Authors: Brenda Grate
Tags: #Romance, #Travel, #Italy
The interrogation room was grey and cold. Aja shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. Aja sat at a steel table, bare but for a recorder, a pad of paper, a pencil, and a box of tissue. A chair across from her, waited for the police officer who would come in and ask her how she could do such a terrible thing.
A large mirror on one side of the room revealed her disheveled appearance. She knew that someone probably stood on the other side, watching for evidence of guilt.
“Of course I’m guilty!” she wanted to shout, but kept quiet. She still didn’t know what they thought of her, or if what she did could even be classified as self-defense. No man would acquit her.
Jokes would be told about her. Aja almost put her head down on the table, but stopped herself in time. She didn’t want to give anything away.
Aja felt small in the large metal chair, her feet not even reaching the ground. She was resigned to her stature, but sometimes it made her feel like a child and she didn’t want the police to see her that way. She shifted in the chair and scooted forward, trying to lengthen her legs as much as possible, but it was useless.
There was a noise outside the door. Aja snapped her head around and gasped at the pain in her neck. They had taken a lot of pictures when they brought her to the station, focusing on her neck and face. She figured she was going to be a mass of bruises in the morning.
The door opened and a tall, menacing man walked in. He looked very manly; the kind of man who would brag about his size.
He’s going to despise me, I can tell.
He sat at the table in front of Aja. “Are you okay, Miss Rain? Aja?” He said it as “Ah-Jah”. “May I call you Aja? Can I get you a hot drink or something?”
Why is he being so nice?
“It’s ‘Asia’, like the continent.” This was automatic—she’d said it so many times in her life, she no longer consciously noted it. “And, nothing to drink, thanks.”
“I’m sorry about the room.” He waved his hand at the grey walls. “It’s the only that was open. Otherwise we would have put you somewhere more comfortable.”
Aja was afraid of what he might be trying to get out of her with this nice routine. He must be the good cop.
Does the bad cop come in later?
“Are you cold? You need a sweater?” he asked. His voice was low and a little gruff, but she could hear only concern in it. It sounded genuine.
“I’m fine,” Aja said, her voice cracking.
“Good. I’m Officer Brandt. I’m going to take your statement. Now, can you tell me what happened, please? And take your time. We need the full story. I understand this is hard for you.”
Aja stared at him.
Officer Brandt smiled. “You’re not in trouble, okay? We know what he did to you. You had every right to defend yourself.”
Aja glanced down at the table to hide the tears springing to her eyes. She hadn’t expected them to understand.
When she began to speak, he turned on the tape recorder and picked up the pencil.
“Stephen came home drunk.” She swallowed, her throat still sore from being strangled. “He woke me up. I was already asleep, and he wanted to have sex.” She averted her eyes in embarrassment. “I told him no, that he was drunk and I was tired. He tried to force himself on me. I got angry because … well, it wasn’t the first time, and he never listened when I said no.”
Aja stopped and wiped tears away with a shaky hand.
Officer Brandt pushed the box of tissues closer to Aja and she plucked a couple, thanking him in a quiet voice.
“Take your time, Miss Rain, there’s no hurry.”
Aja got herself under control and continued her statement. “I shoved him off me and he landed on the floor. I got out of bed and tried to leave, but he grabbed my ankle and threw me to the ground.” Aja rubbed the shoulder that had hit the floor. “We fought on the floor, me trying to get away and Stephen still trying to force himself on me.”
She fought back the emotion and went on. “I guess I should mention that while we were fighting Stephen was totally naked. It matters later I guess.” She swallowed and kept her eyes averted, afraid of what she would read in the officer’s face.
“I managed to get away a second time and ran to the kitchen. All I could think of was finding a weapon that would keep him away from me. He’d done this to me too many times and I wanted it to end.” Aja stopped, thinking about how that sounded.
“I didn’t want to kill him, that’s not what I meant.” She burst out.
Officer Brandt smiled. “I know. It’s okay, please continue.”
She took courage from the serenity on his face. He didn’t hate her yet.
“He followed me to the kitchen, of course. I managed to pull a knife out of the block, a butcher knife, before he reached me. I held it in front of me and he hesitated. He was drunk so his thinking was slower, I could tell. Then without warning he lunged at me and tried to grab the knife. I wouldn’t let go and he wrestled for it. He’s stronger than me, and he kept pushing my hand lower and squeezing my wrist until I couldn’t hang on any longer.”
Aja paused again, watching the officer’s face. His expression didn’t change.
“I was trying to hold on and made a desperate attempt to get away. I swung my arm up, trying to get my wrist out of his hand. Well, it got him.”
Officer Brandt finally reacted, though just a little. Aja saw a small shudder pass through his body. She looked away and finished in a rush.
“The knife sliced his, you know, and there was blood everywhere. Stephen screamed and fell to the floor. That’s when I ran and called 911.”
She stopped and looked down at the table, afraid that he would arrest her. Then she thought of something. “Is he dead? Did I kill him?” With all the blood on her nightgown and the floor, he couldn’t have lived, could he?
