Home Dance With Me In The Kitchen – 2024

Dance With Me In The Kitchen – 2024

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Book Cover: Dance With Me In The Kitchen - 2024

Joe Saldana, a talented and dedicated physical therapist, feels like he is spinning out of control. Between his insane work schedule treating quirky elderly patients and he train wreck that is his his dysfunctional Italian-American family, Joe begins to question the life path he has chosen. When he meets ninety-four year old Chance Lytle, a former stunt pilot with a newly fractured hip, a tenuous therapist-patient relationship grows into an odd friendship.  Chance and Joe find strength in each other, Chance adjusting to life without his recently deceased wife, and Joe, who is trying to navigate the rough waters of family addiction and commitment issues.



Someone was in the house. Chance Lytle did not hear the intruder as much as he felt his presence. The 96 year-old moved slowly from his bed and silently opened the bedside table drawer. He drew out his old military issue 1911 Colt .45 semi-automatic pistol and stood stiffly. The joints in his arthritic knees popped so loudly that he thought the intruder must have heard them from the other room.

His ears tended to play tricks on him these days. With an 85% hearing loss in both ears and nearly blind from glaucoma and macular degeneration, Chance Lytle knew he had a slim to zero chance of surprising the burglar, let alone defending himself. But, Goddammit, he thought, no one comes into my house uninvited.


The house was dark, which further limited his failing sight. Chance navigated his way out of the bedroom by Braille: he groped along the wall to the door by locating furniture in the darkness and feeling for familiar objects, their positions long imprinted in his memory. The pistol, once a comfortable extension of his right hand, now felt heavy and cumbersome.

            Chance got to the end of the hall that opened into the cluttered living room. He thought he heard something. All of his remaining senses became alert as he focused on the source of the sound. The intruder was in the living room. He caught the hint of a light panning the far wall. A moment later, he saw the light flicker and move again. Lytle knew instinctively not to shoot at the source of the light. The owner of the flashlight was somewhere between three and six feet behind the light. If he had to shoot, that would be his target area.

“Don’t move, Asshole,” Chance said into the darkness.

The burglar did something that Chance did not expect.

He laughed.

Suddenly, Chance was blinded by the glare from the flashlight.

Panicked, he fired.

The roar of the .45 surprised him. He was unprepared for the recoil and fell backward. He caromed off the ornate hutch where plates and glassware from his wedding shattered down around him. Falling hard on his right hip, he felt a stabbing pain that knocked the breath out of him. His head hit hard against the solid wooden hutch. Chance felt something warm trickling down his face.

He realized he had let go of the pistol. Groping around in the blackness in panic, he could not locate the reassuring feel of the metal semi-auto. Lytle attempted to get up, but was enveloped by a sudden, blinding pain in his hip. His head fell back and he was plunged into an even deeper blackness.

When he came to, the house was bathed in an eerie predawn light. At first, completely disoriented, he wondered why he was lying on the floor. He lay there breathing, straining his ears for sounds of movement. When he attempted to move, his ruined hip reminded him emphatically of how he had come to this state.

On some level, Chance knew that he had broken his hip. Somehow, he had cut a gash in his head. He gingerly brought his hand up to his forehead and felt the stickiness there. As long as he lay still, he didn’t feel half bad. But that was not a good long-range plan. His bladder was screaming at him right now.

Chance decided to try and crawl to the sofa where he knew a phone lay on the end table. When he turned on his stomach, he sucked in his breath as his shattered hip erupted in a stabbing pain. Lytle groaned and waited until the waves of pain subsided. Even using his left leg to propel his body along the floor nearly caused him to black out again. A wave of nausea washed over him. He was going to have drag himself over to the sofa by his arms alone.

Chance stopped several times to rest and to calm the feeling that he wanted to puke. By the time he reached the sofa, the pain was nearly unendurable. He breathed through clenched teeth. He knew the next maneuver would probably make him pass out for sure.

“Fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into this time, Sylvie,” Chance rasped. He took several breaths and gauged the final distance he would have to go to get up on the sofa.

“Come on, Lytle. Move your saggy old ass.”

Rolling on to his left hip he scooted along the floor until he was able to grab the arm of the couch. As he levered himself up, Chance Lytle cried out. His bladder gave way, a warm sensation bathing his legs. He cursed himself for his weakness. With the final vestiges of his faltering strength, he pulled himself onto the sofa.

When the waves of agony subsided to a grinding pain, Chance reached for the phone. Lifting the receiver, he realized he wasn’t going to be able to read the large numbered face without his bifocal magnifiers.

He tried to remember the order of the numbers as they would appear on the face of the phone. He punched in what he hoped would be the numbers 9-1-1. A voice came on the phone, sounding tinny and distant. Chance could not make out the words the person on the other end was saying.

He dropped the receiver.

“Aw, shit,” was all he could murmur.



Joe Saldana was upside down in a river kayak in a swimming pool. His nose was filled with water and his lungs were on fire. To make matters worse, he was not sure how to get himself right side up. For the last forty-minutes he had been attempting, rather unsuccessfully, to complete an Eskimo roll, a finesse maneuver utilizing the paddle and a quick rocking motion of the hips, a necessary technique for righting a kayak in a fast moving river.

The arrangement was that Joe could practice his rolling technique here at the Desert Vista Adult Care Home, if the ten elderly residents could be wheeled out onto the patio to watch. All seven women and three men sat in their wheelchairs under the shaded patio. Equipped with cold drinks, sunglasses and hats, the residents watched as Joe struggled with the kayak.

Okay. Think.  Lean forward, face on the deck. Flip hips and extend . . .

Tendrils of panic gripped at him and elevated his state of impending oxygen starvation.

The eight-foot river kayak rolled clumsily to the surface, long enough for Joe to gulp for breath before rolling over the other way. The small craft rocked several times before Joe’s head appeared like a prehistoric turtle surfacing to grab another mouthful of air. Joe was pulled under.

Flip hips,dammit, FLIP HIPS!

A moment later, the kayak burst from the water, Joe coughing and sputtering, looking like he had just come through the spin cycle in a giant Maytag.  He draped his upper torso across the foredeck, his breath coming in gasps.

“Jesus, Joe. I didn’t know you were planning on water-boarding yourself,” said Steve Kleinman, owner of the Desert Vista Adult Care Home. In his mid-fifties with wavy gray-blonde hair and the stocky physique of a former wrestler, he sat nearby on the edge of the pool, legs dangling in the clear blue water, a cold beer in hand.

“I’ll . . . take . . . that . . . one,” said Joe, eyes closed, body still plastered to the hull of the kayak. “I’m toast.”

“Look up on the patio,” said Steve, his tanned face pulled back in a great grin.

Joe opened his eyes to see a line-up of eight elderly wheelchair-bound ladies and two men facing him, holding up placards. The placards read scores – 2.8, 3.6, 4.0, 2.3, 4.1, 3.3 . . .

Steve burst out laughing.

“Very funny.” Joe said, a scowl crossing his reddened face.

Up on the shaded patio, two deaf elderly ladies on the end of the line were engaged in a conversation. One of the ladies leaned toward her friend and spoke loudly, in what was meant to be a stage whisper. Her reedy voice carried across the patio to the pool loud and clear.

“I think he should stick to swimming pools,” said the white-haired 93 year-old. “He takes that thing out into the ocean, his ass is gonna drown!”

Steve was on the deck holding his stomach, apoplectic with laughter.

“That’s the best I got? A 4.1?” said Joe, exasperated. “Last time I provide the entertainment for your adult care home.”

“They’ll be talking about this for months. Well, maybe through dinner,” said Steve, still trying to catch his breath.

Joe paddled the kayak to the side of the pool. Crawling out of the cockpit like a hermit crab losing its shell, Joe shakily got to his feet. Steve helped him haul the kayak onto the deck.

“Wanna stay for lunch with the residents?” said Steve. “Mary Ann is making lasagna with garlic bread and salad.”

If Joe was ever to be placed in an adult care home, he wanted to be in a place like Steve and Mary Ann’s. Every time he walked in, he started salivating over the wonderful aromas coming out of the kitchen.

“Thanks, I wish I could. I gotta get back to work,” said Joe, shaking the water out of his ears. His legs unsteady and his equilibrium still affected, he weaved his way to a nearby chair and toweled off.

“Mary Ann said that Dr. Mason’s order came through for Mrs. Burris,” Steve said, standing up, then moving under the patio cover. He pushed one of the residents’ wheelchairs toward the back door. “You want to take in the order or have her fax it over to your agency?”

“Fax it over,” said Joe, grabbing his backpack from the chair and slinging it over his shoulder. With his other hand, he hefted the kayak. “I’m not going back to the agency until tomorrow.”

As he walked toward the back gate, he heard sparse applause coming from some of the residents still sitting on the patio. Joe turned around and performed a half-bow, almost losing his balance and toppling over into a large prickly pear cactus.


The first thing you notice when you walk through the doors of a nursing home is the smell. A mild antiseptic smell is usually an indicator that the administrators and staff are running a clean building. A really strong antiseptic or perfumed aroma means that someone wants a noxious odor covered up. Much more malodorous infractions may lie underneath. Thankfully, the Mesquite Grove Care Center that Joe Saldana entered fell into the first category.

Walking though the front doors, Joe greeted Nancy, the plus-sized receptionist, and made his way down the hall to the Physical Therapy department. He entered the department and strode to the desk against the far wall. The room was sparsely furnished. One non-adjustable treatment table stood off in one corner. A curtain ringed around a rectangular bar suspended from the ceiling provided the only means of privacy from the rest of the gym.

A stack of charts was spread across the desktop. Paper work was the bane of Joe’s existence. It seemed that every spare moment he had between patients was spent on documentation. Other agencies and facilities had gone to laptops for the purpose of streamlining the paperwork, but since Joe was a contract therapist, there were no such benefits.

He picked up several charts, glanced at the names, then tossed them back on the desk and stared at the disarray.

“So now you’re doing your paperwork by thought transference?” said a voice behind him.

Joe turned to see Charlotte Wingate standing there, her arms folded across her chest. She smiled at Joe, her white teeth and white nurse’s uniform contrasting with the deep ebony of her skin. Joe had never been able to guess Charlotte’s age; she possessed a timeless elegance that belied all chronological guestimation.

“I swear to God, Charlotte. I had all this paperwork done. And now here it is again. Déjà vu.”

“Funny thing about that paperwork,” said Charlotte. “Better keep up with it. You don’t want Louise in your back pocket.”

Louise Goldman was the administrator of Senior Vistas, known for her sudden outbursts at employees and public dressing downs in meetings for issues, real or conjured. Many of her peers thought her to be innovative and visionary. Most of her employees thought her to be a nutcase, or, at the very least, a major pain in the ass.

“Anybody ever been fired over paperwork around here?” asked Joe. He picked up the list of patients scheduled for that afternoon and looked them over.

“Yep,” said Charlotte. “And for much lesser infractions.” Her voice softened. “Mr. Vincente was asking for you earlier.”

“How’s he doing today?”

“Rough morning. We had to ramp up his morphine.”

Joe’s eyes met Charlotte’s and he knew that the elderly Charles Vincente was slipping away.

Joe sighed. “I’ll head down to his room after I get the afternoon patients finished.”

Charlotte looked at Joe, concern set in her face. “Be careful, Joe. Louise has been asking about your spending time in Mr. Vincente’s room.”

“She’s got nothing to say. I’m not on the clock. I either see him before or after my shift,” Joe said.

“What are you reading to him now?”

A Brief History ofTime, by Stephen Hawking,” replied Joe.

“Goin’ with the light reading fare, I see?”

Joe smiled even though his face conveyed a sense of sadness. “Sometimes, if I even let my mind drift a little, I’ll read the same damn paragraph aloud twice. Charlie has to tell me to move on.”

“I swear, when I’m on my dying bed,” said Charlotte, “I want smut! Totally x-rated. You know, heavy breathing, bodice-ripping excitement.”

Bodice-ripping?Stephen Hawking doesn’t do that for you, Char?” Joe said with a wry grin.

“Oh, please. I’ll read that stuff when I want to sleep.” Charlotte rubbed her chin. “Hmm . . . Maybe Jack Kevorkian can reinvent himself. Read books from famous scientists to dying old people. That just may push them across the River Styx.”

