The Last Thing He Told Me

2.4 Little White Churches

chapter
Chapter

Elenor H. McGovern peers at Bailey over her bifocals.
“So let me get this straight,” she says. “You want to know what?”
We are sitting in Elenor’s o􀏩ce at an Episcopal church. It’s a large church,
one of the oldest cathedrals in Austin, more than a hundred years old. And just
over a half mile from the football stadium. But most important, it is the only
church we’ve walked into—the 􀏯nal of the six contenders—that Bailey said felt
familiar to her.
“We are just looking for a list of weddings that were held here during the
2008 football season,” Bailey says.
Elenor, who is in her early seventies and pushing six feet tall, looks at us,
overwhelmed.
“It’s less complicated than it sounds,” I say. “We actually just need a list of the
weddings your pastor performed during the home games of the 2008 season.
And we don’t need the weddings that fell on the other days of those weekends.
Just the weddings that happened to actually take place during the Longhorns’
home games. That’s all.”
“Oh, during the home games from twelve years ago. Is that all?”
I ignore her tone and plow forward, hoping to turn her around. “I actually
already did the legwork,” I say.
I nudge the list across the table toward her. I’ve created a chart with the
Longhorns’ schedule from twelve years ago. I had Jules cross-check it at the San
Francisco Chronicle, using their research tools, just to be sure that we didn’t miss
any of the games, just to make sure we checked all the boxes.
There are only eight dates in question. There are only eight dates when a
small Bailey could have been walking into the stadium with Owen, could have
found herself sitting here.
Elenor stares at the list. But she doesn’t make a move to pick it up.
I look around the o􀏩ce, for clues about her—clues that may help me win her
over. Christmas cards and bumper stickers cover her desk; photographs of
Elenor’s family are lined up on the 􀏯replace mantel; a large bulletin board is
brimming over with photographs and notes from parishioners. The o􀏩ce reveals
forty years of building relationships right in this room, in this church. She
knows everything about this place. We just need to know one small piece of it.
“I know it seems like a lot,” I say. “But, if you take a look, you’ll see we have
downloaded the home game schedule from the 2008 season. And we are looking
at fewer than ten weekends. We have them all for you, ready to go. Even if your
pastor o􀏩ciated two weddings a weekend, it’d be fewer than twenty couples.”
“Look,” Elenor says. “I’m sorry. I’m simply not authorized to give out that
information.”
“I understand that’s the policy and why that’s the policy,” I say. “But you
must agree these are exceptional circumstances.”
“Of course. It’s terrible to hear that your husband is missing. It seems you are
dealing with a lot because of his absence. But that doesn’t change our policy.”
“Can’t you make an exception to your policy?” Bailey says, her tone too
harsh. “We clearly aren’t serial killers or anything. We could care less who these
people are.”
I put my hand on Bailey’s leg, trying to calm her.
“We can sit here while we read the names,” I say. “No printouts or addresses
even have to leave this room.”
Elenor looks back and forth between us, like she is torn between helping us
and kicking us out. But it looks like she is leaning toward kicking us out. I can’t
let that happen, not when it’s possible we are onto something. If we can 􀏯gure
out what wedding Owen and Bailey attended, we’ll understand their tie to
Austin. And maybe that tie will help explain what Grady was doing on my
doorstep, what Owen is doing so far away from it.
“I really think Bailey may have been at this church,” I say. “It would be very
helpful to her, to both of us, to know for sure. And if you knew what we’ve been
through this week, without her father… let’s just say, it would be an act of
kindness.”
I see the sympathy percolate in Elenor’s eyes and feel hopeful suddenly that
my plea has put her on the side of helping.
“I’d like to help you. I would. But it’s not something I can do, dear. If you
want to leave your number, I can check with the pastor, but I just don’t think
that he’s going to want to provide our parishioners’ personal details.”
“Jesus, lady, you’re not going to give us a break here?” Bailey says.
It’s, admittedly, not great language for her to use.
Elenor stands up, her head dangerously close to hitting the ceiling. “I’m
going to need to excuse myself now, friends,” she says. “We have a Bible study
group this evening that I need to prepare for in the conference room. So if you
wouldn’t mind showing yourselves out.”
“Look, Bailey didn’t mean to be rude to you, but her father is missing and
we’re just trying to 􀏯nd out why. It’s putting our family under a great deal of
stress. Family is everything to us, as I’m sure you can understand.”
I motion toward the photographs lining the mantel above the 􀏯replace—the
Christmas shots of her children and grandchildren, the candid shots of her
husband, their dogs, a farm. Several photographs of Elenor and, perhaps, her
favorite grandchild, sporting some crazy streaked hair of his own. His in a shade
of green.
