Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 4, Scene 3

TOC page here.

Now we’ve shifted to the next morning, really only four or five hours ahead. In comes the other major theme of this novel, which is the general public’s reaction to what’s going on. This whole book is based on the existence of a previous serial killer, “the Reaper”, who appears to have gone silent until homeless man Alex Dawson is murdered. The 21st-century notion that major crimes are a public issue, with citizen commentary and reaction as an essential part of the story, is going to come into play shortly.

Right now, Diana is strategizing about, then dealing with, the media; soon, the headings of chapters will start to have tweets and internet comments about the reports. These will echo the events in the text in other ways, but they’ll also localize the work, by bringing to the fore the Atlanta attitude of simultaneously panicking about crime and openly disdaining its victims.

Diana came into the briefing room with a jumbo coffee in one hand and her tablet in the other. “Sorry,” she said to the assembled officers and detectives; but she wasn’t, really. The mile walk from her townhouse to the precinct had been just enough to stretch her knee out and remove the residue of troubling but unclear dreams from her mind.

Mustapha shifted over so she could slide a chair in next to him. Captain Curtis Jenkins, resplendent as always in a bespoke suit, arose. “Okay, pipe down, everyone. Now that Detective Siddall has found it convenient to join us, let’s start with the party line: we cannot confirm or deny that Alex Dawson was killed by the Reaper, because we don’t have enough information either way. We are treating this as an ordinary homicide until proved otherwise. Stoph, you want to fill us in?”

Mustapha looked at Diana. Diana put her coffee on the table, wishing it were cool enough to drink. She said, “Alex Dawson’s eyes were excised, he was strangled, and there are religious elements to the display of his body. All those are consistent with the Reaper, and Dawson’s killer was careful not to leave forensic evidence, which is how we all managed to look so competent last summer. What’s inconsistent is that Dawson’s eyes were not at the scene: the Reaper killings always used the eyes looking back on the victim as part of an elaborate display, which this was not. Also, the Reaper’s displays were consistent with Catholic iconography, and this was Islamic.”

She reached down, took the lid off the coffee so it would cool faster. “For now, we are going to treat Mr. Dawson’s death with the standard homicide protocol: deliberate murder usually comes back to money or a personal conflict.”

A voice from the back of the room said, “Or a fight over who got to panhandle on that corner.”

Diana ignored him. “Right now, a financial motive seems unlikely, but Mr. Dawson had a family, so we can’t rule it out. Don’t assume anything about homeless people: we all know each one has their own story, even if most of the stories start to sound the same after a while. But we’re going to treat him with the respect due a citizen: once I’m done here, Captain Jenkins is going to assign you to teams, to follow up on Mr. Dawson’s movements, his family, and his contacts among the homeless population.” To a chorus of groans, she responded, “I know, I know: not the easiest group of people to get a coherent narrative from. Try to be friendly, and stay out of Peachtree-Pine: they have a long track record of not cooperating with anyone, and they think it’s the right thing to do. Inspector Alawi and I’ve already have made contact with management there, and we are trying to gain their trust that we are not trying to evict them or find a scapegoat for Mr. Dawson’s death. So don’t wreck it for us by busting in there. And for goodness sake, don’t talk to the media. Someone like the Reaper, insofar as we can even try to understand what motivates him—or her—is only going to feed on media attention. Keep the city safe by keeping your mouth shut.”

But Diana barely had time to sit down at her desk and take a first, tentative sip of still-too-hot coffee, before one of the civilian assistants poked her head into the office. “Detective Siddall? You might want to check out the AJC front page.”

Diana clicked a link she long ago reluctantly bookmarked. The screen filled with the usual overload of poorly-aligned text and auto-playing advertisements. She tried not to think about the effects of corporate consolidation on journalism as she closed the various ads in order to reveal the article beneath. She saw a picture of Alex Dawson’s chest, the calligraphy exposed, all underneath the headline ISIS comes to Atlanta. She pinched her nose and drank her coffee: it was going to be a long day.

Within forty-five minutes, she had put on the suit she kept in the office closet and been driven downtown to the new APD HQ on Mitchell Street, where under the watchful eye of Chief Purcell and one of the mayor’s top aides, she stood in front of a cluster of news cameras.

