This was Sophie’s idea of a joke. Carrie’s wild dark brown curls were the bane of her existence. She tamed them as best she could, but she often found herself the brunt of jokes over her out-of-control hair.
“Nash says he doesn’t give interviews.”
“Not just doesn’t give interviews—this guy is like a ghost. No one has ever met or even talked to him.”
“Surely his publisher or his editor—”
“No,” Sophie said, cutting her off. “Everything has been done by computer.”
“Well, then …”
“All anyone knows is that he lives near an Alaskan lake somewhere in the vicinity of the Arctic Circle.”
“How is it you know so much about this guy?”
“I don’t, and that’s just it. No one does. The press has gone wild looking for him. Plenty of reporters have tried to track him down, without success. No one knows how to find him, and Finn Dalton doesn’t want to be found. He should have called his book Leave Me Alone. Someone could pass him on the street and never know it was him, and from everything I’ve read, that’s exactly how he likes it.”
Intrigued, Carrie flipped through the pages of the book. “Nash said I could have any assignment I wanted if I got an interview from Finn Dalton.”
“Of course he did. Nash has been around long enough to know he’s got you in a no-win situation.”
Carrie glanced up. “I don’t care. I’m going to try.”
“I hate to be a killjoy here, but Carrie, no way will you find this guy. Better reporters than either of us have tried and failed. Every newspaper, magazine, and media outlet is looking to dig up information about him, without success. Finn Dalton doesn’t want to be found.”
That might be the case, but Carrie refused to give up without even trying. This was far too important to drop just because it was a long shot. “I’m desperate, Sophie.” And really, that said it all. If she was going to have a real career in journalism, she had to find Finn Dalton. Her entire future with the Chicago Herald hung in the balance.
“I admire your determination,” Sophie murmured, “but I’m afraid you’re going to hit one dead end after another.”
“That might be the case.” Carrie was willing to admit to her friend that finding Finn Dalton wouldn’t be easy. “But I refuse to quit without trying.” She knew Sophie didn’t mean to be negative. “I want this chance, and if it means tracking Finn Dalton into some forsaken tundra, then I will put on my big-girl shoes and go for it.” But not the heels she’d worn last night, that was for sure.
The first thing Carrie did in her search for Finn Dalton was read the book. Not once, but three times. She underlined everything that gave her a single hint as to his identity.
For two days she skipped lunch, spending her time on the computer, seeking any bit of information she could find that would help her locate Finn Dalton. She went from one search engine to another.
“How’s it going?” Sophie asked as they met each other on their way out the door a couple of days later.
“Good.” Through her fact-finding mission, Carrie was getting a picture of the man who had written this amazing book. After a third read she almost felt as if she knew him. He hadn’t always been a recluse. He’d been raised in Alaska and had learned to live off the land from his father, whom he apparently idolized. One thing was certain, he seemed to have no use for women. In the entire book, not once did he mention his mother or any other female influence. It was more of what he didn’t say that caught Carrie’s attention.
“Any luck?” Sophie asked, breaking into her thoughts.
“Not yet.” She hesitated. “Have you read the book?”
Sophie nodded. “Sure. Nearly everyone has.”
“Did you notice he has nothing to say about the opposite sex? I have the feeling he distrusts women.”
Sophie shrugged as if she hadn’t paid much notice, but then she hadn’t been reading between the lines the way Carrie had.
“How old do you think he is?” Sophie asked.
“I can’t really say.” Finn was an excellent writer and storyteller. But the tales he relayed could have happened at nearly any point in the last several decades. Current events were skipped over completely.
Sophie crossed her arms and looked thoughtful. “My guess is that he’s fifty or so, to have survived on his own all these years.”
Speculation wouldn’t do Carrie any good. “Tell you what. When I find out, you’ll be the first to know. Deal?”
Sophie smiled and nodded. “Deal.”
That night, as Carrie readied for her latest charity event, her cell rang. It was her mother in Seattle. They spoke at least two or three times a week. Carrie was tight with her family and missed them dreadfully.
“Hi, Mom,” she answered, pressing her cell to one ear while she attempted to place a pearl earring in her other earlobe.
“Hi, sweetheart. Are you busy?”
“I’ve got a couple of minutes.” She switched ears and stabbed the second pearl into place before tucking her feet into a comfortable pair of high heels. She was scheduled to meet Harry in thirty minutes.
“Dad and I are so excited to see you at Thanksgiving.”
“Yes, about that.” Carrie grabbed her purse and tucked it under her arm while holding on to her phone. “Mom, I hate to tell you this, but there’s a possibility I might not make it home for Thanksgiving.”
