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He’d better not use the storm as an excuse to get out of the interview, Marla thought as she followed the snakelike flow of CR-522. If he does, I’m going to make his life miserable. It had taken six months of pestering to get Andrew Corwin to commit, and he’d already rescheduled twice.
Marla took no notice of the beautiful green hills that rose and fell around her. She kept one eye on the road and another on her iPhone, which was propped against her bag in the passenger seat. She expected at any moment to see Corwin’s number on the screen—a call or, worse, a text message—canceling. He backed out via text last time, so he wasn’t above that kind of cowardice. He hadn’t even bothered to make up an explanation; just, “Sorry, we have to do it another day.” The storm that was coming would provide another excuse.
The weather had been the only topic of conversation in Silver Lake’s business district, which was now about eight miles behind her. They were discussing it on the local news as she got dressed in her townhouse, in the diner as she went over her notes, and at the gas station as she filled up her little Honda. Residents traded tips about using sump pumps, patching leaky roofs, storing lawn furniture, and whether or not they really needed to board up the windows.
There were two or three big storms every spring in this area; Marla knew this because she’d spent most of her thirty-eight years here. Some of those storms had been both spectacular and destructive. This one, however, was supposed to be on another level altogether; a “tempest for the ages,” according to one forecaster. Twenty inches of rain was predicted along with gale-force winds. The kind of storm that brings everything in a small town like Silver Lake to a halt for a few days.
Marla hated all the fuss. Even as a child, she loathed the idea of letting the weather get in her way. If she wanted to go to a friend’s house in the snow, she put on her boots and heavy coat and trudged over there. If she wanted to drive to the mall and the roads were icy, she downshifted into first and crawled along. Once, while on assignment in Oklahoma, she ignored a tornado warning and went to a restaurant where she’d made a reservation a week earlier. She was furious when she found a CLOSED DUE TO POSSIBLE TWISTER sign taped to the window of the front door. Her attitude hadn’t changed a whit from then until now, and it never would. Life was too short to worry about the damned weather.
The road rose gradually for another quarter mile. When it peaked, Corwin’s nuclear power plant—known formally as the Silver Lake Nuclear Power Facility—came into view in the valley below. Marla first noticed the two giant cooling towers, with a dense white plume rising from one of them and a broad river moving sluggishly in the background. To the east, separated from the towers by a service road, was the main campus: a pair of dome-topped reactor containments; several smaller buildings housing the turbines, generators, and transformers; a flat-roofed administrative center; and an employee parking lot.
From this distance, Marla thought, all appeared to be peaceful, even pastoral. But she could not shake the feeling that she was looking at a sleeping monster.
With considerable apprehension, she began her descent.
Sarah Redmond sat in the kitchen of her townhouse, scribbling in a pocket-sized notepad despite the arsenal of electronic devices that surrounded her. The current weather report was displayed on the screen of her laptop. The iPad next to it was propped up in its unfolded leather case. Beside that, an iPhone lay on its back, the screen brightening as more text messages piled in. The small television on the counter was tuned to a morning news program, with the sound turned off.
Beyond this constellation of gadgetry was Sarah’s breakfast—a plate of scrambled eggs, rye toast, and hash browns, each item less than half eaten and long gone cold.
On the TV, a low-budget commercial for a local auto center faded out and the words STORM UPDATE whirled into place against a CGI backdrop of rain and lighting. She grabbed the remote and put the sound back on.
“… that we’re expecting a full update any time now, but we’re still predicting at least six inches of rainfall and gale-force winds of up to sixty-five miles per hour. And if that warm front from Canada continues to roll down this way and reaches our valley, we could have a whole new ball game.”
Along the bottom of the screen, flowing through a narrow red band, the looped message STORM EMERGENCY … PLEASE TAKE RECOMMENDED STEPS FOR SAFETY … SEE HTTP://WWW.SILVERLAKEGOV.ORG/EMERGENCYMANAGEMENT FOR MORE … STAY TUNED FOR FURTHER INFORMATION …
When the audio began to repeat, Sarah muted it and went back to her notepad. Her husband came in a moment later, dressed in a crisp EMT uniform of navy pants and a white short-sleeved shirt. Although the outfit was not meant to flatter, it was unable to disguise Emilio Rodriguez’s near-perfect build, and Sarah found herself temporarily distracted. She thought again how remarkable it was that she never tired of running her gaze over him, and that one good look always launched a delightful flutter in the pit of her stomach. A certain degree of discipline was required to wrestle her attention back to the storm prep.
“Hey,” he said.
“Ready to go, I see?”
