Archive for the ‘Post 2.5’ Category

Thursday, March 22, 10:18 p.m.

When Jack shows me the last photo ever taken of his wife, my heart stops. My breath stops. My blinking, my nervous toe-tapping, and my thoughts stop. The entire world stops.

It is the most horrible image I have ever seen.

I studied anatomy and physiology at a very young age. Before I was legal, I had seen a hospital snapshot of a woman whose face had become a comma courtesy of a shotgun blast: her forehead, eyes and gaping throat were all she had to call her own. I’d seen a glossy, full page image of the top half of a man’s head staring out from on the gritty ground of Rwanda, bisected above the nose by a machete strike. I’d seen photos of Mary Kelly, whose internal viscera were removed, breasts cut off, and face hacked to hamburger by Jack the Ripper. I’d seen crime scene photos of the Black Dahlia’s severed torso, displayed in the tall grass a good foot from her severed hips and legs in an empty lot in Los Angeles.

But this…

Jack is talking. I can’t hear him. My ears are buzzing. I’ve never seen a picture like this in all my life.

“There were no witnesses,” I hear him saying, as I tear my eyes away from the photo. I let my gaze lose itself in his. His stare is so cold, so intimidating, but I don’t care—it’s a sweet relief after what I’ve just seen.

“No witnesses,” I repeat.

“Except Lucy,” he says.

“Put the picture away. Please,” I say.

Jack sets it face up on the tabletop. I can’t keep my gaze from wandering to it. I force myself to lock my eyes into his reptilian stare. His eyes are so penetrating and so drunk. He does not blink.

“He followed a routine, just like my wife did. For the past month, he’d seen her buying bread with her little girl at the same store, at the same time, every Sunday. There was no one else with her. Apparently. He didn’t know that I talked to the cops about him, that I filed stories about him on a daily basis, that I went to all the autopsies of his victims, and that I was always sitting right outside in the car.”

“Why?” I say. “Why didn’t you go in the store with her?”

“I was smoking,” he says. “My wife wanted me to quit. Things were tense between us. I told her I had. I hadn’t. Every Sunday, I watched her through the big fishbowl windows the entire time, from bakery to checkout, while I sucked down a cigarette. I tossed it before she came out. I never noticed him watching her. He never noticed me. I guess that makes us even, right?”

Jack ought to laugh humorlessly, but instead he falls silent for three painfully long minutes.

“If I’d been there,” he finally says, “Smoking in the car and watching her, I’d have seen him grab her. I’d have saved her. Goddamn.”

Jack fumbles in his ‘80s-era Members Only jacket and produces a pack of Marlboros. He sets it on the table. As he hunts through his pockets for a lighter, I snatch the cigarettes and stuff them in my purse.

“No smoking. We’re in public, it’s illegal,” I say.

Jack drunkenly keeps searching for a moment, then seems to forget why his hand is questing within his pockets.

“I was at work,” he says. “Everyone was at work. We got a tip from the King County Sheriff’s office. Then the Washington State Patrol called us. Then the Seattle cops called. Something big was about to happen. The kids that went to the press club mixers called their buddies at the Times and the P.I. They were all in on it, too. The cops had him.”

“What do you mean, they had him? He killed your wife,” I say.

“They had him. His name, his address. But he wasn’t there. They tipped off the TV stations before the papers. We found out late, but we were saddling up fast. Then the kid outta journalism school who monitored the police scanner came running in. He was so freaked out…”

Jack stops talking for another three minutes. To keep myself from looking at the photo laying face up on the tabletop, I count the seconds. It’s 180 on the dot.

“I did a lot of research after he killed her. During the trial…what else could I do? I talked to everyone. He was waiting in the bakery department for her. He knew it was always deserted on Sunday—no baking till Monday, all the brunch shoppers gone by ten a.m. Mike Kraft from the Times got an exclusive interview with him after the trial. He gave me his notes—he couldn’t publish most of the interview. Too graphic.”

Jack pauses. I don’t count the seconds this time.

“Lucy saw. I’ve never…” he hesitates. “She was three. He let her go. My wife went with him so he would let her go. That was his thing. He targeted women with small children. They always went with him after he showed them his gun and threatened to shoot their child.”

Jack takes the photo and holds it in both hands. He doesn’t look at it. I don’t look at it.

“He told Mike Kraft that he waited for her. He pretended to be checking out the day-old pastries, knowing she’d stick to the bagged bread. He liked her slim arms, her good wrists. He loved her bangs hanging over her face until she blew them away.”

“Okay, Jack…Jack? I really think we need to call it a night. Let me take you home,” I say. “Please? I’m not trained to…I think I’m not the best person for you to tell this to.”

I’ve never been the best person for people to tell horrifying things to. And yet, they keep telling me. Do I attract these people and their stories?

“He got lucky that day,” Jack says. “The little girl wandered away from her mother, straight to him. She stood on tiptoe so she could see the donuts in the glass case. He told her he’d get one for her, grabbed her hand, and told her not to say anything till he asked her mommy. Lucy told me that.”

I ache. She was three years old. I’ve had a three year old. I can imagine…

“So when he approached my wife with the gun, he was holding Lucy’s hand. Of course she went with him. What else could she do? But if I’d been out in the car…”

Jack is so very drunk. He’s slurring his consonants. His neck is wobbly, sending his head into odd orbits.

“Lucy wandered around the store for twenty minutes before anyone realized she was lost. The cashiers told KING 5 TV that she sobbed, ‘Mommy left! Mommy left with a stranger!’ I could have taken him. Gun or no. He was five foot four, a hundred thirty pounds. You could have taken him. Goddamn it.”

He’s probably right. But only if my daughter was safe. Would I have done what his wife did? I like to think that I wouldn’t…as long as my daughter was safe. I’ve heard the gospel preached on the cable documentaries about serial killers, and it is this: If you go where they tell you, you will be flayed. If you refuse, maybe a superficial stab wound before they flee. But all bets are off if they’re pointing a gun at your child.

I feel bad for judging her unattractive wedding dress.