“Counterclockwise,” Ch. 10

March 20th, 2008

Chapter Ten

Homicide Handbook for Junior Detectives


David Kim said, “Whoever folded her is a master at origami. That should narrow the field.”

“The cop who searched these offices should be busted to traffic,” Laura said. “If there’s a dead woman under this desk, how do we know there wasn’t a live murderer under one of the others? Christ, we might have ended it right here.”

The woman identified as DuLaine Chaney had been as much knotted as folded. Her legs had been jammed against her chest and her arms wrapped around them. Her right foot and her neck were broken to make her fit into the kneehole beneath the desk. The medical examiner’s crew had not yet arrived to pull her out, and the carpet on which she sat was the chocolate brown of dried saturated blood.

“He’d have to be Mickey Rooney,” Kim said. He was on hands and knees, looking at the corpse. “And doing yoga.”

“David, do me a favor and lighten up on the gallows humor, okay? This has been a long day. And it’s going to get a lot longer.”

“One thing,” David said. “This took a lot of strength, breaking her up and jamming her in there like that. My impression was that you were mostly looking at women.”

“First day, you know? There was a lot of litter in this guy’s life, and most of it involved women. Not that he wasn’t an equal-opportunity dickhead, but he seemed to take special delight in knocking women around.” She raised a hand to stop Kim’s question. “Metaphorically, as far as I know.”

Kim said, dragging it out, “Mmmm-hmmm.”

“Do you want to tell me what that means, David?”

“Means mmmm-hmmm. Sort of a pre-grammatical tic of agreement. Widely used among people who simply want to remain in a conversation without expending unnecessary energy.”

“Or who don’t want to say what they’re thinking.”

A nod. “Yes, I suppose that’s another application.”

“And in this case, what you don’t want to say is what?” Laura demanded. “That I was looking at women because I’m a woman? Because I don’t think women get their fair share of the credit for murder, something like that?”

“If anything, just that the women’s motives might have seemed more solid to you than they would have, well –”

“Than they would have to you.”

Kim gave her a perfunctory smile. “Something like that.”

“As much as I hate going over the Homicide Handbook for Junior Detectives,” Laura said, “where do we always look first?”

David said, “Spouses and lovers.”

“And in this case, those would be . . .?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Fine. All I’m saying is that we probably should have gone a little wider to begin with. In this particular case.”

Except for the desk and one empty bookshelf, the office was empty. Their voices bounced off the walls, and Laura could hear the strain and exhaustion behind her own words. “As long as we’re slinging stereotypes at each other, why don’t we discuss the fact that many Korean men don’t think women do anything except cook and go through sanitary pads?”

Kim said, “So much for multiculturalism.”

“This is stupid,” Laura said. “I’ll go this far: I think I can safely call Jerry and tell him to stop questioning the widow. There’s no way Norah Tallerico was strong enough to do this. But I think Claire Standish could. And I haven’t met the mistress yet.”

“Okay,” Kim said, getting up from the floor. “Peace. Tell me what happened here.”

“Our murderer came up the stairs and bumped into Ms. Chaney as she was coming out of Tallerico’s office. Knowing that Chaney could identify her – they were probably the only two people in the hallway – he or she either dragged or enticed Chaney into this office and went to work.”

“Nobody heard anything,” Kim said.

“Nobody mentioned hearing anything, which isn’t the same thing. We weren’t asking about noises from the hall.”

“Getting back to sex,” Kim said.

“As all things must.”

“If she was dragged in here, it was probably a man, right? Someone strong enough to grab her, cover her mouth, and haul her in here in a very short time.”

“And if she was enticed,” Laura said, “it was probably a woman. Most women wouldn’t go into an empty office with a man, unless she knew him. And as far as we know, DuLaine Chaney didn’t move in Tallerico’s circles. He certainly didn’t seem to doubt that she was a reporter from Chicago.”

“And either way, that means our murderer didn’t have any obvious bloodstains on him after killing Talley. Sorry, or on her.”

“We need to preserve the carpet on both sides of the door. Drag marks could answer the question. Oh, Jesus, it was the cleaning crew that found her. Did they vacuum yet?”

“No,” Kim said. “They hauled their stuff in through the door, which may have messed things up some, but they started to vacuum at the far end of the office. That way they could work their way back to the door without leaving footprints.”

