The Seven Colors of the Sea – A Story of the Caribbean

She was Caribe-born and raised, and so the compelling surge and ebb of that vast sea should have been a part of her. And the music – that compulsive reggae rhythm – should have been hers as well. But no. She preferred to keep her distance from the aggressive, flowing movements of both the sea and the music.

Perhaps she was a mainland girl at heart, her father said. Despite her being a native Caribe, neither the pounding surf nor the reggae sound was in her blood or in her bones. She was a changeling, her father said. A mainland girl at heart. Not a Caribe.

But she didn’t believe that.

She observed life from a distance, her father said. She didn’t really live it.

And since she always tried to be honest – especially with herself – she acknowledged that perhaps he spoke the truth.

Until the summer that the golden-haired boy came to the island. Then life seemed to move in closer. To encroach.

In some awe, he had called the island a paradise.

His words made no sense to her. This wasn’t a paradise. Providencia was an island, nothing more, and nothing less. She’d been born here, and no one was truly born into paradise. Because paradise, Father Jaime said, had to be earned.

The truth was, she didn’t believe that, either. Didn’t believe in paradise, that is. Or in heaven, or in hell, or in any of the other places that the new religion had invented and tried to impose.

She had been born on this island, Providencia, for no other reason than her father and her mother lived here, and since they were her parents and the origin of her life, this place was her roots, her home. She’d been born here, she would die here, and that was that.

A practical little thing, the golden-haired boy had said. She heard condescension in his voice and in his words. No imagination, he said. But no yearning for reality, either. A strange combination, because where did that leave her? In some kind of limbo, he said.

She hadn’t understood that. Not the word itself, and not the concept.  She wasn’t in limbo. She was on Providencia where she belonged. To her, the world was no bigger than this, because why would it need to be anything more? What else did she want? What else did she need?

What else did she dream? the golden-haired boy asked. What did she want to do? Where did she want to go?

She moved her head in the negative, not speaking.

More insistent now, he kept pushing. How would she know when she had arrived, if she didn’t know where she was headed when she started out? He suggested – with an underlying disdain, she thought – that she should have goals, so that she would know where she was going, and make plans and devise strategies for how to get there.

Again, she was baffled. This mainlander had said that Providencia was paradise. If he thought that – even if she didn’t believe it – but if he thought that, then what was there to dream about, or to dream for, or – well, who knew? She was perplexed by him, and yet she was fascinated. Without knowing why, she wanted to be with him, to spend time with this mystifying young man.

The truth was, she didn’t call him the golden-haired boy. To his face, she didn’t call him anything. When she considered him in her mind, she called him Rubio. Blond. And he seemed to want to be with her, as well. But he wanted to be with her in the warm, undulating waters, in the merciless midday sun. With other people, with the loud music, with the sticky-sweet piña coladas.

Going with him, being with him in that environment, was like traveling to a foreign country. She was both intrigued and afraid. But in truth, she at last admitted to herself, in truth she was lost.

A few weeks slid by, and for her they passed in a heartbeat.

And then one day, as it did every day, the catamaran came bounding and splashing in from the big island of the archipelago San Andrés, loaded with the usual gaggle of young people looking for a party. And for some reason, Rubio didn’t seek her out anymore. Just like that. Any interest he might have had in her had vanished.

She was satisfied with that, and took herself off, climbing the steep stone steps that wound up the hill to the mirador, the lookout. And she was relieved. Never had she fit into that strange sand and sun and restive water scene where Rubio seemed to feel so at ease. So she was pleased to be back in her own world, her own environs. And Téo, her dearest friend since childhood, came to join her there. His name was Téofilo, but she had always called him Téo. As if the preceding weeks had never passed, as if they had been as content together as always, he never said a word about Rubio or the time she had spent with the mainlander.

But she found that she had a curious sensation of being unsettled, of being adrift. This feeling was somewhere deep within her, in a place that she couldn’t identify. She could recognize neither the place nor the feeling.  A wistfulness, a yearning, had invaded her quiet domain. An emptiness that she hadn’t previously experienced. It wasn’t urgent or pressing, but it gave her a vague awareness of discontent, as if there were now a barren space within her, a void that she’d never before noticed.

