Kiln Valley was not a large town and the police headquarters was not a large, bustling depot like the ones on TV. At night it was virtually deserted. Any officers that were on duty at this hour were guarding the house I just left or parked at an intersection looking for drunk drivers. I turned away from the back door and walked around the brick building to the main entrance.The front doors were locked. If you didn’t have a key card to get in, you had to hit the red button on an intercom posted next to the doorway. I gave the button a short push and a second longer push and then waited.
The staff sergeant was likely to be the only person in the office. He usually lounged in his chair, tipped back until the front two feet were lifted nine inches off the ground. His own two feet would be crossed at the ankles and propped on the desk in front of him. A laptop on the desk would be playing a superhero movie. It would take him a few minutes at least before he could bring himself to lift his feet from his desk, lean forward to put the movie on pause, and then pick up the phone to speak to me on the intercom.
It seemed like an hour but roughly four minutes had passed when I heard the speaker crackle and a sleepy voice say, “Kiln Valley Police Department, what is your business?”
“Detective Kinsey here to see the suspect Hoskins just brought in,” I answered in a tone that was meant to sound official but came out sounding petulant.
“We don’t have a detective Kinsey here.”
“Jesus, Mike,” I said. “Just let me in, will you?”
The speaker crackled again, followed by a loud clop as Sergeant Roda dropped the handset into the cradle. A second or two later, the door buzzed loudly. I pulled on the handle and the heavy door slowly opened with a soft squeal. A second set of doors stood a few feet inside of the main doors but these were not locked. I pulled the second door open and walked into the foyer.
The floor tiles, which at some point had been white, surrounded two large emblems in the middle of the foyer. On the left was the silver badge of the Kiln Valley Police Department, an eagle with spread wings perched on top of the seal of the city of Kiln Valley which was comprised of a green mountain over a blue river, crossed by a shovel and a pickax. The emblem on the right was the gold star of the Beckham County Sheriff’s Office, which looked like something you would see pinned on a deputy in an old west movie. I walked directly between the two images and made for the staff sergeant’s desk.
It had been almost two years since I had last seen the inside of this building. I breathed in the familiar smell of burnt coffee and copier paper. The left wall of the foyer bore framed portraits of the current staff working for KVPD. A blue plaque in the shape of a scroll honored the former staff that had retired and had their names inscribed on little silver plates. A black marble plaque in the shape of an urn was adorned with gold plates, on which was inscribed the names of the officers killed in the line of duty. There was fifteen or so names on the retirement memorial. There was only four gold plates on the black urn and I couldn’t tell you what three of those plates said. One of the names was burned into my memory. I winced and looked away before I could read the name on the last gold plate.
The foyer ended at two desks, one for the office receptionist and one for the staff sergeant.
Staff Sergeant Mike Roda had his feet up again, his chair tipped back farther than I would call safe. He was not obese, but had a dough-like softness about him that reminded me of a giant baby. He was absentmindedly running his fingers across his flat top haircut and I could almost hear his bristly hair snap into place as his hand passed over.
“Long time, no see,” said Roda, who didn’t even look up from the movie playing on his laptop. “What can I do for you?”
“I would like to talk to Hoskins’ detainee.”
Roda looked up from his movie and arched an eyebrow.
“I’m sorry, Kinsey. The suspect is in booking,” said Roda. He lifted his feet off of his desk, put them on the ground and stood up. “Besides, you don’t work here anymore and you sure as shit ain’t her lawyer.”
When Sergeant Roda stood at his full height, I had to look up to meet his stare. His constantly rosy cheeks stood in sharp contrast to the cold look in his eye. We locked eyes for a few long seconds. Our staring contest was broken when I heard the door to the booking area open and I looked to see Hoskins coming through the doorway.
Hoskins gave a heavy sigh and said, “Kinsey, I appreciate your help earlier. But what the fuck are you doing here?”
I side-stepped Roda’s desk and met Hoskins in the middle of the administrative floor.
“Can I talk to her, please?”
“We’re waiting for a female officer to come back to the station, to assist in booking. Monday, after she’s been charged and her defender has been arranged, we can see about some visitation.”
“Dammit, Hoskins,” I started.
