It has been years since Sebastian has visited any type of fitness or training facility,and even then by invitation from the Olympic Coach, so he looks more than a little awkward with his coat bunched in one hand and a walking stick, in the other.Just to top it off, a jacket and tie aren't exactly perfect gym attire either.Small details like these never really deter Sebastian as his thoughts are solidly focused on the job at hand.Even though he has mellowed and has become a little less self-conscious in recent times,his early, embedded beliefs still linger.His issue with the cane is more about being told what he must do rather than how he looks. How others perceive him is irrelevant; he contemplates such thinking as shallow conceptions of an idle mind; his own head is so occupied with other things there's no room for what he sees as wasted thoughts.
Sebastian is surprised by the enormity of the interior. The receptionist sits at a semi-circular desk directly across from the entrance and to the right and left,small booths sell gym equipment,health food and sports drinks. He informs the receptionist that has an appointment with the manager, Max Martin and she rings through to his office at the rear of the building and then points Sebastian in that direction.
The path to his office leads Sebastian directly through the workout area and his senses fill with an overpowering smell of liniment, the sound of clanging metal and muffled voices of patrons and instructors.He eyes everything around him in a desultory manner, as he strives to familiarize himself with the scene.
Only a few strides along, there is disharmony between a middle-aged pair. She is trying to encourage her partner to stay close and he is making it overtly obvious that he's there against his will. Sebastian slows his pace and continues to observe them.
He will often challenge himself to understand what others communicate with their bodies rather than orally and walking through the gym gives him an opportunity to hone his already exceptional skills. The woman consistently pulls at her jacket in an attempt to prevent it creeping upwards means she is carrying more weight than she would like. As the fellow is quite muscular and lean, Sebastian muses, she may have dragged him along because of her own insecurities. She flutters from one machine to the next in her matching pink tracksuit and joggers like a bee in a floral heaven. In contrast, her partners outfit camouflaged cargo pants and sleeveless checked-shirt isn't your regular gym attire but that of a woodsman, hunter or laborer.
Sebastian is soon bored with these two. Spying a spritely young woman about to board a treadmill,his mood soon changes to one of being inspired, as he ponders the thought of buying one for home. He murmurs to himself, "Mmm. That would certainly save me being late to breakfast again!"
Now Sebastian the 'real deal'; one rather solidly built fellow lays flat on a slab and above him sits a set of gigantic weights, held together with a bar surely way to lean for the enormous discs. A muscular friend, or perhaps trainer, is arched over, ready to take the torturous weight from its racks and lower the bar carefully down. There's no doubt in Sebastian's mind that these to are gym enthusiasts, disciplined and dedicated, something that he admires, even if he has no interest in the activity.
On he goes until his eyes abruptly shift to the right "Well,well, there's hope for me yet!" he exclaims as he catches sight of a massive form of a man trying to keep rhythm with his overlapping stomach on yet another treadmill.Sebastian is so enthralled he doesn't see a rather plump, middle=aged woman cross his path.As they collide, his had flies out and accidentally grabs hold of her ample breast."Sorry, sorry!"
She stands there smiling at him, glances down at the hand that has yet to disconnect from her bosom. Sebastian also glances down then back up. His mouth opens; his forehead wrinkles and he gives an involuntary smile before releasing the object like a red hot ember.To make matters worse he's so flustered he begins brushing down her breast in a reflex action.
"It's fine.You can stop now". She says smiling warmly and gently nodding her head.
Sebastian hesitantly smiles back and then leaves as quickly as he can, no longer interested in anything except his destination.
Cut Down To Size is the second novel of the Sebastian Cork Series. After his success with Sebastian Cork Forget Me Not, Neal Davies has upped the ante with a thriller that will keep you guessing through out.
I was born in New South Wales Australia and my parents moved to Victoria when I was four. During my childhood I found myself unsettled both at home and school and at the age of fourteen I left school to join my Father and brother at a brickyard where I worked stacking bricks.
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Laurel stood in the rain at the side of a busy two-lane highway. She looked slowly, methodically, up and down the long stretch of each lane. Her frame was dripping wet, unsteady, floundering. Her place at this desolate spot, far from a store, or a crosswalk, or a sidewalk, had no purpose or explanation, but no one noticed.
She looked to the sky with outstretched arms. Her body swayed. She looked at the ground and again at the sky. Crying now, crying so hard that her shoulders heaved, and her body quivered, and then she threw herself prostrate in front of a large truck. The truck driver reacted in an instant, and steered around her without slowing as if she were a pile of trash on the road. She had failed; her frustration compounded her pain.
Cars swerved as their tires skidded on the slick road and on the wet, grassy shoulder, all drivers working as desperately to miss her as she was desperate for them to run her down. Even now with her moment of decision past, with all the conviction she could muster, she still wanted to die, and end the suffering. She was searching for death with the same tenacity that most humans clung to life.
The highway traffic had stopped in both directions, and she lay in the road crying, humiliated. Horns honked. People yelled and cursed at her.
“Get out of the road!”
“What’s wrong with you? Are you crazy?”
What was wrong with her? Was she crazy? Or did she suffer with a pain that no one but she could know? Did anyone care?
With all the cars and trucks warned, and their lethal force muted, she just stood up and casually brushed the loose asphalt and pebbles from her arms. An eerie calm took over her face. She wiped off her dress and stepped casually back to her spot to wait again for death.
Cars began to move along now. Drivers passed, staring with an array of expressions. Some shouted for the inconvenience she had caused them; a shout of anger for the five minutes that she had delayed their lives while seeking to end her own. But they all drove by, carefully, with their windows rolled up, the air conditioners on high, windshield wipers swishing back and forth, and radios playing. The public moved on, and the individuals who were recognizable and unique in their cars while stopped, were now just another soulless mass of anonymous traffic. She could use the anonymity as a tool to achieve her goal, her quest for death, but if she knew them, maybe not.
If anything, she had empathy for others. She could reach into the soul of anyone she met if given a few minutes of quiet conversation; that was her talent. She could feel their pain, anxieties, frustrations, sadness, or she could dance with their joy, but not today. She did not want to know the person who would be required to take on the burden of her death. But someone would carry the weight this day; she could no longer bear the pain.
Vines of depression had inched their way through the cracks of her psyche, and had grown heavy like kudzu on an old, abandoned farmhouse. The vines had grown fast and destructive in the fertile holes of her soul, and the weight brought her down.
Cars began to speed up now. The traffic was back to normal running slightly above the speed limit. A few traveled too fast swerving in and out, cheating their own deaths. If anyone noticed the woman, wet in the rain, they chose not to stop, they chose not to help her; they were too busy to care.
She stood on the edge of the road, staring straight ahead, waiting for the karma of the right moment. She teetered in one spot. She was not afraid of doing it, she was not afraid of dying, she was afraid of living.
The rain eased and the road steamed. She was at peace. The air seemed fresh and the breeze warm. It had been a beautiful day before this summer storm arrived. She looked up as the clouds parted, and the sun blazed through hotter than before. She could hear the splatter of another rain shower coming. She stood motionless and stared back at the pavement as her long black hair hung straight and dripped on her shoulders. Her dress was molded to her frame. Her hands were balled up into fists held firmly at her sides. She would end it, but just a few more breaths to breathe, a moment more to live.
A horn piped a harsh warning. She looked up, and saw that it was the forceful herald of a moving van, barreling towards her at full speed. She watched the oncoming traffic with the caution of a pedestrian waiting to cross the busy road. The heavy truck careened forward with all of its force and noise and weight. Perfect.
On the edge, at the last moment, she cast herself prone directly under the huge front wheels of the van. One wheel rolled over her legs crushing the bones beneath the knees. The force moved her more parallel than perpendicular. The remainder of the truck rumbled harmlessly over her body.
The truck driver immediately applied his brakes, brought his truck to a rapid stop, jumped out, and ran back to her. The rain came again and poured down.
“Why didn’t you kill me, you son of a bitch? Why didn’t you just kill me? Why? Oh God, just kill me!” She screamed, and cried, and rolled on the ground propelled by an agony beyond her physical wounds.
The driver looked into her anguished eyes and fell to his knees. He put his hands to his thighs to brace his unnerved body. “I’m sorry, lady, I…” he stammered.
“You should have killed me.” She draped both arms across her face and cried. “I want to die…would someone just kill me?” She screamed, and then began to sob uncontrollably, unconcerned with her injuries.
The driver took off his shirt, folded it, and put it behind her head. She screamed. He looked at her grotesquely mangled and bleeding legs; a bone was exposed through her skin.
“Why didn’t you kill me? Why? Why?” She wailed and held her hands up to the sky. “Oh, God just please kill me.” She dropped her arms to the ground, twisted in pain and sobbed.
Other drivers were now helping. A man proclaimed himself as a doctor, and worked to stop the bleeding. The driver looked into her eyes again, but they were blank as if her soul had escaped and left her body to deal with this disaster. On his hands and knees in the road, he too started to sob. Finally, he sat beside her, wrapped his arms around his knees, and looked up to the heavens. Sirens wailed in the distance and a crowd formed an inquisitive circle around the two pained souls.
“Why did you hit her, Hank? Were you drunk again?” Bubba tossed a clipboard onto his desk. “They didn’t put anything on the accident report, but I think the cops cut you a break. I bet you told them you were a veteran. You’re always leaning on that excuse.”
“No, sir, I was not drunk. It all happened so quick, there was nothing I could do, Boss.”
