“So, what woke you up, Harry?”
Even though she was certain of his guilt, she couldn’t help thinking that the jagged terror in his eyes simply had to have sliced through tender bits of his insides.
“It was the crunching, Inspector.” His pastry-thin lips quivered at the corners. He turned his face in an attempt to look away from the scene inside his head. “Like… someone was eating toast.”
For a moment she felt a horrible lurching inside her belly as though her stomach had been blown up, then deflated within a split second. She swallowed hard, looked up to the wire-covered light above her head, and pressed her palms down onto the cold table – the only one in the interrogating room. The lurching hiccoughed – then undecidedly subsided.
“Toast,” she repeated, but the word ignited that sensation in her stomach again. This time she had to press her hand against it to calm it down.
What a strange way to describe a murder, she thought, then decided she was glad she didn’t have toast that morning – not that she could face eating anything after the scene she’d seen last night.
“Yeah, toast.” His breathing became shorter and louder, prising his mouth open. His nostrils seemed unable to cope with pressure of air building up inside his lungs – stale air, quickly swelling, deflating, swelling, deflating. An unpleasant stench of rotting pizza – something meaty floated across the steel table to rally with her. She pulled back, turning her face sideways, almost retching. She imagined the scent hitting the grey stone wall behind her and bouncing off to travel its way to the security guard standing at the locked, wooden door.
“What happened after that, Harry?”
“I got up and threw my blanket off.” His left hand moved involuntarily, throwing an invisible blanket off his legs. She wondered what it was like reliving such an unbelievably hellish scene. Guilty or not, how could a human do it. His blue eyes seemed to turn black – deep, solid black for a moment. She did a double take and stared at his face, but it was gone. Maybe it was the sharp lighting playing tricks on her, either that or it was true that pregnancy makes your brain do funny things. She touched her belly again and left her hands there. She knew what was coming having visited the scene. She just knew that the baby she’d just this morning decided to call Aaran, was going to protest when Harry got to the part about the crunching toast.
“I thought that the cat had found something and was eating it outside the bedroom door,” Harry continued. He said Ah instead of ‘I’ and she took note of his mild, Glaswegian accent – kind of like Billy Connolly’s – giving a nice, pleasant roll to the word, door. He stared beyond her, placing his elbows on the table – tattooed arms extended, hands clasped. His long, unnaturally black hair fell around his shoulders and nestled on his skinny, scaffolding chest.
“What happened next?” she asked with half a smile painted on her face. She removed her hands from her tummy and placed them beside his on the hard table.
“Well, I got up. Had a look outside the door… nothing.” His breathing was coming even heavier now and Detective Jones thought she could hear his heart beating in his chest from where she sat. There was that putrid, meaty smell again.
Harry rubbed his eyelids. She would give him time to speak. Yes she would get every last bit of information he knew out of him. She didn’t slave in the force for twenty years, sacrificed having a family – until now that is – to let sketch-covered, weirdoes like Harry mow up victims all around her.
“So I went to Kasey’s room. I pushed the door . . . .” Harry buried his face in his hands. His chest heaved steadily up and down, carrying his entire upper body with it. “Oh no! Oh no!” he cried. His body shook violently, and he stamped his foot repeatedly on the concrete floor. Detective Jones rolled her eyes, but she couldn’t help noticing the fingers of unease picking at the hairs on the back of her neck. She was convinced there was something Harry wasn’t telling them. He’d killed his three month old baby. This was clear from the pools of blood on the bedroom floor and the amount of skin inside the baby-grow, that Kasey had been peeled from her tiny frame. But what did he do with the body.
“And what happened next?” Inspector Jones asked, not really wanting to know.
Harry calmed himself down just enough to look her in the face. He studied her eyes and the chiselled crow’s feet around them. To him she looked too old to be pregnant, but lots of career women were into IVF these days. He’d seen them all around Clifton ever since his family moved to Bristol, modelling their latest acquisition – a live baby. For a brief moment this thought flitted across his mind without him even noticing. That happened to him a lot these days, especially after his wife’s funeral. His mind told him things he didn’t think he wanted to know.
