THE FERGUSON AFFAIR –Part Five Mild Spoiler Alert
AND THEN THINGS GET BOGGED DOWN
Having fed Ferguson several drinks, Gunnarson now insists that he see a doctor. While that is going on, Gunnarson engages his secretary to run down the origins of the newspaper clipping. (The police could have done it faster if he’d done a better job of advocating for his client.)
When he sees Ferguson again, the older man is in a funk. Ferguson has confirmed that Holly is two months pregnant and says that Gaines is probably the father. For a lawyer, Gunnarson is a lousy cross-examiner. After several pages of questioning, nothing about the paternity of the child is clear. Ferguson forbids Gunnarson from looking for either Gaines or Holly. (Makes no sense to me, either.)
Gunnarson interviews Speare, Holly’s agent, although it’s hard to see the point, given his instructions from his client not to look for either of them. It’s a long interview but there are a couple of take-aways.
- Holly’s real name is Dotery, which is one of the names in the high school review. (Later on, the reader will realize how improbable, if not insane, it is for Speare to surrender this piece of information.)
- Larry Gaines is the Harry Haines from the high school play.
- Speare believes that Holly and Gaines were in a relationship in Las Vegas.
Chapters Nineteen and Twenty involve nothing related to the main plot.
We Get Moving, But in Several Directions at Once
Gunnarson’s secretary has traced the article to a small town, Mountain Grove, about sixty miles away. The list of names does not include Dotery, but he has plenty of other leads. He tells her that he is off to Mountain Grove, and by the way, will she please go over and spend the evening with his wife, since she may deliver at any moment? Giving priority to running down an eight-year-old lead over being with his wife tells us that Sally is exactly right about what kind of husband she married.
Before he goes to Mountain Grove, he responds to a call from Ferguson. When Gunnarson arrives at Ferguson’s house, the sleazy bill collector from Florida, Salaman, is there, demanding $65,000 that he claims Holly owes for gambling debts and for drugs. Salaman also claims that he and Holly lived together for some months in Florida. He denies knowing anything about her current whereabouts.
Now that Gunnarson has been formally retained, it’s time for him to show his chops as an attorney. Let’s review the legal issues:
- The money is largely for gambling debts, which are uncollectable in court.
- The same hold true for the drugs. Further, if Ferguson pays for drugs to a third party, he has probably committed a crime.
- Even if the debt was collectable, it was incurred before they were married.
- Even if the debts were Ferguson’s legal responsibility, they were incurred in Florida, not California.
- There is no documentation of a penny of the alleged debts.
Ferguson asks his lawyer what he should do.
“What do you want to do?” Gunnarson asks.
“Pay them, I suppose.”
“Do you have the money?”
In fairness to Gunnarson, I should include that he later makes a passing reference to the fact that they’re not his bills unless he chooses to pay them, but I remain unimpressed with his legal ability.
Gunnarson’s legal incompetence is small point, and it doesn’t matter how it’s resolved. As a matter of fact, it hardly makes a difference that the Salaman character is in the book at all. Which tells us something about the grip Macdonald has on his material. This book could have been cut by a quarter, or even a third, without affecting the mystery at the core of it all.
Following Salaman’s departure, Gunnarson and Ferguson try to make sense of the conflicting information about Holly. Is she a drug user and a gambler? Was it a true kidnapping? And if it was, why isn’t she back? Ferguson reveals himself as a tormented soul who has never forgiven himself for abandoning the girl from Boston and now feels that he is justly punished. When they discuss her possible drug use, Ferguson says that Holly used to drink, but that she stopped several months ago, apparently when she learned she was pregnant. When asked if the child could be his, Ferguson replied with a flat “No.” But he wants her back anyway, if she will have him.
His errand with his client concluded, Gunnarson heads to Mountain Grove