About your Book:
Desert Chimera, the first book in the Metaphysical Suspense/ Mystery Stone Quest Series, introduces the reader to recluse, tracker, and reluctant twenty-eight year old psychic visionary Luke Stone and to his paranormal universe. Since his escape from the black magician Armand Jacobi seven years before, Luke Stone has been sequestered in the serene woods of Northern Michigan under the tutelage of Cherokee guide Shadow Wolf. When the shaman suddenly dies, Luke flees on a desperate cross-country quest. In the heart of Death Valley, Luke is assaulted by terrifying visions of the apocalypse. While praying in agony for release, a shimmering specter arises from the sands to stand beside him, but this is not the one Luke has so desperately sought. Torrential rains flood; rivers of mud flow. Luke is forsaken. But deep within the cacophony of the storm, Luke hears a voice calling. Following the call, Luke stumbles out of the wilderness and into Eppie Falco’s Desert Inn and Café. Gathered here also seeking shelter from the storm are an array of fellow travelers. However, upon a clap of thunder and a burst of lightning, the café door swings open and Armand Jacobi, the charismatic black magician Luke had seen as the vision in the desert and the man from whom he had run in stark terror now stands before him in the flesh. Among the travelers whom Armand eventually takes hostage in his struggle for dominion over Luke is Consuelo Arroyo, a woman with whom Luke is falling in love—something Luke never thought possible. As Luke’s battle with Armand heightens, as the lives of his fellow travelers lie more and more in the balance, Luke is confronted with the full horrors of his past. Will the battle that rages culminate in either Luke’s final destruction or his ultimate redemption?
Targeted Age Group: Adult
Genre: metaphysical mystery/suspense/horror/occult
The Book Excerpt:
Gusting with icy splinters of Superior in its gale, the storm blew down from the North swiftly blackening the skies, dropping the temperature 20, 25 degrees in a gasp. Angry spume knocked against their insignificant craft, a tiny wooden rowboat, soaking them with salt-less spray as Michigan churned from aqua glass to roiling opaque jade heaving with white peaks. The sky bruised purple; thunder rumbled, cracking the canopy. Rain emptied down in sheets, pointed to earth by arcs of lightning that sizzled and smoked and ignited the black skies to an indigo glow.
They were too far from shore. He had allowed them to drift, in the calm and the sun and the pristine quiet, with the Manitou Islands floating dreamily on the horizon, he had allowed them to be lulled too far out, and now, as the waters swirled and the sky bruised purple, this craft was no match for these waters. He could not control it.
They had gear: life vests, rain ponchos, stored beneath the bench seats. He dove for them lifting the oars out of the water, flinging them inside the boat, balancing precariously as he stood, pitched about by the tumultuous waves, opening the lid of his seat, grabbing the gear, lofting first the vest, then a poncho across the short divide.
Sitting across from him, gazing impassively at the roiling waters, the old man caught first the vest, then the poncho, snatching them from their flying arc effortlessly, fastening them about him without argument.
Still standing, the younger man put on his own vest, threw the rain poncho over his head, and snapped the lid back down. He sat and took up the oars once again.
The palms of his hands, though toughened from so many years of living out of doors, were already cut from his battle with the lake. His right hand was bleeding.
Fog had rolled in, obliterating the shore. Even the Manitou’s had disappeared.
Though the old man sat directly opposite him, the younger’s focus was on the shoreline. It had disappeared inside this fog. He peered intently out at the waters, not even sure any longer of the direction he was rowing. Had he been turned around? Were they now headed out instead of in? Then suddenly, he smelled it—smoke– that intoxicating smell of cherry wood, sage oil, and essence of pine.
His head snapped from his purveyance of the waters to the old man who sat scrunched down upon the bench seat, scrunched down inside his rain poncho, looking every bit the gnome as he had when he first spied him at the edge of that stream. Catching his eye, the old man grinned as impish as a naughty child, his hat tilting forward beneath the poncho hood, the eagle feather bent but prevailing against the brim, his two grey braids trailing down his chest, and his pipe, his perpetual pipe, somehow now lit and, perched between his lips, puffing a thin stream of that intoxicating smoke into the damp foggy skies that surrounded them. His deep brown eyes twinkled back at him.
