Chapter Sixteen

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The room in the police station reminded Michelle of the her high school gym teacher's office. Same dimensions: small, and skinny, with the door at one end and a safety-glass window, criss-crossed with metal filament diamonds, at the other. Same beige-painted cinderblocks. Only Mrs. Kowalski's office had had posters, and a filing cabinet, and the desk had been against the wall, instead of a table in the centre. Had there been plants? Maybe.

Fourteen-year-old Michelle used to stare out the window while her gym teacher asked the questions, waiting for a pertinent answer. The questions were always designed to embarrass, assuming guilt. 'Why do you avoid participating?' 'Do you want to get a failing grade?' 'Why are you not trying?'

Mrs Kowalski would repeat the question in a rising tone, and Michelle would respond with a slight lifting of her hunched, folded shoulders. "I don't know." And then came the lecture. Friendly at the start of the year, only to grow increasingly frustrated. Nothing made her teachers angrier than when she failed (or chose not) to "apply" herself to the activities they had chosen.

And of course, the gym teacher's office did not have a camera mounted in one corner.

Adult Michelle heaved a sigh, drumming her fingers against the table. Time had ceased; little indication of its passage at all except the lengthening shadows cast by a flapping flag on the outside wall. Nothing much of interest outside except some dumpsters. She stared at the whorls in the fake wood veneer on the desk instead, trying to figure out if the pattern repeated, or if each desk had the same sized print, the same top. Then she counted cinderblocks, noting with interest a series of tiny blue plastic anchors in the same row. What those anchors held? They were quite high on the wall. Shelving? Hooks for macramé plant holders? A collection of antique masks?

When she'd been escorted to the room several ice ages ago, her panic had already been in remission. So far, nothing had been like a cop show. No one yelled at her, or shoved her around; no handcuffs; everything painted a pleasant Civil Servant Beige. Very clean. She'd been patted down outside the squad car, amid shouting from Marietta and Dolores. She tried to see Bryan but couldn't. The police officer had been so much bigger than her, so much taller and broader, and covered in a variety of dangling doodads. He'd asked her if she understood what he'd been telling her and she nodded and then squeaked out a "yes" although she didn't understand at all.

Sitting in the back of the squad car, she had become more aware, and the animal anxiety in the back of her mind quieted enough to think again.

Fucking. Uncle. Gary.

A different burly man had led Michelle along a beige hallway lined with posters and opened the door to the not-an-office, asking her to take a seat. They had declined to answer any of her questions except that she was not "arrested" but "detained for questioning" and that "someone" would be along "soon".

Being left alone with beige walls and fake wood whorls for an epoch might make some people a little crazy. On police shows they did it on purpose: "Let them stew a bit, see if that changes their mind" was the phrase that lazy scripts trotted out. But on TV the room where the perps stewed always had a big mirror that was clearly two-way. Perps never caught on. Unless the writer intended to demonstrate that the perp was unusually smart and slick.

She was a perp now. Although she hadn't actually perpetrated anything. Maybe she was a person of interest? Michelle didn't really watch cop shows, and if she did bother to sit through one, the series usually starred someone who was not the police helping solve crimes, which by its definition meant everything that happened after the opening teaser was wholly fiction and probably not a useful predictor of anything.

She scratched with her thumbnail along an edge of the veneer, resting her chin in her hand. Her adrenals had gasped out their last puff several millennia ago and instead she wished she knew what was going on so that she would have something new to think about.

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