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In the main terminal at the airport, travelers streamed to and from their boarding gates. The multi-racial crowd belied the lingering myth that Orange County was culturally bland and populated solely by white AngloSaxon Protestants. On his way to the bank of TV monitors that displayed a list of arriving and departing flights, Jim heard four languages besides English.

Jim realized he was clenching his teeth. He looked down at the armrests of his seat, where his hands were tightly hooked like the talons of an eagle to the rock of a precarious roost.

He read the destinations from top to bottom on the monitor. The next to t city-Portland, Oregon-struck a spark of inspiration in him, and he went straight to the ticket counter.

The clerk who served him was a clean-cut young man, as straight-arrow as a Disneyland employee-at first glance.

Voices in the dirt? Holly thought, and almost laughed.

The plane took off to the south, with the merciless glare of the sun at the windows on Jim's side. Then it swung to the west and turned north over the ocean, and he could see the sun only as a reflection in the sea below where its blazing image seemed to transform the water into a vast churning mass of magma erupting from beneath the planet's crust.

The plane took off to the south, with the merciless glare of the sun at the windows on Jim's side. Then it swung to the west and turned north over the ocean, and he could see the sun only as a reflection in the sea below where its blazing image seemed to transform the water into a vast churning mass of magma erupting from beneath the planet's crust.

Holly had been given an advance copy of the book, Soughing Cypress and Other Poems, when Tom Corvey, the editor of the Press's entertainment section, assigned her to the story. She had wanted to like it. She enjoyed seeing people succeed-perhaps because she had not achieved much in her own career as a journalist and needed to be reminded now and then that success was attainable. Unfortunately the poems were jejune, dismally sentimental celebrations of the natural world that read like something written by a Robert Frost manque, then filtered through the sensibilities of a Hallmark editor in charge of developing saccarine cards for Grandma's birthday.

In the main terminal at the airport, travelers streamed to and from their boarding gates. The multi-racial crowd belied the lingering myth that Orange County was culturally bland and populated solely by white AngloSaxon Protestants. On his way to the bank of TV monitors that displayed a list of arriving and departing flights, Jim heard four languages besides English.

He didn't know he was going to pack for travel until he found himself taking a suitcase from his closet. He gathered up his shaving gear and toiletries first. He didn't know his destination or how long he would be gone, but he included two changes of clothes. These jobs-adventures missions, whatever in God's name they were-usually didn't require him to be away more than two or three days. He hesitated, worried that he had not packed enough. But these trips were dangerous; each could be his last, in which case it didn't matter whether he packed too much or too little.

"The flight to Portland leaving in twenty minutes," Jim said. "Is it full up?" The clerk checked the computer. "You're in luck, sir. We have three open seats."

All the way to the boarding gate, Jim wondered what subculture the clerk swam in after he shed his uniform at the end of the work day and put on street clothes. He had a hunch the guy was nothing as mundane as biker punk.

Except when dealing with exceptionally vile criminals and politicians, she had never been able to work up enough hatred to write that way-which was one reason her career spiral had spun her down through three major newspapers in three large cities to her current position in the more humble offices of the Portland Press. Biased journalism was often more colorful than balanced reporting, sold more papers, and was more widely commented upon and admired. But though she rapidly came to dislike Louise Tarvohl even more than the woman's bad poetry, she could work up no enthusiasm for a hatchet job.

Voices in the dirt? Holly thought, and almost laughed.

"Only in the wilderness am I alive, far from the sights and sounds of civilization, where I can hear the voices of nature in the trees, in the brush, in the lonely ponds, in the dirt."

All the way to the boarding gate, Jim wondered what subculture the clerk swam in after he shed his uniform at the end of the work day and put on street clothes. He had a hunch the guy was nothing as mundane as biker punk.

Except when dealing with exceptionally vile criminals and politicians, she had never been able to work up enough hatred to write that way-which was one reason her career spiral had spun her down through three major newspapers in three large cities to her current position in the more humble offices of the Portland Press. Biased journalism was often more colorful than balanced reporting, sold more papers, and was more widely commented upon and admired. But though she rapidly came to dislike Louise Tarvohl even more than the woman's bad poetry, she could work up no enthusiasm for a hatchet job.

Then he 'd, "Gotta fly," and he knew.

He also told himself not to be afraid, but fear was his unshakable companion. When he pulled into his driveway in Laguna Niguel, the spiky black shadows of palm fronds looked like cracks in the blazing-white stucco of his small house, as if the structure had dried out and split open in the heat The red-tile roof appeared to ripple like overlapping waves of blood his bedroom, sunlight acquired a coppery hue as it poured through tinted windows. It laid a penny-colored glow in stripes across the bed off white carpet, alternating with bands of shade from the half open plantation shutters.

In the main terminal at the airport, travelers streamed to and from their boarding gates. The multi-racial crowd belied the lingering myth that Orange County was culturally bland and populated solely by white AngloSaxon Protestants. On his way to the bank of TV monitors that displayed a list of arriving and departing flights, Jim heard four languages besides English.

He closed the suitcase and stared at it, not sure what to do next.

All the way to the boarding gate, Jim wondered what subculture the clerk swam in after he shed his uniform at the end of the work day and put on street clothes. He had a hunch the guy was nothing as mundane as biker punk.

Holly Thorne was at a private elementary school on the west side of Portland to interview a teacher, Louise Tarvohl, who had sold a book of poetry to a major New York publisher, not an easy feat in an age when most people's knowledge of poetry was limited to the lyrics of pop songs and occasional rhyming television ads for dog food, underarm deodorant, or steel-belted radial tires. Only a few summer classes were under way.

When he returned Jim's credit card, his shirtsleeve pulled up far enough on his right wrist to reveal the snarling muzzle of what appeared to be a lavishly detailed, colorful dragon tattoo that extended up his entire arm. The knuckles of that hand were crusted with scabs, as if they had been skinned in a fight.

The drive to John Wayne Airport, on the southeastern edge of Santa Anta, took less than half an hour. Along the way he saw subtle reminders at southern California had been a desert before the importation of water through aqueducts. A billboard urged water conservation. Gardeners were planting low-maintenance cactus and ice plant in front of a new southwestern-style apartment building. between the greenbelts and the neighborhoods of lushly landscaped properties, the vegetation on undeveloped fields and hills was parched and brown, waiting for the kiss of a match in the trembling hand of one of the pyromaniacs contributing to the annual, devastating wildfire season.

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