“Halfway! Get over here!” The chief bellowed, sticking his pudgy head out of the side of his office.
“You’re in for it now, Hathway,” Jimmy, a detective two desks down from mine shouted across the room.
I cracked a signature smile and coolly walked over to man’s office. “Yeah, chief?” Running my fingers through my hair, I stepped past the doorway and waited for the chief to slam it shut behind me.
“You’re late. Why.”
“Sorry, I’m sleeping off a hangover.” I faced away from the chief so he could not see that my eyes were not bloodshot from the alcohol.
“That’s no excuse. Your partner was shot and killed last night. We’ve got a witness who had front row seats to the shooting. I want you to go talk to her.”
“Aw, man.” I ran my fingers through my hair again, in distress. I really needed a haircut. “Okay. That it?”
“And go talk to his wife after that. I’ll assign you a new partner, but for now, this case is yours. Find out who took our man, halfway.” Jones, my partner, was a dick. But, he was a pretty good cop. Had a cute family, too.
“Sure. Anyone else talk to the witness?”
“No, she won’t talk to anyone.”
“She hasn’t said a word.”
“And she’s been there all night?”
“Yeah. Now, get out of my office and get to work.” I headed for the door. So Jones was dead, huh?
Exiting his office, I pushed past a couple of cops who had formed a circle around one of the guy’s desk. “Yo, Hathway, you up for poker tonight?”
“Nah,” I waved my hand. “I’ve got work to do.”
“You sure? We heard about Jones. What about a drink?”
“Did some of that last night. No thanks.” I was nowhere near a bar last night.
Heading up to the vending machine, I got one of each type of candy bar available, and then grabbed a cup of Joe on the way to the interrogation room. Stuffing a few pink sugar packets in my pants pocket, I snagged a stirrer and proceeded down the hall.
“Hey, Hathway, up high,” Another detective, Carl March, gave a big grin with his hand above his head.
“The Cougs win the game last night?” When I did not high five him, he put it down awkwardly.
“Yeah, you didn’t watch the game?”
“No, I was drinking.”
“Aw, man, you missed it.” March glanced strangely at my arsenal of junk food. “Where are you going with that?”
With the straightest face I could muster, I stared him in the eye, “Heart attack.”
He smiled with a laugh, “I think you need a bit more candy, and little less chocolate. That stuffs too good for you.”
I laughed, too. Not that I found it funny. March had a way moping around when his jokes were not received well. “No, I’ve got to interview a witness.”
“Oh, the girl from last night? Yeah, good luck with her.”
“Thanks, I’ll need it.” Turning past him, I reached the door to the interview room and juggled the coffee and candy in either hand before deciding which one to attempt to turn the handle with.
Candy hand it was. I turned the knob, and half the chocolate bars tumbled to the floor. With a chuckle, I kept my eyes to the ground as I walked in, to appear nervous, and turned to face the door to close it.
The air was solid and stale. A sweet and sour peach smell, which must have mustered from the shampoo she used yesterday morning and her perfume mixing together, clung to the walls. I would mention to the cleaning crew that they should start scrubbing this room with bleach.
“Sorry about that.” I slid my feet to the table and allowed the rest of the candy to fall on it before retrieving the ones off the floor. “Here, I got you some coffee.” I set the cup down and turned to retrieve the candy bars, still not making eye contact.
There was no response from the woman.
“And I didn’t really know what you liked, so I got one of everything we had in the vending machine.” Minus the chips. “And there’s a cafeteria around the corner if you want, when we get through.”
Still no response from the lady.
Taking my seat across from her, I took a deep breath and let it out obnoxiously, finally looking at her. Her eyes were down. Her face, once painted beautifully, had begun to fade and fall off. She looked tired, and in dire need of a touch up. The corners of her eyes had smeared mascara that had run down toward her cheeks, with mixed blue eye shadow, which was once a bright sky color, was fading into her skin and tumbling off her dry eye lashes.
Her hair had been curled, pinned back and hair sprayed last night, and now it looked like she had just woken up from a hangover, from which she had partied too hard. Her dress skirt, coat and blouse were once dry cleaned and neatly pressed for her to wear to work, but were now wrinkled and less impressive. Even the seams looked like they were sagging. Her heels were at one of the legs of the table and her stockings that matched so beautifully against her legs were now ripped in one area, of which had a scar that had bled, smeared, and then scabbed over.
Last night, she was young beautiful woman. This morning, she was an old hag.
I leaned back in my seat, and took another deep breath. The woman reached for a simple chocolate bar. That pleased me to see. “So, um… what’s your name?”
