Grief Counselors Will Be Available


Virtually everyone in management at the Chicago office agreed that Roger Farnsworth—at age thirty—had already proven himself to be among the most competent engineers in their company. His record of accomplishment was such that he was being sent to Boston to play a key role in a particularly challenging project, the conversion of a former candy factory and adjacent warehouse into a state–of–the–art research complex for a major pharmaceutical firm.


Farnsworth's peers in the Chicago office did not share the opinion of their superiors. They did not appreciate Farnsworth's tendency to advertise so blatantly how he, unlike they, kept abreast of advances in his field. Just as annoying to them was his habit of making it seem that whatever project he was working on was of far greater importance than similar work being carried out with much less fanfare by engineers elsewhere in the company.


Farnsworth's bristling self confidence—or his full blown arrogance, as his detractors saw it—was on vivid display in the first hour of the first day he arrived in the Boston office. He did take a moment to shake hands with his secretary and introduce himself to her, but she had barely done likewise when he outlined to her the precise procedure she must follow in order to keep anyone from barging into his office.


“Visitors to my office must first explain to you why they need to see me,” he said. “You will then knock on my door, and poking your head in, you'll let me know who is seeking to meet with me and why. That will allow me to decide if I'm available just then, later, or not at all. Likewise, you will not put any calls through to me unless I've first given you my okay. You, in short, are my first line of defense.”


The secretary—her name was Maxine—nodded her head to indicate that she would abide by Farnsworth's wishes while he proceeded to explain why he couldn't afford to be distracted by bothersome visitors or pesky phone calls.


“Call me finicky,” he said, “but the kind of work we do requires the utmost in concentration. All our projects are complex. All have a thousand things that can go wrong, and when they do, the consequences can be catastrophic. This company has a sterling record in that regard—thank God—but some years ago the collapse of a heavily traveled bridge was traced back to a misplaced decimal point. More recently, a glitch in the design of an oil refinery, a glitch caused by the careless stroke of a computer key, led to a deadly explosion and fire.


By then, Maxine had already decided that Farnsworth had hit on the perfect word to describe himself, so much so that by late afternoon she, along with several other secretaries in the firm, were routinely referring to him as Mr. Finicky. But whatever Maxine's personal feelings about Farnsworth, she proved to be an extremely diligent gatekeeper. That's why he was surprised a month or so after he arrived, when his office door opened and standing there, only a few feet away from him, was a middle–aged woman he disliked at first glance.


“Grace McFarland,” she said, as she stepped forward and extended her right hand to shake Farnsworth's, even though he had only turned his head away from his computer and didn't appear at all prepared to offer her his hand.


Then, with her hand still extended, she further identified herself. “Human Resources. I was on vacation when you checked in.”


There was still no discernible expression on Farnsworth's face as he rose from his chair, briefly grasped Grace's hand and then sat right back down. When shaking her hand, Farnsworth did say his name, but it came out somewhat garbled because he first had to clear his throat. That caused him to repeat himself, and though there was greater clarity the second time around, there was an unmistakable assertiveness, too, an edginess even, when he said, “I prefer that people who need to see me first check in with my secretary, but since you're already here, is there something I can help you with?”


“Oh, but the answer to that is that I'm here to help you,” Grace said.


She tried to smile when she said that, but her quick on–and–off grin only served to emphasize how her mouth, when she wasn't smiling, folded into a frown, with her upper lip hanging over and almost covering her lower lip.


Looking over at Grace, Farnsworth saw a slightly built woman with gray hair that looked as if it was a boy's crew cut just beginning to grow out. Her face, too, had a gray pallor to it, except for her eyes, which were rimmed so heavily with dark makeup that she resembled a raccoon. She was wearing a double breasted suit— grey of course—which because it was at least one size too large for her had a front panel that ballooned outwards. But the item that attracted Farnsworth's attention was the slightly darker grey jersey she wore. It ended in a clerical collar.


“Oh this,” she said, pointing to her collar, which, she sensed, quite rightly, was an item of particular interest to Farnsworth. “Let me explain. I'm in training to be a hospital chaplain, and as part of my practicum I conduct the Wednesday evening prayer service at a homeless shelter downtown. That's where I'm headed as soon as I leave here.”


“Nice to have met you,” Farnsworth said, making it clear that he was about to turn back towards his computer, “and nice to know that you're available to provide help, whatever that may mean. So far my biggest challenge has come from Boston drivers, but I'm catching on. Just this morning, I not only sailed through a red light but as I did so, I was already waving my middle finger at those drivers who were honking their horns at me.”


“Oh, Boston drivers, God almighty can't do anything about them, so I'm afraid we'll just have to wave the white flag on that item. But I want to take a minute to let you know that in Human Resources we believe in anticipating rather than reacting. So feel free to check with us on the usual stuff, health insurance coverage, where to park your car without getting gouged, vacation leave policy, etc. Don't hesitate to reach out, either, if you need help on bigger issues—you know, the kind of things that are easier to deal with if addressed sooner rather than later.”


Farnsworth was tempted to ask what exactly the “bigger issues” might be, but he chose instead to let Grace know what he thought, thus far, of the services and help she was offering.


“Ms. McFarland, I'm sure you mean well, but imagine for a moment that all of us here are swimmers at a large public pool. If that were so, there would be a large sign advising each swimmer to stay in his or her own lane. Otherwise, there is bound to be conflict and confusion. That approach works just fine for public swimming pools, and I think it's applicable to the workplace in general.”


“Got it,” Grace said, and then, as if she could think of no other way to end her meeting with Farnsworth, she snapped off a military salute, clicked her heels together, and executing a smart about face, left Farnsworth's office.


A moment later, Farnsworth went to his door and summoned Maxine. As soon as she arrived in his office, she apologized for having left her desk for only a moment. She had actually been on her way back to her desk, she said, when she saw that Grace was already entering Farnsworth's office.


“Sorry I was asleep at the switch,” Maxine said, “but to tell you the truth, she's one person who probably would have barged in on you even if I had tried to stop her.”


“Look, I don't like to get into personalities,” Farnsworth said. “Live and let live is my motto, but would you please tell me what in God's name that woman does around here?”


“You tell me,” Maxine said, letting out a small laugh. “Two years ago we all had to attend a series of training sessions. Diversity Plus, they called them. She was with the outfit brought in to run this thing. It was a big waste of time if you ask me since most of us here don't need to be told that we should treat people with respect, regardless of skin color or sexual preferences. But a few months later, Little Miss Creepy—which is what some people call her— was hired by Human Resources. What for? Beats me, beats everyone else around here, too, I think. In the meantime, Grace seems to occupy her time sending out memos every now and then telling us that diversity is one of the company's cherished goals, aside from making money of course.”


“This tells me it's time for a new directive, as regards this office. Effective immediately, the next time you spot that woman headed towards my office, you are to use any means necessary to stop her. Call security. Call 911. Tackle her if you have to. I'm not kidding.”



section break




So much else about his Boston assignment annoyed Farnsworth that he all but forgot his brief encounter with Grace McFarland. He was not pleased with the caliber of his engineering colleagues, all of whom were middle aged or older and were clearly on the glide path to retirement. He had special contempt for his immediate superior, Jack Mallory, who spent much of his time talking about the trips he and his wife were going to take on their sailboat once he retired. Quite often Mallory also treated the close of business on Thursday as the start of his weekend.


Farnsworth felt the same way about the scientists and management at the pharmaceutical company. The researchers seemed to resent a consultant engineer making important decisions about their new research center, and management was even less pleased with Farnsworth's frequent comments about the monumental mistake they had made in deciding to renovate old structures rather than build anew.


But nothing, not Grace McFarlane's inane talk of proactive problem solving or the lackadaisical attitude of Mallory and his fellow engineers or his differences with the pharmaceutical company researchers, not even Boston's maniacal drivers, proved to be as disruptive to Farnsworth's life in Boston as the city's miserable winter weather.


Having spent several years in Chicago, Farnsworth was not unduly disturbed with the windy, snow–changing–to–sleet weather he experienced during first three months he was in Boston. But he never anticipated that in February, on three successive weekends, all of eastern Massachusetts would be pummeled by coastal storms that were among the most ferocious to have hit the region in decades.


Each storm brought with it record amounts of wet, heavy snow, along with fierce winds and high tides, which caused flooding all along the coastline. The wind and snow knocked out power to thousands of homes and businesses, public transit was barely functioning and many roads and highways were impassible. Worse still, frigid weather swept in after each storm, causing the snow that had fallen to turn into concrete. A skeleton crew made it into the engineering firm's offices, but much of the staff, Farnsworth included, tried, as best as they could, to work from home.


Farnsworth was fortunate because the neighborhood he lived in never lost power, and since his apartment building had a parking lot, he didn't face the prospect of having his car towed away when the city declared a snow emergency. But that didn't save him from having to dig out his car, which seemed after each storm to be nothing more than a mound of hardened snow. The winter storms had also played havoc with the construction schedule of the research center, and that, by Farnsworth's estimate, might mean he would be in Boston at least three months longer than he had anticipated.


