“Counterclockwise,” Ch. 9

March 6th, 2008

Miss Kansas City of 1928 

“It was a figure of speech,” Norah said. She was still a little bleary, but at least Laura had the sense that the woman had a center of gravity

“Of course,” Laura said.

“Who hasn’t said something like that?” Norah had downed a few cups of real coffee, made by Jerry on a complicated, gleaming machine that looked like it had been designed to distill gold from seawater or brew the Elixir of Life. At Laura’s urging, Norah had also gone into the bathroom off the master bedroom to clean herself up. Laura had followed, making sure the bathroom door was unlocked, and listening to the sound of Norah splashing water around. Listening for an unexplained pause, an opening window, the click of a shell being racked into an automatic.

Just before Norah came out, Laura’s cell phone vibrated. She identified herself, listened for fifteen or twenty seconds, and said, “Give me the name again.” With her phone captured between ear and shoulder, a position that always gave her a crick in the neck, she opened her notepad and wrote down the name. Just as she closed the phone, the bathroom door opened, and Norah stopped in the doorway, looking at her.

“Don’t you look pretty,” Laura said.

“Yeah,” Norah said, shouldering past her. “Miss Kansas City of 1928.”

Now they were back in the living room. Norah sat on the high-backed chair, legs drawn up with her arms around her knees, the LA Times still spread over the floor where her feet would be. Laura sat on the couch, and Jerry stood behind her, his hands on the back of the couch, providing what he liked to call vertical authority. “But you were angry at him,” Jerry said.

“We were an old married couple, not a couple of zombies,” Norah said. She looked down at her cup, saw nothing in it she wanted, and looked back up. “All married couples fight. Don’t you?” she asked Jerry. “And you,” she said to Laura, “you and Brad Pitt. Don’t you ever go at it?”

“You suggested he was physically abusive,” Laura said.

“Another figure of speech.” Norah gave the cup a parting glance and put it down, with a rattle, on the table beside her chair. “Do I seem like the kind of woman who’d remain in an abusive relationship?” She glanced down at herself and patted the front of her wrinkled blouse. “Where does it say doormat?”

“Do you deny that he was physically violent?”

“Do I deny it? What kind of question is that?” She looked from Laura to Jerry. “I was drunk, remember? My husband had been murdered. I was grieving,” she said, defiantly dry-eyed, “and I drank too much. And — and I was angry at him. You were right about that. I was angry at him for, for leaving me, for not protecting himself.”

Laura said nothing.

“Stop staring at me like that. Sure, he was a jerk sometimes. He could be awful, and I know lots of people have already told you that. But there were times — there were times when he was . . .” her voice trailed off. “Human,” she finally said. “He was just another person, just like you and me. Sometimes okay, sometimes terrible. Like everybody.”

“You put up the money for the business,” Laura said.

“I already told you that.”

“When you got married, how wide was the gulf, economically speaking? I mean, how much more –”

“I know what you mean,” Norah snapped. “I can’t pretend I like the question, but I know what you mean. I had a lot and he had nothing. My family owned two department stores in the midwest. His father was a plumber. But it was okay. We were a team.”

“And was the business prospering?”

“Honey, he was in music. Music doesn’t make money any more. That train left the station a few years back.”

“You’re living well,” Laura said.

“The miracle of credit,” Norah said. “Second mortgages on second mortgages. The house may look solid, but it’s made out of paper. A big bad wolf with emphysema could blow it down.”

“And the remainder of your money?”

Norah said, “Oh, please. There’s nothing left.”

“So,”” Laura said. “He was physically abusive at times, he had mistresses, and he blew through all your money. Is that fair?”

“I don’t know,” Norah said, suddenly showing a lot of teeth. “Does it seem fair to you?”

“I didn’t have to live with it.”

“I’m telling you,” Norah said, retreating, “there were problems, sure. But we were dealing with it.”

“You think you would have worked it out,” Laura said.

“Honey, I don’t know how else to put this. Maybe you should write it down: We had problems but we were working them out. There. Did I say that too fast for you?”

“Did it ever occur to you to wonder whether he had hidden resources?”

Norah’s eyes wavered for a second and then she clasped her knees closer to her chest. “I knew everything about our finances,” she said. “There was nothing there.”

“So there was no reason for you to think about divorce. No financial reason, I mean.”

Norah said, “Divorce.” It wasn’t a question.

“Since there were no assets. If you hadn’t succeeded in working things out between you, there would have been nothing to gain financially from a divorce.”

