“Counterclockwise,” Ch. 5

January 13th, 2008

Chapter Five

He’s Our Client

Willard Washburn’s crime scene crew had thrown open the blinds and pulled back the curtains, and the office looked scruffier and more tattered at the edges than it had in the half-light Talley had preferred. As Laura went through the door, Jerry trailing behind, a very young man with red hair and a hawk’s beak of a nose stepped aside and said, “It’s all yours, Laura.”

Laura Callow stopped. Behind her, Anne Hoglund, who had been following the two of them, bumped into Jerry Perino’s back.

“Your boss already handed it to me,” Laura said. “Also, as long as we’re chatting, I’m Detective Callow until you’ve been around quite a bit longer. And I’ve forgotten your name.”

“Handel,” the young man said. He had a redhead’s fair skin and it had flushed almost scarlet.

“First name?” Laura asked.

“Um, Paul.”

“Okay, Um, Paul. This gentleman here is Detective Peroni. Can you say Pleased to meet you, Detective Peroni?

“Pleasedtomeetyoudetectiveperoni,” Handel said.

“Good,” Laura said. “Well done. Read it to me.”

Handel looked up, glancing from Laura to Jerry as though he wasn’t sure he’d understood the demand. “Read it?”

“The scene, Um, Paul. Read the scene. You’re working with Mr. Washburn — by the way, what do you call Mr. Washburn?”

“Mr. Washburn,” Handel said.

“Ah,” Laura said. “There is order in the world. Mr. Washburn is very good at his job, and I’m sure you’ve learned all sorts of fascinating things. Now please read the scene.”

“I’m kind of new,” Handel said.

“Honey,” Laura said. “You’re not just new. You haven’t been weaned yet. But read the scene to me and to Detective Peroni.”

“Ummm,” Handel said. “Okay. The perp –”

Perp?” Laura asked. Peroni always said that Laura had a tone of voice that had its own raised eyebrow, and this was it.

“You know, the, uh, person who did this. Perpetrator.”

“Okay. The perpetrator what?”

“Threw that, that tape recorder at the frame with the gold record, right?” He gestured at the tape machine, now in a plastic bag, on the couch.

“You’re reading it, not I,” Laura said.

“And the tape recorder busted the glass over the gold record. And the per — uh, the person who did this, she –” Handel held up both hands –“or he, she or he, took the gold record down out of the frame and cut this guy’s throat with it.”

“That’s good, the she or he,” Laura said. “The frame the gold record was in, do you figure the perpetrator had to climb up onto the couch to reach it? The gold record, I mean.”

“Well,” Handel said, his eyes all over the place. “Sure. Maybe. Sure.”

“So,” Laura said, “while your perpetrator was throwing the tape recorder, breaking the frame, climbing up onto the couch, removing the gold record, climbing back down from the couch, carrying the gold record across the office — let’s say, 20, 25 feet — what is this guy, as you call him, or Mr. Tallerico, as he thought of himself — what is Mr. Tallerico doing?”

“Um,” Handel said. He was turning the color of a nice port wine. “Sitting there?”

“Perhaps he had very slow reflexes.” Laura said.

“The belt,” Handel said with the air of someone who has unexpectedly been offered salvation. “He was tied up with the belt.”

“Well, let’s look at the belt. Where’s the buckle?”

“In front,” Handel said in a voice so small Laura could hardly hear it.

“And do you see anything binding the hands of — what shall we call him? The vic? To make a matched set with the perp?”

“No.”

“And how long do you estimate it would take the perp to do that whole adagio, with the couch and everything, in front of the vic? Maybe a minute?”

“Less,” Handel was down to monosyllables.

“And how long would you estimate it would take the average man to undo a belt buckle?”

“Less.”

“Okay, honey,” Laura said. “I’d come over there and tousle your hair, except you’re so steamed you’d probably file a sexual harrassment suit. Do you know why you’re here?”

Handel said, “I guess not.”

“You’re here to make mistakes,” Laura said. “Jerry tell Paul here about my first homicide scene.”

“She threw up,” Perino said.

“Don’t be nice,” Laura said. “Tell him all of it.”

“On the victim,” Perino said. “She threw up on the victim.”

“Screwed up the whole scene. I almost got taken off homicide. So let’s both just relax, and I’ll show you a few things, okay?”

“Okay,” Handel said, but he was still looking at the floor.

“This gentleman,” Laura said with a glance at Talley, “is, or rather was, Edwin Arnold Tallerico. He’s our client, he’s hired us, so to speak, to find whoever did this to him. We don’t give him nicknames even if, as has been forcefully suggested by those who worked for him, he was, in life, a dickwad. This is Mr. Tallerico, and we represent his interests.”

“Mr. Tallerico,” Handel said.

“Tallerico,” Anne Hoglund said from the doorway. Handel glanced up, surprised by her voice, realized he’d been humiliated in front of an attractive young woman, and blushed again, but he said, “Tallerico.”

“Now, the first thing you said in your reconstruction was that the murderer threw the tape recorder at the framed gold record. Thinking it over now, what problem do you see with that?”

“It makes a lot of noise?” Handel said.

“That’s right. The killer probably wouldn’t have begun that whole complex of activities by doing something that might have brought someone into the office. And you can’t know this because you weren’t present when we talked to Ms. Hoglund here, but she told us something about Mr. Tallerico that suggests a different interpretation. Ms. Hoglund?”

“He threw things all the time,” Anne Hoglund said. She’d been staring at Laura earlier, but now she seemed to be paying more attention to Paul Handel.

“So knowing that, let me suggest a different reading, and you think about it and give me an opinion. Something the interviewer said — what was the name she used?”

“Rita Chaney,” Jerry Perino said.

“Are we working that name through all the databases?”

“For a couple hours now.”

“You see,” Laura said to Handel. “We don’t actually know it’s not her name. We know she lied about where she lived and who she worked for, but there’s just a chance the name is real or that it’s the name of someone who had special meaning to her. So we’ve put out the name, estimated age, description, and so forth. We’ll see, in an hour or two, what, if anything, gets spit out. Sound like a good idea?”

“Sure,” Handel said. He’d returned to his normal color now.

“So let’s try this on. Whoever she is, she said something that made Mr. Tallerico angry. Does that sound reasonable, Anne?”

“Everything made him angry,” Hoglund said, with a glance at Handel.

“And Mr. Tallerico picked up the tape recorder and threw it, breaking the frame with the gold record in it. Then he kicked her out, through the back door, not letting her take the tape recorder with her. And here’s where we have a couple of interesting possibilities. She either left, without closing the door behind her, or she met someone in the hallway and held the door open for him.”

“So she was an accomplice?” Handel asked.

“Why the tone? What’s wrong with that?”

“Well, I mean, if she came back in and everything, like you just said, she would have taken the tape recorder with her. When he — Mr. Tallerico, I mean — was dead,” He swallowed. “And everything.”

“Well, well,” Laura said. “Is he growing by leaps and bounds or isn’t he, Jerry?”

“Like a whatsit, you know, one of those jumpy things with the pretty name.”

Anne Hoglund suggested, “A gazelle?” and looked at Handel, who blushed again.

“Yeah,” Jerry said. “One of those.”

“So let’s assume she just left, our interviewer. Just left her tape recorder behind and went back to wherever she came from. The door doesn’t close automatically, right, Anne?”

“No. He, I mean poor Mr. Tallerico, he was too cheap to put a closer on it.”

“So now we’ve got unknown person number two, could be male or female, coming in through the rear door. Mr. Tallerico doesn’t see this person because of the way his desk is set up. Do you want to hear my take on what happened?”

“Absolutely,” Handel said.

“First, here’s what didn’t happen. The murderer did not go anywhere near that fucking gold record. How old are you, Paul?”

“Twenty-two?” Handel said, making it into a question.

“Gee, me, too,” said Anne Hoglund from the doorway.

“What a dazzling coincidence,” Laura said. “So tell me, Paul, have you ever actually handled a long-playing record?”

“Umm, no,” Paul Handel said.

“Well, aside from making me feel like an animal that’s lived past its extinction date, that tells me how you made your first mistake, the one all the others followed from. During the Iron Age, literally billions of long-playing records were manufactured, and never once, not even one time, did anyone cut him- or herself on the edge of one. In fact, we were instructed to handle them by the edges.”

Handel said, “Huh.”

“So here’s what happened.” She walked around Jerry until she was behind him. “The murderer comes in, knife or razor in hand, grabs Mr. Tallerico’s hair –” She took a handful of Jerry’s hair and pulled his head back, and then passed her index finger across his throat. “And slits the throat.”

“Hey, careful with the comb-over,”Jerry said. “It takes me hours to do it.”

Laura released Jerry and smoothed the shoulders of his sport coat. “And then he or she pulls Mr. Tallerico’s chair away from the desk. How do I know that?”

“Blood patterns,” Handel said. “Mr. Washburn pointed that out. There’s spraying on the desk, but no pooling.”

