Make your own free website on Tripod.com
[ previous | contents | next ]

state: second draft
last update: 2000 January 20

Eddie Hive: First Man in Space

3. Happily Bought Off

By Kevin Kelleher



The dark mahogany walls radiated coldness and discomfort. They magnified the silence. When Amelia cleared her throat, it seemed an impropriety. One word, she thought, would be enough to describe this office: imposing.

It was imposing like an old, rich church is imposing. The ceiling was high, perhaps 14 feet, panelled like the walls in mahogany, and polished to bring the heavy browns to a high, lively sheen. The curtains, the carpets, the other appointments, all spoke of money, and the overall effect was so successful that you would expect to see the White House just outside the window. The actual view, in any case, was spectacular: the Elliot Bay and snow-white Mt. Rainier floating in the sky beyond.

But the richness, the darkness of the wood, the brightness of the light, all tended to damp the spirit, to make it impossible to be at ease, to make speech an effort and a cough a sacrilege. It was imposing in that way, too: it imposed, dominated, oppressed.

And Amelia was getting pretty damn uncomfortable. Pressingham was a little man, and he had gone to absurd lengths to try to compensate. His chair was elevated by a small platform, while those of his visitors were soft and close to the floor. Joel, the news editor, nearly fell into his seat, not expecting it to be so low, while Amelia lowered herself gingerly, unwillingly. Her chin was level with the top of the enormous desk, and she had to tilt her head back slightly to see Pressingham. He looked high and far away, it's true, but even high and far away he was inescapably a little man.

Amelia found it difficult to retain her composure. She did not enjoy sitting with her knees so high. After tugging at her skirt, holding her head high and back straight, and clasping her hands in front of her knees, she -- like Joel -- finally let both legs stretch straight, nearly resting on the floor, though that was not comfortable either.

From time to time Joel looked at her and smiled. He knew it was a good story. Pressingham, on the other hand, seemed to not even know that she and Joel were in the room. He leafed with infinite slowness, page by unending page, through Amelia's article, without so much as a cough, comment, or change of expression.

Downstairs in the newsroom Joel had grasped the gist of the article in a glance, and pulled Amelia into his office. "Is this on the level?" was the essence of his questions, and he paged through the story quickly, saying, "This is great! This is great!" but finished by telling her, "We have to talk to Pressingham. A story this big you have to clear with the publisher."

At first, the prospect of meeting the publisher excited Amelia. As far as getting the story printed on page one, she regarded the encounter as a mere formality, though as far as career advancement ... it never hurt to know someone in a high place.

Now, with a crick in her neck, it did not look the same. She felt put down, excluded by Pressingham. So far he'd only spoken to Joel and hardly glanced at Amelia, as if she were just a delivery boy or something of that order. And now, as she studied his perfect hair, perfect clothes, perfect office with everything tidy and in place, she felt herself dwindling and shrinking, and felt as if her certainty of seeing the story in print were shrinking, too. She disregarded that impossibility and fixed her attention on Pressingham, in case he suddenly asked a question. He held his fingers splayed far back, like a Thai dancer or a Mandarin, as if to ward off contamination as he handled the text. In fact, when he finished reading he wiped his hands with a handkerchief.

"Well," he said at last, straightening the sheets, "let me ask you this, Miss Spar. Hmm. My question is: Do you know what a split infinitive is?"

Amelia was shocked. Joel recoiled, thinking, oh no I should have warned her. Amelia managed to reply, "Of course I know what it is," and thought, what the hell difference does it make?

"If you do know," Pressingham replied, "then why is your piece filled with them? You write 'to only dare' -- it should be 'only to dare' or--"

"But that doesn't mean the same thing!"

Joel licked his lips. If she would just say yessir yessir oh I see! He kicked himself for not remembering to warn her!

"You can find a way to say what you mean without breaking the rules of grammar," Pressingham told her. "Also, you don't seem to know the difference between that and which.

