Saturday, September 09, 2006

Players - 9

Denise Childers was patient and meticulous, drawing out Randy Farrell on every point, making notes in a rounded hand. Summer prompted him to tell the story about how he had spotted Edie and her boyfriend in the shopping mall. Jerry Hill, leaning by the door with his arms folded across his chest, watched impassively. It took half an hour. At last Denise Childers closed her notebook and thanked Randy Farrell again, told him that the information he had given would greatly help the investigation.

She added casually, ‘By the way, is the name Joseph Kronenwetter familiar to you?’

‘Is he the guy that killed Edie?’

‘Have you ever heard the name before?’

Randy Farrell shook his head.

‘Did Edie ever mention it to you?’

Randy Farrell shook his head again. ‘She never mentioned this place, either. I don’t know what she was doing here.’

‘That’s something we’d very much like to find out too,’ Denise Childers said.

From his sentry position by the door, Jerry Hill said that he would take Summer and Randy Farrell to the hospital, get the chore of identifying the body out of the way. That was the word he used: chore. When Denise Childers gave him a sharp look, he said amiably, ‘You go ahead and write this up. I promise to take good care of them.’

As he drove Randy Farrell and Summer through the town in his cherry-red Dodge Ramcharger, Jerry Hill explained that Denise Childers was a good detective who liked to do things by the book, but sometimes the book got in the way of ordinary human decency. He, on the other hand, didn’t have a problem with letting them know about the latest developments in the case; in fact, he said, he considered it to be his Christian duty to enlighten them.

‘Denise spotted what she thought were marks made by some kind of shackle on one of the girl’s legs. When the ME confirmed her guess, all of a sudden we were looking at a potential kidnap/homicide. We started canvassing the area yesterday afternoon, and that’s when I had my lucky break,’ Jerry Hill said, smiling at Summer.

Randy Farrell said, ‘You found this guy. Kronenwetter.’

‘It’s better than that,’ Jerry Hill said. ‘Yesterday evening, I paid him a visit to ask him the questions we were asking everyone in the area. Mr Kronenwetter is known to us from various incidents involving trespass and poaching, and he’s done jail for assaulting a police officer. When I banged on the door of his shack, you can bet I had my pistol drawn and a couple of deputies at my back. The guy comes out reeking of whiskey, he’s shouting all kinds of wild nonsense, and he has a handgun stuck down the front of his pants. I arrested him for threatening a police officer, brought him in, booked him. When he went up before the judge for arraignment this morning, he was sent to the county jail for psychiatric evaluation, and around the same time we get a phone call telling us to take a look in his cellar. Which is where we found a set of leg-irons, the girl’s driver’s licence, her social security and library cards, her dress, and panties with blood on them that we’re gonna send off to Eugene for DNA typing.’

‘Son of a bitch,’ Randy Farrell said.

Summer, riding shotgun beside Jerry Hill, turned to Randy Farrell and said, ‘Are you all right hearing this?’

Randy Farrell ignored her, asked Jerry Hill who had made the phone call that fingered this creep, he’d like to shake their hand.

‘Some guy who didn’t leave his name,’ Jerry Hill said. ‘We figure a neighbour. Joe Kronenwetter pissed off just about everyone unfortunate enough to live close by him. We went straight to the county jail and explained to him exactly how much trouble he was in, asked him if he had anything to say for himself. He didn’t say a word, just kept shaking his head and moaning. He wouldn’t even talk to the public defender. We left him there to be evaluated by the shrink, and to think about just how much trouble he’s in. When the District Attorney has finished the paperwork we’ll bring him in and charge him and go around it again.’

‘Son of a bitch,’ Randy Farrell said again.

‘Don’t you worry, Randy, even if he keeps up the crazy-man act we have enough to put him away for a very long time.’ Jerry Hill aimed his grin at Summer. ‘So tell me, detective, you ever get this much excitement up in Portland?’

Monday, September 04, 2006

On Infodumping

Anonymous asks (regarding my post about novels as a vehicle for learning about stuff):

Why a minimum of infodumping? The infodumping is often quite enjoyable. (And on rare occasions from writers we won't name, the best part).

Well, liking most infodumps is certainly nothing to be ashamed - so unless you’re a character from an Italo Calvino novel, Anonymous, you don’t need to hide behind a pseudonym.

The only kind of infodump that’s rightly despised is the infamous dialogue form (‘As you know, Professor,’ a character will begin, and then tell the Professor what they both know). Other than that, the three main types of infodump that I recognise are all perfectly fine. There’s the catch-up or historical infodump, which summarises compresses events outside the main narrative (It was ten years before she saw her husband again - a time of immense change...). There’s the interiorised travelogue, which uses the character’s response to events or landscape to smuggle in information. And there’s the straight-no chaser unabashed infodump - a sentence, a paragraph, a page, that nakedly and often rhapsodically explains something.

I’ve used all three kinds of infodump in just about every novel I’ve written, and don’t intend to stop now, but I’m going to have to show some restraint this time around, for otherwise the whole damned book will be a kind of prose-poem landscape rapture about Saturn’s moons. And while they are as wonderful and wild and strange than anything ever imagined, I want to bring them to life by having my characters inhabit them, and then there’s the small matter of this big sprawling plot I have to fit in...

