HEATWAVE

CHAPTER 1

He spooned up a mound of blueberry yogurt and dropped a raw almond in the middle. He considered it the perfect blend of carbohydrates, protein and fat, in one convenient bite. He was sitting on the stool at the counter in what could be called the kitchen or dining room or breakfast nook, since that area served in all those capacities. That same countertop was, also, his conference room table, electronic work bench and bomb-making factory. For a spy, maximum utilization of resources was a way of life. His loft, condemned and deemed unfit for human habitation, was just cavernous space with only the bare essentials of furniture. The mattress and springs, resting on the floor in the center of the room, served both as bedroom and as couch for his guests. Up the rusted metal staircase was a cramped overlook with just enough room for the computer equipment. In the corner, the only interior walls enclosed the small, and decidedly primitive, bathroom. But, this had become his home. It was the best home he had ever had.

At the moment, it was more like it was his personal sauna. It was Florida in the summer, so sweltering was to be expected. The state's saving grace, if it had one, was the costal breeze which made it worthwhile to keep the windows and balcony door open. Air movement provided enough evaporation of sweat to make it feel several degrees cooler than the actual temperature. But, Florida was currently in a heat wave that was proving brutal. It was the hottest week in the hottest year in one of the hottest states in the country. And for the last week, the air had been unmoving. He had been forced to augment his furnishings with a box fan, which was now sitting on the large wooden spool, turned on its side, which served as a table.

It wasn't as though he couldn't handle heat. He'd done jobs in Africa; he'd spent considerable time in the Middle East. Iraq could be blistering, a heat that redefined what it meant to be hot. Southern Afghanistan had a number of other disadvantages besides climate but, at least, it wasn't Florida. For two decades, he'd done his best not to spend vacations in his home state. There were good, sound reasons for that, his mother being the biggest one of those. But, the weather ran a close second. If there wasn't a hurricane, then there was a tornado. If it wasn't a freaky freeze that caused the price of oranges to skyrocket, then it was a heat wave sending all the old folks to cooling shelters. His mother was calling him daily, to remind him to check on her.

I think Florida must have pissed off Aeolus, the god of the winds. He has taken his favors elsewhere. This last week, the air has been still, motionless. With the thermometer approaching triple digits, everyone is cranky. The homicide rate is up 17 percent. Bags of ice have become a commodity, worthy of being traded on Wall Street. I'm putting salt tablets in my Kool-Aid. How hot is it? It's so hot that I have been voluntarily visiting my mother, just to sit in her air conditioning.

They say it's not the heat, that it's the humidity. That's a damn lie. It's the energy-sapping, mind-numbing, bone-melting heat. The humidity just adds insult to injury.

She came in on a wave of steam. He knew it was her without turning to look; he could feel the molecules of the air vibrate with that nervous energy she always brought into the room. She locked the door. Then, she slammed the deadbolt home. Click. Clank. Snick.

She came up behind him and rested a hand on his back for balance, while she toed off her high-heeled sandals. She let her beach bag fall to the floor beside them. She leaned against him, resting her cheek on his back and sliding her arms around his waist.

He shivered. "You've had the air conditioner on high." Unlike his Charger, which had no air, her Saab could take the temperature down to refrigerator levels. It felt like she was enclosed in a frigid bubble.

"You're sizzling," she said.

"Thank you."

She tried not to laugh. "Egomaniac," she said, but in a fond way. She slid her cold hands under his shirt.

"How was your day?" he asked.

"Eh. You know, Michael, it's not as much fun when they don't at least try to make a break for it." There was as much boredom as aggravation in her sigh.

"Another day, another bounty," he said.

"And you?"

"I fixed the leak in Mom's sink. " Now, he was the one who sounded annoyed. "She tried to help me. I tried to commit suicide, afterward, by going for a run."

"Did it work?" She brushed her thumbs over his skin.

"Too damn hot ta . . . Ahh." Her fingers –not too hard but just hard enough- had plucked at his nipples

"You're all sweaty." She tugged upward on his shirt. He managed to get the last bite of yogurt in before she pulled it over his head, just in case he might not have another chance.

"Did you have lunch?" He waved his spoon, an invitation.

"Umm. Baklava." He looked over at his shoulder at her. "Some days, I just want the dessert." He didn't have a sweet tooth, but that was his favorite. He tried for an expression halfway between hopeful and pathetic. "Yes, I brought you some. The carton's in my bag."

She leaned against him, hands on his thighs, and pressed her lips in an open-mouthed kiss to his bare back. He wondered if her mouth tasted of honey from the pastry. He felt her low hum, rumbling through his backbone and around the curve of his ribs, as though he were a tuning fork struck by lightning. He could see where this was going.

"Hmm." she said. "Where's Sam?"

"He and Miss Reynolds went on a drive down the coast in the convertible. He said they were going to get dinner somewhere, stay at a bed-and-breakfast and be back tomorrow."

"Huh," she said, careful to be casual. "What's your Mom doing this afternoon?"

"She and Laura are joining a busload of Mall Walkers for an outing."

"Your mother is walking at the mall?" She didn't try to hide her disbelief.

"Naw, they won't let her smoke in there. There was just room on the bus. They're going to the four o'clock early-bird all-you-can-eat buffet. And, then, bingo. I told her I'd talk to her tomorrow."

She went still. "Is Nate back?"

"Don't know. Don't care. Not here."

"It's a miracle," she said.