“I am going to ask you again. When–”
“Please. I can’t tell you anything. I can’t help you.”
“Why can’t you help us, Dr. Nielsen?” A short, slab muscled man stood up from the table. He seemed unimpressed with Dr. Nielsen’s pleading, casually ripping off the cuticle from his own nail and flicking it to the stained concrete floor. Gomez wasn’t fond of how Peters talked to suspects, but he appreciated having another body in room. Nielsen might be one of those loose-gut science chumps, but the man was still seven feet tall. “Is it because you’re the one who murdered Daisy? Where’d you hide the body? Did you ship it back to the backwater commie country you came from, like some sort of sick hunting trophy?”
“No! Please–Daisy was my student. I could never-”
Gomez slammed a hand down onto the cheap plastic table, making its metal legs wail in shock. “You could never what? Hurt her? That’s pretty funny, buddy, considering the whole department says you were trying to sleep with her.”
Nielsen’s gasp echoed in the ensuing quiet. His eyes, blue and blank, widened as he looked from Gomez to Peters. His broad shoulders slumped–for such a large man, Nielsen had all the body language of a man half his size. Tears began to flow, landing on the plastic table with an aubible tap.
“I never slept with her. It’s true that I loved her, was in love with her, pulled as many strings as I could to keep her safe. But that is my only transgression. I didn’t hurt her.” Nielsen took off his wire-rimmed glasses and wiped his eyes with one gnarled hand. Gomez noticed that Nielsen’s wrists were cris-crossed with tight white scars: some still had the pink inflamation of new healing.
“If you didn’t beef with Daisy, then why did she kick you off her committee? Doesn’t seem normal for a final-year PhD student to shaft one of her core committee members.” Peters stood next to Nielsen: even sitting down, Nielsen was almost as tall as Peters. Gomez stifled a laugh.
Nielsen shivered, and the flow of tears became a steady stream. He took his left thumb and buried it in the opposite wrist. Gomez watched with something like horror as the porcelain skin dimpled, swelled, then began to bleed. “I tried to confront her about her relationship with Jay. I thought that, as her committee member, as her friend, that I could help her or at least talk sense into her. I didn’t know that things between them had gotten so far. I thought their relationship was still something that could still be buried, that what I had seen in the cabin was just a mistake, or a hallucination from heat sickness.” Nielsen twisted his thumb, cutting a bright red welt across his wrist.
Gomez felt his mind begin to race as Nielsen once again scored a deep red welt into his wrist. “Dr. Nielsen, I’m going to have to ask you to put your hands on the table. You have to tell us everything you know.”
Nielsen caught Gomez’s gaze, and for a moment Gomez felt his stomach drop, like peering over the edge of a tall cliff. This man didn’t kill Daisy, but he is in hell, Gomez thought.
Peters sat back down, and Nielsen looked at each man as desperately as a child lost in the supermarket looks at the adults who surround them. Always shrewd, Peters addressed the elephant in the room.
“Dr. Nielsen, if you help us out, we can help you out. We can make sure this little stint in the county jail doesn’t affect your visa renewal. In fact, with a few phone calls, we can enure that you get a green card for life.” Peters ripped off yet another cuticle, letting it drop to the table where it was magnified to grotesque size by Nielsen’s tears.
Gomez reached out and placed a hand on Nielsen’s shoulder, in awe of how he was dwarfed by this man but also filled with a deep sense of pity for him. Gomez didn’t know what it was like to be an scientist, but he knew enough to know that between Daisy’s disappearance and rumours surrounding Nielsen’s feelings for her, the giant man had no real choice but to collaborate.
Nielsen reached into his shirt. A locket, designed as an ornate but miniature bird’s cage, appeared in his hand. Nielsen tipped over the bird cage, its door swinging open in a glint of gold fire. A white paper flower, tiny and intricately petaled, tumbled forth. It was so small that Nielsen could barely grip it between the nails of his thumb and forefinger. Nielsen gazed at the diminuative flower, turning it over and over again in his grasp. In that moment, Gomez knew that whatever Daisy had been to Dr. Nielsen, his feelings for her had been real. Whoever had kidnapped Daisy, it wasn’t this giant seated across from him.
