In the middle of May 1960, at 10 in the morning, the New Mexico desert was not yet hot, but it was very very dry. When Amelia stepped from her huge, air-conditioned Chrysler to the sand-blown macadam of the state highway, she felt the desert dryness touch her face, her hands, her hair. Immediately she wanted a glass of water. The sand on the highway made an abrasive sound beneath her boots as she turned and looked around.
There was not much to see: all the colors were dull brown, gray, and weak, heat-blasted green. The hills were low and rounded, like dunes. All the plants, aside from cacti, were tough, scrubby, and small.
By now, the moisture-seeking dryness had worked its way through her clothes, and she could feel its dessicating touch on her skin: back, belly, and legs. She quickly went to the phone.
It was a payphone, installed on the side of the highway years ago. A phone in the middle of nowhere. It was hard to imagine that many people used it; in fact, the phone company had forgotten about it since they never found any money in its till. Amelia picked up the receiver, and heard a dial tone. She was surprised, but she dialed the number, and the call went through. No operator asked for money. Amelia was astonished. A payphone that worked without money, in the middle of nowhere! She took it as a good omen, and started counting the rings.
The phone was an unusual one, specially placed by destiny for wanderers in the desert. Destiny in this case took the form of a lineman named Gene Herrin. On the incredibly hot and dry day when Gene put the phone in, while he was tightening some wires, he had a vision of someone lost in the desert without a dime and therefore unable to use the phone. So he installed the phone as if it were an office phone, and had a friend connect it to a phone company account. On that phone, you could call anywhere, free.
By the 23rd ring, Amelia's face felt so dry she was afraid it might start to flake. She imagined her new bright leather boots aging, cracking, and splitting beneath the pitiless, unshielded desert sun. After the 25th ring, she slammed down the receiver and ran back to her big, cool, rented car.
"What is wrong with that man?" Amelia asked herself aloud, and
thumped the steering wheel for emphasis. "Why can't he answer his
phone? Is it too much to ask?" Two weeks of constant calls
Of course it was possible that Hive wasn't home at all, but Amelia refused to even think that way. She had to get in touch with the man: it was fate. Too many things pointed in that direction. Her star was rising.
The cooler air of the car revived and calmed her, and made her skin feel almost normal again. She took a quick look at the map. Dublinos couldn't be more than an hour away; maybe only a half hour. Fine, she told herself, I won't make any more calls. I will just drive straight to Dublinos and find the man who never answers his phone.
The dust-dry monotonous landscape rolled by repetitively. Every mile looked just like the mile before: the same hills, the same scrubby plants, the same naked sun. No houses, no stores, no gas stations, and above all no water. Who could live in such desolation? she asked herself, and a picture flashed through her mind: she imagined Eddie Hive's house as a shack built from corrugated steel and Dublinos as a group of similar sheds. One shed would be marked "City Hall" and another "General Store." First she laughed at the idea, then she wondered if it might actually be that way.
As she drove, Amelia was noting all her experiences, her
reactions, and her imaginations and composing them into a
newspaper article. The special phone (I took it as an good omen,
indicating the success of my search for Hive.), the incredible
dryness and monotony of the desert (Mile after mile of arid
waste; one wonders that the pioneers ever dared to cross it.),
the endless ring of Hive's unanswered phone (I counted 25 rings
and hung up, deciding to make no more calls but to go directly
Maybe she would find enough material for a series of articles or
"You've won the Pulitzer Prize!"
The Pulitzer Prize. First there would be an acceptance speech: modest, sober, serious. Then a second Pulitzer, a tour of speaking engagements, interviews on radio, interviews on TV.
She could see herself on the tiny screen in a white silk dress,
very cool, very chic, and very comfortable. Her hair is pulled
back in a pile of elegant but understated curls. The talk-show
On the highway, a sign indicates: Dublinos 20 miles. The air conditioning purrs and sighs.
Dick Cavett leans forward. After some chit-chat, he finally can
ask the question he's been saving. "Amelia," he begins, "that
story, your first Pulitzer
"About Eddie Hive," she puts in.
