The rich man dreams his riches which are cares,
The poor man dreams his penury and pain,
The man who prospers dreams, the man who strives,
The man who hurts men, and the man who’s hurt,
All dream. So what’s this life? A fraud, a frenzy,
A trick, a tale, a shadow, an illusion.
And all our life is nothing but a dream.
And what are dreams?
They are no more than dreamstuff.
And what is real is nothing, and a man
Is nothing neither.
[Snuffs out the candle]
It is all a dream.”
Pedro Calderon de la Barca
Life’s a Dream
“Good afternoon, Mr. Requin. My name is Abigail Rossi-Hayes. I’m a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I’m here to question you while the Bureau finalizes your extradition back to the United States.”
Joe said nothing as the woman entered the small room. He sat staring at an orange stain on the white, resin tabletop. It was faded, as if it had been scrubbed repeatedly. He wondered what it was. Maybe takeaway curry, spilled by airport security using the room on their lunch break. His wrists hurt from the plastic zip tie cuffs cutting into them for the past … how long? Hours. Except for a few trips to the toilet, to which he was escorted by an Interpol officer in a dark blue vest, Joe had been confined to the small passenger holding room at Stansted Airport since just before his 5:30 a.m. flight was scheduled to depart. The room had no clock or window. His phone and watch had been confiscated when he was taken into custody. So, Joe had no idea what time it was.
He watched as the woman—Abigail Rossi Hayes—placed a briefcase on the floor next to the unoccupied, folding chair at the opposite end of the plastic table with the stain, and sat down, again speaking, “Mr. Requin, do you know why you’re here?”
“Do you know why you’re here?” responded Joe, raising his eyes to meet hers for the first time. There was a pause as she drew a quick breath and broke eye contact, taking the opportunity to reach into the briefcase and pull from it an expandable file folder, a yellow legal pad, and a ballpoint pen. Although she recovered almost immediately, Joe could tell he’d caught her off guard with his response. He noticed her eyes looked tired.
“Mr. Requin, while we wait for the extradition order to clear, I would like to ask you some questions about your past and give you an opportunity to provide a statement for the record concerning your involvement with the events that transpired in Providence, Rhode Island, in the fall of 1997.” Joe went back to staring at the stain on the table. “Mr. Requin, let me be perfectly clear. I am here to arrest you and return you to the United States to face criminal charges in a court of law. However, what you tell me here, now, can reduce sentencing, or even amend the charges themselves, should your statement include information that substantively aids the Bureau’s ongoing investigation into the alleged crimes with which we believe you are connected. Do you understand?”
Joe looked up again. There was a long, uncomfortable pause, and this time neither one of them broke the gaze. Then, Joe spoke in an almost inaudible voice. “Call me Joe.”
“Joe, I need you to let me know you understand,” said Abigail.
“I understand. But this is hard to talk about, you know? I mean, I’ve been running for twenty-six years, but I’ve been carrying it all with me. It’s always there, right beneath the surface – right behind my eyes – and when I close them, it seeps through, and the images appear … of … what happened. And I’m afraid to talk about it because I haven’t spoken about it since … and to keep silent means I can plausibly deny the reality of it. Like, maybe I’m just insane and it’s all a figment of my delusional paranoia, or something. But you, being here now, and asking me to tell the story, well that means it real. And I don’t know how to tell this story to you, a stranger … a cop.” When he finished talking, Joe looked down and saw red marks on his wrists where he’d been unwittingly straining against the plastic cuffs, with fists clenched hard enough to whiten his knuckles.
Abigail, who had opened the file folder, and begun to remove a manila sleeve, paused, slid the file back in, and pushed the folder aside. “Let’s start over,” she began quietly. “You were headed to Paris this morning when you were apprehended, correct? Why? What’s in Paris?”
“They built this big, metal tower for the World’s Fair a few years ago. It’s pretty ugly, but it’s really tall.”
“Come on, Joe!” responded Abby, exasperatedly, “Really, why were you going to Paris?”