It made no sense, because she was the same person that she had always been.

Providence, the tourists called the island. She wondered if that was the word the foreigners used for Providencia. Surely it was. It must be. But why then didn’t they recognize it for what it was? Providence. To find something because you had been directed there. Not by luck, not by some kind of serendipitous discovery. But to come upon a location or even a state of mind by virtue of having been pointed in that fortuitous direction.

They also called it “The Seven Colors of the Sea” which she thought was odd. Anyone who had counted the colors of the mar Caribe would know that there were more than seven. Immeasurably more. She and Téo had tried to count them. Seven times seven, and then seven times again, on into infinity. Her father said that this seven colors of the sea nonsense didn’t mean anything. It was just a pretty advertising slogan for the tourists. She supposed that he must be right. He usually wasn’t, so she might as well give him credit when she could.

She had never before given a thought to the tourists. They were there, and then they were gone. After they were gone, they no longer existed, not in her universe, at least. They were like a dream, where the memory of any meaning vanished when one came awake. Perhaps there remained a wisp or two of a certain loud laugh that held no mirth, or the speculative gaze of a particularly brash youth. But this tourist, this golden-haired boy, hadn’t left a wispy, trailing remembrance behind him.

Because he hadn’t gone away.

He was still here on Providencia, but he might as well have been on the other side of the world.

She was quite sure that it didn’t matter, because the reality was, she preferred the mirador to the beach. The chaos of the tourists and their loud voices weren’t even a murmur up on the forested hill. They were negligible, nonexistent, even. But she knew that Rubio was there, down below, as surely as she knew that the small town continued to be real and enduring even when obscured by fog.

The reggae she knew from the insulated distance of the mirador was a quiet whisper of rhythm that imitated the pattern of her beating heart. Not a loud racket that reverberated above the crashing surf. The restless pounding of the waves was but background music here on the hill, and there was no taste of the salty spray as the waves chewed incessantly at the rocks, determined to cut a few centuries off the hundred-million years it would take to finally grind them down to satiny white sand.

On this particular day, the harsh sun at noon turned the beach-level sea to steel. She had never seen her beloved waters so stark and unforgiving. Rather than the soft, wind-touched waves, there was only hard, tempered metal. She wondered if this was the way the rest of the world looked. Or was. The world outside of Providencia.

Perhaps the cold grey of the sea was a warning. Perhaps she should heed this unfamiliar raw chill from the waters that had always been her friend.

Why had she agreed to go to the beach party? Because Rubio would be there. Rubio hadn’t invited her, to be sure. Not personally. And not indirectly, either. He hadn’t invited her at all.

Téo had invited her. She liked Téo all right, had liked him since they were children growing up together. He was fun and funny, and an adept conversationalist as long as the topic didn’t get too deep. Téo didn’t like deep topics; he liked joking and teasing and laughing. There were worse things to be, than not to take oneself or even life too seriously.

She liked Téo because he was kind. Never a sharp word for anyone, never a fierce quick anger, never joining in the disparaging laughter when someone else made a humorous but cruel comment about a person he or she considered to be beneath the rest of them.

Téo wasn’t aggressive about his kindness. If he were, then maybe it wouldn’t be kindness. He didn’t contradict or defend or challenge. Rather he just didn’t agree, and thus didn’t join in the lemming-like behavior.

She admired this kindness in Téo, admired it very much indeed. Because of it, she might have been satisfied being only with him, except for her confusion about the golden-haired boy.

But Rubio wasn’t kind. No, Rubio was a member of the superior, self-satisfied crowd. He would sneer as he made loud, callous comments, his laughter harsh and ugly.

And Rubio hadn’t invited her to the beach party. Téo had invited her.

She had known that Rubio would be there, and so she said yes to Téo. She harbored a cutting sense of shame that in doing so, she wasn’t being kind. No, she wasn’t being kind, not at all.

Very nearly she changed her mind. Although she tried to convince herself that she hadn’t lied to Téo, not really, she knew within her heart that she had indeed lied. Téo’s dark eyes had shone when she said yes, and she had deepened the lie by smiling back at him.

But she had said yes to Téo so she could be at the same place, and at the same time, as Rubio.