“I’m sure you’d be the 􀏯rst to go to great lengths for your family,” I say. “I can
see that about you. Please just think about it for a second. If I were sitting there
and you were sitting here, I’m just asking you, what would you hope I’d do?
Because, I’d try to do it.”
She pauses and straightens her dress. Then, miraculously, Elenor sits back
down, pushing her bifocals higher on her nose.
“Let me see what I can do,” she says.
Bailey smiles in relief.
“The names can’t leave this room.”
“They won’t leave your desk,” I say. “We will 􀏯gure out if there is someone
who can help our family. That’s all.”
Elenor nods and pulls my list across the desk. Then she picks it up. She looks
down at it, in her hands, as though she can’t believe she is doing this. She sighs so
we know she can’t believe she’s doing this.
She turns to her computer, starting to type.
“Thank you,” Bailey says. “Thank you so much.”
“Thank your stepmother,” Elenor says.
Which is when an amazing thing happens. Bailey doesn’t cringe when I’m
referred to that way. She doesn’t thank me. She doesn’t even look at me. But she
doesn’t cringe, which feels a little like the same thing.
I don’t have any time to savor it though because my phone starts to buzz. I
look down to see a text from CARL.
I’m outside your house, can you let me in? I’ve been knocking…
I look to Bailey, touch her hand. “That’s Carl,” I say. “I’m going to see what
he wants.”
Bailey nods, barely acknowledging me, her eyes focused on Elenor. I head out
into the hallway and text him that I’m calling him now.
“Hey,” he says when he picks up. “Can I come in? I’ve got Sarah with me. We
were on a walk.”
I picture him standing outside our front door, Sarah in her BabyBjörn,
wearing one of the enormous bows Patty loves to stick on top of her head, Carl
using his walk with his daughter as an excuse with Patty—an excuse to come and
talk to me without Patty knowing.
“We aren’t home, Carl,” I say. “What’s going on?”
“It’s really not a phone type of conversation,” he says. “I’d rather talk in
person. I can come back later if that’s better. I walk Sarah at 􀏯ve 􀏯fteen, get her
some fresh air before dinner.”
“I’d rather hear what you have to say now,” I say.
He pauses, not sure what to do. I can see him considering whether to insist
we do this in person later, when it will be easier for him to spin whatever he
needs to spin. Because I have no doubt—I’ve had no doubt since I saw the look
on his face yesterday—that there is something he knows, something he is afraid
to say.
“Look, I just feel real bad about what happened when you came to the house
yesterday,” he says. “I was caught o􀏦 guard and Patty was already so pissed. But I
owe you an apology. It wasn’t right, especially when…”
He pauses, like he is still trying to 􀏯gure out whether to say it.
“Well, maybe I should back up, I mean… I don’t know exactly what Owen
told you, but he was really struggling at work. He was really struggling with
Avett.”
“He told you that?” I say.
“Yeah, he didn’t go into a whole lot of detail, but he said he was under a lot of
pressure to get the software working,” he says. “He told me that much. He told
me it wasn’t going as smoothly as Avett had let on. But that his back was against
the wall…”
That stops me. “What do you mean ‘his back was against the wall’?”
“He said he couldn’t just walk away. Go get another job. That he had to 􀏯x
what was happening.”
“Did he say why?” I say.
“That part he didn’t get into. I swear to you. And I tried to push him on it.
No job is worth that kind of stress…”
I look back into Elenor’s o􀏩ce, Elenor still staring at her computer, Bailey
pacing back and forth.
“Thanks for letting me know.”
“Wait… there’s something else.”
I can hear him struggle. I can hear him struggle with how to even put the
words together.
“There’s something else I need to tell you.”
“Just say it, Carl.”
“We didn’t invest in The Shop, Patty and me,” he says.
I think back to what Patty said to me—how she called Owen a crook, how
she accused him of stealing their money.
“I don’t understand.”
“I needed to use that money for something else, something I couldn’t tell
Patty about, something to do with Cara,” he says.
Cara. The coworker Carl’s been involved with on and o􀏦 since before Sarah
was born.
“What exactly?” I say.
“I’d rather not get into details, but I thought you should know that…” he
says.
I can imagine a variety of scenarios that would cost him tens of thousands of
dollars—the one percolating to the surface involves another baby, in another
BabyBjörn, who also belongs to him. To both of them.
But I’m guessing and I don’t have time to guess. I also don’t particularly care.
What I care about is that Owen didn’t do what Patty accused him of doing. It
almost feels like a kind of proof—a piece lining up to help me prove it to myself
—Owen is still Owen.
“So, even with what’s going on, you’re letting your wife think that Owen
took the money from you? That he convinced you to invest your savings in a
fraudulent company?”
“I realize it’s messed up,” he says.
“You think?”
“Can I at least get some points for telling the truth?” he says. “This is the last
conversation I want to be having.”