Charlotte headed for the door, remembered something and turned around. “Oh, just wanted to give you a quick heads up. Your new patient, Mr. Schultz; be on your toes with him. He had the stroke. Ex-prison guard from Joliet. He decked the head nurse at the hospital. Broke her jaw in two places.”

“Great. Now I need a helmet to do my job.”

“Just don’t drop your left,” said Charlotte. As she walked away, she said over her shoulder, “See you later, Sugar Ray.”

The afternoon turned out to be more chaotic than Joe had expected. By now, he should have known that nothing in rehab goes as planned. Something will always get in the way and muck up a well-timed schedule. Patients experiencing unscheduled bathroom breaks, medical tests, or psychotic episodes could turn a four-hour schedule into one of the lesser circles of Hell.

Mesquite Grove Care Center was a modest facility with 60 beds. It was rated for Medicare, but also had patients from HMOs and the indigent health care system. The population was mixed, with everyone from residents who functioned at high cognitive levels, but were confined here due to severe physical limitations, to those who suffered various levels of dementia but did not qualify for a lockdown memory unit. This made for an interesting and unpredictable population mix and caseload.

Joe didn’t finish his patient treatments until well after five o’clock. He knew that Mr. Vincente would be getting his dinner soon. Tossing the rest of his charts on the desk, he headed down to Room 105.

Before he even entered the room, he could hear the sound of the oxygen concentrator keeping Charles Vincente’s tissues perfused. Joe stood at the doorway long enough to see if the old gentleman was sleeping.  Intravenous lines were attached to his arm and chest. The air mattress wheezed and groaned as it rose and fell, providing the necessary support to prevent stasis ulcers.

Even near death, Charlie Vincente was a striking looking man. Sixty pounds ago, he could have passed for a linebacker. He possessed a shock of gray hair. Now, end-stage Parkinson’s and kidney failure had all but robbed him of his physical powers. The man had been a brilliant architect, husband, father, and grandfather. He had served his country as a Marine in Korea.

Joe had met him six months ago when he came to the facility after sustaining a bad fall that left him with a broken hip and torn rotator cuff.  Joe became his therapist and following two months of physical therapy, Charlie was able to walk with a cane and went home for three months. A month ago his Parkinson’s, coupled with congestive heart failure, brought him back to the care center. Joe didn’t want to admit it, but he knew the dignified man who had become his friend was not going to go back home.

Vincente’s eyes were closed but he smiled slightly. “I’m not sleeping and I’m through with dinner. Come on in.”

Joe stepped up to the bed. He noticed the barely eaten meal on the tray in front of Mr. Vincente.

“You didn’t eat much,” Joe said.

Mr. Vincente shrugged. “No matter how much I try to convince my taste buds that it’s a gourmet Italian meal, it still tastes like cardboard. You eat it.”

Joe looked at the meal and winced. “I’m on a diet too.”


“Sorry I’m late in getting here,” said Joe. “Got slammed today.”

“I’m not going anywhere soon. Did you get the Eskimo roll down?” Asked Mr. Vincente, his eyes sharpening.

Joe looked sheepish. “Pool, ten. Joe, zero.”

“That bad?”

Joe went on to explain about the panel of octogenarian judges, the two old ladies’ comments and how his friend Steve had orchestrated the whole joke. Charlie’s chest heaved as he tried to contain his laughter. He broke into a fit of coughing which required several minutes to subside.

“I would have paid good money to have seen that,” said Vincente, finally settling back onto the bed and breathing more regularly.

“Stay tuned,” said Joe. “I’m sure that’s not the last of the embarrassment I’m going to put myself through. Unless I drown myself first . . .” He gazed at Mr Vincente. You up for a little reading tonight?”

“Sure. A little. Are you?”

Joe reached for the book on the nightstand and started thumbing through the pages. “Now, where were we?

“Page 84.”

Joe stared at Vincente. “You’re amazing.”

“The rest of me has gone to shit, but my gray matter is still somewhat functional.”

Joe turned to page 84 of the A Brief History of Timeand began reading: “The term black hole is of very recent origin . . .”


When Joe finally looked up, Charles Vincente was breathing deeply, his chest rising and falling in a regular rhythm. Joe placed the book back on the bedside table and pulled the covers over Mr. Vincente’s chest. He quietly slipped out the door.

It was already dark when Joe arrived home to his bungalow located on a dirt road in the Tucson Mountains. A full moon was peeking over the Catalinas to the east, casting the tall saguaros on Joe’s property in a pumice-colored glow. The air hummed with insects. The smell of creosote bush filled his nostrils.

Exiting the Toyota truck, he retrieved the river kayak from the bed and hefted it by the cockpit over his other shoulder. He leaned the kayak against the side of his house and went back to the truck, slinging his backpack over his shoulder and grabbing the bag of groceries from the seat. At the door, he fumbled for his keys. A low, throaty wuff, more like a cough than a bark emanated from behind the door.

Joe opened the door, flipped the light switch and was nearly bowled over by a very large dog. The lab-chow mix went straight for the grocery bag, its large nose sniffing the contents excitedly.

“Hey, Zeus, you miss me?

The enormous canine bounded joyfully around Joe and the bag.

“You can’t fool me. You’re not glad to see me. You’re glad to see the chicken I brought.” Joe walked over to the counter and set the food down. The big dog danced wildly around him.

Joe poured a generous cup of Science Diet into a large ceramic dog bowl. At the counter he sliced meat from the chicken and diced it up. For the coup de grace, he added a little broth from the bottom of the plastic tray. Upon seeing this, Zeus threw his head back and barked loudly.

Setting the bowl on the floor, Joe said, “Another fine dining experience at Saldana’s Bistro.”

Zeus dove in. The muffled sounds of gulping emanating from within the bowl were that of an ecstatic canine that has reached culinary nirvana. Joe went back to the refrigerator, pulled out fixings for a salad, then sliced some chicken for himself. Before he took the food to the table, Joe hit the button on his message machine.

The first message was from a recruiter:

            Hello Mr. Saldano -

            “Saldana,” corrected Joe

            This is Kristy from Worldwide Recruiters. I’m following up with you regarding your interest in working in Ghana as a traveling PT. We’re looking for dedicated professionals who would be willing to supervise a clinic in rural central Ghana. Please contact us at your earliest convenience at 1-800 . . .

The second message was from Joe’s crazy friend, Duncan Finnegan.

            Hey, Dickhead. It’s time for a road trip. Roots are starting to grow outta my ass.   I’m thinking Mexico, your boat and an excessive amount of Dos Equis. We can be         “the most interesting men in the world.”  I might be able to drum up a couple of     damsels in distress. Come on – you can’t be the mope-master forever. Call me,           before your wanker shrivels into a shadow of its former self. Later, Dude.

Joe shook his head. “Crazy bastard.”

The final voice on the recorder was the raspy, deep voice of Joe’s mom. There was a keen edge to her voice.

Hi Joey, it’s Mom. Just wanted to check in with you. I haven’t talked with you         since last Sunday. I hope everything is okay with your job. Jobs. Well . . . give   me a call when you can. We have the red stuff this Sunday if you want to come on    up. I made meatballs. Anyway . . .talk to you soon. Love you . . .  

            Joe stared at the recorder for a moment. He could tell by the tone in his mother’s voice something was wrong. He was lost in thought, wondering about the latest in a long line of his mother’s roller coaster emotional changes when Zeus broke his reverie by wiping his mouth on Joe’s trousers.

“Hey! I’m not your damn napkin, you chowderhead.”

Zeus head-butted Joe’s leg then trotted over and stood by his empty dog bowl.

“You’re a walking turd factory. No more food.”

Zeus started at Joe and a low growl emanated from his throat. He bared his teeth, not in malice or territoriality, but more of a canine smile. Joe lost all resolve. He picked a chunk of chicken from the salad and tossed it to Zeus, who efficiently snapped it out of the air like a leaping alligator.

Right now, Joe couldn’t bring himself to call his mother. He had several suspicions as to what was causing his mom’s angst, but knew that dealing with any one of those issues would require more energy than he had to give tonight. His parents had had a long-standing love-hate relationship that spanned thirty years of marriage, divorce, then reconciliation to an unusual, if not offbeat, living arrangement. Margaret Saldana also was dealing with health issues – or better put, not dealing with her health issues, which left her in a state of near constant depression.

Two years ago, Margaret had been diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, a broad-base category for respiratory problems that ranged from chronic bronchitis to emphysema. She had been a two-pack per day smoker for 45 years and had advanced to the latter. Confined to continuous oxygen 24 hours a day, her forays were limited to jaunts from the living room and kitchen to the bedroom. In spite of the dangers of pressurized oxygen in the house, Joe’s mom still managed to smoke down seven to ten cigarettes a day.

Joe’s father, Lou, was no help in this matter. He had the same monkey on his back. Even after a supposedly life-altering experience following a quadruple bypass four years ago, Lou lasted a year before he got back on the nicotine express. Every time Joe went for a visit to his parent’s house, he left several hours later with his eyes watering, a nasty headache and his clothes reeking. He couldn’t tell if the curtains and walls in his parent’s house had a yellowish tint or if he was looking through smoke-damaged eyeballs.

Joe had tried smoking cigarettes once – in junior high school. It was the usual story. Friends stole cigarettes from their parents and ended up in the vacant field that was once a horseracing track. When it came to Joe’s turn, he inhaled – and promptly puked his guts out. That memory lasted all through high school and through college. Marijuana experimentation came and went, but Joe soon discovered his drug of choice: pure, unlaced adrenaline, the kind that can only be brought forth with an addiction to high-risk sports.


Joe carried his empty plates to the sink. He went to the worn couch in his small living room, picked up the book he was reading, opened it and, just as quickly, set it back down on the coffee table. He thought about flipping through the channels just to get in a different mindset, but decided he didn’t want the noise. Maybe Duncan was right. Maybe a road trip was in order. After all, it had been more than a year since Joe had taken any appreciable time off.

The path of least resistance was to call no one tonight. Or ring up Duncan. At least he was good for a laugh. Finally, the Italian / Catholic guilt genes showed their dominance. Joe got up, grabbed the phone and called his mother.

Joe’s dad picked up. Through the phone receiver, he could hear the sound of car crashes on the television. Lou Saldana’s third addiction after cigarettes and vodka was action movies.

“Hello,” said Lou Saldana, his voice rising over the din from the television.

“Hey Dad, it’s Joe. How you doin’?”

“Okay. The usual aches and pains. Want to talk to your mom?”

“Movie good?”

“Seen it before. Twice.”

Another voice intervened. It was his mother. “Hi Joey. Hang up, Lou. Hang up.”

There was a banging sound as the phone met the receiver. The television noise became muted.

“Hey, Mom. Got your message. You okay?”

“Fine. It’s about your brother.” A pause, then Margaret almost spit out the words. “He’s using again.”

Joe paused, trying to keep his anger and disappointment in check. “How do you know?”

“Terri caught him.”

“Were the kids in the house?”

“Thank God, no. They were over at their aunt’s for the weekend.”

Joe breathed out deeply. “What was it this time?”

Margaret’s voice caught. “Crack. He was smoking crack cocaine.”

“Is he crazy?” Joe exploded into the phone and immediately regretted his loss of control. “Sorry, Mom.”

Margaret Saldana coughed several times, a deep, liquid cough that made Joe wince. It took several moments before she was able to speak again.

“What do you think we should do?” Margaret asked thickly.

Zeus sensed something was amiss and bounded onto the couch, throwing his bulk across Joe’s lap, and panting in Joe’s face.

“That dog on the couch with you again?” queried Margaret.

“No, Mom. Hell, I don’t know what we should do. We already tried the family intervention. He didn’t take the intervention - or us - seriously. We all went out on a limb kicking in for his rehab. Right now, I know you both are stretched to the breaking point. Sonni needs the money for school and, frankly, I’m not crazy about throwing money after foolishness.”

A moment of uncomfortable silence ensued.

Joe sighed heavily. “Can it wait until this weekend? I’d have a hell of a time finding coverage for my patients on such short notice.”

“This weekend’s okay. Right now, no one knows where he is.”

“What? What do you mean no one knows where he is?

“Terri threw him out,” Maggie said.

“Christ.” Joe knew that neither his mom nor his father had the physical health and emotional stamina to go looking for his brother Tommy. Joe could only imagine where his younger brother might be. Phoenix was a very large city.

