Novel 3: Act III, Chapter 2, Scene 1c

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Mustapha and Diana are asking the wife of the recently-murdered Bill Knight questions about what she might know. They didn’t live together, but had a lot of contact as he recovered from alcoholism.

But Mustapha barely had time to settle into the throne-like office chair Diana wheeled to him before Knight returned, composed, wearing a little more makeup. “I’m so sorry,” she began.

Mustapha said, “You’re doing fine. Did your husband ever talk about Islam?”

“Islam? Oh, the writing on the bodies? Did that happen to Bill? Oh, dear. No, he never said anything about Islam. We’re Christian, but not what you’d call observant. In fact, Christianity is a bit of a problem for Bill. That Claire woman is a wonder-worker: she’s the one responsible for walking Bill down the road to recovery. But she’s a minister of some kind, and everything they discussed kept coming back to god and Jesus, and too much of that rubbed Bill the wrong way. In AA? They have this thing about a Higher Power, but Bill preferred to conceive of this as just being the vastness of the world. He talked about how he and Claire would butt heads because she and most everyone else took it literally. But it was god, not Allah or Muhammad.”

Diana said, “What else did he tell you about the Lazarus Program?”

“Just how well it works. Group therapy, individual therapy, staying out of trouble. I have to confess that I was a little jealous there for a while because he talked about Claire so much; but I have a friend who’s a psychiatrist, and he explained how transference works and how important it is.”

“Did he ever talk about being afraid, or worried?”

“Sure. But he was worried about relapsing, not about someone stalking him.”

“How about a guy named Mario?”

“Doesn’t ring a bell.”

Mustapha said, “Look, again we’re real sorry. Someone from our liaison office will call you later today, about funeral arrangements, that sort of thing. And… this is not going to be easy, as in, even over and above having to deal with grief. You remember how crazy people were about the Reaper last summer? This is going to be worse. Detective Siddal here and I are going to have to do press conferences; you can expect TV cameras to show up the minute we give out your husband’s name.”

“If not before,” said Diana.

“Yeah. So you might want to think about taking your sons out of school, maybe taking a vacation, that sort of thing.”

Knight nodded, slowly. “This is going to just kill them.”

Diana said, “We’ll do whatever it takes to bring your husband’s killer to justice, ma’am, but there’s almost nothing we can do about the media. To Mustapha, “Get out of Ms. Knight’s chair and let’s go talk to the chief.”

Is this scene just filler? (No.) So what’s the tell here? Which of these questions and answers is going to lead us somewhere new?

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Novel 3: Act III, Chapter 2, Scene 1b

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Mustapha and Diana have made it to the center of the labyrinth to inform Bill Knight’s wife of his death. She takes it well, then asks if it was “one of the other bums” who killed him.

Mustapha said, “No. Did you watch the news this morning?”

“Briefly. Obama and Congress, yelling at each other instead of doing anything.”

Diana said, “Local news, Ms. Knight.”

“Oh, that. No, I never do: it’s garbage.”

Mustapha explained; Knight cut him off partway through. “Like that other bum, last month? Oh, god.” A hand to her mouth. “Oh, god. Did he… did he suffer?”

Diana said, “Hard to say, ma’am. We know you’re in shock, but we’re hoping you can help us.”

“Help you catch the Reaper, you mean? How am I going to—never mind. Of course: what do you need?”

Mustapha said, “When was the last time you spoke with your husband?”

“Three days ago? We had lunch, at Krog Street Tacos. I wasn’t thinking straight, because I was starving, and I brought back margaritas for both of us.” A long pause: she looked inward, and breathed. “Talk about embarrassing. But he sat there and ate lunch, with it right there the whole time. He said it was a nice test, and that he wasn’t even tempted. Which I later felt bad about for not quite believing. Then, when we were finishing up, there was a mom with two preschoolers, and he just handed her the drink, said she looked like she could use it.” She began to weep. “Oh, lord: what am I going to tell the boys?”

