The inspector says, “No good fortune eliminates life’s little troubles,” and, with that, breaks another finger on the accused’s left hand. The force—he knows from experience—is big enough, and the responding howl will diminish into a whimper before long.
When silence settles again, he readdresses the accused and says, “You couldn’t have expected anything else.” Really, expectations are immaterial—the inspector stopped thinking of justice as more than fiction long ago—but the statement sits in the script he’s built over years.
“Do you want something to drink?” he asks.
Perhaps the inspector pours too fast, but the accused doesn’t expect alcohol, and what he doesn’t spray across the room dribbles down his chin, pink with his own blood and thicker than it ought to be.
“A shame” the inspector mutters. He half-expects the accused to say the same in unison—some relief might be welcome—but somehow that never happens.
“Can’t you speak?” he asks instead.
The accused’s crime remains unnamed, needs no name. The way of things places them in these roles, and they act. Outside this room, the inspector hears birds, their song filling the lapses between sobs and heaves of breath sawing the air. A gust stirs the leaves. Sunlight surges and fades as clouds pass.
“You might as well,” the inspector says, “it doesn’t matter.”
The accused is mute. It’s the nature of an accused to be so. Some transcendence would be nice but, to the inspector, it’s all so predictable—the questions, the answers, the inevitable. Sometimes, he finds himself suddenly as here-and-now as the accused, but the inspector slides into another moment, no second persisting long at all.
“Listen,” the inspector says, “We only want something, anything you can give.”
The accused may be unconscious—so hard to distinguish—and that’s fine with the inspector. The best time for acquiescence is exhaustion. Accept a reality other than your own and you shall be freed.
“Yes,” the accused whispers.
The rest joins history.