© 2007 by John P. Hewitt
(with apologies to Robert Parker, Spenser, Hawk, Susan, et al.)
February 1, 2007
She burst through my office door like a sudden thunderstorm on a muggy day. It was a good thing, too. My doughnuts were gone, the coffee wasn’t up to snuff, and I was in a state of ennui. I hadn’t had a good case in weeks.
“The sign on the door says you’re Spenser, the detective,” she said abruptly.
“You have good eyes,” I said.
“I hear you’re the best there is,” she continued.
“Nothing wrong with your hearing,” I allowed.
“I have a problem,” she said, “and I need your help.”
I told her to tell me about it, and she did. Somebody, she believed, had stolen rain that was supposed to fall on Tucson, and she wanted me to find it and get it back.
“We need a good drenching,” she went on, “but we only got a measly five hundreths of an inch in two days of rain. You needed a microscope to see the raindrops. Somebody heisted our rain.”
“Maybe New Mexico stole it,” I said, “or Bush took it for Texas.”
“I asked the National Weather Service people about that,” she said, “but they denied anything like that could happen.”
“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” I said.
“What does that have to do with my rain,” she asked warily.
“Not much,” I admitted, “I just like saying it.”
She looked irritated, so I gave her my patented smile, and she went all weak in the knees and friendly. Maybe too friendly. I thought of Susan Silverman and turned the smile down a notch or two. She leaned over my desk and put her hand on my arm.
“Will you take my case?”
“I’ll take the case,” I said.
February 14, 2000
As soon as I agreed to take the case she handed me a ticket to Tucson.
“By the way,” I said, “what’s your name?”
“Lilith,” she said. “That’s all you need to know.”
I flew from the Hub of the Universe to the Old Pueblo the day before Valentine’s Day. Susan wasn’t happy. Everything looked parched -- the shrubs, the trees, even the people. I didn’t want to look parched, so I had a beer, and then a couple more. You can’t be too careful.
Just then it started to hail, and then the hail changed to rain. There wasn’t much -- rumor had it the total wasn’t more than four hundreths of an inch, maybe double that if you looked at the rain gauge the right way.
I decided to check out the National Weather Service office on 6th street. I noticed that there were no windows in the building. I found a custodian and asked him about that.
“They don’t need windows,” he said. “They have fancy instruments to tell them what is happening outside. If they had windows the forecasters would get confused.”
“Can I get inside,” I asked hopefully.
“No,” he said, “ you can’t. It’s not allowed.” I applied a little persuasion and he let me in.
I stepped inside. The radar screens were dark, and the place was deserted except for one person seated at a computer workstation. I watched her for a while. Every few minutes she consulted an instrument on the wall. I looked more closely.
It was a large “wheel of fortune,” marked with things like “rain chance 30%,” “ snow level 5000 feet,” and “hot and dry.” She gave it another spin.
“So that’s where they get their forecasts,” I said to the custodian.
“I don’t know anything about that,” he said, and quickly fled.
Later on, around 1:30AM, I was awakened by another brief shower, another four hundreths of an inch. It stopped so abruptly I knew something was wrong.
“The game’s afoot,” I thought to myself, and went back to sleep.
February 24, 2007
It was a strange week in Barrio Sapo. A bald Britney Spears went into rehab, the possible father count for Anna Nicole’s baby went up to four, and predicted rain chances went on a roller coaster ride. Mother nature gave us ten drops on Monday and then went AWOL, and she took Friday’s rain with her.
Lilith dropped by for a progress report.
“I’ve got two leads,” I said, “but don’t get your hopes up.”
“Out with it,” she said, “what do you know?”
“Number one,” I said, “there’s talk that the Chamber of Commerce cut a deal with the devil to suppress the rain and land that match play golf tournament, whatever it’s called, for Tucson. We get Tiger Woods but all the saguaros die.”
“A Faustian bargain,” she replied.
“I’m impressed,” I said. “I didn’t take you for a Goethe fan.”
“There’s a lot about me you don’t know,” she said with a smile. “What’s the other lead?”
“It involves a company called PNM …”
Her smile vanished.
“PNM!” She spat out the initials out like she had just tasted cat urine.
“I take it you and the Public Service Company of New Mexico are on the outs.”
“The scumbags tried to run a power line through my living room. Now what?”
“You know that big wind farm they built in eastern New Mexico to generate electricity?”
“Yes,” she replied. “A PR stunt. Trying to look green.”
“Well,” I said, “rumor has it they don’t generate any electricity there. They put up big fans to suck weather systems into New Mexico so they get the rain instead of Arizona. They’re still miffed about having their ass run out of Tucson.”
