Written in April, 2010, for a University writing class. Originally published as “Nathaniel” in The Literary Hatchet Issue #12 (August 2015) pg. 174
The dull-gray tiled walls made the room look cold, almost like the inside of a freezer. It was warm inside though, nearly eighty degrees, enough to make a suspect sweat. There was a table in the center of the room, with two armless metal folding chairs on either side. Our suspect was sitting in one of the chairs. I was watching him from behind the one-way mirror. He had claimed his name was Nathaniel, and hadn’t given a last name. He had thick black hair that ran down to his shoulders. His eyes were dark brown. The shadows from his brows made them look black. His skin was fair, not white by any means, but it didn’t look like he saw much sunlight. His face was resolute and clean shaven, and he appeared to be in his early-thirties. He was wearing a charcoal suit. Expensive worsted wool. Underneath his jacket, he wore a lavender silk shirt with the top two buttons undone. No tie. He should have been sweating buckets, but he wasn’t sweating at all. He was calm. His hands were clasped, and resting on the table in front of him. He’d been alone in there for twenty minutes. We wanted to give him a chance to think about what he was going to say.
Earlier in the day there had been a double homicide at St. John’s Antiques. Two civilians were dead, the owner of the store, Arthur Bookman, and a customer, Gloria Moon. Dispatch had received a report of gunshots. A nearby patrol unit was there within two minutes, and when they arrived, they found the front door splintered from gunfire. The man, Nathaniel, calmly walked out of the entrance, past the shards of wood. His hands were empty. He was taken into custody without argument. The officers found the bodies inside, and one witness, Mrs. Moon’s nine year old son, Todd. The boy was a few feet away from his mother’s body, in shock and completely silent. My partner, Detective Wilkes, and I had arrived at the crime scene half an hour after the murders occurred. When we were done with the crime scene walk-through it was up to forensics to find any trace evidence that would really be useful. The boy had been taken to the Department of Human Services to be counseled and interviewed. We had returned to the station to question the suspect, Nathaniel.
Our supervisor, Captain Reynolds, was with me and my partner as we studied the guy through the one-way. The case file was in my hands. I’d reviewed the crime scene photos and read the responding officers’ reports three times. “I want to go in there by myself,” I said to my partner.
“You sure?” Detective Wilkes asked me.
“Yeah. There’s something unusual about this guy,” I said. Nathaniel looked so calm that I had a feeling he wasn’t guilty of the shootings, but at the same time I was sure he knew something. I’d treat him like he was guilty.
“Go on in,” Wilkes said. “If you need my help, just give the signal and I’ll be right there.”
Captain Reynolds gave a nod of approval.
“I will,” I said, “but I got a feeling that I’m not going to need any help.”
I was confident as I walked into the room. I’d interviewed suspects and witnesses a hundred times before, and this guy was going to be no different. If he was guilty, I’d have him wetting his pants by the time I was done with him. I made eye contact right away, and he watched me as I sat in the chair opposite him. Other than his head he didn’t move. A clock was ticking at the side of the room. It was there to rile the suspect’s nerves, but didn’t seem to affect Nathaniel at all. I set the case file on the table in front of me.
“Hello, Detective Perry,” he said.
His greeting came as a surprise to me. We hadn’t been introduced. Someone must have told him the names of the detectives assigned to the case, but even then he shouldn’t have known me from Wilkes. I figured he must have made a guess, and just happened to be right.
“Would you like a glass of water?” I asked.
“No,” he said. His voice was gentle, soft, and the single word he said felt strangely compassionate. He should have wanted a drink. I wanted some water myself, even though I’d only been in the room a few seconds. It was warm. Nathaniel should have taken his jacket off, but hadn’t. I wasn’t wearing my own jacket. My weapon was visible. It was supposed to intimidate him. He was sitting still, confidently leaning towards me.
I cleared my throat. “You claim your name is Nathaniel?” I asked, and waited for a response.
“I am known by that name,” he said. Again, his voice was calm. His answer, however, left no doubt that Nathaniel was an alias.
“Last name?” I asked.
“That wasn’t a yes or no question,” I said. “We’re going to find out what it is anyway, so you might as well tell me now.”
He leaned back just a little, and said, “Detective, it is my intention to be honest with you concerning your investigation, but there are some questions I cannot answer.” His eyes remained on me, not glancing away for even a moment.
