The Looking Glass

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The Investigation (short story) Part 2 of 2

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The names on the list seemed to consist of people who I’d interacted with on at least a semi-regular basis over the last two months. Honestly, contrary to the size, the list itself, was quite short when you consider over how long a period of time this list had been established. Acquaintances, polite-contacts, and even most of my immediate family was on there. I found it particularly telling, and even more disappointing, that the latter group took up so much of the list. I don’t really interact with many people, I realized.

“That’s the last one, ma’am.” Officer Bendt sighed. “You’re absolutely sure you can’t think of anyone who you might suspect?”

“If you can think of anyone, for any reason, Miss Llidie, now would be the time to tell us.” Officer Jenkins urged. He’d come back, halfway through the naming, with sweet delicious tea. It helped ever-so-slightly to cool my fraying nerves. I appreciated it.

My head was starting to hurt, trying and failing to remember anything of relevance. I knew that I could just give some random names, if only to buy some time. I couldn’t do something like that, though. That wasn’t how I was raised; my mother would forgive me for damning a stranger to save my own hide. But she wouldn’t understand. Hell, I couldn’t understand it. Unable to come up with a real name, I shrugged, weakly. “I’m sorry to have wasted so much of your time, you two. I can’t think of a single experience that might’ve driven any of those people to have a grudge.” I was just barely keeping it together; we both knew what that meant.

Officer Bendt was staring at me. There was something in his eyes that I couldn’t discern. It was an emotion I’d never quite seen before, and that made me slightly uncomfortable. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but changed his mind and visibly set his jaw before standing up and stomping out of the room. I watched him go, partly sad, but mostly confused.

“He’s not angry with you, ma’am.” Officer Jenkins reached over the table, patting my hand. “He’s frustrated that he can’t help you. We both are.”

“Sir?”

“Miss Llidie, there are many within our department who simply can’t be trusted to do their jobs. Corrupt, violent assholes who took up the job ‘cuz they wanted to carry a gun.” He scowled. “Charlie Bendt is not one of those guys. He’s a bit rough around the edges, but he’s a great man and this is killing him, inside. You have to understand that we took up our badges because we believe in justice; we want to help people like you. Not put you behind bars and forget about you because a piece of paper told us so.”

I lost the battle with my emotions, and tears ran freely. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize, ma’am. It’s not your fault.” He offered a token smile. “We were half hoping you would start randomly naming people, actually, if only to buy us some more time to deal with this case.” He shrugged, almost guiltily. “At most we’d only have been required to investigate, which could take a couple of weeks to do properly.”

“That isn’t my way, Officer.” I smiled back. “I couldn’t do that to anyone. Least of all when members of my family make up half of that list, sir.”

“I suppose not.”

There was an awkward silence for a moment before Officer Bendt re-entered the room, looking marginally better. He looked dead at me, and he spoke. “You’re a good woman, Miss Llidie. We’ll take you home now, see what we can do about this. I can’t guarantee you that we can get you out of this, and I apologize for that. But you can be certain that I’ll do everything in my power to settle this for you.”

There was a poignant silence as I digested such a bold declaration. Then, Officer Jenkins laughed. “Geeze, how long did you practice that one?”

“…Shut up.” I was amazed to see Officer Bendt, blushing.

________

Two weeks passed before I heard anything from the two Officers, again. By the first week, I had made peace with the fact that my future was unknown. The fear was still there, but it wasn’t quite the crippling terror that had plagued me in the first day. I called my parents and let them know the situation. We’d been quite distant lately, so I imagine dropping a bomb like that hardly endeared them to me, their estranged daughter. The conversation had been clipped and painfully unsatisfying.

When they came for me again, it was Officer Bendt who’d stood at my doorstep. This time, Officer Jenkins was the one manning the vehicle. “Miss Llidie,” he’d greeted, looking exhausted. “I’m sorry. We’re going to need you to come with us.”

I smiled at him, scared, but not scared. “Yes, of course.”

“Do you need to call out of work?”

“No, I’m off today. I had a bad feeling, this morning.” He winced at my words, and I felt bad for causing such a reaction. “Shall we go?”

I was carted off to ‘not jail’ once again. The car ride was quite comfortable.

Officer Bendt led me into a room we hadn’t used the last time I was there.

“…I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize, sir. You tried your best, and I appreciate it more than you’ll ever know.” He looked startled at my having thrown his words back at him. I chuckled.

I was taken through processing, where I was given my very own mugshot. Something to take off my bucket list. As we went through the process, I found the peace I’d established for this very moment slowly diminishing in favor of a faint sickness. Regardless, I pushed past it and completed the process. Officer Bendt refused to be the one to put me in cuffs, so Officer Jenkins did it, instead. I tried to smile at the two, but could really only manage a grimace.

Flash forward a couple of days and I’m sitting in my very own cell. The trial had been quick, but no-less painful. Frankly, I suspect that Officer Bendt’s passionate defense in my name had moved the judge to offer a smidgeon of leniency. Not enough to get me out of prison, though.

My natural introversion serves me well, in jail. As it turns out, the skill of keeping my head down keeps me out of trouble here. It’s not much of a resolution, but that’s all there is to it. Eight years in the Georgia State prison for a crime I didn’t commit, and I don’t expect to get out for at least another two years on an appeal that’s more than likely to just go down the drain. Happy endings are a gift that not everyone is privileged to have, I’ve come to realize. I suppose I was just unlucky. Nevertheless, I’m thankful to the efforts of those two men; the sentiment still moves me, the fact that someone cared enough to try. It’s not much, but silver linings are tin, sometimes.

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