Chapter 1: The Interview

To James Cooper, September First was, without doubt, one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking days he would ever have. It was the first day of a one-year internship in the homicide division of the New York Police Department. James graduated from high school at the top of every one of his classes. He received numerous awards and scholarships. He could have chosen any career pursuit: art, chemistry, electrical; however he chose to follow law enforcement. His area of fascination and adoration was the investigation of homicide. As a child, staying up into late hours of the night reading murder mystery books was routine. As an adult of twenty years now, his dreams and goals were about to come true. He received a letter in the mail one day that invited him to apply for an internship in the homicide department of the NYPD. He had practically no reason nor prerequisites for this application, save for childlike charisma and a stunning grade in his senior law class in high school. This was known by the person who chose him, detective Ward. Being accepted for such an internship requires years of post-secondary schooling and experience in the field of application, neither of which James had. Yet this detective Ward singled him out of all the applicants. At least that was the impression James was under. After applying, being interviewed with a few dozen others and submitting his fitness test results at the beginning of the summer, James received a phone call from the NYPD telling him he had been accepted and he was to report to detective Ward for a final interview on September First.

James stood in awe as he gazed upon his future place of work. The building was nothing spectacular in appearance in comparison to its neighbours. The New York City Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals, with their great pillars and monarch era-like exteriors were simply across the street. The modern and suspiciously elusive looking Federal Bureau of Investigation building was also a neighbour to the NYPD, but despite its counterparts, James marvelled at the New York City Police Department building. Simply because within those walls James believed his future lay. He most likely was just going to file papers, categorize forensic results, and observe conversations. But the slight chance going to an actual scene of an incident, the scene of a murder, thrilled the slender young man.

James opened the door to the foyer, wherein he found the front desk. He approached the man sitting at the desk and cleared his throat to gain his attention.

“Hi,” he started anxiously, “I’m here to see detective Ward?” James, regretting it as soon as it happened, ended the statement as if it were a question.

“Name?” the man asked intently.

James, slightly taken aback replied, “Cooper, James. C-O-O-P-“

“You are going to have to go across the street to find agent Ward.”

“Is he in court today?” James asked curiously.

“No,” the man said with a sort of pitying chuckle, “He’s on the other side of the street: the FBI building.”

“Oh…” James began, “Is he-”

“Just go across the street, walk through the main doors, tell them your name, and they’ll take you through security.” The man interrupted and abruptly stated this.

“Alright, thank you, sir,” James replied.

He turned around and did exactly as the man instructed.

James got through without a hitch. All he had to say was his name and once he got through security he was passed on to another member of the staff.

“Mr. Cooper, this is Brianna Jones, she will guide you from here,” one of the security guards told James before walking back to his post.

“Hello, Mr. Cooper. Welcome to the FBI New York division.”

“Hey Bri,” James said with a big smile, “it’s good to see you again.”

Brianna cleared her throat shortly. “If you follow me, I will take you to Agent Ward’s office.” She replied sternly and in a professional tone.

Brianna was a medium height brunette with bright green eyes. Her stunning appearance captivated James as she led him down a few hallways. They would take turns to the right or the left, and not caring for any of it, James kept his focus on Brianna, a girl he’s known for a long time.

“Would you like to get coffee with me sometime, Bri?” James asked cheerfully yet knowing what the response would be.

Brianna stopped walking. She turned and looked at him, not with a reciprocal admiring gaze but rather an angry glare.

“That’s enough, James.” She stated assertively. “I don’t know how or why you are here, but if we are to work in the same building together we need to get one thing straight,” she said shortly as if needing to do so in one breath. “We will have no intentional contact, any contact we have, only if completely necessary, will be brief and strictly professional.” She said this to James for the first time but with such proficiency, it was as if she had said it a thousand times. “Got it?” she finished.

James wasn’t surprised by her response but hurt by its tone and stunned by its weight.

