by Linda Sillitoe
[p.167]“Hey, I was just going to call you,” Caitlin told Nick when the telephone rang at her desk the next morning.
“It can wait. What’s up with you?”
“Couple of things. For one, I finally got a chance to interview the inmate that James leaked to about Jack Borg.”
“Great. What did you learn?”
“Well, it’s kind of a crazy story. Evidently James told him that he took Borg up north to Mirror Lake, walked him at knife point into the woods, made him dig his own grave under a giant spruce, and then James cut Borg’s throat.”
A pause while Caitlin visualized it, then laughed. “Give me a break. That’s not the James Hubbard we all know and love.”
“You don’t think so?” Nick said neutrally.
“Why did he supposedly do all this?”
“He told this inmate that Borg had raped his sister while she was babysitting Borg’s kids, but no charges were ever brought against him. James reportedly got the story out of his sister and swore revenge.”
“Whoa, Nick. This is starting to make a little sense psycho-[p.168]logically. I didn’t ever write about this, but James was very possessive of his younger sister.”
“When she became a teenager, he used to moon around her a lot. A cousin who was close to his sister told me he used to spy on her in the shower and in her room. But James hated it when she wore shorts or sundresses. When she’d get a boyfriend, James would follow him home. He even followed them on dates sometimes.”
“Interesting,” Nick said. “I’m going to interview Greg Brown and Monica Hubbard Tate and see what fits.”
“Okay, I think a knifing is way too up-close for James. He wasn’t into contact sports.”
A pause. “I know what you’re saying. It’s not the m.o. of a bomber. But I’ll check it out anyway.”
“Also,” Nick added, “I checked out the address of that house down in Nebo County.”
Caitlin felt a hollowness at the point of her ribs. “And?” “Not much. An Elsie Krupke lives there, has for twenty years. Does that name mean anything to you?”
“Not a thing.”
“No husband apparently, or at least not for a long time.”
Caitlin saw the blank wall they’d hit again and tried to look through it. “Hmmm. Well, our guy came from Phoenix anyway, right? Maybe he was AWOL with Elsie, and that’s why his wife dumped him in the cemetery.”
Nick laughed. “You make it sound like a television western, where they just kick a little dirt over the dead cowboy.”
As Caitlin listened, her mind flipped to the obituary, then back further to an image of a body falling and a dark door. “That’s exactly how it seems,” she said slowly. “Nick, you know what? [p.169]Remember that impression of James’s guy I saw falling down the stairs? There was a door, a dark door, then the sense of the body falling—so that’s how I interpreted it—that James dumped the body down the stairs. But maybe that was symbolic for the way he was buried. His family just toppled him into his grave. After a graveyard service in July.”
“Interesting,” Nick said noncomittally. “Now what was on your mind?”
“Oh—” Caitlin pulled herself away from the sense of doom, noting first the consistency between the moments—the dark door, the description in the obituary, and now, as the image recurred. She took a long breath and let it out. “Well, I was going to call about something personal. Marly and I were talking about Roger’s disappearance. I think I told you that our older brother died young?”
“Well, none of us really knew what he died of, but it was a terrible shock. I mean we weren’t told if it was an accident, or suicide, or foul play or what. He died alone in his bedroom at home. That’s all I know, and my parents never discuss it.”
“I’m surprised you haven’t checked it out before now,” Nick said.
“The funny thing is it never occurred to me to do it. It happened so long ago when I was just a kid. I grew up with that silence.”
Nick took down the address of the family home and the date Boyd had died. “Those records are probably on microfilm now, but someone ought to be able to pull them up.”
“I’d really appreciate knowing, if it isn’t too much trouble.”
“No trouble. You say you think this is why Roger disappeared?” “It’s a hunch, that’s all. See, Roger found Boyd dead—and [p.170]after that Roger was pretty withdrawn. Some adolescent boys are anyway, I know, but, as we talked, we both felt pretty strongly we’d hit on something.”
“Could be,” Nick said cheerfully. “I’ve been meaning to check out the credit trace we did on Roger, too. I’ll call you back when I know something. How’s Marly doing?”
“Great,” Caitlin said, “and thanks for checking this for me.”
“You take care now.”
