Carter Glass sat in front of his mother’s computer. While he waited for Quicken to update he looked out at the horizon, as if to catch sight of Sable’s location in Phoenix, some thirty miles away from his parents’ place in Mesa. She was spending her first Christmas with her family after her life-changing injury.
Her challenge was monumental; his was small, by comparison. Ever since his father had been laid off, both his mother and father had gladly pushed tax-reporting responsibilities to their only son. “You’re the numbers man for the Pacific National Park System. Handling our measly account is child’s play.” His father turned over bill-paying to his mother. When conversation turned to budgets, dad left the room.
The trouble was, every time Carter analyzed his parents’ income and expenses, he died a little inside. Social Security and savings barely met their living expenses; Carter’s monthly check of an additional $500 allowed them to go out to dinner on occasion or save up for a vacation. But his generosity didn’t sit well with his folks. This year, Carter’s Christmas gift to his parents had no dollar value attached: caring for the family cat while his parents stayed overnight with a sick relative.
Carter sat out on a balcony hung over a pool area, walled in by other units exactly like this one. He missed his own computer and four monitors, set up in a Sequoia National Park cabin. Usually he enjoyed working alone, but this place was cramped and sterile, a typical shotgun condo with the kitchen, island, four-chair dining room set, couch and two chairs, lined up in a congested march to the lanai.
With columns of figures screaming his father’s failures, Carter felt anxious about his own future. And missing something.
Sable. He’d promised to help her with an anti-poaching strategy, but he hadn’t communicated with her for a month.
Poe made a sound from his curled up station on the tabletop. The long-haired animal, named to honor Edgar Allan Poe’s short story about a black feline, was Carter’s pet, given to him by a girlfriend years ago, and adopted by his parents when Carter was assigned to Sequoia. The problem with Poe: when left alone in the apartment or a kennel, the animal screamed like a banshee.
The cat observed Carter with unblinking yellow eyes, mouth pursed in judgment. “Wrong time to rendezvous, Poe. Sable hasn’t seen her family for eight months, so I don’t want to interfere.” Sable had been poisoned by carbon dioxide while on an FBI surveillance in a motel, a malfunctioning pool heater sending deadly fumes into her room. Her partner had died and she’d sustained damage to her amygdala, robbing her of fear, forever. Shunned by other FBI agents for being over-eager to engage criminals, she’d been assigned to Sequoia to catch poachers.
Poe re-crossed his front paws and continued the piercing stare.
“I wonder how she’s doing?”
Sable’s assignment to Sequoia had upended Carter’s quiet, orderly world. She was a hurricane of a woman, her abject bravery alternately highlighting all his fears so he felt like a pansy, and raising his protective emotions to such an intensity, he couldn’t keep his mind on his work.
A tiny movement of Poe’s head telegraphed interest.
“Worse is being away from her. Wondering. Worrying.”
Poe’s ears twitched.
“She’ll frighten her family like she scared me. And they’ll pity her, which she’ll hate.”
The cat rose from his curled up position, yawned, and hopped to the floor. Throwing back a ‘Time for food’ yowl, Poe trotted to the kitchen.
Carter stared at the throbbing cursor, aware his heart had taken up a similar rhythm. He’s spent a month In Zion, troubleshooting the park’s burgeoning visitor problems. He should have enjoyed the time away from Sable’s chaotic personality, but he hadn’t.
The cat yowled again, sounding like a mortally wounded child.
“Work alone, son.” All of his youth, Carter had heard his dad’s complaints about inept, greedy and selfish co-workers, laying blame for his layoff on a colleague conspiracy. “Find a job you can do by yourself. No one else has your best interests in mind.” So for the past two years, Carter had holed up in a Sequoia National Park cabin, building his reputation. “Lone Star,” they called him. For Carter, solitude signaled success.
Until Sable arrived with her incessant questions, wild ideas, and fearlessness.
Poe gave Carter the stink eye from the kitchen, a look he often got from Sable during their rocky partnership.
My dad was right about co-workers getting in the way. I was fine until Sable roared into Sequoia.
Now you know more about Carter from FIRE IS NICE. Stay tuned for the third part of my story tomorrow, when you'll find out how the holiday ends for Sable and Carter. Another Sequoia picture to please you is below. And don't forget to take a look at my novels on http://www.rolynnanderson.com