The following March, Tom receives a telegram at the ranch and knows what it will say before he opens it: Sam has died. The funeral is in Salinas and it is somber. Though he hadn’t wanted to come, Adam feels compelled to attend, for he cannot believe Sam is dead. He leaves the burial at the cemetery early and walks to a bar. He asks the bartender about a place called “Kate’s.” The bartender tells him to not mess with a place like Kate’s, and tells him to go to a different one next door to Kate’s place. Adam asks him for directions.
Sam’s death forces Adam into action—it is as though the death of a man like Sam convinces him that he does not have an infinite amount of time to learn how to be truly alive. He goes straight from Sam’s funeral to search of Kate, an act symbolic of Sam’s influence on him.
Adam arrives at Kate’s in the evening. The woman at the door tells Adam that Kate is not available, and Adam tells the girl to tell Kate that Adam Trask is here to see her. When Kate hears this she agrees to see Adam, though she is wary. When Adam sees her he smiles—this surprises Kate and she demands to know why he is smiling. He says that now that he has seen her, he can forget her. Kate notices that Adam looks at her fattened ankles and her wrinkled neck—this makes her furious. She can tell Adam is drunk, and she gets out a bottle of rum and two glasses. Adam refuses to drink from his glass until Kate has finished hers. The alcohol once again makes her cruel. She tells Adam she is glad Sam Hamilton is dead, for she hated that man with all her being.
Adam’s reunion with Kate does not go as we might have expected it to. How do we explain Adam’s relief and happiness upon seeing his wife as the owner of the city’s most depraved whorehouse? Adam has finally let go of his idealized version of Catherine. In seeing her, and accepting her, for what she really is, Adam is able to overcome her. The underlying lesson here is that we must recognize and really know evil in order to overcome it. Looking the other way is not a solution.
Adam cannot stop smiling. He asks Kate why she has so much hate in her. Kate tells him ever since she was a little kid she has seen the hypocrisy in people, people who profess to be good but inevitably give in to their most base impulses. She loves to rub men’s noses in their own nastiness. She shows Adam a stack of photos she has in her desk—they are photos of some of the most respected men in the county doing depraved things with women in her house. Adam tells her he is beginning to think she is “no human at all.” She hates the good in people because she cannot understand it.
Kate believes that people only pretend to be good, and she hates the hypocrisy and the lying more than anything else. But Adam recognizes that Kate doesn’t believe people are good because she herself cannot be good. She cannot understand what she has not experienced. She does not understand human nature, that someone can contain both good and evil, and because of that she hates it.
Kate changes gears and tries to seduce Adam. Adam is not susceptible to her charm anymore. He notes that Kate has not asked about her sons. Kate tells Adam he might not even be the boys’ father—she maliciously reveals to him that she slept with Charles after drugging Adam with her medications. Adam closes his eyes for a moment, but then laughs suddenly. Even if this is true, he says, it doesn’t matter at all. When Adam leaves, still smiling, Kate’s eyes are desolate.
Even more significantly, Adam is unfazed by the notion that Charles is actually the father of his sons. Note that if this is the case, then Adam, like Abel, has failed to conceive, where Charles has lived to bear sons. Adam’s recognition that “it doesn’t matter at all” is an acknowledgement that he is related to his sons no matter what—that he shares his very humanity with them, and that that is enough.