Like your real name? I looked down from his eyes and flipped open the file and pretended to read from it. I already had the important details memorized, but I wanted him to think that I wasn’t prepared to interrogate him, give him some false confidence. “You gave your address as the Imperial Hotel.”
“That is correct.”
We’d already contacted the hotel to confirm that he’d been staying there. He’d been there for almost three months. The clerk didn’t have shit on his name, though, only Nathaniel, and he paid by cash so there wasn’t a credit trail to follow. “Expensive,” I remarked.
“I will admit that I take pleasure in some of the finer things.” No doubt. The thread count on his suit was so high it looked like polished obsidian.
“Are you also willing to admit that you murdered two people?” I said sharply. His eyes narrowed defensively.
Except for his mouth, he didn’t move as he spoke. “No, detective, I haven’t murdered anyone.” He maintained eye contact, his body didn’t shift.
I flipped through the file some more. He looked down at it, exactly the way I wanted him to. “The facts don’t lie,” I said. “Two dead at St. John’s Antiques and you walk out the bullet ridden door like you just finished your morning shopping.”
“They do not lie,” he agreed, with a slight nod. “I was present during the events you described. As I said, I intend to be honest with you.”
Then why not tell me your real name? “Then explain to me two dead bodies.” I moved aside the last page of the summary report, revealing the photos underneath. I lifted the first one up. It was of Bookman, the shop owner. He was in his early sixties, bald, gray, his glasses, probably antique, were lying next to his head, and there was a final glimpse of horror in his eyes. I set the photo down in front of Nathaniel, and then I studied him carefully. He looked at the photo for several seconds. I couldn’t see any emotion in his face. The photo might as well have been of a dirt road. He unclasped his hands though, as if he intended to pick the photo up.
I pulled out the next photo, Mrs. Moon. She was in her thirties. Her hair had obviously been styled earlier in the morning, but it was smeared with blood. The gunshot wound in the side of her neck was visible in the photo. Her carotid artery had been ruptured, and blood had pooled around her head. The photo should have shocked anyone. It bothered me every time I looked at it. It bothered me as I set it in front of Nathaniel. Again, he reacted the same way that he did with Bookman’s photo. He simply looked at it, glancing at it as if he’d seen things like it a thousand times before. His face was expressionless.
I placed more photos in front of him. Each was as gruesome as the last. When I had placed the last one in front of him, he closed his eyes, and his shoulders dropped an inch. He opened his eyes, raised his head, and said, “Very tragic.” His voice was still calm, but softer. I wasn’t seeing guilt, but at least he was reacting.
“Tragic!” I yelled as I slapped my hand onto the papers in front of me. “It’s a horrific slaughter.” There was a slight movement in his eyes and a shift in his posture. I wouldn’t have noticed it, except that his hair brushed slightly against his jacket. His eyelids closed a few millimeters, and his jaw seemed to stiffen just a bit. His reaction could have been guilt, but it seemed more like pain. I collected the photos in front of him and replaced them in the folder, covering them up with the reports.
“It is a terrible thing,” he said. “Though, I had no part in it, save that I witnessed it and did nothing to prevent it.” His voice was soft, barely audible, yet perfectly pronounced.
I waited for a few seconds to see if he would fidget or do anything else that might suggest that he was lying. Nothing. “Are you telling me that you were hiding during the shooting?”
“No, detective. I was present during the events. I stood as close to the man who did this, as I am to you now.”
“Let me get this straight. You watched a man murder two innocent people, and he decided to let you go?”
“No. He did not decide to let me go,” he said a little louder, with authority, fully sincere. “He had little choice in the matter.”
Nathaniel was playing a game with me, I was certain of that. If he wasn’t the shooter, then he was an accomplice. I’d play along with his game, until he trapped himself, then I’d nail him. “He didn’t have a choice to shoot you?” I set my elbow on the table, held my chin in my hand, and leaned in closer to Nathaniel.
“That is correct, detective, though he did try.”
I jerked back, shaking my head. “What the hell do you mean he tried? He shoots a man in the heart, and a woman through the neck, and he misses you?” I laid my hands flat on the edge of the table.
“He did not miss.”
I paused for a long minute. Nathaniel was looking right into my eyes, almost as if he was looking into my soul. I was looking right back at him, a smile almost forming on my face. His suit and shirt were wrinkle free, certainly free of bullet holes. He hadn’t been shot. “You’re insane,” I said.
“If only it were that simple,” he replied.
“What do you mean?”