“Tell us about what you saw in the cabin, Dr. Nielsen.” Gomez locked eyes again with Nielsen–this time, the blue eyes were elsewhere, dilating in response to a memory Gomez couldn’t see.
“The cabin is not the first time I had my suspicion. It was only the first confirmation of what was happening between Daisy and Jay.” Nielsen tucked the flower delicately back into the locket. The locket burned a sharp yellow in the bright fluorescent lighting.
Nielsen open his mouth, and what began to tumble forth made Gomez shudder. He locked eyes with Peters as the story spiled forth.
The sharp sounds of raucous laughter echoed in the hallway, destroying Nielsen’s concentration the way a bull obliterates all the porcelain in the chinashop. Nielsen looked out his door, frustrated again for the thousandth time this week, by the giggling voices down the hall. One voice was light, crisp, the reverbation of a silver bell in a silent recital hall; the other was deep bass, the sound of a huge tree slamming itself into the forest floor. The voices went from giggles to chittering words in a babbled language that Nielsen couldn’t understand: a sea of vowels and soft consonance to drown in. Nielsen didn’t know what was more maddening: their incessant giggles and chitters, or the fact that this happened every Thursday, for hours.
Another explosion of laughter, the intense cacklings of two hyenas. Nielsen stood up from his desk and decided enough was enough. He had dealt with Jay and Daisy’s absurdly acoustic meetings for almost the entire semester. Final grades were due in two weeks, and Nielsen just wanted enough quiet to finish grading the finals before the end of the day. He loped down the hall to Jay’s office, swinging open the half-closed door unannounced. Impolite people don’t deserve polite entrances, Nielsen thought.
His breath caught in his chest. Daisy was looking up at Jay, practically standing on her tiptoes to place her brown hands on his broad shoulders. Jay still towered over Daisy: while her wide body mirrored his in the breadth of her shoulders and wide spring of her hips, nothing changed the fact that Jay was nearly a foot taller than her. Jay’s thick fingers were wrapped around Daisy’s upper arms: they stood out like thick white stripes against the deep gold tan of her skin. Nielsen felt a deep well of anger blossom within him as he saw Jay pull his lips away from Daisy’s cheek, Jay’s sky blue eyes locked intently on her face.
“What the hell do you think you are doing?” Nielsen stepped towards them and grabbed Daisy by the wrist. He pulled her behind him, blocking her from Jay’s view. Jay was tall, but Nielsen was taller by a full head’s worth: the smaller man took a step back.
“Who do you think you are, Roland? You can’t barge into my meeting with a student like that.” Jay snarled. He reached towards Daisy, but Nielsen pushed his hand away.
“Who am I? I think I’m the professor who is about to report you for misconduct. I just saw you with my own eyes kissing a student.” Nielsen felt Daisy trying to worm from his grip, but with how he towered over her, it felt more like the slightest tug against him: the feeling of walking through a spiderweb and feeling its silken tendrils brush past skin.
“Dr. Nielsen, please, this is a cultural misunderstanding. Please don’t yell at Jay. I’m not upset.” Her voice was small and sweet, and it trembled like a leaf in the wind. Nielsen let go of her wrist and turned to look at Daisy. He was met by her upturned round face, her skin as golden as her face was round. Tears glinted on her high cheekbones and thick black eyelashes as she began to cry. “Please don’t report Jay–he didn’t do anything wrong.”
Gazing into the deep umber of her eyes, Nielsen felt his resolve disappear. He kept his back to Jay, but knelt at Daisy’s feet. Now that he was looking up at her, he could feel a familiar warmth bloom in the space between them. Daisy had been his student long before she had come to this PhD program, and their current position-him kneeling before her as she cried-filed him with nostalgia.
