Authors: Harrison Drake
laude was awake and watching cartoons on the small television that hung from the ceiling when Kara and Yuri arrived at the hospital. He was well into his fourth serving of Jello but hadn’t touched any of his lunch. He looked up when Kara and Yuri walked in then cowered in his bed at the sight of Yuri.
“I think I am scaring him,” Yuri said, so that only Kara could hear.
“Suspect is around your height. Maybe it’s best to leave this one to me.”
Yuri nodded then turned and left the room.
“It’s okay, Claude. He’s a police officer too, but he had to go do some other work for a bit so it’s just you and me, okay? My name is Kara.” She looked across the room to where Claude’s parents sat. “I’d like to ask Claude a few questions, if that’s okay.”
Marie nodded. Henri stood up and walked to Claude’s bedside. He spoke to him in French and Kara couldn’t pick up everything he was saying. She heard him ask Claude to do his best, and then she heard Jacques’s name.
“He forgets a lot. I hope he can help,” Henri said. He put his hands in his pockets and went back to sit beside Marie.
“So Claude, I’m going to ask you a few questions and I just want you to do the best you can, okay?”
Claude nodded and put the last spoonful of Jello in his mouth.
“Why don’t I get you another one,” Kara said. “I’ll be right back.”
True to her word she returned a minute later with two more cups of Jello, one lime and one cherry. Claude smiled and thanked her in French.
Kara walked over to Claude’s parents. “I’m going to try to do the interview in French, just to make him more comfortable. I may need some help though, my French isn’t the best.”
Marie and Henri both nodded. Kara returned to Claude’s bedside and sat down beside him. With his bed raised, his head was higher than hers now. It let him be the one to look down, and Kara hoped it would help to relax him. She took out a small voice recorder and showed it to Claude.
“Have you seen one of these?” She took out the tape from the relic she’d hung onto for years.
“Daddy still has some, but they’re bigger.”
Kara tried to keep up with Claude and talk at a normal pace, but it was hard for her to find the right words and the right pronunciation. Yuri would have been a better choice.
“That’s how we used to listen to music. This one though is to record our conversation. I’m not as smart as I used to be, getting old, you know? My memory isn’t as good as yours, okay?”
She handed the recorder to Claude and asked him to push the red button to start the recording. He smiled as he did it.
“Thanks,” she said. “So, Claude, do you have a middle name?”
“Henri, after my dad.”
“That’s nice. Mine is Gertrude… I hate it.”
Claude laughed. Even halfway around the world, it was a name that was seriously out of date.
“You like school?”
“Yeah. I like gym and math.”
“I was never very good at math. I had to work really hard at it.”
“It’s easy for me.”
“That’s awesome. You’ll have an easier time than I did then.”
“I’m even better at math than Jacques,” he said. Kara heard his voice drop at the end, as if he already felt the guilt his words brought.
“What’s he better than you at?”
“Sports,” Claude said, then he gave a weak smile. “He’s better at every sport.”
“He’s bigger, once you guys are the same size you’ll win some games I bet.”
“I beat him at video games sometimes.”
Kara smiled. “Then I bet you could beat me every time. I was never very good at video games.”
“It’s too bad we don’t have any here. That would be fun.” He looked at Kara for a moment before his expression grew serious. “But we can’t. You have to ask me questions.”
Usually Kara was the one to take the interview from the mundane to the specific. Claude was an unusual child with a maturity beyond his years.
“You’re right, Claude,” she said. “I know this is going to be hard, but can you tell me what the room you were in looked like?”
She wanted to start with the easy questions and build his confidence with praise and gratitude before she broke into the hard ones.
“Ummm… it looked old and not very nice. The walls were just blocks and the floor was cold cement, like in a basement. We had a little window that was open sometimes. I liked it when it was. There were some birds that I could hear. One sat on the window ledge one time.”
“That must have been nice. What colour was the bird?”
“It was dark brown. I think it was a swift. I liked when it was there. He stayed for a while.”
“That would have been nice. I love birds.”
Claude smiled. “Me too.”
“Did you have food to eat when you were there?”
