by Marcus Jonathan Chapman
“So, why’d you do it?” Detective Sykes leaned over the metal table and stared at the murderer. Well, he had still to confess but all video surveillance and eye-witness testimony was pretty damning. Sykes looked at the two-way mirror, knowing his partner was on the other side. He asked again, “Why did you do it, Percy?”
“I do not know. He seemed like a pretentious prick. Or is it pompous? I do not know.” Percy answered. Sykes noticed he had responded genuinely puzzled, as if he were answering a different question, like “why’d you flip the guy off?” Or “Why’d everyone boo when the guy walked in?”
Down at the coroner’s office a medical examiner was inspecting the body of the victim. At the scene of the crime, the unlucky had on black jeans so tight the EMT’s had to cut them off. A short-sleeve button-up shirt with a famous cartoon mouse and round-rimmed spectacles, pieces of which were still mushed into the carne asada that was now his face.
Sykes thought about this face being cleaned up. The Diener picking out teeth, shards of glass, and chunks of carrot from the skull turned bowl now holding onto the pulp of the man’s features.
Blinking rapidly, Sykes prodded Percy for more information.
“Did you know the guy you killed before you saw him at Trader Joe’s?”
“I did not know him. I did not want to. He had been at parties and other events where the same crowd was. He always seemed uninterested in me and my wife.”
“What do you mean disinterested?”
“Well after a while, you see someone enough, you eventually introduce yourself, or at least give a knowing nod, you know?”
“So, he snubbed you. Is that why you killed him?”
“I do not really know. I do know that after a while of seeing him, my blood pressure would rise, he would consume my thoughts and, well, he just became more stress than he was worth.”
Just like that, thought Sykes, kill a man because you didn’t like his face? Sykes pressed Percy.
“You said he consumed your thoughts, with what did he fill your mind?”
“At first, just thoughts of telling him off—-well, no, actually, the first thought was of just walking up and asking why he did not say anything to me or my wife.”
“Why didn’t you ask?”
“Because the thought directly after that was, well what if he apologizes, maybe even profusely and then I have to deal with him walking up to me at every party. I would never be sure if he was genuine or not, knowing that I had once confronted him about not acknowledging me.”
“Do you always have such a hard time with social mores, social norms?”
“Yes, I do.” Percy said, as if answering the question, “do you have two eyes?”
Sykes leaned back off the table, he crossed his arms and cocked his head. He’d personally processed 27 murders in the last year alone, a comparatively slow year, but still. This guy sitting in front of him was genuinely puzzling. No passion, just annoyance.
“So that’s why you killed him, because you thought he’d never be a genuine friend?”
“No. Most people fall into that category.” Said Percy.
“People who would never be my genuine friend.”
“So, why’d you kill him?”
“I do not know, I just wanted him to end.”
Sykes could see that the conversation was getting him nowhere. He looked at the two-way mirror and scratched his ear. A signal to his partner that he was coming out. Sykes looked back at Percy, then started for the door.
“Why do you need to know why?” asked Percy as Sykes reached for the door knob. Percy continued.
“I mean you already know I did it. You have my confession; you have camera footage and you have a whole store full of people who will say I murdered him. Send me to prison, I’m hungry.”
Sykes stopped. “Hungry for what?”
“Hungry for blood!” Percy twisted his face and curled his fingers into claws. “I am kidding, no I am just hungry for food. I mean a burger would be nice, but I will start getting used to prison food. I am just regular old hungry, that is all.”
Sykes was starting to feel his blood pressure rise. Percy’s nonchalance and sarcasm were tapping at the mercury thermometer sticking in the area of Sykes’ brain in charge of temperament.
“Also, it is boring in here.” Added Percy. Sykes paused and took a step backwards into the room. He rolled his tongue between his top row of teeth and top lip, pressing it against the roof of his mouth before he spoke.
“Would you say this was pre-meditated?”
Percy didn’t answer right way. Sykes asked again.
“Did you plan this out and think it through before doing it?”
“No, I know what pre-meditated means. I am just trying to understand if you are truly asking me if I planned to kill him in the middle of a store full of people by beating his face in with a larger than average carrot. Is that what you think I planned?”
Sykes didn’t want to get further away from the point. So, he tried again.
“Had you ever thought about killing him before that day in the grocery store?”
Percy furrowed his brow and used his bottom teeth to pull his upper lip into his mouth before answering.
“Sure, I thought about it. Little day dreams here and there but nothing like a step-by-step plan. I mean obviously that is not how it went down.” Percy paused then looked at the two-way glass, he pointed between the glass and Sykes.
