by Linda Sillitoe
[p.93]The week that Nick was out of town Caitlin alternated between mentally beating herself up and pretending that nothing had happened. She performed these inward gymnastics almost anywhere, driving to or from work, soaking in the bathtub, or taking breaks that grew lengthier by the day. Breaks found her cradling her head in her arms on her computer or at home stretched out on her bed once the washer, dryer, and dishwasher had all been given their tasks.
Not that her days were idle. Even when she closed her eyes, her work marched before her eyes: birthday party presents to purchase and wrap for the twins, dry cleaning to pick up before seven, hoagie buns to order for a family party, eight telephone calls to make for photographs of six up-and-coming women in the health care field, and a long call to help a reporter who was working undercover on a story on AIDS and the state health department.
In between topics and tasks, her own disquieting experiences intruded. While her mind struggled to analyze their meaning and even their reality, she imagined leaning against trees and sinking inward to the core, or lying so deep in a bed that her weight bore [p.94]her through the springs. She thought she had never been so weary, not even when she was pregnant with the twins.
“Sometimes people think they’re going crazy when they become psychically aware,” Isabel said, looking at her intently. What she hadn’t said was: “Caitlin, you’re not going crazy.” Cait had been afraid to ask directly. Probably Isabel would say analytically, “It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on.”
But what do you think is going on? Caitlin wanted to ask. Do you think I’m nuts? Do you think this murder happened? Why could I see those things? What am I supposed to do about this?
Really, she decided more than once, the whole thing was a product of her always fertile imagination, a carry-over from the drama of covering the Hubbard story. That was all. Nick Fazzio must think she was pathetic-burned out, overworked, hysterical—a neurotic woman. In fact, he must think the whole family was pretty weird, with Roger disappearing then writing home like a kid from camp. They were probably the running joke now at the police department.
Her alternate line of torture was to imagine herself on the witness stand, with Zane Brokowski, Hubbard’s abrasive, blue-suited attorney, cross-examining her on the “murder” she had witnessed. “How often do you feel someone’s spirit in your body, Ms. Findlay?” he would ask. “How do you know this ‘energy’ you describe belonged to my client?”
All the while, James would be at the defense table smirking. Knowing. And would Caitlin be her usual strategic self, answering those barbed questions, or would she be gasping for breath as her heart boogeyed in her chest?
“Do you consider this testimony to be objective journalism?” Brokowski would inquire archly, turning toward the smiling jury.
But surely her experiences of late were so strange that she [p.95]would never be asked to testify. She made it clear to Nick before the hypnosis session that she would do it only on condition that it went no further. Not yet anyway.
Or did she have a moral responsibility here? What if the man she had “seen” really had been killed by James. Shouldn’t she help bring about justice? Murder will out, and all that. No, she argued back, she didn’t have any responsibility. Not really. To whom would it be? If the man she saw existed at all, he was dead now, and no trouble she suffered could bring him back. Any success might just make things worse for his family, literally digging up a lot of pain.
At that point in her mental argument Caitlin would recall that deep, inarticulate grief Whose was it? She had felt that grief penetrate her dankly again the evening that Barbara drove past the same line-up of mountains she had seen outlined on her eyelids the morning after hypnosis. God, such deep grief. Dread. Doom. No air, no breath.
Some of the emotions she felt under hypnosis were hers—wonder, distaste, repulsion—but surely not that wellspring of grief Also, all of this had a nasty, dreadful feel to it, which she couldn’t name—not death, which she was beginning to sense as warm and sweet—but grisly-dead, like the corpse-dust Navajo witches were reputed to use.
Ultimately either train of thought led Caitlin to the repeated decision that she must forget the whole business and get on with her life. She tried, making arrangements to do an interview with her longtime friend, Henry Benally, who lived near Monument Valley and hadn’t been here last time. She might be disappointed again, but at least she’d written to Henry this time, hoping her letter would find his mailbox along the highway. Henry had studied at the university but then immersed himself in the [p.96]reservation, studying with his elders and gradually becoming an expert on Navajo culture and native religion. A spellbinder.
She knew that leaving town again wouldn’t be easy, but she had to get away. It seemed that everyone she talked to wanted to know about Hubbard, and lately she noticed that her stomach began to churn whenever the subject came up.
Nick arrived back, though he seemed too busy to hear about mountains. This crazy business had become low priority, Caitlin realized. Still, Nick asked if they could meet again at McDonald’s, this time after work. He sat crosswise in the booth, his legs extended along the seat. Definitely off duty, Caitlin thought as she slid in opposite him.
He showed her a true crime book and asked if she’d read it. She hadn’t.
“It’s based on a case in Michigan. There’s a psychic there who had a lot of the same kinds of feelings you do.”
“Yeah, she just picked up bits and pieces, but it’s interesting the way the pieces started coming together.”
“The thing is, Nick, I’m not a psychic. I mean…” She let her protest die. What was she saying anyway? Didn’t a lineup of mountains that sometimes shone backlit on the inside of her eyelids give her the creeps? She handed him the composite sketch she had made of everything she had seen.
He looked it over for three or four minutes. Caitlin knew she was no artist but thought she noticed the proverbial ice water in his veins ripple a bit faster. The outline of mountains gave him pause.