Finally, in the quirky way of Boston weather, there was an entire week of moderate temperatures, and by the weekend, with the sun shining brightly enough to soften (but not melt appreciably) the piles of snow, most of the city was trying, in a few short hours, to shovel away its accumulated misery.


In Farnsworth's neighborhood, which was populated by a large number of college students, any hint of spring was always treated as a good excuse for a Bacchanalian romp. So by noon on both Saturday and Sunday there was loud, raucous music coming out of open windows and the shoveling out of cars covered with snow turned into some variation of a fraternity party, complete with kegs of beer half buried in snow banks. Some young people, though still outfitted for winter, had broken out barbecue grills and on one street a touch football game was underway while on another there was a spirited competition featuring dogs chasing after and leaping up to catch frisbees.


Even among those neighborhood residents who were a bit older, and who usually brushed past each other, shoulders hunched against the wind and rarely uttering more than a hurried hello, there were friendly greetings exchanged as they shoveled out their cars. As they did so, their discussions invariably revolved around how they had coped with the hardships imposed on them by the storms, but often these chance encounters caused neighbors who rarely spoke to each other to discover that they had common interests and similar backgrounds.


Farnsworth himself fell into just this type of conversation with a young, attractive woman whose car was parked two spaces away from his. He had made considerable progress in clearing snow from his car, but the young woman was having a more difficult time. Although she managed to scrape away some snow softened by the sun, her shovel was otherwise bouncing off the ice–laced snow that enshrouded the car.


“Here, let me give you a hand,” Farnsworth said, using his shovel, which was sturdier and had a sharper cutting edge. “Unless you clear the snow and ice away from around each wheel, you're not going to move this thing until April.”


As he began working, the young woman first thanked him and then said, with some exasperation, “And it isn't even my car!”


Farnsworth stopped shoveling for a moment, and giving her a quizzical look, he said, “What are you, some good samaritan who roams through the neighborhood, looking for cars to shovel out?”


“No, no,” the young woman said. “It's more complicated than that. The car belongs to a close friend who recently moved to New York. It was a sudden decision—a reconciliation with her ex—and she left her car and apartment behind for the time being. She allows me to stay in her apartment whenever I'm in Boston, and though I haven't used her car, it shouldn't be left here all winter long, buried in snow.”


“Nice arrangement,” Farnsworth said, “but otherwise, where do you live?”


“Well, right now I'm homeless,” the woman said, with a slight laugh. “But not for long, I hope.”


She then explained that the week before she had moved out of her apartment in Philadelphia and put all her belongings into storage. The next morning she was going to Atlanta, where she would be looking for a new apartment.


“I'm guessing that's only part of the story,” Farnsworth said.


The young woman responded by providing, in mocking singsong fashion, certain vital facts about herself. Name, Nadine Ramsey, age 27, address, unknown at the moment, occupation, development consultant. She was a bit more forthcoming in explaining that until recently she had been with a firm that advises real estate developers on the whys and wherefores, as she put it, of including retail in large mixed use projects. But a month ago, having grown tired of doing all the work that brought large fees to her boss, who did none, she had decided to go out on her own. Her recent trips to Boston, she said, were made for the express purpose of luring a client away from her old boss.


Farnsworth, mimicking Nadine's singsong recitation, gave his name, age and occupation before explaining why his firm had sent him to Boston. Then, proceeding backwards chronologically, he told of the five years he had spent at his firm's Chicago office, his time in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, his four years at the University of Michigan, and before that his early years, growing up on a small family farm in Ohio.


“Whoa,” said Nadine, “just a moment there. It seems we have a couple of things in common.”


She, too, Nadine said, had grown up in Ohio and had also graduated from the University of Michigan, but her family lived in a suburb of Cleveland, where her father was an attorney and her mother ran a real estate agency. Her post–Michigan years were also quite different from Farnsworth's since she had gone off to Dartmouth to earn a graduate degree in business.


They had cleared enough snow away by then so that Farnsworth could get the front door on the driver's side of the car to open just wide enough for Nadine to squeeze through. The car's battery, not surprisingly, was dead, but Farnsworth then maneuvered his car close enough to Nadine's so that he could use his jumper cables to get her engine started.


Nadine remained in the car, occasionally racing the engine, while Farnsworth hurriedly cleared the remaining bits of snow and ice from around each of the car's tires. Then, after the defroster had run long enough to melt the ice that covered the windshield and rear window, Nadine was able to move the car back and forth a few feet.


A moment later, after giving Farnsworth a thumbs up signal, she turned off the engine and got out of the car.


“There, I've paid my debt to my friend,” she said. “Now, I have to settle up with you. Dinner's on me. You even get to pick the place.”


They both decided that rather than drive through streets still narrowed by snow banks they would settle for a restaurant in their neighborhood. They chose a large pizza parlor that tried to pass itself off as an old–time pizzeria in an Italian neighborhood by serving cheap red wine in large water glasses, playing background music that featured Italian crooners singing love songs, and employing waitresses, all middle aged and motherly, who took it as a personal insult if customers left a slice of pizza uneaten.


The walk to the restaurant had been a short one, and when they arrived and shed their winter coats and scarves and hats, it seemed as if they were introducing themselves to each other all over again. Nadine had been wearing a black knee– length parka that looked as if it consisted of successive layers of bicycle tires, and only when she took it off did she reveal a slim, boyish figure. Then, peeling away the fur hat that came down around her ears, she tried, by using her fingers, to fluff out the blonde hair that was pressed against her head.


Farnsworth also seemed to slim down a size or two when he took off his down filled parka. He was over six feet tall and solidly built, but because he had been too busy in Boston to maintain his daily workouts, he was on the verge of losing any distinction between his waist and his shoulders. After pulling off the woolen band that covered his ears, he, too, tried to rearrange his hair, but he made little headway since his bristly black hair rose up on its own volition into something of an Afro– style hairdo.


“That's one good thing about Boston's winter weather,” Nadine said. “you don't have to worry about how stylish you look when you're battling wind and snow. Not that Boston has ever been known as a center of fashion, in good weather or bad. I once read an article about Boston in which the writer, alluding to the large number of young people here, likened the streets to flowing rivers of denim and hair.”


With their first glass of wine, they continued in that vein, both exchanging their views on Boston. Nadine was more positive than Farnsworth. To him, everyone in Boston, in his words, was always in a bad mood. He also wondered about the constant references to Boston as the “Hub.” How could a city consider itself to be the hub of anything, he asked, when its population was less than that of El Paso, Texas?


Nadine agreed that Bostonians could be grumpy and somewhat unfriendly, but she was willing to blame their sour mood on having to put up with the city's terrible winter weather. And yes, she sometimes felt as if all that business about Boston being the “Hub” was a bit overdone, but she could see herself becoming quite fond of the city, if, that is, she managed to get the client she had been courting.


The restaurant was busy, and since it took some time before their pizzas arrived, they ordered a second glass of wine. That's when their conversation became more personal. Nadine began by explaining that her move to Atlanta would give her a better chance to attract clients in sunbelt cities.


“My first goal,” she said, “is to outdo my old boss, who fails to realize that there's more to this country than the eastern seaboard. But I'm also intent in proving something to my former boyfriend, emphasis on former. We had been together two years when he was transferred to LA. He assumed that I would follow along and when I didn't, he let me know, via a phone call—and in very coarse language—that I cared more about my career than I did about him. I hung up without even bothering to tell him that he had never been so right about anything in his life. Any motivation I ever need comes from reminding myself of that phone call. And you, if I may be so bold, your future plans?”


“My plan is much simpler than yours. I just want my next assignment to be in a place where nobody owns a snow shovel.”


“Oh, come on, be serious,” Nadine said, reaching across the table and poking him in the shoulder. “You're thirty years old, not bad looking, you've got a good job, and I sense that you're still unattached. You must have plans beyond avoiding winter weather.”


“I've been accused of being too casual about anything outside of my work,” Farnsworth said. “And to that, I plead guilty. But you have to understand, I'm constantly on the move. My office for five years was in Chicago, but I was sent here and there for short–term assignments. I meet people—“


“I assume that by people you mean women.”


“Oops, sorry, yes women, but always on a short–term basis, much like my work.”


“And has that been the case in Boston?”


“Oh, here? No, I go to my office. I go to the construction site. I stop by one of the eating places around here to pick up something for dinner. I watch television until I begin to nod off. Maybe in the spring I'll try to be more social—if, that is, spring ever gets here. I'm not sure about that, not this year.”


“Stop being so silly,” Nadine said. “Of course, spring will come and I'm going to get that client I'm after, and then, when I'm spending more time in Boston, maybe I can show you that there's more to life than working, eating and sleeping.”


