Deep in the hour just before dawn, Adam jolts awake. What did he hear, out there on the makeshift front porch of this battered old Airstream? Or was it nothing but a dream of gunfire and roadside bombs in that other desert, half a world away?
He lies still, listening. No sounds now but the usual ones: a night bird’s sleepy chitter, yip and giggle of coyotes down the wash. But after a moment, there it is again, a rustle and thump right out front.
“God damn it,” says Adam. Where’s that crazy streak of witching when you need it the most? Well, he’s got other ways to handle business. Swinging out of bed, he reaches for the gun beside his pillow.
Slipping silently as his bad leg lets him, he pushes the screen door open and peers out. There’s a white full moon hanging just over the mountains, and along the horizon the sky is turning silver blue with daylight coming. Across the stretch of empty field out front, a neon sign blazes bright: Holland’s 24 Hour Truck Stop and Cafe. A couple of big rigs and a handful of cars dot the parking lot, but there’s not a soul to be seen.
Adam steps out, good leg first, onto the little deck he’s built out of pallet wood.
And he smiles. Adam’s heart is a cold dark place. But right now, warmth like summer noon spreads right through him.
Curled behind the rusty lawn chair in a nest of her own clothes, she sleeps like a puppy. Long coppery hair streams across her face and her bare legs are streaked with dried blood. There’s a long raw cut on her forearm and a smear of blood on her lips, and Adam’s never seen anything so beautiful in his life.
He leans in and gently pulls a twig of mesquite from the hair behind her ear.
“Mornin, Velocity,” he says.
Her eyes pop open, whiskey gold and wary wide, but then her mouth curves up. “Hey, Adam.”
She sits up cross-legged, her bare skin fairy dusted with freckles and her little nipples hard in the chill of the morning. For a dizzy moment Adam feels like flying. She came. She has the whole desert to run in, but she came here.
What do you think that means? This voice in his head is his own. What the hell do you hope that means, boy?
“‘Want some breakfast?” he asks. “I got bacon and eggs, toast maybe.”
“I already ate,” she tells him, glancing at the blood on her leg.
“Guess you did.” Adam leans against the Airstream’s curving side. “Had a good night?”
Velocity stretches out her arm, examining the cut. “Oh, man. That moon – did you see it? – just burning in our eyes, so bright. Uncle Silver and the pups flushed out some rabbits down by the wash. Me and Auntie Whitefoot and Sweetwater were coming up behind, but we all got some.”
She licks thoughtfully at the wound. “Sweetwater and I jumped the same big old buck. We got into it a little bit, but Uncle settled things down pretty quick.” A flashing grin. “Sweetwater’s all right. That ear’ll heal up fine. She’ll think twice next time, though. You got any coffee?”
If his legs would let him, Adam’d probably be dancing right now. Instead, he nods and hobbles back inside to put the coffee on. Odd thing about mornings with Velocity. Most days, he wakes up to the endless mutter of the voices in his head, talking and talking till he falls asleep at night. But whenever she stops by here, they shut right up.
By the time he brings out two steaming mugs, she’s just about dressed, T-shirt and jeans and a pair of battered caballero boots from Mexico. She’s twisted her hair into a messy bun and used one of his shop rags to wipe her face.
Adam hands her a mug. The sky’s turning to pearly pink and the moon’s faded to a ghost of itself over the ridge and he knows this moment’s going to slip away fast. Velocity wraps both hands around the cup and runs her tongue around the rim before she takes a sip.
“Aah, that’s good.” She sprawls in the lawn chair, legs outstretched. “That’s one thing you don’t get – out there.” She glances at the desert stretching behind the trailer: low creosote and mesquite scrub, and a few big cottonwood trees following the angle of the dry wash off north.
“I imagine not.” Adam follows her gaze. Beyond the wash, the coyotes yip and howl. A shadow crosses Velocity’s face. She’s missing them already. What must it be like, to shed your clothes and your human shape and go running under the moon, eyes blazing and senses on fire with the night?
A moth flitters past Adam’s nose, coming to rest on the screen door. Soft grey wings spread wide, it regards him with blank black insect eyes. For a moment, Adam’s inside its busy little mind, looking out in a dizzying multifaceted way at himself. He shakes his head.
Velocity watches over the rim of the mug. “ You were inside that bug brain, weren’t you.”
Adam blinks. “Damn, that hasn’t happened for a while. Not since that palo verde beetle blew in during a rainstorm. Nearly made me puke. I hate those little shits. Can’t seem to stop ‘em though.”
“You’re Adam Voss, the witchman. Everybody knows that. Seems like you could find a use for ‘em somehow.” Velocity glances at the glow rising over the ridge, and Adam’s heart sinks. “ I got to get back to town,” she says, just as he knows she would. “Charlie Juan’s not comin in this morning. I’ve got no cook; goin to have to do breakfast all by myself.”
She shoots him a sideways smile. “You could come and help.”
Ride with her all the way back to Soledad City? Help her open up the Hummingbird Cafe for its breakfast run? Adam entertains a wild thought of the two of them standing side by side in the kitchen, baking muffins and turning omelets in the pan. Oh hell yeah.
But the sounds of morning traffic and the endless concrete and glass of downtown and the constant stream of people moving, jostling, jabbering on their cell phones … he can feel the panic rising just to think of it.
Velocity sees the change in his face and the smile fades. “Damn. I am so sorry. I was just – I didn’t mean to -”
“No, it’s all right.” Adam takes a swallow of coffee, pushing it past the lump in his throat. “I would – if I could.”
She sets the mug down on the deck. “I know you would.” Rising, she leans in, swiftly drops a kiss on Adam’s cheek. He smells mesquite and blood and the dry musty scent of desert creatures. “You stay well, you hear me?” And then she’s off, quickstepping across the stretch of bare desert between his trailer and Holland’s back lot.
There’s a dusty Chevy truck parked behind the cafe. He watches as she gets in and drives away, following her till the truck turns onto the interstate at the top of the on-ramp.
It’s starting to warm up. The voices in the back of his mind begin their morning chatter. Feeling empty inside, he gathers up the mugs and starts toward the door. But there’s a sudden sense of eyes on his back and he turns slowly around.
Half hidden in a thicket of creosote a couple of yards away, a coyote stands watching him. Sun gleams silver on the big male’s shaggy mane and his eyes are level and golden meeting Adam’s own. A prickle sneaks across the back of Adam’s neck, but he stays put for the wild one’s once-over.
“Don’t worry, Uncle Silver,” he says. “I’m lookin out for her too.”