Sunday, September 03, 2006



Players - 8

Cedar Falls was a sprawling town cut east to west by the Umpqua River and north to south by the cantilevered lanes of the I-5. Summer Ziegler followed the long curve of the freeway exit down to a four-lane boulevard lined with motels and gas stations, drove across a concrete bridge that spanned the sluggish river, and bumped over a single-track railroad that ran along the western edge of the town centre. The train station had been converted to a bank. There were several blocks of shops and restaurants and small businesses; houses straggled up the steep side of the river valley towards a bare crest crowned by radio, TV and microwave antennae.

The Macabee County Sheriff’s office occupied two floors of the town’s Justice Building, a four-storey slab of concrete and tinted glass that shared a block with the Macabee County Juvenile Correctional Facility, the city hall, and an imposing Greek Revival courthouse. The detectives’ bullpen was on the third floor, a long room cluttered with pairs of back-to-back desks and rows of filing cabinets. On one side, offices, interview rooms and holding cells; on the other, tall windows and a nice view across the town towards the river. This was where Summer Ziegler and Randy Farrell met Denise Childers, the detective in charge of the investigation into Edie Collier’s death. Denise Childers introduced them to her partner, Jerry Hill, told Randy Farrell that she was very sorry for his loss, and started to explain that although the Sheriff’s office in Macabee County didn’t have the resources of a big city like Portland, on the whole they managed pretty well.

Jerry Hill said, ‘What Denise is trying to tell you is that we turned this case from an accidental death to a kidnap/homicide and brought in the doer, all inside of twenty-four hours.’

Summer said, ‘Wait a minute. Someone kidnapped Edie Collier?’

Randy Farrell said, ‘You know who this guy is? You arrested him?’

He spoke so loudly that a woman working at a nearby photocopier turned to look at him.

‘Hold on there, Mr Farrell,’ Denise Childers said, shooting an annoyed look at Jerry Hill. ‘Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.’

‘If you arrested some creep for this, I think I have the right to know about it,’ Randy Farrell said.

‘All I can tell you is that we’ve arrested a man, but we haven’t charged him yet,’ Denise Childers said.

She was slightly built and in her early forties, wearing blue jeans and a suede jacket, shoulder-length auburne hair clipped back from her pale face. It was the kind of face, Summer thought, that looked out at you from Depression-era photographs of migrant workers, from earlier photographs of pioneer families posed in the doorways of their sod cabins. Careworn but tough. Determined and forthright.

Jerry Hill said, ‘The guy we like for this is a local boy. I arrested him yesterday over another matter, and this morning we came across some stuff that ties him to Edie Collier.’

A burly man in his forties, with a cap of dry blond hair and the hectic complexion of a dedicated drinker, Jerry Hill was wearing blue jeans too, with a blue short-sleeved shirt, and a burgundy-knit tie spotted with old grease stains. A Sig-Sauer .38 rode on his right hip. Summer felt overdressed in her grey pants suit, and her good black purse slung over her shoulder.

Randy Farrell said, ‘What kind of stuff?’

Denise Childers said, ‘I’m sorry, Mr Farrell, but we can’t go into that at this stage.’

Jerry Hill said, ‘We haven’t questioned him yet, which is why Denise is being so cautious, but believe you me, he’s square in the frame. He’s going down.’

Randy Farrell was bewildered and angry. Blood flushed his sallow cheeks at the hinges of his jaw. He said, ‘You knew that Edie was killed, you found the fucker that did it, and you didn’t tell me?’

‘I’m telling you now, aren’t I? And watch your language, sport,’ Jerry Hill said, smiling at Summer. ‘There are ladies present.’

‘How did you expect him to react?’ Summer said.

She’d taken an instant dislike to Denise Childers’s partner. Jerry Hill appeared to be the perfect example of the kind of macho old-school cop who made a lot of noise about having no time for political correctness or snotty-nosed college kids who believed they were better than police who’d learned their trade on the street, the kind who made sure that suspects banged their heads when they were put in the back of a car, who believed it was a fine joke to ask a female colleague how they were hanging.

Denise Childers said, ‘It was my call, Mr Farrell. I thought it would be better to speak to you about this in person. We’re just as anxious as you are to get at the truth, and I promise you that we are going to do our best by Edie. That’s why we’d appreciate it if we could talk to you about her.’

Jerry Hill said, ‘Just a little Q&A. A man like you, I’m sure you know the drill.’

‘Oh yeah,’ Randy Farrell said bitterly. ‘I know the drill.’

Summer said, ‘Remember that you’re here for Edie, Mr Farrell.’

Randy Farrell turned on her. ‘You knew that all along that she’d been murdered, didn’t you?’
‘I know as much about this as you.’

Summer had offered to help the investigation into Edie Collier’s death when she had talked to Denise Childers on the phone last night, suggested that she could try to track down the girl’s boyfriend, ask him what he thought she might have been doing in Cedar Falls. She’d been hoping that she could turn Ryland Nelsen’s errand into something meaty, something that would prove to the other detectives in the Robbery Unit that she had the right stuff, prove that she could do her job without someone looking over her shoulder, give her career a nice push. But that was blown out of the water now.
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