You know the kid lied to you today.
About precisely what, now, that’s the trillion-dollar question. Of course at this point, with the case blown wide open again, any new testimony is merely more potentially twisted, invented material. Reed’s will merely top off the vast, pre-existing repository of fiction in the mammoth case file. Hell, what good was interviewing a functioning amnesiac, anyway? Sure, the kid was calm enough, and he seemed genuine most of the time, but the rambling and the monotone were damn near unendurable at best. Completism isn’t professionalism. You need to remember that.
Not to mention that doing this shit in other jurisdictions is something you’ve never handled well. You saw it coming, though; you knew what making detective meant, and it wouldn’t involve being left the fuck alone to do your job, no matter how often you tried to tell yourself that. You’re not even looking to solve the damn puzzle anymore. You’re just scrounging for the random, bent, unused pieces of indeterminate shape. Collection isn’t investigation, though. You need to remember that, too.
So yes, this was an inconvenience forced on you, thanks in no small part to the unconquerable vagaries of familial connections, naked avarice, egomaniacal entitlement, and crazed addictive personalities. Not to mention the crap-shoot of navigating turf wars between local, state, and federal agencies in the wake of a devastating county-wide bankruptcy.
And yet somehow, this carnival of ineptitude still managed to land at your feet, crawl up your paralyzed pant legs, coil around your neck, and shit its festering best right in your face. Naturally, the most appropriate thing for you to do was share it with someone, so you hustled to finish up at the downtown station, said your seeya-laters to the local Santa Barbarians, and went back to the hotel so you could call Arroyo and unload some of this weirdness on him and pass it off as essential, illuminating material. And why not? It involved his family, doesn’t it?
Yes, it was illegal, Your Honor. I read the fucking textbook, sir, but I claimed the maximum allocation of Extenuating Extra-Legal Circumstances, because even though I was sick to death of this fucking case, it wasn’t in my nature, sir, to let it go cold. I spared you the details, until they become necessary, but I couldn’t spare Officer Arroyo.
So yes, you went right back to your room, even though it was only two-thirty, ordered the required liquid refreshment from room service, and when it came you touched the cool glass container against your forehead as you dialed your own precinct of the Orange County Sheriff’s station and was patched through to your silent junior partner.
“Arroyo.” He sounded tired, though he’d never been the model of attentive gratitude on phone duty. “Mike, it’s Jim. I just sent the Reed kid home.”
“Detective Kelley! Nice to hear from you, sir. You sound, uh, finished for the day.”
“Hardly. You know I’ve got the report and the notes to keep me up all night.”
“What, no pounding State Street? You disappoint me, sir.”
“Get used to it, señor. On my cases there are no perks. Anyway, I assume you’d like to consider the cornucopia of valuable and insightful facts I’ve gleaned from our young friend Roy, wouldn’t you?”
“Sí claro, jefe. How you doin’ back there on Square One?”
“Don’t know yet. How ’bout I run it by you and get a second opinion?”
So you told Arroyo everything about the interview, about how the kid was nervous at first, but settled in well. About how Reed tried his best to answer every question concerning the party, concerning the Haynes kid, concerning the violence that allegedly occurred. About how this was difficult because the kid’s memory was an empty alcohol-buggered blank for the most important ten hours in the timeline. About how most of the kids you’d interviewed up to that point had that problem, to varying degrees, especially concerning Reed’s actual presence at the hotel.
“What? No one had previously confirmed he was even there?”
“You read the case notes, Mike. The kids all clammed up.”
“Yeah. Well, good thing my baby sister was so forthcoming then, huh?”
“Uh-huh. Thanks again for making that happen, by the way.”
“Sure thing, sir, but we can’t work with his stuff if he can’t remember anything, can we?”
“Come on, Mike. You know that depends on how it fits into what we’ve already got.”
“Okay, so I haven’t read them all. Those case notes are thicker than Tolstoy.”
“Mike, if you know who Tolstoy is then your reading comprehension skills should be better. But fine, sure. From the top.” You took a quick sip and coughed before rewinding everything.
“We know there was rohypnol present, but we knew that going in. We know our boy was a target in there, too, but whether or not his cover was actually blown is a moot point, since we have no case against the guys he was watching for us. We know that Reed and Haynes left the hotel in Haynes’ car. We know that Reed was unconscious in the back seat, from some combination of controlled substances.”