When the pizza arrived, they still hadn't finished their second glass of wine, but the waitress, over their protests, insisted on topping off their glasses. That induced them to delve more deeply into their respective backgrounds, finding, again, a similarity of sorts since both were concerned about their parents.


Farnsworth talked of the difficult time he was having in persuading his parents, both approaching seventy, to sell their farm. He didn't know how much longer his father could bear the rigors of farm work. Nadine was worried about her younger sister, always rebellious, and now estranged from her family. She then corrected herself, saying she didn't worry so much about her sister as the effect her sister's wayward behavior was having on her parents.


Soon after, when they finished their pizzas, both admitted they had drunk more wine than they intended. That much was apparent when Nadine, as she was putting on her parka, seemed to lose her balance for a moment. Farnsworth, standing next to her, reached over to steady her. Then, outside the restaurant, both of them found it necessary to hook their arms together in order to help each other over the icy patches that had formed once the sun went down.


Farnsworth's apartment was on the second floor, the apartment Nadine was using was one flight above his, but the apartment house itself was situated on an embankment, which meant there was a lengthy, steep stairway leading up from the sidewalk to its front door. Perhaps Nadine was exaggerating slightly, but when they had reached the second floor, and she was outside Farnsworth's apartment, she claimed that climbing the stairs, plus all the shoveling she had done and the wine she had drunk, had left her exhausted.


Farnsworth, with a smile on his face, said, “Well, lucky for you, there's a rest stop nearby.”


Then, in one smooth motion, he unlocked the door to his apartment, and placing his arm around Nadine's waist, he led her inside. She, for her part, offered no resistance.


Inside, before Farnsworth had even turned on a lamp they were in each other's arms, and soon after that, they began to help each other shed their clothes. Their mutual disrobing came to a sudden end because earlier in the day, when the sun was shining brightly, Farnsworth had cracked open his living room windows to get some fresh air into his apartment. But now, Nadine, in her underclothes, found the apartment so chilly that she scampered into Farnsworth's bedroom and jumped under the covers of his bed. Farnsworth, after taking a moment to slam the windows shut, followed close behind.


Their sexual encounter appeared to fulfill the expectations of two consenting adults who treated it as a perfect way to cap off a day of vigorous physical exercise, but mutual expressions of satisfaction aside, they refrained from treating their fortuitous meeting as the prelude to some great love affair.


Nadine's post–coital remarks, in fact, consisted of her need to get upstairs to her apartment so that she could finish packing for her trip to Atlanta. She had yet to make up her mind, she said, about how much she should take with her. That hinged apparently on how soon she found an apartment, and more importantly, how soon she was able to set up meetings with prospective clients. In any event, it would be necessary, she said, to come back to Boston in the near future to get the rest of her belongings.


“So there you are,” Farnsworth said, “you've just answered your own question. Since you have to come back here, and since you know it's going to take time getting settled there, you only need to pack for a short stay. In other words, all the packing you have to do can wait until tomorrow morning.”


That seemed to be all the assurance Nadine needed for the two of them to embark on another bout of lovemaking, after which both of them drifted off to sleep. In the morning, when Nadine woke up and checked her watch, she jumped out of bed and hurriedly dressed because she was afraid she couldn't get to the airport in time to board her flight to Atlanta.


“Oh shit,” she said. “I'm going to arrive in Atlanta looking like I'm a refugee from some war zone. That's it, I'm taking only what I need to get through the next few days. I'll fly back later this week to get myself organized.”


Farnsworth offered to help her pack and even drive her to the airport, but she declined. No, she said, she would probably get there faster by cab.


Fifteen minutes later, with one bag slung over her shoulder and wheeling a carry–on suitcase, Nadine knocked on Farnsworth's door to say good–bye. He had made coffee while she was gone, but when he invited her in, she begged off, saying her cab was already on the way. She settled for taking a small thermos of coffee to drink on the way to the airport. Then, after they exchanged a quick hug and a kiss, Nadine said, “It's been great. Hope to see you in a few days. And maybe if—no, when—I get that Boston client and I'm spending more time in the Hub, we'll go to a real restaurant.”


Farnsworth in his bathrobe and slippers, followed her down to the front door of his apartment building and gave her another quick kiss just as the cab arrived.


“I hope this guy can get me there on time,” Nadine said, once again checking her watch as she hurried away.


It seemed to Farnsworth that Nadine got the kind of cab driver she was looking for because, standing in the doorway, he could see the rear end of the cab fishtailing as it sped down the street that was covered with a thin layer of black ice.



section break




Early that afternoon, Farnsworth had just returned to his office from lunch when he heard someone tap lightly on his door, but instead of Maxine poking her head in, it was Grace McFarland. This time she excused herself when she entered, and she was more subdued than on her first visit, maybe because she was accompanied by two Boston police officers.


“I'm sorry to burst in on you like this,” Grace said, “but I'm with these two officers, Sargent Renteria and Sargent Denton, who I've known since we served together in the National Guard a few years back. I got a call a while ago from Sargent Denton, who thought you might be of some help to them on something that's just come up.”


Farnsworth had no idea what Grace might be referring to, but he rose quickly from his desk and shook hands with both policemen. Then, while Farnsworth was still standing there in the middle of his office, Sargent Denton explained the purpose of his visit.


“Mr. Farnsworth, early this morning, just outside Logan Airport, a taxi cab was struck broadside by a bus when the cab ran a red light. Unfortunately, a passenger in that cab, suffered fatal injuries. We think that passenger, a young woman, was Nadine Ramsey, but we'd like to get a positive ID from someone who knows her.”


Just then, Grace stepped in.


“Sargent Denton called me because your business card was in Ms. Ramsey's purse. She also had in her possession a thermos of coffee that had your name on it. Their attempts to reach next of kin or anyone else who might have known Ms. Ramsey have been unsuccessful thus far. That's why any help you can give them would be much appreciated.”


“Yes,” said Sargent Denton, “Ms. Ramsey's driver's license indicated that she lived in Philadelphia, but our calls to that address, an apartment house, were of no help. We did reach the building manager, who told us that she had recently moved, but as of yet, he had no forwarding address for her. He told us where she was employed, but when we called there, we were told that she had recently resigned. The only address they had for her was that Philadelphia apartment. Through motor vehicle registration in Pennsylvania we learned that she had parents in Ohio, but when we called them, all we got was their voice mail, with a message saying they were out of town. Through Google, we found that Ms. Ramsey's father was an attorney in Cleveland, but when we reached his firm, they said he had recently retired. A woman there knew that he and his wife were on a cruise, but she was unable to give us any details. Right now we're contacting different cruise lines, hoping we can find some way to reach them.”


Then, Sargent Renteria stepped in. “We also know, from some papers in her briefcase, that she was in the process of arranging a meeting with a real estate developer in Atlanta, but when we called that firm, nobody seemed to know much about her besides what was in the letters they had exchanged with her.”


“So, as of now, here's where we stand,” Sargent Denton said. “We're hoping to reach the parents, but until then there's this body in the morgue of someone we think is, or was, Nadine Ramsey. Believe me, when it comes to something like this, we want to be one hundred percent sure, and while we can assume this is Ms. Ramsey, nothing beats somebody coming in to identify the body.”


Before Farnsworth could answer, Grace stepped forward, and clasping Farnsworth's hands in hers, she said, “We understand how difficult this could be for you, but it would be a great help to the police, once they reach this woman's parents, if they're absolutely certain she's who they think she is.”


Farnsworth managed, not that unobtrusively, to pull his hands away from Grace's. Then, he began to explain, somewhat haltingly, his relationship with Nadine Ramsey.


“I'm saddened by this news, shaken really,” he said, “but I'm only slightly acquainted with Nadine Ramsey. Yesterday, in fact, was the first time we met. I helped her shovel out her car, or rather a car that belonged to her friend. As I understand it, she's been using this friend's apartment because her business has brought her to Boston recently. After I helped her, she insisted on treating me to a pizza. That's when she told me she had recently given up her apartment in Philadelphia because she's moving to Atlanta. We had a pleasant chat at the pizzeria, and afterwards, I gave her my card so that we could stay in touch.”


“Are you saying that you can't be of any help to us?” Sargent Denton said. He was a big man, with a soft voice and a moon–shaped face. Until then, he had been without any expression, but when he posed that question to Farnsworth, a deep crease formed between his eyes, just above his nose.


“No, no, it's just that I need a moment to think this through,” Farnsworth said, as he wiped his hands across his forehead and over his wiry hair.


“It's too bad, a young woman lying there in the morgue, but without anyone who can confirm for us who she is,” Sargent Denton said. “Do you happen to know if there are any siblings, maybe some relatives or business associates in this area?”


“No,” Farnsworth said, “She mentioned a sister, but apparently they're estranged.”


That seemed to bring the questioning to a temporary halt, which gave Grace a chance to offer her condolences to Farnsworth.


He barely acknowledged that before turning towards Sargent Denton.


“You really need me, don't you?” Farnsworth said.


