A Strange English Proposition
Silvia, the new English doctor, was finding this situation, perplexing to put it mildly. She pushed the spectacles further up her nose and squinted again at the graph in front of her mapping Tom's blood proteins against those of her sample.
She had checked and double-checked the blood matches three times. There was virtually no doubt about it. Jack Robinson's blood matched the blood which was by McManan's car. Yet there was nothing, nothing at all on the brain scan which gave any hint of awareness that Jack knew anything about the whole thing. Which was very strange.
Silvia stirred her tea bag and sat back on the office style red chair. She was in the dark analysis room at the police station staring at the portable screen incredulously and shaking her head.
She squeezed the little tea bag with the two strings until the tea was a rich dark colour; just the way she liked it and piping hot too. She popped the bag into the small, metal, ugly, government-issue bin beside her.
"Sometimes the life of a crime medic is not a happy one," she said to herself as she cupped her tea and took a sip.
"Okay, I'll inspect these bloody proteins myself."
She got up and darkened the lights so that the room was plunged into complete and total pitchness, not one photon buzzed around the light tight room. She put on her spectacles and pressed a small control button them.
Out of the darkness sprang the key proteins of Jack's blood. The chemical models resonated as they would in real life, the bonds between the carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen molecules plus odd collections of phosphorous and other trace wiggling before her nose.
She walked the models, checking the key sites which were the tell-tale chemical signatures of an individual’s blood. When she’d finished checking each model protein, she pushed it aside. The models sulked at the room’s edge like abandoned children.
She continued her diligent inspection for about half an hour with the aid of her trusty hand held computer, into which she recorded notes. At the end of this exercise she was in absolutely no doubt whatsoever. The question was what to do with this information.
She turned on the lights and depowered the chemical imagiser. The chemical models broke up into splinters and then disappeared as she turned the lights on. Her mind was ruminating as to what to do:
'If I tell them, they are just going to arrest him and they may well have enough to convict him, especially since he can't or won't remember where he was on that night. If I can talk to him, use regression therapy I might just get to the bottom of it. Still it's risky. Not going to make me popular in this new job if they find me out. Still if I resolve the riddle for them it would help them and me. I'm already late with the results. Shit.
She turned on her portable computer and shouted a series of complex commands at it. It responded. She was fiddling with the protein models before her. Finally, her mission complete the computer spat out the new, fraudulent results.
'Inconclusive,’ they chimed at her.
She downloaded the information on to her handheld computer for display purposes and covered her tracks by encrypting her former work and sending it down the line to a safe house box at home. She called it her naughty box. This was not the first time Silvia had fixed the results in the name of getting to the bottom of something; it made the job interesting.
She turned on her internal viewcom and asked it to put her through to Martin who was in charge of the investigation.
Martin Shaw's face came up on the screen. Intuitively she was not sure whether to trust him or not. He was nice, approachable and charming. That was the problem, he was too nice, too approachable and too charming which all added up to Silvia feeling he was decidedly untrustworthy.
"Hello there Silvia, how are you?"
"I'm just fine, how are you settling in here?"
“Oh well. Apart from the fact that you don't have nice tea I like it here."
"You Brits and you're tea!"
“The results of the analysis are inconclusive," said Silvia flatly.
"Shit," said Martin.
"You sure about that?"
"Yep, you can have a look yourself if you want."
“No, it's okay."
"I have an instinct that he killed Ralph McManan."
"Uh huh. What was the motive?"
"Don't know. We know that they didn't like each other. Suppose he was drunk, which he was on the night of the incident, or suppose he had taken drugs. Maybe they met up, maybe Robinson lost his temper and did it by accident."
"Couldn't the same apply to Tom Busey?"
"Yep, I'm not ruling either of them out, those two are the ones who really did not like Ralph, but Busey's blood didn’t check out either. Still it's all we’ve to go on at the moment."
"Couldn’t it have been a hit and run? It's quite a small road, people charge down it and think there’s nothing coming, maybe a car hit his and was knocked off the road?"
