Curb(ed) Interrogation: A Play

Curb(ed) Interrogation

7/9/08

Kenneth Burchfiel

 

 

It is a green-walled room: not Kelly green or yellow-green, but the type of green found on military uniforms and garbage trucks. The interior consists of nothing but a card table and two chairs—one of which is dented and chipped in spots, as if its occupant were fighting against it.

A man enters the room in handcuffs; the guard who led them there is never seen. The door shuts with a click, allowing only a line of light into the room. A dim bulb hangs from above, flickering. He sits down at the dented chair to face a clean-shaven man in blue.

Officer Andrews: My name is Desmond Andrews. My job here is to make sure you are comfortable and prepared to answer the questions before you.

Falc: You may call me Falc.

OA: We know your name, Evan Smith.

Falc: I’m flattered to hear that.

Officer Andrews reaches for a stack of papers in silence. He deposits them on the card table; a few of them hang over the edge.

OA: You have been at the Albeit Central Prison for three months.

Falc: Three months, seven days, 17 minutes and… checks his watch… 43 seconds. Factor in daylight savings time and that jumps to 77 minutes, but I wouldn’t know. My cell doesn’t get much sun.

OA: I’m sure you’ve had enough time to reflect on why you might be here.

Falc: I don’t think so. Give me another month or two, and I’ll get back to—

OA: We do not award parole on the basis of sarcasm, Mr. Smith.

Falc reclines in his seat.

OA: Three months ago, you shot a child in the head.

Falc: Is that so?

OA: They still haven’t been able to clean the blood of the sidewalk. If you walk down 17th street in the morning, you can see bits of red reflected in the sun.

Falc: Maybe you could take me sometime.

Officer Andrews stares at Falc for about five seconds, allowing the prisoner to hear the ticking sound of the clock behind him.

OA: The only reason you are not locked into a maximum security cell right now, Mr. Smith, is because of the second gunman.

Falc: I suppose I’m indebted to him, no?

OA: On the evening of October 25th, 1994, you and another man stepped out of a car. Three seconds later, the child died. That man went back into the car. You were caught and arrested by county police.

Falc: Found by the curb, you mean.

Officer Andrews looks up from the briefing.

Falc: If I remember correctly, I was slumped on the curb. That was when you tackled me.

OA: We know that you have connections to that man. We know that he’s in the Albeit region. Lead us to him, and you might be spared the death sentence.

Falc: We’ve all been granted a death sentence, Mr. Andrews.

Officer Andrews reaches under the desk and picks up an egg timer. It is wrought of black-painted steel and clicks rather loudly.

OA: There is a reason I bought a second timer into the room. Every second your mouth refuses to open, another child in Albeit is at risk of losing his internal organs. Every tick brings you a step closer to the death sentence.

Falc: And every second in this room sucks you further, further from the truth.

OA: I’m tired of playing the sweetheart. You will deliver us the information.

Falc: Hard to give you the truth when I can’t even move my hands.

OA: We’ve talked to your attorney. He admits you don’t have a chance.

Falc: Ever the optimist, no?

Officer Andrews leans back in his chair himself. He does his best to put on a face of steel; and yet, there seems to be something leaking through.

OA (Tired): I want the truth. That’s what you’re in this room for; that’s what will let you escape with your life. Nothing less.

Falc closes his eyes, feigning sleep. Very slowly, he opens his left eyelid, then his right. A smile develops above his chin.

Falc: I know, Andrews.

OA: That sounds promising. Tell me what you know.

Falc shakes his head. He stares intently at Andrews’ face.

Falc: I’m sorry to tell you, but I finally do know. You didn’t hit quite hard enough.

Officer Andrews’ face turns a wallpaper shade pale.

OA: Let me get out a sheet of paper. (Coughs.) If the judge likes what he reads, you might just make it through the trial. I wouldn’t be an optimist.

Falc: I don’t need to say a thing. You know all of it.

OA: Stall tactics aren’t going to work. I’m happy to work overtime.

Falc: Oh, trust me: you’re going to need all the overtime you can get.

There is a light blue pen sitting at the center of the table. Falc reaches over with handcuffed arms, grabs it with his left hand and pulls it back. He has enough mobility to tap it against the table.

Falc: Tell me, Andrews. Where were you on October 25, 1994?

OA: This is my interrogation.

Falc: Ah, but it’s my story, and there’s no one better than you to tell it. You made sure of that.

A little more color dissipates from the policeman’s face.

OA: I was a traffic cop back then. Working rounds up in Chiyoda.

Falc: That’s funny. (Points to a metal badge on Officer Andrews’ left shoulder.) Your medallion there reads “Five years of crime fighting.” I can’t really see you battling criminals as a traffic cop.

OA: That came earlier. I worked as a policeman from 1984 to 1989.

Falc: Which explains why there’s a “1993” etched into the badge.

Officer Andrews opens his mouth, shuts it and opens it again.

OA: I happened to be working traffic duties that afternoon.

Falc: Fair enough. What were you wearing?

OA: Typical ATC uniform. Black shorts, black shoes, yellow shirt.

Falc: On the coldest October day in a decade? I wouldn’t think so.

OA (hesitatingly): I don’t see where these questions are going.

Falc: That’s because you don’t want to look. Another question, if you don’t mind. The report on my murder says that the shot was fired at 4:17 in the morning, yet the policeman on the scene took 8 minutes to call for backup. Why the delay? What was that policeman doing? What did he want to make sure of?