“Well, as Grace said, it's going to be easier, once we reach the parents, if there's no doubt whatsoever about the victim's identity.”


“Okay, give me a minute to finish something here. I'll meet you in the lobby downstairs.”


Farnsworth waited until the officers and Grace left, before calling Maxine into his office.


“Okay, to set your mind at rest—and for anyone else who might ask—I'm not in any trouble with the police,” he said.


After taking a deep breath and letting it out and shaking his head from side to side, he continued: “I guess, as they say, no good deed goes unpunished. Yesterday I helped a neighbor, a young woman, shovel out her car. This morning, on her way to the airport, the young woman was killed when a bus ran into the cab she was riding in. For a number of reasons, the police have been unable to reach her next of kin so they're asking me to identify the body. They came to me because she had my business card in her purse. You don't have to go into detail, but if people are wondering—and I'm sure they are—you can tell them that I'm doing the police a favor.”


Farnsworth then told her to cancel his appointments for the rest of the day. Be brief, he said. Just say something personal came up.


Maxine assured him that she would make the calls and then expressed her condolences. When she did, Farnsworth thanked her, but said, “It's weird. I'm being treated like I'm this woman's dearest friend—the only person in the world who knows who she is—when all I did was help her shovel out her car.”


Downstairs in the lobby Farnsworth wasn't completely surprised when he saw that Grace, with her coat on, was waiting with the police. He wanted to tell her that this was something he could do on his own but decided not to make an issue of it in front of the two police officers. He made sure, however, to ride to the morgue with Sargent Denton and Sargent Renteria rather than with Grace.


On the way, Sargent Denton, who wasn't driving, provided Farnsworth with more details on the accident. Indications were, he said, that the cab driver, who was seriously injured but might survive, was well above the speed limit when he ran the red light.


“The cab itself wasn't a pretty sight, I can tell you that,” said Sargent Renteria.


“And Nadine,” Farnsworth said, “are you trying to prepare me for what I might see?”


“No, the damage came from her head crashing into that plexiglass shield,” Sargent Denton said. “She doesn't look that bad, not on the surface at least. Those thick plastic shields are supposed to protect cab drivers from passengers who try to rob them, but nobody seems to have thought about what can happen when a bus hits a cab broadside. Then a passenger in the back seat can get bounced around like the little metal ball in a pinball machine.”


When they arrived at the morgue, Sargent Renteria went off to check back with police headquarters on whether any progress had been made in finding Nadine's parents. That left Sargent Denton to escort Grace and Farnsworth into the room where Nadine's body was laid out. There, a morgue attendant dressed in a surgical robe and with a mask covering his/her face pulled back a portion of the sheet that was covering Nadine. The attendant was careful only to reveal Nadine's head and neck.


Farnsworth saw that above Nadine's forehead, on the left side of her head there was a huge bump and along the side of her face there was a contusion where her head and face had slammed into the plexiglass shield. Farnsworth noticed that there was a tiny trace of blood near her right ear.


As Farnsworth looked down at Nadine, Grace moving closer to him, placed her hand in his and bowed her head in prayer.


Farnsworth said nothing when he first looked at Nadine, but a moment later, nodding his head, he said, “Yes, that's her, that's Nadine Ramsey.”


Then, letting go of Grace's hand, he moved away from the table on which Nadine was lying. Grace took a bit longer before she raised her head and stepped away.


“Why don't you folks follow me,” Sargent Denton said, pointing towards the door. Then, he led them reception area reserved for family members, where they met up with Sargent Renteria.


“We have some news,” Sargent Renteria said. “We haven't talked with the parents yet, but we now know they're on a cruise ship that's about to dock in Bermuda. We hope that sometime within the next hour we'll be able to talk with them.”


Sargent Denton then thanked Farnsworth and Grace McFarland for their help and offered to drive Farnsworth back to his office, but before Farnsworth could answer, Grace said that wouldn't be necessary. She would take Farnsworth, she said.


Farnsworth didn't feel that he could refuse Grace's offer, not when Sargent Denton and Sargent Renteria were in the middle of thanking her for the help she had given them.


It took less than twenty minutes to travel from the morgue to the engineering firm's offices, and for most of that time, Farnsworth managed to fend off with one–word replies Grace's attempt to engage him in a conversation. But she finally managed to get an exchange going when she told him, for the second time, how kind and generous he had been to help Nadine shovel out her car.


“I wish there were people like you in my neighborhood,” she said. “I have this tiny driveway, but every time I shovel it out, a plow comes along to clear the street. All that does is push snow back into my driveway and forces me to get out there and shovel again.”


“I did nothing out of the ordinary,” Farnsworth said. “Everyone in the neighborhood was helping each other. In fact, it turned it into something of a block party.”


“That's one thing about those storms—they bring out the best in people. They're terrible to live through, but the feeling of community they foster is something we could use all the time, not only when we're battling our way through blizzards.”


“Oh great,” Farnsworth said, “a few more blizzards and a hurricane or two and we'll all be friends.”


Grace said she was sorry if Farnsworth misunderstood her and then added that she knew this was a difficult time for him.


“It's weird,” he said. “As I told Maxine just before I left for the morgue, this is a tragedy, yes, I feel terrible, but it's only a coincidence that I'm at all involved.”


“Grief hits different people in different ways,” Grace told Farnsworth, “but one of the first things people do is to deny that anything has happened. Sometimes people seem to be absolutely unaffected by what's gone on. It's like they've been in the middle of a bomb blast, but have emerged looking, outwardly at least, as if they're intact and unharmed. It's completely understandable, by the way, why you're feeling so weird. You're in a twilight zone, in a sense because your rational self tells you there's been an accident and that Nadine was killed. But your emotional self is making it hard for you to believe something that terrible really happened. Trust me, sooner or later your rational self and your emotional self are going to catch up with each other—and when that happens, you're going to feel like a ton of bricks has just landed on your head.”


“I want to emphasize that I hardly know this woman. I feel for her—no, I feel for her parents. They're the ones who are going to have to live with this. At the same time, I'm concerned right now with getting back to work.”


“I'd be surprised if you felt otherwise,” said Grace, who took one hand off the steering wheel and reached over to place it on Farnsworth's arm. “No matter if it's an old person who's expected to die, or some young person who's suddenly taken from us, the grieving process is very much the same. You try, you hope that life goes on, but it's hard to convince yourself that's so, particularly in those first few days after someone close to you has died.”


Farnsworth said nothing. He didn't want to continue an exchange in which he had to explain why the grieving process Grace was talking about didn't apply to him. With the lull in the conversation, Grace drew her hand away from Farnsworth's arm and waited a minute or so before again offering him some advice on how he should cope with Nadine's death, but this time in a softer, gentler voice.


“There's no need, you know, for you to put on a brave front at a time like this,” she said. “You're dealing with a tragedy. It's shocking and unexpected, but it doesn't get any better for you if you try to slough it off.”


Farnsworth couldn't let that comment go unanswered. “Yes, it's sad. I feel terrible about it, but as I've said before—


“No, no buts about it, people in your shoes need to puzzle their way through a lot of conflicting emotions and feelings they've never experienced before. Did you know that many people, spouses, say, or parents who have lost their children, suffer inexplicable guilt? They get this idea that they have done something wrong, that they're somehow complicit in a loved one's death. And that guilt has a way, strangely enough, of turning into anger and even hate towards the person who has died. It's not uncommon for widows, say, to begin cursing their husbands, blaming them for leaving them in their forlorn state. Death, in other words, lets loose a tidal wave of emotions, not all of them understandable.”


“Let me repeat myself,” Farnsworth said, with more than a hint of impatience in his voice. “As terrible as I feel about what happened to Nadine, what upsets me right now is that all this business with her is getting in the way of my work. Today, for instance, I've missed out on some tests we're running on new equipment that's just been installed. I'm supposed to be putting together a report on how that went so we can tell if we're on the right track.”


Grace was unable to respond just then because she needed to give her full attention to traffic that was trying to pinch her in as she made her way to the parking garage she used. But once in the garage, and once she had pulled into her reserved space, she tried to cap off the advice she had been giving Farnsworth with one short statement.


“I'll just say this. You may think your involvement in all this is peripheral, but let me warn you, over the next few days you're going to need people you can talk to about it.”


“That's kind of you,” Farnsworth told her, thinking that his mother would have been upset if he didn't thank Grace for her concern. “And forgive me if I've sounded like I was out of sorts.”


“Certainly,” she said, and then, raising her hand to her forehead, she snapped off a slightly modified salute.



section break




The next morning Farnsworth was at the construction site when he received a call from Sargent Denton. He told Farnsworth that Sargent Renteria had reached Nadine's parents and that would soon be on their way to Boston, where they would arrive by late afternoon or early evening. Was there any chance that Farnsworth would be available to meet with them, probably at the morgue?


“I'd rather not,” Farnsworth said, “but I can tell that once again you'd like me to be there.”


