A Stab in the Dark

A detective. A forensic scientist. A journalist.
Three lives drawn together by a murder.
When evidence lies and the case evolves, who can you trust in a city full of lies?
---- Updated every Wednesday ----

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6. Personal Questions

Jackie

“Jackie, it’s me. I think we may have a problem.”

I frowned. “Um, Lloyd? I’m a bit busy right now. Can this wait?”

“Jackie, I’m at the forensics lab, and, um.... Well, it’s kind of hard to explain. See-“

“I’d help you out any other time, Lloyd. You know I would. But I’m at the station right now, and I’ve got literally two minutes before I’m supposed to start the interviews.”

“Interviews?”

“Interrogations.”

“Ah.”

“So, um, I’m going to have to get back to you back later, Lloyd. If that’s okay?”

Lloyd paused, and in the silence, his frustration was audible.

Then he sighed. “Okay.”

“I’ll call you later.”

I pressed the End Call button and slipped my phone back into my coat pocket. I felt bad for dismissing Lloyd, but I was sure that someone else could help him out. Besides, I didn’t really have a choice. I checked my watch. Six and a half minutes to go. I wonder why Lloyd called? He knew I was working, so it must’ve been pretty urgent. I wonder if... No, Jackie. You can’t afford to think about that right now. You have to focus on the interviews.

It wasn’t that I needed to prepare, exactly- I’d sat in this room a hundred times before, and I knew the script off by heart. How did you know the victim? How would you describe the victim? When did you last see the victim? What were you doing on the night of the murder? I was very, very good at my job, and I had perfected the art of spotting a liar. Nine times out of ten, the words that left their mouths didn’t matter; after all, any liar who was committed to his craft would take the time to concoct a reasonable story before walking into the interview room. Their lies were written into their hesitations, their uneasy laughs, their ums and ers; they were visible in their eye movements, their nervous twitches, their unnatural stillness. Yes, I could spot a liar a mile off; all I had to do was keep them talking long enough to know for sure. I’ve spent hundreds upon hundreds of afternoons sitting in this exact chair in this exact room, speaking to the person seated opposite me with an empty voice, all the while knowing that I was looking into the eyes of a killer. Murder, I have come to learn, wears so many faces; some handsome, some ugly, some so unremarkable that I could have passed their wearers in the street on a Saturday morning without thinking twice. They say that the average person walks past a murderer thirty-six times in their lifetime. I scoffed at this claim when I first took the job, but now, I have no trouble believing it.

“Ms. Truman?”

I looked up to see the tall, stout figure of Superintendent Miller filling the doorway. I hadn’t heard the door opening- I’d been so busy trying to clear my mind, I’d missed the telltale click that heralded the intrusion of an outsider into this blank, closet-like room. I forced myself to smile, but I was painfully aware of the dryness of my smile, of the dark circles under my eyes. I was tired, and I knew that it showed. “Good evening, Miller. Are they all here?”

“Yeah.”

“How many?”

“Six. Mostly family- guess she didn’t have too many friends.”

That didn’t surprise me. “Bring in the first one, then.” He nodded, backing out of the doorway and closing the door behind him. I crossed my hands behind my head and leaned back in my chair. Only six. Six wasn’t too many. But then again, seeing as we’d brought in just about everybody Martha had known, it was likely that one of the six would be the person we were looking for. Yes- there was a good chance that within the next three hours, I would find myself face to face with a killer.

Of course, it was nothing I wouldn’t be able to handle. God knew, I was used to it.

The sound of someone behind me clearing their throat dragged me out of my contemplation, and I turned to face the doorway. Miller was back, and he was gesturing for someone to follow him.  The figure who followed him in was small and slight, with brown hair that was sticking up in tufts and a face that was slack and pale. He stepped into the light, and I saw that he was young- he couldn’t have been older than twenty-two, twenty-three years old. Did Martha have a son?

He took a seat opposite me and raised his eyes to meet mine. His expression was challenging, but his gaze was empty.

I turned on the voice recorder under the table and asked my first question.

“What is your name?”

His eyes flickered downwards for a moment.

“Charlie. Uh, I mean Charles. Charles Kane.”

“How old are you, Charles?”

“I’m twenty-two.”

“Charles, how did you know Martha Kane?”

“She was my stepmum. Well, I mean, technically she wasn’t, but...” He was stammering, struggling to get his words out. He cleared his throat.

“Martha was married to my dad for, like, nine years. Maybe ten. They divorced last July.”

“Is your father here for an interview today?”

