Posts Tagged ‘newspaper’

Monday, March 19, 9:22 a.m.

I’ve never met Jack O’Lies, award-winning crime reporter from the venerable Washingtonian newspaper, but I know so much about him. I also know about his boss, Washingtonian Deputy Assistant Editor John Whiteclay. I first encountered young Mr. Whiteclay at a Society of Professional Journalists awards ceremony a couple years ago, when I was but a slip of a staff writer and he was an investigative journalist at the Tulalip Tribune on the Indian reservation few miles north of my house.

He and the crusaders from the downtown Seattle social justice newspaper, Real Change, owned that awards ceremony, racking up eight or nine first place statuettes between them. I remember he had the longest hair I’d ever seen on a man or woman: a raven black braid that hung past his belt, tied off with either a thin strip of leather or a garbage bag twist tie. He was all of 27.

I didn’t talk to him at the time. I remember being profoundly embarrassed that I hadn’t realized there was a legitimate newspaper up in casino land.

Last night, I finally read John Whiteclay’s 2008 first place investigative journalism article, Slaughterhouse 98271.

He has accumulated at least eleven more first place statuettes since I last encountered him. He’s also ascended from lowly reporter at a weekly tribal newspaper with a circulation of maybe 2,000 to editor at the Washingtonian, one of the last print dailies in the country. My own journalistic ascension has been far less impressive.

When I called Jack O’Lies to set up an interview (multiple times, all sent to voicemail) and when I emailed him (multiple times, all unanswered), I never thought I’d resort to that lowest of tactics (contacting his boss). But I get pushy when I’m ignored.

After checking my email one last time and finding no response, I decide to place a call to John Whiteclay, one print editor to another. Very collegial, I figure. As I dial, I wonder if he still has the incredibly long braid.

I’m transferred, put on hold, transferred again, then put on hold again. While I’m humming along to the canned version of the theme from Titanic, he picks up.

Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet

“John Whiteclay.”

How much humming did he hear?

“Hi there. This is Katherine Luck from the Journal,” I say.

“The Business Journal?”

“No. The Journal Newspapers.”

Did he hear my unconscious attempt to hit the high trills? Why would they subject people on hold to a Celine Dion song? And what the heck is the lyric after “My heart will go on?” It’s going to bug me all day.

“The King County Journal?”

“No. Yes. No, not the one you’re thinking of. That folded, like, ten years ago.”

I just said “like.” That’s not a good sign. It means he’s rattling me.

“Who are you with?” He sounds annoyed.

“We’re a monthly newspaper. We have two editions—the King County Journal and the Snohomish County Journal. But officially or whatever, we’re the Journal Newspapers.”

I just said “whatever” to an award-winning investigative reporter turned editor. I sound 13. I’m 33.

“I’ve, uh, been trying to get ahold of one of your reporters for a piece I’m working on,” I say.

“Permissions can be obtained by calling extension 102—”

“No, no, I don’t want to reprint anything,” I say. “I want to interview him.”

I hear the chatter of a keyboard through my phone. He’s checking his email as we speak. I know that he isn’t looking for a message I might have sent—no, he’s multitasking, barely listening to me. Not that I know this because I do it.

“Who were you trying to reach?” He sounds distracted.

“Jack O’Lies. He’s a crime reporter, it says.”

“It” is the ten year old byline that Google supplied when I typed in “husbands of serial killer victims.”

On the other end of the phone, John Whiteclay stops typing and sighs.

“Jack O’Lies,” he says. “Why would you want to interview him?”

“Research. Um…that I’m doing. For a book. That I’m working on.”

John Whiteclay sighs again.

“Is this some kind of backgrounding thing?”

“Yes?” I say. I have no idea what he means.

“Okay,” he says. “I’ll see. What’s your number?”

“425-775-2400,” I say. I don’t bother to give him my extension. I only do so when I fear a potential interviewee will mistake me for a mere blogger.

