by Linda Sillitoe
[p.198]Caitlin helped Jake shovel the night’s snowfall for twenty minutes before they could pull out of the driveway. Cautiously, she drove the twins to school, then headed to the office, leery still of slick intersections and oncoming trucks.
Once the girls’ worries about placement tests, the lunch menu, and recess politics had been addressed and their voices faded from the car, her conversation with Marly found space in her mind. How could Marly say so calmly she was pregnant but she was fine? How come Caitlin—never mind the rest of the family—had no idea who the father might be? Why was Marly so willing to let him escape the consequences of fatherhood?
Caitlin had interviewed dozens of single mothers, many of them on welfare, many among the working poor, many who didn’t receive child support. She knew their struggle and she didn’t welcome it for her sister. Her anger toward all those absent men kindled again. She swung into a parking place and slammed the car door.
Startled, it took her a minute to recognize Darren Littlefield, a reporter at Channel 5.
“Oh, hi Darren. How are you? What brings you here?”
[p.199]“I chatted with Hal about something,” he said a little evasively. “I had an idea for a story, but he doesn’t seem interested.”
“Really?” She tried to put interest in her voice, not a question.
“Yeah, I’ve had some troubles with cocaine, and I’m considering telling about my experience. I’d have to use a pseudonym, though.”
“Sounds interesting to me. What’s the problem?”
“I don’t know. Hal just seemed awfully preoccupied. He did say I ought to write up an abstract and you’d get back to me, but I just had the sense he didn’t really want it.”
“Gee, I wish you would write it up. Then I’d have something to take to our editorial meeting.”
“Okay.” He brightened. “How’ve you been? The Hubbard ruckus is long gone, I guess.”
“More for you t.v. guys than for me. Hal’s been hinting that he wants another story.”
“On what?” he said, looking as if she might leak a scoop. “That’s my question,” she said firmly. “I think the story’s told for now.”
“And told and told, as far as we’re concerned. Hey—are you coming to the party at the Scarlet Chicken Thursday night?”
“I haven’t been invited.”
“Oh, it’s real informal. A bunch of us are getting together after hours to wish Paul Everett bon voyage with a little libation. We’re going to miss him, and not only since he represents one hundred percent of our minority anchors.”
“I didn’t know he was leaving. What’s up—more layoffs? Or is he a victim of office politics?”
“No, he got a sweet offer from a Denver station. He wants to get moved over Christmas.”
“Oh.” Caitlin took a long breath as Darren talked on. When he stopped, she had formulated her question. “I don’t know Paul [p.200]very well—we just say hello. Does he have a family to move? That sounds ambitious.”
“Oh, yeah, a wife and two or three kids, I think. Once in a while she brings them down to watch him read the news if he subs for someone at six o’clock. Come to the party, Cait. You’ve been out of circulation for a long time.”
“Good thing I have you to keep me informed,” she said, adding a final note. “Write up that abstract, won’t you.”
“Sure thing,” he said, and waved as she turned toward the office door.
You’re jumping to a conclusion, she told herself, pausing at the drinking fountain. The icy water seemed to add clarity to her thinking. This could just be a coincidence, her head insisted. But a spreading sensation in her midriff told her otherwise. “God, Marly,” she whispered, and took another drink.
“I’m fine.” The impatience in Marly’s voice over the telephone reassured Caitlin, and she relaxed a bit.
“Okay, just checking. I’m sorry to bug you, Marly, but I woke up this morning wondering if you’d really told me that. I’ve just been mulling it over.” Of course she couldn’t say anything about Paul—not unless Marly said something first.
“I know. It wasn’t fair just to drop it on you like that. But I had to tell someone. I’m okay, Caitlin. Don’t worry, ‘bye.”
Caitlin hung up and turned back to her computer. All she needed was to balance one more secret. She could hear Hal and Lana bantering in the front office as she scrolled slowly through the child sexual abuse story. She erased Marly’s pregnancy from her mind and concentrated on the sentences, the paragraphs, the organization. She found little to correct or clarity. Finished at last. She copied the story onto a disk, printed it, arranged the drawings in order of priority, stuck the captions to them with sticky notes, then took the stack out to Hal.
[p.201]“Here it is,” she said, dropping it on his desk with a satisfying smack. Lana smiled, fluttered her fingers, and left the office.
“Great,” he said. “I know you’re glad to be through with that one.”
“Absolutely. Now if I Could just go take a two-hour shower.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. Well, it’s an important story and we won’t have to do it again for a while. Have a seat, Caitlin.”
