Posts Tagged ‘Ballard’

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

Camera man in Seattle

(they are always men)

Camera man in Seattle filming The X-Facto

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.

The X-Files

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.

Layne Stayle as a child

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.

Plate of bugs in Ballard, Seattle

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.

Gates Foundation opens in Seattle

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

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.”

 

NEXT >>

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Thursday, March 22, 11:12 p.m.

He’s astonishingly drunk. And on a work night. He drops his car keys as he tries to slide out of the booth. I duck down and grab them. I put them in my purse. He’s so far gone that he doesn’t notice. He scrabbles around on the sticky carpet, hunting and cursing.

“How about I drive you home?” I say. “I’ve got an awesome press car this week. You’ll love it. Where do you live?”

He keeps fumbling around the floor until he clocks his jaw hard on the edge of the table. Stunned, he stares at me as I pull my coat on and beckon to him.

“It’s either I take you home, or you pay for a cab,” I say. “Come on. You’ll feel better once you get to bed.”

“Can’t afford a cab,” he sneers, as he hauls himself unsteadily to his feet. “Your paper doesn’t get delivered to my home anymore. I make way, way, way less than $100,000 a year.”

“Join the club,” I say. “I’m parked right outside.”

I start walking. To my surprise, he follows without another word. He leans on the bar with all his weight as I pay the tab. It’s a horrifying $62.19 before tax. I can’t honorably get out of it once my credit card has been swiped by the bartender. Oh well. Since I aided and abetted Jack’s drinking tonight, I figure I’m gonna have to pay for it. Literally and figuratively.

Out in the drizzly chill, Jack lurches along the gleaming sidewalk as he trails me to my loaner press car. The doors unlock automatically when they sense I’m near. Jack falls into the front passenger seat and rubs his face as if washing it.

“You have no idea,” he mutters.

“Where do you live?” I say.

“Ballard.”

“Can you be more specific?”

“Everyone used to be a drunk Scandinavian fisherman. Then the yuppies moved in,” he says. “We bought our house cheap because nobody wanted to live around a bunch of drunk Scandinavian fishermen. Now they’ve got their own reality TV show and my property taxes are killing me.”

Deadliest Catch
“Jack! What is your address?”

Jack reclines against the plush leather headrest, his eyes closed.

“Mmm…outside your beat, little lady.”

“Little what?” I say, “Okay, just give me your driver’s license.”

Obediently, as if he’s been ordered to do so by many a cop, Jack pulls out his wallet, withdraws his driver’s license, and hands it to me. His eyes stay closed the entire time.

“Your newspaper is probably used to wrap fish in Ballard. Do you realize that?” he murmurs.

I squint at his license, glowing orange in the street light outside my window. It’s five years old and about to expire. Jack is an Aries. His photo looks significantly younger than he does. He must drink harder than a Scandinavian fisherman.

The address is no help. I don’t know how to navigate the wilds of Ballard. Lucky for me, the car can tell me how to get anywhere. As I laboriously key in the cross streets of our present location and then Jack’s address, my passenger laments.

“They started charging for obituaries three years ago, when the newspaper industry tanked,” Jack says. “That’s what I do all day now. Call funeral homes and hustle them to sell the bereaved a space in our paper. Once a day, I call the cops and write up the police blotter from whatever the rookie who answers the phone tells me. God. I was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Did you know that?”

“Yes,” I say, pondering the map generated by the awesome GPS in this awesome press car.

“I’m an ad department tool,” he moans.

“Well, at least it’s job security,” I say, as I start the engine.

“An intern could do it,” he says.

I pull onto the freeway and push the accelerator to the floor. This car is so fast. I hate to think what will happen if I get pulled over. I’ve got very scant proof of permission to drive it. It will give me something to write about in the auto review section, if I’m hauled off to jail for grand theft auto. I’m almost excited by the prospect. I guess I’m an ad department tool, too.

“Lucy’s gonna be so pissed,” Jack says.

“She’s fifteen, right?” I say.

