What was that woman doing wearing those handcuffs?
Brenda had been running along Lakeshore Drive on a nice September afternoon when she saw another jogger coming toward her. Someone else jogging a fairly rare sight, and it was nice to see she wasn't alone out there. As the person drew closer, she could see the jogger was a woman, tall and lanky, the kind of build she wished she had. Closer yet, and she could see the woman was maybe in her late twenties, a good-looking blonde, wearing a T-shirt and shorts, holding her hands in front of her, running at a steady pace.
"Hi, how ya doin'?" Brenda said when she was only a few yards away, raising her hand to give the fellow jogger a little wave as she kept moving.
"Pretty good, how about you?" the woman smiled, raising both hands, one higher than the other, and giving a little wave back, all without breaking stride. The woman was past before Brenda's brain registered what her eyes had seen – the other girl was wearing handcuffs!
That brought Brenda to a screeching halt right in her tracks. She spun around to look at the woman jogging away at a nice easy pace, although faster than Brenda could have managed for any distance. It didn't look like she was running away from anything, just running for the sake of exercise. Brenda looked around, didn't see anyone chasing her, and began to wonder if maybe this exercise thing was pushing her a bit too far – now she was seeing things! Or, maybe it might be that Spearfish Lake was even stranger than she'd believed.
A bit puzzled, she shook her head and began to jog again, out toward the house that had burned out her first night in town. She was seeing things, she assured herself – those might have been just regular metal bracelets of some sort the blonde had on, and she'd only imagined seeing them chained together.
Brenda hadn't been sure how her exercise program was going to work when the weather got colder, but she was definitely starting to feel a little better. After a few days, the jog down the lakeshore didn't seem far enough, so she set a new goal, the charred and tattered house down in Hannegan's Cove that had burned on her first night on the job. It stood still and empty, largely ruined, and she wondered what would happen with it. It was a mile or so beyond where Lakeshore Drive left the lake, and she had been really puffing and wheezing when she got back to her apartment the first time she'd gone that far.
Still, it was pleasant to be out in the afternoon. It was Wednesday, which was "grubbies" day at her job as a junior reporter at the Spearfish Lake Record-Herald. It was mailing day, and over 5,600 newspapers had to be addressed and wrapped. It was strictly a job done by hand work using peel-off labels, and she had been in the middle of it. It was kind of a bummer; she wouldn't be doing that on a real newspaper, a daily, but the Record-Herald was a weekly, and there wasn't room for that kind of specialization, or so her boss, a big, tall, lanky guy by the name of Mike McMahon told her. But the drudgery was softened by the fact that except for one person left up front to answer the phone, every else pitched in, up through and including Mike's wife, Kirsten, who was the publisher. It was actually a relaxing time, in a way, too; except for the person up front and a couple of staffers out running the dealer route, everyone else sat around in kind of a work-bee mode, gossiping and telling stories.
This week, it had been Brenda's turn to use the Saxmayer bundling machine, her first turn, since she'd only been on the job four weeks. It was the grubbiest and most frustrating job of all – but there was no way she could have avoided it, other than maybe sitting in a courtroom case. Brenda knew if that happened, they might call in Jennifer, the social editor's daughter, to fill in. She'd done it since high school, and still enjoyed it – but considering who Jennifer was still awed the hell out of Brenda. How could she duck something a famous multi-millionaire country singer enjoyed doing?
And Jennifer Evachevski – her fans knew her as Jenny Easton – hadn't been the only surprise Spearfish Lake had held for her. When she'd first come up here, just four weeks ago tomorrow, it had seemed like a dull, boring, nothing place, but the more she got to know people, the more she found it wasn't always the case.
Her afternoon runs had become a high point of the day, no matter how exhausted she might feel when she got back – and after a few days of making it to the burned-out house, she wasn't puffing nearly as bad as she had been before. Besides, when she weighed herself last time, she'd lost six pounds. This was working! She still remembered the bitter epiphany she'd had after the dinner at the Szczerowskis, the first week she'd been at the Record-Herald, the one that got her going on the exercise program in the first place. The scales had given her an indication that it might really be worth the effort.
