The death threats had started in June of last year. The number of anonymous phone calls and threatening letters had increased week by week, and a tap on the phone had done no good. Calls from pay phones, calls from area codes not hooked up for caller-ID tracing, calls using the caller-ID block, all very untraceable. Finally, after changing our phone number three times, we got a service to screen our calls. Everyone, including our parents, has to go through the service. Twice someone had broken into the phone company’s computer system and gotten the direct number. I had answered the phone both times. Even though I’d slammed the receiver down as soon as the obscenities started, it was never fast enough to stop the motes of terror from trembling at the edge of consciousness. Every time the phone rings now, I hesitate. Is this the time it’s going to be some lunatic who’s going to try going beyond threats?
All our mail is screened through metal detectors. Any packages not sent by someone we know are dealt with by bomb experts.
My paranoia had grown so much that I’d hired a security firm for the times when I make pubic appearances. They prevented any major attacks, but they weren’t able to stop the excess of minor annoyances. I’m not sure anyone could. There are just too many crazies in the world.
A doorman at the penthouse, an alarm system at Tom’s place—I thought they would be enough, at least enough against an individual madman. Even I didn’t expect a terrorist attack.
Tom says it a lot, that he’d never live in fear, but that’s all we’ve done lately. Live in fear.
Complicating all this is that Tom is a worrier by nature. He’s good at it too. Even if nothing is going wrong, he can dredge up obscure problems to brood and fret over. What’s worse is that lately I’ve caught the worry bug from him.
Until that Saturday, I always figured I was the one in the most danger. My memories of the early part of the day are very clear.
I cleaned all morning. Yeah, I have a maid service come in, but there’s just a whole lot of clutter and personal mess that I attend to. And I like to go around to all the rooms and put on the finishing touches. Tom is reasonably good about being tidy. His attention to detail doesn’t match my standards, but he’s much better than he used to be. Still, I wish he helped with the cleaning more than he does. That man sheds enough hair of a morning in a bathroom to start his own fur farm—the price for having a furry-chested lover. Tom once said that I was obsessive-compulsive about cleaning. I admit neatness is important to me, but he doesn’t use that phrase anymore. Not after a fight we had seven years ago, which began with him using that phrase. At the time I felt compelled to remind him of several of his failings. We compromised. I eased up on him. He cleaned more.
That morning, Tom left at seven. He’d volunteered to help with the office work for a friend of his at the Human Services Clinic. I did a light workout and then began doing chores.
When I clean, I play annoying country music. Loudly. Loud enough to be heard in Indiana, maybe. When Tom’s out of the house, I can play the kind of music I grew up with, but which he hates. I also sing along with the music. Loudly. I confine my singing to the privacy of my own home. Tom says this is a good thing.
It took less than an hour to finish all the bathrooms and the kitchen. After a couple loads of laundry, a little dusting and light vacuuming, I was onto the fourth repeat of the new Garth Brooks CD and ready for lunch.
The afternoon was great. I had been looking forward to spending the time working on a rocking chair I’d been building. I’d started making it several weeks ago. It’s going to take months to finish. Solid oak. Precise measurements. No music now. Just silence. The smell of wood—newly sawn and freshly sanded. Studying plans. My hands touching, eyes judging. Adding individual touches such as minute carved figures in the sides of the arms and runners. I’d learned carpentry and carving from my granddad during long summer twilights in the old barn on his farm down the road from my folks’ place. The rocker was for my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. Mostly of an evening they sit on the porch on their farm in Georgia rocking and listening to the insects. The joy, tedium, and precision involved in such a project erase all thoughts of time as I immerse myself in creating.
I finished sanding the left runner about six. I shut my eyes and slowly caressed the newly worked bare wood. I opened my eyes, leaned back against my workbench, and enjoyed the pleasurable exhaustion I get when I’ve worked hard, and I can see and feel my own handiwork taking shape.
I wondered if I should clean up before Tom got home. He was a little late, but when he’d left, he’d said he wasn’t sure how long it would take. We didn’t have firm dinner plans. I wasn’t in the mood to go out. I was ready for a quiet evening at home.
I finished my shower just as the broadcast of the late-Saturday-afternoon college football game should have been ending. Instead, WBBM, the CBS affiliate in Chicago, was showing a special news report. A street scene. The reporter standing directly in front of a slew of emergency vehicles. Rotating lights in the immediate background. Farther behind, flames gushed from the front of a building. I recognized the local reporter, Brandon Kearn. He worked for MCT, Metro Chicago Television, which was started five years ago to rival CLTV as a local news source. Kearn was as famous for his good looks as he was for his legendary salary negotiations—he was by far the highest-paid reporter in the city. I wondered why he was on CBS and what part of Chicago had caught fire this time. I reached for the remote to change the channel. Just because another building is burning doesn’t mean I’ve got to watch. Nor did I want to see the unfortunate victims or inarticulate bystanders being interviewed live.
But I couldn’t find the damn TV remote. Why Tom can’t put it back in the same place every time, I don’t know.
Kearn was saying, “. . . ripped apart most of this city block fifteen minutes ago. There are six people confirmed dead. There are believed to be numerous victims still in the rubble. The fire department is working frantically to keep the blaze from spreading so possible survivors can be rescued from under the debris. It doesn’t look good.”
I found the remote under the seat cushion where it had slipped the night before as I was watching TV. My fault this time.
My hand froze on the controls as Kearn continued, “The Human Services Clinic was among the buildings almost completely obliterated.”