Posts Tagged ‘crime scene’

Thursday, March 22, 9:21 p.m.

The time has come to look at the final picture: the very last photo ever taken of his wife. Jack shudders.

“It’s a horrible photo,” he says. “But I want you to see it. Nobody’s ever seen it but the cops and the lawyers. And me.”

I’m not sure I want to see it. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to see it, actually.

Jack’s hands are shaking. He rubs them over his face.

“Today was so bad. I haven’t been at a murder scene in years. Twelve years. My old editor never made me go after what happened. It was the same today—the smell, the chaos.”

I expect him to add, “The corpse,” but he doesn’t.

“Maybe you shouldn’t show me,” I say. “Maybe you shouldn’t look either. Why not put the pictures away and I’ll call you a cab so you can go home to bed?”

Jack uncovers his face and gives me the basilisk gaze that I find so intimidating.

“Fall asleep, forget, and back into the mindless routine for another year? Right?” he inquires in a tone that seeks to entrap me. I know better than to answer. He wants me to argue so he can attack me, releasing his pent up anger on my uninvolved self.

After I remain silent a full ninety seconds, he scrapes his nearly nail-less fingers over his scalp.

“That was what got her killed. A mindless routine. Every Sunday, we went to the same store at the same time to buy the same stale bread to feed to the ducks. She and Lucy always went in while I waited in the car. I’d been writing about the murders for months. He was escalating. That’s what the police kept telling me whenever a new body surfaced. He was about to be caught, and they thought he knew it. He was getting careless. I know exactly how it happened when he took her, even though I wasn’t there.”

“Maybe we should call it a night,” I say. “Let me take you home. I’ve got a very cool press car. You’ve had a lot to drink. Where do you live?”

“I’d gotten so in tune with his methodology—the dump sites, the choice of victims, the things he liked to do to them. I should have been smarter. I was so stupid.”

Jack picks up the last photo. He doesn’t look at it. He closes his eyes.

“We were all set to go on our Sunday picnic that morning. I’d been putting in fourteen hour days for weeks. No time off, not even weekends. I told my editor I wasn’t coming in that Sunday. We were in the kitchen getting ready to go. Lucy was begging for a donut to feed to the ducks. She really wanted to eat it herself. She was three—thought she was so crafty.”

Jack’s face smoothes out, though his eyes remain closed. The crime scene photo is in his hand, turned away from me. I do not want him to show it to me.

“My wife told me she’d seen a crib on sale at the consignment shop up the street. We weren’t really broke financially. But emotionally…in our relationship, we were almost broke. It was all my fault and we both knew it. It was my job. My ego. But we were trying.”

I say, “Jack—”

And he says, “Let me tell you. Please.”

So I shut up and listen.

His eyes are still closed. It’s more unnerving than his poisonous stare.

“So many late nights, so many weekends spent writing about this guy. One day off sounded so wonderful. One day to sit in the toasty car with my family, singing old Elvis and Beach Boys songs, squeezed close, drinking hot soup. Lucy telling me all her silly stories from preschool, and my wife whispering that if we worked real, real hard, she could buy that crib before the sale ended.”

“God, Jack, are you sure you’re not ready to go home?” I say. “I’ll take you. Your daughter’s probably worried about you.”

“Then my beeper went off. And my cell phone rang. And my home phone rang. And everything went wrong.”

Jack bites the inside of his cheek hard, making a concavity on the left side.

“My wife picked up the land line. She lost that…that lightness. Turned all brittle. She said, ‘Jack, it’s work.’

“I said, ‘Look, tell them it’s Sunday. I’ll call them back tonight.’

“She said, ‘I already did. They say it’s urgent.’

“She looked at me, holding the phone halfway between me and the cradle where she could hang it up. God, I thought all I wanted was to relax and spend the day with Lucy and my wife. But I what really wanted was to take that call. Because I knew, I knew that it was big.”

Now it’s his turn to go silent for a full ninety seconds.

“You took the call?” I ask.

He nods.

“I remember the exact thought that I had: What can it hurt?

He ought to laugh cynically. He ought to shake his head or slam his fist on the tabletop. He does nothing. He is so still that I get scared.

“Jack? Jack? I think we should go. It’s a work night—”

“I told her to have fun with Lucy. I went to work. Why the hell did I do that? Why didn’t I know what would happen? I knew him. I knew how he operated. Better than the cops did. I should have known…”

He opens his eyes at last. They hurt me so bad when they meet mine.

