Secrets Keep
by Linda Sillitoe

Chapter 5
Caitlin Findlay

[p.38]Whoever heard of black ice in September, Caitlin wondered glumly, trying not to wake up fully. Whoever heard of a certified public accountant skipping town?

She could hear Jake’s voice beyond the closed bedroom door, and the twins’ skittery footsteps as they assembled their lunches and got ready for school. She couldn’t remember ever lying in bed like this instead of seeing Heidi and Julie off to school and preparing for her own day. Usually her mind raced into the day even before she opened her eyes. For years she had gotten the girls ready for school and dashed to work feeling she’d already put in a full shift. Still, during a hot story she found herself wondering how people could subsist in their comparatively dull lives. She felt so lucky to be living hers.

But lately she just didn’t want to get up. Once up, she simply went through the motions the day required and greedily sought her bed again. Burnout, Jake called it, his dark eyes understanding beneath his longish shock of red hair. He had put up with her hectic pace during the eighteen months that she covered the Hubbard story. She wondered how long he’d put up with this ennui. He seemed as absorbed as ever in his rare book business, but often Caitlin perceived an edge to his voice and a briskness [p.39]in his motions that seemed slightly frenetic and told her he was frustrated.

The twins began clinging to her. Julie and Heidi weren’t exactly junior homemakers, but they foraged well both physically and emotionally. Nevertheless, they pounced on Caitlin to solve various mini-crises from needing new gym shoes to untangling sixth grade politics. Whenever she sat down at home, one or both nestled near her. She gave back rubs and brushed hair hoping to satisfy their skin hunger while she listened to them talk.

Today Caitlin wondered who would care if she didn’t get up at all. Hal and Lana could keep the magazine on track through the November issue. Caitlin had already edited the major articles, except for Lana’s about-town column, which was late as usual.

Even the magazine had lost its once inexhaustible energy. Once Hal had seemed her best male friend, which was why she’d gone into business with him, and Lana had seemed a fairly good friend, especially after Caitlin’s longtime confidante had moved with her new husband to Florida. Now Caitlin wasn’t so sure.

Still curled in bed, Caitlin admitted she didn’t look forward to seeing either Hal or Lana. She worked with them, that was all. She mused for a moment on the incremental way Lana had eased herself into the partnership of the “odd couple,” as Cait and Hal once had been called in the newspaper’s city room. He was over fifty, divorced, lank, and cynical while Caitlin was married, the devoted mother of young twins, and always fully engaged with some difficult story. Hal fell into the habit of listening and advising during coffee breaks, and more than once had kept her in the good graces of the editors when some source, or a friend of the publisher, made things difficult.

Then Hal proposed an independent magazine. Over clam chowder in the mall, Caitlin had been complaining, with more fervor than originality, that the newspaper couldn’t get into [p.40]anything deeply or often enough. “Every so many years, we scratch the surface again. We assume we have a new crop of readers or that our readers have short memories.”

“So why don’t we start the kind of publication we really want to work for?” Hal asked. They discussed the possibilities and problems for so long that they finally ordered dessert to justify keeping the table. Finally, Caitlin and Hal sealed the “tiny rag,” as Hal forecast it, with a toast of Diet Coke.

From the first, they’d each pictured the product differently. Caitlin wanted in-depth news features with an investigative edge. Hal wanted to review the arts, chart the trends, and forecast the money markets, thereby attracting enough advertisers to “go glossy” within a year. Then their color format could feature the arts, fashion, interior design, and yuppie trends. And in-depth news features, Caitlin had added.

Before Hal and Caitlin had begun to reconcile these disparate visions of their expected offspring, Lana became the fulcrum of a triangle and the newborn partnership had metamorphosed maybe, Caitlin suspected now, into a slow-growing but deadly mitosis.

In those days Lana was the publisher’s secretary who alternately flattered Caitlin and picked her brain regarding journalism. She had no intentions of remaining a secretary, she had confided, but Caitlin had noticed she was careful not to alienate her boss, either. Late in the afternoon after Caitlin’s long lunch with Hal, Lana greeted her in the restroom. She had heard about the new magazine, she said, patting her peach-tinted razor cut. Her blue eyes glowed.

