Interview. October 2006
Beyond the window, I can see three kites hanging in the air over Bute Park. One blue, one yellow, one pink. Their shapes are precise, as though stenciled. From this distance, I can’t see the lines that tether them, so when the kites move, it’s as though they’re doing so of their own accord. An all-encompassing sunlight has swallowed depth and shadow.
I observe all this as I wait for D.C.I. Matthews to finish rearranging the documents on his desk. He shuffles the last file from the stack in front of him to a chair in front of the window. The office is still messy, but at least we can see each other now.
“There,” he says.
He holds up a sheet of paper. The printed side is facing him, but against the light from the window I see the shape of my name at the top. I smile again, not because I feel like smiling but because I can’t think of anything sensible to say. This is an interview. My interviewer has my résumé. What does he want me to do? Applaud?
He puts the résumé down on the desk in the only empty patch available. He starts to read it through line by line, ticking off each section with his forefinger as he does so. Education. A levels. University. Interests. References.
His finger moves back to the center of the page. University.
“Why are we all here, what’s it all about. That sort of thing?”
“Not really. More like, What exists? What doesn’t exist? How do we know whether it exists or not? Things like that.”
“Useful for police work.”
“Not really. I don’t think it’s useful for anything much, except maybe teaching us to think.”
Matthews is a big man. Not gym-big, but Welsh-big, with the sort of comfortable muscularity that suggests a past involving farmwork, rugby, and beer. He has remarkably pale eyes and thick dark hair. Even his fingers have little dark hairs running all the way to the final joints. He is the opposite of me.
“Do you think you have a realistic idea of what police work involves?”
I shrug. I don’t know. How are you supposed to know if you haven’t done it? I say the sort of thing that I think I’m supposed to say. I’m interested in law enforcement. I appreciate the value of a disciplined, methodical approach. Blah blah. Yadda yadda. Good little girl in her dark gray interview outfit saying all the things she’s supposed to say.
“You don’t think you might get bored?”
“Bored?” I laugh with relief. That’s what he was probing at. “Maybe. I hope so. I quite like a little boredom.” Then worried he might feel I was being arrogant—prizewinning Cambridge philosopher sneers at stupid policeman—I backtrack. “I mean, I like things orderly. I ’s dotted, T ’s crossed. If that involves some routine work, then fine. I like it.”
His finger is still on the résumé, but it’s tracked up an inch or so. A levels. He just leaves his finger there, fixes those pale eyes on me, and says, “Do you have any questions for me?”
I know that’s what he’s meant to say at some stage, but we’ve got forty-five minutes allocated for this interview and we’ve used only ten, most of which I’ve spent watching him shift stationery around his office. Because I’m taken by surprise—and because I’m still a bit rubbish at these things—I say the wrong thing.
“Questions? No.” There’s a short gap, in which he registers surprise and I feel like an idiot. “I mean, I want the job. I don’t have any questions about that.”
His turn to smile. A real one, not fake ones like mine.
“You do. You really do.” He makes that a statement not a question. For a D.C.I., he’s not very good at asking questions. I nod anyway.
“And you’d probably quite like it if I didn’t ask you about a two-year gap in your résumé, around the time of your A levels.”
I nod again, more slowly. Yes, I would quite like it if you didn’t ask about that.
“Human Resources know what’s going on there, do they?”
“Yes. I’ve already been into that with them. I was ill. Then I got better.”
“Who at Human Resources?”
“Katie. Katie Andrews.”
“And the illness?”
I shrug. “I’m fine now.”
A non-answer. I hope he doesn’t push further, and he doesn’t. Instead, he asks who’s interviewed me so far. The answer is pretty much everyone. This session with Matthews is the final hurdle.
“Okay. Your father knows you’re applying for this job?”
“He must be pleased.”
Another statement in place of a question. I don’t answer it.
Matthews examines my face intently. Maybe that’s his interview technique. Maybe he doesn’t ask his suspects any questions, he just makes statements and scrutinizes their faces in the wide-open light from the big Cardiff sky.
“We’re going to offer you a job, you know that?”
“Of course we are. Coppers aren’t thick, but you’ve got more brains than anyone else in this building. You’re healthy. You don’t have a criminal record. You were ill for a time as a teenager, but you’re fine now. You want to work for us. Why wouldn’t we hire you?”
I could think of a couple of possible answers to that, but I don’t volunteer them. I’m suddenly aware of being intensely relieved, which scares me a bit, because I hadn’t been aware of having been anxious. I’m standing up. Matthews has stood up too and comes toward me, shaking my hand and saying something. His big shoulders block out my view of Bute Park and the kites. Matthews is talking about formalities and I’m blathering answers back at him, but my attention isn’t with any of that stuff. I’m going to be a policewoman. And just five years ago, I was dead.
Excerpted from Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham. Copyright © 2012 by Harry Bingham. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.