“Damn,” she said. “Can they really do that?”
“Welcome to the 21st century,” I said.
March 23, 2007
I was outside breathing in the perfume the desert gets after a rainfall when the ringing phone jolted me out of my reverie. I knew it had to be Lilith.
“Spenser!” She sounded ecstatic. “I don’t know what you did, but it worked! We got our rain yesterday! My electronic gauge says we got .51 inches, and the old plastic gauge says a full inch!”
“So, the statistical average would be .75 inches,” I offered.
“The data points are too far apart for a meaningful average, so I’ll have to check with my neighbors.” she said, “I don’t trust my gauges.”
“Thou shalt not with statisticians sit,” I replied, “nor commit a social science.”
“Ok, show-off, so you know your W. H. Auden. ”There was more than a trace of irritation in her voice. “What I want to know is what happened? Did you throw a monkey wrench in the PNM fake wind farm?”
“No need,” I replied, “the wind turbines are genuine. Besides, the PNM folks don’t have the brains or the cohones to steal our rain. They’re barely smart enough to change a light bulb.”
“And what about the Chamber of Commerce and its Faustian bargain?”
“Same story. I talked to Jim Click. Looked into his eyes, but I couldn’t find his soul, just acres of cars. In fact, he sold me one. And Don Diamond tried to trade me an acre in Picture Rocks for an acre in downtown Boston. These guys might be in league with the devil, but it doesn’t have anything to do with rain.”
“So,” she said, “you didn’t do anything to bring us our rain.”
“I didn’t say that,” I replied cautiously, “but I can’t tell you everything right now. Things are going to get dangerous, and I’m worried about that hail we had yesterday. Hawk is flying to Tucson to help. I need an extra pair of hands. And guns.”
Lilith was silent for a moment. “I’m getting worried,” she said.
“Just sit tight,” I said. “Everything will work out.”
April 12, 2007
The dust was so thick that I could hardly see the bottle of Sam Adams in my hand, and the relentless wind was making me crazy. I was sick of burritos and craved a nice piece of fish at the No Name Restaurant. But here I was in Tucson playing rainmaker.
The first raindrops hit the roof at about a quarter to ten. It wasn’t much -- too little to measure -- but it was something. Within seconds the phone rang. It was Lilith, demanding to know if I had anything to do with the unexpected rainfall.
“My associate Hawk and I went to Sacramento to straighten things out.”
“Because that’s where The Precipitator is,” I answered.
“The Precipitator. Pray tell, who is that?”
“The Precipitator. AKA The Governator. AKA The Terminator. Ahnold.”
“What does he have to do with the rain in Tucson?”
“He and his thugs have been grabbing it. It’s an old California trick, stealing water from other Western states. They’ve found a new way to do it, and The Precipitator is behind it.”
“How? What’s the new way?”
“Well, Tucson gets its winter rains from Pacific storms. The genius of Sacamento has found a way to keep them in California. They get rain, Tucson gets wind.”
“And are you going to tell me how?”
“We’re not sure. But however they’re doing it, Hawk and I put the kibosh on it, with a little help from Jack”.
“Jack Nicholson. He’s had experience with the California water mafia. We were, shall we say, very persuasive, enough to make The Precipitator wet his leather Tyrolian hiking shorts."
“So now we’ll have regular rains?”
“Keep your shirt on. It’s going to take a long time to straighten out this mess. But I’m going back to the Hub. I’ve done my work here for now. I’ll see you when the monsoon starts.”
April 21, 2007
I was gazing at the Boston harbor from the No Name Restaurant, eating my second plate of oysters and well into my third Sam Adams when Lilith called.
"We had about .05 inch of rain early this morning," she said. "Not enough, but better than nothing!" Her excitement was palpable.
"Hawk is still in Sacramento with Jack Nicholson," I said, "working on the Precipitator."
"I just wish we could get more. The dry season is almost here."
"Well," I said, "extracting water from California is like getting blood from a stone. Hawk is squeezing as hard as he can. But he took some hard knocks, so the going is rough?"
"He got hit upside the head by Ahnold's ego -- no blood, but a big headache."
"What about Jack?"
"He's been muttering something about a Chinatown cut. If I were the Precipitator, I'd be worried."
"How is this going to end?" Anxiety had taken the place of excitement in Lilith's voice.
"One never knows," I said. It was time to hang up and think about another Sam Adams.
June 11, 2007
I was dreaming about the meal I had eaten at Le Bistro du 7ème earlier that evening (I had just popped the last morsel of fromage de chèvre into my mouth) when my cell phone rang. At first I thought it was the gendarmerie driving on Rue de Grenelle with siren at full tilt, but Susan elbowed me awake.
