The room was small, like a locker-room, but without the smell of BO and molding showers. Shelves lined the brink and filing cabinets were stacked in isles along the wall.
I was the first one in, so I crept a glimpse out of the double-layered glass. I could see my lawyer and my sister, deep in conversation; their lips were moving quickly and their tongues were flapping like hyenas’. The lawyer placed a caring hand on her shoulder, said something to her, and then moved towards the locked door of the room I was sitting in. There was a mumble I could hear, a click and the door opened. He stepped into the room – he was taller close-up and his face was a yellow colour. He held out his hand and I took it.
“She’s upset,” he said, looking at Louise through the window. She had moved to the water cooler and was drinking in long, deep gulps. “Hell, we all are. Bates has a nasty reputation on his shoulders.”
I shrugged; “I noticed.” Then I buried my face in my palms. I had never believed in God, but now seemed a good time to start praying.
“Collins’ next. My guess is that she’ll play the rape card. She’ll call you sick, twisted, deluded and she’ll try to mangle you emotionally; don’t let her, and, by Christ, don’t let Bates get to you. He’s known for being a slippery bastard.”
After a while, I decided to ask the inevitable question. “Do you think I killed her?”
Peter looked at me, then looked down at the floor, and then back at me. “No, I don’t think you murdered her. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I thought you’d murdered that girl.” His eyes turned dark. A moment past where no sounds, not even from outside the room, could be heard. “Did you?” he asked. “Did you murder her?”
I breathed in through my mouth, letting the air linger tastefully in my lungs. I closed my eyes. I could feel the images whizzing along the different paths like lightning bolts. I could only just remember the asphalt path. It vibrated my thoughts – messing with my head. We had lived there for weeks – months even. It looked disgusting and it tormented me. Its prison-like walls and smashed windows running up the side of the building; it was like a prison. My steps were getting closer, and louder, so strong it felt like I was going to burst inside.
I pushed on the gate bordering it from the roadside to the front yard. Weeds grew along the brink of the path. Big weeds, grown together, like bouquets, rat droppings lay like mines and cracks were littered like scribbles along the paved walk. I walked slowly up to the door, held the handle and turned. It squeaked, like a little mouse. Then the door opened onto a dark lobby with a cut-off, unoccupied window. I looked around and the door shut behind me. There was a glow, an eerie yellowish glow. It shone down the stairs from a room; it was obvious someone had left a bulb glowing. I began to walk up the stairs, my hand grasped on the rails. The stairs, sewn together with rusted nails and bits of crusted wood, screeched when I stood on them. The climb was never-ending; it grew longer, and longer, and longer, until I stopped and sighed with exhaustion. I looked back down to the lobby: from there I had only climbed four steps. I looked back up the stairs; the light was harsher now. A shadow weaved through. There was someone up there.
“Hello?” I called – no answer; just silence.
I resumed my climbing and reached the top of the stairs eventually; the glow was sketching through a door-way on the east side of the landing. It was barely open, just a slither of light could be seen. I frowned. There were noises, and bangs, from within the room and I moved closer. My heart was thudding against my chest and I could feel my brow weltering with sweat.
“Shut up, you ugly girl,” I heard a barbed-wire voice hiss. Then there was a thud, a whimper and then silence.
My mind whizzed through the possibility of trying to call for help, but I thought against it. I stepped to the door and pushed against it. My head peeked through the gap between the arch and the wall and I gasped, my blood chilled and I tried to back out of the room, but something was stopping me. The room was bathed in red, with a few air-bubbles of floral wallpaper. Blood was everywhere: on the walls and on the floor; rich, red blood was over the bedding. It was Elizabeth; my dead angel, lying on the edge of her bed with her cotton skirt pushed about her waist and blood dripping down her thighs. Her face was mangled with cuts and bruises. Her eyes were still open, but her mouth was closed. She was frowning.
I blinked, shook my head and looked at Judd. “I…” The words dripped off my tongue like poison. “I don’t know.”
Judd frowned. “You don’t know? James, this is quite important, did you or –”
“I don’t know,” I interrupted. “I can’t remember.”
Peter looked at me, sighed, and then nodded. “Okay,” he said. “If you say so.” He stood and held out his hand; “Good luck, son.”
“I think you’ll need all the luck,” I replied, accepting his hand and shaking it. “You’re the one who’s saving my ass from jail.”
Judd smiled. The first true smile I’d seen for days.