The silence threatened to grow stagnant until the big guy spoke out. “There’s some history between you two, huh?”
Gloria gave the large man a weak smile and cleared her throat. “Yeah, I guess you could say that. We went to high school together.”
The big guy nodded his head. His smile slipped downward on the left side of his face. “Were the two of you close?” He looked over to Bill.
Bill shrugged his shoulders and carefully took a seat in a cold aluminum folding chair opposite the person who had once been his high school sweetheart. He placed his hands on his thighs and tried not to touch anything. “We knew each other pretty well. Small towns, you know?”
The big fellow nodded his head. “Yeah, I come from Peachpit, Georgia. You can’t get much smaller than that.” He sat down next to Gloria. “You going to be okay with this? Or you think we should get someone else in here?"
Gloria turned to face the big man. She shook her head, crossed her arms across her chest, and glared at him. “This is my case, Benny.” She lowered her voice to a low whisper. “Besides, we don’t really want you know who–” she meaningfully turned her eyes towards the one-way mirror in the room “—in here again, do we?”
“Yeah, I know, I know, but could your old friend here be a conflict of interest?”
She rolled her eyes up towards the water-stained tiles of insulation on the ceiling. “We knew each other, okay? We went to school together. That’s all.”
Bill did not show it, but the words she spoke hurt. She still would not acknowledge him or what they had shared together, not even after all this time. Bill swallowed his feelings as he sized up his situation. There were pictures of severed body parts splayed across the tables, some of them plastered with white and black feathers. He remembered how the police had found him in the field with the severed foot. There was a picture of that same foot directly in front of him. He was in deep trouble. Gloria showing up at a time like this was unlikely at best, perhaps even a miracle. Who was he to interfere with this most unlikely angel?
The air in the interview room was charged with the ghosts of feelings. There was suspicion and doubt. There was guilt and regret and indignation. More strongly and, in the present, he felt Benny’s indecision; he could almost smell it on the big fellow.
Gloria, on the other hand, he could not read at all. Bill smelled her perfume in the room. It was a light adult fragrance that did not seem to fit. He remembered her smelling of strawberry shampoo and grape lip gloss that tasted sweet as candy. He remembered her keeping her dirty blonde hair back in a loose ponytail and not ever wearing make-up. He remembered the freckles which bloomed on her cheeks every summer. All of that was hidden now and perhaps gone forever. Her hair was short and dyed a dark red. The make-up was caked on as if she were a reporter on a high definition news channel. The clothes she wore looked conservative and stiff. She was the same person, he could still see an impression of her underneath all of the changes, but she was so different now. Bill wondered what happened? He could not understand her as she was now because she was so different yesterday. Their past together formed a fog in the present he could not see through.
Gloria looked to Bill. She hardened her expression so that her face may as well have been a marble bust. “So, Bill, tell me: What were you doing out there in that field?”
He felt her thoughts then with a sudden clarity and found them accusing. They hurt. “I don’t know."
“Don’t know, huh? You know how many of you guys say that?” Benny looked over to Bill.
Bill shook his head.
“All of them. Every single one. No one seems to remember anything.”
Bill looked over to Gloria. “Should I have a lawyer?”
She perked up an eyebrow. Other than that minor alteration, her face remained in a state of stasis. “I don’t know? Should you?”
Bill put his hands over his face. He sweated. He could feel the pinkish-orange jumpsuit clinging to his back. “I don’t know. If I told you what I know to be true you'd never believe me.”
Benny rolled his eyes. “Okay. Try us.”
“Maybe it would be better if I showed you? Would that be okay?” Bill stood up and reached his hand towards Benny. Bill's hand shook. He did not want to do what he was about to do. He did not know what secrets the big guy held, but held no doubt there was pain there. There was pain everywhere, in just about everyone.
Benny slid his chair back and his hand reached to the holstered gun inside his brown sport jacket out of reflex. “Whoa there buddy! What're you trying to do?”
Bill held his hand up. “I’m not going to hurt you. I just need to touch you.”
“What happened to you, Bill?”
Bill looked over to Gloria. Her crystallized face had softened several degrees. She appeared concerned. This made her look more human again and familiar.
Bill sat back down and sighed. “You’re not going to believe me. You’ll say it's impossible, but it’s true.”
