Posts Tagged ‘reporter’

Wednesday, March 28, 6:04 p.m.

I find the living room of the O’Lies house deserted. There’s no one in the kitchen or the bathroom. I don’t dare call out, for fear of teenaged Lucy’s wrath. I sigh and wander out onto the porch to wait for Jack.

The evening air is chilly. I sit gingerly on a moldy 1970s era couch parked under the front window. I take a deep breath. My head begins to clear as the scents of salt from Puget Sound and decaying fire retardant fabric from the couch mingle in my nostrils. The setting sun is throwing off bands of orange and gold from behind the neighboring roofs. This strikes me as a great place to morosely smoke while contemplating the rusted Ford truck on cinderblocks in the yard across the street, white trash philosopher style.

I catch a flicker of motion in my peripheral vision. Something comes out the front door and moves toward me, then the cushions jar as someone sits beside me on the couch. I expect Lucy or Leo. Maybe Jack, arriving home unannounced through the back door.

It’s Mrs. O’Lies. I turn to look at her. She’s darting a finger and thumb into a crumpled pack of cigarettes, a lighter clutched in the hollow of her palm.

Her face is a horror show. It stops my heart.

I drop my gaze to the pitted cement of the porch. I swallow hard. I turn my face reluctantly back to her and focus on white Keds, mom jeans of the unflattering pegged variety, an oversized University of Washington sweatshirt clearly nabbed from her husband’s closet, a mop of curly brown hair. Her face is averted from mine as she hunches over the lighter, her hands cupping around the flame to protect it from the wind.

I feel I should say something. Simultaneously, I feel I should not. As she straightens up, I quickly dart my eyes to a broken down swing set listing wearily in the front yard three houses down.

“Want one?”

Her voice is so normal, yet her face is so grotesque. I must look at it. Surely my avoidance is worse than the expression of barely contained shock in my eyes.

Right?

I can’t look at her. Instead, I stare at the cigarette pack clutched in her hand. Ah Capris! The cigarette of choice for the cool Asian chicks at my college. I once admired these super skinny smokes and their super skinny smokers.

“No,” I say. “Thank you.”

As I speak, I realize that I have paused so long that my reply to her question sounds nonsensical.

“You’re here for Jack?” she says.

“Yes,” I say.

“Mm,” she says.

She’s awfully quiet. Is she staring at me? Why would she do that? Well, if I happened to be napping on my couch and a strange woman showed up on my porch wanting to see my husband, what would I think?

I must force myself to look at her. It’s the least I can do.

I drag my gaze to her face and lock my eyes on hers. They are mud brown. One of them seems larger and duller than the other. It doesn’t move. It’s dead, like the eye of a mannequin in a store window. Her eyelids are jagged, the edges thin like torn newspaper. There are only a few lashes clustered in the corner of her left eye, like the bristles on the back of a blowfly.

“I’m a journalist,” I say. I think I say it. My mouth moves in the shape of the words.

Gray smoke encircles her head like the dirty halo of a ruined saint. Her split lips part impossibly in three sections, issuing more smoke.

“You’re from the Washingtonian?”

“No,” I say. “I’m from the Journal. It’s a monthly.”

“Yeah,” she says. “We used to get it. Years and years ago. You don’t work with Jack, then?”

“No,” I say.

“Mm.”

“I’m here to interview him,” I say.

“Why?”

Can I look away yet? Has it been long enough? If I look away too soon, I’ll seem shifty. Like I’m lying.

“Well,” I say. “I’m actually interested in talking to you, too. I understand that you are…were…um….”

Further evidence that I am no threat to Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer or Katie Couric.

“Um,” I conclude. “So, do you know when your husband will be home?”

“Ex-husband,” she says.

“Oh, right,” I say. “Wait. What?”

“Want a drink?” she says, making to rise. I notice for the first time that there’s a metal cane resting against the couch next to her. I notice, as she grips it, that she’s missing the tips of three fingers on her left hand. I notice that the remaining fingers don’t have nails.

“No, thanks,” I say. “He’s your ex-husband?”

“Jack will be home sometime,” she says, fumbling with the cane as she gets to her feet. “Six, nine. You never know with him. You should have a drink.”

“I have to drive,” I say. “He’s really your ex-husband?”

“Yeah,” she says.

“How did that happen? If you don’t mind my asking.”

She is grotesque, but Jack can’t possibly be such a cold-hearted bastard. Can he?

“It’s complicated,” she says.