“Okay,” John Whiteclay says. “Jack will get back to you.”

He hangs up. I hang up.

Jack does not get back to me.

NEXT >>

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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.

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 >>

Thursday, March 22, 11:53 a.m.           

Trapped within the cubicle by his subordinates, twenty-nine year old Deputy Assistant Editor John Whiteclay, boss of veteran crime reporter Jack O’Lies for barely five months, makes steady managerial eye contact, then bravely invites his disgruntled employee to discuss his grievances “in the privacy of Conference Room B.” I take this to mean that the Washingtonian’s deputy assistant editor had aught but a cubicle to call his own. Even I have an office with a real, closable door. I have no staff to reprimand behind it, however.

I admire his spunk.

“The web designers are using B. They booked it for all day,” the cubicle owner, seated in front of her computer, meekly volunteers.

“Jack, why don’t we grab a cup of coffee?” John Whiteclay suggests redundantly, given the full cup he holds in his hand.

I already spent time in The Chief’s coffee-having employee lounge of disrespect. Jack O’Lies appears to be wise as well. He stares at The Chief—can a stare be slurred like speech?—in a slurred manner.

“I gotta go to the can,” he announces.

Jack O’Lies stalks off.

John Whiteclay, award-winning journalist turned editor, elbows his way out of the cubicle with mutters of, “Pardon,” and “excuse me, please,” and follows Jack as he wends his way through the maze of cubicles toward the men’s room.

Later, much later, I learned what happened after Jack stalked angrily away with his young editor in hot pursuit. At the time, I remained ensconced within the cubicle of Washingtonian staff writer Bididiana Gomez, chatting with her awkwardly about meteorology (whether the weatherman on KING 5 TV was hot or not).

Out of eyeshot and earshot, John Whiteclay was closing in on his retreating reporter.

“Jack? Jack. Jack!” he said ever more insistently, as Jack approached the same men’s room I’d caught him immerging from earlier.

Young Mr. Whiteclay told me this later. Much later.

“Jack, you and I need to have a conversation. Immediately. And probably with the legal department involved.”

Jack made a derisive grunt, rolled his eyes, and shoved the men’s room door open with his shoulder.

The Chief followed him. Jack repaired to a stall and slammed it shut.

“Fine,” said The Chief. “You think this is the first time I’ve debriefed a writer in the Cone of Silence? You can’t hide in there forever.”

He started to drink his coffee, decided it was gross to do so in the john, set it down next to the sink, then picked it up and drank anyway. Jack began to throw up loudly within the stall.

Jack told me this later. Much later.

“Jeez! Are you okay, Jack? Jack?”

A reporter entered.

“Out!” barked The Chief.

“I gotta—”

“Use the ladies’ room.”

“What? Hey, who’s yakking up?”

“We’re having a meeting. Use the ladies’ room.”

“No way, Chief!”

“They won’t care. I’m in there all the time when I’ve got to have a private conversation, because I’ve got no damned office and the damned web jack-holes are in Conference Room B again, and we can’t use Conference Room A because of the asbestos, so use the damned ladies’ room!”

The reporter retreated. Jack emerged, his face almost as white as it had been on the blogger’s video. He bent over the sink next to The Chief and washed his face.

“Are you sick? I mean, with the flu or something?”

“It wasn’t the crime scene,” Jack said. “I’m hungover as hell. I spent an hour in traffic with no coffee. I will not take shit from a J-school dropout blogger who thinks a three-month internship here qualifies him to write news.”

“He used to work here? Jack, we’ve got to go talk to legal immediately.”

Jack shook his hands dry, then wiped his palms over the back of his pants.

“He’ll get over it.”

“He’ll sue us, is what he’ll do! I would,” said The Chief.

Jack briefly eyed his boss, some sixteen years his junior.

“File the damned copy and leave me alone,” Jack said.

He shoved the men’s room door open with his shoulder and exited.

