Nobody wants to spend their morning in a police station being interrogated, but it’s even worse when you know that you’re guilty and feel that you deserve the experience. Take this morning for example.
I was sitting in a rather uncomfortable chair in a brightly lit room being stared down by a beefy lieutenant who looked like he’d enjoy nothing more than tearing my limbs off and throwing me on the floor to watch me squirm while I die. The room was painted grey and contained no furniture other than a simple table and two chairs, one occupied by yours truly and the other by Lieutenant Burns; no kidding, that was really his name. The room was also very well lit by florescent lights and if you were willing to sacrifice your retinas to stare into the glare you could just make out the outline of a small camera lens in the upper corner of the room pointed at the accused, AKA, me. One wall of the room was covered by a large mirror. Anyone who’s ever seen a cop show knows what that’s for.
“So, start again from the beginning. Tell me exactly what happened,” the lieutenant said in a threatening tone.
“Look, Captain,” I replied, “I’ve already told you the story three times, I can’t tell it any different because that’s the way it really happened,” I pleaded.
“I don’t want you to tell it different,” he snarled, making a fist so that you could hear his knuckles crack. “I want you to tell it the same. Now, tell it again, from the beginning.”
“You mean from after work or from this morning?” I asked, feeling somewhat groggy after two hours of questioning. As I have already mentioned, I was guilty as hell and had waved my right to have an attorney present, probably in the hope that I’d fry. But maybe that had been a mistake since an attorney would have at least insured that I received humane treatment during the interrogation.
“No, start from when you found the finger,” the lieutenant responded.
“OK, but can I at least have a drink of water and a cigarette first,” I asked.
The next few minutes were, to my surprise, actually spent looking to satisfy my request. Afterward, there was nothing left to do but begin again, from the middle.
“I got up this morning to find a finger lying on the coffee table in my living room…”
* * *
And I did. No really, I’m not kidding. I woke up and walked out into the living room to have a smoke from a pack of cigarettes I’d left on the coffee table the night before. After lighting up, I typically walk to the window over the dinette to expel my exhaust outside so that I don’t have to start my day listening to Tommy rag on me about the effects of second-hand smoke. But this morning was to prove different. After lighting up and taking my first drag, I looked down and saw a severed finger lying on the coffee table next to the ashtray. It had been severed just below the third knuckle and therefore represented a fairly complete finger. It also looked to be pretty fresh, not having begun to decompose or anything, but it wasn’t so fresh as to have blood all around it or have obviously been the result of recent activity. Scratching my balls through my jockey shorts, I decided to go back to my bedroom and get dressed.
When I returned to the living room fully clothed it was to the sight of a finger still lying on the coffee table and my roommates nowhere to be found.
“Tommy, Ray,” I yelled toward the back of the apartment. “Get your butts out here. I think we have a problem.”
Tommy was the first to show himself, as was to be expected. As he scurried down the hall to the living room he battled with the belt on his terry cloth bathrobe and ended up arriving looking like he typically looks first thing in the morning; namely, confused.
“What the hell is it?” he asked displaying real concern. I often suspect that rather than sleep, Tommy actually stands all night behind his door waiting for a call just like this one.
Standing at the foot of the table, I simply pointed. Tommy squinted in the direction I was referring, possibly believing that I was pointing at a microscopic killer bug crawling up the table leg. Spotting the finger, he freaked.
“Shit, what the hell is that?” Tommy shrieked taking one giant leap backward.
“It’s a finger, Tommy,” I replied in frustration. “Haven’t you ever seen one before, or did you think you were looking at a dildo for midgets?” I continued sarcastically.
“Oh,” was his demure reply.
“Now for a more important issue,” I resumed, “Do you happen to be missing one?” I asked.
“One what?” Tommy replied, blinking with that idiot, deer caught in the headlight expression that only he could pull off with such conviction.
“A finger, you dip-shit — are you missing one of your digits?” I yelled at him. I usually try not to holler at Tommy since it only seems to fluster him and make things take longer, but this morning he seemed to have woken in a particularly dense state that was getting on my nerves.
The thing was that Tommy actually held out his hands to check. You’d think that he’d realize that incredible pain in one of his extremities might supply all the information needed; but no, in Tommy’s case I guess that seeing was believing. In fact, to tell the God’s honest truth, he counted.
“No,” was his solemn response, apparently finding his count to tally with expectation.
“Ready for another question?” I asked, not wanting to rush him. At his nod, it was my turn to say something stupid. “Did you happen to notice this finger on the coffee table last night before going to bed?”
I realized this was a stupid question the moment it left my mouth, but it didn’t help having Tommy put his hands on his hips, cock his head, and raise an eyebrow at me in response.
“Well, I wonder where it could have come from,” I pondered out loud, absently rubbing the stubble on my chin in embarrassment. Then as one, Tommy and I came to the same conclusion.
“Ray!” we said together.
Whereas I was perfectly happy to simply call Ray’s name from the living room, knowing that I’d eventually get a response, Tommy, being the excitable type, opted for the more direct approach aimed at eliciting an immediate response.
“Oh my God, Ray are you dead?” he screamed running down the hall and throwing open Ray’s bedroom door.
