Short fiction – The Fallen Witness

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11 May 2017 by victoriaknowe

A piece written for a contest, where entries had to be 2000 words or less, and based on a quotation:

“If you fell down yesterday, stand up today.” by HG Wells

As you will see, I went with a somewhat creative interpretation. This piece contains strong language and adult themes.

 

The Fallen Witness

 
The steady downpour drips over the edge of my umbrella as I make my way to the building where I work. It’s a building with just as many photocopiers and water coolers as any other office block in our fine city of Kentwell. The difference is the work we do here. Our work matters. A lot more than most of those paper-churns in the rest of the city. If you’re thinking that’s a bold statement, let me tell you, I work at the Kentwell Police Department. We do the real work of keeping the city, and all you ordinary folk safe.

“Detective?”

I am just shaking drops of water from my umbrella in the lobby when the voice comes. I can’t help grinning to hear my new title called across the room, but I cough into my hand to hide it. When I look over, the speaker is the older woman at the reception desk. I forget her name. Janice?

“The chief would like to see you in his office.”

My heart leaps. This could only be a real assignment at long last. Schooling my rebellious face again, I say gruffly, “Thank you Janice”. A look of annoyance flits across her face. It must have been the wrong name, but I do my best to ignore her reaction. Squaring my shoulders, I face the elevator bank.

In the chief’s office, the news is even better than I had hoped. I’m to be put on the MacDockerton case. An older woman brutally murdered and robbed two days ago. Apparently, a witness has come forward and the chief wants me to interview her. I knew my hunch about this day had been a good one.

I grab a cup of coffee as I saunter over to the interrogation rooms. My old workplace had separate quarters for questioning suspects and interviewing witnesses, but this town is smaller, resulting in an irritating downscaling of facilities. Still, we must all do our best to uphold the law.

The case notes are handed to me on my way to the room and I glance at them briefly. The witness is Karen Swan, a prostitute. She claims to have met the murderer as a client on the night of the killing. When I enter the room, I’m shocked to see such a young girl waiting there. I had pictured a middle-aged, haggard woman. This girl cannot have even finished school.

I clear my throat. “Ahem. Good morning. I am Detective Lightwood. I’ll be questioning you today.”

She looks at me sullenly. “Short staffed are you?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You don’t look old enough to be a detective.”

I fight to retain a professional demeanour as I place my coffee and the folder on the table and take a seat opposite her. “I can assure you, I am sufficiently qualified.” But her remark has thrown me. Floundering a little, I open the case file and pretend to be checking something in the notes. “Right, I’ll begin by taking your personal details. Name?”

“Karen.”

“Full name, please.”

“Swan.”

“So, Karen Swan… thank you. Address?”

“17 Thinley Close.”

“Occupation?”

“Whore.”

I look at her, but she stares back defiantly, daring me to object to the word. I decide to move on. “Age?”

“Not old enough.”

I look up again. “Excuse me, Miss Swan?”

She puts on a bored expression. “Ok then, I’m 18 years old.”

She is obviously not 18. Both this blatant lie and her recalcitrant attitude are leading me to wonder whether she really knows anything about the murder. But a detective must be rigorous in following all leads. If she has any information at all, I must be sure to extract it. I fix her with a sharp look to curb her facetiousness. “Apparently you claim to know the man who murdered Mrs MacDockerton.”

She snorts. “You could say that.”

“Could you be more specific?”

“I have intimate knowledge of him.” She smiles, showing all her teeth.

I sigh. This is going to be a difficult session. “Why don’t you tell me in your own words what happened on the evening of the murder.”

She frowns “Will I get my money afterwards?”

“Money…?” I’m puzzled as to what she means.

She glares at me. “The ad in the paper said anyone with information would get £1000. I’m not telling you anything unless I get that money.”

“Excuse me for a second.” I step out of the interview room and look around. Who should I ask about this? The admin ladies strike me as a good bet, so I head down in the elevator again.

Probably-not-Janice looks less than thrilled to see me. “Hmm, the reward.” she says, taking the opportunity to stare down her nose at me. “We have to register her details here and she’ll get a cheque through the post in a few weeks.”

I highly doubt that Miss Swan has a bank account, or that the address she’s given is her real residence, but it’s not my problem. “You’ll get your money in due course.” I announce upon re-entering the interrogation room.

Karen narrows her eyes at me as I sit. “Will I get it straight away?” she demands.

“Practically straight away.” I say, crossing my fingers under the table. “Please continue with what you were going to tell me about the night of the murder.”

She hasn’t ceased staring at me. “I’m just doing it for the money.” she blurts out. “I don’t give a damn about that old woman. I just want the money!” Her gaze is aggressive, almost as if she expects me to reprimand her for her lack of feeling for the murdered woman.

“And you will get your money” I say, gently. “Please, tell me what happened.”

For the first time, she starts fidgeting, as if unsure where to start. After a couple of minutes have passed, I decide to prompt her. “How long have you been working as a prostitute?”