Hoskins brought up his hand sharply and for a second I thought he was about to hit me. He settled for pointing a puffy index finger at my chest.
“No,” he interrupted. “You’re not going to argue with me about this!”
Hoskins turned and started to head for the door to booking. I followed him and Roda followed close after me.
“I just need to make sure she’s okay. You know as well as I do that she’s been through a lot.”
Hoskins put his hand on the door latch and half turned to say, “What I know is she confessed to killing her husband. She needs to be booked, charged, and brought to trial. That is my job, Kinsey. Wiping her nose and patting her head is not my job and it damn well isn’t yours either. You want to do her a favor, call her lawyer and save her the phone call.”
Hoskins pulled on the latch and heaved the door open. A small amount of smoke accompanied by a strange burning smell wafted through the open doorway.
I heard Hoskins say, “What the fuck?”
I blinked my eyes a few times and recognized two scents, though I had never smelled them together. One was the unmistakable smell of burning hair. The other was the smell of burning plastic.
Roda and I looked over Hoskins’ shoulder to see Nicole walking toward the hallway that led to the back door. Roda shouldered me aside as he and Hoskins bolted into the booking area. Nicole looked up at the commotion and her terrified eyes met mine.
Nicole reached for me and screamed my name. I noticed a blackened piece of plastic around her wrist. The skin of her forearm was red and an open, blackish sore shined next to her wrist bone.
I got my hand into the doorway before it shut, pulled the door open, and followed the policemen into booking area. The walls were the same yellow as the hallway. A desk sat to one side with fingerprinting equipment and a computer. In the other corner was a blue backdrop, similar to where you stand for your DMV picture, except this one had a scale for measuring the height of the person being photographed.
Nicole had been seated in a chair with her hands bound in front of her with plasticuffs. She had somehow hidden the Zippo lighter and used it to melt the cuffs. She burned her arm pretty badly in the process. Nicole backed away from the advancing policemen with her palms raised to ward them off. Blood dripped from the wound on her right wrist and splattered on the floor without a sound. Nicole ended up in the corner by the height scale. She had retreated as far as she could and pressed her back against the brick wall. Her head just barely cleared the five feet, six inches mark on the scale.
I couldn’t help but think of the summer between our freshman and sophomore year when Nicole had gotten her driver’s license. I hadn’t earned mine yet and I asked her if I could see it. When she handed the laminated card to me, I noticed the height read five feet, eight inches. I gave her crap for lying about her height. She stood straight as she could, lifted her chin, stretched her neck as far as she could, and defiantly told me that she really was that tall.
Hoskins and Roda advanced slowly, standing a couple feet apart to block any path she might take away from her corner. Hoskins had his left hand up in the universal sign for “stop.” His right hand rested on the stock of the revolver that sat next to his fleshy hip. Roda had both of his arms extended, palms out. Suddenly, a buzzer sounded. The sound cut through the silent tension and made everyone startle.
Hoskins spoke to Roda without taking his eyes off of Nicole, “That’s probably Lewis. I got this, you go and open the door.”
Roda backed up and scooted sideways past Hoskins. He didn’t look away from Nicole until he reached the door that opened to the hallway.
The only way to enter or exit the station through the back door was to be buzzed in or out. The button to open the door was a safe distance from the back door to prevent a detainee from opening the door by himself. Directly above the button was a video screen to see who was standing outside the rear entrance. The same hallway also had two blue doors which led to the holding cells used for arrests.
I glanced away from Nicole to watch Roda walk down the hallway, lift a plastic cover, and press his meaty hand down on the red button that unlocked the back door. Officer Tonya Lewis opened the back door, removing her hat as she walked in. She gave an annoyed look to Roda, who followed her down the hall back to booking.
I looked back to Nicole and said, “Nic, it’s okay. You have to do this their way. They have a female officer here now so they can finish booking you.”
Lewis and Roda walked into booking and Lewis whistled.
“Damn, Hoskins you look like you need a hand,” said Lewis.
Hoskins gritted his teeth and said, “I could handle her by myself, but I don’t want her boyfriend over there to file a police brutality lawsuit.”
I ignored Hoskins and spoke to Nicole again, “Tonya is here, you remember her?”
