On New Year’s Day, I received two phone calls—one about a dead body and one about a live body—and I couldn’t decide which one would make this year more interesting.
The dead body belonged to Nicky Wright, an otherwise typical mid-thirties guy who, when he was still warm and breathing, liked Skee-Ball and dark beer (at least, according to his friends).
The live body belonged in my past, but had somehow walked into my present, landing himself a job that made us immediate rivals.
And then there was my body, which remembered the live body with such clarity it still sent shivers along my skin.
His name was Patrick Longmeier and if I forced myself to be still—really still—I could feel his unshaven cheek against mine.
The calls came in one after another and left me in a stupor, surrounded by the cacophony of the Bugle’s newsroom.
So I moved.
I pulled the flask out of the bottom drawer of my desk and took a swig of blueberry moonshine. I used to stock marshmallow-flavored vodka, but I found it too sweet for that daily nine a.m. slow-me-down.
Then I went outside for a clove cigarette.
My editor, Midge Barkley, had taken the spot at the end of the bench, closest to the ashtray, so I stood.
“Shouldn’t you be at the crime scene?” she said to me.
She took a drag of her cigarette and I marveled, not for the first time, at the way her lipstick seeped into the tiny lines radiating upward from her lip.
“I suppose I should,” I said. Then, exhaling, I added, “But I just received a very disturbing call.”
Midge blew her smoke into the space between us. “Geez, Rosie. You act like you’ve never seen a dead body before.”
“It’s not the dead body I’m worried about. It’s personal.”
Midge snorted. “Well, this dead body should be personal to you, Rosie. If you like your job at the Bugle.”
I nodded. She was right. I’d worked hard to earn the crime beat. It was practically my dream job.
But just the hearing of Patrick Longmeier’s name sparked a series of sensations that made me forget about all that: a swirling in my stomach, a tightening of my throat, increased heart rate. What would our reunion look like? For years, I’d imagined it as a swell of music and a long embrace, but now that it was eminent, my fists curled quite involuntarily.
I smashed the end of my cigarette on the edge of the ashtray and went back inside to collect my notebook and purse. I grabbed my digital recorder, too, because I didn’t want to miss a single detail. And because I had a feeling I might be just the tiniest bit distracted.
As I drove, I tried to recall the exact details of the first phone call. My friend and high school photography partner, Jess, was the receptionist at the Daily News, the Bugle’s one and only competition in town. It went something like, “Ohmygawd, Rosie, Patrick’s back and he’s working here and he’s covering the cops beat,” all run together in a single whispered word before she hung up.
I thought I’d have more time to mentally prepare for seeing him again. But then I received the second phone call, before the police scanner even went off.
Which was a good thing, because in spite of my dedication to the job, I’m not one of those reporters who keeps her ear to the scanner at all times. In fact, if Lady Luck didn’t show her face every time a big story hit, I’d probably have been fired by now.
Lady Luck often manifested in the form of Genius Joe, the homeless guy who always seemed to have the scoop on these things.
“Rosie, you’ve got a dead body this morning,” he said when he called. “Thirty-six-year-old male. Shot.”
The hot tones came out while the handset on my phone was still warm.
The defroster in my car barely kept up with the cold. Still, I arrived at the crime scene first. Well, after the police and evidence technicians. And after Nicky Wright, obviously. But I got there before Patrick Longmeier did.
Nevertheless, even with the warning from Jess, I was completely unprepared for the moment I actually laid eyes on him.
Nicky Wright died on what was undoubtedly the most-photographed strip of land in Juniper, Arizona: Granite Trail, a popular hiking destination made famous by huge granite boulders and copses of deciduous trees whose leaves turned a breathtaking gold color in the fall. Today, January 1, their branches were bare, stark black on a white sky.
The body sprawled across the trail, facedown, and the back of his head was obliterated, the blood obsidian against the frost that lined the path.
“What can you tell me?” I said to the evidence tech who was measuring footprints someone had left next to Nicky’s body.
“Not much right now, unfortunately,” he said. “All we know is a hiker found him this morning around eight. He has pictures of some kids in his wallet. Looks like he’s been dead less than twelve hours.”
“It’s been a while.”
Patrick. My traitorous body responded to his voice like a cat arches its back when someone pets it: unconsciously, automatically, and most likely, purring. My mind was even worse, producing images of Patrick’s hand on my breast, my body above his, our lips coming together as I slid down onto his—
I couldn’t force myself to turn around. I couldn’t risk looking at his face. So instead, I took another drink of moonshine and pretended not to hear him. They really should make flasks with straws.
