No Asylum – Chapter 6

September 4, 2010


“No.”

Chris had expected trouble, but he hadn’t anticipated running into difficulties quite so early in the interview. “I beg your pardon?”

“No, that’s not my name! Stop calling me that!” Her slender hands had clenched into angry, white-knuckled fists and her lips were pressed thin, near-horizontal with rage.

“Uhh…” For the briefest of instants, a sharp dread that he’d been following the wrong woman swept through him, but he pushed it aside. It simply wasn’t possible. Her very denial when he caught her was a confession of identity. “I didn’t start the fire and I’m not going back!”

I’m not Peony. Peony was my sister. I’m Pris!”

Chris pulled out a chair and sank down into it, resting his head in his hands for a moment. “I’m sorry, love, but no, you’re not.” Keeping his eyes from the angry, baffled look he knew was on her face, he opened the dossier and turned over a few pages, pulling out a large, glossy photograph. He slid it across the table to her with two fingers.

“Has anyone ever shown this to you before?” The picture was taken on a dark, rainy day, its few participants oblivious to the camera as they huddled deep into black overcoats or crowded together beneath umbrellas. Only the priest remained in the open, drops of water sliding off his bald pate and soaking his solemn robes. All eyes were on the three open graves at their feet as a half-sized white coffin was lowered into the earth’s maw.

The girl looked away from it, clapping her hands over her face as if to stop the image sliding into her eyes. There was a muffled sob. Chris felt like a heel, but there was no turning back now.

“This was the funeral of Anna, James…” He pointed out each grave with a fingertip as he named them. “…And Priscilla Phorbes, aged nine years old. They died in a fire at their home; a fire you admitted to starting. Do you remember that, Peony?”

“No.” The denial came out sounding bitter and accusatory, as if Chris was trying to make it be true. Or perhaps it was still her name she recanted so adamantly. He started to reach out to her across the worn, graffiti-scarred surface of the interview table, stopped himself briefly, then carried through on the motion, sliding his hand gently under her fingers and clasping them in his palm.

“I’m not here to force you to go back the asylum, Peony. Not right now, not if you’re innocent. But nobody knows exactly what happened that night except you and I need you to tell me so that I… I can keep you safe. You trusted me once; I was there that night. Do you re…”

The door swung open and Derek walked in with a chipped glass jug of iced water and a stack of incongruously colourful waxed paper cups. Chris hastily yanked his hand back across the table, making the girl yelp in surprise as the motion jerked her cuffed wrist. The younger enforcer set his burdens down at Chris’ elbow; as the figure of kindness, Chris should be the one to pour.  He filled one of the cups – a bright, jolly object proudly announcing somone’s fortieth birthday amidst flying balloons – and held it out until she took it, lifting it to her lips between her bound hands and drinking greedily.

Derek leaned against the wall behind him. “She talking yet?”

Chris shook his head ruefully. “We’re just getting started but… I think we might need to get a professional psychologist in here to help, and I know Miss Phorbes doesn’t want that.” His eyes flicked back to her. “Is that right, hon?” She nodded frantically, a few drops of water glistening on her chin where she’d drunk too eagerly.

With his eyes glued to her face, Derek walked round to her side, then reached out slowly and cupped her chin in his hand, wiping the water away with a firm brush of his thumb. Chris’ stomach clenched, his legs curling back from their outstretched position as if he was going to stand, but he bit his lip hard and stayed put.

“It’s a legitimate interrogation tactic. He’s heightening her fear of him to make her want me to protect her,” he told himself, repeating it in his head like a mantra until his heart stopped thumping against his ribs.

Meanwhile, Derek smirked at her and licked a drop of water from the ball of his thumb. “My partner here thinks you never got a fair trial. He’s a bit old fashioned that way. Me? I think you’re a killer. You deserve whatever you get, so if I were you I’d start telling my partner here what he wants to know, because he’s the only one in this room with the keys to your cuffs and an interest in undoing them.”

“I…. I don’t remember the fire.” She turned pleadingly to Chris. “Really, I don’t! And I’m Pris! I am! Please… don’t send me back!”

God, those eyes. Chris stared at them, a strange, vertiginous swirling in his head as if he were about to fall into the oceans that lay there. He stood up abruptly, his tie feeling like it was slowly strangling him. It was hard to speak but he grated the words out. “Why don’t you… sit here for a while and relax? Try to remember something about that night, anything, no matter how small. Find us somewhere to start. I have to… have to step out for a moment. Derek will keep an eye on you.”

Her lurched to the doorway and out into the hall. The dizziness wasn’t getting any easier and now he felt short of breath and his heart was hammering wildly in his chest. It was a full-fledged panic attack; he tried to lock it down, this wild surge of fear, and made his way to the bathroom with the intent of holding his head under a tap until the world felt normal again.

***

Back in the interrogation room, Derek sat on the corner of the table next to the girl and watched his partner exit, waiting for the door to close. Patiently, he leaned across to the recorder and pressed the Stop key, listening to the tinny click of the tape’s wheels grind to a halt. He sat up again, looking at Phorbes, who was watching him with bright fear in her eyes. There was something indefinably attractive about broken women, but right now, he had a job to do. He drew his arm back and once again backhanded her across the face.

She shrieked, raising her cuffed hands to try to protect her head; he grabbed the chain in his right hand and dragged them back down to the table. “No screaming, no tears. You speak when you’re spoken to and you answer what I ask you, or I decide to fuck with my retarded partner and his stupid delusions and start treating you like any other fucking crim in here. Because believe me, sweetheart, we are treating you very, very well indeed, right now.”

Inwardly, Derek smiled to himself. It had come out sounding exactly right – dark and sonourous with an edge of suppressed menace and rage. She was cringing back in her chair in fear of him, fighting back tears and nodding her assent to his commands. He lowered his hand. “Now, it says here…” He tapped the file. “You have that multiple personality thing. So you tell me what you think your name is.”

She opened her mouth and for the first two tries, no sound came out. Finally, she croaked “Pris… I’m Priscilla Phorbes.” She succumbed to a fit of coughing then and Derek held out the cup of water to reward her. They were off to a good start.

Then the phone rang. The dark-haired young man held up one finger to the girl, cautioning her to silence, then leaned across to answer it. “What is it? We have an interrogation in progress in here.”

“It’s front desk. That’s why I’m calling. There’s an ambulance here from Spikky with an escort to pick her up. Looks like they’ll be taking it from here.”

Spikky was the San Paro Institute for the Criminally Insane. Derek swore under his breath.

“The guy’s coming down to pick her up, OK, Derek?”

“Yeah, whatevs.” He affected a casual tone but still slammed the receiver down harder than he’d intended. He looked back at Phorbes. “Sorry sweetheart, it looks like our time together is getting cut short.”

***

Desk Sgt Pinsky set the phone down and looked up into the mirrored glass that covered the eyes of the paramedic, then glanced down at the waterproof, emblazoned set of coveralls the man wore and let his eyes run along the man’s muscular arms to the heavy, metal barrel of the magnum levelled at his face. It started to lower.

“Yep,” drawled Ian Carlyle. “That was exactly right.” He reversed the gun and slammed the butt heavily into the man’s face.

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