“What do you see? What do you hear? What are the scents arising all around you? Use all your senses, Luke.”
When he got them back to shore, the old man stepped out of the rowboat, and waded through the shallows. Before he headed through the oak, maple, and birch wood forest to his cabin, he called back to Luke: “Did we save the perch?”
He turned toward Luke, cocked his head, smiled, and waved back at him. Then he continued up the path toward home.
Luke pulled the boat ashore. The storm was over; sunlight glinted off the blue-green waters of Lake Michigan like jewels hidden in the deep. Luke gathered up the gear and the perch, and set it aside on the sandy beach. He turned over the water-logged craft, emptying it on the shore. At his cabin, he would dry and store the gear; then, clean and prepare the fish. After, he would luxuriate in a long hot shower, and tend to his wounded hands.
Later that evening, he would carry the perch to Grandfather’s cabin where he would cook it exactly the way he had taught him to do. Then, after dinner, he would tell him.
Tonight, he would finally tell him.
Luke didn’t know when he had reached the decision.
Had it been at the moment he caught those brown eyes twinkling at him over the smoke of his pipe in the midst of the storm? Or was it later? As Luke bent again to the oars, and as he did, saw the fog lift, swept away suddenly as if by magic, revealing a shoreline that had never been as far away as he had imagined?
It didn’t matter the moment.
Because tonight, finally, after seven long years, after fleeing the nightmare of New York, after holding burning inside the secret he had wanted to release since he first glimpsed him crouching beside that murmuring stream like an answered prayer, finally, tonight, it would be over. Finally, tonight, Luke would have the strength to confess.
“Ah shoot! Thought I had it that time for sure!”
“The lights flickered.”
“Yeah. The lights flickered on then flickered right off again. Dang! I am a lousy mechanic”.
Inside Eppie Falco’s Desert Wolf Café, the proprietress, a woman of indeterminate age, but far closer to seventy-five than forty-five, short of stature with the wiry frame of a terrier, smiled at her handyman of three years. Leo Monroe was a black man of Southern gentility and demeanor, small and as willowy as a cottonwood tree, scoop-chested and round shouldered from years of a hardscrabble life Eppie would never ask about and Leo would only reveal in the bits and pieces he felt comfortable telling when the timing seemed particularly appropriate. Leo was hard at work on Eppie’s prize possession, a vintage 1955 juke box with glowing neon trim she had rescued from the Matador Bowling Lanes and Diner. The Matador had once stood on Route 190 just east of Furnace Creek, but had been swept away in the floods of ’94. Eppie’s Diner was situated further back in the desert, on a lonesome slice of highway west of the split of Route 178 as it winds its way through the heart of the Death Valley National Monument north and east towards Beatty and Rhyolite. You had to know where the Desert Wolf was. Or to happen upon it.
The café’s windows opened onto a vast desert landscape, a moonscape Leo was fond of calling it, of undulating sands sweeping into eternity, shape shifters of subtle hues of yellows, oranges, and reds dotted with desert blooms of blue and white and rose. Only the seasoned desert traveler could see the life teeming beneath those heated seemingly inhospitable sands. Eppie saw.
A bright shaft of sunlight from the rising noonday sun pierced the Desert Café windows shining onto the bleached wooden plank floor. Suddenly, the first few notes of the hit song from 1954 “Earth Angel” by the Penguins blasted out of the juke into the quiet like a freight train that splits the quiet of a country morning with a teeth-rattling jolt.
“Wow. Still lots of power in that little box.”
“There’s power in there all right. Somewhere.”
As soon as the juke had powered on, it powered off again.
“There you go,” Leo mumbled attacking the juke anew with his screw driver.
Eppie began singing and swaying with the song, though the music now played only in her graying head. “Earth Angel, Earth Angel, will you be mine… babababa… I love that song.”
“Come on you blasted thing! Ow! Shoot!”
“You okay, Leo?”
“Oh, yeah. Just a surface wound. We got a short here, Eppie, if I could only figure out where.”
“But it still plays, yah? Listen how good it sounds, even with that short.”
“Can’t depend on it though.”
“Aaach, leave it alone. We’ll get one of those guys down there in Trona to come over and take a look.”
