“Charlie, I’m detective Schultz. Do you know why you’re here today, son?” The detective gestured towards the unkempt sixteen year old boy, dressed in a loose blue sweatshirt adorning several holes and baggy jeans, his shaggy hair covering his forehead. The boy looked as if he hadn’t bathed in at least a week and the odor all but confirmed it. “Do you have any idea why I brought you in today,” the detective asked again.
Charlie slouched in his chair across from his interrogator, his arms folded at his chest. He stared blankly towards the middle of the table between them. “Is that you’re question? Are you asking if I know why I’m here?”
“Yes, Charlie. I’m curious if you know why you’re sitting in this room, talking with me.” The detective lifted a cup of coffee to his mouth and sipped, then sat it back down and gestured towards a second cup that he slid in front of the boy. Charlie continued to stare blankly and the detective concluded the boy would not talk. “Charlie, do you remember the night of the fifth? What you were doing?”
Charlie grabbed the coffee that was offered to him, but instead of drinking from it, he pushed it back towards the detective. “I never cared much for coffee.” He leaned back, folding his arms at his chest once again. “I like tea.” He gazed deeply into the detective’s eyes. “I don’t remember the fifth. That was nine nights ago. I’ve done a lot since then.”
“Have you? What do kids your age do around here?”
Charlie shrugged, “I don’t do what kids around here do and you know that.” The boy closed his eyes, tilting his head back.
“I guess you’re right. What does Craig like to do?”
The boy scratched at the premature stubble under his chin. “Craig,” he said, submissively.
“That’s right. Your buddy, Craig Somers. Where is he?” The detective leaned forward, resting his weight on the table, his elbows pointed outward. Across from him, Charlie seemed lost in a daydream as seconds passed by, and with every one of those seconds, the tick of the clock kept them rooted in this otherwise silent room, pausing the world around them. “Do you know where Craig is, Charlie?”
Charlie, now looking towards the fluorescent light above, took a deep sigh. “Craig disappeared, Jim.”
The detective looked bothered by the boy’s assertion, leaning back in his chair as it squeaked loudly, breaking the tedium of the clock’s ticks for only a moment. “Why did you call me Jim,” he asked, bluntly.
“Why does anyone call anyone anything? It’s your name, is it not?”
“You may call me detective Schultz, Mr. Schultz, or simply James. Do not call me Jim.” James pondered for a moment, gazing into Charlie’s inattentive hazel eyes. “How did you even know my name was James?”
The boy continued to stare above, as if looking past the light in the center of the ceiling and into some dark void beyond. There were several moths in the casing surrounding the bulbs, having died while trapped inside. “What is life, Jim?”
James was confused at the question. “Excuse me?”
“I asked a question, Jim. What is life? What is it to you?”
Baffled, James answered the question as best he could, “Well, to me, it was my family. My wife and children.”
“Yes, a nice house, an expensive car, a swimming pool, food in the fridge, heat in the winter. A good job, one that provides for that family you have. Watching the games on Sunday?”
“Where’s the point in this?”
“The point is that there are two types of people in the world, Jim. The ones that see a certain reality in which trivialities and luxuries are of any worth, and the ones too smart for their own good. The ones that know we’re all clinging to something that might kill us.” Charlie continued staring towards the fluorescent light and lifeless moths.
James looked up towards the light, noticing the flickering nuisance it was, and then back towards the boy. “Son, I am trying my hardest to stay calm with you. I’ll forget that you suggested my wife and children were trivial things, but you had better stop calling me Jim. The only people who called me Jim were my mother and-”
“Your wife. Yes, Jim.”
James, his face red with anger, slammed his hand down upon the table as the boy let out a subtle grin. The detective breathed in and out a couple of times and apologized to the boy for his outburst. “…But, look, Charlie. I don’t find it amusing or impressive that you’ve managed to hack into my home security system.”
The boy laughed, “I’ve spent a lot of time bringing down servers all over the world. I would not waste time spying on you.”
“Okay,” the detective shrugged, “You got me. Let’s push all this to the side, son. You said your friend Craig-”
“He was not my friend.”
James smiled, poking his finger in the boy’s direction. “Funny. You spoke of him in the past tense.”
Charlie, amused, had smiled back, eliciting whatever remained of the youth left inside him. “He’s not here, is he?”
The detective wore his own smile as long as he could, then sighed. “Where the hell is he, Charlie?”