She didn’t worry over what to wear, as she had only one option. It was a modest one-piece bathing suit that flattered her slender figure. She didn’t consider how to wear her hair, because it was long and loose, and she would leave it that way unless the evening became too warm, in which case she would tie it back with a cord. She didn’t spend a great deal of time studying her face in the mirror. She already knew what she looked like.

So did Rubio.

The party was in full swing when she and Téo arrived at the beach. Music blared from a pair of oversized speakers. Her first impression was not the whisper of the gentle waves as they ran up onto the white sand and then receded with a quiet swoosh back into the sea. Nor was it the calling and crying of the grey-white seabirds as they wheeled against the cerulean sky, soaring even higher than her mirador. Rather it was the loud reggae music, with its idiosyncratic rhythm, the cadence no doubt sounding somewhat irregular to the uninitiated.

Rubio spotted her immediately. To her surprised pleasure, he came straight up to her as if they hadn’t been apart for several days. Taking her hand, he led her away without even a word or a glance for Téo. She felt the sharp pain of rejection on Téo’s behalf, but that didn’t give her pause. Not then, not at that moment, at least. She and Rubio swam and danced and sang for what seemed like hours, until the sea was as black as the moonless sky. Still, she was glad when the party began to break up. And it was then that Rubio turned away from her, turned his back on her, and went to join one of the tourist women whose hair was as golden as his own.

Téo walked with her to the small thatched cottage that was her home, and for the first time in their life-long friendship, there was silence between them.

The next morning, the sky was overcast. The sea was tinted a light green near the shore as it stretched itself over the white sand. But further out, the water abandoned any subtle nuances and metamorphosed into a dull, discontented grey. Even so, it had more substance than did the nearly-colorless sky above it.

There had been a time when she would walk down to the seashore to skim her bare feet across the silky sand. This brought her closer to the turquoise luster of the sea. But she would go only in the early morning when there was no other living soul about, when the light was at its softest, and the sea was calm. She was a calm-sea sort of person, and if the mar Caribe became angry, she would retreat from that brusque, strong emotion and go back to the mirador, to be apart from the wind-whipped fury of the white-capped waves.

When the morning was clear, as most mornings were, the sun turned the edges of the ripples to silver. It seemed to her the waves were always moving away, always receding. Rubio had said that her life, her way of living, was the same. Always moving away from her, never towards her, and thus never arriving. She wondered if that were true, and she wondered what it would mean if it were.

At the party, the reggae beat had pulsated in her ears, and then on into her head. And it was still echoing there the next morning. She couldn’t blame the piña coladas, because she hadn’t drunk any. She was well-bathed, but still the salt seemed to cling to her. She had scrubbed every inch of skin and hair, but there remained a sort of grit behind her ears and between her toes.

What was it that drew people to the beach? What pulled them in, like an irresistible addiction? What did they love about the surf and sand and sun and wind? The swimming, the snorkeling, the scuba diving? The beach volleyball games or tossing around a plastic disc? The shouting and laughing, the calling to one another, their voices so loud. And the incessant reggae palpitation, pounding her head into a throbbing ache.

She asked herself the same question that she had asked before. Why had she agreed to go to that party? She still didn’t know the answer. She knew that she cherished the varying shades of color in the mar Caribe, but only from the mirador at the crest of the hill. How many times had she tried to identify those colors, she and Téo? Turquoise, certainly, and azure. Cobalt and indigo and cerulean. A limitless number of blues. The greens – jade and emerald and aquamarine, their brilliance rivaling the beauty of the shiny dark leaves of the mangrove trees. And then the amber and tan and brown that would darken into ginger, cinnamon and chocolate. She had smiled over the whimsy of it – the green of the precious stones, the brown of the sweet and spicy flavors. And always, with a pristine white frosting. White sand and white foam.

But it was the blue that spoke to her. Especially the turquoise. The water was such an intense shade of turquoise that it seemed if she dipped her finger into it, it would come out dripping with that exquisite color, like paint. But it didn’t. Her finger came out wet and salty, having shed its magic radiance when it was separated from the sea.

She and Téo had determined a long time ago that despite the tourism slogan, the sea didn’t have seven colors after all. Rather its colors were infinite. And the colors were different every time she looked. The colors depended on the capricious moods of the wind, the sky, and of the sea itself.

