“Counterclockwise,” Ch. 7

January 27th, 2008

Chapter Seven

The Fifth Murder

“I just couldn’t do it,” Claire Standish said. “I flew all the way out here, spent the whole night walking around this house, drunk and then drunker, going over what I was going to tell him, and then got all dressed up in my most aggressive screw-you clothes, drove my hangover to his office, parked the car, and just froze. I couldn’t make myself open the car door.”

“Why not?” Laura asked. The light was gone, and the view through the window had gone from Pacific sunset to your basic urban nighttime costume jewelry, a scattering of semiprecious stones arranged any old way from the mountains to the dark edge of the sea. Standish had inhaled half a pack of Marlboros waiting for her lawyer to arrive and then decided, the hell with it, and started talking anyway.

“Why not?” Standish parroted. It wasn’t a real question, just a hedge for time. “I don’t know. Walking isn’t fun when it feels like you’ve got a moose being born in your brain and you’re half sick to your stomach. But I’m hung over a lot, I’m used to it, so that probably wasn’t it. Don’t laugh, but it could be father issues. Maybe. Talley is — was — the same age as my father. My father and I — well, you don’t need to know about my father and I. Maybe father issues, maybe just good, old-fashioned cowardice.”

“What were you afraid of?” Jerry Perino asked. He was sipping the coffee Standish had made while they were waiting for the lawyer. The cup was demitasse size, made of a porcelain so thin it was almost transparent, and it looked silly in his oversize, hairy hands. A little, Laura thought, like King Kong knitting.

Standish raked the chopped hair back from her face, then let one hand take a detour to run down the long line of studs in her right ear. “He was like an explosion waiting to happen. You always knew the fuse was already lit. He yelled about everything. It took nothing to get him all red in the face, waving his arms around and yelling. There’s this poor kid, Darren is his name, who works for him in New York. Nice enough guy, a little lost, maybe, like a lot of people who work around rock and roll because they can’t actually play it. I saw Talley drive him to tears. Twice. Once on the phone.”

“I’m having trouble with this,” Laura said. “You’re not Little Miss Muffet who’s going to hide behind a couch just because somebody might act like a jerk. You’re a woman who’s making a name in a man’s business, who’s been pretty ruthless, it seems to me, about breaking up bands to put together your own group. It’s hard for me to buy that you were afraid of getting yelled at by some middle-aged guy whose sideburns were twenty-five years out of style.”

“Aaahhhhh, that whole thing about women,” Standish said, all but rolling her eyes. She had a foot going back and forth, just letting off some sort of excess voltage, and when Laura dropped her eyes to it, Standish forced herself to hold still. “It’s only a disadvantage if you’re no good,” she said. “If you’re good, it makes things easier because everybody underestimates you. People think you’re harmless. There you are in your cute clothes and kelly green shoes and primpy hair, and you’re kind of short, and these clowns all go aaaawwwww, but it’s like if a great white shark could dress up as Bambi, you know? Forget the fin slicing through water and the duh-duh-duh music, and give it soft brown eyes and, I don’t know, the Bulgarian Children’s Choir or something, and you could get close enough to take a bite out anybody. Half the guys in rock are thinking about what Mick Jagger stuffs in his pants, buying different kinds of sausage all over town, and the last thing they’re worried about is some little rock chicklet cutting them off at the knees. So you can cruise along pretty good, taking a bite here and a bite there, and sooner or later you’ve got what you can want, if you can deliver. If I’d put Vacancy together and then they found out I couldn’t write music they wanted to play, I’d be lunch meat.” The foot started up again. “But I can. Write the music, I mean.” She lit a new cigarette off the butt of the one she’d been smoking and said, “Excuse me for a minute.” She was across the room and on the stairs leading down to the bedrooms almost before she’d finished the sentence.

“What do you think?” Perino asked.

“What I think is that she’s got a bag of cocaine the size of a softball downstairs. This is the fourth trip in twenty-five minutes, and her speeches get longer and longer. If push comes to shove, we could probably bust her on it.”

