Posts Tagged ‘serial killer’
Tags: false memoir, journalism, Seattle, serial killer
Tags: false memoir, investigative, journalism, Seattle, serial killer, wikipedia
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jack O’Lies (born August 4,1965) is a crime reporter at the Washingtonian, a daily newspaper in Seattle,Washington.
He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in investigative journalism in 1998 for his coverage of his wife’s murder and the subsequent trial of her killer, the Westgate Serial Killer. He came in second to Gary Cohn and Will Englund of The Baltimore Sun for their series on the international shipbreaking industry, which revealed the dangers posed to workers and the environment when discarded ships are dismantled.
Tags: false memoir, journalist, lake washington, newspaper, Seattle, serial killer
Thursday, March 22, 9:11 a.m.
On my own, with the aid of the internet, I’ve discovered that Jack O’Lies was a crime reporter at the Washingtonian in the late 1990s. I get that.
In 1998, he was covering the ongoing hunt for the Westgate Serial Killer. I get that.
His wife was killed by the Westgate Serial Killer in 1998. That I don’t get.
His wife’s killer was caught. I get that.
Jack O’Lies covered the trial of the Westgate Serial Killer, his wife’s murderer, for his newspaper. I decidedly don’t get that.
He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the trial. I get that all too well.
He came in second and got nothing more than a two-paragraph write-up in his own newspaper for his trouble. I so do not get that!
He is still a crime reporter at the Washingtonian. I don’t know if I get that or not.
After weeks of shady cyberstalking on my part, the question remains: Why did he cover the trial of his wife’s killer? According to my admittedly superficial research, he was also a witness at the trial. He went to court in the morning, he testified, then he went back to the Washingtonian and filed copy. Day after day.
Was it all a detachment thing for him? A coping mechanism, to keep himself emotionally removed so that he didn’t have to deal with the pain? Or is he a cold-hearted bastard? He has managed to stay employed as the industry bleeds print journalists. I vote cold-hearted bastard. But I want to find out for sure.
Four days after promising that Jack O’Lies would get back to me, his editor calls. I have no idea why. He, John Whiteclay, deputy assistant editor at one of the last print dailies in the U.S., surely has at least twenty-two better things to do at 9:11 a.m. on a Thursday. Could it be professional courtesy? One print editor to another?
“Hi, this is John Whiteclay at the Washingtonian.”
“Hi there,” I say. I try not to sound too eager.
“Sorry, I set up a thing to have Jack O’Lies call you today at ten, but I had to send him to Lake Washington. Breaking news. Can I have him call you to reschedule?”
“Okay…sure,” I say, though I doubt I’ll ever hear from him. Among those who know me, “Jack O’Lies” has become a slang term for a person who doesn’t return phone calls.
“So you’ll handle this between the two of you,” he says. It’s not a question. It’s a managerial brush-off. I’ve never had the chance to do this, since I have no staff. I’ve had it done to me plenty of times, however.
“Yeah,” I say. “Sure.”
“Great. Bye,” he says.
He hangs up. I hang up. I brood for thirty seconds. I know I’ll never hear from Jack O’Lies. Even with his editor involved. Especially with his editor involved. Particularly now that his editor had explicitly un-involved himself.
Breaking news at Lake Washington? Lake Washington is about 45 minutes from my newspaper office in morning rush hour traffic.
I put a Post-it note on my office door stating:
Interview in Seattle. Back noon-ish.
Though given my poor handwriting, it probably reads as:
In stes m Settle. Be bl nons.
Tags: Associated Press, Ballard, blogger, false memoir, Lake, media, newspaper, radio, reporter, Seattle, serial killer, TV, Washington
Thursday, March 22, 10:12 a.m.
In my limited experience, all daily newspaper journalists want to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Local TV reporters want to get hired by Fox News, CNN, 60 Minutes or Dateline NBC—whichever calls first.
Writers at the too-cool alternative weeklies want to be latter day incarnations of Dorothy Parker and get hired by The New Yorker, or become the next David Sedaris and craft false memoirs for NPR.
Bloggers want to be real (i.e. print) journalists.
Monthly newspaper reporters turned fully fledged editors want to write a book.
But what do crime reporters want?
Jack O’Lies is one.
I find it hard to believe that such a job still exists. Nonetheless, I’m about to meet him in his natural habitat: a crime scene. A murder scene. A possible serial killer murder scene, if the tweets are to be believed.
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.
Stumbling over the waddling wildlife, the perpetually jeans ‘n’ T-shirt-clad TV cameramen
(they are always men)
poke their lenses into the cops’ faces while the on-air talent—no one I recognize—fiddle with their handheld mics. Also jeans-clad, but sporting dry cleaned sports jackets, a half-dozen newspaper reporters are standing together gossiping. Their photojournalist counterparts, decked out in full-body khaki like war correspondents, are picking their way through the muck to shove their telephoto lenses over the yellow tape. Several radio reporters stand well apart from the mob and record their reportage with their iPhones: a feat that impressed me excessively the first time I saw it —ironically at the equally over-policed Shop With a Cop Christmas charity event.
