“You have the right to remain silent, but if you’re as innocent as you say you are, that might not be in your best interest.” The overweight policeman clears his throat to get my attention, swallowing whatever mucus has built up in the back of his throat. That disgusting thought makes me want to vomit, but I’ve already thrown up everything that was in my stomach. I’m empty, and I’m drained, and I don’t know what else to say.
So, I say nothing.
“We can do this all day, Miss...” He looks down at the brown clipboard on the small table, clearly already having forgotten my name. I wish I could forget things as easily as him— like the scene of the crime— but it’s burned into the back of my mind. I still feel like I’m there, covered in scarlet blood, scared to death. “Carmichael, isn’t it? I have all the time in the world, so we can do this all day and all night.”
And we have been. I was detained for questioning this afternoon when I found the woman’s body. If I had to take a guess, I’d say it’s well past eight or nine in the evening now. I’ve been sitting in this room for at least six hours. Time has seemed to stop, though. In fact, the whole world has seemed to stop. I feel completely frozen.
“The sooner you tell me what happened, the sooner you’ll get out of here.” He glances at the silver watch that clings tightly to his chubby wrist, ready to unbuckle at any given moment. He acts like a patient man, but it’s all just a façade. His face grows redder the longer we sit here, and his breathing becomes louder. It’s obvious he’s getting irritated with me, but he does his best to try to hide it behind a condescending smile. “Can you explain why you were covered in the victim’s blood when we found you?”
I don’t respond because I get the feeling he won’t believe me no matter what I say. He’s been giving me the third degree ever since I got here. He’s treating me like a suspect when I’m practically a victim myself. Can’t he see the horror in my eyes?
“The truth has a way of coming out one way or another.” His voice has dropped an octave or two, growing as cold as this room. I wish they would turn up the heat, but it seems like it’s their goal to make me uncomfortable. They want me to crack, but can’t they see I’m already broken? “The easy way or the hard way.”
If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he’s threatening me.
“This isn’t a game. You don’t get to choose whether you participate or not!” He pushes the clipboard off the table violently, slapping his hand down on the spot where it used to be. The sound alone makes me jump in my seat, but he doesn’t seem to care about my feelings. He stands up in his seat, towering over me, as he points a chunky finger in my face. I swallow hard, no longer able to ignore him. “Say something, goddamn it!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” The door to the room opens quickly, revealing another man in uniform. This officer, however, looks much nicer than the one standing across from me. He’s much slimmer and younger. Not to mention, he doesn’t seem to have an ugly scowl permanently etched onto his face. “That isn’t any way to talk to a woman, Deputy. I’ll take it from here.”
“I said I’ll take it from here.” The young man casts his counterpart an intimidating glare that warns him to shut up and listen. The plump officer heeds his warning, stepping towards the door as fast as his legs will carry him, but not without sending me a grimace on his way out. I ignore it like I’ve ignored everything else he has done.
“I’m sorry, Chief.” He replies quietly, sounding disappointed in himself. “It won’t happen again.”
He shuts the door on his way out, leaving me alone with the new officer. The atmosphere in the room has already significantly lightened. I feel like I can breathe again, but it isn’t long before this new policeman glances my way. More questions are coming. More questions that I don’t have the answers for. I’m not ready to talk about this and I’m not sure I ever will be.
“I’m sorry, too.” He catches me by surprise when he says that. This isn’t how I expected our conversation to begin. I watch him intently as he pulls a plastic chair out, sitting right beside me, as opposed to in front of me. I like it better this way. It feels like I’m sitting next to a friend rather than sitting in front of a cop. “He shouldn’t have talked to you like that. Deputy Taylor is a good man, believe it or not, but he needs to work on his communication skills.”
I look to the ground to avoid his smoldering gaze. His eyes are a soft green, but his stare is a lot harder. He looks at you like he’s looking into your soul. He probably thinks I don’t have one. They must think I killed that poor woman. In all reality, I tried saving her life, but it was too late. She was already gone when I found her lying on that bed.