And this morning, her head throbbing with surf and reggae, she had to admit to the possibility that the colors of the sea, those boundless colors, also depended upon her own mood.

But that her mood should be defined by the golden-haired boy? How extraordinary that such a thing could have happened.

At midday, the catamaran came as usual, bumping up to the dock and splattering salt water across the greying wood. It disgorged its passengers as it had done countless times before.

And then as she watched, the golden-haired boy ducked onto the boat. Rubio had come with the tourists, and he left with the tourists, as she had always known he would. That impenetrable barrier between them had never been breached, and it never would be.

Rubio was gone.

It could be that this leaving was a part of his plan. She remembered when he had chided her for having no plans, no goals. It brought to mind her father’s comment about Téo, that Téo wasn’t going to go far. And she had thought, why should he? Where would he go if he went far? She hadn’t taken her father’s point, and she couldn’t take the golden-haired boy’s point either. Why should she go anywhere, and why should Téo? Perhaps her father had been right, after all. Téo wouldn’t go far. Not far from her, in any case.

Unlike Rubio.

That evening she returned to the sea, to the shoreline where she could watch the gentle restlessness of the sea. She understood that restlessness as she never had before, because now it was her sister.

The water was clear over the white sand. Then the brilliant streaks of light faded to ivory when the sun slipped behind a cloud as it descended in a prelude to ending the day. The layers of green and blue that remained were not well-defined, as the constantly-evolving light and wind and waves made it impossible for the eye to capture their essence before they changed yet again.

It was easier to measure the distance to the horizon from the mirador because from the level of the beach, the horizon became distorted. It looked close, as the water confined the space and made the horizon seem nearer than it really was. Was that because of a difference in perspective? Did perspective define what the sea was, or what it appeared to be? Like the differences in perspective between herself and Rubio. The perspectives that had created a barrier between them rather than an understanding. The truth had somehow become distorted.

Before Rubio, she had believed truth to be absolute. The essence of truth was immutable. Something was true, or it wasn’t true.

But she had been wrong. Now she had learned that truth was not absolute. Truth was not truth. Rather, truth depended upon perspective. Her truth. Rubio’s truth.

The same distortion that made truth ambiguous rather than an absolute had also warped her thoughts and her feelings. Especially her feelings. Until now, she had experienced this island as a whole, as a complete unit with perfect symmetry. But now it seemed that the parts were separate. The shoreline she understood with her heart. The mirador she understood with her soul.

And surely her soul was more permanent than her heart. Father Jaime would have acknowledged that, and although she didn’t believe him in other things, she knew this to be true. And she knew that while the heart held pain, the soul held permanence. The soul held belonging.

So she determined that she would go into the water, and she would become one with the sea. But first, she had to choose which color she wanted to be. The color that she would acquire, or rather, the color that would acquire her. It was an easy decision. Turquoise, of course. Because turquoise held both blue and green, and so turquoise was the very epitome of the sea’s beauty. Among the vast shades of colors, and tints of colors, and hues of colors, turquoise was the kilometer zero of the mar Caribe. The place where the sea began, the place from which everything else flowed.

And so, she walked into the sea. She was in no hurry, but neither was she hesitant.

As the horizon drew nearer, or more accurately, as she drew nearer to the horizon, it transmuted itself into a darker brown, a darker blue, a darker green, and then into an indefinable band of darkness. The thin line separating the sea and the sky seemed to be at the same time all colors and no colors, a void that spoke the emptiness of purest black.

And this thin black line was impenetrable. As impenetrable as the barrier had been between her and the golden-haired boy.

The pale, nondescript sky above was painted in muted tones that had no color. The sky was a mirage. The sky wasn’t there at all. There was only a haze that tried without success to dull the sheen of the fallen stars glinting across the smooth surface of the water at the areas of its greatest depth. This mist relegated the sky to a drab overhead, nothing more than an insignificant backdrop.

Her eyes fixed on the empty black line that separated water and sky, she walked on into the sea. Deeper, deeper.


Then, with a gentle sigh at having at last arrived, she walked straight into the arms of her sister.

