He was looking both of them over. The shorter, more squat one standing on the other side of the room: Jones slurping coffee through his lips, the taller Vermeer taking neat little fastidious sips, as to avoid staining his mustache like he had his teeth. But he was too late. Years of cigarette smoke had yellowed the tips of his mustache hairs, and now all that was there before the two of them was yet another perp. Just one more piece of human trash on their long to do list for the state of California’s second finest murder machine: Death row.
“So did you do it?” Jones asked him, between two long slurps of coffee. This set Vermeer off.
“Jesus Christ Jones! He’s not going to fucking talk if you just come out and ask him!” Vermeer shouted.
Norton Edwards: Thirty four. No criminal record. No prior arrests. The worst thing he’d been caught for was a traffic ticket three years prior and fuck-all since. “No, I’ll talk.” Edwards said calmly. Jones and Vermeer both turned and each gave the other a look.
Jones started, while Vermeer studied. “So, Nort… You mind if I call you ‘Nort’?”
“Sure,” he said, “but I want my phone call after we’re done.”
“Do you want it now?” Vermeer said, and Jones gave him a look that said Dude: What the fuck!?
“What?” Vermeer said casually. “It’s his fucking right! Man’s gotta have principles, am I right?” He said, asking Edwards. “Otherwise he’s just a fucking beast!” Jones tried not to roll his eyes, and instead he found himself shaking his head. “What?!” Vermeer said to him.
Edwards took all of this in at the eye, and read it for what it was. “So where do they get you guys, anyway?”
Jones was quick to redirect: “Let’s keep it with you.” But Vermeer pressed on anyway.
“Alright. What do you want to know?” Edwards said .
Vermeer didn’t react, he didn’t even change his breathing or move a muscle when he spoke. “Where were you on March 15th?”
Edwards chuckled, and his laughter was somehow infectious. “What’s so funny, Nort?” Vermeer asked, smiling.
“Nothing,” he laughed again, “Nothing, it’s just that it’s funny you should ask me about March 15th.” Vermeer leaned in, elbows resting on the interrogation table where he sat opposite his subject. Jones was standing behind Vermeer, watching. They had a technique where Vermeer would ply the perp with questions and Jones would stand in the background and undermine Vermeer’s authority. Then the perp would always give themselves away in their overzealous attempts to justify Jones’s bullshit: and they both agreed it was bullshit, but that it seemed to work, because the perp always wanted to see themselves as fundamentally good. These criminals weren’t fools (and yes, it was always a man), and neither were Jones and Vermeer. It’s just that most of the time the perp couldn’t help himself.
“ ‘Sgotta kinda funny ring to it, dontcha think?” Vermeer said over the cold steel desk, blankly, almost just addressing the room instead of anybody specific.
“March fifteenth?” Jones said, slowly enunciating every syllable in the word: fif-teenth. “Ringing any bells?”
Edwards sat there like a stone and said: “No?” He paused, and gave a little hint of a smile. “Why don’t you try the doorbell again?”
Jones spaced out into the corner of the room, and Vermeer just sat there. After a few more seconds of this awkward silence Jones walked out of the room. Edwards didn’t bother to look, and Vermeer, sitting across from him, took note of this.
“What’s that you’re writing down in your little book there?” Edwards asked. Jones ignored him. “Aww, come on, officer Jones: lemme see!” He said, taunting.
“Well what fun would that be?” Jones said flatly, without looking up. He was trying to keep his focus on writing down whatever he was putting in his little dollar-store notebook.
A few more minutes went by and Jones never stopped writing, but the longer he wrote the more he began to shield his words from his suspect’s eyes with his free hand. Eventually Edwards grew bored of this and let his attention wander around the room.
“Officer Jones.” Edwards said. Steel cuffs were clasped around his wrists, and the chain ran through a little metal loop in the table, which was bolted to the floor, so he was basically tied up the way you might tie up prisoner or a dog you were about to kill. “Officer Jo-ones.” Edwards said, and started to rattle the chains of his cuffs against the metal loop binding his cuffs to the table. The metal on metal grating made a “Krrrit-krrit-krrrit-krrrit” sound, and although Jones sat ramrod still (even with his poor posture), Edwards smiled after a long, uninterrupted period of “Krrrit-krrrit-krrrit-krrrit!”
