Queen Dairy
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  • 20

    Pino finds the steel chair too hard to sit on. Its brusque, rust-tinged edges almost seem to cut into her thighs. The shrill ringing of a telephone punctuates the soundscape of typewritten records - Pino sees the two detectives pass her by. She wonders if her family is going to be put in jail. It leaves her sad, thinking of her mom and dad, behind bars.

    "I'm hungry.." Pino goes.

    One of the detectives glances at an officer, who grabs a box of timbits off the fat, snoring clerk's plate and smacks it down by the tableside near her. How rude; Pino would think the police would be nicer people.

    Still, she tries munching on the half-eaten chocolate pieces. Mmmph, tasty.

    /

    The fan's blades hover over the table. Lil's gaze is fixated on the rotational gleam the fan makes from the reflection, like the axles of a train. Gazing out the window at the sunset offers her little comfort; the freedom she's once known would easily turn into a torment.

    She had little choice in the driver's death.. would she have been comfortable just hiding her family in the shadows? Possibly waiting an eternity for another car, while leaving her Pino at the mercy of the night's coldness?

    She never meant to kill him. Intentions are like the devil – they drive you to action through promises, and if it goes horrible, no one would care that you meant only for the best. It was that truck driver who had reported her. How else would the highway patrol have known to go directly for the trunk? Oh, life has its ways of exposing your weaknesses in ways you'd never expect..

    Lil retreats to that corner of her mind, where she'd once served as inspector. What would she tell them when they start talking to her? That the driver was under Antonioni's thrall? It would be opening up a can of worms, revealing the whole story about being under target by an old enemy.

    From experience, she knows if the detectives have an agenda, they're not going to care about understanding her situation. (She's guilty of this herself, having accused people prematurely in her early investigations.)

    It might be better to stay quiet..

    With the door's creak, both detectives emerge. One is Paola, with microbladed eyebrows and a soft face which betrays shades of stern intensity. The other is Johnson, with his stocky frame and thin-framed glasses. They take seats right beside Lil, on either side of her like they're already good friends.

    "¿Así que tienes una familia?" Paola goes.

    Lil raises an eyebrow - not understanding a word.

    "What my colleague means is, you have a daughter -" Johnson flicks his cigar into his mouth, slicing the top off it in automatic motion. "Pino. We passed her by, and she looks mightily unhappy. She must miss you already."

    Lil winces. Pino.. how dare they use her against me!

    A hint of a smile comes across Johnson. "We can make things go by in a pinch," he goes. "This wouldn't take more than five minutes with your cooperation. All you need to do is promise you'll answer honestly. Agreed?"

    "About what?" Lil goes, her eyes shifting. "I'm not talking without a lawyer."

    Paola talks with Johnson in hasty Spanish, like Lil isn't even here.

    "You have your rights – Lillián Mayer, is that right?" Johnson pulls out his file folder to double-check, and Lil, letting her curiosity get the better of her, leers over to see a glimpse of what they've put on her record. She catches an apocyphal mention of a bludgeoned butler.

    When Johnson looks up at her, she says "Lil. Yeah." They haven't even addressed the elephant in the room. Maybe they're trying to see what I'm willing to say before the subject is officially broached?

    "Lil. If that's what you prefer. We can get you a lawyer – it will take time to find a court-appointed public defender. Possibly until tomorrow. We'll put you in a cell overnight if it takes that long – perhaps we'll ask Pino about what happened.."

    Lil slams the table. "Enough with the mind games!"

    "Tranqulio.." Paola says. "Johnson, esta perra está empezando a perder la compostura-"

    "Hey!" Lil goes. "You think you can get away with talking about me cause I don't know Spanish, but I know enough that whatever style of interrogation you're practicing here in this shantytown, you're not going to make any headway with me this way."

    Paola and Johnson exchange glances.

    "There is no need to yell, Lil," Johnson goes, politely putting the folder away like a doting principal in front of a troublemaking kid. "You and your family are caught in a situation. An undeniable fact. We're not accusing you of anything – for all we know, you might have been unlucky and borrowed the wrong car that night-"

    "He was going to kidnap us," Lil says, finally breaking the tension. "We were fleeing from our residence – we got a warning from an old friend, the mafia were going to attack my family, and so.."

    "El mafia?" Paola goes. Her eyebrow raised, she mutters something to Johnson.

    "Go on."

    "We tried to hitchhike.. this driver was the one who picked us up. He was rude and somewhat creepy.. we stopped for a bathroom break, and I overheard him talking on the radio about bringing us over for payment- his mother's chemo-therapy. So, we.. knocked him out."

    "By 'we knocked him out,' what do you mean?"

    Lil closes her eyes, recalling that it was Pino who struck that fatal blow.. her gut is reeling from the thought of having pushed her daughter into murder.

    "Vincent held the driver from behind, and I tried hitting him with the beer bottles. He was going to chew through Vincent's wrists-"

    "Lillián," Paola says. "He is dead. The autopsy says he died from head trauma.."