Mustapha said, “We’re very sorry for your loss. Did your husband talk about anything at all that might,”

“No. He’s—he was—happy. Even on alcohol, Bill is a real charmer. As he stopped drinking, and things became clearer, he started paying more attention to what was around him. We’d have lunch and he’d tell me stories. The kinds of things men without jobs and with lots of time on their hands would get up to. Pathetic, but in the hands of a good storyteller, they really said something about the human condition.”

Diana said, “Did he ever talk about the other victim? A guy named Alex Dawson?”

“Sure. He was broken up about that. The other guy was still in denial about his alcoholism, but Bill was convinced that with time and effort he could help him out. He said… oh, right: something about maintaining contact until the guy had a breakthrough or bottomed out. I don’t know how much y’all know about alcoholism, but you can’t make someone stop drinking. They have to decide to do it on their own. There were a couple of other guys he kept a look out for, too. So then… Oh, god, my poor husband… The Reaper… Would you excuse me for a moment?”

Mustapha said, “Take your time, Ms. Knight.”

The key takeaway here is that she loved him, but he wanted to stay out on the streets for a while longer. But we just in the last chapter heard someone else say she was making him stay on the streets longer, in order to confirm his sobriety. Who’s fibbing here?

Novel 3: Act III, Chapter 2, Scene 1a

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After a long hiatus, we’re back. Bill Knight is dead, and now it’s time to notify his wife.

Diana always ended up lost every time she went to AmericasMart. The complex, ten blocks and a world away from Peachtree-Pine, was always growing, and since it was mostly windowless, Diana’s usually acute sense of direction didn’t work except on the rare occasions when they emerged into one of the covered Habitrail walkways that connected the buildings far above street level. Diana wanted to gawk at the various showrooms, but Mustapha plowed ahead at his usual pace: if she wanted to examine what wholesalers and specialist merchants had to offer to retailers and interior designers, she’d have to do it on her own time, with a map and a trail of breadcrumbs.

When Mustapha stopped to look at the signs mounted high on the walls, she was gawking at a store full of chandeliers, so she walked right into his back with an oof! and a faint whiff of cigarettes and mint tea. She had to windmill her arms to keep from falling, but he didn’t even seem to notice. Then, with a nod, he turned left and plunged back into the labyrinth. Some time later, they came upon a store whose metal grate was only half-raised. Mustapha gracefully ducked under it; Diana took her time, making sure to be gentle to the bad knee.

As she stood back up, a woman came trotting from the back of the store. Late forties, well-cared for, elegant. Her carefully tailored clothes minimized the stockiness of her figure. “Y’all, I’m just getting ready to open,” she said. “Make yourself comfortable and I’ll be right with you.” She turned on a heel and went back to where she’d come from.

Diana looked around. The showroom was nothing but chairs, ranging from well-padded upscale office chairs, through the sort that you might see at a fancy restaurant, all the way to the not-quite-recliners found in the rooms of better hotels. She found an office chair and kicked back; Mustapha paced.

The woman reemerged a few minutes later. “I knew if I didn’t finish that email, I’d forget to send it. Catherine Knight: what can I do y’all for?”

Mustapha flipped open the leather case that held his shield. “My partner here spends a lot of time in front of the computer.”

A nice smile. “I don’t do retail. Now, if you were looking for chairs for the whole department,”

“If only. Listen, Ms. Knight, your husband is William Knight?”

“Yes. What’s this about?”

“I’m afraid we’ve got some bad news for you.”

She took it well, at first, thought Diana. Maybe she herself would, if her husband was living on the streets; she’d know in the back of her head that the police would show up one day. Catherine Knight’s reactions seemed rehearsed, as if she’d imagined having this conversation before; but the stress in the set of her jaw and the cords of her neck was real.

When Mustapha was done telling her he was sorry, Knight put her face in her hands, sobbed a couple of times, then remained silent, before looking up, red of cheek but clear of eyes. “Was it the alcohol?”

“No, ma’am,” said Diana.