“ENOUGH!” Jones shouted, and he thought he heard Edwards give a little chuckle, but he couldn’t be sure.
“Sorry.” Edwards said, and Vermeer finally walked back into the room.
Vermeer threw a bag of hot burgers down on the table between Edwards and his partner. He made sure on the first toss that the bag was just far enough away from his perp that the suspect wouldn’t be able to grab them, but to the untrained eye they might be close enough to reach. This had taken Jones and Vermeer hours of practice, and their interrogation methods were legendary around in the precinct, but Edwards didn’t budge.
Crinkling his way through the wax paper Vermeer took a bite and said: “They were all out of the pinkburgers you love so much.”
“Jesus Christ,” Jones said, tearing into a bite of his burger, “they make this shit for real men! No filler, never frozen: just USDA grade A prime beef. None of that fair-trade queer bullshit here!”
“Yeah, fag’s trade is more like it!” Vermeer retorted, and at this they both laughed, while Edwards sat there studying them: considering.
The look on Jones’ face became very serious, and suddenly he snapped: ”Hey! My cousin Eddy is gay!” Then the stern expression on Jones face cracked, and at this the two cops began laugh hysterically, hooting and howling so much they might have really meant it.
Edwards cleared his throat, and Vermeer dabbed fake tears away from his eyes with his fingers. The two cops turned to listen to him, and he said: “You know you shouldn’t make fun of gay people.”
“Yeah well suck my cock, faggot!” Vermeer said, and laughed.
Jones took another big bite out his burger, and with his mouth half full said: “Haha, he’d probably love that!”
“Actually… doesn’t sound like a bad time.” Edwards said.
“You make me wanna puke, you know that?” Vermeer said reaching into his jacket pocket, and pulling out a pack of Marb 100’s. He drew the cigarette out of the golden cardboard box and put back the pack into his pocket. He held the filter between his lips and looked at the tip of the cigarette as he lit it. Slowly, his eyes followed up to his suspect. His suspect – John Vermeer knew this.
BOOM! Jones threw down a huge phone-book, and Vermeer realized Edwards didn’t move a muscle. “Alright, let’s get down to brass taxes!” Jones shouted, and Vermeer sat perfectly still, just like Edwards: watching.
“Where were you on the night of March 15th!”
“I was out.” Edwards said.
Jones slammed his fist on the table: “OUT WHERE!?”
“At a club.” Said Edwards
“WHAT FUCKING CLUB!?” Jones shouted
“Guess.” Was all he said, and Vermeer could see a little hint of a smile curling up at the edges of Edwards’ face.
Jones’s face turned red, and if it were a cartoon steam would have started shooting out from his ears. But it wasn’t a cartoon: It was real life, and Vermeer saw Edwards drumming his fingers, over and over: pinkie to index, each individually, and then all of them over again, in a rhythm: doodle-oop, doodleoop, doodleoop, doodleoop. Then, over again: doodle-oop, doodleoop, doodleoop, doodleoop. Edwards just sat there, cool as a cucumber with his wrists in chains, tapping his fingers in this sequence over and over again, until Jones, no longer able to contain his rage, exploded. “IF YOU DON’T TELL ME – IN FIVE FUCKING SECONDS, WHERE-” Vermeer touched him on the back of the shoulder, and Jones backed off. The game had become too real for Jones, and he’d started to lose objectivity. This was the most dangerous part of their game, because Jones had a habit of starting to believe his role, and for lack of a better term: get pissed.
“What my partner is trying to say, Mr. Edwards, is where exactly were you on the night of March 15th?”. Vermeer raised his right eyebrow, a gesture he practiced in the mirror over and over to make it seem as natural as possible for when he would use it on suspects, and as a result, the right side of his forehead was considerably more wrinkled and worn from use.