“I’m sure,” I say.

“I’m gonna get a drink,” she says. “Want one or not?”

To appease her, to get her peculiar glass eye and the unmatched real one off me, I say, “Sure.”

She limps into the house, her body nearly collapsing over the cane with each step. When she returns, she has a bottle of vodka and five pictures.

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.

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.

Monday, April 2, 8:56 a.m.

My cell phone rings just as I settle into my desk at work. I glance at the number. It’s a got a 206 area code and I don’t recognize it. Normally I don’t answer unfamiliar calls. It’s almost always someone saying, “Uh, yeah, I was wondering if you carry laptop cords?” Then, trying not to sound bitchy but always sounding bitchy, I reply, “This is a private cell phone. Laptop Land is not at this number.”

I’m cursed with the discarded phone number of a small scale computer business. The Yellow Pages called me once to check on the status of Laptop Land. I begged them to remove my number from their business listings. They said they would, and maybe they did, but the internet listing will never die.

In the last two days, I’ve been getting a lot of calls from phone numbers I don’t recognize, most of them prefixed with the 206 area code. Despite the threat of laptop inquiries, I’ve answered all of them. Because it might be Jack. Because I’m so worried about him.

The previous six times my phone rang this morning, it was:

1) The cops (Seattle Police Department)

2) The Seattle Times

3) KING 5 TV

4) The cops (King County Sheriff’s Office)

5) Some Leo-esque crime blogger

6) Laptop replacement battery request

I grab my ringing cell phone and say, “Hello?”

There’s a long silence on the other end. I normally hang up when there’s a long silence. In my experience, it indicates the unwelcome presence of a telemarketer.

But then I hear a slow inhalation, cut off by a smoker’s cough.

“Hey,” a weak voice says.

“Jack?” I say.

“Yeah,” he says, then coughs again. “You okay?”

“Oh my God! Are you okay? I’ve called you about a hundred times. Where are you?”

Harborview,” he says. “Are you safe?”

“Me? I’m fine. What are you doing at the hospital?”

There’s another slow inhalation, then a belabored half-cough, half sigh.

“Could you come?” he says. “Please? I have to talk to you.”

Saturday, March 31, 4:43 p.m.

The cops arrive three hours later. In the meantime, I get to know Christopher so well.

First of all, he’s quite the nineteen-year-old gentleman. As we sit side-by-side on the chilly front steps of Jack O’Lies’ Ballard home, Christopher insists on draping his coat over my shivering frame. Not at all what I expect from the late night phone pervert Lucy described.

Second of all, he’s Catholic.

Third through seventeenth, he wants to be a priest more than anything. Or maybe a monk. But there are temptations! They include—oh hell, you know what they include. I tune him out as he recites, “Beer and girls and video games and pornography…”

Eighteenth, he kind of likes Lucy. But not that way.

Nineteenth through thirty-first, he’s terrified that he won’t get into the seminary of his choice. He has doubts about his Latin. He needs to find a tutor. But there’s no one in Seattle who speaks fluent Latin and is willing to take less than $50 an hour for private lessons. How will he ever ascend to the rank of archbishop—his fondest dream!—and work in Vatican City if his Latin is sub par? “Even their ATM machines are in Latin,” he moans.

Vatican ATM in Latin

Thirty-second, he kind of likes Lucy…that way.

Oh God, he’s going to confess the lascivious details of last night’s phone sex with Lucy! I squirm away from him. Ew…what if he was wearing this very coat at the time?

“You should open your mind to other career paths,” I ramble, to keep him from telling me all about it. “Take me, for example. When I was your age, I thought I was going to become a surgeon. Instead, I talk to interesting people and tell their stories. I’ve interviewed the Duchess of York, Elvira Mistress of the Dark, Carrie Fisher—you know, Princess Leia from “Star Wars,” oh, and the guy who created “CSI.” Man, he talked fast! Man, I love that show!

Christopher gapes at me. I have shocked him with my worldly ways.

No, he’s gaping in awe.

“No way! You talked to Princess Leia? What was she like? Was she still hot?” he says.

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia

At this very moment, the cops roll up: one whole cop car containing one whole cop.

Our statements are taken. The cop’s face registers no interest whatsoever…until I mention that Lucy’s father is a reporter covering the Lake Washington Killer case. Like some kind of human search engine that has received the right keyword, the cop’s eyes become alert. She jabbers a few coded phrases into her radio, then makes us give our statements all over again.

