Sunday, October 6, 2019

Getting it Right

I enjoy going to used book sales. It’s a great opportunity to discover new authors and fill in the blanks of my collection for some of my favorite writers.  Yesterday the local library was having their sale, so that was one of my early morning stops.

In the past, they used to pack a room with unmarked shelves. This gave you the chance to wander the aisles slowly, checking out catchy titles and artwork. I liked it that way, because you never know what could be propped up next to John Sandford, Michael Connelly or James Rollins. 

But now they’ve taken to grouping books together by author. Volunteers and staff tack a sign on the rack to direct you. That’s not to say you won’t still find a stray copy here and there, but it takes some of the adventure out of the search, as people young and old shuffle through the books, looking for treasures.

At the end of an aisle there was a small table with a stack of books by Agatha Christie.  I started to turn away, but something caught my eye.  At that moment, I have no doubt Dame Agatha was rolling over in her grave with dismay. Because the sign on her table read:

“Agatha Christy”.  

An older gentleman happened to be coming towards me. When I pointed this out to him, he laughed and said “good thing we’re not in a library where they would know how to spell!”

All they had to do was simply look at the cover of any of those tales for the proper spelling. Later I mentioned this error to one of the volunteers. She hurried away in search of a marker to correct the problem.

As a writer, it’s important to me to get it right. Details about events, locations and character names have to be good. Because if you make a lot of little errors, that can be enough to turn someone off.  As a college professor, I see homework assignments each week that are filled with spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. I do my best to explain these to students, urging them to learn from their mistakes and do better next time.  

I can only hope.

Here’s an example of getting it right.  In this excerpt from “Your Turn to Die”, Sgt. Jefferson Chene has stopped by the victim’s office to follow up on a lead. Since the widow is unavailable, he turns his questions to Valerie Mann, a key employee of the operation. 

Valerie laced her fingers as if she wanted me to admire her manicure. It still looked as polished as it had on Monday when we’d first met. I waited while she drew a breath and let it out slowly.

“I know you have a job to do. It’s just a very difficult time for all of us.”

“I understand. Are there any concerns about the business continuing?”

“Why no! Colleen has assured us that we will maintain operations, just as Kyle would have wanted. Each unit is profitable, although some more so than others. I doubt she would consider selling.”

I wasn’t convinced. “Are there potential buyers for the business?”

“There have been a few overtures the last couple of years. But nothing Kyle took seriously. The movies and the bookstores are like his children. He’d never sell.”

“I met with the company’s lawyers earlier. Do you know if Kyle and Colleen have a personal attorney?”

She hesitated. I watched her eyes flick away. Here it comes.

“I’m sure they must, but I have no idea who that might be.”

“It’s a bad idea to lie to a cop, Valerie. Sooner or later, the truth comes back to bite you in the ass.”

Her body jolted as if I’d slapped her. “There may be something in Kyle’s contact list. He didn’t keep business cards. When someone gave him one, he’d put the details on his computer.”

“And you have access to that file?”

“Yes. It’s on the network.”

“Let’s take a look.”

I could have had the Cyber Unit scan the files but there was a chance she’d give me more than just a name and a number. Valerie turned to the computer and pulled the chair closer to the desk as I came around beside her.

“Why did you lie to me?”

She shifted her head just enough to look me in the eye. “I don’t like you.”

“It’s not a popularity contest. I’m trying to figure out who killed your boss.”

“You’re abrasive.”

I shrugged. “If I have to be.”

“Your mother must be so proud.” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm.

“I wouldn’t know. I never met her.”

Valerie opened her mouth to say something, but no words came out. Her cheeks and throat flushed scarlet. She swallowed once and turned her attention to the computer. I watched as she scrolled through a list of files and brought up a folder labeled ‘contacts’.

“So there must be some other reason you lied, other than not liking me.”

“I just don’t see how any of this could help you find his killer.”

I pointed at the computer monitor. Slowly she ran through the list of names. Valerie stopped occasionally to jot down the details for several people listed as attorneys. It was tempting to see if there were any recent emails between them and Morrissey. I was about to ask but figured Yekovich and Pinky would be able to tell me. We finished with the list. Valerie switched off the computer.

“Want to tell me about the lie?”

She let out a ragged breath. “You’re impossible.”

I rested a hip on the desk. She remained in the big chair. Self-consciously she crossed her legs, then tugged the hem of her skirt down toward her knee. It didn’t cover much. “I’m in no hurry.”

“I thought you were trying to catch a killer.”

“I am. But my boss gets pissed if I do a sloppy job and miss something.”

Valerie folded her hands in her lap. “I have nothing more to say. Unless you have questions related to Mr. Morrissey’s business dealings, I’m going to ask you to leave. We have a number of things to finish up before tomorrow’s services.”

I decided not to push it. She was obviously holding something back. Whether it was pertinent to the case was anyone’s guess. Tucking the papers into my pocket, I pushed away from the desk. Valerie stayed in the chair.

“Good-bye, Sergeant.”

“I’ll see you around, Ms. Mann.”

It obviously wasn’t the response she was hoping for.

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Music this week comes from John Mellencamp.

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