“Fifteen. Going on fifty. She’s so hard on me.”

“Well, weren’t we all at that age.”

“She hates it,” Jack says. “But if I stop, I’ll die. You understand?”

“No,” I say. “Jack, this is your exit, right?”

Jack doesn’t answer. The GPS says it is. I take the exit off the freeway, into the heart of Ballard, land of difficult parking and random intersections.

“I wish you worked at my paper,” he says. “I don’t talk to anyone.”

“Well, you’ve got to make connections and all that, right? For your career. Try to extend your social network,” I ramble, not listening to myself as I scan the dimly lit street signs. Where the hell are we?

“I never do,” he says. “Never. Nobody knows about me. Who are you?”

He is so drunk. I hope the police will go easy on me when I rear-end some Ballardite as I distractedly search for the elusive Leary Way, cross street of 21st Avenue N.W. I’ll plead the designated, but distracted, driver defense.

“I write about dead people all day,” Jack says. “My mother is dying. My father died when Lucy was a baby. I don’t know why I’m telling you these things.”

“You’re drunk. You’re chatty,” I reply. “Yes! 21st Avenue N.W! It does exist!” I turn the car in a sharp right, making the tires squeal. “GPS, I love you!”

Jack opens his eyes, one at a time. He rubs a hand over his mouth twice. He blinks and stares out the windshield.

“Where are we?”

“Less than four blocks from your home. Isn’t GPS fantastic? I love it!” I say.

Jack sits up in alarm.

“Don’t drop me home! Lucy’ll be so pissed. Put me out here.”

“What—why?” I say.

“Stop! Stop now!”

I stop. We’re in front of a bar. Jack fumbles with the door latch.

“Jack, wait—”

He thrusts the passenger door open.

“She’ll raise hell. I’ll sneak in. Don’t tell,” he slurs.

He heaves himself out of the car onto the pavement. He balances himself for a moment, then turns and leans back in, bracing his hands on the doorframe.

“Jack,” I say. “You’re going home, right? Want me to walk you, make sure you get inside okay? You’re not going into that bar, right?”

Framed by the car’s door-jam and illuminated from behind by the retina searing red of the neon beer signs that decorate windows of the bar, Jack stares down at me. His eyes are deadly. I can’t look away.

“God,” he says. “You have no idea.”

He turns and veers unsteadily away from the car. He hesitates at the door to the bar. He shoulders it open and goes in.

I should go after him. I’ll be subpoenaed when he turns up dead from alcohol poisoning. The recurrent King County Coroner Harry Dekins will testify against me.

I lean over and yank the passenger door shut.

He’s a grown man. I got what I needed tonight. More than I needed. I paid his bar tab. I drove him home. I owe him nothing.

Right?

 

NEXT >>

Saturday, March 24, 4:36 p.m.

A Christian heavy metal band is screaming for Jesus on Lucy O’Lies’s stereo.

“Holy, holy, holeeee! Say holy…”

“Holy!” roars an enthusiastic crowd on the CD.

“You have no idea how good it is to get away from that satanic person. It’s like a leave of absence from purgatory,” says Christopher, Lucy’s nineteen-year-old Not Boyfriend. He’s lolling on her pink canopied bed. He’s incredibly tall. His feet hang off the end of the bed a good ten inches.

Lucy grits her teeth and nods at Christopher.

I sit uncomfortably on a grubby pink beanbag chair, clutching a glass of Hawaiian Punch and praying, secularly, that hearing damage isn’t immanent. I glance at the stereo, then at the walls above it, which are covered with framed cross stitch scenes of varying degrees of clumsiness, ranging from fluffy Lambs of God to a gory multi-pane of the stations of the cross, complete with a gushing spear-stabbing and circling vultures dripping eager saliva. Skeins of embroidery thread lay scattered all over the floor. A pair of wickedly sharp little scissors gleam on the bedside table. I hope this beanbag chair isn’t in fact a gigantic pincushion.