Keeping a safe distance from the edge of Lake Washington where the corpse recently washed ashore, and looking hungover, overwhelmed, or both, are a couple kids from one of the alternative print weeklies. Given their smeared eyeliner and excess of sequins, I’m willing to bet that they got pulled directly off late night music club duty to cover this murder scene. Appearing uncomfortable and sporting homemade press passes, a few lonely souls drift through the crowd. As soon as I see their expensive digital cameras, I peg them as bloggers. My digital camera is small, cheap, and freelances during off hours as the family snapshot taker.
If this is indeed the crime scene of a serial killer, the FBI ought to be in attendance, dressed in their iconic trench coats. I’m wearing a trench coat that I bought a few years ago because I thought it looked reporterish, courtesy of my vague memories of 1940s movies. It was on sale at the Value Village and once got me erroneously pegged as a private investigator whilst I waited for an interviewee outside his tattoo parlor. Maybe the intimidating cops and the clique-ish reporters will think I’m FBI.
The thought cheers me considerably. I wanted to join the FBI in college. I sent in an application. “The X-Files” was popular at the time.
I’m with a monthly newspaper. And I’m way, way outside my newspaper’s coverage area. In more ways than one.
I get out of the car. I need to find Jack O’Lies. He’s a real, live crime reporter. He’ll be able to steer me through this murderous morass without landing me on the 5 o’clock news, immortalized as the crazy lady who blundered across the Police Line Do Not Cross tape and tripped over the corpse.
I pause next to the KING 5 TV news van. I have no idea what Jack O’Lies looks like. There are plenty of images of his wife’s killer, Robert “Bobby” Dean Clasky, the Westgate Serial Killer. They range from wild-eyed courtroom sketches to dead eyed mug shots going back fourteen years to a single school photo, aged eight or so, that ruins all wrath with his blond, abused, tentative yet hopeful smile.
I know that Jack is 45. Because I’m white, I whitely assume he’s white. He lives in Seattle’s Scandinavian ghetto, Ballard, so he’s pretty much got to be white.
The air is crisp and reeks of fish, waterfowl excrement and cheap aftershave. I wend my way over the slippery ground toward the water’s edge. Up to their thighs in Lake Washington, the police crime scene investigators are slowly trudging, their eyes on the rippling water. Red and white lights atop three useless ambulances circle silently. Cop radios jabber while, incongruously, the cops attached to them burst out laughing. I see a TV cameraman aim his all-seeing lens at a kid in a Seattle PD uniform who can’t be a day over 19. “Why so much police interest in a semi-eviscerated and mutilated body? Can you confirm this is the work of a serial killer, and is all of Seattle in danger?” the heavily made-up TV reporter inquires.
I spy an idle 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 tape that separates us.
I’ve only seen such a thing in real life once before. Granted, it was labeled Fire Line Do Not Cross, but close enough. It cordoned off a crucial cross street in the wilds of Ballard (Jack O’Lies country, before I had heard of him) when I was working on a Halloween article about bugs as a culinary option.
Yes, I ate bugs in Ballard. For journalism. But I didn’t violate the official yellow tape.
I glance around. There’s a gawky kid in a trench coat wandering around beyond the yellow tape. His trench coat screams “I’m a reporter!” more blatantly than mine. He’s got a fantastically expensive camera. He’s clearly a blogger. I duck under the tape barricade and approach the coroner just as the blogger turns and makes a sudden beeline for the same.
Blast these tenacious amateurs! I pick up my pace as best I can, but I’m slow and unsure on the slick mud. The blogger reaches the coroner and starts waving the camera in his face.
What happens next confuses me. I’m out of earshot. The blogger and the white guy—Jack O’Lies, I presume—appear to exchange words. Angry words. Because the blogger is attempting to horn in on Jack’s interview, perhaps? In my peripheral vision, I see a couple TV cameramen hustle toward them.
My view is abruptly blocked by a radio reporter, then a print journalist, half a dozen photojournalists, uncountable bloggers, and all the cameramen and audio techs from the TV crews. Everything suddenly becomes a noisy, jostling, desperate sort of scene that I’m not used to but have seen on the rare occasion when I’ve covered a popular news story.
Someone is shouting, then the white guy with the graying crew cut and last week’s 5 o’clock shadow shoves his way through the crowd of reporters. All lenses, boom mikes, SLR digital cameras and iPhones swivel to point at him.
I have no idea what just happened. But according to the cigarette, that is Jack O’Lies.
The lenses and the reporters attached to them turn back to the coroner, the lake, and the blogger, who is being hauled to his feet after he apparently slipped in the mud. I hesitate, then follow my presumed interviewee. I have a very fast car this week. I have no doubt that even with his head start, I can catch him.