The evidence tech, oblivious to the whirlwind of feelings ricocheting around inside my body, said to Patrick, “Who the hell are you?”
“Patrick Longmeier,” Patrick and I said at the same time.
The evidence tech looked at me. “He with you?”
“Nope,” Patrick and I said at the same time.
“Huh,” the tech said. He turned to Patrick, and I didn’t move. “You with the Daily News?”
“One and only,” Patrick said.
“Your competition, eh, Rosie?”
I couldn’t avoid looking at him forever. So I turned around. Our eyes met. I couldn’t be sure whether I’d dreaded this moment or looked forward to it, but here it was, and I was speechless. Which is unusual.
What could I say, anyway?
I could say, “I missed you.” Or I could say, “I hoped I’d never see you again.” Or, “How is it possible that you’re even better-looking than you were back then?”
But I didn’t.
Instead, I said, “What the hell are you doing in Juniper?”
And he smiled.
There’s only one place to go when you run out of moonshine before deadline: your grandmother’s house.
“So Nicky Wright finally bought a one-way ticket to the big dog farm in the sky, did he?”
“What do you mean, ‘finally,’ Gram? He was only thirty-six. And you say that like you know him.
“He had it coming, didn’t he?” Gram said.
“I have no idea. What I do know is that I have to get back to the Bugle. And I need a refill.”
I held up my flask and Gram filled it from a bottle of rum without getting up from her chair.
“Trying something new?” I said. “Or did you just run out of Fireball?”
For as long as I could remember, Gram had stuck strictly to Fireball. Of course, when my mom went off the tracks and I moved in with Gram at age six, I constantly asked for sips. She gave me cinnamon-flavored hard candy as a substitute.
“Tastes exactly the same,” she’d say.
She’d also say, while rubbing the velour arms of her pink side chair, “Fireball is comfortable like this chair is comfortable.” So I was surprised to see her drinking something else.
Now, I saw a strange expression cross her face, momentarily, in the same way a cloud passes over the sun, and she said, “Yeah, Honey, it’s about that time.”
The rum was good, smoother than I expected, and I took a longer drink than I meant to.
“I know Nicky Wright is the big news,” I said, “but I really stopped by because of another big story in my life. Patrick Longmeier showed up at the scene today.”
“Bottom feeder,” Gram said. She took her bottle back.
“I know,” I said. “And it only gets better. He’s signed on to work with the Daily News.”
“Ah,” Gram said, almost as if she’d been expecting this. She sat back in her chair. “So you came here to drown your broken heart instead of heading back to the newsroom to put in print the sordid details of Nicky Wright’s timely demise.”
“Rosie,” Gram said.
I held up a finger. “Wait. Give me another swig of that rum.”
When I’d set the bottle down, she said, “The last time we talked, do you remember what you said to me?”
“I said lots of things, Gram. I said I wanted some pizza, and you said—”
“I said you needed salad. I know. But you also said there were three things you want. Three things. Remember that?”
I nodded. “Of course. I said I wanted pizza, beer, and cupcakes.”
“Not that,” she said.
“I said I wanted a big change, a big story, and a big—”
“And a good man.”
“Did I say good? I thought I said big.”
Gram shook her head, the same way she had when I was ten and asked if we could leave Santa two fingers of Fireball rather than milk and cookies. She was exasperated and entertained.
“You said good,” she said.
She leaned forward now, her green eyes laser-intense as they held my gaze.
“Rosie, I believe it’s time for a change. And I can’t help but notice the interesting timing of Nicky Wright’s death and Patrick Longmeier’s reappearance.”
“Gram, is this one of your talks about coincidence? Because first of all, Patrick Longmeier may be big, but he is not good. And if this is one of your talks about coincidence, I—”
“Gram.” I sighed.
“It’s not coincidence,” she said, her pointer finger pressing into the arm of her chair, its fuchsia fingernail shining. “Which is what I’m trying to tell you. I want you to pay careful—no, very careful—attention to what transpires over the course of the next several weeks. I have a feeling about this moment in time.”
“This sounds very mysterious,” I said, making sure to infuse my tone with sarcasm even though I felt a strange mix of anticipation and dread as her words sank in.
For the past twenty years, Gram had given me enigmatic wisdom. But it’d never been accompanied by the phrase, “I have a feeling about this moment in time.”
Before I had a chance to come up with another snarky comment, she thrust the bottle at me one more time and said, “Now get on out of here. You have a story to research and, apparently, it had better be good. You’ve got some new competition in town.”
I took a sip, then another swig for sustenance, and headed back to my desk at the Bugle.