One more NaNo under the bridge
This year's National Novel Writing Month effort seemed much harder than in past years. For most of the month, I was far more behind on word count that I've ever been before. It was only through a heroic effort in the last week that I got to the finish -- I hit the magic 50K mark on the 28th, took a rest on the 29th, and then cranked out another 2278 words on the 30th.
Hannah arrived at the park about ten minutes early. The park had only a few cars in the parking lot, and only a few visitors strolling on the beach, basking on beach towels, surfing, or otherwise enjoying the out of doors, in spite of it being a beautiful (at least compared to the past few days) sunny day in late spring. She parked at the end of the parking lot closest to the fire pit, shut down the car engine, and waited. She hoped Walton would be in his personal car, and not one of the white SUVs the newspaper owned – even though they were unmarked, everyone on the police department knew what the Capitan’s reporters drove. Not that there would likely be any police officers around specifically looking for someone having a clandestine meeting with a reporter. But Hannah wanted to keep things as secret as possible.
A car pulled up next to Hannah’s, an older sports car, with slightly fading purple paint, and Hannah recognized the driver as the reporter she had followed out of the newsroom on the way to the incident at Callahan’s. He got out of his car, and she got out of hers. She noticed that the badging on his car had been slightly altered – it was no longer labeled “Probe” but rather “Prose.” Hannah pointed to the car. “‘Purple Prose,’” she commented. “Seems a more appropriate car for a sports reporter than a news jockey.”
“I used to be a sports reporter,” Walton said, “back in my home town where the newspaper came out twice a week. I got put on the city desk when I moved up to the big city with the daily newspaper. Not as much fun, but hey, it pays the bills.”
“So did your editor clear me as a confidential source?” Hannah asked.
“Yes, she did,” Walton said. “She also tentatively gave me permission to use that other person – the one you were talking to while you were on the phone with me – if he has a good reason to keep secret that he talked with me.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Hannah said. “I know everything he does, maybe even a bit more.”
“Let’s take a walk along the beach path,” Walton said. “We shouldn’t let this good weather go to waste.”
“Amen to that,” Hannah said. The two set out strolling along the concrete pathway, almost undisturbed. Again, Hannah was surprised at how few bicyclists and skateboarders had to be dodged. It was as if, even in daylight, this stretch of beach was haunted and nobody wanted to go there.
“So you have information about another crime that was committed last night?” Walton asked, pulling a small voice recorder out of an inner pocket of his windbreaker.
“Well, it’s not exactly a crime,” Hannah said, “at least not yet. It’s not even anything officially reportable yet. A man’s gone missing, and the man who has been his father figure thinks foul play is involved. Based on what I know, I have to agree with him. And the time frame puts the disappearance in the same window as the other incidents that are being pinned on Harry O’Malley.”
“Interesting,” Walton said. “Tell me more.” He leaned in closer with the voice recorder, shielding it from the view of anybody who might look closely at him and Hannah. Anybody who didn’t look closely would simply assume they were two people who were very fond of each other, taking a sunny Saturday walk together, Hannah reflected. At least Walton was fairly tall, so Hannah was only slightly taller than he was – there wouldn’t be people taking note of any great disparity to remember them by later.
Hannah went on to tell Walton about Igor Krumski and his disappearance from the lab the night before, and of Professor Egglehoffer’s insistence that foul play had been involved. She described how Igor had pulled the prank of getting her and Harry thoroughly lost in the hallways of the photography building on Thursday, and the incident she had witnessed between Igor and Katrina M’Bomo Friday afternoon. She also mentioned the pages torn out of her notebook and the key that had been moved on her key ring.
“You know, some of that evidence really does point to Harry O’Malley,” Walton said.
“But there’s other evidence that points away from him,” Hannah said. “His assistant, the guy who took him home from Callahan’s, left him passed out in the bed at home. When I got home, he was still in that bed, still passed out. It stretches credibility that he would come to, drive to the university, do something to Igor, drive to the bridal shop, set fire to the place, crash the truck into the fire hydrant, flee the scene – so nimbly that he could get away from the witness who tried to chase him – get home, and once again be passed out in the bed when I got there.”
“How do you know he wasn’t faking being passed out?” Walton asked.
“He was practically drowning in his own vomit,” Hannah said. “He partially regained consciousness while I was cleaning him up – he was literally stinking drunk – and began to sing Irish ballads off-key. That’s standard with Harry when he gets seriously drunk.” She decided Walton didn’t need to know about the other activity that accompanied the off-key singing.
They arrived at a park bench alongside the path, facing the ocean. Walton gestured to Hannah to sit down, and they sat side by side, watching the surf that was nearly devoid of surfers.
“So does he get drunk often?” Walton asked.
“Almost never,” Hannah said. “Yesterday … well, let’s say that he had a serious shock to trigger the binge – something that doesn’t really need to get published in the paper.”
“I heard what he was shouting at you at Callahan’s,” Walton said. “I take it at least some of that was true.”
“It was,” Hannah said. “But we really don’t need to go into details. Harry and I are trying to work it out.”
“Now that he needs you to help defend him on criminal charges,” Walton said. “Are you really that sure that he’s innocent, and that you’re willing to go back to him?”
“I know that he’s innocent,” Hannah said. “And I know that I love him. And I know that he loves me. And now, I think I’ve told you enough. What can you give me about the witness to the truck crash – the one who tried to chase the driver but couldn’t catch him or her?”
“I have a name,” Walton said. “I have an address and phone number. And I have an interview that I did with him earlier today.”
“Great!” Hannah said. “What did the witness say?”
“It’s all on here,” Walton said, tapping the voice recorder. “And I have a transcript in my car for you. But there’s one hitch.”
“What’s that?” Hannah asked.