"In any case," he concluded, "grammatical difficulties aside, we cannot use the story. It's a perfect piece of unverified reportage. This sort of thing would go very well in one of those grocery-store tabloids next to the story of the man kipnapped by Martians."

Amelia got a grip on her rising anger, planted her feet flat on the floor, felt again the discomfort and irritation of the stupid little chair, and let her legs slide forward. "This article only opens the story," Amelia said. "I need a go-ahead to do more digging, to get some real verification. That's why I wrote the story the way I did: it doesn't assert anything; it just reports what Hive said."

"Yes, I saw that," Pressingham replied, "but that's exactly how those tabloids work. The Herald has a reputation for serious journalism. If this thing is a hoax or contains obvious errors or impossibilities, it would be a stain on our record."

"What do you mean, 'obvious errors or impossibilities'?"

"For instance," Pressingham said, leafing once again through the article, "Hive says that he's done two 15-minute arcs into space and reached an altitude of over 100 miles. He says that later this month he'll make three orbits of the earth. All this, according to Hive, is an anticipation of the NASA program."

"Well?" Amelia asked.

"He also states that space is not black, but dark blue."

"That's what he said."

"Okay," Pressingham said, "but here at least we can do some checking. We can call astronomers and ask them what color space is."

"Maybe they don't know," Amelia countered.

"Maybe not; however, we can ask. Next, this series of flights -- two 15-minute arcs and one three-orbit trip -- is it really the NASA program? This we can check. Is it possible for a rocket to carry a man 100 miles up? Is there still gravity that high?"

"He says no. He was weightless for about five minutes."

"Fine. He says so. This, too, we can check. We can find out how high experimental planes have flown. But you get my point. There are a lot of questions here, questions we need to ask. Ask and, where possible, answer." He sat back in his chair. "Anyway," he continued after a moment, "aside from all that, there is a something here ... something that just doesn't ring quite right. Something is definitely funny." He frowned and drummed his fingers. "Even if the story is true, there is something very strange about the whole business. Very strange." He pressed his fingertips together, looked down at his desk, and closed his eyes. Joel quickly signalled Amelia to keep quiet.

After a brief silence, Pressingham opened his eyes and tilted his head back. "How did you hear about this story in the first place?" Amelia briefly related the scene in the bar: the drunk and the angry friend...

"Can you get in touch with those two again?" Pressingham inquired. The memory of of Vinnie's twisted arm and anguished face flashed into Amelia's mind. She winced and said no.

"And you never saw the two of them before or since?"

"No."

"They could be friends of Hive. The three of them could have cooked it up as a gag, a hoax."

Amelia sat up, ready to hotly contradict, but Joel spoke to her first. "We're just talking possibilities here. We have to consider the possibility of a hoax."

Amelia felt a lump in her throat, and her voice emerged like a small croak. "I believe in the story. It's not a hoax."

"I appreciate your belief, Miss Spar," Pressingham said. "Believe me, I do. However, professionally, I am agnostic: I have to be convinced. Here we have a very nice story -- with a few grammatical flaws and a few points that need research -- but a real story nonetheless. I will tell you, I am not a complete skeptic: I don't require absolute confirmation, but I need enough verification -- sometimes just a thread or a hint of something will do. I need verification before I can see it in print."

"You see," Joel put in, "We need enough to decide whether it's worth the money it would take to let you go on with the story."

Amelia: "There's another important point to think about: You don't want to see another paper get the story first. If we wait, we could lose it."

Pressingham: "That's true, we don't want to be scooped. After all, if you found him, someone else could find him, too." He thought for a moment. "How hard was it to make him talk?"

Amelia: "Well, it took a couple of hours just to establish a rapport, but finally he got angry with me, and after that we were friends."

Amelia's voice seemed to echo and die, like the cry of a child in a church. Silence fell over the group: Pressingham gazed at his desk; Joel stared at his feet. Amelia looked from one to the other, waiting for someone to speak. At last she spoke herself, playing a card she'd been saving. "I've been invited to the launch at the end of the month. Hive thinks he can get me in as his girlfriend. I'd call that verification, wouldn't you?"

