Fleeting Thought

Short Story

Fleeting Thought

Dene flexed his wrists upwards, barely an inch of movement and certainly not enough to scratch his nose. He eyed the door again. Although he could see movement from the short shadows on the floor, the lack of windows offered no hint as to when their owners would enter the room. Thanks to the strap across his forehead, he could barely move his head to either side, and the slightly squat position put too much pressure on his spine. Dene knew that the moment he was released he would be in agony. He was pretty sure his detainment was against his civil rights, let alone the physical restraints, and the moment someone came for him he was going to tell them.

What he could do was tap his foot, and he did so impatiently. The soft beat was his only stimulation and he clung to it desperately, losing himself in the tempo. The door handle twitched and drew his eye to the doorway, but as the lights were turned on, the sharp change shattered his reception and he closed his eyes against the torment. The sharp scrapes of a cheap chair on linoleum forced him to look upon the intruder, and as Dene beheld the other man, he was almost offended by the unprofessional look of him. A stain of smeared mustard stared offensively from a portly stomach wrapped in a faded cream shirt, and as the officer sat, Dene could not take his eyes off it.

"This is against my civil rights," Dene blurted at him and then regretted his outburst.

"Is it now, Mr. Barker?" the officer asked.

"Yes," he replied plainly, knowing that now he had voiced his anger he had better see it through.

"I wasn't aware that murderers as prolific as you believed in civil rights?"

Dene recoiled as much as he was able, though his repulsion was more aptly put across in his skewed facial expression.

"I haven't murdered anyone!" he cried.

The fat officer released a sighing breath and made a few taps on his hand held computer.

"Mr Barker," he began, "Legally I have to inform you that you are hooked up to a thought processing machine. This technology will allow us to access your thoughts for the period of this interview and no longer without further consent. All information gathered will be documented for you to sign at the end of this interview and will replace your written statement. Do you understand?"

"Do I understand?" He bellowed. "No I don't bloody understand! What is this? Where am I? And what right do you have to do this to me?"

"We are on the lower ground floor of the Meadows Policing Building. You were transferred here from sixth after you were brought in for questioning this morning."

Dene thought back to the moment he had answered his door and began to regret his easy cooperation. Yet the previous floor had not been able to do anything with him and he'd felt sure of his imminent release. The officer looked past the top of Dene's head to the mystery behind him and looked back to his computer.

"Mr. Barker, I really need you to sign this before we go any further," the fat man began and offered him the device.

"Of course, officer," Dene replied cattily. "If you'll just untie my hands, I'll get right on that."

"Funny," the officer muttered and manoeuvred the computer beneath Dene's hand.

"A thumb print will do just fine."

"Am I under arrest?" Dene asked speculatively.

"Not as such," the officer admitted.

"Then let me go," he demanded. "I want to leave."

"You have been selected for an alternative line of questioning, Mr. Barker," he replied. "It's quite above board, I assure you, and pending the result, you can leave as soon as completed."

Dene assessed the officer who did not seem in any way as threatening as the previous interviewer had. If anything, this man seemed to want to be rid of him as much as he wanted to go. Not seeing any way out of his predicament, he pressed his thumb onto the screen, though the angle was on the edge of painful.

"Excellent. I'm officer Gibbons. I'd shake your hand but..." the officer trailed off with an unapologetic shrug for his poor humour. "Do you know why you've been arrested?"

Dene thought back and officer Gibbons began to take note of the fuzzy images that transmitted to the screen behind his suspect, thinking himself lucky that Dene thought in images and not text. With text he had no hope of making notes, and in truth, he thought lamely, it was almost useless as an interviewing technique if the speed of thought was faster than he could read.

"The men at my door said something about the murder of Anne something or other," Dene replied and wondered why he couldn't recall her name. He could picture the pink cardigan with the little pink flowers on it, but not the name. If he hadn't seen her picture again he probably wouldn't even have known who he was being accused of killing. He stared at officer Gibbons, who was smirking at him.

"It's hard to control your thoughts, isn't it?" Gibbons asked mockingly.