Eppie bent back to her work. As well as the proprietress of the Desert Wolf Café, Eppie Falco was also an artist. Along the walls of the café and among the tables and even out on the porch, Eppie displayed her artwork– sculptures and montages, collages made of rock and bone, shells and twigs and any other matter that called out to her from the desert floor that she loved so well. She picked up a bone from a basket in front of her.
“Ha. Look at that one. Such a pretty bone, and I forgot I even had it.”
“If we’re going to get somebody to come out, we’d better do it before the rains come.”
“Yah. The rains.”
“Gonna be bad this year, I think.”
“Yah. I think so, too.” Eppie bent over her art piece, placing the bone in the montage. “Aha. That was the one I needed. Now, Mr. Darkman is done.”
“That’s good. You’ve been working on that one a long time.”
“The picture wouldn’t come clear. But last night, I was lying in bed and boom! like that, like that music from the juke box just now– the rest of the image jumped into my head.”
Leo wiped his hands on his work apron and walked over to where Eppie was working, looking down at the latest piece.
“It’s good you finished it. I don’t recollect you ever doing a piece like this before.”
It’s a battle, isn’t it?”
“It’s dark, Miss Eppie. I don’t recollect you ever making anything so dark before.”
Outside, storm clouds scurried, carried upon a high vigorous wind, gathering in dark armies, circling the sun. It was early January, rainy season, and a bright sunny morning could twist into torrents of treacherous storm in a streak and a flash. The wind whimpered and moaned, and carried upon her back another sound far in the distance: a faint howling, a distant plaint, as if of wolves. Eppie looked up from her work, glancing at Leo. But he had heard nothing. He was back at work, tools in hand, readying himself for another assault upon the wayward juke.
“It’s not all dark, Leo,” Eppie said, looking back at the completed montage. “Look here. This part here is filled with light.”
The howling in the distance rose, the storm clouds blackened, but the ray of light that shone in the café shimmered even more brightly, pulsing with translucent particles. The particles swirled and gathered, like a beacon, enveloping Eppie.
“I can’t figure this juke out for beans! “ Leo continued. “Hmmm. Look at there. I wonder where that little doodad goes. Ahhhh!” Leo danced backwards with the joggle of another shock. “Eppie, I am sorry. It’s gonna cost a fortune to bring someone out from Trona, but I do not believe there’s any way around it. This juke box goes way beyond my meager capabilities to amend it.”
Leo turned to look at Eppie, and stopped arrested at the sight before him. She stood motionless, her eyes wide, her hands outstretched fingers splayed, her mouth opening and closing as if trying to speak.
Leo spoke softly. “Eppie?”
She turned mechanically as the translucent particles whirled even more vigorously about her. Her voice creaked with effort as if a great weight were pressing upon her throat, pushing the words down, forcing her silence. Leo stepped lightly, careful not to make a sound, careful not to startle her as he crept across the floorboards. He had seen these spells before. He slid in close to her, lowering his ear beside her trembling lips. Her lips were rubbery, drained of color, working up and down and back and forth, chewing, trying to discharge the words from the blockage that was choking her. Her voice cracked like dry rotted wood creaking against stone, caught, edged, barely audible, and the only word Leo could hear was, “Luke.”
Deep within the desert, Luke Stone, a young man not yet thirty, nearly six feet tall, lean and muscular, but ravaged now, his face haggard, his body desolate, his clothes tattered and covered with dust, crouched and covered his head with his arms as if trying to shut something out or protect himself from some unseen enemy or onslaught. Storm clouds churned in the noonday sky now blackened to midnight; lightning sizzled. The howls continued to rise, and with the sound of the wolves came another sound — a pounding noise, a whirring, that swelled to a crescendo of devastation, or of the apocalypse. His body pressed forward, hunching downward as if the force of the rising cacophony were crushing him. Luke tensed, and tried to rise.
In the cafe, Leo watched helplessly as Eppie bent and swayed not to the innocent tones of “Earth Angel” but to the sights and sounds of some devastating vision he knew she was witnessing. During these visions, Leo knew, Eppie not only saw, but she heard, she felt, she smelled, she tasted; she was transported though her physical body remained behind, her ethereal self was gone somewhere else, totally absorbed, totally consumed by whatever it was she was witnessing. Leo’s greatest fear was that one day a vision would come upon her, as they did, streaking down upon her out of that nowhere place, striking her unawares, and the images set upon her would be so great that they would become too much to bear and this final vision would destroy her, and he would be able to do nothing but stand beside her and watch. He watched her now, watched her arms beseeching, her body pressing forward, her throat and mouth and lips fighting against some great paralysis until with one final forceful effort, the effort a person drowning under the sea might make to cry out for salvation, Eppie broke free of whatever bound her and in her clear powerful compelling voice she summoned: “Luke!
