“Counterclockwise,” Ch. 11

April 18th, 2008

Chapter Eleven

One of Each

Three pair of shoes, identically comfortable and identically ugly, were lined up soldier-straight across the floor of her closet. The fourth pair were in front of the closet, in an anatomically impossible variant on First Position, where she’d dropped them after carrying them from the hallway.

Laura stared down at the shoes in a state of pre-caffeine torpor. Ten years ago, how many pairs of shoes did she have? How many colors and styles? When did she become a middle-age cop with arch trouble?

How long was it since she’d had a good night’s sleep?

She reached over the regiment of shoes and grabbed her robe, good, sensible terrycloth, in a good, sensible color – beige or taupe or cinnamon or some other designer drivel for brown. She’d worn it so long it was smooth in the seat. As she shoved her left arm into the sleeve, she used her right to slide the closet door aside to reveal the other half, Andrew’s half.

His running shoes were missing.

This was Not Good. When he went out and got randomly stuporous, he wore his regular shoes, a pair of beat-up loafers that had been re-soled so many times that the tops were coming unstitched. When he went out with intent to aim for the bottom of the bottle for days on end, he wore his running shoes.

Great, she thought, I’m a cop in my own marriage.

While her coffee brewed, she passed a damp towel over the kitchen surfaces, washed the glass in the sink and put it in the dishwasher to dry, and took a can of Pledge and a roll of paper towels to the tables in the dining and living rooms. A couple of minutes later, the tables gleamed a little, and the air smelled of lemonoid or whatever it was, and her spirits rose slightly. The garbage bag under the sink was swarming with ants, so she canceled out the fragrance of the Pledge with a nice toxic spray of insecticide.

With a cup of black coffee in hand, she went into the front yard, picked up the hose, put it in the rose bed, and turned it on. She made a mental note to turn the water off when she left, creating an imaginary sticky note by looking at the faucet, looking away, and looking at it again.

The newspaper was, as always, in the middle of the yard next door. At one point she’d begun to think that perhaps she was actually stealing the neighbor’s paper, that maybe Andrew had allowed their subscription to lapse, as he had once neglected the electric bill until one night she came home to a dark house that resisted all her attempts to light it. A call to the Times, however, made it clear that she simply had a paper delivery guy with a bad arm.

Tallerico had made the front page, below the fold, but on page one nevertheless: MUSIC EXECUTIVE MURDERED. The story was a classic piece of journalistic vamping, heavy on background – they must have had an obituary waiting in the vulture file – but short on details, with one glaring exception: the gold record. The reporter even named the band, Goths to the Flame. So somebody, probably one of Tallerico’s gnomes, was shooting his or her mouth off, with exactly the kind of detail that was generally reserved to validate a confession.

Laura spoke her first word of the new day. The word was, “Shit.”

Her cell phone rang in the pocket of her robe.

“Jerry,” she said, then grabbed another gulp of coffee.

“See the paper?”

“Just now. It was probably that little twit Roger. Or what was her name – the girl who worked with him, the one who told you to shave the backs of your fingers.”

“Ellie,” Jerry says, “I just had a call from Danzig. He’s giving us the day, and then he’s calling Special Homicide.”

“Oh, come on” Laura said. “Tallerico wasn’t high-profile enough for that. Nobody ever heard of him.”

“Tell it to the Times. Anyway, we’re going to have some downtown hotshot hanging around our necks if we don’t move this thing along.”

“Damn. If there’d been anything else going on, he’d have been in Section Two.” She looked at her watch. “What time will you be in?”

“I’m leaving now. Should be twenty-five, thirty minutes.”

“Tell you what. Meet me at the mistress’s place. Let’s stay out of the station as long as possible.”

“Since I’m in the Valley,” Jerry said, “what would you think about talking to the Chaneys first? They’re out here.”

“With two daughters dead? One a suicide and one a murder? I’d rather have my tongue pulled out.”

“Do you want me to go solo?”

Laura sipped the remaining coffee, which had plummeted to tepid. She poured it on the lawn. “I wouldn’t do that to you. But let’s talk to the mistress first.”

“God, you sound Victorian. The mistress.”

“Sorry. The squeeze on the side. Is that better?”

“You want to do her first, before the parents?”

“Yeah. Before she has time to get her defenses up.”

* * *

“We were so happy,” Elena Gutierrez said. “Especially now.”

“Why especially now?” Laura asked. She had three cups of coffee buzzing through her system, and this young woman, whom they’d awakened with their knocking, who’d done nothing more than throw some cold water on her cheeks, was already ahead on points. Her exquisite face, a harmonious collection of rounded planes the color of pale tea, showed no apprehension at all, no consciousness that these two cops who’d hammered on her door at seven-forty-five in the morning, were making anything but a friendly call.