“You bet.” She stole another quick glance when he turned away to pour himself some coffee.
“When did you get out of bed?” Emilio asked.
“You’re going to collapse if you don’t get more sleep,” he said.
“I’ll have plenty of time to sleep after I’m dead.”
He sniffed out a little laugh and shook his head. “I think one of Silver Lake’s most respected councilwomen—and for the moment, its acting mayor—should be a little less cavalier with her health.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Do you want more coffee? Maybe that’ll help.”
After filling her cup and returning the pot to the warming plate, Emilio got busy with his own breakfast. He composed a bowl of fresh fruit—blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries, plus cut-up strawberries, bananas, and pineapple—then scrambled some egg whites. A glass of nonfat milk completed the meal, and Emilio used the first few swallows of it to wash down a spoonful of almond butter, a selection of nutritional supplements, and a mild antidepressant.
Setting his plate and bowl on the counter and taking the chair next to his wife, he asked, “What’s the latest on the storm?”
“They haven’t given any new information in a while, but they’re still saying gale-force winds and six inches of rain.”
“Oh, man. Not good.” He shook his head in disbelief, then started into his fruit bonanza.
“I know—six inches in less than twenty-four hours. There’ll be flooding all over town. I sent another email to everyone, reminding them of the supplies they’ll need.” Sarah had long ago taken up the habit of using the word “everyone” to mean the citizenry of Silver Lake. It was an intimate, almost familial, reference, and she enjoyed using it. “I’m sure I’ll get thank-you cards from some of the town proprietors after the storm. I also got a text saying the new siren was ready. Oh, and Mrs. Hewitt said we could use her place as a shelter for pets. Isn’t she great?”
Emilio nodded and forked a strawberry into his mouth. “I’ll stop by and drop off the food and the other stuff I got, if that’s okay with you.”
She turned and looked into the wide brown eyes she had loved from the first. As always, she found his sensitivity toward the most vulnerable—animals, children, the aged, even plant life—not just noble but downright arousing.
“Of course it’s okay,” she said. “What about your team? Are they fully prepped?”
“All the equipment’s in order, ready to roll?”
“The boats, too, since we’ll probably need them?”
She grinned. “You’ve really got them in line, haven’t you?” When he didn’t respond, she added, “They must be scared of you.”
“They’re scared of you,” he said, suddenly animated.
“Oh, no, please don’t say that.”
He grinned back, revealing startlingly white teeth. “No, they’re not. They love you to death. Who in this town doesn’t?”
“I’m sure there are some.”
“No, there aren’t.”
Sarah pulled over the laptop to check for new email. There were six, two of which were obvious spam. Once she was done with them, she modulated to another screen—a photograph of a freshly built single-story municipal building that was mostly huge panes of greenish glass and a long, flat roof. The latter jutted out at the front on four marble columns, with the words EDGAR G. REDMOND COMMUNITY CENTER set into the facade in simple capital letters.
“They did such a great job with it,” she said.
“They were so appreciative of Dad.”
She looked adoringly at the image for a few more moments, then jumped as if poked with a hot iron.
“My speech for the opening ceremony!” She reached down and pulled a leather portfolio out of the bag at her feet. “I don’t think—oh, no, I think I left the pages—”
“Easy…” Emilio said, one hand up to forestall her panic. “Easy there.” From his back pocket he produced a vertically folded sheaf of papers, college ruled, with ragged edges where they’d been ripped from a spiral-bound notebook. Both sides of every page were covered in Sarah’s inflated but legible script.
Taking the papers, she smiled like a delighted child. “How did you—”
“They were sitting in your office by the fax machine when we left last night. I figured you’d want them, so I grabbed them on the way out.”
“What would I do without you?”
They came together in an unhurried kiss that went through several stages.
When they finally parted, Emilio said sheepishly, “Later on, do you think we could—”
Three things happened at once—STORM UPDATE reappeared on the TV screen, the iPhone lit up with another text message, and an email dropped into her inbox with a musical bing! Sarah noticed all of this and went for the phone first.
“Hold that thought,” she said.
“Okay … they think they’re going to have to upgrade the storm from just a ‘gale’ to a ‘severe gale,’” she said, reading the text alert from the National Weather Service. “That means winds over seventy miles per hour. The next step after that is a hurricane. We haven’t had a storm like that here in more than a century. We could get a foot of rain. Shit.…”
She closed the laptop and iPad while Emilio wiped his mouth and cleared the plates.
“Let’s get going,” she said.
“Right behind you.”
Copyright © 2017 by Wil Mara