She draws in a sharp breath and her eyes widen a little, but she answers, cautiously “A while.”

“Was it the first time you had met this man?”

“Yes.”

“How did you get in touch with him?”

“He’s someone my… A friend told him about me.”

“Where did you meet him?”

“At my apartment.”

“How did you set up the meeting?”

“I… the same friend set everything up. He told me what time the man would be coming round.”

“Is that how you normally set up meetings with clients?”

She hesitates. “Yes.”

Picking up on her hesitation, I decide to push her a little. “What other ways do you use to find clients?”

She looks uncomfortable and fidgets some more. I become very businesslike. “Miss Swan, I can easily check our list of registered prostitutes and find out whether the name you have given is on that list. If – and I highly suspect this to be the case – I fail to find your name, there will be unpleasant consequences for you. With that in mind, I suggest that you employ a strategy of full disclosure. It will be easier for you in the long run.” I can tell that she is piqued by my high-handed attitude, but it elicits results.

“Alright! Fine! It was my first time.”

“Sorry?” I’m a little thrown.

Her voice is low “I don’t have a usual way to meet clients because I haven’t done it before. Last night was the first time.”

“Oh…” Despite her obvious youth, I wasn’t expecting this admission. I wonder briefly what her background is, whether she has any family, and whether they know about this recent fall from grace.

But then I pull myself together. If the girl needs help, there are other organisations who will deal with it. My job is to solve this crime. I turn back to the matter at hand. “So, Miss Swan, what happened when the man arrived?”

She looks taken aback, then laughs sharply. “What do you think happened?”

I ignore her attempt to goad me. “How do you know this man murdered Mrs. MacDockerton?”

The defiance suddenly leaves her and she hunches a little. “He told me.”

“He told you?”

“Yes!”

“Just like that?”

She shoots me a nasty look. “Well you obviously wouldn’t know how it works.”

“What do you mean?”

She sighs, and talks very slowly, as if to a stupid person. “We had sex, and afterwards he was like any other man, wanting to brag.” Her voice cracks a little. “He kept on and on about how clever he was, killing an old lady and still being able to get it up to shag a whore afterwards.” The disgust is evident in her voice. I’m not sure whether it’s wholly directed at the murderer.

“What did you say when he told you that?” I ask.

She flicks back her hair in an attempt at nonchalance. “Oh I played along of course; laughed and told him what a clever plan it was. I’m not a complete idiot.” Her tone is light, but there is a wealth of remembered fear in her eyes.

“What happened after that?”

“He fell asleep.”

“Didn’t you think about running away while he was asleep?”

She sneers at me. “And where would I have gone? Anyway, I took a picture of him while he was asleep.”

I lean forward in excitement. “You took a picture? How?”

“On my phone, stupid!”

I ignore the insult in my eagerness. “Didn’t he wake up?”

“Well obviously not”

“Have you still got the picture?”

In answer, she pulls her mobile out of a bag lying next to her, swipes a few times on the screen and hands it to me. The screen is cracked, but I can still see a sleeping man, his features clearly visible even in the dim light of the photo.

I’m excited now. “This is excellent, Miss Swan. Did you find out anything else about the man? Do you know where he lives? Does your friend have any more details about him?”

She clenches her jaw and shakes her head. “I’m not bringing anyone else into this. He threatened to kill me if I told anyone. He’d kill anyone else who ratted him out as well.”

The danger of her situation is striking me for the first time. “How is it possible that he didn’t think of you taking a picture of him on your phone?” I ask, wonderingly.

She laughs mirthlessly. “He did think of it. Turned my apartment upside-down looking for a phone or a camera. Smashed my laptop and everything. But I’d hidden the phone properly so he didn’t find it. I told him I’d left it at my boyfriend’s place.”

I’m impressed at her resourcefulness. “That was very brave of you.”

She tosses her head. “Well he made a mistake smashing all my things. Pissed me off properly. He’ll regret that.” She looks at me directly. “That’s why I want the money, detective. To replace the things he broke.”

“Yes, yes,” I say, absently, looking at the picture on the phone again.

After a few more questions, it emerges that the girl has no idea where the suspect might live, but the information and photograph she has given will be invaluable in identifying him. She agrees to come back and testify as a witness if necessary.

At the end of the interview I say gravely “Miss Swan, on behalf of the citizens of Kentwell, I thank you for doing your part to make our city a safer place. We must all stand up for what is right in order to stamp out crime in our community.”
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She doesn’t look very impressed at my fine words. I can’t help wondering what will become of her in the next few days. But then I turn my mind to more important matters. The case! And the certainty of praise from the chief after I have solved it.

Coffee in hand, I turn my attention back to my notes, the only noise coming from the rain outside, filtering indistinctly through the barred windows of the building where I work.

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One thought on “Short fiction – The Fallen Witness

  1. Margot Gardner says:

    I’m agog, what happened next?

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