I glanced at the dame sat the other side of the desk. She was one classy broad. Never had to lift a finger for anything, always had everything she wanted, life had been pretty damn swell.
Even through the cigarette smoke that fogged the room, everything about her exuded elegance. Impatiently she crossed her long legs. I’d had all sorts in this interview cell, from cheap tarts to Fifth Avenue princesses, and I knew expensive hosiery when I saw it. I don’t know my Chanel No. 5 from my Sweet and Sour No. 36, but I have a nose for money. In this city, you have to, and in this police force I’m the Cyrano de Bergerac of high class crime.
This broad was still beautiful. She had the sort of eyes that made a man want to fall in love, deep dark velvet pools that you would gladly throw yourself into to drown.
I took a drag on my cheap stogie, trying to refocus my attention.
‘Queenie, it’s quite a rap sheet you’re facing. Attempted infanticide, infanticide, possession of a poisoned apple, possession of a poisoned comb, attempting to eat the heart and lungs of a minor…’
‘Oh, officer,’ she purred, ‘you can’t possibly believe all that, can you? It just doesn’t add up. Surely a man of your intelligence can see that?’
‘I’ve had my best officers on this one. Detective Inspector Grimm and his brother. They’ve trawled the sources and it’s all here. It don’t look good, Queenie, it don’t look good.’
She smiled at me and leaned forward on the desk, resting her softly manicured hands just in front of mine. Those ruby red lips parted just a little as if she was about to speak, then she stopped. She breathed deeply and her cleavage rose. Focus. Focus. Maintain eye contact. Everything in me wanted to glance downwards, to lose myself in the depths between those soft milky-white mounds of flesh.
She looked to her right, allowing me just enough time to take an instant snapshot of heaven. That image would go straight on my Sistine Chapel, forget Adam giving God the finger.
I waited, giving her time to stew. I lit another rolly and reached for the polystyrene coffee cup.
‘You really shouldn’t smoke, you know.’ She broke off from her thoughts and her voice caressed my soul like an angel sent to comfort me in my last hour. ‘Smoking constricts the blood vessels. In time you’ll find it hard to maintain a strong erection, and that would be a terrible shame, wouldn’t it?’
Most of my mouthful of coffee ejaculated in a hot cloud across the desk. As I swabbed at the papers, trying to dry them off, she started to spin her story.
‘Those Grimm brothers… my lawyer warned me about them. Your report, well, frankly it’s just…’ and she paused, looking round the room for the right words, giving me just enough time to notice that a small stain of coffee had appeared on the bust of the white satin blouse she wore. Dabbing that stain would bring me a step closer to knowing what it would be like to sing with the seraphim.
She found the words.
‘Frankly, it’s just a fairy story.’
‘Queenie, those are my best men. They solved the red riding hood case. They tracked down the dame with the glass slippers. Those two kids who went to the gingerbread house? All sorted. Nothing escapes them. They found evidence that you persuaded a huntsman to take your stepdaughter to a forest and murder her.’
Queenie looked hurt. I guess she’s perfected that look on dozens of men before now. It wasn’t going to wash with me.
‘You made him bring back the heart and lungs, and you ate them. Lucky he lied to you, isn’t it? You regularly dine on human entrails, Queenie?’
She smiled, the sort of smile that could persuade Nelson Mandela to punch a priest, if that was what she wanted.
‘Is that what you expect of a mother? Oh, officer, how little you know of the bond that a mother feels for the babe who has fed at her breasts.’
I didn’t feel in control of this interrogation. My head hammered like bunch of Bremen musicians had taken up residence to hold auditions. And they weren’t going well.
‘Mother? Stepmother you mean. Makes a big difference. I don’t know who else has been at your tits, babe.’
She looked wounded. She looked as if I’d told her that she wasn’t the fairest of them all. A tear made its way down her cheek. Damned broads, always pulling the waterworks card out of the bag. She stood up.
‘Do you mind if I get a tissue from my bag?’
‘Be my guest, Queenie.’
Her bag was next to the interview table. She bent over with straight legs, and something honest within me crumbled. That wasn’t a bottom. That wasn’t an arse. It wasn’t even a backside. It was beyond a work of art, a living embodiment of all that was beautiful in the world. It went beyond that.
The sight of this dame bending over was the proof that Pascal had always sought: the proof that in this dark sublunary abode, God really did exist. More than that, it was proof that God existed and truly wanted me to be happy.
‘Tell me, officer, when did the Grimms file their report?’
I looked at the cover page.
‘Just before 20 past 6 last night. 19 minutes past.’
‘18:19? My lawyer tells me they filed a different report 7 minutes earlier.’
‘The 1812 edition?’ This was news to me. How the hell did she know that? It was as if she had a magic mirror that told her things.