“Are you telling me that as cops you guys never think about killing anyone? You know for the betterment of humanity, to serve and protect, any of that stuff?”
Sykes took a quick breath, it made him sound exasperated.
“Percy, we’re asking the questions. But I’ll answer one you asked earlier. Why are we asking you? Because we want to be able to give his family some sort of reason for their loved one’s death. No matter how unreasonable.”
“Why? You imagine a satisfactory scenario in that conversation? Okay.” Percy raised his arms as far as the handcuffs would let him, but the gesture he made still looked grandiose. “I did it for the betterment of humanity! So that my son and his sons and their sons would never have to lay eyes on such a smug, pretentious asshole as he was.” Percy’s chains clanked on the table as he put his hands down.
“Is that good? Can I eat now?”
Sykes pulled the chair back from the table and sat down.
“I’ll bring you food if you tell me what I want to know. No sarcasm, no bullshit, tell me why you really killed him, and I will bring you a burger.”
“A Tommy’s burger.”
“Fine, but you are not going to like the answer because you have not liked the answer so far. It is not going to change. I did not like him, and I saw him in the store, he did not acknowledge me one too many times and I saw red. I guess it is what people call a crime of passion.”
Sykes wiped his hand over his mouth. “A crime of passion is a lover coming home to find their partner in bed with another person and then killing one or both of them. A person taking revenge. Usually they know the victim, or the victim has done something. This guy you murdered was an acquaintance to you. Am I wrong?”
Percy slowly tilted his head left and then right before answering. “I did not know him intimately, but I saw him enough to where he was more than an acquaintance.”
“So, what was he to you?”
Percy squinted and looked up as if the answer was on the wall behind Sykes. He sucked air through his teeth.
“I would say he was more of a nuisance. I read something once. I think it is from the bible.”
“Oh, you’re religious?” Sykes glanced at the two-way mirror, as if to see his partners expression.
“No, I just read something once about god saying you are either cold or hot but if you are lukewarm, I spit you out of my mouth.”
“So that’s what you did, you spit him out of your mouth.”
“Something like that. I guess god had his criteria, or standards or boundaries, whatever you want to call them. So, I guess I have found that I have my own criteria.”
“And what criteria is that?” Sykes had his arms crossed on the table and he was leaning forward. Percy raised an eyebrow and frowned. He swayed his head side to side slightly.
“Maybe it was just him, I do not know. Who decided that certain drugs were illegal? I was not involved in that.”
“You murdered a man. Are you saying you think you are God?”
“No. And how do you know what God is?”
“I don’t, but I guess the idea of God is that he makes all final judgement about life and death, right and wrong. Do you think you have that right? That power?”
“But at the very least, you think you did the right thing?”
“Who is to say, in my own little existence, that I did not do the right thing. Are you god?”
“You live in a society and therefore you live by a social contract of written and unwritten rules.”
“I did not write them. To me, every birth is a revolution. A life is uncontrolled by the law’s others have created, though definitely others try to impose those laws. My current situation is a perfect example of that.” Percy made to motion with both hands around the room, his chains prevented it. “We have the right to exist however we wish.”
“But there are consequences, you may very well spend the rest of your life in jail.”
“So what? How is that different than your life now?”
“I’m not a prisoner. I’m free to move and do things as I please. I haven’t killed anyone.”
“You are being a prisoner right now. You think your freedom is about being able to move anywhere and touch anything, but your thought is restricting you.”
“I think I’m understanding why you killed him.”
“Because I could. Because my mind is uncontrolled by your legislature and other nonsense. You can lock me in a casket or put me in a field, but my mind is free.”
“You’re batshit. You’re rocketing way past Pluto with no sign of slowing down.”
“See, your mind is so tangled, officer, tangled up with the things others have told you, with the laws you choose to serve and protect, with tales of morality that either end with eternal damnation or eternal paradise. These are prisons because they shape a mind before it has a chance to shape itself.”
“So, you’re not religious. You don’t believe in god?” asked Sykes.
“You are still doing it. I either am or am not religious to you. There is either god or no god to you, but have you ever thought that is such a narrow existence?”
“So, what do you believe in?”
Percy shrugged and lifted his hands before letting them drop on the table.
“There is no point. You will write me off as crazy, if you have not already. You just want to know so you can tell your buddies this story later. Just lock me up in your prison and let us be done with this.”
“You’re right, but why don’t you humor me. I’ll order you that burger from Tommy’s.”
