Which is Worse?
"Maybe you should take your sunglasses off," Karen suggested.
She had never figured out the system Jim seemed to use to determine when it was appropriate to hide his eyes and when showing them worked to his advantage and she had never tried to make any suggestions about when she thought one way was preferable to the other, but now seemed like a good time to start.
Jim lifted his chin from where it had been resting on his hand and turned to face Karen. She recognized the tilt of his head, the sarcastic tightness of his mouth. She had just annoyed him.
He seemed to be looking her right in the face. "Why is that?"
Karen nodded toward Ellen Marsh, who was checking email on her Sidekick as she sat opposite Jim at the interview table. "I think it's making her a little uncomfortable."
The nod was a wasted gesture, as were all gestures made around Jim, but Karen never had been able to break herself of making them.
Ellen looked up, seeming to know they were talking about her. She raised eyebrows at Karen and sighed and then she fixed her gray eyes steadily on Jim. It was hard to tell if she watched him with fascination or attraction—neither one was unusual when it came to how people watched Jim—but he obviously intrigued her. Still, she did seem unnerved.
"Why would my sunglasses make her uncomfortable?" Jim asked.
This had to be weird for him, Karen realized. He couldn't talk to the witness. Couldn't make any kind of connection at all. Jim had to take Karen's word for it that there was even a person sitting across from him.
"Well, it makes it look like you're hiding. She seems to like to see people's eyes—to connect with them."
Jim sighed and took off the sunglasses. "There. Can she connect? That would be an accomplishment."
"Do you want Marty and Tom to take this interview?" Karen asked.
"No. I just—"
"Hold on," Karen interrupted. "She's trying to tell me something."
Ellen was gesturing, making he same sign over and over.
"Do you understand her?" Jim asked.
"No. I'll try and get her to spell it. I think I remember the alphabet."
S-P-E-L-L, Karen fingerspelled slowly.
Ellen spelled something back, but it was too quick for Karen to understand.
S-L-O-W, Karen spelled.
The look Ellen gave Karen contained the same kind of patience she often noticed in Jim's expression. The same level of resignation behind the bravado. But seeing it in the eyes and not in the set of the jaw was a different experience. Ellen was young, but the look in her eyes was old and intense.
She tried to communicate with Karen again, this time holding each letter up until Karen nodded to show she understood before moving on to the next one.
"I-N-T-" Karen said aloud for Jim's benefit. "E-R-P-R-E—she wants an interpreter," Karen realized suddenly.
"I don't blame her," Jim said.
Karen nodded at Ellen, trying to look reassuring.
"You have paper, right?" Jim asked.
She always had paper nearby. Except for now. How did she not have paper for this, of all interviews?
Karen opened the door. "I'll go get some."
Marty popped out the other door as Karen made her way to the desk.
"How's it going in there?" he asked, smirking.
"Just waiting for the interpreter to show up. We're trying to make her comfortable in the meantime, but—"
"Good call," Marty cut in. "Leaving the deaf witness alone with the blind detective. Dunbar's scaring the hell out of her."
"No he isn't," Karen said, but she had to smile because it almost seemed to be the other way around. "Were you watching us in there?"
Marty laughed. "Of course. You think we'd miss this?"
Karen grabbed a tablet and pen from her desk and headed back toward the interview room, shaking her head. "That's so wrong, Marty."
She stopped by the viewing room before rejoining Jim. Marty followed her.
"Having fun, guys?" she asked from the doorway.
Tom and Fisk both jumped, half-guilty expressions on their faces. Karen looked through the glass at where Jim sat facing them, silent, jaw clenched as he waited for Karen to return.
"Is he okay in there?" Tom asked.
Karen shrugged. "Says he is. The interpreter will be here soon and then it will be fine."
Tom regarded Karen with a certain skeptical expression he often wore. "Me and Marty can talk to her," he said. "We don't mind."
Fisk shook his head. "If you suddenly know Sign Language, then be my guest. Otherwise, it's Dunbar's case—and she isn't the only deaf witness so I don't see what difference it would make."
Karen looked from Fisk to Tom and turned to leave. "Well, enjoy the show."
She went back into the interview room and handed the tablet and pen to Ellen, who immediately started writing.
"What's she saying?" Jim asked.
"She's not done yet."
He sighed in a way that made his cheeks puff out a little.