We should live backwards, Laura thought. Youth should be something to look forward to.

“Because of the baby,” Elena said. She rested a hand on her flat belly. “Eddie was so happy about the baby.”

Laura said, “Eddie.”

“I called him that. Everyone else called him Talley, but he was my little Eddie.” Her eyes roamed the room, as though she hoped he’d be standing there. The room, while relatively big, was largely empty, furnished like a Motel Six: vinyl couch, fabric-covered easy chair, coffee table and bookshelves with absolutely nothing on them, a small portable CD player on the carpet against one wall, with a short stack of CDs beside it. Hanging above the CD player was the only personal thing in the room, an enormous color photograph of Elena that had been printed with raised brush strokes to make it look like an oil painting. Sort of.

“He was a lot older than you,” Jerry said from the wall he was leaning against.

“He was my father’s age,” Elena said. “Almost exactly.”

“Which is another way of saying,” Laura suggested, sounding peevish even to herself, “that he was the same age as your baby’s grandfather.”

“I’m sorry,” Elena said coolly. “Your point is . . .?”

“Quite an age difference between you and Little Eddie.”

Elena shook her head. “I’m a lucky girl. I was lucky to have the guidance and love of a man with such a rich breadth of experience.” Her slight Spanish accent and the care with which she chose her words made her sound like she was reading. She smoothed the T-shirt over her stomach and said, “He would have been a wonderful father.” Then she looked Laura square in the eyes. “So?”

“So what was the arrangement?”

“It wasn’t an arrangement.” Her voice betrayed no irritation at the rudeness of the question. “We loved each other. Eddie was already married, and he didn’t want to hurt poor Norah. He was so kind.”

Jerry said, “Talley? Kind?”

“So kind,” Elena said as though she hadn’t been interrupted. “Poor old Norah, he thought it would break her heart to know about us. And he still felt something for her, I suppose. He always spoke well of her. So he found this place so we could be happy together without hurting Norah.”

Old Norah,” Laura said. “Poor old Norah. He paid the rent here, right? Or did he buy it?”

“He was buying it.”

“Is your name on the deed?”

A ringless hand comes up to smooth her hair. “I have no idea. I never asked.”

“And was there an allowance?” Laura asked.

“Certainly. Not lavish, but enough.”

“Okay. He keeps poor old Norah at home, buys this place for you, and slips you money every month. You don’t call that an arrangement?”

“It wasn’t an arrangement,” Elena said. “It was life.”

“It was a living, anyway.”

Elena’s eyebrows contracted slightly. “Why don’t you like me?”

Jerry said, “It’s not just you. She doesn’t like anybody.”

“But you come here, into my home, and you say offensive things to me. Have I done something?”

“Good question,” Laura said. “Have you?”

The hand comes to rest over her heart, palm flat against the shirt. “I’m as you see me. I’m a girl. Surely, you were a girl once.”

Jerry said, “Ooohh.”

“I suppose I must have been,” Laura said. “At the risk of offending you further, you seem pretty calm about all this.”

“I cried all night. Now I’m finished crying. As much as I loved Eddie, I have to look forward. I’ll have a baby to take care of.”

Laura leaned back in the armchair, stretched her legs, and crossed her ankles.  “How long have you known you were pregnant?”

“Two weeks, almost three.”

“And poor old Talley was okay with it.”

“He was delighted. Norah had never become pregnant. Maybe she was worried about her figure. You know, people talk about women having a biological clock, but Talley had one, too. He wanted a baby so much. He was a very sensitive –”

“So,” Laura said, “he wouldn’t have suggested that you – how can I put this? — that you get rid of it.”

“You’re being awful,” Elena said. “Talley and I loved each other. We planned to love the child together. Just the three of us.”

“And where would that put poor old Norah?”

“Where she is now,” Elena said.  It was almost a snap.

“You two are getting along so well,” Jerry said, pushing away from the wall, “that I think I’ll leave you for a minute.” He crossed the room. “Bathroom through here?”

No,” Elena said sharply, but Jerry had already opened the door. He stood there, looking at the young man sitting at the foot of the rumpled bed. He nodded at the boy and turned back to Elena, who was watching him with her mouth slightly open. “Which three of you?” he asked.

* * *

“Your baby or Talley’s?” Laura asked.

“His.” The kid had artfully tousled hair, small blue eyes, and a ripe, sullen mouth that looked like it probably got hit a lot when he was little. Not that he was particularly big now; he was a lean, compact twenty-two year old whose abdominal muscles had received a lot of attention. He wore a pair of jeans, low enough on his hips to make the cuffs bag around his ankles. The abdominals were on display because Laura had refused to let him put on a shirt.

