“COULD YOU DESCRIBE TO ME what he looked like?” Detective Langdon asked.
Jason King folded his hands together and shifted in his seat to find a comfortable position.
“As detailed as possible,” the same man sitting before him added.
Jason nodded as he tried to remember it. He had no issue recalling the memory, but it was exactly what he was afraid of—the memory. Those dark, piercing eyes, contrasting his fair skin lit by unflattering lighting, had been haunting him almost every day. The guy was tall, unusually tall, and was all up in Jason’s personal space, leaning in and bringing his face close to his, all the while Jason was defenseless. His hands were tied together on his back, and he couldn’t do anything to protect himself—to protect Emily.
“Caucasian,” Jason began. “His skin was very light, and he had many acne scars and red blemishes on his face.” He pressed his lips together as the face appeared in his mind again. “He was close to two meters tall.” He realized the policeman might not know a thing about the metric system, but Langdon didn’t make a problem out of it. So, pretending the flashbacks weren’t there, Jason continued to answer the question. “Slender figure, and he was often wearing dark, baggy clothes.”
“Could you clarify the use of the word ‘slender’?”
“He was scrawny and tall, making him appear underweight, almost.”
“What about his voice?”
In a flash, the sound came back to him. “A male’s voice, nothing special about it, really.” It had been the words that the voice expressed that were noteworthy.
“Did he have an accent?” Langdon asked.
Jason couldn’t help but wonder if the question was being brought up because of his own British accent, reminding the detective to get such detail about Jason’s capturer. “He was American,” he said. “They all were.”
“Thank you.” The detective took note.
Jason put his elbows on the armrests and leaned forward while trying to catch the words the detective was writing down. That the conversation was being recorded didn’t stop the detective from taking pen to paper and taking the time to write everything out.
“He had a beard too,” Jason added. “Well, not a full-grown beard, just grown-out bristles.”
“Dark brown or black.” Just like his eyes had been. “I couldn’t see it clearly because it was so dark.” It had been dark enough to not see his dirty hand moving to lay down on his shoulder, sending chills down his spine and making his heart race at speeds it had never reached before.
“What about his hair?”
“The guy always wore a beanie,” Jason answered. The guy had never taken it off for reasons unknown to Jason. It wasn’t even a nice beanie; the black color had started turning gray, and it had been musty.
“And this is the guy who attacked you?” Langdon asked, moving on from the descriptions. Jason had described the captors before, but he was asked to do another interview to help the investigation further. He was happy to do it but would be even happier if all of this was over.
“Yes,” he said. “He’s the one who gave me the big scar.”
Langdon nodded slowly, and his eyes were focused on his notepad on the table when he asked the next question. “Which scar are you referring to?”
Again, Jason noticed how detailed they wanted everything to be. This wasn’t the first time he’d been asked to clarify something he didn’t think he’d have to clarify—but of course, all that had happened was common sense to him. He tried to remind himself these agents knew nothing about the past three years of his life but still wanted to help him, so he should be grateful and provide as much information as possible.
“The one in my side,” he said. “The scar is formed just below the ribcage up to the point where the trousers hit, at my waist.”
Langdon was satisfied with this answer; this was the detail he needed. “Could you explain how you got this scar and how the guy was involved in the event?”
A knife, glistening in the sparse light. Sharpened to perfection. The fear that object had given him, starting with a pounding heart and the trembling in his voice when he said he’d take his words back.
The rhythm of his heartbeat disturbed the memory, although he didn’t know whether it was his heartbeat from the past or the present.
Breathe in deeply, wait four seconds, then breathe out; just like Doctor Lorraine had suggested to him to do when he felt the panic rising. Recognize the situation and prepare to defend yourself.
Jason began to tell the story of the kidnapping, all the time present in the shape of the scar on his side. “Emily and I were in the basement.” Gray, cold, concrete walls trapping them in a dark room, the only light coming from a crevice in the door and a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. “Which was normal—we spent most of our time there.” He spoke slower than before, even though everything inside him told him to get out of that room as fast as possible. The only response to the thoughts in his mind was the loosening of his tie.
“You were always in this basement?” Langdon asked.
“Not always,” Jason corrected. “They sometimes let us out to help them with something they didn’t want to do themselves.”
“Could you give an example of something they let you do and did the things they made you do seem related to your kidnapping?”