As I navigate the slippery ground to my press car, I figure there’s a 50/50 chance he’s heading to the Washingtonian headquarters. I don’t know exactly where the Washingtonian building is located, beyond the mythology of the so-called Paper Triangle formed by the Interstate 5-bordering Seattle Times, the waterfront home of the comatose unto death Seattle P.I. and the northern apex between the two, the Washingtonian, which points toward Ballard.
Lucky for me, I have GPS in the car. This awesome ride, the Infiniti G convertible is the best car I’ve ever driven in my life. And it’s mine for a whole week, courtesy of the automobile PR firm that arranges such things, so that my newspaper can review the latest cars, generating revenue by selling ad space surrounding the car reviews. It is a total midlife crisis car. When I have my midlife crisis 10 or 15 years from now, I plan to ruin the family budget to buy one for myself.
Even with GPS, I manage to get lost. Forty-five minutes later, I pull into the Washingtonian’s “staff only” parking lot and hide the press car between a couple Fords. If it’s towed, I’ll be stranded but not liable for the impound costs, since it’s not my car. I hope.
I’ve walked past the corpse of the Seattle P.I. once. I’ve entered the Seattle Times building twice. The Washingtonian, never. I pull open the frosted glass front door and enter an echoing, marble expanse of soulless 1960s architecture. Like at the Times, there’s a front desk manned by a security guard. Unlike at the Times, there’s a two story waterfall behind the front desk that would be quite impressive if it wasn’t bone dry. Also unlike at the Times, I’m treated with little caution or interest. I tell the guard that I have an interview scheduled with Jack O’Lies.
“Know where he is? Third floor,” he replies. The Times has a formidable security gate. There’s no security gate here. Nor am I issued a plastic I.D. badge with a mugshot of me on it, which the Times security guard insisted I wear. I drift uncertainly to the bank of elevators, press the up button, and wait.
The building feels bereft. It appears to have been designed for a bustling community of thousands that has been decimated during the past decade. It’s creepy.
On the third floor, I wander through a cubicle farm dominated by row upon row of empty desks. I run into Deputy Assistant Editor John Whiteclay exactly where I least desire to: coming out of the men’s room.
I’m certain that it’s him. He’s hard to forget. The last time I saw him, he had a waist-length black braid and was wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt
(red, of course) under a second-hand brown corduroy jacket with leather elbow patches. He also sported tight jeans with a hole in one knee, a turquoise and silver bracelet, and a pair of beat up cowboy boots. He was such a twenty-seven-year-old tribal cliché punk when he strutted up to collect his trophies at the Society of Professional Journalists awards ceremony.
Today, his hair is shorn to corporate shortness. He’s wearing a pair of unattractive pleated front Dockers, a department store golf shirt, and unobtrusive lace-up leather shoes. Pushing thirty, his face is about a decade older than it was two years ago.
“Oh, hi,” I say. “You’re John Whiteclay, right?”
Looking surprised, cornered, and yet so very professional as the bathroom door swings closed behind him, he replies, “Yes. I’m sorry, you are…?”
“Katherine Luck from the Journal. We set up an interview with your staffer, Jack O’Lies, remember?”
Not surprisingly, he looks very surprised that I’m here after he gave me the big brush off over the phone this morning. However, he hides it with managerially speed.
“Right, right,” he says. “Coffee? I was going to grab a cup.”
“Sure, I never say no to coffee,” I say, trailing him to the break room. “So, I went on down to Lake Washington, but I didn’t manage to hook up with Jack.”
Mr. Whiteclay grabs the Mr. Coffee carafe and a probably clean mug from the counter. His face again registers surprise before he hides it ever so professionally.
“I thought you two were going to schedule things over the phone. Were you covering the murder for your paper or something?”
“Oh no, we don’t do hard news. Nothing controversial,” I say.
He does not offer me a cup of coffee. He leans against the counter and sips.
“Okay,” he says.
“I just figured it would be easier to get in touch with him in person, maybe,” I say.
John Whiteclay says nothing. He crosses one Dockers-encased leg over the other, leaning against the counter in a way that announces that this is where we’re going to wrap things up. I’ve been long-form blown off before. I know the body language all too well.
I, however, become stubborn when professionally thwarted. I can stay here all day if that’s what it takes. I’m saved from making myself obnoxious by a staff writer who pokes his head into the break room.
“Oh man, Chief, you gotta see this! O’Lies punched the hell out of that idiot Seattle Crimeologist blogger.”
Chief Whiteclay’s face registers alarm. Still clutching his coffee mug, he follows the writer. Not uninvited, I trail them to a low-walled cubicle in the middle of the newsroom. Half a dozen reporters are crammed in it, their eyes glued to a computer screen. Their Chief, John Whiteclay, shoulders his way through to stand next to the cubicle owner, who is seated in front of the computer.
“Did you see this, Chief? It’s all over his blog,” she says, hitting play on the uploaded video.
