Let’s keep it on the level
When I walked away from you
I turned my back on the devil
Turned my back on the angel tooLeonard Cohen, On The Level
Inspired by a true crime story in Binh Duong, Vietnam.
Please sit down, the investigator says while pulling out the white-grey chair. An overwhelming power and authority exudes from his eyes. I will figure this out, his eyes say, I will force you to spit out the truth.
Why, thank you for your kindness, I say as I slowly descend down the white-gray chair and place both of my hands on the (also) white-grey table in the darken room.
Say, do you need a drink?
Why, no, but thank you, I look at him, smiling. A smile that, to me, is gentle enough, and to him, suspicious enough.
Alright then. Let’s start the interrogation. I think you already know all of these procedures, judging how you are a lawyer yourself. Do you need me to repeat them?
No, that should be unnecessary, officer. Please continue onto the interrogation, I say as I keep the same smile that through years and years of practice and put to good use, has been pasted on my face like plaster.
Alright, the officer says as he releases a tired sigh, I will start with a common question. How do you know the victim?
How do you know it’s me? He says on our very first date. We are sitting at a table out on the cafe’s veranda. His hair is reflecting the sunlight right back to my eyes. He smiles sheepishly; the initial confidence he had when we first met a few days back, in the university’s hallway, has gone.
It must be you, I say, smiling back as a way of returning the gentle favor of his smile, It would be inappropriate to say this, but I just knew. It was love at first sight, and there can be no one else but you.
Love at first sight, you say?
Why, yes. We were quite young, reckless, and stupid then. But I guess the terms “love at first sight” would still be appropriate to this date. What else can you explain that feeling, officer?
The officer jots down my words, scratches down a few words, then thinking back on my answer (or something else, how could I know a person’s mind?), he rewrite the exact same words that he had scratched out.
How long have you been married? he asks.
Marriage? I say, not at all surprise. After all, isn’t marriage the bitter end to any nice, warm, happy love story?
I think it’s time. You passed your bar exam. I graduated and had a decent job. There’s no better time than now, he says. His excitement is blatantly shown on his face as he kneels down on one knee.
How do you know? That there’s no better time than now? I ask.
Then how do you know? That there’s no better time than now? He says. His hands, which are holding the ring box, are trembling.
Why, 30 years, I guess, I reply, carefully looking down on the white-grey table. A perfect reminiscence look presents on my face which the officer quickly catches on.
You miss him?
Of course I would miss him. What else should I feel? He was my partner, my only love, my soul. Yes, officer, of course I would miss him.
Then why didn’t you report when he went missing?
I can’t be with you anymore, he says, his arm wraps around a young girl of around 20 years old, You were right, he smiles, all of my assets are now under his name, I found my love at first sight.
He often went on his multitude of business trips. They always range from 7 days to a year. How should I know if he was missing or just simply on another of his business trip?
Alright, the officer sigh with tiredness, Here, look at this picture, do you know this girl?
Why? What makes you choose him? I ask the 20-year-old-or-something girl as we sit face to face in a bursting cafe. The same cafe I had my first date with him. But what does it matter now?
I didn’t choose him, she says, He chose me over you, she looks at me, her eyes sparkle with the shade of green on the money paper.
He chose you over me, you say, I repeat, then giggle slightly. She looks at me quizzically, not quite understands my calmness and my somewhat happy demeanor.
Say, I lean over the table, Why don’t we make a parting party? A parting party so that I can properly say goodbye to my soul?
A witness say that Ms. A, the person in this photo, had been to your house the same night she went missing – together with your husband. Do you have any knowledge of this?
Mr. Officer, I touch the photo slightly, the girl in the picture is smiling with a bottle of vodka in her hand and some strange guys in the background. I can hear the loud music and the seizuring lights in the club as this picture was taken, Mr. Officer, I was on a business trip during that exact same week. I trust that you do have the knowledge of my alibi?
In here it says that, he quickly turns through the pages of a document that proves my innocence with the certainty of a champion, You were on a one-week business trip. The witness says they met you that exact same night when your husband and Ms. A went missing. You stayed with the witness until late at night, discussing the points in the witness’s merger.
Yes, that is exactly what happened.
A perfect alibi, I would say, the officer closes the document and looks at me. The look that says the war is on.
Why, officer, it would be inappropriate to call it perfect, I says, my eyes facing his with a casting shadow of sadness and grief, He went missing while I was away, and it is documented in black ink on a white piece of paper, I stop and smile bitterly, It would be more appropriate to call it a fact. A sad fact, of course, but a fact nevertheless.
A fact? He repeats, You meant to say that it was not your intention to purposefully be away while your husband invited his lover over? The officer puts his hands on the white-grey table and leans over to my personal space, menacing and authoritative.
I thought you were on a business trip, my husband of 30 years says in surprise. I wonder if he had been by my side for the entirety of those 30 years, or if I had been living together with his light shadow on the surface of being married.
I can only be here for a while, I say, I forgot that I had a business trip and I invited A here for a parting party.
A parting party? He snickers, You are peculiar as always.
Yes, as always, I say, all smiling. It was 2 in the morning. The grandfather clock in the dark corner of the living room strikes two times. The night outside is as deep and unfathomable as the final act of my plan slowly comes to fruition.
We still haven’t found out where your husband and Ms. A are, sadly, the officer stops his hands movement on the white paper, Would you also call that a sad fact? He looks at me. There is a burning fire in his dark irises. A fire that says he will dig through the dirt to find out the corpses of those two people. A fire that says he will tear down my facade.
A fire that says there’s no such thing as a perfect alibi.
Mr. Officer, can I go now? I say, my hands reaching across the table to touch his, I have an appointment in a few hours, and I have to report my husband’s missing to his company.
In the darkness of the basement, I slowly slice out the flesh on the two cold corpses and put them in the pot. I season the dish perfectly as always, of course, as their flesh would be flavorless without some salt and pepper. A few branches of dried rosemary and thyme would surely accentuate their betrayal.
I put the bones in the pot. The water is already sizzling and bubbling up. I stir the stew, taking my time while waiting for the bones to release their sweetness to the water. Leonard Cohen’s “On The Level” is on, and my dishes are as good and delicious as ever.
By the way, Mr. Officer, I smile and pull out my lunch box, I haven’t had the time to eat today. Would you care for some stew? My cooking has always been perfect to a fault.
Oh, thank you, he replies, holding the lunch box to his nose, This does smell delicious.
Of course, as always, I smile and slowly withdraw my hands. The fingers give the finishing touch to a slow dance between what is the truth and what might have been the truth.
You see, with murder, as with anything else, the main ingredient is patient, seasoned with a perfect plan.