The disappointment in her mother’s voice was painful to hear. “Have you ever heard of Finn Dalton?”
“Oh, sure. Your father loved his book so much he bought two additional copies. I read it, too. Now, that’s a man.”
“I want to interview him.”
“Really? From what I understand, he doesn’t give interviews.”
“Yeah, that’s what I heard, too.”
“Does he ever come to Chicago?”
“Doubtful,” Carrie murmured. If only it could be that easy and he would come to her. Well, that wasn’t likely. Then again, something Sophie said had stayed in her mind. She could walk past him on the sidewalk and never know it was him. “I’ll need to track Finn Dalton down, but I keep running into dead ends the same as everyone else.” She mentioned her online search, the calls to Alaska, and the number of phones slammed in her ear. No one had been willing to talk to her. “I have to look at this from a different angle. Have you got any ideas?”
“From what your father said, Finn Dalton isn’t a man who would enjoy being written up on the society page.”
“That’s just it, Mom. This would be an investigative piece. My editor told me I could have my pick of assignments if I was able to get this interview. It’s important, enough for me to take the vacation days I planned to use for Thanksgiving to find him.”
“Oh, Carrie, I hate the thought of you doing that.”
“I know, I hate it, too, but it’s necessary.” Her mother was well aware of Carrie’s feelings toward her current work situation.
“Do you really think you can find Finn Dalton?” her mother asked.
“I don’t know if I can or not, but if I don’t, it won’t be for lack of trying.”
“I’ve always admired your tenacious spirit. Can I tell your father you’re going to write a piece on the man who wrote Alone?”
“Ah … not yet. I have to locate Dalton first.”
“What have you discovered so far?” Her mother was nothing if not practical. Carrie could visualize her mother pushing up her shirtsleeves, ready to tackle this project with Carrie.
“Do you know where he was born?”
“No. I assumed it must have been Alaska, but there’s no record of his birth there. I’ve started going through the birth records of other states, starting with the northwest, but haven’t found his name yet.” At this rate, it would be the turn of the next century before she found the right Dalton.
“What about his schooling? Graduation records?”
“I tried that, but he’s not listed anywhere. Maybe he was homeschooled.”
“You’re probably right,” her mother said, sounding proud that Carrie had reasoned it out. “One of his stories mentions his father mailing away for books, remember? Those were textbooks, I bet.”
Carrie had made the same assumption.
“Finn is a rather unusual name, isn’t it?” her mother continued softly, as though she was thinking out loud.
“And of course it could be a pseudonym, but his publisher claims the name is as real as the man.” Nothing seemed the norm when it came to Finn Dalton.
“You know, work on the Alaskan pipeline was very big about the time your father and I got married. That was a huge project, and it brought a lot of men to Alaska; many of them stayed. His father might have been one of them.”
“Yes.” But that was a stab in the dark. She’d already spent hours going over every type of record she could think to research from Alaska, to no avail. Carrie glanced at the time, even though this talk was helping her generate ideas of where to continue looking for the mysterious Mr. Dalton.
“From what I remember, a lot of men left their wives and families for the attraction of big money.”
“I could start looking at the employment records for the pipeline from that time period and see what I find,” Carrie said.
“That’s a terrific idea. And listen, when you find Finn Dalton, make sure your dad gets a chance to chat with him, would you?”
“I can’t promise that.” First she’d need to convince Finn Dalton to talk to her!
“Just do your best.”
“I’ll do what I can.”
“Bye, Mom.” Carrie ended the call and dumped her cell in her small bag. After a quick glance in the hallway mirror, she headed out the door to what she hoped would be one of the very last social events she would ever need to cover.
This had to be Finn Dalton’s mother. It simply had to be. From the moment Nash had given Carrie what seemed like the impossible assignment of interviewing Finn, she’d looked for out-of-the-box ways to locate him. Her mother’s mention of work on the Alaskan pipeline and that many of those employed came from Washington State had led to a breakthrough. At least she hoped so. The search led Carrie to the birth record for a Finnegan Paul Dalton, not in Alaska but in her own birth state of Washington. That record revealed his mother’s name—Joan Finnegan Dalton—which then led to a divorce decree, along with a license for a second marriage several years later. Tax records indicated that Joan, whose married name was now Reese, continued to reside in Washington State. Her hope was that Joan Dalton Reese would be willing to help Carrie find Finn.
The November wind and rain whipped against her as she walked up the short pathway to the single-family house in Kent, a suburb south of Seattle.
Nerves made Carrie tense as she rang the doorbell and waited. After a few moments, she heard footsteps on the other side of the door. The woman who opened it didn’t look to be much older than her own mother.