"Spenser," she mumbled, "your phone is ringing."
I groped for the phone on the bedside table and found the right button.
"Talk to me," I answered.
"Spenser!" The voice was too loud and very excited; I knew it was Lilith calling from Tucson.
"Let me guess," I said, "Il pleut."
"What did you say? Never mind, it's raining here! In June, no less!"
"Just like I said, it's raining. How nice for you."
"You sound irritated," she said. "Did I call at a bad time?"
"Well," I said, "it's twelve-thirty in the morning here in Paris."
"Paris? Did I wake you? Well, yes, I suppose I did. Désolé!"
"You speak French," I said.
"Un peu," she replied, "very little. So what are you doing in Paris?"
"The usual," I said, trying to keep the irritation out of my voice. In spite of her name, Lilith is a bit sensitive. "So how much rain did you get?"
"About 12 hundredths of an inch -- about an eighth of an inch -- as of right now," she said happily. And then, with a trace of worry, "That's far too little."
"Quel dommage!" I said. "But it is June, a dry month, and doesn't this put you over two inches for the year so far?"
"Oui," she said, "2.01 inches if you believe the high data points. We should have had over three inches by now.
"Look on the bright side," I said. "Maybe you'll get more. Tomorrow's another day. Le soleil sortira demain! Bet your bottom dollar it will shine."
"That's just what I'm afraid of," she replied. "But anyway, if you had anything to do with this, I just wanted to thank you."
"Well," I said, "I had a chat with Sarkozy, and he had a chat with Ahnold the Precipitator. Maybe that helped. I'll send you my bill."
"You're a peach," she said. "Bon soireé! And say hello to Sarko for me."
“I will,’ I said. “And Sego too.”
July 6, 2007
I hadn’t heard from Lilith since early June, when she awakened me in the middle of the night at my Paris hotel, and I was getting worried. She answered on the first ring.
“Spenser,” she cried, “I was about to call you. We’ve had rain -- .16 of an inch at my house.”
“That’s wonderful,” I said. “The monsoon has arrived.”
“Not officially -- we haven’t had our three days of dewpoints over 54 degrees -- but it was more or less a monsoonal rain. But it came from the east and northeast, not the south or southeast.”
“Well, I’m happy for you.”
“And we’re grateful to you, Spenser. Hawk must be leaning on the Precipitator again.”
“Not so,” I replied, “Ahnold has nothing to do with your monsoon. El Señor Presidente Felipe De Jesus Calderon Hinojosa maybe, but nobody in California.”
“So you had nothing to do with this rain?”
“I didn’t say that. We’ve had some, shall we say, conversations with Bill Richardson.”
“The Governor of New Mexico?”
“Yes, and Presidential candidate. There will be a Presidential Primary in Arizona. Guess what. He’s looking for votes.”
“And he promises rain if we vote for him?”
“Well, he made a commitment. And it rained. What can I say?”
“Can we extract some rain from Hillary, do you think?”
“If her focus groups approve it.”
“What about Edwards? Obama?”
“Edwards will make it rain everywhere except the Catalina foothills. I don’t know about Obama. Virga maybe.”
“What about the Republicans? Can they deliver?”
“As Tony Soprano would say, were he still among us, Fuggetaboudit!”
July 18, 2007
I had just finished my second plate of oysters at the Union Oyster house. Hawk was ribbing me. “Real men don’t need oysters,” he said with a smirk. Susan rolled her eyes. I decided to call Lilith in Tucson for a weather report.
“Lilith,” I said when she answered, “I understand the monsoon has started and you had some rain.”
“It’s rained in the city,” she said, “and south, east, and west of us. But out here in the desert we’ve had four or five measly drops. The monsoon is 11 days old, but you wouldn’t know it in my neighborhood. It’s been so dry even the branchiopods are whimpering. You can hear their pathetic little cries if you listen closely.”
“I feel their pain,” I said, having no idea what a branchiopod might be.
“No one knows quite what is happening,” she added, “but there’s a gallimaufry of rumors.”
“That the Dark Lord Cheney is holding back the rain until he gets an exclusive no-bid rain-making contract for Halliburton. That the Minuteman vigilantes are turning back thunderheads at the border because they think illegals might be hiding in them. And the prize winner is that Bush believes that monsoon storms are really WMD’s he couldn’t find in Iraq.”
“That’s plausible,” I said.
“That the monsoon is a WMD?” she asked incredulously.
“No,” I said, “it’s plausible that Bush thinks so.”
