W Is for WastedPaperback - 2015
Two dead men changed the course of my life that fall. One of them I knew and the other I'd never laid eyes on until I saw him in the morgue.
The first was a local PI of suspect reputation. He'd been gunned down near the beach at Santa Teresa. It looked like a robbery gone bad. The other was on the beach six weeks later. He'd been sleeping rough. Probably homeless. No identification. A slip of paper with Millhone's name and number was in his pants pocket. The coroner asked her to come to the morgue to see if she could ID him.
Two seemingly unrelated deaths, one a murder, the other apparently of natural causes.
But as Kinsey digs deeper into the mystery of the John Doe, some very strange linkages begin to emerge. And before long at least one aspect is solved as Kinsey literally finds the key to his identity. "And just like that," she says, "the lid to Pandora's box flew open. It would take me another day before I understood how many imps had been freed, but for the moment, I was inordinately pleased with myself."
In this multilayered tale, the surfaces seem clear, but the underpinnings are full of betrayals, misunderstandings, and outright murderous fraud. And Kinsey, through no fault of her own, is thoroughly compromised.
W is for . . . wanderer . . . worthless . . . wronged . . .
W is for wasted.
From the critics
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Life is little more than a series of overlapping stories about who we are, where we came from, and how we struggle to survive. What we call news isn’t new at all: wars, murders, famines, plagues—death in all its forms. It’s folly to assign meaning to every chance event, yet we do it all the time.
My take on the indigent is that some are there because of temporary setbacks, some by default, and some for lack of an alternative. Some are needy, some are off their meds, some have opted out, some have been ousted from facilities where they might be better served. Many are there for life and not always by personal choice. Alcoholic, addicted, aimless, illiterate, unmotivated, unskilled, or otherwise unable to prosper, they sink to the bottom, and if they’re down for any length of time, they lose the capacity to climb back out of the hole into which they’ve fallen. If there’s a remedy, I don’t know what it is. From what I’ve seen of the problem, most solutions perpetuate the status quo.
W is for . . . wanderer . . . worthless . . . wronged . . . W is for wasted.
“Mamie’s the kind who gets up in your face. Mom wheedles and manipulates. She specializes in guilt trips.”
“Why? You think guilty people don’t get away with murder?”
There’s reality and then there’s facts. I’m saying there’s a difference that I’d be happy to clarify.
Homeless, but not broke. Big difference.
The coroner’s office called me on a Friday afternoon, asking if I could ID a John Doe who had my name and phone number on a slip of paper in his pocket. How could I resist? Every good mystery takes place on three planes—what really happened; what appears to have happened; and how the sleuth, amateur or professional (yours truly in this case), figures out which is which.
“Remember that English writer, Virginia Somebody?” She snapped her fingers. “Woolf.” “I’ve heard of her, but I’ve never read her work.” “I was in this book club for a couple months? We read a novel by her about a day in the life of this lady who gives a party. Mrs. Dalloway’s the title of it. Like who gives a shit. Anyway, she committed suicide—the writer, not the hostess—and you know how she offed herself?” “No clue,” I said, wondering where she was going with this. “Loaded her coat pockets with big rocks and walked into a river. Sank to the bottom and she drowned. Over and out. I figure kids are like that. Get pregnant, you might as well fill your pockets with stones.”
I passed a McDonald’s and circled back. While 5:30 wasn’t exactly supper time, I paused long enough to scarf down a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, accessorized with fries and a Coke. I was nearly cross-eyed with carbs and fat grams when I wadded up the wrapping from my QP and tucked it in the french fry box.
Still in Bakersfield. Just my luck.
With his office rent in arrears, he knew the money would be better spent catching up, but he was already so far behind he couldn’t see the point.
My second husband, Daniel Wade, was a musician. The first time I saw him, he was playing piano in a bar in downtown Santa Teresa. It was late. The air was smoky in the same way it was smoky here. I don’t even remember now why I was there or whether I was in the company of someone else. Daniel, with his cloud of curly golden hair, leaned over the keys like an alchemist. He played like an angel. His talent was magic, the philosopher’s stone that promised to turn base metal into gold. I saw him through a haze of longing. I fell in love, not with the man, but with a mirage. Watching him play, I’d assumed he was as remarkable a person as his music implied. I wanted to believe. I projected onto him qualities he didn’t possess, qualities that only appeared to emanate from somewhere deep inside.