She dropped into a chair and regarded him more closely. His brow was furrowed, telling her he had some weighty project on his mind.
“Lana and I have been talking … How about a wrap-up on the aftermath of the Hubbard case for March?”
“March is always interior design—your baby. Haven’t we wrapped Hubbard up pretty well—over-wrapped him?”
“Well, not really. Since your last piece appeared, they’ve found some stuff in his cell, right?”
“Right. It was worth a two-inch newspaper story. All they found was a notebook with a silly code and a bunch of marijuana. What do I say after the first graf?”
“Well, you could check in with the victims and see if they’re getting their lives together. You could talk to the Board of Pardons and predict what’s going to happen when his next hearing comes up.”
“You know the board won’t talk about that. The victims are only six months further along than they were when I last talked to them. Actually most are pretty angry at this point.”
“Still, there’s a lot of interest in Hubbard. This could be a where-are-they-now piece. Or maybe a what’s-next-for-everyone piece.”
Caitlin sighed. “Hal, what is it? Why do you want me to do this? I’ve written every word I ever want to about Hubbard. Can’t you feature new designers—trends in atria?” He smiled narrowly. [p.202]She kept her hands still, but she could feel their wetness against her legs. Her skin prickled under her blouse. Don’t say too much, she told herself. Just give him logic he can understand. “Seriously, people love interior design.”
Hal shifted a little uncomfortably, then put his feet on the chair next to Caitlin, stretched out as if utterly at ease. “We need another Hubbard story, Cait.”
She looked at him, waited for something more. Finally, she guessed, “Sales are down?”
“And advertising. We’re in trouble. If we could have a couple more big months, I’m sure we could pull it out.”
“But we got a lot of advertising for Christmas.”
“Yeah, we’ll break even on December but we’re still behind for November. And January and February are grim, even in a good year. We can’t expect advertising to pick up until the May issue, at the earliest, and by then we may be out of business.”
“Well, shit,” Caitlin said. A pause, then, “Isn’t there something interesting other than Hubbard?”
He shrugged. “What?”
“The child abuse story is pretty hot stuff.”
“It ain’t easy to sell advertising around child sexual abuse. It might do okay on the news stands—or people might be really turned off. Who knows? What I do know is that James Hubbard fascinates people.”
“We’ve done more Hubbard than anyone in the media. Seems like overkill,” Caitlin protested, “no pun intended. Let me think about this. Let me ask around. I’ll come up with something else.”
“Okay, if it has the intrigue of a Hubbard story. Your police jurisdiction story on the reservations is fine, but it won’t carry a cover. People just don’t care that much about the reservations.”
“I know. But maybe they should care.”
Hal swung his feet back under the desk. “How many trading [p.203]posts are going to buy ads? We’ll have to pair your Indians with something short and glitzy that can carry the cover. Lana has some ideas.”
Caitlin gave him her most withering look. “Maybe I can work in a hogan real estate scam and a couple of witchings,” she said, heading back to her office.
“Go to it, Hillerman,” Hal answered cheerfully. “I love my job.”
“Me, too,” Caitlin said, shoving her door closed with her foot. She sat down at her desk wondering why they didn’t fire Lana and Kim, who were both salaried. Did she dare suggest that? She remembered their chummy banter with Hal earlier and decided not. So—she had thought she had one dark project out the door and one more, the letter to Hubbard, to go. Now she had two dark projects again, plus Marly. A wrap-up on Hubbard would mean retracing a whole lot of territory she’d been trying to move away from.
What could she tell Hal? What else could capture the public’s imagination? I’ll write the letter to James, she decided, then call Nick and tell him I’ve done it—and ask for story ideas. Drugs, maybe. Domestic abuse. Nick was always in the middle of something, but it was tough getting him to talk on the record.
Okay. A letter to James. She input the date, his name, the penitentiary address, and, “Dear James.” She changed it to Dear Mr. Hubbard then to James again. She had, after all, spent a lot of time in court with him and obsequiousness had its limits. He knew who she was, he’d undoubtedly read her stuff, and she sure as hell knew him. Okay—Dear James.
The letter, when she finished, was eight lines long, but it had taken her most of the morning. She reread it, then called Nick. As she punched in his number, she noticed that her hands looked puffy.
[p.204]“Nick, I’ve got a draft of this letter to James. You want to see it before it goes in the mail? I want it out of my office and off my mind.”