Lake Washington of about an hour ago comes into focus: reporters, camera crews, cops, ducks and all. Behind the camera, a whiny, juvenile sort of voice is saying, “It is a measure of the depravity—nay, the sheer brutality—of modern American culture that a police force immobilized by—”
Off screen, someone says, “Jack? That really you? What’re you doing here today?”
The camera swings from the rippling blue lake filled with wading cops to focus on a black guy in his fifties standing with a white guy who looks to be in his forties. The black guy is wearing a dark blue windbreaker loudly emblazoned “King County Coroner’s Office.” The white guy has graying hair hacked into a super-short crew cut and a couple days of beard growth that looks sexy on movie stars in their twenties but doesn’t work for professional men over the age of thirty.
“Tell me about it. I feel about a hundred and forty today,” the white guy says.
The black guy leans closer to the white guy. In the cubicle, we all lean closer to the computer speakers. The coroner says something that sounds like, “Jack. What’re you doing here, really? You know what today is.”
Behind the camera, there’s a gleeful chortle and the shot begins to wobble as the cameraman walks toward the pair.
“Jack O’Lies, Washingtonian crime reporter,” says the unseen cameraman. Both the coroner and Washingtonian crime reporter Jack O’Lies turn and stare into the camera. “What, indeed, are you doing at a serial killer crime scene today, of all days? Are you trying to finally win that Pulitzer? Today’s the perfect day to give it another shot!”
The white guy, Jack O’Lies, goes whiter. Then whiter still. His eyes are fixed on the camera. He steps toward it.
“Jack,” says the coroner. Then he exclaims, “Jack!” as the camera makes a rapid arc up to the blue sky.
“You don’t ever speak to me, you ignorant little bastard,” a voice beyond the blue sky shouts. There’s a commotion, then some scuffling sounds as the camera swings wildly around. We viewers are treated to scraps of cop uniforms, blurry reporters, a few fancy TV cameras and boom mikes—look, that’s me! Then a shot of the back of Jack O’Lies’ head and jacket as he pushes his way through the crowd.
“And it’s on the KING 5 website, too,” says the cubicle owner, tapping at the keyboard as her fearless leader, the stricken Chief, stares at the monitor. There’s a snippet of happy talk from the KING 5 in-studio talent, then their faces and voices abruptly go serious.
“A body was found on Lake Washington today,” says the blond (female).
“The nature of the as-yet unidentified man’s injuries have officials from the Seattle Police Department speculating that it may have been the work of a serial killer,” chimes in the blond (male).
They cut to one of the heavily made-up TV reporters I noted earlier. He begins to speak earnestly into the camera, clutching a large microphone that I suspect is purely a prop, given all the boom mikes I saw.
“Thanks, Shannon and Greg. I’m here on the shore of Lake Washington, where police have discovered another body that officials suspect may be one in a string of—”
Off screen, there’s a commotion, then some scuffling sounds. The TV camera swings smoothly to take in Jack O’Lies shoving a gawky kid wearing a trench coat that screams “I’m a reporter!” more blatantly than mine. The kid slips in the mud and lands on his back.
“There appears to be some sort of incident here—hold on,” says the unseen yet unflappable TV reporter as his cameraman zooms in on Jack O’Lies’s enraged face.
“Ever speak to me, you ignorant little bas—BEEP!” he says.
Is “bastard” really on the FCC’s profanity list? Or is KING 5 hypervigilent?
Just then, a man with a graying, super-short crew cut shoves his way through the crowd into the cubicle. He slams a galley sheet covered with text in 12-point Times New Roman font onto the keyboard. Like meerkats sensing danger on that meerkat nature show I watched once, dozens of reporters around the newsroom poke their heads up from their cubicles.
“Here,” he says to Deputy Assistant Editor John Whiteclay. “And you don’t ever, ever send me out into the field again.”
I glance at the graying crew cut, then at the copy, which is bylined “Jack O’Lies.”
Tags: false memoir, interview, journalist, newspaper, Seattle, serial killer
Thursday, March 22, 2:49 p.m.
His editor was right to say “Damn.” Damn is right.
Jack O’Lies’ article on the Lake Washington murder hits the web at 2:46 p.m. I read it. I feel depressed.
I was at the same murder scene four hours earlier. I noted so much less. Could I have written an article even half as comprehensive in less than half an hour?
Could I have done it in half a day? Half a week? Half a month?
Yes, given half a month, I might be able to. I work at a monthly newspaper, so I’m comfortable with such a deadline.
But less than half an hour…damn.
I start to doubt whether I ought to try to interview him tonight—or at all. I am so far beneath him. Compared to him, I’m barely better than a blogger.
Then I start to think. To think cynically. A bad habit of mine.
Had he really gotten all those stellar quotes from the coroner? Or were they manufactured, id est, made up? Had his years—decades—of experience made banging hard core murder reportage effortless? Could I do it, if I had decades of experience as a crime reporter?