Caitlin was openly surprised.

“Oh, don’t blame Hal,” Lana said, grasping Caitlin’s arm. “I haven’t seen him so excited about anything for a long time. If [p.41]anyone could make a go of it, Cait, it’s you and Hal. You two are just incredibly talented.”

“The idea is only hours old,” Caitlin evaded. “Maybe by tomorrow a regular paycheck will look pretty dam good. We don’t have immediate plans to leave the newspaper.”

“Oh, but you’re going to do it, aren’t you?” Lana pressed, her eyes searching Caitlin’s in the mirror.

“Who knows,” Caitlin shrugged, and turned away to dry her hands.

At quitting time the next Monday, Hal pulled Caitlin into the coffee shop to propose that Lana join their venture to manage the small stuff—columns and proofing and captions—that Caitlin wouldn’t want to bother with. Needless to say, Hal would be busy running the business side. Hal was so enthused about Lana’s willingness to help out that Caitlin couldn’t find a reasonable way to say, “No, I don’t want her around.” She suspected Hal was a bit enamored, a suspicion that time proved true.

Could she blame him? Lana was pretty and thin without much of a figure, but thin was fashionable and she was an expert at flattering men. Caitlin couldn’t help noticing that when Lana broke her engagement with a sportswriter, a low tide of sympathetic testosterone rippled through the city desk.

Even now Lana never fought Hal on anything the way Caitlin did, but then Hal and Caitlin had always argued and considered one another worthy opponents. Lana never fought Caitlin either, and often praised what she did. Yet no matter how a discussion ended, events seemed to flow the way Hal-lana (as Caitlin dubbed their merged identity) deemed right.

“She’s such a fan of yours,” Hal said at the outset, his hazel eyes fixed on hers as if to root out feminine jealousy. “Now that she’s reviewing concerts and starting to work up some features, I’m sure she could learn a lot from you.”

[p.42]So each left the newspaper, one at a time, and the independent monthly was born in newsprint and converted to a glossy within a year just as Hal predicted. Consistently, Hal and Lana encouraged the topics Caitlin considered fluffy although they praised her hard-hitting articles on social issues. “You work the depression beat,” Hal commented one day. Caitlin recruited writers, and the freelance ranks were swelling.

The truth was, Caitlin admitted now, that only she cared if she finished her current feature on the lack of law enforcement on Indian reservations. Most of the state hardly noticed that reservations existed, let alone whether they had police protection. Advertisers wouldn’t flock to that issue, and Lana would shudder at the photographs’ details of poverty and disarray. She would declare Caitlin a saint for caring about people who could live in hogans, rundown trailers, or bedraggled housing developments. Caitlin might ask if only saints would care.

She opened her eyes. Today is Thursday, she told herself brightly, and tried to think of one compelling reason to get up. Payday? No; not that the magazine paid anywhere near what she had earned at the newspaper. Maybe she was going to lunch with someone? No. Did she have an appointment for an interview? No.

The months she’d worked on the Hubbard story had been rather like the months she’d carried the twins, she thought now. Both times, what she harbored within her had been so significant that she found herself being careful not to slip on the ice or fall down stairs; not to get blown up by James or bonked on the back of the head by some hypothetical accomplice. Even when she collapsed with exhaustion, she’d kept gestating. Now there was nothing in her that mattered to anyone, she decided. Even her family managed well enough with just a robotic Caitlin walking, cooking, listening. A lifesize cardboard cutout would do as well.

[p.43]Maybe this lethargy simply rose from not having her car. She and Jake were sharing his Jeep because the insurance company quit paying for a rental before her car was fixed. Three weeks ago she was broadsided by a skidding truck directly beneath a green light. Black ice was freaky even for Utah weather.