"Seriously, Jim," Karen said almost under her breath. "You okay? The boss is watching. And Tom and Marty."
"They find this—"
With a flash of teeth and a crease of smile lines, Jim was laughing to himself. "Funny? It is funny, Karen."
Sometimes Jim's humor kicked in at weird times.
Ellen handed Karen the tablet. The words were written clearly, but the English was skewed.
"Ellen is asking about getting her interpreter and she wants to know if we caught the guy she saw shoot Steve Gambry."
Jim faced Karen, head cocked slightly to one side, all attention now. "She says she saw the shooting?"
Karen looked at the note in her hands. "I—I think we'd better wait for the interpreter to get here to be sure because—"
"Read me what she wrote exactly, Karen. Word for word."
"That won't help, Jim. Her English is bad so I'm not sure if I'm understanding her correctly. When the interpreter gets here—"
The door opened and Lieutenant Fisk ushered a girl into the room. She looked too young for the setting, despite her professional attire.
"Interpreter's here," Fisk said, closing the door behind her as he left.
"What's your name?" Jim asked the interpreter.
She stared at him the way people often did when they realized he couldn't see. "Kimberly Hernandez," she said, and Karen noticed she signed for Ellen as she spoke.
Karen gestured toward the empty seat beside Ellen, but the interpreter hesitated.
"I need to be across from her," she said, signing.
Jim nodded. "Of course. Which seat is better?"
They waited a moment as Ellen and her interpreter seemed to be discussing it and then Ellen pointed at the empty chair beside Jim. It had been Karen's chair, but Karen preferred to wander a bit during interviews anyway.
"You ready?" Jim asked the interpreter.
She nodded, so Karen said, "she is."
Jim turned to the interpreter. "Tell her that we're sorry it took so long to get an interpreter in here and that she can—"
"Speak directly to Ellen," Karen murmured, hoping the interpreter wouldn't sign that part.
"That's what I'm doing," Jim protested.
"No, you're saying 'tell her' and 'she.' Just speak normally. Am I right?" she asked the interpreter.
The interpreter seemed to be signing all this to Ellen rather than responding for herself. Soon Ellen nodded and signed something.
"You're right," the interpreter said, seeming to be voicing what Ellen had just said.
Jim sighed and turned toward where he thought Ellen was seated. "We apologize for making you wait," he said, not quite facing her. "My name is Detective Dunbar and this is Detective Bettancourt. We need to ask you a few questions about what happened last night at the—"
"Spell the names please," the interpreter interrupted.
"D-U-N-B-A-R," Karen said, noting that Jim didn't look like he had enough patience left to do it. "And Bettancourt. B-E-T-T-A-N-C-O-U-R-T."
"Thank you," the interpreter said, and she continued to sign the rest of Jim's previous sentence. At least, that was what Karen assumed she was doing.
Ellen nodded and looked away but the interpreter didn't say anything to indicate there had been any reaction on her part at all.
"She nodded," Karen told Jim.
Jim shook his head. "This is going to be confusing."
"Let's do this," Karen said to the interpreter. "You need to say when she nods and if there is anything else visual going on, okay?"
The interpreter nodded. "I understand."
Jim pursed his lips and cocked his head to one side, facing Ellen again. "Did you know Steve Gambry?" he asked her.
Ellen looked down at her hands and her lip trembled a little before she started signing.
"He was my boyfriend," the interpreter translated, her voice coming out in a monotone. None of the emotion Karen could plainly see on Ellen's face was reaching Jim. "I know him for—we go to high school—I'm sorry…" The interpreter broke off and signed something to Ellen, seeming to be trying to get some sort of clarification, and Karen watched the mask of resignation Jim's face became during times like this when he knew the visual perception of a moment was everything.
"He was your boyfriend?" Jim asked, oblivious to the signed conversation that was going on.
"They're conferring," Karen told him quietly.
Jim took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Should she be able to be having a whole other conversation here to get her story straight without us knowing what it—"
"I don't think it's like that," Karen tried to explain. "Excuse me," she said to the interpreter. "We're going to need to know what you two are talking about. This is a murder investigation and…"
"I understand," the interpreter said meekly. "I'm just getting clarification on some of her signs. I wasn't understanding what she was saying."
Jim nodded. "Okay."
"So he was your boyfriend?" Karen asked Ellen.
Ellen frowned and Karen could see her negative response before the translation kicked in.