"Right. How did you ever hear about it? Did you know Hive before it all began?"
"No." She laughs at the recollection. In her mind's eye she sees Cavett waiting, fingertips pressed lightly together. "It was pure accident. It was fate."
It was fate, and it happened this way: Amelia went out one Friday
evening to one of the bars at the foot of Seattle's Queen Anne
Hill. It was a nice place, a nice crowd. Four of Amelia's friends
Then, suddenly, Gerrie said, "Amelia, that man by the window can't take his eyes off you." Amelia turned slightly to the left and ran her eyes along the bank of windows that filled one wall. Although the windows were huge, running nearly to the old- fashioned 10-foot ceiling, and though there still was daylight, the enormous, leafy maple trees outside cast a dark-green shadow, creating the effect of night inside the bar. Amelia, trying to not be obvious, swept her gaze along the entire length of the windows. But she saw the man immediately, sitting slightly left of center, almost directly opposite her, mouth open, staring. When Amelia's gaze fell on him, he came to life. He smiled and winked, and tried to manage an nonchalant come-hither look. He brought his cigarette hand toward his chin, and thought he set his other hand on the table. The table, however, was six inches to the left, so he lurched forward, nearly smashing his head against the white marble top. It was pretty clear the man had been drinking. His two friends put their hands on the table, and kept it steady.
Amelia turned away in disgust. Gerrie gave her throaty laugh. They heard the voices of the drunk's friends, "What the hell are you trying to do? Give us a beer bath?"
"Looks like the man for you," Gerrie laughed.
"Give me a break," Amelia replied.
Annalise: "He's not so bad. He's just a little drunk."
Amelia : "A little?" The voices of the men came again: "Look at
yourself! You spilled the ash tray all over yourself! Get out of
here and dust yourself off! You really are hopeless! Get out! Go
out there and dust it off! Don't worry, we'll keep an eye on your
The drunk made his way to the exit, making a close, slow pass by
Amelia's table. His eyes were half-closed, his lips lightly
parted and pouting, his head tilted slightly back
"Very funny. Very funny."
"You don't have to get mad. Anyway, his friends are all right. Look at the one on the left." The man on the left was a small, scowling, muscular redhead. Amelia did not like him at all. She said, "I think you have strange taste in men, Lisa."
"To each her own," she replied, raising her glass.
Gerrie put in, "And here is your own, Amelia." Lisa's high giggle rang out once again. The drunk was back, but no better off. The ashes were still upon his thigh. The only visible change was on his head: he had wet his hair and combed it straight back. It was not an improvement.
He worked his way over to Amelia, his mouth moving the whole time as if he were trying out a new set of teeth. "Hello, beautiful," he said when he arrived. "What's your name?"
"Her name is Amelia," Lisa said. Amelia looked at her with eyes of fire.
"Amelia," the drunk repeated. "What a beautiful name."
"Her name is Lisa," Amelia told him. "Don't you think that's a beautiful name, too?" But Lisa would not take the bait. "He only has eyes for you, Amelia."
"That's right," he said, "I only have eyes for you."
"What's your name?" Annalise asked.
Amelia: "Well listen, Vinnie Vinnie. You go back and sit with your friends over there. I just heard them call you."
At that moment, the redheaded man caught sight of the encounter. He shouted, "Vinnie, get the hell away from those girls. I told you to get outside and clean that stuff offa you! Get moving!"
Vinnie's mouth started working again, but he moved toward the door, only stopping once to look back. But Vinnie was waiting, and watched until the door closed behind his friend. "Sorry he's bothering you," he called to the women.
"It's okay," Annalise replied.
"It's not okay," Amelia told her. "I know you all think it's funny to tease me like this, but really I am getting mad. Don't invite that guy to our table, and don't egg him on. And don't tell him my name, where I live or any of that stuff. I mean it!"
"Oh, come on, Amelia, cool off," Lisa protested.
Gerrie said, "Let's talk about something else."
