Amelia waited. Eddie continued to pet the cat, who purred like a little motor. He didn't answer; he didn't say anything at all. Amelia asked herself, Is he pretending he didn't hear or did he really not hear? Should I ask him again or give him more time? She wasn't yet sure how much to push and how much to wait. If she pushed too hard, he could just tell her to get out, and that would be the end of it. Amelia decided to see how long he would make her sit there.
While he looked down at the cat, when from time to time he took sips of beer, she studied his face, his features, deciding how to describe him. Wide shoulders, strong arms, must be nearly six feet high, blond crewcut, straight nose, northern type -- a Swede, maybe? -- complexion very clear, almost transparent, except for the sunburn. Probably around 30; maybe a little younger. In good shape, fairly muscular; no fat that she could see. Hazel eyes, good teeth. He looked like an astronaut, she concluded. A good-looking man, a face that could go on TV.
At last he sighed, took a sip of beer and spoke. "I told you that I'm not supposed to talk about it."
Aha! Amelia silently exalted. Now I'm in! Aloud she said, "But listen -- if you put it that way, it's already an admission. You're already telling me that it's true. I think you want to talk about it."
"Oh, give it up," he replied. "Suppose I tell you flat out that it's true. Suppose I say that I'm the first man in space, and even tell you the dates and the details. Why should you believe me? Why should your newspaper or anybody believe me? I mean, anybody could say it; it's easy enough to say."
"It would be a start. I'd use what you said to find some confirmation: somebody else who would talk, some kind of concrete proof--"
"But you won't get it. Those tests have been set up to be deniable."
"Set up to be deniable? Is that what they told you?" she quickly countered. "How many people are involved in each launch?"
"About 200," he grudging replied.
"Two hundred that know there's a man on board? And don't you think that any of them are going to talk? How do you think I found out about it in the first place?" Hive didn't answer. He dropped his arms, took a long deep breath, and blew it out into the room. His mouth twisted in the memory of some sour taste, and his eyes searched the walls for... something to say. Amelia wondered if she pushed too hard, too fast. Why is he so sensitive? she asked herself. If I have to watch every word I say, this could take forever.
Poughkeepsie's eyes sprang open, and the cat glanced around with a look of vague irritation. She sprang to the floor and walked off, tail held high. Eddie mechanically stood and wiped the long blue-gray hair from his pants and hands, balled it up, and dropped it in the fireplace. As he returned to his chair he gave a meaningless smile and said, "Well?"
A little voice inside told Amelia, Ask questions that he CAN answer. Good idea, she replied. I just have to get him talking; talking about anything. The real interview can come later, or maybe I can make it up from little things he drops here and there.
And so she searched her mind and said, "What did you do before -- uh, what you do now?"
Hive stirred. "I flew for the Navy in Korea."
"Have you ever been a test pilot before?"
"Aren't you ever afraid? I mean, don't you ever think about the risk involved?"
"Oh." He laughed. Strangely, suddenly, his good mood returned. "I really should have soaked you when I had the chance. Look, why don't you just give up on the missile tests. I can't tell you anything."
"Can I ask what you think of NASA's astronauts? Do you think they're brave?"
"Sure they are."
"But they won't get on top of one of those rockets."
"It's not their decision. If it was up to them, I think they'd be up in space already. They're not afraid. It's NASA that wants everything to be so sure, so certifiably safe."
"Don't you think that's a good attitude?"
"It's not their risk. I say if a man is ready to climb into the thing and fly it, they should let him do it. All of them are test pilots. They've all flown planes that could be unsafe, that might blow up, that might never bring them home again. If they were willing to risk their lives in a plane, why not let them do it in a rocket?"
"And you," Amelia offered, "You're willing to risk your life in a rocket, but you haven't been a test pilot."
"Yeah," he said, and his eyes became hard, but not hostile, "I know what it means to stick my neck out. I used to wonder if I'd be afraid to die until one night in Korea. After one mission that was hell in itself, I had to land on the carrier in the middle of a storm at night. Rain, high winds, lightning, waves, almost zero visibility. The carrier was bucking like a wild horse, and my plane kept going sideways." His voice was very slow and emphatic, a calm, strong tone that came from far away, as if th e plane, the carrier, the storm were present to him now. "I saw very clearly that I could miss it: hit the carrier or land too high and slide off the end. It could have been my last night on earth." Eddie looked at her. "I saw all that, and I felt okay about it. I knew that I could die, and I said, 'Alright, I could die.' Since then, I have no fear of death."