A second cop car rolls up. Then another. Then the watch commander. Christopher and I tell our tales again and again. Each time Christopher has to describe how he slurred, “I like your boobs, Lucy” over the phone last night, he looks a little more suicidal.

The King County Sheriff’s deputy arrives. Then the K-9 unit. Then a Washington State Trooper, for some reason. I’ve never understood the division of labor among the police forces.

Then the media arrives. How ironic—the tables are turned and the reporter becomes the reported! This is what I get for silently mocking interviewees when they stammer and give nonsensical quotes peppered with, “Uh, um, like, y’know.”

I stammer into the cameras and microphones. I say, “Uh, um, like, y’know.” I give the worst interview ever.

Serves me right.

Saturday, March 31, 1:31 p.m.

As we drive through Ballard, Christopher calls the nursing home where Jack’s mother lives. Lucy left hours ago, informing the nurses that she was not coming back.

We pull up in front of the O’Lies’ home. It’s dark and deserted. I call Jack again. No answer. Christopher calls Lucy. No answer. I call Lucy.

She picks up on the fourth ring.

“Hello?” she says.

“Lucy? Thank God—where are you?” I say.

“Katherine?” she says. She sounds small and far away. “Where’s Dad?”

“I don’t know. I’m trying to reach him. Where are you?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “There’s ducks.”

“What?” I say. “Lucy, where are you?”

Suddenly there’s a bumping sound on her end, punctuated by two voices in the background that overlap. It sounds like a man and a woman. Lucy’s line goes dead.

I call her back five times. She doesn’t answer. So I call 911.

I’m put on hold three times. The operator cites the 72 hour rule for missing persons. I’m dismissed. I call back and ask if they can issue an Amber Alert. I’m dismissed again. Why oh why didn’t I get media credentials from the Seattle Police Department? Then I’d be taken seriously. All I had to do was get my newspaper’s publisher to write a letter stating that I’m a real, live reporter and then cart myself down to police headquarters to file it.

“You call,” I order Christopher.

He dials 911 and for whatever reason (sexism), they believe him.

Saturday, March 31, 11:18 a.m.

“No one’s after me,” I say.

Jack’s ice chip eyes make me shifty. I wish he’d drink more. When he’s drunk, the pale perception of his gaze is blinded. Does that make me a classic enabler to his alcoholism?

“Leo said the man in the green suit has a pattern,” Jack says.

He reaches into his jacket pocket and withdraws a reporter’s notebook. He flips it open and begins to read:

“Leo: ‘He’s after you, Jack. He didn’t expect you to hit him outside the bar. But when he finds out about her, he’s going to go after her instead. She’s perfect.’

“Me: ‘How is she perfect?’

“Leo: ‘She’s perfect to kill. To get you back. That’s how he does it. The fat guy, the lawyer, that 15-year-old girl this morning—they’re all people that someone else cared about.’

“Me: ‘So why would he want to kill Katherine?’

“Leo: ‘She’s your girlfriend or whatever, right?’

“Me: ‘What makes you think that?’

“Leo: ‘Oh gee, Jack, let me see—that photo of the two of you on your porch? All the texts you send each other every freakin’ day? All the phone calls? How she’s constantly carting your kid to school or the mall or your mother’s place? And then there’s the time the three of you went to church together, family style. Oh, and where are we right now? A motel room she paid for. Less than five miles from her house. For you both—’”

“Whoa, whoa! Hold on!” I blare loud enough to turn heads in every Celtic cranny of the pub. “Are you kidding me, Jack? What is this weird fantasy thing you’re reading?”

“Leo said I could take notes,” Jack says.

“Gimme here,” I say, as I snatch his reporter’s notebook from his hand.

I scan the pages, flipping from front to back. They’re filled with the pretending-to-write squiggles of a toddler.

I feel ill.

“Okay,” I say, dropping the skinny notebook on the table. “I’m leaving. You are not to contact me ever again. I’m serious. I have to go…”

“Look, Katherine, I have no control over what that little bastard said—”

“He didn’t say any of that!” I exclaim. “You made it up. Look!”

I shove the notebook at him.

“There are no notes! He never said any of it!” I say.

There’s an odd silence from Jack. I’ve had this kind of silence directed at me about a thousand times since I learned to talk. It pulls me up short, signaling incomprehension from my communicatee.

“You do realize this is shorthand?” he says slowly.

“What?” I say. “No—I mean…what?”