She explained. “I found the mountains. You can see them from Interstate-15 before you reach Nephi.” She felt heat rise in her face as he looked back at the sketch. He scrutinized the rest of her drawings—a jumble of small town street signs, one oddly [p.97]shaped, which she thought she might recognize; a man whose face became the wrong shape under her pencil but who had the right eyebrows, the lines from nose to chin; a heavy tumbler of water. She had drawn her impression of the elongated numbers 1, 3, 5. The cottage-style house had pillars or posts on the porch, some confusion about the placement of the front door, a dark roof, a large window in front, a walk leading to the street. She’d imitated the cursive hand the date on the letter was written in: June 29, 1981.
“I don’t think Jack Borg is the right name any more,” she said. “But maybe he’s linked to the man I saw. Or maybe it’s a pseudonym.”
He nodded. “Why wouldn’t it be right?”
“I don’t know. He seemed like the right man but then the name seemed off. It doesn’t make sense.” She could see his interest was up again.
“So what have we got?” he said.
“What about the date? It fits what we know about where James was and what he was doing. It’s around the time he talked about doing Ray Alexander, the summer afterward in fact. I checked back with Greg, and he remembers James dropping in on him that summer—to chat for no particular reason.”
“James didn’t say anything that sounded relevant?”
“Not that stuck. Greg talked about his girlfriend woes, so his mind was elsewhere. Anything James said probably would have been indirect anyway. Maybe he just wanted to touch base with Greg since they’d planned the Alexander murder together. You know, James could gloat a bit, even if Greg didn’t catch on.”
Nick’s eyes met hers knowingly and he nodded. “Sounds like James. I can get the record of deaths from the medical examiner’s office. I don’t think that will be much of a problem. Then we look for a man about that age who died in a fall?”
[p.98]“The fall would have been a cover-up,” she reminded him. “We look for anything that seems suspicious in a man about that age. In central Utah.”
“You’re sure it’s south of Utah County? Not in Weber or Davis Counties?”
She thought of the mountains again, of the dreadful morgue-like feeling along that stretch of freeway. “If I’m sure of anything, Nick, I’m sure of that.”
“Okay,” he said. “Can I keep this?”
She hesitated—it felt like handing over a nightmare. “I’ll make you a copy,” she said, wondering if she would.
He may have wondered, too, for he jotted some notes without arguing. “It’ll probably take a little while to get hold of this stuff, but I’ll get back to you.”
He gathered the cups, straws, spoons. Caitlin pulled on her raincoat and they left the empty restaurant. Nick didn’t think she was crazy, she told herself happily, letting her boots seek the shallow puddles in the lot. He believed her at least as much as she believed herself. Though darkness was gathering at the edges of the valley, the air seemed light, the rain nurturing, as they said goodbye.
“I didn’t do it, Dad,” James said in his most sincere voice. Even dreaming him, Caitlin felt James’s energy again, the bit of amusement in the way he fought his fear.
But his father was not moved. The other man stared at him a full minute, and James felt heat rising up his skin the way the yellow flames had leaped up the man’s shed. The man turned his gaze on his own sons. “You took part,” he said.
They hung their heads; James’s hope flared a bit.
“Whose idea?” he asked them.
[p.99]The oldest spoke up. “James said that just the dry grass would burn. He promised we could put it out easy.”
Then the other boys were gone and James was listening at the crack of the door, hearing the man describe how to tame a really bad boy. “It begins like a whipping,” the man said. “You tell him to lower his pants. And after that first time he never knows which it will be.”
Outside the door James leaned against the wall as his knees lowered him into a squat. Next time I’ll cry, he vowed, the minute he touches me. But he knew he wouldn’t, knew he would defy his father again. No matter how bad this new punishment, it wouldn’t reach him. It would only become a weapon that someday would lay his father low.
Caitlin woke with her fists clenched, her throat hurting. She stumbled out of bed on trembling legs and headed for the shower. Only with hot water streaming over her face and body did she let the dream return—slowly, running it through her brain in a trickle, not a flood. Even then she almost panicked.
She lathered the soap thickly on her body, a woman’s body, not a young boy’s. I didn’t dream that, she told herself repeatedly, or if I did it’s because I’m a writer. His parents are good Mormons. Boyd flashed through her mind and she pushed the thought away.
The Hubbards are innocent victims, she assured herself. This dream doesn’t mean anything. It isn’t real.
She turned off the water, stepped out of the shower. The warm drops chilled her body as she recalled the last question of the hypnosis session: “Did James ever kill anyone else,” and her dull voice saying, “He wanted to.”
“No,” Caitlin said aloud. This has gone too far, she thought, toweling more vigorously. She dressed. I look as if I haven’t slept [p.100]for a week, she thought. Jake had left early, and they’d decided last night that the girls would stay home from school to recover from colds. She would set out vitamins and decongestant, leave a note, and let them sleep late.
At her office Caitlin drew a deep breath and sat down at the computer to record her dream. She filed it under JHDRM, a slug she didn’t think would attract attention if anyone ever checked the computer directory. By the time she finished, her arms were prickled with red dots that pooled around her wrists, her hands felt fat and heavy. She stored the file, placed her forehead in her hands, elbows against the keyboard, and slept, her morning plan jumbling through her head like a spilled puzzle. Twenty minutes later, the ringing telephone jerked her awake. Wrong number.