This story is by Marka Ormsby and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
After twelve years in homicide, Detective Joe Gibson tired of the endless, meaningless, violence that took another life today. He stroked his thinning hair and smoothed his tie over his growing paunch as he walked to Interview Room 1.
The perp’s mother, Ruby Price, stood at the two-way mirror smearing red lipstick on her lips, then she straightened her stringy red hair. Satisfied with her appearance, she sat at the table as Joe entered.
“I hear my boy’s in trouble,” said Ruby, as Joe sat opposite her, thumbing through his files.
“You could say that,” said Joe.
“Where is Daniel? I want to see him.”
“They’re booking him now. You’ll see him after that.”
Joe continued reading. Here sat Ruby Price, an alcohol-soaked thirty-nine-year-old who looked closer to fifty. Ruby smiled at Joe, using what was left of her feminine wiles to gain information without giving any.
“What’s he done? “
Joe didn’t answer.
“You have an impressive record, Ruby. Arrested for public intoxication, solicitation, and child abuse.”
Ruby fidgeted. “You said my kid’s the one in trouble. Why do you have my file?”
“Tell me, why’d they give Daniel back to you after his release from juvenile detention?”
“How should I know? Talk to children’s services.”
“You’re his parent, and from what I see here, not much of one.”
“What do you know?” she said, crossing her arms and glaring at him.
Joe knew a great deal about coming from an abusive household. He grew up with a single mother who drowned her sorrows every night with a fifth of rye. She vented her anger on her children. Joe took the brunt of the abuse to shield his siblings. He was pretty sure Daniel did the same.
“Guess no one else wanted him.” She smiled, and when Joe didn’t, she stopped to wipe sweat from her upper lip.
As Joe continued to read her file, Ruby picked at her fingernails.
“How did Daniel get the burn scar on his cheek?” Joe asked.
“It was his fault. He ran through the kitchen, tripped and fell.”
“And hit his face on a hot burner?”
“He was always clumsy,” she said, with a sneer.
Joe’s phone buzzed. “C’mon Ruby, let’s go next door and talk to Daniel.
Joe escorted Ruby into Interview Room 2 where Daniel sat handcuffed to the table. The burn scar on his left cheek stood out prominently on his thin, angular face. He looked like a masculine version of his mother with red hair and brown eyes.
Ruby sat next to Daniel, and Joe joined the detective opposite the two.
“He hasn’t said anything,” said the detective.
“Go grab some coffee,” said Joe, “I’ve got this.”
The detective picked up his folder and left the room.
Joe looked at Daniel. “You wanna tell your momma what you did?”
Daniel didn’t move and continued his thousand-yard stare.
“Daniel?” said Ruby, agitated. “What did you do?”
Daniel said nothing, showing no emotion.
“What did you do?” Ruby said, her voice more menacing. Daniel cringed.
Joe thumbed through Daniel’s file.
“It appears your fifteen-year-old son stabbed a twelve-year-old boy to death.” He waited for the news to sink in. “Seventeen times. Stabbed him seventeen times it says here.”
Ruby sat still, mouth open, gaping at her son. She turned, put both hands on the table, tilting her head trying to assimilate what she’d heard.
Daniel stared ahead, barely blinking.
She gathered herself and turned to Daniel. “What’s he talking about? You…you…killed a boy?” Ruby’s voice turned accusatory. “You killed a boy? What the hell for?”
Exactly what Joe expected. Daniel wasn’t talking, but his mother had a lot to say. Her role, to look after her son’s best interests, came second to her need to go off on him.
Joe sat quietly, watching the interaction between the two. Ruby, aware of Joe’s stare, took a deep breath to control her anger.
Daniel sat, stoic, and continued to stare at the wall.
Ruby turned to Daniel and gave him a push. “You tell him you didn’t do this, and I can get out of here.”
Daniel cringed again and moved ever so slightly away from his mother. She noticed.
“Look, you,” she snapped, “tell them you didn’t do this thing.” Her gravelly voice grew meaner and more menacing.
