“Counterclockwise,” Ch. Three

December 30th, 2007

3. Lost in Transition

One of the few reliable things in Los Angeles is traffic, which operates on a law of counter-gratification that’s almost Newtonian in its dependability. If you have all the time in the world, the streets will be empty; if you’re rushed, they’ll be as clogged as a fat man’s arteries. At the moment, they were in the latter state, just one long red light, and four of the five women you met earlier were sitting in their automobiles, enduring the situation with varying degrees of calm, although none of them was in any danger of accidentally entering Nirvana. Nor was there anyone for them to share their impatience with: This being Los Angeles, where the average number of occupants per vehicle is 1.2, they were all effectively alone, .2 of a person not actually being a viable entity.

Which meant that none of them had the alibi each of them would need in the next three or four hours.

In Talley’s office, the blare of horns and the glare of sunlight on chrome was not allowed, and the cooled air had been combed free of exhaust, stress, and automotive angst before being allowed into the room.

“So what’s the angle?” Talley asked. “Man behind the scenes, something like that?”

“Not quite,” said the young woman whose name was not Rita Chaney. “It’s called Lost in Transition. It focuses on how a young band with nowhere but a garage to play in becomes an older band whose members own several garages apiece, and why some of those bands, when they make it big, seem to lose whatever it was that made them interesting in the first place.”

Talley said, “Did the girl offer you coffee?”

“The girl did.”

“Hang on.” Talley pushed a button on a box and said, “Honey, one up for me and no goddamn milk this time.”

“Yes, sir. Would you –“

Talley released the button, cutting off the question. “Kind of broad, don’t you think? The angle, I mean.”

“It’s a series,” the young woman whose name was not Rita Chaney said. “They’re giving me 35,000 words.”

“Still. Lot of stuff to organize. Got any ideas?”

“I thought chronological would be nice.”

Talley’s eyes tightened at the corners, and beneath the desk the young woman kicked herself. He’s got to be the smart one, she thought, or I’ll lose him.

* * *

But when Laura Callow got her hands on the tape, many hours later, she didn’t have the benefit of body language to probe the nuances of the exchange. What she had was two voices on tape, one of which she had the transcriber label TALLEY. The other voice was labeled UI, which stood for UNKNOWN INTERVIEWER, it having been determined by then that everything “Rita Chaney” had said about herself had been a lie.

 

 

So, to pick it up from the transcript:

UNKNOWN INTERVIEWER: Chronological, I mean, just as an overall organizing principle. You’re right, of course. I still have to figure out how to handle the bulk of the material.

TALLEY: I would think so. So whaddya want from me?

UI: Well, chronologically speaking, you run all the way through the story. You discover the bands, you groom them, you get them signed —

TALLEY: Grooming them, that’s a whole chapter by itself. Some of these people, they come into a room, it’s like they bring the outdoors with them.

UI: I can imagine.

TALLEY: My old man, he was a mechanic. Up to his elbows in grease all day. But let me tell you, at five o’clock every night he got his buck’s worth out of a cake of soap, getting that shit, excuse me, out from under his fingernails. Some of these kids, it’s like they get as dirty as they can just for the hell of it, and you know what they think is dirty?

UI: No.

TALLEY: Money. They think money is dirty. They’re carrying around every germ in the world, you could start a garden with the shit you could scrape off their teeth, excuse me, and they think money’s dirty. I tell them, get enough money, buy yourself a nice bathroom, get some of those things out of your hair.

UI: And after you get them signed, the bands, I mean, you guide their careers, you know, diversify them, develop secondary markets for their music, do merchandising —

TALLEY: You bet. My mother always said, if you’re not going to get all the juice out of the orange, leave it on the tree.

UI: Did she.

TALLEY: I just told you she did. If I say something, it’s straight. In this business you’re only as good as your word.

UI: The name of your company, Zal —

TALLEY: It’s Z-A-L, like the letters, not a word. The first sign I had made, the schmuck left off the dots, the what-do-you-call-’ems, the periods, and I didn’t have enough money to make him do it again. So it’s written like that, ZAL, but you say it Z-A-L.

