by Linda Sillitoe
[p.13]Salt Lake City Police Department detective Nick Fazzio decided that Robyn Lewis had turned on her furnace too early this fall. True, morning had been rainy, but now afternoon sunlight glared through the windows and her living room felt shimmery with heat. The dusty odor a furnace emits after disuse floated like an aftertaste.
Also there were too many people in the room. Although Nick had begun questioning only Robyn—who looked too young to be called Mrs. Lewis—the privacy hadn’t lasted. Wispy kids, a daughter and son, had sidled in, leaned against her, and finally poked and pinched each other, squealing, to get their mother’s attention. This morning Robyn had been interviewed by two suburban police officers. Maybe she, like Nick, felt this interview was superfluous. She just wanted her husband back, and Nick wanted to go home.
Then her in-laws had arrived, shaken but cooperative. Tom and Genevieve Lewis, Nick wrote dutifully in his notebook. Robyn’s parents lived in California and she hadn’t called them yet. But Roger’s sisters, Barbara Fetzer and Caitlin Findlay, arrived next, along with Caitlin’s husband, Jake. A typical Utah clan, Nick thought, though not huggy-kissy even in crisis.
[p.14]He already knew Caitlin, and they greeted each other cordially. “I’m glad you’re on this,” she said, her eyes smiling. He couldn’t say he was glad she was related to a missing man, but he did compliment her on her recent coverage of a double murder. “You really did a great job pulling that together.” The comment was mainly for her family’s benefit. He and Caitlin had talked recently.
“Thanks,” Caitlin said calmly, as if she’d heard it a thousand times—probably she had. She sat down on a hassock instead of a regular chair. “I appreciate all the help from you and the other investigators.”
She would want information on this, too, Nick knew. This time her brother was at the center of the incident. A suicide? A homicide? Just another runaway? Why would a normal guy, as Roger was purported to be, run away from a nice home, two little kids, and a petite wife whose freckled face looked as if it smiled easily when she wasn’t heartsick?
Nick shifted impatiently in his chair. Probably he didn’t need to keep track of this many people anyway, but one never knew what might become a major case. Most likely, his man Roger would come wandering back in the wee hours, or call tearfully from Las Vegas, or vanish for good. Such a case didn’t need a city detective. It wasn’t illegal for an adult to disappear. However, Tom Lewis happened to be a close friend of Nick’s boss, captain Ross Nicholson. Tom assured his friend that there was no way his son, Roger, would just walk out on his family.
“I know he’s kidnapped, I know he’s dead,” Robyn was sobbing now into her hands. The family’s sympathy cracked her composure, already strained by a sleepless night and two restless children. “No, Mommy,” her little daughter cried out. The other sister, Barbara, reached down and picked up the little girl. Caitlin [p.15]kept her eyes on Nick’s face. “What can you tell us?” she asked quietly.
“I only have the report from the investigating officers this morning,” Nick said. “Apparently your brother went to finish up some accounts Saturday afternoon at his office and never returned. This morning when his wife and one of our officers went there, his private office safe was found open—and empty.”
“Company money?” Caitlin asked, as her sister gasped and her parents both shook their heads and began to protest. “We might as well know what we’re up against,” Caitlin said.
“Don’t know yet if there was any money,” Nick said. “Maybe stocks and bonds, probably personal since his office and the accounting office are separate.”
Nick returned to his questions, gradually becoming more direct. Robyn wiped her eyes gingerly—he could see that the skin underneath was chapped—and she was emphatic: no drugs, no trouble, no other women, no reason to leave. Roger was honest and very responsible; yes, he had seemed tired, withdrawn lately, sometimes irritable, but he would never do anything like this. “I knew that when I married him,” Robyn declared. Nick made a note.
When he looked up, he found Mr. and Mrs. Lewis struggling to maintain their composure. Silver-haired people with kindly faces, Nick noted, though tears brimmed. Barbara’s face was buried in her niece’s light hair. “We’ve been through this before, in a sense,” Caitlin said softly. Before he could ask her to elaborate, the doorbell rang and Caitlin rose to answer it. Her husband sat with his elbows on his knees, his head bent, and his hands folded and swinging. No one met Nick’s eyes. Most looked toward the door as if it would open on a mystery.