Deep within the desert, crushed by a rising horror of sound as the storm clouds gathered to block out the sun, and the wind carried the sound of the howling and Luke Stone bent against these forces unknown unable to rise, a clear powerful penetrating call pierced the cacophony. “Luke!”
Luke’s head snapped up; his deep blue eyes gazed outward. His body pressed forward. He rose. With unsteady gait, gaining on every stride, Luke Stone began walking out of the desert.
In the café, Eppie blinked rapidly, her knees weakening. Leo rushed to her side.
“You here now?”
She looked at him and walked unsteadily toward the windows, gazing across the desert sands.
“He’s coming, Leo. Luke’s coming.”
Later that evening the desert exploded with storm. Thunder ripped from the heavens like the fusillade of a divine battle. The air crackled with electricity, jagged fingers of lightning streaking the skies threatening incineration. The air smelled of sulfur and creosote.
Eppie and Leo had long retired to their respective rooms when over the top of a rolling peal of thunder a loud incessant knocking rapped against the Desert Wolf door and a strong female voice cried out, “Hey! Hey! Anybody the hell in there!”
From her room in the back of the café, Eppie threw a robe over her nightclothes and called back,” Hang on. I’m coming.”
From his quarters on the other side of the café, Leo came running. “What in the blazes is all the racket?”
The disembodied voice shouted louder above the storm. “Will ya open up already! We’re drowning out here!”
“Get the door, Leo,” Eppie instructed him. “It’s all right. Let them in.”
Leo proceeded quickly now to the door, opening it. “You don’t have to go making all that racket.”
Two young women quickly came into the café, one short and thin with curly brown hair, the other taller and older, with long black hair and eyes the color of chocolate. It was the short one who had the loud demanding voice. “We must’ve been out there hollering for fifteen minutes!”
Leo observed her coolly. Bad manners was one thing he could not abide. “Two minutes, more likely. Maybe three. Tops.”
“This is an Inn, is it not? Got yourselves a big sign, Desert Inn.”
“Eppie Falco’s Desert Inn and Café,” Eppie now spoke.
“Correct-o. We saw your light from the highway. A port in the storm you might say.”
“I don’t have a light.”
“What’re ya talking about!”
The other woman, gentler, it appeared, tried to contain her mulish young friend. “Mackie, please…”
“No, no, no. I saw the freakin’ sign. And so did you, Connie. Right there!” The young woman pointed out the window towards Eppie’s sign.
Suddenly a tremendous ripple of thunder broke across the skies, a deep earthy sound as if coming not from above but from deep within the bowels of the earth, followed by a blaze of lightning so powerful it lit the entire room—and the sign outside.
The short girl’s companion murmured. “That’s the light we saw, Mackie.” She looked at Eppie and Leo sheepishly. “I’m sorry. She’s very excitable.”
“You don’t have to apologize for me.”
The older woman looked back at her. “Do you want a room, or would you like to go back out into that storm?”
Eppie moved away from the group, snapping on the lights. “We didn’t expect anybody. Not in this weather.”
The taller woman took in the café, noticing Eppie’s art pieces. “Wow. Look at these.” She turned toward Eppie. “Are these yours?”
“Are you Eppie?’
“That would be me. And this gentleman is my right hand. Leo Monroe.”
“How do you do? I’m Consuelo Vasquez… er… I mean Arroyo. Consuelo Arroyo. That jumpy little bean over there is Mack Starr.”
“Welcome to the Desert Wolf.”
Consuelo examined Eppie’s pieces more closely. “These are made of rocks. And bones.”
“And shells and creosote. Everything from the desert.”
“May I touch it?”
“Of course you may touch it. What earthly good would it be if you couldn’t touch it?”
“Ah, okay, if the, ah, desert art program of the evening is over, do you think I could get a freakin’ room?”
Leo looked at Mack. “Where do you come from?”
