"Since when is it a crime to be invisible?"
So said the sullen suspect seated across from Detective Marino in the precinct's main interrogation room. Marino was a 20-year veteran of the force, so he was used to hard cases, but nothing in his experience had prepared him for confronting an empty prison jumpsuit. At least the suspect was in handcuffs, which theoretically prevented him from disrobing and getting up to any mischief, but it was still disconcerting that they were suspended in the air in front of seemingly vacant shirtsleeves.
"Umm, well, it's not a crime in and of itself," Marino began. The suspect didn't let him finish.
"So if it's not a crime, why are you holding me?" he hissed. "What's the charge?"
"That... is what we're here to figure out."
To Marino's alarm, the jumpsuit suddenly leaned forward. Marino cursed himself for not requesting more restraints for the suspect, but he had figured that would make the man less conducive to talking. Now Marino wishes he didn't have so much freedom of movement. Even dressed in a highly visible orange jumpsuit, he was still plenty unpredictable.
"This is bullshit, man. Invisible or not, I still have my rights, detective, or did they disappear along with my flesh and bones? Why haven't you called my lawyer?"
"Who would we call? And what would we give for his client's name?"
The jumpsuit slumped back in the chair, momentarily defeated.
"Still keeping to yourself, eh?" Marino mused. "Well, I guess that puts us right back at square one, doesn't it? Shall we go over the facts again?" Marino opened the file on the desk in front of him.
"If you feel you absolutely must," the suspect sighed. "Say, do you think I could have a cigarette?"
"It's normally not allowed, but I suppose we can make an exception in your case." Marino picked up the phone. "Detective Marino here. The suspect wants a cigarette. Uh huh. I'll ask him." He put his hand on the receiver. "Is there any particular brand you prefer?"
"Not really," the suspect replied. "I don't usually smoke, but it freaks people out when I do."
Marino took his hand off the receiver. "Cancel that, thanks." He hung up and shot the suspect a glare.
"It's the same with eating, although I confess that's less of a habit and more of a necessity."
"I'll bet it is," Marino said as he consulted the file. "Okay, let's see... Regarding your apprehension at Target earlier this evening, do you still contend that you were not caught in the act of stealing... let me check that list... One pair of trousers, black. One long-sleeves shirt, black. One pair of leather gloves, black. One pair of sneakers, black. I notice you didn't try stealing any underwear. Or maybe you did, only you couldn't find any in black."
Marino flashed the suspect a grin and was disappointed by the total lack of a response.
"Oh, come on. That was funny."
"How do you know I'm not smiling, detective?"
"Good point. Of course, how do I know you're not also sticking your tongue out at me?"
"That's a good idea. I should start doing that."
"Be my guest. You'd only be amusing yourself."
"So what else is new?"
Marino stared hard at the space above the empty shirt collar in the vain hope of locking eyes with his quarry.
"You know, I really wish you'd give us a name," he said. "I like to know who is it I'm addressing."
"And I like to be able to hold my hands more than six inches apart."
Marino stared at him blankly.
"All right, if you must have a name, you can call me Claude."
"Claude," Marino repeated, half-sighing. "Well, I suppose it's better than nothing," he added as he made a note in the file. "So, Claude, if you don't want to talk about your activities tonight, perhaps you'd like to tell me how you came to be invisible. Confidentially, the boys have a betting pool going."
"Now, now, detective. Just because I've given you a name to call me, that doesn't mean you can get all chummy."
"Was it an accident or did you turn yourself invisible on purpose?"
"Ha! Like any sane person would turn themselves invisible on purpose."
"And are you a sane person?"
"I get by."
"So tell me your story, Claude. Maybe I can help."
"With all due respect, detective, I highly doubt that."
"You may not think so from my gruff exterior, but I can be a very understanding guy."
"Understanding enough to let me out of these?"
The suspect held up the handcuffs in anticipation, but let them drop upon hearing the detective's reply.
"No dice, Claude. You could be anybody in that jumpsuit: a murderer, a bank robber, a serial rapist."
"Oh, no. I've never done anything as bad as that."
"But you have done other things."
The jumpsuit's shoulders slumped.
"Well, we've all done things we're not proud of."
"Speaking of which, I thought you'd like to know that the Target security guard you knocked out has left intensive care and is in stable condition."
"Oh, so you're adding assault to my list of charges?"
"I figured you'd be pleased, Mr..."
"Rains," said the suspect, smugly.
Marino stared at him, nonplussed.
"Detective, you're not writing that down."
Marino sighed and closed the file, pushing himself away from the desk. "No, I'm not. If you're not going to give me anything to go on, I'm wasting my time here. Might as well return you to lock-up."
Marino stood up and made a move for the door. Before he took his second step he felt a clammy hand on his forearm. "No, please don't!" cried the voice that was attached to it. "You can't put me back in there with those animals!"
Marino shook the hand off and turned so he was face to face with the invisible man in his custody. "Oh, so now you're concerned about the civility of your companions?"
"You weren't there! They wouldn't leave me alone! They were going to use me as a punching bag!"
Marino brushed past the suspect and paced around the room. "Well, we could always get you some bandages for your head. I'm sure you'd look good in them."
"There! I knew I could make you laugh."
"That doesn't count."
"I'll take what I can get. So, are you going to be more forthcoming now?"