The noise of the crowd rose and fell like the sound of surf, and a waitress came to offer fresh drinks. Nancy said, "I want to hear about your trip to Virginia, Amelia. Where is it exactly that you're going?"
"Langley. That's where the astronauts' training facilities are, and all the astronauts live nearby."
"And so you get to interview the astronauts? How exciting!"
"No. I get to interview the astronauts' wives." Her friends groaned. Amelia said, "I'm glad I'm going. It's a good break for me."
"If I were you," Lisa said, "I would just go interview the astronauts anyway."
"I would," Amelia replied, "but somebody from the Herald is already there doing that." "Who?"
The women howled. "That pig!" Gerrie cried. "It's only because you're a woman, Amelia! It's discrimination!"
Annalise asked, "But you don't have to travel there with him, do you?"
"No, thank God. He's there now, and I go after he comes back."
"But that really gets me," Gerrie said bitterly. "They send a man
to do the real meaty part
"There are a lot of plusses, though," Amelia countered. "It's
true that they always send me to do the 'fluffy' stuff
"So what's so great about coming a year late? It doesn't sound so good to me."
"What it means is that by now no one is going to want to read just any old interview. There has to be something new, some fresh angle that nobody's examined before. My challenge, and the thing they're sending me to do, is to find that new angle."
The women were sitting in a close circle around the white oval table. None of them noticed that Vinnie, with a little bit less ash on his leg, had slowly and quietly worked his way near their table. He listened to quite a bit of the conversation, balancing with the help of a pillar, and enjoying the sound of Amelia's voice. He told himself that this was real love, and it came to him that he could give something to his love. He stepped forward and spoke.
"Amelia! Amelia." He spoke quietly, to avoid the attention of his redhead friend. "Oh, no," Amelia groaned, and put her hand to her head. To the others she said, "Don't encourage him."
"So you're a reporter, huh?" Vinnie asked. "Listen. Listen."
"We're listening," Lisa said impatiently.
"I've got a story," he went on. "The story of the decade. The story of the year." Amelia replied, "I don't want to hear it."
"Yes, you do. You don't know what it is yet. Listen, you're going to interview those astronauts, but you know what? They've never been in space. None of them."
"Everybody knows that," Lisa countered.
"Yeah, but somebody has been in space."
Lisa: "A Russian?"
Amelia: "You, right?"
Vinnie (weaving a bit): "No way. No way. Nope. He's American. A guy by the name of Hive. Eddie Hive. First man in space. But it's a secret."
Suddenly Amelia a strange sensation. It was as if the atmosphere in the room had changed; as if an electric current ran through the air. She had a sense that the drunken Vinnie was telling the truth, and that this moment would change her life. Every person, every thing in the room took on a crystal clarity. Her hearing sharpened. She smelled destiny. "If it's a secret," she asked, "how do you know about it?"
"My brother-in-law has a friend who works for the guys that do the Redstone missile testing. NASA won't let their precious pansies take a test run. So, out in New Mexico, they made some secret launches. Eddie Hive, first man in space. Twice over. He did it twice, and he'll do it again. He's got guts."
"Is he a friend of yours?"
"No. He's the friend of the friend of the friend of my brother- in-law. I heard about it through him. That's my brother-in-law, Alan, over there." He indicated the redhead, who suddenly looked at the group with suspicion. Amelia knew he had heard the name "Hive."
"Is he the good-looking one?" Lisa asked.
"Yeah," Vinnie replied, looking her in the eye, "But he's married."
"This is all bullshit!" Gerrie cried. "Why are we listening to this man? Somebody make him go away!"
"It's the truth," Vinnie insisted, "and I can prove it."
From the corner of her eye, Amelia could see the redhead getting tense. As he watched the scene, his jaw began moving, as if he were chewing nails and not enjoying the taste. Amelia knew that time was running out, so she asked, "How can I get in touch with this Hive? Does he live in New Mexico?"
