JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Is it my turn to do What I'm Writing? So soon? Sigh. Still working on HID FROM OUR EYES. I've been succumbing to a particular type of writer's envy lately; the conviction that everyone is writing more effortlessly than I. I was at the Portland Public Library today waiting for the Smithie, who had a job interview for a substitute librarian position. (Did you have any idea big libraries had substitutes? Neither did I!)
At any rate, I was looking at the new releases shelf. There was Lee Child's latest, out like clockwork. C.J. Box had a new book of short stories - he's getting out a book a year and has time to do a story collection! Peter Lovesey had the 57th book in his Peter Diamond series (not really, but it feels like it.) And of course, there was Louise Penny's fantastic new Inspector Gamache mystery.
If you pick up any of these books, you'll be struck, as I was, by the impression that the authors' writing simply flows. I know what the process is like, but I can't shake the feeling that these folks sit down with a hot cup of coffee or tea every morning and the words just stream effortlessly out of their imaginations and onto the page.
Of course, on those occasions when I reread my own writing, I get the same impression. It amazes me that a chapter I spent weeks beating my head against sounds like a I typed it out on a lazy afternoon at a cafe.
So; today's excerpt. We're back in 1972 again, this time in a familiar scene: the investigating team discusses the case. I'm having fun making each era's police department different from the others.
“Russ Van Alstyne.” Detective Arlo Simpson held up Russ' mug shot, taken the morning they had brought him in for questioning. Looking at the boy's disheveled, angry face, Jack Liddle realized he should have gotten a better photo from Margy. Anyone would agree Russ was guilty of something, going by that picture.
“We confirmed positive identification from the bartenders at the Paddock and the Flying Dutchman.”
“What about Bernie's?” Jack shifted his position on the heavy maple worktable at the head of the officers' desks. He had taken to sitting on it during their meetings when, assuming the chief's badge, he had discovered the wooden briefing podium was just over-tall enough to make him look like a junior high-schooler giving a report on Civics Day.
“The barkeep at Bernie’s said business was heavy last night. He didn't remember the face in the photo. However, since Van Alstyne places himself at Bernie's first, with the two other establishments coming after, I don't think the lack of corroboration is significant.”
Sargent George Gifford rolled his eyes. Arlo did have a tendency to talk like a dictionary'd been shoved up his ass.
“What about the Flying Dutchman? Did his story hold up?” Jack tried not to sound hopeful. The last thing he needed was his men thinking he'd lost his objectivity.
Arlo nodded. “Oh, yes. The bartender remembered the fight very well. He said Van Alstyne was clearly the aggressor, and claims he threatened to call the police on Van Alstyne.” He held up his notebook. “The young man Van Alstyne fought with is a regular. David Rothstein. I'm attempting to find his address so we can follow up with him.”
“Did anyone recognize the girl?”
“No. But the barkeep at the Flying Dutchman was quite certain of the time Van Alstyne left. Eleven-thirty.”
Jack nodded. “And he went to the Golden Banana.” There were some snickers from the rest of the investigating team.
“Because of the nature of the establishment, the Golden Banana has three bouncers on duty each night, as well as the bartender and a girl who takes the cover charge. None of them recognized Van Alstyne's photo. I can find no record of his whereabouts between the time he left the Flying Dutchman and the time he appeared on the MacAllen's porch.”
Lieutenant Ken Ogilvie, Jack's second-in-command, whistled. “That's six hours unaccounted for.” He nodded toward Arlo. “This guy starts to look better and better.”
“Maybe we should retry with a better photograph,” Jack said.
George and Ken looked at him as if he'd cracked his skull. “If you think it would help, I can go back,” Arlo said doubtfully.
“Chief, this kid's been trained by the Army to be a killer.” Ken stood up and walked to the case board, where pictures of the still-unknown dead girl were pinned like macabre souvenirs. “We know some of these guys in Viet Nam had ways of killing the enemy without making a sound, with just sticks and ropes.” He rapped his knuckle against a photo of the girl's unblemished skin. “Who else would know how to kill without leaving a mark? And he can't account for his whereabouts for six whole hours around the time of death?” He jerked his thumb to the mug shot still in Arlo's hand. “We might as well ask him 'Will the real murderer stand up and be identified?'”