Heidi, who had just finished a dentist appointment, was seatbelted beside her, leaning on the door that nearly got smashed. At the last moment when Caitlin saw that the white truck would not stop, she accelerated and the back door and rear fender had been crumpled instead. They spun through the intersection and out again, somehow missing cars in the opposite lane. Julie, who could have been taking her turn riding in the back seat, had walked from school that day to her best friend’s house.

While witnesses called the police and offered their names and telephone numbers, Caitlin stood in the freezing rain and watched ice crystals form on the pavement. The wind off the Great Salt Lake, to the northwest, wailed bitterly. Yellow and scarlet leaves decorated the city’s trees as if awaiting the return of Indian summer. For a few minutes, Heidi had hopped around yelling about the damaged car, employing a few words Caitlin didn’t know she knew, but she cared more about Heidi’s miraculous wholeness. Then Heidi gave the truck driver a last scathing look, pushed her dark curls back from her face, climbed inside, and fished out her Nancy Drew mystery. Meanwhile, the truck driver paced around gloomily.

Caitlin had felt too sorry for herself to sympathize with him. She looked away from his slumped shoulders and glanced through the car’s shattered side window at the copies of the new October issue whipped along the length of the backseat. “The Murder Hubbard Planned But Didn’t Commit,” the red headline stuttered from one cover to the next. She had anticipated the traffic [p.44]patrolman’s eyes falling on that headline (for not even the investigators knew about this scoop), but he never noticed.

So there sat her last Hubbard story, her culmination, in her smashed vehicle. For months she had looked forward to life without the Hubbard story. Shivering beside her broken car, Caitlin had a premonition that re-entry into ordinary life wouldn’t be easy.

And it wasn’t. For weeks now she had felt lousy for no real reason. Why not let Jake take the Jeep today and just stay home? Maybe a whole day of doing nothing would revive her.

The telephone rang, and she rolled over, pulling the covers up under her chin. Jake would answer. The ringing stopped, but in a minute the bedroom door opened.

“It’s Nick Fazzio,” Jake said in his concerned voice, underscored by hurry. “I don’t know if it’s about Roger or Hubbard or what. I’m driving the kids to school, then I’ll be back for you.”

Caitlin groaned but sat up. Clearing sleep out of her throat, she reached for the extension. “Hi, Nick.”

“What’s your time like today? I thought maybe we could clear the decks on a couple of things.”

She shot a little energy into her voice. “Okay. What time is good for you?”

“Want to grab a burger around noon?”

“Sure. The McDonald’s by your office building?”

“That’s good for me if it’s okay for you.”

“Fine. Ooops. Wait, I forgot. My husband’s got to take the Jeep because he has to drive to Provo. Did I tell you I got hit by a truck?”

“No, you didn’t tell me! What is it with your family? Why don’t I just pick you up at the magazine at eleven forty-five. I’ll be downtown this morning anyway.”

“Thanks, Nick.” She was up. She showered and dressed [p.45]quickly so as not to make Jake late. While toweling, she noted a trace of the rash that had prickled forth at the height of the media frenzy around Hubbard. Amid the excitement, ‘she’d shown the rash to a doctor in the instant care facility next to the magazine. He’d whistled. “You’re allergic to something.”

“How about stress?” she’d suggested.

“Yeah. Could be. It’s just going to have to work its way through your system.”

“Ready in a minute,” she called to Jake, finding her most comfortable skirt and low-heeled boots. She’d give herself every break she could today. Jake had left his checkbook on the chest of drawers. She picked it up, glad she could do something to save him a little trouble. In his business Jake received a lot of envelopes and boxes. Caitlin suspected he now winced before opening each one. Months, then weeks apart, six customers of the Hubbard family business had been mailed small but powerful bombs. Two victims in Utah, two in California, one in Idaho, and another in Michigan, had died sudden, painful deaths.

