“Counterclockwise,” Ch. 8

February 20th, 2008

Chapter Eight

Take a Little Chip Out of Me

From the curb, Talley’s house looked dark, perhaps empty. A lone willow drooped in silhouette against the pale front wall. None of the windows facing the street was illuminated, and the full moon was reflected, hard and white as a marble, in the black mirror of the picture window that probably marked the living room.

“Scoop the moon’s image from the pool,” Laura said.

Jerry said, “‘Scuse?”

“It’s something from a Chinese poem, although I’ve probably got it wrong. It was in the card Andrew gave me on our first anniversary. He wrote something like, I thought making you love me would be as impossible as scooping the moon’s image from the surface of a pool. She lifted the door handle, popped the door, and put one foot on the asphalt. A wave of weariness washed over her. “Ahhhhh, shit,” she said.

“You gotta get him into a program,” Jerry said. “If I could get better, anyone can.”

“You had a reason to want to get well,” Laura said. “He doesn’t think he does.”

“He’s got you. He’s got the damn moon’s reflection in his scoop. That’s not worth anything?”

“That was a lot of anniversaries ago. I’m furniture now. I’m something he bumps into in the dark.” She turned to face him. “You know, of course, that there’s nothing to say that Claire Standish couldn’t have slipped up those back stairs and taken a knife to old Talley.”

“I know, but I don’t think so.”

“I don’t, either. Just going on record. She had time to have a nipple pierced, which probably feels like it takes a lot longer than it actually does, buy two or three of everything, and still do the dirty. She’s got a lot of ambition and just possibly no conscience at all.” She got out of the car and then leaned down so Jerry could hear her. “Sounds like she went through those other bands like buckshot.”

“Yeah,” Jerry said. He climbed out, and the two of them faced each other over the roof of the car. “But breaking up a band isn’t quite on the same level as homicide.”

“You just think she’s pretty.” Laura slapped the car’s roof as a punctuation mark and started to walk.

“Well, sure,” Jerry said, falling into step. “She’s got all that hardware stuck through her, and you know how guys are about hardware.”

“I wonder how she gets through the metal detectors at the airport.”

“And anyway, justice may be blind, but the Supreme Court hasn’t said yet that cops have to be.”

“Probably coming up,” Laura said. “Although, with these new guys, maybe not.” She stopped, the muscles around her eyes tightening. “See that?”

“What”

“She pointed at the picture window. “There’s a strip of light on the floor across that room. Looks about as wide as a strip of Scotch tape, maybe three feet long.”

“I see it.”

“I conclude, Watson, that we’re looking at the bottom of a door and that there’s a light on in the room on the other side of that door.”

“I thought you were Watson today.”

“New rules. Whoever spots the strip of light gets to be Holmes. I’ll tell you what. As Watson, why don’t you apply your manly knuckles vigorously to the door, and I’ll step back inconspicuously and observe the widow as she opens up.”

Jerry said, “Watson was a doctor. I think he’d probably be smart enough to use the doorbell.”

“I don’t know. There’s something about knuckles on wood at night that really gets the guilty worked up. Maybe I’ll see something in her face, something that would be invisible to an untrained observer.”

“Yikes,” Jerry said. “Maybe I’ll observe you observing her. That way, if the something is too subtle for a meathead like me, I’ll get clued in.” He banged on the door, and the two of them stood there. Absolutely nothing happened for a moment, and then it happened some more. After a full minute, Jerry said, “Too subtle for me.”

“Me, too. Try the doorbell.”

“The person who thought of the doorbell first should get to be Holmes.”

“Okay. You observe the widow’s face for some tiny giveaway.”

Jerry rang the bell, rang it again, and knocked for good measure. The door across the room on the other side of the window opened, a sudden yellow rectangle, and a figure was framed in it. Then the figure disappeared and they heard the click-clack of high heels on wood, and the porch light went on.

“The tiniest giveaway,” Jerry said, and the door opened. “Excuse us –” he said, and broke off, staring at the woman in front of him.