“Consider how you'd feel if this was your daughter. You're arriving in a strange city, without any friends or relatives to greet you and you've come here, come to the morgue, in fact, to claim your daughter's body. Under those circumstances, it might be nice if the last person who saw your daughter alive was kind enough to tell you about it. Imagine how shocked they are. Imagine the questions they have. Whatever you can offer will be of great help to them. Of that I'm sure.”


“You've made your point. Look I'm going to be tied up here for most of the day. When you know the time and place, give me a call.”


Midway through the afternoon, Sargent Denton called Farnsworth to say that Sargent Renteria was going to meet the Ramseys at the airport and drive them to the morgue, where they would arrive at 7 p.m. or so. Farnsworth agreed to be meet him there, but before he hung up, he had a question for Sargent Denton.


“Tell me,” he said, “do you have any idea what I should say to these people? You've probably been in situations this, but it's all new to me. I don't want them to think I'm her boyfriend or anything like that. All I did was help her shovel her car out.”


“You know what? I think you're going to have to play it by ear. To be honest, I can't tell you how they'll react. They might be too overcome to acknowledge you. Or they could treat you like you're part of the family. Be prepared for either eventuality.”


That evening, Farnsworth, after a quick snack at a diner near the construction site, arrived at the morgue just before 7 o'clock. He was met by Sargent Denton, who was standing by the front door. He told Farnsworth that he expected Sargent Renteria and the Ramseys to arrive within the next few minutes. Sargent Denton and Farnsworth were then joined by Grace, who had been in the ladies room.


This was a night when Grace had led the prayer service at the homeless shelter, so she was wearing her clerical collar. But tonight, in addition to her heavy eye makeup, she had applied a fresh coating of lipstick, which seemed to brighten her appearance. She also looked trim and better put together than usual because the grey blazer she was wearing, which fit her properly, was nicely set off by black trousers and a black jersey.


“So glad you could make it,” Grace told Farnsworth. “These people are going to need a lot of support. Getting to meet you is going to make a big difference for them.”


“It's something I never imagined that I'd have to do,” he said, “but then again, life has its surprises, doesn't it?”


Just then, a police car pulled up outside the entrance to the morgue, and Sargent Renteria, who had been driving, jumped out and held the door open for the Ramseys. He also offered Nadine's mother his arm, which she took, as she and her husband, hands linked, walked the short distance towards the entrance of the morgue.


Susan and Raymond Ramsey looked to be in their mid–sixties. They were a good– looking couple, but there was something more impressive about him since he had a thick head of white hair and stood straight and tall, his posture suggesting a possible military background. Susan Ramsey, by contrast, seemed a bit bent, both by age and grief.


When the Ramseys entered, Grace was the first to greet them. She reached out with both arms to enfold them in an embrace, and held them there for a moment, while expressing to them her condolences. When she finally loosened her hold on the Ramseys, she identified herself as a friend of Roger Farnsworth. She then brought them forward a few feet to meet Farnsworth himself.


Farnsworth first shook Susan Ramsey's hand and then Raymond Ramsey's while telling them how sorry he was for their loss. Grace, who was acting as some sort of stage manager, then brought Raymond Ramsey over to meet Sargent Denton. There was a hitch in Raymond Ramsey's voice when he thanked Sargent Denton for his help. He then asked where Sargent Renteria was so that he could also thank him, which caused Grace to say that Sargent Renteria had gone off to prepare some coffee and refreshments.


There was a brief lull after all the introductions had been completed, and that gave Sargent Denton the chance, by gently elbowing Grace aside, to begin leading the Ramseys towards the room where they would view their daughter's body. That room was dimly lit, which helped cast into shadow the paraphernalia, the stainless steel counters, sinks, trays, scales, and other instruments used for conducting autopsies. By contrast, in the center of the room, a very bright light was shining down on the white sheet covering Nadine's body. Standing next to the body, ready to pull back the sheet, was the morgue attendant.


The moment Susan Ramsey looked towards her daughter's body, she began weeping so loudly that her shoulders were heaving up and down and it looked as if she was about to collapse. Her husband, who had one arm around her waist, managed to tighten his grip on her enough to keep her standing, while Sargent Denton, with a slight barely discernible gesture of his hand, signaled to the morgue attendant to wait another moment before revealing the corpse.


Raymond Ramsey began to lead his wife off to one side of the room, thinking that might help her to regain her composure, but she shook her head. She took a moment to wipe her tears away with the handkerchief she had in her hand, and then taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders, she turned back towards the table holding Nadine.


With a nod from Sargent Denton, the morgue attendant then pulled aside the sheet covering Nadine. The Ramseys were standing only a few feet away from the table, but they moved forward another two steps so they could get a closer look at their daughter.


When Nadine's face became visible, the silence in the room was broken by the small whisper of a cry that escaped from Susan Ramsey. But a moment later, after taking a deep breath and placing the knotted handkerchief against her mouth, the room grew silent again. Raymond Ramsey, looking over at his daughter, wasted no time in giving a quick decisive nod of his head to the morgue attendant. It was a gesture that said, yes, the corpse I'm looking at is my daughter, and would you please, right now, immediately, put that fucking sheet back over her face. The attendant promptly did so.


That's when Grace, silently, and on her tiptoes, approached the Ramseys from the rear, and gently placing herself between them, she put her arms around the waists of both Susan and Raymond Ramsey.


When she did that, she looked back over her shoulder at Farnsworth, and with a slight nod of her head, indicated that he should join her. She then looked back in the opposite direction, towards Sargent Denton. She used the same gesture to tell him he should do likewise. Sargent Denton responded first to Grace's cue, positioning himself so that he was now standing next to Raymond Ramsey, who reached out to clasp Denton's hand in his. Farnsworth took a little longer before taking his place next to Susan Ramsey and he also hesitated a moment before reaching over to take hold of her hand.


Grace waited until everyone was assembled and linked together before asking— her voice just above a whisper—that they all bow their heads in prayer. Grace's prayer was very brief.


“Heavenly father, may you help Nadine to find peace and everlasting life, and may all who have known her, while in the midst of their grief and sadness, find memories that help sustain them now and forever. Amen.”


When Grace raised her head—as did everyone else—and stepped back two steps. Susan Ramsey, who had begun weeping again, turned and buried her head on Grace's shoulder. Raymond Ramsey, uncoupling himself from Grace, turned in the other direction, trying as best as he could, to conceal from everyone the tears running down his face. He was also taking deep breaths, which helped him, only slightly, to suppress the sobbing sounds he now made, At first he had flicked away his tears away with his finger, but eventually he had to reach into his pocket for a handkerchief to wipe the tears away and blow his nose.


Sargent Denton and Farnsworth looked as if they didn't know what to do next, except to wait for the Ramseys to regain their composure. A long minute passed before Susan Ramsey was able to lift her head from Grace's shoulder. When she did, her husband turned back towards her and enfolded her in his arms. Grace then suggested that everyone move down the hall to the reception area.


“I've brought in some coffee and a few refreshments” Grace said.


She led the way, and the Ramseys, their arms around each other's waists, followed close behind, along with Farnsworth and Sargent Denton. When the five of them entered the reception area, they found Sargent Renteria standing next to a tray of pastries, ready to pour coffee for everyone.


The simple act of sipping a cup of coffee seemed to help calm Susan Ramsey. That allowed her to turn towards Grace and thank her for her brief prayer.


“Actually, I don't know how to thank all of you for trying to comfort us during the most terrible moment of our lives,” she said. “You have been so gracious and loving. We are devastated, of course, unable really to comprehend what's happened, but it means so much to us that we are among strangers who are treating us as dear friends.”


“Yes,” Raymond Ramsey said, “we're reeling. We've been in a state of shock since we received this terrible news, but we are thankful beyond words for all that you've done for us.”


That was another moment when nobody seemed to know what they should say next. Farnsworth in particular looked as if he wanted badly to be elsewhere.


“Grace,” Susan Ramsey said, “or is it reverend? I'm afraid I was too distracted when we came in to get straight what denomination you're with.”


“Oh, I'm not a member of the clergy,” Grace said. “This collar is because I'm in training to be a hospital chaplain, and earlier tonight I led the prayer service at a homeless shelter, but I'm here because Roger is a colleague. I'm with his firm's Human Resources department.”


Both Susan and Raymond Ramsey were impressed that one of Farnsworth's coworkers had taken it upon herself to help him—and them—through this painful period. But then, Raymond Ramsey, turning towards Farnsworth, said he wanted to get onto another topic, a more detailed account of what led to his daughter's death.


“This is all so difficult to put together,” he said. “So help us, any one of you, to explain again what exactly took place. And don't worry if you repeat what we've already been told. I still can't believe that our wonderful, wonderful Nadine has been taken from us.”


Sargent Denton, clearing his throat, looked as if he was about to recount how the fatal accident occurred, but turning towards Farnsworth, he said, “Roger, why don't you begin.”