“What’s more,” she added, “the Weather Service wants to rename the monsoon. They want to call it the “Summer Thunderstorm Season.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Evidently some troglodyte members of Congress think “Monsoon” sounds too Islamic.”
“What’s in a name?” I asked.
She replied with a sigh, “This monsoon by any other name would rain as little.”
“Call me when it rains,” I said.
July 20, 2007
The phone rang just as I was finishing the last morsel of eggs benedict.
“Spenser,” Lilith exclaimed, “it finally happened. We got rain last night. One gauge says .36 inch, the other .48 inch. And we had a spectacular lightning show. And before it rained, the wind blew ferociously – it nearly knocked me on my tuchis!’
“And a lovely tuchis it is,” I observed, not untruthfully.
“Why Spenser,” she said in her sultry voice, “why don’t you come out and see me sometime?”
“So I’m thinking you want to know where the rain came from,” I replied, ignoring her invitation.
“Yes, but I’m mystified. Was it Halliburton? The Minutemen let down their guard? The Current Occupant changed his mind?”
“Well,” I said, “Halliburton gets contracts, but that doesn’t mean they actually deliver. The nativists are a bunch of blowhards, from Chief Bloviator Dobbs on down. And you can’t change what you don’t have to start with.”
“So,” she said, “do you still think it might be Bill Richardson?”
“Well,” I replied, “he’s rising in the New Hampshire polls, and he does have a reputation for getting things done.”
“At least today I don’t feel like I’m waiting for Godot!”
“Tomorrow is another day,” I warned.
July 24, 2007
I had just finished Chapter 23 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when the phone rang. I was in no mood to be disturbed by an obviously euphoric Lilith.
“SPENSER! RAIN! LOT’S OF IT!” She was speaking in capital letters. Clearly there would be no evading this conversation.
“Tell me about it,” I said, concealing the resignation in my voice as best I could.
“Well,” she said breathlessly, “sometime after midnight Saturday night it rained some, but I was disappointed the next morning to discover we only got .04 inch. And it threatened to rain on Sunday – everybody thought it would – but we got only a few drops. But on Monday the skies opened up and we got 1.10 inches within an hour. It was glorious! And early this morning, Tuesday, it started to rain again, and we got another .75 inch before the sun came out at 9AM.My cup runneth over.”
As I expected, she wanted to talk about the change in meteorological fortunes.
“I was thinking,” she said, “that maybe we’ve been on the wrong track crediting politicians for the rain.”
“No doubt you have another theory,” I replied.
“Well,” she ventured, “I was thinking maybe Harry Potter had worked some of his magic on us.”
“You do realize, don’t you?” I said, “that Harry Potter is a fictional character.”
“Well, duh! Spenser, you’re a fictional detective and I’m Adam’s mythical first wife. Who’s to say what’s real and what’s not. It’s a postmodern world we live in.”
“So maybe you imagined the rain,” I retorted. “Or you imagined yourself imagining the rain.”
“Really, Spenser,” she said. “I think you should come out here and see for yourself.”
“It’s too hot in Tucson,” I said, “and besides, I think you should just accept your good fortune and leave well enough alone.”
“No,” she replied, “I want you here. And” – now in a voice thick with implication – “be sure to bring your wand.”
July 27, 2007
It was a subdued Lilith who called me at my office Friday morning to give me the latest Tucson rainfall numbers.
“Spenser,” she said when I answered “I’m starting to worry we might be getting too much rain.”
“When it rains, it pours!”
“Yesterday,” she went on, “we had an unexpected afternoon rain that dropped .79 inch in a half hour. There was just this one big cloud in the whole area, and it dumped on us. The desert was a sheet of water and our roads were rivers.”
“Your cup runneth over again.”
“My rain gauge runneth over. We have had 3.04 inches of rain in a week. The animals are starting to line up two by two.”
“I guess this means you won’t need my services any more.”
“But I do,” she said. “but now you have to help us put on the brakes. We need a few days of relief.”
“You give me more credit than I deserve,” I said.
“You’re wrong, Spenser.”
“As Jimmy Hoffa used to say,” I rejoined, “I might make a mistake sometimes, but I’m never wrong.”
“Whatever. But I’d still like you to come out and see me. And also help with the rain, of course.”
“Can you make a decent martini?” I asked.
“I make the best dirty martini in Tucson.”
July 29, 2007
When I got off the plane in Tucson Saturday morning, the air was heavy, there were clouds everywhere, and things didn’t look as parched as the last time I had visited. I had flown in on a Gulfstream 5 owned by a friend with too much money for his own good. Susan came with me for protection – from Lilith.
