7. Other People

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7. Other People
Now

"—Jacob Thorke,” a guard calls. I awaken with a jolt, the memories extinguished by fluorescent lights as my eyes open.

“Yeah?” I stretch my neck to the left and right, trying to relieve the tension mounting.

“They’re ready for you.”

The guard opens the gate and I step through. There’s an awkward moment where he focuses on locking the cell again and I’m just looking around, thinking about escaping. He finishes and begins to lead me deeper into the jail.

It’s possible there’s another member of the Six imprisoned here. Not sure, but I might walk by him any moment. Kent Gimble.

The path the guard chooses—a winding one, worming through dark bowels of the jail—is meant to scare me. We end our tour in a room so small I can’t imagine the space is designed for two, but the twin metal chairs force me to accept it.

I sit in the tiny chamber for what seems another eternity. Caught in limbo, between identities; in jail men become new people, born of the necessity of survival. I’ve got no trouble with that. Nothing keeps me who I am except me. David taught me well.

How much do you believe it and how much are you trying to act brave? You might spend the rest of your life here. Not much of an adventure.

Shut up, me.

A few moments later, the door opens. The counselor assigned to me five years ago by the state—Mr. Aschen—stands in it. The detective from before stands in the rear, badge reflecting the wan lights of the hall.

“Jacob Thorke, you’re here because you behaved suspiciously at a crime scene. But you aren't under arrest for murder—yet,” the officer says. “We want to hear your version of events. Now, Mr. Aschen assures us he can get your full cooperation in telling us what happened to David Bloom this morning. Because of your age, and because of your history, I’m allowing him to interview you—for now—until we make a final decision about your status here. I expect you to communicate honestly with us. A boy is dead, and we need to know what happened.”

When I say nothing, the detective only nods and mumbles a few words to Mr. Aschen. My counselor enters, a bulging folder in one hand, and closes the door. The familiar widow’s peak points boldly down his forehead, directing attention to the long, narrow nose and tight mouth below.

I know how Mr. Aschen works—I was strong-armed into attending sessions with him for a couple of years before quitting. Mr. Aschen gains his power from appearing meek and timid; nothing is his idea or assertion. Everything comes from the people speaking to him. In this way, everything is their fault, and the counselor is blameless. Clever trick.

Our knees are practically touching in the cramped space. The chamber feels a bit like a confessional.

“It’s not so bad,” Mr. Aschen says, taking great pains to cross one leg over the other. A set of notes rest on his lap. He retrieves a familiar pen—black and silver, elegant—which is held between two fingers. "Bigger than my first office."

"They just want me to confess." I point my chin at the camera in the corner of the room. "There’s no evidence. They think I'm more likely to confess to you."

"They also don't have any witnesses, Jacob, and you could be one. You're painting this picture."

“Is all that paper really about me, or is it just to make you look prepared?” I ask, staring at the thick manila folder on his lap.

Mr. Aschen responds with the same patient grin. It’s not fair interaction; the smile is a shield. “I brought real notes. These are David’s notes, and Emily’s, and Cameron’s, and Kent’s, and Steven’s. As much as I ever managed to collect from them, anyway.”

“Well, where do you want to start?”

“How did David die?” he asks. “And be honest, Jacob. Three detectives in another room somewhere are watching all this, checking your facts, calling the people you mention. They’re going to be listening very closely to what you say.”

I shrug. “I’d almost rather be talking to them. You’re going to try and convince me this is all David’s fault, somehow. You always do.”

“David is dead now, Jacob. It's time to focus on yourself and what you're going to do to ensure you leave this place a free man.” I can smell the stale coffee on his breath. “Was this self-defense, Jacob? Did David attack you somehow?”

“Never! Come on, David was always great to me. He doesn’t deserve this kind of treatment.”

“C’mon, Jacob. Tell me: what happened to David? Who’s to blame, here? Is it you?”

"Here's the truth: “I think I can safely blame the death of David Bloom on other people.”

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