Pants on Fire
Lena was sorely tempted to lay her head down on the metal table in the conference room where the uniformed officer had led her. They hadn’t been in the station more than ten minutes before someone figured out that she had been on duty both times the diner had been broken into. She and Scott had been quickly separated, and now she watched him chatting with an officer with a resigned sense of injustice. Two hours after they had come in he was drinking coffee and showing a desk sergeant his cell phone. She, on the other hand, was still in the interview room. She hadn’t spoken to anyone but the officer who had taken her brief statement, and when she got up to ask how much longer it would be, she had been asked to please not leave the room. She had yet to be offered a drink, and if no one came to let her out soon her need for a restroom was going to become dire. She slouched down further, arms gingerly placed in her lap, and narrowed her eyes. The blinds over the observation window were open, though not raised, and she watched Scott laugh at something the officer said. As if he could feel her resentment, he glanced her way and gave a tiny shrug. He seemed to be saying, hey, it’s not my fault. She wanted to scowl, but her face muscles were too tired.
She had just resolved to close her eyes and try to sleep when the door opened. A plainclothes officer, her badge clipped to her belt, shut the door gently behind herself and pulled out a chair. The folder in her hand remained closed, but Lena could clearly read the label listing a case number and the address of the diner.
“I’m Detective Soto, I’m sorry if you’ve been waiting long,” she said without looking up while she flipped through a notebook.
“Really,” she responded dryly. The detective looked up sharply, and she winced. Usually Lena was able to keep her sarcasm to herself. A police interrogation was not the best time to let it get away from her.
Her eyes narrowed slightly, but otherwise she ignored Lena’s tone. “Please tell me what happened tonight,” she said.
Lena went through the story again. A shot. She and Scott hiding in the kitchen. Men with boots. An escape out the back door. While she spoke, she studied the officer. With a name like Soto, she had to be Hispanic, but her skin was darker than expected, more of a walnut color. Her hair was pulled into a tight knot, however bits had escaped near her ears and formed springy curls. The detective looked repressed, which Lena could respect, but she also looked like she lived for her job. That could become an issue, given the details that Lena was leaving out. Details like a woman strong enough to snap a metal chair like a Jet snapped fingers.
“That is quite a story, Miss Moore,” Soto tapped her pencil against the table. She was pretty, in a severe way. Her cheekbones were sharp enough to cut. Her brows were thick, but arched into heavy wings that emphasized her eyes. Her chin was almost pointed, her nose a little blade that she was currently looking down at Lena. Her mouth was the only soft thing about the woman. Full, dark lips that might have been attractive if she didn’t keep them compressed into a hard line. “What about last night? What happened then?”
If possible, Lena’s mood soured further, as if being interrogated while Scott was treated like the mayor elect wasn’t bad enough. She was already nervous about being in a police station. Her arms and head ached. She was probably going to have to pay for a second window – if she didn’t lose her job – and she had to be questioned by a detective that was, without even trying, several times prettier and more put together than Lena. It was just pouring salt in the wound.
“I don’t know what happened then. I wasn’t there.” She held Soto’s gaze, then remembered Tom’s advice about lying. Her eyes fell to her lap. She repeated the story about the coffeepot and leaving a note on the window, but she felt as though Soto could see right through her. A trickle of cold sweat ran down her spine.
“How long did it take you to leave that note?”
“Er,” Lena looked up. The detective was watching her closely, dark brown eyes steady and unflinching. She pressed her bandaged arms against her stomach to stop it from fluttering. “I don’t know. A couple minutes. I guess?”
“Those must be serious cuts then. Our techs found a significant amount of blood on the floor. Which hospital did you go to for stitches?”
“That wasn’t mine,” she replied without thinking. Lena winced. Of course there had been a lot of blood on the floor. Kurt had put six inches of plate glass through expensive white silk and dark skin. Not to mention the fork damage.
Soto leaned forward in her chair. She reminded Lena of a cat, ready to pounce. “Whose blood was it then?”
“I don’t know?” It came out as a question, and Lena winced again. She really was a terrible liar. She wondered briefly why she had not known that about herself before. It seemed like important information. Misdirection was the best she could hope for. “Look, do you need a sample or something? That’s what they do on television. Then you can rule out me at the, er, person you are looking for.”
