The detective tried to look into the eyes of the man across the table, but he would not meet his gaze. He knew the man was straining every muscle to keep himself from trembling. Borne of a chemical withdrawal rather than from any quailing fear abounding within their confrontation. Soon his interviewee would barely be aware of him sat here opposite, so involved in his own internal convulsions would he become.
"Do you want us to provide legal representation?" Of course he doesn't. The delay would only exacerbate his unravelling.
This time the man allowed his head to shake. Just the once.
The boy ever so gently cupped his hand around the butterfly. Trapped, the creature beat its wings feverishly. Even though the feel of it against the flesh of his palm was not unlike that of his rag which accompanied his thumb-sucking, this was far from comforting. Each stroke made his hand judder in response. Like a painless electric shock. As if it were the butterfly controlling him rather than the other way around. The butterfly's feeble surges produced lurching jabs of his hand. Like a shambling punch-drunk boxer.
"What about some coffee at least?"
"Do I look like a barrista?"
"I know my rights. I'm entitled to a drink".
"I can get you a cup of water".
"I need something to warm me up"
"I bet you do!"
"How about a tea then?"
"Don't tell me, twelve sugars! I can just bring you the sachets if you like and you can dispense with the tea. It'll be more tepid than the water that's for sure".
The flapping had become more intermittant. The boy finally permitted himself to exhale. When the spasmodic beats did occur, the boy's hand did not fly involuntarily away from him. Now that the palpations inside his hand weren't constant, he could concentrate on the sensation more. He realised it was more akin to turning a page of a book. That the wings were paper-like, rather than fluff fabric. His more recent books that was. Not the heavier cardboard ones with pictures and pull-the-flaps. He brought his hand up to his eye. Such motion prompted an antiphon from within.
"Hush there wee beastie" the boy whispered into his knuckles. The creature ceased its flurry.
The man could no longer rein in his twitching. He nipped at his skin with fingers clamped like pincers. He was muttering under his breath, but nothing the detective could make out, but he didn't interrupt its flow. Oh how he himself wished for a cigarette to mark out the time of this man's fraying. But the health and safety brigade had seen to that, even though he was more likely to be in danger from psychos with a bad nicotine craving. Fortunately the cold turkeys like this bird were too busy falling apart to launch an assault.
There was only ever an issue if they called for medical assistance. Then it got complicated. One prisoner denied just such a request spat at him proclaiming that he had AIDS and maybe he'd like to get a Doc in now... Animals, absolute animals. The only variable being the physiology of their addiction. In the time permitted to hold them without charge, will they crack under their own persecutions enough to spill their guts? In both senses of the term. So the pair of them just watch the clock countdown. One clock is mounted on the wall. The other inside every cell of the man's body.
The boy had it contained, but he couldn't see anything. This was the problem. He had been lured initially by its bewitching colours. But he had effaced that at an instant. Shut it up in a prison of darkness inside his hand. How he wanted to possess that beauty, but for that he needed to see it. He cast his memory back to the initial fleeting image. There was a searing orange like that of a tiger's, though not striped. Then there were those large white spots, like it had eyes on its wings. But he knew they weren't eyes, because the flutterby had never seen his palm coming. Some of the spots had black in them so that they looked like little skulls the same as on the flag of his pirate ship. Others were like the pattern on his Mum's summer dress, where the colours spread out and leaked into one another. When that happened in the washing machine and white clothes turned pink, his Mum had gone barmy. Then there were those spots that reminded him of his Dad's model aircraft that he showed him from when he was a child. They had red, white and blue circles on their wings. Maybe they copied it from the butterflies.
Now he recalled all this, he so badly wanted to open his hand and see if he was spot on. He didn't know what to do. His dad had told him that people collected butterflies, but that they knocked them out with gas and pinned them to a cork through their hearts. That seemed cruel. To kill something just to keep it in place. Dad said the colours never faded and that butterflies only lived a short time anyway. He lacked for gas, pin and cork anyway. He could just squeeze his hand more tightly. The beastie would die, but the colours would live on. Sort of like those paintings where you painted one half of the paper, then folded it over to double it. If it was rolled flat like paper, he could stick it into his scrapbook.
The boy looked at his hand and weighed up whether to open his fingers or grip them tighter.
The man was by now in a wretched state. He was scratching himself with real ferocity. The detective's gaze was caught by a tattoo on the man's upper arm, revealed as the sleeve of his shirt was wrenched virtually up to his shoulder. The detective had to screw his body round to view the tattoo, but the man was impervious. It appeared to be that of a butterfly. But there was something amiss with it. It wasn't to do with the track marks and wrinkled folds of skin. It just looked, well a bit too squashed.