“Yeah, but it was mostly just rice and water. I don’t like rice but I was really hungry so I always ate it all.”
“It is good for you.”
“I know, that’s why I don’t like it.”
Kara couldn’t help but let out a little laugh.
“That makes sense,” Kara said. “How did you and Jacques pass the time? Did you play any games?”
“We told each other stories and stuff. We tried playing ‘I spy’ but that was too easy. We played rock-paper-scissors a lot too.”
“I always lose when I play.”
“Do you always pick scissors too?”
“Yep, that’s probably why I lose. I need to change it a bit.”
“Me too. But I like doing scissors.” Claude held up his hand and made the shape then opened and closed his fingers to mimic cutting.
“You should go rock next time and confuse people. Do you remember the first day, Claude?”
He nodded, but Kara could see he was nervous.
“Can you tell me what happened?”
“Ummm… we were walking home and he came up. He told us he was looking for his daughter who was only five. He asked if we could help him look. I felt bad so we did. We went to a parking lot because he said that’s where she usually walks. I don’t know what happened. I just remember waking up in the room and my neck was sore. Jacques was there too and we were both…”
“It’s okay, Claude. You can tell me. I want to help.”
“We were tied up, but not like for fun. One time Jacques and I played cowboys and he tied me up but it wasn’t tight and I got out without even trying. It hurt when we woke up though. The ropes were tight and scratchy. They really hurt to get out of.”
“I’m sure they did, but it was very brave of you. I don’t know if I could have done it.” Claude beamed a little. Even if it was hard for him to think about, and even if he didn’t always feel strong, it made him happy to hear how proud people were of his strength. “Did he ever tell you his name?”
Claude shook his head. “We just called him ‘the man’.”
“What did he look like?”
“He just looked mean.”
Claude thought for a minute. “Just scary. He was really big and he always looked angry or sad, never happy. I tried to be nice to him. I thought if he was happy he would let us go. It just made him madder.”
“Some people are like that. It’s sad, but you did a nice thing trying to make him happy.”
“I didn’t want to be nice, I just wanted him to let us go.”
Kara put her hand on Claude’s knee. “I know. But still, you’re a good kid.” Kara paused for a moment. “I have to ask you a harder question now, okay? I know you can answer it though, you’re pretty tough.”
Claude nodded. “I… I think I’ll be okay.”
“Do you remember anything else about how he looked? Anything unusual?”
“Oh, he had a broken tooth at the front. One of the kids in my class has one but he wears a retainer with a fake tooth. And he had a scar under his eye.”
“Do you remember which side?”
Claude pointed to his right cheek. “Right here.”
Kara was elated. Claude’s description, though vague, matched what Virginie had said back at the house. Max was their suspect.
“Okay. I need to know what he did to you. Can you tell me that?”
Claude took a deep breath and gulped, then he reached for his Jello and took a spoonful. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I know, but remember that anything you tell me might help us catch the man and bring Jacques back, okay? You’re the only one who can help us right now.”
Claude finished his Jello and looked at Kara with tears in his eyes. “He hit us, a lot. Jacques would try to make him mad so that he wouldn’t hurt me, but that meant Jacques got hurt a lot worse.”
“What did he hit you with?”
“Just his hands. And sometimes he kicked us. Like if we were lying down when he came in, he’d kick our legs and tell us to sit up. He kicked really hard though.”
“Was he wearing boots?”
“Yeah, big ones. Like construction workers wear. The beige ones.”
Kara nodded. “Did he do anything else to you?”
Claude shook his head, but Kara knew he was trying to hide from the truth. “I need to know, Claude. I can’t imagine how hard it is, but I really need you to tell me what happened. Did he touch you,” her eyes moved to below his stomach, “there?”
Claude started to cry, his face scrunched in a mix of fear and confusion. “I don’t want to talk anymore. I want to watch TV.”
Kara shifted in her chair. “Okay, that’s okay. If you remember anything else though, if you want to talk about it later, you tell your parents to call me, all right? I know it’s really hard to talk about some things, but I just want to help.”
