Conviction of a One-Way Mirror: Part 1
The quiet solitude of the observation room welcomed me. I kept the lights dim and lurked in the shadows, more at home in this crappy corner of the precinct than anywhere else on Earth. These four sheltering walls kept all my secrets. In this entire establishment, this cramped chamber was the only one to truly see me or listen. It supported me by hiding me. I watched through the mirror as the lowlife criminal of a man cowered over his cuffed hands and all the while my presence was anonymous. I held every ounce of power. In this room, I was a goddess and no one could look down on me. This would be my last time in here. I missed it already, but it was time to move on.
My suspect bent over the tabletop and his restrained hands cradled his face. Teary bullets tore down his cheeks, seeming real enough. The man was in grief. Or perhaps burdened with guilt. I bet on a combination of both. I held no sympathy for him. He was scum and I would prove it.
Sly, with only a hint of anxiety plaguing me, I clicked a button and the recording of the interrogation room switched off. I checked through the glass to ensure the blinking light on the camera truly powered down. I was left unsupervised with this slimy excuse for a man. When my superiors criticized me for it, my chagrined disbelief would be genuine. I knew how to put on a show.
With our new privacy, I decided to unveil myself at last, the bird of prey conversing with the vermin she hunts. I would be allowed dinner soon enough. I would make sure of it.
When I entered, his head snapped up with a pleading trepidation that nearly made me laugh. To this day I was tickled that a human could commit some heinous act with unwavering confidence but then have the audacity to play meek when met with an equal punishment. Consequences have always existed and yet people seem surprised to face them. Maybe that is the reason discipline is still required. No one ever learns.
I sank into my seat and crossed my legs. He followed my movements with an anxious, glassy eyed gawk. I deliberately took my time settling in, sliding my file to the side of the tabletop and then utilizing a silent minute to size him up. He refused to speak during my entire adjustment period. I respected the stoicism. Perhaps I underestimated his cleverness.
“Mr. Cartwright,” I greeted.
“I didn’t kill her,” he immediately retorted.
I shrugged with bewilderment. “Did I say you did?”
“It’s why I’m here.”
“You’re right, but I wanted to talk about something else first,” I cut in. “We’ve actually met before. Do you remember me?”
A blankness crossed him and he shook his head.
“A long time ago I was called to your house, before I was a detective. Why were the police called to your house, Mr. Cartwright?”
He scoffed in impatience, “If you were there, you already know.”
“I want to hear it from you,” I insisted.
He slumped in his chair, indignant from the defeat. “It was just a little spat.”
“That was loud and violent enough to make the neighbors call the police.”
“Every couple fights.”
“But not every wife gets used as a punching bag,” I seethed.
“I messed up,” he barked defensively. “I know that. But this is different. Our past has nothing to do with what happened now. I would never-”
“Hurt her?” I challenged with ire. “Were you about to say that you would never hurt her?”
“I wouldn’t kill her,” he replied.
I tilted my head at him. “You really don’t remember me? You should pay closer attention.”
“Memorizing every face at my house that night wasn’t exactly my priority.”
“You know me now, though, don’t you?”
“Yes, you were the first detective on the scene and you immediately assumed I was the murderer,” he rebuked.
“I try not to make assumptions. I follow evidence,” I corrected.
I shifted the file to the center of the desk, poising it directly in front of him.
He pinched his eyes shut. “Please don’t open that.”
“Because I know what it is and I can’t see it again.”
“Don’t like admiring your handy work?” I snipped.
As I lifted the edge of the folder he recoiled, his chains grating against the metal bar of the table. “Please,” he begged.
“Yes, I just lost my wife,” he growled.
I flourished the file open with no remorse. A stack of photographs berated him with images of his lifeless late wife, whitened with death except for the harsh, violet bruising around her neck.
“Tell me what went through your head when you allegedly walked in on this,” I said, conveying through my callous tone that I was unconvinced of this particular scenario.
He stifled sobs as he studied the photos. The affection and loss in him appeared genuine, yet this monster had no right to mourn her. Whether he was the murderer or not, he wronged her. He let her down. I had seen it with my own eyes. I despised his despair.
Drawing jagged breaths, he explained, “I couldn’t think. I saw her there and I couldn’t think.”
“You had just gotten out of bed,” I filled in.
“I went in to make coffee,” he affirmed. “She was lying there. And I called the police.”
“You didn’t notice anything else? An open door or broken window?”
“No,” he answered.
“Us either,” I agreed, “which is what makes this case so interesting.”
“Detective Hendrix, I didn’t do it,” he avowed.
“We tore your house upside down looking for evidence and there wasn’t a shred of it. Just a body. No sign of break in or struggle. Not even a stray hair. We have no outside leads and an abusive husband. Math was never my strong suit, but I think that adds up to one suspect.”
“Why would I call you?” he argued. “If I had done it, why would I call the cops? I called because I needed your help and now I’m handcuffed to a table while you throw these horrible pictures in my face. Is this how you handle every murder case because if it is I am seriously worried about our justice system.”
“Sometimes killers call the police. There’s plenty of reasons why. They want to throw suspicion off themselves or they don’t know how to get rid of the body, so they let us get rid of it for them. Or occasionally they feel so guilty that they want to get caught.”
“That’s not what this is,” he snarled.
“You don’t feel guilty at all?” I posed with malice. “According to your story, someone broke into your house, came into your bedroom, dragged your wife out of bed and into the living room, and then strangled her. And you supposedly slept through all of that. You don’t even feel bad about failing to protect the love of your life?”
“Of course I do.”
“Or maybe she wasn’t the love of your life, which is why you don’t feel so bad,” I mused.
“Trust me, I feel it,” he murmured.
“Why wouldn’t she scream?” I asserted, “or at least knock over some furniture on her way to the living room. It’s strange that she didn’t make a single sound to wake you. Not even the smallest jostle of the bed when this home invader pulled her away from your side.”
“I don’t know,” he conceded.
“Good,” I commended. “‘I don’t know’ is a very safe answer. You’re starting to figure out how this works.”
“I don’t have to be working with you at all,” he reminded me. “I didn’t ask for a lawyer because I have nothing to hide. I want to find Joselyn’s killer as much as you do.”
“Then cooperate,” I seethed. “Why don’t you walk me through the previous night?”
“Why? None of that has anything to do with someone breaking in while we were asleep.”
With a sigh, he rambled off, “I got home from work about five-thirty. Joselyn made dinner, then we watched tv and went to bed.”
“What did you watch?” I asked, feigning cordiality.
“Good choice,” I commended. “What about dinner? What did she make?”
“Chicken parm,” he answered with impatience.
“And what did you talk about over dinner?”
He shrugged, “I don’t remember.”
I folded my arms. “One of the last conversations you had with your wife and you don’t remember? That’s hard for me to believe.”
He tottered in his chair, outwardly remorseful for the first time. Gluing his eyes to the table, he admitted, “We may have had a small argument over dinner.”
I snorted at his careful choice of words. “That seems pretty relevant to me. Why wouldn’t you tell me that earlier?”
“Because it’s not actually relevant. I know it sounds bad, but it doesn’t have anything to do with her death. It’s only distracting you from finding the real murderer.”
“What did you fight about?”
He cleared the strain from his throat. “I thought that she might be having an affair.”
To be concluded in Part 2...
© 2020 by Kelsey Garber