Caitlin let in Marly Lewis, evidently the youngest sibling. [p.16]Marly sat between her parents, each of whom took her hand, and she obediently gave him her address and telephone number.
He returned to his questions, directed primarily at Robyn. “He called you yesterday afternoon?”
“Yes, just to check in.”
“Was there anything in that conversation—if you’d think a moment—that was at all unusual?”
“Anything that could be construed as saying goodbye?”
“Did he sound frightened or angry or stressed in any way.” Robyn thought for a minute. “I don’t think so. He just seemed to want to chat a little bit—he wanted to know what the kids were doing.”
“Come here, Danny. Come to Grandma,” Genevieve murmured, as if now recognizing her grandchildren.
Enough group interaction, Nick thought. I need individual interviews or nothing. Preferably nothing.
He said goodbye and let Caitlin walk him out to his car. “What do you think?” she asked.
“What do you think?”
She frowned and shook her head. Her hair’s dark wings flickered red highlights in the sun, but Nick thought she seemed different—slack, not the fireball she’d been while covering the James Hubbard case. “How’ve you been?” he asked, “except for this, I mean.”
She shrugged. “Oh, okay. It’s a little hard getting back into the mundane world after a story like that. I don’t know what to think about Roger. He’s always been such a straight-arrow, but sensitive. A careful person. I keep thinking about my seventeenth birthday when my boyfriend stood me up for dinner and dancing— we’d been fighting for a week, but still…And Roger rode [p.17]his bike down to the supermarket and brought back a vase of daffodils.” She looked at the sky, as if checking for more rain, then shrugged. “He forgot to take off the price tag.”
“Is that right?” Nick said in the easy way that encouraged people to confide. “I wondered—what did you mean about your family going through this before?”
“Oh.” Caitlin shook her hair back and looked up at him. Her eyes had smudges underneath. “My other brother, Boyd—he’s the oldest—he died young. 1 don’t know if my parents can go through it again.”
“I’m sorry,” Nick said automatically. “How young?”
“Nineteen,” Caitlin said. ‘just a baby. Well, I’d better see to the troops inside.” She paused, then changed the subject. “By the way, Nick, I wanted to warn you before the last issue of the magazine came out—about the info on the murder that Hubbard and his roommate planned years ago, I mean.”
He said nothing.
“I should have called,” she continued, “but since he didn’t actually murder this guy, and since you had him locked up already, I decided an old investigation wouldn’t matter that much to you.”
He looked at her.
“Mad at me?” she asked, as he ruefully recalled reading her last article and finding this gem.
“No, not at you. I have to admit I’m not too happy with your source. I questioned Hubbard’s roommate for two hours, and he never breathed a word about that. His testimony could have made a big difference to a jury.”
“I know,” Caitlin admitted. “But the case didn’t go to a jury. And Greg told me late the night James pleaded guilty.”
Nick shook his head. “Frustrating,” he said. “What if Hubbard [p.18]hadn’t copped a plea? If we’d had a plausible motive, we’d never have offered him a plea, that’s for sure.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I guess that’s the difference between detectives and writers. I wasn’t a threat to Greg, and he just couldn’t keep it secret a minute longer.”
“Why would I be a threat?” Nick asked mildly, and watched her bite back a smile.
“Right,” she said. “Supercop.” Instantly he felt embarrassed by her reference to the Tribune’s profile on him after Hubbard was arrested. God, he hated media attention! To hide his irritation, he ran a hand through his thick, coarse hair. Probably time for another trim.
“About that other thing I called you about a couple of weeks ago,” Nick said, meeting her eyes. Now it was her turn to flinch. “Have you thought any more about that?”
Caitlin sighed and leaned against his car, not seeming to notice its dust film. “Yeah, I have. I’ve been down in Navajo country since then; it’s very—I don’t know—mystical there. I still haven’t been able to shake this. I mean, this name is leaked to you from prison and I dreamed it? Give me a break. No, I still can’t explain it.”
“We can’t get any of the leads you gave us to check out. If you hadn’t come up with the same name, we’d have thrown out the whole tip from the inmate by now.”
“Well,” she said, “I can’t explain why a name that James Hubbard dropped at prison should wake me up in the middle of the night. But I don’t like it.”