Norah Tallerico’s face looked like a fingerpainting someone had smeared while it was still wet. Her lipstick stretched to her left ear, and her mascara had left black lines not only down her cheeks but also horizontally outward from the corners of her eyes, as if it had run while she was laying on her back. Peering through the mask of color, her eyes found them and then slid past them.

Norah said, “Cops.”

Then she went down like a stone.

* * *

“I know where I am,” Norah said querulously. “I’m not senile.”

She was stretched on a long cream-colored leather sofa in the living room, which Laura had dimly illuminated by turning on every third light while Jerry got Norah positioned on the cushions. Books lined one wall, and a highbacked, thronelike chair stood several feet from the couch with an edition of the Los Angeles Times open on the floor in front of it.

“Drink this,” Laura said, holding out a glass of water from the kitchen.

“The other room,” Norah said. “My coffee. It’s in the other room.”

“Coffee it is.” Laura handed the glass of water to Jerry and went through the lighted doorway. This room was smaller and cozier although still masculine, a green-lampshade kind of room with a short red leather couch, a dark wooden table, and a flat-screen TV on which a quintet of aging black men in shiny suits were doing Fifties dance moves. The telltale in the corner of the screen told Laura that PBS was raising money again. She hit the off button on the remote and grabbed the cup and saucer from the table, but the fumes of cognac filled her nostrils the moment she picked it up. One glance told her that whatever coffee the cup may once have held was long gone. She thought about it for a second and then decided, In vino veritas, and carried it into the other room.

“It’s gotten cold,” she said, holding out the cup and saucer.

“What has?” Norah said, struggling to a sitting position. Her hair fall into her eyes, and she stuck out her lower lip and blew it up into the air. It fell back, and she left it there. Taking the cup, she said, “Oh, you mean my coffee.”

“You grind it yourself?” Laura asked.

“You’re very funny,” Norah said seriously. “Evvy — everybody likes a funny cop.”

“We’re sorry to have to bother you so soon after your bereavement,” Jerry said before Laura could reply. “Just a few questions, if that’s all right.”

“As though it matters,” Norah said over the rim of her cup.

“Pardon?”

“As though it matters if it isn’t all right. I’m not stupid, you know. Evvybody thinks I’m stupid, but I’m not.” She took a long sip and lowered the cup. “Stupid,” she finished.

“Did your husband have enemies?” Jerry asked.

“Do dogs have fleas? Do the French eat snails?”

There was a pause. Then Laura said, “I take it that’s a yes.”

“To know him was to hate him,” Norah said. “‘Cept me, of course. Me, I loved him. Why wouldn’t I love him?” She looked around the room. “Didn’t he give me all this? Didn’t he take care of my every need? Didn’t he open up a whole new world for me? Didn’t he take me on fancy cruises when his whores were too busy to go? Didn’t he promise to love and obey — no, wait, I’m the one who promised to obey, and boy did I obey. Didn’t he tell me prackly — practically — every day that he got me for free and I still cost too much? You,” she said to Laura. “What would you give to live in a house like this?”

“Not the kind of stuff you’re talking about.”

“Course not. You’re probably married to Brad Pitt, only with manners. Prolly –probably — uses the right fork and everything.”

“He’s a little weak on forks,” Laura said, avoiding Jerry’s eyes. “Glasses, though, he’s aces with glasses. Always uses the right glass.”

“Well, there you are,” Norah said. “Lucky old you. Like Talley with his irons.”

“His irons?”

“You know. Clubs.” She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, smearing the lipstick to the right this time. “Golf clubs. Always went for the right one. If he just wanted to take a little chip out of me, it was the seven. If he wanted to knock me halfway down the fairway, he’d use the two iron. He saved the woods for when he just wanted to beat me shitless.”

“Are you telling us he hit you?” Laura asked.

“Like I said,” Norah said, “You’re a funny cop.”

“How did you feel about the fact that he had mistresses?” Jerry asked.

“Shortchanged. If he’d had five or six, he wouldn’t have come home at all.”