"So, to die on a rocket--"
"You can die on a rocket," he said impatiently, "You can die on the highway, in a plane, in your bed. But let me tell you, if you die in a rocket, at least it's total, instantaneous. There's worse things than dying -- being crippled, I mean. At least this way I'd go out in a big, powerful, roaring flame!"
Eddie tilted back his head and swallowed the rest of his beer. A chill ran through Amelia. She shivered, and Eddie's thumb dented the empty can with a sharp "pong."
"You haven't touched yours," he chided. "You haven't even opened it."
"Oh, I forgot all about it," she replied, and popped the lid. After two tiny sips she set it down.
"Don't you want it?"
"I guess not. I'm sorry, I guess I felt more thirsty than I really was."
"Pass it over here, then." He took the can and drained it in a few great gulps. Amelia instinctively consulted her watch. Just noon. Two beers on an empty stomach? Her own stomach was rumbling with hunger. "Have you had lunch yet?" she asked him. "I'd like to go to the coffeeshop that I saw on the way in. My treat." "Okay," he agreed. "It's a good place. But first I have to use the little boy's room." After the bathroom door shut, Amelia sat still until Eddie began running water and singing in a low voice. Then she quickly rose and gave herself a tour of the house. The kitchen was a good size, with southern exposure, windows without curtains, and linoleum that needed washing. There was only one chair at the kitchen table. One door led to the small backyard, another was the broom closet.
A third door, next to the bathroom, was a linen closet, though it contained more boxes and papers than linen.
The fourth door was Eddie's bedroom. She only had time to see a few photos on the wall of pilots and planes, a big unmade bed, and clothes thrown everywhere. There was a musty smell. Just as she was about to step over a pile of clothes, she heard a belch from the bathroom, followed by a "Scuse me," and the flush of the toilet. She shut the bedroom door and ran her gaze around the living room. There was no upstairs, no basement. All in all, it was a bachelor's pad. The living room curtains needed clean ing, the worn, old, dusty furniture needed to be replaced...
Poughkeepsie rubbed herself, purring gently, against the back of Amelia's legs. She pushed the cat away firmly with her foot, and was wiping cat hair off her leg when Eddie emerged from the bathroom. "Ready," he said.
"Is this the original furniture?" she asked. "Was it here when the house was built?" "Oh yeah," he said proudly. "I think it might be antique. It's old enough."
"Uhm. We can take my car," Amelia announced, shaking the keys.
"No, it's better to walk," he replied. "That way you get to see more of Dublinos." When they stepped into the cool air, Amelia was once again impressed with how peaceful the city felt. The leaves of the trees rustled and a gentle wind carressed her. She recalled the dry, drying, relentless heat of her desert drive, and it made Dublinos' coolness and leafy shade even more enjoyable.
"It's so peaceful here!" she cried. "Can you feel it? Do you feel it, living here all the time, or do you get used to it? I felt it as soon as I drove in."
"I know what you mean," he replied. "It is peaceful here, but yes, you do get used to it. I only feel it when I come back from being away, and it only lasts a day or two. But Dublinos is a wonderful place to live. I really like it here, and it does feel special. Some people say that it's all the water underground that makes it that way. I don't know.
"But the place is extraordinary; it's a big dark green dot in the middle of the desert. Once I came here by helicopter -- I was coming back from one of the -- well I was coming back from somewhere, and I saw the whole city from the air. You can see it from far far away -- first it looks black, then you see it's dark green. And there's nothing else around at all. All the trees in the desert are right here in Dublinos."
"Too bad I can't interview you about Dublinos," she said. "You're more ready to talk about that than the missile tests."
"Yeah well, maybe you should interview me about Dublinos. I could tell you a lot about it. And it is an interesting place. My uncle was just about the first person to live here."
"Well tell me this: why is your house the only different one on your street?"
"It's the only different house or building in the city! Everything else -- the streets, the wall, the trees and plants, were all designed by the same architects. They did everything. Have you ever seen Forest Hills, in New York? They designed that, too."