Knowing that Ray didn’t like anyone going into his room, I could only imagine how he would react to being woken by Tommy exploding into his room screaming at the top of his lungs. And sure enough, my imagination proved correct. Within seconds of his departure, Tommy was back, this time being dragged down the hall by the scruff of the neck, tiptoeing as fast as he could while propelled by a half naked Italian. In other words, it was a true Kodak moment.
“What the fuck is this homo screaming about?“ Ray exploded, pointing a finger at me as if I was controlling Tommy’s actions via remote control.
I looked at the finger he pointed my way and thought, well, at least that one’s accounted for. Then I pointed my own finger down in response.
Ray looked down at the coffee table and let loose of a struggling Tommy while taking his own giant leap backward.
“Holy Mary, mother of God,” he exclaimed. “Is it yours?” he asked earnestly looking up at me.
Okay, so this morning was a big morning for asking stupid questions. At least he hadn’t screamed eek. I raised my hands and wiggled my ten little Indians in reply, and I swear to God, Ray raised his own hands and started to count.
“All there?” I asked, and he nodded his head. “So, the questions now become, where did it come from and whose is it?”
This time both Ray and Tommy nodded their heads enthusiastically in unison. It looked as if they were both members of the Olympic synchronized head bobbing team.
“Okay, who was here last night, other than the three of us?” I asked, to which I received nothing but dumb stares. “Come on, who had a partner with them?” I prodded.
“When?” asked Ray.
“Well, Okay,” I replied. “Let’s take a different tack. When was the last time either of you were at the coffee table and noticed that there wasn’t a finger lying next to the ashtray?” I asked in all seriousness.
Tommy and Ray exchanged glances, and then they began to run backward through the days of each week. To hear them discuss the subject, one would think that the finger might have been lying there when we first joined forces to rent the apartment six months ago.
“I tell you what, I’ll start,” I volunteered. “I had my last smoke at ten o’clock last night and threw my cigarettes onto the coffee table when I was through. I’m pretty sure there was no finger on the table then. Anyone want to go any later?”
I could see from their expressions that trying to get any useful information out of them was going to be a total wash, so I tried to keep it simple.
“Was anyone else in the apartment last night?” I asked.
Again, Tommy and Ray exchanged glances, then turned my way and shook their heads to indicate the negative.
“Well, that makes things simple, doesn’t it?” I stated to looks of confusion. “If we were the only ones in the apartment after ten last night, then one of us must have put the finger on the coffee table,” I concluded.
Again, Tommy and Ray exchanged glances, and then Tommy burst forth in a stream of consciousness.
“No way, that can’t be, that’s not possible,” he began and continued on with more of the same. All the while he ran his hands down his body as if shedding a coating of shit frosting. Then his face lit up indicating he had come up with an idea. “What if someone snuck in last night and left the finger on the coffee table?” Tommy asked, assuming a Sherlock Holmsian bravado.
“Tommy,” I replied. “Do you see any of the dead bolts you had put on the door left unbolted?”
Tommy looked, then walked to the door to confirm that the door handle lock, two dead bolt locks, and security chain were all properly set. He looked back and shook his head in the negative.
“What about the windows?” Ray asked, rubbing sleep from his eyes.
We all looked to the one and only window in the main body of the apartment and saw that the window sill below it was covered in a formidable barrier of Tommy’s plants.
“I’d say,” I began, “that unless the finger fairy crept in through one of our bedrooms, without disturbing us, that it is very unlikely that someone from outside the apartment snuck in to leave us a finger,“ I reasoned.
That said, both Tommy and I looked to Ray.
“Oh, fuck you guys,” Ray said in response to the heavy burden of our regard. “I’m gonna go take a shower. Why doesn’t someone make some coffee and we’ll figure this all out when I get back. I can’t handle this shit right now,” he said as he turned and stomped back down the hall to his bedroom and slammed the door.
Tommy and I stood in the living room exchanging concerned looks until we heard Ray come out of his bedroom and enter the one and only bathroom in the apartment. Soon afterward we heard the shower start and knew from experience that Ray would be gone a good long time draining the apartment complex’s communal hot water supply.
“It’s him, it’s Ray,” Tommy whispered emphatically heading to the kitchen to make coffee. For some reason, Tommy was the only person in the apartment who could make a decent pot of coffee and we all knew it. I’d watched his technique, in case of an emergency, but had so far been unsuccessful in replicating it.
“Come on, Tommy,” I chided. “Ray’s a little rough around the edges, but he’s not mean or stupid enough to be leaving body parts lying around his own home.”
“You don’t know him like I do,” was Tommy’s response. “You know that this morning he threatened to kill me?” he said with a shiver, pouring water into the coffee maker that was apparently all set to brew.
“That was just talk, Tommy,” I said trying to calm him. “Ray doesn’t like people in his room, at least not male people.”
“I’m telling you, he was crazy this morning,” Tommy retorted in a loud whisper, casting a furtive glance in the direction of the bathroom door. “Besides,” he continued, “he’s Italian, and we both know what that means.”
“No, Tommy, I don’t,” I replied in disgust, guessing where this conversation was headed. “Why don’t you tell me what that means.”