“How did you wind up here?”
“We were crossing the desert and …” Consuelo chimed in.
“My buddy over there got us lost.”
“I’m on a great adventure.”
“Yeah. What she said.”
“An adventure! How wonderful!” Eppie clapped her hands.
“You know what would really be wonderful? How ‘bout a room!”
“You must be from New York,” Leo said.
“Bingo. By way of Vegas.”
“On my way to L.A.”
“I’ve never been to the desert,” Consuelo said. “I’m from Massachusetts. I’ve never even been west of the Berkshire Mountains. But here I am driving along and all of a sudden, like a mirage or something, I see this beautiful ribbon of silver rising up through the rocks and the sand.”
“And the rain…”
“Yeah, there was a lot of rain!”
“Tons! It was a monsoon!
“My car’s only this little Chevette. 150,000 miles …”
“And it dropped dead right outside your front door. I told her, you can’t trust the desert.”
“It was so cold! I never knew the desert could be so cold. We were huddled together in the car, thunder exploding, lightning flashing. It was beautiful! And then this huge purple bolt — like the finger of God– spit out of a cloud and flashed right over your sign.”
“And so now, if it wouldn’t inconvenience anyone too terribly much, if it wouldn’t put anybody too terribly out, I would really like a room!”
“Ach! Of course you would! Poor thing! Lost out there in the desert in the monsoon and the purple lightning.” Eppie moved to the back of the counter, pulling out keys. “One-oh-one and one-oh-two. Out that way and around the back”
“Bliss!” Mack grabbed the key and headed in the direction Eppie indicated.
“Hey, Miss New York,” Leo called out to her. “I can take a look at that car of yours.”
“That car of hers.”
Consuelo, unlike Mack, fascinated by the Desert Wolf, was in no hurry to get to her room. She spied the juke box. “Mackie, look! A juke box!” Consuelo popped a few coins in, and Earth Angel began to play.
Here it comes again, Leo! “Earth Angel” Eppie began once again to sing and move to the music, Consuelo joining her.
“I’ll just have a look at that car.” Leo said as he started out the door.
But before Leo could exit into the dark and the rain, the door to the café opened. Luke Stone, the young man of the desert stood in the doorway.
Eppie’s breath momentarily caught as her eyes sparked with a determination and will Leo had seen before: that first night he had arrived and he and Eppie had battled the storm that pounded the desert and almost demolished the Desert Wolf Café. Cautiously now, Eppie approached Luke, like one would approach a wounded animal, her hand upraised. Luke, his eyes unfocused and wild, shrank from her, raising his arm in defense.
“Stay away.” He whispered, his voice as raw as the tattered sands.
Eppie spoke soothingly as the others watched magnetized.
“It’s all right.”
“Just stay right where you are.”
“Okay. All right.”
Consuelo spoke. “I think he’s hurt.” Then she directed her words to the strange young man. “Are you hurt?”
Dazed, Luke looked around the café, as if trying to place himself within its confines. He took a hesitant step further into the room, and with a low moan, crumpled to one knee.
With a cry, Consuelo flew to Luke’s side. “I think he needs water. Get him some water.”
Hurriedly, Leo rushed to the counter and poured a glass of water. Eppie took the glass and carried it to Consuelo.
“Here,” Consuelo offered the glass to Luke. “It’s all right. You can take it.”
His hands shaking, Luke took the glass, and bowed his head, his lips moving silently as if in prayer.
“I told you, you cannot trust the desert,” Mack said.
Ssshhh,” Consuelo hissed, trying to silence her unruly friend.
After a long moment of silence, Luke drank the water.
“That’s good, yah. That’s better now,” Eppie said, pulling the bandana from around her neck and handing it to Consuelo. “Give this to him.”
Speaking as if to a child, Consuelo bent towards him, “Let me wipe your brow.”
Luke, still weak, replied, “It’s all right. I can do it.” Taking the bandana, he wiped his brow, and slowly rose.
“Are you better now?”
“What happened to you?”
Luke looked carefully at her, then at each one of them as if taking each one’s measure. “I don’t know.”
“Maybe you should sit down,” Consuelo cautioned.
“I’m all right.” His eyes swept every inch of the café, taking in every corner. “Poison.” He finally spoke, as if he had reached a final summation.