"No, you're thinking of Forest Lawn. I'm talking about Forest Hills. Anyway, one thing that they did well was the streets. You'll notice that it's not laid out on a grid plan. That's really rare in America. I could see from the helicopter that they followed the land's natural contours, and that's really nice. It makes it more like a village."
As he spoke, they were approaching an intersection. "When we turn this corner you'll see what I mean. This is one of my favorite spots in town."
At the corner, the view abruptly opened to the bright blue sky. The street was very wide, wide enough that a small grassy island with tiny trees stood in the middle of the vast crescent road. "Four streets come together here," Eddie said, "but with all these curves there's hardly any traffic. Usually there are kids all over the place, but right now they're in school."
"And why aren't you in school?" Amelia joked.
"When there's no work to do, I don't work," he replied. "I make enough that it's okay to have days off."
"But you still haven't told me why your house is different!"
"Oh. Well, the builders or somebody owed my uncle money or a big favor or something, so they gave him that piece of land, and they were going to put one of these brick houses on it. But he always wanted to build his own place, and that's what he did."
"Were they upset?"
"Oh, yeah. The architects were furious. But my uncle was stubborn, and he did what he wanted. When he died, he left it to me. If I ever need money, I could sell it to the city. They make me an offer every year, but I find the idea kind of depressing. They just want to tear it down."
"Were you your uncle's favorite nephew?"
"Yeah, I had to be, because I was his only nephew."
"And are your parents still alive? Do they live in Dublinos, too?"
"No, they died--" he paused "--long ago. My grandparents I never knew. My father was an only child; my mother just had my uncle, so now that just leaves me."
"Alone in the world."
"Umm. But it's okay."
They walked in silence for a block. Amelia caught herself expecting him to take her hand, and she clutched her hands to her chest. Eddie cleared his throat and said, "The coffeeshop is at the next intersection, where the light is."
"How can that be?" she said, "I'm all turned around." But as she spoke, in her mind she saw the coffeeshop and in front of it a woman with a baby carriage, who said, "Seems like everybody's looking for Eddie Hive nowadays..." so Amelia blurted out, "Who are all the people that come to see you?"
"Huh?" he replied, surprised.
"Oh," she said, "I met your neighbor, the lady across the street, she was pushing a baby carriage--"
"And she guessed that I was coming to see you. She said it seemed like everybody's coming to see you now."
"Oh," he said. By now they'd reached the coffeeshop, and he put his hand on the door.
"Well, who are they? Reporters?"
"No," he said, as he opened the door, "they all have something to do with the tests." As Eddie pushed through the door, his shoulders and wide back blocked Amelia's view of the coffeeshop, but she did see a little bleach-blonde waitress who couldn't have been more than 18 smile provocatively at Eddie as she disappeared into the kitchen. Amelia gave a small shove to make Eddie pass through the door. It made her a little angry to see that too-bright, too-red lipstick, and the big wad of pink bubblegum being chewed open-mouthed.
A second waitress popped from the kitchen: she was somewhere around fifty, big boned, with short curly black hair. This waitress was also chewing gum, but with her it seemed a virtue. She looked up, recognized Eddie, and cried, "Well, well, look what the cat dragged in! Hello, Eddie." And she strode over, as if to shake his hand.
But she really wanted to see who was behind him. As Eddie mumbled, "Hello, Marie," in a tone of resignation, the waitress was peeking around to see Amelia. "Hi there," she said, and gave a few chews to her gum. "Are you two together?"
"Yes," Amelia said, suddenly feeling timid.
"Well, well, well. Eddie Hive, you lucky man! Where have you been hiding her? She's cute! She's cute. Come along, honey," she said, taking Amelia by the arm and leading her past Eddie, past the counter seats, past the tables. "I suppose you two young people want a booth in the back. Well you just come with me."
As she led Amelia toward the high-backed, red vinyl seats, Eddie followed, responding to various greetings. Amelia had the feeling that a lot was going on behind her back. Everyone seemed to be looking at her. The entire time the waitress babbled questions without waiting for answers. Amelia wondered if her voice was always this loud. "Staying long? Planning to move here? How old are you, honey?" When they reached the booth and Amelia sat down, the waitress asked, "Got a place to stay while you're here?" then winkled at Eddie and took off for the kitchen.