“I’ll be up early Saturday,” Joe finally said. “And I’ll call Sonni to let her know I’m coming.”

“I’ll make the red stuff for dinner on Sunday,” Margaret said. “Can you pick up the bread?”

“You sure you’re up to cooking, Ma?”

“Oh, stop. It’s Rotelli, meatballs, brazziole and salad. No big deal.”

“I’ll bring the bread.”

Joe’s fondest memories came from his mother’s kitchen. As a child, he remembered the smell of fresh basil and oregano, the tomato sauce simmering on the stove, splotches of red scattered around the pot where the sauce had percolated over. He and his brother, Tom, and sister, Sonia, would taste the sauce with an old wooden spoon that had been around for as long as Joe could remember, while Margaret admonished them to not ruin their appetites. Joe and his brother somehow always managed to sneak a meatball or two before dinner. No matter how crafty they thought they were, Mother Saldana knew.

The kitchen table was where Margaret Saldana held court. It was where homework was done. It was the place where mom asked them - more like interrogated them - where they had been the night before and who were they running with. She would chain smoke, the cigarette held in two fingers like some bored movie star. In the other hand, she pointed a wooden stirring spoon at the three children for emphasis. Although the wooden spoon was never wielded as a weapon, it was the looming threat of a smack on the back that kept the younger Saldana clan in line. The gesture never changed, even after Tom and Joe grew and stood head and shoulders above their mother.

“You could always stay here,” Margaret said, bringing Joe back from his reverie.

“Sonni and Mike have a room with a bed. You have a couch.” Joe didn’t state the obvious, that he couldn’t sleep in his parent’s house due to the constant pall of stale cigarette smoke hanging in the air of the small townhouse in Scottsdale. “Besides, Zeus would be all over your furniture.”

“You and that dog go everywhere together. How do you expect to find a decent woman when that slobber machine goes everywhere with you? Last time he was here, he wiped his mouth on the sofa after he drank from the toilet bowl. I damn near drowned in his drool. I can only imagine what your furniture looks like . . .”

Joe held the phone receiver to Zeus’ ear. The large canine cocked his head with interest at the voice emanating from the phone. The dog’s tail thumped in recognition.

“Zeus sends his best, Mom.”

“Tell him to get off the sofa.”

“I love you, Ma.”

“I love you too, Joey.”

“See you Saturday.”

Joe hung up the wireless phone and flopped back on the couch. “Crap.” He stared at the ceiling, wondering if he should call Sonni tonight or wait until tomorrow. He tried to think of her schedule, one he had maintained as a student years before, going to school and trying to make ends meet at the same time. More than likely, she would be working at the La Cucaracha Mexican restaurant waiting tables. The work sucked, but the pay was good, and she didn’t have to take the job home with her. Just the smell of stale beer and enchilada sauce.

Driving to Phoenix this time of year did not rate at the top of Joe’s list. Temperatures in the late spring and early summer could tickle 110 degrees. He remembered driving past the billboard on I-17 in downtown Phoenix at 2:00 AM and the marquee registered 105 degrees. As Sonny so aptly put it, after a time, it was just “a hundred and fuck.” If he didn’t have family residing there, he’d never use I-10 again, except to get to points much further north.

“Happiness is seeing Phoenix in your rear view mirror,” Joe said to Zeus, who, in his dog-brain, recognized the word “Phoenix” as “road trip.” The dog’s large tail helicoptered in a great arc. Zeus rose, shook violently and bounded off the couch. He disappeared around the corner. Joe heard the sound of claws on tile and a chair in the kitchen squeaking as the big dog clambered up to reach the leash on the counter. Zeus reappeared holding the leash in his mouth and tossing his head excitedly. He put his face inches from Joe’s and barked loudly.

“It wouldn’t matter to you that I’m really tired tonight, would it?” Joe said.

The large canine barked again.

“I didn’t think so.” Joe pushed Zeus away. He stood stiffly, grabbing the small of his back. Zeus raced to the front door.

“No chasing rabbits tonight, you chowderhead.”

Joe retrieved the leash from the dog’s mouth and attached it to his collar. Opening the door, he braced himself, but to no avail. Zeus yanked Joe out into the darkness.



When Chance Lytle awoke, the second thing he noticed was the dull ache at his right hip that radiated into his groin. The first was his daughter Grace Everett, who sat in a chair next to his bed. She smiled at him, but lines of concern on her brow told Chance that he would soon be the recipient of another in a long line of lectures about moving to a retirement center.

“How are you feeling, Dad? I got here as soon as I could,” Grace said.

“I’m fine,” said Chance irritably. “You didn’t need to make the drive from Silver City.”

Grace and her husband Donald had retired well from the phone company and moved to the artisan community in western New Mexico. Grace operated a small art gallery and painted in her spare time. Around 70, she was slightly overweight, with long gray hair tied in a ponytail and the same steel blue eyes that she had inherited from her father.

“Don and I are worried about you, Dad. Of course I’d make the drive.”

Chance attempted to sit up in bed and felt the ache in his hip ratchet up a few notches.

“Here,” said Grace. She handed him the remote that controlled the bed’s head and foot height as well as the television controls. Not that the latter would do Chance much good. He had lost interest in most TV when his eyesight had begun to fail. The motor under the hospital bed hummed as the head of the bed raised up. Chance winced again, closed his eyes and appeared to be asleep. Grace watched the slow rise and fall of her father’s chest. After a moment, he twitched, then opened his eyes.

“You still here?” he said, feigning grumpiness.

“Yep. Still here.”

Grace reached out and placed her hand on top of Chance’s. It was a rough calloused hand with keratin spots gained from a long hard life spent under the brutal Arizona sun.

“Can I bring you anything, Dad?”

“You could bring me a pie. That would be alright by me.”

“A pie. I’ll check with the doctor to make sure it’s okay.”

“French Apple.” Chance put his hand up to his mouth. “They took my damned teeth. Where are my teeth?”

“In the drawer on your left, Dad.”

“I’ll take lemon meringue if they don’t have French apple,” said Chance, closing his eyes again.

Grace squeezed her father’s hand. “Dad, we need to have a talk soon. I think it’s time we thought about -.”

“ – Or maybe Boston cream. Yeah, Boston cream, with lots of yellow custard would be good.”

“Dad, we need to start thinking about another living arrangement for you.”

“I’m not moving, goddammit!” Chance Lytle’s fading blue eyes blazed anew. “I am not going to have this conversation with you again. I’m going back home as soon as they let me out of here.”

“It’s not safe out there. Your nearest neighbor is two miles away. What if that kid comes back again?”

“I hope the little shit does come back again. I’ll blow his balls off.”

Tears welled in Grace’s eyes. She stood stiffly and walked to the bedroom window, stared out at Tumamoc Hill, just south of Saint Mary’s Hospital. The black volcanic mountain shimmered in the late afternoon heat. The thick stands of creosote bush and saguaro cactus all looked withered and thirsty. And monsoons were still a good month off.

“You don’t even know how much I worry about you, all alone on that property,” Grace said still facing the window. “While you were recovering, I went out there to the house. What have you been eating? There’s nothing in the cupboards. You can’t keep on living like that!”

Chance stared at the ceiling. His jaw clenched and relaxed. “I get enough to eat. I’m not going to some damn nursing home.”

There was a knock at the door. A slight, dark–skinned man with jet-black hair dressed in a white lab coat and wearing a stethoscope around his neck peeked in.

“Mr. Lytle, I’m Dr. Singh. I’m the physiatrist following your case.” He looked at Grace, who had turned from the window. “And you must be his daughter?”

Grace advanced toward the diminutive physician. “Hello, Doctor. Grace Everett. Yes, I’m Chance’s daughter from Silver City.”

“Very nice to meet you.” Turning back to the recumbent Lytle in the bed, Dr. Singh asked in that melodious voice common to people from India, “How are you feeling, Mr. Lytle?”

Chance eyed the Indian doctor suspiciously. “Never better. You the head honcho of this outfit?”

Dr. Singh smiled slightly. “No. But I am the head of the care team in charge of your rehabilitation.”

“I can rehabilitate myself. Get me my clothes and I’ll show you how fast I can rehabilitate.”

Dr. Singh perused Chance’s chart. “Sir, you have just undergone a surgery, an open reduction, internal fixation of your right femur. We weren’t able to save all of the ball joint in your hip, so we gave you a partial artificial joint. It looked pretty arthritic from the MRI. There will be a lengthy recovery period, so for the next week or two you will be performing limited weight bearing activities under the supervision of the physical therapy department at Health South.”

Lytle scowled. “Two weeks? No wonder our medical system is bankrupt.”

“Dad,” said Grace, “Let Dr. Singh finish.”

Dr. Singh’s attention turned back to the chart. “I see that you live alone. Are there other family members who can assume care for you when you go home?”

“I’m the only child,” said Grace. “I can help out here for a few weeks, but my husband and I have a business to run. It would be better if Dad came and stayed with us for a while. At least one of us can be at home with him during his recovery.”

“That sounds reasonable,” said Dr. Singh. He looked expectantly at Chance.

“”It is not reasonable,” Chance said. “You and Don have your own lives. I have mine. I’m going home – to my home. That’s the last word.”

“God, you’re impossible! I give up.” Grace glared at her father. Her tone made him wince slightly. “You can’t take care of yourself now. Who’s going to cook for you? Bathe you? Clean up after you? You can’t even wipe your own ass!”

Grace regretted the words as soon as they left her lips. Chance stared at his daughter with rheumy eyes, then looked down at his hands.

Dr. Singh attempted to bridge the father-daughter chasm that had opened up in the small hospital room. “How about this for now? Two weeks at the rehab center to get you weight bearing and ambulatory. If everything goes according to plan, we’ll re-evaluate your return to home.”

“Two weeks,” said Chance, his eyes still cast downward.

“There is a caveat. If you can go home, I’m ordering home health nursing, physical and occupational therapy for you, as well as a home health aide to help you with showers. I know a good home health PT who will get you back on your feet.”

“I hope you’re not planning on sending me a female shower person,” Chance said making direct eye contact with the Indian physician. “I can’t abide a strange woman bathing me.”

“I’ll see what we can do,” said Dr. Singh.

Chance’s morphine was beginning to wear off. He became more and more restless.

“I’ll have the nurse come back down and administer another pain pill. I think it’s about time for the afternoon dose anyway.”

After they shook hands, Dr. Singh left Chance’s side and walked out into the corridor with Grace. She was still feeling remorse from berating her father in front of the doctor.

“Dr. Singh, I’m sorry you had to see that,” Grace said wiping her eyes with a tissue. “He can be . . . difficult.”

“It is hard for people who have been in control of their lives for so long, to suddenly find themselves dependent on others. I can tell your father is a proud and fiercely independent man.”

“Stubborn like a mule is more like it,” said Grace. “Doctor, I don’t know if you know of my Dad’s circumstances, but I’m afraid for his safety. His house has been broken into several times recently. This last time, he broke his hip when he tried to shoot the burglar. Thank God he missed and the burglar took off. But they’ve made him a target because of his age and his bad eyesight and hearing.”

The Indian doctor sighed. “Unfortunately, it is only a matter of time before he falls again. Due to his visual debilities and his age, he is a candidate for another fall. He is anemic as well. Improper diet and decreased fluid intake are contributory factors to his weakened state. In short, your father will be requiring more care and supervision in the coming months.”

Grace was exasperated. “You saw him in there, Dr. Singh. My mother was the only one who could reason with him, and she’s been dead for five years. He’ll fight me all the way on placement into an assisted living facility.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, how are his personal finances?”

Grace looked slightly put off then realized where Dr. Singh was going with this. “He has a lot of real estate. Compound interest is a wonderful thing if you live to 96.”

“You may want to give some thought to in-home care. That might be the path of least resistance,” the doctor said. “At least for a while. However, twenty-four hour a day care can be very expensive.”

“Oh, and he won’t part with a penny of it for his care,” Grace said bitterly. “Trust me on that.”

The kindly doctor touched Grace on the shoulder. “For now, let’s get him through the rehabilitation process, get his fluids normalized and then a round of home health. I think bringing in a social worker to discuss options down the road would be a good idea.”

Grace nodded. “Thank you, Doctor.”

The Indian doctor turned and walked down the hallway. Grace watched the slight man go until he turned the corner at the nursing station. Sighing deeply, she a squared her shoulders and opened up the door to her father’s room.


