The Lineup (Story by R.C. Peris)

“Take your time, Margaret.” The police officer was standing to my left. Her voice was soft and firm at the same time. She was a subtle oppressor. So was the male police officer standing on my right. There were two other people in the room. Lawyers I assumed. I scanned the lineup of eight men. All had brown, thick hair except for the one at the end who’s hair was thinning. I sighed. Being a witness was a hassle. I took a long lunch at work and went straight here. The police station. On Friday, as I was leaving a bar, I cut through an alley. A shortcut. I saw a few rats scurry and then I saw a woman, unconscious, on the ground and a man hovering over her with his penis out. The woman had blonde hair but it was matted and dark in areas. I assumed it was blood. I didn’t scream except I did sharply intake air and this prompted the man to look up. Less than a second. Then he ran. I called the police and stayed with the woman. I told the police what I saw and they pressed for a description of the man. Brown, thick hair. Sharp chin. Firm jaw. Black t-shirt. Vaguely heavy. Vaguely good looking. Vaguely…

To be honest I wasn’t sure what I saw. It was dark. It was too quick. But the police officers pressed. And pressed. And pressed. Yes. Yes. I saw him clearly. And then I reconsidered. I didn’t see too clearly. The woman died at the hospital. The police officers pressed me some more.
“We have a suspect,” said the female police officer. “We need you to do a lineup.”

Here I was. Monday at lunch staring at men. None jumped out. How could it? I saw the man’s face for less than a second. I think my brain may have filled in details. I didn’t trust my brain. The police officer had each man in the lineup step forward. The fifth man looked familiar. Yes. Familiar. Was he the killer?

“The fifth one,” I said.

“Are you sure?” asked the police officer. I nodded. The man looked familiar. The police officers smiled and one of the lawyers smiled. The other lawyer quickly left.

“Am I done?” I asked. “I have to get to work.” The male police officer opened the door for me.

At work, I was writing a report and the man’s face popped up. I remembered where I had seen his face and why he looked familiar. He was the bartender. He served me drinks on Friday night. He couldn’t be the killer. He was working. And then I thought about the man hovering over the woman. I didn’t see his face at all. It was too dark and then I remembered something. Breasts. As the man ran I saw his form. Breasts. I gasped. It wasn’t a man at all. It was a woman. I called the police. They weren’t interested.

“The perp’s attorney already cut a deal. He’s going away for a while.” The female police officer hung up the phone. I cried. I was frustrated. The police didn’t seem interested in justice or the truth. They wanted to close a case and with my help they did.

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