Nicole had been glaring at Hoskins and shifted her gaze to Officer Lewis.
Lewis dropped her hat on the chair next to the fingerprinting desk.
“Nicole, honey, I need you to help me here,” Lewis said in a tone of a mother speaking to a child. “If you don’t work with us, things will get rough.”
“I don’t want that f-fat f-fuck anywhere near me,” Nicole stammered.
“Hey, I don’t blame you there. Hoskins, how you about you get the hell out of here and let us ladies talk?”
Hoskins sighed again and let his hands fall to his sides.
“Fuck it, I’ve had enough of this crazy bitch anyways,” Hoskins said and pushed past me to head back into the administrative office.
Lewis tilted her head and said, “You too, Roda.”
Sergeant Roda looked at me and said, “He can’t stay either, he could help her escape.”
“I think if he had wanted her to get away then Kinsey would’nt have let us take her downtown in the first place.”
I nodded and said, “Let’s do this the right way, it’s better for everyone.”
Roda shook his head and joined Hoskins in the other room. The door clicked shut behind me. The slim window cut into the heavy door was pressed to my back and blocked any view from the admin area into booking.
Lewis cleared her throat and spoke in her soft voice again, “Nicole are you listening to me? The other men are gone. It’s just you, me, and Kinsey. We have some things we need to take care of, then I’ll put you in a holding cell. Nobody will touch you then, you’ll be safe okay?”
Nicole nodded slowly and looked at the floor. Her blood had dotted the floor in four places and she stared at it as if stunned.
Lewis spoke again, “Hoskins already took your picture and got your prints. All we need to do is make sure you don’t have anything on you that can be used to hurt someone. Will you let me pat you down?”
Nicole sighed and her body drooped. The excitement of her near escape had left her and she wilted like a cut flower. I was afraid for a moment that she would pass out and fall to the floor. Instead, she spread her feet apart and raised her arms.
Office Lewis approached slowly and put on rubber gloves. She walked to the fingerprinting station and opened a drawer. She pulled a plastic bag which contained some blue fabric. She retrieved another plastic bag that was empty. From another drawer, Officer Lewis pulled a pair of gray slippers.
“Okay, here’s what we gotta do,” said Lewis. “We need to get your clothes off and into this empty bag. Then you can put on these ugly pajamas. Tomorrow, after the crime scene guys say it’s okay, you can have a friend bring you some clothes from home. Are you ready?”
Nicole glanced at me. I turned around and put my head against the cool metal door. I listened to the rustle of cloth and plastic for a few minutes. I heard a metallic sound which must have been Lewis setting the Zippo on the desk. I heard Lewis’ pen scratch some words onto a piece of paper.
After a few more minutes Lewis said, “Okay, now that we’re done with that I need to you sign this sheet. It lists all the things you had on you when we brought you in. I turned to see Nicole wearing a blue outfit similar to a nurse’s scrubs. She had the gray slippers on her feet. She was bent in on herself. Her shoulders were hunched and her head hung down to her chest.
On the table, next to the paper, was the Zippo Lighter and a pack of gum. Nicole looked up just long enough to scribble her name on the paper.
Lewis opened a first aid kit on the wall and brought some things to the desk. The officer snipped the remaining piece of plastic from Nicole’s right arm. She bandaged the burn as well as a cut she must have gotten from pulling against the cuffs. The other wrist was scraped but wasn’t in bad enough shape to require bandages.
“There we go,” Lewis said. “I’m going to take you to your room now. The bed in there is not too bad and maybe you can get some sleep.”
Lewis grabbed Nicole’s arm and gently urged her to stand. Nicole looked small in her defeated posture. I was used to the headstrong and defiant way she usually held her head and to see her like that broke my heart. Nicole didn’t look at me as she shuffled past. Lewis took a key off of a rack on the wall and pulled open the door to the yellow hallway. She guided Nicole through the doorway and up to the first blue door. She unlocked the door with the key and pulled it wide open. She patted Nicole on the back as the shrunken woman shuffled into the cell. I watched Lewis slowly shut the door and lock it. The officer turned toward me and shrugged her shoulders.
It was time for me to go.
Why I Stayed by Joshua Kautzman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.