Late Friday morning, Caitlin grimly perused a variety of children’s drawings that had been created in therapy and were now being considered as art for the child sexual abuse story. One portrait, drawn in red crayon, showed a smiling little girl with scissors snipping a large penis from an abashed looking man. “Daddy and Me,” the drawing was labeled. The next one was no more wholesome. An adult had neatly printed the question, “What scares me?” at the top of the oversized manila paper, then labeled below the drawing, “Roy trying to grab my privates.” Roy had a moustache and rather long teeth and was much bigger than the small hunched figure who smiled. Caitlin slapped an empty manila envelope over the drawing, shook out her hair, and reached for the ringing telephone. It was Nick.
“You busy a little later this afternoon?”
“Not terribly. I’m up for anything that will get me out of here. What’s with you?”
“I have to run an errand kind of in the direction of the magazine. What if I pick you up?”
“Fine,” Caitlin said, surprised. “Something happening?”
“Well, you were right about Hubbard,” Nick said. “Nothing checked out except for his obsession with his sister. Monica confirmed that. But she was raped while in college, and her [p.171]assailant was killed with a knife in a bar fight while he was out on bail. All this happened in St. George. James was on his mission at the time and had nothing to do with any of it. In fact, the family kept quiet about it until after he’d come home.”
“Figures,” Caitlin mused, then added, “So that’s the psychology behind the killing-Mr.-Borg fantasy.”
“Apparently. Have you had any further thoughts about the woman in that house—what’s her name, Elsie Krupke?”
“Just what I thought before. Maybe if we could get inside the house I could get a better feel for it.” She made herself loosen her grip on the receiver.
“Maybe. That could raise all kinds of problems, though. I think I’ve got an easier idea for getting to Hubbard. I’ll tell you later. I can swing by about 3:30.”
“Okay. I’ll meet you out front.”
When she hung up the telephone, she saw Hal watching her from the doorway. “Caitlin, there’s someone here to see you.”
Who? Caitlin let her raised eyebrows say. Hal shrugged, and she followed him to the front office.
A woman about her own age waited there, seated quietly but tensely. She stood.
“Hi, I’m Caitlin.”
“Rose Anderson,” the woman said. “You don’t know me, but Andy Ivins at the newspaper suggested I talk with you.”
“Great,” Caitlin said and led the way to her office. She’d had lunch with Andy last week, and they’d shared tips on various stories.
Once inside, the woman asked if she would mind closing the door. Caitlin did.
“Andy said you’re doing something on child sexual abuse.”
“I’m afraid so,” Caitlin said with a rueful smile.
“Well, I helped Andy with a story last year, but there was a [p.172]lot of material he wasn’t able to use. He thought maybe I should talk to you.”
Caitlin nodded encouragingly, folded her hands, and prepared to listen. Rose was too tense for Caitlin to take notes, and she wasn’t sure she needed them anyway. But her curiosity rose as the tension in the room tied a knot. This familiar, always intriguing sensation meant a story. Rose’s eyes looked haunted and Caitlin felt a familiar throb of dread.
“Do you know what’s really going on out there?” Rose asked rhetorically. Caitlin let her talk of her own experience being abused as a child, then asked, “I read Andy’s story, and I’ve heard a lot about child abuse cults. It’s hard to get any documentation, though. How much do you know from firsthand experience?”
“My memories are coming back, but it’s confusing.”
“Can you name any cult members?”
“Yes, but I don’t have any proof I talked to my sister about this—she went through it, too—but she can’t remember anything and doesn’t want to.”
“Has anyone in that group ever been charged with a crime?” “Just Lance O’Leary,” she said, naming a prominent defendant in a case two counties north. “He was a weak link. Everyone else has stayed safe.”
“He’s the city councilman and bishop who ended up with a hung jury, right?” Caitlin asked.
Rose nodded. “I don’t think much of this will come out at his new trial either.”
Caitlin sighed. “If you’ll see what documentation you can find, I’ll try to expand the story. But I don’t want to repeat the ‘Do Cults Exist?’ approach. I need a new angle and something solid.”
“I understand,” Rose said, and some of the bleakness left her face. She smiled. “Thanks for listening. Andy said you would.”
[p.173]“Thanks for talking.” She gave Rose her card. “Will you keep in touch?”
“Sure,” Rose said and impulsively hugged her. Caitlin walked her to the door, then returned to her desk and buried her head in her arms. Ten minutes later she straightened and turned on her computer. What had she been about to work on? Oh, who cared? She probably didn’t want to work on whatever it was, anyway.