“Bri, I-” he began in response, only to be interrupted shortly after beginning,

“Enough with the Bri! You do NOT have the right to address me in that manner!” she said raising her voice.

Their discussion had been placed in a hallway of offices. Most doors shut and their blinds down due to agents being away, on phone calls or in meetings. The few that were open were more than empty, as by now, many had risen from the seated position at their desk and gazed down the hallway to see what the commotion was about.

Brianna, taking note of this, gave James one last set of directions and dismissed herself from the scenario. “Down this hall, turn left and Agent Ward’s office is three doors down, on the right.” She began to walk away, her eyes fixated on the floor when she stopped for a moment and said, “it has a big fern by the door. You can’t miss it.” With her head still dropped, she marched away.

Within her scattered and stormy brain, she thought a simple notion; good luck Jay. The elementary thought aroused feelings of which she had not felt for quite some time: jealousy, anger, hope and the most terrifying to her, love.

James, once again, obeyed the directions given to him. He didn’t dare look at any of those watching him. He didn’t even bother giving them his thoughts of curiosity as to what they could be thinking or which facial expression they were making. He simply focused on getting to the end of the hall to make his left turn. His mind raced with thoughts of Brianna. He quickly ushered them to the back of his mind to keep his focus on the upcoming event; him meeting Agent Ward.

He turned the corner and saw the fern. He was replaying Brianna’s words to himself, focusing only on the directions. He couldn’t afford to let himself be overcome by any sort of emotion. He needed this interview to go well.

He knocked on the door and after a few short seconds he heard, “Come in,” a deep voice made this distant invitation. The blinds were shut so James couldn’t look in to get a glimpse as to what Agent Ward looked like. James opened the door and walked into the room.

“Agent Ward?”

“Yes,” the man replied sternly.

“I’m the intern you hired for the year. James Cooper.”

“Mr. Cooper,” the agent said standing up from his chair. “You’re late.”

Agent Ward was slightly shorter than James. He had short gray hair and a freshly shaven face. Dark brown eyes accompanied his partially wrinkled face. He seemed, to James, to be in incredible shape.

“Sir, I-uh,” James began with little knowledge of what he would say next, “I actually arrived on time at the NYPD building, which is where I was under the assumption I would be interning.” After saying this James straightened his back in confidence, it sounded pretty good to him.

“Of course,” the detective replied, “I understand. By now, I assume, you are aware that your internship will not be with the New York Police, but rather with the FBI.”

“I did gather that, however, I am not sure I understand why… or how.”

Agent Ward moved from behind his desk and began to walk about his office. It was a larger room with a couch and a few chairs lined against the wall attached to the door. His desk, which faced the door, was a large cherry coloured table with drawers attached.

I am not sure I understand why…” he quoted. “Now, Mr. Cooper, I am afraid you have greatly misled me.” The agent stated with great peculiarity. “When someone does not understand something, they see their disadvantage and inquire about such. Fully to make themselves understand. Yet you stated that you were unsure as to whether or not you were sure. Would you care to revise your statement?”

James’ confidence that he had found earlier seemed to shrink. He was discouraged and frustrated by the agent’s remark.

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir,” James replied shakily. “I have no idea why I am in the FBI building and not the NYPD.”

“It’s simple, Cooper. You’re going to work for the FBI, that’s why you’re here. How could you not get that?” Agent Ward replied.

“Sir,” James began in reply, “I mean no disrespect but if I am working for the FBI simply because I am working for the FBI… That seems to me as insufficient grounds for a reason.”

James took no confidence in what he said this time; rather he wanted to genuinely combat the detective’s aggressive attitude.

Accepting James’ retort, Agent Ward speedily answered James’ earlier question.