Edwards pursed his lips, drew in a breath, then held it. Vermeer and Jones each heard a drop of water splash down on a hard surface somewhere in the building, but they both thought they might be imagining it, because there was no running water in the ‘interview room’, but neither was about to mention it to the other, at least not in front of their suspect.
Edwards let out his long breath, as his captors held onto their own, and said: “I was at the pink lipstick that night. No, or maybe it was ‘the tuck’? I’m not sure.” Norton said. Vermeer was letting out a long drag, and Jones, waving the smoke out of his face and then he burst out, unable to control himself: “Yeah, very fucking funny, asshole!”
“No, I think I saw you there, officer Jones.” Edwards said, and at this, Jones slammed both his palms hard on the steel tabletop, and stood up, spinning all the way around and knocking his steel chair over onto the linoleum floor.
“You shutchoor fucking mouth you sonofabitch!” Jones said, long tendrils of spit flying from his mouth as he did so.
“Hey, easy there buddy!” Vermeer said, but he was a little too timid. He was too rehearsed, and wasn’t sure if Jones was still acting, or if it had become too real for him. “Edwards! I mean-” he caught himself, and the look on Vermeer and Jones’ faces where of sheer panic, “I mean, Vermeer, get those photos!” he spat.
“Uh, no, that’s OK buddy, why don’t you get them?” Vermeer said, trying to cue his partner in on the fact that he desperately needed to cool off. Vermeer stole a quick glance at Edwards, and although he thought the suspect didn’t see him looking, he couldn’t be sure. Vermeer looked off into the distance, trying to remember what the face he had just seen looked like, or more specifically: the expression it was making. Was he smiling? Was he – Jones had left the room, slamming the door and breaking Vermeer’s concentration.
“Interesting, isn’t it detective Vermeer.” Edwards said matter-of-factly.
Vermeer knew he couldn’t say nothing, because that would look worse than anything else. He knew now that he had to ask. But Edwards was calm. Vermeer realized he couldn’t even hear Edwards breath over the sound of his own. He couldn’t hear the air vent, or even his own thoughts. It was just his own breath, taunting him: mocking him.
“Where were you- on the evening of-” and then Vermeer was cut off again by his subject.
“Interesting, detective Vermeer, isn’t it?” Vermeer turned and looked at him. The angular jawline met up with Edward’s high cheekbones and full lips.
“Lemme just ask you somethin’, OK?” Vermeer pleaded, trying to force his line of questioning on Edwards, but it wouldn’t take.
“That two detectives, combined thirty plus years experience, can’t wrangle up a single suspect, in a city of six hundred thousand people. You know, you’d think, officer Vermeer, that with all those people, there’d be somebody you could cough up.”
“Whaddya think you’re here for, buddy?” And at this Vermeer’s smile twisted up in a seditious curve.
Brushing off his captor’s psychosis, he simply sighed, and said: “Well, I imagine you’ll need to finger someone for those murders.”
“WHADDA YOU KNOW, HUH? YOU SICK SONOFABITCH!” and with this Vermeer kicked overturned chair across the room.
“I know you don’t have any evidence. And I know you planted those fingerprints at the last three crime scenes.”
“Bull-shiiiit!” Vermeer scoffed.
Jones walked back into the room, and Vermeer was panting heavily, hands held out by his sides like he was about to quick-draw Edwards into oblivion.
“Jesus John! Getta holda yourself!” Jones shouted at his partner, and Vermeer just stood there, panting, his legs spread shoulder width apart, with his arms out wide. Jones glanced over to Edwards, cool as a fucking cucumber, and the detective just shook his head slowly, either in complete anger, or complete disgust, he couldn’t tell. But Edwards could. “Come on John, let’s get you outta here.”
Jones tried not to look back at Edwards as he led Vermeer out of the room by the arm, but he couldn’t help himself. Edwards didn’t have an expression, except a slight awe of wonder. Jones guessed this was the strongest and most open display of any emotion Edwards could make, and he was right. Jones recognized his emotion as that of pleasure, and he was right about that too.