“Let me repeat,” she said, “that we have no evidence that Mr. Dawson’s death is a result of terrorist activity. None. We’re fairly sure that what’s written on his chest is a verse from the Qur’an, but we have nothing else to link his death to Islamic or any other kind of terrorists. Right now, we’re investigating his death like we would any homicide. If evidence presents itself, we’ll keep you informed. But until then, irresponsible speculation isn’t going to do anyone any good, and is probably going to make things worse. If anyone has information about Mr. Dawson or how he got to where he was, the APD has an information line set up for that purpose–”

Andrea Blitts broke in. “Detective Siddall, some people are saying that this is the Reaper, and he’s converted to Islam.”

Diana couldn’t resist an eyeroll. “Some people? You mean networks desperate for ratings?”

The guy from Fox said, “The public has a right to know. The Reaper was never caught, and with thirteen deaths, and now this homeless guy–”

Diana kept a straight face. “Alex Dawson, was his name. And we can only attribute eleven killings to the individual you people insist on calling the Reaper. Molly Atkins was killed by her ex-boyfriend in a clumsy attempt at a copycat killing, and Raymond Flynn’s death differed from the others significantly, and therefore can’t be attributed conclusively to the same killer as the other eleven.”

She held up a finger before anyone else could interrupt. “Alex Dawson’s death shares some characteristics with last summer’s killings. Some. But there are also significant differences. The religious iconography is one, and the display of the body is another: Mr. Dawson’s body was not placed in a… tableau, like the others were.”

Andrea Blitts asked, “What about his eyes, Detective?”

“Those were different, too. I can’t give details about that, since it’s part of our investigation.”

The guy from Channel 5 said, “Were his eyes removed?”

Diana couldn’t stop herself from a microglance toward Chief Purcell, and none of the reporters missed it. The droid from ABC shouted, “They were, weren’t they?”

Damage control. “Yes. But before y’all start shouting again, we can’t confirm that Mr. Dawson’s eyes were excised in the same manner as the other victims. Too many dissimilarities: what I would very much like you to do is not encourage people to panic. Please let us get on with the investigation without prompting people to flood our inboxes with speculation.”

Fox: “How do we know the killer’s not another one of the homeless people?”

“We don’t. It’s possible, but–”

Channel 5: “When are you going to shut down Peachtree-Pine?” At Diana’s double blink, “You know as well as we do that it’s a crime nexus–”

The rest of his statement was overcome by cries from the other reporters. “People need to feel safe!” she heard Andrea Blitts say.

Diana held up both hands for calm. “Nobody’s talking about closing the shelter. That’s way outside our purview. It is a matter for politicians, not police. And for the record, the rate of violent crime in the neighborhood of Peachtree–Pine isn’t any higher than that of the city as a whole.” She forced herself to breathe deeply before proceeding. “What I’m asking you, as a matter of public safety, is to not jump to conclusions. That’s all. We’re going to investigate Mr. Dawson’s murder to the fullest extent of our ability, and when—and more importantly, if—we can make a clear link to the Reaper killings, it will be our duty to inform you. Same goes for any connection to terrorism or radicalism.”

Half an hour later, Diana had the suit jacket off and her head pillowed on her arms on Purcell’s desk. “She’ll be fine,” she heard Mustapha say. “She lives for the spotlight.” She peered up to look for something to throw at her partner, but Purcell’s desk was as neat as it always was.

Purcell entered the office, patted Diana on the shoulder. “You did fine, Detective. Nothing will keep those jackals away for long. If I weren’t afraid for my pension, I’d let the media and the Reaper fight it out—and I’m not sure who I’d root for.”

“They’d commit murder themselves for a couple of clickthroughs. Please tell me the FBI is taking over.”

Mustapha said, “We should be so lucky. On the plus side, we already got about twenty email tips. One of them said that it was the Masons, and they’re sacrificing people to Allah in that temple up on Ponce. You want to go check it out?”

She sat up, rubbed her eyes. “I thought only the roller derby chicks hung out there.”

“Yeah. And they would take the Reaper down.” He looked at his watch. “It’s almost not way too early for a cheeseburger, Dee: we can listen to the phone tip line.”

Diana found herself suddenly awake. “Family. Family money.”

Purcell said, “Wish I had some.”

Mustapha said, “Dawson’s family sure doesn’t have any. Not enough to kill their homeless brother over. What was he costing them?”

