The Interrogation

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“What have we got?” Detective Holdt asked, lighting a cigarette.

“A frisky one,” replied Jones, the strike team leader, “we picked him up this morning from his apartment downtown, bags packed, looked like he was getting ready to leave in a hurry.”

For a moment they both stared through the one-way glass at the rugged stranger. He was wearing a cheap charcoal-coloured suit, an off-white shirt, and a pair of long-worn chestnut loafers. Strapped on his wrist was one of those knock-off sports watches and he sat there in the stiff interrogation room chair with both elbows resting on the table. He was visibly nervous and every so often he fidgeted with a curl of his unkempt brown hair.

The detective, exhaling a cloud of smoke, motioned Jones over to a computer terminal, “So he’s skittish, great. What can you tell me about him?”

“Let’s see here.” Jones groaned, pulling up a file on the computer screen. “One Miles Barnett, thirty-four, unmarried, unemployed. A few run-ins with the law here and there, fighting and attempted extortion and the like-”

“Any idea on his finances?” Holdt interrupted half-interestedly.

“The uniforms are looking into it,” he was slightly annoyed at being cut off, “shouldn’t take too long. What do you hope to find?”

“Any discrepancies he wouldn’t be able to explain. A lot of these wannabe gangster-types make the mistake of getting lazy when covering their tracks. You’ll often find suspicious cash flow into a personal debit or savings account. Makes a lot of people hot under the collar when talking about money, what’s the bet he’s got a wealthy relative eh?” he grinned, “In any case it’s leverage that could pressure him into talking. Guy like this is objective-orientated, although you wouldn’t think it by looking at him. Find out what his goals are and they can be used against him.”

“You building a psych profile on this dude or something Frasier?” Jones smirked.

“Just enough to go on. The art of effective interrogation requires more than brute force or a domination of the subject physically and intellectually, there’s also an emotional aspect to it. People are often the source of their own undoing, I just need to help them along. Take this guy for instance, he would probably identify himself with the downtrodden and the two-bit crooks of society, he certainly associates with enough of them. Give him a little bit of perceived power he knows he’ll never get another chance at and you will elate his juvenile mind into a highly agitated state. In this state is where you’ll catch him off-guard, persuade him to divulge information he would otherwise keep to himself in a sober mindset. Appeal to his ego’s latent desire to show off, to prove he is more intelligent and sophisticated than you think he is and let him believe it, do everything you can to help him along the way, without arousing any suspicion that you are doing so of course.”

“You know you scare me when you start talking like that right? Anyways I doubt Mr. Smarty Pants here will wait much longer before figuring out this isn’t a strictly ‘by-the-book’ kind of interview. Cam’s off, ‘technical issues’, do what you gotta do and be quick…”

“Right,” the detective stubbed out his cigarette in an old coffee mug, “I doubt this one will prove to be much of a challenge. But you never know, he might surprise me.”

The man sat silently looking at his watch. Now that Holdt was facing him he could clearly see the stress lines around Barnett’s eyes, the quiver in his upper lip and the nervous shaking of his feet. This may be easier than I thought, let’s see what his disposition is towards casual conversation. “Good afternoon Mr…” the detective deliberately hesitated for a moment, pretending to remind himself of the stranger’s name in his notebook, “…Barnett. I’m going to be asking you a few questions if it’s not too much trouble. I’m Chief Inspector Lankester Merrin. Do you read much Mr. Barnett?” It had become a tradition of Holdt’s to utilize a fictional title and name based on whatever he was currently reading when first establishing a rapport with the suspect. One time he’d be Special Investigator John Isidore, other times he’d be Superintendent Sam Loomis, he believed it helped him warm up to the interrogation and keep his thought process in the 3rd person, giving him a broader mindset as to the various approaches he could take. Once or twice over the years he had the misfortune of encountering the reading type of interrogatee and had to feign that it was a funny coincidence or that he had never read the particular source of his alias but nonetheless it keeps things interesting. 

Barnett remained silent, never taking his eyes off of his watch. He had obviously heard the question and chose not to answer either from nervousness or stubbornness, Holdt couldn’t tell.

“Are you ok for everything? Is there anything I can get you, a coffee or something?” The friendly approach, hard to resist a kind offer for most thought Holdt.

“My lawyer.” Stubbornness! Barnett’s voice was deep and husky. Had he been drinking the night before? Heavy smoker? Emphysema? Holdt’s brain was firing up. Let’s try something subtle.

Holdt was careful to sound as carefree as he could, “Yeah, she’s on her way. In the meantime I really have to ask you a few questions.”

Barnett’s eyes rapidly shifted from his watch to the detective, “You said she?”

Showtime, “Yeah?”

“My lawyer isn’t a woman.” Said Barnett guardedly, he had straightened up in his posture and folded his arms.

The Detective looked up from his notepad at Barnett and smiled, “Ah, sorry, I have a tendency to get these all things mixed up. In any case we tried calling but she didn’t pick up, people these days you know. Hope you didn’t splash out on the retainer – I’d be putting in some complaints to customer service if I were you.”

His nervousness had been replaced with frustration, “Are you stupid? I told you my lawyer isn’t a woman, I have a good lawyer and he’s the one you can direct your questions to.”

“Well for your sake I hope that’s true Mr. Barnett,” he made a show of looking surprised while pretending to read his notes, “if even half of these allegations against you are true there’s not much any lawyer can do for you.”

“He’s a really good lawyer, expensive, and he’s gonna have a field day with you.” Confidence!

Money talks, “You’re probably right about that!” Holdt let out a fake laugh. “But really my questions here are quite basic, nothing more than a confirmation of facts, name, date of birth, minor stuff like that. Five minutes and I’m out of your hair. But I can understand you wanting your lawyer here, it’ll take a couple of hours to verify the information as our database is down, technical issues, I assume you can cover the couple of hours on top of whatever it’ll cost with your lawyer?” Put your money where your mouth is, eh smartass.