She made it to the burned-out house, stopped to breathe deeply for a minute, then turned around and headed back. Another few days and she'd have to extend her distance again, find a new goal or a longer route or something, but for now, the burned-out house was a bench mark. She was part of the way back along Lakeshore Drive when she saw the woman jogger coming toward her again. She mentally made a note to take a closer look at her wrists. "Nice day," she said as she got close, looking carefully.
"Gorgeous day," the woman smiled, although Brenda hardly heard her – yes, those were definitely handcuffs! There could be no doubt – big wide ones, with several inches of chain connecting them. Brenda tried not to stare, and for that matter didn't have much chance to, for in a moment the woman was past her and gone.
Once again, Brenda stopped and turned around. What in hell? The departing figure gave no clue as to what was going on. She shook her head again. Very strange . . . maybe she had some kind of a kink, maybe her boyfriend or husband had some kind of kink . . . that would account for it. Oh, there might be some other reason; people were strange . . . breathing hard now, but with her mind running full out, Brenda began jogging toward her apartment again.
Brenda was hot and sweaty and out of breath when she got back to her apartment above the Record-Herald. Once upon a time, years ago, it had been the paste-up room, but when they'd moved that downstairs years before, they'd set it up as an apartment for the junior reporter.
The junior reporter on the Record-Herald changed often. The paper was just a weekly, although located in the north woods, which had some interesting points in its favor, but young reporters rarely stayed very long, seeing the paper mostly as a chance to get a couple of lines on a resume on the way to a bigger job. Most considered it equivalent to a stretch in the low minor leagues, hoping to get picked up in a bigger league as soon as possible.
Which was Brenda's plan. But then, it had been Mike's plan, too, over twenty years before, except that he'd gotten hooked up with Kirsten, who had been unwilling to leave town, since she obsessed about her real boyfriend, a Vietnam MIA. Brenda had been surprised to discover that Mike had loved her enough to put up with it through sixteen years and three kids before he'd accompanied an expedition of local veterans to Vietnam, where they'd found and recovered the boyfriend's body; only then did Mike and Kirsten get married. As Brenda took off her clothes and headed for the shower, she thought about it again. Now there was a real love story, in more ways than one. It was also one of those details that made Spearfish Lake interesting.
It seemed impossible it could only have been four weeks that she'd been here, and really, it surprised that she was here at all, even now. Her interview with Mike had gone just about as badly as the few others she'd had, and looking back, Brenda realized she hadn't exactly put her best foot forward. She'd been dressed like she normally did as a college student working in a fast-food joint – which is to say sloppy. Maybe she had a little attitude, too, over the fact the only places that seemed interested in even talking to her were about jobs in jerkwater little towns like this.
Only later had she learned that several pretty solid reporters had gotten their start at this very paper, and a couple of people Mike had trained had gone on to some pretty big careers. Andy Bairnsfether had been the first junior reporter Mike had taken as a wet-behind-the-ears journalism school grad and had turned into a good community reporter; he'd gone on to a stellar career with the Los Angeles Times as an investigative reporter, and now covered the White House for CNN! And much to his surprise, Mike had just heard the other day that Pat Varner, one of Andy's successors, had just been named junior drama critic for the New York Times. She wished that she'd known that when she'd interviewed.
The thing that had saved the interview was Mike had given her some notes from an event long before to turn into a story. It was a straightforward, if spectacular description of a fiery crash between a gas tanker and a fortunately empty school bus. She'd been quick to see that the notes weren't as simple as they seemed; there were a couple real libel bear traps there, several witnesses had conflicting stories, and there was stuff that had nothing to do with the story. Brenda was a fast writer and a fast typist, so kicked the story out in a few minutes. Mike had looked it over, nodded, gave her a lecture about the responsibilities of community journalism, and asked if she still wanted the job. There was nothing better on the horizon other than more fast food, so she'd been quick to take it.
Still, she'd been bitter when she drove home. She was sure she'd gotten the job more because Mike had been without a junior reporter for five months, and covering all the crap a junior reporter had to cover, meetings and cop stuff mostly, had gotten old for him twenty years before.