“Probable cause?” Jerry asked politely. “Warrant?”

“Oh, I’m not saying it’d stand up. I just mean if we want to put a squeeze on. Right now we’re doing good cop and gooder cop. We could try a change in tactics.”

“We’re being nice because neither of us really figures her for it,” Jerry said.

Laura said, “There’s that.”

“Where do you suppose the lawyer is?”

“Traffic, like everybody else.”

Claire Standish came back up the stairs and into the room. She seemed distinctly energized. “More coffee? Something stronger? I’ve got some killer cognac.”

Laura said, “Where’s your cigarette?”

Standish looked down at her empty hands and said, “Oh, shit. Hold on a minute,” and ran back down the stairs.

“Definitely a softball,” Laura said.

“Boy oh boy oh boy,” Standish called from the bottom of the stairs. “The title of this chapter is The Return of Ms. Stupid.” She came back into the room, holding the cigarette. “Owe you one,” she said. She went back over to the window seat, sat, crossed her legs, and let the foot start up again. “I’m glad this guy is my lawyer, not my paramedic,” she said. “By now, I could have bled to death from a papercut.” She glanced down at the bouncing foot and stopped it in mid-bounce.

“So you just sat there,” Laura said. “In the car.” She gave Jerry a glance that said, Don’t react. “We know the car was there for some time.”

“Oh,” Standish said. She blinked a few times. “Yeah, I mean, no. I mean, I sat there for a few minutes –”

“What’s a few?”

“Five? Ten?” She managed to make it sound unreasonable for anyone to expect her to be concerned with something as trivial as time. “And then I figured, I’m here, I might as well go shopping.”

“You went shopping.”

“Is there, like, an echo in here? Yeah. I went shopping.”

“Did you buy anything?”

“If you knew me, you wouldn’t ask that question. I bought two of everything, except the things I bought three of.”

“Got any receipts?”

For a moment Standish looked like the question hadn’t computed, but then she said, “Receipts? Sure, sure. Got a lot of them. But I got something better. I got a new piercing.” She started to lift her shirt, stopped, and said to Perino, “Does skin bother you?”

“Nope. I’m in favor of it.”

“We don’t need to see it,” Laura said. “Will the, um, piercer remember you?”

“If he doesn’t, I’m slipping,” Standish said. “I had him do a nipple.”

* * *

On the way out, Laura and Jerry bumped into a stocky man hurrying up the driveway with a fat briefcase. His suitcoat was wet with sweat, and there was a Black Mercedes ticking as it started to cool behind him.

“You’re too late,” Laura said as they passed each other. “She already confessed.”

* * *

A murder investigation is a reductive process: from many down to one. Most of the time it’s not a very complicated reductive process, since in four murders our of five the murderer is either dumber than weeds or the only logical suspect, or both. The fifth murder is the one that homicide cops live for. If police work were music, those four obvious murders would be like practicing scales, and the fifth would be like picking up the fiddle to perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D.

“There are times,” Laura said at the wheel of the car, “that I’d do this job for free. I wouldn’t pass on the benefits, but they could hold the salary.”

“When you talk like that,” Perino said, “my periscope goes up.”

She hit the brights a couple of times at an oncoming driver who apparently liked to blind people. “Oh, come on, Jerry. This is an interesting case.”


“Yeah, yeah. It’ll be the first chapter in my memoirs. How’s life at home?”

Laura snapped her fingers. “Home. I knew there was someplace I was supposed to go.”

“Not so good?”

“Give me a minute. I need to work that question through, break it down into its basic components. Let’s see. Not is a negative. So is one of those, what are they, those comparative words. And good — Jesus, I have no idea what good means in the context of home. Home at the moment is better than Grendel’s cave and worse than having your TV permanently tuned to The Soccer Channel. Were you aware, by the way, that there’s only ever been one actual soccer game played, and they just show it over and over again from different camera angles?”