UI: Why Z-A-L?

TALLEY: It stands for Zey All Laughed, which I’ll tell you about. My old man, God rest him, was just your basic wop, but my mom was more exotic. She was one of those people who had an Old Country, you know? It was always Old Country this, Old Country that. In her case, the Old Country was in Eastern Europe. You know Eastern Europe?

UI: Not personally. The name itself contains several clues.

There is a 4.7-second pause — Transcriber

TALLEY: You got a lip on you, you know that?

UI: I know. Sorry.

TALLEY: You want to watch that. Hey. You kicking my desk?

UI: No. I was kicking myself for smarting off. I missed my foot.

TALLEY: One more time, I’ll do it for you.

Sound of a door opening — Transcriber

TALLEY: Jesus, that took long enough. What’d you do, grow the beans?

SECRETARY (ANNE HOGLUND) Sorry, sir, I made you some fresh.

TALLEY: Over here, over here, Jesus. Not near the papers. No calls except Claire Standish, got it?

SECRETARY. Yes, sir.

Door closes — Transcriber

TALLEY: We were talking about?

UI: Z-A-L.

TALLEY: Yeah, yeah. So I was mostly through law school and I decided I didn’t want to do it, wanted to manage bands. So I told my folks, and my old man, he was like this far from a heart attack. Called me all sorts of names, kicked a hole in the door on his way out of the room. My mom, bless her, she just said, “Zey all laughed at Christopher Columbus.” That was like an old song, you know, and it was my mom’s way of saying everything would be okay because I was doing the right thing like Columbus did when everybody said his ships would sail straight off the edge and fall to wherever they thought shit would fall to. Excuse me. And she loaned me ten thousand bucks that she’d squirreled away without my old man knowing, and that’s how I got started. So I called it Z-A-L. For my mom.

UI: That’s a great story. But why music?

TALLEY: Music is where it’s at. That’s what I’m going to have on my tombstone if I ever die, which I don’t plan to. You want to know where things will be in a year, listen to music right now. I don’t mean all that manufactured shit, ex-Mousketeers with six-packs, I mean bands like Vacancy, my newest group. They got a girl, Claire Standish, she’s like next year’s model. Or Fever Blister or Goths to the Flame. These kids are ahead of the curve. And I just love kids. Always have.

UI: Do you have any of your own?

TALLEY: Umm, no. Tragedy of my life.

UI: Are you sure?

TALLEY: You starting up again?

UI: No. No, really. But an attractive man like you, working in an arena where virtue is not traditionally its own reward, well, I’d think there would be loads of opportunity.

TALLEY: Happily married. Wife is the light of my life.

UI: Mmmmm.

TALLEY: Have we met before?

UI: Yes, in fact. Once. Way back. I was covering a Sump Pump concert.

TALLEY: Sump Pump. Boy, that’s four or five dogs ago. Those kids are all probably selling shoes by now.

UI: We met backstage. You said I reminded you of someone.

TALLEY: Yeah, well, I meet a lot of people. But I saw you today, I thought, she looks familiar.

UI: That’s what you said then.

* * *

That last exchange had Detective Callow taking notes. The other part that especially interested her came five or six minutes later, just before the tape machine stopped recording as a result of its having been thrown against a wall.

* * *

UI: Everybody talks about how you find your bands.

TALLEY: Talley’s Talent Hunt. Great idea, even if I was the one who had it.

UI: Just tell us how it works, so we can get it in your own words.

TALLEY: Sure thing. Who knows about music? Kids, right? And where is music? It’s everywhere, that’s where it is. Nobody can pretend he’s got an ear where the next great thing is happening because it could be anywhere. It could be — where do you live?

UI: Um, Chicago.

TALLEY: Could be Chicago, could be some dingleberry suburb of Akron, Ohio. But if it’s there, in Chicago or Akron or wherever, the kids there know about it. So what I do, I take ads in the local throwaway papers that say, “Have you heard the next big thing? If you have, you can win $25,000.” And all they have to do is go up to the band and ask them to send me a couple mp3 files. Then the kid e-mails me, using the address in the ad, and says, this great band, I don’t know, Gutbucket or whatever, is going to send you some songs. And if Gutbucket does, and I sign them, and that was the first kid to e-mail me about them, he wins the twenty-five K.