Claude nodded and wiped the tears from his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said. There was sadness written all over his face. Kara could see in his little brown eyes the sense of failure that had taken over, a sense that he had failed not only her but his brother.
“It’s okay, you gave me a lot of good information. It’s going to help a lot.” Kara smiled at Claude and he forced a smile back. “I have to get going, but you get better, okay? Maybe I’ll see you again soon?”
“Okay,” Claude said. “When you find Jacques, tell him I’m sorry I couldn’t help him. And tell him I love him. Please.”
Kara tried not to cry. She steeled herself and looked at Claude, “You’re helping him right now. If you hadn’t gotten out, you wouldn’t have been able to help him. Anyway, when I find him, you can tell him you love him yourself, okay buddy?”
Claude nodded and went back to his television show. Kara looked over at Henri and Marie and gestured for them to follow her. “I have more questions, but it’s too much for him right now,” Kara said once they were out of the room. “Please let me know if he tells you anything else.”
“We will,” Marie said. “Do you think that the man actually…” She couldn’t bring herself to finish.
“I’m sorry to say it, but something happened. I’m just not sure what. The look on Claude’s face was different than I’ve ever seen. It was like he honestly didn’t know how to answer the question.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. It’s like he couldn’t answer ‘yes’ and he couldn’t answer ‘no’. I’ve dealt with similar cases and interviewed a lot of kids, but they would always answer truthfully or they would try to hide it. Claude though, it was like he didn’t know.”
“I… I don’t understand. Like he was drugged or something?”
Kara shook her head. “Whatever happened he was awake for, he just doesn’t know how to explain it. I think he’s really confused about what happened and why. We’re just going to have to wait. I don’t fully understand it either.”
“Should we try to ask him again in a couple of days?”
“No, just give him time. When he’s ready, he’ll tell you.”
Claude’s parents couldn’t hide the pain on their faces. “Okay. We’ll let him be,” Henri said. “I just, I want to know what happened so we know how to help him.”
“I understand, but he’s still trying to process everything. Imagine how hard it would be for yourself then think about how it must be for him. He’s only ten so he doesn’t have the same understanding and the same experiences to draw on to try to make sense of everything.”
Marie gave a slow nod. “Okay. Thank you, detective. We’ll call you if there’s anything else.”
“Thank you,” Kara said. She shook hands with the couple then went to find Yuri. He was sitting in a waiting area, a cup of coffee in one hand and a children’s puzzle spread out on the table in front of him.
“Yeah, I got bored waiting. It was all they had. What did you find out?”
“Not much. Our suspect drugs the boys when he abducts them. He tricked them into helping look for his daughter and then the next thing Claude remembers is waking up in that little room with a sore neck and his hands and feet tied. I’m guessing an injection of the same sedative he used to kill the other boys.”
“That would make sense. Small dose to abduct, overdose to kill. Did you find anything else out?”
“I honestly don’t know. Something happened, something Claude doesn’t want to talk about. But I don’t really understand it. It’s getting late though. I’ll tell you on the way back to the station.”
“Okay. I got some news from forensics, but it is not good. The prints and DNA from the fecal sample, they didn’t match anything in the system. Whoever our suspect is, he has a clean record.”
“Shit. What about the other boys?”
“Samples from the bloodstains matched to both of them, to Claude and another sample is a familial match to Claude, so it has to be Jacques. There was a fifth sample in the bloodstains though.”
“Really? Did he have another victim?”
Yuri shook his head. “No. That blood sample and the fecal sample are a match.”
“Maybe the boys got the better of him at one point.”
“Claude did say he heard him yell at Jacques for biting him.”
Kara couldn’t help but smile at the thought of their suspect in pain, pain inflicted by his captors. “I think we’re on the right track with this Max suspect,” Kara said.
“Did Claude have a name?”
“No, he never told them his name, but Claude described his captor exactly as Virginie described Max. A big guy with a broken tooth and a scar on his cheek.”
“We are getting there, Kara.”
“I know, it’s just taking too long.”
Yuri put the last piece into place, proudly finishing the twenty-four-piece puzzle. He stood up, took his keys from his pocket and tossed them to Kara.