An excerpt from Well in Time
Hill sat with his laptop before him on the café table, staring at Calypso’s latest e-mail. His café au lait was expending its last thread of steam into crisp morning air, but he ignored it. His croissant, too, lay untouched on its white dish. Morning traffic charged down the boulevard with increasing ferocity, but he was oblivious to the noise and movement. Instead, he was focusing with acute awareness on the pit of his stomach, where something old and familiar was moving—a sense of foreboding, of something out of joint.
A newsman was just another critter, really, he reflected. No different than an elk in rut, sniffing a female ten miles distant, or a salmon, smelling one molecule of its home creek as the bucking Pacific swells. If there were trouble anywhere in the world, he was the one to sense it. If he were a dog, right now his hackles would be rising.
He stared at Calypso’s terse message, so lacking in her usual jollity or quiet wisdom. Javier is away, he read for the nth time. I am concerned. Now, what the hell was he supposed to make of that? What does away mean? Fallen off the cliff, last seen making a four thousand-foot free fall toward the Urique River? Kidnapped by white slavers? Gone to China to open trade negotiations? Off campaigning for Presidente de México?
And how worried is concerned? Mildly agitated? Pacing the property of Rancho Cielo, day and night? Frantic? Desperate? Insane with foreboding?
He was bored. Since his last trip to North Africa, he’d been idling. Or maybe several decades of starving refugees, ravening, semimad tribal gun lords, dust, dirt, squalor, and corruption were finally taking their toll. If he saw one more skeletal child with a distended belly he might be tempted to quit investigative journalism altogether. All of which was weighing in on an interpretation of Calypso’s e-mail.
What if, as his guts nudged, this was a cry for help? If he responded as if it were, she would shoot back a note denying it. What if he just ignored it and let things develop on their own? Delete. He knew himself better than that.
He reached for the croissant without looking, tore off a savage hunk with his teeth and ruminated over it, staring down Boulevard St. Michel, but seeing instead the courtyard of Rancho Cielo, with its fountain of red sandstone, banks of roses and adobe walls scrawled with bougainvillea. How could such a tranquil place invite so much trouble? If it wasn’t drug lords abducting the mistress of the house or threatening to raid the place, it was starving Indians staggering through, or family dramas ending in body parts nailed to the front gate.
These aberrant qualities, from his vantage point in Paris and with the prospect of a quiet evening reading before the fire in his apartment on Place des Vosges, were sufficiently untoward as to seem from another dimension. That, and the complete lack, in Chihuahua, of amenities which to him had come to seem to be necessities—police who actually upheld the law, for instance, or crème fraiche, or Dover sole—litigated against an active response.
On the other hand, there was the boredom, and the prospect of something contrary, ill-timed, inexpedient, adverse, annoying, and dangerous into which to root like a reportorial sow. Rancho Cielo was a living thesaurus of disaster words. If life was easy in Paris, the petit pois ripening and the opéra about to stage Carmen, then by the theory of inverse proportions under which Rancho Cielo operated, murder, mayhem, and primeval forces rummaging archaic karmic burdens would surely be the order of the day in Chihuahua. There would be granitic grit in the tortillas, some form of clan or tribal warfare in progress, and blood on the rocks.
And then there was the ultimate draw. Calypso. Years did not dim it, her union with Javier did not dissuade it, distance did not erase it—the indisputable fact that Calypso Searcy was, now and forever, the love of Hill’s life. Like it or not.
He discovered himself in the act of holding half a croissant in front of his gaping mouth, where it had apparently been poised for several minutes. An American tourist at the adjoining table was elbowing her companion and tittering, delighted by his state of waxy flexibility. He slammed the lid of his laptop and roiled his pocketful of coins, gathering up a fistful that he dropped on the table without counting, assured by its very bulk that it would be sufficient.
Rising with what he hoped was supreme dignity, he buttoned his top coat, gathered up his computer, and nodding sourly to his neighbor, departed the café. It was really no contest. Even Paris, Navel of the Universe, with all its charms, couldn’t hold a candle to a good ol’ shoot-‘em-up, dusty, treacherous, thoroughly rash sojourn in lawless Chihuahua. Even Bizet was upstaged by it. Egregious it might well be, but wasn’t that the stuff that news—and apparently his friendship with Calypso—was made of?
He dug his cell phone from his pocket and speed dialed Charles de Gaulle Airport. With luck, he could make the next plane out to El Paso. He was two blocks from the café when he realized he was still clutching the mangled croissant in his left hand.