Chief Larry Delafontaine stood beside Detective Stephens and looked through the one-way glass into the interrogation room at Tommy, sweaty and fidgeting. Larry could feel his revulsion tugging down the corners of his mouth and working in the muscles of his chin, and for the first time in years he was thankful Louisiana still had the death penalty.
“Has he said anything?” he asked Stephens, who couldn’t take his eyes away from the twenty-seven-year old taxidermist on the other side of the glass.
“Nothing. Except he did say he’ll only talk to you,” the lanky man shifted his weight.
“He ask for a lawyer?”
“No, and thank God, ’cause then this whole f—” Stephens bit his tongue in mid-word and looked down. Larry knew Doug’s new girlfriend hated the crude language used by Atwood County’s entire police force. Some habits are nearly impossible to break.
“…This whole insane thing would just drag out longer,” Stephens said.
“Can you do me a favor?” Larry asked as he reached for the interrogation room’s doorknob. “Get me a Diet Coke and two Advils. My knee’s killing me.”
“Sure thing, Chief. I thought your knee was doing better.”
“It was, but everything’s fu—” Larry cut short the profane word in a show of solidarity. “Since this morning… well, a lot of things have changed.”
Larry’s hand was on the doorknob when Stephens said, “I… heard a little about all this at Tommy’s shop from Neil Tarbet. Is it…”
Larry closed his eyes, trying to shut out the images that mention of “Tommy’s shop” brought up. He fought to keep them buried. “Doug, it was the worst thing I’ve ever seen. Ever.” Larry hoped that the note in his voice with which he ended the sentence would forestall any further questions.
“I’ll go get your Coke and Advil.” Stephens left Larry to do his job.
Larry opened the door and stepped through.
Tommy started from his chair. “Oh, thank God you’re here!” Tommy said he blurted. Larry motioned him back into his seat. There was a small second table against the wall, near an electrical outlet, and Larry pressed the red button on the tape recorder on top of it.
“Tommy, you just sit tight.” Larry pulled a cheap, government-issued chair out from the black linoleum table and took a seat across from the younger man. When he spoke again, his tones were measured and constricted. “And Tommy, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. It is taking everything that makes me human to not pull my gun and blow your damn head off right now. Do you understand?”
Tommy nodded, his breaths coming his short bursts. His lower jaw twitched and he eyes bore into Larry’s. Larry knew the man across from him was terrified, but he didn’t think it was because of what he’d said. He thought Tommy had brought that fear in with him.
“I do, sir. But I didn’t do anything! I swear! It wasn’t—”
Larry held up his hand.
“Tommy…” Larry took in several deep breaths. “Have you been read your rights and do you understand them?”
“Good. Then you just start at the very beginning. Tell me the story, front to back. I’ll stop you if I have questions. Understand?”
Tommy nodded again.
“Okay then,” Larry said, and he could feel and the pain that pulsed in his knee begin to be mirrored by an equal sensation in his head.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“And Tommy, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. It is taking everything that makes me human to not pull my gun and blow your damn head off right now. Do you understand?”[/pullquote]
“The beginning,” Tommy muttered, his eyes darting back and forth across the tabletop. “The beginning… I guess it began two nights ago. Pete Johnson and Clyde Flatts just dropped me off—we’d spent some time at Lucy’s Bar. We got home around 2 A.M.”
“How drunk were you?” Larry asked.
“Just a little buzzed. I was expecting Dave Stoker to drop off a ram in the morning—he wanted a rush job and was going to pay top dollar so I didn’t want a hangover to slow me down. You can ask Pete and Clyde if you don’t believe me.”
“I will. Then what?”
“I got up around 8:30, had breakfast and waited for Dave. Well, I wait for another hour, hour and a half, and he doesn’t show, so then I check the drop-off box to see if he left the ram before I got up.”
Tommy stopped talking and took several short breaths. His eyes darted around the room as if he expected something to attack him.
“Yeah. Yeah.” Larry saw Tommy’s hands begin to shake and wondered if Tommy was about to confess. If so, Larry wasn’t sure if he was prepared to hear it. “Just give me a second,” Tommy said.
“Take your time.”
After a few moments, Tommy spoke again. “I saw that the latch had been tripped so I knew something was there. I thought it must be the ram and I opened the box.
“Except it wasn’t no ram. I don’t know what the hell it was—still don’t.”
This wasn’t the story that Larry was expecting, and in spite of the fact that he believed the man across the table from him was a murderer, he found himself intrigued by what Tommy was saying. Here was a taxidermist, after all—young, but experienced nonetheless. He’d probably seen everything that had flown, swam, walked, galloped or wiggled across south Louisiana.
“What did it look like?” Larry asked after Tommy failed to speak.
“It looked like a squid-thing. I mean, it had a squid head, but it had limbs almost like arms and legs.”
“So, human?” Larry reached into his breast pocket and withdrew a small writing pad and a pen that hooked to the spiral binding. He wrote the word squid, then crossed it out and wrote meth lab? He made sure Tommy couldn’t see what he had written.
“Almost—kind of like a baby, but more grey, like the primer color on my dad’s Jeep—imagine what you’d get if you crossed a person and a fish, but with… you know, arms and legs.”
A knock on the door made Tommy jump. The door opened and Stephens came in with a Diet Coke and two Advils. “Here you go,” Stephens said and put them on the table, keeping his eyes off Tommy.
Larry looked at Tommy. Something had changed in the past few minutes. A small crack appeared in the hard shell of hate he had for the taxidermist.
“Hey,” Larry said to Tommy. “Ah, you need anything?”
“No, no. I’m good.”
Larry nodded to Stevens and the officer left, closing the door behind him.
“So, you found a squid-human thing,” Larry said as he popped the pills and took a drink. “Then what did you do?”
“I took it in the shop and cut it open.”
“You did what?” Larry said, stopping the second Advil halfway down his gullet.
“Yeah, I thought maybe Dave changed his mind and wanted this thing stuffed instead of a ram. So I skinned it, threw the innards in the trash and built the form. I had never built anything like it. It wasn’t like any animal I’ve ever seen. The hide was like rubber, all slimy and tough. I was going to tell Dave—or whoever dropped it off—that I was going to charge him extra, just for the pain-in-the-ass project he’d given me.”
“This animal, you don’t know who sent it? Was there a note or anything?” Larry asked.
“No, but that’s not unusual. Everyone knows that they can drop off a raccoon or boar and I’ll get working on it. They usually stop by that day or the next and let me know it was them that dropped it off.” Larry remembered seeing the drop-off box just outside Tommy’s taxidermy shop, even remembered opening the hatch and looking inside.
“We didn’t see any squid-thing in your shop. What happened to it?”
Tommy stared at Larry and bit his bottom lip. He then began to nervously tap his fingers on the table…
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