The boy looked back up at the light. He seemed to be in his own world, toying with the detective, wasting his time. “You seem stressed. Why don’t you have a cigarette?”
James scoffed at the boy. “I don’t smoke, but thank you. Explain, in detail, what you were doing on the night of the fifth, Charlie.”
“I’ll tell you everything, Jim. It won’t help you, but if you insist.”
“I met Craig online. Some hipster wannabe, but we shared similar interests and agreed to meet. We sat up shop, shut down some servers in Brazil. He was good, but more talk, if you know what I mean.”
“He mentioned a group of hackers. They were called Friends of Freedom or something lame. Said they knew how to bring down the whole net.”
“You mean across the globe?”
“What do you think?”
Charlie was finally talking and the detective expressed relief. “The entire internet. Why?”
“To put us back in the dark age, Jim. Survival of the fittest.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“I never said I wanted to do that. But Craig did. Did you know he had leukemia?”
“I was told, yes. He was also fourteen.”
“Not according to him,” Charlie laughed. “He wanted to chat with them. We went back and forth with a guy called Eye of the Fly. He said to meet him at midnight, in the alley between Frank’s and Goodsaves. I argued with Craig, because I didn’t think it was a good idea. He went anyways.”
James gestured towards the boy, “And that was the last time you had seen him?”
“You know I can leave any time I want, right? You have nothing incriminating against me, Jim.”
James smiled, “There are two reasons why you’re here and one reason why I don’t have you cuffed.”
“Is that right?”
“Yeah, ‘fraid so, son. One, I have witnesses who saw you and Craig parked at Calvin Price at midnight, and then you alone running back to your car, between two or three in the morning. They said it looked like you were running from something. Left in a hurry, burnin’ your tires and everything. Even forgot to turn your lights on.”
“Wild inaccuracies, Jim.”
“Two, you left your car in that alley you mentioned. Contraband and all.”
Charlie was tapping his fingers upon the table. “My car. His pot.”
“Sadly, Craig’s not here to verify that. Son, you were the last person seen with him and then you ran and abandoned your car. Officers found contraband and an unregistered handgun in your car. The only reason you’re not in cuffs right now is because I wanted you to feel comfortable. Safe.”
“Like I said, those are wild inaccuracies and you can throw your theories over the fence, just like your cigarette butts.”
The detective was fuming as he slammed his hand onto the table once again. “You said you weren’t spying on me, you little prick!”
“I wasn’t.” The boy was rotating his chair left and right, the chair squeaking with every swivel. He leveraged his right foot on the heel of his left, then his left to his right, removing his shoes and scooting them neatly side by side. He then leaned back, lifting his legs upon the table and crossing them. “What your life is to you, Jim?”
James grunted, eyeing the boy’s socks and their holes. “My life.”
“The one where you’re helplessly clinging to something that will inevitably kill you, yes?”
The detective removed a pack of Marlboro Reds from his breast pocket, hidden behind his trench coat. He pulled a lighter from his pants and lit a cigarette. He couldn’t take his eyes off the boy’s feet, feeling repulsed as a big toe wriggled out of a hole. “Are you threatening me, boy?”
“That would mean that I care, Jim.” Even though his big toe was free, he continued wriggling it. “That I care about your existence in this world.”
James ashed his cigarette in the middle of the table. “That doesn’t bother me, Charlie. What bothers me is your constant diversion. Answer my questions.”
“You’re just a speck, Jim. An insignificant grain of sand being swallowed by the tide. You’re a blemish, really. A hiccup. Nothing more. Do you believe in God?”
“My religious preference must be insignificant, as well. Wouldn’t it, Charlie?”
“He’s abandoned you.”
“And you have a personal relationship?”
“A relationship. I don’t call him God.”
“Let me guess, a cyber kid like you? Atheist?”
“That’s just one less god than you, but no.”
James ashed his cigarette once more onto the middle of the table, using his pack to neatly gather the ashes into one small mound. “That’s fantastic, son. I’ve got all day.”
“You have no idea how long you’ve got, Jim.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Does anyone, really? Besides someone like Craig?”
“You see, Jim. We’re all slaves.”
“Enlighten me.” He ashed his cigarette once more.
“I think I’ve been clear enough. However, isn’t it time for us to be free?”
“Free from what, Charlie?”
The detective put his cigarette out in the cup of coffee that he offered the boy, maintaining the ash mound he accrued in the middle. “I’ve had enough of your games, son.”
Charlie peered in the corner behind James, towards the camera. “Do you know who all is watching us?”
