Thursday, March 22, 10:12 a.m.
The crime scene is on the western shore of Lake Washington, where the sand meets rain-churned mud. I park between a King County Sheriff’s car and a City of Seattle Police car. Washington State Patrol is on scene too, sandwiched in between a pair of TV news vans. I’ve never understood the division of labor among the various cop agencies. I’m not that kind of journalist.
I don’t get out of the car. Chaos reigns as cops and marauding ducks fight to defend their strongholds between the mucky bank, the gently lapping gray water, and the yellow Police Line Do Not Cross tape that separates them. Through my windshield, I can see a major media convergence zone just outside the yellow tape. I’ve been here once before, under far more mundane yet equally duck- and reporter-ridden circumstances. I ought to feel right at home. Except for that whole dead body found floating on the water thing.
When my press club buddy, John Whiteclay, and I set up our quasi-professional job shadowing scheme a few weeks ago, I did not expect to observe him on the job at a murder scene. I figured I’d hang out with him in the hallowed halls of the Washingtonian, drinking a cappuccino from the lobby coffee cart and listening to the police scanners for a couple hours. Then I’d scoot back north where I belong and add “On the job training in crime reporting” to my resume. Though he willingly went along with the job shadow idea when I proposed it, I doubt John will ever avail himself of the opportunity to join me at my place of employment. I’ve described my average workday too vividly.
I pull out my cell phone, scanning the journalistic crowd for John’s unmistakable waist-length black braid and perpetual red Che Guevara t-shirt.
I get out of the car and begin to walk toward the other reporters. I dial John’s cell number.
“Whiteclay,” he answers in an irritable voice.
“Hey, it’s Katherine. I’m here in the parking lot. Where are you?”
“Huh,” he says. “The Chief usurped when the AP wire started buzzing about it being a suspected serial killer instead of the usual hobo floater. God, I hate him!”
“So…where are you?” I say.
“Work. The jerk took the intern with him—the intern!—and left me manning the damned scanners for City of Everett PD and Harbor Patrol. Harbor Patrol!”
Since the day we met, he has been complaining about his boss: an old school editor who rose up from John’s own position as lowly crime reporter. John habitually calls him “The Chief.” He only let his real name slip once during a particularly baroque lament on his favorite topic, “Why I hate my job.” Seated next to him at the bar where the press club meets each month, I Googled the name.
“Whoa!” I said. “Why is your editor hitting over and over with the words ‘serial killer?’”
Annoyed at being halted in mid-rant, John waved his hand dismissively.
“Yeah, his wife got involved or hurt or something when he was covering the Green River Killer or whatever about a hundred decades ago. Meanwhile, I’m on traffic court duty all day while the damned intern gets to photograph the massage parlor raid on Highway 99. Prostitutes for blocks, and I’m listening to ‘Eighty dollar fine and it won’t go on your driving record’ repeated ad infinitum. God, I hate my job.”
Ever since that night, I’ve wanted to meet John’s editor. I was actually hoping to run into him between the coffee cart and the police scanners today.
“Anyway, I’m stuck here,” John is saying on my cell phone, as I pick my way through the chaos of muddy riverbank, wandering cops, eager media, and hostile ducks. “Want to come keep me company? It’s boring as hell here.”
“Oh, well, I’m already here and all. I think I’ll check it out for a bit,” I say, hanging up on him absentmindedly.
I’m unsteady in the muck that constitutes the floor of the crime scene. I can barely navigate the slurry of sand mixed with mud, which is ringed by yellow tape. I pause and peer across the barrier.
I have no idea what John’s editor looks like.
I spy an idle daily print journalist, identifiable by her jeans, sensible shoes, and out of style but carefully pressed suit jacket. She’s leaning against an ambulance, smoking and poking at her iPhone with a short-nailed thumb.
“Excuse me? You don’t happen to know if Jack O’Lies from the Washingtonian is around here somewhere?” I say.
She points her cigarette at an open space beyond the yellow police tape. “Over there with the coroner. Can’t believe Muhammad actually came to the mountain for once,” she says.
The cigarette indicates a black guy in his fifties who is talking with a white guy. The white guy looks to be in his forties, with graying hair hacked into a super-short crew cut. He sports a couple days’ worth of beard growth that looks sexy on movie stars in their twenties but doesn’t work for professional men over the age of thirty. The black guy is wearing a dark blue windbreaker loudly emblazoned “King County Coroner’s Office.”
I take a deep breath and contemplate the forbidding yellow police line tape that separates us. I glance around. There’s a gawky kid in a trench coat standing next to the white guy. His trench coat screams “I’m a reporter!” more blatantly than mine. He’s clearly an intern. I duck under the tape barricade and approach.
Before I can reach the trio, the white guy smacks the coroner on the shoulder with his reporter’s notebook (good-naturedly), jerks his head at the kid (brusquely), and begins to walk toward me (blindly).
“Excuse me? Excuse me,” I say as he bears down on me. “Jack O’Lies? Jack?”
He halts. He turns to look at me. His pale blue eyes register nothing at all.
“Hi,” I say. “Sorry to bother you while you’re working. I was wondering if you have a minute? I was hoping to talk to you about, um…”
How to say it? Your wife’s kidnapping twelve years ago? What it’s like to be married to a serial killer survivor? The worst thing you and your family ever went through?
“Uh…” I fumble. “Could I set up a brief interview with you, possibly?”
“We aren’t hiring,” he replies curtly.
“No, no, I’m not—”
Before I can finish, he jerks his head at the trench coat kid and resumes his march past me. I watch them go: Jack O’Lies striding quickly through the squelching mud, his intern trotting dutifully behind him.
I feel abandoned.