by C. G. Morelli
Detective Barnum brushed the chipped edge of his coffee-stained mug against his bushy mustache and swallowed a few inky gulps. The liquid had long since cooled to the temperature of a meat locker, but the lumbering officer liked it that way. There was nothing he hated more than pretentious, old coffee sippers or, worse yet, any man who dared to drink tea.
“We got us a live one in there,” he muttered to his partner as he reworked the handcuff-shaped cuff links that peaked out from beneath the gray sleeves of his suit. “And, Graham, don’t let your voice get too warmed up because I get to be the hard-ass this time.”
“Oh, nuts,” Graham responded as he ran a slim comb through a mat of gray hair. He straightened the red bow tie he always wore with his blue and white seer-sucker suit and brown loafers. “Gotta get myself in order, you know.”
Barnum shook his head and wiped a few drops of moisture from his perpetually perspiring forehead. Then the two men slipped inside a room they’d used more frequently than any other in the precinct, minus the bathroom stalls.
A prisoner was already waiting for them inside. He was definitely not the garden-variety criminal. His long brown hair stretched casually down beneath his shoulders and he wore a crisply-pressed white robe which billowed to the floor to meet a pair of ancient-looking sandals. His welcoming smile was a far stretch from the greasy sneers that usually stared back at Barnum and Graham from the same aluminum folding chair behind the same decrepit table.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, son,” Graham said politely as he flicked on the blinding light bulb that hung directly above the table. “Have yourself a glass of water. I can’t say you won’t be needing it.”
He winked at the prisoner and gestured over his shoulder at Barnum, who was wearing a very predictable grimace on his face.
“Let’s not pamper the little devil, Graham. He’s a scumbag after all. Isn’t that right, Mr…. what’d you say your name was?”
“Jesus,” the prisoner responded sheepishly.
“Oh, yes sir, my pardon,” Barnum quipped, “the one and only Mr. Hey-Zeus. King of the Jews. The only son of God. Just goes to show you, don’t matter who you are, crime doesn’t pay.”
“But I didn’t—“
“You’ll speak when spoken to!” Barnum shouted as he slammed a meaty fist against the old table. “I’m asking the questions here. I’m calling the shots. And I don’t recall today being no Sunday so, as I see it, I don’t have to listen to a single word you got to say.”
“Now, Barnum,” Graham added soothingly, “couldn’t we just give him a chance to explain his side of things? It couldn’t hurt, could it?”
“I suppose you’re right. But it’ll be on my terms. You got that, maggot?”
The prisoner nodded his approval.
“Now it seems to me… with you being, you know, all powerful and whatnot, that you’d have a pretty good handle on things. So why in God’s name are people starving all over the planet?”
“That’s not exactly correct,” said the prisoner.
“Oh, I see,” Barnum said slowly.
“Looks like an outright denial,” Graham added. “Mr. Jesus, I been doing this a long time and I ain’t never seen a prisoner get away with something they haven’t been truthful about. Now it’s just my friendly advice that you be completely open and honest with us. I doubt my friend Mr. Barnum here will be apt to show as much hospitality.”
“But didn’t I—“
“I said I’m asking the questions here!” Barnum bellowed. “Now we got these pestering liberals ready to give handouts to any shabbily-dressed millionaire off the street and the damn communists are populating the planet like a nest of rabbits. Between them there’s not a morsel to swallow for all the poor little orphans out there. They’re growing children too!”
“But, detective, I don’t follow your argu—“
“I told you, maggot! You’ll speak when spoken to or you’ll wait until Sunday, whatever comes first. Now what about this whole creation nonsense?”
“Yeah,” Graham chimed in. “I’d like to hear all about that scientific mumbo jumbo straight from the source.”
Confusion quickly flashed across the prisoner’s face.
“The source?” he asked.
“Yeah. Says in the big book you created everything in seven days.”
Barnum leaned back to admire the knowledge he was spewing.
“That wasn’t me.”
“Sure it was,” Graham protested. “Been reading about it all my life.
“And since you created it all, you must have created science along the way too.”
“Again, not me, but I still don’t—“
“So why in God’s name can’t you get a handle on those guys? I mean, these scientists are hell-bent on claiming your work for their own.”
The prisoner had no response other than a blank stare that he tossed like a grenade upon the sheer naivety of his interrogators. Neither Barnum nor Graham noticed, and they simply continued their frenzied theorizing.
“Great point, Barnum,” Graham added. “They expect me to believe this planet was created when a couple of rocks slammed together?”
“Yeah,” said Barnum. “Or that humans were nothing more than a couple of circus chimps swinging from a tree?”
He pressed his meaty palms flat against the table and inched his bulldog snout to within a hair’s width of the prisoner’s face.
“Looks like he ain’t got much to say on this account neither, Graham. Another admission of guilt.”
“Yep,” Graham cooed. “It’s a damn shame, Mr. Jesus. I was starting to like you. Was rooting for you, actually. But I can only help you if you can answer Mr. Barnum’s questions.”
“Let’s not soften the blow here, Graham. I still have another question for him.” Barnum took a long, smooth swig from the glass of water that was meant for the prisoner. “Now, on a final account it occurs to me that all these new religions are just mucking up the works. Couldn’t we just save ourselves a lot of trouble if you just up and eliminated all the heathens?”
“Yeah,” said Graham, “it does seem like high time for you to be raining down hellfire and brimstone on the non-believers.”
Both Barnum and Graham stood erect and puffed out their chests and admired what they saw as their own lofty reasoning amid the temporary silence.
“Looks like he ain’t got another thing to say,” Barnum finally mumbled when it became apparent his questioning had fallen on deaf ears.
Graham responded in a somber tone that mocked all reality. “Then there’s nothing more I can do for him. Seems like he’s guilty on all counts. Will you do the honors, Detective Barnum?”
“It’ll be my pleasure.”
The overgrown detective reached beneath his jacket pocket and pulled out a pair of shimmering handcuffs. He grabbed the prisoner by one of his wrists and slapped one of the cuffs tightly around it.
“Come with me,” he said harshly.
And then Jesus looked him directly in the eyes. His countenance was that of a newly-born fawn mixed with the defiant glare of incredulity. But he went softly nonetheless, as he’d done once before, and he left the two detectives with only a few parting words for them to ponder.
“Look, fellas,” he said as they led him out of the interrogation room and back into the intestines of the precinct, “I think you have me all wrong.”
C. G. MORELLI’s work has appeared in Highlights for Children, Chicken Soup for the Soul, SI.com, Long Story Short, House of Horror and Fiction at Work. He is the author of a short story collection titled In the Pen (2007).