Believe and Live – excerpt
30 September 1971
Mía pulled the soft duvet tight around her hips and stretched her legs toward Claudio, luxuriating. She’d never visited Carmichael before, where Semiautonomous California’s elites and their coterie—the “SeCa set”—vacationed, but it was exactly what she needed: country luxury. She and Claudio could walk along the river that ran next to the Carmichael Inn, relax all day at the spa, or laze in bed, completely free from obligations and far from the endless political wrangling in Oakland & Bayshore. She snuggled her feet in his direction.
But his side of the bed was empty. And cold.
Mía raised her head and opened her eyes. The clock on the bedside table blinked 03:22. The power must have gone out. It couldn’t be later than seven or eight, judging by sunlight on the white synthsilk drapes.
The duvet was neatly folded over on his side, as it usually was when he rose early. He was always careful to avoid waking her. She propped herself up on her elbows and looked at the open bathroom door and the vacant space beyond it.
The quiet room unnerved her. She shrugged it off; it must be earlier than she thought. Living in fog-blighted Oakland & Bayshore, she wasn’t used to bright sun in the morning.
Maybe he’d gone out for a jog, though last night they’d shared an entire bottle of mineral-tinged Côtes Catalanes at Enoteca Amaury. Mía felt a hint of her own hangover, a slight sluggishness that would require a hot shower to wash away.
Mía replayed the previous evening in her mind: afternoon sweets in a gelato shop where a smiling boy had made them giggle, a pre-dinner stroll along the SeCa North Fork river, amaranth-infused bourbon cocktails in the Gold and Granite Saloon, the enoteca’s savory courses of marinated onions and peppers, roast duck, and braised lamb, all of it followed by real, heritage-grown coffee and lavender panna cotta, and then, of course, lovemaking.
She smiled and pushed back the covers, remembering the passion in Claudio’s eyes, how desperately he’d pressed himself against her. Three years into their relationship, now newly wed, and still the spark between them sizzled. Thank the laws they hadn’t waited months to honeymoon on Barbados and had opted instead to spend some time in Carmichael. Claudio’s legal summit had gone well, and now that she’d joined him here, they could both relax for a few days.
Mía wished he’d stayed in bed, but maybe he’d planned all along to let her sleep in. The exhaustion she felt from the last six months campaigning for Governor-in-Chief Jerry Brown’s reelection would take more than a few days to make good. Mía needed a break before the campaign’s finale, and the honeymoon would be a good start.
A siren sounded from far away. It repeated twice, then dissolved in a jarring pop and rumble.
Mía slipped from the covers and dressed, putting on loose, flowing pants and an emerald button-up blouse. She searched around for her sandals, half expecting to come across a note in Claudio’s careful, academy-trained handwriting explaining that he’d gone for bagels, a newspaper, or a real coffee in the breakfast lounge downstairs. She found her sandals poking out from under the bed and slipped them on, just as someone outside screamed.
Her heart pounded. She rushed to the window and raised it, looking out from the second story. To the west she could see the winding road leading over the ridge into town, but there was no sign of who had screamed. She heard the sound again, a ragged, terrified shout. She ran to the opposite window, the one facing the river that ran from the foothills.
On the lawn leading down to the river she saw a couple lying next to each other and staring up at the sky. Closer, next to the dirt track that ran alongside the inn, she spotted Claudio. He was wearing his morning robe, prone and spread-eagled on his back like he was making snow angels with a man standing over him—a man wearing black military-style clothing with bulging pockets and a pair of stunstick holsters. Her breath caught in her throat.
The man standing over Claudio wore chunky black body armor and looked almost like an insect. The tip of the stunstick he was holding glowed ripe-strawberry red.
Mía yelled, “Stop!”
The man whipped his head toward the open window and met her gaze. His eyes were dark—matte and soulless. He tucked the stunstick into a holster and plucked a knife from his waistband, crouched, and held it to Claudio’s neck.
The man said, “Is she with you?” He looked up at Mía and yelled, “Step away from the window.”
Mía’s hands jumped to her throat. She screamed, “What are you doing?”
The man didn’t move. The knife remained poised as seconds cruelly ticked by. They were the only three people in the universe: the knifeman, Claudio, and Mía.
Claudio appealed to her with his eyes. What were they saying? Help? Run?
His straining neck pushed dangerously against the blade’s edge.
Mía had to get help: someone calm who could defuse the situation. She tore her gaze away and dove for the door.