Pressingham lurched forward and rubbed his forehead. "The end of the month? That's a whole new kettle of fish! You should have said so sooner. The end of the month -- that gives us about two weeks."

Joel: "Enough time to get scooped."

Pressingham: "This is sensitive, isn't it. The launch will give us our verification, but if we start moving now, digging, asking questions, we might scare them out of the launch."

Joel: "And if we wait too long, we could lose the story."

Pressingham sighed. "Yet we still don't know if it's a hoax." He drummed his fingers loudly.

Joel spoke, struck by a sudden idea: "Why don't we just concentrate on this story? I mean, this article right here. If we can break it right now, or even tomorrow, they might not do the launch, but we'll still have the story -- Amelia's already got an 'in' with the man Hive. If we can find just enough to print the story, we can ride the wave after."

Pressingham repeated slowly, thinking to himself, "Just enough to print the story."

Joel: "Maybe there's something simple we can do from here -- some phone calls, maybe." Pressingham murmurred, "Hmm," and picked up the phone at his right. "Maxine," he said after a moment, "Look into flights for Albuquerque, New Mexico for this afternoon and evening. Yes, and a car from the airport." Then he set the phone in its cradle and smiled. His eyes sparkled; he clapped his hands once, then began speaking with a strange air of exaltation. "I have it," he said. "I have it. I've finally put my finger on it. There was, somehow, a peculiar suspicion of ... something. This story just did not gel for me. A piece of the puzzle was lacking: an essential question agitated me.

"It was this: Why would anyone go to the trouble, the expense, the danger of sending this man into space? Simply for a test? Come now, I said, there must be something more. What could be the motivation? What could be the gain? Not recognition, not money -- what could it be? So I asked myself, who exactly is making these tests? Who is it that manufactures the rocket?"

Amelia silently chided herself: why didn't I think of that? A good reporter would have asked. Pressingham went on.

"Various names come to mind: aerospace industries. However, and as you probably know, this enterprise is not the work of one single manufacturer. One company provides the capsule, another the rocket platform, another the computers, the fuels, the cooling systems, the instruments -- it is a conglomeration of technical toys such as the world as never seen, and each element arrives from a different supplier.

"Who could or would unite them all? Who would have a reason to light in secret this monstrous roman candle, and jeopardize the life of an unknown pilot? Only one answer is possible: there is no other entity capable. There is only one -- NASA. It is NASA that is conducting these tests."

"But why?" Joel questioned. "Why would they do a thing like that? Hive says that the tests are to convince NASA."

"This is what he's been told," Pressingham replied.

Amelia began to ask herself whether all men were subject to such crazy mood swings. First there was Hive with his alternating depression and glee; now here is Pressingham, who shot from splay-fingered, Mr. Perfect Agnostic to a full-blown, pontificating know-it-all. Before he seemed to squeeze his words out unwillingly, as though constipated. Now he gushed with rhetoric. He bounced lightly in his chair as he spoke. He loved the story now; he felt it his own. In spite of Pressingham's drama, Amelia caught the drift.

"I see," she said. "NASA wanted some assurance."

"Insurance," he corrected (though she wasn't wrong). "They are tired of dogging the Russians, of coming in late with rockets that don't fly, rockets that blow up on the launch pad, rockets that spin around like pinwheels and have to be exploded."

"Right!" Amelia cried, "they wanted to run it through to be sure it worked. They wanted a dress rehearsal!"

"Exactly," Pressingham replied. "NASA has a public-image problem: Everyone knows we're trailing behind the Russians. Everyone knows that the astronauts are brave men, and have a very good chance of dying on top of one of our rockets. The astronauts are ready for it; they are soldiers. NASA, on the other hand, is not ready. One dead astronaut could kill our space program, especially if it's the first." He grinned triumphantly. "They don't want to take any chances. They haven't even publicized the unmanned launches, for goodness sake. According to their original timetable, they should have put a man in space already. But here we are in the middle of 1960, and they're still afraid to let the press witness one of their explosions."