And so it was, when Téo lifted her up from the depths, that the turquoise she had so craved to become slid from her body in great wet sheets, and the form that came forth was not that of a sea creature. Rather it was that of a girl. The same girl she’d always been.

A girl who slowly, slowly opened her eyes. And in that moment, caught her first glimpse of paradise.


His Own Bright Colors

Book Five in the World Designs Ltd. Series.

What could be more relaxing? An unanticipated holiday takes the three San Martín brothers to the remote peninsula La Guajira in Colombia. Under no obligation to either of their employers, the Gendarmería Nacional of Argentina or the London-based World Designs Ltd., the young men think that at long last, they will have some downtime.

But think again! Their planned trip of leisure takes several unexpected twists. To their annoyance, they manage to get sucked into a murder investigation. The discovery of the body unearths a conspiracy to smuggle cocaine from Colombia into neighboring Venezuela. Then, with their luck running from bad to worse, they find themselves caught in the crosshairs of a long-running family feud in the northern peninsula.

However, it is the entrance of one small Wayuu boy who materializes on the center stage of the action that turns upside down not only their holiday, but also their lives.

Ellen’s Book Club reads A Land without Morning

My dear friend Ellen, in Denver, Colorado (USA), held a book club meeting at her home a few evenings ago, and the group read and discussed my latest book, A Land without Morning.

But Ellen went way beyond that!  She arranged for me to call in to the meeting (Buenos Aires, Argentina connects with Denver, Colorado).

A Land without Morning is set in Afghanistan.  So Ellen cooked up a storm, making the dishes that my characters enjoyed in Kabul, including the rather complicated qabli pilau.  I would’ve loved to have been there for a sample!

Thanks, my friend!

Circle Pantoum

I am outside of the circle
The eagle soars, wind beneath his wings
Towards the sunrise, now towards the sunset
No boundaries, only unexplored frontiers

The eagle soars, wind beneath his wings
Throwing off the limits of the circle of family
No boundaries, only unexplored frontiers
Springtime in the north is autumn in the south

Throwing off the limits of the circle of family
Beginning, ending, leaving but not returning
Springtime in the north is autumn in the south
The circle has closed

Beginning, ending, leaving but not returning
Towards the sunrise, now towards the sunset
The circle has closed
I am outside of the circle

Peninsula La Guajira Pantoum

The women continue interweaving life
A people never conquered, the Wayüü
Desert, sand, wind, salt water
The greatest god of all, fresh water

A people never conquered, the Wayüü
The mother-lines of descent
The greatest god of all, fresh water
Oh, great sand dune Taroa

The mother-lines of descent
Oh, green-blue of the Caribbean
Oh, great sand dune Taroa
The white tombs of the ancient cemeteries

Oh, green-blue of the Caribbean
Desert, sand, wind, salt water
The white tombs of the ancient cemeteries
The women continue interweaving life

First and last line from the great Wayüü poet, Vito Apshana
…Las mujeres continúan entretejiendo la vida
…The women continue interweaving life (my translation)

A Land Without Morning – World Designs Ltd. Series, Book Four

Afghanistan is the largest producer of opium in the world. The World Designs Ltd. organization intends to break the back of the illicit business by removing the head man at the Kabul cartel, Faisal Ratebzad. But once in Kabul, the operatives become entangled in an Afghan family’s tragedy. Rashid Ahmadabadi has already lost one daughter, and now his second daughter has disappeared.

Soledad Garretson is a journalist who had worked in Afghanistan a few years earlier, and she has firsthand knowledge of the torture and murder of Ahmadabadi’s daughter. Thus their mission changes, as they attempt to rescue one daughter even as they extract revenge for the murder of the other.

Book number four in the World Designs Ltd. series takes brothers Salvadore and Raúl San Martín to Afghanistan, and the war-torn city of Kabul. Accompanying them are Enrique Etchemendigaray and Jorge Grazzini, from the Gendarmería Nacional of Argentina.

ISBN 9781457521010

Soldiers of Another War

He took his life on the fourth of July.  Independence Day.  She was deeply saddened by his action, and grieved to her core to have lost him again and at last, and in so final a way.  But she was not surprised at the timing of it, or at the simplicity of his self-execution:  a single bullet to the head.