“Ave M’ria!” shouts the lead singer on the CD.

“Aaaaaaveh…Maaaaaareeeeah!” replies the crowd.

“It’s effective, isn’t it? I got it at work. It’s the most hardcore thing they have,” says Christopher.

“I’m sure,” Lucy murmurs, picking at a cluster of pimples at her jaw line.

My unheralded arrival chez O’Lies some twenty-five minutes ago apparently interrupted Lucy’s asexual assignation with Christopher, The Future Priest. That’s how she introduced him: Christopher, The Future Priest. I was handed the Hawaiian Punch, led up to her room, and invited to wait for her dad who was “Out getting coffee or something.” My initial chagrin at lacking Jack’s cell phone number faded as I considered his daughter.

I can’t help my inordinate curiosity about fifteen-year-old Lucy, witness to her mother’s kidnapping. She’s a pudgy, pimply, sullen sort of teenager. She looks only a little like the photos of her mother that I saw Thursday; much more like Jack if he put on forty pounds. She has his cold stare, though her eyes are brown and lack his ability to hypnotize.

She’s so religious it scares me.

“Where exactly do you work, Christopher?” I holler.

“Christian gift shop at Northgate Mall,” he replies.

“Ah,” I say. “Could you turn it down a little?”

“What?” Christopher shouts over the holy din. “So tell me if you think this’ll work: I’m going to—”

Lucy reaches out and clicks off the stereo. My ears ring and I silently bless her. Secularly.

“I’m going to play this CD when it’s just me and the Evil One. None of his freak friends slurping off the bong and taking the Lord’s name in vain, like they do.”

“Uh-huh?” Lucy says.

“I’m sure he’ll smack me on the arm like I hate when he hears it, and say something all profane, like, ‘Hey Chris! You finally gone and got some fuckin’ taste, man!’”

“Christopher!” Lucy’s eyes bulge with shock. She makes a huge sign of the cross and stares at him accusingly.

Christopher covers his long face with his hands and groans.

“Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, forgive me,” he mutters, signing the cross as extravagantly as Lucy.

“So, Christopher…the Evil One? Is he your roommate, or…” I say.

Christopher nods at me. He’s as pimply as Lucy.

“I’m at the end of my rope. This CD is my last hope. If the subliminality of God’s Word doesn’t penetrate his thick skull and turn him into a decent Christian, I’ll…I don’t know. Die, probably.”

I’m not sure if “subliminality” is a real word. If so, I want to use it verbally and in an article this week.

“Oh, let’s not die,” I say. “Did you meet him through Craigslist? You’ve got to be careful.” I almost add, “young man,” but I stop myself. I’m not that old.

“He’s the nephew of our priest,” Lucy explains. “Father Bertrain.”

“He’s a sinner,” Christopher says. “I thought I could redeem him. Then Father Bertrain would have to sponsor my seminary application.”

I have no knowledge of the politics of seminary enrollment. But considering that Christopher, The Future Priest, is spending his Saturday afternoon in the bedroom of a fifteen-year-old girl, I’d say the pot smoking Evil One has a better chance of getting into seminary than he does. See also the classic definition of nepotism, from the Italian nepote, or “nephew.”

“Ah,” I say. “Maybe you could find a new roommate?”

Christopher gives me a look that tells me how naive my suggestion is. He leans across the bed and turns the stereo volume back up. My God, his arms are eight feet long!

“I wonder if he’s ever going to clean up the kitchen. He had this party last night—more of a sad pagan gathering—and his stupid buddies spilled tortilla chips and beer all over the inside of the refrigerator,” he complains.

“You went out with my dad on Thursday,” Lucy says to me. Her voice is as flat as Kansas.

“Yes,” I say. “Wait, what do you mean, ‘went out?’”

“One of them stuffed chicken bones down the garbage disposal. The water won’t go down. I’m not cleaning that mess up. If the landlord finds out—”

“I don’t know all the cool teenage slang nowadays,” I say, sounding like a senior citizen. “We didn’t ‘go out’ like that. I mean…what do you mean?”