“Why did you get so involved? After the ambulance left, you could have just got back in the truck and drove away like most people would’a done, but not you. No, you leave my truck with a whole houseful of furniture on the side of the road, and ride with that lady to the hospital.”
“Somebody had to go with her. She didn’t have anybody.”
“She had the ambulance EMTs and the police. She didn’t need you. What the hell good did you do her?”
“I was there for her, sir. Somebody needed to be.”
“Yeah, yeah. We’ll be lucky if she don’t sue us.”
“I don’t think she will. She said she wanted to die. She was screaming at me, asking why didn’t I kill her. Everybody heard it.”
“Well that’s just great. Some ambulance-chasing lawyer might just sue us because you didn’t kill her. Do you know how much that accident cost me?”
“No, sir, I don’t. It was a terrible and unavoidable accident, and I’m sorry.”
“Well sorry don’t pay the bills, Hank. I’m not paying you for the time you were off the job, and I’m docking you two days wages for the downtime on the truck. Now get back to work.”
Hank’s boss, Bubba Jaborski, was a wide, fat man with thick fingers and a large belly that protruded with a look that mimicked a late stage pregnancy. His neck had two rolls of fat and his body looked as if he might explode at any moment. Diminishing strands of hair combed over his baldhead and held in place by some repulsively aromatic adhesive jell was the only feature well tended. The strands never moved, even when he sweated as he did today.
“Remember, I’ve got your monthly job report and it’s due to your parole officer next week. I know he wouldn’t want to hear bad things about your performance.”
“But, Boss, you know I’ve done all you’ve asked, everyday, all the time.”
“Yeah, well I didn’t tell you to run over nobody.” Bubba mopped his forehead with a dirty handkerchief and stuffed the cloth back into his pants pocket as he struggled up the stairs to his office. Hank hung his head in frustration and went back to work. He was anxious to finish his day of drudgery.
It had been a two weeks since the accident, and Hank thought maybe tomorrow evening he would go to the hospital to see if she would agree to accept a visitor. He hadn’t had a drink in two days and planned to make it three. If he could leave the bottle for three days, maybe he could leave it alone for four. The last time he had gone more than five days without a drink, he had had no choice. The correction officers had frowned on drinking in prison. Two years behind bars had helped him kick the pain pill habit, but slowly he had drifted back to alcohol and the calming influence of marijuana. He needed something for the pain.
His time in prison, and now still on probation, had put severe limits on his job prospects. He meant to keep this job despite his boss. He needed the work. The meager veterans’ benefits were not sufficient for financial survival, and he was determined to improve his life. Prison had been a warning, and a discipline that had brought him out of his cycle of sorrow, self-pity, remembering, and getting high. He wanted and needed something else or someone to help break him out. He had prayed for it, and thought maybe this accident had been the answer. He needed to go to the hospital tomorrow.
Hank stood at the doorway for ten minutes unsure of what to say. Finally he stepped forward with no better plan than when he had arrived. “May I come in?”
“Who are you?” She propped herself up on her elbows.
“I, uh, I’m the guy who hit you. I, I, just wanted to see how you’re doing and to…well, to apologize.”
“Oh…no need to apologize. I wanted someone to kill me.”
“Ma’am, I’m real sorry to hear you say that again.” Hank moved further into the room and stopped at the foot of her bed.
“Yes, ma’am, that’s what you said before, when I hit you, and I’m real sorry for that. Maybe if I had been more alert, maybe if I had not had a drink before I started driving.”
“Please stop. I jumped in front of you, that’s it. So stop apologizing.”
Hank was quiet for a moment. “Mind if I sit awhile?” His shy gaze turned to the floor. “I ain’t got nothing else to do, and I thought I’d keep you company this evening.”
“Oh great, you have nothing to do so you just came to the hospital to see poor me.” She lay down on her pillow and stared at the ceiling. “Don’t put yourself out.”
Hank sat in the visitor’s chair next to the window. “I’m sorry, ma’am, that ain’t how I meant it to sound. I meant, I wanted to come say I was sorry, but it was…damn, I ain’t no good at this. I don’t have the words, but I know what I feel, and you’ve been a picture in my mind since the accident. I just had to come see you, and tell you I’m sorry.”
“It wasn’t an accident.” She continued to stare at the ceiling.
“Well it was to me, and I can’t get your face out of my mind. I see you crying on that road and yelling at me like it was my fault you weren’t dead, and I can’t get nothing right.” He dropped his face into his hands and started to sob. “I can’t do nothing right, even when it comes to accidentally killing someone.”
She turned her head to look at him. “What’s your name?”
After a moment, he said, “Hank.” He did not look up.
“Hank, it’s okay. It was me who jumped in front of you. I wanted someone to kill me, but I guess I don’t want that now. It wasn’t right for me to blame you. I was at the end of my rope, and I’m pretty much still there. Except now my legs are broken to add to my troubles.”
Hank wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve, stood up, put his hands in the pockets of his blue jeans and looked out the window.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Laurel. But didn’t you know? How did you find my room?”
“I knew your last name. It was on the accident report the cops gave me.”
“I keep telling you, it wasn’t an accident.”
He turned. “Well, that’s what you say, but the police gave me an accident report so that’s what I’m calling it.” His palms were sweaty. He rubbed the side of his jeans a couple times and briefly looked at her, the room was silent for an uncomfortable period.
Hank finally asked, “You got anybody to help look after you?”
“No. Why do you care?”
“Well, I didn’t want to cause no trouble with your husband, or boyfriend, or whatever.”
“Umpphh. You don’t need to worry about that.”
“Who’s helping you? You got family to help?”
“No.” She bit her lip, and looked at the blank TV through another awkward silence.
A nurse walked in with a dinner tray, set it on her overbed table, and rolled it into place. “You need anything, hon?”
“How about the TV? Here’s the remote, just press this button to turn it on and this button is the channel selector. You can also raise and lower the bed with these buttons right here.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ve mastered it already after a short two weeks in this hospital.”
“Okay, but you’re new to this room, just trying to help.” She checked Laurel’s blood pressure, and gave her a small plastic cup with medications. She stood beside the bed waiting for Laurel to swallow the pills.
“Okay, okay, Nurse Ratched, I’ll take the meds.”
The smiling nurse left.
The two sat in silence as she ate her fruit cup and picked at beans and meatloaf.
“Why did you want to die?”
“Who are you, my shrink?”
“No, I’m just interested in what could be so bad that a person like you would do something like that.”
“A person like me? You don’t know what kind of a person I am.”
He unbuttoned a shirtsleeve and very methodically folded the sleeve over and over stopping just short of his elbow, and then did the same to the other sleeve.
Finally he said, “No, ma’am, I don’t know you, but you’re a nice looking lady, you seem smart, and I think I’d like to get to know you.”
“Why? Why would someone want to know me? Why would you, especially you?”
Hank finally looked into her dark brown eyes. “Cause I saw something in your eyes that day when it happened. When you were looking at me, and yelling at me, it was like I could see into your soul. I’ve never had that kinda feeling before, it was weird. I’ve never felt that close to anyone, except maybe once.”
“What did you see?”
He placed a leg over his knee and picked at the laces on his heavy leather shoe. “I saw pain, and a soul with no love, like an empty hole, in outer space. And I saw frustration; it was something you couldn’t fix… And I felt like I was looking in a mirror.”
Laurel looked down at her dinner and pushed beans around, but didn’t eat. She moved the table away from her bed and lay back. She was silent for a time.
“Maybe you’re seeing things.” She looked at him curiously.
“Well, maybe I was or maybe not.” Again, Hank searched for the right words. “You would be the one to know.”
She closed her eyes. After a few moments, she pressed buttons on the remote. They sat for a long while and watched TV. No words were spoken until a nurse came in to check on her, and told Hank that visiting hours were over.
“Can I come back tomorrow, Laurel?”
“Yes.” She pressed a button and the bed reclined. “Please close the door when you leave.”
“Good morning, Laurel. I’m Doctor Harrell. How are you feeling today?”
Without a glance, Laurel asked, “What kind of doctor are you?”
“I’m a psychiatrist. Have you ever been treated by a psychiatrist?”
Laurel looked out the window, and said nothing.
“Do you mind if we talk awhile? I’d like to see if we could help you.”
“Laurel, I’d like to find out what’s going on in your life. It appears you’ve had a difficult time recently.” The doctor moved to the side of her bed. “I’d like to discuss what happened the day the truck ran over your legs.” She flipped open a notepad and pulled an ink pen from her pocket. “Were you having a bad day?”
“No one cares.” They both sat silent for a few moments. “That bad day you’re talking about was the best day I’ve had for a long time.” Laurel spoke flatly while she looked around the room, and avoided eye contact.
“We do care. Can you tell me why you jumped in front of that truck…why you wanted to kill yourself?”
Laurel hugged a pillow to her chest and stared at her toes peeking out of the white cast covering her broken legs.
“Laurel, I can only help you if you share with me. I understand that you may not trust me now. But you are a beautiful lady with a lot to live for. I’m sure we can help resolve the issues that have made you want to hurt yourself.” The doctor paused waiting for a response, but none came. “You can have a wonderful life.”
“No, I can’t,” Laurel snapped. She closed her eyes and lay back in her bed.
“I’m going to prescribe some additional medication for you. We’ll have you continue with an anti-depressant. I’ll come by again tomorrow, and maybe we can talk some more.”
Laurel lay motionless and said nothing.