The only surprise for her was his suicide note.  She had expected none, had expected him to die in the same isolated solitude that he had lived these last several years.  Not even she, his wife, had been allowed into his personal hell, except for unexpected, unguarded, terrifying glimpses.

The soldiers from the Persian Gulf War were returning, basking in their rightful acclamation.  The Independence Day parades had been long planned, and joyously delivered in a surge of patriotic frenzy.

He had scanned the newspapers with apparent satisfaction, reading the news analyses which compared this homecoming with that of his conflict, Vietnam.  The Vietnam veterans were vindicated at last, the papers said.  The homecoming, the celebrations, would wash away that black cloud of shame which had hung over the country for twenty years.

In a rare moment of sharing, he had wondered aloud if the Persian Gulf veterans would carry the unhealed scars of a war as did he and his comrades.  Would the support of the country make their wounds easier to bear than those of the Vietnam vets that had been left raw and unhealed by derision and blame?  But generally his mood had been light as if it were he who was coming home to the heartfelt outpourings of a grateful nation.  At last.

His suicide note was simple.  She was the only one who saw it for what it was.  Welcome home, it said in his familiar, even scrawl.

Welcome home.

*   *   *   *   *

He had come back from the war – that strange, terrible war that wasn’t a war – ostensibly undamaged.  But his apparent wholeness was as deceptive as the foreign land where he’d endured thirteen months, and in spite of his unscathed appearance, he was a dark and bitter shadow of the young man who had left.

As for her, she was just grateful to have him back after the long months of waiting and dread.  No one had warned her of hidden scars or festering, poorly-healed wounds that could not be made well.  She had married him just before he had gone away.  And whether it was out of stubbornness, or of pity, or of anger, or of commitment, she had stayed with him when he returned, white and shocked and staring into nothing towards a horror the likes of which she could only guess.

And so, not knowing anything better to do, she took him home.  But indeed, he was a stranger.  She could not wake him from a sound sleep without danger of his leaping from the bed in a cold sweat, vicious and ready to fight.  She could not go to the city with him, because the fighter planes from the air base might sweep overhead leaving him clench-fisted and shaking, fighting the instinct to throw himself to the ground.

For a while, she had been hopeful.  At first he seemed willing, even compelled, to talk about it.  His tour had been remarkably complete; he had seen most of the country.  His first three months were spent as a river rat, running patrol boats up and down the murky jungle streams.  When he survived the ninety-day life expectancy for that assignment, they transferred him to Chu Lai.

And he had talked on, raging, incredulous.  The isolated, solitary horror of being one of the last few men holding Chu Lai when the rest of the military had pulled out after the devastation of typhoon Hester.  Being on the radio to a frantic helicopter pilot who could have stopped an ambush if given permission to attack, an order that his radio commander refused to give in time.  Hurtling into waking, screaming in the night, the blood on his hands not that of the hidden, unidentifiable enemy, but the blood of his own comrades.  The terrible, helpless anger that drove him to the whiskey for a few hours of peace and a drugged sleep.  From Chu Lai, north to Da Nang.  Rocket City, under fire from the Cong every night.  Sweet dreams, baby.

But then, after awhile, he refused to talk about it, became an expert in repressing it, in laughing at it.  Chu Lai would be a beautiful place to vacation, he said.  The white sands were warm and clean, and the blue waters of the South China Sea were so clear you could spot a manta ray twenty feet below the surface from a boat.

She tried to make him face it.  You could see it again, she told him.  Some of the vets returned to Vietnam to make their peace.  Would you go?

He sneered.  Hell, no.  Why would I want to go back there?

She pushed a little further.  Some of the vets meet in the city every week to talk about it.  Would you go?

He was sarcastic.  Hell, no.  A bunch of losers sitting around the room reminiscing about thirteen wasted months out of their miserable lives.  Thirteen months that happened more than twenty years ago.  What’s the point?

Then east from the sheltered valleys of the green Oregon mountains to Washington D.C. she took him, searching for answers to questions he refused to ask.  The Wall.  Would you go?

