Wednesday, September 13, 2006


It turns out that Players will have a limited hardback edition as well as the trade paperback edition that, hopefully, will be all over the bookshops in February. The hardback is for the library trade, but I may be able to persuade a friendly specialist bookseller to order up a few.

Meanwhile, unless I stumble across an internet café in the New England woods, I’m out of here for a while...

Players - 11

Jerry Hill took his time on the drive back to the Justice Building. Keeping well under the speed limit, stopping at intersections to let other vehicles go through ahead of him, stopping at a drive-through coffee shop and spending five minutes bantering with the waitress before placing his order. He told Summer that Cedar Falls was a fine little town -- if she was considering staying overnight he could show her a barbecue place that served the best steak in the county, plus he knew of a motel he could recommend. It was basic but comfortable, and cops got a discount there, if she knew what he meant.

Treating her to his shit-eating grin, relaxed and confident, an alpha male on his home turf. She wondered how many women he’d managed to talk into taking a room at this motel of his. She saw him turning up an hour or so after she’d checked in, saw him standing in the doorway with a bottle of something or other and a couple of glasses, saying he thought she might want some company . . . And told him she planned to be back in Portland by the evening.

‘I wouldn’t count on it,’ Jerry Hill said. ‘I’m gonna need to talk to Randy again.’

‘I’ve already told you everything I know,’ Randy Farrell said.

‘We’ll see about that,’ Jerry Hill said. His beeper went off and he checked it and put on a little speed, sounding his horn as he sped through an intersection, saying, ‘Unless you want to leave Randy behind, Detective Ziegler, it very much looks like you might not be getting back to Portland tonight. Think about that motel, why don’t you? I’ll be happy to fix you up.’

‘I bet this is a fun town,’ Summer said, ‘but I really do have to get back to Portland. I think we should ask your partner if she thinks it’s necessary to talk with Mr Farrell again.’

‘She’s welcome to sit in on the conversation. You too,’ Jerry Hill said, swinging his big pickup into the parking lot behind the Justice Building. Saying with mock innocence, ‘Oh my, what do we have here?’

A TV van was parked among the black and white cruisers and civilian vehicles, and there was a small commotion at the rear entrance of the building. Two deputies were arguing with a smartly dressed woman and a man with a video camera up on his shoulder, while two more deputies helped a big shaggy-haired man in shackles and an orange jumpsuit clamber out of the back of a cruiser. Summer realized that the prisoner must be Joseph Kronenwetter, and turned in her seat to tell Randy Farrell to stay right where he was. But he was already clawing at the handle of his door, and Jerry Hill caught Summer’s arm when she reached for him, saying, ‘Let the poor guy have some fun.’

‘Get your hands off me,’ Summer said, and jumped down and chased Randy Farrell across the parking lot.

He was running flat out. When one of the deputies, a woman, got in his way and tried to grab hold of him, they whirled around in an awkward tangle. He smacked her in the eye with an elbow, she lost her footing and sat down hard, and he dodged around her, throwing wild punches and kicks at the prisoner, yelling that he was going to kill the fucking son of a bitch. Then Summer slammed into him and drove him against the side of the cruiser, grabbing hold of one of his wrists and wrenching it up behind his back, pinning him there while a burly deputy handcuffed him and two more deputies hustled the prisoner away, the reporter shouting questions, and the video camera sucking it all in.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Players - 10

The morgue was in an annexe behind the medical centre, connected to the main building by a short corridor with wide double doors at each end. In Portland, relatives and friends identified bodies at one remove, via a TV screen. In Cedar Falls they did it the old-fashioned way, in a small white-tiled room with the body lying on a gurney and covered from head to feet in a stiff blue sheet. When the attendant folded back the top portion of the sheet from the dead face, Randy Farrell said at once, ‘That’s her.’

Summer recognized Edie Collier too, remembered driving past Meier and Frank in her cruiser and spotting the department store’s detective, an ex-cop by the name of Tom McMahon, chasing the girl through crowds of Christmas shoppers. Summer had cut in front of her at an intersection, had been handcuffing her when Tom McMahon had come puffing up. In a drab little office in the basement of the store, Edie Collier had watched with calm indifference as Summer went through her shoulder bag; Summer remembered finding a paperback of Billy Collins’s Nine Horses among the usual debris, the pages much underlined and annotated, remembered asking Edie Collier if she was a poetry fan, trying to make some contact. But the girl had barely shrugged, her gaze as luminously untroubled as a Madonna’s when Tom McMahon had told her that the store would be pressing charges. In court, she’d pled guilty with the same serenity, lost in some private world while the judge told her that her priors and the fact that she’d been arrested for shoplifting while on probation for the same offence suggested to him that she should spend Christmas in jail -- it would be her chance to think about the course her life was taking and get straightened out.

Randy Farrell, sitting right behind his stepdaughter in the courtroom, had leaned forward to whisper something to her before she was led away; she’d smiled and touched his hand as if to reassure him that she would be all right. Now he brushed back stray strands of hair from her dead face, and with the tender gesture of a parent tucking in a sleeping child adjusted the sheet to hide the beginnings of the crudely stitched Y-shaped autopsy incision. There was a rose tattooed on the ball of her right shoulder, a banner lettered Billy in Gothic script curled around its stem.

After five years of policing the streets of Portland, Summer had developed calluses on her soul; most of the time, she did her work with the tough-minded pragmatism of a doctor triaging battlefield casualties. She had good days, she had bad days, and while she hoped the good outweighed the bad, she’d learned that keeping a tally brought nothing but grief, and she tried her best not to bring home what she saw on the streets. But she’d also learned that some cases hooked the heart. Edie Collier, raised in a chaotic household with a violent drunk for a mother and a stepfather in and out of jail, was exactly the type who would end up as a victim on a mortuary gurney; Summer had encountered dozens like her down and out on the streets of Portland. But now, looking at the girl’s dead face, turned a delicate shade of green by the fluorescent light of the viewing room, Summer felt a hook dig deep, and knew that this was one of the cases she would never forget.

‘You have to see this.’ Jerry Hill lifted up the other end of the sheet, exposing the dead girl’s legs to mid-thigh, and pointed to the two parallel welts above the knuckle of her right ankle. ‘This is how we figured out she’d been chained up someplace.’

Size Isn't Everything

A couple of weeks after the reclassification of Pluto, there’s a new twist in the debate about planetary taxonomy. A team of researchers have discovered that a red dwarf star has a companion body with just twelve times the mass of Jupiter, but orbiting so far out that it almost certainly didn’t form by accretion within its primary’s circumstellar disk, like a planet, but by collapse of clouds of hydrogen gas, like a star. It’s a zoo out there.
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