“Guess what I heard at school on Friday?” Lucy turns her attention from my slangless self to her not-boyfriend.

“I’m married!” I say.

“What?” asks Christopher, The Hip Future Priest. He switches his long feet side to side in time to the music, his arms behind his head.

“Well, there’s these—well, okay, so I was reading a back issue of Christian On Assignment in the library after school? And there was this article about these Catholics down in—was it Ecuador? Maybe Guatemala? Anyway, in Latin America, somewhere…”

Lucy has to stop talking for a moment. She is literally breathless.

“At least you still live at home. Your dad, while a drunkard and a bad Christian, isn’t gonna kick you out at eighteen. ‘Either get a job or go into seminary or go to college.’ Huh. Thanks, Dad. The Evil One is so deaf from mosh pits and the various hallucinogenic drugs he’s taken over the years that I could yell, ‘Fire!’ and he’d just keep sucking off the bong. Sinner. Why do I have to exorcise his satanic ways? I’m not official yet. I might screw it up.”

“There’s these Latin Americans, and they have this special ceremony for Easter that anyone can participate in. You wanna know what it is?” Lucy’s brown eyes are aflame. They are aimed at Christopher.

“We were not on a date,” I say. “It was an interview. Could you just give me your dad’s cell phone number? I need to give him back his driver’s license and car keys and cig—and stuff.”

“They crucify people!” Lucy exclaims.

Christopher looks at her. I look at her.

She nods briskly.

“It’s true.”

“They do what, now?” I say.

“They kidnap people? Hang them up? That’s pagan,” says Christopher.

“No way! They’re volunteers. They want to do it,” Lucy says.

I consider this. I’ve perused many an anthropologic publication (okay, National Geographic). Is this practice plausible? I’m not sure.

“Hmm…I think it’s fake. It’s gotta be illegal. They could get sued big time if anyone ever got seriously injured. They probably just tie people to low crosses over, like, mattresses,” says Christopher, The Future Voice of Reason.

“No, they don’t! There were pictures. The priest actually nails their hands right into the wood. Not their feet, they just tie those, but still! They hang them really high above the crowd for…I think it said, like, fifteen minutes!” Lucy says.

“Hmm…” Christopher says. It’s neither agreement nor disagreement. Mere acknowledgement. He’s thinking it over. Lucy waits breathlessly for Christopher’s response. I set my undrunk glass of Hawaiian Punch down. I sense something significant is in the air.

“I don’t believe it,” he says at last. “I don’t think anyone would have the guts to do it—to let somebody actually crucify them. It’s one thing to crawl half a mile to church on your knees, or to fast for days. But it’s something else to let someone pound nails through your hands and leave you hanging.”

“But they do! People do it! I saw pictures,” she protests.

“Oh, and that means it must be real. Nobody ever faked a photo before.”

He smirks at her patronizingly. I call to mind my newspaper’s graphics department and their skill at manipulating images with Photoshop. They once manufactured an entire island and inserted it into the middle of Puget Sound. I make an effort not to grin knowingly at Christopher.

Lucy scowls at him.

“It’s not such a strange thing at all. I’m not surprised at all that people would do it.” She takes a breath, looking down at the rug. “I would.”

Christopher laughs.

“Oh, really? That I’d like to see! You shoving nails into your hands. You’d scream and run off full speed into the jungle before they could get the hammer out of the toolbox.”

Lucy’s face goes red. Smells like teen rage.

“Now, kids,” I say, sounding age fifty in a 1950s educational film. “Let’s take a moment and calm down.”

“Oh yeah?” Lucy says, her cold, Jack-like eyes targeting Christopher.

“Yes,” he chuckles, still sprawled on her bed, the picture of amused nonchalance.

Lucy stands and marches to the bed. She reaches across Christopher’s flat body. Before he can react, she grabs the pair of needlepoint scissors from the bedside table. She flips them open, letting the sharp blades stand tall and free, splayed like legs.