“The last thing I said to her was, ‘Honey…’ And the last thing she said to me was, ‘Jack. Just go. We’ll see you at dinner. Maybe.’”

He’s wounding me mortally with his eyes.

“Are you married?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say.

“Any kids?”

“Yes,” I say.

“Do you do stuff like that?” he asks.

I don’t answer. I’m here, in a bar located over an hour from my house, at ten at night on a Thursday, interviewing a strange man.

Jack slowly reaches across the impassable space between us. His hand shakes as it snakes between the empty highball glasses in pursuit of mine, which are clenched together in a knot on the sticky tabletop. He knocks a glass to the carpeted floor where it bounces, rolls and does not break. He withdraws his hand, leaving mine unsqueezed.

“Don’t,” he says. “Just don’t.”

 

NEXT >>

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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.

 

NEXT >>

Saturday, March 31, 10:55 p.m.

The night before Easter, I call Jack nine more times before I give up and go to bed.

Just as I’ve pulled the quilt up over my head, I hear a far off ringing.

My cell phone.

I jump out of bed and rush through the dark house, stumbling against furniture. I dig through my purse blindly and pull it out. The glowing screen is blurry without my contacts. I fumble at the talk button.

“Jack?” I say. “Hello?”

“Hey. It’s me.”

I slowly stand up straight. My heart begins to pound so hard I feel dizzy.

“Spine,” I say.

“Hi,” Spine says. “Too late to call? Did I wake you?”

“How did you get my number?”

“It’s quite a story. You’re gonna love it.”

“What did you do?”

“You’re gonna love it,” he laughs.

 

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

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

“Slaughterhouse,” Leo said.

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

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

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

“Who?”

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

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

green priest cassock

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She went with you, didn’t she?”

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

sacrificial lamb false memoir

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

Spine laughs.

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

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

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

“But—”

“Do you want to hear this or not?”

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

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

“You—”

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

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

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

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

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

“What did you do to Lucy? And Leo?”

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

“Spine! Tell me what you did!”

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

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

“Did you kidnap him, too?”

Spine sighs slowly.

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

“Gun? Since when does he have a gun?”

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

“Did you—”

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

“Oh my God…” I whisper.

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

“What…what did you do?” I say.

Spine pauses luxuriantly.

“I told Jack the truth.”

“The truth?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about Leo?” I say.

Spine bursts out laughing.

“You’ve got to be kidding!”

“Okay. What about me?”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Thursday, March 22, 10:12 a.m.

The crime scene is on the western shore of Lake Washington, where the sand meets rain-churned mud. I park between a King County Sheriff’s car and a City of Seattle Police car. Washington State Patrol is on scene too, sandwiched in between a pair of TV news vans. I’ve never understood the division of labor among the various cop agencies. I’m not that kind of journalist.

I don’t get out of the car. Chaos reigns as cops and marauding ducks fight to defend their strongholds between the mucky bank, the gently lapping gray water, and the yellow Police Line Do Not Cross tape that separates them. Through my windshield, I can see a major media convergence zone just outside the yellow tape. I’ve been here once before, under far more mundane yet equally duck- and reporter-ridden circumstances. I ought to feel right at home. Except for that whole dead body found floating on the water thing.

When my press club buddy, John Whiteclay, and I set up our quasi-professional job shadowing scheme a few weeks ago, I did not expect to observe him on the job at a murder scene. I figured I’d hang out with him in the hallowed halls of the Washingtonian, drinking a cappuccino from the lobby coffee cart and listening to the police scanners for a couple hours. Then I’d scoot back north where I belong and add “On the job training in crime reporting” to my resume. Though he willingly went along with the job shadow idea when I proposed it, I doubt John will ever avail himself of the opportunity to join me at my place of employment. I’ve described my average workday too vividly.

I pull out my cell phone, scanning the journalistic crowd for John’s unmistakable waist-length black braid and perpetual red Che Guevara t-shirt.

Che Guevara t-shirt

I get out of the car and begin to walk toward the other reporters. I dial John’s cell number.

“Whiteclay,” he answers in an irritable voice.

“Hey, it’s Katherine. I’m here in the parking lot. Where are you?”

“Huh,” he says. “The Chief usurped when the AP wire started buzzing about it being a suspected serial killer instead of the usual hobo floater. God, I hate him!”