Dene blanched and wondered how much the officer had seen.

"Even if I knew her, it doesn't mean I killed her," he hedged.

"So you did know Anne-Marie Leyland?"

"I suppose I must have seen her around."

"And where would that have been?" Gibbons enquired.

"I don't know," Dene replied. "The supermarket or something?"

"If I thought for a second you did your own supermarket shopping, Mr. Barker, I'd give it credit," Gibbons replied. "Even so, it's unlikely that a young mother would have ventured so far into your neighbourhood to do her food shopping."

Dene wanted to roll his eyes but resisted.

"Don't waste your time trying to spare my feelings," Gibbons said. "The screen will show all of that, anyway. So let's try this again. Where do you think you might have seen Anne-Marie Leyland 'around'?"

"I have no idea!" he spat, but his thoughts strayed back to that pink cardigan and how easily it tore. Panicking, Dene tried to think of something else, though his mind struggled to find anything sufficiently distracting to carry him away. Gibbons sighed and slumped back in his chair as he watched the quick paced images begin to blur on the screen behind Mr Barker's head. This was new, but not entirely unexpected. The technology was still in its infancy and the data was still compiling. In a year or so, the trial would be handed on to someone who had the drive to see it excel. In the meantime, he had to deal with wild goose chases like the Art History professor in front of him. He needed a break or a breakthrough and he didn't care which.

Gibbons pushed back the chair and Dene paid attention long enough to feel relieved. The officer opened the door slightly to poke his head into the corridor and Dene took a moment to revel in the privacy of his thoughts. He thought about stabbing him through the navel. Then he thought of the stench of forty years worth of fat and decided that officer Gibbons was better suited to a quick slit across the throat. Seconds later, a tall, stick-insect of a man re-entered the room with Gibbons. With him he carried an insubstantial file and Dene almost felt relieved to see it. Was this all they had on him?

"No," said the skinny man. "These are just the photographs."

The thin officer began to place graphic images of slaughtered female bodies on the table in front of him, but Dene paid no attention to any of them. He had seen the second officer somewhere before and the thought of placing his face consumed his thoughts. On screen, a catalogue of possible matches flickered like a portfolio.

"You know a lot of people," Gibbons remarked as he watched them continue to flicker by.

"What's your name?" Dene asked.

"I'm officer Crewe," he replied. "What can you tell me about these women?"

"I know you from somewhere..." Dene replied and then, like lightning, it struck him, and images of a beautiful blonde kissing the side of the man's face flashed before him. He reveled in the kind of satisfaction that comes from a small victory, but it was short lived.

"How do you know that picture?" Crewe asked. His shaking hand scattered the pictures across the table and he made no effort to correct their placement.

"What picture?" Dene asked, and as soon the words left his mouth, the images on the screen behind him began to scatter again.

"You saw that, right?" Crewe asked Gibbons. "You saw that picture of Jane?"


"That picture's on my God damn mantelpiece, Gibbons!" he continued. "How could he have seen it?"

"Maybe you were mistaken?"

"Like hell I was," Crewe replied and walked around the back of the suspect to search amongst the wires.

"Make it rewind or something," he snapped at Gibbons.

"It doesn't work like that," Gibbons replied and shot Dene a filthy look which he met with a satisfied smile. Crewe walked away from the cables and turned the suspect around to face him. The chair was cumbersome with the machinery and the rigid body sat in it and it groaned as it fought against the flooring.

"Tell me how you know that picture!" he yelled.

"What picture?" Dene asked innocently.

"You said you knew me," he spat. "How?"

"I must have been mistaken," Dene replied. "You look a bit like my cousin."

Crewe reared back his fist, but thought the better of it at the last second and turned to smash his hand into the wall. He had dropped all protocol now and Gibbons was quick to follow.

"Calm down," he tried to comfort him. "Where's Jane now?"

"At her sister's," Crewe replied.

"Call her there," Gibbons suggested. "Put your mind at ease."

"Yeah, I think that's a good idea, Crewe." Dene offered. "Go and call your wife."

