Nim said gently, "I guess words aren't a lot of good, Mary. Just the same, I'm sorry."
"We all are." Mary led the way to a door a few yards distant and opened it.
"Here's Nim, Mother." She told him, "I'm going back to Wally. I'll leave you now."
"Come in, Nim," Ardythe said. She was dressed and resting on a bed, propped up by pillows. "Isn't this ridiculous-for me to be in the hospital too?"
There was hysteria beneath her voice, he thought, and her cheeks were too flushed, her eyes showed an artificial brightness. Nim remembered what the administrator had said about shock and sedation, though Ardythe appeared not to be sedated now.
He began hesitantly, "I wish I knew what to say pausing, he bent to kiss her.
To his surprise, Ardythe stiffened and turned her head away. He ended by clumsily touching his lips to her cheek, which felt hot.
"Noill Ardythe remonstrated. "Please . . . don't kiss me."
Wondering if he had offended her in some way, finding it hard to gauge her mood, he moved a chair and sat beside the bed.
There was a silence, then she said, half musingly, “They say Wally will live. Yesterday we didn't know, so at least today is that much better.
But I suppose you know how he will live; I mean, what's happened to him,"
"Yes," he said, "I know."
"Have you been thinking the way I have, Nim? About a reason for what happened?"
"Ardythe, I was there. I saw .
"I don't mean that. I mean why."
Bewildered, he shook his head.
"I've done a lot of thinking since yesterday, Nim. And I've decided that what seemed like an accident could be because of us-you and me."
Still not understanding, he protested, "Please. You're overwrought. It's a terrible shock, I know, especially coming so soon after Walter."
"That's the point." Ardythe's face and voice were tense. "You and I were sinful, so soon after Walter died. I've a feeling I'm being punished, that Wally, Mary, the children, are all suffering because of me.
For a moment he was reduced to shocked silence, then said vehemently,
"For God's sake, Ardythe, stop this! It's ridiculous!"
"Is it? Think about it when you're alone, the way I've been doing. And just now you said 'for God's sake.' You're a Jew, Nim. Doesn't your religion teach you to believe in God's anger and punishment?"
"Even if it does, I don't accept all that."
"I didn't either," Ardythe said mournfully. "But now I'm wondering."
"Look," he said, searching desperately for words to change her thinking,
"sometimes life causes one family to suffer-the way it seems: firing at it with both barrels-while other families go untouched. It isn't logical, it isn't fair. But it happens. I can think of other instances; so can you."
"How do we know those other instances weren't punishments also?"
"Because there's no way they could be. Because all of life is chance the chances we make ourselves, by error or had luck, including the bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's all it is, Ardythe, and it's madness to blame yourself, in any way, for what's happened to Wally."
She answered dully, "I want to believe you. But I can't. Leave me now, Nim. They're going to send me home this afternoon."
Standing, he told her, "I'll drive out soon."
She shook her head. "I'm not sure you should. But phone me."
He bent to kiss her cheek, then remembering her wishes, abandoned the attempt and went out quietly.
His mind was in turmoil. Clearly, Ardythe needed psychiatric help, but if Nim himself suggested it to Mary or anyone else, he would have to explain why-in detail. Even under the seal of medical confidence, he couldn't see himself doing that. At least, not yet.
The grief about Wally, Ardythe, and his own dilemma stayed with him through the day, refusing to be pushed away.
As if that wasn't enough, Nim was pilloried that afternoon in the California Examiner.
He had wondered if, in view of the emergency employment of a belicopter to airlift Wally out of Devil's Gate Camp, Nancy Molineaux might abandon her intention to write about the helicopter's other uses.
Her story was in a box facing the editorial page.
The Captains and the Kings
. . . and GSP & L's Mr. Goldman
Ever wonder what it would be like to have a private helicopter whisk you wherever you wanted while you sat back and relaxed?
Most of us will never experience that exotic pleasure.
Those who do fall into certain categories-the President of the United States, the Shah of Iran, the late Howard Hughes, occasionally the Pope, and, oh yes, certain favored executives of your friendly public utility, Golden State Power & Light. For example-Mr. Nimrod Goldman.
Why Goldman?, you might ask.
Well, it seems that Mr. Goldman, who is a GSP & L vice president, is too important to ride on a bus, even though one -privately chartered by Golden State Power-was going his way the other day and had plenty of spare seats. Instead be chose a helicopter which . . .
There was more, along with a picture of a GSP & L helicopter and an unflattering portrait of Nim which, he suspected, Ms. Molineaux chose from the newspaper's files.
Especially damaging was a paragraph which read:
Electric and gas consumers, already beset by high utility bills, and who have been told that rates must soon go up again, may wonder about the way their money is being spent by GSP & L, a quasi-public company. Perhaps if executives like Nimrod Goldman were willing to travel-like the rest of us-less glamorously, the resultant savings, along with other economies, could help hold down those persistent rate increases.
In mid-afternoon Nim folded the newspaper and flagged the article, then gave it to J. Eric Humphrey's secretary. "Tell the chairman I figured he'd see this anyway, so he might as well get it from me."
Minutes later Humphrey strode into Nim's office and tossed the paper down. He was angrier than Nim had ever seen him and, uncharacteristically, raised his voice. "In God's name what were you thinking of to get us into this mess? Don't you know the Public Utilities Commission is considering our application for a rate increase, and will hand down a decision in the next few days? This is just the kind of thing to raise a public clamor which could make them cut our throats."
Nim released some irritability of his own. "Of course I know that." He motioned to the newspaper. "I'm as upset about this as you are. But that damn woman reporter had her scalping knife out. If she hadn't picked the helicopter, it would have been something else."
"Not necessarily; not if she hadn't found anything. By using the helicopter indiscreetly as you did, you dumped an opportunity in her lap."
On the point of snapping back, Nim decided to keep quiet. Taking blame unfairly, he supposed, could be considered part of an assistant's job. Only two weeks earlier the chairman had told his senior aides at an informal meeting, "If you can save yourself half a day's travel, and do your job faster and more efficiently, use a company helicopter because it's cheaper in the long run. I realize we need those aircraft for transmission line patrols and emergencies, but when they're not in use that way, it costs very little more to have them in the air than it does to keep them on the ground."
Something else Eric Humphrey had presumably forgotten was asking Nim to take on the two-day press briefing and to represent him at an important Chamber of Commerce meeting the morning of the first day of the press tour.
There was no way Nim could have done both without using the helicopter.
However, Humphrey was a fair man and would probably remember later. Even if he failed to, Nim reasoned, it didn't much matter.
But that three-day combination of events had left him exhausted and melancholy. Thus, when Harry London, who knew some-though not all-of the reasons behind Nim's depression, had dropped in to suggest some drinking after work, Nim accepted promptly.
Now he felt the liquor taking hold and, while he wasn't any happier, an increasing numbness was somehow comforting. In a corner of his brain still functioning with clarity, Nim. despised himself for what he was doing, and the implied weakness. Then he reminded himself it didn't happen often-he couldn't remember the last time he had had too much to drink-and maybe just letting yourself go once in a while, saying to hell with everything, could be therapeutic.
"Let me ask you something, Harry," Nim said thickly. "You a religious man? Do you believe in God?"