I look up. Detective Finley is standing in front of my desk. Holding a box. A step behind, Sergeant Mateo is balancing the handle of a rolling suitcase.
I know what is in the box. I know what is the suitcase. I hate all of it.
I hunch my shoulders. I try to pretend they don’t exist. That they are not in front of me. That today is a nice, normal day full of pleasantly boring police paperwork. I like paperwork. I’m good at it. Paperwork is tidy. It’s orderly. It needs to be done. Paperwork doesn’t invade my nightmares.
“Her name is Lydia. She’s six. There’s a good chance she’s still alive.”
They know what they are asking. They’ve seen the cost, even if they aren’t the ones paying it. They wouldn’t ask if there wasn’t the high possibility of a good return. You don’t drag out the cannon for a traffic violation.
I nod toward one of the interrogation rooms. I shut down my computer and follow them in.
Lydia Poole was taken from a birthday party in the park. A YouTuber videoed the man who grabbed her. When the police arrested him, the found stash of little girls’ dresses. Three of the dresses belong to missing-child cold cases.
The box and the suitcase lay on the table in front of me. The box contains items from the police evidence locker. The suitcase has a selection of personal items from the suspect’s apartment.
I skip the files and paperwork. I probably entered most of it.
Under the folders is the baseball cap the suspect was wearing when he kidnapped Lydia. Hats are good. I put it on.
I riffle thru the suitcase. Find a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.
I don’t smoke.
I do now.
In the observation room, Mateo stares through the one-way glass. “How does she do that? How does a 5’5″ woman in her 30s suddenly remind me of a 6-foot tall man in his 50s?”
Finley stares as well. “No one knows. I don’t think she knows. She’s seen every shrink in the department. As for me, I’m willing to believe that invisible unicorns whisper messages in her ear if it means we can find that kid.”
Two people enter the interview room. They sit down across the table from me.
“Where is the kid?”
“I want full immunity.” I blow smoke into the face of of the tall cop with the hooters. She doesn’t react.
“We can’t do that.”
“The lovely Lydia has been gone a long time. Sitting in the dark. In a puddle of her own piss. Crying for her mommy. Wondering why her mommy won’t come. Must be terrible.”
“You are a scumbag.”
“No doubt. But I’m a scumbag with something you want.”
“Okay. The best we can do is reduce the charges to Murder 2 and Manslaughter. Possibility of parole. If the information is good.”
I tell them a story. A hypothetical story that might be true. Hooters goes out of the room to call the cavalry. As she leaves, she tells her partner, “Watch him. I mean her.” Short cop looks confused and a little scared.
When I come to, I am under a shower. The hot water is going full blast. A female officer is standing close behind me with my right arm twisted up in a immobilization hold. We are both fully dressed.
I say, “You can let me go.”
She turns to the woman standing outside the stall, just outside the spray of the water, “Dr. Darby?”
The woman looks at me. “How are you doing?”
I answer, “I’ve been on an amusement park ride through Hell with Satan as the conductor. How do you think I’m doing?”
She gives a small snort-chuckle. “We’re clear. You can let her go.”
The officer lets go of my arm and steps back. I turn to thank her, noticing that the entire front of her uniform is wet. I don’t know her. We haven’t met before. She leaves. Quickly. I tend to have that effect on people the first time.
I stand under the shower in silence.
“Lydia is with her parents. Going to be fine. Eventually.”
I lean against the tile wall.
I start sobbing.
The doc and I came up with this shower ritual as a not very subtle way for me to get metaphorically “clean” afterward. I will stand here for as long as I need. She will stay with me for as long as it takes.
My record is two hours.