Investigators eventually realized that the intended victims were Mormon bishops; that struck Caitlin as important, though neither she nor the investigators knew how to interpret it. However, not all the targeted bishops opened the mailers. Thus two office managers and one wife died, as well as three businessmen. No one knew why. Even after federal agents linked the incidents, James was not easy to develop as a suspect. He was a young father who commuted to his job as a software designer in Utah County, a quiet, ordinary man with a sarcastic bent that kept fellow workers at a distance. The family business was a sideline for James and run by law-abiding citizens who seemed genuinely shocked when the bombings were traced back to their company. James’s role in the business finally surfaced. At that point Caitlin hooked her first profile of James—before he was formally charged. That [p.46]first article had been enormously controversial. Fortunately, the Investigators—and Caitlin, who soon shared their opinion of Hubbard—had been right. Still, most callers chided Caitlin for attacking such a fine young father, church member, neighbor.

Hit by bad publicity, Hubbard had instructed his father to hire a combative Mormon attorney, who told Hubbard to keep quiet—he was presumed innocent. And he kept quiet where police and reporters were concerned, a policy that added to his mystique. Meanwhile he passed on earnest denials to family and friends, sprinkled with anecdotes about bumbling cops and plans to sue the investigators. His defenders then talked to reporters, giving Hubbard vicarious access to public opinion. He was widely considered innocent.

By then Caitlin had become engrossed in probing Hubbard’s façade. She uncovered his fascination with explosives, several minor, dismissed charges for petty crimes, unconfirmed reports of domestic violence, and threats toward a co-worker. She kept writing.

Hubbard could only be tried in one state at a time unless the feds took the case. While the FBI labored, Salt Lake County charged Hubbard with two counts of first degree murder for the local deaths and several counts of arming and possessing bombs. In Utah the death penalty was operative, but the prosecutor allowed him to plead guilty to reduced charges. The prosecutor’s priority finally became getting Hubbard into prison, despite the lack of motive. He couldn’t see a middle-class jury giving one of their own the death penalty, anyway. With good behavior James would likely be out of prison by the time he turned forty, maybe sooner.

Caitlin had left the plea bargain hearing with a blazing headache. That night as she lay on the couch with a heating pad under her neck and an ice bag on her forehead, the telephone rang. [p.47]Greg Brown was on the other end. He’d been James’s missionary companion and then his roommate at BYU, where James had majored in computer programming. She found Greg’s memory precise, his perceptions astute, and his assumptions virtually nil—a good source. Now she simply exchanged comments about the trial, attempting to relax the tension in her neck and shoulders, trying to ignore her pounding skull.

But then the taut voice on the other end of the line told her about a murder James had discussed with him in college. The motive seemed flimsy not only to Caitlin but had mystified Greg. James had proposed killing the creator of one of the embryo software systems developing in Utah County. The proposed victim, however, was still alive. In fact, Caitlin had interviewed Ray Alexander and had concluded that James had learned a lot from him before going to work for his competition. Apparently Hubbard had never tried to kill Alexander—but murder had been in his heart for a long time.

“About your brother Roger,” Nick said after they settled into the back booth. “Do you recognize her?”

He pushed a small photograph of a girl at her, a punker type in her late teens. “No. Should I?”

“She worked at your brother’s firm and vanished about the same time he did.”

She looked again, hard. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“It may not mean anything,” Nick said. “Just wondered.”

Caitlin shook her head, her left hand gripping the muscles at the nape of her neck. “I don’t think it means what you’d naturally assume.”

“I don’t see her kidnapping your brother, do you?”

“Not unless she had an Uzi. She doesn’t look very formidable.”

[p.48]“She has a baby, too,” Nick said. “You’d think that would hamper a desperado plot.”

“The baby’s missing too?”

“Well, at least she didn’t leave it at her apartment. Who knows where they are.”

“Have you found out anything else?”

“Just that he didn’t rent a car, take a plane, or take an overland bus, as far as we can tell.”

“Weird.”

“You haven’t heard anything.”

“Not a word. I haven’t talked to Robyn since Sunday though.” She felt a sting of guilt. Barbara would be looking after Robyn and their parents.

“I checked in with Robyn this morning. Nothing yet.”

