P R O L O G U E
Daron Turner sat atop his bench-style tackle box, hidden among the thick tulles, where he hoped neither prying eyes nor time could find him. In his scarred hands was his spinner style reel, and at his side was a coffee can half-filled with squirming night crawlers. To his left was a thermos of coffee, his .32 caliber handgun, and a fluorescent green stringer which he hoped would soon be heavy with the fat catfish and black bass that performed their ballet in the deep.
The warmth of the sun had yet to settle in Daron’s bones, which crackled as he got comfortable. As of late he’d been sluggish and on this morning found it more difficult than usual to keep his eyes open and fixed on the red and white bobber floating atop the rippled water. While he desired to yawn, none came, and even several sips of the coffee failed to jumpstart him. His eyelids grew heavier and his view of the world became like frames of film jammed in a projector; the scene before him unfolded in short, choppy bursts. He didn’t hear Imani, a woman he loved like a daughter, as she made her way along the recently established path.
“I toldReginaI would find you on this side of the lake,” she said, panting. “Trying to take advantage of the shadows?”
The water off the lake blew against her sand-colored skin, and she squinted her large, chocolate eyes. Her hair now flecked with streaks of gray, nearly reached her waist. She stepped closer, which caused the dry twigs to break under her footfalls. Imani set her pole and tackle box next to his.
“I know, keep it down, I might scare the fish,” she said, with a titter. “That still doesn’t give you the reason to shine me on.”
* * *Reginapulled her robe over her T-shirt and sweats and eased down onto the top step of the porch. She took a sip from a cup of steaming, jet-black coffee and, no sooner had the first swallow gone down when, a scream in the distance drew her attention. Regina’s eyes narrowed as she looked in the direction Imani had taken. Hardly ten minutes had passed since the younger woman took off to join Daron.
WhenReginasaw Imani tearing up the path without her gear, she dropped her cup onto the porch where it shattered. She screamed for Adam, who came to the door shirtless and red-eyed.
“Ma, what’s the matter?”
He watched asReginawent down the steps and pushed herself toward Imani as fast as her fifty-year-old legs would carry her. Adam’s heart thundered in his chest as he descended the steps two at a time and ran after his mother.
As the women drew closer,Reginacould see the mist and the sorrow in Imani’s eyes. There was no explanation required; hearing one would only destroy the granules of hope thatReginaheld fast to. Adam sped past his mother without stopping to ask Imani what was wrong.
Imani fell intoRegina’s arms. “I-I … must’ve been talking to him two or three minutes before I realized … Oh, my God … he was smiling with his eyes closed …”
Imani turned and allowedReginato put her weight on her as they made their way back toward the lake. They looked on as a barefoot Adam reached Daron first. He stood several feet away and looked at the lifeless, but erect body of his father. Daron’s fishing cap was in place and his fingers were wrapped around the pole as if he’d been anticipating a strike.
Adam felt as if he’d been struck unexpectedly in the solar plexus and, after a half-minute or so, he could breathe again. His second wind came with relief, like cool waters washing over him. Since Daron had returned from Ascención, burned and with his movement limited by pain and taut, webbed skin, Adam realized his father’s days for the world weren’t long.
He recalled the sorrow that weighed on him as Daron performed the simplest tasks with difficulty, albeit with all the pride one could expect from a feisty fifty-four year-old who had ‘been something’ in his day and had crammed two lifetimes into one.
Over time the scarring on Daron’s legs became infected and for the past month there were days when it was hard for him to get out of bed—let alone walk. Perez, the man who had brought Daron fromAlbuquerqueback toLakeConsuela, applied several homeopathic remedies that eased the pain, but the curative effect was negligible.
Since that return, Perez had become a member of their extended family, as did the Barfields—Jeb and Darlene—a middle-aged couple with a nineteen-year-old son, Beau. The Barfields had come in from the cold after a two-year north to south excursion, from centralCanadato the American west. They were welcomed, even though for Adam it reminded him of a passage he’d read in Daron’s history of the post-war world: “No sooner would we welcome newcomers, when death would make a house call and even things out.”
Despite his suffering, Daron never complained and all who lived in the cabin with him at Lake Consuela believed that every day they had him around was by the grace of God, that it was a blessing Daron ever made it home to them, to live out his final days on the land he loved.
It was more than a case of the death of a friend, husband and father. Unbeknownst to theLakeConsueladenizens, it was the loss of the de facto Father of the new Country that wasAmerica.
* * * *Two months after arriving inGraniteCounty, Perez wanted to see what the town ofStonecutterlooked like, and Adam agreed to be his tour guide. They went via horseback along a spider web-cracked road that in some places was equal parts dirt, gravel and asphalt. The trip was a quiet one, as Perez took more interest in the rolling foothills and the nearby orchards, where the trees were heavy with apricots, peaches and apples.
A warm breeze met them as they rode along the streets of Stonecutter. Within minutes they passed the remnants of the old hotel where the MMD—Mulholland’s Mad Dogs—holed up during the thermal onslaught of 2005.
“This is what’s left of the building where I was born,” Adam said in a voice thick with solemnity. “As a newborn I was nearly murdered by a man named Mickey Thornberry and his female conspirator, Doris Baker.”
“While inAlbuquerqueI had the privilege of reading your father’s writings,” Perez said. His tone was reverent as he went on. “It was not just the heat and an unseen enemy they worried about, but that eventually fear would wear them down.”
They continued on and after ten minutes came to a stop in front of the old Mulholland’s Sporting Goods store. They dismounted and Adam retrieved a black pouch from his saddle bag. For reasons he didn’t understand, the closer he came to the front doors of the building, the more of an emotional event it became for him. It was all Adam could do to fight back tears as he looked at the damaged stucco walls.
“This is the place where my parents, MJ’s dad, and Gordon Peters first came together,” he said. “Must be more than two hundred bullet holes.”
Perez gazed at the black holes. “I read that the battles were fierce.” He turned to Adam. “Are you okay””
“Want to go inside?”
Adam nodded and Perez led the way into the musty confines of MMD first ‘fort’. Adam tried to imagine the logistics and the events as they unfolded on the pages of Daron’s journal. The glass cases where ammunition was once stored were caked with dust, and the camouflage uniforms that hung from the metal racks reeked of mildew.
“We need to come and clean this place up; turn it into a museum,” Perez said, “Even if we are the only ones who ever see it.”
Adam didn’t hear a word. His eyes were drawn to a yellowed piece of paper inside a plastic slip cover tacked to a wall at the back of the store. Adam walked over and took down the slip cover. After he stared at it for several seconds, he placed it carefully into his shoulder pouch.
That evening he shared the contents of the paper with Perez, Imani, Sara and the Barfields. The piece of paper read:
by Daron Turner,
The city besieged by burdensome heat
Was hard to sit let alone move your feet
We tired from the power of the sun’s glare
All were unnerved by the still, arid air
Death made his house calls furious and fleet
The sun dried the rivers, it scorched the wheat
Felled the young and melted arctic ice sheets
A young girl, her eyes heavy with despair
Wondered aloud, “Is this it?”
A man whose eyes were laden with crow’s feet
Drew a gun, shot himself dead in the street
Doc yelled, “We depleted the ozone layer!”
The Rev cried, “We need to engage in prayer!”
A pregnant teen standing by in bare feet
Wondered aloud, “Is this it?”