Diana said, “The dad is a soft touch. The brothers don’t like it. And I bet there’s way more money there than you would think. The dad said they did sound and light shows.”

“Yeah. At church.”

“That’s a huge, rich church. Atlanta’s black elite. Remember that Daytron kid? Raytron? The one whose mom we met at church, she told him he better start snitching or she was going to whack him with that big old Bible?”

“Oh, that was the same church? Sure; maybe.”

“Dawson’s father name-dropped the Reverend twice. I bet Reverend Whoever has City Council people on his speed-dial.”

Notice the dissonance between what Diana is trying to give the reporters and what they want from her. And of course their primary goal is to critique the very existence of the homeless shelter, because this is Atlanta, where we bulldoze anything and build overpriced mixed-use developments on the site. Diana, who’s liberal but not extreme, wants to treat Alex Dawson like a citizen, but the collective unconscious of Atlanta doesn’t believe that homeless people are citizens—and neither do most police officers, as we’ll find.

On to Chapter 5.

Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 4, Scene 2

TOC page here.

And now we shift back home. The key to good detective fiction is character: it’s great to tell a good story about a crime, but the best-selling novelists have characters we either identify with or want to be. Right now the example I’m thinking of is the series of novels set in rural Louisiana starring ex-drunk Dave Robicheaux and his still-drunk friend Clete, which are wonderful novels with vivid characters but whose author’s name I can’t remember and now have to look up: James Lee Burke is the answer, and he’s a very good writer, but I remember his novels because of the characters.

So here’s Diana returning home to a surprise:

Mustapha got out of Diana’s car, leaned back into the open door. “Over/under on the first phone call about the Reaper?”

“Six-thirty? We leak like a sieve. I’ll come get you after eight.”

“I’ll have the car by then. You want me to come get you?”

“I’ll meet you at the station: I need the walk. And don’t discount your son’s natural charm. That, plus the wounded warrior thing, might keep them out all night.”

Diana sat in the car until she saw Mustapha close his front door behind him, then took out her phone; no messages. Too late to call anyone except Grace, who wouldn’t answer. She sighed and drove back to her townhouse in Midtown’s Ansley Park neighborhood, a mile and a half up Peachtree and a world away from where Alex Dawson had been dumped.

She was half-asleep when she pressed the button to open the gate to her driveway, but snapped awake when her headlights washed over Grace’s motorcycle parked near the steps leading up to the door. Grace herself was at the kitchen table, two laptops open, headphones on over the boy’s short haircut that Diana knew it was pointless to say probably wasn’t inspiring eligible young men not to mistake Grace for a lesbian.

Grace looked up, took off the headphones, stood. The Army-surplus coveralls over her lanky figure probably didn’t help, either. “I’m glad I went out with Dad.”

“Duty called. Did you torture him with vegetarianism?”

“Beside the point. Dad’s getting married.”

Diana searched her mind, looking for a trace of loss or sadness. “I’m guessing there’s an iron-clad prenup?”

“He didn’t say. She was right there with us at dinner. She’s my age. She’ll turn twenty-five a week before me.”

Diana went to the fridge, poured herself half a glass of Pinot Noir, sipped. “I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. Why buy a cow?”

Grace walked to the sliding door that led to the patio and opened it a crack. “What I was thinking. And she is a cow, too. Tell me what a Dad Girlfriend would look like.”

“Scrawny fashion model with an MBA. Oh, and no soul.”

“This one is all curves. Martika, is her name.” Diana’s cat Frey came in from the patio, did a figure eight around Grace’s ankles, purring loudly. “From Estonia: I had to look up where that is. Dad went over there, and had a contest. Like those awful reality shows, with a rose? And Martika won.”

Diana sipped her wine, leaned on the back of the ancient leather couch. “Well, that part is classic your father.” Another sip. “Though the curves do sound uncharacteristic.” Frey hopped up on the couch and curled up right in the middle.

Grace took a fat joint from a case in one pocket of her coveralls, bit off the twist of paper at one end, spat it out the crack in the door. “She’s really a cow. As in, a breeding animal. Dad wants to have more children.”

Diana downed the last of the wine, rested the glass on a side table. “He always did.” She watched Grace light up with a Zippo, take a long hit, hold the still-burning joint well outside the sliding door so as not to let the smoke drift back into the house.

Grace did the trick where she could talk without actually exhaling. “And you never let him. He’s still mad.”

“You’re all I need.”

