Claire drove a silver Porsche, which shouldn't have surprised me in the slightest. She was a Highfair cross-over. I got into the passenger side and watched Claire fold up her sunglasses so she could see better, the glass was tinted on the other side. Her eyes were forward, the same grass-green of her handsome brother. These Miltons didn't even seem human to me, it was like I'd stepped into a reality TV show like theHousewives of Beverley Hills. The car hummed and I could feel how nice the leather of my seat was, and I got nervous about somehow damaging it.
"You know theMaudlin Postis just a third-rate paper, right?" I felt compelled to turn and tell her.
"Well obviously I did my research." Claire responded as she pulled smoothly away from the curb.
"So you must have been the one that answered George- err, our call before hanging up."
"It wouldn't have been safe to talk in the house."
As she turned us down another street I gulped. What were the questions I was supposed to be asking now? I was wracking my brain.Did your brother kill Adam Creson? Do you think he did?It didn't take long until we pulled up to the police station, a flat slab of a building with a ramp and sliding door. A big sign with the blue-white chequered pattern. We pulled up to the curb, Claire got out and fiddled with her handbag. I followed and saw her lighting a cigarette, taking a deep puff. She took another two deep puffs before tossing it into a grimy public bin.
She turned to me as I watched her "Something needs to be done to convince my parents. To convince him. Come on, my brother's waiting for you."
Nodding I followed her up the ramp and into the police station. The glass doors slid open and I watched her stroll in straight-backed. The front room of the station was pretty small, I saw posters for domestic violence and speeding offences taped on the walls. Bullet-proof glass over the counter. There were maybe two other bedraggled folks hunched in plastic waiting chairs. Blue uniformed officers were standing around, a shaved oval-headed man and a dark-haired woman.
"Officer Caldwell, I've brought press." She swished her hands towards me.
"Hi, I'm Phillip Cleckley from theMaudlin Post." I introduced myself to the man, he was over six-feet tall with icy-blue eyes. He shook my hand readily.
"I'm Officer O'Neil and that's Officer Amdur." The woman indicated to another middle-eastern colleague who was waiting around a corner. She didn't bother shaking my hand "Something's got to be done about this, it can't go on."
Even the reception ladies were standing and listening. Everyone looked so rife with exasperated hopelessness.
"...I'm happy to help any way I can." I spoke up. "Though I got to admit I'm not sure why you want me to talk to Stanley. Is the threat of negative publicity supposed to intimidate him?" I watched their eyes move between each other. I almost brought up Adam Creson but didn't.
"If my parents or anyone working for them comes, we'll stop the interview." Claire quietly broke the poignant silence. "They got their grips into the press here, but they can't stop an Eastland newspaper. Word getting out will finally make them do something about my brother."
At this point it became clear these people wanted to use me for some objective. I was also going to be using them for my objective: getting this story published. The officers gave consenting nods, looking grave.
"Come on, son." Officer Caldwell started leading me down the corridor. "I'll take you to him now."
I followed amongst the officers, feeling nervous despite myself. They had their hands resting on their bulky, black utility belts. Caldwell had a wide stance and strong walk, the man stopped at a white door. Flashing a card by a scanner it clicked and unlocked.
"Will it be safe to be alone with him?" I barely thought to ask, but it was already too late. He just gave a wry smile and continued opening the door for me.
It was a room for questioning. White with a table and one-sided mirrors. I entered the room alone with Stanley Milton and the door was shut behind me.
First impressions: he immediately raised his head, smiled in a very friendly way and said "Hello Phillip!"
I was briefly dazed. Looking full-force into those wide, grass-green eyes. Slowing on my way to the chair opposite this young man, who was my age. I tried to remember he could be a killer. He was certainly a bad guy, a spoiled little shit like George had said. And yet... if I'd had a hundred guesses as to what Stanley would be like, I wouldn't have guessed it. This handsome man looked confident, but there was absolutely no discernible smugness or arrogance. He didn't look sour, angry or in any way hardened by anything. He looked bright, clear-headed and very friendly.
"...Hello Stanley." I sat down opposite him.
"My sister tells me you're a journalist for theMaudlin Post. That's great. Though I can't say I've heard of them." He wore a blue V-neck shirt and brown slacks. The clothes were quality, at his shoulder I could see a black smudge. Perhaps oil after he crashed his stolen vehicle while drunk and high.
"We're based in Eastland."