Jones was holding Vermeer up by the arm, and he could feel his partner’s knees buckling, and the weight of his whole body trembling on top of him. He slung Vermeer off his shoulder and into one of the waiting room chairs. He looked at the clock. “Two thirty-five. When did you get up today?” He didn’t need an answer. “Probably four thirty, same as me. Let’s go home, get some sleep- cook this asshole till’ morning and see what comes up then.”
“No.” Vermeer said, eyes closed, laying back in the chair.
“No what?” Jones said.
“No.” Was all John Vermeer said.
“Listen, this asshole’s not going anywhere. We got him for prints on the scene, let’s just go home, get some sleep, and come back tomorrow.” Jones said, and he waited for Vermeer’s response. Vermeer just sat there, silently looking down, and Jones realized the longer he took to respond the less likely that his partner’s answer would be the one he wanted to hear.
“God Dammit.” He said, pinching the bridge of his nose, passing about the room. “Look, let’s just come back tomorrow, bright and early, and we’ll nail this fucker to the wall.
“No.” Was all Vermeer said, and the two of them waited, Vermeer sitting, slumped down into the waiting room chair with Jones standing, becoming more frantic and excited, and Jones began to pace in front of his partner in little circles.
“Well we need a plan. We’ve been behind him this whole time, and unless we can get ahead of him, he’s just going to fuck us.” Jones said.
“Can we go to The Pink Lipstick?” Vermeer asked, “Or what about The Tuck?” He paced again, lighting another cigarette. Jones eyed the sprinklers glass bulb filled with the red-dyed alcohol.
But he noticed Jones wasn’t taking his joke so lightly. In fact, something was bubbling up inside Jones and he could see it rising up like a huge surge.
“GOD-DAMMIT!” Jones jumped up out of his chair and shouted.
“What?” Vermeer asked.
“I hate that this fucking faggot is fucking beating us!” Jones shouted, and a big gob of spit flew out of his mouth and onto Vermeer’s pant leg, and John Vermeer noticed, but he didn’t care: He just stood there, and stewed in his partner’s words.
“You’re right.” John said quietly, almost silently, in fact. “And when you’re right you’re right; and when you’re wrong you’re wrong.”
“Yeah…” Jones agreed, stammering off.
“Let’s go nail this sonofabitch to the fucking wall!”
The door burst open so hard the handle chipped the concrete wall, not just the paint, but little pieces of stone lay on the ground around the entryway, and like the many other things Edwards had noticed, he noticed that too. He saw everything: he saw it all.
Jones walked right in and picked up his chair off the ground.
“Good evening, de-tectives.” Edwards said.
Jones slapped the table with a heavy manila envelope, thick with high-res glossy photographs and photocopied documents held together with binder and paper clips: too many pages for staples to puncture and contain.
“Oooh, whatcha got there?” Edwards said.
Jones flipped open the manila envelope to a picture of a woman in the passenger seat of a car, her hands bound behind the seat and her legs open, one on the outside of the seat, the other with it’s knee facing forward towards the front of the car, so her vagina, or the area where her vagina used to be, was completely exposed.
Vermeer pounded his fists on the table, got right up in Edwards’ face, and shouted:“ ‘Zat getchoo off, you piece of fucking shit!?”
Edwards coolly leaned over and with wide, occulent eyes took in all the reflected light in the room bouncing off the photo’s surface. He observed it with calm composure, the way a clergyman might take in scripture: not at the eye, but through the heart. There was a gaping red and black wound where the vagina once had been. Pink flesh: muscle, cartilage, and pelvic bone were exposed where a vagina had once been. The quality of the cuts were downright surgical, this was no barbarian or butcher, this was an artist of the flesh who had crafted, Jones could see in Edwards eyes, a masterpiece.
There was a flower in the woman’s hair, or what looked like a glistening flower of pink and red at first glance. But closer inspection would reveal to the viewer that the flower wasn’t actually a flower: it was the gynectomized vagina: the victim’s vagina cut out of her pelvis and worn in her hair like a flower.
After a brief look of calm reticence, Edwards just said: “No.”
“No’- what, you fucking faggot?!” Vermeer literally spat, demanding to know.
“No, officer Vermeer, that doesn’t get me off.” Edwards said.
