“THE LONGEST CONFESSION IN ROSS MACDONALD”
Archer has only a couple more questions before the pieces all come together. He asks Mildred’s mother when she lost her baby and she says, three years ago. And her doctor at the time was Grantland, “He treated her real nice, never even sent her a bill.” The reader is rightly suspiocious.
Mildred’s mother passes out from the vanilla extract and then Mildred enters. Archer starts laying it out.
- Grantland couldn’t have known that Carl was there, so he had to be coming to kill Mildred.
- In part, Grantland wanted to silence Mildred and in part he wanted revenge for the death of Zinnie.
- Mildred killed Zinnie with her mother’s paring knife early in the evening. The body was kept warm for hours by the electric blanket in Grantland’s bed.
- Mildred makes a clumsy attempt at suicide but Archer stops her and says he feels sorry for her.
And Then Everything Comes Out, Almost
Mildred says she had murdered four people.
- She never had any interest in sex, but she cared for Carl, and to reassure him that he wasn’t a homosexual she slept with him and even pretended to enjoy it.
- Even though they weren’t married, when Zinnie had her own daughter, Mildred felt she and Carl should have a baby of their own.
- Alicia Hallman took the news of the pregnancy very badly, as Carl feared she would. Alicia said she’d rather kill herself than let Carl marry her.
- Mildred and Alicia had a phone conversation the night Alicia died; Alicia said she was sorry about what she’d said and planned to meet Mildred on the pier the next evening.
- Alicia’s plan wasn’t to support Mildred in the marriage, but rather to force her to have an abortion.
- There was a struggle in Grantland’s office and the abortion was performed, but Mildred hit Alicia with a bottle so hard she killed her.
- When Mildred recovered from the anesthetic and trauma, she went back to see Grantland, who assured her that he had made Alicia’s death look like a suicide by drowning. She became Grantland’s mistress until she married Carl.
- Carl accepted the story about his mother’s death. His thinking took a mystical turn. He concentrated on his studies and insisted they live celibate lives even after the marriage.
- After some months of increasingly erratic behavior, Mildred got him drunk one night and seduced him; the resulting sex was so bad that it triggered Carl’s first mental breakdown. (That’s pretty bad sex). Although it was suggested that he be committed, the Senator ignored the advice, so the two brothers and their wives lived together on the ranch.
- The night of the final argument between Carl and the Senator, Grantland was called to the house to check on the father. Grantland took Mildred aside and said he couldn’t protect Mildred any longer—he was being “bled white” by blackmail payments to a man named Rica, who was a witness to Alicia’s death. Although he didn’t directly tell her to kill her father-in-law, she took the hint. She hid in a bathroom closet and came out and drowned the Senator in his bathtub after hitting him on the head with a hammer.
- When Carl was committed, Jerry tricked Carl and Mildred into giving Jerry power of attorney as long as Carl was institutionalized. When Grantland learned this he was furious, because it cut Mildred out of the family money. Grantland then set his sights on seducing Zinnie and told Mildred she was on her own.
- After Carl escaped, Grantland told Mildred that she should encourage Carl to shoot Jerry with Alicia’s gun. Instead, she persuaded Carl to give her the gun and she shot Jerry herself.
- Mildred didn’t go to Grantland’s house to kill Zinnie; she was there to kill Grantland. But when she got there and Zinnie was alone in the bed, she stabbed her to death. She didn’t know why.
- The episode where she walked in front of a truck after the embrace with Archer had nothing to do with him; she had killed so many people she felt she should die, too.
The chapter concludes as follows:
“Mildred was as guilty as a girl could be, but she wasn’t the only one. An alternating current of guilt ran between her and all of us involved with her. Grantland and Rica, Ostervelt, and me . . . Even the Hallman family, the four victims, had been in a sense the victimizers, too. The current of guilt flowed in a closed circuit if you traced it far enough.”
But we’re not done. A key element of Mildred’s confession, the mainspring of the other three murders, is wrong.