Double Jeopardy

Detective Alex Trencher, with measured calm, lowered his coffee mug, letting it snick quietly against the table. He pretended to examine his stubble in the one-way reflection of the two-way mirror. It was a sham of a sham: the suspect knew it was a two-way mirror; with all the cop shows on these days, you couldn’t fool anybody with a television anymore. And if this was the guy they were looking for, there was no doubt he had a television.

Detective Trencher cracked his knuckles against the stiff back of his chair, then pulled it out from the table. He remained standing, though. “Stefan Lockley, Pomona, California. You mind if I call you Stefan?”

The man seated across from him broke out in a slightly unhinged smile. “Certainly.”

Trencher pulled a clipboard from the table and consulted it closely. In fact, he had to hunch his face mere inches from the pale printed pages; the toner in the station’s printer was low, apparently, and half the words were unreadable even if he squinted. “Says here,” he began, wrinkles pouring from the corners of his squinched eyes and spreading across his forehead, “that you work at the local children’s library. Why don’t you tell me a little about that.”

“Well, Alex,” the man beamed, “I’d have to say that my favorite part of that job is story time. My love of knowledge began at the local library, and I’d like to think that in that way I’m an inspiration to children everywhere.” He gave directed a happy little wave to the two-way mirror. “And I’d just like to say, Alex,” he added, “that it’s a thrill to be here.”

“Well, it’s great to have you,” Trencher replied uncertainly. This much was true, at least. If this was really who they thought it was, he had been tormenting police all over the state for months now. Even if he wasn’t, the guy was obviously overdue a lock-up. “Look, I have some questions for you…”

“I’m very comfortable with questions,” the man replied. “I’m sure you have already seen my answers.” That right there was probably enough to get him convicted, but Trencher wanted to be sure he could make it stick.

“Who was Pueblo Martin?” He narrowed his gaze, ocularly frisking the suspect for any twitch, any unconditional admission of guilt.

“Despite its undistinguished win record, the high school rowing team in Winnetka, Illinois featured future Olympian rower Dan Turnbull as well as this man, as coxswain.”

Trencher blinked. He took a sip of his coffee, slowly, deliberately. He wasn’t even angry that it had gone cold. “Stefan,” he tried again. “Who was Sarah Handler?”

“A popular television jingle for Drippy Donuts, with lyrics by this woman, invites you to ‘Drip your troubles away.’” The suspect, grinning, turned again to the two-way mirror.

Trencher drew his lips taut, trying to reel in the impending snarl. “Stefan. I believe you know what we’re trying to ask you. But you need to remain focused.”

The man’s grin shattered instantly. “I’m sorry.” He shook his head gravely. “But I’m afraid that wasn’t in the form of a question.”

The detective straightened up, reached for his coffee, then withdrew his hand. Anything he put in his hand he would just end up breaking on the guy’s skull. “I’m going to ask you about one more person, and I need you to answer in as straightforward a way as possible. Not what they feed their dog, not what position they played in Little League. Just what this name means to you. Okay?” The other man stared ahead blankly, as though he had been shut off. “Okay. Now, who was Elijah Teller?”

The suspect paused, his brows knitting. He appeared to be reading something, but when Trencher followed his gaze, he found only empty space. “In 2012 he left audiences ‘Frazzled and Dazzled’ when that film, for which he served as Director of Photography, opened to surprise success.” He smiled again.

Detective Trencher took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then released it slowly, like letting air out of a tire. “Are you capable of answering a simple question?” he asked, trying to shake the rage out of his throat. He lifted the coffee mug. “What is this?” he demanded.

“Milk with this flavor syrup is the official drink of the state of Rhode Island.”

“Coffee! It’s coffee!” The detective slammed it down, letting it leap from the mug and splash against its wrist. It was actually hotter than it tasted. He leapt up and down, sucking furiously on his reddened flesh.

The suspect’s face fell. “I’m sorry, but that wasn’t in the form of a question,” he intoned.

“You want a question?” Trencher shouted. “Fine. In this room…who’s psycho?”

“Sigmund Freud was responsible for creating this kind of analysis.”

“That’s very funny, that really is. How about this one: what is the death penalty? You’re going to be able to answer that one first-hand very soon, my friend.”

“Due to questions of justice, the state of Illinois has ceased the practice of these.”

“Dammit!” Trencher shouted, banging his fist against the mirror. It left behind an oily white rose, mapped from the pores on his fingers. His heartbeat throbbed against his sinuses. Slumping down in the seat, face pyramided in his hands, he tried one last time. “Stefan, I’d love to help you. I really would. But first you need to tell us…where did you hide the bodies?”

The other man’s eyes swept back and forth like a typewriter, reading from some invisible script. He began to speak, then fell silent again. Detective Trencher leaned forward, bloodshot eyes straining against their lids. The suspect, without changing his expression, began to whistle a familiar tune, one that had since 1964 become synonymous with mulling over a difficult problem. Eventually, he spoke:

“This ‘hidden’ location, at the end of an unfinished highway, is a literal ‘dead end.’”

Detective Trencher swept the half-full mug off the table, rose puffing to his feet, and stomped across the thick porcelain shards out of the interrogation room. His partner stopped him in the hallway. “Well?” he demanded. “Did we get the right guy?”

Trencher massaged his eyelids. “Oh, yeah. He’s the Final Jeopardy killer, there’s no doubt about that.” He opened his eyes and sighed. “But I pray for the lawyer that has to convict him.”

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