23 | Heroes and Villains

In life, there are no essentially major or minor characters. Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story. John Barth

My brother is a damn sociopath. Cherrie Otto, 2005

When I published Quiet Time, most of what I had was memories. I’d talked to Betty the morning she was killed, seen Duane shortly afterwards, and was married to their son for the next nine years. I wrote the novel to try to understand what happened and put it to rest. The one place Quiet Time didn’t go was into the fictional killer’s head.

On a hot Saturday morning in July 1973, Doug posed with his father for a wedding photo in front of the Boulder Unitarian church. At first glance they’re strikingly alike: fair eyes and hair and skin, slim-cut grey suits accentuating wiry builds. But there the likeness ends. Doug, with his whole life ahead, looks wary, sullen and lost. Duane is carefree, grinning, hands clasped loosely behind his back and hair combed neatly from an unlined brow. He’d just been indicted for beating his wife to death.

When the cold case cops came to Duane’s door in Florida in 2006, he was 80 years old. To him the years had been kind; their only marks were stubble on a balding head and deep furrows in his brow. His sister Cherrie had told the cops about his explosive temper. She was still afraid of him when she died.

Throughout the interview, Duane kept the upper hand. Evasive and belligerent, he said he didn’t want to talk. But each time the cops rose to leave he said go ahead, ask me more. When questioned about the crime, he changed the subject, said he wouldn’t talk anymore or that he might need a lawyer. Yet time after time he kept the interview going.

Are you the hero in your story?

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