Posts Tagged ‘serial killer’

Monday, April 2, 9:52 a.m.

I sit in a rickety folding chair not too close to Jack’s hospital bed. I’m feeling disoriented. I’m not sure where I am.

Jack is very still. His eyes are closed. There are tears on his lashes.

“Jack?” I say. “Are you okay?”

His heart monitor beeps. He’s alive. But is he about to wink out of existence? Am I?

“Jack?” I say.

He opens his eyes. He looks at me. I’m still not sure where I am. He opens his mouth to say something.

“You’re still here?”

It’s a flat female voice, toneless and without inflection. I turn and see Lucy in the doorway. She’s dressed all in black, which gives me no clues. Beneath her eyes are sooty smudges that could be either eyeliner or dark circles from a sleepless night. Where am I?

“You have to leave now,” she says coldly. “You’re gonna make him have another heart attack.”

Wednesday, March 28, 7:39 p.m.

Jack arrives home as the sun dies behind the neighboring houses. I’m waiting for him on his front porch. His wife is sleeping in their bedroom, the door firmly closed.

He parks his rundown yellow Saab in the driveway. He shoulders the driver’s side door closed, hefting a sizeable briefcase and a dented travel mug marked with a peeling Washingtonian logo.

He looks tired. I can tell he’s sober. His eyes are sharper than I’ve ever seen them. They narrow with displeasure when they alight on me. I’m taken aback. He’s never looked at me in this cold, annoyed way before. I wonder if he remembers me from today’s crime scene…or from the alternate world he rejected?

Is there a glimmer of memory left from the time we sat on this very porch in another version of this day? I shouldn’t hope so…but I do.

“Jack,” I say, half-rising awkwardly, then sitting back down awkwardly. “Remember me?”

He doesn’t answer. He locks the car, pockets the keys in his gray Member’s Only jacket, and mounts the porch. He stops a good twelve feet from the couch.

“Yeah,” he says, staring down at me. “I remember you.”

“Where do you remember me from?” I say.

He squints slightly in confusion.

“I met your wife,” I say.

Jack jingles his keys impatiently in his jacket pocket.

“You woke her up,” he accuses.

“Yes,” I say.

He sighs hard. He jingles the keys harder.

“She’s sick,” he says. “It’s dinnertime. You should get going. Is Leo still here? I’m writing him up for bringing you here. And don’t bother to submit clips or a resume. Your name’s going on the blacklist.”

He doesn’t remember. After all we went through. I didn’t think it would bother me so much.

“We had a connection,” I say. “I didn’t understand why. It kind of annoyed me, to be honest. I was supposed to stay objective, but you made me feel sorry for you.”

Jack should look at me like I’m crazy. Instead, he walks slowly to the couch and sits. He sighs long and deep, dropping first his briefcase onto the porch, then his travel mug onto the couch cushion, and finally his forehead into his hand. He sits hunched on the couch, rubbing the worry lines above his eyebrows wearily. When he finally turns to me, I freeze as the blue lasers of his eyes strike mine. He’s so rarely been sober with me. His perceptive gaze stabs me to the core. He must be such a good editor.

“Let me guess,” he says. “You’re that new girl from my ex-wife’s therapy group. She told you where I work. Now you’re following me around because you want…what, exactly?”

“I don’t want anything. Except to find out if this is better,” I say. “Is it better, Jack?”

He doesn’t say anything for a long time.

“I know who you are,” he says finally. “I had Leo check you out after you left the first voicemail. I almost called you five times today.”

“Do you remember?”

“What?” he says. His eyes sweep me, then land on the five photos laying face down between us on the couch. He picks them up, glances at them, then stuffs them into his briefcase.

“Oh God, Jack, I’m so sorry,” I say. “She’s so…”

“She’s sick,” he says. “Did she tell you about the six times she’s slit her wrists? She did it in front of our daughter the last time, explaining the best way to go about it while Lucy screamed at the 911 operator for help.”