For a moment they ate in silence. Caitlin’s headache arrived when she thought about the conversation she needed to have with her parents. They must be going crazy with worry. She let her eyes rest on Nick for distraction. His thick dark hair and bright blue eyes made a pleasant contrast, but his eyes seldom lost their inquisitive intensity. The consummate cop.

“About James,” Nick said then. “Let’s put this together. You say that his roommate called you the evening after James went to prison.”

She nodded and detailed the conversation. Nick took notes. For a cop as cool as she’d ever known, Caitlin could tell that Nick was still annoyed. She didn’t blame him. No one could stake a profession on interviewing and not be upset when someone withheld information.

Her turn to ask a question. “So James was trying to impress his new buddies and dropped the name of someone else—someone he said was a victim he killed just about the time that he plotted with Greg to kill Ray Alexander. Is that right?”

[p.49]“That’s about all we know. He said ten or eleven years ago, and that’s about the same time. I haven’t been able to interview our informant, but I hope I can soon.”

“So how long would it have been from the time James leaked the name until the time your office heard it?”

“It’s hard to tell, but I think about a week.”

“And how long before you called me?”

“Probably another week, maybe ten days. We didn’t see anything urgent about it.”

Caitlin sat quiet for a minute, figuring time. “So you called me and asked if that name meant anything to me,” she said slowly, “because, unbeknownst to the public, James was scribbling code in a notebook, which made the prison guards nervous. I walked over to my files, then realized it was the name that had wakened me—what did I tell you when I called you back—two weeks before?” That moment of realization still jarred her. She took a drink of Coke.

“I think that’s what you said,” Nick said evenly.

Caitlin’s eyes locked on his. “Then my dream was about the same time that James leaked the name. A week before you got it.” Another pause. Her throat was so dry it hurt. “Shit!” she said violently.

“What?”

“I’ve assumed I was picking up on your investigation somehow. Like I’d set up some unconscious radar from needing to know what you knew. But if I had the name first …” They went over the rimes again but nothing changed. Involuntarily she shuddered. “Chilly in here,” she said.

“Tell me about that dream again,” Nick suggested.

“We were all sitting around rehashing the case. You, me, Bernie, Howard, Jan. And then someone, I think Bernie, said, [p.50]‘Yes, but you have to take into account that we know now about Jack Borg.’”

“And that name means nothing to you now?” Nick checked.

“Nothing. But in the dream I jumped up and said, ‘That’s it! That’s it. Jack Borg brings everything together.’ I was sitting straight up in bed. It took me a long time to get back to sleep, and in the morning the name was still echoing in my head.”

“It’d be great to bring everything together on this case,” Nick said mildly. “I hate leaving big holes, like lack of a motive, even though Hubbard’s locked up. What did that name mean to you in the dream?”

“I don’t know except that suddenly everything fit—motive, victims, everything. Trying to see how it did is what kept me awake an hour or two.”

“I know that feeling,” Nick said. “Do you think you have some kind of a psychic link with James?” She gasped, but he didn’t blink. “You probably know him as well as anyone, as hard as you’ve worked on this.”

“No,” she said firmly. “I don’t have a psychic link with anyone, certainly not him. I can’t even beam messages to Jake at the grocery store. I despise James. I’ve spent too much time with the families to have any sympathy for him. I saw the photos of his Utah victims before they took them away. I…”

She looked down. Nick was holding her wrist under the table. Her voice had risen and people were looking at them. “Sorry,” she muttered. She tried to laugh. “Maybe I did get in a little deep.” “What’s this?” Nick asked. He lifted her arm, the fist still tight. Her rash had spread from her upper arms and now sprinkled the inside of her lower arms. “Stress,” she said. “There’s a lot of it going around. Kind of like a social disease.”

He let go of her wrist, and had the grace to laugh. “Look, Caitlin, I don’t want you upset about this. Just forget it. Even if [p.51]he did off someone else, it happened a long time ago. I doubt we can do a thing about it legally.”

“Right,” Caitlin said. “And James could be out of prison in eight or nine years because he’s such a well-intentioned young man who didn’t really mean to hurt anybody with his prankish letter bombs.”

Nick looked grim. “I don’t think so,” he said stiffly.