“That’s interesting.”

“Is it? No, I guess it’s not.” She looked over at him, saw his big blunt features lighted from beneath by the instrument lights on the dashboard, a 21st-century cop painted by Toulouse-Lautrec. “Home eats it. Andrew’s drinking again. Long binges. Sometimes he’s out for days. Sleeping God knows where. It’s not entirely without benefits, of course. The bed feels bigger, there’s no snoring. I don’t have to remind him to put the seat down. I don’t have to listen to the Buffalo Springfield.”

“Sounds great,” Jerry said.

“It’s peachy,” Laura said. “The worst of both worlds. It’s as lonely as being single, but you also get to worry about someone you love.” She drummed her fingers on the wheel. “Sort of. Used to. Still do.”

“It’s not about you, you know. His drinking, I mean.”

“I know. I know it’s a disease. I know he can’t help it. Still, I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t wish he’d prefer an occasional evening with me to one spent puking in a gutter.”

“Can you get him back into the program?”

“Jerry, I can’t even find him. It’s hard to get him back into the program when the only way he could hear me is if he picked me up on his fillings.”

Jerry nodded. “Sorry to hear it. I could see it, though. The way you gutted that kid in Tallerico’s office.” He held up both hands. “Not that he didn’t need it. But usually that kind of thing rolls off you.”

“Right now, nothing rolls off me. The last time we actually talked, Andrew told me he wanted me to quit. Do something else, he said. It’s dangerous for his sobriety. You know, his eight or nine days. He worries about me, he said. When what he really means is that I shouldn’t be a cop if he can’t be one, too.”

“You know that’s the booze talking. Any excuse for a drink.”

“He misses the job so badly. It was everything he knew about himself: Andrew Callow, cop. And now he doesn’t have it. It scares the hell out of me, Jerry. I’m afraid he’s going to — you know.”

“He won’t. You know he won’t.”

“You want the truth? I don’t know anything. I know I’m tired, okay? I know I’m someplace in my life and I don’t know how I got here. I feel like I worked all my life to build a house and somebody moved the rooms around and filled them with ugly stuff,and now I don’t even know where the front door is. And if I could find it and get out, where would I go? It’s my house.”

“Are you talking to anybody?”

She can feel his eyes on her. “You mean the shrinks? Forget it. I’d wind up at a desk somewhere, and the way things are going these days, there wouldn’t even be a window. This is about the only thing I enjoy. We got us a bad one, an honest-to-God mystery, and that’s worth something. Maybe the guy who got killed deserved it, maybe the murderer was St. Francis of Assisi –”

“Or Poor Clare,” said Jerry, a dramatically lapsed Catholic.

“Whoever it was, it’s still murder, and not a mutt murder, either. With any luck, it’ll totally consume my life until we solve it, and I won’t have to go home at all.”

“As you would say,” Jerry said, “it sounds peachy.”

“And what do you mean, am I talking to anybody? I’m talking to you.”

“Okay, you are. And since you are, I’ll tell you something. You’re a great cop.”

Laura drove for a couple of moments until she realized the headlights had all gone kind of blurry, and she blinked, hard. She swallowed, and then she said, “You marshmallow.”

Jerry said, “Next light is the left.”

“Of course, it is. I knew that. I know this city like the palm of my hand. Malefactors beware. You have nowhere to hide.”

“That’s better,” Jerry said.

“So, we’re off,” Laura said, making the left. “We’re off to see the widow.”

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

  1. Steve Wylder Says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one with classical music references. (Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony is going to get a few mentions in my DC novel.) But this is a great chapter. Laura’s really human, now, and her attack on the kid is understandable if unprofessional. The “fifth murder” paragraph is a gem. So is the 21st century cop painted by Toulouse-Lautrec. And the headlights getting blurry.

    I’m stuck working a double today (6am-10pm-if the evening trains aren’t late). It’s slow right now, but I’m afraid my next DC entry will be later than the northbound Texas Eagle.