He stands.

“Look, I don’t know what you’re doing here, but you should go.”

I stand.

“Okay,” I say. “But…just tell me if this is better? Are you happy?”

“I’m not happy,” he says. “Are you kidding me?”

“Your wife survived,” I say.

“My wife—my ex-wife—do you know what she went through?”

“Not all of it,” I say.

“She,” he bites his lower lip hard, barely containing the rage I can see bubbling up through his pupils. “It’s none of your business. Did she tell you she has to have a catheter for the rest of her life because the bayonet tore through her uterus and her bladder? She lost all sensation down her left leg. She’ll never walk without a cane again. She lost an eye. She’s had nineteen reconstructive surgeries. There’s brain damage from the strangulation. She has diagnoses—plural. PTSD, alcoholism, compulsions I can’t even count. She can’t function—not as a mother, not as a wife.”

“So you divorced her?” I say.

He lets out a long breath and slumps against the house. Flecks of peeling paint form gray dandruff on his shoulders. He closes his eyes for a moment.

“I had to divorce her so we wouldn’t lose the house when we couldn’t pay the medical bills,” he says. “It wasn’t because she cheated with that guy in her therapy group. I understood that. It wasn’t really sexual, what they did. It…you don’t understand.”

“Do you want me to try to change it again?” I ask. “I’m not sure I can. This is the best I could come up with.”

Jack sinks slowly onto the couch. He covers his face with both hands. Between his fingers, he says something. I think it’s, “You owe me” or maybe the word is “own.” His shoulders start to shake.

I’ve never seen him cry before.

“Jack,” I say. “This is worse, isn’t it? She should have died.”

I have to wait nearly ten minutes, but at last he nods.

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.

Wednesday, March 28, 2:49 p.m.

I call Jack O’Lies to set up an interview (multiple times, all sent to voicemail) and I email him (multiple times, all unanswered). Finally, I resort to that lowest of tactics: contacting his intern.

I’ve had interns before. I understand their menial minds. It takes me exactly two and a half minutes to gain the confidence of Leo Krakowski, a junior majoring in journalism at the University of Washington, an occasional contributor to the UW Daily, and a third year intern at the Washingtonian. I promise to take a look at his clips and resume. He promises to set up an interview with Jack.

“Hey, even better! Why don’t you come over to his place tonight?” Leo says eagerly. “You can tag along with me—I was planning to swing by after work.”

“He told you to come to his house after work?” I say skeptically. That’s a task I’ve certainly never asked my interns to undertake.

“No, but it’s cool. I’m dating his daughter. She’s real cute. He’s totally cool with it.”

Three hours later, I find myself seated uncomfortably on a grubby pink beanbag chair, clutching a glass of Hawaiian Punch liberally spiked with vodka.

“Dad’ll be home at six,” Lucy promises. She’s lying on her pink canopied bed, entwined in the arms of her gangly Boyfriend Number Two, while “cool with it” Leo flips through old CDs stacked on top of her stereo.

“I wish you’d warned me before you gave me this,” I say for the second (or sixth?) time, as I set the half-empty glass unsteadily on the carpet. “Now I can’t drive for at least an hour. Maybe two. I wish you’d warned me.”

The bartender in my travesty of unintentionally intoxication, Christopher, reaches out and grabs the glass before it can tip over. My God, his arms are eight miles long!

“Relax,” he says, taking a drink from my glass. “Where’ve you got to be?”

“Home,” I say. “It’s a work night, you know. And a school night for you kids.”

“Dad’ll be home by seven-thirty at the latest,” Lucy says.

Her voice is as flat as Kansas and her bare arms are gullied by old scars of varying depth. She looks a lot like Jack if he lost forty pounds. I’ve never seen a girl with so many bones poking at such odd angles through such Kleenex colored skin. Christopher strokes her hair and drinks my Hawaiian Punch, while Lucy stares unnervingly at me from between eyelids demarcated by fat lines of cheap gray eyeliner.

