Dead End Job: A Louisa Hallstrom Novel(20)

By: Ingrid Reinke

“Um, OK,” he replied, awkwardly. The detective then shuffled back a few inches and gestured towards the opened door, indicating that I should squeeze past him and out into the hall. I got up, and careful not to brush against his large frame, gingerly scooted out the door and into the hallway, where he showed me to the ladies’ room. He waited for me outside while I took care of that second cup of coffee.

When I came out, the detective motioned me a bit further down the hallway to and over to a large, industrial-looking elevator where we descended to a floor marked with a large “L,” for Lab, which I discovered was just as cold and bland as the interrogation room that we had come from. There, a kind-looking middle-aged black woman entered the room and introduced herself as Shelly. Her attire consisted of non-descript navy blue pants and a navy polo shirt, and she didn’t look at all scientific except for the fact that she was wearing rubber gloves and a pair of laboratory goggles that made her eyes look cartoonish-ly enormous. Detective Schreck left the room, and seconds later I saw a flicker as the light in an adjacent room was switched on. Although his massive frame was barely noticeable through a heavily-tinted glass wall, I could see that the detective had gone to the room adjacent to observe the procedure.

Shelly, who was unfazed, went about her business turning off the fluorescent ceiling light in the small room and switching on what appeared to be a long, portable, black light which was attached to an extension cord plugged into the wall a few feet away. I was nervous and felt fidgety, and I wanted to ask one hundred questions about the procedure, but instead I clenched my jaw and took a deep breath, forcing myself to avoid glancing up at either Shelly or in the direction of the tinted window that housed the massive frame of Detective Schreck. Unsure of how to act during a microscopic blood test, I decided that it was the best idea to maintain a professional demeanor as Shelly passed the light over my face, moving slowly and methodically, down over my arms, hands, torso each of my ears and my head. No big deal, just a teeny weeny little lab test to make sure I didn’t murder anyone, I told myself, as I was struggling to get my emotions firmly under control. I was unconsciously holding my breath, and found myself somewhere between self-asphyxiation and bursting out laughing at the mixture of stress and ridiculousness of my predicament, even though the entire experience was feeling more and more invasive, like an involuntary, semi-public pap smear. I somehow was able to talk myself into taking a deep breath as Shelly efficiently lifted up my hair to wave the light over my neck and under my arms while I stood in various positions (arms up, arms down, turn to the left, etc). I bit down hard on my front lip and managed to keep breathing, albeit unevenly, as she also had me hold each position for several, uncomfortable seconds while she snapped multiple pictures of each area, expertly wielding a small digital camera. After what seemed like an eternity, she finally switched off the blue light and turned on the fluorescent light on again.

“You can relax now, my dear, we’re all done,” she said in a motherly tone.

She flipped the light back on while Detective Schreck got up from his chair and made his way back into the lab. He looked at Shelly expectantly, ignoring me. Shelly looked up from her paperwork at him, and shaking her head, said, “She’s all clear, Gary. Not a speck of blood showed up on the light test. I’ll give you my full report tomorrow morning.”

Whoo, Lord. I must have been holding my breath through the entire process because when Shelly spoke, I exhaled suddenly, and felt more than a little bit dizzy. Because he wasn’t going to collect any useful evidence against me, the detective, naturally, looked disappointed. He escorted me back to the elevator and up to the interrogation room rather silently, gestured that I should go in, shut the door behind me and left without a word. Feeling much better than before, I waited around by myself in the cold room for what seemed like another hour or so. Someone had brought my bag into the room and left it (I was hoping it was Rocky), so I played a mindless game on my cell phone until Detective Wang finally entered the room, carrying a one page document.

“Ms. Hallstrom,” she said formally, “this is your statement based on the information you gave us this morning. I would like you to review the document for accuracy, including your full name and address, and sign here at the bottom.”

She slid the paper across the table and stood over me while I tried to read through the description of the morning’s events. I was doing my best to concentrate on the words in the statement, but Detective Wang’s sudden reappearance shot my anxiety back up to critical mass, so my nerves were totally fried. It didn’t help that as I was trying to make sense of the statement, Detective Wang hovered over me, glaring. I knew it was stupid to sign something as important as this without fully understanding it, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t wrap my brain around the words on the page. Wanting to just get the hell out of there, I gulped down the bile rising in my throat, hoped that everything would be fine and signed the document. Probably shouldn’t have done that Louisa, said the rational part of my mind. Too late. Detective Wang snatched up the paper, quickly folded it into thirds and held it tightly in to her breast as she spoke.