She called up the directory on her hard drive. One unfamiliar title caught her eye. On impulse she called it up. Once on the screen, she stared at the words fascinated and then almost unbelieving.
She had recorded this dream then forgotten it—the terrible dream about James as a child, James’s father, and the Old World punishment. She read through it again, shivering. Not a cult, but a loose kind of conspiracy transported from the Old World to the New. A way to rein in a bad boy; in fact, she’d readjust this week about a method used on some of the bad boys who became the devils of the Third Reich. She didn’t want to believe that even scraps of Germany’s nightmare could take root in peaceful Utah. She hit the exit button and the dream disappeared.
Caitlin paced her office, then dropped down at her desk again. Some memory was surfacing, some nebulous glint of something from way back. She let it come. She was small and standing in a huge hall, probably the cultural hall at church. Yes. The hall was full of children like herself, and numerous adults, who all seemed slightly frantic. The adults were trying to get things organized, Caitlin thought now, and their words emerged at the level of their mouths and entered the other adults’ ears. They laughed, nodded, seemed to understand one another in that way adults had. But none of it made sense to Caitlin or to the other children. She felt she had been standing in line for hours.
[p.174]Down on her level, a lot of pinching and pushing was going on. Why did they have to stand here? Why couldn’t they talk and run and play? As soon as they began to have any fun, one of the adults would yell at them. Then one woman told the children they were going to play a fun game and began to explain the rules. But her words floated too high, like helium balloons. The adults smiled at the balloons, but none of the children could quite catch them.
After the game began, Caitlin could hear noise and laughter at the front of the line, then a child start to cry. She wiggled and stood on her toes but couldn’t see anything. She heard an adult scolding. What was going on up there? “Nancy fell down,” one tall boy said finally. “She was dizzy and stupid.”
Endlessly waiting, bored as usual, Caitlin finally realized that an adult would blindfold the child at the front of the line, turn the child in circles, put a pin in their hands, and let go. But blindfolded, she couldn’t see, turned in circles, felt dizzy, stuck someone with the pin or fell down. All the others would laugh. Was this fun? She shifted on her tired feet in her black patent leather shoes. The woman said it would be lots of fun. Her legs ached from standing. Oh well, she comforted herself, when she got near the front of the line, she could watch the children just ahead of her and see what they did. She would be all right. If it wasn’t okay, she would run—she was the third fastest runner in her class.
Now, in her office, Caitlin remembered waiting in other lines of children, waiting for a booster shot and hearing the children ahead of her scream and cry. She would try not to think about going into that little room and wonder whether Boyd and Barbara would be braver than she could be. Why did their mother make them do this? She remembered quite clearly sharing a feeling of doom with her siblings—just for a booster shot.
[p.175]What if she hadn’t had older siblings to go ahead of her? What if she had never been able to see what was happening before it happened? What if, behind some screen or door, something truly terrifying or shameful or hurtful was going on? If she had felt so confused and lost waiting to play a game or to get an injection, if she and all her seven-year-old friends had anticipated baptism with such anxiety, what must it be like to go through another kind of ritual? How could you keep such a secret?—to know and know they knew, but to pretend you’d forgotten until you truly did.
Nick drove north and west of the city, stopping at the outer limits to deliver an envelope to the front desk of the Airport Hilton. “I won’t be five minutes,” he said, and Caitlin nodded that she’d wait in the car. While he was gone she wondered why he had arranged this little jaunt—he’d said nothing further about Hubbard and their small talk seemed strained. He must be preparing to tell her about Boyd. But after all these years, how bad could it be?
Now Nick was striding back to the car, moving fast as always, His jaw set. Instead of pulling left into the traffic and heading back toward the city, he made a right turn and continued west. “In a rush to get back?” he asked easily.
“Not at all. I’m editing an article on child sexual abuse and it’s the most depressing thing I’ve seen in a long time.”
“Bad stuff. I’ll do anything to avoid working one of those cases,” Nick said. “Usually there’s no proof; just a traumatized kid as a witness.”
“I’ve been thinking all week how that kind of experience must impact your life,” Caitlin said. “A woman came in today to talk [p.176]to me about cults that abuse children. She thinks it happened to her. Have you had much to do with cult investigations?”