Joel cleared his throat. "This is all very well," he said. "It makes a lot of sense, but where can we go from here? The story is still based on the word of one man, Ed Hive. We can't just call up NASA and say, 'Excuse me, but are you running secret tests in the New Mexico desert?'"

"Oh no?" Pressingham's grin was so wide it nearly cracked his face. Amelia wondered if he was completely sane. "Oh no?" Pressingham repeated. "That's exactly what I intend to do. I have a very good friend at NASA, and he may feel that he owes me a little favor. Let's see," he said as he consulted his address book, "Opten, Opten, NASA, Opten, NASA." He hummed as he dialed the numbers. Then he flashed an unnerving smile at Amelia.

Another, more disturbing question occurred to Joel, but with Pressingham on the phone he didn't dare speak. Silently he wondered just how Hive's flights managed to go so well while NASA's flights nearly always ended in disaster. For the first time, he saw the clear prospect of a hoax.

"Yes, hello," Pressingham said in the phone, "I'm calling long distance for Colonel Opten, Colonel Charles Opten. This is Gabriel Pressingham of the Seattle Herald calling. Yes, I will wait." He covered the mouthpiece and hissed the name "Opten" in a stage whisper, as if Joel and Amelia had not heard. Then he winked at Amelia, picked up a pencil, and made it waltz around his desk.

Suddenly he sat forward and said, "Colonel Opten? Yes, good morning, Gabriel Pressingham here. (Pause) Yes, the same. Of the Seattle Herald. (Pause) Yes, yes, that's right." He laughed lightly. "Well, how are you, Charles, hmm?" Then he murmured assent to a string of things the Colonel said. Amelia cursed her little low chair and sought in vain for a comfortable position. Joel had slumped nearly to floor.

Pressingham sat back in his chair. "Charles? Yes, I'd like to tell you why I called. When I came in today they were setting in type a story for page one. It's really an astounding piece, good sources, irrefutable, umm hmm, but I thought I'd hold it just a moment and run it past you first."

Amelia's heart started racing. Joel looked up, all attention. Pressingham went on. "It's about the Redstone missile testing. (Pause) What? Oh, yes, yes, reliability constantly improving. Oh, yes? (Pause) Safe enough to put a man in space? -- oh, yes of course, and bring him home again. Umm. I know it's important. Well, Colonel, Charles, in fact that's exactly what I'm calling about. A man in space. This story -- wait a moment -- this story maintains, on good authority, that an young American has already been in space. Twice in fact, and he plans to go again at the end of the month. Yes. On a Redstone rocket. His name is Edwin Hive."

At the sound of that name the phone erupted in a volcano of noise. Joel and Amelia could hear the colonel shouting. A few phrases made their way across the monstrous desk: "I knew it was going to happen! I told them and I told them! And here we are now ..." It went on and on. "... tails hanging out... national security and our window of vulnerability..." Pressingham gave the quiet aside, "I'd call that a big confirmation."

Pressingham sat calmly, gazing out the window at the snow cap of Mt. Rainier. He held the telephone away from his ear, resting his hand on his desk. The telephone went on and on, spewing words at high volume. Abruptly it stopped. Pressingham put the phone to his ear. "Colonel? Yes, of course, I can hear you perfectly. (Pause) Well, no, I can't hold the story for very long. It's a real scoop, and we don't want another paper to snatch it up." The colonel began shouting again, but this time Pressingham calmly kept the phone near his ear. "Yes, I can do that. Fine. Good, Colonel. Yes. So I'll be hearing from you at 2 o'clock." He set down the receiver and blissfully smiled. "This should be quite a coup," he said complacently.

"So now what happens?" Joel asked.

"Hold on a moment," Pressingham replied, and pressed a button on his phone. "Maxine? Do you have the flight information? Good. Yes, make a reservation for the four o'clock flight in the name of --" he looked at the byline on Amelia's article "-- Amelia Spar. Right." He hung up.