“Poison?” Eppie asked, startled.
“Something I gathered.”
“But how is that possible?”
Luke turned his deep cobalt eyes on her, narrowing his focus, which was clear and sharp now. “Why would you ask me that?”
“Leo,” Eppie continued, “take the girls. Take a look at that car.”
“The girls?” Mack said, thrusting out her thin hips. “The girls?” She raised her hand in the imitation of a school girl asking permission to be dismissed. “Ah, ma’am? Miss Eppie Falco, ma’am? Do you think it might would be all right if I were allowed to go to my room instead?”
“I can show him where the car is,” Consuelo stepped in before anymore fireworks from Mack could ensue.
“The rooms are in the back, Miss Mack. You can go out the door and around, or behind the counter here.”
“Thank-you,” Mack said, making a little curtsy and grabbing the key.
“Come on, Leo,” Consuelo said. “I’ll take you to the wounded beast.”
At the door to the café, Mack shouted back in excitement, “Hey, look! The rain stopped!”
“For now,” Leo grumbled, following her out, Consuelo trailing behind.
Luke took his water glass to the café counter and set it down, his eyes never resting, all the while still seeking out every corner of the café, sweeping even out the large paned window into the vast expanse of the looming darkened desert.
“Would you like something to eat?” Eppie asked him.
“I don’t have any money.”
“I didn’t think you did.”
“I can work.”
“Let’s worry about getting your strength back first. Eggs okay? Toast. Coffee?”
Eppie went behind the counter and began brewing coffee. Luke continued to circle the café like a wounded animal seeking shelter. At Eppie’s Darkman montage he stopped arrested.
“I just finished that one.”
Mesmerized by the piece, Luke reached out to touch it.
On hearing his name, he spun suddenly toward her.
“How do you know my name?”
“Why are you surprised?”
“How do you know my name!”
“The same way you knew to come here. Luke. It’s all right, now. Look around you. It looks the same, yah? Everything looks exactly the same as the dream I sent you in the desert.”
“I had a lot of dreams in the desert.”
“This one you can trust. This one is from Grandfather.”
The young man started again like a wild stallion about to bolt. Eppie, her green eyes glinting like emeralds, locked her gaze on him.
“This one brought you safely here, yah?” She brought him a cup of coffee, setting it gently down in front of him. “Sit. Drink. It’s hot. And it’s good.”
Leo and Consuelo came back into the café. “Well that little thing sure is all messed up. Dead’re than dust.” Leo announced.
“Mackie’s gonna be mad as a hornet. She said we should’ve rented new in Las Vegas.”
“I can try and get some parts. I don’t know what they have over there in Mojave. Could try Trona, too, I suppose.”
“How long will that take?”
“I don’t rightly know. What with this rain and all, could be maybe a couple of weeks”.
“A couple of weeks?”
“Course once I get ’em, you understand, if I get ’em, there’s no guarantee I can even get that little thing to run.”
“I’m going to get some food started. Everything always looks better on a full stomach.” She began scrambling eggs and making toast.
“I’ll give you a hand, Eppie.”
“Good. You chop the onions. This time you do the crying”.
“Is there something I can do?” Consuelo asked.
“Yah. Something very important. Sit, relax, and contemplate your great adventure.”
“Contemplate my great adventure. I like that.”
As Leo and Eppie prepared the food, Luke sat at a table, his hands rounding the coffee cup as if taking in its warmth. Consuelo watched him, wanting to join him but unsure if he’d welcome the company.
“I’ve never contemplated an adventure before. I’ve never even had an adventure before. Unless you count the kids. Kids are an adventure.” She glanced at Luke .“So you, um …. you’re feeling better, huh?”
“That’s good. You look better. When you came in before, you looked like hell. Oh, God, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say you looked like hell.”
“Yeah, I think you probably did.”
“Yeah. I guess I did. I mean, you know, you really did. You know, look …
“That’s it. Well. You look a lot better now.”
“Would you like to sit down?”
Luke leaned across the table, pulling out a chair for her.
“I’m hovering, right? That’s what my kids always say. Stop hovering, ma!”
“So what happened? You said you think you ate something that poisoned you?”
“What was it?”
“If I knew that, I wouldn’t have eaten it.”