"I guess I don't have much choice, do I?"
"No, you don't." Motioned to the suspect's chair and sat down himself. "And unless you want to be cuffed to that chair, I would keep the sudden movements to a minimum."
The empty jumpsuit settled in. "Thanks, I'll keep that in mind, detective. So, what do you want to know?"
"Well, I guess what everybody wants to know. What is it like to be invisible?"
The jumpsuit shifted in the chair and after the briefest if pauses the man inhabiting it launched into what sounded to Marino like a prepared speech. Whether he had ever delivered it before, he had clearly rehearsed it often enough.
"Well," he began, "anybody who thinks being invisible is a cakewalk should try walking a mile in my deceptively empty shoes. For starters, yes, I do have to be completely naked if I want to pass unnoticed in public, since the alternative -- being bundled up from head to foot -- is less unobtrusive what you might think. Nothing screams 'Hey, check out the freak' quite like being dressed for the ski slopes in the middle of summer."
"I'll bet," Marino interjected. "Of course, if you're naked, then no one knows you're there at all."
"Which has its advantages and disadvantages. Even on a warm day it can get uncomfortable if there's enough of a breeze, and I swear central air conditioning was invented just to put a chill up my spine. And being outside is no picnic, either, since I constantly have to be on the lookout for things that could potentially injure my feet. Plus, I am not a sex maniac who enjoys being groped by total strangers on a regular basis, yet this is what I have to endure almost every time I venture out of doors."
"You can't even begin to imagine how rough. I also learned a long time ago that public transportation was not a reliable method of getting around. Oh, sure. It seems like it would be a breeze to hop on and off a bus at will, but you try getting the driver to pull over when they can't see who is signaling for a stop. They usually think it's some kid playing a prank and refuse to open the doors. And when it starts to fill up, just watch out. I can't tell you how many times I've almost been sat enough by unsuspecting commuters."
Sensing he could probably go on indefinitely, Marino cut in. "You know, this is all very fascinating, but it's not exactly what I was looking for."
"Hey, you asked what it's like to be invisible."
"That I did. Now I'm ready to ask another question."
"Let me guess. You want to know about recent events?"
"You could say that."
Before he could complete his thought, there was an insistent knock at the door. Marino got up to answer it and was surprised to find the hallway completely empty.
"Huh, that's strange."
"There's nobody there."
"Not a soul." Marino took one last look, closed the door and sat back down. "Must have been one of the guys playing a practical joke. You know, knocking and running."
"Or knocking and slipping away quietly."
"Yeah, I guess."
"Now, do you want to hear about tonight?"
"I would love to hear all about tonight."
"Very well. Let me set the scene for you: There's a group of about half a dozen invisible people who break into a seemingly secure facility after dark."
"That would be the Target. So you weren't working alone."
"No, sir, I was not. Actually, I shouldn't say we broke in. Rather, we walked right in the front door undetected and laid low waiting for the right moment to strike."
"And that moment was?"
"I beg your pardon?"
Before he even knew what was happening, Detective Marino felt himself being lifted bodily out of his chair by three or four pairs of invisible hands. He tried to cry out for help, but was silenced by an invisible hand clamped over his mouth. While he was suspended in the air, he felt another hand relieve him of his keys, which floated over to the waiting pair of handcuffs. Scarcely believing his eyes, he watched as they were unlocked and his suspect divested himself of the jumpsuit the county had provided him with.
"Well, it's about time," said the now fully invisible man as he kicked off his shoes. "What took you guys so long?"
"Sorry about that," said the other as he took the discarded jumpsuit and started folding it neatly in the air. "We got hung up in traffic."
"A likely story."
A voice near Marino's left ear piped up.
"Hey, boss. What do you want us to do with this cop?"
"That's a good question. For starters, you can set him down and cuff him with these."
Marino watched as the handcuffs were lifted off the desk and tossed in his direction. Miraculously, they were caught in the air just inches from his face.
"And you, hand me that jumpsuit. I want to make sure mister detective here doesn't forget out little chat..."
The following morning, the TV news reporter stood in front of the precinct building, waiting to launch into the story of-- well, maybe not her career, but certainly of the past month or so. She didn't smell local Emmy, but it could still be a candidate for her tape the next time she applied for a job at a network affiliate. Finally she got her cue.
"It certainly was a strange night here at police headquarters, Chad. First officers took an unknown suspect into custody after a bizarre robbery attempt at a local Target that left one security guard in intensive care and two others with minor injuries. It was while the suspect was being interrogated by police that things really got strange. According to reports, Detective Frank Marino, 43, asked to be left alone with the suspect in attempt to get him to talk.
"Twenty minutes later, Marino was reportedly discovered handcuffed to his chair and stripped of all of his clothing. He also had the sleeve of a prison jumpsuit stuffed in his mouth to prevent him from calling for help. Police officials declined to comment, but it is likely that the suspect somehow overpowered Marino and escape from custody, possible with the help of one or more accomplices. More news on this story as it develops. I'm Brenda Starling for Eyewitness News. Back to you, Chad."
A moment later she was off the air. At the last moment she had decided against reporting the other part of the story, about the suspect not showing up on any of the security camera footage, either at the department store or the police station. Not that she doubted her source on the inside, but some things are just too incredible to be believed.