Farnsworth didn't say anything right away, but he looked, while hesitating, as if he was deciding very carefully what he wanted to say.


When he finally did speak, he said, “I'm afraid there's no easy way to explain how this terrible event came about, but lets just start with what you folks may have noticed on your way in from the airport. You probably thought you had landed in Anchorage instead of Boston, which only begins to tell you something about the weather we've had in recent weeks around here. That brings us to the events of Sunday afternoon. Finally, we had a weekend free of storms and it was warm enough so that everyone had a chance to dig out cars that were buried in ice and snow. There was a festive mood, with everyone pitching in to help each other out, and we were all basking in the slightly moderate temperatures. Nadine's friend's car was parked two spaces away from mine, and though she had never used the car, she felt an obligation to shovel it out. I could see that for all her effort—and she was putting everything she had into it—she wasn't making much progress, so I offered to help. We finally cleared enough snow away for her to get into the car and try to start it, but no surprise, the battery was dead. I have a set of jumper cables, so I used them to help get the car started. After that, to thank me, Nadine offered to buy me dinner. We went to a nearby pizza parlor, where we talked mostly about why she was moving to Atlanta and her plans to establish her new business. We discovered that we were both from Ohio and were both University of Michigan alums, and so we more or less agreed that the next time she was in Boston, we would get together again and go to a real restaurant instead of a pizza parlor. In the morning, she called to thank me, and I was looking out the window of my apartment when I saw her get into a cab.”


Looking at the Ramseys, Farnsworth sensed they wanted more.


“Actually, in the morning, when Nadine called me and said she was about to leave for the airport, I could tell she was in a hurry, so I met her in the hallway and gave her some coffee she could have on the way to the airport. She thanked me, and on her way down the stairs, she looked back to say that she would call to let me know how she was making out in Atlanta. The last words I heard from her? She said she was determined to get the client she had been courting in Boston.”


Susan Ramsey took in a quick breath and put her handkerchief back up to her eyes.


“We understand that you knew her for only a brief time,” Raymond Ramsey said, “but I'm sure you could tell from that what a fantastic person she was.”


“Oh, that was obvious,” Farnsworth said. “And let me tell you, during the short time I was with her, she spoke of how much you folks meant to her. It was apparent right away, too, that she was extremely bright and had the kind of personality that enabled her to do well in her line of work. You know what else I noticed? From the way she went about clearing snow from that car, I could tell she had drive, spunk, as my old high school football coach would say. I helped her shovel out the car, but believe me, it wasn't as though she was looking for any help. She was going at it like a demon.”


“Oh,” Raymond Ramsey said, “you certainly understood very quickly what Nadine was all about. Spunk, yes. I like that. She was a dynamo, but so loving and kind. One in a million.”


“And you Grace,” Susan Ramsey said, suppressing her sobbing for just a second, “what a marvelous thing it is for a co–worker to offer Roger so much support at a time like this.”


“How could we do anything less?” Grace said. “Roger's a valued employee so I'm here on behalf of the company, but I'm also here as a friend. At times like this we can all use the love and support of our friends.”


Sargent Denton then turned towards the Ramseys, and excusing himself, he asked them if they were too tired just then to discuss the transport of Nadine's body.


“No, not at all,” said Raymond Ramsey. “I'd like to go over that and discuss some other things about the accident with you.”


Sargent Denton looked towards Grace and Farnsworth, as if to ask whether they too wanted to be part of that discussion.


Farnsworth, without hesitation, said, “I know that's important to you folks, but I hope you don't mind if I excuse myself.”


Then, to explain his departure, he added, “The winter storms have done a job on my work schedule, so I'm still trying to catch up. That means getting to the office early each morning, well before the start of business.”


“Certainly,” Raymond Ramsey said, reaching over to give Farnsworth a firm handshake and quick embrace. Susan Ramsey did likewise, although her embrace was more fulsome. She also told him how wonderful it was to have met him. She then began weeping again, which caused Grace to come forward and comfort her. Farnsworth, who was on the verge of leaving, waited until Grace, patting Susan Ramsey's back and whispering into her ear, finally got her to stop crying.


Then, while Grace was still holding onto Susan Ramsey's hands and saying good night to Raymond Ramsey, Farnsworth turned and headed out the door. He was walking quite briskly, but Grace almost caught up with him just as he was about to start his car. When he saw her approaching, he lowered the window on the passenger side.


“You were magnificent in there,” Grace told him. “The substance, the tone, it was perfect.”


“I tried, even though I still see myself as an innocent bystander in all this.”


“Let me tell you something. You didn't sound as though you were an innocent bystander. Did you see how Raymond Ramsey's eyes lit up when you told him that his daughter had spunk?”


“I did what I was asked to do, and I hope that's the last of it. It isn't the kind of thing I enjoy.”


“Nobody does, my dear. It isn't as though being a grief counselor is a popular career choice.”


“Just to make myself clear, I was making it up as I went along. I don't know that much about Nadine and what kind of person she was, but I figured that if I were her parents, that's what I would have wanted to hear.”


“That can sound cynical, but in this instance, one, I don't believe you're quite the cynic you like to think you are, and two, since it seemed to work, I'll forgive you.”


“Or maybe I've learned the first lesson in what it takes to be a grief counselor. Say what people want to hear, whether you mean it or not.”


He signaled to Grace that their conversation was done when he began to raise the window on the passenger side of the car. Grace, drawing back, gave him a big wave as he drove off, but Farnsworth, preoccupied with backing out of his parking space, didn't return her wave.



section break




Driving home from the morgue, Farnsworth was quite sure that his connection to Nadine—and any obligation he had to her parents—had come to an end. It did bother him that he still couldn't believe all that had happened in the last two days, which caused him to wonder if he was enmeshed in the “twilight zone” feeling Grace had talked about. No, he told himself, by the next day, and certainly the day after that, he would feel like himself again.


But the next morning, he had been at his desk for about an hour when Maxine knocked on his door and said that two of his colleagues who were assigned to the research center project, Jack Bagley and Herb Manchester, wanted to see him.


“They want to offer their condolences,” she said.


Farnsworth didn't respond right away. He didn't take his eyes off his computers.


“It'll take only a few seconds,” Maxine said.


“Tell me something,” Farnsworth said, turning towards Maxine, “why should two people I don't really know that well want to offer their condolences?”


“It isn't as though word hasn't got around about the accident,” Maxine said. “People feel awful when they hear about it.”


“And who, pray tell, has been spreading the word?”


“I said nothing more than what you told me to say, that you knew the victim of a tragic accident and that the police came to you, asking if you would help them in their investigation.”


“Send them in,” Farnsworth said, an air of resignation in his voice.


The meeting was an awkward one. There was a stiffness in the way both men, their words following too closely on each other's, tried to convey their sympathy to Farnsworth. He, in turn, did his best to express thanks, but neither he nor they knew what to say after that. Finally, Bagley said, “Things that come out of nowhere like this can be particularly difficult to deal with.” Farnsworth nodded his head.


“It helps though,” Manchester said, “to know that people feel for you.”


Again, Farnsworth nodded his head. Then, after a moment of silence, each of the men shook hands with him and left.


Twice more that morning, Maxine knocked on Farnsworth's door to tell him that other colleagues wanted to see him. These were people Farnsworth didn't know as well so they had to introduce themselves. One of the men, as he was shaking Farnsworth's hand, said, “So sorry to hear about your fiancee.”


“No,” said Farnsworth, “she was not my fiancee. We were friends, had just met in fact.”


“Oh, my mistake, I'm sorry.”


“Quite all right,” Farnsworth said. “Sometimes these things take on a life of their own.”


The uneasy silence following that remark ended only when one of the men, looking at his watch, excused himself. He was on his way to a meeting, he said, and if he didn't hurry, he would be late.


At noon, Farnsworth told Maxine that he needed to make a site visit and that he expected to remain there for the rest of the day. Since a site visit wasn't on Farnsworth's schedule that day—and since Farnsworth was known for assiduously following his daily schedule—Maxine gave him a quizzical look.


“I know,” he told her, “I wasn't planning on it, but I think that might be a better place for me today, maybe tomorrow, too. I can only hope that things will begin to quiet down by then.”


The next day he did go to his office, and only three co–workers, two of them coming together, stopped by Farnsworth's office and asked to see him. The only difference between these meetings and those of the day before was that one of the co–workers asked Farnsworth where he should send a memorial contribution. Farnsworth wasn't prepared for that, but on the spot, he came up with an answer. Any charity that benefits underprivileged children, he said.


Later, just as Farnsworth was getting ready to leave for the day, there was a knock on his door. Maxine had already left, so he rose from his chair to answer the door, but before he ever got there, it opened and Grace entered his office.


“I hope I'm not intruding,” she said, “but I just wanted to check in with you. I understand a few people have dropped by to express their condolences. That's good because at times like this every little bit helps.”


“I figured that you were the instigator,” Farnsworth said, and returned to his desk.