“Or maybe nine. Who the hell knows with him?” she says. “What do you want to see him for?”

“It would bore you,” I reply coolly, trying to make up for the “school night for you kids” thing. Why is it when I want to sound grown up, I sound fifteen, and when I want to sound “with it” I sound fifty? See—“with it”? Who says that nowadays?

When Lucy and Christopher start kissing, I rise unsteadily. Leo obliviously continues to flip through the CDs, their plastic cases ticking against each other steadily, like a clock.

“Tell you what,” I say. “How about I go wait for your dad downstairs?”

“Mom’s downstairs,” Lucy manages to mutter around Christopher’s lips.

“Hey, cool! I love these guys! Let’s dance,” Leo enthuses, brandishing a CD.

“Dance with her,” Lucy snots, with a look of scorn first for Leo, then me.

“Yeah, no, I think no,” I say, fumbling for words that don’t naturally slur. “I’ll just go chat with your mom for a while.”

Lucy sits up in alarm.

“She’s sleeping,” she says.

“It’s fine, don’t worry,” I say, as I pick my way with exceeding care across the challenging terrain of Lucy’s stained white shag carpet.

“Don’t wake her up,” Lucy orders.

“We’ll chat briefly. Woman to woman.”

“Leave her the hell alone!” Lucy shrills. Christopher grips her shoulders, which have started to shake as if in an epileptic fit.

I glance from Christopher to Leo. Leo shakes his head at me. His face is stricken.

“Gotcha,” I say.

I give a thumbs-up. I wobble away from their strange ménage a trois and close the door too hard behind me. I pause in the dim hall to regroup. Hard liquor is not my friend.

Downstairs there’s a lump on the couch, wrapped in a hand-crocheted afghan. I passed it when I arrived at this house of lies—O’Lies, I mean. I remember it was the size of a human body. Lucy hustled me past it with excessive alacrity.

I think I’ll go give it a poke and see what happens.

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, 9:52 a.m.

From his hospital bed, Jack says, “You are a murderer.”

“Me? No!” I protest. “I’ve never killed anyone in my life!”

“You killed my wife,” he says.

“The Green River Killer—I mean, the Westgate Serial Killer murdered her,” I say.

Above the oxygen tube in his nose, Jack’s blue eyes are steady.

“No, you killed her. You could have let me get to her in time, but you made her die before I got there.”

“Yeah…” I admit.

“Why?”

“I needed you to be a widower,” I say.

“For the book?” he says.

I nod.

“Isn’t that the most goddamned simplistic choice of all?” he says.

“I…I don’t know.”

He struggles to sit up. His face is clotted with fury.

“If you’d let her live, do you realize how much less two-dimensional and gimmicky this whole thing would have been?”

“No?” I say.

“Think about it!” he shouts. His heart monitor trills an alarm for a moment. He bites the inside of his cheek and waits until the noise subsides. “You killed my wife. You surrounded me with insubstantial characters. You gave me some vaguely sketched serial killer as an antagonist. And then…what? You decided you’d like to jump on board, too?”

“So what, Jack?” I snap. “So I should have let your wife survive? Is that your whole point?”

“Yes!” he rages. “You did this to me. You made me a bad father and a second rate journalist and an alcoholic, and it all started with her death. Change it!”

“How? Some kind of deus ex machina bullshit? A magic happy ending? Is that what you’re asking for? ”

“Let me get to her in time,” he says. “That’s what I’m asking for. Please.”

He’s not shouting anymore. His face is twisted, but not in anger—in agony. He reaches for my hand. His fingers are dead white and shaking. I pull my hand away before he can touch it.

“Please, Katherine. You owe me—own me. You promised you’d help me. Just change it. Nothing else. Please?”

“Jack—”

“Please, Katherine. Please.”

I sigh long and hard and defeated. Spine is right. I have too much sympathy for my protagonist.

