Working the Edges
Nothing happens by accident in a Ross Macdonald book, and the car ride with Hilda Church is no exception.
- Hilda has issues with men, partly based on her own negative experiences and partly on those of her younger sister, Anne.
- Hilda hints, as will be later revealed, that Mr. Meyers raped his younger daughter Anne when she was fifteen. Anne left home and was raised by Hilda and her husband Brand, the sheriff. Mr. Meyers would have gone to prison for a long time except that Anne was afraid to testify. But everyone in town knows that the allegation is true.
- Hilda has a key to Anne’s apartment and gives Archer permission to search it, although it seems unlikely that the truckload of bourbon is there.
- When Archer drops her off at home Hilda makes a sort of pass at Archer. He disengages.
- Archer heads to Anne’s apartment.
How About Some Evidence?
Macdonald enjoyed describing Archer’s searches for physical and documentary evidence. They allow the reader to actively partner with the detective, poring over a jumble of articles, some clearly irrelevant, some with obvious meaning, and some that provide a puzzle. Macdonald’s favorite object is a battered suitcase in a motel or rooming house; it brings back memories of his father’s own suitcase, and it has the practical effect of concentrating the search. If it was important enough for the traveler to carry, it’s important enough for a look.
This time we are searching Anne’s home, not a transient location, so we will have to dispense with suitcases for the moment.
Time for a Good Quote
On the walk up to the apartment door in the darkness, Archer disturbs a palm rat the scuttles out of his way. The front door lock is broken. Once inside, Archer checks out the bathroom medicine cabinet:
“Shutting the mirrored door, I saw my face through the tiny snowstorm of toothpaste specks on the glass. My face was pale, my eyes narrow and hard with curiosity. I thought of the palm rat running in his shadow on the sidewalk. He lived by his wits in darkness, gnawed human leavings, listened behind walls for the sounds of danger. I liked the palm rat better when I thought of him, and myself less.”
There is no suitcase but the search is productive anyway.
- The general sense of the place suggests that it has been unoccupied for about a week, which is consistent with when she was last seen and when she last worked.
- A diamond wristwatch was left in plain sight and was not taken.
- The only missing items are personal items Anne would have taken for a weekend; although Archer cannot find an address book or any other list of phone numbers he would have expected to find.
- The living room contains a secretary that has been forced open; although the drawers are stuffed with papers, the topmost enveloped is addressed to Anne Meyer in a masculine hand and the envelope is empty.
- An envelope postmarked a year before from San Diego turns up, with a love letter inside from Tony Aquista. Without mentioning Kerrigan by name, he warns her about him. Tony says he will do “anything” for her and reminds her of the time he stood outside her house all night when “he” was there (which may or may not be a reference to Kerrigan.)
Archer’s search is interrupted by the appearance of Sheriff Church. Their conversation is strained, but once Church is persuaded that Archer isn’t a burglar. They exchange some information.
- Archer suspects that Kerrigan is behind both the hijacking and the disappearance of Anne Meyer, his employee. But he is suspicious of Church and withholds that he overheard Kerrigan plotting with his girlfriend Jo.
- Church tells Archer that Kerrigan has a legitimate use for so much liquor—Kerrigan owns a bar, the Golden Slipper Club, on the other side of town.
- Church tells Archer that Kerrigan’s wife Kate gave Kerrigan an alibi for the hijacking and murder of Aquista. Archer is skeptical but it turns out that Church is right.
- When Archer reveals that he was searching with Hilda’s permission, Church asks where she is, and Archer reveals he just drove her home. This triggers a predictable reaction from Church; he tells Archer to stay away from his house and his wife. Archer, being in non-conciliatory mood, suggests that the sheriff tell his wife to stay away from him. It will come as a surprise to no-one that Archer gets pistol-whipped for his witticisms. The only question is why he went out of his way to alienate the highest law enforcement official in the county. It is a question that will go unanswered.