The woman who walked through the blue front door of Precinct 27 at 11:43 p.m. on December 31 wasn’t exactly pretty but from the confidence in her stride, you knew she had once been exceedingly beautiful.
Now, at 11:44, she looked desperate, with hair clinging to her forehead in thick, oily slats and a narrow face stained by liver spots that ran a calculated route across both cheeks. And then, if you don’t mind, let’s describe her eyes: big and wide and fearless in their assertion of being a certain shade of green too brilliant for the dull, wrinkly landscape in which they were found.
Of course, I expected my share of the unseemly and irreverent tonight, the accidental drunk who lost his wallet, the pick-pocketed girl with a broken heel who couldn’t find her way home. It was the second year in a row that Lieutenant Slink Stayhome – no, I couldn’t make that name up if I tried – huffed over to my desk, shuffled the short hairs of his gray mustache, shoved a fat index finger into my shoulder and said, “Eh, Officer Mavis Brannigan!”
“I hope you haven’t made plans for New Year’s Eve …”
“… because the only party you’ll be going to is the one right here.” And then Lieutenant Stayhome laughed at his own stupid joke, just as he did last year, and tapped my desk twice, like if he didn’t I might forget where I needed to be on New Year’s night.
Cue me – Officer Mavis Brannigan, Precinct 27 – sitting at my finger-tapped desk, December 31, 11:46 p.m., with one green-eyed, greasy-haired lady looming before me who just so happened to reek of a foul mixture I could only guess was made from dried champagne and early winter anguish.
This should be fun.
Ah, she speaks.
“How can I help you tonight, ma’am?”
“My name is Karen Lyle and I’m here to make a confession.”
I looked into the too-green eyes of Karen Lyle, right into their emerald, squinty depths with the muddy brown of my own and said, “Okay, what would you like to confess?”
“I killed someone tonight.”
If you can imagine it, I actually spit in her face. Not intentionally, I’ll admit, but a small wad of unintentional phlegm definitely hit the top right corner of her liver-spotted cheek. Whoops.
“But how can you sure?”
Oh, brilliant, Mav. Perfect response.
“How can I be sure I killed her? Of course I killed her. I’m the one who did it so I think I should be the one to know what happened.”
Can I admit something? Can I, Officer Mavis Brannigan, Precinct 27, confess? I’ve only been a cop for three years. It may seem like a decent amount of time on the job but really, my three years in no way prepared me for this, for a Karen Lyle at 11:48 p.m. on New Year’s Eve admitting to a possible murder I’d now have to report.
“Why don’t you have a seat in our back office so we can discuss this further, ma’am?”
Karen Lyle agreed, without reluctance or hesitation, and 11:50 found us sitting in the cold, concrete interrogation room of Precinct 27, a potential criminal with unkempt hair and an officer with not a single idea how best to proceed.
“Please Ms. Lyle, if you wouldn’t mind, could you maybe start from the beginning …”
“Yes, please begin from the beginning.”
Real smooth, Brannigan.
“Alright.” Karen Lyle licked the corner of her mouth, not so much that you might think it odd but enough that I noted it inside the confused recesses of my detectivish New Year’s Eve mind.
“Well, officer … “
“Brannigan. Officer Brannigan.”
“Alright, Officer Brannigan. Here’s where I’ll start. I’ve always lived by a single motto: You must be a little grotesque and you must be a little unexpected in everything you do, and this ending was definitely both of those things.”
“Yes.” She licked at her mouth again. “This ending I put together to cut the life of Sarah Grindlebott.”
I drew a sloppy star next to the place where I had written the victim’s name in the best kind of cursive my hand allowed. Why cursive, you ask? I don’t know. The occasion seemed to call for the fanciest script I could manage.
“Sarah Grindlebott,” repeated Karen. “Exactly so. A woman of thirty six years with beautiful, long blonde hair. She’s a lawyer. Or, was a lawyer …”
The laugh that came next was laced with a cruelty that made the little hairs inside my ears come alive and the callouses on my elbow itch. (Sorry, I know that’s weird but my elbow callouses always itch when faced with stressful situations.)
“And how did you kill her, Karen?”
“With my pen.”
Karen Lyle reached in her pocket, revealing a shiny, silver pen with an incredibly sharp point. The kind, when empty, you’d have to dip in ink to renew if you ever wanted a chance of writing with it again. Grotesque to think this might be the instrument that brought about the death of Sarah Grindlebott, Esq. (or, former Esq. if Karen was correct). I sighed and the clock on the wall ticked toward 11:57.
Something about this woman made me think of Rusty, the slider turtle that sat in a misty tank on my bedroom windowsill when I was twelve. One day, at twelve and four months, my mother came in my room and took the tank away, (removing Rusty along with it), telling me sternly at dinner that the turtle tank had become “too gunky” and that “if you’re not going to be responsible enough to clean it, you don’t deserve a turtle in the first place.”
The next day, I bought a corn snake at Mr. Giggle’s Exotic Pets and Stuff and let it loose on my parents’ bed. Ah, the rebellious spirit of a teenage girl with a serious turtle vendetta. Anyway, back to the murder.
“Here, Brannigan, the evidence of my crime. Book me, lock me up. I’m a terrible person and I deserve it all.” Karen Lyle was serious as a string of liver spots on New Year’s Eve.
This next bit might sound corny but it’s every inch the truth: Just then, as Karen pushed a wrinkly piece of paper into my hand – the “evidence” I guessed – the clock struck midnight, the late hour peeled into another, the year began anew. Somewhere a turtle was set free, somewhere else an officer was ending her shift. But not me. Because stuck in the palm of my right hand was the documentation of one Karen Lyle’s alleged crime and I still had a job to do. Slowly, carefully, with all the confidence my calloused elbows could produce, I unfurled the paper, reading the line written at its very top …
“The Murder of Sarah Grindlebott: A Short Story by Karen Lyle.”
Remind me next year to call in sick on New Year’s Eve.