This picks up right where 4a left off. The same conditions apply, but this time, our new character is Bill the super helpful homeless guy:
Back in the office, a prematurely aged white man in what had once been a rather nice gray suit was waiting nervously. This man had once been attractive, and he still had beautiful hair. But the skin of his face was stretched over his cheekbones like dried leather, and his eyes stared out at her from a wilderness of pain. “Hello, Detective,” said the man. “I’m Bill Knight.”
“Thanks for talking to me, Bill. You know something about Alex Dawson?”
“He had a girlfriend.” At Diana’s silence, “Detective, you don’t hang out with the homeless population a whole lot, do you?”
“You’d be surprised. It’s not uncommon for a crime to be committed while one of you is watching. As I’m sure you’re aware, people tend to ignore you.”
Bill smiled, transforming his face from a weathered skull into something that looked almost human. “You know as well as I do that there aren’t a lot of women down here, and the ones who are, well, they’re usually a lot worse off than the men. But Alex had a girlfriend, and she was one of you.”
Claire said, “What Bill means is, she was a civilian. Not a homeless person.”
Bill nodded. “She was some kind of healthcare worker. Back in the summer, he started spending less time on the streets, because he was staying with his lady. Alex was a good-looking guy, you know? Maybe he had a drinking problem, but people liked him.”
Diana tried not to sound too skeptical. “The girlfriend had something to do with killing him?”
“Not directly. But a lot of the other guys, they thought that Alex was acting like he was better than them. Alex had a family—they helped him out a lot—and now he had a girl and a place to stay.”
“It’s true,” said Claire. “One of the most difficult issues our clients face is the rejection of their peers when they begin to turn their lives around. Bill here is one of our star clients: he is a participant in the Lazarus Program.”
Bill looked sheepish. “I’m just trying to take it day by day.”
Diana took out her tablet, opened a new file and typed in the words Lazarus Program. She looked up at Bill. “So you’re saying that people in general have a problem with Alex? Or was there someone in particular who resented Alex’s good fortune?”
“I really don’t know. See, as part of the program, I’m staying here in the shelter full-time: I only go out to go to meetings. So maybe if I was still spending a lot of time in the park or in one of the squats across the highway, I might know more. I do know that Alex has a crew that he drinks with most of the time, and I can maybe give you a few names. But Claire would probably know better than I would.”
Diana said, “Looks like I’m going to have a wonderful evening. Maybe I can get one or both of you to come with me; it would make the job much easier.”
Bill shook his head. “I’m not supposed to leave the shelter. And I don’t want to, anyway.”
“Hard to argue with that.” She handed a card to him. “You hear anything, you know what to do.”
“Of course,” said Claire.
Bill looked very carefully at the card, then looked up at her and smiled. “I knew you looked familiar,” he said. “You won’t remember me, but back before I gave control of my life to my addiction, I belonged to Druid Hills Country Club. I used to play golf with your husband.”
“Andrew is a hell of a guy. How is he?”
“Bigger and bigger every day.”
Bill shrugged. “If you knew my family, Andrew would fit right in. Tell him I said hello, would you? Though you can leave out how bad I look these days.”
“You’re looking better, Bill,” said Claire.
“I’ve got a long way to go.”
Diana was trying to think of a suitable reply when she heard her name being called. She leaned out of the office to see a young patrolman came around the corner. He actually saluted: Diana suppressed a giggle as she listened to him. “Ma’am, the patrol sergeant says he’s got somebody that might have seen what happened to the victim.”
“Sounds great. Claire, keep in touch. Bill, thanks a lot for your help.” She followed the patrolman out to the main entrance of the shelter.
Wow, is Bill ever helpful. Alex has a girlfriend (one suspect) and a “crew” (more suspects), and heck, anyone who was jealous of his good fortune. But Diana, as you’ll continue to see, has a habit of just letting people talk, which most of them can’t resist. So once Claire goes too far by adding in the bit about Bill being a special pet, Diana sits up and starts to call bullshit. One of Diana’s habits is writing down pairs of words that don’t belong together.
Again, Bill is telling (too much) and Diana is showing; but she shifts from skepticism to hostility once Bill associates her with her ex-husband, the same Dad that Grace made a backup plan with. We can understand about Diana that her objectivity wobbles a little in this direction, but we have no real idea why yet, other than Bigger and bigger every day, which could mean anything at this point. Plus any astute reader should have picked up that Bill was going to be important, because he got some background. But it’s reinforced with the degree of separation from Diana.