She eyes Christopher, who sits up cautiously. Without warning, without flinching, she rams the longest blade into her palm. It sticks deep. Blood squeezes out and begins to run down her wrist.

Christopher swings his mile-long legs around and stands shakily. His perpetually bored face is alight with shock. I’m sure that my face looks the same.

“Oh yeah?” Lucy whispers, yanking the scissors out of her palm, leaving a bloody stigmata worthy of a martyr. “You want a turn?”

 

NEXT >>

Sunday, March 25, 8:18 a.m.

I drive—yet again!—south to the Nordic ‘hood of Ballard. It is way too early to be carting myself around Seattle proper. I long for my suburb. I long for my bed.

I knock on Jack O’Lies’s front door. It’s army green, the paint peeling away to reveal a gray undercoat. From somewhere within, his daughter yells something.

I think she yells, “Come in!”

I assume she yells, “Come in!” I turn the knob. It’s unlocked. I come in.

I’m met with worn hardwood floors, ancient throw rugs, and a coffee table littered with high school textbooks (depressing), empty vodka bottles (more depressing), and smearily printed Catholic tracts (depressingest of all). In my current state of hungover Sunday morning blahs, “depressingest” is a word. So is “smearily.”

“Hello?” I call. “Lucy? Jack?”

I hear a TV jabbering. I follow the sound.

In the kitchen, a scary looking bald guy in a white suit is grimacing and shaking his head at Lucy.

“You out there!” he shouts from the TV screen.

“Yes,” says Lucy, as she spoons cereal into her mouth.

“You witness to society’s sin!”

“That’s right,” Lucy agrees.

I hesitate in the doorway for so many reasons. So many that it would take hours to list them all.

Perhaps the top five will suffice:

1)     There’s a televangelist on the TV. That does not bode well.

2)     Oh Roseanne-esque kitchen of my childhood!

I thought I had escaped you. White trashy lower middle class, shall I never be free of your seductive embrace?

3)     Lucy is dressed in a black grandma dress with no décolletage and a hand-crocheted collar. She wears four rosaries of varying weight and color around her neck. This does not bode well.

4)     Lucy is eating Lucky Charms. I love Lucky Charms. If offered a bowl, I will accept, ruining the restrictive and scientifically unfounded diet I invented for myself.

5)     I smell not a whiff of coffee in the air. I will die without coffee.

Seriously… I will die without coffee!

“Hi, Lucy,” I say, waving with a limp, decaffeinated hand. “How’re you?”

“Shh!” she hisses between slurps of cereal.

“You watch as society parades its perversions, its sin, and you do nothing. Well, I say, stop!” shouts the scary bald man on the TV.

“Stop!” Lucy agrees.

“Stop! Tell it, don’t you come over here, into my house of God! Stop!”

“Stop!” Lucy exclaims.

“Why? You break another glass?” Jack says from the doorway.

Oy vey, he’s clad in the classic open door bathrobe. Seriously—come on, Jack! I told you I was coming over!

“Want me to go wait in the living room?” I blurt, shading my eyes like a Puritan.

“What?” Jack says. “You had breakfast yet? Lucy, get her something.”

Jack meanders on unsteady, bare legs to a set of folding doors at the far end of the kitchen. He sports a dark bruise on the left side of his jaw.

“That’s fine, I ate already,” I say. “Should I just leave your keys and stuff on the counter?”

“Calm down,” says clearly hungover Jack. “We’re almost ready. Finish up, Lucy!”

Lucy rolls her eyes, continues spooning cereal, and reaches out to crank the volume on the televangelist. Jack slides the doors open to reveal a washer and drier.

Oh God, he is going to disrobe right here and I’ll be struck blind!

Thankfully, I hear the front door open, then slam shut. Christopher, The Future Priest, enters the kitchen.

“Hey,” he says. “Ready to go?”