“I always wanted a baby brother.” She turned her head and exhaled out onto the porch.

Diana shrugged. “Maybe now you’ll have the chance. So, he’s gone and bought himself the best breeding cow in all Estonia.” Grace, who had leaned her head out the door to inhale again, nodded. “I’m surprised it took him this long to think that one up. You realize this will cut into your inheritance?”

“Who cares? It’s all blood money.” Grace exhaled again, bent down and ground out the coal of the joint on the concrete patio. “And infinity divided by a couple of extra half-siblings is still infinity. I’m sure poor Martika thinks she’s getting the deal of the century: pop out a couple of puppies for a ticket out of Estonia and one percent of a defense-industry CEO’s pile of money. But it’s still creepy. I asked Dad why he didn’t just adopt some starving kids from right here.” She put away the joint, slid the door mostly shut, to leave a crack. “You can probably guess his reaction.”

“You got the don’t be a hippie look?”

“That, plus a long lecture on how he’s demonstrated superior fitness and should have his own genes passed on, instead of spending his resources to raise the children of people too stupid to use birth control.”

Diana smirked. “Like, for example, your father and me.”

“Ha ha. Should have thought about that one. I was mostly just glad for Martika that she doesn’t speak much English.” Grace yawned, caught herself. “That was supposed to wake me up. I want to finish editing this film tonight.”

Diana yawned, then yawned again. She shook her head back and forth, quickly. “What’s this one about?”

“Disenfranchisement. How the Georgia Secretary of State’s office keeps losing voter registrations for poor black people.” Grace watched her mother yawn again. “Watch it in the morning, when it’s done. Go to bed.”

“Yes, dear.” Diana began to walk up the stairs.

Halfway up, she heard Grace say, “So who got murdered tonight?”

“A homeless man. It’s going to be a lurid media sensation; and it will become one of those unsolved cases that my captain…” she paused to yawn again. “…will bark at me about at a meeting about a week from now, because we won’t have solved it.”

“Sleep on it.”

But tired as she was, Diana couldn’t fall asleep. She would need rest to deal with the dozens of calls she’d get tomorrow about the Reaper; she wondered briefly if anyone would care about poor Alex Dawson if he’d been killed by a fellow homeless man over a bottle.

Try as she might to will herself into unconsciousness, her thoughts turned to her ex-husband Andrew and his new cow, and from there to her then-boyfriend Andrew, twenty-five years ago, and how at nineteen she ended up pregnant, and at twenty, a married mother, and then spent the rest of her life running from commitment. Without her own family money, Andrew Bascombe would never have been able to found Universal Optics, would never be able to hold a contest for the perfect cow.

She got out of bed. If only weed didn’t make her speedy and paranoid instead of sleepy. But at least there was Benadryl in the medicine cabinet.

Setting, character, theme. Here we are in Diana’s house, of which I show little, but there’s wine in the fridge. We’ll see more of it later. More important is Diana’s attitude about the house, which is that it’s hers alone and her grown daughter—the one with whom we’ve already established she has a troubled relationship—is a visitor, not an ongoing presence.

And speaking of presence, we have the absent one of Diana’s former husband, which the text tells us all we need to know for now. You don’t see educated people in late-20th-century America having children at nineteen, so we know there’s a story there, and not one we have to reveal right away. Andrew’s a bit of a caricature from Grace’s and especially Diana’s point of view, but that’s to be expected. And yet he deserves caricature: a CEO type, holding a contest for the perfect breeding cow? Sometimes writing fiction can be a lot of fun. Andrew’s an occasional character in the short stories, and he’s in both of the other novels, and holding a rose contest is totally in character for him.

Note also how Grace’s character is shown more than told here: she dresses like a boy, she edits social justice documentaries (and as it turns out, directs them), she smokes weed casually in front of her mom, she has a pretty nuanced opinion of her dad’s cartoonish behavior. For Diana, we have more not quite feeling at home, even in her home.

Next.

Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 4, Scene 1b

TOC page here.

We pick up right where we left off, with Dave the imam worried about blasphemy:

“Then it’s from the Qur’an?”

“Indeed it is.” He walked over to a bookcase and took down a thick volume, its leather cover stamped with gold calligraphy. “Let me find you the exact quotation.” He licked a finger, paged through the text, humming to himself. “Aha. Sura 91, The Sun. Very early in the revelations; the Prophet first preached simple monotheism to the pagans of Quraysh—of Mecca, that is.”