Only one way to find out.
At five p.m., I jump in this week’s press car on loan for review, an empowering $83,000 Infinity G convertible that can’t help but expand one’s confidence (arrogance). I drive in rush hour traffic from my newspaper’s suburban headquarters south to Seattle. The trip, twenty-four minutes at most according to the car’s GPS, takes an hour and thirteen minutes.
By the time I locate a parking spot outside the 3 Coins Restaurant, it’s 6:24 p.m. I step into the leathery gloom. I’m sure Jack O’Lies has gone home by now. Nevertheless, I take it upon myself to dodge first into the restaurant, then into bar to check.
According to the bartender in the leather-bound lounge, Jack is still in situ, seated in his usual booth in the back, drinking his usual Scotch on the rocks. I order a Diet Coke and a Scotch on the rocks. I carry them into the seen-better-days murk.
I don’t normally do stuff like this—stalk men to their favorite watering hole, buy them a drinks, refuse to take “no” for an answer.
But I’m working.
Sometimes I’m simultaneously amused and appalled at the lengths to which I will go when it’s for work. For fun, for friendship, for my own edification, there’s no way I’d skip dinner to drive through rush hour hell to Seattle to force a miserable widower to tell me about how he came to this sorry state. Especially after he’d made it clear he didn’t want to do so. I don’t cross the line—any line—in my private life. But for a story…I marvel at what I’ve done.
As I approach, a glass in each hand, I feel like the embodiment of stranger-danger. Want some candy, little boy?
“Jack?” I say. “Hi again! Katherine from the Journal? Mind if I sit?”
Seated within a semi-circular banquette, Jack O’Lies is stationed behind three empty highball glasses. The high walls of the booth are like the cubicle walls at the Washingtonian office, but studded with tarnished brass buttons and reeking of sixty years of cigarette smoke. His head is down, as if he’s studying his keyboard at his desk. He doesn’t look up at me.
I slide in uninvited and sit across from him.
“Wow,” I say. “Cool place. I’ve never been here before. But I’ve heard of it. It’s pretty historical, right?”
Jack still doesn’t look up.
“Traffic was crazy. I swear, it’s worse every time I come down to Seattle. You’re drinking Scotch, right? That’s what the bartender said. Want this? I didn’t feel like breaking the ten,” I say.
I think this sounds very cool. But if he asks me why, exactly, I felt obliged to dispose of a ten dollar bill rather than accept change, I’ll stutter stupidly and expose myself as one of the world’s worst liars. I had formal training in acting during my formative years. Fat lot of good it’s done me.
“Here,” I say, sliding the highball glass filled to the brim with Scotch and slowly melting ice across the sticky tabletop.
Jack looks up. His pale blue eyes move from the glass to my face, where they lock on my pupils. He has the stare of a basilisk. I can’t move. I sense the poison coming through his eyes into mine, but it’s too late.
“Um,” I say, breaking eye contact nervously. “I read your article.”
He says nothing. He’s still staring at me. I can feel it. I play with the red straw that bobs in my soda.
“It was great. Very thorough. I was there, too. At the murder scene, or whatever. I really like your writing style.”
I just said “whatever” to a veteran crime reporter. His silent stare is rattling me badly. I’m reverting to age 13. I’m 33.
”Here,” I say, shoving the Scotch closer to him. “I was hoping to talk to you for a minute or two. About a piece I’m working on. Totally off the record, obviously.”
Jack O’Lies lets out a sound that would be a laugh if it didn’t sound so painful. I actually flinch at the harsh, throat flaying sound.
“There is no ‘off the record’ in an interview. You’re a blogger, aren’t you? The one that’s been emailing and calling me over and over?”
“I am not a blogger. I work for the Journal. I’m an editor. A print editor.”
“BFD,” he mutters, dropping his gaze to the glass. He grabs it and takes a sip. “Never heard of it.”
“We have a circulation of over 93,000. Print circulation,” I retort.
“Never heard of it.”
“We had thirteen editions in two counties before we consolidated about a year ago. The North Seattle Journal, the Ballard Journal—”
He lets out a groan and looks up at me. His eyes, so light and so blue, grow drunkenly merry.
“You mean that thing, that neighborhood rag that used to just show up about once a month in my mailbox ever since I bought my house eighteen years ago?”
“Yes,” I say.
“It said Ballard Journal but there was barely any Ballard news. Just random feel-good features and…oh, good God,” he chuckles.
“Yes,” I snap.
“We used to wonder why the hell we got it every month. We never subscribed. We recycled the thing every month. Why don’t we get it anymore?”
“We stopped mailing to homes that make less that $100,000 a year,” I reply.
Ah, the satisfaction I feel as his smirk morphs into a glare and he lets the highball glass clunk too hard onto the tabletop. I raise my eyebrows innocently. Sometimes I manage to leverage that acting training of mine.
“I’m not interested in being in your paper,” he says.
