After getting home (and being attacked by Albert, who obviously was operating under the assumption that I had died and had somehow achieved a resurrection, oh miraculous day!), I sat down at the table in the kitchen with a notebook and a dry erase board in front of me. The dry erase board is arguably the most important tool a nuke has while he’s going through school, and I always found it a useful way to organize and evaluate my thoughts.
First, I spent about an hour scribbling down everything that I could remember that we had learned over the course of the day. My notes were chaotic and completely lacking in any kind of chronology, but I’m used to that. Not being a human flash drive like Lopez, I had to just throw everything that popped into my head onto the pages, and figured I could sort through it later. Once I had exhausted my memory for the day’s events and information, I celebrated with a gourmet dinner of Ramen noodles and cheese crackers. Albert sat nearby, sadly alternating glances between my meal and his bowl of dog food, apparently a commentary on the travesty that was his virtual starvation. After letting my mind clear for a few minutes, I started on the dry erase board.
Having no experience in any kind of investigation, I decided that I needed to approach this in a familiar way. There’s a technique called sequence diagramming that they use in the navy to analyze problems and determine solutions. It operates on the idea that in order to know how to solve a problem, you needed to know how and why the problem occurred in the first place. In other words, don’t just treat the symptoms, because the malfunction will simply occur again sooner or later. This seemed oddly fitting with the situation at hand. Although our objective was to locate Katie and report on her condition, I felt that if we couldn’t figure out what was causing her bizarre behavior, she wouldn’t change her pattern.
It was odd. Although I had never met this young girl, I found myself a lot more invested in what happened to her. I think we get used to seeing people being bastards for pretty much their entire lives, treating those around them like stepping stones to make their lives a little easier. This isn’t always intentional, but it’s part of who we are. Personally, I found that the idea that someone that was actually hard-working and willing to sacrifice for the people in their life was somewhat gratifying.
It was as if a quiet voice was saying, “See? She’s who you can keep in mind when you think all of humanity is a waste, but if you can’t help her find her way back from whatever dark place she’s found herself in, you’ll lose all faith in human beings.” Perhaps this is a bit melodramatic, but when you spend your days waiting to see if your own life will stumble across a bit of meaning, you grab hold of anything that helps what you see in the mirror. With this in mind, I began.
Sequence diagramming starts with the problem, and then branches in both directions. For example, if you know that your sink is clogged, you begin with that:
The next step is to identify the cause of the clogged sink. This may not be readily apparent, so you may do some investigation. Although the answer may be obvious, sometimes probing a bit further may result in finding an even deeper underlying cause. For example, your first causal step might be:
Old food plugged up in pipe => Clogged Sink
I actually realized that my sink was clogged last night. While figuring out why, I didn’t exactly write all this out, but unconsciously followed the process. When I checked it out, I found some old food stuck inside the pipe. This is the cause, but looking even closer at the cause might reveal:
Malfunctioning disposer => Old food plugged up in pipe => Clogged Sink
I could keep going deeper, maybe find out that the disposer is malfunctioning because the last time Lopez got drunk at my house, he threw up on my cell phone and tried to dispose of the evidence by shoving it down the sink and grinding it up. When it got jammed, he shoved a screwdriver down in and ran it until it broke. But even these few steps have given us valuable information. Had I just cleared the pipe, it would have been clogged up again within days. But now, I can approach it like this:
Clogged Sink => Clear pipe => Replace disposer => Kick Lopez in testicles
It’s simple, but by taking these steps, I’ve formed a plan to solve the problem that not only corrects the immediate issue, but ensures that it won’t happen again. It’s a good technique, and I now began to apply it to Katie’s disappearance.
Fairly pleased with this idea, I began to attack the problem. Unfortunately, after about an hour of probing, I had a spiderweb of branches tangling all over the board. There were multiple possible starting points, and without more information, it was impossible to know which branch was the actual path leading to the current situation. Sitting back in my seat, I rubbed my eyes with frustration. As I continued to rotate the problem in my mind, poking and prodding it like a surgeon trying to determine the best way to remove a nasty tumor, my phone rang.
“You getting as pissed off with this as I am?” I could hear the obscenely expensive sound system Lopez had installed into his home blaring Journey, a sure sign he was annoyed.
“Yeah, I tried sequence diagramming, but got bupkis. We don’t have enough data to establish a good causality pathway.” As I spoke, I stood up and moved to the fridge, plucking a pickle out of a jar. Munching away, I said, “We need more info, and not secondhand. You think that Karen would let us look through Katie’s bedroom? Maybe we can find a clue.”
“Probably. I got fuck all, too. Just spent about three hours transcribing all of our interviews today, hoping there’d be something in there we missed, but we got a whole lot of idiots saying the exact same thing. Hanover’s the only guy that told us anything concrete. I thought maybe we could go check out that trailer that he said that Harris crashes at. Other than that, I don’t have a clue.” I heard him take a swig of something.
“All right, we’ll do that tomorrow. Call up Karen and see if we can check out her room, and we’ll go from there. By the way, you owe me a garbage disposer.”
“Fuck you and your cheap garbage disposer. You should be glad I’m helping you improve that shithole you spend so much time not getting laid in. See you at nine.” With that parting shot, he hung up.
I couldn’t help it. Even with the situation being a bastard, and the frustration that came with it, I found myself grinning. As annoying as this was, it was fun. There was a certain sense of chaotic glee about trying to solve a puzzle to which no one knew the answer. With that thought, I went and collapsed on the sofa, Albert clambering up beside me and laying his head on my lap. Switching the television on, I switched to the History Channel, which was showing a special on the Spanish-American War. Listening to some old narrator droning on about the sinking of the Maine, I drifted off and fell asleep.