“Yes, I would like to see it. What if I run by in a few minutes?
I’ll buy you a taco.”
“A taco? What happened to cheeseburgers?”
“Cholesterol. See you in a bit.”
She printed the letter and set it on the empty chair by the opposite wall. She could reach everything in this office without getting up. With the door closed, the window provided the only escape route and the half that showed the parking lot was covered with a poster of Monument Valley. For a moment she stared at the poster and above it at the blue winter sky. Her eyes still on the sky, she placed her hands over the keys. Victims, she typed in, guards? Family, friends, other murderers? She looked at the list and sighed. Boring, she added at the end of the list, don’t do it.
At Nick’s knock, she opened the door, still seated. “Come in,” she said. “How are you?”
“Great. Is this it?” He picked up the letter and sat down on the chair.
He read it through once, then again. “Cait, you’re going to get my snitch killed.”
“Well, what do you want me to write? James isn’t going to want to talk unless he thinks I know something he needs to know.”
“Sure he will. I know he follows all the media stuff.”
“He still won’t talk to me.” Caitlin sighed; she and Nick so seldom disagreed.
“Well, he talked to me fairly easily when I investigated that stuff found in his cell.”
[p.205]“Sure he talked to you. You’re bright, about his age, and male. Plus you’re an investigator, highly relevant to his immediate future. Maybe he even respects you as an adversary. Somehow I’ve got to snag him or he won’t talk to me. Maybe you should do it.”
“I can’t or else I would, not that I’d necessarily do better than you. I wouldn’t get you involved if I could help it. Maybe we should just drop it.”
Yes, Caitlin thought, then remembered she needed a story—some story at least. “So what’s wrong with the letter, specifically.”
“Just don’t mention anything to Hubbard about Borg. Dangle some other tidbit. Let him come up with Borg himself once you get in to see him.”
“Okay. So what would he like to discuss that I’d know about?”
“Got it,” Caitlin said. “Didn’t James know Leland Jonas, who’s going to be on trial in federal court next month for communications fraud?”
“Yeah, I think he did. Jonas operated in that same circle of business people, didn’t he?”
“Pretty much. Maybe James is curious about that case.”
“Could be. Not much has been in the media since the preliminary hearing three months ago. Why don’t you drop a hint that you know how strong the case against Jonas is.”
“Actually I’ve heard quite a bit about it. Shouldn’t be hard. So I write nothing about other crimes James might have committed?”
“Well, you could say something about the plot against Ray Alexander—he knows you know about that—but don’t be too specific. Just take Borg out and we’ll be okay.”
“Give me five minutes.”
[p.206]Caitlin could hear Nick checking out the bookcase behind her as she revised the letter. She pulled open the door for air. This was definitely a one-person office. “How’s this?”
He read it on the screen. “Dandy. How about lunch?”
“Okay. I’ll get this off this afternoon.”
“Great. I appreciate this, Caitlin.”
“No problem,” she said, “I’m poised to pick your brain.” She did, but returned that afternoon without any potential cover story except the Hubbard wrap-up. Nick, maybe because he kept mum on any other topic, claimed to think another Hubbard piece was a good idea. She almost asked him if he remembered a certain night in a Nebo County motel, then blushed and kept quiet.
Yes, he would talk on the record about the items they found in James’s cell during the shakedown of that wing, including the coding in the notebook. Also, he wouldn’t mind a little more publicity on how hard it was for Hubbard’s victims to recover because, before long, James went up before the Board of Pardons for his first hearing. Nick expected a number of responsible family members and clergy to speak in his behalf “Yeah, a cover story might be good,” he summed up.
“Ah yes, objective journalism,” she muttered.
He replied, “Murder isn’t very fair either,” adding, “Have a good Christmas.”
“Hey, you too, super-cop.” She gave up, feeling like a sacrificial lamb who ought to understand the necessity of the rite.
Now, with the letter in the mail, Caitlin decided she might as well spend the last of her flagging energy getting organized for the Hubbard wrap-up. She pulled out the third drawer of her file cabinet, packed tightly with Hubbard files, and began pulling folders out. Her telephone list, the prison file, the survivors. She found the order form that one murder victim in Utah County had filled out requesting a genealogy program. [p.207]It had been seized with other evidence. She looked at it now and shuddered. Hubbard had drawn a slanted line through the order and had scrawled in his pointed script, “Order filled plus.”