  2. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Thanks, Steve — You’re doing so great on your book that it’s hard to remember that you’re also working a full (or double) shift all day long. I really appreciate the nice words.

    The Beethoven D Concerto is my favorite piece of music in the world, although the Scottish is up there, too. And I’m not a big Mendelssohn fan, but that piece gets on the list.

    Looking forward to the next chapter, whenever it comes.

  3. Lisa Kenney Says:

    As always you have some really striking descriptions in here. I want to sign up for whatever course helps you come up with these. Some of the things in this chapter I especially liked:

    – basic urban nighttime costume jewelry…
    – King Kong knitting
    – somebody whose sideburns were 25 years out of style
    – a foot going back and forth, just letting off some sort of excess voltage
    – if you’re good it makes everything easier because everybody underestimates you [how true this is in many areas]
    – Bulgarian Children’s Choir
    And — I really liked the additional insight into Laura’s life and to the friendship between her and Jerry. It will be interesting to see what happens in her personal life and if the reason behind Andrew’s dismissal from the force comes to light at any point. This is really dragging me deeper into the story. So many mystery/crime stories don’t show me enough of the characters to really engage me, but this one is. Another great chapters.

  4. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Lisa — You know, Raymond Chandler wrote these kinds of things down whenever he thought of one. He had notebooks full of them. I don’t. In fact, if anything, they come to me too easily. They’re easier for me than trying to get to the actual heart of a scene. But once in a while I write one I like — I liked “King Kong knitting” and Claire’s whole Jaws/Bambi speech that had the Bulgarian Children’s Choir in it. That speech was the first thing I wrote in the chapter I liked, and I just went back and rewrote everything that led up to it. (I was on a perfectly terrible flight from Florida to LA — the most turbulent flight I’ve taken in years.)

    I find it often takes me anywhere from 500 to 1500 words to find the center or even the right tone of whatever I’m writing. And that’s daily, although it’s not so hard if I’m working intensively, by which I mean more than four hours a day on the same story.

    The thing about Laura’s home life — I knew there was something, but not what, and I wanted to wait until I got logically to a scene where it could come out naturally. These stories are going to come together somehow, and if they don’t, I’ll have screwed up a good opportunity.

    I’m starting to get a lot more interested in the story, actually.

  5. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    I loved the Poor Clare reference (May Almighty God bless you. May He look upon you with the eyes of His mercy and give you His peace.
    May He pour forth His graces on you abundantly and in Heaven may He place you among His Saints…The Blessing of St. Clare) How on earth did I remember that?

    As usual, I loved the Wizard of Oz reference.

    My favorite part of crime stories is the relationship between the cops, both the banter and the intimacy. I like the unspoken text, the subtext between Jerry and Laura.

    One small criticism though: I’m starting to lose all the tiny threads you started with in the beginning. All the women who MIGHT have killed him. Will we be getting back to Elena or Norah soon?

  6. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Cynthia — Thanks for the reaction to Clare. Your remembering it might have something to do with the coffee?

    In fact, Norah is coming right up. We’ve already had the first go-round with Claire Standish, and Elena will be the following morning. And the interviewer will also return in the next 2-3 chapters.

    I think that’s one of the problems with the weekly format — things that are actually not that many pages back feel like we read them sometime in the Pleistocene. Makes me want to condense and jam things together, when in fact the writing I most enjoy doing is when I open things up.

  7. Lisa Kenney Says:

    Out of curiosity, what did Dickens write in serial form (I’m being lazy now — I’ll bet I could research it). Being inexperienced, I’m getting the hives now that I’m well past the opening chapters because I don’t know that I can generate the same kind of initial interest in these middle-ish chapters that it wasn’t so hard to do in the beginning. All the characters were being introduced and it was enough to let people get to know them and to introduce enough action to garner initial interest. I’m not sure a lot of good novels can stand up to being dissected into weekly excerpts…of course, I’m a novice and I’m not writing a mystery or a thriller so I can’t bring in new clues or insights either. Or maybe I’m making excuses and whining. Hmmm.

