I relax my hands, let each finger settle before I speak. ‘Where were you when the blaze started?’
The boy’s fifteen or so, judging by the greedy, grabby little buggers my daughter’s smuggling into her room these days. He’s not said a word since uniform bundled him into a squad car and he had nothing on him when he was charged – no wallet, no phone – only that single slip of paper.
He’s thin – long bony wrists, spidery fingers with the nails bitten so low blood crusts the tips. Eyes are large in his face – bush baby big. Abused by family, maybe, or a gang standing in for family. So many used people out there.
Sitting either side of him are a bulldog of a woman from Social Services and a legal aid solicitor who looks one Scotch away from the grave and smells of dirty linen and pickled onions. A dream team. Poor kid.
The boy doesn’t speak. I don’t expect him to.
I heave the sigh of the world weary lawman. ‘Just tell me why you have a note in your pocket with the address of the warehouse on North Street and the time the fire started.’
The paper bugs me. No casual arsonist carries a note telling him where and when to start a fire.
Then I feel it – the slightest tremor, passing through the table tickling my palms like static. Windows rattle in their frames. Then the floor is hopping under my feet, my heels knocking. Bulldog woman stands up, looks around as if the blank walls will tell her what’s happening.
It’s the boy.His voice is lower than I expected, as if reverberating through a broader chest. He looks at me properly for the first time and he’s terrified, but most of all, he looks sad.
‘I’m sorry,’ he whispers.