Now Percy smiled. “See I cannot even escape myself.” He sat looking at the table.
“So?” said Sykes.
“I believe a virus infects us. It is a simple virus that plagues the brain and does not allow it to see things as they are, but rather forces the mind to create meaning.”
“Yes. I believe a virus of meaning infects us all. This entire conversation you have been wondering why I killed him, and you will probably always wonder why on some level. That is a symptom of the virus. You cannot simply accept that I killed him. You, his family, his friends, must know why.”
Sykes raised his eyebrows and looked straight at Percy.
“You never wonder why about anything?”
“Of course, I do.”
“So, you’re infected with the virus of meaning?”
“Of course, I am. Unlike you, I am simply aware of it.”
Sykes continued with his eyebrows raised. Percy finally shrugged his shoulders and went on.
“Because I know about the virus. Because I recognize I am infected, I recognize a flaw, much in the same way an alcoholic knows they cannot drink without control. If they do, the knowledge of their abuse of it taints all drinking experiences thereafter.”
“So how does that work for your virus?”
“Well, though I cannot prove a virus exists, I believe it does because no one has exhibited any evidence to the contrary. Everyone has to know why and even if they never audibly ask the question, the question gnaws away at their mind.”
“What’s wrong with questions?”
“Nothing, they are meaningless but symptomatic of the virus of which I am speaking.”
“You’ve asked me a few questions in the time you’ve been in this room.”
“I am sure I have; I am only human.”
“So, questions are meaningless?”
“There is a view, a popular view, that questions and inquiry lead to a path of understanding and enlightenment, but I think the opposite is true.”
“Questions lead to doubt and confusion.”
“The more you know about something, the more that thing opens up to you, forcing you to recognize a whole world of information that you had no idea existed. That trail of information splinters off into an infinite number of paths. Like holding a flashlight straight down at your feet when it is pitch black. You might ask what you are standing on? Or, where you are? That question leads you to slowly lift your flashlight to reveal more information until you see as far as your eyes or the landscape allows but it is not enough. You may have answered your initial questions but now you wonder ‘what is behind those rocks?’ ‘what is behind me?’ ‘Where am I in the grand scheme of things?’ or ‘why am I here?’
“It’s part of human nature to ask questions.”
“Yes.” Percy pointed at Sykes “Yes but that nature is flawed, or as eternal optimists might say, there is room for improvement.”
“As people get older, they get wiser.” Sykes heard himself. Now Percy raised his eyebrows and stared at Sykes as if giving him the opportunity to correct himself. Sykes, out of pride or spite or maybe curiosity, remained silent. Percy responded.
“They do not. We do not because of the infinite paths of questions. The older we get the more questions we have. Our initial questions have to do with more practical things such as how to survive, what to eat, even how to treat others. But we get older and start becoming fixated on questions that either have no answers or yield yet more questions. An infinite loop of questions. For example, why did I kill him?”
“Why did you kill him?” Sykes asked.
Percy sighed and slouched back in his chair.
“I am trying to tell you that there is no why. You, his family and friends are upset because I took a question, an infinite possibility of questions and turned it into a statement. Instead of ‘what is he up to?’ now it is ‘here lies Shawn.’ That is, it. The only relief you or anyone else will get is when your own statement is written, here lies officer Sykes.”
Sykes wasn’t sure whether to take Percy’s last comment as a threat or not. He was more curious at the contradiction sitting in front of him. He asked.
“Earlier you pointed out that it was narrow of me to think dichotomously, god or no god. Now you’re saying that a living person is a question and a dead person is a statement.
“Did I say that?”
“Isn’t that too simplistic for your ideology? Isn’t it contradictory to your theory? You’re either this or that?”
“Yes. Our very questioning nature, or rather the virus, makes us hypocrites. We cannot retain all information all the time, so when presented with some information in a particular situation, we change. We adapt.”
“Okay, enough. I’m tired of hearing this pseudo-philosophical crap. I’m going to order that Tommy’s burger and start processing you.” Sykes stood up and walked to the door. Percy stared at the wall; his hands folded on the table. He seemed to be concentrating.
“Okay.” He said.
Sykes walked out of the room and into the cold hallway of the station. The lights buzzed and the drinking fountain hummed. For a moment he forgot about their conversation, as if getting up too fast had pushed it all out of his head. He walked a few steps to his right and entered the viewing room, where his partner watched Percy. His partner, a mustached, mousy man with just enough spine to drive a patrol car, but not enough to conduct the interrogations, asked.