"No," the interpreter voiced. "I didn't say that."
"Well, that's what the interpreter said you said," Jim said. "Was he your boyfriend, or wasn't he?"
"I said that he was my friend from high school," the interpreter said. "Oh, I'm sorry. That was my fault."
Jim's scrunched up half his face. "Who's talking? Are you speaking as the interpreter now?"
"Yes," she said, and Karen noticed she was still signing and speaking simultaneously. "I'm letting you know it was an interpreter error when I said he was her boyfriend. That was me, not her."
Jim nodded. "Okay."
"So did you see Steve often?" Karen asked.
"Sometimes," the interpreter voiced, but her tone lacked assurance. "And he did it. That guy did it."
"What guy?" Jim asked.
The interpreter shook her head. "I'm sorry. I didn't catch the name."
Jim sighed. "You didn't or Ellen didn't?"
"She spelled it, I missed it," the interpreter said.
"It's kind of important…" Jim prodded.
The interpreter and Ellen signed back and forth some more until Ellen was eventually doing the same letter-by-letter fingerspelling she had done for Karen.
The interpreter frowned at the fingerspelled letters—letters even Karen could make out—and then she jumped, her expression clearing. "Oh! Robert Martinelli."
Jim sighed, seeming relieved. "You know him?" he asked.
Ellen nodded. This time the interpreter remembered to voice it. "Yes."
"What happened?" Karen asked.
"We were at the dance and…"
"The dance?" Jim interrupted. "What dance?"
More signing back and forth. "I mean, the party. Interpreter error. I was far across the room and Robert shot Steve. I didn't see before that. I just know what happened."
"Can I speak to you outside for a moment?" Jim asked Karen. "We'll be right back, Ellen."
They left the room and joined the others in the viewing room. "We got what we needed from her," Jim said. "She has identified the perp we have in custody and her story seems to match what we already know, but—"
"Inept interpreter, Boss," Karen finished. "You saw it. We couldn't be sure of most of what Ellen was saying. We were almost better off without the interpreter."
Fisk looked at Jim sympathetically. "Do you want to set up another meeting with her and a different interpreter or should we kick her? We can get a written statement, at least."
Karen cleared her throat. "We could, but her English isn't very coherent, so…"
Fisk seemed to be considering. "Well, let's just get her statement for now and let her go. If we need her for anything later, we'll get her back and make sure to request a different interpreter."
"I'll take care of it," Jim said, turning to leave.
"He did fine," Karen told the others when Jim could once again be seen through the glass, talking to Ellen through the interpreter. "Did you really have to stand here watching?"
The corners of Marty's mouth turned down and he shrugged. "Nah, we were just curious."
Karen rolled her eyes. "It's not that exciting a case. Nothing for you to crowd the glass for. You should show some respect."
"We're sorry," Tom said, but he was smiling.
Karen faced him, hand on her hip. "Don't apologize to me."
Fisk nodded. "I understand your point, Karen, but honestly, I don't think Jim is all that bothered by this."
"Yeah," Marty affirmed. "Give him some credit for having a sense of humor."
"I don't think Jim always found you so funny," Karen pointed out.
"I know," Marty admitted. "That was before when things were more…you know. But he gets it. It's a guy thing."
Karen opened her mouth to protest, but closed it again at the thought of Jim's laugh while they were in the interview room. It was true. He didn't seem to care that the others were watching him in this uncomfortable situation. Maybe it was a "guy" thing, as Marty claimed. Just one more thing that couldn't be shared with the female detective.
Sometimes Karen was so caught up in all that Jim needed from her and how he wasn't like the others that she forgot that he was just as much a "guy" as any of them and that even he was capable of relegating her to some girly place in his estimation so the guys could all bond in their incomprehensible ways without her. She was accepted by them as the good detective she knew herself to be, but even the blind guy no one wanted could enter the sacred macho domain from which she was forever barred.
But maybe that wasn't such a bad thing.
"Hey, Tom," Marty said a while later when everyone was back at their desks. "Deaf or blind?"
Tom looked up, frowning. "Excuse me?"
"Which would you rather be?"
"Why don't you ask Jim? He might have more of an opinion on the matter."
Marty shrugged. "Dunbar?"
Jim smiled and something told Karen he'd been in this type of discussion before. "I'm not a good person to ask because I never got the choice, but I'm sure there are pros and cons either way. Which would you rather be, Marty?"