“This guy's nuts. We may have found our man.” Benny smiled and relaxed a little in his seat now that Bill was sitting quietly once again.
Bill spoke through his hands. “Everything tells a story. I know you’ve heard people say that every person has at least one good book inside of them. Remember when Mr. Henderson used to say that back in school Gloria?”
Gloria nodded her head.
“Well, he was right. But it’s not just every person. It's everything. Everything tells a story. You just have to know how to read the book, you see? It is written, like words, like pictures, like both. I really don’t know how to explain it. Anyway, everything has a story imprinted into it, and I can feel that story. Take this desk for example.”
Bill slammed his bare hand down onto the table. Stories rocked through his body like an electric current. He pulled his head backwards and his eyes rolled back into his head.
“What the hell? I think we should get an ambulance,” Benny stood up and took a step towards Bill.
Bill removed his hand from the table and shook his head. His long hair ruffled with the movement. “No! I’m fine. Really.” He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath of air. “It just hurts is all. But let me tell you a story that the table told me.”
Benny looked away. “This is nuts.”
Gloria leaned onto the table. “What’d you see, Bill?” There was a hint of condescension in her voice but curiosity, too.
“I saw a fat white dude slam the head of a Mexican kid into this table. There was a crack and blood and cursing afterwards. Benny held the fat white dude back. The Mexican boy was just a kid, maybe eighteen years old, and he wet his pants.”
“Was the fat white guy in uniform?” Gloria asked. She looked up to Benny.
The image was still clean in Bill’s mind. “No. Not a uniform. He was dressed in a t-shirt and blue jeans. He wore cowboy boots.”
There was a bang and the mirror on the wall shook in its frame.
Gloria looked over to the mirror and shook her head. She pointed to the mirror – at whoever might be hiding behind it – and mouthed the words: “Don’t move!” She returned her attention to Bill. “Interesting. Have you ever met Sherriff Francis by any chance?”
Bill shook his head. “No. Not that I know of.”
There was another bang on the glass. This one was not as loud.
Benny grunted. “This is fucking ridiculous. You expect me to believe this joker felt what happened during that Perez interview? Impossible.”
“I know it is, but let’s hear him out, okay?” Gloria turned to Bill. “You read the papers around here much?”
Bill smiled and held up his hands. “I try not to touch too many things these days to tell the truth. Sometimes I see the headlines in the displays, I guess.”
“That explains it, then. It was all over the local papers. Joker made the front page news. Hell, he even made The Drudge Report and The Huffington Post.” Benny sat back down. The chair groaned under his weight.
“Maybe.” Gloria bit her lip and continued to stare at Bill.
While the rest of Gloria had changed, her eyes were remarkably still the same. Bill knew those eyes well. They retained that same curious spark that had first attracted him to her. They were the same eager eyes of the teenage girl he had once spent the night with in an abandoned barn because they had heard rumors it was haunted. Nothing had happened that night, of course. At least, nothing otherworldly. His memories of that night were very worldly and pleasant.
“Bill, what were you doing out there with that girl? Did you feel something in her? Something bad? Did what you feel make you angry?”
Bill remembered touching the grass in that field and shuddered. “It was terrible. There was a man. At least I have to assume it was a man. I really don’t know. I couldn’t see the person’s face. It was blurred out and shaky, like in a movie you know? He was pulling the girl and she was trying to scream and cry out but she couldn’t because her mouth was covered with duct tape. And that monster killed that little girl. That sweet little girl. She was just a baby.” Bill felt tears roll down his cheeks. He began to shake and cry. “Just a baby! No older than my own kid.” He sniffled and wiped his nose with his shirtsleeve. “I’m sorry.”
Benny looked over to Gloria and then looked to Bill. “That’s right. She was just a little girl.” His voice was a low growl. Benny stood up, walked around the table, and leaned over Bill. “And you killed her, didn’t you?” He raised his voice. “You freak! What’d you do with the rest of the body? Can’t you at least show the parents enough respect that they can give their little girl a proper funeral?”
“I don’t know what to say. It wasn’t me. I wasn’t really there.”
“You were there when the police pulled up. You were there with your little memento. If you weren’t there, how could you know about the duct tape? How do you know all that you know?”
“I told you! I can feel things!”
