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The Inquisitor
by Kevan Youde



“Mr Johnson?”

“No, but it'll do for tonight. Would you like to see an ID? I have several.”

“Come in. Talking like that, you must be who we were told to expect.”

“I was announced?”

“Yes, it's not often that someone of my rank investigating a domestic gets a phone call from so senior an officer.”

“This is a domestic?”

“Yes, a violent one. The place looked like a bomb had gone off.”

“Was that an attempt at humour?”

“No. Why?”

“Doesn't matter. Did he do it?”

“Overwhelming but circumstantial evidence. I can't go to court with it. We need him to drop himself in it. Lift or stairs?”

“Lift. You said it was a domestic. Was the victim his wife? Is this photo her?”

“Let's see. Yes, that's her, about ten years ago I'd say. Press the button for the lower basement.”

“It was taken just before they went underground. Take me through tonight. Just the basics, no embroidery.”

“I don't do stitch-ups. We got a call – from him – at nine. He said he'd got back from the pub and found his wife dead. Patrol car confirmed the death – cause unclear, not a mark on her. There were signs of a break-in but it was cosmetic. He was all wrong as well. I've seen plenty of bereaved husbands, he doesn't fit.”

“Any injuries on him?”

“A whack to the head. Bruising up nicely.”

“I'm not surprised. She was a player back in the day. Tongue like a lash as well. What did he say about the bruise?”

“They argued, she hit him, he went down the pub and came back to find her dead.”

“Said much else?”

“Nothing – and I mean nothing. Hold on, I've got to remember the punch-code for this door, it changed yesterday. There we are...and there he is. The window's a one-way mirror, he can't see us. He's sat there staring at the ceiling, saying nothing since we brought him in. We ran a record check on him and five minutes later I got the call from on-high. That's all.”

“And that's all you'll get. Our friend there is boiled hard in wickedness. You could take a screwdriver to his kneecaps and he wouldn't tell you the time of day if he didn't want to. We caught him in the act once – thought we might turn him. Nothing doing. The lads had a wee chat with him in the field before they brought him onto the paperwork. They'd have had more luck roughing up one of those statues from Easter Island. He kept quiet, went down, escaped from The Maze and got amnesty during the peace negotiations. We had to create a new identity for him and his wife. Gosh, we were happy having to do that. A lot of people would like to see him serve time.”

“He's resistant to interrogation.”

“This isn't interrogation, it's chatting. All it's missing are cucumber sandwiches and a vicar. I've got a man coming – one of ours. Five minutes with him and even this hard-case will talk.”

“Listen, I know you've got friends in high places but I'm responsible for this joker. I can't have anyone using rubber hoses and cattle-prods. This is a criminal investigation and if there's anything not by the book – my book – counsel for the defence will have him as free as farting in the time it takes to say 'case dismissed'.”

“Don't worry. I told you, the rough stuff doesn't work with this one. My man will break his silence and, once he's talking, he'll hang himself with his own tongue. Wait, I should take this... Yes. That's right. Come in the front. I'll have someone waiting for you... That was my people. Two of them will be here in four minutes. Bring them straight through. I don't want them talking to desk sergeants or signing visitors' books – clear?”

“I'll do it myself. Wait here and enjoy the show. You never know, he might move in a minute.”

“Did he move?”

“Not in all the time you were gone. Your people tried hard but they're playing the wrong game. Now my man's sitting across the table, things will change.”

“What? The skinny one sitting down's the inquisitor? I thought he was a clerk.”

“Oh no, the man with the muscles is his bodyguard. The skinny one is a valuable security asset. He gets better protection than cabinet ministers – the Lib Dems anyway.”

The skinny man sits. His tie is tight but awry. His collar is threadbare and he missed shaving part of his Adam's Apple. His cough is dry, irritating, contagious. He takes out a pen and unscrews the cap with a grating squeak. The nib scratches across the paper like bitten nails on a blackboard. His voice is arid as a mummy's whisper. He utters single words and stares at the subject across the table. Sometimes he sees some tiny reaction and the nib scratches a line of thin spider-crawl. The subject's eyes move. The words continue and the scratching increases. The coughs are mixed with irritating sniffs. Soon the subject is clearing his throat and wiping his nose. The voice drones on. The words keep coming. Coughs. Nib-scratches. Sniffs. The thin, cracked, wheezing voice.

It bursts in an instant. The subject is up and across the table, hands stretched to grab the flaccid, stubble-flecked throat, to squeeze and squeeze until the coughing and the sniffing stop, the nib can scratch no more. Halfway, he meets the bodyguard coming the other way and flies backwards. The two uniforms drop on him and cuff him while he screams that he'll do murder...again.

“I told you. The most irritating man you'll meet. He could crack the Sphinx.”




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