“I’m Miles Parker, the Chief of Police.” He extends a hand that I don’t take. Instead of being offended by my lack of manners, he laughs it off. He looks way too young to be the Chief of Police, but I keep my thoughts to myself. “It’s common sense not to talk to strangers, but I figured if I introduced myself, that might make us friends.”
When I don’t respond, he runs a hand through his dark brown hair, properly fucking it up. It had been neatly combed back before he did that. Now, it’s a mess. Just like me.
“What’s your name?” He asks politely, taking me by surprise for the second time. I figured that’s something he would already know. Surely, the other officers have told him everything there is to know about me. Albeit, it’s not much, but they at least know my name and where I go to school. “Please don’t make me guess. I’m terrible at it.”
I don’t know why, but something prompts me to answer him, so I do.
“Laken Carmichael.” I say the name I’ve had for the last twenty years, still hating the way it sounds. I’ve always thought it sounded like a boy’s name. And that’s because it was at first. My mother wanted a boy, but she got me instead. I’ve been disappointing her since the day I was born, and when she finds out that I’ve been detained at a police station for questioning in a murder case, she’s going to be even more disappointed in me.
“Nice to meet you, Laken.” He smiles in my direction, showing off his perfectly straight and white teeth. Suddenly, I wish I would’ve gotten braces in middle school, instead of telling the dentist that my looks were more important than my slight overbite. “I wish we could’ve met under better circumstances.”
So, do I.
He seems like a nice guy— someone I could’ve even been friends with— but it’s too late for any of that now. No one will want to be friends with me after they find out what happened. I’ll be labeled as weird and damaged.
The girl who found another girl dead.
The only people who will want to talk to me are the police, pesky journalists looking to break the story, and nosy students who only want to sit around and gossip. A part of me never wants to go back to the University of Washington, but if I drop out or transfer schools, my mother will only be more disappointed in me. I don’t know what to do and that’s exactly why I’m sitting here doing absolutely nothing.
“I can’t even begin to imagine how traumatic this must be for you.” He says genuinely, taking a deep breath. “I’ve been working in law enforcement for five years now and it never gets any easier finding a body... especially not in such a grotesque manner.”
I feel tears brimming the corner of my eyes, but I blink my eyes to stop them from falling.
“The only thing harder than finding the body is notifying the family that their loved one lost their life.” He clears his throat, his voice full of emotion. He places his hand on his stubbly jaw, gathering his thoughts. “You might feel like no one knows what you’re going through, but believe me, I do.”
Every officer here has offered me their sympathies, but he’s the only one who sounds like he really means it. If anyone knows how I’m feeling, it’s probably him. I find a sort of solace in that, knowing that I’m not alone in this.
“I won’t force you to talk, but when you’re ready, I’ll be here to listen.” He pushes the chair out, standing up to his tall stature. He stretches his muscles, stepping towards the door. “In the meantime, could I get you something to eat or drink?”
“I’m not hungry,” I say quietly, the thought of food making me nauseous. “but a glass of water would be amazing.”
I hesitate before adding a very timid, “Thank you.”
“Right on it.” He opens the door swiftly, already halfway out of the threshold when he stops mid-stride. He looks back at me, eyebrows drawn together in a quizzical manner. “You don’t have to say thank you.”
And with that, he walks out of the room, leaving the door wide open. I no longer feel like a caged animal and I’m thankful for that small act of kindness. Everyone else here has treated me like a suspect, but he’s treating me the way a witness should be treated. I appreciate it more than he will ever know.
I lean back in the hard, plastic chair, staring up at the ceiling. Alone, in my own company, I let the first tear of many fall. I’m not only crying for the deceased woman. I’m crying for myself, too. A part of me thinks that’s so selfish, but I can’t help it. My entire life has changed in the span of one horrific day and there’s nothing I can do to change that. I couldn’t help that poor woman and I can’t help myself.
Deputy Taylor was right.
This isn’t a game. This is life and death. This is dangerous. There’s a killer on the loose somewhere. And I’m the only witness... although I didn’t witness very much. It’s time that I tell this story, even though it’s one that I don’t want anyone to hear.