He didn’t say anything right away. Instead, he contemplated for a minute, his eyes moving over me. He must have been deciding how to fabricate the next part of his story. Maybe he wasn’t as prepared as he thought he was. I’d have a confession soon. Finally, he said, “I can’t die. I have walked this world for hundreds of years. I will never die, and one man robbing an antique shop would not change that.” His voice was still calm and serious. All reason told me that he was insane. Part of me wanted to draw my pistol, and threaten to shoot him, just to see how he would react. To prove to him that he could die. I restrained myself.
“Hundreds of years, huh?” I crossed my arms, looked away from his eyes, and leaned back a little.
“Yes.” He nodded and expressed a complacent smile. This guy was digging himself in some deep shit, there was no way he was going to talk himself through this. Yet he began his explanation. “I suppose by modern belief I would be called an angel. That is why I chose the name Nathaniel from the Christian bible.”
“Let me guess,” I said loudly, raising my brow and shaking my head. “You came down here from heaven?”
“Heaven is a name often used to describe where I am from,” he said. “Though, the word heaven implies peace, and the ethereal world, where I come from, is not the paradise of Christian mythology, but I am not here to tell you of such things. Allow me to explain the crime you are investigating.”
With a grimace of distrust, I unfolded my arms and rested my hands in my lap. “By all means,” I replied.
He began immediately. “As I said, I have been here on Earth for hundreds of years, and for that reason I have many memories of the past, and with them, a certain fondness of objects from history. It is not uncommon for me to venture into an antique shop. I prefer older relics, and I had learned that Mr. Bookman had a fine collection of Nineteenth Century European.
“The proprietor, Mr. Bookman, was there to greet me as I entered. He sat comfortably at the front desk reading through an antique manuscript. I gave my own salutation in response, and, as is common with owners of such shops, he allowed me to browse his wares uninterrupted.”
As Nathaniel spoke I began to picture his story in my mind. I imagined him in his expensive suit, giving a quiet greeting to Mr. Bookman, and then slowly making his way further into the store. I prided myself, as a detective, in having a good imagination.
Nathaniel’s account continued. “I looked about the store and scanned each of the shelves and displays for particular pieces that might interest me. The mother and child had arrived before me, and the boy saw me as I browsed. With some shyness he took his mother’s hand. She, not expecting such a grasp looked about, and saw me as well. Her smile was warm and friendly, and I was not opposed to having a brief conversation with her. We greeted each other and she explained to me her interest in phonograph recordings from the 1920s.
“She introduced her son, and explained that he had claimed to be ill that morning, and despite her instinct that he was telling a lie, she had allowed him to miss school for the day. She went on, in some detail, describing her original Edison phonograph player, and though I knew of such things as well as you know of the technology of today, I allowed her to find pleasure in telling me about them.”
Nathaniel’s explanation might have sounded rehearsed, except that his voice was strangely compelling. His words began to blend with my imagination, and though I could still hear him speak, the event he was describing became vivid in my mind. It was as if I was seeing Mrs. Moon from his eyes. The boy was there, very real to me, hiding ever so slightly behind his mother’s legs, and Mrs. Moon was laughing about her hobby, occasionally using her free hand to brush some loose strands of hair from her face.
His words never ceased. “The boy had overcome his shyness, at least enough to leave his mother’s grasp. On a shelf nearby he noticed a collection of old comic books, though he was unsure if it was permissible to open them up, so he merely looked at the artwork on the covers.
“You should know, detective, that I have a certain amount of omniscience, and at that time, I was aware of the events that were about to transpire. I knew of the man on the street, contemplating the crime he would commit. My conversation with the woman ceased, and I continued my browsing. The man entered the shop. With his pistol in hand, he demanded that Mr. Bookman give him the money in the cash register. Mr. Bookman procured the few dollars that he had.
“The man was not pleased by such a meager sum. Mr. Bookman explained that antiques were not popular, and he had few customers. I suppose the crook would have robbed the shop of whatever valuable items he could carry and make his way onto the street, except he was caught by surprise when he heard the woman make a noise.
“The woman had seen the man, and fearing for her son’s life, she had quietly told the boy to hide behind a nearby armoire. When the man heard her voice he demanded that she show herself, and she obeyed.”
My imagination was going wild. As I envisioned it, Nathaniel had continued browsing even as the robber entered. Nathaniel had made his way to the back of the store. I could see him looking over the various objects and trinkets. I saw them in a perfect detail. I pictured a clock, bronze, with doves above the timepiece and a woman resting against the side of it. I couldn’t remember if I had seen such an object during the crime scene walk-through.
