The policewoman smiled as she lent towards Rachel. When she spoke her voice had a gentle, confiding tone that nevertheless sounded practiced and professional. She told Rachel that she understood what she was going through; she had seen the effects of assault on women too many times not to. For her part, Rachel sat stammering and shaking with delayed shock. She kept repeating that he had had hateful eyes, cold eyes, eyes that had borne into her, terrified her and left her feeling helpless and vulnerable. Then she kept following it up with apologies: this wasn’t what the police needed from her, she knew that. They needed a description, a rendition of events; they needed facts not fears, and her frustration that she was handling this badly only seemed to feed her anxiety. She explained to the policewoman that she had dealt with angry laymen often enough. Like many geneticists she had faced some desperate opposition and had been at the centre of some nasty controversies. She wasn’t always proud of it, or even happy about it, but it was necessary and it had made her hard. She wasn’t the type to go to pieces like this. Not anymore.
The policewoman smiled again and leant slightly further forward as she explained that those attacks had been a comprehensible part of Rachel’s life, and they were now largely in the past. This time it had come out of the blue. It was unexpected and, so far at least, unexplainable. That made it far harder to deal with and would probably also drag up memories of old attacks; disturbing memories that were bound to have unsettled and frightened Rachel. Her reaction was perfectly reasonable – nothing to be ashamed of.
“Well, this is all very sweet, isn’t it?” a man interrupted, pushing his way into the room.
“I’m sorry, Sir.” The policewoman smiled insincerely at the intrusion. “This is a private interview. If you’re lost, the reception desk is just down the corridor and to the right. I’m sure they’ll be able to help you.” She turned back to Rachel, apologising for the interruption and fishing for the loose end of the conversation.
“No, I’m sorry: I need to speak to the witness as a matter of urgency.” Now it was his turn to smile insincerely. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave Constable.” He tossed his ID onto the table and focussed his attention on Rachel.
“Now, I’m sure that you’ve been through this a few times already, Ma’am, but I’d like you to take me through what happened once more please.” He stopped talking and glanced over at the policewoman, evidently surprised that she was still in the room. “That’ll be all Constable. Thank you.”
Rachel leant over the table and looked at the ID. It declared that he was a Detective Sergeant with Special Branch. That looked impressive, but didn’t really mean anything to her. The policewoman, on the other hand, looked at it, snarled at him and left the room ungraciously.