An Interrogation

by Matt Rowan

Dear Sir,

You are hereby remanded to the custody of the police force of this city, brave and free. Your presence is requested, by those individuals of our police force who are remanding you to custody, at the nineteenth district police headquarters on the next Tuesday of this month in this, another of the many, many years of our lord—it having been so very many years to this point is a fact we feel privileged to report.

Failure to comply will be met with another card, which you might expect to be possibly more unkindly stated, indicating our hurt feelings with your failure to comply initially and also that we would still very much like to see you on a rescheduled date in the future, a date TBA pending your compliance with our initial request, this card.

We look forward to seeing you soon if indeed you're able to visit with us!

All the best,

Detectives Shoes and Campground

* * *

I went as I'd been summoned to the police station the following Tuesday, at a time of my choosing, since the summons hadn't explicitly stated one, which combined with the leisurely tone of the summons made me feel brazen and sure I wouldn't be penalized.

After I arrived and was brought before the two detectives responsible for my being summoned, I found my casual attitude changed not very much at all. There was, it seemed, nothing to worry about.

"We're the police Mr. Wellesby, but we don't want that to alarm you. Does that alarm you? I know I'll want to cool it down if it does. You're comfortable? You don't need anything to drink, a glass of water, maybe a Sprite, a bag of Taco Bell Tacos or a Crunchwrap Supreme?"

"I guarantee you will not be disappointed if you have a Crunchwrap Supreme, unless you are a weird-o —but I'm sorry that's going too far. You are definitely not a weird-o, Mr. Wellesby. I'm so sorry for calling you a weird-o. So very sorry. Crunchwrap Supremes aren't necessarily everyone's tastes. So I'm sorry, so sorry."

I'd be lying if I said their conduct wasn't at once repelling. Even if it were that I enjoyed a Crunchwrap supreme (and it was, it was!) now and again at the Taco Bells nearest my home and place of business respectively, to say that the situation didn't call for its offering would be to say a profound understatement. Where were they getting all these Crunchwraps, in the first place? And on whose dime, for another thing? Mine, as a taxpayer? They'd better hope not, I thought.

"Good call on the quick apology. That 'weird-o' comment was way out of line, Frank. Would you like a Crunchwrap Supreme or a Sprite maybe?"

"No, I'm fine. Thanks," I said. I looked around the room and decided it just the same as the movies, except more vivid since I was actually there, getting a physical sense of it all.

"Oh gosh, I've offended you, haven't I? We have Pepsi. I'm sorry I didn't mention that earlier. We have Pepsi. It was wrong of me not to say anything."

"You should have mentioned that earlier, Lamar."

"I know, oh gosh, I know. I feel so guilty, Frank. By the way, this is Detective Frank Shoes, Mr. Wellesby. And I'm Detective H. Lamar Campground. And I'm so sorry."

Detective Frank Shoes reminded me a lot of the character actor Dan Hedaya, only a lot younger and not quite aloof enough for my preference. Detective H. Lamar Campground wasn't a lot like any actor I remembered, certainly not James Earl Jones. No, and this was because I couldn't imagine a world in which I found James Earl Jones unbearable, but I found Detective Campground something close to that. A queer feeling, meeting James Earl Jones' antithesis.

"You should be interrogating us, Mr. Wellesby, honest. The whole system should be on trial. Not you. I've got a good feeling in my gut, way down deep in there, that you're a decent man. And I should know. I'm a big fan of decent people, after all."

"Detective Shoes loves good people, Herman. Oops! Mr. Wellesby. I meant to say Mr. Wellesby. Is it okay that I called you Herman, as long as I apologize for it now, Mr. Wellesby? Because I am sorry. Obviously you deserve an apology."

"I'm fine, honestly. You guys seem nice," and to that comment both detectives emphatically replied "thank you, thank you" repeatedly, until I made a motion that they should stop. "Could we maybe get on with things? Interrogate away, in other words. I'm an open book to be mercilessly, tortuously interrogated," because if they tortured me I'd possibly be rendered unconscious from a beating or boundless pain, and no longer forced to endure this tedium.

"Oh we shouldn't want you to think we're trying to interrogate you. I hope you don't think that. You shouldn't think that. What you should think is, how in the world is injustice allowed to perpetuate itself so aberrantly and often, as it has in your case, Mr. Wellesby, and countless others I dare not name. I wish I had the answer to that head-scratcher," Detective Shoes said, and doubled slightly, hands brought to his throat and mouth, seemingly rethinking launch of a salvo of a hacking cough that really, biologically, couldn't be restrained (and shouldn't be, certainly, for his health). But despite himself he let loose and hacked away, as was inevitable. Then a suffusion of red showed on his face, and he apologized for his hacking cough with as much profusion as anything yet. It was immediately clear he'd been trying to stifle his illness from the moment of my arrival.

"Detective Shoes, I don't know that you ought to be telling Mr. Wellesby what to think. How does that make you feel about that?" And then he added, nonchalantly, "Take care not to hack at Mr. Wellesby."

Shoes' suffusion burned brighter, but he quickly recovered and said, "I feel you're right, Detective Campground. I should not tell Mr. Wellesby what to think, and never will again. I swear it. How about this then, I am suggesting that Mr. Wellesby take what I am now calling 'advice,' and consider the injustice that perpetuates itself all across this country, in this day and age of all days and ages, but he's only to consider it if he wants to, which should go without saying. How do you feel about that, Mr. Wellesby?"