You paused for a good long swig of beer before going on. “We know that Reed woke up at his dorm three hours away from his last known location. We know that Haynes’ car was parked way out on the quiet side of Isla Vista. Reed just told me that the only thing he remembers is someone helped him a) into the car at the hotel, and b) out of the car at the dorm.”
“Well, they both must have made it back up there, sir. I mean, no way Reed ever got lucid enough to walk, let alone drive. Our witness-my sister again-confirmed he was blind drunk at the hotel, and she will testify that Haynes was at the wheel when they left.”
“Yeah,” I replied, “and the guy has a mild history of violence to boot. Remember that Olivia also confirmed that Reed and his ex-girlfriend were on the outs and fighting verbally at the party. Reed himself hinted just now that earlier this year-February, I believe-both he and his brother roughed up Kyle Addison near South Coast Plaza.”
Arroyo snorted. “My chickenshit little cousin will deny that, sir.”
“Uh-huh,” you sighed. “So what we’ve got is either an inside, inebriated hijacking, which considering what we know, is relatively unlikely, or we’ve got some kind of hostile interception by perps unknown.”
“Plus that fire, sir.”
“What, now they’re dumping the arson case on us, too?”
“No, no sir. I just thought, well…based on the fire department’s guesses about when it started, it was in our timeline, so…”
“Nah, Mike, let’s take care of the less-impossible case first, okay?”
“What do you want to do now, sir?”
“I think I have to talk to the kid’s stepdad. Andrew Reuss. A psychiatrist. I used to know him.”
“You tell the kid that?”
“Well, are you gonna? Sir?”
“What, implicate the man’s kids? Both Reed brothers fell well short of total recall, Mike.”
“They ain’t his kids, Jim. You said ‘stepdad.'”
You didn’t know where to begin with that one. Arroyo wouldn’t really understand the startling way that Reed had adopted his stepfather’s clinical tone- sort of an instant, respectful formality- that nevertheless seemed a little too superior. You were more than a little thrown by it, to tell the truth. Those sessions with Dr. Reuss were a long time ago, weren’t they, but everything came rushing back on the notes of his stepson’s voice, didn’t it? Your fight-or-flight kicked in and your guts felt like they were infested with tapeworms. Hell of a thesis for that shrink, wasn’t it? All of the fear and pain and loss and disorientation and fucked up shit you wished you’d been able to ditch, to leave behind in the hell where it belonged, back in Beirut.
Beirut. The less said about it the better. Arroyo wouldn’t fucking get that trip, and you’re sure of that. He wouldn’t comprehend the oppressive funk of heat and the epic finality of death, the hopeless tragedy of ancient beauty brought low in destruction for the umpteen-thousandth time, the broken bodies of all those Marines, just like you in every way except they no longer breathed and their hearts no longer beat. Thirteen years and layers of post-trauma therapy were vaporized by Reed’s relentless intonation back there in the downtown station, and you had to actually tell yourself that he was the nineteen-year-old kid, not you, that your nineteenth year was stolen by a bomb.
“Well, he raised ’em, anyway. Besides, once upon a time that guy Reuss gave me my sanity back. Not long after that he lost his wife. Their mother. Am I supposed to remove even more crumbling bricks from that demolition job they call a family?”
“It’s just a case, sir.”
“In case you hadn’t noticed, Mike, your family’s all wrapped up in it too. One sister in rehab, one throwing underage parties….”
You didn’t mean it as a rip on him, but he chose to take it that way, laughing it off.
“Right, sir. Don’t forget my trio of asshole cousins and their whole gringo side of the family. And yeah, Elisa’s in a tough spot too, but Liv’ll be okay if I keep an eye on her.”
“Because she knows what she wants, and she always gets it.”
You’d chuckled a little at Arroyo’s grim, knowing tone, but in the next five minutes you’d managed to prop up enough professionalism to placate him into feeling you both had resolved something, and he hung up. You actually convinced yourself that it wasn’t a total loss in Santa Barbara. You might still be able to salvage some dignity from this stinking mess of a case. You feel less intimidated, less inept. You know a lotta things.
But you also know the kid lied to you today.