“We monitor closely those who are involved with the NYPD: officers, clerks, interns and even interviewees. My boss sent me across the street to screen those who were interviewing. Now, I had never done this before. I am a homicide detective. I’ve never had an intern, never screened an interview, and I have certainly never had a conversation like this before.” James stood stiff in the detective’s office. He had no clue what point Agent Ward was attempting to get at with what he was saying. “I spent a whole day sitting on the other side of a wall listening in on conversations. Looking at a computer screen with the camera footage from that room and watching all sorts of men and women sit in that chair and talk about themselves. And then almost out of nowhere, this twenty-year-old kid comes walking in. You stunned me when I saw you. You had no experience, your resume was empty, but you had something no one else had; passion. I could tell getting this internship meant everything to you. But, you weren’t qualified enough for me to justify accepting you.”

“But you did,” James said in a curious tone.

“Indeed,” Agent Ward replied while making his way to his desk and sitting down in his chair. “Take a seat, Cooper.” The agent gestured to one of the chairs placed in front of his desk. James sat down and waited for the man to begin again.

However, he did not. Agent Ward sat there staring at James with his eyes in a slight squint.

James, obviously uncomfortable with this, adjusted his sitting position.

“Why did you apply for an internship with the homicide investigation department of the police?” Agent Ward asked.

There were two answers to this question. The agent knew neither, and James only knew one at the time. He, however, would not dare telling Agent Ward the goal, for which he applied.

“Sir, I always took an interest in solving problems and I read a lot of murder mystery when I was a kid.” James, realizing this would not be a good enough answer for the agent continued, “it was made clear to me in high school that I had a lot of abilities and that I could make a difference with regards to investigative law enforcement.” James breathed calmly and looked Agent Ward in the eye.

“Cream and sugar?” the agent asked with intent curiosity.

“Sorry, sir?” James asked, not understanding what he meant.

“Enough with the ‘sir’” the agent blurted, “I’m not your commanding officer or your boss; I want you to consider me as your partner. You’re here to challenge me, to tell me what you think. Don’t hide your feelings from me, don’t hide your passion and don’t hide your anger. I do something that bothers you, let me know. I may disagree and I expect us to have a lot of heated conversations. Having said that, you’re free to quit when you want, but know this; finding work elsewhere will be difficult after leaving an opportunity like this. As far as I know, no kids your age get to intern for the NYPD. Usually, special training is required, years of schooling, and a handsome resume. You, however, I have a gut feeling about. I admired your optimism and your confidence when I first saw you in that room; a twenty-year-old kid with almost no experience aiming for a position like this? That takes guts. But if you ever abuse what you have here, well you know what will happen. And as for what you can address me by; only my friends and my wife call me by my first name, and I haven’t got any friends and I’m divorced. My name may be stamped into my ID card and it may be on my desk but the only thing you will ever call me by is Ward, Agent, or Agent Ward.”

James was perplexed at Ward’s personality. He couldn’t decide if he liked him or not.

“Alright, Agent Ward.”

“Alright? Now, never use a word with such little emphasis on your meaning when saying something to anyone, especially a short sentence using half-hearted words. And don’t ever-”

“Could you stop correcting me on everthing I say please?” James spouted. His face went red but he wouldn’t dare break his gaze with Ward.

“Already telling me what not to do, hey? You have courage; most would say stupidity, however, I don’t. And next time, drop the ‘please.’ Tell me what you want, don’t ask. I’m not your mom, I’m your partner.

James flinched slightly. He swallowed and his eyes blinked very quickly four times.

Ward could tell something he said had put James off imperceptibly.

“Do you have anything you wish to ask me, Cooper?” Ward asked hoping to bring ease needed due to the tension he had unwittingly created.

“You just told me not many people my age ‘get to intern for the NYPD’; did we not just discuss the fact that my internship is with the FBI?” James questioned. “With you?” James continued unaware as to whether or not he meant this in a regretful way.

“Yes. Your resume, after your time here, has come to an end, will say you interned for the NYPD. Your work here is not of a manner pertaining to national security, however, it is confidential and thus your one-year internship is as well,” Ward said promptly.