Book IV of The Guardians of Gaia Series

There's a battle being fought at the top of the world. As the Arctic ice caps shrink, the major world powers vie for their claim to the resources now exposed by the melting ice sheets. Greedy and dangerous groups from several nations will stop at nothing to convert the riches into a quick profit.  Caught in the crosshairs of their onslaught, the local indigenous peoples and wildlife are on the verge of being wiped out.  When Jake Spinner learns an old friend's tribe is being threatened, he travels to the village to help. Emily Rosen, who is writing an expose on the environmental impacts of opening up the Arctic to industry, investigates a Russian oligarch and a contingent of wealthy American oil speculators and their role in trying to force the tribe out.  As she races against the clock to expose the corruption, greed, and murder, Spinner and Rosen and the Gaia Team find themselves in the middle of of a dangerous game of escalating power struggles.

Book III of The Guardians of Gaia Series

Book Cover: A Breath of Trees - 2024
Part of the The Guardians of Gaia series:

The Amazon is burning. As Emily Rosen continues her personal transformation as a "Nagual," she finds herself in the rain forest of Brazil, gathering information for a freelance special report on the complex relationship between the people and the trees of Amazonia. As a special guest of an indigenous tribe, she begins her training as a shaman, learning the ways of the forests, and seeking her connection to the iconic big forest cat, the jaguar. When a rogue mining operation invades the tribe's lands and kills the chief, Rosen is propelled into a a nightmare world of corrupt bureaucrats, deadly mercenaries, and greedy miners who will stop at nothing to destroy the forest as they seek to pull gold from the ground. When Rosen fails to check in , Jake Spinner and his team mount a rescue effort to find her. Dropped into the middle of a systemic genocide, Rosen, Spinner, Oliver Sweet and Snake discover that the stakes are so high that the trail of corruption  leads all the way to the Presidential Palace.

Book II of The Guardians of Gaia Series

Book Cover: Ivory Moon
Editions:Paperback - First Edition: $ 24.95
ISBN: 978-17361659-4-2
Size: 6.00 x 9.00 in
Pages: 493

Emily Rosen, Jake Spinner, Oliver Sweet, and Snake have returned, this time on assignment in Tanzania, East Africa. The Gaia Team is tasked with hunting down and capturing the Kinyonga, a notorious international arms dealer who also traffics blood ivory through his criminal network.

A deadly virus has spread across Africa, killing thousands of people and leaving the parks dangerously understaffed. As a result, elephant poachers in Tarangire National Park are decimating the herds. Emily Rosen comes up with a plan to bolster the absent rangers’ ranks by recruiting ten young women from two opposing villages to train as the Honey Badger Squad, an all-female anti-poaching fighting unit, even though the Tanzanian government is skeptical of their ability to protect the elephants.

The young women soon become skilled at stopping the poachers. The frustrated Kinyonga is forced to up his game. He places bounties on the rangers’ heads, while enlisting the help from a Somali warlord who commands an al-Shabaab terrorist cell. Colonel Jawari desperately needs the blood ivory to fund his next terrorist attack on a major Tanzanian city.

In a desperate act of retribution, Kinyonga and Jawari invade the rangers’ villages, killing the towns’ people and kidnapping the young women to provide brides for Jawari’s foot soldiers.

Led by the Gaia Team, the rangers launch an assault deep into Somali territory to rescue the village girls from Jawari’s stronghold. Outnumbered five to one, Rosen, Spinner, and the Gaia Team must utilize their wits and the rangers’ newfound skills to bring down the murderous Kinyonga and the psychopathic Colonel Jawari. It’s their only shot at saving the girls from a fate worse than death.


Prologue Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

The herd moved slowly through the moonlit landscape, stopping at intervals to graze on clumps of grass. The time of the dry season was drawing to a close, leaving the savannah brown, dusty, and dry. The group of thirteen elephants were in no hurry this night as they moved toward the Tarangire River. Their pace allowed the three new additions, born in the last month to the matriarch and her two sisters, to keep up with the adults.


The matriarch was around fifty years old. The researchers knew her as T134, but she was affectionately known as Tess. Two features made her easily recognizable. For one, there was a tear in the lower portion of her right ear. For the other, the left tusk abruptly terminated nearly two feet shorter than the right, a mishap from lifting one of the calves from a mud bog several years before. She became the matriarch after her mother’s death at sixty-seven years of age, a victim of a poacher’s bullet. With the memory still fresh from her mother’s death, she kept her extended family away from human contact at every opportunity.

She lifted her trunk, testing the cool night air. At the perimeter of a copse of acacia trees, she picked up the unmistakable scent of a lion pride. Off to her left she smelled the distinctive sharp odor of a bull in musth. One of her sisters, a younger female, having come into estrus over the last two days, snorted in response. Her temporal glands oozed a sticky substance, and she dribbled urine, a response to the musth male. The matriarch recognized the bull, one of the four dominant bulls which roamed regularly through this section of Tarangire National Park.

Next to her, a three-month-old calf leaned against her and attempted to nurse. This was her fourth calf. All but one had survived and were now part of her extended family. One of her offspring, a male, had joined with a group of bulls three years ago. Her first calf had succumbed fifteen years ago to the effects of a sustained drought that had lingered in the savannah for nearly two years. This little one was going to be a handful. Even at an early age, the baby elephant had a penchant for exploration that more often than not got him into trouble and kept his wizened mother on constant alert.

Members of the herd communicated through a series of subsonic sounds that grew to low rumbles, providing constant feedback regarding everything from how they were feeling at the moment to the possibility of potential threats from all directions. The low rumbles served as contact calls, means by which the members of the herd could keep track of individuals. Tess emitted another contact call and, a moment later, heard a response from another herd she recognized from some distance off to her right. The responder was from another bonded herd consisting of cousins. She rumbled to her herd mates and changed direction to the north.

Just then, the old matriarch picked up a scent on the night breeze. Raising her trunk, she tested the air for confirmation. She rumbled again, her ears flapping nervously, her right foot moving back and forth. Her little one nervously entwined his trunk with his mother’s, seeking reassurance. Suddenly, she realized what the scent was and trumpeted loudly. She turned quickly to the right and urged the herd to move.

Sharp, deafening cracks broke the still night followed by a blinding light. Tess’s sister screamed as several rounds from an AK-47 slammed into her chest. She went to her knees and fell heavily to the ground kicking up a plume of dust. Another female screamed. The matriarch put her calf behind her and turned to face the attackers. She felt a hot pain in her flank as tracers whizzed by. Enraged, she charged toward the lights. The next bullet tore into her chest causing her to stumble. She regained her balance and charged ahead. Two bullets pierced her great skull, and she went down headfirst into the dust.

Completely panicked, the herd scattered into the night trumpeting as they fled. The little calf, seeing horror unfold around him, cried out and tried to go to his mother. Seeing strange and ominous figures materialize out of the dusty darkness, the baby elephant turned and ran into the bush.


Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

Emily Rosen wiped the stinging sweat from her eyes, trying to maintain her focus on the man dressed in black. Except for his laser-focused eyes, his face was covered by a shemagh. Her assailant towered over her, outweighing her by at least one hundred pounds, yet moved with the grace of a cat. Rosen felt the radiating heat from the midmorning sun and humidity rising up from the ground. Her skin and clothing bore a fine coating of reddish dust mixed with perspiration. A pall of dust hung in the air giving the scene an apocalyptic effect. She fought the urge to rub her eyes. In her peripheral vision she caught movement of a second attacker circling her. She adjusted her position to keep both in her visual field.

The first attacker lunged, and Rosen spun and landed a kick to the assailant’s solar plexus. At the same time the second attacker, a giant of a man, made his move and grabbed Emily from behind. Rosen elbowed the assailant and turned while grabbing one of his arms. She twisted, then brought her knee up into the attacker’s groin. The man grunted, then dropped into the dust gasping in pain. The first attacker came at her again wielding a large knife. Rosen back- pedaled, blocking blows, and avoiding the thrusts from his knife hand. The attacker lunged forward, putting himself off balance. Rosen swept his leg, then grabbed his arm, twisting the knife free. She landed with one knee on his chest and brought the knife to the assailant’s throat.

A round of applause rose from the semicircle of a dozen onlookers. Rosen took her knee off the large man’s chest and then went to the second attacker, who was slow in getting to his feet.

“You okay, Snake?” She held out a hand to assist him up.

Derek “Snake” Robideaux stood and pulled off the hip pads and chest protector and removed his head wrap revealing a salt-and-pepper grizzled beard and wild looking eyes. “I thought you were going to pull those punches.

“Sorry,” Rosen said sheepishly. “Heat of the moment, you know.”

Snake pulled off the hip pads and chest protector. “Glad I was wearing that damn cup. Still probably won’t be able to find my nuts for a month.”

“Okay, everyone,” said the giant, removing the shemagh from his head. He was an athletic black man with a shaved head and sculpted muscles. He reminded Rosen of the actor Idris Elba, with the whiskey smooth voice of Barry White. Turning to the ensemble of young African women gathered in a semicircle, Oliver Sweet said, “How ’bout giving it up for Rosen?”

The women, all dressed in camouflage, burst into applause, and closed ranks on Rosen, slapping her on the back and high fiving her all around. Glory Abdarah, one of the Maasai recruits, looked at Sweet and said, “That little girl kicked your ass! Snake’s, too!” This brought a round of laughter and more high fives from the young women.

Sweet looked down momentarily, shaking his head and smiling. “Okay, Glory. What did we learn with that demonstration?”

Glory appeared stunned at being called upon, but she grinned and said, “When the attacker is three times your size, go for the groin.”

Sweet chuckled. “True that. What else?”

Kidoti Salanga suggested, “Keep both of them in your sight and keep moving.”

“That’s right. What else?” He looked to the other women.
“Remember all of the key attack points,” Farida Kayambo shyly added. “Very good.” said Sweet. “Find the attacker’s weak points. Groin, bridge

of the nose. Punch the throat, stomp the instep, kick the knee backward.” He looked around the group. “Everyone, pair up and let’s practice all of these moves.” Sweet added, “And remember, this is a drill. No full contact. No one is going to the infirmary today.”

The recruits hailed mainly from two villages in the northern district of Loliondo to train as the first female anti-poaching unit in Tanzania. Several of the young women had fathers and brothers who had been rangers, but some also hailed from families where at least one male member had been part of a gang of poachers. Sweet, Spinner, and Snake had worked briefly with the male anti- poaching units when they had first arrived ten weeks ago. Rosen, who had been delving into the motivations of nearby villagers to get involved in poaching activities, soon realized there was an untapped resource of enthusiastic and fearless young women who wanted to preserve the dwindling wildlife they had grown up with. Rosen convinced Sweet to begin recruiting women from the local villages who demonstrated drive and potential. Sweet, who was at first skeptical, soon realized these young women could be forged into a well-trained and disciplined fighting unit.

Rosen joined Sweet and they watched the young women practicing their martial arts moves. She took a long pull from her water bottle. “They’re getting there, Ollie.”

“Yeah, considering eight weeks ago, all they wanted to do is fight each other.”

“The Maasai and Sonjo peoples have a long and acrimonious history. It hasn’t been all that long since they were burning each other’s villages over property rights and stolen livestock.”

“Yeah, those first four weeks were touch and go. Thanks for being the mediator and helping them find common ground.”

“Chalk it up to a team effort.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, Em,” Oliver Sweet said. “You saw their potential before any of us did. Never in my wildest dreams did I think you would ever get the Sonjo and Maasai recruits to stand in formation together, let alone form into a combat unit. You’ve come a long way yourself in the past few months.”

Rosen smiled at the realization she had indeed progressed. In eight short weeks, her physique had transformed under the training of Spinner, Sweet, and Snake. The soft roundness had been replaced with sinewy muscle. Her strength, reflexes, and balance continued to improve by the day. She was down to 9 percent body fat and could easily complete a ten-mile run without stopping, carrying a backpack loaded with fifteen kilos of field gear. She had even given up smoking. Emily Rosen had reinvented herself.

Sweet looked out at the sparring women recruits. “Get that elbow up, Kayambo! Protect your face! I did not see your hand down, did I?”

Farida Kayombo, momentarily distracted, was met by a riveting punch to the side of her head, delivered by her partner Kidoti Salanga. The blow sent her reeling backward. She cast a withering look at Sweet. “What?”