“Daisy, you don’t have to lie to me. You can tell me the truth. I can help you.” These words, too, were familiar. Nielsen hoped they rung as true to Daisy now as they had when he had first said them to her during her undergraduate career. Back then, her lies had been around her delicate health. Now, it seemed they were about something much darker.
Daisy smiled, her teeth a string of nearly translucent pearls behind the red lacquer of her lips. “Dr. Nielsen, this is how Latinos say goodbye when we are friends. I promise. Jay was just doing right by me. He knows I miss my people.” She sidestepped around him, and went to stand with Jay. He didn’t move, not even when Daisy wrapped her arm around his. Jay’s heart-shaped lips were trembling, and Nielsen grew worried: perhaps he had let his protective instincts run amok and destroyed what little professional relationship he’d had with Jay.
“Daisy, promise.” Although he had turned to face them equally, he kept his eyes on Daisy. Her gaze never left his, and he noticed that her irises had flecks of a bright red-brown around her pupils.
“Dr. Nielsen, I promise. Roland, please. Everything is okay.” Daisy finally broke their shared gaze and turned to look at Jay. Nielsen finally stood up to meet Jay’s gaze, and felt rage spring up in his chest. Had this been another time or a different place, Nielsen would’ve brought Jay to task for such a disrespectful look.
Daisy sensed the electric shock between the three of them, and now she placed her broad body between the two men. Her comparative short stature made this an almost comical move, but it swayed something in inside Jay. His gaze softened and his mouth widened into a smile. He playfully swatted Nielsen’s shoulder.
“Hey, Roland, no harm no foul, right? We all get a little culture clashed sometimes. Spending a decade in Ecuador has me thinking this whole kiss thing is super normal! I’m sorry if I made you think something was amiss.” While Jay’s voice was jovial, Nielsen understood the subtely of his body language–the stiff legs and rigid spine. While there may not be something unprofessional afoot, Nielsen was certain that he had seen something that Jay would’ve rather kept hidden from the world.
“I’m sorry for barging in like that. I came in to ask you both to keep the noise down, and I overreacted to what I saw. I guess that is why we knock on doors, eh?” Nielsen struggled to smile; lying had never been his strong suit.
“No worries. But if you don’t mind, I do have to finish my meeting with Daisy–this interlude reminded me of something I had to say.” Jay put his hands on his hips as Daisy turned back to sit on the chair in the middle of the office.
“Right. Sorry again.” Nielsen tried one last time to catch Daisy’s gaze, to gauge if this had been one huge performance on her part or not, but her face was firmly fixated on the strand of hair she was braiding.
Nielsen left the office, but let himself linger outside the view of the door for a few moments. He heard Jay and Daisy begin to chitter in their shared language again. It sounded almost like birdsong, soft and ululating. He wanted to peer in again, to see if the desk was really between them, if Jay was really keeping his hands to himself, if the way Nielsen looked at Daisy was the same way Jay looked at her. He almost couldn’t stand the thought of Jay’s thick fingers around her arms, or in Daisy’s thick waves of brown hair.
Nielsen’s phone rang, and it blew his cover. The chittering stopped as surely as the wave of noise stops when closing the door of a nightclub, and the sound of Jay’s chair scraping against the floor told Nielsen it was time to go. He ran into his office, and sat down just in time to hear Jay’s office door slam shut.
Nielsen bit his lip in frustration as he let the phone ring. Daisy had seemed so sure of her explanation, so like she was telling the truth. But if that were true, why did Jay act as if he knew he had been caught doing something wrong?
As the phone began to chime again, Nielsen finally answered it. It was his wife, calling to remind him that tonight was in fact the night of dinner with her parents and that he was, in fact, supposed to be there. Nielsen checked his watch. He was already late.
As Nielsen scrambled out the door and down the hallway, he noticed Jay and Daisy walking arm-in-arm into the elevator. As he walked by, just as the door began to close, he saw Jay kiss Daisy’s forehead. Nielsen tried to double back, but the door clattered shut before he could make it. As he debated meeting them on the ground floor, his phone began to chime again.
*************************a continuacion el proximo Domingo************************