Cutter didn’t know jack shit about investigating a murder, but he watched enough cop shows to know that the detectives always began their investigation by looking for clues in the victim’s home, so he headed straight for Mickie’s apartment. When he got there he expected to find crime scene tape over the apartment door but quickly realized that Mickie wasn’t killed in her apartment so that wouldn’t have made sense.
In case she went dark, as she used to call it, Mickie gave Cutter a set of keys because she typically returned with no personal possessions, except for the guitar. No matter how bad things got, or where she wound up, she always managed to hold onto her guitar. It was the only thing that kept her tethered to this reality. Cutter took it as a sign of trust but the niggling little voice in the back of his mind rationalized that him having a spare set of keys was easier to deal with than having to go to the nosy building superintendent or a locksmith to get back into her own apartment.
When he opened the door, the place was barely recognizable. The interior looked like it had been hit by a magnitude 9.2 earthquake, it had been ransacked so bad. Cutter stepped gingerly into the apartment, careful to avoid treading on the broken and discarded bits of the life Mickie left behind. Searching for clues when the apartment was in its normal state would have been hard enough, but this? Where would he start?
The window in the living room, the one that led to the fire escape was wide open, which was unusual, so he decided to start there. The planter Mickie kept on the fire escape, the one she grew her marijuana in, had been kicked over. Cutter reached outside and brought the planter in… and this was the precise moment that the building’s super let Detective Max Matthews into the apartment.
The interrogation room was smaller than the ones on tv, and instead of being in the center of the room, everything was pushed up against the wall opposite the door. His chair, the one Cutter was seated in, was in the corner diagonally opposite from the camera mounted in the upper far corner, and Detective Matthew sat across a small folding table from him.
“Why did you break into Michelle Clark’s apartment?” Matthews asked.
“I didn’t break in, I have a key,” Cutter said.
“You were given a key by Miss Clarke?”
“We’re going to need you to hand over that key.”
“But I have stuff in that apartment.”
“You can submit a list of items you claim belongs to you with Miss Clarke’s next of kin,” Matthews said. “Is that what you were doing in the apartment, collecting your stuff? Then why trash the place?”
“I didn’t do that. The place was totaled when I got there. The apartment door was locked but the window to the fire escape was wide open, which was probably how whoever broke into her place got in,” Cutter said.
“When I entered the premises, you were holding a flower pot containing cannabis. Was that why you were there, to grab your stash before the police arrived?”
Laughter unexpectedly burst from Cutter.
“Are you kidding me? Mickie grew her own weed on the fire escape for medicinal purposes. She claimed it helped level her out at times. Do you smoke? Try some, or get one of your experts to test it. It’s schwag ass weed. Barely gets you high and leaves you with a headache. Hardly the stuff to kill someone over,” Cutter said and instantly regretted his syntax.
“Oh, really? What’s some stuff you might kill someone over?”
“Me? I never killed anyone, so I couldn’t tell you. But you asked why I was there and the simple answer is someone killed my best friend and I was hoping I could find something, a clue, to bring to you guys.”
“You mentioned that you and Michelle…”
“Mickie. No one called her Michelle,” Cutter interrupted.
“All right, you and Mickie were friends, but were you ever intimate?” Matthews asked.
“We tried once, in the beginning, but it didn’t feel right. It was like making out with my sister, and she felt the same way, so if you’re trying to work out some sex angle thingie, you’re barking up the wrong tree, detective. We were friends, best friends, and that’s as far as it went. No extra benefits, no secret burning unrequited passions, just friends.”
“Can you tell me when was the last time you saw Mickie alive?”
“That would be the day she was murdered,” Cutter answered.
“What were you two doing leading up to the murder?”
“Let’s get one thing straight: from what I understand, Mickie was killed at night, I saw her earlier that day. I wasn’t with her in the evening leading up to the murder. Nice try, though.”
“I’m not making any sort of accusation,” Matthews said. “I’m just trying to get a clearer picture of the events that occurred that night. So, tell me about the last time you saw Mickie.”
“It was about noon or so,” Cutter said. “We met up in Washington Square Park, that’s where she used to busk. Sometimes she’d draw a decent crowd, but that day people weren’t in a folk song mood, I guess, so she packed it in early, we swung by her favorite ice cream spot, and went back to her apartment.”
“And what did you do there?”
“Chilled for a bit, listened to some music, ate our ice cream, talked, you know, regular stuff. She mentioned she had a gig in a bar later that night and asked me to come to show moral support. Of course, I was going to go, but I did that thing where I pretended to have other plans just so she could have a mini freak out and beg me to come, then I pretended to reluctantly relent. Don’t ask me why, it was one of those stupid teasing routines friends fall into sometimes. She said she had some business to take care of beforehand, so we agreed to meet at the bar, some little performance art hole-in-the-wall joint in the East Village, and I went home. That was the last time I saw Mickie.”
“And what time did you leave her apartment?”
“And what were you doing that night between the hours of nine and midnight?”
“I was sitting in the bar, waiting for her, like I promised.”
“Can anyone corroborate your story?”
“Sure,” Cutter said. “Ask the manager of the joint. Mickie wasn’t answering my calls or texts, so I became a pain in the manager’s ass to see if he heard from her, if she canceled or called to say she’d be running late.”
“Where did she go after you left her that day?” Matthews asked.
“You didn’t ask her?”
Cutter chuckled. “Mickie was the type of person you didn’t ask about her business, you learned that early on if you wanted to remain on friendly terms with her. If she wanted you to know, she’d tell you. If she didn’t tell you, mind your own business. Want to know something funny? Until today, I didn’t know her last name was Clarke, and I’m her best friend, so that should tell you how secretive she was.”
When Detective Matthews first entered the room, he was carrying a folder, which his hands rested on the entire interview.
“Now, I’m going to ask you an important question, and I need you to think about it before answering,” Matthews said. From the folder, he produced several photographs taken at the crime scene, and placed them on the table in front of Cutter, one by one. “Who would want to do this to Mickie?”
The photos showed different views of Mickie lying in an alleyway, covered in blood, with her head caved in. A separate picture displayed a hammer, the claw end covered in blood, hair, and unidentifiable matter.
“Jesus Christ!” Cutter jumped out of the chair and moved as far from the photos as possible. “Why the fuck would you show me something like that? Putting those fucking images in my head? That’s not the way I want to remember Mickie!”
“You don’t know how much it pains me to do this,” Mathews said, and this time his tone was softer, more compassionate, almost on the border of pleading. “I just need you to understand the seriousness of the situation. This is what some maniac did to your best friend. This is why we need to catch them, to stop them from doing it to another innocent person, to make them pay for what they did to the woman you loved.”
And the questioning went on like that for hours. Detective Matthews collected the name of the bar and manager to check out Cutter’s alibi, and in his absence, other detectives gave the interrogation a try, asking the same questions, introducing new theories and motives for Cutter wanting Mickie dead.
He was bone tired and aggravated to all hell, but he answered all the questions put to him, avoided all the tricky interrogation traps and pitfalls, and when his alibi panned out, Detective Matthews had no other choice but to release him.
It was nighttime when Cutter left the police station. He walked in the direction of the E train to head home, but he was so lost in his thoughts, trying to push the crime scene photos out of his head, that he hadn’t noticed the tinted-windowed black van bearing down on him until it came to a screeching halt curbside. The van’s back panel doors flew open and three men dressed in all black, wearing balaclavas, leaped out, grabbed Cutter, and tossed him inside like he weighed nothing. The men climbed in after the bewildered Cutter and slammed the doors shut, as the van sped off into the night.
To be continued?
©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys