“Counterclockwise,” Ch. 6

January 21st, 2008

Chapter Six

A Lot of Kinds of Greed

“I don’t know,” Laura said. “It’s like he was running a campaign to be murder victim of the year.” She sipped her coffee again. It hadn’t improved with age.

“He couldn’t help it,” Anne Hoglund said, her eyes on the small screen of the monitor. “It’s just how he was.”

“I know jerks, too. Entire squads of them. Most of them don’t have a whole ZIP code that wants to kill them.” She sat forward. “Here we go. Anybody we know?”

On the screen, a car pulled in through the bright rectangle of the garage entrance and pulled up to the guard’s kiosk. The driver was visible, but not very clearly. From the silhouette, Laura guessed that it was a heavy middle-aged man with a pony tail.

“That’s Mr. Vincent,” Anne said. “He’s on the fourth floor. He didn’t like Mr. Tallerico, either. They got into a fight about parking spaces.”

Laura made a note of the digital timecode on the security tape and wrote VINCENT FL4 beside it.

“What’s his business?” Jerry Perino asked.

“To tell the truth, I think he’s a bookie,” Anne Hoglund said. “The building has been going downhill the past few months. You probably saw all the empty offices on our floor.”

“Did we?” Laura asked, watching the screen.

“Bunch of locked doors without names on them,” Perino said. “Problem is, there’s nobody in the suites between the fire stairs and Tallerico’s office.”

“Well, isn’t that peachy,” Laura said. “They could put a freeway offramp there, and no one would notice. Who’s this, Anne?”

Hoglund squinted at the monitor. “Ummmm, I think — wait a minute, maybe she’ll turn. Yeah, that’s Claire Standish, you know, the singer with Vacancy.”

“Did she come up to the office?” Jerry asked.

“No,” Hoglund said.

“She parked downstairs but didn’t come up,” Laura said, noting the time. “What kind of car is that, Jerry?”

“Oh, who can tell any more? It’s like a Chevrolet Living Room. I remember when cars were smaller than buses.”

“It’s a Land Rover,” Anne Hoglund said. “White, I think.”

“Jerry,” Laura said, “could you call the garage and see whether that car is still there?”

Perino picked up the phone. Laura took her cup of coffee over to a potted ficus surrounded by a sad fall of yellow leaves and poured the coffee into the dirt in the container. As though on cue, three more leaves detached themselves and floated reproachfully to the floor.

“Plant abuse,” Jerry said around the phone. “Call the Chlorophyll Defense League.” Then he covered the receiver with a remarkably hairy hand and started talking.

“It’s amazing it’s alive at all, considering the amount of bad coffee it gets,” Laura said. “I’ve been trying to kill it for months, dumping whole pots of burned dregs into it, and the damn thing just trembles and drops another one.”

“You’ve been trying to kill it?” Hoglund asked. “Why?”

“I don’t mind symbolism,” Laura said, “but it should be at least a little bit subtle. Officer Tree here is about as subtle as one of those calendars they used to put in old forties movies, with the pages being ripped off to show time passing. I don’t need a goddamn palsied ficus to tell me that time is passing, that I’m spending most of my adult life in crappy little rooms like this one, drinking the world’s most lethal coffee and hanging around with dead people.”

Hoglund said, “I think your life is really exciting.”

“Yeah, well, working for Mr. Tallerico, it’s hard to imagine what wouldn’t look like an improvement.” She picked up the remote and hit fast forward, slowing only when a car came into the garage. Hoglund didn’t recognize anyone in the next five.

“Car’s gone,” Perino said, hanging up the phone. “And since that camera covers only the incoming half of the driveway, there’s no way to know what time it left. Gives us a chance to demonstrate how highly evolved we are.”

Laura said, “Shit.”

“Or alternatively,” Perino said, “it gives us a chance to show off our vocabularies.”

“And we’re finished with this tape,” Laura said. “We’ve gone past the time at which you went into the office and found him. So,” she said to Hoglund, “to wrap it up, we have the interviewer, who borrowed her name from a dead woman, who didn’t park in the garage. We have the wife and the mistress, who did park in the garage, and who came up to the office while Mr. Tallerico was being interviewed and then went away again. And we have Claire Standish, who parked in the garage but didn’t come up to the office at all, or at least not through the front door.”

“Oh,” Hoglund said, putting a hand over her mouth and giving Laura wide blue eyes. “You don’t think –”

“I think we’ll be talking to all of them,” Laura said, getting up and going to the door. “Thanks for all your help.” She opened it.

Hoglund looked hurt. “You mean you don’t need me any more?”

“You’ve been very generous with your time, and we wouldn’t want to impose on you any more than we already have. You going to finish that coffee?”

“No,” Hoglund said, getting to her feet.

“Great.” Laura grabbed the styrofoam cup and upended it into the ficus. “Want a little fire, straw man?” she said. Then she cackled.

* * *

The conference room at West Los Angeles police headquarters had begun life as a windowless double office. In the best LAPD tradition, it had been turned into a conference room by pushing the two desks together, jamming six chairs around them, and hanging a sign on the door that read CONFERENCE ROOM.

“Four women,” Laura said. “You’ve got pictures of three of them and a sketch of the fourth, and you’ll get a photo of her pretty much the minute that we do. The main problems are, one, that everybody who knew this guy wanted to kill him; two, that there’s no camera on the fire stairs; and three, that there’s nobody in any of the offices between the fire stairs and the rear door into the victim’s office. So it’s like everybody within a couple of square miles could have paid him a visit.”

“Can you access the fire stairs from the garage?” a young detective asked. Asian, maybe thirty, and ambitious. Kim, Laura thought. David Kim.

“You can,” Laura said. “And just in defense of the mother tongue, access is not a verb.”

“Whose mother tongue?” Kim asked. “Mine is Korean.” Perino laughed, followed by a few of the others. One of Perino’s functions, Laura sometimes thought, was to serve as her laugh track, telling others when it was safe to laugh with her or, more rarely, at her.

Laura laughed too, telling herself to ease up. “The woman who did the interview used the name of another woman, approximately the same age and description, who committed suicide in the Valley three years ago. Rita Chaney, no middle name, it’s on your case sheets. Grew up in Encino. Hung herself in the family home, and the rest of the family moved out. We should have a forwarding pretty quick. Could be a coincidence, but it doesn’t feel like it. On the tape, the interviewer tells Tallerico that she met him a few years earlier at a show by a band called Sump Pump. Sump Pump broke up almost five years ago, and they didn’t play live all that much.”

“Laura has Sump Pump’s Greatest Hits on her iPod,” Perino said.

“Who do they sound like?” That was Eleanor Willett, Kim’s partner.

“Like Angels and Airwaves, but with talent,” Laura said. “Actually, I have no idea what they sounded like. They weren’t one of Tallerico’s success stories. All of this info, by the way, is from one of Tallerico’s employees, a little wiseass named Roger Firestone. He’s digging up phone numbers for the members of Sump Pump who may still be in LA.”

“Why?” Eleanor Willett asked.

“So we can show them pictures of the woman who killed herself, when we get them. If that woman is the connection between Tallerico and the interviewer, she might have had contact with the band. Maybe she and the interviewer went to the concert together. It all might work to motive.”

Laura slid a set of photocopies across the table, one to each detective. “You’ve all got assignments. David and Eleanor, you’re going through the letters from pissed-off kids who think Tallerico should have paid them twenty-five thousand for them turning him onto a band he signed. Bill, you’re on the mistress, Elena Gutierrez. Background, and have somebody keep an eye on the condo so we’ve got something when we talk to her tomorrow. Jason, work the office building, show the pictures around, find out whatever more you can about Tallerico.”

“What about the wife?” Jason asked.

“Jerry and I will talk to her later tonight. She’s been notified, and apparently she took it quite calmly.”

“As opposed to jumping up and down and going wheeeee,” Perino said, “which seems to be the default reaction.”

“What are you guys going to do now?” David Kim said.

“As the only hip people in the room,” Laura said, “we’re going to talk to the woman who parked downstairs but never came through the front door. Claire Standish.”

Kim’s eyes widened. “From Vacancy?”

“How do you know her?”

“Well,” Kim said loftily, “unlike some people who listen to OFR on their iPods –”

“What’s OFR?” Perino asked.

“Old Fart Rock,” Kim said. “I actually listen to people who are younger than the Great Redwoods. Vacancy is all over the Net, and Claire Standish is hot without trying.”

“Really,” Perino said.

“And one more thing,” Kim said. “She makes herself look like she grew up in a squat, but she’s a Standish, as in the Jamestown Colony, and she’s like the poster girl for trust-fund babies.”

* * *

“Pond scum,” Claire Standish said. “But without the pretty green color. If pond scum were the color of shit and had the consistency of snot and smelled like hot tar. That’d be Talley.”

“And yet,” Laura said, “you signed a contract with him.”

“I got greedy.” Claire picked up the guitar next to her by the neck as though it weighed nothing and put it on her lap. She formed a G-chord with her left hand, and Laura leaned over and took the guitar.

“You can play music after we’re gone,” she said. “For right now, we’d appreciate your full attention.”

“Put it down carefully,” Claire said, her face stiff. “That’s a 1955 Martin, and it’s irreplaceable.”

“You want to elaborate on getting greedy?” Laura asked, laying the guitar across her knees. “I wasn’t under the impression you were clipping coupons.”

Claire gave Laura a level gaze, and Laura tried to see the other woman as men might. She was young, which counted for quite a lot, and had cheekbones that could cut glass, eyes of an oddly yellowish brown, and an air of careful self-negligence. Her short light-flaxen hair had been chopped any old way, but with those bones it didn’t matter.

“No,” she said. “I’m not clipping coupons.” She looked around the room. “You think this place is nice?”

The room was about thirty feet long and twenty wide, and its windows looked out across the canyon and all the way to the sea, where the sun was in the act of sinking itself. The walls were paneled in a light golden wood that Laura thought might be maple. The house had been build into the side of the hill, and one set of stairs ran up to the kitchen and the dining room while another ran down into the bedrooms.

“It’s fine,” Laura said. “Pretty view.”

“I figure the view cost nine hundred thousand,” Standish said. “The house probably ran three, and the lot was a couple hundred. So let’s say the place cost a million three, a million four. This is one of four houses I own. Does that settle that particular question? The greed wasn’t about money. There are a lot of kinds of greed, and the one that led me to sign with Talley was the greed for validation. And if I’d murdered him, which I didn’t, it wouldn’t have been for money.”

Perino said, “What kind of validation?”

“Oh, come on,” Standish said. “Talent. I’ve spent most of the past six years using my fingernails on the cement wall between being a cult favorite –” She blocked the words in the air with both hands. “– and being a star. Right now, I can fill any 2,000-seat house in New York. And I could have filled that same house four or five years ago. With the same 2,000 people probably, give or take a few. And I’ve broken up half the bands in New York to put Vacancy together, and it’s perfect. It’s the best band I’ve ever had, probably the best I’ll ever have. Old Talley was supposed to be the architect, he was supposed to tie us to the kind of powerhouse outfit — read record label — that could put us across nationally. And he ties us to Epoxy, a bunch of old hacks who want us to be produced, thank you very much, by a twit who specializes in the kind of boy bands that would look good in a vase. Oh, and maybe we should cut some songs by other writers because there’s a certain, shall we say, sameness about the ones I write. Like I can’t write circles around everyone they suggested, like a band’s perspective isn’t an essential part of who they are. Vacancy will only get one first big shot, and the way the business works now, if it doesn’t work, there won’t be a second. Talley was screwing with my entire game plan.”

“You’re pretty pissed off,” Laura said.

“Wouldn’t you be?”

