The Thousand Words

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Chapter 33

Right after Bruno left, the Thompson twins escorted me into a different interrogation room on a higher floor. Maybe a symbolic move indicating they were now in control of the investigation or to confuse Bruno if he came looking. Regardless of the rationale, I was now sitting two stories above in a virtually identical room.

After leading me in, they told me to stay put and left me alone. Three hours had passed since being moved. An excruciating length of time to be left alone with my own thoughts. I kept replaying the events over and over again in my head to solidify my memories for the inevitable questioning, as well as trying to remember anything I may have missed. The only potential item of interest was remembering John Burns’ business card was in my wallet. Not much additional information, but I wanted to get it to Bruno if possible.

The long delay in talking to me was bothering me. The tactic of making a suspect wait is a classic way to get someone primed to talk. Sitting in an empty room by oneself for a long time makes a person want to break the silence when an opportunity to talk presents itself. Three hours was too long. There must be another reason for the delay.

Finally, I had closed my eyes for another quick but restless nap. These interrogation rooms were not designed for relaxation in mind. The exact opposite, in fact. Keeping the person being interviewed uncomfortable is another time-honored way of getting them to talk.

There were some noises coming from the hallway, most likely the twins getting ready to make a dramatic entrance. I had made a decision they would not intimidate me. That commitment might not last long but it was worth a shot. I was completely innocent of the murders and Jane had been kidnapped. She may be dead already. I needed to be on my game and not let the dynamic duo railroad me for something I didn’t do.

I leaned the chair back up against the wall and closed my eyes again, relaxing as much as possible waiting for them to join me. After a few minutes, they walked in with as much buster and confidence they could manage.

“Wake up, Alex. Your day of reckoning is finally here.” It was the short fat one who spoke.

I opened my eyes and looked at him directly and said, “So you get to play the role of the bad cop today. I have always wondered how you choose each investigation. Do you rotate each time or flip a coin to determine who gets the lead? Maybe rock-paper-scissors or is determining who won too complicated?” I was doing my best to look calm and somewhat in control of the situation.

The short fat one paused for a brief moment, seemingly shocked at my directness before regaining his composure. Both of the detectives sat down in the chairs on the other side of the table. The tall skinny one on my left and the short fat one on the right.

The tall skinny one started the interview by informing me they are recording the session and signaled to someone behind the two-way mirror. There must be another detective or audio technician monitoring and taping the interview. Not surprising.

“This is Cincinnati Homicide Detective Patrick Thompson,” the tall skinny one started. “It is Tuesday, October 21st. We are in interrogation room 617. With me is Cincinnati Homicide Detective Richard Thompson as well as Alex Layne, the only suspect in the murders of Zoe Burke, Sarah Jacobs, and Neil Shelton.”

“Wait for a second,” I interrupted. “That’s just not right.”

Both of them leaned forward ready for me to confess to everything and an easy closed case. “What’s not correct?” the tall skinny one asked.

Looking right at Patrick, but pointing to Richard, I said, “So he was born a dick, but you chose to become one? You might want to rethink your life choices. As I said, that’s just not right. At least I finally know who’s who between you.”

The short fat one’s face flushed proving I had at least scored a hit, hopefully taking him a bit off of his game.

The tall skinny one continued, ignoring my jab. “Please tell us, in your own words, the events that happened over the past few days starting with what you did to Zoe Burke.”

The way the question was phrased was not lost on me. The insinuation was I was the person who murdered her.

“First off, I want to make this absolutely clear and on the record since you are recording this. I unequivocally did not murder Zoe Burke, Sarah Jacobs, or Neil Shelton nor was I involved in their murders in any way. I agree the three of them are linked to my work to some degree, but the connection in no way means I was involved at all.”

“Fine. Tell us your version then,” the short fat one said. He was angry but had a look of confidence about him. What did they know that I did not?

I began telling the two of them what happened, starting with being called to the crime scene in Eden Park to take pictures of the victim who I later found out to be a former client, Zoe Burke. Next, was the client John Burns who hired me to find Sarah Jacobs, who was later found murdered in Ault Park. Then I described the break-in at my office, unsure of how it was related but confident it was somehow. I finished by finding Neil Shelton murdered in his home and the kidnapping of Jane. I left out the part of the story Bruno had asked me to, modifying it slightly to include a quick stop at her apartment. Both detectives took copious notes during the portion of the story about me finding Neil’s body.

The entire narrative of the recent events took almost a full hour. I had kept the sarcasm and personal insults completely out and was confident of the story. The detectives had asked only a couple of clarifying questions when my choice of words was ambiguous or could be interpreted differently than what I intended. Otherwise, they had both remained quiet.

They asked me to tell them the story again in full from the beginning. This was expected. I retold my version of what happened, being careful to keep the underlying story exactly the same but using different words for description, confirming what I was saying was truthful. This version clocked in right at forty-five minutes.

Then I recounted the story for the third time. Same story, slightly different words. Another forty-five minutes. I had been talking for two and a half hours straight. My throat was parched and voice gravelly at the end.

The two of them looked at each other communicating via slight facial expressions which can only be honed with years of working closely together. The same way a married couple can have a complete conversation by simply exchanging only a few glances.

After I was finished, there was a knock at the door and it opened slightly. From where I was sitting I couldn’t see who it was. The tall skinny one got up and walked over to the door stepping outside. The room was silent, neither of us wanting to say anything. He returned a few minutes later with a folder containing paper sand sat back down.