At the moving company warehouse, Hank pulled his time card from a gray metal cardholder and punched-in at the company’s antiquated time clock. He put his lunch box in the small, cluttered break room. A long, rectangular window high on the wall revealed an orange glow as the sun lit the eastern sky. Another positive day, he thought and then walked to the rear loading dock.
“Hank, I’ve got a delivery for you. Get two men from the warehouse to help you. This is a good customer, and I need you to get it right. If I find out you’ve been drinking, or that load doesn’t get delivered on time, then you’re done. Remember, your monthly performance report is submitted tomorrow.”
“Okay, Boss. I promise I’ll do my best.”
“Well, you better.”
Hank went to the warehouse and announced the job opportunity to the crews sitting on the loading dock waiting for work. The crews didn’t get paid if they weren’t on a job, and most were eager for the chance. Hank picked two reliable men that had previously worked with him. Those not chosen, grumbled or threw verbal insults toward Hank as he walked away. The trio climbed into a twenty-five-foot diesel-powered truck, perfect for the job, and drove out of the lot.
Occasionally as they worked, Hank’s hands quivered, but when he wasn’t carrying furniture, he shoved them in his pockets so no one could see. He needed a drink, but he needed to be sober more. To stave off the craving, he smoked a chain of Marlboro cigarettes and guzzled water. Driven by the work and a new strength in his will, he fought the urge and completed the job without relenting to his alcoholic demons.
His crew finished a good hard day’s work, and they were satisfied. The customer paid and tipped generously for their efforts, and they returned to the warehouse tired but proud.
“Boss, we got it done, and the customer’s happy. He gave us double the normal tip.”
“Why, what did you say to him?”
“Nothing, sir. We worked our asses off and he saw it.”
“Let me see the tip money.”
“But, sir, I really need that extra cash.”
“Yeah, well I need to withhold taxes on tips, so let me see it.”
Hank handed him the two hundred dollar tip. The boss took five twenties and gave Hank the remainder.
“That should cover federal, state, social security, unemployment and any other taxes I’ll have to pay.”
“Don’t want to hear no more about it. Now get outta here if you want to keep this job. I’ll call you when I need you.”
“Any time, sir. I need the extra work.”
Hank had trouble getting full-time work or better conditions. After jail time, few companies would hire a man, and if they did, it was usually only part-time. The work was hard, the owners were harsh, and the treatment of former felons didn’t always follow the law. There were few complaints from parolees; it was the job or back to prison.
Bubba used the situation to his advantage. Hank’s parole officer was one of Bubba’s special friends, and Bubba was generous to his special friends.
Today, Hank took his money and went home. He showered, dressed, and ate a sandwich. On his way to the hospital, he stopped at a convenience store for smokes and chewing gum. He stared at the beer cooler. It held him, it called him, but he didn’t move. His hand moved to the glass door handle and he held it, he squeezed it. A young man stepped up looking at the beer, but hesitated.
“Excuse me, sir.”
Hank moved back, broke the strong grip of desire, and walked to the cashier.
“Anything else for you today, buddy? We’ve got all our Budweiser products on sale.”
“No, no. I’ve got what I need,” Hank said and left with his hands and his will shaking.
Hank knocked on the partially closed door.
“Hello? Laurel? May I come in?”
He heard a toilet flush and moved back into the hallway. After a few minutes, a nurse came out of the room.
“May I go in?”
“I think so.” She stepped back into the room. “Laurel, you have a visitor.” She held the door open for Hank. He shuffled in hanging his head and looking at his feet. Even at his age, he was still shy, especially around unfamiliar women.
“Hi,” she said as he moved to the visitor’s chair by the window.
“Hi. How are you today?”
“Like I was yesterday. Why?”
“How are your legs feeling?”
“Like a truck ran over them.”
“With a morbid sense of humor like that, you must be feeling better.”
“Mystified?” He chuckled.
“You don’t give up, do you?” Laurel looked him over. “Did you shave today?”
“Shave?” Hank rubbed his face and his chin. Was it that bad?
“Yes, shave. You know with a razor on your face. Looks like you’ve gone a couple of days without. Is that the way you normally keep yourself?”
“No, well sometimes. It depends.” Hank was embarrassed.
“Depends on what? Either a man shaves everyday or he doesn’t.” Laurel took a drink of ice water and crunched on the ice in one side of her mouth.
“Why are you so sad?” he asked.
“Hmmm. That’s a long story.” She shook her head back and forth.
“I got time.”
“I won’t be in this hospital long enough to tell you.”
“How long before you get out?”
“They say in another week, maybe two, but I don’t have anywhere to go, so for the sadness question, maybe that’s reason number uno.” She raised the bed a little higher.
“Don’t you have a home?” Hank looked perplexed.
“I did once, a nice one, but I’ve been living in shelters off and on for the last two years. With these legs, I won’t be able to get there, so right now I don’t have a plan.”
“Oh.” Hank looked at the floor. Now he was really at a loss for the right words.
“They can’t just put you out on the street with your legs like this. You can’t walk. What’s the use of fixing you just to put you out on the street?”
“I don’t know, but that’s how the system works. I guess Medicaid will only pay for two more weeks, and somebody has to pay.”
“Maybe I can help. You could, you could, maybe stay at my place until you can arrange something else,” Hank spoke the words – my place – so softly, he wasn’t sure that she had heard him.
“Arrange something? How the hell am I gonna get a place? I’ve got nothing.”
“We’ll work something out. There’s an agency or welfare or something to help. There’s gotta be something.”
“I’ve tried before and there’s nothing.” Laurel answered with a voice of resignation.
“Well, like I said, what about staying at my place for a while, maybe till you get back on your feet.”
This time she heard him. “Your place? You’ve got to be kidding.”
“No, I’m serious. I want to help. I need to help.” Hank stood and moved to the side of her bed.
“I don’t know, man. I mean I just met you. I don’t know who you are. You could be an ex-con or some serial-murderer preying on injured, helpless women.” Laurel looked past him, and stared out her window.
Hank moved to intercept her gaze. “I have two bedrooms. We can share.”
“I’ll think about it. Seems kinda strange. Me and you sharing a place, too weird.” She moved her eyes away from his and to the end of the bed. She was shaking her head no.
“We can get to know each other while you’re here in the hospital, and you can decide later.” Hank moved to the window and looked down into the parking lot. They were both quiet for a while, contemplating their path.
“Why did you do it?” Hank asked.
“Why do you care?”
“I told you. When I saw your eyes, something changed; something was different. I can’t explain it, but it got inside me. I need something to care about. You’re that something that just came to me outta nowhere. It’s like fate, or God, or something put you in front of me as the answer to my prayers.”
“You prayed for this to happen?” Laurel’s mouth hung open bewildered.
“Not like what happened. I prayed for something to change my life. I prayed hard. I think this changed me. I think this was my answer.”
“I’m on some pretty powerful pain medication so that sounds weird to me right now. They also gave me something for depression. Duh. So I’m a little more cordial than my normal self. Don’t take my carefree attitude for the real me, or one day if you hang around, you may be disappointed.”
“Why are you so sad?”
“You asked me that before.”
“Did I?” Hank turned to look at Laurel and smiled.
“I tell you what, Hank, you tell me a story, and then I’ll tell you one.”
“What kind of story?”
“A story about what makes you want to hang out with me, about why you thought my eyes were a mirror to your soul. By the way, that’s pretty heavy.”
Hank hesitated, arched his back and seemed to be struggling with a thought. He put his hands in his back pockets. “That’s hard, I don’t know…maybe.”
“Maybe? I’m sorry, but that’s the deal, Hank. I’ll show you my soul if you show me yours.” Now Laurel was watching him intently, looking for clues of insincerity in his body language. Was this guy for real? “I don’t need any more trouble in my life, and I’m thinking what I see is trouble. So if I don’t know who you really are, then I can’t decide if I want you to keep coming around.”
“Okay, I suppose that’s fair. What do you wanna know first?”
“Your choice, cowboy, but it’s got to be something that tells me who you are, not some normal run-of-the-mill tale about you, and your buddies out drinking or hunting. Something real.”
“Well, okay, but it won’t be pretty, I promise.”
Hank worked another difficult shift at the moving company. He had only smoked five cigarettes today. When happy hour arrived, instead of heading for his favorite bar on upper King Street, he went to the hospital. As he entered Laurel’s room, a nurse was giving her medications for the evening.
“How y’all doin’ today?” Hank asked cheerfully.
“Afternoon, cowboy. We all are doing fine, all things considered. My day has been just swell. Used a bed pan, had a sponge bath, got a shot in my butt that still hurts, and watched Jerry Springer because I couldn’t get the remote to work, just swell. How about you?”
“Not as good as I’d like, but better than some.”
“Tell me a story, Hank. I’ve been waiting all day to hear it.”
Hank took off his hat, moved the visitor’s chair closer to her bed and sat. “Well, I reckon I been thinking about what to tell you, where to start and all. Like what part of my life would tell you who I am, and there really ain’t no place to start but at the beginning with me and my wife.”
“I was married.” Hank stopped for a moment and looked down. “But we done skipped ahead, so I got to tell it straight through or I can’t tell it at all. Otherwise it don’t make no sense.”
“Okay, sorry. If I’ve got anything, I’ve got time so please just keep going anyway you like.”
Hank paused, gazed at the floor with a blank stare and then snapped back to the moment.
“Grew up in a small town in west Texas. At eighteen, I married my childhood sweetheart, Angel. And, man I’m here to tell you, she was my angel back then; cute as a bug’s ear and sweet as sugar on peaches. We were in love, hot and heavy, couldn’t keep our hands off each other for the first couple years. Angel couldn’t wait to have babies; that’s all she talked about. We had a child about four months after we was married. Had another a year later. The two kids were great, and I loved being a daddy, but two little ones will sure slow down the romance.