"If we're going to be here for a while longer, I think I'll have a bag of mixed nuts."

"Did you hear that, Detective Shoes? He'd like a bag of mixed nuts. I'll go get them and also a Pepsi, lest the mixed nuts should make a parched man out of our friend, Mr. Wellesby. I hope it's ok I consider you a good friend, Mr. Wellesby. I want to presume nothing. You'd tell me if it wasn't, wouldn't you?" I said that I certainly would and it was fine.

Detective Campground hastily exited the room, leaving me alone with Detective Shoes, whose expression changed mightily once his partner had gone.

"What an officious prick," Detective shoes acidly pronounced. "There is something that I simply cannot place that makes me loathe that man with every fiber of my being. What is it that makes me hate him so? I cannot say. But there is one issue on which I stand firm: his son is never to marry my daughter. She is a charming little thing, delicate and graceful. A great aura of purity surrounds her. I've sensed it. Detective Campground's son is bestial and I do not use words like that one lightly. I hope none of this offends you, and if it does I am sorry. Should I be sorry, though, for how I feel?"

Detective Shoes' expression changed again, to one of deep sorrow, and through his sad eyes I believe he was trying to channel his uncertainty into me, hoping I could relieve him of the great weight he felt. I of course had no clue how to ameliorate anything weight-wise, so he sat in his chair looking at me sadly in almost total silence. It was an awkward thing.

The door creaked open and Detective Shoes reverted to his original posture. He smiled eagerly, with every ivory tooth denuded of lips and polished. Detective Campground, too, was smiling a polished smile as he set a can of Pepsi on the table.

At that he smacked his head, "Oh gosh! I forgot the mixed nuts, didn't I? You said that's what you wanted, and here I was so focused on getting you the can of Pepsi that I forgot what was most important of all. It's silly to think of the whole mess now."

"These things happen," Detective Shoes said. "How about this, I'll go and get the mixed nuts and you stay with our good friend Mr. Wellesby, how would that be?"

"No, please forget it," I said, not wanting to be alone with either of them after having listened to Detective Shoes' bizarrely racist confession. Neither detective made any indication that they had heard me, thus belaboring inanity, insanity, the whole bit.

"That's very nice of you, Detective Shoes. I owe you one. I do."

"Oh don't mention it. Take care of Mr. Wellesby until I return. Take care of yourself. Good-bye for now," and Detective Shoes was out the door.

Detective Campground slumped and looked immediately angry about something.

"He won't allow my son and his daughter to be wed. Not that I mind, his daughter's a bitch. Tells my son, 'Edgar, you need to make a life for yourself I can believe in. This life of yours I can't and I don't want to, anyway.' My son's an apprentice auto mechanic, but he's sheepish and he's not moving along in his career fast enough. He's stupid too, don't misunderstand me, and lazy as hell, but so's she, she just don't see it in herself. I think that's the real problem, how goddamn stupid the youth is. By the by, I'm betting our friend Shoes is out there having racist thoughts about how stupid I am that I forgot the thing I went to go get—that's your mixed nuts, a course. But I didn't forget. I just like to see the honkey actually do something instead of saying he's gonna like he always does, like some slave driver passes the buck end of the whip on to us uppity negroes so-called. It's all so much talk all the time. None of us ever want to take responsibility. I sure as hell don't. Not for this mess. Fact is the only thing Shoes and I really agree on is that our children should not be wed. I'm not afraid to say I hate him, too. And tell you it's been so long before he ever hated me, as far as I know. Hate him for no good reason, though I wouldn't say it to his face."

Returned was Detective Shoes who said smilingly, "Someone's got a bag of mixed nuts," which he shook in his hand.

It was increasingly obvious neither detective had much to say about anything except with regard to the complicated nature of each man's forced relationship with his partner, the other. Detective Shoes was a bigot, but didn't want to believe that about himself. He wanted to believe his dislike of Detective Campground's son, Edgar, was justified by reasons more nuanced than perception of the flawed content of the boy's character, which would at best be described as stereotypical and at worst show a pronounced belief in the caricature of black males as brutes. Which is never a good thing to do, if I may editorialize on race for a moment.

Detective Campground, for his part, seemed angry and dismissive, as dismissive and angry as a brutish animal looking to charge in any direction, at any target. Reacting without consideration. Actually they both were. Clannish and unkind. But maybe they had got the right idea. I'll add that caricatures of people and behaving like animals are a lot of what we've got to show for ourselves. Someone long ago compelled us to be who we are, to react to outsiders with reservation or outright contempt, to establish and reject the other, fit-to-be-tied. Or no one did any of that and we're all just a bunch of jerks without any good reason that I can think of.

Irrespective of the detectives' ignorance, or if I'm to be judicious, call them "points of disagreement," I wished to make leave because of my grave discomfort, and without any further snack-related delay.

But the tandem stared back at me with odd, expectant eyes, Shoes stifling his cough, and it seemed this thing would probably take a while longer yet.

BIO: Matt Rowan is co-founder and editor of the online-lit magazine Untoward, and blogs at Bob Einstein 's Literary Equations ( Previous and forthcoming publications include Jersey Devil Press and Metazen. One day soon he hopes to be teaching high school English somewhere in his native Chicago(land), Illinois.