Lilith wasn’t expecting me until late afternoon, so I did a little sleuthing around her neighborhood while Susan decamped for the Park Place Mall. A brief morning shower (.08 inch) didn’t deter me from poking my nose into the washes and peering over adobe walls. I’m as jaded as they come, but even I was astonished by what I saw, and I hurried to Lilith’s house. It was raining hard when I got there, and within a half hour the rain gauge total read 1.18 inches.
“I’m so glad you came!” she exclaimed as she greeted me with a perfect Martini.
“Please sit down, “ I said, “and listen carefully. The monsoon is out of control because there are too many rain dances going on.”
“The Tohono O’odham are doing rain dances?”
“No, it’s not them. There may be a few members of the Wannabe tribe involved. But mostly it’s your neighbors.”
“Yes. They are doing rain dances , and moreover, some are doing them in the nude?”
“Nude rain dances? You saw them? And that’s making it rain too much?”
“Yes, I saw them. Sometimes it makes it rain too much. Sometimes too little. It depends on who’s dancing, I think.”
“So who …. Well, we probably shouldn’t go there.”
“Agreed. I’d like another martini, please.”
August 1, 2007
Lilith invited Susan and I to lunch at her place, where she served an elegant artichoke salad along with a delicately fragrant Edna Valley Chardonnay. Naturally the talk soon turned to rain.
“We had .28 inch of rain yesterday,” she reported, “and it was so gentle. A female rain, as the Hopi might say. Did you have anything to do with that?”
“I’d like to claim credit, but I don’t think I can,” I replied. “I did hear some of your neighbors rehearsing a song for a rain dance, but they fled when I approached.”
“What were they singing?”
“An old KC and the Sunshine Band number – well, their own adaptation of it anyway. It went like this:
Do a little dance, make a little rain.
Get down tonight, get down tonight.”
Lilith made a face. “That sounds pretty dreadful. Could that actually make rain?”
“Make it or stop it, I’m not sure which. By the way, “ I added, “my compliments on your choice of wine.”
“Thank you,” she said with a grateful smile, “it’s a rare California chardonnay that doesn’t taste like chewing on an oak log. You can actually detect the grape!”
“That’s the way, that’s the way, I like it, I like it!” Susan exclaimed.
August 6, 2007
After I deposited Susan at the airport to catch her flight to Boston to minister to her needy clients, I drove out to Lilith’s to eat breakfast and to attend to her demands. The desert scrub was starting to look like a rain forest, and the roads looked like they had done duty as riverbeds. Lilith looked like she had spent too much time on her hair and makeup.
“Have a good weekend?” I asked.
“Rainwise, yes,” she responded. “Saturday gave us .12 inch and Sunday .08 inch, and the rain was gentle and restrained. But then all hell broke loose.”
“Hell has a penchant for doing that,” I wisely told her.
“It started to rain lightly sometime after midnight, but I slept through most of it – dreaming of you, Spenser. But just after 3 AM I awoke to incredibly heavy rain, and by 4AM my rain gauge read 1.61 inches. The heavens opened and rain came down like a river…”
“And righteousness like a mighty stream?” I interjected. The heaven and hell references were getting to me.
“Well,” she said, “thank you, Amos, but no. Gushers of self-righteousness, of course. But the rain reminded me of you. Strong. Powerful. Masculine.” Her voice grew seductive as she leaned invitingly toward me.
We had gone from sacred to profane, and I didn’t like it. Alone and defenseless with Lilith in a rain forest wasn’t where I wanted to be. I was rescued when a fresh rain shower distracted her.
“Another .16 inch – and the gauge now says 1.77 inches,” she said excitedly.
Distracted as she was, I knew I wasn’t safe, so I decided to leave. I turned my cell phone off, just in case.
“SPENSER!” she said when I turned the phone on around 2PM and listened to her message on my voice mail. She was again speaking in upper case. “DON’T YOU LIKE ME? WHERE ARE YOU? Well, anyway, it’s been raining off and on every since you left. Monday’s total as of 2PM on my gauge is 2.01 inches. All that rain!”
“All those nude dancers, and Harry Potter wannabes, and politicians, and who knows what else,” I said to myself. I found myself longing for Boston and a nice, banal kidnapping.
August 10, 2007
Friday night. Lilith and Tucson had worn me down, so I arranged an escape flight to the Hub for Saturday morning. But out of the goodness of my heart – and mindful of the fee I was earning – I decided to spend an evening with herself to talk about her favorite topic. This time the wine was not so good – a 2005 Zarafa South African Pinotage from Trader Joe’s, with a nose reminiscent of Band Aids, notes of burning trash, and a brake fluid finish. The best thing about it was the giraffe on the label.