“I worked at a rancher’s feed store. It was hard living for us, but we had young love to cloud that reality. Wanted something better for my family, but to make more than minimum wage in those parts, you had to work on an oil drillin’ rig or mining. Both jobs were hard work, long hours, and dangerous, and I might not be able to come home every night. I couldn’t stand the thought of that, not being home with my Angel and our two little ones. I mean they were the reason I worked. Hell, back then, they was everything to me.”
Laurel looked at Hank more closely now. For a moment, he had a sparkle in his eye as he smiled with the good memories, when he talked about his kids. She noticed a red tint in his short-cropped hair and on his cheeks, the fading freckles from his youth. In the memory he told, she could envision him as a young married man, cowboy hat tipped back on his head, and beaming as his kids played outside a house trailer.
“So I kept looking around and finally found a chance to get a little extra money and to earn some free college by joining the army reserves. A lot of guys did that out there in our county. No big deal, military drill once a month and two weeks in the summer. And then the Iraq War and Afghanistan came along. Got called up and had to train and go overseas for eighteen months in all. Lost my job at the feed store cause they had to have someone work it while I was deployed.
“We had been married five years the first time I went to war. Came back on leave after nine months and I was so anxious to see my Angel and the kids, I thought I would bust. But when I arrived at the airport, she wasn’t there to meet me. I had been travelin’ for twenty-four hours, came straight from the desert, and I had to catch a cab and wait outside my trailer for four hours. It was late when she got home.”
A dark mood erased his smile. Laurel sensed the change.
“I sat in the dark on a picnic table and watched. She stumbled around like she wasn’t sure what to do, and then started fiddling around in her purse for a cigarette, lit it and finally walked to a neighbor’s trailer. The kids came bustin’ out that trailer door, crying, upset. ‘Where you been, Mama? Where you been?’ They were grabbing her dress. The little one had his arms up begging to be held. But she didn’t answer them, didn’t hug them or nothin’. Just looked down on them like she was put out with the whole thing. The neighbor was pissed, they argued and the lady just turned around disgusted and slammed the door.
“Angel yelled at ‘em, told the kids to ‘shut the hell up’ and then drug ‘em by their hands back over to our place. Before I was deployed, she had never talked to our kids like that. She had never treated them like that. I was shocked and mad, but I didn’t say nothin’; just sat there.
“When she got to our yard, I stepped out of the dark and under the front door light so they could see me. My oldest, a sweet little girl, ran to me. The younger one, a tough little four-year old boy, he wasn’t so sure. My wife shoved him towards me. ‘Go say hi to your daddy, son.’ She reached in her purse for some gum and took another drag on her cigarette while watching the kids hug me. I looked at her and she just stood there with a hand on her hip.
“I didn’t want to fight or fuss at her. I mean, I had just got home after nine months where all I could do was think about her and those two kids. They had been my whole life, really the only people I knew and loved. They were my family.
“Although I had only been gone about nine months, it seemed like we had both aged fifty years. Young love weren’t there no more.” Hank picked on a loose thread on his jeans and let out a sigh.
Laurel sat still and quiet, studying the sad memory hanging on his face.
“My Dad had run off when I was ten and my momma died from lung cancer when she was fifty-two, the year before I got called up to go to war. My wife’s parents had moved to Washington State, and we didn’t hardly ever hear from them. They wandered around a lot; sometimes we didn’t know where they were for months at a time. So we were pretty much on our own.
“The last we heard from them was when they called us collect, just before I deployed to Afghanistan. Normally when they called, Angel would never want to tell me what they said, but somehow it always ended up about money. Angel would always send them a hundred dollars cash; cash that we couldn’t spare. So this time, I was secretly listening on our bedroom extension. The last thing they asked was if I was killed how much insurance money would the government payout, said they could use a little if that were to happen. Now ain’t that some in-laws for you. I get so mad every time I think about it; I just try not to. It don’t help.
“I guess Angel was bored setting out there in the high plains with no job, no family, nothing much to do but raise the kids. I’d like to say I couldn’t blame her, but hell, I was fighting a war for us…not just for my family, but for our country, and she couldn’t keep her pants on for nine months.”
Hank paused, looked at the floor with a blank stare. A moment later he continued. “I thought she loved me, but when it came down to it, maybe after the thrill of teenage marriage and all, maybe it was just lust, it sure as hell wasn’t love no more.
“We kinda made up while I was home, but she acted like being my wife, and my lover was more her duty than something she wanted. She said she was sorry for not meeting me at the airport. She said she got mixed up, thought I was coming the next day. But when I left to go back to the war, I could see she was just waiting for me to leave. She dropped me off at the airport four hours early. Said she had things to do, and she didn’t want me to miss my flight.
“Sure ‘nough about six months after I left, I got a letter from her. She said that she had sold the trailer and had moved to South Carolina. Said that she wanted a divorce. Then she said the kids were fine. She told me she hadn’t heard from her parents in months and then tells me what the kids have been doing and writing about everyday stuff that I would normally love to hear. But she had said she wanted a divorce, like it was just something that happens every day, like ‘Oh, by the way, I want a divorce.’ God Almighty.”
Hank paused again. He was shaking his head back and forth and his knee was bouncing rapidly like a nervous twitch. Laurel did not move. She searched his blank face. An announcement from the nurse’s station broke the spell.
“So there I was in Afghanistan with no way to do nothin’ about it, and my wife sells everything we own, and moves my kids out of the state, halfway across the country, and is living with a man she met in some bar. I don’t care how you slice it or dice it or try to reconcile it, that whole deal is just wrong. But there was nothin’ I could do.
“I thought about it for a long time. Hell, I didn’t have nothin’ else to do sitting in a sandbag bunker on top of a hill in that Godforsaken, shithole country. I’d look out over the village in the valley and see families living in mud huts and they were happy or at least it seemed that way.
“Their kids came outside and played every day with rocks and sticks and splashed in the creek. They loved soccer. We gave the kids a couple soccer balls that some company had donated to help us improve moral and to help get the local people to maybe like us better. Not sure it worked, but it was better than if we just ignored them. We would go out on patrol and visit them. The kids played with those soccer balls every day and they thanked us. They were all smiles. Kids are like that everywhere in the world until they get older, and someone teaches them to hate. I guess we all start out that way; innocent, I mean.
“At night, someone would shoot at us from that village and from the mountains surrounding us. Funny, those villagers that talked with us and let their kids play with us; those same people would try to kill us at night. They were good at playing for both sides. I reckoned their lives depended on it.
“So like I said, I had a lot of time to think about my marriage and my wife and my kids. I was hurt and mad and frustrated, but none of that would make a hill of beans to my situation. I reckoned my deal was a lot like the village. No matter what we had done or said, nothin’ would change, and we could just sit there and watch ‘em, or we could kill them all, or we could just pack it up and leave, and nothing would change that place, just like nothin’ I did was gonna change the situation with my family.
“I figured, even if Angel saw the error of her ways and came back to me, I could never trust her again. The only upside would be my kids; they were still young enough to love their daddy, and they would come back to me with smiles and love. Unless she had tried to teach them something else bad or wrong about me to try to make it okay to do what she’d done. I didn’t want her to teach them to hate. So I just sucked it up, and did my duty, and sat in that sand-bagged bunker for another few months until my tour was up.”
Hank was looking down at the beige-and-brown-flecked tile floor. He wiped his eyes with the back of his arm just as a nurse walked in to check on Laurel and take her dinner tray away. She came in with a smile, but immediately sensed the mood in the room. Laurel sat with a somber face looking at Hank. No words were spoken until the nurse asked, “Do you need anything?”
“No, ma’am. Thanks.”
“Sir, visiting hours will be up in another thirty minutes, but take your time, no hurry. Just press your call button if you need something, Laurel.” She walked out.
“Hank, I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. It wasn’t your fault. I reckon it was mine.”
“I don’t really know you well enough to be the judge, but I’m not so sure of that. That was an intense story. Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I haven’t told anyone that story since I got back.”
“I guess I owe you one now.”
“Yeah, I reckon you do.”
“But it’s kinda sad, too.” Laurel hung her head as she thought about it.
“Well, I thought that was what we were doing, getting to know each other and attempting to purge our demons.”
“Yeah, I suppose we are.” She paused and looked at Hank with compassion. “Are you sure you’re okay? Do you want to wait to hear my story another night?”
“No. Might as well keep going. I’ve just finished the easy part. I reckon I got more to tell another time.”
“Oh my, that was easy?” She composed herself, took a drink of water, lay back on her pillow, and looked at the ceiling.
“When I was six years old my family went on a picnic to our favorite mountain lake. We loved it up there. It was a deep, spring-fed lake with crystal-clear blue water, surrounded by mountains and a beautiful field of wildflowers. The park was remote, but a few people came up on the weekends. My mother was still okay then, at least as far as I could tell. I mean her mental state seemed normal. My dad, he was like the mountains, big and strong and always there to take care of us. He loved us more than anything in the world. He told us so every night when he tucked us in, and we said prayers together.
“That day, my older sister, Trish, and I were sitting on a flat rock with our dolls having a tea party. I was getting a little old for that and so was my sister, but she played with me anyway. She called the shots, and I looked up to her to help me sort things out, and show me the way. You know how it is with kids; she was my big sister. She knew everything. But now that I look back on it, I think I was overly dependent on her. She even talked for me when we were around strangers. I was just too shy, I guess.