“It was shockingly good copy,” The Chief told me later. “He knocked it out in twenty minutes. It was all gold—I fact-checked it myself. His quotes were exact. I watched about three hours of TV footage to be sure. He did it without a recorder. Just a notebook and a pencil. Damn.”

Maybe I shouldn’t include the deputy assistant editor’s involuntary “Damn.” But unlike Jack O’Lies, I was doing it with a recorder. I like to be accurate when I transcribe an interview.

As The Chief slunk off to his cubicle to fact-check and copy-edit Jack O’Lies’ 850 words on the Lake Washington body discovery, I decided to risk a shove and confront my illusive interviewee.

 

NEXT >>

Thursday, March 22, 12:04 p.m.

Thanks to the twittering danger signals of the reporters, I locate Jack O’Lies’ cubicle easily. It stands isolated amid dozens of empty desks along the west wall. He has removed one of the cubicle’s walls, giving him an unbroken view of the cobalt blue water of Puget Sound. I wonder how often he takes in the stunning vista. His head is down, his eyes on his keyboard.

“Excuse me?” I say. “Hi. Are you Jack O’Lies?”

He looks up from his computer keyboard. His eyes are pale blue: a shade not captured by the offensive blogger’s video camera, the KING 5 TV lens, or even my brief glance at him as he glared at his boss.

Impulsively, I decide that the best tactic I can employ is deceit. Dishonesty. Lying.

“I’m Katherine from the Journal. We had an interview scheduled for ten today. I’m kind of late,” I say. It’s two hours after our scheduled interview—more than kind of late. I force a phony giggle.

I ought to mention that I’m a terrible liar.

“Can we grab a cup of coffee?” I say. “My treat. This won’t take more than fifteen, twenty minutes.”

That’s what I always tell my interviewees—fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. Occasionally it’s true.

Jack O’Lies stares at me, but not in the slurred way he stared at his boss. He lets out a rough sound that isn’t a laugh.

“Coffee? Is that the new corporate buzz word around here? Are you from the legal department?”

“No. I’m Katherine from the Journal. Your editor set up an interview between us for ten today.”

“I’m supposed to interview you why, exactly?”

“No, no, I’m supposed to interview you,” I say.

There’s a long, long, long pause. I can hear my own breathing. I hold my breath.

“I’ve got work to do,” he says.

“It’ll just take a couple minutes,” I say.

“Not today.”

“Ten minutes, max,” I say.

His gaze slips back to his computer keyboard.

“I’m on deadline. Go write your blog and leave me alone,” he says.

“But—”

“Not today,” he says again. He says it softly, but not kindly.

Dismissively.

If he shouted, if he added a bit of choice profanity, if he shoved me, I would feel a sight less offended and put out.

“Okay, then,” I say.

I huff back to work, some twenty miles north in speedy, non-rush hour traffic. He actually thinks I’m a blogger. I am many things that journalists don’t want to be, but I’m not a blogger. I’m stubborn at inappropriate times. I hold a grudge…more than one. I can be insufferable when professionally thwarted. But I am not a blogger.

As the afternoon wears itself thin, I sit at my desk and assemble calendar copy to fill holes in the next edition of the Journal, while Jack O’Lies (I learn later) sits at his desk and assembles obituaries to fill holes in the next edition of the Washingtonian. Both of us brood.

He broods about…well, he never told me exactly what. But I was able to surmise later. I brood about my impending trip back to Seattle this evening.

His fellow Washingtonian journalist, Bididiana Gomez, told me plenty about his habits.

I know he likes to drink.

I know he is on deadline.

I know his deadline is five p.m.

I know he retires to the 3 Coins Restaurant (where “restaurant” is a loosely applied term) every night after deadline and drinks Scotch on the rocks. More than one.

I know that I will be joining him tonight.

“Not today,” he warned me. Too bad I’m obtuse. Things wouldn’t have gotten so out of hand if I had listened to him.

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 bristle.

“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.

 

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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 forgot.

I forgot!

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?”

 

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