It was our new creative writers first visit to our Dunbar group and in response to my attempt at Catherine's prompt my work should carry the disclaimer "This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously."
I Couldn't Tell
“I couldn't tell,” was what she said. That was her prompt and it got me thinking. It would be a challenge then, I decided, as I looked at her over the table. She looked different from her picture. As I studied her face which was flanked by her long dark hair I realised it was the specs that had confused me. She hadn't been wearing them in the photograph. Maybe it was her eyes that had made her look so serious but when they were shielded it took away some of the mystery that her mugshot had provoked. She was sitting before me larger than life, smiling and it was obvious she was confident, having had done this sort of thing before. She was flirting with me but what was her objective? What did she want from me and how should I respond? In these situations, I only ever used first names. The use of Mrs, Miss or Ms would only complicate the affair and could influence other people’s perception of the events, later on. I knew what I wanted to happen but I couldn't tell yet what she was after. It would be interesting finding out. Catherine, couldn’t tell but that meant she probably would if I played it right. In my experience there were only three types of people in these situations; those who would, those who wouldn’t and those who couldn't. Of course there were occasionally innocent ones too but I didn’t think she was a good girl. Those that would, couldn’t help themselves. They usually didn’t feel good about it and wanted to give themselves up. Those that wouldn't knew they couldn't because if they did they would have to surrender. Catherine fell into the third category and that made her a challenge. She couldn't tell, unless of course, I convinced her that I could give her what she wanted but letting them think they were in control was a skill I was good at. Getting her to believe I cared, could protect her and was able to meet her probably impossible demands without lying or breaking the law was my speciality.
All criminal interviews were governed by rules of law but ‘couldn’t tell’s’ were fraught with legal dangers. As a detective I knew that ‘wouldn’t tell’s’ were easy. The rules were a bit thin as far as they were concerned. Almost anything was allowed that made them talk. Provocation, insults even speculative interpretation of the truth was allowed if it helped to bring them around. The law gave them a right to silence but public interest dictated we tried to make them talk. I once spent two and a half days in the high court witness box being grilled by six different defence lawyers all claiming that having a strategy to overcome a no comment interview was an infringement of their client’s legal rights. During my cross examination I was accused of all sorts of underhand and unprofessional practises which were basically just the same tactics the lawyers were using on me in pursuit of their client’s defence so they couldn’t really argue when their clients went down. They probably didn’t care about their clients but a legally astute detective who beat them at their own game would have hurt.
‘Would tell’s’ did have legal rights and as soon as a ‘wouldn’t tell’ or a ‘couldn’t tell’ became a ‘would tell’ they received added protection from the law meaning a number of safeguards had to be adapted but these were fairly straight forward with understood precedents that presented no real difficulties to the astute detective. The big challenge was a ‘couldn’t tell’ because you knew that, under the right circumstances, they would. They wanted to talk because they thought they could outsmart you. They were after some kind of deal. Anything they gave you would be conditional and they wanted to set the agenda or they couldn’t tell. The law was on their side then. Entrapment, bullying and enticement could be removed from the detective’s armoury. Trickery was open to debate and any tactic employed was open to question. This was the sort of interview I relished. It was a test of my intellect. The pressure was on. How would it go? I couldn’t tell but I was confident that sometime in the future I would have to pit my wits against some Perry Mason type lawyer who would question my ability to do my job because Catherine had rights. He would present some lunatic scenario like she was a Lily white, creative writer who had been attending her writing group at the material time and plead her innocence but this was a murder investigation and the victim couldn’t tell what had happened so I planned to make sure Catherine did.