“Mom and Dad were sitting on our picnic blanket with our younger brother, Blake. He was almost nine months old and cute as a button. Sometimes Trish and I played with him like one of our baby dolls. We’d dress him up and feed him. We loved him.
“My older brother, Frank, had climbed to the top of a high rock ledge. He was fifteen, almost sixteen, and we both had idolized him, but he didn’t want us around much, especially that year.
“That year had been hard for him. He had started to hang out with some boys that Dad didn’t like. They were snarly, rude delinquents that would tear things up, shoplift, smoke, and cause general trouble around town. I don’t know why my brother would go around with them, maybe because they were older and seemed cool to him.
“He changed a lot that year. He argued with our parents, and stayed in his room when he was home. The skin underneath his eyes turned a little darker, like an older person’s might do. Trish and I, even at our age, we noticed the change, and we also noticed that sometimes he was higher than a kite, full of energy, and other times, nothing made him happy. I didn’t know about that condition back then, but later we were pretty sure he struggled with a bi-polar disorder at an early age.
“That’s odd and hard to know or understand with a kid. We, or society, usually write the behavior off to being young and having too much energy or hormonal changes. It’s easy to ignore with a young teenager.
“We saw him smoking and drinking a beer once behind a neighbor’s garage, and he threatened us, and told us not to tell. The older boys laughed at us, and at him too. My sister told Mom, but she didn’t do anything. I think she was scared of my brother. But my bother heard Trish telling Mom, and the next day, she found her favorite doll hanging upside down from a small tree in our backyard with its head cut off.
“A week later my brother came in late, and my dad met him at the door. My brother had been drinking. Oh boy, did they have a blowout. Two mornings later, my dad found the tires on his truck slashed.
“After that, my brother would just sit or sleep in his room all day. My sister and I knew he was sneaking out late at night, and coming in before dawn. He would tell us about bad people that he had seen riding around in the neighborhood. He had taken one of Daddy’s guns out a couple nights. He told us he was gonna kill those people he had seen because they were checking out our house to maybe rob us or hurt us. We were scared of him and of those people. We never saw the people he thought were stalking us, but at our age that made things more mysterious and scary. We told Daddy about the bad men and he said not to worry, but of course we did.
“We discovered later these people were only in my brother’s imagination. He was so paranoid about a lot of things. He thought everyone was out to get him. It’s sad, but you could not convince him any different. He was so sure about it; he had proof he said.
“One night Daddy smelled something odd coming through the venting system. He walked in our brother’s bedroom, and Frank was smoking pot. He had a full bag right there on his bed.
“Daddy called the cops. Frank got off easy ‘cause he was a minor, but he was put on probation for two years and had to stay at home or with the family all the time. He got even weirder after that.
“With all that trouble, he was still beautiful. He had Mom’s blue eyes and a perfectly cut face. He was slim and well built and could have been a good athlete, but he had never seemed to care about that, at least not after he started hanging out with those older boys.
“And there he stood, on that bright, sunny, summer day, high up on that rock in all of his youthful glory. Mom and Daddy were sitting on the picnic blanket watching him, smiling, thinking maybe this was just the thing. Our family was all together, happy, perfect.
“The climb to the top had been difficult, and they seemed proud of him, watching him make his way up that steep rocky climb. Me and Trish were watching too, proud of how strong our big brother was and how happy he looked.
“We had been praying for this, because that’s what the preacher told us to do. I know Daddy had hoped that the bad days were behind us, and he had faith that things would be okay. But that’s how it goes, at least for me, just when you think everything is going to be okay, and you let your guard down, then life slaps you in the face with all it’s got.
“My dad waved at Frank, and took out a camera to get a shot. That’s when my brother pulled a joint out of his pocket and lit up so everyone could see. He smoked it with exaggerated antics to make sure everyone could see what he was doing. He drew in deeply on the joint and blew it out as a show. My dad started yelling at him, and my Mom was pleading for my brother to just come down. ‘Be careful,’ she said. ‘Be careful.’ My dad yelled, ‘you little son-of-a-bitch, what do you think you’re doing?’ Frank looked at them and smiled. He held his arms out wide and then looked to the sky. He stepped to the edge of the cliff and fell backwards into the lake. He landed flat on his back. The splash was huge.
“The drop was easily a hundred feet, maybe more. I’m not sure. When you’re a little kid, some things seem so much bigger. Well, it was high enough, I guess. The lake was really deep. It took a couple of days for the sheriff to get divers up there to find his body.”
The room was quiet. Hank sat motionless and Laurel wiped a tear away. She sighed heavily.
“There was a sad mood and rhythm at our place for a long time. My mom went into a sort of trance through the period while we were waiting to find his body, and the funeral, and for a few weeks after that. She and Daddy didn’t talk much for a long time; maybe they never did talk much afterwards. It was like Frank’s death killed our family’s spirit.
“I guess the hardest thing for us was leaving the lake that night. We were pretty much on our own. People dove in and looked, but could find nothing. The spot where he hit the water was hard to swim to, and dangerous for people. My mom kept looking at the water and crying like any minute he was gonna just pop right up, and shake his head and say, ‘Don’t worry, I’m good.’ My dad went at it every way he could, swimming, diving down deep until we thought he had drowned too. He climbed that dangerous rock to try to look down into that clear water, but saw nothing. I felt so helpless. I held onto my doll that whole night.
“As I got older, and had my own child, I was stymied by the thought of that moment, and how hard it would be as a parent to quit looking. How do you give up the search with something like that? How can you decide to walk away, get in your car, and drive home leaving your child in a deep, cold grave. ‘Don’t worry, son, we’ll be back tomorrow with help. Just hang in there.’ That was a long drive home and the start of a long slide down.”
An announcement came softly through a speaker outside the door. “Visiting hours are now over. All visitors are asked to exit quietly.”
“I’m sorry, Laurel. I’m so sorry about your brother, about your family.”
“Well thanks, Hank. It’s been a long time.”
“You said a long slide. Has the pain of losing your brother been what’s got you so down?”
“Well, like I said, it began a long slide. I’m kinda tired now. I guess the pain medicine is taking effect.”
“Did you say that you had a child?”
“Hank, I’m tired, please.” Her eyes were red, and a tear was running down her cheek.
“Shall I come see you tomorrow?”
“I’d like that.”
They live among us. We know they are there. No government can control them; no authority can stop them. Some are evil. Some are good. All are powerful. They inhabit our myths and fairy tales. But what if they were real, the witches, wizards, and fairy godmothers? What if they were called "adepts" and were organized into guilds for mutual protection and benefit? And what if they started mucking around with the affairs of "lessers" (that is, those humans not able to match their powers)? During the height of the Cold War, Michael Vaughan is a rogue without a guild. He survives by working for the CIA as NOC (Non-Official Cover). Shortly after the funeral of President Joe Kennedy, Jr., he is sent to Cuba to assassinate Castro. There he finds himself in a cat-and-mouse game with adepts working for Fidel.
Angel’s house, Encino, Ca: April
“Nigga, you know I’m a thug!” Angel said without a smile on her face. “You need to quit trippin’ and get the fuck outta my face! I’m about through with yo’ ass anyway!” Angel snapped. “Bitch, who you think you talkin’ to?” Donta snapped. Angel kept her eyes glued to the TV screen, watching the college basketball national championship game between the USC Trojans and the Duke Blue Devils. “Angel! Bitch, you hear me! Who the fuck you talkin’ to?” Donta asked, on the verge of extreme agitation. He was now standing between Angel and the TV, blocking her view intentionally and pissing Angel off in the process.
“Move, Donta, I can’t see my fuckin’ TV!”
“Girl, my brother just got smoked a few days ago and you hollerin’ about some TV? Fuck that TV!”
Donta screamed at the top of his lungs. Angel could see Donta was wound up now. There were rumors Donta snorted heroin. Looking at the subtle brown flakes in the corner of his nose, Angel knew the rumors were true. Donta was the kind of dude grown ass men were afraid of and every other bitch would have been shaking in his presence, especially with him being upset, high and unpredictable—that is, everyone except Angel, who was a self-proclaimed thug and stood behind her claim with both feet. When it comes down to it, Angel was really not someone to mess with. Angel was sick and tired of Donta’s shit—from the verbal abuse, to the rumors of infidelity and drug abuse—so whether or not he had just lost his brother, she was done with him; and now seemed just as good a time as any to let him know she was through with him and ready for a change. She honestly didn’t care what he thought about it and surely didn’t give a damn about his feelings on the matter.
“I’m gonna tell yo’ bitch ass one more time to move away from in front of the TV. I can’t see my baby daddy!”
The fuck she say that for? Donta lost it then! He threw the nineteen inch TV across the room and in one motion he turned and faced Angel. He reared back and savagely backhanded her across the face with such force it caused her nose to bleed instantly. Donta had reacted instinctively, but through his heroin-induced high, he somehow had a moment of clarity: he realized his actions and became immediately apologetic.
“Baby, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it!” Donta had gone off on Angel in the past, but even through all of his rants and verbal abuse, this was the first time he had ever put his hands on her and he knew he had fucked up big time. When he saw Angel’s reaction, he knew this was a critical mistake. “Mothafucka!!! Nigga, have you lost your motherfuckin’ mind??!! No, Hallman, Koffi you didn’t just hit me! Nigga, you have until I count to ten. I’m getting my gun and if yo’ bitch ass is still here by then, I’m gonna put some holes in your mothafuckin’ ass!” Donta knew without a shadow of doubt, Angel was serious.
