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At The Columbia River Mouth

Seattle detective Eddie Hummel follows his nose — and a mind map — to certain conclusions about a complicated case that began with a missing college student.

Chapter Forty-Seven

My new friends on the windswept jetty conceded some hot coffee would help ward off the chill. Since this was Washington State after all, they specified double-tall lattes. I drove over to the boat- basin restaurant. The waitress greeted me like an old friend and colored prettily when she said the local cop,Rufe, I teased her about had already been back for his own coffee. She cranked up the machine and said she would perk a fresh pot of regular for my vacuum bottle while she was at it. My earlier ten-spot tip for information was getting me a lot of service.

The espresso machine began to chug and hiss. My mind was flitting all over the place. I turned a paper place mat over and got out my ballpoint. Years ago, a veteran criminalist of my acquaintance, Japanese extraction, took pity on my homemade shorthand and introduced me to a technique known as mind-mapping. He said an Englishman perfected it. The idea was to follow thoughts the way they actually occur, not try to constrain them in linear fashion.

Ever since I got to Seaside, the case had become so convoluted it was almost beyond grasp. The primary complication was Zemo. Now my gone girl was safe with her mother, I wondered what my mind map would tell me. I wrote “Zemo” in the center of the paper and circled it.

From Zemo I branched a line to “McInnery,” another to “Junior.” Then to “office arson” and “Junior vanishes.” From Junior I branched “Therapy” with lines branching to “stopped: Rosen” and “kept going: Toni.” I paused there. It was one of those little nagging points that probably didn’t mean anything. But Toni said his continued therapy was why Junior didn’t go to Moses Lake to help her dig for the bones of the “family skeleton.” Rosen’s statement he quit therapy didn’t fit with his reportedly obsessive memories.

Adopting Truett’s idea, I gave Zemo a branch putting the bug in Dr. Rosen’s office. If Truett was right the mystery man would have overheard my telephone exchanges with Truett. Zemo must have particularly enjoyed my threatening Truett with the news media since that was already part of his master plan.

The tipoff to the newspaper that brought the reporter, Roger East, to Oregon was too well-timed to have been the result of my improvised threat. Which would be difficult for me to prove to the federal spook agency employing Truett. Zemo must have still been on Stella Rosen’s property monitoring the bug when I called Truett to retrieve his unconscious goon from her garden. By the time Truett called to say his team was on the way Zemo was set up in a sniper’s nest to tip them the laser-sight’s “red wink” in Rosen’s driveway. A signal to behave.

He was a bold one all right. He’d left the dory and the old military ambulance on Lorraine Card’s farm in plain sight, knowing the police had no reason to look at them twice. He had erased his traces so thoroughly their search warrant turned up zilch. Then he calmly returned for the dory and tow vehicle. Or Lorraine brought them out to him somewhere. It had to be Lorraine I saw at the dory’s console offshore.

I wrote down “Lorraine.”

Zemo must have known I would follow my nose to her. But he made no move to stop me. So he wanted me to find her. Why would Zemo want me to find Lorraine?

The structure of the mind-map gave me the answer smoothly as a computer search: I needed to hear Lorraine corroborate Toni Filmore’s tale; there really was a mystery man named Zemo. No wonder she’d shown no surprise at my questions. She’d been primed for somebody like me to come along and play his role in the play Zemo had written. And I dutifully passed her Zemo corroboration along to the Feds.

At that point the mind-map couldn’t lead me to any scenario where a rogue agent was so egocentric he would deliberately thumb his nose at such a deadly bureaucracy. Zemo of all people should know in matters affecting the secret world, governments had long memories. The hunt for Zemo would last a long time, fueled by institutional rage at being publicly humiliated by him. I had no doubt public humiliation was in store with the advent of Roger East and the P-I, and the media frenzy sure to follow as sunrise when East published. I was now sure Zemo orchestrated the whole thing, and made sure the government knew it.

The only reasonable inference: along with public humiliation of the general, Zemo intended to draw the government’s ireful hunt after after him. Him alone. Therefore not anyone else.

I leaned back in my chair. “I’ll be a son of a bitch.”

Junior Filmore had lived with Lorraine Card before he vanished, presumed drowned — whether by suicide or hostile act. Supporting evidence: his clothing and fingerprints at her place. But I bet there would be no Filmore fingerprints in the old ambulance on the beach. The wrong fingerprints there would ruin Zemo’s carefully constructed play. And a full wet suit would be good for thwarting the new science of reading DNA trace.

No wonder Junior hadn’t wanted to waste time in Moses Lake looking for bones. He knew his aunt would handle that part of Zemo’s operation just fine and he was busy in Oregon with his final phase of the operation. The Feds would waste all their resources looking for somebody who was never here because Truett was positive the whole operation bore the signature of Zemo, aka “Deacon Death.”

When they were together in DC, Junior had taught Zemo to use computers. Maybe Zemo had taught him a few things about tradecraft in return. If I was right Junior was very much alive, and implicated in the plot to humiliate his adoptive parent the general.

Back at the jetty the Asian woman was down by an old Ford station wagon warming her hands over a small hibachi. Her eyes lighted up when she saw the lattes. “Any fishing boats put out to sea since that rubber boat left here?” I asked her.

“Commercial or party boat? Too rough for party boats.”

“Commercial.”

She cupped her hands and shouted something up to her partner. He shouted back. “No,” she said.

“The man and woman in the rubber boat. Which way did they go when they left?”

“Across the river. Toward Astoria.” The woman’s brows drew together. “You sure you not jealous husband?”

“Positive.” I clambered up the breakwater with Truett’s binoculars and my coffee vacuum, handed the old fisherman his latte, and settled down to watch.

The Columbia bar was showing its teeth. Long combers marched out of the southwest to shred along the breakwater. The coastal overcast was right down low. While I drank coffee and watched, my fishing friends caught three more perch, climbed down and cleaned a couple, and slapped them on the Hibachi. Seagulls hung on the wind to dive and squabble over the offal. Two big heavily laden container ships plodded across the bar into the unsettled Pacific. I half-emptied my Stanley before I spotted the salmon troller in Young’s Bay I had seen winching aboard a Zodiac. As it entered the bar chop, a vagrant memory stirred: Lorraine Card huddling with obvious sea-going men in the Buoytender Bar. It had meant nothing at the time.

In the flat light I could barely make out the name on the stern even with binoculars: Partyof5. It rocked and rolled heavily but made steady progress out to sea. No one was on deck. The Zodiac was lashed right-side-up atop the wheelhouse, its big Mercury outboard tipped up. It would be a matter of moments to derrick it out and launch it. The Zodiac could reach any beach a dory could; the whole West Coast was at their disposal, depending on the troller’s range and how much they’d paid the skipper. The jetty fisherman scuttled crablike across the rocks to me.

“Hope your fliends okay out theyah in this bad weathah.”

“Do you remember what kind of outboard motor it was they switched from the dory to the rubber boat? The color, anything?”

“Was brack, big and brack.”

The black Mercury outboard on the stern of the Zodiac out there was at least a fifty-horse. “I think my friends are safely in out of the weather,” I said.

“Good!” He went back to his fishing.

I watched the vessel as long as I could, hunched inside my parka. A slant of rain obscured it for long minutes. When the squall lifted, it was too far away to distinguish details. Then even its running lights faded into the tumultuous gray.

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Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.