“This isn’t for my paper,” I say. “This is a side project of my own.”
He lowers his eyes, picks the glass up, and drinks.
“So…how do you like The Chief? He said you’d be calling me.”
“Do you guys really call him that? Like, openly?” I say.
He stares at me. I fumble.
“I mean, isn’t that racist, or whatever?” I say.
“He’s our department’s editor-in-chief. Why do you think we call him ‘The Chief?’”
A year or two ago, I would have answered that and been trapped.
“He’s nice,” I say.
“He’s an ad department tool. A tool. In all five senses of the word,” Jack replies.
“Well, he’s a very good writer.”
“Good writers don’t make good editors,” he says.
So…I can be offended in one of two ways. I take a long sip from the red straw. My hands are shaking.
Jack drains the Scotch.
“Thanks for the drink,” he says. “Now, you’ll have to excuse me.”
He doesn’t make to rise or to grab his jacket, which is hanging on an old fashioned brass hook just outside our private banquette. The big brush off. I get it.
I refuse to play along.
“Oh, sure, sure,” I say agreeably. “I’ll get out of your hair, just let me finish my drink, okay? Why don’t we talk about that piece I’m working on? I just had a couple questions I wanted to ask you. It’ll take five minutes, tops.”
I can be so obnoxious when I refuse to be brushed-off.
Jack O’Lies neither sighs nor rolls his eyes. Instead, he turns that icy blue stare on me.
“I’m planning on doing something. I’d like to be alone,” he says.
“What are you planning to do?” I ask in the sweetest, fakest, most engaging voice ever to have come out of Acting 251. “You can tell me. Really…I’ll keep it a secret.”
Later, much later, I wish I’d kept my mouth shut.
Tags: false memoir, interview, newspaper, photo, Seattle, serial killer
Thursday, March 22, 7:53 p.m.
In the brown, dim lounge, alone in our womb-like corner, Jack takes out his wallet. He holds it a moment, then sets it on the table beside the four empty highball glasses.
He inhales deeply. He stares at the flat, coffee colored lump on the table. He sighs shakily.
“You know what today is, right?” he says. His voice is soft and prone to cracking. “You must. Why else…why would you hound me like this all day?”
I’m at a loss, so I say nothing. I surreptitiously signal the bartender for another round for both of us. I will be insomniac tonight from the caffeine, Jack will be chatty from the booze. I hope.
He reaches for his wallet.
“They’re in a secret pocket,” he says, opening it. “Inside the money fold. There aren’t many. It’s easy to forget they’re in there any other day of the year. I never show them to anyone. Never look at them myself … except today.”
Jack slowly fingers photo paper hidden in the wallet and I feel apprehensive. Is he going to show me some kind of sex thing? Some horrifying pornography? He pulls the pictures out and lays them in a small pile on the table.
There are five pictures. They’re creased and split in places from being sat on for years.
“All the other pictures were thrown away or lost after…” he hesitates. He doesn’t speak for more seconds than I can count. “I do this every year. They’re more faded every time. Is that bad?”
All of a sudden, Wikipedia hits me between the eyes. Oh holy crap!
I get why the coroner was so upset to see him at the murder scene.
I get why he shoved that blogger.
I get why he was hostile to his boss.
I get why he kept telling me “Not today.”
His wife was killed twelve years ago today.
How, how, how could I have forgotten?
How tactless am I? How stupid? How unprofessional?
What must he think of my motives in following him here tonight?
“Oh Jack,” I say. I reach my hand across the table toward his, then withdraw it hastily. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. I really didn’t, I swear…”
“We were so stupid,” he says. “I was, what? Thirty-three? She wasn’t even thirty yet. I was gonna do something when she turned thirty. She invited my whole newsroom to an over-the-hill party when I hit the big three-oh. I was going to get her back.”
The waitress sets my Diet Coke and his Scotch on the rocks on the table. Jack grabs his drink. I ignore mine. He drains half of his. He hasn’t looked me in the eye since he took out his wallet. He stacks and smoothes the fragile photos once, twice, a third time.
“Lucy was in preschool. Three. Not four, not quite. We were talking about having another. My wife wanted a boy. A matched set. I didn’t care. I wanted another, boy or girl, healthy and who cares? You know?”
I don’t. I only ever wanted a daughter. And I got exactly what I wanted. I nod anyway.
“The thing was, we couldn’t afford another kid. That was the huge issue—the worst thing in our lives. How to pay for another crib. Jesus Christ.”
Jack suddenly twitches his gaze from his glass to mine. I flinch.
“Do you have any idea?” he says.
“No,” I say. And I don’t.
“I can’t really remember what she looked like anymore. Not what she really looked like. She laughed like Lucy, but Lucy doesn’t laugh much now. I have this picture of her in my head, but it’s not real. But…” he fingers the stack of photos. “There are these…”
He looks at me.
“Do you want to see?”
