He takes a seat opposite me and for a full four minutes he says nothing. I know it’s four minutes because I count every second while I wait for him to get the measure of me.
“I’m DI Spencer,” he says. His voice is devoid of emotion, the words so carefully enunciated I get the impression he has spent years honing this apparent unshakability.
So I smile at him politely and say, “Good evening,” my tone a little too friendly which seems to disconcert him.
He tries to remain impassive, but the small tilt of his head, the slight arch of his brow, the thoughtful pursing of his lips, all give him away. He doesn’t know quite what to make of me. No doubt he was expecting someone different. Someone stronger, perhaps even a little menacing.
“Listen,” I say. “Whatever you want to know, just ask me. I’ve got nothing to hide.”
He looks at me and his eyes narrow and the corners of his mouth twitch almost imperceptibly. Not so much a smile, as borderline cynicism.
“What?” I ask him. “Do you not believe me?”
“I’m just not used to such refreshing honesty,” he says. “Most people try to deny any wrongdoing.”
I can’t stop myself from laughing a little at that. “Wrongdoing?” I say. “I think three dead men is a little more than wrongdoing, don’t you?”
“Fair enough,” he smiles. “Then let’s call it what it is: murder.”
I nod in reply, and he leans back in his chair and clasps his hands across the soft paunch of his stomach as if my silent agreement is some sort of small triumph. And I notice how soft his hands are, his nails buffed and manicured, almost feminine, as if they have never seen rough work. His pallor too, has a pale, doughy quality to it. The kind you acquire when you spend too much time indoors, sedentary and immersed in paperwork. But it would be foolish to underestimate him. His gaze is alert and unflinching, and it’s that steely glint in his eyes that helps me understand him. He is the type that needs to know why. The how, the what, the when, the where. None of that matters to him as much as the why.
And that’s good, because that’s all I really want— for people to understand why those three men had to die. For them to accept, even, that killing them was the right thing to do. The just thing to do.
“The thing that bothers me most, even now,” I tell him, “is that they never showed any remorse. Nothing. Not a single tear. It’s why I had to cry on their behalf, so to speak.”
He shifts his weight, unclasps his hands, and leans forward setting his arms on the table, his expression suddenly intense letting me see he means business.
“Care to explain that?” he asks.
The bulk of his body throws a shadow across the table, the dimming of the light, intended as a threat. If it wasn’t for the softness of his hands, I would feel intimidated.
“You ever see that photo?” I ask him. “You know, the one by Man Ray? The woman with the glass tears?”
“Can’t say I have,” he says. There’s an impatience to his voice now that I don’t much like and when he leans forward a few more inches, I feel the warmth of his breath as he speaks and catch a nauseating whiff of coffee and cigarettes. “Why? Is it significant in some way?”
“I found it inspiring,” I tell him. “The teardrops. What he did— Man Ray I mean— is he placed these crystal-clear globes on the model’s cheeks, so it looked as though they were shedding these perfect tears. I don’t know why, but that image has always stayed with me. What do you think he was trying to say?”
“I don’t know. Art appreciation isn’t really my thing. “Spencer says. “But what about you, what were you trying to say?”
I think of those boys with those crystal tears cascading down their cheeks. Their fake remorse, too pure really for the reality of who they were and what they’d done.
‘Those tears were too good for them,” I say.
“Them?” Spencer asks.
“Jake Harris. Callum Walsh. Paul Downey,” I say. “You know. Them.”
“It’s a strange thing to do, don’t you think?” he asks. “Placing crystal ‘tears’ on dead men’s faces.”
“I suppose you want to know why?” I ask.
He nods and I pause for a couple of minutes, not because I want to provoke or annoy him, but simply to find the right words. Because he’s right, in a way. It is a strange thing to do.
“I wanted to know what they would look like when they were crying,” I tell him.
Spencer looks at me as if what I have told him is the most disconcerting thing he has ever heard. And it takes him a few seconds to compose himself, before he speaks.
“I’m still not sure I understand,” he says.
“Okay,” I reply. “Then, how about we start at the beginning?”
He nods and purses his lips, his brow a mixture of anticipation and confusion as if he’s not sure whether he wants to know the truth. Then he pulls himself together, that determined glint returning to his eyes.
“Sure,” he says. “Sounds good.”
Okay then, the beginning. How about a pulsating, nightclub? The sweat-soaked air saturated with pheromones. It’s one a.m. and things are just getting started. Bodies on the dancefloor moving as one, and in the last hour, limbs have become looser, laughter louder, inhibitions freer.
Though not everyone.