For once he met her eyes and she caught a chilling unguarded glimpse of his bottomless hell.  Oh my God, no.  No.  I can’t.  Don’t ask me to do that.  I can’t.  I won’t.

So they went instead to Arlington National Cemetery, past Jack Kennedy’s eternal flame where he stood silently but as always, without tears.  They walked up the steep, green burial hills, coming to the tombs of the unknown soldiers.  World War I.  World War II.  The Korean War.  The Vietnam Conflict.

His eyes were still dry, but the rage burned in him like a wildfire through a summer-dry forest.

The Vietnam Conflict.  The bastards.  They can’t even call it what it was.  A war.  It wasn’t a conflict.  It wasn’t a police action.  It was a goddam war.

A frail shell of an old soldier with a VFW uniform approached him as he stumbled blindly away from the long rows of grey granite markers.  Was he a veteran?  Would he care to become a member and to march in their Memorial Day parades?

She cringed.  Oh, no.  Watch out.

He spoke through clenched teeth, his desperately suppressed anger boiling to the surface like a volcano a few seconds from eruption.

I am not a Veteran of a Foreign War.  I am a Veteran of a Foreign Conflict.  So Foreign that it was alien even to the country that sent me there.

She took his arm and pulled him away, walking quickly.  She spoke through her burning tears, her blind frustration causing her to trip as she hurried him along.  Did you have to say that?  He was just an old man trying to be nice to you.  Couldn’t you have treated him decently?

His voice shook.  No, I couldn’t.  Why didn’t he just leave me alone?  My welcome home was not a ticker tape parade.  It was a fight in the SeaTac Airport where some bastard called me a baby-killer.  I fixed his face for it.  The cop who responded let me go because he was a Vietnam vet himself and he understood that I was on my way home.  I’d have fixed his face, too, if he’d tried to stop me.  He must have seen the irony – the patch on my arm that said, “Vietnam Veterans Against the War.”  Even so, I fixed the guy’s face for saying to me – and to my uniform – only what I knew to be true.  There was no pride in what we did, no pride in coming home.

So, resigned and spent, again she took him home, and this time she resolved to keep him there.  She sheltered him, patient while he raged, careful during his nightmares, angry at his unwillingness or inability to endure, to come to terms.  She held her silent fury when friends and family frowned at his long periods of listless inactivity between frequent job changes.  She couldn’t believe that no one else could see the scars, as real and damaging and paralyzing as if they were jagged crimson marks across his hard face.  He was as much a casualty as the men whose names were burned into the cold shrine of the black-mirrored wall of shame.  And only she could reach out to him and touch his pain, his open wounds, knowing that she was as much of a casualty as he.

But for the most part, she held to her memories, remembering what they had been together and how she had loved him, when she had loved him.

*   *   *   *   *

The minuscule, grey-timbered restaurant seemed a part of the wind-broken rock onto which it clung.  Rugged fragments of boulders with their shabby dressing of skinny evergreens provided a fierce backdrop for the frail building.  The rolling, heaving northern Pacific surged precariously close to the wooden foundations at high tide and then foamed back, leaving the sand shivering naked except for black, streaming rocks and a scattering of broken shells.

The big window faced west, framing a few docked boats which moved ceaselessly, tugging at their moorings, urged to freedom by the seductive sea.  Though the scene would be a peaceful one if captured in a painting, the constant motion imparted a feeling of restlessness, of inevitable change.

She sat with her back to the window, denial her only defense against the changes, her coat pulled around her shoulders in an attempt to block the seeping late autumn chill.

Across the small table, he leaned forward and cupped her chin in his hand.  You’re beautiful, he whispered, putting his finger to her cheek to be sure he had memorized the softness of her familiar beloved face.  She touched his hand with her own, and he knew she was recording memories, too.  Running her fingers along his wrist under his coat sleeve, she looked into his brooding face.  Her eyes matched the desolation of the wild ocean surging behind her, grey and remote.

Mired in his own crushing impotency, he felt helplessly drawn to her, to a closeness he had never before experienced, one he knew he would never experience again.  He wondered if it was breathtaking or stifling, and nearly gagged with the power of it.  You’re beautiful, he repeated, half to himself, relieved to hear his own voice in the stillness.

