Okay, so this chapter opens with this thing and I’m going to quote again because it made me giggle a lot because it just seems so incompetent and ridiculous to me.
Just a few miles east of town on Highway 27, a large black limousine raced through the countryside. In the plus backseat, a plump middle-aged man talked business with his secretary, a tall and slender woman with long, jet-black hair and a pale complexion. He talked crisply and succinctly as she took fluid shorthand, laying out some big-scale business deal. Then something occurred to the man.
“That reminds me,” he said, and the secretary looked up from her memo pad. “The professor claims she sent me a package some time ago, but I don’t recall ever receiving it.”
“What kind of package?”
“A small book. A personal item. Why not make a note to yourself to check for it back at the ranch?”
The secretary opened her portfolio and appeared to make a note of it. Actually she wrote nothing.
Okay so apparently that’s supposed to be like ominous? But why did the secretary write nothing? I mean, even if she’s trying to make sure that he never ever gets his hands on this mysterious book for whatever reason, is writing it down going to change that? Why make a charade of making a note? Won’t it be a lot more suspicious if he happens to be like “Hey, I can’t help but notice that you only pretended to write down that note there; I can think of no good reason you would do that?” Like the only reason for her to do that is to APPEAR MORE SINISTER. Which doesn’t make any sense. Unless she’s aware she’s being watched by the writer. Which is much more amusing to imagine. Okay, I have to move on from this.
Marshall is visiting the Courthouse square to go see the chief of police, Alf Brummel. He had been intending to make an appointment with Brummel but apparently his secretary called and made an appointment with him first. Do chief’s of police have secretaries? Probably, I guess. He feels Brummel is probably calling for a truce.
So whatever, he pulls up his car and spends literally an entire ridiculously long paragraph looking around the town at the wreckage of Main Street, “sensing” that it is sluggish or whatever and generally bemoaning the state of things like how common trust in one’s neighbor is diminishing and a cancer is eating away at people somehow. These people would be the worst to be around. I would like to note that this is described as “to Marshall’s discerning eye,” because that is hilarious.
I also would like to note that I’m really struggling with figuring out how old Marshall is? I was thinking about this last night because I was thinking how his WIFE is written as seeming fairly young, like to the point where it seemed weird that they were… married. Because he seems old and crotchety and she seems naive and almost childish in her one scene and I just… it hasn’t said how old they are but the sense of them is really weird and off. So. Whatever. The paragraph finally ends with that life in the town is “gradually losing it’s joy and simplicity and no one seems to know why.” I imagine because demons. Also I hate you, Frank Peretti.
Did I mention that there are 42 chapters in this book?
He wanders into the office, no one seems to be around, he hears noise and… “Marshall leaned over the counter to see a comical sight. Sara (secretary), on her knees, dress or no dress, was in the middle of a blue-streak struggle with a jammed file drawer that had entangled itself with her desk. Apparently the score was File Drawers 3, Sara’s Shines 0, and Sara was a poor loser. So were her pantyhose.” I have nothing to say. Except that I hate everything.
Apparently the filing cabinets used to belong to Mr. Brummel and he got new ones and now has told Sara she must keep these ones. She’s not impressed. Also, for more comic hilarity, he keeps them next to a silent alarm button so she opens drawers and then has to assure him that it is not an intentional tripping of the alarm.
So. Brummel “was a man somewhere in his thirties, single, a one-time hotshot city cop with a big buck lifestyle that belied his policeman’s salary. (So he bribed or extorted people? Like is there another reading on that?)” Marshall does not like or trust him in spite of his friendly demeanor because he shows too many teeth for no reason.
He pays him back the money for the bail, says Bernie will be getting a signed apology and says if he had only been there he could have stopped it. Marshall tries to press the point for half a second, says that actually he maybe really was there, but Brummel basically ignores him and Marshall backs down. On his way out, his highly trained reporter’s eyes or whatever bullshit examines the entire office and determines that Brummel is a fastidious man who sharpens all his pencils perfectly. He also notes a cord coming out of the wall he thinks is a phone cord but Alf says no, it’s for the coffee maker. Which makes perfect sense because those two things look identical. Did phone cords look like coffee maker cords in 1985?
He’s also looking scanning his upside down calendar, like you do. The Tuesdays are conspicuously empty because it’s his day off but tomorrow Tuesday he has an appointment with Pastor Young. Which he “casually” asks him about. He “can immediately tell he overstepped his bounds” which like… I think is fair? If someone is scanning my calendar furtively and asking me casually about it, I would be annoyed too. He’s like “but you don’t GO to that church do you? You go to the little one?” “Yes, yes, Ashton community, now as you were saying.” Marshall is super impressed by how easy he is to fluster so obviously he backs off. Tells the rest of his story, while noticing that Brummel has COVERED UP HIS CALENDAR (no shit dude, so would I).
So whatever, Brummel explains it was an out of town cop, if she can get his badge number he’ll be reprimanded, whatever. Marshall asks, reasonably, why exactly HE is being apologized to instead of Bernice considering nothing actually happened to him. Alf sort of wink winks about how she’s already been stigmatized enough in this town and oh, you don’t know? Well, I thought maybe it would help you deal with her….
So apparently she’s only been in Ashton a few weeks longer than Marshall and a few weeks before THAT her sister, who was attending the college here, committed suicide. Basically she is apparently an insane with grief and hysterical female who, while she may be a darling reporter, cannot be trusted because she thinks her sister’s suicide was murder.