“Yeah, I’ve worked on several of them,” Nick said. “We get reports from all over. But the evidence never hangs together.”
“She said that in this cult the parents were involved.”
“We hear that, too. But, again, it’s hard to prove.”
“What about Lance O’Leary?”
Nick shook his head. “There’s something about him I really don’t like. But I’ve watched therapists question kids, and they do give them a lot of reinforcement. Maybe they have to to get a little kid to talk. But it’s way beyond the bounds of questioning I’m comfortable with, and certainly beyond anything that can happen in a courtroom.”
Caitlin was quiet for a minute. “I don’t know how any victim of incest ever gets anything accomplished as an adult. Wouldn’t it take years to work through that and get your head straight?”
“It does, for a lot of them, if they heal at all.”
“I’ve been thinking about Hubbard,” Caitlin said hesitantly, “about what made him the way he is. Do you think there’s a chance he was abused?”
“I’ve assumed it for a long time,” Nick said.
“He’s so attached to his father, yet he treats him like a child,” Caitlin said.
“I had a good opportunity to watch James with his father in court, and it seemed to me like a pretty strange relationship.”
“Any proof of abuse?”
“Not that I know of. Many defendants bring that out to justify their crimes. But not a word of anything like that from James. He just pleaded not guilty, and then he pleaded guilty. Period.”
Caitlin tried for a lighter note. “Anyway, this ride is a pleasant distraction. “
Nick shot her a fraction of a smile. “The day or the company?”
[p.177]She laughed. The air was gray and drizzly, the mountains had vanished into the fog, and planes appeared from the mist, low and broad, skimming their invisible route across the freeway and landing somewhere in mist again. During such inversions the dirty air seemed filled with viruses and carcinogens, and probably was. “The company’s not bad either,” she said.
Just past the runways, Nick pulled into an enclave beside the fence. “Why don’t we make sure a few of these babies get down,” he suggested.
“Fine by me. I love to watch planes take off and land. Cognitively I don’t believe they can do it.” Suddenly her hands and stomach felt cold. They weren’t here to watch the planes. She wasn’t ready to hear about her brother. “You said you had another idea how to get at Hubbard?”
“Yeah. What if you write to him and ask for an interview? He hasn’t had any public attention for a while. Maybe he’s ready for it. Don’t mention anything that will get my snitch in trouble—just ask something about this guy in the East that’s supposed to be his copycat. He’s probably following it in the media and loves to talk about that stuff.”
“Oh, I know,” Caitlin said. “He loves to talk to guys like you about that stuff. He won’t talk to me. He scorns women, especially me.”
“Are you sure? You’ve written the best stuff about him. He has to respect that.”
“No, not a bit. I’ve come the closest to things he doesn’t like to talk about and doesn’t want anyone to know. He has to hate that. He hated me even in court.” She told Nick how someone had asked her one day who Caitlin Findlay was, then literally recoiled when she identified herself. James had watched it all, she added.
Nick remained unconvinced. “Well, just think about it. I’d [p.178]like to see the letter before you send it. I think you could hook him.”
“And then what?”
“And then you prepare carefully and go in and see if you can get him to talk about that other victim.”
“Go in wired?”
“Maybe. Maybe you wouldn’t have to. We’d have to strategize.”
Caitlin gazed out the windshield at an incoming jet. The car vibrated as the metal bird approached and then swept past, a few feet above the ground. Through the swirling mist, she saw its wheels touch.
“We got that one down.”
Nick unbuckled his safety belt and stretched. His left arm ended up across the back of the passenger seat. She looked at him and folded her hands. Now.
“I checked the records on your brother’s death.”
“I hope it wasn’t too much trouble.”
“No, it took a couple of days but they found it. I finally had to call the coroner to get a straight answer on how he died, though.”
“The coroner remembered?”
“Actually he did, once I described the case a little bit.”
“Just tell me, Nick. Was it suicide?”
“They aren’t sure. Probably not.” His hand gently cupped the back of her neck and gradually she leaned against it. “He was nineteen, and I don’t know if you can understand how horny a nineteen-year-old boy can get.”
“Now just listen. He died of autoerotic asphyxiation. If you constrict certain muscles in the neck, other muscles react—like the sphincter muscles. You with me?”
[p.179]She nodded, her eyes on his face. “Yeah. That’s why Ted Bundy strangled his victims while he raped them.”