“What do you think he was talking about? Some sort of cult? New age religious thing?”
“I don’t know,” said Sykes. “It’s not important why. We know he did it. Order the man a burger and I’ll start working his file.” Sykes grabbed a folder. He sat down at a desk facing the two-way mirror. His partner stepped into the hallway to call Tommy’s and order ahead.
Sykes heard banging and looked up to see Percy pounding on the table, both palms flat, the chain bouncing along with his hands. The expression on Percy’s face looked more like a snarling baboon than the calm man to whom he was just speaking.
Sykes stood and walked over to the interrogation room. As he was unlocking the door, Percy began yelling.
“Whyyyy? Whyyyyyy? Everybody wants to know why but I am not going to tell them. Fuck you Sykes. Fuck you man behind the mirror.”
Sykes stood at the door. He twisted the knob and walked in. Percy looked at Sykes and stopped pounding.
“How about that burger, sport?” Percy grinned.
“What was all that yelling?”
“I needed to vent. Blow off some steam as they say. You ever do that? Being a Cop is a stressful job.”
Sykes walked back out of the room and shut the door. He could hear Percy chuckling. The burger couldn’t arrive fast enough. He sat down and began rifling through the stack of paperwork. He looked up to see Percy staring at him or at least staring into the one-way mirror.
“Sykes do you ever get scared?” said Percy. “Do you have a wife? How often do you apologize to her or your girlfriend? Do you have kids? How old are they? What are their names and ages? Where do you live?”
Percy now widened his eyes and began tilting his head side to side. Something in his voice made his questions sound like mockery.
“What is your favorite food? What is your favorite color? Are your parents alive? Are they divorced? What did they do?”
Sykes saw no signs of this stopping. He stood up and walked back out to the hallway. From the hall he heard Percy’s muffled voice. Unlocking the door, he stepped in.
Percy sang to the tune of Miss America theme song.
“There he is, Mr. America.”
“Your burger is coming Percy. You’ll eat and then be on your way, let’s just keep this easy, for both of us.”
Percy smiled wide. “I am just trying to construct you Sykes. I am building my image of you. It is easier if you answer my questions.”
“No.” Said Sykes, quietly.
“Then I will have to use my fabulous imagination.” Percy announced the last two words as if announcing the title of a children’s TV show.
“Okay.” Sykes responded, walking back out and shut the door. He walked back to the table. Percy started up again.
“I did it. Here is my confession.” Percy was now staring up at the CCTV camera in the corner of the room.
“I pummeled his face in with a carrot, if you can believe that. At Trader Joe’s, they have these big ‘ol carrots. I grabbed one in my left-hand and the man’s collar in my right. Then I started beating him into the wine aisle. He asked me why I was doing it, of course, no one is immune to the virus Officer Sykes, but I didn’t answer because I was focusing all my energy into my carrot holding arm.”
“I did it for self-preservation. He was eating away at a part of my mind and now I find that there is some relief. I have scratched an itch and feel relieved. You know, I probably just proved my theory. Perhaps that itch was the virus of meaning eating away and now it is, well it will probably take on a different form.”
Percy went on. Sykes did his best to focus on the paperwork though he read sentences over and over a few times. A photo of the victim before the crime was usually paperclipped to the reports. Sykes couldn’t find it.
“Ah, my burger!”
Sykes looked up at the sound of Percy’s sudden delight. Through the two-way mirror, he saw his partner walk into the interrogation room.
“Thank you,” said Percy. “I did not think it would really happen. Do they serve burgers in prison? Are they like sad McDonald’s burgers or do they have all the fixings? Do you like burgers, Officer Sykes’ partner?”
His partner set the bag in Percy’s reach and walked back out of the room, closing the door behind him. Sykes watched as Percy carefully unwrapped the burger and slowly smoothed down the corners of the paper.
Sykes was so lost in thought, staring at Percy, he hadn’t noticed that his partner had walked into his own room. and set down a burger in front of him.
“I got you a burger with cheese.” Sykes was startled out of his daze. His partner set down the burgers.
“Oh, and the front desk handed me this on my way in.” Sykes took the folder his partner held out to him. The smell of burgers telling his mind to wrap this up so he could eat.
He flipped open the cardstock and a photo fell out. Sykes picked it up and saw the image of a scrawny male, mid-thirties, Caucasian wearing a Mickey Mouse print t-shirt and small round spectacles. The victim before his murder, almost exactly as Percy had described.
Squinting his eyes, Sykes thought ‘he does have one of those faces.’