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Interview With a Cop

Seattle Private Eye’s Hunt for Gone Girl Continues in Family Skeleton

Chapter Four

The college campus was swallowed in mature evergreens and the walks were lined with various shrubs poised to burst into bloom. Students whose attire gave an overall impression of internees at a displaced-persons camp moved through the misting rain. Maury’s glib reference to serial killers came to mind as I joined them on the wet walks. From that perspective, the campus seemed designed as a hunting ground for the depraved. Young girls, singly and in and pairs, appeared and disappeared like wood sprites in parkas and flannel shirts. There were plenty of males, in pairs and packs, and if I had a daughter at the campus, every one of them would have looked like trouble.

My first thought had been to try the security office personnel. But the Hannigan entry in her folder gave me a better idea. According to her schedule, his class met daily. She had even included the room number, so all I had to do was ask directions. I stepped inside and stood in the back when the class had about ten minutes to run.

Hannigan looked like he didn’t quite reach six feet, heavy shouldered and narrow-waited. Snug jeans and a crisp blue T-shirt with a gold badge logo on the breast accentuated his physique. He looked about thirty but was probably older, with close-cropped hair and a Viva Zapata mustache. His badge was clipped to his belt in one of those reversible wallets the TV cops all use. Big Man on Campus, Miami Vice style.

He was finishing up a lecture on Locard’s exchange principle, walking them through a blackboard diagram of a hypothetical breaking-and-entering scene.

“Remember: develop their path through the scene. Did they move pieces of the window glass out of the way? Were they wearing gloves when they did it? Wherever they made physical contact with the scene, they left something behind — fingerprints, body fluids, fibers. And picked something up. Carpet fibers in the treads of their tenny-runners.” He held a leg straight out, exhibiting perfect muscular control, to present the bottom of one shoe. “Don’t forget tracks in dust. Tonto’s not the only one who’s cracked a case with footprints, Kemo Sabe.” Laughter. “Okay. Enough already. Get the hell out of here before the other classes break, and remember me in your wills.”

More laughter, chairs scraping, a burst of conversation. He came to meet me. “Trouble? I left my damn pager locked in the briefcase with my piece. Let me shoo them out and lock up and…”

Maybe it’s my size, or the fact that once upon a time I spent time with two different police organizations. Even the cops thought I looked like a cop. “I’m not from the department, Lieutenant. I was hoping I could buy you a cup of coffee and ask you a couple of questions. My name is Ed Hummel.”

He frowned at my business card. “A little late in life for you to audit the class, isn’t it? I mean, your clients would expect you to know this stuff already. If they knew what to expect. What department you retire from?”

It was time to recite my pedigree. “I didn’t retire. I spent a short stint with the Pennsylvania State Police, and moved out here with my major when he retired to open our own shop back in the seventies. I did two years in the Military Police and CID, but I was hardly dry behind the ears then, and a lot of police departments don’t seem to think much of Military Police School as education.”

“I thought it was pretty damned good when I went through in the reserves.” He glanced as his wristwatch. “You on a job now?”

I nodded. “Missing person.”

He made a face. “One of my watch’s cases?”

“I don’t think so. She lived — lives — within Auburn city limits. Her parents are in Olympia.”

“Olympia? Anybody important?”

Regardless of what fiction teaches about cops, that’s always one of the first things they want to know. In the real world, the answer dictates the speed with which things move.

“Her dad’s a senior bureaucrat with the UTC. An important enough contact that Bob Woodford put him in touch with me.”

“Woodford? I know that name. Trooper, right?”

“Private now.” I named the firm he worked for.

“No shit?” He rubbed a big hand over his cropped pate. “I’ve been thinking about those guys myself when I retire.” He looked at the wristwatch again. “Screw the pager. Let’s go get that cup of coffee and talk about your missing girl.”

We got two coffees in the administration building cafeteria. Hannigan led the way to an area surrounded by empty tables where he could keep an eye on the room. Either a cop’s habit or he was a girl-watcher; there were plenty of them to watch.

“Who’s the missing girl?” he asked.

“Jennifer Filmore.”

His coffee stopped halfway to his lips. “You serious?”

“Her parents are. They tried to find out from the school if she was attending classes. They got stiffed for their trouble. Student’s right to privacy, and to hell with who’s paying the bills.”

He sipped his coffee. “Do the parents think something’s happened? Boyfriend trouble?”

“They haven’t heard from her in over a month. It’s not like her not to check in. She lives up here in a trailer park. The park manager didn’t think it was like her, either.”

“I’ve got a daughter of my own.” He scowled. “God, I hate these things. I put in my time on the Green River task force. Most of the victims were whores, of course, but still…”

“The torturable class,” I said.

