The Line Up

Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
Image of Short Story
“I don’t know,” she said, twisting the pendant on her necklace.

“Alright,” he said. “What about this one?”

“I don’t know,” she repeated.

He leaned on the desk and it groaned underneath his weight.

“We only have a few left,” he informed her, shuffling papers together. He looked over at her.

She kept her gaze forward. “Alright.”

The light switched back on and the next one appeared. His face came into frame and she leaned forward slightly, studying his long nose, the curve of his upper lip, and the unfamiliar wide set brown eyes.

“No,” she said simply, slumping back against the seat. She continued to slide the pendant between her fingertips.

The officer let out a sigh, and rubbed a hand over his mouth. He leaned against the edge of the table, folding his arms across his chest.

“You have to help us. You have to give us something. We’re doing all we can on our part,” said Officer Jim, his voice rough and deep.

She stretched her legs forward, resting her elbows on the arm of the metal chair. She could feel him watching her and when she didn’t answer, he let out a sigh and let his hands drop to his sides.

“We don’t have many left,” he announced, his voice echoing through the small room.

She stared straight ahead. “I know.”

He openly stared at her before shaking his head. “Let’s get the next one up.” His voice was loud, authoritative.

The light continued to flicker on and off, echoing off the word “No,” that continued to be repeated through the enclosed room.

She could tell he was getting more and more irritated with each, “No,” she muttered, but she stayed slouched in her chair, avoiding eye contact.

“Well that’s it,” his voice boomed, the light flickering off. He tossed a pile of papers onto the desk in front of her, and they landed with a soft thud. “That’s everyone.” He crossed his arms over his chest, looking expectantly at her.

She sat motionless with her face straight, continually sliding the necklace between her fingertips.

He exhaled slowly and radioed another officer. “Alright, Officer Davis, why don’t you round these men up and we’ll move on to the next section? Just come in here when you’re finished.”

The lights switched back on, and she could see all the men lined up together. She examined their glaring faces or bored stares, the ones who had tattoos creeping up their necks, the ones who had multiple piercings running across their faces, the ones whose lips were frozen in permanent frowns. Her eyebrows furrowed ever so slightly at the unfamiliar appearances, and she absentmindedly twisted the pendant around it’s chain.

After a minute, she breathed out, feeling herself deflate into the chair when Officer Davis strolled across the room, into view. Her eyes snapped up and she stared at his lanky figure, the ink black hair that peeked out from underneath his cap, and the icy blue eyes that suddenly locked with hers through that one-way glass.

She inhaled sharply, dropping the necklace, and shoot up in her seat, knees banging into the table.

“Miss Brenson?” Officer Jim called out, his voice gruff.

She tentatively leaned forward and sucked in a breath when she made out the fading scratch on his left cheekbone. Gripping the arm of the chair, she dug her fingernails into the material.

“Miss Brenson?” He repeated, louder.

She ignored him, frozen, every muscle on her body stilled. Her back stiffened alonged the metal chain, her spine pressing deeply into it. Her eyes followed after every possible man as they strolled out of the room, Officer Davis slinking after them.

As she heard the doorknob groan open, she squeezed her eyes shut, feeling her heart pound furiously against her chest.

Officer Davis’ shoes thundered louder with each long stride he took forward. She forced her eyes open and followed his gangly figure stalk through the room and felt the world tilt sideways as he crossed in front of her table. She sunk her fingernails into her thigh, pressing down, down, down, her eyes flying shut.

She could still feel his grip on his wrist, the way he crushed her hand and gripped at her throat, his kneecap pressing into her ribcage. The deep green marks had faded to a dull blue and she could swallow normally again, but she still woke up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, unable to stop herself from shaking.

Shuddering, she shifted in her seat, cradling her rib cage for a moment, and felt his eyes tracing over her skin from across the room. She bit down hard on her lip and felt the world shift around her. She pressed her eyes shut again, using the arms of the chair to steady herself before a deafening roar erupted in her eardrums and -

“Miss Brenson?” Officer Jim repeated, his voice thunderous, impatient. She jerked forward slightly, exasperated, trying not to gasp for air. “Miss Brenson, did any of those men look like the man who...” He paused abruptly, and tugged at the collar of his uniform and cleared his throat before continuing, “...Assaulted you?”

She avoided his eyes and fixated on the tile floor, allowing herself to catch her breath.

For a moment, she considered screaming, pointing at him, begging Officer Jim to take her somewhere safe. But then she thought of the nights she spent in the hospital, striped further of the last bit of dignity she had, the countless therapy appointments she canceled and was then forced to go to, and the time she spent locked in her room, boxed off from the world.

And then she remembered the crowbar she had nestled in the trunk of her car and she dug her nails into her palm.

“Miss Brenson?” Officer Jim asked again.

From the corner of the room, she could feel Officer Davis’ dead, icy gaze on her, but she willed herself still, and kept her gaze forward, straight ahead.

She pictured the zip ties and tape nestled under the blankets. She thought of the therapy sessions. She thought about the wasted hours she spent checking to make sure her windows were locked, one, two, three times. And she relieved that night over and over again, she was not free of it.

“Miss. Brenson.” Officer Jim said, his voice clipped, a warning following between each syllable.

Clearing her throat, she shifted and forced herself to lean back against the seat. Her shirt clung to her back and she felt the material sink in to her slick skin. Her fingers trembled slightly before they found the pendant again, clasping her fingers tightly around it. It was delivered to her through the mail - the police officers assumed it was hers after they found it at the crime scene. She never told them it wasn’t.

Officer Jim looked at her expectantly and a sense of calm settled over her and sunk into her skin.

She could sense Officer Davis shift slightly in the corner.

Her eyes locked with Officer Jim. “I don’t know.”

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