The adrenaline rush had washed all the doubts out of my system, and that took me back.
When I was eight years old, there had been a fire in a house on my block. As soon as I smelled the smoke, I ran there, cutting across back yards and jumping fences. It was an old abandoned house; I can still remember the raw disappointment when I realized there was no one for me to heroically rescue. I crawled under the shelter of a lilac bush to where I could feel the heat of the blaze and watched the flames and smoke. I stayed there until the backwash from a fire hose caught me and washed me out, wet and embarrassed as a kitten in a rainstorm.
There are men who live for quiet and security, and men who live from crisis to crisis. I have always been one of the latter.
So why had I applied to the State Department to be a junior officer in an embassy, a job about as exciting as being a clerk at Macy’s? Because the other half of me was the abandoned child who wanted to be accepted and respectable. There is not much respectable about a private eye. But it was probably a mistake to think I could give up the rush.
* * *
A layover in Dallas meant a morning arrival in San Francisco. I watched the Nevada desert give way to the crumpled mass of the Sierras, which then graded out too oak dotted foothills and the vast, hot, flat, green expanse of the San Joaquin Valley. When we crossed the Coast Range, we were too low to make out its true shape and then the bay area was spread out beneath us like a map.
It was home. I had lived here for years, but until now, coming back after seven months absence, I hadn’t realized that it was home.
The street ended at an iron and hurricane fencing gate. Beyond was a parking lot, mostly empty, and a warehouse with the Grayling Motor Freight logo on its concrete block side. At the side of the gate was a call box holding a simple push button which I rang. A few minutes later the guard came out. I didn’t recognize him.
“What do your want?”
“I’m Ian Gunn. Even though I don’t know you, someone should have told you about me.”
He shone a flashlight in my face, and grunted. “Yeah,” he said, “they showed me a photograph. Got any ID?”
I showed him my passport. “I also have a key, but I didn’t want to get shot.”
“Yeah.” He opened the gate. “Who’s the other guy?”
“A friend of mine.”
“Look, I was told to let you in, but . . .”
“Don’t push it.”
He decided not to. Ed followed me across the parking lot while the guard relocked the gate. I still had a key to the building, too, so I let us in after I had turned off the alarm.
“Are you going to tell me what is going on?” Ed asked.
“Sure. This is where I live. Come on up.”
The hallway inside skirted the main office and led by a narrow stairway to an upper room. No one had touched it since I left. There was a layer of dust on everything, from the Salvation Army couch, to the battered desk, to the mattress in the corner, to the dust cover on my Macintosh computer. My old bike was hanging upside down from its hooks and acres of bookcases still spilled their excess onto the floor. more tomorrow