“You seem to have had a reprieve from the monsoon,” I offered. “There’s not been even a hint of rain for the past few days.”
“What do you make of it?” she asked.
“Well,” I said, “my sources tell me one of the chief rain dancers has left town for a few days. Maybe that has something to do with the drying trend.”
“Who is it?” she eagerly asked.
“I can’t tell you,” I said. “There are lawyers involved, and you know what that means.”
A devilish grin spread across her face: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the…..”
“Don’t even say it, Lilith. We don’t know who’s listening. And a word to the wise: Shakespeare’s dead, and so is Henry VI, and so is Dick the Butcher!”
“Your literary knowledge is awesome. What I really want to know is, will the monsoon be back?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea.” I looked firmly into Lilith’s eyes: “Maybe when the nude dancers return. Maybe when mother nature feels like it. Maybe never. Maybe it’s unknowable.”
“So,” Lilith responded anxiously, “you’re really saying it’s pointless to search for a deeper meaning in the monsoon or for what makes it behave as it does.”
“Sometimes a thunderstorm is just a thunderstorm,” I said, hoping she might finally be getting the picture. “Mind if I light up a cigar?”
“Go ahead, Sigmund,” she replied, as she moved a few inches closer to me.
August 22, 2007
Lilith wasn’t happy when I spurned her advances at our last encounter. Now, back in Boston and contentedly bantering with the cranky waitress at Durgin Park, I began to worry. I hadn’t heard from her in nearly two weeks, and I knew Tucson had had a couple of inches of rain.
She answered after several rings. “Hello Spenser,” she said coldly.
“I hear it rained in Tucson,”I said. “I was surprised you didn’t phone.”
“Surprised?” she replied. “After you rejected me? Anyway, I was out of town.”
“Where were you?” I asked.
“I went to Wyoming,” she answered, and then more pointedly, “where men are men.”
“And the sheep are nervous,” I rejoined.
“I wouldn’t know about that,” she replied. “Do you want to know how much rain we had? Not that you had anything to do with it.” Her voice had gone from cold to bitter.
“Yes,” I said, “tell me.”
“My rain gauge has a memory,” she began. “It tells me we had .28 of an inch on Monday, August 13th; .75 of an inch on Wednesday, the 15th; and .98 of an inch on Sunday the 19th. My neighbors had similar amounts, and one of the storms was quite fierce, with twisting winds and downed trees.”
“Any sign of rain dancers?”
“They’ve been in and out of town. I have it on good authority that it started to rain the moment one of them showed up Monday night. ”
“Every neighborhood should have a Rain Goddess,” I said.
“Yes, but enough already. My rain gauge has recorded 10.87 inches so far this year – that’s getting close to a full year’s worth of rain.”
“It’s the desert, Lilith. You know that. Drought or flood, feast or famine.”
“Speaking of famine,” she replied, “I’m hungry. When are you coming back?”
September 8, 2007
We were having a hot, sunny day in Beantown, which led me to check Tucson’s weather. The NOAA forecasters had evidently used their Wheel of Weather Fortune to dial up a series of hot sunny days for the Old Pueblo, with no rain in sight. I opened another Sam Adams and called Lilith.
“So,” I said, “it looks like the monsoon is winding down.”
“Perhaps,” she replied, “but it’s not over ‘til it’s over.”
“How true, Yogi,” I said. “Have you had any rain recently?”
“On August 25th we had about .04. On September 1st we had .35, then another .12 on the 5th and .28 on the 6th. Altogether .79 since we last spoke.”
“So, I guess you’re feeling a bit more relaxed?”
“Au contraire. KC and the Sunshine Band are playing at one of the local casinos tonight. I’m worried they might get the natives riled up, and I don’t mean the Indians. You know, ‘Do a little dance, make a little rain….’ I’m afraid they’ll ‘get down’ tonight.”
“I thought KC would be in assisted living by now.”
“Fat chance. Old musicians are like retired professors. They never shut up. Anyway, I’m fed up with the rain, so I’m going to Ireland in ten days.”
“Up for a bit of the auld sod, are you? You do know it rains there?”
“Ah, but it’s rain of a gentle sort, a soft kiss on the warm bosom of mother earth.” She paused, and then added in an inviting voice, “I’ve bought you a ticket so you can come with me!”
“Faith and begorrah! And will you be buying the Guinness?”
September 17, 2007
It was a conciliatory Lilith who called first thing Monday morning.
“I’m off to the auld sod tomorrow, Spenser,” she said, “and I understand why you can’t come with me. But I had to try.”
“Of course,” I replied. “To thine own self be true. How’s the monsoon?”