“Dianna.” Slowly, she fiddled with the wrapper, not whole heartedly trying to open it. Her pink nail polish was chipped and there was dirt under her nails. “Dianna Sella,” Her voice was rough, unlike last night. Last night it was soft, innocent, so pretty. Now, it sounded like she was in the middle of fighting the worst cold of her life. “You seem familiar. Do… I know you?”
“I don’t think so.” I took a deep breath again. “Dianna,” I nodded. “Pretty name. My name’s Hathway. Can I call you Dianna?” She nodded, finally opening the wrapper. The sound of her breaking off a piece, biting down on it, and chewing slowly before swallowing had my undivided attention for the next few minutes. And that was when I realized, I was dying of hunger. Feeling myself eyeing the other candy, I turned back to her.
“So, can you tell me what happened? At least, what you remember? I mean, I’m sure that you’ve probably said this a million times.”
She shook her head, “No,” Swallowed, and then, “I did not talk to the other police officers. I have not talked to anyone since last night.” Well, that was good.
“Okay. Tell me what happened, if you don’t mind.”
She nodded, and put the candy bar down, to think. My assumption was that she was trying to think of a way to say what had happened last night without actually saying what had happened last night. “I… I had stopped at a corner store, on the way home from work, for some coffee.” She snatched up the chocolate bar again, almost hungrily. It had become her comfort. “Getting back in the car,” She began to move slightly, back and forth, “I didn’t notice, but someone had gotten in the back seat.” Her voice stopped. She took a big bite, chewed, and swallowed, “I guess I didn’t lock the car or something.”
For what she went through, I was surprised how calm she was. I assumed she spent most of the evening crying. Why in the world did they wait until I showed up to interview her, anyway?
Another bite, chew and swallow, and she forced out a breath. “If only I had locked the car…” I thought she was going to begin sobbing again. Her sobs were annoying. “… That cop would not have gotten killed…” Another bite, chew and swallow.
“Hey, it’s not your fault. He was my partner, and he was a brave guy.”
“I’m sorry…” Bite, chew, and swallow. “… If he was such a brave man, why did he hesitate when the attacker got out of my car and shot him in the head?” Her eyes closed, remembering the scene with a shudder. She would probably be scarred for life.
“Well, he was shot before the attacker got out of the car, wasn’t he? In the shoulder? I mean, maybe he was too hurt to run away.”
She shook her head. “He didn’t seem like it.” She glanced over at the cup of coffee.
“I brought some sugar if you would like some,” I nodded to the coffee cup. “What else do you remember? Do you remember the attacker?”
She shook her head. “It was dark. And he had a hat on. A beanie, I think. It was dark. Although, I think, the cop recognized him. He had a confused look on his face.”
“So, you think the cop got a good look at him, but you never did?”
She shook her head. “It was dark. Even in the rearview mirror, his face was just out of the light.” Opening the coffee cup, she picked up the stirrer. “Some sugar would be nice.”
Pulling a white packet out of my shirt pocket, I tossed it across the table at her.
“So that’s all you remember? Nothing else? You don’t remember anything about the attacker? His shoulders or even height?”
She smiled slightly. “I’ve never been that good with judging distances. No, I couldn’t recall either his shoulders or his height.” Opening the white packet, she poured its contents into the coffee cup and stirred it. “I might be able to pick him out of a lineup, maybe.” Another shrug and she sipped the caffeinated drink.
“Did the cop say anything to you, or to the attacker?”
“He asked if I was alright, and that was when he noticed the attacker. I think…” She took another sip of her coffee, tasting it again with a thoughtful distant stare. I glanced at my watch quickly. “I think he might have started to say something. Something to the attacker, maybe a name. I know it started with a vowel, but I never heard him finish the rest.”
Dianne stirred the coffee again and tasted it a third time. Then, she took a long gulp. “Does that mean anything?”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Anything else?” I glanced at my watch.
She took another long sip of her coffee. And then another. “Oh, wait. A scar, I think. Maybe. Like I said, it was dark, but I think he had a really faint scar.” She pointed to her temple. “Right here, next to his eye…”
Then, she shook her head, blinking in confusion. “Wait, I never said anything about the attacker shooting the officer before he got out of the car…” And that was when she looked up at me, for the first time. Her finger was still pointing to her temple, and she had a hand on her coffee cup.
With a slow small smile, I leaned back and relaxed. “The scar was from a knife fight with my old man a few years backs. Where do you think he is now?” Her eyes widened with horror, and she froze.
I smiled, “Jones deserved it.” Glancing at her coffee cup and then at my watch again, my smile broadened. “But, you won’t be alive much longer for my secret to get out.”
Her eyes, growing ever wide, dared to look down at the table, at the white packet I had passed to her. Her thumb fiddled with it until it turned over, and she could not find the word ‘sugar’ printed on either side.