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Deputy Delmar Johnson was not eager to read the journal of a woman who was
He'd put it off all day, then lingered over dinner at the Bird's Nest.
Now he delayed for a moment longer, taking in the view from just outside the
The Central Coast hills, which had baked all day in the July sun, now
seemed to shudder as they shrugged off the heat of the day, sending a shimmer
through the landscape, making it appear as a mirage. Sometimes Del thought
it was a mirage. He was a long way from South Central Los Angeles.
He worried that his reflexes had slowed in an atmosphere no longer
charged with nightly drive-by shootings. And he rejoiced that he could now
go several hours thinking thoughts other than survival. Night-blooming
jasmine began to release its elixir to the evening air, where it mingled with
the pungent aroma of eucalyptus. Inhaling deeply of the heady scent, he
understood how California had become a land of dreams and aspirations, and
how it saturated its visitors with sensuous visions of wealth and abundance.
Like a land that dripped honey, it made its captives unwary till they sank in
their own satiety.
Shaking his head to clear it, he crossed the parking lot and felt
comforted by the satisfying crunch of gravel under his boots. Tempting
though it was to head for his cozy studio apartment, he could no longer avoid
reading the journal.
Though he had orders not to treat the missing reporter's case as an
active one until, or unless, something concrete turned up, he was free to
pursue whatever he wished during his time off. The journal had turned up
when a hidden safe was found during a search of Chris Christian's apartment.
Now, he knew the book would be sitting ready to burn a hole through his desk.
Pulling into his assigned parking spot at the Central Coast Sheriff's
station, he turned off the motor and let the Suburban begin to cool. As he
stepped down from its high running board, he let the heavy door slam and
heard all four locks respond synchronously as he pressed the remote and
headed up the stairs to the front entrance.
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's office shared a building with the
Department of Forestry, perhaps signifying that trees were every bit as
important as people, a sentiment with which Del was beginning to agree. The
two species stood toe to toe in a necessary symbiosis, each literally
creating the other's air to breathe. Experimental programs in inner cities
proved third-generation welfare families who'd never seen a tree began to
overcome depression and hopelessness with the planting of a single sapling.
His heavy boots clanging down the hallway, Del opened his office door,
his eyes flying to the journal to disprove his theory of spontaneous
combustion. Still in tact, the unpreposessing journal contained the full
weight of what was almost certainly a dead woman's soul.
Lifting it, he ran his hands over the nubby, black
synthetic-over-cardboard perfect-bound book. Not an expensive item—she
hadn't chosen leather or raw silk for her memoirs. Yet it had a simple
elegance about it—classy, understated, functional. He asked himself for the
hundredth time whether or not he had the right to read someone else's private
Of course, he could rationalize that it was his job to read it. Yet it
surprised him what hesitance he felt. Perhaps it was the very nature of a
self-reflection that bothered him. What would happen, he wondered, if he
started to write his own journal? He'd never done that much soul-searching,
if that was its primary function. And when it came to recording the daily
events of life, they seemed far too mundane to bother. Of course, he kept a
log of work-related activities, but that came with the job.
Could he write down personal thoughts—how he felt about being an
African-American man moving alone in a Caucasian stronghold? Or how he felt
about a particular woman? Involun-tarily, he found himself resisting the
idea of committing anything to paper. It wasn't so much the inability to
frame his thoughts and feelings in words; it was that he didn't trust what
would happen to the journal itself.
What was a private diary but a dangerous, little emotional time-bomb that
sooner or later was bound to go off? Full of betrayals, heartbreaks, and all
manner of things best left unknown, it seemed to him a bad idea ever to keep
one. Unless. Unless something happened to the owner.
And here he was, the follower of clues. Thinking back to Christopher
Darden's book, he remembered what the former D.A. had written—that Nicole
Simpson had left those photos of herself battered and bruised...had left them
for him. Had Chris Christian left this journal for Del?
Sitting heavily in his desk chair, he flipped open a page at random.
Good date with Joseph last night. He still refuses to be called "Joe."
What was startling in reading the words was their immediacy. Chris
didn't seem dead at all, or even missing. Her voice was here and now in
present time, and he felt transported not only back in time, but also into
her particular reality as convincingly as if she'd taken his hand and walked
him into her life.
Shuddering at the thought, he reminded himself for the hundredth time
that Chris wasn't necessarily dead at all. Yet he couldn't shake the feeling
he was trespassing on someone's unfinished life. Flipping forward he found:
I feel as though I'm having some sort of clandestine love affair.
The symptoms are all the same: my heart skips a beat when he calls; I can
never call him back; I look forward to meeting him but am scared and worried
about these meetings, and can't tell anyone about them. Last time I was due
to meet with him I remember glancing in my underwear drawer thinking I ought
to put on some naughty garter belts for our meeting. It was a strange
thought and I dismissed it, but the fact that it crossed my mind got my
At first he assumed Chris was referring to Joseph Calvin, but the references
to being unable to call him didn't jibe with other notations: call Joseph
back. Curious, he flipped backwards to see if he could anchor these comments
to any person or appointment, but found none that seemed to relate. He