Laura said, “I really am tired. That’s the way I’d do it. That’s the way anyone would do it.”

“Not me,” Kim said. “We Korean men like to leave our footprints everywhere.”

“Let’s count to three and nod at each other,” Laura said, “and that’ll be I’m sorry, okay?”

Kim said, “Who counts?”

At the same moment, they both heard voices in the hallway.

“Stop there,” Laura shouted. “Don’t get near the door.”

“Says who?” a man’s voice answered.

“LAPD,” Laura said. “Hold on, we’ll open the connecting door.” Kim went into the adjoining office to let the crew in, and Laura took one more look at what was left of DuLaine Chaney and then called Jerry.

* * *

“Four deep cuts and five or six shallow ones,” Willard Washburn said. “The shallow ones were mostly to the hands and forearms, so they’re defensive. The deep ones were undoubtedly intended to be fatal, but the person with the razor – that’s probably what it was, by the way, a straight razor – had a faulty understanding of human physiology. Slices across muscle mass, for example – here,” he says, pointing to a gash on DuLaine Chaney’s upper right arm. “Places where major arteries aren’t. Finally finished the job with this.” He draws a finger across the front of Chaney’s throat. “Deep enough to sever the vocal chords.”

“There must have been shouting,” Laura said.

“You’d think so. But this all could have happened in three, four seconds. We don’t know when the vocal chords were severed. Might even have been the first cut. She could have stayed alive, fighting, after that happened, for ten, fifteen seconds. Just not able to use her voice. And the person with the razor was such a duffer he or she could have gone right on hacking, not knowing that all he – sorry, or she – had to do was back off and let the lady go down.”

“My sister teaches kindergarten,” Laura said. “For her, a bad day is when a couple of kids have a shoving match. I get a woman fighting for her life with her vocal chords severed.”

“True,” Washburn said. “But you get to hang around with us.”

“Male or female?” Kim asked.

“Whoever it was, wasn’t much taller than the victim. The cuts are pretty much parallel to the floor, or where the floor would have been when she was standing. This kind of frenzy, could be either. It was getting her under the desk that took the real muscle, but you know, when the adrenaline’s flooding the system, that’s when you get the twelve-year-old kid lifting the Volkswagen off his mother.”

“So you’re not going to venture a guess,” Laura said.

“I don’t venture guesses,” Washburn said briskly. “I analyze evidence, weigh it against a lifetime of experience, and draw highly informed conclusions. My highly informed conclusion at the moment is that I don’t have enough information to venture a guess.”

“And the carpet?”

“No obvious drag marks. Of course, the whole Mormon Tabernacle Choir went through that doorway after this happened. The cleaning crew, which seems to be unusually large –”

“A bunch of cousins,” David Kim said.

“Plus you guys back and forth a bunch of times. We’ve got a couple of what might be drag marks over there, closer to the desk, but she could’ve been dead by then. And then, of course, dragging was the only option.”

“The person who did this,” Laura said. “There would have been blood on his or her clothes, right?”

“The person who did this,” Washburn said, “would have looked like Jack the Ripper on a busy night.”


Even at 3:20 AM, with the moon mostly down, the lawn looked dead. The hose that looped loosely across it, reaching almost to the curb, hadn’t been moved in weeks.

The roses Laura had planted beneath the windows, partly because she loved the scent and partly to mask the sterility of the stucco, drooped like they’d just gotten bad news. The lavender she’d put in as a border beneath the rose bushes was stiff and colorless.

The entire house, she thought as she shouldered her bag and closed the car door, advertised the state of her marriage. A tightly focused, unmissable, one-word message: dying.

No lights burned, which meant one of three things: either Andrew wasn’t home, or he’d passed out before the sun went down, or – fat chance, she thought – he was asleep, clean and sober, in their bed. She refused to allow the fourth possibility, that he’d gone into the bathroom and eaten his gun, to poke its vile head above the water-level of her subconscious.

As usual, her key stuck in the lock. A house, she was learning, was at bottom a collection of small things that wear out or break. Left to its own devices, a house had a sort of half-life, like radioactive material. Things stuck, things cracked, things fell off. Eventually, entropy would level the place.

Working the key free, she remembered the way the house used to shine.