I think of Patty, self-righteous Patty, telling her book club, her wine club, her
tennis group—telling just about anyone in ladies central who will listen to her
that Owen is a crook. Telling everyone the false information her husband has fed
her.“
No, Carl, the last conversation you want to be having is the one you are
about to have. With your wife. Because either you’re going to tell her the truth
or I’ll do it for you.”
This is when I hang up, my heart racing. I don’t give myself time to process
the implications of what he’s told me because Bailey is motioning for me to
come back in.
I pull myself together and walk back into Elenor’s o􀏩ce. “Sorry about that,” I
say.
“That’s quite all right,” Elenor says. “I’m just pulling everything up…”
Bailey starts to move around the desk toward Elenor, but Elenor stops her
with her hand.
“Let me just print the records out,” she says. “And you can have a look. But I
do need to get to that meeting, so you’re going to have to move quickly for me.”
“We will,” I say.
But then Elenor stops typing. She looks at the screen confused. “This is the
2008 season you’re asking about?” she says.
I nod. “Yes, 􀏯rst home game was the 􀏯rst weekend in September.”
“I see that from the document,” Elenor says. “What I’m asking is, are you
sure of the year?”
“Pretty sure,” I say. “Why?”
“2008?”
Bailey is trying not to look irritated. “2008, yes!”
“We were closed that fall for construction,” she says. “It was a major
renovation. There had been a 􀏯re. Doors shut on September 􀏯rst and we didn’t
open again for services, no ceremonies of any kind, until March. No weddings.”
Elenor moves the screen so we can see the calendar for ourselves—all the
empty squares. My heart drops.
“Maybe you have your year wrong?” Elenor says to Bailey. “Let me check
2009 for you.”
I reach out my hand to stop her. There is no point in checking 2009. Owen
and Bailey moved to Sausalito in 2009. I have the records of that, and in 2007,
Bailey would have been too young to remember much of anything. She has no
memories of Seattle during that time, let alone a sole weekend trip to Austin. If
we are being honest with ourselves, even 2008 is a stretch. But if her mother was
at the wedding—and Bailey thinks she may have been—then 2008 is the only
time it could have been.
“Look, it had to be 2008,” she says.
Bailey’s voice starts to shake as she looks at the empty screen.
“I was here. And that’s the only time it could have been. We’ve gone over this.
It was that fall. It would have had to have been then if my mother was with us.”
“Maybe it was 2007?” Elenor says.
“I would’ve been too young to remember any of it then.”
“Then it wasn’t here,” Elenor says.
“But that doesn’t make sense,” Bailey says. “I mean, I recognize the apse. I
remember it.”
I move toward Bailey, but she moves away. She isn’t interested in being
appeased. She is interested in getting to the bottom of this.
“Elenor,” I say. “Are there other churches in walking distance of campus that
look like yours? Something we may have missed that may have reminded Bailey
of your church?”
Elenor shakes her head. “No, not with a cathedral that is reminiscent of
ours,” she says.
“Maybe a church that has since closed down?”
“I don’t think so. But why don’t you leave your phone number? I can ask the
pastor, some of our parishioners. And I will call if I remember anything. You
have my word on that.”
“What are you possibly going to remember?” Bailey says. “Why don’t you
just say you can’t help us?”
“Bailey, stop…” I say.
“Stop? You’re the one who said if I remember something we need to track it
down, and now you’re telling me to stop?” she says. “Whatever, I’m so freaking
done with this.”
She stands up quickly, storming out of Elenor’s o􀏩ce.
Elenor and I watch her go silently. She gives me a kind look once Bailey has
gone.
“It’s 􀏯ne,” she says. “I know it’s not me that she’s angry with.”
“Actually it may be,” I say. “But it’s misplaced. She needs to be mad at her
father, and he’s not here to hear it. So she’s turning it on everyone else.”
“Understood,” Elenor says.
“Thank you for your time,” I say. “If you do think of anything, even if it feels
unimportant, please call.”
I write down my cell number.
“Of course.”
She nods, putting the number in her pocket as I start walking to the door.
“Who does this to his family?” she asks.
I turn around, and meet her eyes. “Sorry?” I say.
“Who does this to his family?” she says again.
The best father I’ve ever known, I want to say.
“Someone without a choice,” I say. “That’s who. That’s who does this to his
family.”
“We always have a choice,” Elenor says.
We always have a choice. That’s what Grady said too. What does that even
mean? That there is a right thing to do and there is a wrong thing to do. Simple.
Judgmental. And if you are the person someone is asking that question about,
you have chosen wrong—as if the world is divided between the people who have
never made a big mistake. And the people who have.
I think of Carl on the phone, telling me that Owen was struggling. I think of
how he must be struggling wherever he is now.
I feel my own anger rising.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I say, my tone matching Bailey’s.
And I head out the door to join her.


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