Just as he was walking up to Interview, the lady detective who was in there walked out shaking her head. As she walked by she said to Elias, “Maybe take a run at him. I don’t think I’m going to get the confession.” She didn’t stop. Just kept walking out to the bullpen. Elias watched her go. She was wearing brown slacks and a tan blouse with her badge on a lanyard around her neck. Her holster was empty.
Elias breathed slow, picked up his brown briefcase, and turned the knob.
“Hello, Mr. Schroeder. My name is Elias Tucker and I am a Special Agent from the FBI. The detective said that you got the best of her. That true?” He sat and smiled and put his case down. Just as Fletcher was about to talk, Elias interrupted. “Oh—sorry, just a second.” He turned around and unplugged the single CCTV camera that covered the whole room, and sat down again. “Bureau says we don’t need the recordings, so…” Elias smiled again, a little uncomfortable.
Fletch Schroeder was all angles. Sinew like a bowstring pulled tight up and down. He didn’t have his belt or any jewelry at this point. He wore a white ribbed tank top, faded jeans and flip flops. His left wrist was handcuffed to a railing on the metal table put there just for the purpose.
“These locusts. The screws, the shrinks, the shysters, the fags in pussy hats. Politicians. Hacks. They’d all like you to believe that everything is made. Like, made by culture. That we’re endlessly changeable.
Because that means they can remake the world in their image.” He stopped to let a gob of spit drip from his mouth to the table. Slow like a movie monster.
“But that ain’t so. We ain’t endlessly changeable. There’s such a thing as human nature. We weren’t made by society. We made it and He made us.
“And let me tell you mister, no matter what you do, Mother Nature will always be the biggest, baddest bitch on the block. She’ll be here when the White House ain’t even a memory in the brains of whatever comes from us. From us, not you, Tucker. Not you. Chimps have no future.”
Fletch leaned back in the metal chair, back on two legs, as far as he could handcuffed to the table like that. He looked at the ceiling. Like he was counting the holes. And then he said with resignation, “That’s Mother Fucking Nature.”
Suddenly he shot forward, slamming the front two legs of the metal chair against the hard tile floor, and hitting his hands flat against the metal table all at once. Bam! It surprised Elias and he startled a little. Fletch smiled at his reaction and continued to talk.
“Man is a part of Nature. That means that no matter what we do, Mankind will always be, at heart, the same. A man can be changed. Mankind can’t. We have a nature. There will always be evil. There will always be chaos. There will always be men who live to see everything burn; live to die. That’s the fixed element, Tucker. That’s us. That’s the Schroeders. You cain’t stop us. You cain’t change us. We’re gonna see it all burn. We’re gonna see you burn, Tucker. You and your filthy, dumpy monkey-ass handlers at the monkey ass FBI.”
He stretched around to face the mirrored glass behind him and raised his voice. “Now I’m done. Do what you want to, I’m not talkin’ to no monkey ass fed anymore.”
Having made his point, he turned back to Elias and shot laser beams into him. Fletch Schroeder smoldered.
Elias didn’t move. He sat, head cocked to the left a little, and breathed easy. He looked at Fletcher like he was the Friday New York Times crossword. He stroked his chin.
A minute passed. Fletcher was getting tired of holding his face in a contorted mask of rage. He squirmed a little in his seat.
Another minute. They were quiet enough to hear the hum of the fluorescents. Fletcher let his shoulders drop. It was tiring, holding that posture of rage.
Elias halfway closed his eyes. Like he was listening to something inside himself. “You love your kid brother Duke?” Asked Elias.
He could see the hamster wheel turning in Fletcher’s head. Fletcher’s visage turned almost imperceptibly from rage to suspicion. “What’s that got to do with anything?” He asked, slowly.
“He look up to you?”
Fletcher shrugged a little. “I don’t know. Yeah, I guess. I don’t know.”
“He ever imitate you? Like, see you doing something and he does the same thing? Because I have a sister back east, and when we were little she was always imitating me.” Elias smiled and laughed a little. He leaned forward.
“Yeah. Sometimes. Why?”
“That’s how people learn. They learn by watching people and doing what they do.”
“So, when there’s a person comes after you Fletcher, and you love that person, it makes you want to do the right thing to show them right from wrong. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Duke ain’t learned nothing from me,” he said. He pulled his free arm into his lap and turned to the side in resignation. It made it so he was kind of hugging himself, with the arm across his chest handcuffed like that.
“Hmm,” said Elias.
“Never,” repeated Fletcher. “All he knows he learned from the old man.”
“I could see that. Your old man is pretty strict. He runs a tight ship.”
Fletcher looked down into his lap. His back was bowed some. “I ain’t gonna cross him. I didn’t ever and I won’t now. Nothing you can do to me’s worse than what he could do.”
“Nah,” said Elias. “I won’t cast aspersions on your family. Especially not a man’s own father.
“But see, a building burned down. Police scientists say they’re sure it’s arson. Here, let me show you this.”
He pulled a manila folder out of his briefcase and opened it up. He turned to the forensic report where it showed evidence of accelerants used. He turned it around and pushed it to Fletcher.
“See here, it shows they know it was something from your shop. Your garage where you build your burners.” It didn’t say that, but Elias played a hunch that Fletcher wouldn’t know that.
Fletcher turned his neck to look, but kept his body turned away. He was like a twisted old tree with gnarly branches all tangled up together.
“So that means I have to put at least one of the Schroeder men in front of a judge and say to the judge that we think he did it. And then show the judge this evidence.”
Fletcher turned away and bent over at the neck and shoulders. He looked down into his lap real hard. His face was turning red.
“Fletch, they don’t care who gets done for this crime. The FBI wants to mark this down as a win and they don’t care who gets hurt in the process. I have no choice in that. All I can do is hopefully make sure nobody innocent goes to jail. You, your brothers, your father. Maybe Duke, I don’t know. That’s… that’s up to you now.”
Fletcher straightened most of the way up again and turned back to Elias. “How’s it up to me?”
“Well, the way I see it, either you can finger one of your kin and maybe see them go to jail for a long time.”
“Or else what?”
“Or you can write down what you did and I’ll take it to the judge and tell him you are a right guy. That I think you can be rehabilitated. I don’t know, but I would sure be in your corner if you could do that. And it would protect Duke too. He wouldn’t have to go through all this.”
Fletcher looked down and around and shook his head like he was dizzy. Then he said, “I want a deal.”
Elias took a moment to make it look like he was thinking. “Okay. Tell you what. I’m going to get a paper and pen for you and then I’ll talk to the court people and see what they will offer you. But in the meantime it’s important for you to write down what happened. As a sign of good faith.”
Fletcher nodded. He wanted the deal.
Elias mirrored him and nodded. He got up and went into the hallway.
Jim was there with the detective and the assistant district attorney.
“No loss of life,” said the young Hispanic woman from the DA’s office. “Five to fifteen with chance of parole in three.”
Jim and Elias looked at one another. Jim said, “That’s more like three to five with good behavior.”
Elias nodded. “My part’s done. You can have him.” He went and got a drink from the gray metal water fountain.
Jim and the woman talked a little more. Elias went back in.
“Oh, man, I got some good news from the court people!” he said.
“Yeah? What’s that?” Asked Fletcher.
“Well,” said Elias, looking over Fletcher’s confession, “Long as your part’s all in order, they don’t want a court case at all. Just tell the judge what you did. Here. Sign this at the bottom and put the date, ok?”
Fletcher was in holding at the precinct overnight before they took him to the county lockup over in Bisbee.