Patrick William O’Neill jogged down Painted Cave Road with his beloved German
Shepherd Kim Philby trotting along beside. The narrow road serpentined,
challenging drivers and terrifying their hapless passengers with its quick,
tight turns and steep drop-offs. Great granite slabs thrust up its edges and
hung down slopes toward Santa Barbara. Manzanita, Sagebrush, Sage, Chamise, Bay
Laurel, and the occasional Yucca and Prickly Pear cactus dotted the arid
mile down at his usual turnaround spot, jogged in place, and sat on a boulder.
Kim Philby was panting but eager as always, his eyes alert, prick ears up.
O’Neill reached down, scratched his head, and a fingertip sensed the
irregularity of a fresh hard tick in his coarse, brown coat. He grasped it
between index finger and thumb, twisted it out, set it on a rock, and crushed
it with his foot, leaving behind a dime-sized red splotch.
Kim Philby gazed worshipfully at O’Neill, a
lean and fit man of sixty, clean-shaven with silvery white hair and clear blue
view was fine,
O’Neill thought. Friends, coworkers, and relatives had all told him it was nuts
to live up here, what with wildfires, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and
coyotes, but they were wrong. All of Santa Barbara lay below, as far south as
Ventura and, beyond the curving coastline, the pellucid blue Pacific Ocean and
upstart Channel Islands. It was an awesome place to live despite the hazards.
watch. They would be along soon now, and it was time to head back up the hill.
perked and his eyes blazed.
took a few
deep breaths and then continued his jog, slowly at first, and then quickening
his rhythmic pace, heading toward the house on the summit where he lived with
his wife and Kim Philby. A house with, among other things, a tripod-mounted
Celestron 1000-millimeter telescope good for observing wildlife and surveying
the neighborhood. From his hilltop aerie, he had spotted incipient fires,
burglaries in progress, and, most recently, a possible clandestine drug
laboratory; the next hour would reveal the nature of his latest prey.
Sun rising above his
right shoulder, O’Neill jogged steadily uphill, retracing his earlier downhill
course. Kim Philby floated effortlessly beside him, perfectly in tune,
breathing with clocklike cadence. The road pitch leveled out as they approached
O’Neill’s midpoint landmark, a row of four rural mailboxes atop a stone wall at
roadside surrounded by a patch of white-flowering Toyon.
whined in the distance as they climbed their way up the curlicue road, steadily
getting closer. That would be them, O’Neill thought. Right on time.
jogged past the
mailboxes, stopped a hundred feet beyond, turned for a look back, and waited.
waited. It was
like marking time before the first pitch in a championship baseball game. He
felt a tinge of pleasure, as if placing a bet, for he had something riding on
the outcome of this particular game. His bet was that the Sheriff’s party would
find some incriminating prize inside that little house beside the road. If they
did, he’d win; if not, he’d lose face.
appeared a quarter mile away as they rounded a bend and came out onto the
straights. The lights grew brighter and their conveyances larger, and soon he
could make out raiding party elements.
cruisers led the way, followed by two white vans and two trailing cruisers. The
caravan grew louder and larger, sunlight glinting off windshields and polished
chrome, and then gradually slowed until all its vehicles came to a stop on the
road alongside the little house. Loud, idling diesels and crackling sheriff’s
radios pestered the otherwise sweet and silent mountaintop air.
passed, and then six helmeted men in black uniforms carrying M4 carbines
disembarked from the front van. A second group left the rear van. Four men in
the assault team slung a steel battering ram between them, double-timed to the
porch, and swung the ram into the front door, which collapsed inward in two
know the answer to his question.
published by the author in Poydras Review, 5-7-18.
Henry Simpson is the author of several
novels, short stories,
and works of nonfiction on technical subjects. He studied engineering, did
graduate work in English and Psychology, and holds a PhD from UC Santa Barbara.
He lives in Monterey, California.