“I don’t blame you,” Nick said. “Let me try a couple of things when I get back to the office tomorrow.”
She winced again, smiled wryly. “Maybe you could not mention to many people that I’m dreaming police info. What does that do to our images?”
[p.19]He laughed. “Sure thing, Caitlin.”
“Anyway, I am glad you’re on this business with my brother, Nick. Thanks.”
“Can I give you a call tomorrow if I need to?”
“Any time,” she said and found a real smile. “You know that.”
By late Monday afternoon Nick Fazzio wished two things about Roger Lewis. One was that the idiot hadn’t left his safe open, faking a robbery and fueling stories about his abduction, and two was that Roger’s father hadn’t been his boss’s missionary companion. That foray into an alien land trying to win souls seemed to bind men as tightly as sharing a foxhole, Fazzio mused. He wouldn’t know, being a lapsed Catholic and having missed the war, but he knew something about the bonding between police officers working a tough case. Nevertheless, the combination of those factors around Roger Lewis was making Nick’s work tiresome.
Roger’s photograph looked just the way Caitlin had described Him—a quiet, attractive man in his mid-thirties, wavy hair, clear, thoughtful eyes, and a mouth that seemed too sensitive for the world’s troubles.
Nick would have expected Caitlin to try to keep her brother’s disappearance out of the media. Surely she had friends at both newspapers and in the electronic media. But short articles appeared in the middle pages of the local sections, weighted with quotes from friends and family members who believed Lewis had been robbed and abducted. All three local stations aired reports tinged with mystery. Nick’s boss had been interviewed on camera, managing to stay diplomatic considering they had a fairly obvious runaway—no sign of forced entry, no demand for ransom, no suicide note, no body floating down the Jordan River [p.20]or pickled by the Great Salt Lake. With Fazzio, Nicholson wasn’t so diplomatic. “Get the damn thing off my desk, Nick,” he’d said first thing Monday morning.
So how had Lewis left town? He’d had his wife drive him to the office, leaving her the family car. No one recognized his photograph at the airport, the bus stations, or the rental car agencies. Why had Roger left town? The man never missed church on Sunday morning. He had some kind of priesthood responsibility, which Fazzio didn’t comprehend but which seemed important to Mormons. No one who knew Roger professionally or personally seemed to have a clue. Late that afternoon Nick ran out of leads and went back through his notebook. On the inside back cover he had listed telephone numbers related to the report.
He ran his index finger down the names, stopping at Marly Lewis, who had said absolutely nothing after giving her address and telephone number. Her apartment was in the city, not far from the Fifth South freeway entrance. If he came up with anything, he promised himself, he’d call it a day, get on the freeway, and head home. At least he’d have something to tell Nicholson in the morning.
Marly Lewis lived’ on the top floor of a brick apartment building under tall old trees in the center of town. The building seemed clean enough but smelled musty. Her apartment was airy even at dusk, and he liked the unbuffed oak floors. As if in familiar quarters, he followed her gesture to the sofa, flopping down as if he’d sat there half his life. Of course, she was Caitlin’s sister, and he and Caitlin had always gotten along.
“This is Lennon,” Marly said, nodding toward the large cat [p.21]who obligingly rubbed gray hair on his black slacks. “Lenin—a Russian cat?” Nick asked, stretching the small talk.
“No. As in John.”
Marly perched on a patchwork footstool a few feet away, reminding him of Caitlin on the hassock. “Any progress?” “Not much,” Nick said, “but we’re still looking. Any ideas about transportation?”
She shook her head, looking thoughtful. “They only have that one car—the one Robyn has.”
Nick’s thoughts wandered toward a hot dinner as he asked, “So were you entirely surprised about Roger disappearing?”
The silence snapped his attention back to Marly. She was looking past him out the window at the darkening sky. The room was growing dusky. Time to go home. Janis would be supervising homework while she cooked dinner. Then Marly said softly, “Not entirely.”
Nick studied her. He’d been right; quiet, but not much got by this one. Either observation or intuition—maybe both—ran in the family, he concluded, at least where Caitlin and Marly were concerned.
“You’re tired,” she said, unsmiling.