He went on. “I took the liberty of making my presence known as well. The crook asked if any of us had a vehicle. I did not, and Mr. Bookman had not driven that morning. The woman did, and the man demanded that she give him her keys. She complied. He held us at gunpoint for several minutes. I suppose planning his robbery and escape. The boy remained hidden.
“There came a surprise, as the bell on the front door rang, notifying us that a customer was about to enter. This gave the man a scare, and he turned and fired his weapon at the front door. The oak panes of the door were shattered, though the customer that was about to enter had escaped. The man then asked the proprietor if there was another exit, and Mr. Bookman told him there was one at the back of his shop. However, police sirens became audible, and in panic the man fired once at Mr. Bookman.
“He turned to the woman, and shot her as well. He then fired upon me, and when he saw that I could not fall, he fired repeatedly until his ammunition was spent. Then he ran to the back door. The police arrived and I left the shop to greet them. Following that, I was taken here.”
As Nathaniel finished his account, the image in my mind faded, and it was as if I had just opened my eyes to see him sitting in front of me, even though I had never closed them. I was certain that what I had seen was more than the simple conjuration of a detective’s instincts. The details had been as real as if I’d been there myself. I had even seen the killer, fidgety, nervous, with needle tracks on his forearms. I sat there, completely awed. It was the most unbelievable story I had ever heard in my life, and yet I couldn’t help but accept what I had seen. I had to remain objective, though. Despite what I thought I might believe I still intended to find some error in his story. “If you’re an angel, didn’t you have the power to save them?” I said, trying to sound skeptical, even though I was really asking out of curiosity.
“Of course, detective,” he replied casually. “Even after the matter I could have raised them from the dead. As I said though, I did nothing to prevent this thing from happening.”
“Why?” I said quietly and slowly. I couldn’t even fathom what his explanation would be. I’d never put much thought into believing in angels. It was my understanding that they were supposed to be messengers or guardians, but then again it was also my understanding that heaven was paradise and Nathaniel had already said otherwise.
He studied me for several seconds. It seemed like several minutes. The clock seemed to be ticking louder. It was grating at my nerves. I felt sweat drip down my brow. “It wasn’t my place to interfere,” he stated.
“It wasn’t your place?”
“I know that answer does not satisfy you, and I cannot give you one that will. Things are the way they are. When I came to this world, my assignment was to observe only. I am forbidden to interfere with the agency of man, and I have been faithful to that calling.” His words came out softly, his lips barely moved.
I shook my head. “What do you mean you’re here to observe?”
“I have been honest with you, Detective Perry. My mission here is to observe. In time, I will be called back to the ethereal world to give an account of the chaos I have seen, but these matters are not of concern to the mortal world.”
“And while you’re here, you don’t give a damn about what happens to anybody?”
“I did not say that, detective,” he said quickly. “In my time on Earth I have seen terrible things,” his voice slowed. He looked down to the table. “Villages burned, women raped, and children slain.” He looked to my eyes again, and leaned closer to me, his hair curving around his chin. “It is my duty to seek out and witness the cruelty of mankind. I have done that, always observing, and never impeding the will of men.” The shadows on his face had shifted, and his eyes didn’t look as dark as they had when I’d first seen him. “I do care, detective.” A somber expression of honesty was in his eyes and mouth. A shiver ran through my body.
We sat there in silence. The clock was still ticking, but it wasn’t bothering me so much anymore. I could barely hear it. I wanted to question Nathaniel further about where he was from and why he was here, but I knew he wouldn’t give me any answers. Like he said, he wasn’t here to tell me about such things, and he wasn’t going to. It was time I got back to the details of the investigation anyways. Otherwise I’d start looking crazy. “That’s quite a story,” I remarked.
He leaned away from me into an upright position. The shadows on his face shifted again. “Isn’t it,” he said softly.
“And the boy? Is he going to verify that things happened the way you said they did?”
“The boy was not privy to all that happened, as he was in hiding, but his account will not contradict what I have told you.”
“It’s that simple?”
“Yes,” he said. Then he clasped his hands, and rested them on the table. I noticed the cufflinks on his shirt, white gold, simple in design. His suit jacket was a flawless fit around his body.
Looking over to the one-way mirror, I wondered what Detective Wilkes and Captain Reynolds were thinking. There was no way they had taken Nathaniel as seriously as I had. I collected the case file and stood up. I felt like I was soaked. I’d been sweating the whole time. There wasn’t so much as a bead running down Nathaniel’s brow. “Would you like me to get you anything?” I asked. “A glass of water, maybe?”