This was one of few original documents or items she had in her voluminous Hubbard file. Somehow Nick had ended up with the photocopy, and by the time she discovered it, the case had been plea bargained. It wasn’t worth it to him to get back into the evidence files and make the switch.
I ought to have something for the trouble this story’s brought me, Caitlin thought now. She opened her bottom desk drawer, removed an old photograph of her college roommates from its five-by-seven inch frame, and replaced it with the order form. She stood the frame on the window sill, where it gleamed innocuously.
Suddenly she felt exhausted. Thank God it was Friday. After a few minutes of sorting through files, she slept, head cradled in her arms folded on her desk. The office was quiet, even the telephone. The afternoon sun reflected off the snow outside and poured through the window, warming the dusty air already heated by the ancient radiator.
She dreamed she was in a house that was familiar to her, searching everywhere for clues to some urgent mystery. Her parents watched her tensely, although they didn’t tell her to stop. They didn’t encourage her, either. They seemed to know she would find something terrible they’d really rather not know about.
She came upon Julie upstairs, sitting up in bed trying to put together a puzzle, and Caitlin paused to help her fit in pieces. Then Barbara’s face appeared at a window. “Caitlin,” she said forcefully, “call Liza!”
At that command, chills ran over Caitlin’s body and she startled [p.208]awake. Call Liza, their mother’s younger sister who’d died painfully years ago from cancer. Call Liza. Liza, who had no children of her own but had pampered her nieces and nephews. Liza, whose husband could keep neither job nor wedding vows, but whom Liza supported and protected all their married life. Liza, who knew many scary secrets, Caitlin surmised now, but who had never told. Vivacious, hardworking, party-loving Liza, who suffered in silence and died young.
Caitlin dropped her head down on her arms again and took a deep breath, still groggy. The dream surrounded her. Liza, she said silently, it’s Caitlin. You can see where I am—what do I do now? She waited, letting her breaths deepen toward slumber again. Then a phrase came, as forceful as Barbara’s command: Get out.
Faintly she heard Hal come in the front door and, a few minutes later, yank at the sticky door to her office. She managed to sit erect before he got the door open, but could hardly tear her gaze from the sunlight backlighting her poster. She thought of Jake’s distant gaze. She thought of Hal and Lana laughing together. She thought of Nick and the stale mystery dogging her. Liza had said, Get out.
Hal was talking to her. She turned and looked at him blankly. “I said we’re going to have to pull back your deadline a couple of days. We’ve got to make our press date no matter what.”
Caitlin nodded. Hal stared at her a second, shrugged, and left.
Caitlin shed the dream only gradually, one colored fragment after another as the day wore into evening. The dream’s somber, desperate mood traveled home with her, then through the aisles of the grocery store, and began to dissipate [p.209]as she chopped an onion for stew. She helped Heidi with her arithmetic while Julie peeled a few potatoes. She praised Julie’s chalk drawing of a blizzard on black paper and attached it to the refrigerator with magnets. She quizzed Heidi on her spelling words while Heidi set the table. By dinner, the world was mostly back in focus.
By the time Jake came to bed that evening, the dream had begun to seem both unreal and imperative. It compelled her thoughts. Caitlin got ready for bed, intending to read herself to sleep, but she couldn’t concentrate on her mystery. She needed to talk.
Jake flopped down companionably and rubbed a friendly hand down her spine. She turned and sat up.
“Been shopping? You look tired,” he said.
“Exhausted, but not from shopping. I even fell asleep at work today.”
“Really? I thought I was going to drift off on the way home. I’m getting weary of Christmas carols on every station.”
You had the energy for three telephone conversations and two news programs while I fixed dinner, Caitlin thought. It wasn’t worth saying, though.
Her silence alerted Jake, however. She could see him search for a neutral probe. “You really fell asleep at work?”
“Yeah. I had the strangest dream.”
“Tell me,” he said, folding his hands behind his neck.
Caitlin felt his eyes on her face as she described her intent hunt through the house as her parents watched.
“They didn’t want you to look for these clues?” Jake asked.
“They wouldn’t say anything to discourage me, but it made them tense.”
He nodded. “Interesting that you were helping Julie put together a puzzle. You often see investigating a story as a puzzle.”
