear looking back at her more than 20 years ago. But there was something else—something closer that tugged at a fresh memory. She could feel herself falling into herself. It was all she could do to yank her hand out of Emily’s grasp and head out the door.
Laurel Dewey is The Story Plant’s Author of the Month. This means we are offering sensational deals on all of Laurel’s books, including Protector. You can learn more about it here.