“Ms. Moore,” Soto began, resting her pencil on the table beside her notebook, “I would like to help you here, I really would. But you have to give me something that I can work with. If someone hurt you, or has frightened you into keeping quiet, you need to tell me.”
So that’s a no on misdirection. For a brief moment, Lena considered just telling the truth. Yes, Detective, see there was so much blood because this homeless guy stabbed someone with a fork. And then the fork guy got up and walked away. Yeah. Right.
“I cleaned it up,” she blurted, then immediately wanted to smack herself for saying anything. Soto’s eyes widened fractionally and her mouth opened to ask more questions. You’re an idiot, she told herself, but her mouth kept moving. “With bar towels. I know they’re diner property, and I promise I’ll repay The Boxcar for the expense, but I used the towels to clean up the glass and the blood I dripped in the kitchen.” Once she started, she couldn’t seem to stop. It was like her brain and mouth weren’t connected anymore and the lies just fell out on their own. “I took them home with me, so I wouldn’t drip all over the diner or my clothes on the way home, and then I threw them in the trash. I should have said something right away – I should have called the manager to let him know I hadn’t closed out the register and put the cash and receipts in the safe like I’m supposed to at the end of my shift. If I had, the robbers wouldn’t have gotten all that money. I’m sorry. Do you think I’ll need to pay back what was stolen?”
“Ms. Moore,” Soto said, then paused. She sat back in her chair suddenly, her body language relaxing and her face softening into a friendlier expression. “I wouldn’t worry about that, Ms. Moore. There wasn’t anything stolen, just damage to the property. Why do you think that is?” It felt like a trap. Lena knew it in her bones, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it.
“Kids? Or…or maybe drug addicts?” Her voice was getting higher pitched, but she couldn’t control it. The sweat on her back slid down to her waistband and she actually squeaked, “Kids on drugs?” Soto did not dignify that with a reply, for which Lena was extremely grateful. There was a knock on the window, and they both looked up. A blonde woman with a pitying smile on her face was standing on the other side holding a bottle of water and a brochure.
Soto frowned. “It seems your witness advocate has arrived. How convenient.” She stood, slipping her pencil and notepad into her jacket, and removed a business card. One understated manicured nail slid it across the table to Lena. The detective moved to the door, but did not open it. “Stay close to home, Ms. Moore. I will be speaking with you again.” Their eyes met, and all softness fled the older woman’s face. “When you are ready to talk about what really happened, call me.”
It took almost another hour to get rid of the volunteer advocate, who continued to insist that Lena should go to the hospital to have her arms treated, and to fill out paperwork that verified the statement she had given Soto. Lena’s hand shook as she signed, under penalty of law, that she had told the whole, unabridged and unaltered truth to all questions asked of her. She wasn’t sure why she had lied. She could have told a version of the truth that wouldn’t make her look suspicious or sound like a nut job. Could have said that two weirdos came into the diner and attacked her and another customer. Could have said that Kurt had stabbed them and then disappeared. The guy was homeless, and even if they found him and arrested him, his story about the dangers of women who rip apart chairs and Lazarus-impersonators would sound certifiable. He would probably get time in a mental hospital instead of a jail – assuming the police ever found the bodies of the toothpaste twins. Lena tried to tell herself that three meals a day and air conditioning had to be better than living on the streets.
It didn’t matter. She knew Kurt wasn’t crazy. Whatever else he was – a killer even – he wasn’t crazy. And that made Lena feel a little bit insane and a whole lot scared. If Kurt was telling the truth, then the toothpaste twins were alive and still looking for something he wanted. And they thought she knew where to find him. As she left the station with Scott, that thought continued to circle in her head.
Like old bathwater around a slow drain, fear and disbelief slowly chased each other around her mind until she felt sick from dizziness. She just wanted the whole thing to be done and her life to return to normal. No more toothpaste twins. No more detectives. No more Kurt. Even if a traitorous part of her mind wondered if he was okay and hoped he found somewhere cool to sleep. He was the kind of person that knew how to make cheap flatware into a deadly weapon. She was better off if he stayed far, far away from her.