“Dad’s still messing around,” Lucy snorts, picking up her cereal bowl to drink the milk like a three-year-old. Jack, not entirely oblivious, steps into the laundry alcove and pulls the doors shut. Spared his nudity, I relax. I am a married woman, after all.

From within, he calls, “Hey, Katherine, you want any coffee? Lucy, make some.”

“No,” Lucy snaps. “You just want it for you, because you’re hungover.”

“We have a guest,” he says from behind the doors.

“She doesn’t drink!” Lucy asserts. “Hangover, Dad—”

“Is this all there is? Didn’t you throw the load in like I asked?”

“Wear the good pants, Dad. I hate when you go in your work clothes. You look so sloppy.”

“I hate these things!”

“You look so sloppy!”

”Will you just make Katherine a cup of coffee and get yourself ready to go?”

“Hangover, Dad, is a necessary and a good thing.”

“What?” I bleat. Right now, I’m hungover as hell, thanks to her dad’s boozy conversation with me till the wee hours. I crave a cup of coffee. I would kill for a cup of coffee. I am not in a good or necessary state!

“You see,” she continues, “As you pour unholy poison into your body, the Lord sees and sends a pain unto you. And this pain—”

“A pain unto me?” Jack exclaims from behind the flimsy laundry doors.

“Unto?” I echo.

“Please tell me they didn’t teach you that in English class,” he says.

Bolstered by Christopher’s knowing smirk, Lucy clanks her crucifix covered self to the sink, where she deposits her empty cereal bowl.

“And this pain is meant to cleanse your soul, just as pain cleansed Christ on the cross,” she continues. “So when you drink of coffee, you erect a barrier between yourself and God, who wishes to help you end your drunken ways.”

I feel this is a bit stagy. I feel that she’s acting out for my benefit. Exactly why does she think I’m here at this raw hour of the morning?

“So, can I go? Is your church walking distance?” I ask her. “Did you really say ‘when you drink of coffee?’”

“It’s six point eight miles,” Christopher says.

Damnation.

“Jack? Do you need me to drive you all to the Washingtonian to get your car?”

I think actually I twang, “Need me ta drive y’all?” This white trashy lower middle class kitchen is dragging me back down the social ladder.

Jack slides the laundry doors open. I flinch.

He’s dressed. I relax.

He’s in a get-up exactly like his editor would wear, unattractive pleated front khakis, golf shirt, and all.

“I hate this,” he says. “I told you.”

“And I told you!” Lucy shrills at gauche teenage volume, stomping her foot. “You are so embarrassing! Why can’t you be normal on Sunday for once? Why can’t you stop embarrassing me?”

I glance at Christopher, hoping for an ally in my discomfort, but he’s smirking at Jack with his gangly arms folded across his thin chest, clearly on Lucy’s side.

Crap. That means I’ll have to side with the only other adult here, which is alcoholic, hungover Jack.

“Okay,” Jack says. “Let’s get going.”

All three look at me.

“Go where, exactly?” I say.

Sacred Heart of Jesus,” Lucy says.

“Pardon?” I say.

“It’s in Belltown ,” says Christopher.

Fantastic. Belltown, land of impossible parking, wandering junkies and computer programming bar hoppers. My second least favorite place in Seattle.

“I’ve got stuff to do today,” I begin. Then I realize that Belltown is quite close to the Washingtonian building. I perk up.

“So, I’ll just drop Lucy and Christopher off at church, then we’ll go get your car,” I say.

“Don’t forget the offering,” Lucy says.

“What?” Jack says, grabbing his much-laundered Members Only jacket from the back of a kitchen chair.

“I left it on top of your wallet,” Lucy says. From the back of another chair, she pulls a black lace veil that resembles a mantilla. She swathes her shoulders and head in it, like some kind of Catholic chador.

“Are we gonna drop you two off first? What’s the plan, here?” I say.

“That twenty dollar bill? Forget it! I’m not dropping twenty bucks in a collection plate,” Jack says, as he and Lucy motivate angrily through the kitchen toward the front door.

“Wait,” I protest. “We need to figure out how we’re going to work this.”