Jason sat up straighter. The memory flashed before his eyes. “Come with me,” one of them barked. He’d known what it meant; it hadn’t been the first time the guys had told him those exact words. It warned him of the bad events lying ahead; either an interrogation about his life—something he’d never understood the purpose of—or dirty work they didn’t want to do themselves.
“I don’t know,” he said, ignoring the flashbacks. He shouldn’t make his job of helping the police any harder by letting himself get distracted or lost in his mind of whirling thoughts and memories. “Many of the things they made us do—or actually me; I usually went with them so Emily didn’t have to—seemed random and unrelated. They just needed me for something they didn’t want to do themselves and they laughed or spat in my face while I was doing it for them, but they’d threaten me if I refused.”
“Threaten you how?”
“You know what I’ll do,” said the voice, growling.
“By hurting Emily.”
It was his weak spot and his kidnappers had known how to take advantage of it.
“I had to paint an entire wall white for them once,” Jason said, getting back to the point. “Paint and mud were splattered all over it, and they wanted me to fix it.”
Langdon didn’t ask anything, but he wrote something down on paper when hearing this, his eyebrows raised in curiosity. The silence pressured Jason to continue.
“One time, they let me out of the basement and brought me to a different room where they interrogated me,” he said, loosening his tie as if it would calm his beating heart.
“Yes. It seemed rather strange, which is why I remember it so well.” The interrogation still haunted him in his dreams. Images of unmasked men, their voices loud and harsh. A hard fist coming down on the table, freezing every muscle in Jason’s body. The faces had been hard to see in the dimly lit room, making the person Jason had just described the only one he could remember.
Langdon clicked his pen and put it down. “What did they ask you?”
“All kinds of things,” he said while trying to ignore the image of the three intimidating men popping up in his mind. “It was all over the place. They asked me about my family, about Emily, why I was at the station the day they took me—”
“They did?” This surprised Langdon.
Jason nodded but then remembered the detective had said a verbal response was always necessary so the recorder could pick it up. “Yes.”
Jason frowned. “Why?”
Langdon pursed his lips and Jason knew why; he wasn’t supposed to ask questions. However, because of the look on Langdon’s face, Jason repeated his question. “Why?”
The detective gave in and told him his thoughts. “If they didn’t know why you were there, they wouldn’t have known you were going to be there in the first place.”
Jason’s eyes widened when the realization hit him. “And they couldn’t have planned on taking me,” he finished, although it sounded more like a question.
Langdon nodded slowly, now ignoring his own verbal-response rule. “Which brings up the question of why they did, and it makes the motive for the kidnapping we’d assumed doubtful.”
So, he’d just been at the wrong place at the wrong time. It was bad luck, Jason concluded from those words. Bad luck that had ruined three years of his life and every day after that.
“Let’s get back to the interview,” said Langdon as he picked the pen up again.
“Right.” Jason put his hands down on the table he and the detective were sitting at. He felt a bead of sweat dripping down his forehead, slowly making its way down his cheek to his jaw, while Langdon didn’t seem to be bothered by the temperature in the room at all. “So, those men asked me why I’d been at the station, and about my major at uni.”
“You’re referring to Stanford University, is that correct?”
“Yes.” Jason took a deep breath as he tried to recall more of the interrogation. “They asked me about uni, about my future plans and career, about my parents—”
“What kind of things did they ask about your parents?”
“Mostly about my dad and the business he’s CEO of.”
Langdon nodded, prompting Jason to continue.
“Emily said they’d done the same thing with her once, too,” he said. “An interrogation, I mean. About her life, the family, the business—basically everything. She thought it was strange as well.”
A man walked past the interview room and Jason saw his head through the window in the door behind Langdon. The detective wasn’t as easily distracted and clicked his pen, hesitated for a second, then wrote down what Jason had told him.
“Let’s go back to the story about your scar.”
So, it was just a story now. Not something he’d have to endure for the rest of his life as a reminder of the horror he’d been through.
“How did you get it?”
Jason leaned back in his plastic chair that wasn’t as comfortable as the ones he had at home. “It was during one of our attempts to escape.”
“When was it?”
Jason looked at Langdon with a puzzled expression, not understanding the question and thinking he’d answered that already.
“Early on, when you were just kidnapped, or later?”
“We’d been there for a few months, two or three.” Jason got an approving nod. “They hardly left us alone then, so I made a move without consulting Emily. I was annoying the guy watching us at that time, tempting him to come closer.”
“How were you annoying him?”