“Yes, I do.”
“I don’t think you do, Jim.”
The detective quickly slid his chair back and stood up. “While I go grab some lunch, I’ll let you think about how you want this to continue. Think long and hard, Charlie. I don’t want you to rot in here forever.”
Charlie watched the detective walk towards the door. “You’ll never find the bodies.”
James slowly turned around and saw the boy staring deeply into the light again. “Bodies? As in more than one?”
“I’d like a lawyer,” the boy said, as he blew the ash mound away in one, gentle puff.
“My client has agreed to a deal.”
James squinted, looking puzzled. “A deal? What kind of deal does he think he can get?”
“Detective Schultz, right?”
“You may call me James, please. And you are Michelle?” James didn’t really care for pleasantries at the moment, but asked anyway.
“I’m Michelle only to my brother. Alice to everyone else.” Alice offered her hand and James accepted the handshake. “James, Charlie isn’t looking for a reduced sentence or anything of that nature. He’s already stated that he’s the only one who knows where the bodies are and he realizes what that means.”
James was still puzzled. “What exactly does he want?”
“A record player.”
“A record player?” James laughed at the idea. “And what will we be listening to?”
Alice looked down at the notepad in her left hand. “Cosmo’s Factory.”
“You mean the old Creedence tape?”
“Right, record. I’ll get it to him if that’s what he wants.” He turned around to open the door of his office and let Alice leave, but she grabbed his arm before he could do so.
“That’s not all. He would also like some Skittles.”
“Jesus Christ, I’ll get him a truckload of damn Skittles. Anything else?”
“Two packs, he said, and not the silly flavors, either. Just the regular old ones in the red package. He also wants a cream soda.”
“Two packs of Skittles and a cream soda. Okay.”
“He also wants a comic book.”
“A comic? Some gem that’ll take me three weeks to find, I assume?”
“X-men number one, he said. I don’t know if it’s rare, James, but he said he’s prepared to wait.”
James nodded his head in slight disbelief of the demands, but accepted. “Okay. Tell your boy to sit tight.”
James and Charlie sat across from each other in the room once again, each with their arms folded at their chests, the detective gazing intently on the boy. “I’ve gotten you everything you asked for. Here’s your comic,” James said as he pulled X-Men #1 out of the inside pocket of his trench coat and slid it across the table.
“Play the record, Jim.”
The detective stood up, walked over to the record player that rested on an old corner table he had brought in. He pulled Cosmo’s Factory out of its sleeve, placed it on the player and sat the needle down. The room immediately filled with the twangy, distorted guitars of Ramble Tamble. Oooh oh, down the road I go.
The boy opened a pack of Skittles, poured a few in his mouth and washed them down with some ice cold cream soda. “Do you know that old abandoned gas station outside of Calvin Price? You know, the one where that baby was found in the dumpster a couple years ago?”
“Sure.” James seated himself and gestured for the boy to continue.
Charlie opened up his comic book, first flipping through the pages, then starting from the first. “Did you know that the ‘X’ in X-Men was first referring to the extra powers they had?”
James grimaced, but tried his hardest not to upset the boy. “I don’t care about that, Charlie.”
“Later, Professor Xavier claimed it was their mutant X-genes that it was referring to. Interesting, huh?”
“The gas station, Charlie.” The second song had filled the room. Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself.
“From the back door, walk a thousand steps and dig.”
“Nine hundred thirty-three, nine hundred thirty-four,” counted Officer Matthew Sanchez, as he and three heavily armed SWAT team members closed in on the supposed grave. It had started raining half an hour before and the mud slowed their progress. A helicopter circled the area above, surveying the flat plain and dirt roads for any bogeys. It proved a difficult task in the ensuing rainstorm.
“We’ve got a van coming in from the north. Stand your ground,” Matthew heard from his radio. He signaled to the chopper and ordered his men to crouch in the thick grass. He pulled out his binoculars and viewed the van from afar. He could see that it was solid white, and speeding along the curved road that began to take the vehicle east. “You’re good to go,” radioed the chopper.
The men continued their count and sure enough, once they reached a thousand, there was an area of three square meters with no vegetation. Just chopped soil, now softened by the rain. “Alright, each of you, dig!” Matthew had to yell over the heavy rainfall. They dug and dug, enduring the wetness, each of them slipping a few times. Finally, they reached what appeared to be the corner of a white plastic box. Matthew pulled his phone out and called detective Schultz. “We’ve found it.”