“You’re sure this was the man you saw in your house?” the policeman asked.
“Yes,” Pete said, staring through the one-way glass at the wide-browed man in the interrogation room. “I’m sure.”
The suited woman in the corner of the room gave a small cough.
The policeman turned and frowned.
“You’re here on sufferance, Miss Sessions,” he said. “Be very careful what you say.”
“Of course.” She pushed her glasses up her nose and smiled. “Mr. Taylor, how can you be certain that it was my client who broke into your house?”
“I saw him,” Pete replied, feeling a little unsettled. He’d accepted the lawyer’s presence as long as he didn’t have to face his attacker directly. That didn’t mean he was feeling good about any of it.
“You said it was dark,” Miss Sessions said. “That the man wore a hood throughout. Don’t you have any doubts?”
“No,” Pete said.
“OK.” Miss Sessions said. “So this is what you saw?”
She opened a folder and took out a photo, showing it to Pete. He shuddered at the sight. Within the shadowed interior of a hood he saw the wide brow and long nose of Murphy, the man in the interrogation room, the man who had attacked him in his own home.
“That’s him,” he whispered.
“And this?” Miss Sessions asked, holding out a similar photo.
“Yes, of course,” Pete snapped.
Miss Sessions brought out two other photos in which the hood was pulled back. Each revealed a man similar to Murphy. Neither was him.
“False identifications happen all the time,” she said. “Our memory is a patchwork. We can make mistakes when we fill the gaps. So, I ask again, are you sure it was my client?”
Pete looked from the photos to the prisoner and back again. The images were so similar, he struggled to identify the features that were different. But they were different, weren’t they?
When he looked up at Sessions and the policeman, he caught himself struggling to label the distinctive features of their faces.
“I…” He hesitated. “I need some fresh air.”
Five minutes later he was sat in the street, a cardboard cup full of cheap police station coffee in his trembling hands. He watched people go by. Most didn’t notice him scrutinizing their faces. Those who did turned away and walked faster.
He paid attention to the details, trying to reassure himself that he could identify the features of a face. That woman had slender cheeks, the man behind her a broad nose. Except that, when he moved on, he saw a broader nose and glancing back doubted his previous judgement. Had he just seen a boy with blue eyes or green? Was that mouth thinner or thicker than Murphy’s, than the policeman’s, than his own?
He closed his eyes and fragments of faces danced across his vision. When he opened them, he recognized outfits, but none of the faces were quite how he remembered.
A terrible doubt grabbed his guts.
Stopping just long enough to toss the empty cup into a trash can, he headed back into the police station.
Sessions and the policeman were waiting for him outside the interrogation room. They went back into the outer room. Pete looked through the glass once more. He compared Murphy’s face with his memories, with the photos, with the nightmares he had had since that night.
“I’m not sure,” he said at last. “I’m sorry.”
“It happens,” Miss Sessions said. “Better to spot a false identification now than after my client spends a decade in prison.”
Pete stared at his face in the bathroom mirror. Even his own features had become a subject of doubt. Had he always looked that lean? Were the wrinkles old or new? Hadn’t his eyes been brown? Nothing matched what he expected.
His heartbeat raced as he lay down on the bed and switched off the light. Fragments of faces danced in his mind’s eye.
There was a thud and a sound of footsteps. Pete switched on the light and stared in terror at the bedroom doorway. A figure in a hood stood there. Pete could see his face but recognized nothing about it. Was that Murphy? A Murphy look-alike? Someone new? How could he ever say for certain that he had the right man?
“Hey there, Taylor,” a familiar voice said. “It’s time to kiss your life goodbye.”