UI: Very creative.

TALLEY: When there’s a band here in the office, I like to think there’s creativity on both sides of this desk.

UI: I’ll bet you do. I’ve heard some kids have sued you over the talent hunt. They say they e-mailed you and you signed the band, and they never got a penny.

TALLEY: You heard wrong.

UI: I know of twenty-three instances.

TALLEY: You sandbagging me? Because if you are, the door you came in through will take you right back out. Come on, think about it, for Christ’s sake. Cross your legs and warm your brain up, if that’s what it takes. I haven’t signed twenty-three bands in the past decade. Those kids, they were the second or the fourth or the fortieth to e-mail me. The money isn’t a fucking Christmas present, it’s for the first kid only.

UI: Still, there could be some bad blood out there.

TALLEY: Honey, the world’s hip-deep in bad blood.

* * *

Sitting at her desk in the reception area, Anne Hoglund was getting nervous. It was a little after eleven, and about fifteen minutes ago she’d heard a thumping sound from inside Talley’s office, something hitting the wall. That wasn’t unusual — she’d learned on her first day that her boss threw things — but it was unusual that there was only one thump. Most of the time he threw four or five things, generally choosing bigger objects as he went along. It felt incomplete.

And also, the woman from the magazine had been in there an awfully long time. Talley had said he’d give her thirty minutes and it was well past an hour now. Maybe she should buzz him.

On the other hand . . .

On the other hand, maybe he didn’t want to be buzzed. When he didn’t want to be buzzed, he bit her head off. She’d had her head bitten off so many times now that she’d told her boyfriend she was thinking of putting in a zipper. And it’s not like Talley wanted initiative. What he wanted was mindless obedience, often to conflicting orders.

So. To buzz or not to buzz?

An alternative presented itself to her. Maybe she could tell whether the reporter had left without running the risk of interrupting. Maybe she’d left by the other door.

There were two doors into Talley’s suite of offices. There was the big one with ZAL MUSIC written on it that led into Anne’s reception area, a big room with nothing in it but her desk, a leather couch, two nice armchairs, and a coffee table with a bouquet of very dusty silk flowers on it. To Anne’s right when she was seated at her desk was the door to Talley’s office. To her left was the door that led to the much smaller offices — cubicles, really — occupied by Ellie and Roger, whom Anne thought of as Talley’s gnomes. Ellie and Roger couldn’t go in and out of the office without passing Anne’s desk. One of her (many) jobs was to make a note of what time they came in each morning and how long they spent at lunch, which meant that Anne usually ate at her desk.

But Talley’s own office had a back door that led to a short corridor terminating in two more doors. One led to Talley’s private bathroom, which Anne had never seen, and the other led to the building hallway. That door was always locked from outside, but could be opened at any time from Talley’s side.

Anne got up and went into the hallway. She looked to her right and saw something she’d never seen before. The door leading into Talley’s office was standing open.

What Anne dreaded most in this job was a new situation. There was literally no way to know what to do, how to behave. Logic was no guide because Talley’s world had its own rules of logic, rules that had been bent beyond all recognition by the sheer mass of his personality, the way rays of light are bent by the gravitational mass of a star. She had seen him flip a coin several times and had always been vaguely surprised the coin hadn’t landed in its edge. She stood there, one hand on the door she had just come through, looking at another door, one that should have been closed.

“This is silly,” she said out loud. “So he fires me. Take some time, collect a little unemployment, watch the obituaries in the hope I see his name. Nope, nope, negative thought. No negative thoughts allowed.” She went down the hall, paused beside the open door — not in a position to look in — and knocked three times on the doorframe.

Nothing. Anne stepped through the doorway and saw that the door at the far end of the corridor was closed. Oh, great. Another decision.

The hell with it. She marched down the hallway, knocked twice, counted to three, and then opened the door.

Later, when she looked back on it, Anne Hoglund was proud that she hadn’t screamed.