“He’s a criminal,” Tommy responded bluntly. “The finger is probably a memento from some torture he performed last night on someone in arrears on a loan.”
“Don’t be stupid,” I replied.
“No, think about it,” Tommy said, desperately grabbing at my arm. “We don’t know anything about him. Who knows what other grizzly remains he has stashed away in that room he doesn’t want other people going into?”
“OK, so Ray is a member of the Mafia,” I responded sarcastically, but having to admit that Tommy was on to something regarding the room. “That still doesn’t explain why he’d leave a finger on the coffee table. I mean, in his business, you don’t shit where you eat.”
Tommy pondered this flaw in his hypothesis while the coffee began to brew, then snapped his fingers and pointed at me.
“It’s a trophy and he left it on the coffee table by accident,” he said. “Either that or it accidentally fell out of his pocket.”
“You’re nuts,” was my simple reply. And with that I walked back to the living room and threw myself on the couch to await Ray’s return so that I could have a reasonable conversation with someone.
Tommy continued to scurry around the kitchen and suddenly all was quiet again. Then, a few minutes later, I heard his slippered feet rapidly padding down the hall in my direction.
“Alright, smart guy,” Tommy said coming to a halt across the coffee table from me. “What do you think of this?” he asked, and there in his hand lay what appeared to be a snub-nose .38.
“Tommy, where did you get that gun?” I asked.
“Where do you think, stupid?” Tommy responded. “Ray’s bedroom, under his pillow, where criminals always hide their heat.”
“Okay, why don’t you put the gun down now,” I prompted, feeling truly worried for the first time this morning.
“What gun?” I heard Ray ask, and then I looked over Tommy’s shoulder to see Ray walking down the hall fully clothed but running a towel back and forth over his damp hair.
At the sound of Ray’s voice behind him, Tommy leapt to the side to face him. I also noticed that the gun which had been carried upon an open palm had moved to the more standard position required to deploy bullets.
“Go ahead, Ray,” Tommy taunted. “Why don’t you confess and tell us all where the finger came from?”
Ray froze when he saw Tommy pointing a gun his way. His face assumed a look of confusion, and then anger. Stepping forward, he extended a hand in Tommy’s direction.
“Give me back the gun, Tommy,” Ray said approaching Tommy menacingly.
“Hold on you two,” I interjected trying to draw their attention. “This was all a joke, so listen, cause I’ve got something I’ve gotta tell you.”
But my roommates weren’t listening. Ray continued to advance on Tommy taking small steps and Tommy, for a change, seemed determined to hold his ground.
“Back off, Ray,” Tommy screamed. “I don’t want to shoot you.”
“Go ahead and shoot, Tommy,” Ray said walking up to place his chest against the barrel of the gun. “If you don’t, I’m gonna kill you.”
And he did. Tommy pulled the trigger. And Ray finally backed off. Only he did it really fast and in a spray of blood. He then hit the wall and landed in a sitting position before he stopped moving entirely.
“What just happened?” Tommy asked with a blank look on his face. Then he dropped the gun, stepped back, and started to emit a pathetic whining sound.
Ray sat in the corner of the room with a large hole in the center of his chest amid an ever widening crimson stain. My first instinct was to run to him to try to help, but then I noticed the dull, glazed look in his eyes and instantly realized I was looking into the eyes of a dead man. Tommy curled into a tight ball and continued to whimper.
The sound of the shot in such a small apartment was deafening and I found that it left my ears ringing. And it had apparently been so loud as to wake the rest of the apartment complex since there were soon voices and shouts in the hallway followed by someone actually brave enough to start pounding on the door.
“Oh my God,” was all I could think to say as I slumped back onto the couch. “What have I done?”
In the distance, I heard the sound of sirens approaching.
* * *
I sat in my chair, staring at the half empty plastic cup of water on the table before me. Like the last three times I’d told the story, I felt emotionally and physically drained by its telling.
“Now, tell me about the finger,” Lieutenant Burns prompted.
“Like I told you before,” I said, “that’s the easy part. I found it yesterday afternoon in the alley behind the restaurant where Ray and I work, near the hospital. The whole thing was supposed to be a joke.”
“Some joke,” the lieutenant replied, once more looking like he wished interrogations these days still involved the use of a rubber hose.
“I tucked it into my backpack, then stopped by a bar for a drink,” I continued to explain. “I obviously planned to use the finger to play a trick on my roommates, but I’m not lying when I tell you that I made it home so drunk last night that I don’t remember having done it.”
It was at this point that the door flew open and a fresh faced young detective stepped into the room to whisper a few words in Lieutenant Burn’s ear. At the conclusion of the brief, one-sided discussion, the lieutenant launched himself from his seat in obvious preparation to leave.
“Wait a minute, what’s going on?” I asked in utter confusion.
The lieutenant turned my way and explained.
“You know that finger you found in the alley that you weren’t sure what you did with?” he asked, to which I nodded my head in dumb confusion. “Well, we just searched your apartment and found that finger still in the pouch of a backpack in your room,” he explained, then promptly exited the room leaving me to ponder this latest information.