"Deaf people can drive," Marty pointed out. "They get around just fine. Really, they're much more normal, you know?"
Karen glared at him. "Marty!"
Jim seemed to be taking it all in stride—like a guy. "That's okay, Karen. He has a point. But blind people can communicate easily, so…there you are. You never answered my question, Marty."
"Can I vote for 'neither'?"
Jim did the lopsided smile that often accompanied his headshake. "You brought it up. Now you have me curious."
Marty's eyes grew distant and he really seemed to be giving the question some thought. "It would suck either way. No offense."
"None taken," Jim said.
"Being deaf seems—lonely. And I would miss music and just…interaction."
Tom watched Marty, seeming surprised. "So you'd pick blind over deaf?"
The corners of Marty's mouth went down and he shrugged. "Yeah, I guess I would. You don't need to drive in the city and if Dunbar can do it…"
Something that seemed vaguely gratified showed through Jim's smile. "That surprises me, Marty. Most people say they'd rather be deaf. It's kind of a gut reaction, I guess."
"I'd rather be deaf," Tom said. "I'd figure it out. Besides, I think it's more realistic to think a deaf detective could keep his job than a blind one—and I would want to keep my job."
Karen looked from earnest Tom to Jim, who seemed surprisingly amused by Tom's statement.
"You're saying this to Jim, who got his job back?" she asked.
"It was a fluke. How many others would have fought the way he did? Let's be honest here. How many others are as smart and can do what Jim can do, sighted or blind?"
"Thanks, Tom," Jim said. "But could a deaf detective do the job? Interviewing, radioing for help, interacting with his partner…"
"There'd be an interpreter, of course," Tom pointed out.
Karen laughed. "So you'd have to learn a whole new language first?"
"And I'd be able to talk, so that would help."
"True," Marty said. "But detectives need to listen. You'd be fine with the gun. I'll give you that. But there would be a whole other set of problems and it wouldn't be easy."
Jim fidgeted, playing with his sunglasses as if tempted to put them on. "It never is. Which would you rather be, Karen?"
Everyone grew silent, waiting for her answer as she thought. "I don't know," she finally said. "If I was born as one or the other, it'd be different, right Jim?"
"Absolutely," Jim said. "No adjusting. Everything seems normal. That's not so bad. But if you were to become one, which would you choose?"
She hesitated, wanting to be honest but not wanting to hurt Jim's feelings. But then she remembered that he was a guy and, as had been pointed out to her so recently, would probably not take offense at what would offend her. And hadn't he been the one ask?
"I'd rather be deaf," she said.
She didn't elaborate. As Jim's partner, she had seen enough to get an understanding of what it was like for him. She saw how much was lost on him and what kind of information he needed from her in order to do his job. She saw the reactions of others and the cues he missed while interacting with them. Sometimes she wondered if Jim was even aware of how much he was missing or if something in his subconscious filled in the blanks. Even with all this, Jim had pulled himself together and had made it all work. She admired him for that more than she would ever admit to anyone, but it looked hard.
Jim's jaw stiffened at Karen's response in a way it hadn't when Tom had given the same answer. He seemed…disappointed?
But he smiled a moment later, a wistful quiet kind of smile that gave Karen a protective feeling. As much as she resisted the feeling, she often felt protective of Jim. As much as she wouldn't admit it, something about him often touched her. This had surprised her early on, when she had been predisposed against him because of what he had done to Anne. Being with him every day, she could easily understand his magnetism and what it was about him that had so caught Anne off guard. That magnetism, combined with the vulnerability of blindness and the strength of having overcome it bravely, were a deadly mixture to find all in one person. Karen knew him too well to be swept away, but she often had to catch herself when something about him moved her a little too much or gave her any sort of twinge she knew she'd have to fight. It was a fine line—and a precarious one—but not crossing it was important to her.
"You know what I wouldn't want to be?" Jim asked.
Marty and Tom watched Jim, waiting for his answer. A somber feel, unusual for this squad, permeated the room. Tom's face grew sympathetic and Marty's verged on pitying and still Jim didn't finish his thought.
"What wouldn't you want to be?" Karen asked.
Jim seemed to feel what passed between the others. Lifting his head, he broke into a smile. An impish kind of smile that offset the pity vibe. "Both," he said.