Joe interjected. “It’s hard to deny what he did, Ruby. A law enforcement officer on horseback found him bloody, holding a knife over the dead boy. Hard to deny that.”
Joe eyed Ruby as she shifted in her seat trying to regain control. She needed a drink, and she wasn’t going to wait much longer to get one. She tried a different approach.
“Did that boy say something to you? Did he make fun of your face?”
She turned to Joe, “They always make fun of his face, calling him names? What’s he supposed to do?”
Daniel remained silent, staring ahead, the corners of his mouth curling upward, ever so slightly.
Losing patience, Ruby said, “Did he call you monster boy? That’s what they used to call him in school, monster boy. Because of his face.”
“Is that what happened, Daniel?” said Joe. “Did he provoke you?” No provocation warranted stabbing a boy seventeen times, but Joe wanted Daniel to open up.
“You heard the man,” said Ruby, “explain what that kid did to you.”
Daniel continued his silence, five seconds, ten seconds. Joe spoke next.
“He call you monster boy, because of your face?”
Daniel didn’t respond. Joe continued, “you know your momma says you’re clumsy, so clumsy in fact you tripped and fell on a hot stove burner. Burned your face. Says you’re to blame for that nasty scar.”
Daniel clenched his teeth, blinked a couple of times but didn’t relent.
Standing his silence no longer, Ruby let loose.
“Goddamn it, you little bastard. Say something. Either stick up for yourself or tell ‘em you did it, monster boy,” sarcasm dripping from her last two words.
With no warning, Daniel lunged at his mother, but his handcuffs latched to the table, kept him from reaching her. His sudden movement startled her, and she scrambled backward, out of his reach.
Daniel screamed at Ruby, a primal scream like a mortally wounded animal. Joe rose to intervene, but the handcuffs held Daniel in place.
Joe, trying to redirect Daniel from Ruby, shouted, “What happened, Daniel? Tell me what happened?”
Daniel continued screaming, mouth wide, spit rolling down his chin, eyes bulging, and face red. He pulled at his restraints straining to reach Ruby.
Recovering from Daniel’s attempted attack, she moved toward him shaking her finger and shouting at him to shut up. She was angry he’d frightened her so.
“You little shit, what are you going to do? You’re crazy. You know that? They’re going to fry you.” Spit flew from her mouth in Daniel’s direction as she yelled at him. They both screamed uncontrollably.
An officer rushed into the room to deal with Daniel, while Joe shoved Ruby into the hall. The sounds of Daniel’s screams diminished as they returned to Interview Room 1.
As they sat, Ruby spoke first.
“You see what I put up with? Why do you need me, anyway? He did it, right. Your cop saw him.”
“Thought you might want to help him. You asked if the kid mouthed off at Daniel. Why? What does a twelve-year-old have to say to deserve seventeen stab wounds?”
“He’s messed up. Always has been.”
“How’d he get messed up, Ruby?” It was Joe’s turn for sarcasm.
“How should I know? He was a problem from day one. He cried all the time, and when he got older, he gave me nothing but shit. When his sister pulled something, he took her side. Always sassing me, finding a way to get to me.”
I can’t do nothing with him. You see how he gets. He’s crazy, just like they all say. I tried, I really did.”
“By pushing his face on a hot stove burner?”
“You don’t know anything.”
“I know more than you think. You’re an alcoholic who took out your frustrations on your children. You abused Daniel, you abused his sister, and you’re surprised your son killed somebody. Yeah, he’s messed up, but it’s not all on him, lady.”
“I don’t have to take this from you. I’m not the one who killed that boy. I told you I did all I could. Now he’s all yours.”
Ruby stood and walked to the two-way mirror, looking at her reflection. She straightened her hair with shaking hands.
“I don’t know why you have to go on about me. It’s on him. He’s the one who killed that boy.”
She continued to primp. “I don’t know how he became such a monster.”
“Look in the mirror, lady.”