“We had .04 on Saturday, the 15th,” she replied, “and plenty of sound and fury on Sunday, but it didn’t signify anything. Whatever rain there was missed our neighborhood.”
“So I guess the fat lady sang?”
“I didn’t hear any singing. It just ended, like the last episode of The Sopranos.”
“So,” I said, “This is the way the monsoon ends. This is the way the monsoon ends. This is the way the monsoon ends. Not with a bang but with a whimper.”
“T.S. Eliot is spinning in his grave, Spenser. Still, it was a disappointment. I like big, dramatic endings.”
“So I guess September is the cruelest month?”
“Spenser, you are incorrigible! We’ll talk when I get back.”
October 3, 2007
I figured Lilith had returned from Ireland and recovered from jet lag, so I gave her a call.
“Welcome home,” I began, “ I’m lifting a pint to celebrate your return. Sláinte! By the way, how’s the Tucson rain situation?”
“As far as I can tell,” she replied, “it didn’t rain here while I was gone, though we saw a shower over Three Points as we landed on Sunday, and there were a few drops on Tuesday.”
“Did it rain in Ireland?”
“Is the Pope Catholic?” she replied.
“Did you kiss the Blarney Stone?”
“Are you kidding?”
“But it confers the gift of gab,” I reminded her.
“It confers the gift of hepatitis,” she retorted. “Thousands of people slobber on it every day, and they haven’t been wormed or had their rabies shots or anything. Ugh! Besides....”
“The local lads pee on it every night after the tourists go home. Think about it.”
I took a healthy swallow of stout to clear the thought from my brain. “How was the Guinness?’
“Sure and it was fine,” she answered. “I bent me elbow a few times.”
“And did you find your pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?”
“Find it? I spent it! Petrol is $6.50 a gallon. Guinness is $5.50 a pint. How are things in Glocca Morra? Expensive! And the dollar is worth bupkiss. But the trip was worth every Euro.”
“Well,” I said. “I hear potatoes are on sale at Albertson’s. Also lamb necks. ”
“You’re all heart, Spenser.”
November 8, 2007
I hadn’t heard from Lilith since her return from Ireland and I was worried. She hadn’t even called when the Red Sox swept the series. So I rang her up.
“Hello Spenser,” she said. Her voice seemed tired.
“So how’s by you?” I inquired.
“Oy!” she replied. “Yiddish sentence structure and a Boston accent. Like a pastrami sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise!” She continued: “Not so good. There’s been no measurable rain since September 15, the higher intelligence in Phoenix wants to put a highway through our bit of desert paradise, and I think I’m being stalked.”
“Ouch!” I said, thinking maybe I should have let well enough alone. “No rain at all?”
“Not even a threat. The pack rats are lining up with tiny cups and begging for water, and the rain dancers are nowhere in sight.”
“And the highway?”
“Don’t even ask. Highway departments are run by cretins, Spenser. They won’t be satisfied until every last square inch of the country is paved. Maybe Hawk needs to come out and educate them.”
I ignored the suggestion. “And you say you’re being stalked?” I didn’t want to go there, but I did.
“Well, I keep seeing a man in a green velvet suit and long hair, looking like a refugee from 1972. Last night I dreamed he asked me to marry him and then stood me up at the altar. I could be dreaming the whole thing.”
“Maybe a leprechaun followed you home from Ireland?”
“It could be,” she sighed. “Anyway, I’m nearly at the end of my tether.”
“Lilith, you need to relax. Take two martinis and call me in the morning.”
December 1, 2007
Susan and I were enjoying a quiet Saturday brunch when the phone rang. The caller ID indicated it was Lilith, but the voice sounded more like Kermit the Frog.
“2.01 INCHES!” she croaked. All but .04” of it before midnight on Friday. That’s October and November rainfall together, and then some.”
“It looks like mother nature is smiling on you again,” I said. “Maybe you’ll get some spring wildflowers. But what’s with the voice?”
“A bad cold,” she replied, “an anonymous gift from a fellow passenger on Southwest Airlines. Aggravated by a week of highway talk.”
“That bypass you were complaining about?”
“You got it. I’ve been talking to planners and consultants and highway officials all week. It’s like talking to a sponge: what you say to them goes in and quickly dribbles out the bottom. It’s given me acid reflux of the soul.”
“Anything I can do to help?” I kicked myself the moment the words were out of my mouth. Susan shot me a look from across the table.
“You bet!” Lilith replied. “Come out to Tucson. I’ll show you a good time and we’ll show those cretins the fight of their lives!”
December 11, 2007
My flight landed at the Old Pueblo airport on a soggy, cool Tuesday, which cheered the locals and made the tourists grumpy. Susan headed for a few days of pampering at Canyon Ranch, and I made for LIlith’s neighborhood.