Eddie, still on his feet, shouted, "Marie, will you bring two coffees?" The kitchen door closed on the last word. Someone in another booth chuckled. "You gotta be fast to catch her."
Eddie sat down, and was about to say something when they heard Marie's voice coming loud and clear from the kitchen: "That's right, Eddie Hive's here with a new girlfriend. You oughta go out and take a look at her. Cute, cute, cute. Cute, but thin. I guess men like 'em thin nowadays. She's cute as a button, though. You can see they're made for each other."
Eddie shouted, in a voice full of indignant impatience, "Marie! Two coffees!" The voice in the kitchen stopped and in a few moments Marie brought the coffees. Then, as she searched her pockets for an order pad, she asked Amelia, "Set a date yet?" and returned to the kitchen in a shot before Amelia could open her mouth.
"A date?" she repeated.
Eddie replied, "Just forget it. It's typical small-town stuff. Nothing better to do than gossip. Nothing really happens here, so they have to invent something." He shifted on the vinyl as if it were a bed of nails. Irritated, he continued, "They see you with somebody, and in their minds you're already married, having kids, and getting divorced. If one of you is already married, you're having an affair. You watch: when she comes back, she'll ask about the kids."
At that moment the kitchen door banged apocalyptically and Marie reappeared with her pad and two menus. She watched Amelia study the menu; she looked her up and down. Then she said, "A little slip of a girl like you -- how many kids do you think you'll have?"
"None," Amelia replied.
"What? None? What kind of talk is that?"
Eddie said, "You better just say what you want right away," but it was too late. Marie was off for the front again. Eddie sighed in exasperation. "I was hoping we'd get the other waitress. This was just can't stay put. She drives me up the wall. Listen, just tell me what you want."
Amelia decided. Eddie tilted back his head and shouted, "Marie! Two hamburgers medium rare, fries, salad, one vanilla milkshake!" Someone twittered, but there was no other response. "Do you think she got that?" Amelia asked.
"No," Eddie replied, "but the cook did. We go through this every other day." He relaxed, and sat back into the high cushioned booth, taking the sugar dispenser between his palms and sliding it back and forth across the tabletop. Then he stopped, looked at Amelia and smiled. There was a question rising on her face. "Don't ask it," he said. "I'm not supposed to talk about it."
"This one you should be able to answer," she said. "Why would a secret missile testing program be necessary? I mean, if the missiles are safe, why doesn't NASA use them? And can't you tell whether they're safe without putting a man inside? If it's going to blow up or malfunction, it would do that without a man inside anyway, right?"
Eddie was silent for a while, stroking his chin. Then he spoke. "Maybe you don't know much about the space race."
"I know the Russians are ahead of us."
"Right. 'Cause they've been working at it longer. They have bigger rockets, heavier payloads. They've already put satellites in orbit, animals in space, dogs and monkeys -- chances are they'll put a man in space before NASA does." Here he paused and scratched his head. "Our space program, on the other hand, has been a flop up to now. Our missiles explode on the launch pad. One after the other: Boom! Boom! Boom! Some just blow up sitting there. Others climb a couple feet in the air and collapse. Some flip end over end and have to be blown up by mission control." He paused for a bit, and his eyes settled on the sugar container. Then he went on. "You asked me before if I thought the NASA astronauts were brave. According to me, anybody who is an astronaut is automatically brave. If you look at the record, the chances are that the man who climbs inside is going to get blown to pieces."
Amelia heard cloth rustling in the next booth as an unseen person shifted slightly. She tried, but couldn't recall what kind of person she'd seen sitting there. Eddie didn't notice the sound; he continued talking.
"So yeah, you're right. We don't need to put a man inside to see if the thing's going to work or not. But one exploded missile makes a lot bigger impression than a string of safe launches. Everybody remembers that big ka-boom, the enormous flame. I've seen it, and it's something you can't forget. But if you put a man inside, it makes an impression. He climbs in, he climbs out again, walking and talking. Everybody's happy he's alive, and now they know damn well the rocket works."
Once again Eddie's mood had changed. Now, talking about the man climbing out alive, walking and talking, his face shown with a sort of mystical joy.