"Here is the plan," he said briskly. "NASA will call back at 2 to give some sort of official statement or official denial. We can run whatever they say in a small item to accompany Miss Spar's piece.

"Alert the composition room that a new story will take the top of page one of the evening and morning editions. Miss Spar will take a flight at four to Albuquerque and make contact as soon as possible with Hive. We will meet here after my phone call with the colonel, and you can leave immediately after. That will give you just enough time to make the flight.

"You will remain with Hive to see how the story breaks: his reaction to the publicity, contact between Hive and NASA or between Hive and the test personnel, and so on.

"In the meantime, Miss Spar, you can go pack your bag. It goes without saying, both of you must keep this story under wraps. We must absolutely avoid the possibility of being scooped by another paper. Not even the composition room can know until the last possible minute.

"You haven't talked to anyone about this, have you?" he asked Amelia.

"No one."

"Good. Keep it that way. Don't even tell your grandma in Walla Walla."

"My grandmother doesn't live in Walla Walla."

"It's just a figure of speech."

Then he turned his attention to some papers on his desk, and began making annotations. Amelia sat, awkwardly wondering what to do or say, when Joel signalled that they could go.

§

"What a strange man," she said as they descended in the elevator.

"Yes," Joel agreed, "it's his specialty, being strange."

§

At their second meeting, Pressingham's face evidenced a great deal of self-satisfaction. "Well," he said, briskly rubbing his hands, "the colonel called me back."

"And--"

"He wants us to kill the story." Pressingham was still smiling broadly.

Joel laughed, "Fat chance!"

Pressingham's face was suddenly serious. "Oh, no. You're wrong, Joel. We are going to bury it."

"What!?" Joel and Amelia exclaimed at once.

"Obviously," Pressingham began again, putting his fingertips together, "obviously, it would greatly embarrass NASA. In fact, embarrass isn't the word. The Soviets are already ahead of us in the space race. This would be a very low cut. We can't even estimate how much damage this story could cause. Now the country is excited; they're behind NASA. Everyone is enthusiastic about our seven astronauts. NASA's prepared a cautious, step-by-step program to put a man in space. If we come along and say that a hot-dogging teenager in the New Mexico desert was the first man in space, what will it do to the space agency?"

"I can't believe what I'm hearing!" Amelia exclaimed.

"Believe it," Pressingham replied, in a cool tone. "Remember what a heavy blow Sputnik was? It was not only because the Soviets launched a satellite before we had; it indicated that they have the missile power to throw an atomic bomb anywhere in the world, and specifically the U.S. If we do anything to harm the prestige of our space agency, the repercussions would be world-wide. Our allies must have confidence in our ability to restrain communism, and throwing ridicule on NASA will weaken the image of our technological might."

"But it's a good story," Joel said. "Look at it this way--"

"No," Pressingham said. "I won't discuss it. You've heard my last word."

Joel frowned. "You must be getting something out of this," he said to Pressingham. "From NASA?"

Pressingham laughed. "That, of course, I won't discuss at all, and it wasn't proper of you to insinuate such a thing, let alone say it outright. However," he said, and began shuffling papers on his desk, "if you believe I'm profiting in some way, and that belief helps you kill the story, then by all means, believe it."

Amelia trembled with shock, anger, amazement. How could this little, silly man sweep aside the exciting truth she'd discovered? How could he? How dare he? She cried out, "What do I get out of it? It's MY story!"

"You get to keep your job," Pressingham said. "That should be enough for you."

That remark went too far. It was like throwing gasoline on a fire. Amelia flared. Her fists clenched, her eyes flamed. She spoke without thinking: "I'll take the story to another paper!"

Pressingham had been drumming his fingers, but he suddenly stopped. He took a deep breath and said, "I'll pretend I didn't hear that. I'll forget that I ever heard it--"

"I don't want you to forget!" Amelia countered. "I'll do it!"

"You won't get far. By now, every trace of evidence, every possibility of verification, has been swept away. There's no way you can back your story, not even with Hive." He paused. "Hive's working for NASA now."