He hesitated, lowering his eyes for a moment, before replying. “Yeah. He lives way down in Cornwall. Said he wanted a change after the divorce. He thought-“

I held up my hand, silencing him. “Where do you live, Charles?”

“I had to stay in London after my dad split up with, uh, Martha. I go to college here, so....”

Charlie glanced down at his lap as his words trailed off into silence. Silence wasn’t good. I had to keep him talking.

 “Did you have a good relationship with your stepmother, Charles?”

“I guess she was okay. She was always a bit hostile towards me, but I don’t reckon it was anything too personal. She kind of disliked kids, see?”

“Why do you believe that?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. She never told me.”

“When did you last see your stepmother, Charles?”

“Haven’t seen her since the split. Didn’t see any reason to stay in contact with her, seeing as how we never really got on that well.”

The personal questions were over. It was time to stop the interview and start the interrogation.

“What were you doing on the night of Sunday the twenty-seventh of November?”

“Uh...” He paused, and his head tilted back to look at the ceiling. Then his eyes flicked back to meet mine. “Studying. In my room.”

“Could anyone vouch for your being at home?”

“Uh..... I have a housemate, but he was out that night. So, uh, no.”

This was probably the truth, but the law had a different idea. Charles had no alibi, so he was suspicious. But I still had one more question to ask. I leaned forwards and locked eyes with him. For this one, what I saw in his eyes would be just as important as what I heard from his lips.

“Charles Kane, do you have any further knowledge relating to the murder of Martha Kane?”

His response was immediate. “No.”

He was still regarding me as blankly as ever. No nervous twitches, no sudden eye shifts, nothing that would suggest a lie. This kid didn’t look like a murderer. Then again, neither had Ted Bundy.

I sighed. “Okay, Mr. Kane. You may go.”

*            *            *            *            *

The man sitting opposite me had dark hair and darker eyes. His expression was blank and cold.

“What is your name?”

“......It’s James. James Kane.”

“How old are you, Mr. Kane?”

“......Forty-five.”

“How did you know the victim?”

James Kane raised an eyebrow, and his expression became suddenly challenging, though his eyes were just as dark and empty as ever.

“We were married, weren’t we? Ten years, six months. I’d say I got to know her pretty well.”

“And did you have a good relationship?”

“If we hadn’t, I wouldn’t’ve stayed with her for ten years and six months, would I?”

“I don’t know. Would you?”

James opened his mouth, and I could practically see the snarky comeback poised on his lips. But he choked on his retort as his mouth snapped shut and his dark eyes became suddenly bright with tears.

“My first wife left me,”  said James. His voice was quiet, and his words were empty. “She cheated on me with some fella young enough to be my son. To be fair, she was young enough to be my daughter. I was getting old, y’know? I moved to London with Charlie after that. He was, what, seven years old? Eight? I don’t know. We were never really that close. I was a shitty father, knew I couldn’t give him a good life on my own. So when I met Martha, I, uh, sort of rushed into things. I was unemployed. She had a stable job, and she seemed nice enough.”

“You don’t just marry someone because they “seem nice enough”.”

His thin lips twisted into a sad smile as his tears began to flow.

“You do when you’re desperate.”

“So why did you ask for the divorce, in the end?”

“She was obsessed with her work. Obsessed. She’d be out all night, dealing with these sickos. And I’d be lying awake back at her place, waiting to hear her key in the lock, hoping that I wouldn’t hear a knock on the door. I was scared that she...... that she would get...... hurt. I was scared that she would get hurt, or.... or killed. And I was right, wasn’t I? I was fucking right.”

*            *            *            *            *

“What is your name?”

“C-Carol Alderman.”

“How old are you, Ms Alderman?”

“I’m thirty-three.”

“How did you know Martha?”

“I’m her s-sister.”

Her clothes were fashionable, but her face was bare of makeup and her dark hair was messy. Her eyes refused to meet mine.

“What was your relationship with Martha like?”

“I... I haven’t seen her in years. We drifted apart after she left for university. When we were little, we were closer. She was my big sister. She... she did all the stuff big sisters are supposed to do. She h-helped me with my homework, brought me along when she went to parties, scared off the bullies at school. But I haven’t seen her in years. I wish I...”

She blinked hard and gasped as tears began to roll down her cheeks. She couldn’t speak.

Her arms were resting on the table in front of her, and before I even remembered that I had a job to do, I found myself reaching across the table and slipping my hand into hers.

And before I even remembered that every word I said was being recorded, I was whispering,

“I know exactly how you feel.”

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