Nobody uses shorthand anymore. I’ve been accused of using it, but that’s because my handwriting is abominable. The last person—the only person—I knew who wrote in shorthand was my grandmother. A former 1950s secretary, she used it to take minutes during meetings of the secretive, quasi-Masonic women’s group she belonged to. She showed me her notes once. They were a tangle of toddler squiggles…

Shorthand

“Um…” I say. “I don’t know. I mean…”

“You tape all your interviews, right?” Jack says.

“No. Only our phone conversations,” I say.

“You take notes when you’re interviewing people for work?” Jack says.

“Yes.”

“So…show me yours,” he says.

I hesitate, then I fish my identical reporter’s notebook from my purse.

Reporter's Notebook

I hand it over. Jack flips it open and frowns.

“My God, your handwriting is horrible,” he says.

“No shit, Sherlock,” I snap before I reflect that it’s:

  1. Rude
  2. Unprofessional
  3. Profane

“You think you’re accurate?” he says.

“Yeah,” I say. “Pretty accurate.”

“But you think I’m not,” he says.

“I…I don’t know,” I say.

“Talk,” he says.

He flips my reporter’s notebook to a blank page, pulls a pen out of his jacket pocket and stares at me.

“Oh come on, Jack!” I say. “This is stupid. Will you just—quit writing, come on! Will you stop that!”

Jack ignores me, busily writing in my notebook.

“Look, I really think we should just go our separate ways and, you know, leave things the way they are…crap, I don’t know, Will you quit that writing, please!” I say.

He stops writing. He eyes me a moment, then reads aloud, “Oh come on, Jack. This is stupid. Will you just quit writing, come on. Will you stop that. Look, I really think we should go our separate ways and, you know, leave things the way they are. Crap, I don’t know. Will you quit that writing, please.”

“Oh, screw you, Truman Capote!” I snap. “Don’t write that down!”

Jack frowns at me. I glare at him.

Oh damn…I start to laugh.

“You are a jerk,” I giggle. “I hate you so much—will you stop writing! Do not read that back!”

For the first time since we met, Jack smiles.

“So…” he grins.

“So…” I giggle. “Man, we need to get you a real girlfriend. Everyone is desperate for you to have a woman in your life. Your editor, your daughter, your coroner buddy, your arch-enemy, even. Jeez, Jack, take a hint!”

Oh God, he’s so appealing when he looks at me like this. His smile gives me a heart-wrenching glimpse of the carefree man in the photo Lucy destroyed. This is the man who radiated pure joy as he bent his wife over, Hollywood style, before deeply kissing her. This is the man who took his wife and child on picnics to feed the ducks, never realizing they were at a slaughterhouse. This is the man who was blissfully oblivious that, as bad as life could be, there were vast continents of misery yet to be explored all alone…

Both of our faces fall in unison, like mirror images.

“Leo has a point, no matter how big a liar he is,” Jack says. “The man in the green suit would think you’re the perfect person to kill. It would destroy me.”

Way to kill the mood, O’Lies.

Saturday, March 31, 11:15 a.m.

The waitress arrives with my Diet Coke just as Jack starts talking about murder.

“Leo knows the man in the green suit,” Jack says. “He told Leo about people he killed so he could write about it in that crime blog of his. In return, Leo says he gave the man a dossier about me.”

The waitress nearly drops the plastic cup of soda, sloshing a great puddle onto the tabletop. She beats a hasty retreat.

“Do you believe him?” I say, brushing futilely at the spreading lake of brown fizz.

Refueled by his earlier Scotch, Jack shrugs. He grabs several grubby napkins from an abandoned table and sponges patiently at the soda. I wait impatiently.

Finally, I blurt, “Well? Do you trust him or not?”

“I don’t know,” he says. “Some of what he told me rings true. But…no, I don’t trust him.”

“Who do you trust, Jack?” I say.

He tosses the sodden napkins onto the opposite table, then turns his eyes on me. They are so cold and so compelling.

“I don’t trust you,” I say, before he can say it. “You’ve lied to me.”

He exhales. It’s not exactly a sigh.

“But I’ve never lied to you,” I add.

Even as I say it, I realize that it’s a lie. But I don’t correct myself.

“I trust you,” he says.

“Leo’s telling the truth about the dossier on you. He sent it to me, too.”

“Why?” Jack says.

“Because he hates you,” I say.

“What’s in it?” he says.

“All the dirt that’s fit to dish,” I say. “Your DUI records. Your—wait. First, you tell me how you found out I went to Catholic school for three years. Then I’ll tell you.”