"Since when?"

"A half hour ago."

§

As the elevator doors were closing, Amelia fumed. "I don't know why I ever wanted to be a reporter! I quit. I just quit. That's all." She furiously punched the elevator buttons, hitting all the floors, then the alarm. The elevator locked in position and a very loud bell rang.

Joel reached forward and turned the alarm off. "Wait a minute, Amelia," he said. "Let's talk about this in my office."

The doors opened to the seventh floor. Joel punched the third- floor button, and the doors closed.

"I should go back up and tell him off," she replied, and hit the eighth-floor button nine times.

"Stop that," Joel told her. The doors opened on the sixth floor. Joel held the third-floor button down, and the doors closed. "It isn't a good idea."

"Why not?" Her face was flushed, her fists were clenched. Even her blonde hair seemed to have taken on a red tint. "I haven't got anything to lose; I'm going to quit anyway."

The doors opened on the fifth floor. Amelia held down the button for the eighth floor, and told Joel through her teeth not to touch the buttons. To his relief, when the doors shut the elevator continued to descend.

"Okay," he said. "Fine. But let's you and I talk first. I've got a proposal to make. Then if you still want to talk to him, go ahead. It'll give you time to calm down, and you'll make more of an impression if you state your case calmly."

To his surprise, she immediately got a grip on herself.

§

After he shut his office door, Joel said, "I think I can make it up to you."

"I don't want you to make it up to me. I just want to get out of here! I want to work for a real newspaper -- not a place like this!"

"Amelia, this is a real newspaper. This is how all newspapers are."

"It isn't right! It just isn't right. He's sitting up there like some kind of princess on a throne and --" she suddenly realized "-- he's got my story! He's still got my story! I want it back! Oh, man!"

"Listen, Amelia--"

"Can you tell me, Joel, what is he doing in the newspaper business? What the hell is he doing in a job like that?"

"Well, obviously, to make money--"

"Hmmph!"

"And also to put the paper in people's hands. Some people like to be in control of information. Like now: he has information--"

"Thanks to me!"

"Yes, thanks to you, and he got something for the information. For him, the game is a lot bigger than what goes into the newspaper."

"What do you mean, 'he got something'? They just asked him nicely, 'please don't print the story' and he did it."

"No, Amelia. He got something. They gave him something. I don't know what, but he got something to make it worth his while."

She was silent for a few moments, looking down. He found himself admiring her: her hair, her clothes, her face... he caught himself and turned his gaze away, around the little office. On a shelf above his head he saw a stack of papers threatening to fall. He had to remember to put it right later... He realized how much smaller, busier, and messier was his office compared to Pressingham's. The ceiling here, for example, must be only half as high. His gaze fell, ricocheted from Amelia's knees and returned to her face. She spoke: "It isn't right. The truth can't be bought and sold."

"It may not be right," he replied, "but it does happen. You have to face that fact to work in this business."

"I don't want to face that fact. I don't want to work in this business. I'm going to go and be a trash collector. At least it's honest work."

"This is honest work, too."

"It's not."

"Listen to me a minute," he said. "I hired you because you are a good writer and because you seem to have a genuine interest in this kind of work--"

"I used to."

"Okay. The thing is, I didn't realize just how good a writer you were until I read that Hive article. It was great, the way you tracked him down, made him talk, asked the right questions, chose the right quotes--"

"A lot of good it did me."

"It did do you good. It showed me that you've got what it takes. It showed me that you can really do it. A lot of people think they could be that kind of reporter, but they can't. You've got the right kind of curiosity. All you have to do now is learn how to hang in there."

"But I don't want to," she said, and started to cry. He let it go, without saying anything. He knew it was just pent-up emotion, and after a few moments she got a grip on herself, wiped her eyes and apologized.

"Forget it," he said, and continued his pitch. "This kind of thing is inevitable. It happens to every good reporter. They find a big story and it can't get printed, or only the harmless part gets printed, or it gets printed with some big lie in place of the big truth.

"A real reporter can recover from that. A real reporter gets back on the horse."

