Polygraph

I sleepwalk. I know I sleepwalk. However, I never thought that my bad habit of roaming around at night would land me an interrogation with the F.B.I. When they showed me pictures of Carl Winston’s murder, I was more than disturbed. He had been carved to pieces– literally –to the point where he was unrecognizable. I was shown a photo of the murder weapon, a large kitchen knife coated in a thick layer of blood. I sat uncomfortably under the harsh lighting, staring straight ahead at the tinted glass as two men dressed in plain suits set up the machine in front of me. I swallowed hard as they untangled the wires.

“How long is this going to take?” I asked. Neither said anything or even acknowledged me at all.

“Not long,” said a new voice. 

I glanced over, and saw a third person walk into the room. She was short, blonde, and wore a suit just like the two men. Although she was physically tiny, she had a deep voice for a woman. It didn’t rumble the way a man’s did, but it was deeper than average and had a clear ring of authority. 

“Hi, Peter,” she said, extending her hand over the table. “My name is Agent George, and I’ll be conducting this interview today.” 

I shook her hand, and attempted to disguise my anxiety behind a shy smile. Besides, I didn’t have anything to be nervous about. 

The  night of the murder, I spent the evening watching movies and eating dinner alone. After that, I cleaned the kitchen, and went to bed early for a weeknight. If I did anything in my sleep that night, I didn’t remember. I was prepared to recite all of that information to Agent George and, since the test would reveal if I lied, my account of what happened that night might remove me from the suspect list. 

Of course, if she asked me the wrong questions, I could end up being in more trouble than I already was. 

The thing was, I’ve never really liked Carl. It was a simple truth that I couldn’t deny. This was mostly due to the fact that I was madly in love with his wife, Mary.

Mary and I worked together. We’d been coworkers for the past five years, and ever since I first I was introduced to her, I was smitten. She was beautiful–bright eyes, round face, always smiling– but what made me truly fall for her was her kind heart and gentle nature. When I discovered that she had a husband, it was as if I was already pitted against him. To the best of my memory, I never felt any real hatred toward Carl. I never even knew him, so how could I hate him? Yes, there was Mary. Yes, he never was good enough for her, which had always bothered me. But still, if I had felt anything toward Carl at all, I don’t believe it was murderous rage. 

My anxiety skyrocketed as they hooked me up to the machine, wrapping a blood pressure cuff around my arm, and pinched my finger between a grey clasp. I sat in silence as they finished attaching me to the polygraph, and then I adjusted my position as Agent George straightened the papers in front of her. Then, after the two men exited the room, the interrogation began.

“What is your name?” she asked, her eyes flicking between me and the machine.

“Peter Evans,” I replied.

“How old are you?”

“Thirty-five.”

“Did you know the victim?” 

“Not personally, no.”

“Do you sleepwalk often?” 

She fired questions at me, pausing briefly before moving on to check whatever she was looking at on the machine. Occasionally, she would pause to scribble something on the notepad she had out in front of her. I tried to read her, attempting to tell whether or not I was doing well, but whatever she was thinking at that moment remained hidden behind a look of indifference. 

I hadn’t lied yet, but we also hadn’t gotten to a sensitive subject. Mostly, she was asking very broad questions about the murder, not touching on the specifics. She would occasionally switch the subject briefly back to something random about myself, like where I was born or what high school I attended. I wasn’t sure why, but I cooperated. She took a while to write things down after asking me if I had ever seen a psychiatrist or a therapist before about my sleepwalking, which made me nervous all over again. All I had told her was that I had a therapist in high school for a brief period. Since then, the answer was no. 

Why does she care so much about my past? I thought. Does she honestly think that I killed Carl? 

I was getting distracted; my eyes kept darting around the room, looking for a way out of the place, away from the interview, and away from the Carl Winston case. I felt sweat gathering on my palms when suddenly Agent George asked me the question I dreaded since the moment I set foot in the police station.

“What was your connection, if you had one, to Carl Winston?” 

Her face remained as stoic as it had been when she asked all of her other questions. I cleared my throat, and subtly tried to wipe my hands on my pants without drawing her attention. Unfortunately, I forgot about the clamp on my finger, which then clattered to the ground, and caught the attention of Agent George. She looked over at me calmly as I snatched it from the floor and replaced it on my index finger. 

“Please, try not to break that,” she said nonchalantly. I pressed my lips together, and decided to just ignore the sweat that had begun collecting on my hands again. I cleared my throat.

“Answer the question, please,” she instructed me.

“Oh… um–” I began, but she cut me off, clearly getting impatient.

“You’re connection to the victim. What was it?”

“Well, I never spoke to him,” I said, examining my fingers, which fidgeted in my lap.

“And?”

“And, I, uh, worked with his wife.”

“So you’re friends with his wife?” she asked eagerly, leaning forward. It was the first time that she had any sort of reaction to anything that I’ve told her. The knot in my chest tightened.

“No,” I said quickly, her eyes reading something on the machine that I could not see. Her eyebrows raised slightly, just by a fraction of a centimeter, but the small movement was enough to signal to me that I messed up. So, I backtracked.

“I mean, yes. We were friends.” I corrected myself.

“You’re friends with the victim’s wife?” she asked, a crease appearing between her eyebrows. “How well did you know her?”

“We were… pretty good friends.” I said, and I could feel my face burning up. I sniffed once, and lost the ability to look Agent George in the eye.

“Peter, why do you keep referring to your relationship with Mrs. Winston in the past tense? Are you no longer friends?”

My heart started beating faster, and I could hear the blood thumping intensely inside my head. It was so loud that I could feel it in my chest, and in my fingertips, and especially in my ears. The urgent beating, like the sound of a drum, drowned out all the other noise in the room. 

It took me a second to collect myself. I gripped the edge of the table so tightly that my knuckles were white, and my hands hurt from the pressure of the tabletop pushing into my palm. 

“Peter?” she prompted. I felt sweat collecting on my lip.

“Peter, are you okay? Do you need to take a break?” While her voice expressed sympathy, her face remained unfeeling. I took a shaky breath, and released the table.

“I’m fine.” I said, raising my eyes to stare at the tinted glass behind her. “Continue.”

She looked at me suspiciously, but went on with the interview anyway. “How long have you known Mary Winston?” 

“About five years.”

“Has your relationship with Mary always been platonic, or have the two of you ever been more than friends?” 

My eyes flicked back over to meet hers. 

“Are you asking me if Mary and I had an affair?” I sputtered, appalled by her question in more ways than one. 

Agent George glanced back over at the polygraph. “These are just questions we have to ask, Peter.”

“Mary would never. I…” I trailed off. Suddenly, out of nowhere, anger exploded like grenades inside of me. I shot up, the chair screeching as it flew out from under me, my finger clamp flying off in the sudden chaos. I finally exploded from the tension, and the question which had been slowly burning through me since the beginning of the interview burst from my lips.

“Do you think I killed Carl?!” I screamed. 

She sat in front of me, unmoving, and retained the same stony-faced expression as she scribbled something else onto her notepad.