“But you can’t feel enough remorse to admit what you did? You can’t fess up to it like a man? What’s the fuck's wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you!” Bill slid the chair back and stood up. He put his hand on Benny’s arm.
Benny pulled away. “Let go of me, you baby killing freak!”
Bill stood silent and sat back down. He spoke softly. The tears ebbed. “Oh, I guess that explains it then.”
Benny grabbed Bill by his collar and leaned down into his face. “That’s enough nonsense. Confess! I want to get this case over with. There’s lots of scared folks out there these days, and I’ll feel much better once we can go on camera and tell everyone we finally caught you, you sick monster.”
“I didn’t know you were looking for me.” Bill smiled. “In fact, I’m not what you’re looking for at all, am I? Not really. Not even this case. You know you can’t bring her back, don’t you?”
“You did a pretty good job of making sure that wouldn’t happen. Leaving just her foot, you sicko.”
“No, not the girl. I’m talking about your mom.”
Benny’s face grew red. He fell back into his chair. He was quiet.
“Benny? What’s going on?” Gloria stood up and put her petite hand on Benny’s large shoulder.
Bill looked to her. “I saw his story, at least part of it. His mom was killed. He never knew why. No one did. Isn’t that right, Benny?”
Benny surprised the others in the room by beginning to cry.
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I felt it, and it hurt a lot. I understand you're grief, Benny. I feel it in my heart right now. It’s an unpleasant pressure, like my heart is skipping beats. There a hell of a lot of uncertainty and a hint of fear surrounding these feelings. That must be pure hell to carry around with you day after day, Benny. I’m so sorry."
“I think that’s enough for now,” Gloria said. She glared at Bill, but there was a hint of wonder in her eyes, too.
Bill could feel her indecision and the crumbling foundation of her disbelief.
“No! Wait!” Benny lifted up his face and looked over to Bill. “I never told anyone about that. No one.”
Gloria looked at him and then looked at Bill. “It’s all right, Benny. Probably just a lucky guess. If I remember right, he always could read people pretty well.”
“Benny, do you still have the green tiger?”
Benny’s jaw dropped. “I don’t believe it. He’s telling the truth, G. He has to be.”
Gloria’s face drooped. Her mouth slackened, and she suddenly appeared uncomfortable inside the stiff formality of her clothes. “I’m afraid to ask, but what was the green tiger?”
“His name is Mr. Snookems--” Benny’s face grew red “--and, yes, I still have him. He lives in a box in my attic, along with Optimus Prime and my G.I. Joes, but he’s still there as far as I know.”
Bill looked to Gloria. “Benny used to dream that the tiger could turn real. He would pretend that the tiger was there the night his mother was killed. The tiger would eat his mother’s killer and rescue her, isn’t that right? This was a long time ago. He was really little back then. The details are kind of foggy, but I can see the tiger." Bill looked over to Benny. "The first time you slept with Mr. Snookems you were trying to fall asleep but unable to keep your eyes closed. Your pillow was wet with tears. You were in a dark room. It was a strange room. It felt unlived in. Perhaps a distant relative’s?”
“That was my aunt’s place, and yeah, it was strange to me at first. I missed my old room and having my mom in the room right next to mine.” The emotion in Benny’s voice was audible. “That was the night that I realized nothing would ever be the same again. I comforted myself with my stories about Mr. Snookems. I pretended he was a real tiger. I liked to think he could have protected us.”
Gloria shook her head. “Benny, I’m sorry. I had no idea.”
“It’s all right. You had no way of knowing.” He looked to Bill. His face was angry. He pointed. “As for you, don’t you ever, ever touch me again! Got it?”
Bill held up his hands. “I’m sorry. I just didn’t know any other way to get you to believe me.”
Benny grunted. “I still don’t believe you.”
Bill felt the aura around the large man and knew otherwise.
“All right, as I said, I think that’s enough for now.” Gloria rubbed her hands together.
“Can I ask a favor?” Bill looked to the agents in the room.
Benny gave Bill an incredulous look. “Don’t push your luck, buddy.”
Bill held his hands up palm out. “I’d just like some gloves.”
Gloria and Benny looked at each other. Gloria shrugged her shoulders. Benny allowed a thin smile to cross his face and looked back to Bill. “I guess that can be arranged.”