Angel stormed past Donta and headed upstairs, counting out loud. By the time Angel got to five, Donta was pulling down the street of their Encino home. Angel let off two shots from the second floor bedroom window. The first shot hit the sunroof, while the second shot hit the rear windshield of his Mercedes S500 as he floored the powerful German automobile down the street, around the corner and out of sight. Angel proceeded to take a towel and ice from the freezer to stop the bleeding of her nose. Afterwards, she went into the living room and turned on the seventy-inch plasma HDTV on the wall to continue watching the game. Placing the chrome .380 on the marble table, she picked up her cell phone and called her older brother, Adam Charles Evans, or ACE as everyone called him. He was a thug for real, who loved Angel with all his heart and since the death of their parents in a fatal car accident a year ago, the other was all each one had—and she was his heart! Ace picked up on the second ring and after seeing the caller ID, was very cheerful when he said, “Hello? What’s good, baby sis?”
“Hello… ACE?” Angel said, sounding nasal.
“What’s wrong, baby sis? You sound all funny ‘n shit—you got a cold or somethin’?” Ace said.
“Naw… ya fuckin’ boy… that crazy-ass nigga actually hit me!”
“You okay, girl? You hurt?” Ace said, now sounding genuinely concerned and inquisitive.
“I’m cool! I don’t even know why I told you…. I’m just mad I guess.”
“Where that nigga at now?” Ace demanded, now sounding serious and calculating, like the coldblooded killer he was.
“Oooh, calm down, brother, I put two slugs in his precious Benz, so he probably gonna come see you and try and get that shit fixed.” Pausing, Angel managed a little smile and a slight chuckle when she continued with, “Shit, I’ll bet he would have rather I put a slug in his ass instead of his other girlfriend; his precious little car!” She laughed again, a little harder this time and said, “Ace, promise me you won’t do anythin’! Don’t get me wrong: I’m through with his punk ass, but you know how you get when it comes to me and I don’t need you doin’ extras and gettin’ into trouble”
“Angel, you trippin’, girl… why y’all get into it?”
“Cuz I told him I’m leavin’ his punk ass for my baby daddy! Oooh, he is lightin’ Duke ass up!!”
“Yeah, I’m watchin’ the game now…. Oooh, so he your baby daddy now? Girl, you a trip!”
“Ace, I’m dead serious! We getting’ married! He already my man.
Don’t even trip on that, big brother, I got this! Nigga, you know I’m a thug!”
“Girl, you a trip! I’m headed over there after a while.”
“Ace, I’m so serious—don’t touch him! Promise me you won’t touch him!”
“All right, girl”
“I’m serious, Ace! Promise me!”
“Dang, girl, all right! I won’t lay a finger on that nigga, you got my word. I won’t touch him! Shit… you cookin’?” Ace asked, trying to change the subject.
“Nigga, you better make Terri’s ass get in the kitchen! I’m your sister, she’s ya bitch!”
“I bet if I was your baby daddy you would…,” Ace started to say, but never finished.
“Yeah, but you ain’t!” Angel said, cutting him off. “That’s nasty, boy…. Bye, brother!”
Angel quickly hung up the phone before Ace could respond. She was giggling to herself, thinking how pissed Ace must be as he hated to be hung up on. When he called back, she broke out into full laughter of the possible messages he would leave on her machine after she refused to answer the phone. Watching the second half of the game, Angel saw one of the greatest comebacks in NCAA history as the USC Trojans came from seventeen down at the half to winning by eleven, led by their All-American shooting guard, her “baby daddy” number twenty-one. He scored twenty-five second-half points for a game-high of thirty-five to go with fifteen assists, eleven rebounds and seven steals. He was given game and tournament MVP honors after leading the USC Trojans to back-to-back national titles, making himself all but a shoo-in to become the number one pick in the upcoming NBA draft lottery occurring in two months.
The following excerpt is from a scene near the middle of Murder In Absentia. Felix finds himself on a ship attacked by pirates at night. This is one of my favourite scenes, for several reasons. First, I get to write a fight scene, and as Murder In Absentia is primarily a detective mystery there aren’t a lot of them. I have also done a lot of research into realistic sword fighting techniques, and I get to write one properly, which is always a good feeling. Second, is that as a writer I get to play with the tempo of the story. By carefully choosing words and crafting sentence lengths, I hope to evoke the feeling of urgency and breathlessness that occur within a fight. I will let you be the judge of the results.
I woke up to urgent yells from heavy slumber. Not bothering with clothes, I grabbed my dagger and ran outside to the deck. A ship larger than ours was heading straight at us under power of oars. Their crew were silent, no drums to keep pace and no shouts. That they were pirates was evident from the vessel itself. A fast and decked bireme, its prow was painted with large blue eyes, slightly slanted to give a menacing look as they stared at us. Its sail was folded and the mast down, the pirates were ready for battle and boarding. A row of men stood at the railing, armed and ready with ropes and planks.
The pirate ship was perhaps three hundred paces from us, and by their angle and equipment I knew that they did not intend to ram us, but rather angle next to us and board us. Piracy does not make profit by sinking treasures — these come from the robbery of goods, selling the crew to slavery and holding any notable passengers for ransom.
Our crew was frantic, everybody suddenly awake after last night’s celebrations. Margaritus was yelling orders, the sailors were hoisting the anchor and going to the oars. Aulus Didius looked particularly dishevelled, not yet recovered from yesterday’s enchantments, and seemed unable to focus on the events storming around him.
With two hundred paces between our ships and us barely moving, it was becoming obvious that they would gain on us and that we would have to fight if we wanted to escape capture. Margaritus had broken out the weapon stores, and the crew and divers each grabbed a tall oval shield and a short gladius, and braced on the side facing the pirate ship. I picked up a shield and grabbed the handle inside the shield’s boss with my left hand, though I elected to remain armed only with my trusty dagger.
Margaritus yelled at the remaining crew to put up the sail with the hope that Didius Rufus could conjure sufficient winds, as the oarsmen armed themselves instead to prepare for boarding. I stared out across the dark waters watching the moonlit vessel closing in on us rapidly. At this distance I could make out the individual faces of the pirates and the murderous intent written on them. I wondered what mess I had gotten myself into and whether I would live to see the morning.
With fifty paces to go, the pirates banked oars, grabbed ready bows and let a volley go. All of us in the front lines raised our shields and managed to absorb most of the volley. Only two of our men were hit, though from the quick look I cast in their direction the wounds seemed slight. Our ship did not have a means to return fire — it was not a navy vessel, and was designed for the specific operation of the divers. It relied on speed generated by its resident incantator, who unfortunately seemed in a state of battle shock like a green recruit. The lack of a proper night guard could only be blamed on Margaritus.
Thirty paces to go, and another volley of arrows. This time one man fell down when an arrow that ricocheted from a shield lodged itself in his neck. The deck became slick with the blood spurting from his wound. Margaritus was shaking Didius Rufus by his shoulders, yelling in his face to get the wind up.
Ten paces, and the pirates cast ropes with hooks onto our rails, dragging us closer. We dislodged the hooks and struck at the ropes, but within the space of a deep breath the pirate ship bumped into ours, shaking the deck under our feet. The two ships screeched like racing chariots colliding.
The pirates were upon us. With wild cries they jumped from their ship onto our deck, swinging swords, axes, hooks and clubs. I braced my shield, and as the pirate who targeted me tried to land his curved sword in a neat arc from above straight on my head I took a step back, causing him to miss his mark and forcing him to stumble as he landed, and immediately with my full weight behind the shield I jumped and slammed into him, forcing him backwards and the boss of the shield knocking the wind from his lungs, yet still with his back against the ship’s rail he tried to raise his sword to protect himself, but I knocked it aside with my shield and plunged my knife deep into his chest. His eyes widened and a gurgling, rattling sound came from his throat as he lost balance and fell overboard, splashing into the waters in the space between our ships.
What followed was a mad free-for-all battle. The pirates were ferocious, the deck was slick with blood and the air was heavy with the din of fighting, the shouts of enemies colliding and the cries of the wounded.
“..... And do you, Iris Anne Evelyn Wright, take Charles Power, as your lawful wedded husband, for better or worse, in sickness and health and for richer or poorer............”
In the country town of Murrumburrah, Charles and Georgina Power from Cootamundra were seated in the front pew of Saint Paul’s Church of England. This was for the marriage of their son Charles to Iris Anne Evelyn Wright. (Iris’s mother had passed away several years before)
The Prominent stories on page one, of the Cootamundra Herald that morning had read; -
“Mr. Fisher says it will probably be arranged that federal Parliament shall sit in the daytime only, leaving the evenings free.”
“Coadjutor -Archbishop Kelly succeeded Cardinal Moran by right of succession and is now Archbishop of Sydney.”
“The police force in Perth is asking for an increase in pay of Is 6d per 'day on account of the increased cost of living.”
As the sun rose on that beautiful, crisp Saturday morning, no one realised that such a day of joy and hope would be marred in only three more years by sadness and loss. Events developing in Europe would have such a devastating effect on the newlyweds. As the wedding party gathered at the little church, all these other matters were far away from everyone’s thoughts. Today was a day of hope and joy!
The church, on the top of the hill at Murrumburrah, was bursting at the seams. The family had gathered in this picturesque town from throughout the Cootamundra District, and far away. Uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters, they were all there.