“Well, it's what people do in the wake of a tragedy. It doesn't take much in the way of instigating.”


“Oh, but I'm sure they were encouraged, either by you or someone else.”


“Well look, putting that aside for a minute, I wanted you to know that I've got approval for you to take bereavement leave. Maybe it would help if you flew out to Cleveland for the funeral. I think that would mean a lot to the Ramseys.”


“No, to bereavement leave. It isn't necessary. No, to the funeral. I have no desire to get in the way of the Ramseys at a time like this. And no thank you for everything you've done to make this into something it isn't. I had someone in here who told me that he was sorry to hear about the death of my fiancee. Where the hell did that come from? I think I know, so I'm going to ask you for the last time, respectfully, please cease and desist. How I feel or don't feel about Nadine's death is none of your business.”


“Roger, I just want you to know that you're a textbook example of someone trying to bury his grief by thinking he can weather this storm without help and support from anyone else. Right now, whether you realize it or not, you're traveling at a high rate of speed down a dead–end road.”


“Please leave. Please.”


Grace looked as if she was even more determined to stand her ground, so for a moment they were both staring at each other, almost as if they were locked in a duel to see who would give way first. But then, quite suddenly, Farnsworth turned. With one swift motion he picked up the brief case on his desk and with his other hand, he grabbed his coat and scarf. Somehow, on his way out the door, he managed to get an arm through one sleeve of his coat and throw his scarf around his neck.


Midway through the next morning, two more people—both just back from a business trip—stopped by Farnsworth's office to let him know how sorry they were to have just heard about Nadine's death. As soon as the two men left, Farnsworth put in a call to the director of Human Resources.


When the secretary in Human Resources answered the phone, she asked him in a singsong voice the purpose of his visit.


“I want to speak to the director,” he said. “It's a personal matter, very personal. Would you put him on please?”


The secretary, without saying anything, transferred the call to Jim Heyward, director of Human Resources, who greeted Farnsworth by asking him how he was feeling. He also offered his condolences, but he had barely begun to speak, when Farnsworth cut him off.


“Look, I need to talk with you about this,” Farnsworth said, “face to face. There's been too much information spread about me. And please, I don't want Grace at this meeting.”


“No problem,” Heyward said. “When can we set up a meeting?”


“Now,” Farnsworth said. “This isn't going to take long.”


“You mean right now?”


“Yes, now means now, not later.”


“Come along then. I'll be waiting for you.”


Heyward's secretary, while leading Farnsworth to Heyward's office, turned her head, and looking back at him over her shoulder, she said that she was sorry to hear about the loss of his friend.


Farnsworth acknowledged that with little more than a nod. He was more assertive with Heyward, who struck him as someone who could serve as a model for one of those L. L. Bean catalogs, advertising outdoor wear. Tall and rangy and with just a touch of grey hair on each temple, he had a broad smile on his face as he walked out from behind his desk to greet Farnsworth. But before he could say anything, Farnsworth said, “Please, no more condolences. That's not why I'm here.”


Heyward, who was clearly taken aback, didn't seem to know what to say, but quickly, he grabbed one of the two chairs in front of his desk and turned it halfway around. Then taking a seat, he motioned to Farnsworth to sit in the other chair.


“Let's just take a moment and try to talk this out,” he said.


“I don't mean to be rude,” Farnsworth said, as he sat down in the chair across from Heyward, “but all these condolences I'm getting and everything else, including the bereavement leave—that's why I'm here. This whole thing has got out of hand and I think I know who's responsible. Point one, I have not suffered a grievous loss, though I knew, slightly, a young woman who died in a terrible accident. Point two, that's it. There's nothing else to say.”


“Grace said something to me this morning about how you weren't interested just yet in taking bereavement leave. I have to tell you, I don't know of anyone here who's been through something like this who's refused to take time off.”


“Well, maybe you've never offered it to someone who wasn't particularly bereaved. Yes, it's a sad tale, incredibly sad. A girl dies in an accident. She happens to be on a business trip. There are no family and friends to identify the body, so because I was slightly acquainted with her, I did the police a favor by going to the morgue to identify her.”


“Roger, I'm beginning to see from this brief meeting why Grace asked us to grant you bereavement leave.”


After saying that, Heyward paused for a moment, apparently expecting Farnsworth to respond. While waiting, he cracked the knuckles on both his hands. Then, as if he couldn't stand another moment of silence, he began to talk about the benefits of bereavement leave.


“We know—it's been proven in countless studies—that the worst thing people can do after the death of a loved one, or even someone who's only a close friend, is to think that nothing has changed. Life, as they say, goes on. It sure does, but it's easier if people who are close to the deceased take a few days to rest and reflect and pull themselves together. Grace, who has a real feel for this stuff, tells me that this has been pretty rough on you. So take some time off, go some place that takes you out of yourself.”


Farnsworth, rather than reply, simply got up from his chair and walked out of Heyward's office, slamming the door behind him as he left.


He went directly from Heyward's office to the construction site for a scheduled meeting with Jack Mallory. Shortly after Farnsworth had arrived in Boston, Mallory had taken him aside and only half jokingly said, “Thank heavens you're here. That means we'll have someone on this project who knows what the hell he's doing.” But now, Mallory, whose major contribution to the project was to scrawl “Agree, one hundred percent,” across reports submitted to him by Farnsworth, was standing there with a clipboard from which he read all the reasons why the air diffusion system Farnsworth had designed for the large laboratory space on the top floor of the building was inadequate, ineffective and “just plain won't work the way it's supposed to.”


Farnsworth had only begun to rebut what Mallory had said when Mallory interrupted him.


“Look, I know, you'd like to tough this thing out, but you shouldn't let it get in the way of your work.”


Farnsworth made a special effort not to raise his voice when he answered Mallory.


“Why don't we stick to the subject at hand and leave my personal life out of this.”


That remark didn't seem to faze Mallory in any way. “I'll be frank with you,” he said. “The minute I heard about this accident, I figured you were in for a tough few weeks. I'll tell you something else. Grace McFarland has asked me about you. Heyward, too. I told them it might have some effect on you, but don't get me wrong. I also told them that you, on your worst day, can still beat most people around here who are having their best day.”


Mallory then walked away, saying he and Farnsworth should put off discussing the air diffusion system for another day or two. Maybe, he added, Farnsworth would be able to see things more clearly by then.


Farnsworth, when he got home that night, couldn't keep his mind focused on the detective show he was watching on television. First off, he didn't believe that Mallory had talked with Grace and Heyward about him. More likely, he thought, Mallory may have run into Grace on the elevator and exchanged a few brief words with her. But even if Grace and Mallory had discussed how Nadine's death had affected him, what could they have said? It wasn't as though he had failed to show up for work or had spent time since Nadine's death sitting at his desk, staring into space. Nevertheless, that Grace and Mallory, however briefly, took time to discuss how he was doing caused Farnsworth to lose track of the show he was watching.


Soon after, when he went to bed, he couldn't stop himself from replaying the events of the past few days. He could put aside the meeting with Nadine and the night they spent together. He could even dismiss, though not as easily, the trips to the morgue. But he could not rid himself of Grace, thinking she had brought him some precious gift when she told him that he had been granted bereavement leave. And he bristled at the idea that she felt he should fly to Cleveland for Nadine's funeral. That displeased him almost as much as Heyward's little lecture about the beneficial effects of bereavement leave.


Worse than all that, however, was his encounter that afternoon with Mallory. That caused Farnsworth to toss and turn, literally. Never, in his career, had anyone so harshly judged his work, and the thought that it was Mallory, of all people, Mallory, who was counting the days until he retired, made him wonder why he had ever thought of his transfer to Boston as a promotion.


By the time Farnsworth fell asleep, he had worked out what he was going to tell Grace, Mallory, Heyward, Maxine or anyone else who dared asked him how he was feeling. He was doing just fine, he would say, never felt better in his life in fact. Then, if anyone even hinted at disbelief about what he had just said, he would tell them that any distress he experienced over the past week came from all the people who were intruding on his private life.


Farnsworth's worst day was yet to come. The next afternoon, soon after lunch, Maxine knocked on his door to say that she had just received a call from Mallory. He was at the construction site and he wanted to know why Farnsworth hadn't shown up for a meeting with officials from the pharmaceutical firm.


“I'm supposed to be where?” Farnsworth said.


“It was on your schedule,” Maxine said. “I was at lunch so I assumed when I got back that you had already left.”


“Call and tell them I'm on my way,” he said, as he rushed out the door.


Farnsworth reached the construction site just as the meeting was breaking up, and Mallory, walking past him, said he should meet with one of the other engineers who had attended the meeting to find out what had been discussed.


Farnsworth, who still couldn't believe he had missed a scheduled meeting, checked his pocket calendar and once again saw that the meeting was clearly listed there. He looked, perhaps for the fourth time, at his appointment schedule on his phone, and there it was, the time and place of the meeting he was supposed to attend, along with the names of those people who would be present.