"No, Silvia, haven't you read the report from the crime scene yet?"
"No Goldento...sorry everyone calls Brad McGraw Goldentooth, he hasn't given me a copy yet."
“He should have done," Martin said frowning slightly. “Anyway, from the tracks, we're pretty sure the car was pushed backwards into the field to hide it from the road.”
“Well the scan didn't show anything up either. As far as he's aware, I think he didn't do anything. I was going to offer to do some regression therapy with him. Sometimes scans are wrong; even now memories can be inscrutable and elude the machines. These machines are still relatively new."
“Well, that’s fine by me, but you’ll have to get him to agree to it voluntarily. We have no grounds for holding him."
“Leave it with me," said Silvia smiling, “I’ll see what I can do...”
“And tell the others the results would you?"
Silvia got up and walked down the hall. She found Goldentooth and Randy Bowler, both on Ralph's case, slouching around the coffee machine.
“The results are inconclusive I'm afraid."
“Goddam it," said Goldentooth slamming his fist against the machine.
“I've told Martin, I've offered to do some regression with him. Sometimes the scans are wrong."
Goldentooth and Randy looked at each other.
“You damn well ask us first what you can and can't do. We're in charge here, remember, not you."
"Sorry," said Silvia, with the appropriate amount of humility, "I thought it might help."
Goldentooth and Randy glanced at each other again.
Suppose it can't do any harm," Randy said grudgingly,” but ask us if you want to do things first. I know you're new and all, but you've been told; everyone keeps to what they're assigned to here. It’s the way we do things."
“Okay, okay. Point taken. I want to talk to him, alone."
“Okay. Well, we've gotta let him go now anyway. So he's all yours
You let him out. Don't forget to tell the front desk."
“See you later," Randy hollered as he waddled down the corridor. She could hear the two of them muttering to each other as they disappeared.
Silvia went off to the powder room. She washed her hands, adjusted her hair and picked a small piece of food from her front tooth.
She walked down the hall to where Jack was being held under guard by the new officer in the interview room. His head was slumped on his chest and he was snoring rhythmically.
Jack moved in his seat but continued to sleep.
“Mr. Robinson,” Silvia repeated with more authority.
He stirred, glanced at Silvia and then slowly around the room with a disconcerted expression on his face. Then he remembered where he was.
“You and I are going to take a little walk. You are free to go."
Silvia signed him out of the front desk and they ambled out into the early evening sunshine through the quiet streets on the edge of town.
Can I buy you a cup of coffee?" Silvia enquired.
“Am I free to go?" “Yep."
“Then I think I might just go, if it's all the same to you."
“Actually it's not all the same to me. I strongly suggest you come and have a coffee with me. You may be in some trouble." She paused. “I may be able to help you."
“And who are you, my lawyer?”
“No, I'm the only thing here that amounts to a crime medic, and probably the only one around here who would really like to find out what happened."
“Well there's nothing to know."
“Are you sure about that? Would you like me to ask them inside to run a recent drug test on you? I'm sure they'd detain you for a while" Silvia raised an eyebrow.
Jack didn't reply. He glanced about momentarily. “Yep, I'm pretty sure nothing happened."
“What do you mean you're pretty sure?" “I’m sure. Okay lady? I'm sure."
“Mr. Robinson I've got some information which'll make you less sure."
Silvia looked up furtively towards the station. Jack shifted his weight from one leg to another.
“Let me buy you a coffee? “Silvia pleaded.” As long as I can make aphone call."
“Oh yes, and who to?”
“It's personal," Jack replied.
“That's the deal, I make a call and you talk to me." “Okay, deal.”
They strolled down the road. 3-d advertising hoardings on the edge of buildings twinkled and fought for attention. They ignored their pleas.
Cassini’s coffee shop was not run by an Italian as the name would suggest but by a Pole and his wife. It was a small unassuming place with red formica tables, a short simple menu with a focus on volume rather than quality, and behind the kitchen area, a gallimaufry of boiling pans filled with variously overcooked vegetables, meat and sauces.