"Ah. Well I'm honoured to speak with you, regardless." He smiled with white teeth. Appeared entirely respectful and courteous. If he was pulling my leg, I couldn't tell.
"Your sister, Claire?"
"Yes," a congenial nod.
"She told me that you wanted to speak to me and do an interview."
"Yes, very much so."
"So here we are... at the police station. In an interrogation room..." I looked around as the incredulity started to settle in. Stanley gave a slight nod to show he followed, but didn't find anything strange about our current circumstances.
I cleared my throat and sat forward "Why would you want to do an interview with me?"
"Two years ago I was in Berlin," he rested his chin in his palm, those green eyes gazing wistfully upwards "There I had the honour of being front page news for my accomplishments, and for several weeks! It changed my life and my whole outlook on life. I became more of a man in Berlin. If you've never travelled abroad I highly recommend it, being a part of other cultures changes your outlook on life."
I stared at him in utter disbelief. Again, Stanley's show of gratitude and deep reflection seemed completely genuine.Is he a really good liar?And yet his face was one of the most untroubled and innocent faces I'd ever laid eyes on. Those greens were rounded like the shape of dumplings, and close-set like a Teddy bear. Aside from that he was stunningly handsome. He was charming to me, a perfect gentleman, because he wanted to be the focus of some third-rate newspaper in another city?
I was glad George wasn't here. In just a minute or two of conversation my whole deductive skills slid to the floor in a mushy puddle. I couldn't figure Stanley out.
I thought he'd be a narcissist, and yet he seemedaffable. I thought he could be a sociopath, but he didn't seem restrained or calculating. He looked like a picture of ease, having a mere pleasant chat.
"Did you kill Adam Creson?"
I threw it at him like a bomb. It was very stupid. I should've worked up to it, lest he decide to end our interview before I got any good quotes. But I wanted a reaction.
Stanley blinked at me and seemed a little taken aback.
"Of course not. I loved Adam."
"Do you love your sister?"
"Of course, I love Claire."
"Do you love your parents?"
"Of course, I love my parents very much."
I repeatedly tapped my finger into the table. I knew what selfish and abusive men were like. Heck I was drawn to those kinds of men, my relationships were a long line of them. Stanley wasn't one of them. I pulled out my notebook and pen to take notes.
"...so for pretext. You have just been arrested for stealing a car, driving it drunk and high, and crashing it."
"Yes." He nodded and at once looked solemn.
"And it's not the first time you've stolen vehicles, upset the police, upset the people of this town, and caused damage to public property."
"Yes," he nodded admittedly, almost sheepish.
"Then why the hell did you do it?" I asked in a louder voice.
"Well you know how small towns are, my Dad likes to keep me close so I couldn't attend more prestigious colleges like my older siblings." He pulled a face. "In other cities there's theatres, night life, excitement! Also I want to be a physiotherapist when I'm older, it's been such a passion of mine ever since my big brother Kurt tore a muscle in his leg after his skiing accident. I'm passionate about helping people and I know that with some help I'll be able to finish my degree and make a real difference out there in society, start to pay back the damage I've done. It's thanks to the help of the officers here, my sister Claire, my parents, and everyone that I've been able to make such incredible positive changes and I'm finally starting to see evidence too. Everyone's tried so hard and helped me so much, and I'll alwaysalwaysbe grateful for that."
"O-kay." My pen tapped my notepad but I wrote nothing down.What the fuck is going on here?I needed more time to think and pause. Then clearing my throat "What is going through your mind when you do these criminal things? Do you disassociate? Do you hallucinate?"
"No, never." He shook his head. "I suppose partly... it's aboys will be boysthing. I know it's wrong, and I'm very sorry." He looked me in the eyes to assure me of his remorse. "These things just happen. Nobody got hurt. And I'm committed to co-operating with the officers here to get my behaviour under control."
"This criminal behaviour has been a repetitive pattern of yours for years, right?" I couldn't believe he could just shrug it off like no big deal.
"My Dad is happy to pay off all damages. And I'm happy to do whatever it takes to get better and be a wholesome, productive and contributing member to society." He assured me.
"O-kay." I repeated, again in two syllables.
"You're very young and handsome for a reporter." His smile was back, and I realised he was flirting with me.
"What was your relationship with Adam Creson?"
"He was a great guy, losing him was a tragedy." A mournful shake of his head. "We weren't close. I hung out with him on occasion, had a drink now and then, always with other company. We never hung out just the two of us. He was a kind, genuinely caring person."