That evening, Farnsworth was mindlessly clicking through television channels, hoping to find a movie that might interest him when he received a phone call. It was from Nadine's father.


The call began with Raymond Ramsey asking Farnsworth, twice, how he was feeling. Both times, Farnsworth without answering that question, said that he had thought often about the Ramseys and what they were going through.


The tenor of their non–conversation changed when Raymond Ramsey explained to Farnsworth why he was calling.


“Susan and I know this must be a trying time for you,” he said, “so I wanted to tell you all over again how comforting it was for us to meet with you and Grace and those two wonderful policemen. Then, when I was talking to Grace today she said that it might be helpful to you if you heard from us. Look, I'm sure that you've thought about how this terrible event could have been avoided. Everyone at a time like this thinks of something like that. Nadine's friend, Beverly, for example, keeps chastising herself for having left Boston so suddenly. If she had stayed just a few more days, she maintains, she would have been the one who drove Nadine to the airport. But we have to deal with what happened, not with what we would have liked to happen. I just wanted you to know something else I told Grace today. Susan and I are heartbroken that you and Nadine never got the chance to know each other any better.”


Farnsworth wasn't able to come up with a ready reply to Raymond Ramsey, but he blurted something out about how everyone who knew Nadine must find it hard to believe that her life had ended in such a tragic manner.


“Oh, you bet. Dear, dear friends of ours, people Susan and I have known forever, can't bring themselves to put into words their grief over this. They just look at us and cry. Then again, thank God for friends. This is when you realize how much it helps to know that people share your sadness.”


Again, Farnsworth wasn't sure how he should respond, but managed to indicate that he agreed with what Raymond Ramsey had just said.


“So as I told Grace, if she's ever out our way, we'd like to get together with her. And that goes for you, too, Roger. Just as soon as I have a moment I'm also going to write a note to the mayor of Boston, telling him how helpful Sargent Denton and Sargent Renteria were. And one last thing—I just want to say you're lucky to have Grace on your side.”


Raymond Ramsey apparently expected Farnsworth to say something in response but when he didn't, he said, “Hello, hello, are you still there?”


“Yes,” Farnsworth said. “It's nice of you to call. It's good to hear that your friends are so generous and caring, but I'm afraid you've caught me at a bad time. I'm preparing for a major presentation tomorrow and I have to run. Please convey my best wishes to Mrs. Ramsey.”


The next morning Farnsworth called Maxine to say that he was going to be working from home. He didn't want to be disturbed. He would call her, at noon, and later in the afternoon, to pick up any messages. If anyone asked about him, she should say that he had been asked by the Chicago office to submit an interim report on the Boston project, and he felt that only by “cooping himself up for a day or two,” as he put it, could he pull his notes together and complete the report.


Farnsworth then began a long email to the vice president in Chicago who had assigned him to the Boston project. It was an update on the research center, but one in which he expressed his continued misgivings about the project. Not only would it exceed its budget, it was likely to have problems it might take years to resolve. He even spelled out a future scenario in which the engineering firm and the pharmaceutical company would probably end up suing each other and then spend months, if not years, in protracted negotiations trying to decide who bore the responsibility for mistakes that should have been avoided in the first place.


To illustrate what he meant, he cited Mallory's recent judgment about the air diffusion system. Then, soundly refuting each of Mallory's objections, he concluded that portion of his email by suggesting strongly that the firm find some reason to move up the date of Mallory's retirement.


He then put the memo aside until the next morning when, after reading it over again and making a few changes in grammar and punctuation, he added a postscript in which he said that he would resign soon (soon underlined twice) if he was not given a new assignment.


Twenty four hours passed by without Farnsworth getting a reply to his email. That left him perplexed and uneasy and unable to focus on his work. Then, the next day, midway through the afternoon, when he was wondering whether to follow up on his email with a phone call, the door of his office opened and Grace walked in.


“Thank you for checking in with Maxine,” he told her.


“You're still a bit in the dumps, aren't you?” Grace said.


“Not at all, not since you got poor Raymond Ramsey to call me. How could you do that? Here's this man who's in the middle of mourning his daughter's death and you ask him to call and cheer me up? That's as distasteful as getting people around here to drop in on me so they can say they're so sorry to hear of the terrible tragedy I've suffered.”


“Have you finished?” Grace said, standing before his desk, with her arms crossed.


“I could go on, but I'll leave it at that for now.”


“You're still all knotted up inside, aren't you? Part of you wants to let this go, but part of you says that if you do, you'll be dishonoring the memory of Nadine. It leaves you in such a state that you can't even appreciate a kind word from a man who's suffering even greater hurt than you. Oh no, anyone expressing sympathy has to be in cahoots with me. Well, I just hope you were a bit more gracious with Raymond Ramsey than you have been with me and other people around here. If you weren't, you should get on the phone right now and apologize to him.”


“I'd like to know something. Is there anything in our personnel policy that says people in Human Resources should not harass employees who are simply trying to do their work?”


“So you're angry. Hey, you have a right to be angry. One minute you're saying goodbye to this lovely young women, a few hours later you're at the morgue to identify her dead body. If that makes you want to scream, go ahead and scream. Yell at me if you want, call me names, do whatever it takes to get that anger out of your system. That's my job, I'm here for you to vent if venting makes you feel any better.”


“Oh, I thought it was the other way around, that your job is to make me more angry than I might have been without your help.”


“Why don't you just step back for a minute? Something terrible has happened to you. It's something you've never experienced before. But you're young. You're strong. You're in charge. You think, therefore, that you can brazen it out. You even think that expressions of support are an invasion of your privacy.”


Just then, Grace stepped forward and placed her hands on Farnsworth's shoulders. He was still seated, but that caused him to get up out of his chair.


“Do you really think of me as your enemy?” Grace said to him, lifting her head slightly so that she was looking into his eyes.


They stood that way for a moment, staring intently at each other. It gave Farnsworth a chance, for the first time, to notice that Grace had hazel–colored eyes. He had always liked hazel–colored eyes. His high school girl friend had eyes that color, and though he hadn't seen her in many years, it was the one thing about her that he remembered. He even felt, in that moment, that he wanted to tell Grace it would work to her advantage if she didn't overwhelm the color of her eyes with all that dark makeup. As he was thinking that, Grace moved a bit closer to him and then, quite unexpectedly, she lowered her head slightly and put her forehead against his chest.


“So here you have all these people pulling for you,” Grace said, her voice soft, just a bit above a whisper. “Don't you feel a tiny bit of gratitude, just the smallest, teensiest bit?”


Farnsworth had no idea what he should do next. His instinct was to pull away from Grace, or maybe to push her away. But unable to decide, he put off making a precipitous move.


Seconds later, he wished that he had moved away from Grace when she very lightly placed her arms around him and began, slowly and gently, rubbing her hands across his back.


A sound escaped from Farnsworth, an intake of breath indicating his surprise and unease at what was happening, but Grace seemed to treat it as a muted cry of distress.


“There, now, how does that feel?” Grace said, her hands moving in a circular motion across his back.


There was no answer from Farnsworth, though he shifted his feet slightly in order to maintain the slight space between himself and Grace.


“That's it, that's it,” Grace said, “let it out, let it go. There's no reason to hold back. Oh, I think we have something going on here, maybe a breakthrough, a big breakthrough.”


She sounded when she said that like the host of a television game show who was getting ready to announce a prize winner.


But Grace then made the mistake of tightening her hold on Farnsworth. That caused him to let loose with the giggle he had been trying to suppress.


“Please,” he said, his giggle turning to full throated laughter, “please, don't think you've performed a miracle cure.”


Farnsworth's laughter, now bordering on hysteria, increased in volume until it seemed as if he was indeed purging himself of any grief he may have felt over Nadine's death.


Grace, shocked, drew back from him and raised her hands first to cover her face and then her ears. A moment later, unable to withstand any longer the sound of Farnsworth's laughter, she ran from his office, never even closing the door on her way out.



section break




The vice president in Chicago waited until that evening to call Farnsworth at home. He thanked him for the memo and then informed him that Chicago was sending a new team to Boston to take over the research center project. As Farnsworth had suggested, Mallory's retirement date had been pushed up by six months, and Farnsworth, effective immediately, had been granted his request for a transfer. He was being assigned to the firm's newest, most important project, the development of a combined hospital, research facility, and medical school in Dubai.


The swiftness with which the changes were made—Farnsworth only showed up at his office the next day to pick up some personal items and say goodbye to Maxine—only solidified the story that quickly circulated through the company of how people in Chicago decided they needed to step in to deal with Farnsworth's grief. Management, so the gossip went, didn't want to see the career of a brilliant young engineer derailed by the death of his fiancee.


Within a few years, Farnsworth left the company, and the stories drifting back to Boston of his move from one job to the next, always in the Mideast or in Asia, only added to the legend of how Nadine Ramsey's death had left him a broken man.  End of Story