Jack eyes me appraisingly for a moment.

“Did what Leo gave you change your opinion of me?” he asks.

“Sort of,” I say. “I understand you better now, if you know what I mean.”

“Leo says the man in the green suit is mad at me,” Jack says. “He’s coming after me.”

“I bet you wish you’d killed him in that alley after all,” I joke.

Jack does not look amused.

“Do you actually believe that Leo knows him?” I say. “He’s been known to exaggerate.”

“He’s a miserable little punk,” Jack says.

“Sure he is,” I say. “But is he a liar?”

“Yes, he’s a liar,” Jack says. “His reporting at the Washingtonian was full of factual errors and misquotes. And his blog is a plagiaristic disaster.”

“But?” I say.

“But,” Jack sighs. “But he reported details from the condo murder that the cops didn’t release to the media. I checked with Harry Dekins. He confirmed it was all true.”

“Are you sure Leo’s not the man in the green suit?” I say.

Jack hesitates.

“He can’t be,” he says.

“So…” I say.

“So…someone’s after me,” he says.

I nod.

“And you,” he says.

Saturday, March 31, 11:12 a.m.

We meet at the nastiest Irish pub I’ve ever been in. And I’ve been in my share. He’s waiting for me. He’s so gray. Gray Member’s Only jacket, gray pleated front Dockers his daughter bought for him, button down shirt that went gray from too many washings, graying close cropped hair and 5 o’clock shadow. The only color comes from the highball glass on the table, which glows amber, filled with what is probably Scotch. And from his eyes, half-closed until I say his name, which glow ice blue, filled with what is probably anger when they turn to me.

I sit primly across from him, clutching my purse on my lap like a Midwestern schoolmarm.

“So,” I say. “Are you pissed off at me, or what?”

“Diet Coke, right?” he says.

“This place is nasty,” I reply. “I won’t order anything here.”

Jack sighs. He turns his face away, scanning the crowded pub for the waitress.

“You are the most stubborn woman I know,” he says.

“So, you are pissed off at me,” I say. “Well, I’m pissed off at you. You said some pretty unforgivable stuff back in your motel room.”

“You shouldn’t have stormed out like that,” Jack says. “Leo told me he knows about us.”

“Leo knows what about us?” I say. “What ‘us?’ There is no ‘us,’ Jack!”

Distracted, I allow my purse to fall to the pub floor, which probably hasn’t been cleaned in months. It will become encrusted with pubic hairs. How will I ever explain that at home? I grab it and stand.

“Things are getting weird,” I say. “I think this is a good place for us to part ways. Before we get in too deep.”

Jack rounds on me, abandoning his hunt for the absentee waitress. His cold blue eyes stab through me.

“Don’t go,” he says.

My left hand is balled in a fist on the grimy tabletop. My right hand is fishing through my purse for my car keys.

“I don’t want to be involved anymore. So how about I just say good luck and goodbye?” I say.

“Stay.”

Jack reaches across the table and almost…

Almost…

Almost covers my hand with his.

His hand hovers over mine, his fingers spread wide like the talons of a hawk descending on a vulnerable nest. I feel the warmth of his palm radiating into my perpetually cold fingers.

He withdraws his hand just before our fingers meet.

“Stay,” he says again.

Saturday, March 31, 10:46 a.m.

I call Jack as soon as I leave my rendezvous with the coroner. Outside, hunched against the chilling rain, I hold the cell phone to my ear. After three rings, just as I reach my car, he answers.

“Katherine?” he says. “Where are you?”

“You gave me permission to investigate you, right?” I interrupt him curtly.

“Yeah,” he replies.

“Did I give you permission to do the same to me?”

Silence flows from Jack’s line to mine.

“But you did, didn’t you?” I say. I fumble my car keys out of my purse and open the driver’s door. “You found out where I live. You wrote my obituary before the fact. And now, your coroner friend tells me that the two of you have been talking about me. Your coroner friend! What the hell, Jack?”

Another fathom’s deep silence gushes out of the cell phone into my ear. I get into my car and slam the door. Rain patters on the roof. I open my mouth to say, “Care to explain, Jack?” when suddenly I go utterly numb.

It all makes sense. The solution to the mystery that I’ve been wrestling with for the past week is…

I am dead!

No. That doesn’t make sense. I’ve gone to work. I’ve filed articles. I’ve driven press cars. I’ve bought groceries. I’ve interacted with my family. My co-workers have spoken directly to me at meetings and ‘round the water cooler. There hasn’t been one mention of my funeral or a single comment upon the sad absence of Katherine while I was in the room.