"Yeah," Vinnie said, smiling. He could see that Amelia believed him, and felt that they would be friends. "New Mexico. New Mexico. Let me see." Then, without thinking, he called across the room to the redhead, "Hey, Alan! Where's that Hive guy live? The guy that does the Redstone missile tests?"
Amelia saw the transformation of the redhead's face. If she needed any confirmation of the truth of the story, she just got it. Alan's face went white, his jaw fell, and his fists clenched. In a moment he was on his feet.
But Vinnie missed it all. The name of the town had come to him, and he turned back to Amelia. Just as Alan grabbed Vinnie's arm, the drunk said, "Dublinos."
"Shut up," Alan hissed, and gave Vinnie a shake. "Hey!" Vinnie cried, "that hurts!" "Listen," the redhead commanded in a voice tense with anger, "everything he said is a lie. It's just drunk talk."
"What!?" Vinnie shouted. "What!?"
"You heard me," Alan said, and gave him another shake.
"I think you're hurting his arm," Gerrie said.
"It's good for him," Alan replied. "He shouldn't go around bothering women with lies about fake missile tests. Should you, Vinnie?"
"Should you, Vinnie? Tell them it was all a lie."
Gerrie leaped to her feet. "Stop it! Just stop it and go away! Leave him alone and go away!"
One of the bartenders, who was built like a fullback, appeared from nowhere. "Is there some kind of problem here?" he asked.
"Yes," Gerrie said, "this man is trying to break his arm."
"Let go of him," the bartender said.
"We're getting out of here," the redhead replied, "but before we go he has to apologize to these ladies for the lies he told."
In the end the bartender rescued Vinnie's arm, restored order, and gave Amelia and her friends a round of drinks. At the first quiet moment, Amelia wrote on a napkin the words ED HIVE DUBLINOS NM.
The next morning at the Herald, she began checking. There was a Dublinos, New Mexico. That was a good start. She looked in the New Mexico phone directories, found the one that included Dublinos, and turned to the H's. Edwin Hive! He was listed! She copied the name and number, then double-checked what she'd written.
She had a feeling about the story from the moment she heard the name Hive. She didn't know why. It was just a feeling, but it was a feeling of certainty. When Alan came to take Vinnie away, Amelia was already sure. Alan's exaggerated attempt at making Vinnie "apologize" was just icing on the cake. Now, all she had to do was call Hive, ask a few questions, and take it from there.
No answer. A half-hour later there was no answer. The rest of the day, Amelia tried to call at half-hour intervals. She kept it up at home that evening. Maybe's he's away for the evening, she thought. She tried once or twice on Sunday, and several times Sunday night. Still no answer.
She had two weeks before she'd leave for Langley: that seemed to put some pressure on getting in touch with Hive. She tried every day. She tried at strange hours, early early in the morning, very late at night. Lunch time, dinner time, mid-morning and mid- afternoon. Once when she woke from a dream at 4 AM, she tried to call.
"What's wrong with this man?" she said aloud. "Can't he answer the phone?"
A week passed. Amelia adjusted her travel arrangements so that on the return from Langley she flew to Albuquerque, rented a car, and drove to Dublinos.
The trip to Langley was a big success. Amelia was so well- prepared, the seven articles wrote themselves. She'd found a new angle, more personal and open, on the lives of the astronauts' wives. She was proud of what she'd done, and Joel, the news editor, complimented her, saying, "They're a big hit! Good interviews! We're even advertising them on radio!"
As she drove on through the desert, Amelia felt her star was
rising. Star. Amelia Spar, star reporter. Amelia Spar at the
White House. Amelia Spar, investigative reporter. Amelia Spar,
Pulitzer Prize winner. Nobel Prize winner
In any case, the turnoff for Dublinos came up unexpectedly. She almost missed it. But Dublinos was not right at the exit. She drove for 15 minutes before there was any sign of life. The first sign was a grove of high, green leafy trees. In the distance it looked like a big black spot, but gradually the black resolved itself into dark green. It looked like a forest, a forest in the middle of the desert. Amelia then realized something about an oasis: about how incredibly wonderful trees looked after such a long stretch of sand and wasteland: Such living green, after the dead-dry, monchrome desert. But when the road entered their shadow, a chill ran through her, as if the drop in temperature had penetrated her car. The road turned inside the grove, and she caught her first glimpse of Dublinos.