The tall skinny one spoke first. He had obviously won whatever method they used to determine the lead. “What a great story, Alex. Really. But we have a number of problems with your version of the events. Inconsistencies, if you will.”

“Outright lies, Alex,” the short fat one interjected. “You murdered them. It’s clear as day to everyone. Just come clean. It will be best for the families.” At least they were keeping to their good cop, bad cop roles.

“Their murders were committed by someone else,” I responded as calmly as I could. “I was not involved nor do I have any knowledge of who actually murdered the three of them.”

The part of the story which worried me the most was the portion Bruno had asked me to change. It didn’t impact the overall truth of the story but rather deemphasized my fleeing Neil’s house after I found his body. I was nervous they could easily shoot some holes in that portion and, therefore, put the entire version into question. My best course of action was to remain quiet and simply wait for their attempt to pick apart that particular segment of the timeline. The rest was one hundred percent the truth.

I was very surprised at the questions they asked next, leaving me a bit off center.

“Tell us more about your relationship with Zoe Burke,” the tall skinny one asked.

“There is nothing more,” I countered. “I was hired to follow an ex-boyfriend who she thought was stalking her and maybe getting revenge. Steven Davis, as I said before. I followed him for a week or so and he didn’t go near her. She agreed he was not a threat and paid me for my investigative services. I called her a couple of times after, making sure she was fine and didn’t need me to start following her ex again. I never talked to or saw her again until up at Eden Park.”

Both of them sat forward, ready to pounce. Before they could, I had raised my hand and said, “Let me clarify. I never talked to or saw Zoe Burke again until I was asked by the police department to take pictures of her body up at Eden Park, where she had already been murdered.” I was tired and needed to make sure I chose my words carefully.

The short fat one asked, “When was the first time you met Sarah Jacobs? You seemed to have left that part out in all of your versions.”

I took a few breaths attempting to calm myself down. Even though I was completely innocent, I was still very nervous about being interviewed. For a brief moment, I debated asking for a lawyer, but I truly felt court-appointed counsel would make matters worse. The important point was to get Jane home safe. The only way her safe return could happen was for me to be cleared as a suspect, allowing me to help Bruno. This line of questioning was very confusing and unnerving.

“As I said before on numerous occasions, I never met or even saw Sarah Jacobs. I was hired by John Burns to track her down after an argument they had. After I few days of searching, I was unable to locate her at either her place of employment or where she lived. I never directly communicated with her in person or on the phone.”

“See, that’s where we have a big problem with your statement. Your version of what happened doesn’t line up with the facts.” This time it was the tall skinny one. “For your own sakes and the victims, it’s time to come clean and tell us the truth.”

The tall skinny one simply stared at me. The short fat one, on the other hand, was smiling with an absolutely shit-eating grin. Like a little kid on Christmas morning before opening presents. They had something on me. Evidence that would blow my version of the events out of the water. I was completely wrong about worrying about the small change in the story Bruno requested. This was about Zoe Burke and Sarah Jacobs. I had no clue about what they were getting at.

“Everything I told you about my interactions, or lack thereof, with Zoe Burke and Sarah Jacobs is the truth nor have I left anything out.” I kept quiet after forcing them to ask the questions.

“Did you think we wouldn’t notice Zoe Burke and Sarah Jacobs look strikingly similar to your dead fiancée?” the short fat one asked.

“You leave Hannah out of this!” I spat back.

“Now we are getting somewhere,” he said smirking back at my expense.

“Let’s put their striking similarities aside for the moment for something more concrete. Evidential, if you will.” The tall skinny one took the lead back. “You forgot to mention the cell phone you used to call them, the rope you used to bound them and the knife you used to murder them.”

“What in the world are you talking about? I didn’t murder them.”

The tall skinny one didn’t say a word, but rather opened up the new folder of papers he was given and placed a picture on the table in front of me. It was of a picture of a knife, rope, and cell phone sitting on top of what looked like a small black bag. The phone was a cheap generic cell phone you can buy at any grocery or convenience store. The kind where you pay by the minute and are anonymous. The knife was a large switchblade with maybe a five-inch blade. Sharp looking and covered in blood. The rope appeared to be the same kind used to bind Zoe Burke and Sarah Jacobs. I was very confused. The picture was completely unexpected.

They were watching me for my reaction. My surprise of seeing the unexpected picture was with a doubt showing on my face. Hopefully, the reason for my response was not misinterpreted, but that was unlikely with these two. Not knowing what to say, I kept quiet.

The tall skinny one continued, “The cell phone was used over the past month to call both victims. Multiple calls to each victim which stopped at the time of their murders, indicating the person making the calls knew they were dead. The knife is consistent with the murder weapon. Early tests indicate two blood types on the knife match Zoe Burke and Sarah Jacobs. I have no doubt further testing will prove it is the murder weapon.”

My heart sank in my chest. I had no idea where this was going.

After a moment of looking at the picture again, I asked, “Great evidence, but what does this have to do with me?”

The tall skinny one pulled another picture out of the folder and placed in front of me. It was a wider view of the first image of the cell phone, rope, and knife. This time it showed the picture was taken in my upstairs office where we kept all of the computers and photography equipment.

“We found the phone and murder weapon in your office, Alex. Upstairs where you tried to hide them.”

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