“The door creaked, just a wee bit. I’ve been meaning to fix that for ages.” He wiped his clammy palms on the sides of his dark-blue jeans and went on – his voice barely audible. “It doesn’t creak all the time, just at the moment you’re trying to tiptoe out of the room after putting Kasey to sleep.”
“I know that this is hard for you, Harry, but can we please get back to what happened to Kasey?”
The name Kasey sounded familiar on her lips. It was one of the two names she’d picked for her baby, but she wouldn’t – couldn’t use it now. Admittedly, Aaran Jones sounded good. AJ was great as far as initials went. It was nothing like F.U.J, her own – Frances after her grandmother, and Ursula, after her Irish dad’s favourite Saint. Don’t people check the initials before they name their kids? She’d had to stay away from certain types of desserts all her school life. Still, this was probably what helped her keep her figure while her friends were developing muffin tops over their low-cut jeans. But now she had to focus on Harry to keep him on track, even though she’d already guessed most of what had happened. She just needed the man opposite her to confess to what he’d done.
Harry physically dragged himself back to a part in his mind where he’d rather not go. Boy, he was good at this.
“So, the door creaked a little when you pushed it to go into Kasey’s room. What happened after that?”
“I told that other Inspector yesterday. Can’t remember much. It’s like I blacked out or….”
“Tell me what you remember. Just want to get this sorted before Dr. McKenna arrives.”
“He’s the hypnotist you signed the forms agreeing to see.”
Harry’s eyes narrowed, “That chap that hypnotises people on the telly?”
“Not Paul McKenna. This man’s a real doctor – as in Doctor McKenna. He’s worked with the Bristol police for a long time. Enough stalling now, let’s get back to you entering your daughter’s room.”
Harry took a deep breath then emptied his lungs completely. He turned his head slowly and looked at Inspector Jones. For a moment she thought she saw that flash of black in his eyes again, but it passed – just like before.
“I pushed the door, it creaked. The person – the thing – standing over her cot looked up. Like… like I disturbed it or something.
“There was someone there?”
“Some thing,” Harry whispered, leaning forward and glancing around him.
“This is bizarre. I don’t understand what you mean.” Inspector Jones tried to keep her eyes on Harry’s but she feared the black flash would return again. It made her skin crawl and gave her a feeling of deep, deep dread.
“The devil. It was the devil, right.”
“This… thing – he told you he was the devil?” Inspector Jones exaggerated the chuckle in her voice that wasn’t really there.
“No, ma’am, he didn’t have to say. I just know it was.” Harry punctuated his last sentence by poking his forefinger twice on the table between them. The guard at the door coughed. Inspector Jones had no patience for murderers. But those who killed and blamed God or the devil were despicable. People who had such inflated egos as to steal the life of another human didn’t need the devil to draw them up the blue prints. Harry was evidence of that, just as she was evidence that a woman who desperately needed a child didn’t need some half-wit man to give it to her.
“You’ve to do better than that.” Inspector Jones said through her teeth.
“Look, the night my wife died I might’ve done something, right.”
Inspector Jones kept quiet. She forgot that she wasn’t breathing until she finally realised that her hand was cupped tightly over her mouth and nose. She’d learned that the best way to get into the heads of garbage like this one was to hide what was going on inside yours.
“Look, we’re after the truth about your little girl. That’s all. You’re the only person who can help us, but you don’t seem to want to.” Inspector Jones pushed her chair back and got up from the table. “When you’re ready to talk, let the guard know.”
“No, please,” Harry begged, “don’t leave me alone. He’s gonna come back for me.” He grabbed her wrist as she went past and that black shadow pierced his eyes again. She was sure of it this time. She yanked her wrist away and glanced at the guard to see if he’d noticed too, but he merely looked at her with raised eyebrows.
“I haven’t got all day, Harry. I’ve got other cases to solve.” Inspector Jones left the room, and after a second her high heels could be heard pounding the empty, tiled corridor.
