Joel E. Turner's fiction has appeared in Ambit, Proof, 3AM Magazine, New Millennium Writings, Mobius and The Medulla Review. Samples of his work...read more can be found at his website, joeleturner.wordpress.com. He splits his time between Philadelphia and White Cloud, Michigan, and is also a consultant specializing in banking information analytics.
Moran wore a tweed jacket and a brown knitted wool tie. He sat next to a steel shelving unit in the basement room. He had a small black notebook and a short mechanical pencil that he twisted to push out the lead.
“You understand in cases like . . .” He looked at the pencil as if surprised to see the lead and tested it delicately on his pad. “We have to look at all the circumstances.”
I nodded assent, as I had to every suggestion since I was roused from sleep in my tent. I hadn’t been surprised; it wasn’t legal to camp where I was. My clothes and the dirty backpack had betrayed any idea that I was a camper anyway. The patrolman waited while I packed it all up, then it was a quiet ride to the station.
Moran handed back to me what passed for my identification: a long-defunct library card and a credit card from a forgotten retail chain.
“No license, I take it.”
“I don’t drive.”
“A fishing license, I meant.” He got up and walked to a window set high in the wall through which nothing could be seen.
There had been a rod rolled up in my tent stuff.
“I – I wasn’t . . .”
“A joke.” He came back to the chair. “No, there’s always something in these cases.” He made a pass in the air with his hand, like he was catching a fly. “I shouldn’t be telling you this, but there have been . . . incidents . . . along the river near your encampment.”
“Incidents?” The word came from my mouth with no effort, as if I were a ventriloquist dummy.
“It seems there have been campers there before.” He was back at the window. “They all seem to end up here.”
“But what . . . what were the incidents?”
He made a tick with his pencil in the notebook. “A man like you . . . I can tell you are educated. Fallen on hard times, perhaps?”
“Yes.” It seemed best to agree.
“Then you wouldn’t be surprised at the barbarity of which some men are capable. But you have done all we have asked . . . and so it is time.”
He closed the notebook and extended his hand, balled into a fist. He opened it, showing only his bare palm.
The door opened and a man came in, dressed like a janitor in a coverall. He picked up a small trash can and stopped under the window. Moran had moved to a folding chair in a corner. The man came in front of me.
“How long has he been here?” He nodded toward Moran.
“I don’t know. He put me in here. Then Moran came in.”
“‛Moran’?” He stared at him for a moment. “Did he talk about . . . anything odd?”
“He asked if I had a fishing license.”
“Right.” The man seemed to think this was normal. “Nothing about . . . body parts . . . mutilation . . . hex signs, that sort of thing?”
I looked at ‘Moran’. He seemed deflated, his head sunk onto his chest.
“He made some reference to . . . barbarity. It was vague.”
Moran was passing through the door, leaving it ajar. The man put the trash can down.
“I shouldn’t tell you this, but . . . Mr. ‘Moran’ isn’t what he seems.”
He sat down and crossed his legs. “He’s not on the force at all.”
“But what’s he doing here, interrogating me?”
“Interrogation? Oh, I don’t think so. You’d know if ‘Moran’ had interrogated you.” He laughed. “You want to talk barbarity.”
The word seemed like a code, or an official term of some sort, coming from him.
“No, ‘Moran’, as you called him . . . technically, he resigned . . . after that mess in the woods down by the river. I mean, we couldn’t well keep him on after all that.”
“But why . . .?”
The man had a notebook out. It was more like a school copy book than the little book Moran had. “You can leave that to us, thank you very much. Now, what do you know about this business down at the river?”
“I can tell you this will go hard for you if you don’t cooperate.”
“I – I don’t know what you . . .”
He was at the window now. He reached up and unlatched it and pushed it open. The light in the room changed to yellow throughout. He was smoking a cigarette and came across, shaking one out of a soft pack like a gumshoe in an old film.
I shook my head. “Let me see your badge.”
He smiled through the smoke. He took a worn leather wallet from a pocket in his coverall and held it out to me.
“Haven’t you forgotten something?”
I took it from him and opened it up. He moved back, floating down into the chair.
The wallet came apart in my hands like rotted leather, a smell of carrion floating up from it. A tarnished silver badge emerged from the mess.
There was a desk against the wall opposite the window, bathed in the yellow light. I went over to it and opened a drawer and took out a large pistol. I walked back, keeping him covered. He receded into the chair, his face coming into focus.
I stood over him, clicking into position with authority, the badge in my pocket. “I shouldn’t be telling you, but I know all about your river . . . more than I want to remember.”