“So, just to be clear, you say he didn’t wear gloves. Is that correct?”
The officer sounds blasé, as if this kind of thing happens every day.
“Doesn’t. I said he ‘doesn’t’ wear gloves. Are you saying he’s dead?”
“I’m asking the questions. Is this, or is this not, his hand?”
Again, he makes it sound mundane; perhaps there’s a match on — his mates will be there already, swigging beer and bad-mouthing the ref.
I look at the hand, isolated on the surgical tray, and imagine being asked to perform an anatomical dissection. I swallow back bile, bitter and rancid.
It is John’s; even detached like this, it’s easy to identify. Towards the end, his hand began to appear as something separate from the rest of him, whether signalling to me from across a room that I’d talked for long enough, or snapping out to stop my own hand from reaching for another glass. “Do you think that’s wise?” he’d say. Later, the same hand would slap my cheek and turn my face to his. He liked me to witness his frenzied orgasm in his eyes. John always could perform, even under stress.
“The hand is his,” I say, “the glove I don’t recognise.”
He scribbles a note — highly subjective, no doubt; perhaps it concerns my off-hand manner. I wonder if he wrote that: “off-hand”.
“You said in your statement that you haven’t seen Mr. Phillips for some time. Can you explain why?”
“I assumed he’d found someone else to fleece.”
Someone who preferred to be slapped by leather gloves; he always was a showy bastard.
“Isn’t that a lady’s glove,” I ask, “on his hand?”
“Again, Miss Denby, I’m asking the questions. Well? Didn’t you think to report him as missing?”
“I would have thought that was for his wife to do? You have spoken to her?”
“Mrs Phillips is not in a position to assist us with our enquiries.”
I should probably tell him about the money John owes me; at the time he said it wouldn’t cover even half the debt he’d built up at the tables.
“I take it you suspect foul play?”
“Mrs. Phillips’ body was recovered this morning.”
Not discovered, but recovered. Bodies are only ever recovered from rivers, aren’t they?
“Actually,” I say, “I meant Mr. Phillips.”
“Ah.” He pauses; shifts in his seat. “Miss Denby, in our experience a hand is rarely separated from its body for benign purposes.”
It’s the money. It must be about the money.
“Was he alive? When it was cut off, I mean.”
I feel an unexpected surge of tenderness for John; there was a time when the hand would stroke, or caress.
The officer refers back to his notes.
“Forensics say a large-bladed knife; a cleaver perhaps. Do you cook, Miss Denby?”
Nice segue; not very subtle.
“If you mean can I operate a microwave, then yes, I cook. My butchering skills aren’t up to much though, I’m afraid.”
This, you see, is precisely what John’s gesturing hand would try to stop: indiscretions, sarcasms and tittle-tattle. Given the right company, it pours forth like gossamer syrup.
He looks embarrassed and suddenly much younger. A volley of raps rattles the mirror behind him. His superiors.
“Excuse me for a moment.”
There’s nothing much to look at whilst he’s gone, apart from the hand, that is. I stare at the mirror instead; are they giving him a dressing down? Maybe it’s his first solo interview.
As he comes back in, my phone begins vibrating against something in my bag; my keys, I think. If he notices, he doesn’t say.
“I apologise, Miss Denby. That was unnecessary.”
His voice has softened; placatory, almost. For the first time since they brought me in, I feel like a victim.
“Can I ask where you found it?”
The officer pauses for a moment before answering.
“At Mr. Phillips’ house.”
“It’s his wife’s, isn’t it? The glove?”
He nods, eyes gently soothing, before covering the hand with a white cloth. Did she die trying to pay his ransom? Perhaps she refused.
The officer smiles; it seems sincere. In the absence of a grieving wife, he’s still found someone to console. They must have told him to go easy on me; to treat me with kid gloves.
They’d only do that if they thought he was dead, wouldn’t they?
“Miss Denby, were you familiar with all of Mr Phillips’ associates?”
It’s a funny word, associates: the connotations are always unsavoury.
“No. None at all.”
I close my eyes and see how it might have been: a cleaver rising and falling as if trapped inside a spinning zoetrope, projecting a gruesome, staccato animation. And suddenly I’m overcome: is it grief? There’s no proof he’s gone yet.
My phone starts buzzing again, swarming into the thick silence hanging over the table.
“Perhaps you should get that.”
I reach into my bag. It’s my sister.
“Sarah, can I call you back?”
“Is this Alison?” It’s a man’s voice; growling.
“You don’t know me, but we shared an acquaintance.”
The spinning starts again and I try to focus on the officer shuffling his papers.
“Did you hear what I said?”
“Your lover’s debt remains unpaid, Miss Denby.”
“We, that is, your sister and me, thought you might be interested.”
“Can you call back?”
“You’ve got ten minutes.”
They hang up.
I hang up.
The officer’s looking at me.
I don’t know what to say; John once told me my eyes, like cameras, never lie.
“Miss Denby, is there anything you want to tell me?”
Sweat prickles my hairline. Surely my sister would have told them I don’t have that sort of money. I gaze past the officer and meet my reflection in the mirror; I look more like Sarah every day.
“What’s your name?” I ask, meeting his eyes.
“I think, Harry, it’s time your friends came in, don’t you?”
When not ministrating to his passengers’ needs at 30,000 feet, Justin N Davies tends to his own needs in the South of England where he writes flash, shorts and posts for his blog. He has been published at Flashquake and in Words with Jam. His progress on a novel for children is eagerly observed by his niece for whom it was promised some time ago.