Sweet joined the two women. The air was stifling, and the recruits were showing fatigue. “Okay, get your hands up.” Sweet adjusted her arm position and then said. “Now, block my punch!”

He punched toward her head, and she brought her forearm up quickly to block the blow. “And again!” This time he punched with the other hand and again she deflected with her opposite arm. “Now, finish!” Farida stepped forward delivering a punch to Sweet’s face, stopping two inches from his nose.

“Better,” Sweet said. “Much better. Kazi nzuri! Remember, keep that elbow up.”

“Yes, boss,” said Farida.

Sweet feigned irritation. “That’s yes, sir!”
Farida snapped to attention. “Yes, sir, boss!”
Ollie noted the sun was nearing its apex, then turned to the sweating

recruits. “Okay, everyone, let’s take a break for some water and a cool down. Muster at the banda in fifteen.”

The recruits broke from their training exercise and headed for the shaded area nearby, a palm frond-covered structure with four open sides and crude wooden benches located in the shade beneath. Sweet walked with Rosen toward the banda as Snake caught up to them.

“So,” Emily asked, “any decisions on who you’re leaning toward for squad leader?”

Sweet looked pensive. “Right now, it’s between Abdarah and Kayambo. Abdarah has the qualities of a leader—strong willed and fearless. You can see how the other recruits respect her. But she’s impulsive and sometimes misses the details. Kayambo is smart as well, but she tends to weigh options more, sometimes to the point of hesitancy. What do you guys think?”

“Out of the gate, my money’s on Abdarah,” said Snake. “When did impulsive ever stop you or Spinner?”

“That’s a tough call, Ollie,” said Rosen. “I think either one of them could do the job.”

“Yeah, but the rub is—who’s going to be the one to hold the team together when the hippo dung hits the fan?”

Like Rosen, Snake was worried about Jake. “What do you hear from Spinner? Any news?”

“He called me last night,” Rosen said. “He and Ibrahim are close to getting a meeting with the Kinyonga.”

“I still can’t believe we’re going after a guy named for a bug-eyed lizard. I thought his name was Yousef Bakar.”

“Think about it,” said Rosen. “A chameleon blends into any environment. His eyes move independently of each other, meaning he can look in all directions at once, and he has the added benefit of being bad juju to many of the locals. You should have seen it when the villagers brought us our first chameleon and it climbed into my hair. The locals freaked out. They thought I was cursed. Spinner and I found out some interesting tidbits when we were going over Bakar’s file. Apparently, he’s a master of disguise and is able to lose himself in a crowd real quick. Even Interpol doesn’t have reliable photos of him.”

“I sure would feel a lot better if we were with Jake right now,” Sweet said. “Between you and me, I trust Ibrahim about as far as I can throw him.”

“Yeah, this has all the elements of a shitstorm headed south,” said Snake. “What could possibly go wrong? A former ivory poacher sets up a meeting with the most powerful arms dealer in Africa.”

“Guys, I’m worried about him, too,” Rosen said. “But Jake was right. The more of a presence we have in Dar es Salaam right now, the more likely the deal will go sideways.” The look on her face gave away her underlying feelings. “He can handle himself.”

Snake scratched his bearded chin. “Well, I for one am ready for something to happen. I’m growin’ weary of being a punching bag for a bunch of raw recruits.” He turned to Sweet. “How much longer till they can be field ready?”

“I’m thinking about two more weeks to get them up to speed. Director Kellerman wants them in the field yesterday, but they’re not ready yet. We’ll start some daytime live-fire field ops within the week.”

Rosen looked at the young female recruits who were gathered around the wooden benches.

“What’s up for the rest of the day, Ollie?”
Sweet cast a long look at the aspiring rangers. “First aid treatment including

field dressing. Tonight, we’ll do a nighttime tracking exercise. He turned his gaze back to Rosen. “And I want you to lead it.”

“Me?” Rosen looked irritated. “Those girls have more tracking knowledge in their little fingers than I do in my entire body. You need to lead the exercise, Sweet.”

“I can’t.”
“What do you mean, you can’t? Got a hot date?”
Sweet flashed a big grin. “Kinda. I’m going to be the poacher you’re tracking tonight.”
Rosen looked at Snake. “What about him?”
“The recruits think he’s crazy,” said Sweet.
“Well, that’s already a given. But it’s never stopped you or him before.” “Hey!” said Snake. “In case you didn’t notice I’m still in proximity of the conversation!”
“Tonight, Glory Abdarah is the designated platoon leader. I want you and Snake to evaluate their movements, tactics, and responses to threats. I will be available by com should any problems arise. Everyone will be carrying live ammo tonight. I want to make sure the ordnance is checked completely before we go out. Remember, I don’t fancy anyone putting a tap in my ass.”

“I don’t think I’m ready for this yet, Ollie,” Rosen protested.

“These recruits look up to you, Rosen. And you’re more ready than you think.” Sweet put his arm around her shoulders. “And hey, it’ll be fun!”

“Yeah, right. Lead a bunch of raw recruits into the bush at night in Tanzania with snakes and large animals that want to eat us for lunch. It’ll be fun.”

“Guess, you ain’t in Brooklyn no more, Dorothy,” said a grinning Snake.


Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

The open-air market in Dar es Salaam was crowded with people, despite the oppressive heat and humidity weighing down on Jake Spinner like a wet blanket. The air smelled of charcoal, body odor, and exhaust fumes, all mixed in with the scent of cooked meat. Jake sat at a rickety table beneath an awning, off to one side of the main market thoroughfare. He was nursing a warm Tusker beer to slake his thirst. Although Jake had basically been on the wagon for the past six months, his other choices of beverages were severely lacking in desirability. He desperately wanted to remove the shemagh that nearly covered his head, his unshaven face and his deep blue eyes being the only parts visible.

Spinner took another swig from the beer bottle. As he set it back down on the table, his hand began to tremble. He opened and closed his fist several times, then placed his left hand on top of the right and pressed down until the shaking subsided. Before they had embarked for Tanzania three months ago, Spinner had been enrolled in a twelve-step program that he attended for a total of five times. He still felt the gnawing edge in his gut urging him to self-medicate with a bottle of tequila. Since their ordeal in Baja, with help from Rosen, Sweet, and Snake, Jake had managed to walk the fine line between the edge of the cliff and the abyss. He knew drinking the warm beer would potentially send him into another train wreck, but the last few days had his nerves pushed to the fraying point.

In recent years, Spinner had made a concerted effort to restore his strength and stamina from his former time in Special Forces. He had dropped thirty pounds, was eating regular meals (thanks to Rosen’s insistence), and was clearer minded than he had been in ten months. When he took the assignment, he knew anything other than razor sharp would probably get him and the people he cared about killed.

Spinner knew he was being watched. From his time as an Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan, his ability to read a situation quickly had become his sixth sense. He could feel the familiar, subtle, nagging tingle between his shoulder blades. An itch he couldn’t scratch. He kept his gaze focused ahead but used his peripheral vision to survey the crowded soko. An African man dressed in white robes and a scarf covering all but his eyes sat alone at a table on the edge of the market near the endless parade of passersby. Every few moments, the man would cast a furtive glance in Jake’s direction, all the time, pretending to read a newspaper. Another man sat behind him. Jake felt this more than saw it. He had caught a glimpse of the man’s eyes when he first sat down. The man quickly averted his gaze. A third man was sitting at the bar. Spinner had not seen his face, but when the man spoke to the bartender, the server cast a quick look in Jake’s direction. Three men, probably more. Jake was pretty sure he knew who had sent them.

Another African man, eyes concealed by sunglasses, approached him. He was smaller and slighter than Jake and wore a white shirt that wasn’t so white anymore and dark slacks that had seen better days. When he got to the table, he sat down quickly without looking around.

“Took you long enough, Ibrahim,” said Jake irritably.

Ibrahim Damasi was Jake’s contact. A former ivory poacher, Damasi was a low-level supplier who had made the initial arrangements between the villagers and the crime gangs from Dar es Salaam. They, in turn, were part of the distribution chain that ended up in the hands of wealthy Chinese traffickers and the terrorist group, al Shabaab. His skin color was a deep ebony, glistening from the heat of the crowded market.

“They made me wait long time, Bwana Jake,” said Ibrahim, eyeing Jake’s beer. “They need to check my story.” Spinner held up his beer to the merchant behind the counter to order another. The man nodded.


“I told them I have buyer. Want to buy ivory for American gun manufacturers. They say they will tell us if they want to deal.”

“When? We have been waiting to meet Kinyonga now for almost a month. What’s taking so long?”

The bartender delivered the beer and Damasi took a long pull from the bottle. “Kinyonga very careful, Bwana,” he said, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. “Many—” he took his hands and made a stacking motion.

“Layers,” Spinner acknowledged. “Yes. We wait. Someone come soon.

Spinner took a swig from his warm bottle and leaned in. “They’re already here. Don’t look around.”

Damasi’s eyebrows raised, then lowered. “Where?”

“Guy in white on the left, last table next to the alley. Another, four tables behind me. The third one is sitting at the bar, getting more than his fair share of attention from the bartender.”

“Not the same men I spoke to,” said Damasi.
“Stay on your toes, Ibrahim,” Spinner said. “This could get ugly.”
Three men pushed their way through the crowded soko and approached

Spinner’s table. “Here we go,” said Jake.
Two men assumed a position on either side of Jake while the third man

stood directly in front of him. All three men’s faces were covered. The other three men rose from their positions and walked to the table.

Spinner looked around at the six men standing over him. “A bit overkill, don’t you think?”

The lead man who was about Jake’s height, looked at him with expressionless eyes. “You Marsten?”

“Yep,” replied Spinner. “I’m Marsten. Who are you?”
“You don’t need to know. We’re going for a ride.”
“I kinda like it here. Where are we going?”
“You ask too many questions,” said the lead African.
“I think it’s a fair question,” said Spinner. “I’ve been waiting here for more than three hours.”
Spinner stood and immediately felt hands roughly frisking him for a weapon. As tempting as it had been to carry his pistol, Spinner knew he would be searched before the meeting. But they never bothered to check the inside of Spinner’s boot where a six-inch fighting knife was hidden. One of the men found Jake’s cell phone in his back pocket and handed it to the lead man. The leader took the phone and dropped it to the ground and stomped on it.

“You’re going to owe me a phone,” Spinner said irritably. “I really liked that phone.”

“That’s Africa, baby.”

They walked out of the open-air bar and into the bustle of people milling about the marketplace. Spinner and Damasi were surrounded by the six men, two in front, one on either side and two bringing up the rear. Spinner noticed very few people in the crowd took notice.

They entered an alley that was lined with shops, the air heavy with the smell of urine, rotting vegetables, and spoiling meat. As they passed through to the street on the other side, the crowd thinned and Spinner noticed a vehicle ahead. The black Izuzu Trooper was covered in a layer of dust and the windows had been blacked out. Spinner made a mental note of the license plate.

The leader of the group stopped alongside the Trooper. He spoke curtly to Spinner. “Turn around.”

Spinner and Damasi did as they were told. A canvas sack was placed over each man’s head and they were loaded into the second seat of the Trooper. Spinner heard two men get into the front seat and two more into the rear seat.

When the driver pulled into traffic, Spinner began to mentally tick off the time in his head as the SUV rumbled along. He tried to commit to memory how long they went in a straight direction, when they turned, and where he felt the pressure in his hips which indicated left or right. Next to him, Ibrahim Damasi was silent, but Spinner could feel the fear emanating from his body. Spinner had to tamp down his own nervousness as memories bubbled up of a similar ride eight months ago to a clandestine meeting in the middle of the ocean he should never have survived. The hairs tingled at the back of his neck.

The drive was hot and dusty, telling Spinner they had left the main highway and headed out of Dar es Salaam. He kept ticking the miles off in his head, looking for a change in the angle of light underneath his muslin hood.

He leaned into Damasi and whispered, “Stay sharp.”
“No talking back there,” spoke the leader.
The vehicle made a series of turns and Spinner picked up the scent of burning charcoals and the smell of moist, rotting vegetation. The vehicle came to an abrupt stop and was momentarily enshrouded in a cloud of dust. By his best estimation of travel speed, time, and road conditions, Spinner deduced they were out twenty-five to twenty-eight miles.