“Who else in the band writes?”

“Nobody.”

“So when you say the band’s perspective –”

“You got me,” Standish said. “It’s really my perspective. These guys can play until the sun comes up in the west, but they’re an extension of me, at least while they’re in this band.”

“And they’re okay with that.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” Standish lit a cigarette. “Sure, they’re okay with it, until they’re not. No band lasts forever. Eventually, I won’t front a band. It’ll be just me. Just little me, with the light hitting me. I could do it now, but I like the way these guys sound.”

“So you came to Los Angeles to see Talley,”Laura said.

Another drag off the cigarette. “I did.”

“Why? What was the goal?”

“To get him to tear up the contract.”

“Would he have done that?” Laura asked. “From what you knew about him, was there any chance in the world he would have done that?”

“Zero,” Claire Standish said.

“And when you went to see him today –”

“I didn’t,” Standish said.

Laura plucked the top string of the guitar in her lap. The note rang out, enhanced by the wooden walls and floor. “Are you sure?”

Standish sat very still for a moment, her eyes going back and forth between Laura and Perino as the note died away. Then she said, “Maybe I should call a lawyer.”

12 Responses to ““Counterclockwise,” Ch. 6”

  1. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Yay! You’re alive and posting (as I put the sharp sticks back in the closet!)

    OK, I propose that guilt over not posting your Dickens Challenge Chapter is only allowed under the following circumstances:

    1. If you haven’t posted an update to your piece since Lisa’s last international recruit, or

    2. Hell has frozen over since your last post, or

    3. It has snowed in Las Vegas.

  2. Wendy Ledger Says:

    Tim, your sense of humor and knowledge of the music industry shines through in this piece. It’s a very enjoyable read. I feel like you’re guiding us through the mystery quite well. thanks, Wendy

  3. Lisa Kenney Says:

    Well this sure doesn’t “eat it”! You have such a gift for description that I started noting my particular favorites. Here are the ones I loved the most:

    Chevrolet living room
    Chlorophyll Defense League
    Calendars from the 40’s
    Palsied ficus
    The conference room – in the best LAPD tradition
    The names of the bands are priceless!
    OFR
    “an air of careful self-negligence”

    This story is just so full of great characters and plenty of mystery. I think it’s fantastic.

  4. John Dishon Says:

    I don’t know if you are aware of this or not, but Angels and Airwaves is a real band.

  5. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, everyone —

    Let’s work in reverse order. Yes, John, I do know that Angels & Airwaves is a real band and it’s certainly not MY opinion that they have no talent (certainly not), but that seems to be what Laura thinks. And who am I to stifle Laura?

    Lisa, you’re as generous and inspirational as ever, and I thank you for making me feel so much better this morning. (To know why I haven’t been feeling good,read the blog called THE NOZER.) I don’t know how you have time to respond at such length when you’re in charge of global recruiting for the DC.

    Wendy, thanks, especially for the comment about “guiding us through the mystery.” The fact is that I have no idea what I’m doing, which is why I have so much trouble writing the chapters. I keep falling into the trap of seeing this as a serial rather than a novel, and a serial isn’t a form I’m familiar with. When in doubt, I go to Raymond Chandler, and within ten minutes of opening the book (“The Notebooks of Raymond Chandler”) I found this: “A mystery serial does not make a good mystery novel. The ‘curtains’ depend for their effect on your not having the next chapter to read at once.” So now I have to decide which I’m writing, a serial or a novel.

    Cynthia, thanks for retiring the sharp stakes. I’ve got a soft spot for guilt because guilt is so easy. It arises with no effort whatsoever, and it’s not actually necessary to do anything about it. In some obscure way, it’s supposed to be enough simply that you feel it.

    And what I’m REALLY guilty about is that I’ve been remiss in reading everyone’s work. That’s next on my list.

  6. Wendy Ledger Says:

    Tim, I wondered if you would want to say anything about your process in writing this chapter. Did you end up throwing out entire sections or just found the right way to retool? It would be interesting to know what this piece was like on Sunday and how it changed to the version we’re seeing now.