“I hadn’t thought about it,” Norah said.

Laura opened her pad and looked at the name she had written there. “Mrs. Tallerico, do you know a man named Frank Weller?”

For a long time — maybe ten seconds, maybe fifteen — Norah just sat there. Then she got up, picked up her cup, and went to the liquor cabinet, her feet tearing the Los Angeles Times into several pieces. She grabbed the bottle of Paradis and filled her cup with it and then, bottle in hand, turned to them. “Either of you?”

“No, thanks,” Jerry said. “We’re fine.”

Norah Tallerico nodded and replaced the bottle. Then she kicked her way through the crumpled newspaper, sank back down into her chair, took a slug from the cup, and said, “What was the question?”

“Frank Weller. Do you know a man –”

“How did you get that name?”

“He e-mailed your husband. We’re going through Mr. Tallerico’s computer.”

“He e-mailed — he e-mailed Talley?”

“Many times. They went back and forth quite a bit.”

“About what?”

“Strategy,” Laura said. “How to handle your desire for a divorce. How to rewrite, retroactively, your pre-nuptial agreement. Mr. Tallerico had apparently been paying Mr. Weller since the day you first went to see him.”

“That –” Norah began, and broke off.

“You probably shouldn’t have gone to a partner in a firm that represented your husband.”

“Frank was supposed to be my lawyer. Talley had fired the firm months ago.”

“Actually not,” Laura said. “Although, from the e-mails, it’s clear that they told you he had.”

“That — that motherfucker,” Norah said.

Jerry went around the couch and sat next to Laura. “So,” he said, “with no money available through a divorce, what was the situation with your husband’s life insurance?”

Norah said, “His –” and Laura’s phone rang.

“Hold that thought,” she said, getting up. She flipped the phone open and said into it, “Hang on a minute,” then tracked back down the hallway to the bedroom. She closed the door behind her. “Who is this? And it better be important.”

“It’s David Kim. And, yeah, I think it’s important. We’re at Tallerico’s office, going through the letters from the kids who think he ripped them off, and about four minutes ago there’s a scream from the hallway. So Eleanor and I barrel out there, and one of the cleaning crew is backing out of the empty suite next to the door to the stairs, you know the one I mean?”

“David, would you please get to the point?”

“Okay. We go in there, and all folded up under the desk is your interviewer. Cut in half a dozen places.”

“Wait, wait. You found a young woman, dead, I assume –”

“Dead.”

“But how do you know she’s –”

“You know the name she used, Rita Chaney? The woman who killed herself in the Valley?”

“Yes, David,” Laura said through her teeth. “My powers of recall are still intact.”

“Well, the dead woman has a driver’s license in the name of DuLaine Chaney. She’s Rita Chaney’s sister.”

 

3 Responses to ““Counterclockwise,” Ch. 9”

  1. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Welcome back! The twist with Rita/DuLaine came right outta left field! I’m still liking Norah a whole lot. I really hope she’s not the killer (unless I learn more about what a rat Talley is, then maybe I’ll change my mind). House made out of paper — really liked that. And the description of the coffee maker … loved it!

  2. Steve Wylder Says:

    Interesting twists this chapter. I like “Miss Kansas City of 1928.” Great line, though now in my mind, Norah looks like Clara Bow. (She wasn’t Miss K.C., but she won some beauty pageant in the 20s.) Amen to Cindy’s comments on the coffee maker and house. I’ll be cheking your site for the next chapter.

  3. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    I’ve known from the beginning that DuLaine (or at least, the interviewer — I had no name for anyone then) would be the second victim.

    This is a very difficult way to write a book. All my instincts tell me to work on it eight hours a day and try to deal with some of the 20-30 balls that are in the air, including Laura’s relationship with her husband, what’s going on with the mistress and Claire Standish, what happened way back there between Talley and the woman who killed herself (to which the only witnesses are the burned out former members of Goths to the Flame, whom I’m dying to write), and lots of others.

    What happens as a result of my writing it this way is that all that material loses its freshness and urgency by the time I finally come to deal with it, and I have to spend an inordinate amount of time re-animating it, so to speak, and remembering what it was about it that appealed to me in the first place.

    I’m going to review the manuscript thus far in the next couple of days and see where I am in terms of word count, see whether there’s any obvious act structure that I can turn to, and some other stuff that wouldn’t interest anybody except perhaps people like you, who are also going through this process.

    At least, I hope it’s interesting.

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