Emily Bowditch threw down her notes in disgust.
"Can you believe this? The United States is several trillion dollars in debt, and Senator Arthur Lee Alden III wants funding for intergalactic communication. Can you believe this?"
No one in the newsroom paid any attention to her; everyone was on deadline. Emily turned her computer on and began setting up a new file.
"Not to worry, E.T.," she muttered to no one in particular. "If the senator gets his funding, pretty soon you will be able to phone home."
The minutes ticked by. Her hands flew over the keyboard; her muttering became more indignant. "Of all the hopeless wastes of taxpayers' money ... of all the liberal spendthrifts ... of all the misdirected ... serendipitous ... irrational ... downright weird ...."
Stan Cooper looked up annoyed from his computer screen. "What are you going on about?" He swivelled his chair to face Emily and reached for his coffee mug. "Tell me now and get it over with, for God's sake, so I can get back to work."
The irritation in his voice didn't bother Emily at all. She assumed that all forty-eight year old bachelor newsmen came that way. "It's Senator Alden."
Stan's eyelids flickered. "Yeah? What about him?"
"I've just got hold of a letter he wrote urging the National Science Foundation to fund a heck of a lot more psychic research than they've been doing. I didn't know they were doing any," she said through gritted teeth. "And now they're going to do more."
"How much more?" Stan asked. His voice was low and still, the way it got whenever he talked about Senator Alden.
She shook her head. "It doesn't say." She fished her copy of the letter from a school of papers on her desk and read from it aloud. "'We urge you'--blah, blah, here it is--'to allocate substantially greater sums for psychic research which, among other benefits, can have far-reaching ramifications for both our domestic and foreign intelligence'."
Stan's laugh was short and derisive. "FBI. CIA. Yeah. Rumors have been going around for years that they've been fooling around with psi." Stan drained the dregs of his coffee and made a wry face. "So how you gonna handle the story?"
Emily sighed. "I'm sure the Chief'll want me to play it straight; he respects the senator too much to feel any moral outrage here."
"No problem," Stan said with a deadly smile. "Between you and me we have more than enough."
"Well, it is outrageous," she insisted defensively.
"I mean it, Stan. Our government is out of control, absolutely out of control. Our bridges are falling down, our sewers are disintegrating, our schools need overhauling and this guy calls for--psychic research! Who needs psychic research? We need concrete; pipes; schoolrooms."
Stan swivelled slowly around to face his computer, effectively ending the coffee break. "What an innocent you are," he said in a tired voice. "I suppose it comes from living and working in New Hampshire."
Emily flushed. She'd met Stanley Cooper when he was on assignment in Manchester seven years earlier. She was a junior reporter then, really just a Gofer, and she'd been thoroughly awed by the hard-boiled political reporter from the Boston Journal. He liked what little she had written, though, and when she took a job in New Bedford covering municipal affairs for the local paper, his name was on her list of references.
Then, six months ago, she sent her resume to the Boston Journal. Stanley Cooper interviewed her in depth, recommended her, and put her through her paces after she was hired. Later she learned the exact wording of his recommendation: "She'll be a royal pain in the butt. We need her."
At twenty-eight Emily Bowditch was as much in awe of Stan Cooper as ever. She didn't think much of him as a man--he drank, smoked, gambled, detested kids and didn't keep house--but as a political writer he was without parallel. She'd do just about anything to impress him. Whenever he cut her down to size (which was often) she took it hard.
She studied him in profile as he hunched over his keyboard, pecking fitfully. His clothes were shabby. His face was lined, unshaven, unhappy. He was thin, almost bony: he was suspicious of everything, probably including food. But he was brilliant, and Emily wanted desperately to make her mark with him.
"Stan?" she ventured, risking his wrath. "I've been mulling over an idea for a story. I think it could be pretty good."
"Maybe even sensational."
"Do you want to hear about it?"
"No. Just do it."
That was it, the permission she wanted--more or less. She grabbed her tweed jacket and said, "I'll be at the library for the next couple of hours." But as she sprinted down the steps of the bland brick building that housed the Boston Journal, the thought occurred to her that her idea was cockamamie at best, and a pretty good reason for getting fired, at worst.
Emily spent the rest of the afternoon in the Boston Public Library, plowing through old copies of Etheric, a magazine devoted exclusively to psychic phenomena--a magazine that until that morning, she had never known existed. She was working strictly on a hunch, and she wasn't sure what she'd find.
When she'd called Senator Alden's office earlier in the day to confirm the existence of his letter to the National Science Foundation, she was put through to his aide, Jim Whitewood. In the process some signals had obviously been crossed. Mr. Whitewood had come on the line and--before she could say boo--said in a very sharp voice, "How did you get hold of the letter? Are you from Etheric?"
"What's Etheric?" Emily had asked, a little stupidly.
"Who is this?" Mr. Whitewood had demanded.
That's when she made the first of a series of snap judgments that later would come back to haunt her. She had said in response, "Hello? Hello? Oh darn, something's wrong with this phone," and hung up. She needed time, time to track down Etheric and see what or who had made Mr. Whitewood so press-shy.