“You went to his office today,” Jerry said.

She blinked as though something had been swung near her face. “Did I?”

“You talked to his secretary, but he was engaged.”

“Oh, yeah. Yeah. I thought that was yesterday.” She shook her head. “Time flies when you’re having fun. “Engaged, she said. He was engaged. Once right after we got married, I went through the door anyway. I figured, I’d bought it, I could go through it. He was sitting there, and some blond tramp was on her knees under the desk. I turned and left, and that night he tried to tell me she’d been shining his shoes.”

“What do you mean, you bought it?” Laura asked. “You said you bought the door.”

“I bought all of it. I put that fat egomaniac — that male nymphomaniac, that hulking fucking bully — I put him in business. My money, every penny of it.”

Laura said, “On tape he talked about his mother, about how his mother –”

“His mother,” Norah spat. “His mother didn’t talk to him for years. His mother called him, My son the big shot. He just made up that junk so people would think he was human. That way they might let him get behind him from time to time so he could choose his iron and bash their heads in.”

“Mrs. Tallerico,” Laura said. “It’s one thing to dislike someone, but who might actually have wanted to kill your husband?”

Norah drank the rest of the cognac in the cup and carefully centered it on the saucer. Then she held it out in front of her, spread her knees, and let the cup and saucer fall between them to the floor, where they broke into dozens of pieces. The sweek reek of cognac filled the air.

“Kill him?” she asked. “You mean other than me?”

Jerry said, “Maybe we should sit down. This could take a while.”

7 Responses to ““Counterclockwise,” Ch. 8”

  1. Steve Lodge Says:

    First time I’ve read anything of yours and I’m impressed – plus, I wasn’t surprised that you’re good. Hope all is going well with you.

  2. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Thanks, Steve —

    I appreciate the nice words.

    For those of you who don’t know him, Steve Lodge is a writer with several western novels to his credit — and he also went to high school with me. We haven’t seen each other in the eight or nine geological eras since then, but we keep in touch electronically.

  3. Lisa Kenney Says:

    This was well worth the wait! I really like the relationship between Laura and Jerry, especially this Watson/Holmes schtick, and I’m intrigued by the ongoing references to Laura’s husband. I hope we get to meet him soon. And poor Norah!

    I hope your trip was as painless as possible and you’re recovering from the jetlag you must have.

  4. Steve Wylder Says:

    Tim,

    Glad to see you’ve made it to Asia and had time to write the chapter. Beginning the chapter with the line from the Chinese poem really works. And you’ve managed to give us a lot of information about Talley through his convincingly drunken widow.

  5. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Steve —

    Wrote it on the world’s longest flight — LA to Tokyo to Bangkok, with an unscheduled return to Seattle because a passenger suffered something like a stroke. Had medics running on and off the plane with oxygen and wheelchairs and everything but the Jaws of Life. The guy finally walked off, apparently having reconsidered the severity of his symptoms. Thanks for noticing the Chinese poem — I’ve always loved that image.

    Lisa, you are, as always, the most supportive correspondent a writer could want. I’m in Phnom Penh now, having slogged through two days in Bangkok wrapped in a miasma of jet-lag. My apartment is sparkling clean and the air conditioner works, and last night I slept straight through for the first time since I left the States on Monday.

    My Internet connections here are slow, but I’ll be reading everyone and leaving comments over the next few days.

    Do you see where Nadja has decided to take her novel off her site but continue to publish it on John’s DC site? I think she’s got publication plans for the book.

  6. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Loved it. I read it aloud to my husband. He laughed at the watercolor image of Norah’s face.

    I admire your ability to slip right back into creative mode when you’ve been through the week you’ve had. Loved Norah. I hope she’s not the killer. Get some rest and post some more!

  7. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Thank you Cindy — always great to hear someone likes something that I wrote, even when it was turned out over the strenuous objections of my Nozer, since my Cantu apparently missed the plane.

    And I have no idea who the killer is. I know it’s not the butler, but nothing beyond that.

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