Lint by D.I. Jolly
He leaned back in his chair, as far as the chains would allow, Robert realised that the grey box of a room he was in, had a dusty green ceiling. Which was a welcome distraction from Frank’s monotone sighs and the words.
“Alright son, let’s do this one more time, from the top. Where were you from 2 am last Wednesday morning?”
As Robert’s mind once again went back through the series of events that had landed him handcuffed to a desk. He paused for a moment on the brilliant red of the petrol station exploding, before settling on the dark green of the forest he had been hiking through.
“I was at home, asleep. Dreaming about getting my arsehole tongued by my high school crush. What the fuck do you want me to say?”
He pulled himself upright and realised that Frank’s eyes were probably as red and bloodshot as his own. Frank, in turn, blinked a few times, and managed to say without words, you wanna try that again?
“I was hiking through the woods outside of town, looking for my dog. At around 3am I decided I was too tired and headed home. On the way, I stopped at a petrol station to get a bottle of water to help distract me and stop me from falling asleep while driving. While I was there two men came in with guns and masks. The cashier pulled a gun and they all started shooting. Someone somehow managed to start a fire on the lot. I didn’t see who. But when I saw the fire, I ran for it, abandoning my car. When the petrol station exploded, I was knocked unconscious and woke up in hospital. You’ve been around for everything else that happened.”
Robert sighed, wondering if he’d managed to repeat it word perfect this time to the last. It was a little game he’d started playing with himself when he realised that he was going to be asked the same question over and over and over again. He also wondered if Franks eyes would seem less red if he wasn’t wearing a blue shirt and tie.
“So you keep saying, ok, I’m going to get some coffee.”
“If you’ve even the hint of a soul, please get me some too.”
For an instant, Robert thought he could see Frank’s eyes sparkle, and the room seemed colder. But the old police officer smiled.
“How do you take it?”
“At this point? Milk and like 2 or 3 sugars. Oh, and bring a tape recorder or something so that I don’t have to keep repeating myself.”
A few minutes later Frank was back in the room with two cups of coffee. Putting one down in front of Robert, he also leant across and unlocked the cuffs and a tension Robert didn’t know was there, faded out of his shoulders. He looked down at the coffee, which was black, but looked hot and smelled sweet.
“Sorry, we’re out of milk… apparently.”
Robert rolled his shoulders and lifted the small cup.
“No problem, cheers.”
The corner of Frank’s mouth lifted as the touched cups. A few quiet moments passed as both men sipped their bad coffee and breathed.
“So, how much longer are you guys going to keep me in here?”
Frank bobbed his head thoughtfully.
“Legally we can hold you for about four more hours, unless something turns up to either force us to let you go, or allows us to keep you longer.”
Robert ran his hands over his face and through his hair, once again catching a glimpse of the green ceiling.
“Four more hours, ok. I guess I can manage that.”
Frank narrowed his eyes and took another sip of coffee.
“You that sure we’re not going to find anything on you?”
“Yeah, I mean, I don’t’ know what you could find, I don’t even really know why I’m here. I get that my car was found at the scene, but I also know why it was there. Which I’ve told you. So, not sure why I’d be here longer than that.”
Frank lingered a few more moments letting an idea take root in his mind.
“Fair enough, in that case, we’ve got your address and number, don’t leave town but you’re free to go.”
Robert almost, but didn’t, spit out his coffee.
“You can collect your stuff from the front desk, we’ll need to sign a form or two, thinking about it, but then you can go home. We’ll even call you a cab, it’s late.”
It was Robert’s turn to take a few moments to think.
Frank sighed, drank the last of his coffee and said flatly.
“Either because I believe you, or because I’m confident enough that if something does turn up, we’ll be able to catch you again.”
Robert let out a tired chuckle, feeling suddenly exhausted and had to put both hands on the desk to push himself up onto his feet.
“Alright then, thank you very much and let’s get going.”
Frank rose with him and they walked out together. Robert signed a form while he waited for his personal belongings to be returned, and Frank waiting with him for the taxi to arrive. They shook hands and when Robert got home he found his dog jumping up and down with excitement to see him.
“You absolute dickhead.”
He said as he crouched down to give the dog some love. What he wanted was to go fall into bed and sleep for a week, but he laid out some fresh food and water first.
The next afternoon, over much better coffee, he heard a news anchor talking about how the police had deemed the petrol station explosion as a stick up gone wrong and stressed that it was not an act of terrorism. Which offered Robert another wave of relief and closing his eyes he could see again the weird green ceiling of the interrogation room. He then poured himself some more coffee, petted his dog, and wondered how to get hold of his insurance company.