During all of this Marshall is apparently hypnotized. No, seriously. That’s what happens. Alf asks if he understands and Marshall isn’t sure he does. “He wasn’t even sure he’d heard all of it. He suddenly felt very weak, and he couldn’t figure out where his anger had gone so quickly (I’m going to be honest, at no point in this chapter has he come across as particularly angry but whatever). And what about his suspicions? He knew he didn’t buy everything this guy was saying – or did he? He knew Brummel had lied to him about not being at the carnival – or had he?”
He apparently “feels a little numb, like he’s dreaming” and finds that it’s easier to to think if he doesn’t look Brummel in the eye. So I guess Brummel has demons behind him hypnotizing Marshall? I mean, this seems like a fucking terrible tactic.
He says a bunch more things to him in his hypnotized state, hinting to him about playing ball and how important it is to be a team player in such a small town and stuff but the problem is that Marshall is legitimately not following him because like… you’ve clouded his whole mind. Which is what makes this such a terrible tactic. Basically he seems to be demon stoned. But surely they don’t want him stoned, they want him to be able to act? I just feel so perplexed about this, like you can see it’s not working well right now, just in the fact that the chapter is a full two pages longer than it needs to be, which is hurting me very personally. Sigh.
So finally Alf lays it out for him. It’s pretty fucking horrifying and it’s supposed to be but for different reasons than are given.
“It’s a small town, first of all, and that means that one little problem, even between a handful of people, is going to be felt and worried about by almost everyone else (this sounds like a great reason to not live in small towns). And you can’t hide behind anonymity because there simply is no such thing (oh look, an even better reason). Now, the last editor didn’t realize that and really caused some problems that affected the whole population. He was a pathological soap-boxer (that is not a word, I do not believe. Have you noticed how much he likes to hyphenate things?). He destroyed the good faith of the people in their local government, their public servants, each other, and ultimately himself. That hurt. It was a wound in our side, and it’s taken time for all of us to heal up from that (didn’t Marshall just arrive a few months ago?). I’ll cap it off by telling you, for your own information, that that man finally had to leave this town in disgrace. He’d molested a twelve-year-old girl. I tried to get that case settled as quietly as I could. But in this town it was really awkward, difficult. I did what I felt would cause the least amount of trouble and pain for the girl’s family and the people at large. I didn’t press for any legal proceedings against this man, provided he leave Ashton and never show his face around here again. He was agreeable to that. But I’ll never forget the impact it made, and I doubt that the town has ever forgotten it.”
I… I’m sorry, what? One minute you were telling us, Mr. CHIEF OF POLICE, how the head of the newspaper was a rabble rouser obsessed with soap boxes and how hurtful that was and then suddenly you were telling us how he molested a child and you intentionally let him go into another community. Which like… I feel like the molestation story is probably bullshit? Like it seems like this is apparently the sort of thing that gets thrown against good men to drive them out in this world which is a WHOLE different thing that I literally cannot emotionally handle getting into right now. So either that is true or the chief of police is quietly telling the man he has just hypnotized how he let a known child molester go for the good of the community. While obviously this scene is supposed to be chilling, it seems equally obvious that it is for all the wrong reasons.
He explains he wants a good relationship between the newspaper and Marshall and the police department. Which is what you always want to agree to as a newspaper person – that’s what journalistic integrity looks like. Marshall feels that exhaustion again and tells him that really he didn’t come here to fight, he just wants a nice happy life (which you know is code for evil) and they shake on it and, in case that was too subtle he “feels as if he just gave up part of his soul.”
So then he’s gone and Alf gives a big, evil sigh (okay, I added the evil, but it’s implied) and he calls Hank. Our dear friend Hank. He asks him if he’s changed his mind about anything and Hank says no, God’s word hasn’t changed so obviously he hasn’t either. He tells him what was painted on his house and Alf basically tells him it is probably his fault for being such a dick. Alf then says… “Can’t you see what’s happening? Word’s getting around now, and you’re setting the whole town against you. That also means the whole town’s going to be set against our church before long, and we have to survive in this town, Hank! We’re here to help people, to reach out to them, not drive a wedge between ourselves and the community.”
That last part sounded nice, so you know it’s from Satan. Hank says that he’s preaching God’s word and lots of people like it so he doesn’t know what WEDGE Alf might be referring to but it ain’t here, son. Okay, that was my one attempt at gangster talk. I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.
Okay, so now they go back and forth for a long time, Alf tells him he’s a jerk, Hank is sarcastic about how APPARENTLY Jesus should have just told everyone what they wanted to hear, Alf finally threatens to sue him for libel or defamation or something. Apparently there’s a meeting Friday night, Hank says he’ll be doing some counseling first and asks if Alf has ever done any counseling. Not surprisingly, the chief of police never has done any counseling. Hank says “It gives you a real respect for the truth when you have to help clean up lives that have been based on a lie. Think about it.” And then I died. Or Alf hung up. One or both of those things definitely happened.
But here is where I am really confused, now that the chapter is done. Why is there… I mean, the details of the situation have not been laid out yet so I really don’t know the deal. It SOUNDED in the last chapter like this Lou person was cheating on his wife. Does everyone who is not a Real True Christian support that? Is this dividing the community? I mean, maybe that’s not the situation but if it is, that does not even make sense. You don’t have to be Christian to be opposed to lying to and betraying someone. On the other hand, maybe he’s just shacking up and that’s the problem. Which would make more sense.
I AM EAGER TO FIND OUT.