Marie reappeared at just that moment, laden with plates and a big, tall glass. She carefully arranged it on the table, and mechanically took out her order pad and looked at the blank page. "Let's see; is that everything? Everybody okay?" then, without waiting for a response, to Amelia: "You just give it time, honey, and you'll see. In a year or so you'll want a little baby of your own. Who knows?" she said, winking at Eddie, "they often come when you least expect." Then she shot back into the kitchen. Amelia laughed, and Eddie shook his head in disgust. The two ate in silence for a while, biting into their hamburgers and taking the fries in their fingers. After a few deep drinks of the milkshake, Amelia spoke again. "When you were talking about the Soviets, I was thinking that if we publicize your launches, we beat the Soviets. America doesn't have to wait for NASA. You've done it already."
Eddie shook his head no. "The US space program has just begun, and it's already had its share of hard knocks. It doesn't need me to give it another one. I'm patriotic enough to keep my mouth shut and let the government program get the credit."
"But don't you know that personal initiative is a very American trait? The steamboat, the railroad, the automobile, the airplane -- none of them came from government programs. They were all the results of private concerns.
"And maybe you haven't thought of this," Amelia said, holding her half-eaten burger in two hands, "but there could be a good bit of money in it. A book. Who knows? maybe even a movie."
Eddie laughed. "The Eddie Hive Story?" He laughed again. "No," he persisted. "I gave my word. A secret is a secret."
"Secret?" Amelia said scornfully. "If you die, will that be a secret too?" Once again Amelia heard cloth rustling in the booth behind her, but this time the rustling was more insistent, purposeful. It bristled with agitation, and a small voice said, "Oh dear, oh dear." A tiny white-haired woman emerged from the booth, trembling violently. "Really," she said to Eddie and Amelia, "I just cannot hear any more." And she moved to one of the tables close to the kitchen. Marie saw the move, and called out, "Young lovers, eh? Getting fresh in public? I know how it is." The old woman shook her head and Marie brought her a fresh cup of tea.
"What was that about?" Eddie asked.
"I don't know," Amelia said, "but I was going to say that you're the one taking all the risks. You have rights, too. I'd say that you have the right to decide whether it's secret or not. "Besides," she said, the thoughts forming and clarifying as she spoke, "there's something screwy here. Somehow it just doesn't go. How are these secret tests ever going to convince NASA? That's supposed to be the point, isn't it?"
"Sure," Eddie said easily. "They're going to tell NASA."
"The beginning of next month. We're going to do one more launch: three orbits. Then they'll say to NASA: 'Look, our guy's been up there three times. Your guys can do it, too.'"
"Well if they're going to tell anyway, you can tell me now."
"No. I can wait. It's less than a month."
"Um," she said, and picked at her french fries. A month! There had to be some way to get the story out earlier. She had to get the jump! There had to be a way... She took a few deep sips of milkshake, and it hit her. "What if they don't tell?"
"Huh?" he said, and his sunburned face went white. He hadn't thought of it!
Amelia followed it up: "What if they're just using you?"
He didn't answer, but she could see it stung. The colors of his face told it all. The red and white kept shifting and flowing across his cheeks and forehead. The cover had just come off his certainty, and he wasn't sure what to say. Amelia hit him with a barrage before he had time to recover.
"What if they don't tell anybody? Not even NASA? What if the Russians put a man in space first? Do you think anyone will believe you then? If you wait until someone else has done it, and then say you did it first? If you want people to know, you've got to say it now. The Russians could do it tomorrow, and you'll just be left out in the cold."
He took a deep breath and stared at a spot in the air. His jaw fixed at a expression of sullenness, and he didn't say a word or touch his food. Now, however, Amelia was sure. Now, she knew, was the time to push, and push as hard as she could, because a breakthrough was coming.
"There's another thing I don't understand," she said, and he looked at her with eyes of fire. It frightened her, but she went on. "Why should NASA believe you?"
He had the answer for that: "They have to believe. We've got miles of data: films, telemetry data, recordings of conversations between me and the ground, everything."
"But can't that material be faked?"