Nick admitted it with a tilt of his head. She sat so still, her hands resting at her sides, her eyes steady. In that moment the room was silent. He looked around and noted the absence of both television and telephone in the room. Unusual. Then he heard the cat’s claws crossing the tiled kitchen floor. Marly looked toward the cat, then back at him.
He smiled and repeated her answer. “Not entirely. Why not?”
“Come into the kitchen,” she said. “I need to feed Lennon. Can I get you some tea?”
“Sure. Anything’s fine.”
[p.22]She fed the cat, then filled the teapot. He spotted the telephone, a wall model near the sink. Still no television in sight. Marly moved as unselfconsciously as a child in her turquoise fleece pants and white blouse. She wore the blouse to work, Nick thought, probably under a sweater, then slipped into the sweatpants when she came home. The curves of her body were smooth and unassuming; neither confined nor asserted. The long braid hanging down her back had hairs escaping near the top as if it had not been brushed recently. Even Robyn Lewis, despite her tears, and Caitlin, despite the dark circles around her eyes, had been carefully combed and made up.
“I’m hungry,” she said, “and I have some cold cuts and rolls. Would you like a sandwich?”
“I’d love a sandwich,” Nick sighed, leaning back in his chair. “Anything I can do to help?” he added half-heartedly. She shook her head.
“Where do you work?” he asked.
“Fiction section at the public library.”
“I’m on the same block half the time then—in court or at the jail.”
“I guess you would be.”
“You like working in the library?”
“Yes. It’s interesting. I got transferred into fiction last year and I like it all right. And some of the people. Do you like being a police officer?”
He laughed shortly. “Some days I do. Most days maybe.”
“Well, the last twenty minutes have been okay.”
Not until steaming cups and sandwiches sat before them on the blue enamel table did Marly answer his question. Her eyes met his easily and he held her gaze. “Do you keep these interviews confidential?”
[p.23]He nodded. Confidential from whom? he wondered. Well, probably from anyone she’d care about.
“I personally think Roger was in a trap,” Marly said slowly. “Not trapped by Robyn, not exactly. He had his own trap. I’m not sure what comprised it.”
“What made you think so?”
She shrugged and sipped at her tea. “Nothing very definitive. A look now and then, an edge in his voice. I only see him occasionally, but for the last few months he’s seemed tense. Ready to gnaw off his own foot to get away.” She shrugged and laughed.
“Could he be mixed up with drugs? Or could he have been embezzling or doing something else illegal?”
“Not drugs. I don’t think he could do anything like that. I know he’s supposed to have emptied the safe when he left, but that’s one act. I don’t think Roger could be dishonest over any length of time.” A pause, more sipping. “You know what? If the money and bonds or whatever weren’t his, I bet he pays them back.”
“They were his, as far as we can tell. It’s not a crime to disappear just so long as he went on his own.”
“Yeah. He’s not a jerk. I guess he seems like one.”
“You think he’ll come home?”
She looked at him for a moment. Her eyes were soft but impenetrable. He suspected that Roger and Marly had been close once, maybe as children. “I don’t know. For Robyn’s sake, I hope so. I don’t know what to hope for Roger.”
“Do you think he’s the victim of foul play?”
He saw none of Robyn’s panic and grief, none of Barbara’s quiet tension. “No,” she said with a bit of irony, “so I’m not going to talk to any reporters. Do you think he is?”
[p.24]“There’s not any substantive reason to think so. Do you think it’s possible there’s another woman involved?”
Her eyes looked pained but she answered steadily. “Of course it’s possible.”
“Anyone in mind?”
“No,” she said, but he had the feeling she was leaving something out. He waited. Finally he decided to nudge.
A crease appeared between her blue eyes. Then she tried to laugh dismissively as if she expected him to do the same. “I saw something last night—sort of like a dream, but not really. I saw this woman, a young woman, who moved fast, talked fast. I knew she was a part of all this. But she’s not anyone I know.” Suddenly she giggled. “In fact, she didn’t seem like Roger’s type. She was really young, younger than I am, I think. And her hair was short and combed straight up.”