 

If anyone wants to read the entire text of Counterclockwise thus far, it’s up at http://johndishon.com/test/

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

  1. Lisa Kenney Says:

    Oh! What a cliffhanger! This is great — I know the cops have listened to this tape, which means the interviewer could have been a cop — or not. Now we know that in addition to all the women who have reason to want Talley dead, there may also be kids who got ripped off by Talley in his next big thing contests. And, I’m assuming it must be that Anne found Talley dead in his office, but maybe not…

    This is a great chapter.

  2. reality Says:

    Great writing as always Tim.
    The one place you lost me was the transcript. I think i could be shorter. I did a similar thing as an experiment some months ago but in a slightly different format. Not that I was any better. I know this is a difficult part, like writing a screenplay.
    Great ending. My guess: both could be dead. Depends on the length of the interview.
    Loved the ending. Even the secretary has her own character; so important.
    Usman
    btw: I showed your Ch. 1 to my wife and she just loved your writing.

  3. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Guys —

    Thanks, Lisa – and thanks for an idea I hadn’t entertained at all — that the interviewer is engaged in some sort of investigation.

    And Usman, if it went on too long, sorry. I fell in love with Talley’s voice, and also I felt as though it was time for us (a) to stop hopping around and stay in one place for a while, (b) to lay off all the narrative — we were getting a lot of characters who were alone, which I think is intrinsically undramatic, and (c) I wanted us to see at least one side of Talley that we could, if not admire, at least understand: his affection for his mother. And finally, since I don’t know where this is going, this interview contains two good motives for murder and one more I could have the detective develop.

    But all that’s just explanation. If the reader experiences it as too long, it’s probably too long.

    (I’m glad your wife likes the writing in Chapter 1.)

  4. Lisa Kenney Says:

    Had to come back and put in my two cents on the transcription. I liked that it gave me a chance to catch my breath between all the quick cuts between characters, and I also liked that it gave me more of Talley’s character.

  5. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    I don’t think it’s too long. I did enjoy getting some depth from Talley, and the relationship with his mother. I always like to know more about the victims before they are killed. His personality really comes through in this interview.

    I really identified with Anne’s waffling over whether to knock on his door. My character faces a similar situation where no matter what she does it’s wrong, so she becomes paralyzed with indecision. I loved how you described her internal dialogue there.

  6. reality Says:

    Hi Tim,
    I just gave an impression, not a verdict. And as has been proven I am outnumbered by those who liked it.
    I guess one of the problems reading off the screen versus in a book is the feel. It is further compounded by the installments we are doing. Each chapter is in itself a short story, and that does make giving an objective opinion as to the overall work more difficult.
    It is difficult to follow all these stories and keep them in the head. and the flow of each novel.
    And they are all first drafts.

  7. Wendy Ledger Says:

    I actually would have preferred to see the transcript part in scene rather than in transcript. I had really been enjoying their interaction, and would have preferred to have continued on that way.

    LOVED the opening sequence on traffic. I thought that was just brilliant.

  8. Jennifer Says:

    This is really good, Tim! I had to slow myself down, and that’s always a sign that a story is compelling.

    I have a theory about the interviewer and am looking forward to seeing who she is.

    I like the way you use the transcription to flash forward to Laura’s investigation of Talley’s murder. Those little flashes add texture for me. And it does develop Talley a lot (loved the part about his relationship with his mother–it makes him more human, less wholly obnoxious, which I like).

    Even though the women are stuck in awful traffic at the chapter’s beginning, by it’s conclusion, it feels like the story has a clear path forward and wants to zoom us off to wherever it’s going. Can’t wait to read the next part!

  9. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Jennifer —

    There’s no sound a writer enjoys more than the squeal of psychic brakes as a reader intentionally slows herself down. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    And thanks also for liking the transcription. The reaction to that was pretty mixed.

    And also, it’s very pleasing to know you have a sense of where the story is going and who the interviewer might be, because I have no idea about either, but communicating conference is an important part of relaxing the reader and making him or her feel that there might actually be a story in here somewhere.

    This week, I WILL get caught up. I WILL read everything. I WILL. I hope.

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