Still…

“Am I dead?” I whisper. “Please, Jack. You can tell me. Is that why you wrote my obituary? And told the coroner about me?”

Jack is speechless for a moment, then he lets out an elephantine snort that dispels any further melodrama I might have stored up.

“Jesus Christ, Katherine,” he mutters. “For the love of God.”

“Well,” I say defensively. “It was a very good obituary. Very accurate.”

“I’m thorough,” he says.

Another solution to the mystery occurs to me.

“You’re a stalker!” I accuse. “You’ve got some creepy fixation on me, don’t you?”

His silence is brief, broken by a world weary sigh.

“What did you do to my life?” Jack says. “Things got so mixed up the day we met.”

“Because you stalked me,” I say.

“I did no such thing,” he says.

“You investigated me, then,” I say.

Jack, the former investigative reporter, hesitates.

“Possibly,” he says.

“Why?”

“You were trying to interview me,” he says. “For some nebulous book. Why the hell wouldn’t I check you out?”

He acted so neutral, so uninformed when I introduced myself nine days ago. What a liar. He must have been an incredible journalist once.

“So, how average does my life seem to you?” I say.

“What?”

“You got everything right about me. Birth place, childhood, boring college, boring first career, boring second career. Married. Kid. Third career as a third-rate journalist. All the boxes checked. I guess I can die now, right?” I say.

“Don’t,” Jack says.

I can’t tell if he means, “Don’t die,” or “Don’t talk like this, you self-indulgent drama queen.” Either seems plausible right now.

“You’re a very good writer, but even you couldn’t make my life interesting,” I say.

“Can we get a drink?” Jack says.

“You always say that,” I say.

“Then say yes for once,” he says.

I sigh. I’m not dead, so why not live a little?

Saturday, March 31, 9:29 a.m.

Jack says, “What are you doing here?”

Leo says, “The same thing you’re doing here, idiot!”

Jack says, “This does not go on your pathetic blog. None of this, you hear me?”

Leo says, “You can’t suppress the press, man.”

Jack says, “You’re not the press. You’re barely literate.”

Leo says, “Says the guy who hasn’t written an article in a decade!”

Jack says, “You aggregated my piece on the Lake Washington murder. You’re a car thief and a plagiarist, you little bastard!”

Leo says, “So, you read my blog after all! You’re a freakin’ hypocrite!”

Jack shouts, “You’re not a journalist!”

Leo shouts, “You’re an a-hole!”

I interject, “Guys! Can we just calm down for a minute here?”

Leo and Jack turn on me.

Leo says, “Wanna talk car thieves? Right there: she stole your car last night!”

Jack says, “Yeah, real classy, Katherine. And what the hell did you do with my cell phone?”

Leo says, “You think you’re so much better than me because you work at some lame print monthly? You’re barely better than a blogger!”

Jack says, “You only care about that book you’re supposedly writing.”

Leo says, “Want to talk about bad writers? Look in the mirror, baby! Have you even heard of the inverted pyramid?”

Jack says, “You are the most frustrating woman I’ve ever met!”

I say, “Yeah?”

Jack glares at me. Leo sneers at me.

I shriek, “Way to gang up on me! I thought you two hate each other. But no, as soon as you get a chance to lay into a woman, off come the goddamned gloves and suddenly you’re on the same team, aren’t you, frat brothers? To hell with you both!”

I think I actually twang, “Ta hell with the botha youse!” in an unintentional imitation of James Cagney. What I really want to do is slap both of them in an intentional imitation of James Cagney.

Instead, I snatch up my purse and march myself to the motel room door. If either of them grabs my arm to detain me, I will go all Cagney on them and it won’t legally be considered assault on my part.

Neither of them lifts a finger to stop me. I grab the door handle, yank it, and stalk out into the hall. They let me go without a word.

I stomp down the hall to the elevator. They don’t come after me. At the end of the hall, I realize the elevator is located in the opposite direction. I turn around and walk less and less assuredly as I approach the closed door to Jack’s room. It doesn’t open as I pass by. I reach the elevator and push the down button. I glance back at the empty hall.

I started off deeply offended. Now I’m deeply hurt. How can they gang up on me, then not come after me to apologize?

I get on the elevator and meanly take solace in the possibility that they’re too busy beating the shit out of each other to bother with me.