“No,” he said.
I turned to leave. Even though I couldn’t see him, I knew his eyes were following me. I walked out the door, and around the hall. Reynolds and Wilkes were waiting for me.
“What do you think?” Reynolds asked me.
That this guy really is some kind of angel from another world. “That he’s a nut,” I said.
“No kidding,” Wilkes said. “What’s up with that angel bullshit? With that black hair he looks more like a devil.” Wilkes laughed. “It’s weird, though, his story sort of adds up. Mrs. Moon’s keys haven’t been found even though her car was parked in front of the store, and this guy didn’t have them when he was booked. Plus the forensics report came in while you were interviewing him, and they found something like fifteen shell casings on the floor.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Wilkes replied. “The victims were each shot once, but whoever was shooting went crazy at some point, and other than the bullets in the victims and the door they didn’t find any more.”
“They could have landed in some of the antiques,” I offered. “Hell, there’s so much copper and brass in the shop that they might be impossible to find.” Or they vaporized before they made contact with Nathaniel. I looked from Wilkes to Reynolds. They both nodded, unsure. “What about the boy, he see anything?” I asked.
Reynolds answered, “Kid is pretty shook up, and hasn’t said anything yet. Can’t say I blame him, he may have seen the whole thing. Dr. Walker is talking to him over at DHS. She thinks it will be at least a few days before he’ll be able tell us anything, maybe even a lot longer.”
“VICAP turn up anything?” I asked.
“The computer’s still chugging away at his prints,” Reynolds said, “but at this point it doesn’t look like we’re going to get anything. No luck finding his real name either, but it’s a big database to search. If he’s in there we’ll find him.”
“What about the murder weapon?”
“Still haven’t found it,” Wilkes said. He motioned through the one-way at Nathaniel. “This guy didn’t have it on him when the patrolmen arrested him, and it wasn’t in the store. It is likely that someone carried it out the back door.”
Officers were still canvassing the neighborhood around St. John’s Antiques. If the killer had run out the back alley, there was a good chance that someone witnessed it. There were still plenty of leads to follow. “So what do we do with this guy?” I asked.
“It’s your call, detectives,” Reynolds replied. He looked from me to Wilkes, then back to me. “We can hold him for another eighteen hours, but then we’ve got to charge him with something.”
I looked at my partner. He gave me a half smile. “Well, he is nuts,” I lied, “and he was definitely there, but my gut tells me he isn’t the killer. We should probably keep him here anyway. At least until we see what else turns up. When he does leave, we tail him and make sure he doesn’t sprout wings and fly up to heaven.” I faked a laugh. Wilkes laughed as well. His laugh was real.
“Very well,” Reynolds said. I handed him the case file and he walked to his office. I couldn’t help but imagine Nathaniel spending the night in lockup. The guy probably didn’t need sleep. He’d sit there, calm, letting the time pass by. Maybe he’d have a pleasant conversation with someone who’d been booked for driving on a suspended license.
Wilkes slapped my arm. “You think he was hiding the whole time and made up that bullshit because he was afraid of looking like a coward?” he asked me.
“I don’t know,” I replied. Turning back to the one-way, I watched Nathaniel. He was calm as he’d been the whole time. His head was bowed slightly, though, and I couldn’t see his face past his hair. He looked tired, but not the kind of weariness that could be remedied by sleep.
We captured the actual perpetrator the next day. It was a junkie that had been riding horse during the robbery. The latent prints on the shell casings turned up a name, and a few weasels on the street led us right to him. The guy was a multiple offender with a history of violence and armed robbery, the type of scumbag that would do anything to get his next fix. He was in possession of the murder weapon and Mrs. Moon’s keys when we collared him. His memory was clouded from the high, and when he confessed in the interrogation room he tried to justify the murders by saying he thought he was dreaming. They always try to justify it.
Nathaniel walked out of the station with a subpoena, just in case we needed him to testify at the trial, but the perp plead guilty, no testimony was necessary. I never saw Nathaniel after that, and I never interviewed the boy, Todd, either. With the perp’s confession there was no need for the boy to corroborate Nathaniel’s story. I planned on keeping tabs on the kid, however, and maybe approach him when he was older. Nathaniel had said that in time he would report on the chaos he’d seen, and even though he had left so many questions unanswered, I couldn’t help but think that there was an unending night approaching.