Single Mom (6)

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Here’s the next scene, where we meet Harriet, our actual killer:

Mustapha looked up. “Hunh? What did you say?”

Diana said, “I can’t believe you can sleep after all that tea.”

“It was a tough night. And no, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“So sensitive. You should read the blog: you’ll learn all about how to appear vulnerable in order to con women into sex.”

“Because I need to have divorced chicks swarming me. Are you just hazing me, or did you find out anything interesting?”

“Andrea Jellicoe is only talking to us through her lawyer, now.”

“You woke me up for that?”

“There were eight burglaries in the Highlands over the last week. Four of them during the day, but all of those involved a broken window.” Mustapha just glared. “Search warrant for Jellicoe’s house and car just came through.”

“I’ll make tea.”

But before hot water could be poured on gunpowder tea and fresh mint leaves, the desk sergeant brought them a visitor. Harriet Kaspar looked like she was too busy to be a real hipster: she was dressed very formally for a warm spring day, but beneath the cuffs of her blouse were forearm tattoos. She declined tea, then thought better of it and took a glass. “They said you were investigating Tyler Green’s murder? I thought you should know I had an issue with him.”

Diana said, “With Mr. Greene, or with the blog?”

“With him. I never read the blog, til the other night. I saw his photo on Jezebel, about the book, and recognized him. I dated a guy named Tommy Grant six, seven years ago. Thought he was the one; he disappeared off the face of the earth after a month. So there he was with a new book and a new girlfriend. I couldn’t stop myself.” She sipped her tea; Mustapha saw Diana wince in sympathy, but Casper swished the hot liquid around, then took a bigger sip. “Zesty. I needed closure, you know? Guy sort of broke my heart.” She shrugged. “I work for a staffing company, so it’s easy to look people up: Internet skills. Got his phone number, called him twice, straight to voicemail. Had the day off yesterday, so I looked up his address. Yeah, that wasn’t maybe all that appropriate. Should have gone to the gym, instead. But when I get there, y’all cops were everywhere. And then this morning his name’s all over the news.”

Neither detective said anything; but neither did Kaspar, who sipped her tea and looked back and forth between them. Finally, Diana spoke. “Do you… know something about–”

“No. I mean, it was a little strange, seeing all those cops. I figure, you’re going to go through his phone records, and you’ll find a hangup and a voicemail from my phone. No threats: I just wanted him to know he hadn’t disappeared completely. Or maybe I hadn’t disappeared completely. My office is around the corner, so I figured I’d save you the trouble.”

Kaspar drained her tea. “I didn’t do it. Like I’d come in if I did. I never left the house the other day until I drove over to his place: trace my phone if you want. I was up half the night before reading the blog. I knew he was an asshole, but I didn’t think he had the… attention span, to be quite such a douche on purpose. How he got a woman to help him publish that crap, I don’t know; but I bet he pissed a lot of people off.”

She stood up. “Thanks for the tea. Here’s my card, if you need anything. No, no: don’t get up. I’ll see myself out.”

After Kaspar was gone, Mustapha poured himself more tea. “Was she on your list?”

“Yep.” Diana finally dared to sip her own tea. “Mmmph! Hot. I didn’t like her.”

“I don’t know if she’s where I would start if I was going to take dating advice from Tyler, or Taylor, or Thomas, but–”

“Nobody innocent is that helpful.”

“So we check her story out. Trace her Internet address, too, see if she surfed the blog before two nights ago. You know we’re going to have to trace all the nasty comments on the blog anyway, just for due diligence.”

“You mean I’m going to trace them.”

“I’ll get snacks.”

This part is also longer than it needs to be. The business at the beginning is important, though, for two reasons: it establishes Mustapha’s distraction and irritation, which is going to continue through the story until it pays off near the end; and it also gives the back-and-forth between the characters that’s a key feature of this sort of fiction. You watch the show, you get to know the characters.

I don’t have Harriet’s tone quite right, yet. She’s a little too deadpan: she needs to be trying to be emotional, and maybe not doing an especially good job of it. I’ll ultimately change her name, like I will nearly everyone else’s in the story, but that’s fundamentally trivial. I don’t know why I do it at the last minute. Usually names are just placeholders, until I come up with the real one; mostly, when I handwrite the first drafts, I’ll just pick a letter and call the character H or whatever the whole way through.

The title of the story, by the way, is Publish and Perish. That only hit me last night. Still not 100% sure: the title is very often the last thing I think up.

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