“Why do you think he or she cared about that? Not just pulling Mr. Tallerico’s chair away, but then belting him upright like that? Think about it.”

“There was something on the desk? Something the killer wanted?”

“That’s an excellent possibility. Something the killer wanted but didn’t want to carry out of here with it soaked in blood. Another possibility, probably less likely, is that the killer just wanted to look at Mr. Tallerico, wanted to gloat, wanted a mental picture. Or, who knows, maybe even took a picture. A third, if it turns out we’re dealing with a serial here, which I think is very unlikely considering the sheer number of enemies Mr. Tallerico seems to have possessed, is that this was presenting, staging the crime scene in a way that was meaningful to the murderer. But there is something here that’s symbolic, regardless of which scenario you buy into. What’s that, Paul?”

“The gold record,” Handel said. “Why put the gold record into the cut like that?”

Extremely good,” Laura said. “I think you’ve learned enough for one day. Tell you what. Why don’t you take Ms. Hoglund out to lunch, ask her some questions or something, while Detective Perino and I try to see what else Mr. Tallerico would like us to learn from this scene.”

7 Responses to ““Counterclockwise,” Ch. 5”

  1. Steve Wylder Says:

    I thought about the fact that you couldn’t slice someone with a gold record, but assumed somehow that it must have been sharpened. Laura’s explanation makes more sense. Laura comes off as something of a martinet at the outset, which, I assume, is your intention. I’m glad you made her a little bit human as the investigation goes on. Calling the awkward young officer Handel was a nice touch–the name evokes both mathematically precise instrumental music and glorious oratorios (“Hail the Conquering Hero Comes!”).

    I hope all is well with your preparations to travel halfway around the earth.

  2. Lisa Kenney Says:

    I love Laura Callow! I don’t know how you could ever have worried about writing women. She’s in a position of authority in a traditionally male career and poor dumbass Handel made the mistake of treating her like a peer, so she had to set him straight. She shook him up, and then she brought him back into the fold. She’s wonderful. I also love now that the interviewer is still a mystery and we have yet another unknown suspect. What gold record was it? Was it significant? How will Talley’s wife react? Can’t wait to find out the answers to all of these questions — and more. I’m so in awe of your ability to juggle all of these people and possibilities. Great chapter!

  3. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Steve and Lisa —

    Thanks for the comments — I’m feeling guilty that I haven’t read everybody yet, but will do tomorrow. As if we didn’t have enough going on, we just found the house of our dreams and we have to move, so I’ve postponed my departure for Asia to February 18 and will be a blur till then. But today I finished reviewing and marking up the galley proofs of THE FOURTH WATCHER, a job I don’t really enjoy, so I’ll have time to catch up tomorrow.

    Laura’s not an easy person, and we’ll learn why a little later (I hope) but she’s fundamentally fair. She has an edge, though, and she’s not afraid to sharpen it from time to time.

    Lisa, thanks for the comment about female characters, which you are in a better position than many of us (Steve and I, for example) to make. I really appreciate it. And I’m just as eager as you are to learn the answers to all those questions, since I have absolutely no idea what they are, although I know who the “real” Rita Chaney was. I think.

    I’ll get back to all of you later this week as I read everything.

  4. Lisa Kenney Says:

    Now you’re moving?? No worries Tim. Take care of what you need to. We’ll all be here when you have time. I don’t envy you the move — especially on short notice. Godspeed!

  5. Wendy Ledger Says:

    Tim, this is highly enjoyable banter. I really like how you present the different angles of how this could have possibly happened in such an entertaining way.

    The “Mr Tallerico” moment reminded me of David Simon’s Homicide: “We speak for the dead.”

    Best wishes for the move…

  6. Jennifer Says:

    I agree that this is very entertaining stuff. I love the interaction here. Am liking Laura more and more with each chapter. She’s quick to demand the proper respect for herself and the situation, but also compassionate enough to share her own embarrassing first experience and to teach Handel instead of writing him off completely.

    This is just me being pedantic probably, but in Chapter Four, Anne corrects Laura on the pronunciation of Talley’s last name, saying it’s Tallerico, but here she tells Handel it’s Tallerico. I’m going to stumble over it until I know which one is correct. 🙂

    Hope the moves–the new house and the one across the globe–go smoothly and well!

  7. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Oh, my God, did I? Okay, I’m going to break the rule and go back and change it.

    Should be TallERico. EEEEEEEEEEEEK. This is what happens when I work too fast.

    Thanks for liking Laura — just finished Chapter Seven, when we begin to see what’s happening in her private life.

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