Mike and Kirsten had seemed like good people, but even they'd seemed patronizing, as if her jerkwater community college degree and the fact she was a girl meant she didn't know what she was doing. As always, people didn't believe what she said about herself, and she had to show them she meant business. That never seemed to happen with guys, or with pretty girls. Every time she'd tried to do something, she'd had to prove herself, and it didn't matter if it was some dumb-ass paper in some class or a game at one of the clubs in college. Everyone took a look at her and figured she didn't know shit. She had to show everybody that she was better than they thought she was to even get an average response.
It wasn't fair, and really, the fact that she had to take a lousy job at a little country weekly wasn't fair, either. If she'd been pretty, if she'd had a degree from State, say, she'd have been able to walk into some place like the Camden Press and they'd have been happy to have hired her, but no, once again, she had to prove herself the hard way. And on top of that, it'd be a mediocre line on a resume; when she did get out of there, she'd have to prove herself all over again. At least, it had gotten her out of the house and on her own, finally.
But damn, Spearfish Lake was out in the sticks! There were a hell of a lot more deer around than there were people, and more damn trees and swamp than anything else. It was probably a little interesting in the summer, but as soon as Labor Day was past, they really rolled up the sidewalks and put them away until spring. She'd have to drive clear to Camden to find a halfway decent bookstore, something that stocked more than trashy romances, and there probably wasn't a halfway decent oriental restaurant that could do Japanese closer than Camden, either. McMahon had told her that the computer connections were pretty good, although only a 56k dialup. That would at least allow her to keep some contact with civilization and her online friends, although the slow connect speed would probably keep her from playing some of the more interesting online games. Maybe some people liked it up in the north woods, like her dad, but to her it seemed cold and snowy and far from anywhere.
And lonely, too. But, she'd gotten used to handling lonely. Maybe she'd even come to prefer it. And, it was for damn sure that she felt lonely right now.
Thursday was slow a day around the Record-Herald, as always. It wasn't a nice day outside; it had turned cold and windy, and looked like rain. Brenda wasn't exactly eager to get out and jog after work, although she realized that she'd better get out and do it before the snow got hip deep on a tall giraffe. But, the thought kept disappearing, because the image of the tall blonde jogging nonchalantly up Lakeshore Drive in a pair of handcuffs kept coming back to her. What was going on there, anyway?
She didn't get much work done that morning, not that there was a lot to do, and she was glad when lunch time rolled around – it probably would be a long lunch today, as nobody else seemed very busy. Most of the staff at the Record-Herald ate lunch around the table in back, the one used for addressing papers, and it was a gossipy time. Brenda had learned much about her co-workers there, and much about Spearfish Lake. It was probably the best place to ask about the sight of the woman in handcuffs, though she still wasn't quite sure she knew them well enough to think she could ask.
With the diet, her lunch wasn't much – an apple, a pear for variety, and a Diet Coke. "Still cutting it tight, huh?" Kirsten asked as they sat down at the table.
"Yeah," Brenda smiled. "Seems to be working, though."
"Your pants do seem to be hanging a little low," her little blonde boss grinned. "I really ought to get out and do something like that myself. It's hard to get a workout in the winter."
"You might want to get involved in the volleyball league when it starts up again," Mike suggested. "It's kind of a wee-small-hours thing, but the school lets the public use the gym a couple nights a week for it."
"Maybe I should get back into it," Kirsten smiled. "I do seem to be becoming something of a couch potato."
"Watch out," Sally Szczerowski, the ad manager, smiled at Brenda. "They're setting you up."
"Oh, I'm not that serious about it anymore," Mike smiled. "I only do it a couple nights a week these days, not anything like I used to."
"Maybe," Sally grinned. "But you and Kirsten were mixed doubles champions on sand courts for about fifteen years."
"That's what I mean, I'm not that serious about it," Mike grinned. "I can't keep up with the young stuff. Seriously, Brenda, there are some opportunities to stay fit over the winter."
"I don't know," Brenda said, shaking her head. "I think the exercise is starting to get to me. I'm starting to see hallucinations."