“It looks like your neighbors have been dancing again,” I said.
“Maybe so,” she replied, “but with these temperatures they had better be wearing their snowsuits. It’s only 46 degrees out there.”
“It’s 34 in Boston,” I said, “get over it. How much rain?
“We had .20” on Saturday, .04” on Sunday, and .16” on Monday. And today we’re already at .28” today and it isn’t even noon yet.”
“And the bypass planners?”
Lilith sighed. “The rain won’t dampen their enthusiasm. I think these guys were born jonesing for highways. It’s like an addiction with them.”
“Is there anything for a private eye to do?”
“Well,” she said thoughtfully, “you could see what you can find on Si Schorr, the State Transportation Board member who started this nonsense.”
“Well, he’s a high powered real estate lawyer. Does he represent land owners in the path of the bypass? Does he own land there. Does he want to be the Robert Moses of Southern Arizona?”
“You could have a Cross Bronx Expressway right here in the Avra Valley!”
“I can’t wait! Maybe even a truck stop, or a Motel 6.”
“So you want me to find secrets, maybe even some dirt?”
“You got it, Spenser. These developers and their ilk have dollar signs permanently etched on their retinas. Rational arguments don’t sway them. They grasp only money and power. We need to fight fire with fire.”
December 21, 2007
The day held a threat of showers as Lilith and I drove toward yet another meeting on the bypass that had begun to consume her. I asked her if she expected rain.
“Possibly,” she said. “But we’re doing OK in any case. The December 7th to 11th system brought us a total of .87” -- and we’re up to 14.57 inches for the year. Not bad!”
“So where is this Transportation Board meeting we’re going to?” I asked.
“In Oro Disney,” she replied with a grin.
“The Town of Oro Valley. But you’ll see what I mean when we get there.”
I did. It had a Disneyland feel, and I couldn’t help looking for the Thunder Mountain Railway ride. The meeting itself was run by the Chair, Joe Lane, a small man from Maricopa County who faintly resembled the Mayor of Munchkin City. The only Board member who spoke was Si Schorr, the would-be Robert Moses of Southern Arizona. He rattled off a series of leading questions to the ADOT zombies that would get him slapped down in any competent court. The others had evidently lost their tongues.
While Lilith awaited her turn to speak I nosed around the room, peeking into corners and going where I didn’t belong. That’s what sleuths do, and it isn’t hard when you act like you belong. What I discovered astonished me, and I sought out Lilith as soon as she finished speaking.
“You won’t believe this,” I said. “The State Transportation Board and the ADOT folks and their consultants aren’t real. They’re holograms.”
“Holograms! No sh... no kidding!”
“I kid you not. They’ve got projectors hidden around the room. You were talking to an illusion.”
“You mean like the talking head in the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney?”
“Bingo,” I said. “ It’s all pre-recorded. That’s why they keep saying the same thing. That’s why what you say goes right through them. There’s nothing there, just air.”
“How are we going to fight a bunch of holograms?”
“Well,” I said, “what do you need to project a hologram?”
“Electricity,” she replied, “power.”
“Exactly,” I agreed. “Power. You’ve got to find a way to pull the plug.”
“I have some ideas about that,” Lilith said with an evil glint in her eye. “Have you ever read The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey?”
“You devil!” I said.
December 31, 2007
It was the last day of 2007. Susan had been thoroughly massaged, acupunctured, enhanced, instructed, mud bathed, and otherwise pampered at Canyon Ranch and was eager to return to Boston. And I had unwelcome news for Lilith, who reluctantly agreed to drive us to the airport.
“We had 14.57 inches of rain this year,” she said as we drove, “and I like to think it was our teamwork that did it.”
We unloaded our luggage at the curb under the watchful eye of Tucson’s finest. I wasn’t eager to give Lilith my news.
“I’m afraid I won’t be returning to Tucson any time soon,” I said. “I’ve taken on a new case.”
Lilith seemed undaunted. “That’s no problem,” she said. “I’ll buy a ticket to Boston. I’ll come with you and relocate. I need to be with you.”
I had feared she might say that.
“Lilith,” I said, “I know you want to come with me, but you belong in Tucson watching the rain and fighting highways. If you get on that plane with me, you'll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”
She gave me a quizzical look, but I went on: “I’ve got a job to do. Where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to do, you can't be any part of.”
“But I’ll miss you!” She cried.
“We’ll always have Tucson,” I said, and as I did, a smile crept across her face.
“Why Spenser!” she exclaimed. “Just like in the movies! Here’s looking at you kid!”