First, nearly hidden by the trees, stood a gate
There was something similar about the architecture of all the buildings. They must have been built at the same time; all were in the same style, which was some modern variant of Tudor. Every building was constructed of unfaced red brick and exposed wooden beams. It was very pleasant.
As soon as Amelia pulled through the arch, she suddenly relaxed. Had she really been that tense the whole trip? She hadn't realized. Now she felt peaceful, as if tranquillity was radiating from Dublinos itself into her. The feeling was so remarkable that she pulled over to the curb, stopped and got out of the car. Spontaneously, Amelia smiled. She stretched, she shook herself, she looked around. Purely by chance, she'd parked across the street from a coffeeshop. It would be nice to have a cup of coffee a nd freshen up before finding Hive. She crossed the street, intersecting with a woman pushing a baby carriage at the door of the shop. They smiled at each other.
"This is a nice town!" Amelia exclaimed.
"Yes, it is nice," the woman answered. "Are you visiting? or have you decided to move here?"
"Oh, that's nice."
Suddenly Amelia remembered Hive. "Oh, excuse me a moment," she said, fishing the address from her pocket. "Can you tell me where Bannock Street is?"
The woman smiled. "Are you looking for Eddie Hive?"
Amelia was startled and shocked. "Yes. How did you know?"
The woman smiled again. "Seems like everybody's looking for Eddie nowadays. I live across the street from him, so I see them all coming and going."
"Do you think he'd be at home now?"
"Yes, he's probably watering his roses. Let's see. To get there,
just keep going straight, take the second left after the second
light. That's Bannock Street. After the second intersection,
look on the right
"What do mean 'different'?"
"You'll see." The woman smiled once more and said, "I've got to be pushing on. Have a nice visit. Remember, second left after second light, then after second intersection on the left."
Amelia ran to her car, feeling a little sick. Who was this "everyone" who was going to see Hive? Reporters, probably. The story was out. It must have happened while she was wasting time in Langley.
By the time she reached Bannock Street, Amelia had calmed herself a bit. At least, she told herself, I can be the first Herald reporter on the scene.
Quiet, shady, tree-lined Bannock Street contrasted so strongly with the white, dry desert that Amelia'd seen all morning that its calm coolness came as something of a shock.
She had no trouble finding the house. It was, as the woman said, the only different house on the street. The others did look different from one another, but they were all modern, all the same style. There was a pleasant symmetry and homogeneity without any two houses being the same.
Hive's house was the only discordant note. But it was lovely, reminding Amelia of her grandmother's house, and of old Norman Rockwell prints. It was a little piece of Americana: a small, one-story bungalow with a big front porch. The house was white, with green shutters. A large gray cat perched on the porch railing, watching a big, healthy, good-looking man with a blond crewcut water the roses in the front yard with a green garden hose.
The thing that completed the picture and made it perfect, though, was the white picket fence that surrounded yard, house, and all. The fence also clearly drew a line between all the other houses on the street and this house.
Finally Amelia took a deep breath, got out of the car, and strode, heels clicking, to the gate in the white picket fence. Hive watched her advance, and as she reached the gate he said, "If you try to sell me anything, I'll soak you with this hose," and tried to look so serious that they both began to laugh. He stopped first, and said, "I mean it!" and they fell to laughing again.
What they were laughing about? His little-boy "serious" face? The ludicrous threat? The prospect of his soaking her whether she was selling something or not? It was all those things, but the real magic was their personal magnetism, that psycho-physical "click" that happens when some people meet. With a beginning like that, the two could have become friends, lovers, fellow conspirators. But destiny had other plans.
"So what do you want?" he asked, making menacing motions with the hose.
"My name's Ameila Spar, and I work for the Seattle Herald," she began.