Saturday, March 31, 10:58 p.m.

After I left him sitting outside my house in his parked car, Jack got a call on his cell phone. It was Leo. His voice sounded wrong. Like there was something around his throat. A hand, maybe.

“Slaughterhouse,” Leo said.

That was all. The line went dead. It only took Jack a moment to realize what had happened.

“What happened?” I demand. “Spine? What did you do?”

“I’m getting to that,” Spine says, his voice infuriatingly unhurried through my cell phone. “I decided to take the bus today. Jenkins usually does it. But she wanted to head north to scoop up your boy Leo from that motel where you hid him. She always loathed him.”

“Who?”

“Jenkins. The nurse? You of all people should remember her name,” Spine chides. The timbre of his voice makes my skin crawl, like George W. Bush’s or Garrison Keillor’s.

“Anyway,” he continues so slowly he’s nearly drawling. “Guess who I found riding alone in the rear of the bus, all forlorn? Did I mention I was wearing my green priest’s cassock? I got it at a Halloween costume shop last year.”

green priest cassock

Oh God. Poor Lucy. She never stood a chance. In my dark living room, I sink down onto the couch and cradle my cell phone gingerly against my ear. I desperately want to hang up so that I don’t have to hear what he did to her.

“The kiddo was a mess,” Spine says. “She told me everything. The back row of an empty bus makes a great confessional—have you noticed that?”

“I don’t talk to people on the bus,” I say.

“Not any more, you don’t,” Spine says knowingly. “She does, though. She told me everything. That Christopher. What a sexual whack job.”

“Well, he wants to be a priest,” I say.

“And Lucy wants to be a nun,” Spine laughs. “But now she knows she can’t. After she finished blubbering, I took her hand and told her, ‘No, dear child of God, you are destined for greater things. You are destined to become a saint.’”

“She went with you, didn’t she?”

“Like a meek little lamb,” he says. “She wants to be a martyr from way back. She’s so hard core.”

sacrificial lamb false memoir

“Tell me you let her go,” I say. “You just scared her a little, then you let her go.”

Spine laughs.

“What fun would that be? I took her to my lair. You hide out in a cheap motel room, I take over a slaughterhouse. That, my friend, is how I roll.”

“I’m not your friend,” I say. “Where are you right now? You’re not outside my house or in my downstairs bathroom or anything horror movie-esque, are you?”

“I am where I am. Don’t worry about it,” he says.

“But—”

“Do you want to hear this or not?”

I say nothing. Spine takes my silence as consent. How like him.

“I told her I could give her full absolution of her sins back at my special private cathedral. She bought it. She bought it right up until we got inside the slaughterhouse and she saw Leo hanging from one of the meat hooks.”

“You—”

“Oh, he wasn’t dead,” Spine hastens to amend. “Jenkins just trussed him up. She was standing beside him, laying out her scalpels.”

“Wait a minute,” I say. “How did you get in there? Isn’t the slaughterhouse still in operation?”

“No, those industrious Indians closed it down. The casino business is booming.”

“But…aren’t there fences and locks? Video surveillance? Something?”

“This is my story. Let me tell it my way,” Spine says. “You are obsessed with facts, aren’t you? You think that if you can get the details of every tree just right, you’ll understand the forest. You’re fatally short sighted, you know that?”

“What did you do to Lucy? And Leo?”

“The thing is, I am so much more than the sum of my psychoses. You’ll never figure me out. Have you finally accepted that?”

“Spine! Tell me what you did!”

“It’s not what I did…it’s what Jack did.”

I have to hold the cell phone with both hands to keep from dropping it. My fingers are numb and my hands are shaking terribly.

“Did you kidnap him, too?”

Spine sighs slowly.

“You have no imagination,” he says. “I did no such thing. No, good old Jack showed up, a cavalry of one, gun drawn and ready for a fight.”

“Gun? Since when does he have a gun?”