  8. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Lisa – Pretty much everything Dickens wrote was published in either weekly or monthly “numbers” as he wrote the stories. So-called first editions of Dickens are actually cardboard boxes containing all the numbers for a given novel. Later they were published (often) in three separate volumes (Victorian novels are often called “triple-deckers” for this reason) and then, after that, in a single volume. I used to have a lot of the first-edition single volumes of Dickens — maybe 15 of them.

    I wouldn’t worry about the middle of your novel. (Everyone hates writing the middle of a book — that’s why I call it the “dread middle” in the Writers Resources section.) You’ve got scads of story, great characters, and the interest of everyone who’s reading you. Just ask yourself where you want to go next, which area of the story you want to explore, and let it rip.

    I’m going to write something about COUNTERCLOCKWISE in a few minutes that might bear a little bit on all of this, but who knows? Maybe it won’t.

  9. Jennifer Says:

    Going to echo Steve here. I really liked learning more about Laura, and what’s going on in her personal life adds a depth of interest to her character. It also means that I’m probably going to have to refresh my memory for next week’s chapter, but I’ve been expecting this to happen. It’s getting tricky to keep all the stories straight in my head.

    “Most of the time it’s not a very complicated reductive process, since in four murders our of five the murderer is either dumber than weeds or the only logical suspect, or both.”

    That made me laugh, but it also put this investigation in the right perspective. It’s easy to think that detectives deal non-stop with “ripped from the headlines” cases, if that makes sense.

    I usually write for an hour and end up scrapping most of that before I settle back into the story and like what’s coming out. Glad to know that isn’t as weird or wasteful as it sometimes feels.

  10. Jennifer Says:

    Oh, to clarify–when I said, “It’s getting tricky to keep all the stories straight in my head,” I meant all the DC stories, not the different threads you’ve got going in yours.

  11. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi,Jennifer — I call that process (the first unsuccessful attempt to write) circling the drain. It usually takes me that long — half an hour, an hour, 700-1000 words — to find the center of whatever it is I’m supposed to be writing about. And then, all of a sudden, I’m writing material I like, and I ride that wave as long as it lasts and then go back and delete/replace/fix the earlier material.

    I’m also having trouble keeping all the stories straight. And we’re about to add a NEW DChallenger, so the reading load is going to get heavier.

    Thank God everyone’s good — it would be unendurable if they weren’t.

  12. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Speaking of keeping the stories straight, I was just thinking that it would be a hoot to swap a bit–just for fun and perhaps inspiration. The other day I posted a comment on my blog in response to Lisa to the effect that my character Bridie should meet up with her character Tracy and perhaps invite Dilbar (the scoundrel). Now that the dead bodies are starting to turn up in my story, I could use a good investigator! Or we could swap an installment with someone else (spin the wheel and pick a plot). You know, just because everyone has SO MUCH free time on their hands and all our Cantus are now fully fueled and ready to fly. ;*D

  13. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    I think that could be a lot of fun. Maybe we should pick one week a month or two out and pair up so we know whose character we’re borrowing, and just bring them together, if that’s what you mean. I’d be reluctant to take over your story for a week, for example, but it’d be fun to bring Bridie into my story.

    But I need some time: I’m moving next week, revising “Bad Money”, writing Bangkok Number Three (“Misdirection”), doing my taxes, and, on the 18th of February, leaving for Thailand. And it takes me a week in Thailand to start writing because of the 15-hour time difference.

    But I think it could be tremendous fun.

  14. Jennifer Says:

    “Circling the drain.” Yes, I like that. I’ve been doing that for a week now. I think I’ve hit the “dreaded middle,” and most of what I’m writing seems wrong. But I’ll never figure out how to bridge the transition if I don’t push through with this piece.

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