THE FERGUSON AFFAIR – Part Six SPOILER ALERT
“Mrs. Haines is one of Ross Macdonald’s wildest originals.”
–Peter Wolfe, Dreamers Who Live Their Dreams
Gunnarson arrives after dark, which adds to the depressing character of the town as well as precluding any view of the mountains. It’s not clear what industry ever supported the local economy, but it’s gone now. His first stop is the former home of his lead suspect, Larry Gaines, formerly known as Harry Haines. His mother is indeed a wild original—hysterical, obsessed with both religion and sex, seductive, hyperactive, and generally creepy. No summary could do justice to Gunnarson’s interview. It’s one of the highlights of the book. Some will think it is over the top, others will find it merely entertaining. Wolfe certainly falls into the latter camp. The take-away is that she is sure her son has done no wrong and that she has been in recent contact with him. But Gunnarson flubs his chance to flatter her into giving him any specifics and he leaves empty-handed, a mistake that soon will have costly consequences.
A Visit to the Dotery Family
Take an abusive, alcoholic husband, a wife who has long ago given up all hope, add five children and a failing general store, and you get the picture.
- The moment Gunnarson sees Mrs. Dotery he realizes that she must be the mother of Holly May. She is still very attractive despite her years. The older woman confirms the parentage by showing him photos of herself when she lived in Boston and talking about how she and Hilda used to dress up and pretend to be sisters.
- Dotery had three daughters, Hilda, the oldest; June, who took up with a stocking salesman old enough to be her father; and Renee went to San Francisco and disappeared. Of the boys, Frank was killed in an accident and Jack is in jail in the juvenile system. There will be a test later. If you fail, you will never get the ending straight.
- She confirms that Hilda and Haines were involved in high school.
- Hilda had a violent streak as a child and several times attempted to assault her younger siblings, especially June. Hilda felt excluded because it was common knowledge in the family that Mr. Dotery was not her father.
- In case you have been dozing, Mrs. Dotery confirms that Hilda is 25 and that she is the product of a relationship she had in Boston.
A Well-Crafted Moment
When Mrs. Dotery is at the point of getting some photos of Hilda, Mr. Dotery bursts in, drunk and brutish. He abuses his wife for giving information for free and drags her into another room. After a further tirade, a scene of great insight and sadness takes place:
The sound of a slap came through the wallboard, followed by the woman’s grunt of pain. I went through the door and into the kitchen where they were facing each other. An old carton spilling papers and pictures stood on the drainboard beside them.
The woman held her hand to her cheek, but it was Dotery who began to sob.
“Forgive me Kate I didn’t mean it.”
“It’s all right, I’m not hurt. I know things never worked out for you. I’m sorry.”
She put her arms around him. His face went like a child’s to her breasts. She stroked his dusty gray hair and looked at me serenely from a standpoint beyond grief.
“You shouldn’t lap up so much liquor,” she said. “It isn’t good for you, Jim. Now go to bed like a good boy and you’ll feel better in the morning.”
. . . The woman smoothed her dress down over her bosom. Except that her eyes were a little darker, the scene had not affected her.