Beware of the Ides of March (part 4 of 10)
There are two places that Elias would rather not be - a hospital or a police station. As soon as you find yourself in either of these places, you are operating below your normal level of dignity. Once you are in the charge or care of hospital or police staff, your morale takes the back seat. You will hear the sound of flushing and know that it is your sense of pride that has just gone down the loo. The only things left to feel are self-pity and anger as you quickly realize that your body is no longer your own property. At any time, you may be asked to open your mouth and someone might poke around in it with a probing rod or latex sheathed fingers. You may be asked to urinate into a bottle, or made to produce some other kind of 'sample' on demand. You will answer personal and private questions - spill your guts on things you would prefer not to disclose to anybody, not even your mom or your wife - especially not your mom or your wife. They may even ask you to take off your trousers, and goodness knows what they might do afterwards.
Nobody has asked Elias to drop his trousers yet, but he has already taken the precaution to, mentally, shed his dignity at the doorstep before entering into the main foyer of the police station. That way, it does not matter what else they ask him to take off.
Elias has never been inside a police station, although he has seen enough of it in The Bill on ITV. However, that has not properly prepared him for the real thing, which, to all intents and purpose, he finds to be like any other office complex – a series of intersecting corridors with cubicles and elegant office furniture. None of the exaggerated hive of activity often portrayed on TV. Not a criminal in sight, causing trouble, shouting abuses, swearing his head off, as police officers restrain and manhandle him. No petulant drug baron in black tuxedo and sleek crocodile shoes, demanding for his son to be released immediately or he will see to it that they are all sacked and the police station shut down at once. Perhaps all the action is happening in another department, on the East wing of the building.
The place has been recently refurbished: the corridor walls painted white and decorated with abstract, post-modernist paintings, all, probably, a cry for help by a single schizophrenic artist. The dark blue carpet does not only dominate the floor, but it also dominates the entire space with its smell of Evo-stik glue strong enough to launch a full-grown hamster into a state of permanent psychedelic bliss. The bright florescent lights concealed by the translucent plastic ceiling tiles give an unconvincing impression of constant daylight. As he follows Inspector Warren and Sergeant Wallace along the corridor, Elias can see busy police officers in their offices through the glass windows and doors.
Both his custodians promptly disappear after booking him into one of the waiting rooms, leaving him alone for about an hour. The room is bare except for some lounge chairs and a low stool in the middle with some old hobby magazines – Boats, Model Engineer and Home & Garden.
He has tried to call Jane several times but her mobile is still switched off. In any case, his phone battery is now dead. He resigns himself to waiting it out. Whatever happens, they will soon release him once they are satisfied with his statement. His mind keeps switching back to the dead woman. He cannot get the image out of his head. He wishes that he had never seen it. He thinks about the smartly dressed man and the missing briefcase. All this has to be a nightmare. Will they ever catch the man? Why did he kill the woman? Why cut off her head, hands and feet like that?
After an hour or so, he is moved to another waiting room not any different from the previous one. It has to be that there is a rule against keeping witnesses in one room for over an hour, because he soon is moved again to yet another room. With each move the black junior officer, who is not involved in the investigation but is fully acquainted with the procedures, offers his polite apology and full assurance that he is not under arrest. For each displacement, there is a new excuse: shortage of resources or non-availability of interview rooms; “No, we can’t use the waiting rooms because they are not fitted with the right equipments.” “No, no…” - not getting the joke – “…not torture equipment, I mean audios and things, you know”.
Maybe they are waging a perverse conspiracy of torture by indefinite waiting. It is working, because, as well as the will to live, Elias is gradually losing his sanity. His sense of humor is beginning to wobble around the edges and will soon shrivel up and be sucked up its own backside. The entire fabric of space and time will soon collapse upon itself and vanish into the black hole of eternal boredom. And then he will lose his trousers.