When the doors opened, Spinner and Damasi were dragged out unceremoniously. The first thing Spinner heard was the singing of birds and the buzz of insects. He smelled the aroma of forest decay and noticed he was passing in and out of sunlight from underneath his hood. Somewhere nearby, meat was roasting over charcoals.

Spinner and Damasi were led into a building where they were separated. Jake suddenly felt the temperature drop. Two of the men positioned him in front of a wooden chair and forced him to sit down. The hood was removed, and Spinner found himself sitting in a chair in the middle of a concrete room. It took a moment to adjust his eyes to the dimness. Across the room three figures sat facing him, their eyes being the only visible part of their faces. Spinner looked around and saw Damasi was not in the room.

Spinner frowned. “Where’s Ibrahim?”

The man seated between the other two stared at Spinner for several seconds before he spoke. “Mr. Damasi is in a location nearby being questioned by one of my colleagues. We thought this would be the best way to corroborate your stories.”

Spinner knew he was now face to face with Kinyonga.
The man’s voice was soft in the humid room, with a hint of a British accent. “We have been looking into your background, Mr. Marsten. I must say, you have had an interesting career. Enlisted in the army at age nineteen, fought in Iraq and Afghanistan for four tours, and then began doing private security work throughout the Middle East.” He leaned forward. “The Middle East is my playground, Mr. Marsten. How is it, then, I have never heard of you before last week?”

“In my line of work, you don’t leave a trail,” replied Spinner. “But this is something you know all too well, if indeed, you are Kinyonga.”

Kinyonga’s gaze shifted slightly as if he was trying to peer inside of Spinner’s head. He leaned back in his chair. “My associates tell me you are interested in making a purchase.”

“That’s right. I have a buyer who works with several American gun manufacturers. They’re looking to have ivory inlays on the stocks of their most expensive hunting rifles and pistols. And, as you know, the business of selling guns in the US is booming.”

“How much product are we talking about?” Bakar said, steepling his fingers under his chin.

“One thousand kilos,” Spinner said. “If they like the quality and if the delivery is timely, they would be very interested in regular procurements. A business partnership, if you will.”

Kinyonga’s eyebrows raised ever so slightly. “That is a substantial order.” “How much?”
“Three point three million, US, plus another $250,000 for officials to turn a blind eye.”
“That’s $3,300 per kilo,” said Spinner.
“The going rate.”
Spinner took a deep breath. “How do we go forward on this?”
“We will contact you when the shipment arrives. The transaction will be in cash. You will bring a vehicle to a designated location. We will have the product plus your papers for the customs officials at the port of Dar es Salaam. You will have to arrange your own shipping container, or, for a modest price, we can arrange that for you as well.”

Spinner said, “Guess you guys have thought about everything. Okay. Let’s do this.”

Kinyonga stood. “We will call you with the final amount, date, location, and time of delivery. Bring cash. American, of course. Oh, one more thing, Mr. Marsten,” Kinyonga said, his eyes appearing like two dead pools. “Those who cross me do not fare well.”

Spinner stood. “Message received. Oh, by the way—you owe me for a phone. Your man there stomped the shit out of mine.”

Kinyonga handed Jake a cheap burner phone. “Keep this with you at all times.” He gave Spinner one last look before turning on his heel and leaving the room. His lieutenant approached Spinner and handed him the burlap hood. “You know what to do with this,” he said.

When they were delivered back to the soko in Dar es Salam and their hoods removed, Spinner was glad to see Ibrahim Damasi was none the worse for wear, other than looking a little rattled. Kinyonga’s men clambered back into the Isuzu and sped off. Spinner took a deep breath and looked at Damasi. “You okay?”

Damasi let out a long breath. “Yes. The men ask many questions. I thought they try to trip me up. I stuck to story.”

“Well, judging by how things went, you must have been convincing,” Jake said. “Man, I’m parched. You go for another beer before we head out?”

Ibrahim Damasi nodded. “Yes, thank you, Bwana Jake.”

They walked up to the bar and Spinner ordered two more Tuskers. He handed the lukewarm bottle to Damasi and then took a long pull from his own. “You did real good in there today, Ibrahim,” Spinner said, clinking his bottle to Damasi’s. Spinner closed his eyes as the amber liquid coursed down his throat.

“What happens next, boss?”

“Well, once we know the location and time, we set the sting,” said Spinner, glancing around the soko to see if they were still being watched. “We have port authority arrest the smugglers, seize the ivory, and I take Kinyonga down.”

“Many have tried before, Bwana Jake. And all have failed. Kinyonga is like spirit. He just disappears.”

“Well, hopefully, this time, his greed blinds him just enough for us to bust him for good.” Spinner finished the last of his Tusker in two gulps and placed the bottle on a nearby table. “You need a ride back to your village?”

“Yes, thank you.”

As they wound their way out of Dar es Salaam and the landscape shifted from buildings to shacks to savannah, Spinner realized just how much he had missed his friends. Especially Emily. It had been an exhaustive and adrenalin- charged month intermingled with long hours of waiting and uncertainty. They drove in silence for most of the trip, each man caught up in his own thoughts.

Finally, Jake broke the quietude. “So, why’d you quit?”
Damasi kept looking straight ahead.
“Poaching,” Jake finished. “That’s a lot of money to pass up.”
Ibrahim continued to look at the green landscape blurring by them. For a moment, Spinner thought Damasi had not heard the question. Then he spoke in a measured voice.

“My daughter,” replied Ibrahim.
“How old?”
“Seven. She is light of my world. When she found out I kill elephants, she cried. She told me they have families like we do, and the little ones will have no mamas or aunties.” He looked at Spinner touching his index finger to his temple. “My Malawi, she very smart.” His face contorted into a painful mask. “On last hunt, I see whole families killed, little ones orphaned. Then I think of my Malawi. No more, I say. No more.” He paused for a moment. “Now I try to save them.”

Spinner nodded.

Ibrahim turned and looked at Spinner, his face contorted in a fearful countenance. “Bwana Jake, you must kill Kinyonga. You must not fail! The last thing he say to me, ‘You fuck with me and I kill your family. Everyone. And you watch ’dem die.’”

Reviews:Sandi Quisenberry wrote:

I finished reading "Ivory Moon".
Really tried to pace myself but still read it in 5 sittings.
Now it will be hard to read anything else...and to wait for your next book. You have outdone yourself! I really like the way you subtly wove "Baja Redemption" into the new book. Your cast of characters has grown and all have their own voice and fully-fleshed personalities. The story line is gripping, masterfully crafted and wonderfully engaging. I can't even imagine HOW you orchestrated the battle in the rescue of the village girls. And as always, your gentle education about complex conservation issues is enlightening and appreciated.
I enjoyed every word; Thank you!

Peggy J. Turk Boyer, Director Emerita Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans and a Gulf of California conservation leader wrote:

"Ivory Moon is a gripping, action-packed, and convincing dramatization of the struggle to save the last of the African big game. Heartless poachers, arms dealers, and terrorists meet their match in a passionate team of conservation activists and an apprentice female anti-poaching squad. Gentile connects us to the soul of the African landscape, its wildlife, and its people. A spirited and heartfelt read from beginning to end."

Christine Wald-Hopkins, Arizona Daily Star wrote:

This is a book with a big heart.
A sequel to John R. Gentile’s “Baja Redemption”— in which a conservationist team breaks up a criminal dolphin and whale hunt in Mexico — “Ivory Moon” finds the same team on a game preserve in Tanzania. Here, poachers are slaughtering elephants for ivory to support terrorists. Tasked with finding and capturing a notorious arms dealer and destroying the organization behind the poaching, the Gaia Team — former soldiers Jake Spinner, “Snake” Robideaux, and Oliver Sweet, along with journalist Emily Rosen — set out to recruit locals to serve as park rangers. COVID-19, however, has decimated the male work force. The team decides to turn to recruiting village women, and Tanzania’s first all-woman anti-poaching unit is formed. Intelligent, well-armed and well trained, the women become excellent rangers. They feel up to the fight, but the arms dealer, teamed with a ruthless Somali warlord, will prove cruel foes.
The book is expansive. Gentile has drawn a grand setting in Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park. He’s cast memorable main characters — sometimes raw; always risk-taking, quick-tongued, militarily deft; devoted brothers (and sisters)-in-arms in bloody battles. He’s brought attention to African conservationist, cultural, political and economic realities. And — here animal-lovers will willingly suspend disbelief — Gentile the naturalist has characters Spinner and Rosen display a preternatural empathy for wild African game. It’s a story that both compels reading and touches your heart.

Debbie Ensign wrote:

I loved this book! Ivory Moon is a captivating adventure that immerses readers in the heart of Africa where the menace of ruthless elephant poachers unfolds. The narrative introduces a cast of compelling characters, with a group of women rangers standing as beacons of hope in the fight to defend these majestic elephants.

The author skillfully paints vivid and realistic scenes, transporting readers to the African landscapes with detailed descriptions. The story is punctuated with heartwarming moments that celebrate the beauty of nature and the deep connections between the humans and animals, juxtaposed with heartbreaking instances that underscore the harsh realities of poaching.

The suspense in Ivory Moon is relentless, making it a challenge to put the book down. The author weaves a tapestry of emotions, keeping readers on the edge of their seats. The cover, a masterpiece crafted by the author’s wife, serves as a visual gateway to the rich storytelling within.

Beyond the thrilling narrative, the book emanates from the author’s profound love for animals and nature. This passion shines through, adding an authentic layer to the tale. Ivory Moon is not just a story; it’s a call to action, a tribute to the resilience of both the characters and the endangered elephants they strive to protect.

Book I of The Guardians of Gaia Series

Book Cover: Baja Redemption
Editions:Paperback - First Edition: $ 24.95
ISBN: 978-1-7361659-0-4
Size: 6.00 x 9.00 in
Pages: 528
Baja Redemption is now live! Get your paperback copy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Book Baby. A Kindle and Nook version are also available.


Former Army Ranger Jake Spinner spends most of his days in a tequila-induced fog. Between bouts of binge drinking and episodes of severe PTSD, he works as a fishing guide in a sleepy village in Baja California Sur, Mexico.

After the body of Spinner's estranged fishing partner washes up on the rocks, he becomes obsessed with finding his friend's murderers. His search leads him to a reluctant alliance with Emily Rosen, a feisty New York Times reporter, and a team of marine biologists. They've discovered an illegal Japanese dolphin hunt and whaling operation run by the Yakuza, vicious criminals who will stop at nothing to harvest these valuable marine mammals.

Outnumbered and outgunned, Spinner, Rosen and an unlikely assemblage of scientists, activists, and fishermen must come up with a plan to stop the impending annihilation--without getting themselves killed in the process.



Gulf of California, Baja California Sur, Mexico

The twenty-eight-foot panga cut through the slate-gray water easily. The twin Yamaha 75s kept the bow up on plane as the boat and its six occupants sped toward the island. In the east, the January sky glowed in hues of rose and tangerine, silhouetting the rugged mountains of the Baja Peninsula. Macario Silvano sat near the stern huddled against the cold breeze. Even in his slicker, the moist air and constant wind chilled him to the bone.

Macario was twenty years old with a slender build and long black hair tucked under a watch cap. He looked across the seat at his father, Gustavo, who sat hunkered down, his sweatshirt hood pulled over a faded baseball cap. His father’s grim face was lined and leathery, the result of a lifetime spent fishing on the ocean. His high cheekbones, common to members of their coastal tribe, gave him an almost skeletal appearance in the early morning light.


The man in the bow, who was holding a line to keep his balance, suddenly raised a hand. The helmsman eased back on the throttle, and the panga slowed. When the man in the bow motioned with four fingers and pointed ahead, the helmsman cut the motors, and the boat began to drift.

Without a word, Macario, his father, and two other boatmen pulled long oars from the gunwales, attached them quickly and quietly to the oarlocks, and began to dip the paddles into the water. Their movements were synchronous and made no sound except for the occasional drip of water from the oars. The Japanese man standing in the panga’s bow dropped the safety line and picked up an ominous-looking gun. A deadly harpoon with an explosive charge attached to the shaft now rested in his arms. Attached to the harpoon were a coiled cable and several large floats.

In the still of the pre-dawn air, Macario heard a loud whoosh in the water ahead. It reminded him of a great set of bellows he had seen at the ironworks foundry in Tepic. A moment later he heard two more massive exhalations, then another, this one lower in volume.