“I was hired to work in a theater, doing props and special effects,” said Joe, sounding discomfited. “A troupe is reopening an old theater known as Grand Guignol. Years ago, it specialized in spectacles of the macabre. I figured, with the things I’ve seen, and can’t seem to unsee, I have an appreciation and expertise in shock and gore.”
“Seriously?” asked Abby.
“Yes, seriously,” returned Joe.
“Okay,” said Abby, with forced enthusiasm. “You were honest with me, so I’ll be honest with you. I inherited this case six years ago, when the case agent retired early. I investigated everything I could about it. I know as much as anyone alive about what happened, except for you, Joe. Because you were there.” She paused, gauging his reaction. Then she softened. “Before joining the Bureau, I earned my master’s degree in psychology. I’m a psychologist first and a law enforcement officer second. I understand that, to you, your memories of decades ago take a back seat to the lasting effects of the trauma they caused. I’m not here to judge. That’s up to the court. But maybe telling someone will release some pressure. Maybe it will unburden you some. And, Joe, someone will be punished for what happened, and it looks like that someone is you because you’re the only one left alive. If you weren’t responsible, this is your chance to set the record straight. If you’re going to tell your story, who better to tell than me?”
She was halfway out of her seat, leaning in, with her palms on the table. Joe looked at her eyes and thought the fatigue had almost vanished. She stood up all the way and walked to the door and knocked. She waited a beat and knocked again. The door opened and an airport security officer, posted outside the door, leaned in. “Please remove Mr. Requin’s cuffs.”
“Sorry mum, I can’t do that,” replied the officer in a brisk, northwest London accent.
“What’s your name, sir?” Abigail asked.
“Raheem, I understand your job is safety, and I appreciate that.” Joe noticed how Abigail said his name casually, yet with a touch of excitement, widening her eyes just slightly as she spoke it. He noticed how she deftly closed the space half a step between herself and the officer. “Can I ask a favor? Raheem, would you please bring me a tea, and Mr. Requin would like …” She turned to Joe, raising her eyebrows.
“Orange Fanta,” Joe said, avoiding eye contact with Officer Raheem.
“Could you do that for me, Raheem?” Joe noticed that Abigail’s voice had risen in pitch, while soliciting the favor.
“Abby,” she said to him. “My name is Abby.”
“Yes, mum. Er, yes Abby.”
“Thank you, Raheem,” she said smiling, and Officer Raheem smiled back and, only slightly, visibly thawed. He turned to leave the room and as he did Abigail reached out and gently clasped his upper arm. “Oh, and Raheem,” the officer turned. “It would really help me out a lot if you removed Mr. Requin’s cuffs. If anyone mentions it, I’ll take full responsibility.”
Raheem looked at her, as if they had known each other for years, instead of having only just learned each other’s names. “Okay, Abby.” The officer bent down on one knee next to Joe’s chair and pulled a multi tool pocket knife from a pouch on his belt. Using a wire-cutter, he carefully snipped through the plastic zip-tie restraint. Giving Joe a long, stern stare, Raheem said, “If he does anything to make you feel unsafe, just give a yell and I’ll be in right quick, yeah?” and then, standing, he smiled at Abby, “I’ll run and fetch the refreshments, Abby.”
“My hero,” she said, closing the door behind him. Turning back to Joe, she asked, “Is that better?”
Joe rubbed his wrists where the cuffs had dug into the skin. “Okay, Abby,” he said, deliberately saying her name in a tone indicating his acute awareness of her little performance for Officer Raheem. “It seems like everything in my future is about to change regardless of how I try to control things, I may as well share my past with someone.” Joe paused, leaned forward, and folded his hands, covering the red stain on the table. Abigail reached in and pulled her iPhone out of the inside pocket of her black blazer. She set that on the table between them and opened the voice-recorder app. Then she took the blazer off, and hung it on the back of the folding chair. She sat down across from him and pressed record.
“Please state your full name for the record,” said Abigail.
“Thank you. Okay, Joe, Go ahead.”
“Okay … So, here goes. This is the story of how, in 1997, I became entangled with a cult that tortured and killed rich people; and then I watched those cult members all burn to death.”