Mustapha said, “You see? We knew you could help, Dave.”

Diana said, “What does it say?”

“Ma’am, your partner will tell you that it is impossible to translate the Qur’an into English or any other language without losing a great deal of the meaning, but this particular passage is really quite clear.” He leaned back in his head and began reciting in sonorous Arabic. His singing voice was a full octave lower than his speaking voice. Diana let the words flow over her: they made her feel young again, traveling dusty parts of the world when Grace was a toddler.

After Bustani was finished, he remained still for a moment, head back, eyes closed.

Mustapha said, “You’re not going to make me translate, are you, Dave?”

The imam opened his eyes and smiled at them. “Detective, if I were going to try to bring you back to the faith, we would start elsewhere. In English, the words are something like:

By the Sun in its splendor

And by the Moon that follows

By the day that shows the Sun’s glory

And by the night that conceals it

By the Earth and Him who stretched it forth

And by the soul and Him who perfected it

And inspired within it right and wrong

Surely blissful is he who purifies his soul

And miserable is he who pollutes it.

Diana asked, “So, the writer is saying that our victim had polluted his soul?”

Bustani placed the open book on his desk. “It’s blasphemy; an insult to God. The whole point of these early verses is that the tribal customs of blood feud and revenge needed to be replaced: we’re all to be held to the same standard. Whatever your victim had done was up to God to judge, not to mankind. You read about these ISIS people, al-Qaeda, whatever they call themselves, throwing gay men off rooftops and beheading people for watching soccer: they’re missing the message in the same way. Like when the KKK or abortion clinic bombers call themselves Christians. It’s simply not our business to take vengeance for moral crimes.”

Diana said, “So this could be one of these terrorist cells, you’re saying? As in, they’ve misinterpreted the message that badly?”

Bustani winced. “Please don’t associate Islam with this. No, is the answer to your question; because while these people are depraved, to mark a body like this? Tattooing, body piercing, all that is deeply frowned upon. God made your body and it is not to be modified. They might put a sign next to him, but they wouldn’t draw on his body. This is vile, but it’s also sort of… inauthentic. Like ISIS.” He finished his tea. “May I ask? Who was this man, your victim?”

Mustapha said, “Homeless guy with a drinking problem.”

“Hmm. Perhaps a very badly misunderstood application of the prohibition against alcohol? But the solution wouldn’t be to kill the poor fellow; again, we leave judgment to God, who is merciful.”

“Yeah? We leave judgment to juries, who usually aren’t. Thanks for your help, Dave.”

So here we have the rest of the scene. We’ve already established that Mustapha isn’t comfortable with the remnants of his ancestral faith, but when it’s directly relevant to the case, he’s willing to deal with it. We’ve got links to Islam, the Qur’an and a polluted soul, but all of them are questionable, because one of the themes of this book is people who don’t quite fit into the mould.

Next.

 

Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 4, Scene 1a

TOC page here.

New chapter, new location. New character, new insight into Mustapha’s character. Time to tackle the Islamic angle.

The Atlanta Islamic Center on Fourteenth Street north of Georgia Tech was built of cream-colored stone. The dome of the mosque and the top of the minaret were covered with burnished copper that Diana had often thought looked very beautiful on a sunny day. But in the late night gloom, the copper was dark: it was the low clouds that were copper-colored from reflected city lights.

“I’m still shocked,” Diana said. “All these years, I figured you had this spiritual side. You know, somewhere in your little downstairs mancave there was a secret stash of CDs of guys reciting the Qur’an.” She pulled the car into the parking lot, which was empty except for a bicycle chained to the post of the handicapped parking sign. “It’s like discovering you have layers. Only the opposite.”

“Alright, already,” groaned Mustapha. “I’m going to hell. I got it.”

“I’m not criticizing you; I’m just surprised.”

“Besides, when was the last time you were in church? Other than for a wedding or a funeral, I mean.”

“Or for the architecture. I’m not claiming spiritual superiority; I just figured it was in your background.” She parked her car and they emerged. “Are we the only ones here for the prayer? You’d think if they could afford such a nice mosque, more people would show up.”

“We’re early, even for the dawn prayer.” He followed her up the sidewalk to the main door, which was propped open. “And I left Morocco when I was nine; the only thing I remember about it is playing a lot of soccer.”