The helmsman, a grubby man dressed in greasy coveralls, leaned forward and said to Macario, “Las ballenas están durmiendo.”

Macario cast a look at the boatman, who flashed a toothless smile. Then he looked toward the source of the exhalations. In the early morning light, Macario could see fifteen-foot plumes of atomized water forming clouds against the outline of the dark island. He counted four exhalations, three large spouts and a smaller one. He felt his gut twist in anticipation.

The panga closed on the sleeping whales. Macario sensed the tension emanating from his fellow villagers. Only the harpoon man and the helmsman were strangers. They had been sent from the company.

The sound of the whales’ exhalations grew louder. A smaller spout, half the volume of its mother’s, followed. Macario looked off to port and saw three large backs raising and sinking together. His heart began to race as the panga drew within thirty yards of the sleeping humpbacks. The rifleman at the bow held up a hand and signaled to the oarsmen to stop rowing. They pulled their paddles in, securing them quietly. The harpooner readied his rifle, then pushed the gun’s stock firmly against his shoulder as he braced his feet for the recoil.

Gustavo grabbed his son by the arm and whispered, “Keep your hands in the panga, mijo.” He made the sign of the cross and muttered a prayer in their native language. At the end, Macario heard his father apologize. “Lo siento, ballenas.”

The panga drew within striking distance. One of the whales surfaced and blew, covering the occupants of the panga in a fine spray. Macario remembered that the mist exhaled from the whale’s huge lungs smelled of fish, brine, and fathomless ocean.

Another whale surfaced. Midway through its exhalation, it snorted. Something was wrong.

Huge flukes lifted off the water and pounded the sea into foam. Macario heard the rifle’s report, and then an explosion followed by a high-pitched scream. The sound was so visceral he thought he would vomit.

The coils of line whined; floats ripped over the side of the boat as the mortally wounded whale made a desperate run to free itself of the exploding lance. The sky glowed red in the east, casting flashes of crimson across the water. The water churned red as the great whale’s life force mixed with the sea. Macario’s nostrils were assaulted by the coppery smell of blood.

He looked across at his father whose weathered face, caught in the first rays of light, was wet with tears.

The matriarch lay at the surface sleeping. More correctly, she was half-sleeping. Millions of years of evolution allowed her to shut down one hemisphere of her brain to allow for sleep while keeping a watchful eye on the constantly changing ocean around her with the other.

She was a Pacific bottlenose dolphin, around thirty-five years old. Next to her was her six-month-old calf, a male who maintained close contact with her by leaning against her pectoral fin. This was her fifth calf and the second male offspring. The first male had died shortly after birth, the victim of a vicious attack by a tiger shark. That was long ago when she was an inexperienced mother. Things were different now.

The mother was distinctive in her markings. Where a typical bottlenose was slate-gray to black, she had a distinguishing mark on her forehead—just forward of her blowhole—that resembled a star pattern. Her new calf had inherited a similar physical trait. He had an array of four small white spots on his forehead resembling the cardinal points on a compass and a small white blaze on the dorsal aspect of his flukes that looked like a lightning bolt.

Nearby, eight other dolphins rested or slept. All females, they were daughters, sisters and their offspring. Once they matured, males born into this maternal subgroup had formed alliances with one to two other males. One of the matriarch’s daughters, a three-year old adolescent, was the primary “auntie” for the newborn male. When the old female needed to feed, the auntie took over the duties of watching the young dolphin, having him accompany her in an echelon swimming formation, close by and just below her. The young dolphin was gregarious and inquisitive. His precociousness kept the adult dolphins on constant alert.

The lead female dolphin suddenly heard something in the deep blackness of the Gulf of California. The sea was always full of sounds, which differed from day to night—from the popping sounds of pistol shrimp on the nearby reef to vocalizations from blue striped grunts and croakers to the deep sonorous sounds of her larger cousins, the great whales. But this was something distinctive. It was the sound made by the propeller of a ship. Once, further south, she had heard it before. Her calf, awakened by the deep thrumming noise of the twin screws, twitched his flukes in fear and nuzzled closer to his mother. Alerted, the rest of the pod faced toward the disturbance.

Several of the younger dolphins vocalized. They wanted to investigate. Sometimes they would ride the bow wake of large ships. Judging by the vibration coming from the two giant propellers, this would be one pressure wave that would be fun to ride!

The sound of the ship grew louder, drowning out any other sounds in the ocean around the dolphin family. The female emitted a warning whistle and the younger dolphins held back.

Just then the female picked up a faint taste in the water. She sampled the water again. Images danced through her mind as she attempted to separate the tastes on her tongue. Suddenly, her whole body tensed as recognition came to her. She had tasted the blood of her own kind and, in that blood, she felt the presence of great suffering.

She issued three sharp whistles to the family. Together, they turned and swam swiftly in the opposite direction until the sounds from the Death Ship had all but faded into the blackness.


La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico

Alejandro Cabrillo sat at his desk looking at his computer screen. The satellite image before him showed a section of Lower Baja California. Small blinking dots were interspersed around the region, forming the semblance of a travel pattern. The dots represented humpback whales that had been tagged by his team and were now being monitored. Information was being streamed via satellite regarding migratory routes, travel patterns, gathering places, and feeding sites.

The whales wintered in the southern Gulf of California near Loreto, drawn by the warmer waters of Mexico to give birth and nurture their young. This population of humpbacks moved from southern waters near Puerto Vallarta, back and forth, unlike their cousins who ranged from the colder waters of Alaska to the birthing waters of Hawaii—a round trip of more than 5,000 miles.

Alejandro sat back and stretched in his chair as he ran his fingers though his jet-black hair. The angular features of his face were made more prominent by the heavy shadow of a day’s growth of beard. He leaned forward and squinted through his bifocals at the screen. He looked from the screen to the laminated pages sitting next to the computer.

“Where are you, D-7? You should be with D-5, 6, and 8.”

He scrolled to another page of data, this one showing times and locations when the satellites last picked up the traveling humpbacks. Number D-7’s last position was reported over a week ago, fifty miles south.

He leaned back again, still staring at the icons on the screen. It wasn’t uncommon for the transmitters to be sloughed off or break down over time. The whales, because they were extremely tactile animals, were constantly in contact with one another. Although the science of tracking the huge cetaceans had made great strides, the equipment was still subject to the rigors of salt water, currents, and animal movement.

Alejandro had become the director of the Instituto de Mamíferos Marinos three years earlier. He had moved his wife and young daughter here from Cuernavaca after finishing his PhD in Mexico City. His chief duties were to oversee projects pertaining to whale and dolphin populations in the lower Gulf of California. He supervised four research scientists in the small center in La Paz and worked with graduate students from the United States and Canada on projects that helped to fund the institute.

Alejandro answered directly to the Department of Fisheries in Mexico City. Grant money was tight. Nearly all of the available government resources were being channeled into the ongoing and unwinnable “War on Drugs.” Alejandro had come to depend on the soft monies coming in from institutions outside of Mexico. Fortunately, universities from all over the world wanted to send their enthusiastic students to study the rich waters of the Gulf of California, bringing grant money with them.

A knock on the door brought him out of his reverie. Without looking up, Alejandro said, “Yes?”

The door opened and Luisa, the department secretary and office manager, poked her head in. She was about the same age as Alejandro, pleasantly rounded, but attractively dressed in a flattering print dress. She wore her hair to her shoulders and had a ready smile.

“Alejandro, the Minister of Fisheries is on the phone and would like to speak to you. He’s on line two.”

A small knot formed in Alejandro’s stomach. Chief Minister Alfonso Figueroa was a force to be reckoned with. From a wealthy family in Sinaloa, it was well known that he had aspired to climb the political ladder. A consummate politician, he would slap you on the back and inquire after your family, but under that veneer of congeniality Alejandro suspected that he could be ruthless in his desire to advance his own agenda. And besides, his brother-in-law was the president of Mexico. Alejandro’s predecessor had fallen prey to the machinations of Figueroa a little over three years ago.

Alejandro picked up the phone. “Hello Minister! To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?”

“Just checking on your progress, Alejandro. How are you handling the crush of paperwork since you became director?”

Alejandro laughed. “It’s really not that much different than pursuing my PhD. The volume is about the same. Only the content is different.”

“How go the projects in the Lower Gulf ?”

Uh-oh, here it comes, thought Alejandro. Slash and burn the projects, direct from Mexico City. “Um, fine. Our joint project tracking the traveling patterns of the humpbacks is revealing some promising data.”

There was a short, but very distinct, pause. “When can you send me your preliminary findings? We need this information to determine funding allocation for the next fiscal year.”

“I should be able to give you viable data at the end of this season—which is in about two to three months.”

“In two to three months?” Figueroa sounded light-hearted, yet Alejandro heard the undertone. “We need to get all the budget information to the Ministry of Fisheries by the end of the month.”

Alejandro did not dare mention the several lost signals that had occurred in the past few weeks.

“I’ll put together a brief and have it in your office by the end of the week. Please remember, sir, it’s only preliminary.”

“Very good, Director Cabrillo.” Figueroa resumed his fatherly tone. “I also beg a small favor of you, Alejandro. Next week my assistant, Felipe Muñoz, will be in La Paz. He is meeting a contingent of Japanese officials from both the fisheries ministry and the private sector. They wish to see the institute and would like to hear about your work there. I already told them you would be happy to show them around.”

Alejandro flushed. I’m a scientist, not a tour guide. Besides, representatives from the Japanese Department of Fisheries had classically not been at the forefront for conservation of most whale species.

Alejandro sighed. “That would be fine, Minister.”

“Good. I’ll have Felipe call you and finalize arrangements. I’m looking forward to seeing that report.” Figueroa signed off.

Alejandro stared at the receiver as if he were looking at a viper in his personal space. “Madre de Dios.”

Luisa opened the door and stepped in. Alejandro suspected that she had been listening in on the conversation from the other side of the door.

“Get ready, Luisa. We’re going to be entertaining Japanese dignitaries. I really don’t have time for this.”

“Maybe they’re coming here for the whale meat tacos.”

Alejandro smiled. “It seems odd that they would be interested in an institution that promotes conservation of marine mammals. Maybe they’ve seen the light.”

Luisa laughed. “In your dreams. I watched Whale Wars. They don’t quit.”

“There was a time about twenty years ago when Japanese trawlers were sneaking up into the Gulf and taking everything they could get with their harpoons and nets. Whales, swordfish, dolphins, mantas, turtles, tuna. I heard they were even killing sea lions.”

“To eat?”

“I guess. They think we in the west are muy locos. We eat cows and pigs. They don’t understand the difference. One’s on the land, another is bigger and swims in the sea.”

Alejandro’s cell phone rang. He retrieved it and saw that the name on the phone said “Sandy W.”

“Bueno. Hola, Sandy. ¿Qué pasa?”

Sandy Wainwright, marine biologist, was the other principal researcher on the humpback study. She had been on the project for nearly a year. Alejandro liked working with this dedicated and brilliant field biologist.

“Alejandro.” The connection crackled with static. “We have a problem. We located Number D-7. Valentine. Washed up on Isla Ratón. Dead.”

“You’re sure it’s Valentine?” Alejandro’s chest felt like it was being squeezed in a vise.

“It’s Valentine. We matched her flukes.”

“Was the transmitter still working?”

“No. Transmitter’s gone. Some local fishermen found her earlier today and

called it in to us.”

“Any idea about the cause of death?”

Sandy’s voice caught. “Someone shot her, Alex. There’s a harpoon shaft in her back.”


Sandy Wainright looked at the broken shaft sticking out of the back of the young humpback whale and felt the bile rising in her throat. She walked away from the dead whale, leaving the two Mexican fishermen and her research

assistant, Paola Jiménez, staring after her.

The whale had already begun to decompose. The sickly-sweet smell of rotting

flesh left to bake in the semi-tropical sun made her want to retch. Bloated and lying on its left side, the abdominal contents were spread across the rocks like yards of gray rope. Bite marks on the underside and near the head indicated that night predators had been coming here to feed for several days. Nearby, on the rocky embankment, half a dozen black vultures watched warily as the newcomers walked around the kill.

Normally, Sandy would have been somewhat philosophical about this. After all, we are all recyclable, she would tell her marine biology students. But this was different. As far as she was concerned, this whale was murdered. Brutally shot with an exploding harpoon and left to die a horrible death.