Nick smiled as she gestured, but his mind was rapidly correlating the elements of this impression, or whatever it was, with the odd dream that had wakened Caitlin, thundering a name already leaked to investigators by a prison informant. Two sisters, two dreams?—except one wasn’t a dream. What went on in this family, anyway? Marly seemed to have no more confidence in her—vision—than Caitlin had in her dream, but a hunch nudging his midriff told him to pay attention.
“An impression like that isn’t much use to you, is it? You can’t put it in your evidence room,” Marly was saying.
“Interesting,” he said. “By any chance, have you talked about this to Caitlin?”
“No,” Marly said, clearly startled. “Caitlin would think I’m a total idiot. She’s a reporter.”
Nick nodded and decided he’d better not say more. As if she read his analysis as doubt, Marly shrugged, “You [p.25]probably don’t put any credence in these ideas. It’s all right. I don’t blame you.”
“Why shouldn’t I believe you?” Nick asked. She seemed sane. Actually he was beginning to wonder about himself. Why was he so content sipping tea in her kitchen—the sandwich long since wolfed down—listening to her talk, when half an hour ago he’d been impatient to go home?
“No evidence to support my thesis,” she said, as if she would dismiss their conversation.
“But you believe what you said. You feel it.”
“Feel it—yes. All my life people have been telling me I don’t know what I feel.”
“I won’t,” he said. “I might not be able to prove it, but tell me anyway. It’s not like I have a whole lot to go on.” Despite the truth of that statement, he had the feeling they’d accomplished something. She smiled now as if she thought so too, and slid her cup away.
“Are you psychic?” he asked suddenly, hardly a routine question. Usually psychics called up and told him.
She shifted in her chair, didn’t quite meet his eyes. “Sometimes, maybe. I don’t know. Strictly an amateur. I realize sometimes that what seems plain to me doesn’t seem that way to other people.”
He studied her, smiled. “I know the problem,” he said encouragingly, and she laughed.
“Maybe I’m just strange.” Suddenly she opened up. “I’ve always seen these spontaneous snippets like watching movies or television in my head. Then they’ll tie in to real life. “
“You don’t seem strange to me,” he said, pushing back his chair. Unusual, though, damned unusual. And what did this unusual younger sister do to his opinion of Caitlin Findlay? “So this wasn’t a dream then.”
[p.26]“No, because I wasn’t asleep. But it was like a dream in that I wasn’t imagining it the way you would a daydream.”
Nick stood. “I think you’re the sanest person I’ve talked to all day. Thanks for the sandwich and the tea.” He reached in his wallet for his card, then watched her stick it on her refrigerator with a cat-shaped magnet. “If you think of anything else, maybe you’d give me a call. The woman you—uh—saw—any idea if she’s from here or someplace else?—some other state, maybe.”
Marly considered, seeming surprised he’d ask. “Here,” she said, “but I don’t know why. I had the feeling they were both moving away from here together, moving fast.”
“Just for kicks I’m going to check with missing persons and see if any young women have been reported in the last few days. May I call you if anything turns up?”
“Sure,” she said, and now she did smile. Her blue eyes lit. They moved toward the front door. “You know,” she said, “you’re a good investigator. You listen. I didn’t tell any of this to the policeman I talked to first.”
He thanked her again and they said good night. Nick drove through the lighted city and swung onto the freeway entrance, headed south and west for home. Happily, the rush hour traffic moved just ahead of him and he was able to drive the speed limit. To the east, west, and south, the mountains ringed a gray sky and the valley’s lights sparked color all around and south to the Point of the Mountain. Dozens of men and a few women resided at the Point’s penitentiary now, thanks to him. Of course, every time the Board of Pardons met, one of “his” inmates seemed to hit the street again. He shifted his attention.
To his right, jets coasted toward the international airport, spaced single file like cows filing toward the barn. When he’d been a kid, the west side had been farm country. As he drove, he [p.27]pictured Marly Lewis moving through her yellow kitchen, her cat dancing around her silent steps.
In between the cases he regarded as his real work, Nick Fazzio put the investigative system through its tedious motions, plucking the names and photographs of women recently reported missing to every agency in northern Utah. Maybe this was only political, keeping his boss happy, but by evening he had five candidates on his desk. Two more photos were reportedly in transit once clerks had them reproduced. He slapped the photos in a line and looked at them. Two looked too old for Marly’s description. One black-and-white showed a young woman with very short hair; red, the accompanying information said. Another was fat and blond, another had dark straight hair and direct dark eyes.