“Talley’s,” the kid said.

From the living room, Laura could hear Jerry questioning Elena. Jerry was using his gentle voice, the voice that said, All this is just a misunderstanding and we’ll be out of your hair in a few minutes. The right voice for Elena; it would make her think Jerry sympathized with her, maybe even found her attractive.

Poor Elena.

How do you know it was his?”

The kid leaned to his left, picked up something from the surface of the table, and dangled it from his fingers. A torn condom wrapper. The full mouth twisted upward at one corner in a way that made Laura want to slap him.

Extra large,” she read off the package. “Well, I guess you can dream.”

You asked,” the kid said, shrugging. “That’s how I know it’s Talley’s.”

Did Talley know about you?”

Oh, sure. He was thrilled to know that Elena was plugging somebody else. A real generous guy.”

What do you do for a living, Adam?” Adam Elias, it said on the kid’s driver’s license, which featured a picture of the kid giving the camera a little practiced come-hither.

I’m between jobs.”

How far between?”

Adam’s eyes floated above her head as he worked it through. “Hard to say. About eighteen months since the last one, and who knows how long until the next one?”

Might be coming right up, what with old Talley not being around to sign the checks any more.”

Adam said, “Life is full of surprises.”

So you’ve essentially been living off Elena, living off the money she got for letting Talley poke her. You know, there’s a word for that.”

There’s a word for most things,” Adam said. “One of the triumphs of humanity.”

Laura flipped to a blank page in her notebook. “I want to know every single thing you and Elena did yesterday. Starting with when you got up.”

* * *

Eddie was an old man,” Elena said, her eyes on the carpet. “And he wasn’t here very much. I’m a young woman. I couldn’t just, you know, sit here and wish.”

You have needs,” Jerry said. He’s sitting now, across the bare coffee table from her.

That sounds so – so coarse,” Elena said. “I loved Eddie, of course. He was the center of my life. Adam was – is – a friend. But from time to time . . . just sitting here, alone, waiting for the phone to ring, waiting for Eddie to find time for me. And then last night, learning he was dead. I just couldn’t be alone.”

Of course not,” Jerry said. “Nobody’s judging you.”

I know you must think I’m terrible.” Her eyes go to the picture of herself. The process used to transform it from a photo to an oil painting makes her look embalmed. “But he just came over to keep me company. We didn’t – I mean, I couldn’t, so soon after Talley’s . . .” She blinks eight or nine times, but her eyes remain resolutely dry. She wipes them anyway.

Of course not,” Jerry says. “Let’s talk about yesterday.”

Elena starts to get up. “Would you like a glass of water?”

Sit tight,” Jerry said. “I’ll get it.” He heads toward the kitchen, then detours to the bedroom door and opens it. Laura doesn’t turn, but Adam looks over at him.

Laura says, “Show the nice man, Adam,” and Adam reluctantly holds up the condom wrapper.

I’m shocked,” Jerry says. “Do you hear? Shocked.”

We want yesterday, minute by minute,” Laura says. She smiles at Adam. “It’ll be interesting when we compare notes.” Turning back to Jerry, she holds out Adam’s driver’s license. “And would you please call David Kim and give him the info on both of them? When he asks what he’s supposed to be looking for, just tell him everything. Oh, and apropos of the discussion he and I had last night, about whether the killer was male or female, ask him how he’d feel about one of each.”

4 Responses to ““Counterclockwise,” Ch. 11”

  1. fairyhedgehog Says:

    I haven’t caught up with any of the earlier parts yet – and this stands perfectly well on its own. I really enjoyed reading it.

  2. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Thanks so much. I wish I had the time to write this in long concentrated stretches, but I don’t.

    Thought of something terrific for the next chapter or maybe the one after that.

  3. John Clark Says:

    Just discovered this when looking for your contact information. Read it without seeing any hiccups and could picture everything like a movie as I did so. That’s how I see really good writing. I’m returning to read the earlier chapters as soon as the deck clears a bit.

  4. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, John, and thanks. This was an experiment — a bunch of writers made a commitment to write a chapter a week and post it, so they’d have to move along with their story and they’d be stuck with whatever they’d posted — just as Charles Dickens was. So this is the firstest of first drafts, with no real opportunity to go back and tidy things up or eliminate things that wound up going nowhere.

    Also, I have to admit that I quit the project (which, I’m ashamed to say, I had started in the first place) because I got into trouble on the book I was writing at a time when I was also editing another book. So what’s online is what there is. And I have no idea where it was going.

    Actually, I should probably read it again and see whether I want to put the pot back on the stove.

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