Debbie Elkstalker, the assistant ad manager, grinned at her. Debbie was a Native American – a full-blooded Shakahatchie, she'd explained over a beer and a burger on Brenda's first night on the job. She was chubby, but had a pretty, exotic face, a gift of gab and a wry sense of humor. "What?" she laughed. "Ice cream? Milkshakes? Beer?"
Brenda shook her head. This was probably another one of those Spearfish Lake things that everybody knew about but her, anyway. "When I was out along the lakeshore yesterday, I could swear I saw a woman out jogging, wearing handcuffs."
"Light blonde, wide-set blue eyes, five-nine or so, late twenties, thin and pretty?" Mike smiled.
"You mean I wasn't seeing things?" Brenda said, eyes wide.
"No, you saw Carole Carter," Mike said. "I'm surprised you haven't run across her before. She's pretty well known around town. I know there's something in the Reporter's Handbook about her."
"I must have missed it," Brenda admitted. "She really was wearing handcuffs, then?"
"Five or six years, now," Mike said. "I know I never see her without them. It's gotten to the point where I'd be surprised as hell to see her without them. As far as I know, she wears them 24/7."
Brenda shook her head. "Very strange," she said. "Downright weird, in fact. What's the deal? Has she got a kink a yard wide?"
"As far as I know, no," Mike said. "That almost makes it stranger. Over the years, I've heard her give a half dozen different excuses, and they all seem pretty thin. I don't think it's a kink, but I do think it's a case of a screw loose."
"What kind of excuses?"
"Everything from 'I like it,' and 'I get the strangest reactions from people,' to 'It adds a little extra challenge to things'."
"I should think it would," Janine Wychek, the bookkeeper, sniffed from down the table. "But I can't believe she wears them all the time. How does she change her clothes?"
"Good question," Sally commented. "In the summer you sometimes see her wearing halter top dresses and tank tops and like that, but T-shirts and blouses, too. She's got coats that zip or snap all the way up the arm, but it's all heavy winter stuff."
"I think it was Gary who did a story on her, just before he left," Mike said, frowning and getting up. "It'd be like, May or June of '92, I think."
"He was one of the good ones, not like that stuck-up brat who followed him," Kirsten sniffed. "Wonder what he's doing now?"
"Cincinnati Enquirer, I think," Mike said as he left the room. He came back a moment later with the bound volume from the second quarter of 1992, and opened it on the break room table. Lunch forgotten, he flipped through the pages. "Yeah, here it is," he said finally. "Not as much of a story as I remembered, just a long cutline. Don't be surprised if you see Carole Carter wearing handcuffs around town for a while," he read. "It's all part of a special project involved with work on her master's degree thesis. Miss Carter, a Spearfish Lake High School graduate, is setting out to explore her reactions to a loss of mobility in order to gain some understanding of the psychological barriers faced by accident victims and other handicapped. Here, her younger sister, Wendy, fastens the handcuffs that Carole will be wearing continuously for the next three months. 'It's thrilling and it's scary,' Carole commented. 'But I expect to learn an awful lot.'" He spun the book around in front of Brenda. "That her?"
Brenda looked at the photo. There was no question, it was the woman she had seen out jogging in handcuffs yesterday. She stood there in the photo, looking a little younger, her hair longer, grinning, and holding her hands high, one wrist already in handcuffs as a younger woman with a lot of family resemblance fastened them around the other wrist. "That went a little longer than three months," Brenda frowned.
"Yeah, five years longer," Sally nodded. "I don't know how a person could wear handcuffs for three months, let alone five years."
"Well, she's obviously done it," Kirsten said. "The heck of it is, she's one of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet. Always very upbeat, always ready with a wisecrack. She's also one of the smarter people you're ever going to meet."
"What does she do?" Brenda wondered.
"Just exactly what the story says," Kirsten nodded. "She works counseling handicapped people to help them accept what's happened to them. I've never heard it said, but maybe she felt she had to make herself a little handicapped in order to understand their problems."
"That's nuts," Mike snorted. "I mean, yeah, a week, maybe even three months or so, might help with the perspective, but five years? I agree, she's a hell of a nice person, but I stick with the loose-screw theory."