‘That’s the one. You should read it, officer, it’s very revealing.’ The mouth trembled and the eyes started to well again. Between me and a career-threatening move stood a table and my conviction that she was guilty. ‘It says I’m her mother. They changed it later just to frame me. Even Rumpelstiltskin couldn’t do a better stitch-up. You don’t believe I could be wicked, do you?’
The fairy hammers in my head grew stronger and I felt tiredness wash over me like Rip Van Winkle. Last night’s car chase seemed to have gone on for a thousand and one nights. A Ford Model A is no match for a crim in boots that can leap seven leagues in a single step. Thank God he got blisters just before 2am. If he ever got together with those elves who’d worked the shoemaker’s franchise, we’d all be in trouble.
‘You believe the huntsman’s story? Why do you trust him? Officer, you can believe him, or you can believe me. Look into my heart,’ and she rested one hand on mine and the other to where the chantilly lace ended and the smooth slopes of her chest began, ‘and know that I’m telling you the truth. I would never lie to you,’ she purred and gave my hand a squeeze before I pulled it away hurriedly. In all fairness, I had to see her point. The huntsman’s account would never stand up in court. But other things were starting to stand up in this cell. Focus. Focus.
‘You’re such a busy, important man, officer. Can I call you Hans?’
‘D.I. Andersen, thank you.’
‘Hans, do you know how old my daughter was?’
I glanced through the coffee-dyed papers in front of me.
‘Says here she was seven when the mirror dropped the bombshell about her being more beautiful than you.’
‘That’s not true. I asked the mirror who was ‘fairest’ – that’s reasonable, isn’t it? And it misinterpreted me. Like so many do.’
Damned waterworks on cue. Please don’t let her bend over again.
‘Seven. My lovely girl was seven. And then according to your officers, she’s lost and alone in the woods, when her special birthday forest hunt went wrong, and she ends up…’ she dabbed at her eyes, ‘I still can’t believe it. My poor sweet, innocent girl ends up cleaning, cooking and… well, who knows what else, for a gang of miners.’
‘Dwarves,’ I corrected her.
Queenie smiled gently at me. She was working me like a pool hustler works the room. Like a jazz musician works the crowd. Like a witch works a spindle.
‘Size matters to you, doesn’t it? Anyway. A minor for the miners. Nothing you find suspicious there? Domestic slavery, maybe? Put that on their rap sheet. She was only seven. They only had seven beds – your precious Grimms tell you that. So where did she sleep? You want to add child abuse and paedophilia to the charge?’
‘They tell me that you visited their cottage…’
‘And how would I have found it? Clearly lies.’
‘… that you visited their cottage and tried to suffocate her in a corset.’
‘Oh, right, right. So after an evening with seven men…’
‘… whatever, she’s found in a bondage costume and you decide to blame me? Me? You should check their cottage for gimp masks and handcuffs. Never mind Sleepy, Grumpy, Sneezy, Doc, Bashful, Dopey, Happy, you should check their aliases. Spanky, Rumpy Pumpy, Cokey, Dom, Sado, Dopehead and Nappy, I think you’ll find.’
The Grimms had never let me down before. I felt the ground shift beneath my feet.
‘Detective Inspector Andersen, how would you feel if you found that your seven year old daughter had been left in the hands of…’ she paused and dabbed at her eyes, ‘of such… perverts. And the poisoned comb? They weren’t brushing her hair, they were tattooing my poor baby…’
I wasn’t going to be able to hold this broad. This was all spinning out of control.
‘I would never dream of telling you your job, Detective Inspector,’ and now her voice had turned to purring, like a fat cat who’s tummy tickling session had just gone into overtime, ‘but perhaps maybe you should be interviewing them. You haven’t even mentioned the cubicle they put her in so they could show her off to any passing pervert.’
‘You mean the glass coffin?’
‘Glass coffin? Is that what they told you? They dress her how they want, put her on display to voyeurs in a wipe-clean cubicle, sell her to a passing prince and they convince you it’s a coffin? Oh, my poor dear, you must be working so hard… I’m sure you need a break. Perhaps you should visit my palace some time.’
‘Let’s not go there, Queenie.’ I paused and stroked my chin. There were too many loose ends here. ‘I need to dig a bit deeper. You’re still on the suspect list, but you can go. Don’t leave the city, don’t try to contact your step-daughter…’ she tried to correct me, but I continued, ‘step-daughter is what the charge sheet says. Stay out of trouble. I don’t want to see you again in here.’
She smiled, a smile that would bring down an ice palace in a matter of seconds, and breathed deeply.
‘Oh, officer, you’ve been so kind. Is there any way that I can thank you?’
A hundred different answers danced a vaudeville in my fecund imagination. Few of them involved her remaining vertical.
‘Just doing my job, Ma’am.’
A wiggle of those velvet hips and she was at the door. As she took the handle, a thought seemed to occur to her, and she paused. Putting her hand into her bag, she pulled out something red and green.
‘Would you like an apple?’