“Hey, this is not for quotation, my friend. That’s how he rates on the Board of Pardons’ grid. I interviewed those officials.”

“We can probably do something about that. And that’s not for quotation either.”

Caitlin took a long breath. Time to strategize. “There has to be a reasonable explanation for this, that’s all. I must have heard that name during all the interviewing I did. I mean I worked sixty hours a week on this for eighteen months—just like you did. So it’s filed in my subconscious somewhere and I just can’t consciously remember.”

“No more dreams?” Nick asked.

“No, not like that.” She paused, remembering a nightmare that had wakened her after she returned from the reservation. When she glanced up, Nick was watching her. “I have a source—a friend—who’s into native religion. He’s Navajo, a healer, I’m told. He’s never said much about it. Anyway, I dreamed I was down in Navajo country visiting with him and I told him all about this strange business and asked his advice. He listened closely, then said, ‘Well, you will have to go down this road …’ Just as he said that, I hit this nightmare blackness and woke up. It took hours to get back to sleep.”

Nick shook his head, baffled but sympathetic. Caitlin’s hands were trembling, and she put them under the table. Nick stirred the ice left in his paper cup with the straw, but he was watching [p.52]her. “I’ve seen hypnosis used sometimes to help people remember details,” he said. “It can be amazing.”

Caitlin squirmed. Hypnosis, the white world’s scientific answer to Navajo sings, she thought. “Do you think maybe it would help me pull this information out?”

“It might,” Nick said. “We don’t use it much, though, because if we do, we can’t put people on the stand effectively.” He described a couple of incidents.

“I think I’m probably going to be a terrible subject,” Caitlin said, “but I’m willing to try. Actually, I know someone who’s a skilled therapist. Why don’t I give her a call.”

“I’d like to be there,” Nick said, “if you don’t mind.”

Caitlin felt a little sick. Probably the cheeseburger had been fried, not broiled. “I’ll let you know.”

Nick dropped her off at the magazine office. Caitlin waved breezily at Hal on the phone and went into her office, a one-story frame appendage tacked onto the two-story brick building. She pulled the blinds to let in two panes of sky and two of parking lot. The office was no bigger than a closet, though taller than most, and smelled musty. It was all hers, though, and she was the only one on their skeleton staff with her own space (also the only one who did a substantial amount of writing).

Caitlin sat down and looked at the list of people she needed to interview and the freelancers she needed to call. The story on the deficits in the rural home repair program had  come in soft, although they had great photographs of families in homes that were literally falling apart. She’d come up with an okay headline: “When the Roof Falls In.”

The story that had come in on in-utero surgery unfortunately read like a medical textbook. If the writer couldn’t or wouldn’t fix the story, then Caitlin must. Otherwise, she would need to [p.53]work the writer through the process, which might require more time than translating the jargon herself.

Her teeth ached, a sure sign that the headache had lethal intent. What I need, she thought suddenly, is to go shopping for an hour. She loved roaming antique and import stores looking for bargains. Their eclectic old house welcomed some odd accoutrements. She hadn’t had time to shop for fun for a long time. But she had no car and didn’t want to figure out bus schedules or stand outside and wait again. No car, no shopping. She couldn’t even go home. Jake wouldn’t pick her up for four hours yet.

She cradled her head in her arms across her desk and closed her eyes. In a minute she would insert her Hubbard-notes disk in the computer and record what she had learned from Nick. She remembered the intensity of his eyes as he asked, “Do you think you have some kind of a psychic link with James?”

“Thanks, supercop,” she muttered into her folded arms. “Do you think you have a psychic link with the slimy creature from the lagoon?”

By the time she reached home, Caitlin had forgotten she needed to call her parents to tell them about the girl who might have left town with Roger. She was so deep in currents of pain that lying flat at last seemed momentarily like easing into a sandy streambed. But soon the nausea and disorientation leaned toward her like bare branches, and the awareness of pain rose again, erasing vision, filling her ears with the roar of water over rapids, as the flood closed over her without a trace.