“. . . And when I count to three, you’ll go back to the night your wife died,” Dr. McKenna said to the tattooed man in front of him. He looked as though he should be on a Harley raising hell somewhere instead of reclining on a single bed in the police lock-ups. “One, two, three.”
It was raining that night. The nursery had long since been painted mild yellow. Harry’s and his deceased twin brother’s old double cot had been sanded and re-varnished. Everything was ready for the new arrivals. The pregnancy hadn’t gone as smoothly as he and Anja had expected, and when she’d started suffering from chronic heartburns, they had put it down to all the spicy curries she’d recently craved for. When they were told that she had pre-eclampsia their world fell down around their ears. They’d done everything right. Harry had decided to stop smoking and shooting up as soon as he’d heard those double heartbeats. And he had stuck to it. It was hard, even hauntingly so at times, but he’d stayed clean for the twins – and for Anja, of course. That rainy night she’d collapsed, and after he’d raced her to the hospital he was told that he had to prepare to lose all three of them. The three people – two of whom he’d never even met – he would and did do anything on earth for. Anything.
He’d left the hospital and had gone out for a walk, nowhere in particular – just out. The tears had drowned the rain drops falling onto his face but he’d walked on, and on, and on. He’d found himself opposite Page Park, outside his mother, Martha’s, house. He’d let himself in, and had gone into her basement. She was in Haiti on one of her ‘conventions’ but even if she was there, she was now stone deaf – not that she heard nothing. She claimed to hear better now because she no longer depended on the limitations of physical ears. Her spiritual guides told her everything she needed to know. Or so she’d told Harry. It was difficult for him to take seriously, anyone who claimed to be able to connect with the paranormal world.
Nevertheless, he’d dug out her cards and had started surfing the world his mother knew so well, not even sure who or what he was looking for.
“Be sure,” Martha had warned in her heavy Glaswegian accent when he was a teenager. “Be sure that you know who you want to connect with before you initiate contact. There are lots of restless, evil souls out there, always awake, always watching and waiting for the chance.”
“A chance to what, Martha?” he’d joked, “a chance to pounce on me and gobble me up like the big, bad wolf?”
“Exactly, son. Exactly!” was all she’d said.
“Don’t worry, Mummy dearest,” he’d answered, cupping his left hand and tipping it towards his mouth repeatedly, making a ‘glug’ sound in his throat. “The only spirit I want to make contact with is light brown with a nice frothy head on the top.”
Yet, in the dark basement on that rainy night, he dealt his hand with his mother’s cards. He could’ve sworn he was transported back to the days – and nights – he spent chatting with Anja on MSN. There was a faint Hello, perhaps too quiet for others to hear, but for a desperate man grasping at straws the faintest sign of ‘life’ was loudly audible in his mind. Maybe that’s exactly what his mum had talked about.
Can I help? were the words that came up in the screen of his mind. The big C then the a, followed the n. It was as if Anja herself was typing the words.
Can I help?
He didn’t know who he was asking or even what he was going to ask for until the plea arose from his throat.
Please save one of them – just one – anyone. I’ll do anything.
A voice came floating down to meet him, It was the voice of Paul McKenna from the telly, except it wasn’t – not really. “Now take us to the night your daughter died, Harry.” Paul McKenna said, holding his vastly distended tummy.
Someone was eating toast. At least it sounded like toast. He threw the covers off his legs and steadied himself off the bed. It had only been a week since he’d moved Kasey to her own room. She’d been discharged from hospital the same day her mother and twin sister were buried. Ever since that night, he’d laid her warm body on the side of his double bed – her cot forgotten. It was easier that way. It meant that when she woke at night he could sit up and rock them both back to sleep. When she cried, he would be near enough to cry with her. They would scream together, but they would feel safe as long as they were with each other.