And so, with the bright May sun shining through the ceiling-high windows, warming the back of her neck under her straight dark hair, Emily thumbed drowsily through dozens of back issues of the fascinating and bizarre periodical, stopping every now and then to peruse an article that caught her fancy. At five-thirty, she sat up straight.
"Bingo," she whispered softly to herself.
In the Newsworthy column of a two-year old issue of Etheric was a photo of Senator Alden shaking the hand of his new aide, Jim Whitewood. Mr. Whitewood, who claimed "only modestly psychic powers," promised to "keep the lines of communication open between Senator Alden and those with genuine psychic ability."
Only modestly psychic. That was like saying someone was only modestly around the bend.
Emily hugged herself with joy. Her original plan suddenly got a little more cockamamie.
Armed with a Xerox copy of the Etheric photo and caption, Emily cornered Stan Cooper alone in the Journal's smoking lounge the next morning. "Stan, I really need your input on this." She handed him the photo she'd found and watched him break into a contemptuous smile. "The magazine folded a little after this issue came out," she said. "It had no circulation at all, so I doubt if your average voter even knows about this."
With a flick of his wrist Stan let the sheet of paper float down to the floor. "Your average voter could care less," he said. "Your average voter is female and madly in love with Senator Alden."
Emily scooped up the sheet and tucked it in her bag. "Says who?"
"Ask anyone at a shopping mall. Lee Alden was a devoted husband for ten years. When his wife died in a car accident a couple of years ago there was talk he might not run again, that's how devastated he was. For a while he refused to appear socially at all." Stan lit a new cigarette from the stub of his last one, took a deep drag, and steered it out past his nose. "Lately he's begun to show up at an occasional charity function; but he arrives alone and early, and leaves in an hour. Every socialite in Massachusetts has tried to land him. Every female shopper in the state nourishes her own silly, secret hope."
The measured tone in his voice had gradually turned bitter, so much so that Emily averted her eyes from the coldness she saw in his face. For the first time it occurred to her that Stan might not be objective when it came to Senator Arthur Lee Alden III. She couldn't imagine why.
"Well, I think women are as well-informed and conscientious about who they vote for as anyone," she said firmly. "But they have to have the information out in front where they can see it. They have to know this guy's a flake."
"Oh, Christ, Emily, the man could get thrown in jail for life and they'd vote for him." He snubbed out his cigarette in irritation and stood up to leave. But at the door he turned suddenly and said, "What're you up to?"
"Okay," she said, taking the plunge. "Originally I planned to call and say I was looking for a good medium--channeler, I guess I mean--and ask if the senator could recommend anyone. Then I found Whitewood's open invitation in Etheric and I thought, why don't I just show up and say I have psychic powers? How far could I get?"
"You're insane, Emily," Stan said calmly.
But Emily could see in his face that he was intrigued by the possibilities. "No, really, Stan. I mean, I do have certain ... intuitions. I'm very good at ... intuition. I've called my friend Linda several times at the exact moment when she's picked up the phone at the other end--"
"--which probably means it's your friend Linda who is telepathic," Stan said dryly.
"Whatever. But I've been reading up on this stuff. A lot of it is just plain old common sense and shrewdness--"
"--both of which you possess in abundance, I can tell."
There was a sneer in his voice, but it was a kindly sneer. Emily took hope from it and said, "So you think it might fly?"
Stan looked at her intently for a long, withering moment. Then he said, "This conversation never happened," and walked out.
Emily was left puzzling over his parting shot. Did he mean, "Lucky for you I'm not a snitch"? Or did he mean, "Don't tell me until it's over". She threw herself into a battered naugahyde lounge chair and remained there, deep in indecision, for some time. But the sound of voices in the hall got her moving again. Yes. There was a story there, dammit. And the taxpayers of Massachusetts had the right to know it.
The security guard had to throw Emily out of the library that night; when she left her book-bag was full. For the rest of the week she crammed herself full of facts--well, they were hardly facts--on the paranormal, and learned all she could about Senator Alden. Jim Whitewood, the senator's aide, was due back in Boston on Monday. By Sunday afternoon Emily felt ready for him. She felt sure that she could seem as mystical and vague as the next guy. She'd be just fine, as long as he didn't ask her to bend a spoon or anything.
The only thing bothering Emily was what always bothers women in new social situations: what to wear. How did a channel dress for a job interview? She'd seen one or two people who claimed to be mediums on talk shows, but they were men. She'd never seen a woman channel; all she had to go on were a couple of book jackets from the seventies in which the women mediums had posed for their autobiographies.
So she did the best she could: she rummaged through her closet and came up with a Ralph Lauren skirt from his Peasant Period, and a frilly white blouse, and a large straw hat with turquoise flowers. The outfit flattered her dark eyes and hair; she was even tall enough to carry off the hat. She looked exciting; she looked exotic; she looked ready for lunch under a palm tree in Barbados, which is where she'd bought all the clothes in the first place.
But the JFK Federal Office Building in downtown Boston?