The girls take turns. One group on the dancefloor while the other guards the table. It pays to be vigilant, to watch over the drinks. They all know the score. These days, one slip of powder or pill in your drink and the evening is obliterated. You wake, not knowing where you are or who the guy lying next to you is. And what has he done to you? And what did you do to him? And this is the best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario? Well, better watch those drinks.
But the boys are good-looking, and their talk is smooth, and they move in close and touch bare arms and shoulders, seeking eye contact. Confident, but not too much. Works like a charm. But behind some smiles lurk monsters.
And so this is how it goes. She’s swaying on the dancefloor, eyes closed and lost in the music. He brushes her arm and when she opens her eyes, he is staring at her, smiling. Beautiful eyes, she thinks. And they dance a while, getting closer and closer, moving together. And she likes him. Let’s him squeeze against her. Takes him back to the table where her friends say hello. And he’s so good-looking they let their guard down. They laugh and they drink, and they talk, and they dance some more. No-one catching it. The pill in the bottle. The girl looser now, stumbling. “Take me home,” she begs him. “Please, take me home.”
And he does. He takes her. Such a good-looking guy. But they’re the ones you have to watch. And in the morning, she wakes and remembers nothing. In the morning, she looks round the room and does not recognize it. She sees clothes scattered on the floor, the bedsheets stained, and her phone is nowhere to be seen.
This isn’t home, she thinks. Then the pounding of her head reminds her of the music. And the nightclub. And her friends. And the table. And the drinks. The fucking drinks.
Yeah, she thinks, the good-looking ones are always the ones you need to watch. And the pit of her stomach is heavy with remorse and self-loathing, while he turns over in the bed to sleep away the day.
“Son of a bitch”, her parting words.
I’ve worked the bar and seen it happen every weekend. The Sophies, the Hannahs, the Lauras and the Rachaels. Seen them dance and laugh and then fall, one by one, into the arms of men like them. The boys back every weekend for another round. The girls though, you never see them again.
And something had to be done to protect them. Don’t you think?
I don’t want his sympathy, but I can see from the way he looks at me that he can’t quite decide if I’m victim or perpetrator.
“You could have reported it,” he says. “You could have come to us for help.”
I look him dead in the eye, my jaw clenched with anger and my fingernails digging into my palms as I try to suppress my emotions.
“Oh, and do many women do that then?” I ask him. “I mean, a night on the town, too much to drink, some drugs involved and all the judgements that go with it. How many women are going to come to you looking for help? ‘She was asking for it. She was dancing with him. She was kissing him. Her skirt was halfway up her arse.’ Come on. You know the score as well as I do.”
“I’m sorry you think that,” he says.
“Think? Oh, I know it for a fact.”
And, for some reason, it’s this that makes him lose his cool. He slams the palms of his hands on the table and the sound reverberates around the room and makes me jump.
“Okay, enough of this nonsense!” he says. And then he coughs a little as if he is only now aware of what he has just done. His own response a confirmation of everything I have just said. I wait for an apology, hoping he’ll have the grace to acknowledge his mistake, but none comes.
“You mentioned remorse,” he says, his voice quieter as if he knows he needs to watch his temper now. “But it seems to me this is more about revenge.”
“Why can’t it be both?” I ask him.
He shrugs, as if the distinction is unimportant.
“Dead men can’t express remorse, you realise that don’t you?” he says.
“They’re not much good at it when they’re living either,” I tell him.
“And killing them is the answer?”
And I think of their faces when they realised what was happening. Their heads spinning, their legs like jelly, their speech slurred. “What did you do, bitch? What did you give me?” Too late. And when they see me move closer, when they see me smile, the flash of fear in their eyes is a validation. ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry’. All three of them said that at the end.
“Yeah, it was,” I tell Spencer.
“Three men are dead,” he says. “But if you think things have changed because of what you’ve done, then I have to disappoint you. You’ve changed nothing. You’ve helped no-one. Every weekend we get reports. Every weekend it’s the same. And yes, they do come to us, as it happens.”
“Why did the papers never mention it?” I ask him.
“The tears. I noticed that detail never appeared in the papers. What was it you were worried about? A copycat?”
“Yeah, maybe,” he says. Then he smiles, as if he has just caught me out. “Is that what you hoped would happen then? Is that what you were after? An army of vigilantes, prowling nightclubs the length and breadth of the country?”
I smile back at him. “Now, wouldn’t that be something?”
I give him a few minutes to let it sink in. And when it does, his face turns pale, and my smile unsettles him. And I think of all those crystal tears, slipped into purses across the country. Glinting and shimmering and ready.