“That’s fair enough,” James responded. “Now, you mentioned I was here to help you. How might I do that?” James said forcing himself to smile at his new partner.

“Police dispatchers received a nine-one-one emergency call last week from a very distressed husband,” Ward began. “He heard his son screaming in the middle of the night from his living room. He ran down to see what was wrong and to his despair, he found his wife dead on his kitchen floor. He claims to not remember her leaving the bed but says she must have gotten up for some water. Now in your interview, you said you enjoy painting, correct?”

“Yes, sir-I mean, Ward.”

“Okay, so you should like this. Next to the wife’s body was a painting of her. In the exact same position as she was on the floor. It was on a canvas and a stand. But the weird thing is the killer had drawn the son standing behind the dead body facing the other way.”

Ward handed James a picture of the scene and a picture of the painting.

“Weird, so the killer killed her, painted her corpse but added the son in? There’s no way he would have been able to paint something as detailed as this with the son standing right there. The kid would’ve screamed the second he saw her.” James explained.

“Right, so why would the killer bother adding the son?”

“Maybe it was his way of trying to pin it on the son?” James pondered.

“I would almost immediately rule that out as a possibility because the woman was strangled to death. A six-year-old would never be able to pull something like that off.”

“Okay, so do we have any suspects?” asked James.

“None. But we do have a husband arrested for the murder of his wife,” said Ward with a long sigh.

“Wait a minute, are you saying we’ve caught the guy? And it was the husband?”

“Yes. They found the husband with paint on his hands, no alibi, the rope that was used to strangle her under his pillow, and tears on his face. But no it wasn’t him.” Ward answered.

“You’re saying that you found the guy with paint on his hands, the murder weapon basically on his person, and nothing to prove he didn’t do it? Ward, this doesn’t even sound like a case.” James stated.

“Wrong. Local authorities found ‘the guy’ with paint on his hands, murder weapon ‘basically’ on his person, and nother to prove he didn’t do it. I was called afterwards.”

“How come?” James asked.

“Because the same thing happened to Mr. and Mrs. Hill one year ago.” Ward handed James a file labelled “The Painter.” He opened it, his eyes widening. It was an identical scene to the first.

“Both cases seem to be already solved. But I know these men didn’t do it. Why would two men murder their high school sweethearts in the same fashion, one year a part to the day? The now seven-year-old Hill boy, through his tears and trauma, said, when questioned during the investigation, there was no fight between his parent’s before his mother’s death. Mr. Hill and our new husband both claim innocence. And the paintings are perfect. Look at them. Any blemishes? No. Now, how could a simple plumber, and a concrete pourer whip up something like this in a fit of rage?”

James focused in on the most recent painting. It was a masterpiece. James had a natural eye for talent; he could see almost no signs of it being a painting. The mother was lying on her back with her arms out to each side. She had a pink robe and dark hair. The child was standing just behind her left shoulder facing away from the painter. He was wearing a baby blue pyjama set and was holding a stuffed bear. Additionally, the child had an unrealistic shadow-like cloud surrounding him, which to James, was the proof of the image being a painting.

“You’re right, it doesn’t make sense. But we’re not lawyers, how can we prove their innocence?” asked James earnestly.

“No, we’re not. But I am a detective, and there is no way another innocent man is going to prison under my watch. I have everything from the scenes and everything on the families.” Ward handed a file over to James. “Study up Cooper, we’re going to the scene tomorrow.”

James was shocked. The thought of him going to a scene on his second day pumped his body full of excitement and adrenaline. He grinned. James knew he would enjoy working with Ward.

“Your office is at the end of this hall, it hasn’t been used in years, so it may be a little dusty. I’ll get someone to help you clean it up. But before you go, do you take cream and sugar in your coffee?” Ward asked with a smile.

James remembered Ward alluding to this question earlier. “I don’t drink coffee,” James replied softly.

Ward chuckled slightly. “You’re going to want to start.”