As he was waiting at the altar with his elder brother, Edward (who was his best man) for his bride to arrive, Charles looked around at the seated congregation. In the right front row could see his father Charles senior and mother Georgina at either end of the front right pew. Between them were his younger siblings Wallace, Leslie, Austin, Phyllis, and Thomas. Immediately behind them were his other siblings William, James, Thomas, and Georgina.
The next two pews were occupied by Aunt Eliza and Uncle Randal Schofield along with the cousins Ethel, James, Austin, Randall, Herbert Charles, Henry, and Frederick.
The other side of the church was for mainly Iris’s family, – Arthur, Leslie, Thomas, and Dorothy. There was a space left for Albert, who was standing in for Iris’s mother who had passed away twelve years prior.
Iris’s uncles and aunts and a couple of cousins were in the next few pews but, in the excitement, he couldn’t remember their names. He did, however, see Aunt Mary and Uncle Paul Kingston along with their children, James, Thomas, Alice and William, who arrived at the last minute.
His thoughts returned with the arrival of the bridal party. The bride looked radiant! She was followed by the bridal party, comprising Albert Wright, 26 (standing in for Iris’s father) Mary Anne Kingston (Matron of Honor), and Alice Power (bridesmaid). The wedding must have had some effect on Albert because; within two years, the young police constable himself would marry his sweetheart, Ellen O’Brien.
The wedding breakfast was a jovial affair with the younger children playing and getting into all sorts of mischief. Most of the younger cousins enjoyed the time together while; the older boys gathered around and seem to see who could drink the most. The older girls had all helped with the food, and it would be true to say that the feast was one that will be remembered for some time.
No doubt the refreshments for the wedding came from Tooth & Company Limited. And being the brewers of White Horse Ale, they were also wine & spirit merchants and being cordial manufacturers.
Charles and Iris made the perfect couple and in so many of their laid back ways they signified the hope of a new nation. Australia was only eleven years old as a nation. Earlier that year, the site procured for the new Australian Federal House of Parliament a few short miles away to the east in a paddock called, Canberra.
The Power family were genuine pioneers of the district. Private Thomas Power (son of William Power and Honor O’Donnell) was born about 1805 in Ireland. He married Isabella Hastie on the 19th of Sep 1828 in Manchester, England.
He was a member of the 1st /50th (West Kent) Regiment, Queens own of foot. Along with his wife (Isabella) and infant daughter (Jane), he sailed to Sydney aboard the convict ship Hooghly. Shortly after arrival (the 18th of November) at Port Jackson they departed (the 5th of December) for Norfolk Island to take up his new post.
They returned to Sydney on completion of the posting and raised their family before eventually settling in the Cooma area. Their son Edward John Power was born in 1837 in Sydney. He married Mary Ann Chalker (daughter of Joseph Henry Chalker and Eleanor "Ellen" Kelly) in 1858 in Queanbeyan. He died in 1876 in Adaminaby.
Charles Power (son of Edward John Power and Mary Ann Chalker) was born in 1859 in Cooma; He married Georgiana Belcher (daughter of John George Belcher and Frances Fanny Nancarrow) in 1883 in Cooma. She was born on 18th Sep 1864 in Cooma.
Robert Coleman-Wright was born on 2nd January 1824 in Bristall, Leicestershire, England. He married Elizabeth Bennett on 17th June 1850 in Adelaide. Elizabeth had been born on 1st February 1830 in Uxbridge, Middlesex England. She died on 20th September 1916 at Essendon. Victoria; He died in 1893 at Talbot Victoria.
Gilbert Wright was born in 1857 in Amherst Victoria. He married Annie Case (daughter of Henry James Case and Helen Abdy) in 1886 in Junee. She was born on 10th Mar 1869 in Queanbeyan. She died on the 11th of November 1899 in Junee. Gilbert died at Lake Cargellico, on the 30th October 1933.
Iris’s grandmother (Helen Abdy) was the first non-aboriginal child born in Armadale. Helen was descended from Sir Anthony 1st Baronet Abdy.
The newlyweds settled at Cootamundra. By October next year, their family began to grow.
Charles Gilbert Roy Power was the first son and two years later Edward Charles Power arrived. Eight other children followed on in due course.
The new responsibility settled Charles and he was no longer seen drinking as often at the Cootamundra Star hotel and he had steady work with Jack Clarkson. There was one occasion when Charles ran afoul of the law.
The Cootamundra Herald 16th March 1915 reported;-
“Charles Power, jun., was charged with being drunk in Parker. St. on February 6th, 1916, in Cootamundra Court. He was also charged with assaulting Constable Burgess while in the execution of his duty. Mr. McMahon appeared for defendant.
Constable Burgess stated: “At about 10.15 on date, in question I arrested Power rears the Star hotel for being drunk; on the way to the police station the accused struck me on the jaw with his fist; I threw him to the ground and tried to hand cuff him; while on the ground the defendant kicked me on the 'wrist and leg; Constable Cusack came to my assistance, and we handcuffed him”. He then addressed Mr. McMahon, “It was after 10 o'clock; there were a lot of people about at the time; he never denied that he was drunk; he never complained of me twisting his arm, and never tried to pull away; I fell on the ground with accused: Defendant called out to several people in the street to bring a doctor to the station to see if he was drunk.”
Constable Cusack deposed “I saw the defendant at the Star hotel about 10 o’clock on 6th Defendant was drunk; while I was coming down to the lock-up with a man named Glanville I saw defendant hit Constable Burgess; I let Grenville go, and assisted Constable Burgess to put the handcuffs on him.”
To Mr. McMahon: “I was arresting Glanville at the time; I was coming down behind when defendant struck, Constable Burgess; while the constable and accused were in hotel a crowd of people came around the corner; I never heard defendant call out, 'bring a doctor.!”
Constable Stuart deposed: “Accused was very drunk when brought ' to the lock-up; I had previously cautioned him that evening.”
William James Clear deposed: “I remember seeing defendant on the date in question; he was drunk,”
Charles Power, jun., deposed: “I was in town on 6th inst. Constable Stuart did not speak to me that evening before I was arrested; I saw ' Constable Cusack arresting a man;'' I was standing at the hotel door when Constable Burgess caught hold of my hand, and -said, -'You come along with me too'; I asked why? And he said, 'You, are drunk'; while coming along he twisted my arm behind my back; I tried to pull away; 1 did not strike Constable Burgess; his head bumped my hand; I did not kick at the' constable while we were on the ground; Constable Cusack came and cuffed me; I had been talking business to Jack Clarkson for some time, and after that to two ladies.”
To Senior-Sargent Suprex : “I was at the Star hotel from 10.30; Constable Stuart did not caution me; I was perfectly sober all the time; I wanted the doctor to prove that 1 was not drunk; I have been locked up before for drunkenness.”
Jack Clarkson deposed: “Charles has been working for me lately; I met defendant at the Star hotel, and paid him his wages; he was sober: it was between 9.30 and 10 p.m.”
Leo Clarkson deposed: “I saw defendant at the Star Hotel 'about 10 p.m.; he was sober then; I was in there when the defendant was arrested.”
Charles was convicted on both charges for drunkenness he was fined 20/, and for assault, he was fined £3. Fourteen days was allowed to pay.
Iris was not impressed!
As Iris’s mother had passed on, she also had taken on the responsibility of caring and guiding her sister and brothers who had also moved close by.
Charles’s parents were alive, and all of his siblings lived in the surrounding district. Charles Snr. was away droving a fair amount of the time but his wife Georgina, was a beacon for the family and was always on hand to assist Iris, whenever help was needed
In the Riverina the years of 1911 – 1914 were idyllic. The weather was great, and no one had a care in the world.
Arthur Wright thought he was the head of the family (at least he told his younger siblings and cousins such. He did concede that Albert was older, but as he was in the police force in Sydney, Arthur was the man in charge.)
As the younger boys grew into manhood, they chose their profession with gusto and hope.
By 1914 the world was changing!
1914 - War Clouds gather over Europe
Britain was still regarded as the mother country, as the majority of the Australians at the time were descended from British and Irish convicts. There was nothing more important as the British Commonwealth in the psychic of most Australians of the time, although there seemed to be a distrust of the British hierarchy.
The immediate trigger for war was the 28th of June 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo. This set off a diplomatic crisis when Austria-Hungary delivered an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia, and international alliances formed over the previous decades were invoked. Within weeks, the major powers were at war and the conflict soon spread around the world.
On the 28th of July, the Austro-Hungarians declared war on Serbia and subsequently invaded as Russia mobilised in support of Serbia, Germany invaded neutral Belgium and Luxembourg before moving towards France, leading Britain to declare war on Germany.
On the 30th of July, 1914, a cablegram in secret cipher from the British Government to the Government of Australia informed it that there was imminent danger of war.
On the 4th August, Great Britain declared war on Germany. Australia pledged a force of twenty thousand to be placed at Britain's disposal. Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, declared that Australia would support Great Britain in the war against Germany'... .to the last man and the last shilling.
The nation awoke on the 6th August 1914 to read in the Sydney Morning Herald;
“A state of war exists between Great Britain and Germany.”
“The Austrians attacked the Servians at Semendria, and were repulsed with heavy losses.”
“The churches are packed with people praying for the success of the army.”
“The Prime Minister officially announced yesterday that war had broken out between Great Britain and Germany.”
“With a view to establishing a mobile reserve, it has been decided to mobilise the 8th Infantry Brigade.”
“The 16th Infantry Battalion will furnish a reserve for the defence of Newcastle.”