"I already have a subscription," he quickly replied.
"I don't believe you," she said, "But anyway I'm not selling anything. I'm a reporter and I want to talk to you about the Redstone missile tests."
"Oh, that," he said, and turned away. The wind suddenly rose from nothing and shook a sighing sound from the trees. Hive shut off the water and coiled up the hose. Then he turned to face her and spoke from ten feet away. "I'm not supposed to talk about that."
But she said, "Can I come in for a minute? I drove a long way to see you, and I'd like to get out of the sun."
"Yeah, yeah," he said with a trace of sullenness. "Come on in and have a cold drink, it's the least I can do." He shook his head. "I should have soaked you while I had the chance." Amelia opened the gate, which creaked pleasantly. The cat seemed to take this as a signal, for she lept from the porch rail and entered the house ahead of them. Hive had his eyes down; he didn't look at Amelia. I might as well begin, she told herself. Aloud she asked, "How come you don't answer your phone?"
He looked up in surprise. "I always answer my phone. Nobody ever calls me, but when they do, I always answer."
"I've been trying for two weeks, every day, and I tried just a half hour ago."
Hive shook his head. "I was here. And I've been here, all this week and last week. Are you sure you've got the right number?" He walked ahead of her into the house, crossed the room and picked up a white telephone. "It's dead." After jogging the buttons he repeated that it was dead and hung up. The gray cat was near Hive's hand, sitting on the arm of an armchair next to the phone, eyes half-closed, breathing deeply but rapidly. Hive's eye ran down the wire that connected the phone to the wall. He bent down to check it. He suddenly tensed. The cat's eyes popped open. When Hive growled, "Poughkeepsie!" the cat leaped to the ground and fled. "That damn cat! The damn cat! Do I have to check this every day? Do I have to build a box around this thing? Damn!"
"What happened?" Amelia asked.
"That damn cat has learned how to pull the phone connection out of the wall. She keeps pulling it out and chewing it up. Look at this! No wonder nobody ever calls me. The thing's never plugged in!" He sat down in the armchair.
"You call the cat Poughkeepsie?" she asked.
"Yeah. But don't ask me how to spell it."
"And has he done this before?"
"You know you have to discipline that cat."
"You can't discipline a cat. They just do what they want anyway."
"All animals can be trained."
He looked at the chewed-up cord and tossed it to the ground. "Did you come all the way from Seattle just to tell me that?"
"No," she said, more than a little surprised. Moments ago they were laughing like children. Now they were fighting like an old married couple. Abrupt mood swings, she wrote in a mental notebook.
"Can I sit down?" she asked.
"What about that drink?" she asked.
"Umm," he said, and sighed. He got to his feet and said again, "I should have soaked you when I had the chance." She had the feeling the bad mood was passing. "Anyway I can re-connect it," he said, half to himself. From the kitchen he called, "Do you want beer or lemonade?"
She checked her watch. "Beer."
He returned, handed her an unopened can, and sat down with a beer of his own. She turned her can over, looking at it, until he looked up and said, "Oh, I'm sorry. Do you want a glass?"
"No, forget it. I don't want you to get up again."
"I'm sorry. But that thing with the cat really got to me."
"I can see. But I think something else is eating you." He looked at her, an open, vulnerable look, as if he saw a punch coming. She went on, "You want to talk about the Redstone tests, but you think you shouldn't."
"Ah," he said, and relaxed. He must have expected her to say something else. Eddie took a swig of beer and sighed contentedly. Then he said, "I got to watch how much of this stuff I drink. Don't want to get a beer belly. But it goes down so easy."
The cat jumped into Eddie's lap and settled itself. Eddie scratched the cat behind the ears saying, "Oh, you are so bad. Why are you so bad? The pretty lady tried to call me, but you chewed up the line. Bad, bad, bad."
Amelia hadn't tasted her beer. She was studying Hive, looking for an opening. She hesitated a moment, then gently asked, "So how did you get into missile testing?" "Hmmm," he said, and took a deep sip.