If Jessica wasn’t used to waking up hungover, she would have thought someone was playing drums on her skull. Had she been drinking last night? She couldn’t remember anything she had done. Two scotch bottles, one half-empty, sat on the table by the couch, as if asking her what else would she have done? Out of habit, she began thinking up an excuse for when Nisa would scold her.
Oh God, it was coming back to her now. Flashes of her pacing back and forth, nervous phone calls, puking into the toilet. Worthless. Stupid. Couldn’t do anything without Nisa. How was she going to pay the bills? How was she going to save her only friend?
She saw herself as a teenage girl, trying to dry her wounds with toilet paper when someone knocked on the bathroom door. Martha and her had been training with their powers in the cabin basement, Martha hitting the targets every time while her constructs floundered like fish out of water. Mother wanted her to run through it again, but she wanted to go back to her own little world. She was tired. Mother grabbed her by the hair and told her to not make her regret not having aborted her. When she warily opened the door, Martha was standing there with a smile and a bottle of whiskey.
“I stole it from the pantry. She’s got so many she won’t notice this one missing…” She shook the bottle before offering it. “Thought it might make you feel better.”
Jessica took the bottle in her hands, which looked cartoonishly small in the oversized hoodie she was wearing. She twisted the top off before taking a nip.
Martha sat down on her bed, tucking her hair behind her ear. “I know mom’s hard on you, but the tests are still good for you. People like us, we’re blessed. There’s so many cool things you could do with your powers if you put your mind to it. Just get wait until you’re eighteen, then you’ll be grateful.”
Jessica traded the MP3 player under her bed out for the bottle. “Blessed. Yeah, right. You’re the one who can make anything you put your mind too. I make depressing black goop. She thinks I’m a failure.”
“Do you think you’re a failure?”
“Hmph.” She frowned as she cycled through pirated playlists. “I don’t care what she thinks.”
“That’s not what I asked.” Martha tilted her head back when she said that like she already knew the answer. Jessica wanted to confide in her so badly. She wanted her to understand what it was like living with no friends, no hope and no soul. Hating what you saw in the mirror not because of the fleeting concerns of puberty, but because you were a distorted fragment of the person you hated the most, like a photocopy printed with not enough ink. A genetic redundancy that didn’t fit in Skinnyman’s grand designs and couldn’t craft any designs of her own. But she couldn’t confide in Martha, because she fit. There was no reason for twins.
Martha thinking she was a failure hurt much worse.
She grabbed a packet of smokes to snap herself from her daze but the doorbell rang before she could light up.
“Please don’t be the IRS…” she groused, getting up to look through the keyhole. Jeff was standing there, trying to look like a cool customer, but his eyes told the real story.
“Jeff, is everything alright?” she asked as she opened the door.
Jeff wringed his hands as he peeked over her shoulder. Was he looking at her liquor bottles? “I won’t sugarcoat it. No. That’s why they wanted me to bring you in. I’ll explain everything at the station.”
Suddenly she felt very clammy. “Oh. Was I driving last night? Did I hit somebody?”
Jeff put a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, just breathe. I promise I’ll explain everything, I just need you to come with me.”
Jeff took Jessica straight to police headquarters, a shiny glass cubish building in Riverwalk. Despite being the largest police building in the city, it wasn’t any busier than the others, since only specialized units were permanently stationed there. He led her to her to the detective’s office near the rear of the building. Most of his co-workers weren’t working or were working out in the field, but those that were there were poking their heads out of their cubicles, staring at her like she had ‘criminal’ tattooed on her forehead.
“What’s going on?” she whispered.
“This will go much smoother if you remain calm,” he reiterated, using his ID card to unlock an interview room. The lights inside were already on. Very on – she had to squint or else she thought her corneas would fry like eggs.
“I’m going to need you to put your arms out,” he said, gesturing towards the part of the table where a pair of handcuffs were bolted on.
She made a face, but complied. “Hmph. Is this really necessary?” she asked, trying to sound indignant but coming across more like a scared little girl.
“Just following orders. I know you wouldn’t do anything to hurt me.” This guy was always so sure of everything, wasn’t he? Whatever hole she was in, she wasn’t planning on digging herself any deeper, so she said nothing while he restrained her. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
At this point, she wasn’t feeling a modicum of shame. She rested her head on the table until Jeff returned, holding a manila folder and a tablet.
“Before we begin, could you please state your name for the record?”
Pulling herself up, she wrinkled her nose. “Why don’t you ask me to recite my ABCs while your at it?”
Jeff rolled his eyes.
She did the same before finding the camera in the corner. “Jessica Napier.”
“Thank you.” Jeff removed his hat and steepled his hands. “Now, I need to inform you that you don’t have to talk to us. You can stop at anytime you choose and consult a lawyer.”
Nisa always said to not talk to cops without a lawyer. Screw that. “I have nothing to hide.”
“Good. Let me fetch you a KIV waiver.” Once that was signed, he continued. “We had a homicide reported last night in Kirby, in the parking lot of Pine Point Apartments. A man was stabbed to death in his car with few signs of resistance. Neighbors reported the body a few hours after death, but no one had heard or seen a scuffle.” He pulled a photo out from the folder. “Do you recognize the victim?”