“Three thousand professional unionist musicians have offered for active service in Australia. “
“The Governor-General has received a message from the King, expressing his appreciation of the messages from the Dominions.”
There was no doubt that life in Australia was going to change!
Australia goes to War
By August 1914 Voluntary recruitment for the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.) commenced and the Australian Red Cross was established to raise funds to purchase comfort supplies for Australian service personnel overseas.
The formation of variously named 'patriotic funds' in all States to raise money to send extra food and clothing to service personnel overseas were established
In September the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (ANMEF) seized German New Guinea and nearby German-ruled island territories.
C.E.W. Bean was appointed as Australia's official war correspondent in October 1914.
So much happened so quickly and November saw the first division of the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.) sailed from Albany, Western Australia, for Egypt. HMAS Sydney sank the German cruiser, Emden, at the Cocos Islands, Indian Ocean.
For Australia, the war had commenced!
A Family Goes to War
At the outbreak of war the family boys were:
• Edward Power, 30, was married to Adele and worked as a general labourer.
• Charles (often referred to as Jerry) Power, 29, was married to Iris, had 2 children and worked as a labourer
• Albert Wright, 27, was a police constable in Sydney
• Leslie Wright, 24, was a grazier and was married to Myrtle
• Austin Schofield, 22, was a labourer
• William Henry Power, 21, worked as a labourer with his father
• Thomas Kingston, 20, was a Tailor’s Apprentice
• Arthur Wright, 19, was an Engineer
• Austin Power, 16, just started work as a Compositor with the local printer.
• Thomas Wright, 16, was a Jockey
• James Power, 15, was still at school
• Thomas Power, 13, was still at school
• Wallace Power, 9, was still at school
Austin Schofield was the first family member to answer the call. On Thursday the 17th of June 1915, Austin made his way to Liverpool to enlist (at this stage there were no facilities to join the forces outside the capital cities). He was assigned to the 8th reinforcement company of the 2nd Battalion A.I.F.
Seven days later on the 24th of June William Power was to enlist with the 8th reinforcement company of the 1st Battalion A.I.F. He was given the regimental number of 2893.
Arthur Wright was the next to enlist. On the 9th of August, he joined the 11th reinforcement Company of the 1st field engineers.
The following day Austin Schofield embarked on the troopship, HMAT Runic A54 for Gallipoli.
Ten days later (on the 18th of August 1915) young Austin Power was down at the newly opened recruitment office at Cootamundra. With his brother and two cousins already enlisted and with the opening of a recruitment office at Cootamundra, Austin decided to quit his job as a compositor with a local printer and enlisted.
He was sent to the 12th reinforcement company of the 4th Battalion A.I.F., outside of Liverpool where he was to commence his training.
Austin was only 17½ when he enlisted, and it took his mother (Georgiana) by shock when she found out a couple of weeks later what had happened.
She drew her breath and drafted this letter on the 28th of September requesting that the Army releases him from military duties due to him being underage.
Dear Sir, I am sorry, but I must object about my son Austin Power being in camp on active service as he is under the age of eighteen. He was seventeen last August, and I don’t see how the doctor passed him as he is a cripal(sic) in one foot – through burns when a child and has been treated for a ?????? and has been under a doctor for the last two years for a weak heart. I know that every boy should go that is of age and I have one son gone and a son-in-law, a brother and two nephews so I want you to give Austin his discharge and if you would oblige and don’t tell him that I objected as he would be very much upset. Just tell him that he is not fit for the army as I am sure he is not and I must object to him going until he is eighteen. You will oblige.
Mrs. C Power Cooper St.
It is interesting to note that during that period; the army did not ask for date of birth. Instead, all they asked was his age and where he was born. By 1917 this had changed and on the enlistment papers a new line, asking for date of birth, was added.
On the 7th of October, the army discharged him, and he returned to Cootamundra. As he had left his job, he had to find new employment. His family left Cootamundra in 1917 and moved to Marrickville and Austin became a glassworker in the local area.
William Power completed his basic training at Liverpool before he joined His Majesties Troop Ship A8 Argyllshire. It set sail for Egypt on the last day of September. Arthur Schofield had already left eight weeks prior on the HMAT A54 Runic.
Whenever a troopship, with any member of the family, departed, Constable Albert Wright always attempted to see his brothers or cousins sail off to war. Iris often joined him and where possible, spent time with them before their sailing.
Troopships travelled in a convoy with battleships for protection. Submarines were now an added threat, so convoys had to adopt new formations and changing patterns to elude the enemy.
The ships that were used for transport were owned by steamship companies (they were requisitioned by the government who paid a daily rate for them). Others were former German cargo ships, seized at the beginning of hostilities.
They were specially outfitted by the government to meet their new wartime role. This included increased numbers of berths; often in cargo holds. Conditions on board were cramped, to say the least. The lower decks were hurriedly fitted out with mess tables and hammocks and resembled large overcrowded barrack rooms.
Their quarters were all the way forward in the first hold. Having to sleep in hammocks William was pleasantly surprised to find they were very comfortable. It was his first experience of a hammock as it was with most of his comrades.
Shipboard life comprised drills, exercise sessions, games and sports that were all taken in shifts along with guard duties, and even mealtimes.
Weekly Sunday services were held on the deck. It was during one of these services they were told the on board death of one of the soldiers from illness.
A funeral service was held aboard the Shropshire, and the whole convoy of ships stopped out of respect.
It occurred to him how a vastly different experience of death in wartime was. They knew nothing about visions of death that most of them would face in the coming months.
At the next corner, pedalling toward him came an aged postman moving barely fast enough to remain upright.
‘Station Road beach, I do,’ the postman said as though preparing for conversation.
Tony was soon consuming the man’s life tale, and listening lifted him. He felt his spirit lighten, like this stranger was re-igniting what he believed was lost. Maybe these were his people after all, he thought, maybe he was closer to home than he believed: how they danced all over you, sang to you, felt you worthy of their stories, of their trust and time, and seemed not to doubt you’d feel the same for them; how they made light of the hard outer world at every opportunity, and when there was no opportunity how they invented one; they played with what others called suffering until it wasn’t suffering but something essentially good for you, a redeeming purgatory ordained by God. They seemed at one with the mill of living. And as for those he’d called liars the day before, they now seemed in some way saintly; maybe equally saints and liars. As a race, there was no denying it, these people inhabited a realm beyond him, a holy place that he might rise to, this Irishness.
‘Remember now what I told you: go past Macker’s field, bear left into Eamon’s Lane, and at the end take a sharp left and Station Road beach will be staring at you, and may God go with you because I can’t.’
They live among us. We know they are there. No government can control them; no authority can stop them. Some are evil. Some are good. All are powerful. They inhabit our myths and fairy tales. But what if they were real, the witches, wizards, and fairy godmothers? What if they were called "adepts" and used talismans to increase their power? The most powerful talisman in the world is The Hammer of Thor and Hitler stole it from its rightful owners, the Valkyrie. When American adept Francis Kader is reluctantly drawn into the effort to retrieve the Hammer from the Nazis, he begins a journey that leads him to a confrontation with Thor himself. Can a mere human hope to defeat an immortal god?
The second exciting installment of the William Brody African Ocean Adventure Series: African Treasure:
After rescuing the kidnapped village girls, Brody has been hailed a hero by the people of Pemba. In thanks for his bravery and leadership with their safe return, he’s presented with an old wooden sailing dhow. Back to living the dream on the island, Brody’s days are filled with sailing the coastline, diving, fishing and enjoying life to the fullest…that is until his life is turned upside down once again…
A crazy race for lost treasure….
When diving one day, Brody finds himself fighting for his life against a school of sharks. Narrowly escaping death while trapped in an underwater cave, he discovers the hilt from a sword. After some investigation, he realizes this is part of a larger haul, so the hunt is on! But the Kaya Bombo - a radical Islamic group – also have their eyes on the prize. They want the treasure to return the island to Sharia law and will not let anyone or anything get in their way.
Time’s running out…
Now it’s a race against time as Brody battles the terrorists and the ocean to find the treasure and escape. With bullets flying, Brody will do whatever it takes…but only if he can manage to stay alive long enough to claim the prize.
Everything starts with little girls.
This little girl was walking down a white dirt farm road one day in June 1954. Her slender shadow was just twice her height. And it crossed the road in a westerly direction, reaching out nearly to the irrigation ditch that ran alongside. A single thick braid was bouncing up and down on her back. The braid was stiff and damp, for the little girl had just been swimming at the big Vanducci house on the hill. Plomp, plomp, plomp went her bare brown feet in the warm soft dirt, little puffs of dust blowing up in her track to settle slowly in the windless air.
Cradled in her long skinny arms she had a big nervous fighting cock with beady eyes. She’d found him by the side of the road just a moment before. And she was very happy to have met him there, for she’d had no idea that he had escaped from his pen in her mama’s backyard. The cock was brown and gold and purple. His feathers shone in the sun. He turned his head all the time, fast and jerky from side to side. Her eyes were like the bird’s eyes, black and darting. She turned her head like him too, looking everywhere.
Her name was Selena Cruz.
Surrounding her were vast fields of alfalfa, tomatoes, and sugar beets, cut through with irrigation canals and county roads, sliced like adobe cakes into gigantic squares. The valley was green where it was planted, brown where it was fallow, and wide: fifty miles from the yellow Diablo Range, which rose up directly behind her, to the blue Sierras on the horizon. Lengthwise its dimensions were beyond her imagination: five hundred miles from Red Bluff in the north to Bakersfield in the south.
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