She closed the door quietly, just in case he was asleep, kicked off her shoes with a sigh, and padded into the living room. Empty and relatively neat, if she overlooked the glass one-fifth full of water and the black plastic tray that had held microwaved Vietnamese spring rolls. She touched the glass, her finger coming away wet. Room temperature.

Okay. The water was clear, but she could smell the Scotch. It had been hours since the water had been ice cubes. I’m thinking like a cop, she told herself. This is my husband here, and I’m thinking like a cop.

Dining room clear, kitchen messy but empty. She dropped the plastic tray into the trash and put the glass in the sink. The door from the kitchen to the garage, which they had transformed into Andrew’s workshop, back when he could still make things with his hands without the risk of his accidentally amputating an arm with the Skillsaw, was unlocked. Running through her mental checklist, she opened it and turned on the light. No one there, just the sad smell of once-new wood and a faint whiff of machine oil.

Close the door, back through the kitchen and down the hall. Bathroom door, thank God, wide open. She’s had a horror of that door being closed since he told her, one semiarticulate evening, that he’d take care of himself – as he put it – in there, to spare her the mess. She’d flared up at him, told him that LA had a lot of real estate where his suicide would cause her less trouble than in her own damn bathroom. She shouldn’t have said that.

There were a lot of things she shouldn’t have said.

Bedroom empty, bed still made, not even creased from a nap. Laura went into the bathroom, peed, threw some water into her face, and went back into the bedroom. She shrugged off her jacket and lay down diagonally on top of the bed without bothering to pull back the covers. An image of DuLaine Chaney, crushed, crimped, and discarded like an aluminum can, blossomed in her mind. She pushed it away and coasted down the familiar slope into sleep.

4 Responses to ““Counterclockwise,” Ch. 10”

  1. Steve Wylder Says:

    Tim–really strong end of chapter. Every time I start disliking Laura–and her remarks to Kim border on racist–you bring me back to her marriage to a hopeless alcoholic. (I like Kim, by the way.)

    Lisa’s progress has been hindered by work and social obligations. Cindy (believe it or not) came down with whooping cough. Usman has been tied up by his business career, though he says he’ll be back. I’m still plugging away at Things Done and Left Undone. And I’ve been too busy to read the other DC’ers. Maybe soon.

    We’re all looking forward to your return to Bangkok and reliable internet. In the meantime, we appreciate your keeping up with Counterclockwise.

  2. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hey, Steve —

    Thanks so much for taking the time not only to read the chapter but to leave a comment. My problem here is not only that Internet access is so slow; it’s also that I can’t get it at home, so I have to sit for hours (literally) in coffee shops where a connection is available, and then go to another coffee shop, without Internet connectivity, for the day’s writing.

    When a book comes as slowly as this one, having the Internet available would be fatal. I’m even thinking about deleting Spider Solitaire from my hard drive because I take refuge there.

    And Laura’s not the nicest person I ever wrote. I do think that her comment to Kim is out of line, but so were his to her about why she’s focusing on female suspects. Laura is intentionally prickly and difficult; she’s sort of an experiment to see how far I can take it without actually losing the reader.

    And thanks for the update on the others in the Challenge. I think one problem is that we’re all either in or approaching the Dread Middle, which is where most books get abandoned.

  3. Larissa Says:

    Amen! Spider Solitaire be damned. I don’t know how anyone gets anything done. I just wanted to let you know that there is one more of us who is still active out here in the no-man’s wasteland…I too got delayed and scared and so i haven’t been posting like i should but chapter three is coming. (c: And Tim, though you’ve heard a hundred times-great work. I envy the flow of your dialogue, the diversity of your characters and your moxie. Though, I have to say, I think you can push Laura a lot farther. A lot farther. I still like her. Look at how far Tom Robbins has gone in his books. That being said, I really dig your work. Good luck and don’t drink too much coffee.

  4. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Larissa — And thanks for all the kind words. And thanks for suggesting that I push Laura farther; that’s my impulse, too. I’m sorry I’m not reading everyone’s work, but the Net is soooooo sllllloooooooowwwwww here that it can take 15-20 minutes just to load a site, much less read the chapter and then wait another 15 minutes for the COMMENT function to open.

    When I get back to the States I’ll catch up.

    And there’s no such thing as too much coffee.

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