And as if to have the last word, Vermeer threw in: “Fat chance!”
Jones, on the other hand, sat back and waited. He looked into Edwards eyes, and didn’t understand what he saw in those placid pools of near blackness. Edwards eyes and hair were brown, but they were a deep and lustrous brown; almost black under darker or even not so bright lighting. His nose was very aqueline; regal, even. It was a large isosceles triangle which looked like it may have been broken at the bridge, but this ridge was only natural. If you’d ever seen an illustration of Edward Clinton, the Baron of Clinton, by Hans Holbein the younger, you would recognize the resemblance immediately: The high cheekbones, the middling jawline: not too sharp, not too broad, but extended and in its own way androgynous, not by lack of definition as specifically masculine, or feminine, but having qualities of both: it was long, and sharpened, but not pointed. Edwards lips were slight, yet not thin: more so conservative with a feminine twist, in that they were not especially luscious, but they weren’t thin or lacking in plump either. Above his high cheekbones sat two eyes which inscised at Jones and Vermeer, though how and why they did not know.
Edwards simply leaned back from the photograph, tilted his head slightly, and said: “No.”
“No What, you fucking faggot!” Vermeer shouted at the top of lungs, and threw his coffee at the wall. It splattered everywhere and when it rained down on Jones he began to feel cold from the hours old liquid he was now wearing on his ninety dollar shirt, which was now ruined.
Jones took his eyes off Edwards and the photograph, turned around to Vermeer and said: “Thanks a lot, asshole!”
“Oh he’ll take you down to the Ambercrombie and Finch and we’ll buy you both a couple of fucking thongs!” Vermeer said, shaking the beads of coffee off his hands onto the ground, finally resolving, regretfully, to wipe them off on his pants.
“I don’t think he could get into my pants.” Edwards said, and didn’t look up to see Jones
And then suddenly, in a sudden and uncharacteristic turn, Jones spun around to Vermeer and said: “Oooooh girl! He gotchyou!” then, before Jones could understand what was happening, Vermeer was standing over Edwards, and Vermeer’s fist was clenched; his arm extended, and Edwards’ face was turned down and away. Edwards looked up at Vermeer, blood already beginning to stain his teeth, he ran his bloody tongue across all of his teeth and began to wiggle one of his bottom front teeth with his tongue. Jones and Vermeer could hear the tooth being torn from the root, and finally free from the gums entirely. Edwards spit the bloody tooth out onto the table and it went “Tap-Tap-Tap” as it bounced across the table’s metal surface and landed into Jones’ lap. Jones instantly jumped up, and held his hands up by is chest, palms out, like a young girl frightened by a mouse.
“AH-HA HA!” Edwards laughed, rolling his head back: Vermeer could see the fear in his partner’s eyes.
“Oh, come on! We’ll just say he resisted, ‘happens all the time’, isn’t that what they say!?” Vermeer shouted at his partner, but really he was talking to himself.
Jones was wiping his sweaty palms off on the front of his shirt, and with his eyes ten miles wide he said: “NO! NOT THIS TIME, THEY’RE NOT GONNA BUY IT THIS TIME!” And he began to shiver, or quiver, Edwards wasn’t sure which. It was at this point, finally, that he let out a big, bloody, gap-toothed smile, and laughed again. Jones looked at him with maddening despair, and when he looked into the abyss, the abyss looked back.
Vermeer was over him again, and he punched Edwards in the face again, or tried to. This time it became clear that Edwards was the one who was really in control, when Vermeer’s hand slammed into the top of Edward’s forehead, because Edwards had leaned his head forward into the punch, and everyone in the room heard a very distinct crunch. It wasn’t clear who’s bone had been broken until Vermeer recoiled back to the corner of the room, and let out a howling “AAAOOOUUUWWW!” and then began panting deep, heavy breaths- hyperventilating.
Edwards looked at Jones, who was visibly shaken, and Jones said to his captor: “What even are you!?” To which Edwards smiled his new gap-toothed smile, and said: “I’m every woman: It’s all in me.”
Copy-write James Johnson, 2018.