Emily turned slowly around in her full-length mirror, trying to guage the effect she'd have on Jim Whitewood. One thing was sure: she'd stand out from the pack. She smiled. The crazy lady in the straw hat smiled back, her dark eyes dancing with mystery. For an instant Emily believed she really was a psychic.
Whoa. Maybe I've been reading too much of this stuff. It's catching. In a kind of panic she snatched off her hat and threw it on her bed; she pulled off the blouse and skirt and tossed them in a heap on top of an old steamer trunk. After that she slipped into her softest cotton nightgown, made herself a cup of hot tea, and fished out the Financial Section of the Sunday New York Times. It was just the dose of reality she needed. In twenty minutes she was fast asleep.
The next morning found Emily, hat in lap, sitting on the Boston "T" and bound for the senator's downtown offices. She tried hard to focus on the otherworldly, but it wasn't easy: everyone around her was dressed in three-piece business suits. She tried hard to be inconspicuous, but that wasn't easy, either. When the lawyer-type next to her jumped up for his stop, he took off with her hat, which had got caught in the zipper of his attache.
If I believed in omens, I would not be comforted by this, she thought grimly, tucking the remaining flowers back into the hatband.
Still, by the time she found herself face to face with the senator's secretary, she'd got back her sense of outrage, and with it, her confidence. It seemed completely clear to her that both the senator and his aide were gullible at best, and unfit for their jobs at worst.
The secretary--a nice, normal, middle-aged woman dressed sensibly in a linen suit--was kind but firm. "Miss, ah, Bowditch, is it? I'm sorry, do you have an appointment with Mr. Whitewood?"
This was the tricky part: getting in. "No, I don't," Emily replied candidly, "but I feel absolutely certain that he'll want to hear me." Emily gave the secretary a significant look.
The secretary gave her a significant look back. "Can you tell me the nature of your visit?"
"No-o-o, I'm afraid I can't," Emily answered meaningfully.
"I see. Well, Mr. Whitewood hasn't come in yet. Perhaps if you take a seat ... I'll see what I can do. But I believe Mr. Whitewood is full up with meetings today."
Emily moved away to the reception area. The secretary took down a black binder and began scanning the page. Emily was set to spend the whole day waiting if she had to; but she hoped that the secretary was finding a blank slot in the calendar before noon. After about twenty minutes Jim Whitewood came in; Emily recognized him instantly from the photo in Etheric. He was impeccably groomed, a little slick, maybe even opportunistic, she thought. He looked more Wall Street than Federal Office Building.
She gave him a mysterious smile as he hurried past her into his office. The secretary followed. In less than a minute Emily was being ushered in, and it wasn't even nine o'clock.
Whitewood introduced himself and offered Emily a seat. "I understand you have something to tell me?"
"Well, not tell, exactly. It's more something I have to ... offer you."
Whitewood gave her the briefest of glances, taking in the rounded curve of her shoulders; the cut of her bodice; the hat.
Emily blushed deeply. "I mean, not offer, exactly. That was probably the wrong word." Ah, what the hell, she thought. In for a penny, in for a buck. She stood up, swept her hat from her head, and glided across the room, coming to rest near an enormous potted Schefflera. She was going to play this for all it was worth.
She turned to face the senator's aide and said in a throaty voice, "I understand that you extend a welcome to those with ... extraordinary perceptions."
"And you are such a person?" he asked noncommitally.
"How do you know?"
She lifted one bare shoulder. "How does one ever know? There are only so many events that can be attributed to coincidence, only so many dreams that turn out to be prophetic--"
"You're a channel, then?"
"Yes." Ohboy. No turning back now.
"Physical or mental?"
"Physical. No, mental."
"Thoughts ... words ... images. Feelings." Emily had twisted a flower loose from her hatband and was pulling at it absent-mindedly; a soft rain of turqoise petals began fluttering to the floor.
He spun his chair towards an impressive view of downtown Boston, then slowly spun it back again. "You've worked with a teacher?"
"To be honest," she said, feeling her way carefully, "I was hoping you could recommend someone. Someone with experience in training channels, someone you knew and trusted--"
"Please wait here, Miss Bowditch," the aide said suddenly.
He left the office and Emily dropped into a pillowed settee. So far so good. It amazed her that absolutely anyone could come in off the street, ask to spend time with an aide to a United States senator, and then talk utter nonsense with him. What a waste of a national budget. Where had he gone off to, anyway? To consult his ouija board?
She looked around the beautifully appointed office. More tax dollars. Those were real oils, not prints, on the walls. That Sheraton desk was no reproduction. The carpet was richly woven, palest cream--what must it cost to keep it clean, for God's sake? The wing chairs opposite her--Portuguese crewelwork, or she wasn't from New England. It was all wonderfully understated, all shockingly priced.
Her eyes widened. Oh, lord.
From where she sat she could see a dozen giant turquoise flower petals--fallen soldiers in her battle of wits with the senator's aide--lying in a heap on the pale carpet. She jumped up, ran across the room, and was on her hands and knees plucking petals when Senator Arthur Lee Alden III walked in.
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