The phone rang. He picked it up after the first ring. "Lake News."
"Hi, Kip. It's Poppy."
John grinned. How not to, when conjuring up Poppy Blake? She was a smiling pixie, always bright and upbeat. "Hi, sweetheart. How's it going?"
"Busy," she said, making it sound wonderful. "I have someone named Terry Sullivan on the line to your house. Do you want me to patch him through?"
John's eye flew to the wall of photographs, to one of the prints in which he was partying with other reporters. Terry Sullivan was the tall, lean, dark one, the one with the mustache that hid a sneer, the one who always stood on the edge of the crowd so that he could beat the rest out if a story broke. He was competitive to the extreme, self-centered to a fault, and wouldn't know loyalty if it hit him in the face. He had personally betrayed John, and more than once.
John wondered where he found the gall to call. Terry Sullivan had been one of the first to blow him off when he decided to leave Boston.
Curious, he told Poppy to make the connection. When it happened, he said, "Kipling here."
"Hey, Kip. It's Terry Sullivan. How goes it, bro?"
Bro? John took his time answering. "It goes fine. And you?"
"Aaah, same old rat race here, you know how it is. Well, you used to. It must be pretty quiet up there. There are times when I think I'll retire to the sticks, then I think again. It isn't me, if you know what I mean."
"I sure do. People up here are honest. You'd stick out like a sore thumb."
There was a pause, then a snort. "That was blunt."
"People up here are blunt, too. So, what do you want, Terry? I don't have long. We have deadlines here, too."
"Okay. Chuck the small talk. I'm calling journalist to journalist. There's a woman named Lily Blake, born there, living here. Tell me all you know."
John slipped into his chair. Lily was Poppy's sister, the elder, but barely, which would make her thirty-fourish. She had left Lake Henry to go to college and had stayed in the city for a graduate degree. In music, he thought. He had heard she was teaching. And that she played the piano. And that she had a great body.
Folks around town still talked about her voice. She had been singing in church when she was five, but John wasn't a churchgoer, and long before she would have been old enough to sing at Charlie's back room Thursday nights, he had left town.
She had been back several times since he had returned-once for her father's funeral, other times for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but never for longer than a day or two. From what he heard, she and her mother didn't get along. John might not know Lily, but he did know Maida. She was one tough lady. For that reason and others, he was inclined to give Lily the benefit of the doubt when it came to who was at fault.
"Lily Blake?" he asked Terry, sounding vague.
"Come on, Kip. The place is tiny. Don't go dumb on me."
"If she doesn't live here, how in the hell am I supposed to know about her?"
"Fine. Tell me about her family. Who's alive and who isn't? What do they do? What kind of people are they?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"I met her. I'm thinking of dating her. I want to know what I'm getting into."
Thinking of dating her? Fat chance. Lily Blake was a stutterer - much improved from childhood, he understood, but Terry Sullivan didn't
date women with problems. They demanded more than he wanted to give.
"Is this part of some story?" John asked, though he couldn't imagine what part Lily could play in a story that interested Terry.
"Nah. Purely personal."
"And you're calling me?" They might have been colleagues, but they'd never been friends.
Copyright © 1999 by Barbara Delinsky
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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