"It could be," Janine observed slowly and thoughtfully. "I agree. Her explanations are superficial. There has to be something deeper, maybe something painful."
Brenda glanced up the table at Janine. She'd not learned a lot about the bookkeeper in the short time she'd known her, but if ever there were someone with a screw loose and deep unspoken pain and still competent and efficient at her job, it was Janine. The bookkeeper was pushing forty, had waist-length straight hair, and was very plain looking. Back over that burger and beer with Debbie, Brenda had learned that Janine was very religious, as was her family, although there was little sign of it on the job. "I honestly don't think Janine's ever been out on a date," Debbie had said. "I think she's a little sorry that she's not a Catholic or she'd be a nun."
Brenda glanced down at the bound volume of old newspapers again. Deep down, she smelled story. There had to be a story there, but somehow she doubted she'd ever be able to find out what it was, just as she stood little chance of ever digging Janine's story out of her. A shrink maybe, but not a reporter. "Anybody else want to see this?" she asked.
There were no takers. Brenda closed the book, deep in thought. The conversation turned to Mike and Kirsten's daughter, Tiffany, and her husband, Josh; the two of them were famous locally for racing dogsleds across Alaska each winter, another one of those surprising Spearfish Lake things, but Brenda had heard about that before. In fact, it was part of the reason that Brenda had the job in the first place: both Uncle Greg and Mike were dogsled racers, too, although not as serious as Josh and Tiffany. It sort of irked her that she'd had to hear about the job from Uncle Greg, who was a beer salesman, and didn't know squat about journalism, instead of from the job counselors at the school who didn't seem to give a shit whether she found a job or not. After all, they already had her money, what did they care?
But, she pushed those thoughts away from her, wondering about the strange woman in the handcuffs. What was going on there?
Back at her desk, Brenda pulled out the Reporter's Handbook. She'd been introduced to the loose-leaf notebook the first morning on the job, and a day rarely went by without referring to it.
"I know we've thrown a lot of new stuff at you this morning," he'd said as they were getting set to head to the back for lunch, "And you're going to be a while learning your way around. When I started here, years ago, the first morning was just as bad, and I felt just as lost. Everybody else knew everything, and I knew nothing. You're new, so we're all taking the time to explain stuff to you, but as we get used to you, we'll just start assuming that you already know something you don't."
"I can see how that could happen," Brenda said.
"Well, I hit the absolute bottom of the pit when some stumpy little blonde I knew thought it would be cute to invite me out to the West Turtle Lake Club, without telling me it was a nudist camp, just to watch me oscillate," Mike smiled.
"That's not fair," Kirsten said from across the room. "I thought you knew. I mean, everybody in town knows."
"Which makes my point," Mike said. "Somehow, I hadn't made the connection, and the next thing I knew, I was standing beside my car, peeling off my shorts. But that's a long story, and I won't go into it now. The important point is that the following Monday, I started keeping a list of little things a junior reporter here ought to know, things everybody thinks they know, and no one thinks to tell them. I've added to it since; so has every other junior reporter, and I want you to do it, too. I go through it from time to time to edit and update it; people die, move away, things change. Consider this confidential information, since there's a lot of little detail in there that really shouldn't see print – at least not using it as a source."
Sometimes, the Reporter's Handbook was a lot of help around possible pitfalls. In fact, the first entry that Brenda naturally went to, the one on the West Turtle Lake Club, was several pages long and bore comments from many junior reporters over the years, some of which were pretty funny. However, this time the Reporter's Handbook wasn't a lot of help.
Spearfish Lake Record-Herald Reporter's Handbook
Do not remove from Record-Herald office
b. 1969, Spearfish Lake. Graduate SL High, 1986. BA 1990, Athens U; MA, 1992, same, both in psychology. Works Psychological Consultants, Camden. Parents, Dan and Denise. Sister, Wendy. Started wearing handcuffs in spring, 1992 in three-month project as part of research for her master's, but hasn't taken them off since. (Don't expect to get a straight answer about why out of her, either – RC, '94)