Tags: false memoir, miami vice, photo, Seattle, serial killer, wedding
Thursday, March 22, 8:01 p.m.
“Sometimes I have this dream where I can see her. It’s so damned mundane and stupid. I’m sitting at the breakfast table, harping on the tax return. She’s tying up a garbage bag and blowing her bangs off her forehead. She used to do that all the time, never cut them until they were past her nose. Then suddenly I wake up and I’m…shocked that she isn’t beside me in the bed. Do you know?”
“No,” I say.
Jack reaches for the pictures. His eyes are averted to the fake wood paneling that covers the wall of this hole-in-the-wall bar that grandly calls itself a lounge. He pulls one from the pile. It looks very old. Its corners are rounded. He looks at it, then hands it to me.
I take in the faded image of a much younger Jack O’Lies, clad in a salmon pink tuxedo with black piping all over the sleeves and lapels, dude cowboy style. He has pushed the sleeves up, a Don Johnson wannabe.
His hair is puffed out in a sort of white guy afro. His face is smeared by a bleary grin. He looks nothing like the haggard widower seated across from me.
I inadvertently laugh.
“That’s you? What year is this?” I say.
“Late eighties. Why?”
“You look like Miami Vice. How old were you?”
“Twenty-three,” he says.
“Wow. You got married young.”
I know better than to laugh at his bride. Her wedding dress is horrible. It’s made of some kind of white and ivory checked gingham, all puffed sleeves and western flounces, like a virginal square dancer. Her hair is in braids. Her veil appears to be secured by a bit of knotted Christmas tinsel. She carries a mixed bouquet of dandelions and yellow roses. She looks like a hillbilly.
“Was…was it a theme wedding?” I ask.
“No. We were young. And broke.”
I feel I’m allowed to be judgmental, since I (not broke, but cheap) got my wedding dress for $35 at the Value Village. It looked a thousand times classier. Then again, maybe everyone at my wedding was secretly snickering.
“She was very beautiful,” I say.
And she was.
Tags: crayon, false memoir, interview, Seattle, serial killer
Thursday, March 22, 8:11 p.m.
Jack shifts the wedding photo to the bottom of the stack and pulls out a scrap of fragile, holey paper. This one isn’t a photo. He gently unfolds it.
“I accidentally made a tear in it last year. Be very careful,” he says.
He hands it to me.
A big red blob dominates the construction paper. It has wild green hair and broom-like arms and no legs. Its eyes are askew like a Picasso. A series of letters, unconnected and jagged, spell out…something.
“Did your daughter make this?” I say.
“In preschool. Maybe a week before the murder,” he says.
I look at the paper to hide how uncomfortable I am. If I had realized that today is the day his wife was killed twelve years ago, I would never have sat down at his table, laden with empty booze glasses and pictures from his dead past.
Or would I?
“What does this say?” I ask.
“‘HI I LOVE YOU MOMMY! LOVE LUCY!’” he spells out, tracing the text with his finger. The nail is nipped down so far it’s painful to look at. I’ve seen hands like his before. He must chew his nails mercilessly.
“Very sweet,” I say.
“It took me three of these days, three years, to figure it out,” he says. “It’s the only picture Lucy drew as a little kid that I have.”
“Did you throw the others out?” I ask.
“Things turned bad after she died. Things disappeared. I have no idea why this didn’t.”
He signals the waitress. He’s already so drunk. He looks at me in a way that makes me shrink.
“Things went very, very bad after she was murdered,” he says.
Tags: duck, false memoir, Seattle, serial killer, slaughterhouse
Thursday, March 22, 8:34 p.m.
“I’ve got just one photo of the two of them together,” Jack says.
He brushes the remaining photos aside impatiently. A dark one, shot through with alarming slashes of red and white, flashes out from the bottom of the stack. He snaps his eyes shut and slams his hand over it.
“Not yet,” he says.
He pulls another photo out, opens his eyes, and relaxes.
“Here. One week before it happened. That’s my Lucy. With my wife.”
I take the proffered photo.
Lucy, the crayon portraitist, is a chubby, cheerful three-year-old caught in mid-laugh, her baby teeth shining. She’s dressed in red cable knit tights and a plaid dress. Her dishwater blond hair is in two messy ponytails. She’s standing outdoors in early spring. It looks windy.
Jack’s wife, ten years older and fifteen pounds heavier than in the wedding photo, is kneeling beside Lucy. One arm encircles the little girl, the other points at the camera. She’s pushing thirty and looks it. Her face is careworn. But she’s still very beautiful.
“This was a week before she died?” I say.
“We went on a picnic. We did that every weekend. Except when I had to work.”
“Where were they?” I squint at the oddly shaped gray smokestacks that tower over the blue pond behind Lucy and Jack’s wife. Black blobs dot the water. “Are those ducks?”