That did it. He went off like a bomb. First he opened his mouth as if he wanted to bite her. An animal intensity fired his face, neck, shoulders and chest. The words came burning out. "I knew I shouldn't have talked about it. I knew I shouldn't have said anything to you. I can't believe you could say what you just said. What would be the point of faking it? To trick NASA? To get somebody killed? The point is to find out that the things are safe, not just to get NASA to take them off our hands." With each phrase his volume and intensity rose. "Why not fake the entire space program? Why not just make movies, and pretend we've done it all? Tell the Russians we've already been on the Moon, Mars, Mercury -- the Sun, even -- what the hell?" His anger verged on the inarticulate; his hands groped as if searching for meanings. "Who would do a thing like that? What would be the point?" He paused again, and his voice fell to a normal level. "This is exploration; this is serious. It's no time for jokes. This is life and death. We want to know what's out there. And anyway," he said, his voice even quieter, "it would cost as much to fake it as it would to do it for real."
The coffeeshop was silent. His outburst had penetrated to every corner -- the short, intense emotional blast hit all four walls and set everyone on alert. Amelia's palms were flat on the table, and her eyes were wide. She wasn't frightened, but it wasn't a pleasant experience. She swallowed, and forced herself to start eating her salad. After a few moments, Eddie began to do the same. The only sound was that of forks, knives, and coffeecups.
After what seemed like a long time, Amelia said, "Sorry."
"No, I'm sorry," he said, although he still felt angry.
"It's okay," she replied. "I guess you should have soaked me when you had the chance." He smiled, and it was like the sun coming out. Marie appeared at just that moment with two servings of apple pie a la mode.
"We didn't order that," Eddie told her.
"On the house," she replied. "After a fight, it's nice to eat something homey." Amelia and Eddie felt awkward, but they appreciated the gesture, and thanked her. "Oh, that's all right," she replied. "All young couples fight. I don't know why, but they all do. Why, you've never seen a fight if you'd never seen the way me and Chester went at each other in the first few years. Lordy me, the times we had. Once Mrs. Verroot next door had to call the police, we were shouting so. Shouting, slamming, banging, and carrying on. She couldn't hear her radio program for all the ruckus we were making. And do know what it was all about?"
"Marie," Eddie said. "Marie, we don't want to know. I'm sorry, we appreciate that you brought the pie, it was very nice of you, but we don't want to know about you and Chester."
"Well!" Marie retorted with a toss of her head, "Nobody lets me a get in a word in edgeways around here. Here I am quiet as a mouse, but if just say, 'boo!' nobody wants to hear it. Well, listen, honey," she confided to Amelia, "has he told you yet about being the first man in space?"
"No, he hasn't," Amelia replied innocently, smiling at Eddie's embarrassment.
"Well, don't you worry," Marie assured her, "He will. We're all real proud of our Eddie. He's a good man, in spite of appearances to the contrary." And on that note she left.
Amelia smiled as she ate her pie, but she tried not to smile too much. Eddie kept his head down, and he coughed five or six times. Amelia didn't say a word. The other waitress came to refill their coffees and to take a look at Amelia. After the girl left, Eddie cleared his throat a seventh time and said, with embarrassed casualness, as if to say Let's change the subject, "You know, I've always been curious, but I've never been to Seattle. I have a cousin who lives nearby in Bellevue, and he says it's a great place to live. Do you like it there?" Amelia knew she had him. She knew she'd get her interview, with all the facts, dates, coordinates, and possibilities of confirmation she could need, and still get back to work on Monday. She could afford to talk about Seattle.
She told him about the seven hills, the Puget Sound, Pioneer Square, the ferries, the lakes, the trees, the people. He continued to ask questions; about Seattle, Washington, her job, her family, and Amelia let it roll. She would ask her questions later. The waitresses took turns refilling the cups, and the two drank until they were trembling from caffeine. Now it was time to go.
As Amelia prepared to pay the bill, she asked Eddie if there was a hotel in town. "No, there isn't. How long do you want to stay?"
"Just til Sunday afternoon."
"You can stay at my place," he said, and the air was suddenly but not uncomfortably heavy with the unspoken offer.
Amelia demurred, saying, "I don't know."
"I have an extra room," he continued, as if he were explaining something.
"Well, uh, it's the living room," he replied, and they both laughed.
"Will I be safe there?" she asked coyly.
"Do you want to be safe?" he retorted.
"I don't know," she replied.
"You don't know," he repeated and looked into her eyes. "Well," he said, searching for a solution, "You could stay with Mrs. Campbell, across the street."
"Hmm," she said, and sipped her coffee.