It sounded like the kind of fake, sentimental crap you'd expect to read in an obituary column. But he said it with deep emotion. Before I could bite at it the door quickly opened.
"We're going to have to stop you now." The dark-haired woman, Officer O'Neil spoke with some urgency. "Mr Milton's here."
"Thank you, Mary." Stanley said to her while I stood. "Give my regards to my father. And I hope we can catch up soon to finish our interview, Phillip." He shot me a wink. I said nothing as the door was closed behind me.
I could hear a man arguing with the officers at the front, the lady officer led me further down the corridor to a back room and exit. My head was still turning slowly, trying to process.
"I can't... believe..." I saw her nodding to me knowingly, the same wrought exasperation from before. "I can't imagine... that man breaking into a car, getting drunk and high, getting chased by the police and then crashing the car. I can't."
"He is never psychotic." Officer O'Neil explained to me as we got to the backdoor. "We got to lock him up when he's here, or he'll escape. But he never gets very far, we'll usually find him in an hour getting food or hanging out with friends. He's always aware of what he's done, he's always highly lucid when he talks, but no matter how convincing and compliant he acts, he always goes back to doing criminal behaviour with seemingly no motive. He's never admitted to feeling compelled to doing it, he doesn't care about himself, he just keeps doing it while promising to get better, saying he's got better, and then doing it again anyway."
"This is not the story George was hoping for." I couldn't help murmuring. We stopped by a back exit and I turned to her "I understand if you can't tell me about this, but... Adam Creson?"
"Okay, so, Saturday morning he was found on four-hundred-acre farmland. The fencing was run over by a car that matches reports of a stolen vehicle that is still unaccounted for. If Stanley stole it he took the time to hide it when he was finished joyriding for a change, or someone hid it for him. He's said he never associated with Adam one-on-one before and that seems to be true. We're looking for a possible motive for someone whose criminal history appears motiveless. His family provided an alibi stating he was home with them Friday night."
"Oh my God." I spoke while the door was opened for me.
"This boy has never served a real sentence in prison. Be careful of the Milton family, but please run your story. It's not big enough for any major outlets yet, though the murder might finally draw some attention to him. We're doing everything we can down here but it's not been enough."
"Thank you." I spoke as I stepped out. I was being ushered, and I realised they didn't want Mr Milton to see me there.
After descending some concrete steps, and following the driveway around, passing shiny shrubs on bark mulch, I continued to process. My steps were slow. By the road I saw Claire leaning against a post-mail depository. Her bulky Gucci sunglasses were back on as she stress-pulled from her cigarette. I was still holding my notepad and I'd written down nothing.
"Want to go for a coffee?" Claire asked me.
I pulled out my phone and checked the time. It was now after one o'clock in the afternoon.
"Sure." I smiled and followed her back to her Porsche.
She drove us to a casual café at the edge of town. Outdoors with umbrella-topped tables. It was the first spot I'd seen that reminded me of home. Just a normal baked-confectionary café. Hot glass counter. We got Cappuccinos, Claire telling the waitress to hold the foam while I was fine taking it as is. We took our seats, some families were at the other tables and young kids were running around with balloon animals. The street was some ways away, beyond a cobbled terrace. Claire's nose was pink from the cold.
"Your brother is nothing like I expected." I had to confess.
"Were you expecting a bragging hooligan?"
"A Justin Bieber circa urinating in a bucket and speeding. Yeah, I thought he'd be something like that."
A prim puff of a laugh "If that were the case there'd be some hope for him. Maybe those overnight stays in cells would've scared some sense into him."
"I take it they didn't?"
"He makes friends with the other prisoners. My brother hangs out with all crowds of people. Rich, poor, college co-eds and street-side degenerates. He doesn't discriminate between who he spends time with."
"When did this start? What is your family like? There's got to be some kind of trauma to account for this behaviour."
Those black discs turned to me "I am the youngest of four siblings. Stanley is older than me by two years, then we have Rachel older than him by two years and Kurt the oldest, another two years.Wehave never broken a law in our lives. The worst thing I do issmokefor God's sake, and I used to be terrified of what would happen if our parents found out. Mum and Dad love us, they were stern and had high expectations, they raised us right. But Stanley..." she was looking aside but then suddenly snapped her head back to me "I'm talking to you now because I think you can help me,us. Phillip Cleckley," she was stern "I do not consent to being named as anyone other than an anonymous source. If my parents find out I'm talking to you I'mfucked." She rifled through her designer handbag for another cigarette.