“He had such a terrible problem with drinking. How he wound up on the streets. But he managed to get his life back together. He was supposed to come back to us last fall, but he wanted to wait: to make sure he had the strength to deal with the streets before he could deal with his family. I didn’t understand, at first—all we ever did was love him—but that was the problem, you see. He couldn’t deal with being loved when he had so many problems inside.” She looked pensive; Diana and Mustapha waited her out. Then: “If it wasn’t a drink, was it one of the other bums?”

What does this initial look at Catherine tell you about Bill? What does it tell you about her? What does it tell you about their relationship? Why is this important?

Novel 3: Act III, Chapter 1, Scene 4b

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Diana and Mustapha are at a church breakfast for the homeless, talking to two guys about Bill Knight’s death:

Diana said, “What did Bill talk about in therapy? Anything that might help.”

He chewed thoughtfully. “Don’t know if it will help. You understand, I’ve only been doing this a couple of months. Bill? He was due to go back to his family a few months ago. When Red did. So it was all about one day at a time. He grew up with a lot of money, hear? His family’s like old-school money. ”

Steve nodded. “Real aristocats.”

“So what he figured it was, they was ruthless people: money and power. They raised him that way, but deep down he’s one of them sensitive people. He tried to be what they wanted, and there was all kinds of what Ms. Claire calls cognitive dissidents.”

Steve drained his coffee. “Yeah, that’s it. So he drank. Now, he’s going back, he’s worried about them trying to make him be that way again. He said they understood it, but he was still worried. Me, I grew up in a real abusive family environment: now I realize my daddy did… shit to me, because he didn’t have no toolbox to work out his own problems. But I can’t go back and confront him, or even forgive him, because they’re all dead. Hurricane Katrinka done got’em.”

“Have another biscuit, brother, ” said Steve.

“That’s only a little slower than drinking, in the long run. ” But he took it, chewed it thoroughly. “Man. His family had let him come back last fall, he wouldn’t have been on the street where the Reaper could get him.” He looked up at the stained glass. “Talk about a cross to bear.”

So now we understand why Bill drank, and why he was on the street, and at least part of why he was still on the street and ended up dead. Keep in mind the story of Bill’s family keeping him out on the street as the reason he wasn’t living with them yet. This will be important, later. And enjoy the wordplay, and the contrast between the wordplay and the actual sophistication of what they’re saying.

Novel 3: Act III, Chapter 1, Scene 4a

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Diana and Mustapha went to the shelter, in order to break the news of Bill Knight’s death to Claire Longstreet, and also to find next of kin and any leads. Now we’re tracking down one of these leads:

The fellowship hall of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church was cheery and grand: less blandly institutional than most Diana had been in. The stained-glass was beautiful, but while she supposed the bible quotes were appropriate, she’d never cared for religion and had to dampen down a raised hackle or two when the pastor, or minister, or whatever his proper title was, told her that providing breakfast to the destitute was a means to the end of saving souls.

Breakfast was delicious, however, and she could only pretend she wasn’t hungry twice before giving in. “Why we get up early and stand in line,” said Catfish, who with his bald head, protruding lips and voluminous whiskers really did look like his namesake. “They always run out of bacon before anything else. But it’s early, and Ms. Longstreet sent us to you.”

Big Steve was of average size in every respect Diana could see. “Who was it, ma’am?”

Catfish finished his biscuit. “Aw, man, it was Bill, wasn’t it?”

Diana said, “I really can’t say.”

Big Steve said, “You don’t have to. Process of elimination.” He raised his Styrofoam coffee cup; Catfish did a doubletake, then did the same. “God bless you, brother,” said Steve.

Catfish said, “And give you rest.” To Diana, “This is about the Reaper, ain’t it? Yeah. I’ll do what I can. What you want to know?”

This is mostly scene-setting, and more character for Diana, whose resolute rationalism is being set up here as a counterpoint to her terrible romantic decisions in early life. Also, it’s about giving these guys character, because the whole point of the book is to hammer home the idea that while homeless guys fall into about half a dozen archetypes, they all have a story of their own.