“Oh, yeah. I guess not.” They smile at each other. “Mack’s been telling me you can’t trust the desert.”
“It’s not the desert you can’t trust.”
Showered and changed, and sparkling with vivacity and renewed energy, Mack appeared behind the café counter, striking a dramatic pose. “The Mack is back!”
“Aha! Look at that! And pretty as a California poppy.”
Mack bowed. “I am re-born.” Glancing over at Luke and Consuelo, she continued, “Speaking of re-birth, look who’s decided to return from the brink of hell.”
Undeterred, Mack crossed to Luke and Consuelo’s table, peering intensely at Luke. “Amazing. You’ve got some really amazing restorative powers.”
“Would you stop it.”
“I’d like to know his secret.”
Consuelo turned to Luke, “She’s got no sense of decorum. She’s been in the circus.”
“The circus has nothing to do with this. I mean, look at him. It’s like a minor miracle or something. So what happened? You’re tooling along the highway in the middle of the desert, you stop your car …”
“I don’t have a car.”
You’re riding a bike? Cool! So you stop your bike to sample a tasty-looking thistle struggling for life by the side of the road …”
“Soup’s on! Get it while it’s hot!”
“No bike either. I’m on foot.”
Luke pushed back from the table and walked to the counter where Eppie and Leo had prepared a feast of scrambled eggs, sausage, toast, home fries, and a fresh pot of coffee.
“You crossed the desert on foot!” Consuelo exclaimed, rising.
Luke took a plate, but sat on a stool waiting for Consuelo and Mack to fill their plates first.
“Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. He crossed the desert on foot! And I thought I was on a great adventure”.
“Don’t be too disappointed, Miss Consuelo. You may be joining him yet.”
What are you talking about?” Mack blurted out. “The car? You can’t fix the car!”
“Maybe I can’t.”
“Or maybe I can. Either way, you two won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.”
“But I’ve got to get to L.A.!”
“Well, you won’t be getting there tonight.”
“We can rent a car. Isn’t there anywhere near here we can rent a car?”
“How long you say you been living in the desert?”
“That’s not the desert.”
“Close enough for jazz, bub.”
The café windows exploded with lightning. Deep thunder rumbled.
“Where can I stand on my head?”
“What?” Eppie asked, watching the storm, then looking at Mack in bewilderment. The head?”
“She stands on her head whenever she feels she’s about to lose her grip.” Consuelo explained.
Mack looked about the room, and finding a quiet corner, quickly went into a headstand. “ It calms me. I learned it in the circus. That’s what I did in Vegas. Circus-Circus. Man, I had a boffo act. Stood on my head everywhere. Table-tops, high- wire, elephant’s backs. You should try it. Very soothing”
“That’s where I met her. Believe me, they don’t have anything like Las Vegas in Holyoke, Massachusetts.”
Rolling peals of thunder cracked again followed by sizzles of lightning and a sudden downpour of torrential rain.
On a second strike of lightning, the café door swung open and into the room an older gentleman with silver hair and grey eyes sparking from behind thin wire-rimmed glasses stepped into the café.
“Lord love a duck! Snuck in by a cat’s whiskers!”
On the man’s entrance, Luke’s body tensed, his jaw jutting, his blue eyes snapping, as if a spark of the lightning that had bolted across the desert sky had streaked through the paned glass and shot straight into him. Eppie and Leo exchanged sharp glances.
“Blow winds! Crack your cheeks! What a howling!” The man continued, shaking out his umbrella with an expansive gesture.
Mack, sensing the sudden rising tension, dismounted from her headstand.
“Oh, dear. I’ve burst in and startled you. Please forgive me.” The man clicked the heels of his boots together and bowed. “Armand Jacobi, fellow wanderer of the desert.”
Then with great fanfare, he swooshed a bouquet of feathers from beneath his suit jacket, presenting them to Consuelo. Charmed by his antics, Consuelo took the bouquet.
Untying her apron and setting it down, Eppie walked from behind the counter. Locking eyes with the new arrival, she spoke. “Amand Jacobi. Eppie Falco. This is my place you’ve come to.”
Armand took her hand. “Utterly charming.” With a flourishing grand motion, he kissed it. “And look at these beautiful desert roses we have arrayed here. Ladies, I don’t believe I have had the pleasure.”