If he showed Marly Lewis this spread, Nick thought, she’d likely select Ms. Redhead simply because that one alone fit her description. Of course the woman might look different enough that Marly, who seemed honest, might not select her at all. But certainly she wouldn’t select any of the others. Ah well, the snapshots from Provo and Layton might have short hair, too.
The next morning Nick found the envelope from Provo on his desk and, after talking his way through a couple of secretaries, located the Layton information. Provo had long curly hair, light brown, and looked demure, motherly. Not much like the woman Marly described. Layton was a black woman about thirty, with short curly hair. A dark woman? Nick doubted it, but it might be interesting to keep her in the spread.
Nick walked into the outer office and caught two rookies [p.28]chatting with the secretaries. “Bradford,” he snapped. “Could you help out a minute?”
Bradford swung to his feet and followed Fazzio back to his office. “What’s up.”
Nick handed him the photo of the redhead. “I need three from the drivers license bureau with similar appearance. I need them quickly.”
“You got it.”
Nick went in his office and looked through his notes on the Lewis case for Marly’s number. Absently, he jotted it in his desk directory while letting the telephone ring. On the third ring he glanced at his watch and realized it was only 7:50 a.m. Shit.
“Hello, Marly Lewis?”
“This is Nick Fazzio. I talked with you the other night about your brother.”
He was being too cautious. Of course she remembered him. “How are you?” she asked politely.
“Fine. Sorry to call so early.”
“That’s all right.”
“I have some photos here of women who were reported missing recently. I wonder if you could look through them and see if anyone means anything to you.”
A pause. “Sure, I could do that. I guess I’m surprised you bothered.”
“Could I drop by in a little while? What time do you have to go into work?”
“I work late today. Not until one. I’ll be here until eleven-thirty or so.”
[p.29]“Okay. I think I can come by within the hour, if that’s all right.”
“Give me twenty minutes, okay?”
She looked through the ten photographs he had selected, holding number six out but continuing on. Then she went through them again, quickly setting most face down on the sofa. She handed him one. “This looks like the woman I saw,” she said. “It’s hard to tell because she was in color and moving. Here she’s so flat, so black-and-white.”
He glanced at the reverse side, though he knew he would see penciled there a number six above a name—the red-haired woman he built the photo spread around. “What color was her hair?”
“The front was streaked blond but the rest looked orangey-red.”
“None of the others look familiar?”
“Not at all. Are they all missing?”
“Well, no. I kind of mixed them up to give you a selection.”
“Is this woman missing?”
“She’s been reported. I need to do some checking.”
“I can’t imagine what she could mean to Roger,” Marly said. “She really isn’t his type.”
“I see what you mean,” Nick said, although he didn’t think Robyn Lewis looked much older. The red-haired girl looked about nineteen, twenty maybe, and her eyes and jaw were defiant. “She doesn’t look like she’d work in an accounting firm, does she?”
Marly laughed. “Not a whole lot.”
She did, however, or at least she had, Nick learned. For three [p.30]months Gina Jeanette Mendoza had been a gofer for the Handley, Smith, and Lewis Financial Corp. Her wages had been paid by the Job Partnership Training Act because she was in a program to work her way off welfare. However, the company had not been sufficiently impressed to hire her at regular pay. Her time had run out last Friday. No one had seen her since.
She rented a studio apartment north and west of town. When Nick checked it, it was bare except for two tattered heavy-metal music posters left hanging in the bathroom. Her driver’s license number led him nowhere. She wasn’t a bad girl, and so her landlady had reported her missing. Also, Gina hadn’t paid her rent for the last two months, pleading the expense of her baby’s doctor bills, the landlady said. If he found Gina Mendoza, would he please mention the rent?
“You bet,” Nick answered, and left. As he walked down the front stairs toward the street, it occurred to him that if Gina Mendoza received Aid to Families with Dependent Children, she probably didn’t actually pay many doctor bills. Oh well, the excuse had worked with her landlady. Dismissing that, he found he wasn’t thinking so much about Gina Mendoza as he was wondering about her baby and especially about Roger Lewis.