Cassini's was, as ever, a steamy and smelly place to be, but Silvia knew that none of the cops went there. The Pole had been too outspoken to one of the cops. He’d never apologised and lost their custom ever since. He was too proud to apologise, although the somewhat insalubrious state of his balance books at the moment may well force him to.
Silvia and Jack entered the empty cafe, the owners looking pleased to see them.
The big, unhealthy Pole meandered over to them, stains from cooking streaked over his apron. His thinning black hair was swept over his head and his pock marked skin was not an entirely pretty sight to behold.
“Hello, there and what can I get for you?” said the Pole with over-enthusiasm.
Two coffees, please.”
“Anything else? I have some nice pastries, some nice waffles with maple syrup or chocolate.”
Silvia had heard the story about Cassini's from the others in the station. She felt a twinge of guilt and didn't know why. It wasn't her fault this guy was in trouble.
She sighed, “Okay. I'll have a waffle.”
“Make that two."
The Pole shuffled off purposefully.
“Never been here,” said Jack finally.
Silvia looked surprised. With the limited amount of places to go in Hertferd it was hard to believe that all the residents hadn't been everywhere at least three hundred times over.
“I'm going to make that call.”
“Go ahead. Use my com.”
“No, its okay I'll use the one over there.”
Jack disappeared and made his call from the public machine.
Silvia watched him in the distorted image of the large silver coffee machine. He had something, Silvia thought, a certain rough, genial innocence. He was a bit like one of those massive vegetarian dinosaurs with the big tails that could knock predators away: slightly slow but a warm giant. Silvia couldn't help feeling attracted to him. She ticked herself off for being unprofessional but the instinct lingered, a mixture of uncomfortable lust and maternal feelings.
Jack was smiling as he talked on the viewcom, his muscular bulk visibly relaxed. He appeared animated.
Who was he talking to, Silvia wondered? She guessed it was a lover.
Lucky woman or man? No, not a man she told herself hopefully. Not here in Iowa. Gay men in Hertferd...?
'That was it,' Silvia thought, ' Jack reminded her of Vordor.'
Jack wandered back to the table and the Pole's wife brought the coffee and waffles over with some maple syrup and chocolate sauce.
They slurped and ate for a moment in silence. “Nice phone call?”
Jack looked up and didn't say reply.
“Anyone ever told you that you look like Vordor?” “Yep, all the time,” Jack sighed with resignation.
“So?” said Jack after a while.
“So, tell me Jack, if I may call you Jack. This is all off the record.” Jack looked at her, sizing her up.
“You'll have to trust me.”
“How do I know I can?”
“So you want proof do you?” Silvia lowered her voice.
“Let's just say that we found your blood next to Ralph's body, or at least I did, but no one else knows about it or you wouldn't be here with me now.” Jack was taken aback a moment and then recovered his composure.
“How can I be sure?”
“You'll have to trust me. Do you think if Shaw knew they'd let you out?” Jack took a sip of his coffee and munched on his waffle nonchalantly.
“How the hell do I know?” Jack muttered in irritation.
“Well, you're just going to have to trust me aren't you? You haven't much choice. Have you got something to tell me?”
Jack pondered for a moment and looked at the fat Pole waddling around in the kitchen. His neck stiffened.
“I don't know. That is I don't think so.”
Jack hesitated and sighed. “Look, when I woke up the following morning after I'd been bowling, I'd a cut on my face and my nose had been bleeding and I couldn't remember what had happened to me but..."
“But, I don't know...! Had some weird dreams and I keep half remembering something, I don't know what it is, it disappears before I can understand the memory."
“Do you take drugs?”
Jack shrugged. “Yeah, once in a while. Hardly ever now. It's just something a bit different you know, makes a change from VR scapes. Look, I don't do them much.”
“It’s okay," Silvia said reassuringly “I’m not trying to do you for anything." “Can you explain how your blood got to be near Ralph's body?"
“No, I can't, unless..."
“Unless, I can't explain it. It's like a half memory, a snippet of a memory, I think I took too much or was given too much."
