Alex Bell writes books and short stories as well as articles on fair trade and ethical fashion (http://www.alex-bell.co.uk). When not writing she enjoys buying pretty things for her gifts and accessories boutique Tickle & Pink (http://www.tickleandpink.com) and volunteering at the Citizens Advice Bureau. Favourite things include Great Danes, afternoon tea and vintage teacups.
© Mark Hogg
The Devil in Red
‘Do you believe in God?’ I ask.
He looks surprised. ‘Is that the question?’
‘Well,’ I say, ‘perhaps you might be kind enough to enlighten me. What is the question?’
‘Can I smoke in here?’
It’s against the rules, of course, but I pass him a cigarette from my pocket anyway. No one is likely to come in and object. They’re too afraid to enter the room. Not afraid of him as such – he’s restrained, after all – no, they’re more afraid of the cloud of violence that surrounds him. They think it a contagion – something that might soak through the pores of the skin straight through to the soul. It’s foolish, really. This is a prison, after all – no one here is a stranger to this particular breed of darkness. They have seen it – or its like – many times before. But perhaps they have not stared into its eyes as I have done. I am no longer affected by the horror of it as I once was. That in itself bothers me. But it’s a fact I cannot change.
He picks up the cigarette; his handcuffs clank against the table. I see the congealed blood around his wrists where the cuffs have worn at them – split skin and red sores.
He glances at me, raises one eyebrow a fraction. ‘Do you mind?’
I take the lighter from my pocket, flick a flame into life. Not so much as a rap on the mirrored window. We are turning a blind eye today, then. Awkwardly, he lifts both hands to place the cigarette between his lips and I lean across the table to light it for him. The tip burns bright, the lighter snaps shut. I lean back.
‘So,’ I say, ‘do you believe in God, Mr Marlow? Is that why you did what you did?’
He stares at me for a moment, exhaling smoke through his nostrils, clouding the air between us. For a moment, as I look back into those blue eyes, rimmed with red, staring at me through smoke, I feel a flicker of a strange, secret desire to feel the same coldness everyone else feels when they look at this man. Knowing what he has done, and being so close to him, should make me feel something. Make me shudder. But there’s nothing. And I suppose that’s what makes me so good at what I do.
‘Why do any of us do what we do?’ he says. Then he shrugs and I hear the rattle of chains. ‘Do I believe in God? I believe in His wrath. Is that an answer for you?’
‘For me?’ It is my turn to shrug. The barest lift of a shoulder beneath a one thousand pound jacket. ‘None of this is for me, Mr Marlow. We’re here for you. I’m trying to help you.’
‘I never asked for your help.’
‘But you need it just the same. You understand this is serious?’
‘So everyone keeps telling me.’
I am silent for a moment. Then I lean back in my uncomfortable metal chair. ‘Let’s talk about your wife.’
He draws hard on his cigarette, the tip flaring red in the fug. A single bead of sweat begins to swell into something noticeable at the edge of his hairline. He has an expensive haircut – very much like my own. They haven’t shaved his head yet. If that happened there’d be little left to mark him out as what he is, or used to be – a man of wealth and power and influence. One of my own kind – we might have sat across the same table at a dinner party if things had been different. Made small talk over expensive brandy served in cut-glass goblets. Compared notes on the fine cigars we had imported. Instead we have this – the breathing in of second-hand smoke from the cheap cigarettes I bought at the prison shop on the way in here, whilst the walls of the interview room seem to shrink around us.
He does not like my last remark. He likes it even less than the God question. I see the resentment and dislike in his eyes as he looks at me.
‘This is pointless,’ he says, and there is a warning in the tone of his voice.
‘This is necessary, I’m afraid,’ I say.
My voice comes out just a little more clipped than I had intended, which is not at all like me – I who am so disciplined in all that I do. But I feel suddenly weary of this today – all of this – the police stations and the prisons, the murderers, the blood and the death and the darkness of it all. It doesn’t horrify me as it should, of course, but I am tired of it. That says something for me, I hope. I am, at least, tired of it, to my very bones.
I let my clients smoke if they want to because it helps to relax them sometimes, which helps the interview along, but the smoke and the tiny airless room set off my claustrophobia, and that does nothing to improve my mood.
I do not allow myself the luxury of a sigh. ‘As your legal counsel I must tell you that it’s in your interests to confess.’
There is silence for the stretch of several slow beats. I feel the blood throbbing through my temples with each one and I curse my fear of small spaces, and this tiny room, and the monster who has brought me here today. He isn’t looking at me, but is staring past me as he calmly smokes the cigarette and I wonder whether he has even heard my question. I’m about it ask it again when he says, quite calmly, ‘Confess to what?’
It is a tedious business dealing with psychotics and criminals sometimes. Especially when they show no remorse. Judges like remorse. So do juries.
How many times have I played this game?
‘To your wife’s murder, of course,’ I say.
(C) Alex Bell 2013
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.