Safe House, Apache Dance, AZ...
Jake Slaughter walked out onto the deck of the cabin's deck for a few minutes of solitude after the long flight back from Quito.
In his own way, something he had learned to do years earlier, he had already made his peace with God over the death of de Alvarez in Ecuador; the assignment behind him, it was time to move on. He breathed deeply the cool night air and drew hard on a Sam Adams longneck.
Wine-red alpenglow washed the crennelated peaks of the Tucson Mountains and the vast Saguaro forests of the Sonoran Desert. Old Tucson Studios, stage for myriad old westerns and the renowned Desert Museum were visible from the house perched high up Golden Gate Mountain, south of Gates Pass Overlook. "Look at that," he muttered, his husky voice the upshot of the arid climate and one too many of his favorite rum-soaked cigars.
He scanned the open vista, the stands of desert scrub, Saguaro and Cholla cacti, and Mesquite and Palo Verde trees crowded into the valley below. Sounds of nightfall filled the air, the hum of nectar-feeding bats, the din of Hawk moths and other foraging insects, Javelina and Coyote running down an evening meal, and myriad bird species burrowing into the safety of their nests for the night. His eyes crinkled above a smile. "Aphrodisiac for the senses," he whispered. "Surely the Almighty scooped out this place on one of his better days."
His personal phone slapped him out of a sound sleep at seven the next morning. He sat up, his cracking knees a sharp reminder that he was aging by the minute, the pounding in his head an indicator that he was getting a bit long in the tooth to down a half-dozen longnecks and still function at peak efficiency the following morning.
"Jake? It's Michael in New York, did I wake you?"
"You're nothing if not consistent, Mikey."
"Hell, it's ten o'clock here in the real world, been at it for three hours already."
"Right." Michael Franks was Jake's long-time editor at Simon and Schuster in New York, always helpful and always calling at inopportune times. Good thing he was so damn affable. "What's up, pal?"
"Got your message about heading off to Beaufort. Can you send me the final draft of the book before you go?"
In his precious spare time, Jake wrote children's books, a dozen or so over the past couple of decades while secretly employed by a covert black ops arm of the CIA. The book in question was the third in a series of six adventure stories, protagonists and antagonists all creatures of either the desert or the southeast Atlantic coast. The books both entertained and informed, a quality his readers especially liked. They also sold like parrot heads at a Jimmy Buffet concert, a quality his publisher relished.
"I'll have it on your desk by the end of the week, Mikey, will that make you happy?"
"Wish all my writers were like you, Jake."
"No you don't. You put up with me because I make you folks a crapload of money."
"I thought I just said that."
Jake laughed. "Goodbye Michael."
"Hold on, I have a great idea. How about a book signing tour? It's been a longtime since your east coast fans got a peek at Father Jake's mug."
Jake rubbed his fingertip along the scar on his stomach. "I don't know, Mikey, I don't handle large crowds very well, you know that."
"He'll, man, they have a new pill out that takes care of, what do they call it, SAD, social anxiety disorder. Dumb ass acronym, but I'll get you a script, okay? Couple of those and a six pack and you'll be nattering to the walls." He chuckled, the infectious titter that buoyed his like-ability.
"All right, I'll think about it."
"Great, meanwhile I'll start making arrangements with Barnes and Noble and a bunch of indies. Call me when you get to the coast. Ciao."
What the hell, he was going to be home for a few weeks, first time is some years, to check out the new family digs, so maybe a tour wasn't a bad idea. His publisher had been after him for a while now, promos and marketing and all that.
He poured a cup of coffee and walked out the back door, the early morning air redolent of musk, sandalwood and honey. Memories coursed back through portals long closed. He read again an invitation he'd received months earlier:
The reunion of Beaufort High's class of 68
The promise made will now be kept
See y'all June 7-9 at the Lancaster Hall, downtown Beaufort
Regrets only, please!
"Regrets," he muttered. "Hell yeah, I've got a few. Who doesn't."