“What do you mean you were given too much?”
“I don’t know, I tell you, I don’t know. I can’t even remember taking anything.” Jack stammered in exasperation.
"Can you remember what you took?" “No."
“How did you feel the next morning?" “Tired."
“Come on Jack, you can be more specific than that."
Jack sighed. “Heavy and dreamy. My arms and muscles ached." “Uh huh. Have you ever taken MT?”
“So you haven't then."
“No, I haven't, what the hell is MT?”
“It gives you intense visions, incredibly intense at the time, but if you take too much you have complete memory loss the following day. It literally wipes your memories away. It destroys the nerves that create the pathways of your particular experience. It's a new and strange drug, Jack; it makes your muscles ache. It's only just hitting the streets in NY."
“It makes some people violent.”
“Can you remember what you dreamt about? “No."
“Nothing at all?”
“I'm buying time here, Jack. I'm going to have to tell them eventually about your blood type, and they will get a second opinion. They always do in cases of potential homicide. I reckon we've got a week." Silvia paused. “Are you sure there's nothing else that you can tell me?”
Jack slammed his fist down on the table.
“No goddam it. No. I wish I knew. Wish I did have something to tell you,” Jack said slamming his fist on the table.
The Pole looked up curiously and then looked away in shame. Silvia looked pensive.
“Once they match up your blood type they'll do a drugs test. They also have a weak motive, and you didn't like Ralph much did you?”
“No, that's no secret no one did. Tom didn't. None of the guys liked him; he was a selfish piece of shit. Stopped people getting promoted. He was vindictive. He lied about people. He was a mother. I didn't like him but not enough to kill him.”
“Bear with me a moment. Suppose someone gave you some drugs, too much and you lashed out at Ralph, you might not remember it. If that were the case, you wouldn't, technically, be guilty of murder. It'd be manslaughter or even less. Cases have been known where people have deliberately ·given other people MT, who murdered for them. In some cases the person who actually did the killing can get off. It's still a new drug but there are cases emerging in the cities."
Jack looked horrified.
“Are you saying I 'm a murderer? Are you accusing me of m..? What the hell's going on here? I'm leaving."
“Jack, Jack…” She reached out her arm. “Look, all I'm saying is we'd better find out what has happened sooner rather than later. They'll get someone else in to regression therapy to find out ...they can twist things in regression therapy you know. Maybe you didn't do anything. Maybe nothing will come out, in which case you have nothing to worry about. You're better off to know."
Jack went quiet; his face was drawn and frightened. “What choice do I have?”
Silvia sighed. “Not much Jack, you may as well let me do the regression therapy; they will do it sooner or later. My head's on the line too you know, I faked the results to give you longer, I'll have to tell them soon or they'll think I'm incompetent. I'm foreign and I haven't been in this job long.
For what it's worth I don't think you did anything. But the truth will out as they say.”
“Why are you trying to help me?” Jack suddenly looked puzzled and suspicious.
Silvia looked at the floor melancholically.
“Let's just say I've been doing this job for a long time and I've seen some things that shouldn't have happened. I've done some things I'm not proud of. It's done now. When I was young ... wanted to get ahead. I like to go to bed now and sleep. It may sound stupid to you but I'm trying to make amends for things I've done in the past that needn't bother you. I did them. That's part of the reason I came out here originally."
Silvia's face looked troubled and then she seemed to snap out of her reverie.
“Jack, you've gotta help yourself here. I'm giving you a chance. If I walk away, they'll get someone else in, maybe someone new who wants to get ahead, get a 'good result.' "
Jack ate his waffle in silence.
“I can't believe all this,” he said finally. “First I'm made redundant, then I'm accused of murder and then I fall in love." Jack shook his head. “All I want is a quiet life. I want to settle down. I want to be happy. I want to be a nobody and it seems everything wants me to become a somebody. All I want to be is a happy nobody. "Maybe you are a nobody Jack." Jack gazed out of the window.“Let's hope so...let's hope so."