CHAPTER 29

The Seattle Aquarium was located out on a pier in the heart of the heavily touristed waterfront, a collection of crab and chowder houses and ferry traffic servicing the outlying islands. Seagulls swarmed fallen crumbs, picking the wide sidewalk clean. The familiar smell of suntan lotion hung in the air along with the choke of diesel fumes, a taste of salt spray and the permanent musty tang of rotting wood, indelible and almost sugary on the tongue.

Boldt walked quickly, not because he was late, but because he was driven by a mounting fear that the investigation itself was late, that Melissa Chow had run out of time. Nine days-far too long. He did not accept that there was a mortal power greater than that of the Seattle Police, that whoever was behind the container shipments and the recent murders could remain a step ahead, could murder their way into silencing the sources that might open up the case. But privately, his own fear of these people was wearing him down. The ruthlessness and daring of killing the potential witnesses and leaving them for police to find reminded everyone involved that no one was safe. Not even police.

Gwen Klein, the LSO employee, appeared to be the most recent statistic. She had failed to show up for work. She had gone missing right at the moment that LaMoia’s team had found out about her and had decided, in a failed attempt, to put her under surveillance. Mc-Neal had run an ‘‘Employee of the Week’’ piece on News Four at Five that Boldt blamed on the woman’s disappearance. The stupidity of the press never ceased to amaze him.

The pressure on all involved had intensified, especially on Boldt and LaMoia. Too many dead bodies. A reporter missing. Television news turning the screws and making inroads ahead of police. There was talk of creating a task force to include SPD and the INS, although both sides were resisting. For Boldt, as he quickened his pace yet again, all of it took a backseat to locating Melissa Chow, who appeared to be not only a possible victim but also a key witness. To find this woman was to simultaneously bring down the people behind both the murders and the importing of human beings-he felt certain of it.

Dr. Virginia Ammond was a tomboy in her mid-forties with a freckled Irish complexion, callused hands and a Ph.D. in marine sciences. She dressed in faded jeans rolled at the cuff and an immodestly tight T-shirt that bore the aquarium’s logo.

‘‘The medical examiner’s request to identify the fish scales went first to the university, but was passed on to me for confirmation.’’

Boldt visited the aquarium regularly with his kids, the floor plan familiar to him. Ammond walked him down the descending ramp that led deeper underground and into the heart of the facility-a 360degree viewing room completely surrounded by glass and water, where fish circulated freely, lending the visitor the feeling of being submerged.

She led Boldt to a door marked EMPLOYEES ONLY and into a room where a stereoscopic microscope awaited them.

She explained, ‘‘I know it’s an inconvenience for you to come down here, but phone calls just don’t do it for me. Now this first plate is one of the less common fish scales in the sample your people provided our department. Notice the more pointed area where the scale actually attaches to the fish, like shingles on a roof. Of particular interest to us, to you, is the more heartlike shape of this scale, along with that serrated edge. Okay?’’

Ammond switched plates and moved him to a comparison microscope.

‘‘This is a side-by-side comparison,’’ she told him. ‘‘Look carefully at both scales.’’

Boldt brought his eyes to the scope. ‘‘Okay.’’

‘‘Recognize our friend?’’

‘‘On the left.’’

‘‘Very good. Yes. And to the right?’’

‘‘A smoother edge. Less of a point. It’s clearer. This may sound stupid, but the one on the right looks newer.’’

‘‘Gold star, Lieutenant. You didn’t minor in marine biology, did you? Yes, the scale to the right is from a live silver salmon in our back tanks. The sample we received from you consisted primarily of scales from both king and silver salmon.’’

‘‘But not our friend?’’ he asked, using her term.

‘‘No. We found two such scales in the sample. They’re from a variety of Snake River coho. What’s of interest is that this particular species has been extinct for over two decades.’’

‘‘Run that by me again,’’ Boldt said.

‘‘The Snake River coho disappeared twenty-two years ago. Tens of millions of coho used to make the annual journey up the Columbia and into Idaho, the Snake River species among them.’’

‘‘Extinct,’’ Boldt repeated, withdrawing his police pad and making a note.

‘‘Exactly.’’

She grinned. The white of her teeth gleamed against the freckled face. ‘‘Your explanation over the phone intrigues me. You collected these off a dead woman’s feet. You mentioned shipping containers, and I’d have to question that. A container in service twenty-two years? Not likely. A ship is more like it.’’

‘‘A cannery?’’

‘‘Could be. Yes. Why not? This way,’’ Ammond said, showing Boldt out of the lab.

They walked back into the main galleries. She spoke loudly to be heard above the crowd noise.

‘‘Have you seen our fisheries display?’’

‘‘I imagine,’’ Boldt answered.

‘‘The trawlers?’’ she asked, pointing.

An entire wall had been devoted to the history of commercial fishing. It traced the earliest Native American settlements to the contemporary five-mile gill nets used by the Russians and Japanese as well as the enormous floating canneries. Text and illustrations were complimented by cutaway models of the various vessels, and it was to one of these that Dr. Ammond led Boldt.

‘‘Commercial trawler, fairly common to Pacific fleets for the last twenty to fifty years with few modifications. Bigger now.’’ She pointed out the aft hold. ‘‘The catch is stored here, as it comes in. The crew then sorts, cleans and washes the catch, discarding the unwanted or undesirables, and the gutted, finished product is moved by conveyors to the forward hold.’’ She indicated a huge room that occupied most of the front of the ship. ‘‘This hold is one giant freezer. These trawlers are able to stay out to sea days, weeks or months.’’ She took a deep breath, the tomboy in her replaced by the expert. ‘‘Now given your mention of illegals, I’m inclined to see this trawler in a whole new light. Maybe the catch isn’t so good this year. Maybe I’m putting Chinese illegals in my forward hull. Maybe this is quite an old ship-a very old ship-and despite the regular cleanings the crew gives these holds, a few scales remain behind, indicating a species of fish we haven’t seen for over two decades.’’

‘‘And if it’s a cannery?’’

‘‘That works for me. The canneries go back further than the processing trawlers. This aquarium was a cannery in its former life. Any number of structures along the shoreline in this city have been, or once were, associated with commercial fishing. From Harbor Island to Interbay, Salmon Bay to Lake Union.’’

‘‘You’re saying I have my work cut out for me,’’ he stated. ‘‘I can’t narrow down the old canneries by the fish scales you’ve identified.’’

‘‘The university has catalogued the history of commercial fisheries. That would include canneries. This industry dates back over a hundred and fifty years.’’

Boldt said, ‘‘Twenty-two years is all we care about.’’

Her face erupted into a smile. ‘‘Let me make a few calls.’’

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