“He’s going to live.” Officer Brandt said. “I’m not sure if he’ll be functioning as usual, though, but maybe that’s a good thing.” He smiled at Aja and she let out a sigh of relief.
He continued. “We’re not going to charge you, but I must warn you: Stephen will probably try to sue you in the civil courts. I don’t think he has a case, but I’m sure he’ll try.” An expression of distaste flashed on the officer’s face. Aja wondered if he knew Stephen.
“You’re free to go, Miss Rain. Thank you for giving your statement. If there’s anything you need, please let us know.” Officer Brandt handed her a business card. “You can call me anytime.” He smiled again, and this time Aja felt uncomfortable.
“Do you have someone who can pick you up?” he asked. “Or do you need a ride home?”
“I can call my Dad.” She answered before he could suggest himself as her ride. “I’ll call him on my cell.” She looked around and then realized she didn’t have her purse. She’d taken enough time to put on some clothes before being brought to the station by the attending police, but hadn’t thought to bring her purse.
“We have a phone outside the room, you can use that.”
Aja waited in the main area of the station for her father. She watched people coming and going, and was surprised by how many arrests had been made in the short time she was there. Vancouver was getting bigger all the time and Aja knew that meant a rise in crime. It made her sad because she loved her city and didn’t want to know about its dark side.
She turned and saw her father, face creased with worry, coming toward her.
He hugged her, and she felt safe at last. She cried into his shirt and gave him a condensed version of the story, not caring who saw them.
“Oh baby girl, baby girl. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there to protect you.” And without any warning her father swept her up in his arms and carried her to his car. Aja let herself relax in his capable arms and thanked God for her father. He would take care of her like he always did. The one thing Aja was dreading, though, was her mother’s reaction.
The front door opened as soon as Aja and her father pulled into the driveway. Her mother stood in the doorway, perfectly manicured despite the fact that it was past midnight. Aja wondered for the umpteenth time how her mother managed to be perfect all the time, especially when she never seemed to actually take time to groom herself. It was one thing Aja wished her mother had passed on to her.
Aja’s father helped her out of the car, then carried her into the house, while she protested that she could walk. Aja hated to show weakness in front of her mother.
“Aidan, she’s perfectly capable of walking.”
“I know,” he said, pushing past his wife. “I’m sure she could use a little pampering after what she’s gone through, Rosabel.”
Aja laid her head down on her father’s shoulder. “Thank you, Daddy,” she whispered.
His reply was to squeeze his arms tighter around his daughter. Aja had always been his favorite, something he made no bones about. Aja’s father was an unusual man in that he wanted a daughter more than sons, so when Aja was born after three boys, he was ecstatic. He spent the rest of the time ‘foolishly indulging her’, as her mother liked to say. And say it often, she did, but he didn’t care. He happily went on catering to Aja’s every whim. In spite of this, she didn’t grow up spoiled. It was probably because her mother did everything she could to counter her husband’s indulgences. In turn he pampered her more, until Aja felt like the rope in an enthusiastic game of tug-of-war.
Her father put her down on her frilly pink childhood bed. She sank into the soft mattress with a sigh.
Her father knelt beside the bed and took her hand. “Tell me what happened, Sweetie.”
The room was dark and her father’s presence was comforting, but she wasn’t fooled by his gentle tone. He wanted the story so he could go deal with the animal that dared to hurt his beloved daughter. It was the main reason Aja hadn’t left Stephen when the abuse first started. She didn’t want to be responsible for her father going to jail for murder.
“I don’t want to talk about it, Daddy. Okay?” She asked, hoping he would let it go. She should have known better.
“I want to know what he did to you. Why did this happen?”
“Because he’s a bastard, that’s why. I should have left him a long time ago,” Aja said, and rubbed her hands across her face and then winced at the pain. She sighed and felt the weariness she’d been holding at bay wash over her. Just then her mother came in and Aja wished she could pretend she was asleep.
She stared up at the pink canopy and prepared to tune out the scathing comments. Her mother turned on the light and gasped when she saw the bruises on Aja’s neck and arms.
“Oh my God!” she shrieked. “What did that asshole do to you?”
Aja’s eyes flew open. Her mother must have thought she had been putting on an act for her father’s sympathy.
“Aja, honey, I’m so sorry,” her mother said as she sat on the bed and took Aja’s hand in hers. She smoothed back her daughter’s hair. She turned to Aidan. “What are you going to do about this?”
Aja shot up. “No! No one is going to do anything to him.”
“You still love him then?” her father asked in a sad, disappointed tone.
“No, of course not, but I don’t want anyone in my family going to jail for defending me.”
Her parents stared at her and then burst out in simultaneous laughter.
“Your father knows how to take care of things without getting caught,” her mother stated as though she were discussing the weather.
Aja shuddered at how that made her father sound like a mob boss or something; he was just a businessman. He was a powerful one, but she knew he wasn’t Mafia. Aja studied her father through narrowed eyes:
She shook off the thought. “No one has to defend me,” she said. “I took care of Stephen myself.”
Two pairs of eyebrows shot up to two hairlines.
“What do you mean, Aja?” her father asked, studying her bruises.