He shot me a look. “What was that?”

“A line from a book by Graham Greene about pre-Castro Cuba. A Batista secret policeman explaining why he was in that line of work. His dad was tortured and killed by goons from a previous administration. I think the banana republics call it ‘vanishing’ somebody these days. Nobody cared, because his dad wasn’t important. He was of the torturable class.”

“Yeah? Say, give me the name of that book, will you? Maybe I can crib something for the course on the difference between kin police and ruler police.”

I wrote the names of the book and author on the back of my business card. He folded it and shoved it in the watch pocket of his jeans.

“Jennifer is not of the torturable class,” he said, tasting the term.

“Tell it to the next Ted Bundy. He preferred coeds.”

“God, I hope not. It’s usually just the boyfriend, open and shut.”

“She’d be just as gone. Did she have a boyfriend in class?”

“None that I know of. The more cynical would say she had a crush on the teacher.”

I blinked. He saw it and read it. It’s hell trying to interview a veteran cop.

“Why would the more cynical say that? Since you bring it up, you know I have to ask.”

“Yeah.” He fiddled with his coffee. “She was — she is — a sweet kid. At first I thought she was auditing the course out of curiosity. You know, watched too many cop shows on TV. We get cop-groupies all the time now.

“Was that it?”

“No. She was really interested in how to conduct an actual investigation, the rules of evidence and so forth. She had something she wanted to investigate. That was pretty clear. But she wouldn’t tell me what. She was a hell of a quick study. I tried to do a little recruiting. The more bright women in law enforcement the better, as far as I’m concerned.”

“So she hung around after class, picked your brain, stuff like that?”

“It flattered my vanity to have somebody that smart and good-looking hang on my every word. I liked being seen walking across the campus with her. I liked to think the squirrels would take one look at me, and decide they’d try to fuck somebody else. I notice you’re not taking notes.”

“I appreciate your candor,” I said. “You know and I know you don’t have to say a thing to me now. We both know what all this might look like to Internal Affairs if worst comes to worst. No offense, but like you said, it’s usually the boyfriend. Since she apparently didn’t have one, who’s the likeliest substitute?”

“Poor technique. I can see you didn’t spend enough time as a cop. You can’t let your personal opinion of a potential suspect cloud your thinking.”

“The main reason I couldn’t be a cop for long is that the world tends to get divided up into probable suspects and possible suspects. I’ve never seen the truth be that simple. I’m my own boss, since the major went back to double-dip with the State Police, so I get to do things my way.”

“Hummel,” he said reflectively. “Hummel, with connections in Olympia. Shit, I know who you are! You were famous in the seventies. You were in with Captain Whittaker on that weird deal out in White River. I wasn’t even on the force yet. Hell, that was in the papers and on the tube for days. You were famous. Bodies all over the place. They ever make a movie of the week out of it?”

“Not that I know of. Jennifer never told you what she wanted to investigate?”

“She said it was just old family gossip she turned up doing genealogical research in high school. Probably nothing to it, really. But she thought she might write a paper about it one of these days. She didn’t want to embarrass herself with sloppy technique. I tried to tease her about this mysterious family tree, but she clammed right up. Said even to discuss it would be to slander this famous relative. She was after something specific, all right.”

“Anything else that struck you?”

“She was particularly interested in all the latest forensic science. She didn’t really understand, at first, that forensics is a field all its own. I thought she might be getting interested in that for its own sake. She’s certainly got the brainpower for it. If we can’t have her out on the street, I’d sure settle for somebody with her smarts in the State Patrol crime lab.” He finished off his coffee. “I seem to remember her being in class until about two weeks ago. I can check my attendance records.”

“You didn’t stop by the trailer park to check up on her, did you?”

“Don’t even know where she lived. Lives. Why do you ask?”

“The park manager’s daughter said the police were there to ask about Jennifer. But Jennifer hasn’t been formally reported missing yet. Since you noted her absence, and you have a badge, you’re the obvious one to ask.”

“Well, it wasn’t me. And no one besides you has contacted me about her. Want me to check with Auburn P.D., see if something is up about that trailer park? I wouldn’t be able to tell you what, even if it does involve her. But I could connect you to their lead investigator, if it does.”

“That’d be a big help.”

“What’s your next move?

“The parents are running down her two closest childhood chums for me to interview, checking phone records, credit slips. You know, the usual.”

“You know the names of her other teachers? Yeah? Give ’em to me and I’ll check on her attendance there, too. Just because she didn’t attend my class doesn’t mean she didn’t go to any.”

He waved away my thanks with a request of his own. “Keep me posted, okay? Like I said, she’s one of the good ones.”

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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.

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