Crewe shot him a fierce look, but left the room before he could act on his aggression.

"You're playing a dangerous game, Mr. Barker," Gibbons said when his partner had left.

"If you release me, I'll have no need to play it."

"You think that's going to happen now?"

Dene shrugged in reply and let his mind drift again.

"Do you know any of the women in these photographs?" Gibbons asked, though in truth, he didn't expect an answer.

"Not anymore," Dene replied. Gibbons physically shifted closer, not to the suspect, but to the screen behind him where the blur began to slow before bleeding to red.

"Did you know them then?" He asked cautiously, knowing that the wrong question would jeopardise the recording.


The answer was so flat that the screen flashed black for a second and Gibbons was almost frightened by the reaction. The sound of pounding footsteps echoed down the corridor and Gibbons was up from his seat and marching towards the door before he had had the chance to assess his actions. Too late he reached it, and as the door was thrown wide, his partner pushed him out of the way.

"She's not there," he said angrily. "They haven't seen her all day."

Crewe leapt towards the suspect with an unexpected agility and Gibbons didn't even have the chance to stop him, even if he had the inclination.

"Where is she?!" he yelled in Dene's face. When the suspect offered no reply, Crewe punched him hard in the face and his cheek slammed to the side, even with the tight bindings.

"Where is she?!"

Dene began to laugh, but it was unlike any sound that Gibbons had ever heard. The man sounded crazy and high at the same time; euphoric from a punch in the face. For Gibbons, it was unnerving, and his mind chased after the why of it all. Crewe had stopped moving and it took Gibbons a moment to think to look past him to the screen. Gone was the blur and instead a vision of bloodied mess filled the wall. It was almost too gory to make out but the occasional flash of limbs, a bra strap, and wide lips soon became apparent through the bloodlust. Gibbons was grateful that there was no sound to accompany the images, but it didn't stop him from imagining it. He could hear the mixed voices of all of the women he had ever known twisted into pain and placed before him.

So consumed was he by the bloodbath on screen that he missed Crewe's rash decision to pounce upon the suspect and push him and the chair to the floor. Gibbons recoiled from the desk as it flipped, and the pictures that scattered around the room caused him to slip as he rushed to pull his partner from the suspect. Crewe punched Dene over and over again in the face and still, the man laughed as if he were enjoying it. Gibbons thought that he was enjoying it but the cause eluded him.

"The statement!" he shouted at Crewe and the sharp exclamation was enough to permeate the man's rage.

"He hasn't signed the statement," he continued. "We can't use any of this if he doesn't."

His partner stilled and he began to relax into a slow relief that at least he wasn't going to lose his badge over this. He thought that Crewe might lose his, but on their forgotten floor, there would be no one but Gibbons himself to stop him and he wasn't sure that he wanted to.

The images on screen lightened from red to focused colour that showed Jane running down a black corridor, her blonde hair a beacon on the otherwise darkened screen. She was followed slowly, her pursuer content that she would not get far. Neither of the officers could drag their eyes off the screen and Dene let the memory play with sick satisfaction.

"I licked the blood from her neck," he said slowly, and Crewe looked down to where he still lay on the floor. "She didn't even really scream. I think she liked it."

Crewe began to beat on him in earnest and Gibbons ran to the door to call for help. He shouted for backup but they were alone in their department. Two aging officers with no prospects, working on a trial that nobody else had wanted. Behind him he could hear Crewe's fists pounding into Mr. Barker's face, and when he turned to look, neither man seemed recognisable. Crewe for the splatter that marked his neatly pressed shirt and face, the suspect for the soft pulp that was slowly taking over his features. Dene should have been either dead or unconscious with the level of aggression Crewe wreaked upon him, but still the images played on a loop, as if stuck. Gibbons couldn't bear to look at it anymore and sank against the wall in the corridor. Help was coming. He could hear the footsteps, but it was going to be too late to save any of them.

How does it work?
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Philippa Robinson

Socially impaired and creatively optimistic. 

See all posts by Philippa Robinson