“We tithe practically nothing, Dad!”

“We tithe plenty! We tithe away your damn college fund.”

“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain!” she snaps.

“God’s last name is not ‘damn,’” Jack says.

“Stop it!”

“Oh my God, are they always like this?” I hiss at Christopher.

“Do not take the Lord’s name in vain!” he hisses back.

Yeah, I’ve been missing this kind of Catholic fun.

 

NEXT >>

Tuesday, March 27, 5:17 p.m.

“Jack?” I holler into the silent house.

Nothing.

“Go put hydrogen peroxide on your hand, or you’ll get lockjaw or something,” I hiss at Lucy.

“Jack? Are you home?” I call again as Lucy slouches to the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.

I find Jack seated on his living room couch, his feet up on the coffee table. A yellow legal pad is perched on his knees. He has exchanged his office wear for an ancient University of Washington sweatshirt and a pair of loose fitting dad jeans. He’s so focused on what he’s writing that he doesn’t notice me until I slap my hand over the page.

He jumps and looks up at me.

“Oh, you’re home,” he says, as if I live here with Lucy and him, all cozy. “Did you girls have fun shopping?”

“Your daughter is seriously messed up,” I say. “You need to get her in to see a psychologist or something, like today, Jack!”

I hope Lucy isn’t standing horrified in the doorway. I glance over my shoulder, find it mercifully empty, and turn back to Jack.

“Lucy’s very religious,” he sighs. “Probably picked it up from her grandmother. I never encourage her.”

“This isn’t some Catholic thing,” I say. “She’s weird as hell!”

Again, I glance over my shoulder to make sure she isn’t eavesdropping in the doorway. I lower my voice.

“She’s the psychologically damaged kind of weird. You need to get her professional help, or something bad is going to happen,” I say.

Jack shakes his bristly head dismissively.

“She’ll outgrow it. Want some coffee?”

I’m surprised he doesn’t offer me a drink: something ruinous like vodka or Scotch.

“Sure, I never say no to coffee,” I say automatically. “But seriously…your daughter…aren’t you going to do anything?”

Jack gently pulls the legal pad from under my splayed fingers. I retract my hand before it can land on his knees. He stands and scratches his fingers over his short-stubbled scalp.

“Let’s go out on the porch. Want a smoke?”

“No, I do not want to smoke, Jack. You know I don’t smoke anymore. You shouldn’t keep trying to get me to.”

“Come on,” he says. “It’s a beautiful sunset.”

I go outside to wait for my cup of coffee, which I will eagerly drink, and my cigarette, which I will not smoke. I take a breath of salty Puget Sound air. Jack’s neighborhood is practically waterfront, but it’s rundown. Because it’s located in Seattle proper and not one of the many unstoried suburbs, its rundown state would be described as “classic” or “historic” by a real estate agent. But it’s trashy to my eyes. And believe me, I know trashy.

I sit on the moldy couch on Jack’s front porch (trashy!) and gaze at the 1960s era pickup truck on cinderblocks in his next door neighbor’s muddy front yard (trashy!) I shiver. It’s getting cold. Jack emerges from the house bearing two steaming mugs of coffee and a pack of Marlboros (trashy as hell!)

“I’m not smoking,” I reiterate, as I accept the hot cup. “You shouldn’t try to make me. Do you have any idea how hard it was to quit?”

Jack sits next to me on the couch. Not too close. But sort of close. He lights a cigarette, takes a long drag, and sighs. He stares at the reddish-gold light jewelling his across-the-street neighbor’s roof. It’s pretty. I stare at it, too. We clutch our steaming coffee mugs, not touching, not talking.

What a picturesque white trash couple we must make.

“I’m gonna get laid off soon,” Jack says.

“Probably,” I say.

“Newspapers aren’t hiring.”

“Nope,” I say.

“There’s no way I can freelance.”

“It’s a horrible lifestyle. I hated it,” I say.

“Too uncertain. Too much hustling. I’m too old.”