The detective could see Barnett’s mind racing, making snap judgements on what decision to finally make. Was he calculating how much it will cost him? No, he didn’t buy the whole big-shot lawyer spiel. Hmm, making himself seem more splendid than he is, like a bird of paradise looking to get laid. More likely he’s gauging whether or not he could answer a few questions without giving himself away. Holdt realized it a moment before Barnett replied, “Five minutes? And only confirming what’s already known?”

Holdt responded with a single nod, utilizing non-verbal communication in this particular situation reduces the likelihood of a tone of voice or hiccup in speech from dissuading a crucial judgment, he thought, let him believe he can outwit me.

“Fine, ask away.” Barnett said curtly.

Got you now. “Alright, state your name for the camera.” The detective motioned towards the glass, behind which he knew Jones, the strike team leader, must be laughing as the camera had never been switched on.

“Miles Barnett.” His voice was flat. Was he ashamed of his name? Low self-esteem? Shocked his reputation doesn’t proceed him?

“And your date of birth?”

“4th of February ‘89,” he stated robotically.

“Definitely the right person.” Holdt mumbled. “Your address?”

“42nd and 3rd, Berkshire, apartment sixteen.”

“Classy place. All checks out so far. What do you do for a living Mr. Barnett?” The detective was getting close to what he was really after here and knew he had to be careful.

Barnett seemed to squirm in his seat, “I’m… a businessman.”

“A businessman? You got a job title?”

“Not exactly… Investments. I deal with investments.”

“So you’re unemployed.” Holdt stated nonchalantly. He began to doodle in his notepad, making sure the writing was loudly audible in order to unnerve Barnett. For reasons quite unknown this particular tactic: confronting someone with an unwanted reality and then acting like it’s important enough to write down, was always effective in creating a sort of tension in the interrogation, especially with the more narcissistic suspects. Maybe it had something to do with the information existing outside of opinion, a statement of fact on record for all eyes to see. In any case the typical recourse for the suspect is to clarify the mistake, anything to keep up the charade of seeming important. It is the hope that the added tension of the situation will open up an avenue for error on part of the suspect.

“I’m not unemployed, I’m self-employed.” The acidity in his voice was vulgar but Holdt kept his cool.

He stopped doodling. “You haven’t registered a company for yourself?”

Barnett’s uncomfortable shuffle indicated a touchy subject. A few times he began as if he was going to speak but couldn’t find the words. “The papers… I’m in the middle of doing the paperwork for it.” He wasn’t very convincing. “Anyways I’ve got enough saved up to try and make a go of it. I’ll get the business setup and it’ll be smooth sailing from there, won’t have to deal with the likes of you anymore.”

“Oh really?” Do go on, tell me all about it, Holdt thought to himself, here we go, the long-winded speech on ‘I’m not as stupid as I look, it’s all just circumstance!’, he’d heard it a million times and was preparing himself for the incoming rant.

“Really. I know you probably don’t think much of someone like me but you’re wrong. I’ve scraped and clawed my way to where I am, that gives me experience. I’m not an idiot. I know why I’m here, you think I’ve got something to do with a robbery or something, it’s not true and you can’t prove anything.” He concluded looking quite sure of himself. 

Strange how people in these situations seem to forget where they are, thought Holdt, as if they’d be dragged in here for a simple Q and A and that’s that. It almost always plays out this way when dealing with the average person. You put a bit of pressure on them and they crumble, they end up trying to justify themselves to themselves more than anyone else.

Jones, who had been watching from behind the one-way glass of the interrogation room, quickly entered carrying a handful of documents which he handed to the detective nodding, “Frasier.” before leaving.

After a quick glance Holdt began, “Oh really?” raising an eyebrow, “Care to explain away the fifty grand they found in your floor safe?”

“Don’t get any ideas. None of that’s mine. I mean, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” His prior nervousness came surging back, he seemed to actually tremble in the seat.

We are not going down that route pal. “Your fingerprints were present on the bills Mr. Barnett.” It was a complete bluff, they didn’t check the money for fingerprints. In fact the only people who knew about the money was the detective himself and Jones in the other room, part of the reason this wasn’t an official interview. A deal was struck between the two and Barnett was key to their payday.

“Alright listen. I put the money there, but it ain’t mine I swear! Listen, my uncle, he doesn’t trust the wife so I hold onto money for him every once in a while.”

He’s not even trying anymore, what a shame, “You’re telling me you’ve got a rich uncle?”

“Yes?” Pathetic.

“Seems to be a lot of them going around these days.” Holdt said, almost laughing.

There was a long silence before Barnett looked up. Almost as a whisper to himself he said, “The only people who knew about that money was myself and a couple of associates of mine. There’s no way you found my safe by blind chance, even if you tore up the apartment, it’s extremely well-hidden, and that’s not taking into consideration the combination for it.” He looked Holdt dead in the eyes, “How the hell did you know about the money? Did someone talk?”

Now he wants to utilize logic. “Let’s just say we got lucky.”

“Is this some sort of sting operation?” Barnett sounded almost indignant.

“You watch too much TV Mr. Barnett,” Holdt laughed, “surely you didn’t think your little stunt against the mob would go unnoticed.”

“What do you know about the mob?” Something new flickered across Barnett’s face, something the detective recognized as signalling the final moments of the interview: fear. “I’m done talking to you. I want a lawyer. Now.”

“I’m afraid that won’t be happening Mr. Barnett.” There was another long silence.

Copyright Giuseppe Gillespie. All rights reserved.

This story and others are now available in my ‘Shadow & Light’ anthology, check it out on Amazon

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