“Yeah,” she muttered. “That’s Jake Rivers.”
“And what was your relationship with Mr. Rivers?”
She gnawed on her lower lip. “I used to buy lab equipment from him. Nisa used it to filter the drugs we used to sell.” Looking up at the camera again, she reiterated “Used to. Past tense.”
Nodding, Jeff put the photo back. “And when was the last time you saw Mr. Rivers?”
The way she had interrogated him was very much illegal, and she couldn’t help Nisa if she was on probation or in jail. She had to lie. “Probably six months ago? I couldn’t tell you any details, I wasn’t close to the guy or anything.”
“You didn’t share anything with Mr. Rivers that you wouldn’t have liked spreading around?” Jeff’s eyes were zeroing in on her.
“Let’s cut the bullshit,” she snarled, “Are you accusing me of killing Rivers?” She couldn’t have. Besides, she didn’t have it in her. She wasn’t her mother.
Sighing, Jeff drummed the table and picked up the tablet. “I suppose it’s only fair… “ He poked the screen a few times before holding up a video. It was one of those grainy, gray security footages. It hadn’t captured much but a few cars a bunch of trees around a sidewalk until a figure slid into view. Tall and skinny, feminine, red hair, high cheekbones…
No, that was impossible. Jessica was a degenerate, a bottom-feeder and a criminal, but she wasn’t a murderer. She had to be better than this. Try as she might, though, she couldn’t remember where she was last night. Maybe not with aforethought, but if she was drunk, so drunk her base instincts had taken over…
She needed to puke. Jeff grabbed a trash can for her to hurl into. He waited until she had spat the last of her burning dribble out to continue.
“Rivers’ wounds weren’t the jagged wounds you’d expect from a blade. I think he was cut by some sort of anomalous projection. Jessica, I need you to be honest with me. Did you kill Jake Rivers?”
This couldn’t have been happening. It was some horrible nightmare her guilty conscience had cobbled together. The details weren’t adding up. The bottle sitting on her table that morning, she hadn’t seen it before. It was new. The liquor store! She had gone to the liquor store last night!
“Pull up that video again,” she wheezed. Jeff raised an eyebrow but did so. The timestamp was around ten-thirty. She had gone to the liquor store at ten-fifteen. “No, that’s not me. That’s not fucking me, goddammit! Gordon Square Liquor, I was there. I couldn’t have killed Jake. I’m no killer,” she pleaded.
“I should be back in half an hour to forty-five minutes.” Jeff signaled for the detective behind the glass to stop recording, gathered his things, and left.
The wait felt like it dragged on for days. She put her head back on the desk, looking away from the glass. She must have looked terrible. Going through the details in her mind again revealed another funny thing. She couldn’t stab with her powers. Martha could, and she must have assumed she had trained to get to that level. Never underestimate what a sack of shit I am, sis.
Jeff actually kept his promise and returned. He began to uncuff her. “Your alibi checks out. The clerk backed your story up and showed me security footage.”
Letting out a deep sigh, she wiped her teary, snotty face with a sleeve. “I’m not a killer. I’m not a killer. Did you even believe me, you asshole?”
Adjusting his hat, Jeff shrugged. “I considered the possibility. Locard’s exchange principle dictates the killer must have transferred evidence to the crime scene. So we scoured Rivers’ car and found a red hair. A red hair too short to be yours, evidently.”
“You have mentioned a twin sister many times. Unfortunately, at least according to the government, she doesn’t exist.”
Of course not. Jessica had been living like an illegal immigrant before she ran into Jeff, without an ID or a paper trail. Martha must have never gone onto the grid.
This is what I get for filing my tax returns…
“Do you have any way to contact her?” Jeff continued.
“No. But… she contacted me the other day. Have you gotten a missing person report about Nisa yet?”
“I’m guessing I should have?”
Jessica lifted her shirt to show off her bruised ribs. “She snatched Nisa from thin air, then beat the crap out of me to send a message.”
“Oh, for the love of…” For once, barely perceptibly, Jeff’s face actually curled in frustration. “So that’s why Nisa wasn’t there this morning.”
“Mhm. I don’t know what Scholz is doing, but he should have-”
Her ringtone cut through the conversation. Speaking of the devil, the caller was none other than Wilbur.
“How’d you get my number?”
“Nisa! Nisa told me! And why the hell didn’t you tell me she’d gone missing?!”
“I’ve been busy, asswipe. I thought you’d have figured it out by now.”
“I thought she was just mad at me for some reason! You know how women are.” She rolled her eyes. “I called as soon as I heard you got pinned for a murder. I guess us talking means you’re off the hook?”
Wilbur had buddies on the inside now? What was the world coming to, when a doofus like him… “Yeah.”
“Great. I’m gonna need you to come outside now. We need to talk.”
“And if I say no?”
“You don’t get to say no. Not with Nisa’s life in the balance. Okay? Cut the crap, meet me outside. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but… I think I need you.”