Innocently, Consuelo bowed. “Consuelo Arroyo.”
Rolling his “Rs” theatrically, Armand repeated her name. “Consuelo Arroyo. Trippingly off the tongue. And the acrobat?”
“Acrobat? Oh. The head stand. You saw that?” Mack stuck out her hand. “Mack. Starr.”
“Mack Starr. Ka-pow! The name packs a wallop!”
“That gentleman behind the counter, Mr. Jacobi is Leo Monroe.” Eppie said as Leo nodded curtly.
“A pleasure, Mr. Leo.”
“And this gentleman here,” Eppie continued, indicating Luke, “is Luke…”
“Luke Stone.” Armand spoke on top of her words.
“You guys know each other?” Mack asked, confused.
Armand approached Luke, bending close to him, and speaking to him softly. “I was hoping I’d find you here.”
Observing the odd behavior though not able to hear Armand’s words, Mack’s confusion deepened. “I don’t think I was on my head long enough.”
Armand pointed to the stool next to Luke. “May I?”
Luke remained standing, silent and unresponsive.
Armand sat. He whirled upon the stool like a child.
“Maybe I need to dance,” Mack said.
“That’s it, Mackie! Let’s dance!” Armand shouted jubilantly.
As if walking on a ship’s deck rolling on a high sea, Mack made her way to the juke, and slipped some coins into the slot.
“I don’t know if that ol’ thing’s gonna play, Miss Mack.”
“It’ll play.” Armand said.
Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock n Roll” blasted from the speakers.
“Thank God!” Mack said, and rocked to the floor, throwing herself into the music with abandon.
Another bolt of lightning, more powerful than the previous one, crackled as thunder crashed. The lights in the café flickered and went out as the juke ground to silence.
“Oh! What’s that!” Mack yelped.
“The wrath of God.” Armand spoke into the darkness.
“Get the generator, Leo.” Eppie said. “And you’d better grab ahold of some sand bags.”
“I’m telling you, Eppie, it’s gonna be worse than ’94.” Leo responded glumly, as he went out.
As another peal of thunder rattled the café windows and lightning illuminated the streaked desert sands; the lights in the café flickered back on.
“Let there be light.” Armand softly spoke.
“Is that going to happen again?” Mack nervously asked.
“Who knows? In a blow like this anything could happen.” Armand snapped his fingers and the juke whined, roaring suddenly back to life.
“Let there be music!” Mack threw her head back and pummeled the air with her fists. “Who wants to dance?”
“I’ll dance with you, Miss Mack!” Armand said.
Armand swept Mack up in his arms, leading her in some intricate dance steps from the fifties. Mack followed his lead as they danced flawlessly together ending on a twirl and a dip for an elaborate finish.
When the dance was done, Armand took a silk handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his brow which had become beaded with sweat. “You’re not too shabby, little lady.”
“You’re not so bad yourself, little man. Con! Throw some more money in the juke.”
“What’s the matter? You’re not done already, are you?”
“Only momentarily, my dear. Reserve another spot for me on your dance card.”
“Come on, Con, dance with me.”
Mack put more money in the juke and she and Consuelo danced.
Armand returned to the countertop, reaching for his coffee. Underneath the silver goatee and mustache, hidden behind the thin-rimmed glasses, his skin glowed ashen.
“Did you want something to eat, Mr. Jacobi?” Eppie asked him.
“Just the coffee for now.”
He spied the Darkman montage that had so arrested Luke’s attention. “Oh, my. Now, what have we here.”
Eppie walked over to him. “That’s the story of the Darkman.”
“Ah, yes. I see. There he is, there — his cape billowing out behind as he rides on the wings of fate.”
“To his destiny.”
“To his battle.”
“Which is his destiny. The battle plummets him irrevocably into the abyss.”
“Oh, no dear lady. Not the abyss. Once the battle is fought, once the battle is won…”
From the counter, Luke spoke with quiet force. “It will never be won.”
Breaking from her dance with Consuelo, Mack suddenly looked out the café window. “There’s a break in the clouds over there. You can see the moon!”
“Once the battle is won,” Armand continued to Luke, “the Darkman will rise.”
“Look at the stars!” Consuelo whispered with rapture, joining her.
“And he shall rise up on the wings of an eagle, to fly through all eternity.”