You wake up early – earlier than usual, at least, and spend a couple of minutes wondering if you should try to fall back asleep. It’s still dark outside, and somehow you can tell that it’s going to be a cold day. Groaning, you heave yourself up and get dressed, quietly, almost reverently. You would go back to sleep, but you just feel energized. You decide to go for a walk, go out to that hill about a quarter mile from here, watch the sun come up. You make some coffee. Pour it into the beige thermos your parents got for you once. You push out through the doors of your building and into the nearly icy pre-dawn. There’s an anticipation in the air. It might be any hour between nine PM and six AM this time of year, but there’s an ineffable quality that tells you the sun isn’t far away.
You walk quickly, just because the temperature demands it. You check your phone. A couple of new messages, nothing really all that important. As you reach the end of the street, a clamor from back the way you came comes banging after you, and you turn quickly. Nothing. Nothing you can see, anyway. Probably raccoons rooting through trash cans. Or something. The anticipation of the pre-dawn is getting to you. Your heart is pounding, just a little, and you wonder briefly if you shouldn’t go back inside, try to get some more sleep before the day really begins. Something pushes you forward, though.
You make the rest of the walk without event, just you and the lonely streets. It feels like there should be mist coiling around your ankles, but the day begins immaculately clear, like a morning framed under glass. On the bench at the foot of the hill, you settle in to watch the light come clambering up the sky. Deep purple. Jaundiced orange. A pale yellow. The corona of white around the sun herself. You feel like it’s her who got up late, not you who got up early. You want to ask her, what’cha doing lying around, sleepy head? We’ve got a day to get started, and you’re only getting up at this hour?
But the first rays of light catch the October leaves on the tree across the street, and the way it catches fire leaves you breathless for a moment.
A scream. High and dopplered, approaching at speed. You barely have time to look around before the police cars squeal up to you, careening into messy parking jobs, two, then three of them. You start to get up before uniformed officers pile out onto the street. They have their pistols drawn. You don’t understand, you just came out for a quiet start to your day, and now this? You just want to tell them that you’re not supposed to be here, that you can go home, alright?
Slowly, wide eyed, you put your hands on your head. You spilled your thermos when you started to your feet, and it’s left a broad brown spatter on the concrete, running into the gutter. What the hell else can you do?
You’re half asleep by the time the detective joins you in the interview room. Your early morning caught up to you, or maybe exhaustion is native to police stations. Green-white fluorescents. The smell of decaf and oil. The tidal ebb and flow of sound that you were barely conscious of as they hustled you through the homicide department. You wouldn’t have expected that you’d sleep. It crept up on you, so that now you’re being startled back to consciousness by the slam of the steel door, with your hand asleep in the handcuffs.
The detective gives you a look that’s not quite expressionless, and lets the door slide shut behind her. She’s dressed professionally – suit jacket and white button up blouse, with semi-short blonde hair pulled back to a ponytail. Shuffling through a folder of papers, she takes slow, measured steps around the metal table, before closing it and dropping the whole thing in front of the empty chair opposite you. A polaroid slides out. A knife, planted point down in a bed of daffodils.
“Where were you,” she asks, “On the night of August the 15th?”
You hesitate a moment, then tell her that you don’t remember, offhand, probably at home, browsing the internet.
“Talking to anyone? Posting on Forums, Facebook?” She inquires. It’s clear that she wants the answer to be no.
You shrug a little. You tell her you don’t know. You tell her probably not. You ask her what this is about.
She ignores you and takes a seat, sliding the photograph back into the folder. She says “What about the early morning of September the 16th?”
You ask how early, and when she responds only with a furrowed brow, you say that you don’t know, probably asleep? You ask where she was.
A pained expression creases her crow’s feet, and it seems to you that the detective ages five years. “I was here.” She pulls another photograph out of the folder.
You stare at it, and make a sound somewhere between an understanding murmur and a shudder.
She nods. She withdraws the picture, and tucks it back between the manila folds. “Where were you last night?” she asks after a brief pause.
You don’t answer for several long seconds.
She clears her throat, and says, “I think this is the part where you ask for your lawyer.”
You stay silent.
“Or maybe your phone call?”
You ask her if she really thinks that you did it. You ask, with pleading tinging your voice, if you really look like you’re capable of something like that. Something passes over her eyes. Maybe doubt. Maybe anger. It’s gone almost before you can register it. You tell her that you don’t understand why they’d think any of this.
She cuts in. “Last night.”
You hesitate for the skin of a moment, then tell her that you were walking down by the river most of the evening, just watching the water where it lapped against the floodwall, listening to the cars on the bridges. You tell her that you got dinner from a lebanese place on Everett Street, and walked from the Morrison Bridge to the Broadway Bridge, and people probably saw you along the way.
“Name of the restaurant?” she asks, in a flat monotone.
You tell her that you don’t remember off the top of your head, but they should be able to find it, no problem. You know that you don’t have a real alibi. Nothing that would hold up in court.
The detective picks the folder back up and leafs through it again, lingering on a particular collection of stapled sheets.
“Your parents died six months ago,” she says. It’s not a question.
You ask just how that’s relevant.
“Car crash,” she continues. “Oh, and looking at this, your last place of work said that you gave your two weeks about a month after that? Why?”
You tell her that you needed a change, that you’d been working there a couple of years, and you realized you didn’t want to make a career out of it. You ask again just why she wants to know.
The detective flips another sheet in the file. She asks “What, so there’s something you do want to make a career out of?”
You pause for a moment, then tell her that you do actually want to speak to your lawyer.
She gives a wry smile without raising her eyes from the folder. “What is it about the 15th?” she asks. “I had a half-assed theory. I came up with a name for you. Brutus.” She sets the open folder on the table and looks you in the eye at last. “You know. Caesar. ‘beware the ides of…’” she shakes a hand dismissively. “…whatever.”
Tears are starting to well up in your eyes. You tell her that you didn’t kill those people. You tell her that you couldn’t imagine doing anything like what was in that photograph.
She replies “You said that. Yeah.” The detective flips to the back of the dossier and pulls out an unsealed envelope. She begins pulling more pictures out of it and laying them face-down on the table, like a card game.
You tell her that you don’t understand any of this.
“Neither do I,” she says hoarsely. She flips the first picture. So much blood. A face that can’t stop screaming. Brilliantly illuminated by the flashbulb.
“I don’t understand it,” She says. Another photo.
Suspended by the wrists. Marks of a struggle. Not enough skin.
“I don’t understand why a person would do something like this,” Flip.
Two pieces. All the fingernails missing.
“I don’t understand how anyone could think this could be alright.” Flip.
A carpet of blood. Blood and hair. No head in sight.
“And I don’t understand why you’re still pretending it wasn’t you.” Flip.
Curled into a ball. Wanted so badly for the pain to stop. So you stopped it.
You should be shaking, but you’re perfectly still. Your knuckles are white. A murmur escapes your lips.
The detective leans back, the whole record laid out in front of you. She says, “So maybe you can explain it to me.” There’s a sawtooth to her voice. She’s trembling, just a little.
You take in a breath, and then hold it, your teeth ever so slightly bared. You can practically taste the anticipation. You say, “Alright.”