“You tell me,” Spine says. “It was very inconvenient. Jenkins and I had Lucy hog tied. Leo was hanging from the hook, ready for a slow cutting. Worst possible moment to be interrupted. Terrible timing.”

“Did you—”

“If you don’t shut up, you’ll never hear the most important part,” he says. “So there we are, the nurse and me, scalpels at the ready, and Jack kicks in the door. Leo starts screaming, Lucy’s blubbering, and Jack’s pointing that gun all around, shouting, ‘Let her go! Let her go!’ Very action movie. Very climatic. I’ve got a blade pressing right against Lucy’s jugular. I know what I’m supposed to say. You know it, too, don’t you? Shall we say it together? ‘You thought you could save the day this time, Jack? You can’t. I’m going to rape and murder your daughter, just like your wife. Only this time, you can watch. It will destroy you.’”

“Oh my God…” I whisper.

“But…” Spine says. “As Jack was standing there wild-eyed, screaming at me to let his daughter go, I suddenly realized that I’m sick of being your puppet. So I decided to ruin everything for you.”

“What…what did you do?” I say.

Spine pauses luxuriantly.

“I told Jack the truth.”

“The truth?”

“I told him that you made all of this up.”

Even the combined grip of both of my hands on the phone is not enough. It slips out of my fingers and bounces across the carpet. I am stunned. And so very angry I can’t think. Several yards away, my cell phone jabbers with the electronic wryness of Spine’s voice. It’s several minutes before I can force myself to pick it up and bring it back to my ear.

“Hello? Katherine? Hello?” he’s saying in a tone of utter amusement.

“What the hell did you do that for?” I hiss. “Damn you! You’ve ruined everything!”

“Exactly!” he chuckles. “It worked out well.”

“This—you—this is why you got cut down to practically nothing in the final draft! You are so damned unpredictable! You never do what I want you to.”

“Have you considered that perhaps you’re a control freak?” he says merrily.

Who ever heard of a serial killer who is merry? He screwed up the tone of every passage I let him appear in. Now he’s gone and destroyed the entire plot at the eleventh hour.

“What am I supposed to do now?” I demand. “I should have gotten rid of you when I had the chance.”

“But then you would have had no antagonist,” Spine says.

“What about Leo?” I say.

Spine bursts out laughing.

“You’ve got to be kidding!”

“Okay. What about me?”

“You? You’ve got too much sympathy for your protagonist. Stick to the omniscient narrator gig.”

“I’m hardly omniscient,” I mutter. “I didn’t see this stunt of yours coming. How did Jack take it?”

“He’s a writer. His fevered brain grappled with it for a while, but then…I think I’ll let him tell you all about it himself. If he can,” Spine says ominously.

He hangs up on me. I sit in the dark for a long time, listening to the dial tone. Does he mean “if he can,” because it wasn’t my murder or Lucy’s murder, but self-knowledge that was destined to destroy Jack?

I should never have written so many drafts of the chapters Spine dominated in the early days, before I gave up and relegated him to “shadowy figure of menace.” All those rewrites made him self-aware, I think. Isn’t that what déjà vu feels like—a second draft of a scene you played once before, the familiar elements jumping into stark relief for an instant? I have a lot of those moments. I wonder who’s rewriting me?

Monday, April 2, 9:52 a.m.

Jack says, “I know.”

I say, “You know what?”

He looks at me with the uncompromising gaze of one whose eyes have been opened. He looks like the embodiment of revelation. My heart sinks.

“You made no sense to me,” he says. “Then I suddenly realized why you were so frustrating: You’ve been doing your best to live like a person in a book.”

“We’re paraphrasing Kurt Vonnegut now?” I say.

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

“I know, Katherine.” he says. “I know.”

I look closely at him; at his eyes, which have never been clearer or more wounded.

He does know.

“Damn,” I mutter. “I should have gotten rid of him when I had the chance.”

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.