“So…where are you?” I say.

“Work. The jerk took the intern with him—the intern!—and left me manning the damned scanners for City of Everett PD and Harbor Patrol. Harbor Patrol!”

Since the day we met, he has been complaining about his boss: an old school editor who rose up from John’s own position as lowly crime reporter. John habitually calls him “The Chief.” He only let his real name slip once during a particularly baroque lament on his favorite topic, “Why I hate my job.” Seated next to him at the bar where the press club meets each month, I Googled the name.

“Whoa!” I said. “Why is your editor hitting over and over with the words ‘serial killer?’”

Annoyed at being halted in mid-rant, John waved his hand dismissively.

“Yeah, his wife got involved or hurt or something when he was covering the Green River Killer or whatever about a hundred decades ago. Meanwhile, I’m on traffic court duty all day while the damned intern gets to photograph the massage parlor raid on Highway 99. Prostitutes for blocks, and I’m listening to ‘Eighty dollar fine and it won’t go on your driving record’ repeated ad infinitum. God, I hate my job.”

Ever since that night, I’ve wanted to meet John’s editor. I was actually hoping to run into him between the coffee cart and the police scanners today.

“Anyway, I’m stuck here,” John is saying on my cell phone, as I pick my way through the chaos of muddy riverbank, wandering cops, eager media, and hostile ducks. “Want to come keep me company? It’s boring as hell here.”

“Oh, well, I’m already here and all. I think I’ll check it out for a bit,” I say, hanging up on him absentmindedly.

I’m unsteady in the muck that constitutes the floor of the crime scene. I can barely navigate the slurry of sand mixed with mud, which is ringed by yellow tape. I pause and peer across the barrier.

I have no idea what John’s editor looks like.

I spy an idle daily print journalist, identifiable by her jeans, sensible shoes, and out of style but carefully pressed suit jacket. She’s leaning against an ambulance, smoking and poking at her iPhone with a short-nailed thumb.

“Excuse me? You don’t happen to know if Jack O’Lies from the Washingtonian is around here somewhere?” I say.

She points her cigarette at an open space beyond the yellow police tape. “Over there with the coroner. Can’t believe Muhammad actually came to the mountain for once,” she says.

The cigarette indicates a black guy in his fifties who is talking with a white guy. The white guy looks to be in his forties, with graying hair hacked into a super-short crew cut. He sports a couple days’ worth of beard growth that looks sexy on movie stars in their twenties but doesn’t work for professional men over the age of thirty. The black guy is wearing a dark blue windbreaker loudly emblazoned “King County Coroner’s Office.”

I take a deep breath and contemplate the forbidding yellow police line tape that separates us. I glance around. There’s a gawky kid in a trench coat standing next to the white guy. His trench coat screams “I’m a reporter!” more blatantly than mine. He’s clearly an intern. I duck under the tape barricade and approach.

Before I can reach the trio, the white guy smacks the coroner on the shoulder with his reporter’s notebook (good-naturedly), jerks his head at the kid (brusquely), and begins to walk toward me (blindly).

“Excuse me? Excuse me,” I say as he bears down on me. “Jack O’Lies? Jack?”

He halts. He turns to look at me. His pale blue eyes register nothing at all.

“Hi,” I say. “Sorry to bother you while you’re working. I was wondering if you have a minute? I was hoping to talk to you about, um…”

How to say it? Your wife’s kidnapping twelve years ago? What it’s like to be married to a serial killer survivor? The worst thing you and your family ever went through?

“Uh…” I fumble. “Could I set up a brief interview with you, possibly?”

“We aren’t hiring,” he replies curtly.

“No, no, I’m not—”

Before I can finish, he jerks his head at the trench coat kid and resumes his march past me. I watch them go: Jack O’Lies striding quickly through the squelching mud, his intern trotting dutifully behind him.

I feel abandoned.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He squints slightly in confusion.

“I met your wife,” I say.

Jack jingles his keys impatiently in his jacket pocket.

“You woke her up,” he accuses.

“Yes,” I say.

He sighs hard. He jingles the keys harder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He doesn’t say anything for a long time.

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

“Do you remember?”

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

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

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

He stands.

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

I stand.

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

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

“Your wife survived,” I say.

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

“Not all of it,” I say.

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

“So you divorced her?” I say.

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

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

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

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

I’ve never seen him cry before.

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

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

 

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