"And just forgets that it happened?" Amelia challenged.

"No," Joel replied. "You never forget. You put the story in a drawer and wait for the right time, because the time might come. But you have to let go of it, or it will eat you. If you get obsessed with that story, it will ruin you as a reporter. "I don't want to lose you, Amelia," he continued. "You could be one of the best. Like I said, this happens to all the good reporters."

"Did it happen to Crosby?" she sneered.

"No," he replied, frankly. "It didn't." That quieted her, so Joel went on. "It did happen to Chandler, though."

"The guy at the state house?"

"Right. Chandler got the goods on a public official -- I won't say the name -- a man who was stealing in a big way, accepting bribes, trading favors -- your standard corrupt civil servant. However, Chandler found that he couldn't publish any of it."

"Why not?" Amelia cried.

"That would take a long time to explain. Chandler will tell you if you ask him. But do you know what? The man's still in office, still stealing, still cheating. Chandler's file is still sitting there, and he still can't do anything with it. Chandler's not young, but he was just starting out when got that story." Joel paused. "Maybe his successor will publish it, under their own byline."

"Wow," Amelia said. "Is it Pressingham's fault?"

"No. Pressingham wants to print it. He says that if just one thing changes, we will publish it. Pressingham, Chandler, and I are watching and waiting."

She bit her lower lip. Joel saw that he'd piqued her curiosity. Now was time to make the offer. "I told you, Amelia, that I thought I could make it up to you. What I can do is to give you a new position: byline, special correspondent, your own field where you find your own stories and write what you want.

"You're pretty young -- and frankly, a lot of people would say that you're too new to the business for this position, so you have to realize that I'm going out on a limb offering it to you. However, I think that you can do it, and do it well. "Chandler, the man we were just talking about, our man in Olympia, has been asking to be replaced. If you take the job, he'll work with you for the first couple of months to help you get your feet wet. After that, you will be special correspondent at the State House. What do you say? It's a big opportunity, a big jump for you. It means more money, too."

"I don't know. I don't know if I even want to be a reporter any more. I guess I have to go home and think about it."

"No." Joel said. "If you go home and think about it you won't come back. I want you to decide right now."

She felt too confused, too tense, too pushed. Her unblinking eyes were fixed on Joel, her brow wrinkled, her hands tight on the arms of the chair. She said, "I can't decide now, Joel!" It was almost a cry.

He looked down at his desk. There was still one more card to play. "If you don't take it," Joel said, "I'll have to give it to Crosby."

"I'll take it," she immediately replied.

§

Colonel Opten was less than candid when he claimed that Hive had been working for NASA since 1:30 that afternoon. What happened was this: Right about noon, Eddie received a call from the people running the tests, ordering him to the test site as soon as possible. A half-hour later, just outside the wall of Dublinos, a helicopter picked him up and carried him to the site. For some reason, Eddie found the aerial view of Dublinos and, later, the view of the rocket being readied at the launch pad, very poignant. They had never seemed so clear, so sharp, so full of feeling and secret meaning. The views engraved themselves in his memory, as if a deeper part of him already knew that he would never see either place again.

At the test site, Eddie was hustled, without explanation or courtesy, into an Air Force jet that carried him to the East Coast. It was a fighter, a two-seater, and Eddie sat behind the pilot. After a turbulent takeoff and a rapid climb to cruising altitude, Eddie spoke to the pilot and asked where they were going. The pilot's voice crackled in Eddie's headphones: "Sorry, buddy, not allowed to say." Later, at Eddie's repeated questions and demands, the pilot said, "Look, pal, my orders are to not talk. If you keep it up, I'll have to shut off the headsets. Orders. I'm sorry, but that's the way it is."

"Is it NASA?" Eddie shot back, inspired. The pilot's silence seemed a grudging yes.

When they landed in Virginia, a limosine was waiting. Eddie shook hands with the pilot and stepped into the car. At 5:05 he was sitting in Colonel Opten's office.


[ previous | contents | next ]