“Yeah,” I agree. “Me too.”

He turns his face to mine.

“You’re getting laid off?”

He appears genuinely concerned. I’ve never seen him look like this. His ice-blue eyes are clear as they search mine. His hands are steady on the coffee mug and the cigarette. His body radiates the coiled, tense patience of a snake. So this is Jack sober. He must have been an incredible reporter.

“You never know,” I shrug. “Maybe it’s time for a change. I’ve had three different careers so far. Maybe I’ll become a baker or something this time.”

“How do you do it?” he says.

“Dunno. I’ve had to reinvent myself every four years or so. You just fully commit to changing who you are, I guess. What will you do?”

He takes a sip of coffee, takes a drag off his cigarette, and shrugs.

“Die out?”

“Oh come on, Jack. Don’t be like that.”

He turns the unintoxicated version of his basilisk stare on me. It’s overwhelming. I am paralyzed by his eyes. My God, he must have been such a good reporter once.

“Don’t be like what?” he says.

“I don’t know. Self-pitying,” I fumble, taking a drink to avoid his gaze. “Just…clean house, man. Know what I mean? Your daughter’s screwed up. And you’re…look, I don’t know you people. I’m getting over-involved, overstepping boundaries and all. I should get going.”

He holds out his hand. He doesn’t put it on my forearm, or wrist, or shoulder, or any of the usual places a man puts his hand when he wants to stop a woman from standing up and walking out.

He puts it over the top of my coffee cup.

“Any progress on the book?” he asks.

I sit back down on the couch next to him. I shrug.

“Can I ask you something?” he says.

“Sure,” I say.

He hesitates.

He looks at me, looks away at the dying sunset, then looks back at me.

“Do…” he begins.

He hesitates again, and I know that he’s not going to ask me what he really wants to.

“Do I make a good character?” he inquires.

 

NEXT >>

From: Undisclosed
Date: March 28, 2011 11:03:09 AM PST
To: Jack O’Lies
Subject: Another body discovered in the vicinity of Lake Washington
Attachments: JackOLies8.jpg, Home.jpg

Dearst Jack! Hi! I’m so glad yor into this stuff. I’m gonna do someone u care about just like her. Like your wife so u can get nostalgic. Here’s a nother picture of u from Thursday nite.

And here’s 1 of u and your girlfriend @ yor house yesterday nite.

Ta!

 

NEXT >>

Wednesday, March 28, 3:17 p.m.

I open the photo of Jack first.

Weegee photo 1943

It’s blurry, low resolution and terribly pixilated. I squint and make out a brick wall behind him, splashed by the orange glare of a streetlight. In the foreground is a spectral, underexposed face that I guess is Jack’s. His cobra posture is unmistakable. He’s slightly hunched over, maybe reaching for something he dropped. Or maybe choking someone lying on the sidewalk.

To be honest, I can’t tell where he is or what he’s doing. But he appears to be caught in the act…and not an act of kindness.

I click on the other photo. I expect an equally low-resolution camera phone snapshot.

Instead, a high-resolution photo takes its sweet time opening. When it does, I get a load of an ultra-sharp image captured by an expensive camera wielded with true skill.

Hopper Painting

I stare aghast at the photo. Jack and I are sitting on the moldy old couch on his porch in a rundown section of Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. He’s holding a coffee cup in his right hand. I’m holding the thick strap of my purse in my left hand. As for our unoccupied hands…they seem to be entwined. We’re looking at each other. Starlight is eminent. It’s all very cinematic. What a pair we make.

Except we weren’t holding hands. I was dropping his driver’s license and car keys into his hand. Our fingers never even touched. We aren’t a pair of anything.

The digital camera I use for work isn’t powerful enough to pull off a shot like this. Most average Joe digital cameras couldn’t do it, unless the photographer had been standing all obvious in the soggy front yard and let the flash rip.

This photo was taken by a pro. A photojournalist.

Or someone with a really expensive camera and a grudge.

 

NEXT >>