Novel 3: Act III, Chapter 1, Scene 3c

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A continuation of yesterday’s post. Diana and Mustapha are at the shelter, in order to break the news of Bill Knight’s death to Claire Longstreet, and also to find next of kin and any leads, which they do. But Claire Longstreet has so far skirted their questions about the mysterious Red, the victim’s best friend.

But this time, Mustapha wasn’t willing to be patient. “You’re still stonewalling us. Who’s he in the program with? Bring them to us now, and where the hell is this Red character?”

Longstreet blew her nose, stopped the tears. “The program is confidential. I can talk to them,”

“No, Ms. Longstreet, we can. You can counsel people all you want; that’s your business. But homicide is ours. We got the mayor and the media on our backs, cos once people have their coffee this morning, they’re going to start panicking about the Reaper, just like last summer. Your ordinary Atlantan doesn’t give a shit about your program, or your confidentiality, and neither does the mayor. You can cooperate, or you can get your water shut off again.”

Her lips went white. “You can’t threaten–“

“I ain’t threatening; I’m predicting. Your… philosophy, whatever, that’s your business. But public order is the mayor’s. You do not want to be the one the TV people are saying is hindering the investigation.”

Diana broke in. “We really don’t want try to get them to talk about the sort of personal things that are why you have confidentiality; we just want to hear anything Mr. Knight might have said about anything suspicious he might have seen.”

Mustapha said, “That’s right. And bring us to Red, now.”

Longstreet said, “Now that, I cannot do.” At Mustapha’s growl, “I passed on your request last month, and got an unequivocal response back that his family feels any further contact with the shelter will only impede his recovery.” She flared her nostrils. “You can try me in the court of public opinion, but I’m not without resources. The homeless and the formerly homeless deserve dignity–“

“Sure they do. What we are trying to give Bill Knight here, by tracking down the guy who killed him.”

“So I will ask the other Lazarus Program participants if they want to speak with you, And I will ask them to try to find it in their hearts to do so. But I won’t tell them what to do.”

She jammed a thumb into the corner of her eyesocket, right next to the bridge of her nose. “I’m sorry; this is going to turn into a full blown migraine; and here I am worrying about my own problems when Bill’s family will suffer far worse. Go talk to Catfish and Big Steve: Catfish has been in my program for a few months, and Big Steve has been nosing around for a while now: I keep hoping he’s going to come join us.”

Note how well she responds under stress. We know she’s hiding something, because she would be way more apologetic and less defensive if Red or the other Lazarus Program participants were truly irrelevant to the deaths. Of course, they may be irrelevant to the deaths; just not to something else. We know from Diana’s conversation with Tommy Clyburne in the previous chapter that she has big financial backing that would generally prefer to remain anonymous.

Novel 3: Act III, Chapter 1, Scene 3b

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A brief continuation of yesterday’s post. Diana and Mustapha are at the shelter, in order to break the news of Bill Knight’s death to Claire Longstreet, and also to find next of kin and any leads:

Longstreet began to weep again. Diana could tell from Mustapha’s expression that he was about to lose patience with her, so she intervened. “I understand you’re upset and anxious, Ms. Longstreet, but we still need to know who Bill went to the meeting with, and to speak to them. And we need to talk to Red.”

Another nose pinch, this one very brief. “He went with… oh, with Catfish and Big Steve. They’ll be in line for breakfast up at the Lutheran Church on Ponce, if habit proves true.” She arose, pulled back the curtain that covered the window; Diana could see rows of bunk beds, with men milling about. Longstreet looked over the room, shrugged, let the curtain fall back. “I don’t see them inside, so that’s my guess. Let me put the word out for you.”

A couple of phone calls later, “Yes, they along with half the other residents are there. They have to listen to a sermon, which personally I find objectionable, but most of them say it’s worth it for a better-quality breakfast.”

She looked at them in the eyes, first Mustapha, then Diana. “Please find this guy, detectives. Bill is… Bill was an inspiration to all of us. He had problems, he confronted them, he got his life together. His sons think he’s moving back in with them on Friday.” More weeping.

