The Search For The Green
At the beginning, there was only the man. He drove alone, keeping his thoughts to himself. It was as if he existed outside of the rest of the world, isolated inside his own skin, captivated by his own thoughts. He was a man with a face so common, so ordinary, that no one thought to look to see what was within. He passed by others quietly, as if he were not even there, and no one saw him at all. But he was a man with a secret, and the secret was death.
His favorite time was the afternoon. In his truck the man drove on the highway, looking, choosing, selecting. He made it a rule to drive until he found what he wanted, waiting for him by the side of the road. When it was right he would stop, and the game would begin.
He strove to look eager but shy, gentle perhaps, and undemanding. The fish would bite, how they loved to bite! He would open the door and invite them inside. Across the seat they would talk, tiny hands on the clasp purse that all of them carried, holding the secrets he craved. They thought they knew who he was, they had seen a hundred or more just like him, and just what to do. They wanted the money.
Afterwards he would drive to the places he knew, his places, where the wind whispered through the trees. The silence felt good. He took what he wanted, not everything, but enough to remember. Sometimes he did other things, but tried to forget it when he did. At the end he would hide them, cover them up so they couldn't be found. Still later he would go back to see them, sitting there in the afternoon, in the silence, and remember. They were his secrets, and he would keep them forever.
Over the noise of the truck's engine, Linard could hear the rattle of the chains inside the slaughterhouse as they carried off the steaming, fresh killed meat, and the laughter and shouts of the men with their saws.
Linard liked smoking cigars; most of all he liked digging one out from under his gore splattered rubber apron, lighting it up, then feeling the relaxation that came with the first draw of smoke. The cigar was a good escape.
After four months at the slaughterhouse, Linard had learned to ignore much of what went on around him: the cows in their chute, bawling and moaning as they were prodded forward to their fate: the quick death that came from the air driven bolt to the brain, followed by the practiced slash of the neck that spilled all the blood. Then came the hooks and the chains that carted the carcasses away to the butchers with their high pitched, whining saws.
It was part of Linard's job to clean up the mess that remained after the cows were cut into parts. Wearing galoshes and his rubber apron, Linard usually hosed the blood and small bits of flesh off the slaughterhouse floor and into the underground septic tank. Unless Linard emptied the septic tank into the truck each day, for transport to a nearby rendering plant, the bloody glop would back up in the tank and shut the slaughterhouse down.
As he smoked his cigar, Linard looked down into the river behind the building, the jurisdictional boundary between the Seattle suburb of Kent and the unincorporated area that contained the slaughterhouse. The river began high up on the flanks of Washington state's largest mountain, Mt. Rainier, and wound its way down through a series of valleys before emptying into Puget Sound just south of the city of Seattle. A century before it had been named the Green River, although, from what Linard could see, for most of the year it was gray or brown, not green.
In the summer, however, the river was clear and slow, placid, curving sinuously back and forth through the valleys as it piled up sandbars, occasional boulders. and waterlogged tree trunks. One hundred years earlier the river had served as a pioneer thoroughfare and rubbish disposal system, and as recently as twenty years before this day in 1982 the bloody water from the slaughterhouse had just been emptied into the river, where it carried downstream to the harbor a few miles to the north.
Right where the slow moving current swept past the slaughterhouse, Linard saw a gravel hump poking up from the water. A few logs stuck out of the mud and weeds. A large mass of foam clung to one of the logs. As he gazed, the foam seemed strange to Linard: too much foam for too little current, he thought. Drawing on his cigar, Linard guessed it wasn't foam he was seeing, at all, but maybe a dead animal. Sometimes the carcasses of wildlife washed down the river from the mountains. Sometimes their pelts were worth money. Linard jumped down from the truck, telling himself he had some time before the tank filled to take a closer look.
Linard went to a small trail the fishermen had beaten down through the blackberry bushes flinging the channel and worked his way down the bank. When he came out of the tall bushes, Linard saw that the foam was really a naked woman.
Linard saw she was hung up on a large log, bent over with her naked buttocks raised. He stepped into the shallow water for a closer look. The woman's arms dangled below her, swaying in the slow moving current. Her hair floated on the water. She was very white, bleached from long immersion. A purplish heart tattoo marked one arm. Linard could see the woman's face staring down at the shallow riverbed under the water. Her eyes appeared to have no pupils, and Linard knew the woman was very dead.
Linard's brain at first refused to function. His first thought was to get away. He raced back up the bank to the slaughterhouse, where there was a telephone mounted on the wall. He called the operator and asked for the police. While he waited for them to come on the line, Linard told the slaughterhouse workers about the dead woman. The building emptied as the slaughterers and meat cutters stampeded to the embankment and gaped at the riverbed, all of them jabbering at once. The cattle bawled in their wooden chute, temporarily reprieved.
About an hour after Linard made his discovery, a plain sedan driven by a young man with jet black hair, a mustache, and a network of scars across his neck drove up to the slaughterhouse and parked in front. King County Police Department major crimes detective David Reichert had arrived to begin an investigation of the death. Reichert's first task was to determine whether murder had been committed.
Reichert's most important task at this point was to make sure nothing that might explain the death was overlooked. He went down the bank to the river and looked at the dead woman, then came back and talked quietly to uniformed police, telling them to search the river banks for anything that might explain how the woman had come to be there.
Soon a nondescript gray van from the medical examiner's office arrived. Someone produced a folded blue plastic bag. Police and medical examiners went to the river and returned with the blue bag sagging heavily in their hands. They put the bag down on the concrete apron near the truck, behind the slaughterhouse, out of the view of the television news crews now already setting up on the road, and gave the victim a quick inspection. Linard put down his hose and went over to watch.
It all seems so quiet, so ordinary to them, Linard thought, just like the body was an old piece of meat, not a dead woman. The medical examiner's pathologist unzipped the plastic bag and pulled it away. He watched as the pathologist rolled the body around, viewing it, looking for an indication of the cause of death. There was no blood, no obvious wound, just water bloated white flesh. Linard now saw that the woman's body actually had numerous tattoos. The whites of her eyes bugged out, and he saw again that the pupils had disappeared. It was clear to the pathologist that the woman had been dead for at least several weeks, maybe even longer. The skin of the fingers was already beginning to slouch off from long immersion in the water. Fingerprints would be difficult, maybe even impossible. The putrefaction of the corpse and the number of small insect larvae present on the exposed skin surfaces indicated that the woman had died long before that day. The pathologist put the body back into the bag, and then the bulging sack was put onto the collapsible gurney for the trip to the gray van. The television cameras dutifully recorded the event. Overhead a television helicopter hovered, preparing for a live feed for the evening news.
Meanwhile, the uniformed police, assisted by police from the city of Kent, continued searching both banks of the river, looking for the woman's clothing or anything that might suggest how she had come to be there. One by one the uniformed cops returned to tell Reichert that the search of the riverbank had produced nothing: no clothes, no identification, not a shred of evidence to indicate how the woman had died. Reichert nodded. As things later turned out, believing there was no more evidence to be found was the first mistake, and probably the biggest.
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