  7. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Wendy —

    “Process” is sort of a grand word for what I went through. Because I was completely wrapped up in finishing BAD MONEY, I didn’t start to write this chapter until late Thursday and then didn’t pick it up again until Saturday. On Sunday, what I had was a meeting — the one that there’s a brief bit from in the middle of the chapter. The meeting went on forever, got nowhere, and the room was absolutely full of characters, none of them either important or interesting.

    So I dumped it, looked at the earlier chapters to see what potential avenues I had opened up, and then I thought about which I wanted to follow. I decided to isolate Claire Standish (because I thought she had interesting possibilities) so I did the thing with the garage security tape. An interview with her seemed like a natural follow-on, but I wanted a little of the meeting, so I completely rewrote the part I liked best and stuck it in the middle. Then I washed my hands of it and posted it.

    It’s a chapter in the sense that it begins in one place and ends somewhere else, but if I were writing this as an ongoing narrative, without gaps, I think it would be very different. One of my problems is that I write very fast, and normally I’d have done 10,000-15,000 words on this idea over the course of a week. Most of them would have been the wrong words, but the story would be flowing more quickly and more naturally than it does here, where I essentially do 1800 – 2500 words, and then leave it alone for four or five days. It goes cold on me every time. I could go ahead and just write a whole bunch of it, but (a) that would be cheating, and (b) I’m moving, getting ready to go to Asia for six months, and starting my third Bangkok novel at the same time, so I can’t actually give this book the time it deserves.

    Sorry to ramble on like this, but I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot.

  8. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Re: “It goes cold on me every time.” I think that’s one of the hidden benefits to this challenge. I used to get scared when my story would “go cold on me.” Now, I just sort of expect that it will, and I just deal with it. Like Tim, I go back and re-read some of my earlier stuff and just plunge back in.

  9. Jennifer Says:

    Ugh–I’m all caught up now and will have to wait! 🙂

    I can understand why it would be important to know whether what you’re writing is a serial versus a novel. In one way I feel like I’m going about things “wrong” by not knowing what I’m writing. I post “installments,” without knowing if they’re actual chapters or not. I feel I won’t know until I’m done the first draft.

    I’m utterly impressed that you’re managing all of these separate strands of story without knowing how they’re interwoven or where they will lead. I’m writing, essentially, a single-thread story, and that is difficult enough. This is really good work, and I’m excited to see how it develops.

  10. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Cynthia —

    Annie Dillard once said that writing a novel is like taming a lion: the longer you stay out of the cage, the fiercer the beast is. The longer I’m away from a manuscript, the harder it is for me to get it to room temperature, not to mention 98.6.

    That’s why I write daily — but NOT this project. The way my life is now, I go four to five days between the times I pick this up, and that’s really hard for me. I don’t have one word of the next chapter, which I can blame on a million things, including a full day in the air and the schedule at this wonderful event in Florida.

    I’ve already got the heebie-jeebies about jumping back into it. Maybe on the plane(s) tomorrow.

    I’m really happy to hear you say that the DC is helping you to deal with the problem. It’s certainly true that learning you can surmount a problem tends to minimize it.

    And I don’t mean to bitch so much about what I’m writing. I actually do enjoy it, but I’m not sure what it is I’m actually doing. It’s an odd form.

  11. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Jennifer —

    I think your story is proceeding very well, and not knowing where I’m going is standard operating procedure for me. I’ve become very comfortable with it; in fact, I get really bored when I know too much about where I’m going.

    There are a lot of threads in COUNTERCLOCKWISE because there are a lot of characters, and each of them has a thread that I could choose to follow. All I know at this point is that we’ll follow Laura’s thread all the way through, and that next up it’s Talley’s wife’s turn. And I’ve been thinking about that gold record — the band (Goths to the Flame) whose name was on the label should also come under some scrutiny. And I have a hilarious idea about who they are.

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