    An involuntary 'No' leaves Lil's lips.

    "We can put you in for five years," Johnson says. "Involuntary manslaughter, if you admit that your confession is, to the word of God, true."

    Lil finds the room's full-frame interrogation mirrors, reflecting herself, alone among an infinite regress of light and shadows, and enroaching darkness in its abyssal depths of reflecting everything – that nothing which permeates the pauses between your breaths.

    ".. what about Vincent?"

    /

    He'd thought he'd never find the taste of cigarette vapour soothing, but his nerves are shot from spending an entire night without sleep. Vincent coughs from the first puff, all while the nicotine already works its magic in his lungs – a wake-up call in his nerves. He coughs the vapours out in spurts, and it's far from the glamourous imagery of those noir serials. Still, he's thankful for the pack of Fortunas left on the table. Its musky aroma is as familiar to him as those morning visits to the bustling cafe, where you're greeted by smoke and coffee.

    The shades are pulled over the window. From the rough manner which the officers have hauled him into this room, he is too intimidated to pull the blinds open. Anything a victim of contempt does could become reason for offense, so the only thing which illuminates is the lamplight, hovering over the table..

    In a sudden thud, Vincent is blinded. He squints – they have switched the lighting on, full blast. He briefly catches the faint afterimage of a strangely familiar woman in the hall of mirrors, before the door slams open.

    Paola smashes down a chair behind Vincent, while Johnson puts his rugged butt on the other side of the table, where it sags.

    "Vincent Law," Johnson goes. "The five-time winning poker maestro. I'd bet a quarter of my life savings on you, every time! You never disappoint!"

    "Gee, thanks," Vincent scoffs.

    "Still not enough to keep me off this day-to-day work, sonnyjim. You've been caught with a body in the trunk. The actual owner of the car you were in. The last thing we'd expect is finding you in this mess – even though you've started a family of your own. That's where I get to tell you, 'I'm very disappointed in you, Vince.'"

    "Are you going to put me on blast over that drunkard?" Vincent says. He feels the laser-stare of Paola, boring into his skull. "Did you talk with Lil already?"

    "She said you held him from behind. We've found some blood from the driver's mouth which matches yours."

    "We were under pursuit by Antonioni.."

    A beat.

    "Antonioni.." Johnson says, leaning off the poor table. "He's a big fish. We've tried nabbing his family for racketeering and gambling, but always, he eludes our grasp, the witnesses always vanish – or they kill themselves for no reason.. why would he go after you?"

    Vincent sees the mirrors' infinite reflections, imagining the thought of Lil behind bars, of Pino alone. But a voice whispers to him that he's found the upper hand on these cops. In the depths of the mirror.. where the spotlight finally shines upon his face, illuminating his state of ignorance while the blue curtains, glimmering as they undulate, pull back to reveal the tall woman who's lurked beneath his awareness.

    Amidst the morass of velvet flowers and vines, she waters the dried patches, holding her palm out and bringing a renewed order to the network of neural connections.

    - It was you who was guiding me!

    - What? I merely prodded you along to where you needed to be. It could have happened a thousand different ways over, the way your life unfolded, and yet, here you are. You have Lil, and you have Pino. And you're still alive, at least, for now.

    - Why am I here, though?

    - Because I willed it. Out of one chance encounter, when you had nowhere else to turn to for resources, I've kept you safe, in here.

    The lady points to her head, while her other hand hovers over her heart.

    - All this is my reality, and you are treading though my dreams. Softly, or however crudely you choose, you're always here.

    - .. is there anything beyond this?

    Vincent has only a faint inkling of the life he's had before. He knows this out of pure instinct. But trying to remember is like recalling a word – or a name – which is beyond the tongue's grasp. Even trying to talk with her has the efficacy of a fever-pitched clarity.

    - Nothing of any value. You want to return to your family – to Lil and Pino, don't you? Let me tell you a secret..

    Vincent ventures forward, enticed by what the lady promises. He feels the softness of the flowers under his feet, a cushion which caresses the skin with nectar.

    - It is an improbability that a lawyer shall appear in the room you're in, let alone a lawyer who'd really care enough to aid you. But what is available is information, which shall appear at your feet like a long-lost memory, and what you will do is ask for total immunity in regards to Antonioni. It will protect your family from legal trouble, over the past transgressions you've committed.

    - Immunity?

    - Yes. There are two types of immunity: use immunity, and transactional. The former will only protect your testimony from being used against you in a court of law. The latter will save your family.

    - And what will happen afterward?

    - Good luck-

    "Before I tell you that," Vincent goes, "I want immunity for my family. And not the cheap kind where it's just for this driver, but for everything that has to do with me and Antonioni. Transactional immunity."

    Johnson gives it a moment. He looks at Paola, who is non-plussed about the turn of events. "Consider it done, Vince."