“Well, word gets around to a lot of teenage boys that this is the way to get what they call the big O while masturbating.”
A silence. “Boyd?” Caitlin said incredulously. Nineteen, she reminded herself. Nineteen now seemed awfully young, eons younger than it had when she was fifteen and Boyd was her all-knowing brother.
“Boyd had a rope around his neck tied to the bedpost. So that’s why they considered foul play,” Nick explained. “But he had a washcloth under the rope to keep it from chafing his neck. And his pants were undone … ”
Caitlin nodded to indicate that he needn’t elaborate. Behind her eyelids, she was seeing Roger’s white face, all his features pointed, as he sat trembling on the back steps. Roger would have been almost thirteen, old enough to be bugged by sexual urges himself. “So Boyd pulled against the rope when he … ?” She couldn’t say it, but she could imagine it and the vision scorched her mind.
“Right. Are you hearing me, Cait?” His hand shook her shoulder gently. “The hazard is that you can lose consciousness very slowly in that situation. Sometimes kids—or even adults, usually men—just pass out, and if they’re not found soon enough, they’re gone. Usually guys will do it in pairs, make sure someone else is there—like taking LSD.”
She saw again her parents’ tortured faces, their silence, the odd, brief discussions about accidents and foul play, and all the unspoken anger, as if Boyd’s death had been his own fault. His crime. “No wonder,” she murmured.
Another jet roared past and Caitlin took long breaths until the wheels sparked out of sight. She rolled down the window a little. “How about some air,” she said.
[p.180]“It’s a darn shame,” Nick tried. “Probably a lot of boys try a fool trick like that sometime. It’s too bad it happened that way to him.”
Caitlin shook her head. “It’s more than that,” she said, beginning to shiver. “Boyd was going on a mission soon. He’d already had his interview with the bishop, and he was having one with the stake president that Sunday evening. They ask young people about that—masturbation. Really, he was such a great kid—kind of a role model for the whole ward—that I can’t imagine him doing it that week. The guilt would be overwhelming.”
Nick thought about it. “It’s a lot of pressure, though, going on a mission, isn’t it? Goodbye to the girlfriends and all that?”
“Oh, yeah, the pressure is terrific. But the pressure is to be good, to conform, to be worthy. And Boyd believed all that. I don’t think he really had a girlfriend. He was the star example in church and barely managed not to be obnoxious about it. He would have been made an elder—for boys that’s the big time. No, there’s something else.” She thought a minute. “Besides, Boyd was bright and he must have known the risk. He must have known he might lose consciousness—and be found that way.”
“You’d think so,” Nick said, “but maybe he really thought no one would ever know. People do dumb things,” he said wearily. “I see it every day, and so do you.”
Caitlin was quiet, then said, “Nick, don’t you think there’s anger written all over Boyd’s death? I’ve felt anger around it all these years. Isn’t there anger in this?” She rolled the window down another few inches. Ice-gritted wind blasted in the wake of a jumbo jet.
“Do you feel nauseated?” Nick asked. She shook her head. “You’re going to freeze us solid,” he said, and reached past her to roll the window back up. Since he practically had his arms [p.181]around her anyway, she let her head turn toward his shoulder and he gathered her in. Not until another jet came in did she straighten, brushing her hair back from her face. Her eyes burned.
“They ought to clone you, Nick,” she said, keeping her voice steady. “You’re one hell of a good cop.”
He grinned. “Sure you want that many cops in a free society?”
“Okay, how about cloning you as a friend.”
“Well, you’re just having a bad year, kid. Hang on.”
They watched a DC-10 come down and then a huge Pan American whose roar vibrated their teeth. Somehow the sight of those giants hurtling toward the earth and then landing so delicately on their little wheels comforted Caitlin. She knew, even as the wheels caught and held on pavement, that someday in all those safe landings one would not succeed. In human terms that single lapse among so many successes would mean catastrophe.
Later, when Nick pulled up at the magazine office, she told him, “I’ll call you when I get a draft of that letter to Hubbard.”
“Cait, think it over. No pressure, okay? Use your own judgment.”
“That’s all right, Nick. I’ll give it a try.” She opened the car door, then looked back at him. “Thanks for giving me back my brothers,” she said so low he almost missed it. “I’ll be in touch.”