[p.210]“True.” She took a deep breath. Her feelings for Liza and Liza’s protracted death lay very deep. She didn’t know if she could get through the rest of the dream without crying. She looked at the photograph of wildflowers just left of the bed and continued. By the time she reached Barbara’s insistent, “Caitlin, call Liza!” her voice shook. She paused and gathered the courage to meet Jake’s eyes. He knew how she felt about Liza. In an instant’s shock she saw that he had fallen asleep. The cessation of her voice didn’t disturb him. She watched him for several minutes. He had seemed to be with her, to understand, to care. Of course, he was tired. Finally she eased off the bed, went to double check the locked doors and the twins, then turned off the light and crept into bed beside him. She was cold, very cold.
Jake mumbled and reached for her, cupping a hand around her breast, pulling her closer. She put her cold right foot against his hairy shin, but he didn’t wake up. Her foot began to warm, but she still felt cold.
Get out, Liza had said. Maybe I am out already, she thought. I’ll have a breast-size pillow made for his hand and find a mannequin’s foot to rest against his leg. He’ll never know I’m gone. And I’ll make a tape about homework and toothbrushing and considering others’ feelings for the girls to play from the time they get home from school until they go to sleep. That’s all of me that any of them need. Marriage had become so easy, motherhood so routine.
She thought of her new deadline and the files she had pulled. She pictured Lana gazing at her files over one shoulder and Hal watching over the other. Why couldn’t Lana come up with a cover? Once Lana had co-authored a cover story with Caitlin, and Caitlin ended up doing not only half the interviewing but all the writing while Lana popped in periodically to express her [p.211]own inadequacy and sing Caitlin’s praises. Of course, Lana still shared the byline.
Damn it, Caitlin didn’t want to interview Hubbard’s victims again. She thought of James eventually reading her new article. She re-sorted her reasons why none of what had happened under hypnosis really could have happened, and wiggled restlessly until Jake rolled over and propped himself on one elbow.
“What’s wrong? Can’t you sleep?”
“No, too much on my mind. Sorry if I woke you.”
He pulled her close. “What are you thinking about?” he asked sleepily, wrapping his legs around hers.
Caitlin sighed. “Why do you want to know?”
She felt him lift his head. Shoot, now he really was awake. “I want to know because I care what’s happening in your life.” His hand reached under her nightgown, but Caitlin rolled over, casually she hoped. She didn’t want a fight, just some peace.
“Did I miss something?” he asked edgily.
“Just half the dream I told you.”
“No I didn’t. That was a wild one.”
“Do you remember how the dream ended?”
He considered. “You were hunting through this house, right? And helping Julie with a puzzle. Then what? Wasn’t that all of it?”
“No. By the time I got to the scary part, you’d fallen asleep.”
“I didn’t,” Jake protested, turning on his reading lamp. “I was listening.”
“Then how did my dream end?”
The downward grooves in his face deepened. “Hey, it’s late. No riddles,” he said, patience coating his voice like marshmallow. “I can think of better things to do if we’re not going to sleep.”
Caitlin had been thinking lately how glowingly their friends approved of Jake for being patient with such a free-spirited wife. [p.212]He racked up points for everything he let Caitlin do. Fury stirred in her stomach and she glared at him. He returned her look mildly.
“Well, if I did fall asleep, I’m really sorry. I was awfully tired—I think I told you that.”
“I know,” Caitlin said wearily. “None of it really matters. You listen to all this weird, mystical stuff the same way you monitor the presidential primary. It’s interesting. But it doesn’t really impact your life.”
“It certainly doesn’t have the effect on me it has on you,” Jake conceded smoothly. “But I try to be supportive.”
Caitlin heard the cue for praise, but said nothing.
“You know,” Jake added, the edge returning, “I could just say that all this is a lot of bullshit. I’ve never said that, have I?”
Caitlin said nothing. As he spoke, time slowed the way it had moments before the white truck had smacked her car in the intersection. She took a deep breath, looking at him steadily. “Saying it’s all bullshit wouldn’t be in your best interest.” She felt very calm, frozen inside, but not trembling yet.
Jake glanced at her hastily. “It wouldn’t be in my best interest because it isn’t true,” he exclaimed. “Just give me a little credit. I can’t explain or dismiss what’s going on in your life. I just try to be there.”
The shivering began. “I’m going to take a hot bath,” Caitlin said. “Go back to sleep. I’m sorry I woke you.”
No matter how much hot water she added, the cold ache in her bones wouldn’t go away.
Finally, back in bed, she fell asleep thinking of Henry asleep in the trailer by his hogan. She imagined the stars drooping in the black desert sky, the cold wind burnishing them. Her legs felt the prickle of desert thistles, and just before she slept, she heard the crescendo of crickets.