“Yeah. We used to drive up to the Indian reservation to feed the ducks. There was this animal farm…well, later I found out it was the front end of a slaughterhouse. But there were cows and horses and there was this duck pond. It was open to the public. Lucy loved feeding the ducks.”
I look at the photo. Cold, early spring sunshine gleams on their faces. Their cheeks are the same shade of pink. Behind them, those fat industrial steam columns seem familiar to me. On the ground between Jack’s wife’s feet is a bag of white sandwich bread that’s clearly destined for the ducks.
Is this the Last Known Photo of her? The one the TV news displayed as they detailed the fate of the latest victim of the Westgate Serial Killer? Why do all Last Known Photos have this same hazy aura of finality? I wonder if mine will. I wonder if it’s already been taken, waiting patiently in the digital camera I use for work, which freelances in off-hours as my family snapshot taker?
“When it was warm,” Jack says, “We….my wife and Lucy and me…would sit on a ripped old quilt by the duck pond. Talking nonsense and tossing stale bread at the ducks. They knew us. They begged like puppies.”
Sitting across from me tonight, he’s so diminished. He isn’t the husband behind the camera anymore. He’s so drunk. I wish I knew how to help him. Long ago, in another life (career), I learned to shut up and listen when people were telling me horrible things. But I’m out of practice.
“When it rained or was cold, we huddled up in the car. My wife brought these great thermoses of soup and we tuned the radio to this oldies station. We didn’t actually like the music, but it reminded us of what our parents played when we were kids. The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. Janis Joplin. It was our version of church.”
He kills the last of the Scotch on the rocks. He’s so far from sober that I feel exploitative.
“It was going to be a car picnic, the day he killed her,” he says.
Tags: false memoir, interview, murder, photo, Seattle, serial killer, weegee
Thursday, March 22, 9:23 p.m.
The fourth photo finds its way from Jack’s hand to mine. It’s a strange image: a Polaroid taken by a neighbor the day before his wife was no more. It’s a real slice-of-life shot, unposed, the subjects unaware of the cameraman’s presence. Jack and his wife are in their kitchen. They are sitting at their kitchen table, one on each side, facing off. I know this posture. They’re in the midst of an argument.
“Lucy let the neighbor guy into the house without us knowing,” Jack says, as I study the photo. “I had a long talk with her that night about not letting anyone in without asking Mommy or Daddy first. For all the good it did.”
In the photo, Jack of twelve years ago is slumped in his kitchen chair, his head leaning heavily into his cupped hand. The other hand is balled up in a fist that rests on his thigh. Visible tension is all over him. There are stress lines in his forehead. His shoulders are up around his ears. He looks a lot less like the dork in the wedding photo and more like the drunk, widowed, ruined man seated across from me. He’s exactly the same age as me in the photo. Do I look like this?
His wife is in mid-sentence, frowning with her mouth open on a vowel, her hand out to help make her point. She looks even more upset than he does. Jack can remember every word of their conversation, thanks to this picture. Unasked, he recounts it.
“She said, ‘I hate this.’
“I said, ‘What?’
“She said, ‘Seeing you like this. You look terrible. You aren’t eating, you aren’t sleeping—’
“I said, ‘How would you know?’
“She said, ‘Well, unless you’re sleeping somewhere I don’t know about, you’re only in our bed a good three hours a night. And even then, you keep thrashing around and muttering. Are you having nightmares?’
“I said, ‘Can we just drop this, please?’
“She said, ‘Fine.’
“And she did drop it. For about thirty seconds.
“Then she said, ‘You’re on a team, you know. You don’t have to do it all. Can’t some of the other reporters pull their weight a little?’
“I said, ‘All of the other reporters are working just as hard as me! Do you have any idea how hard this is? If the cops nail this guy and the P.I. or the Times are there and we aren’t…do you know how that will look?’
“She said, ‘I just think you could…I don’t know. I just wish you didn’t have to put so much of yourself into some son of a bitch serial killer. It’s such a waste.’
“I said, ‘It’s been months and months—a waste? How the hell would you know? You never read my stuff! You don’t give a damn what I do for a living, do you? You bitch about it.’”
Jack hangs his head.
“I said that. She was dead eighteen hours later. I didn’t know what was coming, but still…I said that. Petty. Stupid. I knew she never read my articles. She never had in the ten years we were married. It hurt. She complained about how much time my job took, but she never bothered to check out the result. How many people’s jobs have an end product the whole damned world can see?”
I can relate. But I say nothing.
“She said, ‘Honey, I just mean it’s terrible that a good man has to give himself to some killer he doesn’t even know, not to the family that loves him. And misses him. Jack? Do you understand?’
“And right then, the flash went off. We both jumped and yelled, and our neighbor was all, ‘Hey, thought you’d be used to the paparazzi thing, Jack! Got any beer?’”
Jack sighs. He’s silent for a long time.
“I was about to say to her, ‘Yes. I’m sorry, baby. I miss you and Lucy. I love you.’ But I lost my chance. And I never got another.”