“Asking a lot of questions to him about his life, prying unnecessary information and making it seem like I was distracting him from his job with these questions,” he said. Langdon’s interruptions were getting on his nerves, but he assured himself the interview was almost over. He’d been here for nearly an hour now. “And eventually, he came closer and I saw my chance.”
One wrong move and a flash of pain occurred in his side, a piercing sound ringing in his ear. Emily screaming.
“I went for the knife in his pocket and got it out,” he continued, closing his eyes. “I knew I first needed to—how do I put it?—eliminate him, so I tried to attack him with the knife. However, my hands were still tied together, my range of motion was limited, and he managed to take the knife from me.”
Then, blood, a lot of it, gushing out of him. He could feel his heart pounding in the side where the wound was.
“He hit me in the side,” Jason said, not telling too much about the act itself. “That’s how I got the scar.”
Langdon looked up from his notebook. “Who was it that attacked you with the knife?” he asked.
“The guy I just described to you,” Jason said, and it was the confirmation Langdon had been searching for. His mouth curled into a small, satisfied smile.
“If we gave you a few guys in a line-up, do you think you could recognize the one who held you captive?” Langdon asked.
“One hundred percent,” Jason said. “Do I need to sit with a sketch artist before that too?”
Langdon shook his head. “The information we have now is enough to work with. A sketch artist is someone we use when we need other people outside the bureau—citizens—to know what the guy looks like or when we give out warnings through the media, but we don’t think he’s a threat anymore.”
Not a threat anymore? Jason felt his blood boiling just hearing those words. That’s what Langdon called one of the guys who’d kidnapped him? Fear was Jason’s daily companion and his scars a painful reminder—and here was Langdon, who said there wasn’t any danger to be feared.
Jason shook his head and told himself he couldn’t let Langdon’s careless words get to his head; the man didn’t know what he was talking about.
“I think that will be it for today,” Langdon then said, clicking his pen. “Unless there’s something you want to add to the record.”
He shook his head. “I don’t,” Jason said. He was just glad it was over. Interviews like these made memories surface he hadn’t seen before—things he’d rather not have remembered.
Langdon turned the recorder off. “I want to thank you for your help,” he said.
Before he had the chance to say any more formalities, Jason interrupted him. “Are you close?” he asked. The question had been on his lips for quite a while now, but he’d refrained from asking because he was the interviewee. That has now changed.
“To catching the guys?” Langdon seemed hesitant to answer. “To be honest, I don’t know.”
Jason got up from his seat, but he didn’t want to leave yet. “Tell me something,” he said, showing the urge in his voice. “I don’t know anything about the investigation.” He needed the reassurance that the guy would be caught.
Langdon pondered for a second, but out of pity and respect for the guy in front of him, he decided to answer. He knew that not many people could go through what Jason had been through and come out alive. “Well, we’ve made great progress lately,” he said, the words coming out slowly as if they weren’t even part of the same sentence. “The past few days, even. I think we’ll catch one of them soon, and it will only take one to catch the others.”
Jason’s eyes widened. “So you’re close to getting them?” He hadn’t expected them to be that close already, but the officer nodded. “What will happen then?”
“To the guy?” After Jason confirmed, he continued. “We’ll interrogate him. We’ll ask you and Mrs. Abbington”—Emily—“to come in and verify it’s him. If we have enough evidence, he’ll be tried.”
“What about me and Emily then?” Jason asked.
“When the guy’s on trial?” Langdon asked. The specificness from his job mixed into his speech, wanting to know every detail before replying to a question. “You’ll probably be asked to testify. But regarding all the other things, you’re free to do whatever you want.” He stood up from his seat and picked up his notepad and pen. “I can’t promise anything though, I hope you understand that.”
“Fully,” Jason said, nodding.
“I don’t want to give you false hope.”
“I’ll be fine.” It’s what he’d always said; he could save himself.
“We might even be on the wrong track,” Langdon continued in the same tone. “If it’s the wrong guy, we’ll have to start all over again.”
Jason nodded slowly; he understood, he did. He just didn’t want it to be true; when they’d found someone to blame, Jason could finally move on. That much he knew. The thought of them being close to catching someone calmed him; he didn’t want to be stuck and lost in an endless cycle of flashing memories, and now he knew his life wouldn’t be like this forever.
He shook Langdon’s hand as a farewell while putting on his jacket. He felt the need to say, “I appreciate this a lot,” before walking out of the room and down the corridor to the exit of the police station.
As he left the building through its big doors, he was welcomed by the noises of the outside world. This was it, he thought. And now he was supposed to pick up his life again where he’d left off.