My lifelong “good-bye” experiences lean toward finality and pain. My parents died. My aunt died. My first husband died. I’m dead set (as it were . . .) against having a pet because the risk of loss would soar into the stratosphere and I’ve got troubles enough as it is.
The irony wasn’t lost on me. The Universe was having a little tee-hee at my expense. Whereas the Kinsey branch of the family was chockablock with cousins, aunts, and uncles, even an ancient living grandmother, the Millhones had disappeared.
The meaning of life (assuming there is one . . .) is the glue we use to join events, trying to fill the cracks in hopes the whole of it will make sense. Beginning, middle, and end don’t always add up to much, and, in his case, only an odd note of melancholia remained.
“Who, Jonah? He was never a boyfriend. He was a guy I dated when his wife wasn’t jerking him around.” “Really. I don’t think I knew about him. I was talking about the other one. Curly-haired fellow whose dad has all the dough.” “Doesn’t ring a bell,” I said, though I knew perfectly well he was referring to Cheney Phillips.
Sometimes when I’m standing in a supermarket checkout line, I’ll spot the cover of a tabloid magazine plastered with candid photos of well-known actresses the paparazzi have caught off guard. What a shock it is to see legendary beauties looking washed-out and furtive, with matted hair, puffy lids, and splotchy complexions; flaws made all the more alarming for the images we carry of them, creamy-skinned and doe-eyed with tresses artfully tousled and sprayed to a hard shine.
When the bullet tore into him, a fragment of jacket lining had traveled into his flesh along with the slug. A large temporary cavity had bloomed and collapsed. That same slug had struck his rib cage, shattering bone before it veered off at an angle, taking a ragged zigzagging path through his descending colon. The trajectory of the lead had scarcely slowed when it nicked a far-flung tributary of his superior mesenteric artery no bigger than a piece of string, which began to pump out blood in a series of tiny spurts. Even if the bleeding had been caught, the resulting spill of fecal matter into his abdominal cavity would have overwhelmed his system soon afterward.
When I first moved in, I was thirty-two years old and he was eighty-two, an age gap I considered negligible. What’s fifty years’ difference between friends? I’ve been his tenant now for going on seven years and can’t imagine living anywhere else.
If Jonah Robb had wandered in just then, I’d have found myself in range of the three men I’d slept with in the last six years. I’m not at all promiscuous. Far from it. I’m largely celibate, which is not to say I’m immune from temptation. Technically speaking, with three guys, that’s only one every other year, but it still seemed alarming for someone with my old-fashioned
In the singles world, “baggage” is a dirty word, denoting ex-wives, double mortgages, spousal support, writs, liens, offspring of all ages, split-vacation time, alternating holidays, family-counseling sessions, attorneys’ fees, PTA conferences, private schools, college tuition, accusations, court appearances, and vicious spats on every conceivable subject, including any new relationship the offending parent was engaged in that the other parent objected to.
“What do you have to say for yourself?” He sat politely and we shared a long look. He blinked at me lazily and I blinked back at half speed, an exchange I later learned was called a cat kiss.
“Why does he do anything? Because he’s high ego and he’s a narcissist. Dangerous combination. He’s not a man who deals well with stress.
“With Pete, there’s always something to forgive,” I said.
“You know what? You’re more dangerous than she is,” Linton said. “She’s righteous. You’re corrupt.”
“You knew Pete. He was a loner. He didn’t have friends or confidants.”
I didn’t want to “share.” I was an only child and I still tend to cling to the notion of “what’s mine is mine.” Actually, Deitz was an only child as well, but he’d gone to the other extreme. Where I was possessive, he was laissez-faire, a free-market kind of guy.
This was the difference between us. He was nuts. I was mad. His thinking was disorganized while I wasn’t thinking at all.
Cheney was a pancake kind of guy; crisp bacon, breakfast sausage, eggs over easy. He piled it all together, poured syrup over the top, and cut it into a big nasty pile that he devoured with enthusiasm. He wasn’t a big man but he never seemed to gain weight.
William on homeless citizens p1 of 3:
They were homeless. Their ways were not those we most desire for ourselves, but that didn’t make them wrong. We seem determined to save the homeless, to fix them, to change them into something other than what they are. We want them to be like us, but they are not.
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