Just when he is about to start tearing down the walls he is moved, yet again, into another room. This time the junior officer has completely run out of excuses and apologies. For the first time, though, he has company - a woman in her late twenties, about Jane’s height. Elias takes a seat at the other end of the room and watches her from the distance, amused and amazed by her restlessness. First, she sits, knees together, hands clasped, leaning forward, and then suddenly she sits up and crosses her legs. Staring at her hands for a brief moment she quickly hides them beneath her shawl as if she has suddenly discovered a cancerous growth in the middle of her palm. Next, she raises her right hand and bites her nails delicately, with an intense frown on her face. Then, as if realizing that she should not be doing that, she withdraws her hand, briefly inspecting her nails for any damage. She gets up, changes her mind and sits down again. She glances nervously behind her as if someone has tapped her on the left shoulder then she sniffs, frantically grabs her black leather handbag and rummages through it, bringing out a pink mirror compact case, which she examines absentmindedly. Flipping it open, she pulls a strange face at herself in the mirror and then returns the compact case. She gently places the handbag on the chair beside her, picks it up again, and then puts it on a different chair. She picks up the handbag again; another rummage and this time she brings out a stylish Motorola mobile phone, stares at it despairingly only to return it.
She goes through this ritual several times, then finally, turns, and looks directly at Elias. He smiles a sheepish, apologetic, smile of an indulgent voyeur caught red handed – or, more appropriately, saucer eyed. He hesitates and then goes over and sits one seat away from her. 'Hi', he says, 'I bet you have been here so long you are almost going out of your mind'
'I've been here since 12:30, more than three hours! I've tried to call out on my mobile but there is no bloody signal' Her voice is hard and shrill, like someone accustomed to many hours of speaking to other peoples’ children.
'I'd lend you my mobile but the battery is dead.'
'Thanks. Maybe they blocked the signals deliberately'
'Wouldn’t put it past them. They may even be watching us and listening in to what we're saying now.'
'What are you here for?' she asks.
'I walked into a house and discovered a murdered woman' Elias replied, 'Now I think that I would have been better off if I had simply walked away and left her for someone else to discover.'
‘A murdered woman? How awful. Must have been a terrible shock for you.’
‘It was a real mess. That has to be the worst thing I’ve seen in my entire life. I’ll probably never forget it. I will spare you the details. Thankfully, it’s not anyone that I know. What about you, why are you here?’
'I work in a nursery; a little girl in my care was almost run over. That’s not the problem, though, because she wasn’t hurt or anything. The problem is that the police cannot find her parents’
'What happened to them?'
'Long story, really. Her dad brought her to my nursery as one-off babysit, just for a few hours, he said. He was desperate to attend an important appointment and had no one else to look after her – her mom is sick or something like that. Apart from his mobile number which has been unreachable since - and that he is called Graham - I don't know anything else about him. No home or office phone number, no house address, no nothing.'
'What about the little girl, can’t she speak?'
'No, she’s in a state. The police think that she's been drugged up.'
'Hmm, that's very serious. So they think you drugged her?'
The woman suddenly begins to sob. 'I shouldn't have been so careless; taking the girl without asking any questions...I had no idea she might have been drugged...'
'Don't be too hard on yourself; how you could you have known? You took pity on the man and his daughter, you did nothing wrong' Elias says with a comforting hand on her shoulder.
It is at this moment that sergeant Wallace enters the room. 'I see, you two know each other'. But before either of them could reply, he turns to Elias 'This way please, Dr Armand'
Elias is surprised that the sergeant is referring to him by his academic title. Seems they have already found out more about him. They are the police after all.
'Well, good luck' he says to the woman, ‘I'm sure everything will work out alright.'
'Thanks' she sniffs, wiping her eyes with a white handkerchief.
Elias follows Sergeant Wallace down the corridor and they go into another room with a table and two chairs on either side but no sign of any 'equipments'. He wonders if these are concealed somewhere under the table or under the floor. Inspector Warren is already waiting there. His face is drawn and his brows glister with sweat in spite of the air conditioning. 'Dr Armand' he says.
Doctor! Elias senses a deference, which makes him smile. So he is not just any old Taxi driver, they have found. He knows what is coming next: apologies for holding him longer than necessary. Soon he will be on his way.
‘We have found the briefcase.'
'That's good' He says, somewhat relieved but a little disappointed in the lack of courtesy on the part of the inspector. The briefcase has nothing to do with him. All he wants to hear now is ‘we are sorry for holding you for so long…’
'Do you want to know what we found inside it?'
'I'm not terribly curious at the moment, all I want to do is go back to my life, thank you very much' his irritation froths dangerously underneath but he keeps it under control.
The inspector speaks grimly and deliberately 'We found human parts. A head dissected in two equal halves, two hands and two feet'
'Good lord!' exclaims Elias.
Warren and Wallace watch him closely, studying his reaction.
'We want you to identify the victim'
Elias's blood pressure hits the ceiling. 'Why the hell would I want to do that?'
'Because, Doctor, we fear that the victim might be your wife'