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The King of Methlehemby Mark Lindquist
HAD TO TELL YOU LIES
I had to tell you lies to help you get to the truth.
This is the motto of Detective Wyatt James, who believes a good old-fashioned dialogue is the surest way to solve anything, though sometimes the specter of coercion is necessary to keep the conversation lively.
"Let's hear it, Marvin," he says.
Marvin squirms and adjusts the cuffs on his wrists, aggravated by the cold steel rubbing against his scabbed skin. Over long johns he wears shredded Levi's and a gray T-shirt that reads: REHAB IS FOR QUITTERS.
"Don't waste my time," Wyatt says, walking in a circle around the scrawny tweeker.
"I don't know what you want, I swear."
Sweat drips from Marvin's pocked forehead. He licks his teeth, dying brown and gray pegs poking out from swollen gums. Judging by the dental deterioration, Wyatt figures Marvin has been using for at least three years.
Though a plainclothes detective, Wyatt wears a uniform of a kind: khakis, a button-down oxford shirt, and a worn blue blazer. He looks like an overgrown college kid except for the Glock .40 on his hip next to his badge. His parents named him Wyatt after the Peter Fonda character in Easy Rider and, weirdly, Wyatt grew up with a vague physical resemblance to the lanky movie star.
"Have I been fucking with you, Marvin?" Wyatt asks, stopping in front of him.
"No, I guess not."
"You guess not?"
"No, you haven't."
"Then why are you fucking with me?"
"I'm not," Marvin says, glancing at him, then looking back down. "I swear to God."
The more they swear to God, the more they're lying.
Wyatt could conduct this interview back at the station, but he prefers the eerie atmosphere of the cook site. They are in a clearing surrounded by fir trees. On a grill mounted on rocks over a campfire is a shallow pie pan crusted with white powder and littered around the site are mason jars, porn magazines, shredded lithium batteries, cans of muriatic acid, a propane tank with blue tinting around the valve, and a plastic soda bottle with rubber tubing snaking out to nowhere.
Despite a chilly fall breeze, ammonia lingers in the air and stings Wyatt's nostrils. He is considering his next move when the wind suddenly picks up and the tree branches rustle.
Seemingly out of nowhere a dirty white Starbucks paper cup rolls toward Wyatt's feet and stops with the black and white mermaid inside the green circle facing up.
"Howard was here?"
Marvin twitches in a nodlike motion, but Wyatt cannot be sure if this is an answer or a random tweeker jitter.
Wyatt once read about an East Indian monkey trap in which a hollowed-out coconut with rice inside is chained to a peg in the ground. The trap has a hole carved in the coconut and the hole is large enough for a monkey to reach inside and grab the rice, but small enough that the monkey cannot pull his hand back out while holding on to the rice. Even as hunters approach, the monkeys hold fast.
Tweekers remind Wyatt of these monkeys — they typically cannot let go of the rice, no matter the cost.
"Do you want to talk? Or do you want to just go to jail?"
"Then start talking."
"What do you wanna know?"
Marvin dimly weighs his options, the upsides and downsides of snitching flapping around in his meth-damaged brain like bats.
"Was the midget here?" Wyatt tries.
Genuine confusion contorts Marvin's face and Wyatt knows he missed. He has heard that Howard sometimes works with a midget, but it could be a joke, the sort of semi-amusing information tweekers occasionally dissemble. Clearly Marvin is not in on the joke, if it is one.
"Who all was here?" Wyatt asks, quickly moving past his misstep.
"Just me and him."
"Just you and Howard?"
"Tell me what you know."
"Let's start with what he looks like."
"He's...short, I guess."
"Five-foot-six or so."
"You know, the usual. Very white."
"Long, dark blond."
"Just kinda unshaved. And a goatee."
"Around thirty. Maybe forty."
Wyatt looks at him, not pleased with this answer.
"I don't know," Marvin insists, convincingly. "It's hard to tell sometimes."
"I don't remember."
"Anything else about him you do remember?"
"Well, he always wears black cowboy boots."
"Good. Anything else?"
"What about his real name?"
"I don't know his real name. Nobody does. I swear."
"How about his mom? Does his mom know his name?"
This flummoxes Marvin.
Patience is key to questioning a suspect, but Wyatt does not have much of that these days. He attributes this to his assignment to the meth lab team, which he mistakenly thought would be a low-stress break from homicides but instead has been a grim tour through doom and decay.
"Quit fucking with me, Marvin."
"I'm not, I swear."
Waiting for Marvin to crack, allowing time for meth paranoia to build as Marvin continues to come down, Wyatt steps around the site. He kicks the Starbucks cup, stops at a boom box on the ground, leans over, clicks it on.
"Ain't found a way to kill me yet..."
Alice in Chains from the MTV Unplugged recording, which Wyatt also owns.
"I went to high school with Jerry Cantrell," Marvin says. "Spanaway Lake. Not far from here."
"Yeah," Wyatt says, turning off the CD. "I know where Cantrell went to high school."
"He was in choir," Marvin adds.
"Do I seem like I give a crap about Jerry Cantrell right now?"
"No," Marvin says, shaking his head.
"If you don't fuck with me, I won't fuck with you. But if you do fuck with me..."
Though Wyatt has never beat a suspect, it happens so often and gratuitously on television and in the movies that he figures the scare factor can work for him. He steps directly in front of Marvin and puts his hand behind his back and slouches and tilts his head, mirroring Marvin's posture, a standard technique for establishing rapport.
"What kind of criminal history do you have, Marvin?"
"Just misdemeanors. No felony convictions yet."
"Yet. Well, I guess it's good to leave yourself something to work toward."
Wyatt smiles, and then so does Marvin, lopsided and snaggletoothed.
"There are some advantages to being a nobody, Marvin. Namely, we don't care about you. We don't care if you go to prison or walk. You get what I'm saying?"
Marvin nods. Wyatt nods along with him, encouraging him in the direction he is leaning, pull your hand out of the coconut.
"So where can I find him?"
Marvin's eyes blink and dart rapidly, as skittish as the brain behind them, avoiding Wyatt's gaze. Raindrops start falling, pinging on pans and the blue tarp.
"Time's running out, Marvin."
"He won't find out I told?"
"This is confidential background, just between us."
I had to tell you lies to help you get to the truth.
"And if I tell you?"
"Truth is its own reward."
Though Marvin suspects Wyatt is hustling him, even mocking him, he decides it does not matter.
Nothing matters, except staying free.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Lindquist
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