"It's okay, Claire, I'd like to sort this out too."
She lit the cigarette and spoke around it "Stanley never had any trauma that I know of. He was a happy kid in primary school, he was polite and friendly always. Everyone loves Stanley. Mum and Dad and all of us love him. It started in junior high when he was thirteen..." she scratched her forehead, stressed. "He started ditching classes all the time and stealing. But he's never had a bad temperament, when Dad tried to punish him by taking away privileges he'd say it was unfair and argue the point, but nothing's ever stopped his behaviour."
"Do you think hemurdered Adam Creson?"
We straightened as the aproned waitress deposited our coffees, I smiled at her in thanks as she whisked away. My informant picked up her coffee cup and plate, sipping. I couldn't gauge her emotion behind the sunglasses.
I pushed "Claire?"
"I don't know." She breathed in the softest of whispers.
"Has he ever been violent?"
"Yes." She answered "He's been in street fights, though rarely throws the first punch. He's resisted arrest, but it seems more like him being dramatic than actually trying to hurt someone. Who could say."
Who could say. We drank in silence for a while. No difficult home life, no discernible trauma. Stanley reached puberty and then some kind of switch went off in his brain that caused him to start acting up. I had no idea what to think, or what angle to take with the story. Stanley's lines, while fresh in my head, were dripping with a profound self-awareness and desire to improve that simply had to be insincere. I couldn't neglect to mention our interview in my writing, but all I could see was sincerity. Someone who truly couldn't grasp the severity of his actions. But that bullshit speech about college kid Adam Creson being a compassionate soul? Stanley was a liar of dazzling calibre.
"I want to give you my number." Claire said to me. "I want you to keep me apprised on everything. In exchange I'll see what I can do to help you with your story."
"Okay, thank you."
"No, thank you."
Afterwards I walked back to the hotel, declining Claire's offer to drive me. I needed to process my thoughts. A wind picked up, scattering brown leaves and causing pedestrians to clutch at scarfs. Stanley Milton was manipulative, but to no real end. His life was extremely unorganized and chaotic. Unsustainable, with no benefit for him or anyone else. And yet he is lucid...
When understanding my own curious psychology, I was able to reflect on my unusual childhood. Events that led to me becoming the adult I am now. I could draw lines and make conclusions. I could identify with symptoms, thought-patterns and thus I self-diagnosed. My self-diagnoses is a secret I keep from absolutely everyone. But there are valid evidences for a theory I'm very confident in. Stanley, being an impulsive character, wants to see his name in the newspaper again out of some perverted ego-trip. I would agree to write an article the length of many pages (not that Mr Tourvel would ever run it) about the life and times of millionaire businessman's son Stanley Milton. And while he lets me get close and see his day-to-day habits firsthand, I'll really be looking deeper into whether or not Stanley was responsible for Adam's murder.
I was halfway back when my ringing phone distracted me from my thoughts. It wasn't George who was no doubt hard at work. It was a family call.
"Hey Mum," I answered.
"Hey sweetie I got your message." Her wavering voice greeted me. I could hear the TV going in the background. "Your first journalism assignment, how exciting! How's Lochdale?"
"I really like it here. You would too. It's veryquaint. I just finished talking to a source and am walking back to the hotel. This story is... unusual, to say the least."
"Oh how wonderful! That's fantastic, sweetheart. I've just got back from the grocery to start that new diet, Dr Merteuil said I needed to watch my cholesterol..." my hypochondriac and mildly histrionic mother began talking at length about her minor health concerns, new blood pressure tablets and household hobbies. Gardening, knitting and paper mâché.
"How's Cassie and Emma?" I inquired about my older sisters.
"Well, you know how they are, Cassie's still in her little art studio. I don't think she's had any luck selling those paintings. Emma is pregnant again."
"Oh wonderful. Is it Greg's?"
"I believe so."
"Has he got a job yet?"
"I don't think so. Sweetie, I wanted to ask you about your father. Robbie is still drinking so much. Me and him haven't been in touch for a long time, but you were the apple of his eye... I hope you still keep in touch."
"I call him every month. Actually, it's about time for me to call him again."
"That's so good, sweetheart. He won't talk to anyone but you."
I gave her my assurances and she let me go just as Lochdale's olde pub came into view.