Now we have not only next of kin, but also some people who saw Knight a few hours before his death. Note again that Longstreet dodges the Red question.

Novel 3: Act III, Chapter 1, Scene 3a

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Diana and Mustapha arrive at the shelter, in order to break the news of Bill Knight’s death to Claire Longstreet, and also to find next of kin and any leads:

The sky was mostly light by the time they pulled up in front of Peachtree-Pine, but even this early, the door was open and a few people were milling about the entrance. Henry Buchanan was at the door, drinking out of a chipped coffee mug with World’s Best Dad printed on it. “Go on in,” he told them. “We all saw the news; Ms. Claire showed up a while ago, said to send you in. Who was it?”

“We can’t say,” said Diana. “We have to talk to the family, first.”

Claire Longstreet was in all black: sweater, jeans, real leather boots. She was pouring tea for herself. “My phone started ringing at four-thirty. Please tell me there’s some obvious clue and you’ll have someone in custody soon.” She grabbed two empty mugs, poured more tea, handed them out. “He was one of ours, wasn’t he?”

“One of yours,” said Mustapha.

Diana held out the tablet. “Bill Knight: I met him. You didn’t want him to talk to us. Now he’s dead.”

“Oh, no. But I don’t see how–“

“Cut the bullshit, Ms. Longstreet,” said Mustapha. “We’re not here to mess with your operation. We need a next of kin for Mr. Knight, if you’ve got it, and we need to know what meeting he was at yesterday evening.”

“Yes, yes, of course. I’m just… I’m wracked with grief, is what I am. Bill… Well, you saw him, Detective Siddal. He confronted his demons and came out the other side. His family… I just talked with his wife, three… no, four days ago now. He’s due—was due—to leave Peachtree-Pine and go back to living with her and her sons. They were going to throw him a party.” She put her face in her hands and wept.

Diana fiddled with her phone while Longstreet composed herself; then, she said, “All the information you have for his wife, please. And since he’s a member of your program, you’ll know where he went to his meeting. We need the names of the other participants in the program, and we need to talk to them, today. And you never got back to us on this fellow Red, and this time we’re not going to let you stonewall us.”

Longstreet pinched the bridge of her nose, hard enough and for long enough that Diana could see the tendons in her hand quiver with the stress. Finally, “Bill’s wife’s name is Catherine. Same last name. I can…” She got the MacBook out of her bag, typed and clicked, then took a pen and paper and wrote a few lines. She passed this to Diana. “Catherine works at AmericasMart, something about interior design. She lives with Bill’s father and the two teenage sons, but she’s mentioned several times that the business is an early-morning thing, so you should probably try her there first.” More computer work. “Bill was at the AA meeting at the Presbyterian Church on Peachtree and Fifth last night: says here it lets out at half past ten, but these AA people, they always stand around and talk, afterward. They don’t like to be alone. Henry will know if and when Bill came back.”

This is the third murder—to Claire, it’s the second—so they’re finally able to pry a next of kin and a last known location for Knight. What’s new here? Henry Buchanan is still a person of interest, and while Knight’s wife should be easy to contact, note that Longstreet didn’t answer the question about Red.

Novel 3: Act III, Chapter 1, Scene 2c

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We’ve received forensic details on the death of Bill Knight; now, let’s wrap this scene up quickly:

On their way out to the circle of cars, Purcell stopped them. “Same guy?”

Diana said, “Looks like it, sir. Writing looks the same; so do the ligature marks.”

“We’re going to have to deal with the media, and I mean soon. Those fucking kids. I don’t like drug prohibition laws, but I wish they hadn’t had the foresight to throw their weed away before they called us: we could drop some charges on them.” He pointed at Diana’s tablet. “AJC, Creative Loafing, all the TV channels have his picture up. They blurred the face, but still.”

Mustapha said, “Stall’em, Chief. We’ve got to do the notification.”

“That’ll work. But leave time to change clothes, because you’re both going to have to be at the press conference. And that will happen sooner rather than later. Mayor’s already out of bed.”