They were the survivors, and like in Lost, survivors who stuck together stayed safe. The night she fell off the bed with a dull thud, he’d gotten up and raced around the entire house screaming for her, thinking somehow that she’d been stolen from him too, and that thud he’d heard was the door of her coffin being slammed in his face. He didn’t know why, but she didn’t cry. He’d gone back to his bedroom to get the noose he kept under his bed, but his little girl had saved him again. When he reached under the bed, instead of the rope he had felt her soft, warm body first. It was then he realised that it was time for her to sleep in her cot. A baby who can turn over on her own should not sleep in a bed made for adults.
Someone was eating toast. Was it the cat? What had he found this time? Harry opened his bedroom door and looked around but there was nothing there. The sound was coming from Kasey’s room. He tiptoed to her bedroom and pushed the door open. It creaked on its hinges – ever so faintly. Disturbed, the form standing there slowly turned its head around. It was shadowy and faceless, but when it looked directly at him he somehow saw into his own soul. It was hunched over Kasey’s cot, clearly eating something which required two hands to take it to its mouth. At first Harry didn’t know what it was, he couldn’t see. Dark, shapeless hands came down into the cot and lifted something to its lips, it bit in and chewed – toast? It stretched out its hand – offering. ‘Can I help?’ was what he saw in his mind. The big C, then the little a, followed by the n.
Martha had ‘heard’ all about what happened even before she hurriedly boarded the plane in Port-au-Prince. When she got to her own basement back home and took out the cards, she knew exactly who she was going to speak to.
Can I help?
“Why did you do it?”
To anyone casually viewing the scene in the dim basement, the old woman with the fiery red hair could be reciting poetry to herself. Her lips moved, but no sound escaped and no emotion coloured her pale face.
Oh, Mother, aren’t you even going to say hello?
“He was getting his life back together. He’d already lost Anja and one of the wee ones. You had no right!”
Well, Mother, I don’t have to tell you of all people that I had nothing to do with Anja’s death.
“But you answered when he came surfing. Clueless he was. You know he knows nothing about our world.”
I was always the clever one, wasn’t I, dear Mother. The one with all the brains – and the looks come to think of it.
“But he had a life!”
A life that belonged to me! I owned him, woman! You allowed them to take my soul so that HE could have life!
“It wasn’t my choice! I had no choice in the matter. They did the choosing, alright. It was one or the other. I couldn’t have you both. That was the promise.”
Looks like it runs in the family, Mother dearest.
“Don’t be so callous. Kasey was the only thing keeping him alive – the only thing he lived for.”
“She was not what he offered. I know that. I heard him.”
If you heard him, then you know he made his deal without time-sealing my half of the pact first.
“He didn’t know he had to! That doesn’t mean you could just . . . just barge in and take the wrong person at the wrong time. He was your brother, damn it!”
He didn’t state his time.
“He did his person. He did his person!”
Is this about the noose thing, Mother?
“Yes, the noose thing.”
Well, you know, I have no use for him. He’s way too old – too set in his ways. But fresh young blood – now that’s the best way to stay alive!
“When did you become so cold? How can you be my son?”
I’m not anymore, Martha. Not anymore. I’m something better now. More powerful. All thanks to you.
Laughter reverberated in the dark basement, but it was more shrieking and wailing than expressions of joy.
When Inspector Jones got to the house opposite Page Park, she was greeted by the maid. The owner had apparently only last night returned from Haiti.
“This way, Inspecteur. Suivez moi,” she directed, with a Caribbean twang to her voice. Her dark face was torn with pain, and maybe fear or something else. The way her colleague had described the blood and skin at the scene, Inspector Jones knew that both baby Kasey and this woman were killed by the same thing. Person, she reminded herself. This was not good news for her because it meant that creepy, eye-flashing weirdo, Harry, in the lock-ups was innocent after all.
When she got to the bottom of the stairs and into the dim basement the first thing she noticed was the head – no sign of a body – just a head; a head and lots of skin. The black eyes in the head were open. Inspector Jones jerked her head to one side. Toast was all she could think of. This time she did retch.
Back at the station Harry was having some kind of fit. Can I help, Can I help, was what he kept repeating. The big C, then the ‘a,’ followed by the ‘n.’ His eyes were dark, very dark. But this time the blackness was there to stay.