The waiter brought more coffee, and then they were again alone.  Alone as if they were sweeping out to sea with no anchor, no radio, no lifeline.  He put his hands around the cup to steady himself and to soak in the warmth, and stared into the muddy brown depths.

God knew it was hard on her.  But he hoped she wouldn’t break down, at least not until in the morning after he left.  Because there was nothing he could do but hold her close and try to shut out the shadows, and finally tell her goodbye.

She smiled across at him, a brave, insincere smile.  But her lips trembled and her eyes were threatening tears.  He shook his head, imploring her not to do it.

Her voice was no more than a whisper.  I can’t bear it.  I’ll never make it.

Baby, don’t.  It’s only for a year.  Thirteen months.  It’ll go fast, then I’ll be home with you for good.

He had said that before, and knew it echoed with the same dogged insincerity as her tremulous smile, probably because he did not believe it himself.  But he said it anyway because he didn’t know what else to say.

His mind slipped ahead to tomorrow.  He would be in dress uniform, his orders for Vietnam folded in his pocket.  And she would be dressed in loneliness and dread, with that same smile trembling on her lips.  God help me, he thought, an unfamiliar bitterness rising like acid in his throat.  I will come back from this thing and make it right.

He rose slowly and helped her with her coat, adding a tender kiss for memories’ sake.  Christ.  Only twenty-two years old, and already living for memories.  In memories.  He put his arm around her to draw her warmth closer, a warmth that he would need to take with him to stave off the coldness of hell.  They walked out of the restaurant hand in hand and were swallowed up in the misty shroud of the late afternoon fog.

To Hold a Rainbow – World Designs Ltd. Series, Book Three

Two brothers from Colombia, Salvadore and Raúl San Martín, are operatives with World Designs Ltd., an organization that meddles internationally in the name of justice, freedom and equality, and whatever else might catch their attention. Salvadore and Raúl have been assigned to work for the Argentina Gendarmería Nacional as a part of an elite unit involved in enforcement against illegal drug trafficking. This unit targets the top level drug lords that arrange for vast amounts of cocaine to be harvested, transported and distributed across international borders.

Drug lord Ramón Subizar is planning a major drug push on Christmas eve at the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. But the Gendarmería intend to crash Subizar’s party.

Add to the brew a volatile horse called Don Diego, a Buell motorcycle, a gypsy aeroplane pilot, and the drug lord with his new product of opium, and there is guaranteed to be an explosion.

ISBN 9781457515347

The Kámen – World Designs Ltd. Series, Book One

Eastern Europe is in chaos as the Soviet-backed system of Communism collapses.  But in Czechoslovakia, the population is jubilant.  Prague Spring has arrived at last!

But one colonel of the old order plans his escape.  He has access to priceless Bohemian museum pieces.  Never mind that they belong to the people of this nation.  They are to be stolen, and sold to a wealthy South American drug lord, for enough money to set up the colonel for life.

Ah, but Nico DiCapelli is having none of that.  His organization, World Designs Ltd., has sent him to an old inn, The Kámen, in the bucolic countryside of Czechoslovakia to shadow the elusive and mysterious Sylvia Duncan, and to intercept the museum pieces.  A fine plan, but as it turns out, the countryside is not so bucolic after all.  The colonel turns up dead, and suddenly Nico finds himself as the next target.

ISBN 9781608449323

The Long Way Home – World Designs Ltd. Series, Book Two

Sylvia Duncan has recently departed post-communist Czechoslovakia to come to Amsterdam, at the invitation of Nico DiCapelli.  Instead, she runs into Salvadore San Martín and his motorcycle.  Literally.

So begins a long and perilous chase across The Netherlands and Belgium, as they find themselves once again tangling with the deadly and unscrupulous Colombian drug lord, Eduardo Fuentes.  But this time, there is another player in this dangerous contest, Salvadore’s brother, Raúl San Martín.  There is no mistaking whose side Raúl is on, as he has earned the sobriquet “la mano izquierda” – the Left Hand of Eduardo Fuentes.

How does Salvadore figure into all this?  And will Nico be able to untangle the conundrum before Sylvia once again falls under the control of the drug lord?

It’s a long way home, indeed.  But some won’t make it home at all.

ISBN 9781457507298