As they got to Mustapha’s Lexus, the reporters and their spotlights came running toward them. “Detectives!” shouted the guy from FOX, “Has the Reaper struck again?”

Diana had long ago learned to resist the reflex to shield herself from the spotlights. “A man has been killed. Until we’ve spoken with his family, we can’t comment further.”

“Show some respect,” muttered Mustapha as they got in the car.

Peachtree-Pine was only a few blocks away, but most of the reporters ran for their vans and began following the Lexus; it took half an hour and a couple of driving maneuvers that made even Diana close her eyes to lose the most tenacious of them. Just to be safe, they went back to the precinct and swapped cars for Diana’s.

Again, the media is everpresent, here. And not that helpful, like they might be in some cop novels.

Novel 3: Act III, Chapter 1, Scene 2b

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Diana has been called by Mustapha to the scene of the third dead homeless man, but right away she recognizes him as Bill Knight, a man who’d tried to help her very early on in the book and who before he became a homeless alcoholic was a friend of her ex-husband.

She saw Mustapha look up at her, eyebrows raised. “You didn’t meet him. The first time I talked to Claire Longstreet, right after we found Alex Dawson. Remember later, when we were in her office and I was asking about Red? This guy was Red’s pal. Mr. Buchanan at the door mentioned him.”

“Right, right; and he’s one of the Lazarus Program guys.”

“Lazarus Program?” said Keller. “This guy ain’t coming back.”

Diana said, “He knew my ex-husband, too.”

Mustapha said, “You think you want to take a step back?”

“As if the chief would let me.” She looked down again, firmed up the image of Knight’s face in her mind. “I asked Andrew about him, a couple of weeks ago; before Mr. Knight climbed into the bottle, he was a real humanitarian. Well, Andrew said do-gooder, but sometimes I have to translate.”

Mustapha said, “Yeah, and didn’t he only leave the place for meetings?”

Keller said, “There’s a meeting every night. Well, you’d know that.”

Diana said, “It’s five in the morning. Dave, any idea on time of death?”

“Liver temp says between ten and midnight. He wasn’t killed right here, so if he was kept somewhere where the temperature was significantly different, that will skew it.”

Mustapha said, “So he gets out of his meeting, starts to walk back, gets popped. Or he never showed. We can ask around, see if the AA guys will break confidentiality. Maybe they saw somebody pick him up.”

Diana used her tablet to call up the picture of Mario’s chest, held it to line up with her perspective on Knight, flicked her gaze back and forth. “Looks the same to me; maybe Imam Dave can tell us if there’s a dot out of place.”

Keller said, “That actually says something?” Diana read him the English translation from where she had stored it on the tablet. “Hunh. Does Islam have the thing with Abraham and Isaac? Never mind: they’d cut his throat, not strangle him.” He stood up, looked around. “During the day, this parking lot is empty. Too close to Peachtree-Pine, which is what? Two, three blocks down there. But at night? Campers: them guys that can’t deal with the shelter rules. You’ll find them tucked in little hobbit holes all over these blocks. Why I think he wasn’t killed here: somebody would have noticed.”

Diana said, “Those kids that found him: was he face up or face down?”

Mustapha said, “Down. Curtis tore them new assholes for flipping him over. They said they thought he was just passed out, and wanted to help.”

“And that might even be true. I bet more than one person has slept off some fortified wine in this grass.”

Keller said, “He wasn’t robbed, either. Still has a wallet with a hundred bucks in small bills.”

Mustapha said, “So he can’t have been there long. Perp drops him off at 0300, even the nightcrawlers are sleeping.” He stood up, looked around: without the klieg lights, the parking lot would be an oasis of darkness. “Some of these intersections will have cameras.” He pointed toward the light at North Avenue. “There’s our most likely spot. Let’s get Purcell to authorize manpower, see if we can find a white van.” He turned around, pointed back toward Peachtree-Pine. “That’s probably our best bet for next of kin, plus we can maybe find out what meeting he went to. If anyone’s awake at this hour.”

Mostly just forensic details here: he was killed elsewhere, the writing looks legit. But these sorts of details are often important, later.