OA: We always tend to the victim fir—

Falc: Which victim?

Officer Andrews reaches under the table for the clock and stops it. He places it on the table with a not-so-gentle hand.

OA: Enough with the conjecture. I want truth.

Falc shakes his head and smiles.

Falc: No. You wanted a bonus that night; you wanted a “Badge of Honor” on your lapel for arresting me. The last thing you want is reality, but I’m going to feed it to you. And you’ll find the truth to prove far more restraining than these handcuffs.

Falc stands up from the table and turns to face the door, revealing the thinnest hint of a scab on his neck. Just as Officer Andrews rises, Falc says—quite loudly:

Falc: October 25, 1994. Four fifteen in the morning. A bullet pierces your squad car’s windshield. You step out to find a group of three—no, maybe four gang members in a shootout. One of them starts shooting at you. (He bangs the pen on the table for every bullet). But for whatever reason, your first shot misses horribly. So horribly that the slug headed for a gang member’s chest ends up…

Officer Andrews is still.

Falc: You knew well enough where it hit. What you needed were someone else’s fingerprints on the gun; a readily accessible scapegoat. Lucky for you, there was an all-night bar just down the block. Lucky for you, there was a 20-something man slumped on the curb, barely unconscious. The perfect substitute.

Officer Andrews’ right hand twitches a little bit. There seems to be a lump in his throat. It expands downward with every swallow.

Falc (Flipping the pen):Being the cautious, safety-minded officer, you wanted to make sure the man would never remember the details of his night. That explains why you let his neck hit the back of the curb as you tackled him. Out go the lights. (Falc flicks an imaginary switch with his pen-free hand.) But isn’t it ironic? That seemingly foolproof defense mechanism left a little reminder on the drunkard’s body, a little spark to clear the alcohol from his memory.

Falc, still facing the door, strokes a thin red scar on his neck. Officer Andrew’s hand gives another twitch.

OA: It’s impossible that you could have remembered a thing.

Falc: For two months, it was. But the strangest visions of October 24th began to flicker in my head. (He flips the pen in the air, letting it brush against the ceiling before falling into his palms.) I saw myself holding a beer can, not a gun. Bullets flashed in my head, but they were never directed towards me—or from me. I remember a cop car with a shattered windshield, a policeman racing for the street, a pistol fired thrice—and then, the silence. I remember the silence.

Officer Andrew’s entire right arm is now convulsing. The lump right below his chin pulses with every heartbeat. An unmistakable drop of sweat passes in between his eyes.

Falc: It was painstaking work, threading the puzzle pieces together. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Officer Andrew bolts up from his chair and slams the seat into the card table. His lips contort into a grin.

OA: I still have that gun, you know. It’s almost a keepsake for me. I clean it every morning—rubbing alcohol, mind you. Its barrel can look so smooth when the sun’s out.

Falc takes a few steps backward.

OA: Bullets, too. Steel-tipped, just like my shoes. Just like the trigger.

Falc: You wouldn’t dare make the same mistake again.

OA: Cleaning up after mistakes is easy, Mr. Smith. You need only eliminate the people who know just what you did. He advances forward for every backwards step Falc takes.

Falc: There’s a surveillance camera. There are microphones. They’ll find out.

OA: I don’t see any cameras. All I see is… (he tilts his head) a 20-something hysterical killer who reached across the interrogation table, grabbed my pistol and put it to his head. If that doesn’t quite fit, I’ll say that you tried to choke me with your handcuffs. Yes, that’s a novel—

Falc: Do you hear that?

Footsteps sound out from behind the interrogation room door. Only then does Officer Andrews notice the double mirror to his left.

OA: The footsteps could be directed anywhere.

Falc: You’re seeing double, Andrews. There’s only one interrogation room down here.

The footsteps get louder and louder to the point where even the card table starts to vibrate. The policeman’s arm seems to twitch with every step, but the pen in Falc’s hand is triumphantly still.

Falc (breathing heavily): the truth always did love a good witness.

The footsteps only get louder and louder. Officer Andrews’ head snaps to the left, to the right and back at Falc’s, who has begun to smile.

The sound of a bullet from Officer Andrews’ gun draws the curtains together. The audience is welcome to interpret its path as they wish.

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3 Comments

Filed under Short Fiction

3 responses to “Curb(ed) Interrogation: A Play

  1. Pingback: Alcohol Posts » Curb(ed) Interrogation: A Play

  2. Kenneth

    If Andrews was the one who shot the child and constructed the cover of “Falc” being the killer, why would he add the inconvenient wrinkle of a second gunman to his lie? It seems to me that Andrews, who had intelligence enough to pick a drunkard from a nearby bar and foresight enough to compromise said drunkard’s memory, would have made sure not to leave any lose ends. And what was the purpose, thematic or otherwise, of giving Evan Smith the nickname of “Falc”? As far as I can tell, it only serves to draw a link to the Matrix’s Neo and his interrogation… This piece, though very well-written, was pretty predictable and bordering on cliche. That said, my favorite line was: “We’ve all been granted a death sentence, Mr. Andrews.”

  3. Kenneth Burchfiel

    Thanks for your helpful advice! I know that the interrogation scene is a tired premise, which may lead to the scene appearing cliched. Any further suggestions would be greatly appreciated.