“And your parents didn’t keep the faith?” She held open the door for him.

“They didn’t have any to begin with. Think about it: they got all three of their kids as far away from that place as they could.” He walked ahead of her into the atrium, then bent down to unlace his shoes.

Diana used the toe of her left shoe to leverage her right foot out of its shoe. Then she jumped, and her hand went to her sidearm, as she saw a shadow slip into the atrium from the main chamber.

“Good morning,” said the shadow. It stepped forward under the light and resolved itself into a short, round man in a beautiful white robe and skullcap. He had a thick beard but no mustache, and wonderful laugh and smile lines around his mouth.

“Hiya,” said Diana. She stepped out of her other shoe. “We’re with the Atlanta Police. Can we ask you a few questions?”

“Certainly. My name is Daoud Bustani, but most Americans just call me Dave.” His English was excellent, much better articulated than Diana’s own. “I am the imam here. Please, come back to my office and have tea with me.”

“Sounds great,” said Mustapha. His tone was a little sharper than usual.

He followed Diana and the imam through the darkened the central chamber, around a support pillar covered in finely carved wood, and back into a rather prosaic office lined with bookshelves. Bustani pointed them to a seat and began to fuss with the teakettle.

Diana cleared her throat. “Mr. Bustani? I’ve spent enough time in the Muslim world to know about the dawn prayer, but what I never understood was why it always happens way before dawn. I mean, it’s still pitch-dark.”

He smiled at her. “The word is fajr, which doesn’t mean dawn in the sense of the sun coming over the horizon, but in the sense of the first indication that the night is coming to an end. In traditional Islam, it is the moment at which, if you hold a black thread and a white one up to the sky–”

“You can tell which one is which,” finished Mustapha.

“Very good, Detective,” said Bustani. “You’re not–”

“Yeah, yeah. I was born in Morocco. And I learned a little when I was a kid. But I don’t keep up with it.”

“Well, we’d be very happy to welcome you back into the love of God, Detective…?”

“Mustapha Alawi. This here is Diana Siddall. We’re with Atlanta Homicide.”

Yá salám,” said Bustani. “Please tell me the victim of his homicide did not belong to this congregation.”

“We don’t think so,” said Diana. “But before we go further, I need you to understand that what we’re about to tell you cannot leave this room.”

“I shall be very discreet.” The kettle began to hiss. “But neither will I divulge information about anyone who prays here. Confidentiality, you know.”

“That’s not what we’re after, sir.”

“Please, call me Dave.” He opened an antique silver teapot and peered into it. “Would you like too much sugar with your tea? This is a rhetorical question for most Arabs, isn’t it, Detective Alawi?”

“It sure is. Listen, Dave, we’re serious about this. We’ve got some evidence that we need you to help us understand–”

“And it would jeopardize your case if I went around telling people what I had seen.” He handed each of them a small glass tumbler with a worn gilt rim, full of steaming, dark, clear tea. “I watch all the crime dramas. The period between the maghrib and ‘ashá prayers is right when TNT and USA play all of the Law & Order reruns.” He picked up his own glass of tea and lifted it to his lips. ”Bismillah.”

“Cheers,” said Diana. She reached into her satchel and removed a folded piece of paper. “What you’re going to look at here, Mr. Bustani, is the chest of a murder victim. Someone drew, or wrote, I guess, this piece of calligraphy on him right around the time he was killed. Do you think you could try to read it for us?”

Bustani put down his tea and took the paper from Diana, then unfolded it. He studied it for several moments, then whistled softly. “This is the worst sort of blasphemy.”

Note that for the new chapter I’ve switched to third-person omniscient instead of style indirect libre. Why? Because now we have enough of a perspective on Diana’s character that we can identify with her without having to view the scene through her eyes. Now, we can go to plot and dialogue, and not have to be told to identify with her any more.

Plus it’s more fun this way to break the “show, don’t tell” rule. I’m still showing most everything in this scene: the obvious (facts of the case), the almost as obvious (Dave’s personality), and the more subtle (Mustapha’s discomfort). But I’m telling you that Mustapha has no religious life. It’s okay, because I can dress it up in conversation. I’m showing you that not only has Mustapha never talked about it to Diana, but Diana’s never asked him about it. This says a lot about their partnership without having to tell you anything.

Next.