Sandy moved toward the whale’s diminutive dorsal fin. She crouched down on one knee and felt along the opposite side until she found what she was looking for. She twisted her fingers and produced a portion of the sensor that had been attached to Number D-7’s dorsal fin nearly thirteen months ago. She took a deep breath as she stood up.

Sandy was nearly five feet ten inches tall with long brown hair, which she kept tied in a ponytail or stuffed up underneath a faded Seattle Mariners cap. Her long legs were muscular and tanned from doing strenuous fieldwork in the sun. She looked over at Paola.

“Paola, can you get some photos of the flukes? We’ll need those for the record.”

Paola sniffed and nodded. She spoke in Spanish to the two fishermen who helped her lift the nine-foot flukes. The fishermen strained under the enormous weight. She produced a digital SLR camera from her backpack and shot several pictures, first of the ventral side, then of the dorsal aspect of the flukes. Humpback whale flukes could be used to identify individual whales throughout their lives from the patterns of white and black coloration and the scarring, nicks, and scratches on their underside.

After taking some final measurements of the deceased whale, Sandy and Paola climbed into their eighteen-foot Zodiac Pro 5.5. The inflatable, powered by a 150 horsepower four-stroke Honda motor, had a rigid hull and a center console. The seats folded out for sleeping when the two researchers had to be out for several days.

After thanking the fishermen, the two women pushed the boat out and fired up the motor. They began heading southward down the coast while the two Mexican fishermen turned their panga north to their fishing camp.

Neither woman spoke much for most of the trip back to their base camp at Isla Santa Cruz. The campsite served as a good field station. From here, it was easier to catch up to the three groups of humpbacks who plied these waters during the winter season.

They arrived in camp just as the sun was sinking in the west behind the mountains in a wash of peach and red colors. Sandy hardly noticed the sunset. They cleaned equipment and set about making dinner. Finally, she spoke.

“Who would do such a thing?” Her words, as they left her lips, carried an immense sadness and rage.

When I asked the pangueros,” Paola took the small cook pot from the Coleman burner, “they said they didn’t know of anyone whaling in these waters.”

“Did you believe them?”

“I don’t know. One of them got nervous when I started asking questions. He kept looking to the other one. I think they know something but don’t want to talk about it.”

“Alejandro won’t let this rest,” Sandy’s voice took on a hard edge. “I won’t let this rest.”

“Be careful, hermana. I saw something else in their eyes. It was only a brief flash, like a sudden change in a wave.”

“What? What did you see, Paola?”

“Fear. They were afraid.”

“What would scare a panguero out here? Those guys have nerves of steel.” “Whatever it is that’s out there, they’re scared. Scared enough to lie about something.”

“I’m going to call Alejandro in the morning. See if we can arrange to have

that whale towed back to the Institute in La Paz and have a necropsy performed.”


New York Times Building, New York City

Emily Rosen’s desk could best be described as something between a post- apocalyptic smorgasbord and the bottom of the recycling bin at the end of the month in Washington D.C. Two-day-old pizza crusts that looked like they were about to take on a life of their own were intermingled with just about every color and size scrap of paper strewn across the desktop.

The desk was merely a reflection of its owner. Emily Rosen was a petite, dark- haired reporter at the New York Times. She wasn’t into health food or into women’s high fashion. She was all about the story.

She covered the political scene in New York City, and had been at her present post for five years. As a native New Yorker, she loved nothing better than tunneling into the dark underbelly of the politics of the Big Apple. This had earned her the respect of many readers who followed her weekly column, as well as the ire of many local government officials, who discovered that she had somehow managed to uncover some of their unsavory dealings in their attempts to rise to the top.

Many of the rich and powerful had her on a watch list. Most in City Hall just thought of her as a major pain in the ass.

She strode into the department on the third floor of the Times, dressed in her usual attire: baggy cargo pants tucked into black combat boots and a black silk shirt under a black frock coat—reminiscent of Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Her ensemble was topped off with a black beret that was pulled down low over her forehead. The thirty-year-old reporter wore black-rimmed glasses and no makeup. At her desk, Rosen shuffled through several paper scraps, muttering to herself. Finally, she located a sticky note, held it up, and said, “Ha!”

A group of her colleagues stood at one of the overhead television monitors located on one of the office walls. She walked over to them.

One of the reporters at the television looked up and saw her. “Hey, Rosen. Seen the news lately?”

“Hey guys, what’s up?”

Jarvis, a paunchy redheaded reporter, looked over at Rosen and made a face. “Jesus, Rosen. Nice outfit. When are we going to get a look at your legs?”

Rosen peered over the top of her glasses at Jarvis. “Jarvis, have you had a vasectomy?”

“No. Why?”

“You should really consider it. The planet’s gene pool would thank you.” Several reporters sniggered. Jarvis’s face went crimson.

“Fuck you,” Jarvis said.

“Whatever,” said Emily.

The scene on the television was near the city courthouse. Several large and not-too-friendly-looking bodyguards were escorting a man dressed in a business suit down the steps. Several reporters were crowding around with microphones. On the screen, Emily Rosen was suddenly standing in front of the man in the suit.

One of the other reporters, a tall blonde woman in black slacks and a white shirt pointed. “Look! It’s Rosen.”

Rosen was heard to say, “Senator Donato, can you tell me about your association with Salvatore Mischetta? What about the purported mob ties and the laundering scheme linked to those emails?”

The senator snarled. “No comment. I am a respected United States Senator. I am not—and have never been—tied to any crime syndicate. Get her out of my face!”

A bodyguard took one of his bear-sized hands and covered Rosen’s face with it, then pushed her aside like some bothersome insect. She went down in a heap on the steps.

The next portion of audio was bleeped out due to some very colorful vernacular coming from Rosen.

“Do you eat with that mouth?” Jarvis asked, a sneer forming on his lips.

A man appeared at the entrance to one of the offices on the other side of the newsroom. “Rosen! My office. Now!”

The banter stopped among the group gathered at the television. All eyes turned toward Emily Rosen. Most of them weren’t sympathetic. Emily shrugged, grabbed her satchel from her desk, and strode toward the editor-in-chief ’s office.

Charles Dickerson stood leaning over his desk, veins popping in his neck and forearms, glaring at her.

“Close the door.” He was a middle-aged man with a receding hairline and wire-rimmed glasses. The thing Rosen always noticed about him was that his face took on a nearly crimson color whenever she was around him. His jacket was off, his shirtsleeves were rolled up, and he looked like he had just bitten down on something vile.

Emily closed the door behind her—not that the door would prevent Dickerson’s rage from being heard outside.

“What the hell was that all about?” Dickerson gestured toward the television screen on the wall of his office. “I told you to back off from Donato!”

“Sir, you don’t know how close I am to busting his balls. He’s running scared right now with those emails.”

“You’re busting my balls, Rosen. You can’t confront a U.S. senator until you have all the facts. The emails are purely conjecture.”

“Sir, they are not conjecture. My source—”

“What source? Who is this source?”

Emily bit her lip, looked off into some unknown distance, then returned her gaze to Dickerson. “I can’t say, sir.”

“You can’t go around harassing a public figure. Maybe at the Enquirer, but not here.”

“Damn it, Charlie. You know he’s dirty as well as I do. All we have to do is line up the dots.”

“That’s for the Attorney General to figure out, not you. You report the news once it’s broken. That’s your job, Rosen.”

Dickerson sighed deeply, then stared at Emily. “You’re too close to this story. I’m pulling you.”

“What? I’m close to breaking this one wide open!”

“You’re off the story. Jarvis can pick it up from here.”

“Jarvis is a douche bag—uh, sir.”

“You’re off and that’s final. You’re lucky I don’t pink slip you right now. I’m reassigning you. To Baja, Mexico.”

“Mexico? What for?”

“We need a feature article for the Sunday travel section on the effects of cartel activity on tourism. We want a slant that implies it’s actually safe to travel in Mexico again.”

“This is bullshit, Charlie. I’m not a travel writer.”

“You don’t have to take the assignment, Rosen. You can walk right out that door, and we’ll get you an escort out of the building if you don’t want to do your job.”

She stared at Dickerson. He met her gaze with a stony countenance. The chief editor reached into his desk drawer, retrieved two travel vouchers, and slid them across his desk. “You leave tomorrow.”

Emily looked at the door for a long moment, then stepped forward and took the vouchers. She turned to leave.

“And clean up your desk before the health department closes us down.”

She went back to her desk, swept the sticky notes into her satchel and tossed the old pizza crusts into the trash. Marilyn, the blonde reporter, came over.

She spoke in a hushed tone. “What happened?”

“They got to Dickerson.” Rosen tossed more trash into the receptacle.

“Who? Who got to Dickerson?”

“The senator’s people. He knows I’m close. Now they’re assigning Jarvis. He couldn’t find his pecker in the dark.”

Emily slung the paper-laden satchel over her shoulder. “I’ve been reassigned.”

“Where to?”

“Mexico,” replied Rosen coldly.

“Hey, I wouldn’t mind an assignment in Mexico,” Marilyn said, brightening. Emily Rosen stared at her, shook her head, and walked toward the elevator.


Jake Spinner was sleeping off a mescal drunk. He was curled in a fetal position exactly in the same spot where he had passed out the night before—on the sandy floor in the storage shack of El Pulpo Morado, a seaside cantina in the sleepy little fishing village of San Jacinto. If Jake had been conscious, he would have been able to enjoy hearing the gentle lapping of waves against the golden shore. Presently he was tangled in a net hammock on the floor.

A middle-aged Mexican woman carrying a bag of groceries from the village mercado stepped into the closet and stared down at the human wreckage. She shook her head scornfully.

“Ay, pendejo,” she muttered under her breath.

The man passed out on the ground might have been handsome at one time. He was dressed in a pair of cotton shorts with a worn Hawaiian shirt that hadn’t been changed in days.

She stared at the scar that crossed his left cheek. It was thin and white, highlighted by a deep tan and several weeks of beard growth. His unruly dark hair was tinged with gray and dusted with specks of sand.

The woman leaned in to shake him awake, then recoiled at the smell. “¡Cochino!” She nudged him with her foot. “Señor Jake, wake up!”

At first, the inert form did not move. She nudged him harder. For her efforts, she was rewarded with a loud and explosive snort.

“Wake up, you crazy gringo!”

Spinner rolled away from her.

The next nudge with her foot sent the wind rushing from Jake’s lungs. She stepped back quickly as the American rolled and sat up surprisingly fast for his size and level of inebriation. Wrapped in the hammock, he resembled a hairless sea lion that had been trapped in a ghost net.

Spinner looked at the woman, his eyes red and unfocused. “What?” He squinted at her, and then tried to open his eyes. “Aw, shit.”

“You owe me 120 pesos, borracho. For the groceries. And another one hundred for straightening up your place.”

“Juanita, it’s too god damn early for you to be yammering at me about dinero.” Jake’s voice was harsh and gravelly after a long round of alcohol and cigarettes.

“It’s almost 12:00. And that is 12:00 in the daytime.”

“No way. What day?”


“Are you sure?” Jake scratched his beard and then scratched his balls. “Last time I checked it was Friday.”

“Pendejo.” She held out her hand. “Dinero! Ahora!”

Jake fished into the pocket of his shorts for his wallet, not an easy task considering that he was still wrapped in the hammock. When he finally did produce the wallet, Juanita snatched it from his hand and fished out several colorful bills. She tucked the bills inside her blouse and tossed the wallet at Spinner, then turned to leave. At the door, she looked back scornfully.

“You are lucky that you bring many fish back to the village. Otherwise, I think the people would have drowned you at sea a long time ago.”

Juanita turned and disappeared into the brilliant light. For a brief and unbalanced moment, Jake thought she appeared angelic in her departure. That visage quickly faded as a searing pain arced across his forehead and back to the rear of his skull, replacing the brief ethereal image.

After a series of contortions that made all of his joints pop and creak painfully, he freed himself from the entangling hammock and emerged from the supply closet into the main room of El Pulpo. The cantina was virtually empty except for Maximiliano, the young bartender, and a sunburned Italian couple sitting at a table over near one of the large open windows. A cool breeze was blowing in off the Gulf of California, carrying with it the sweet smell of ocean.

The young Italian couple, upon seeing the apparition that emerged from the liquor closet, stared for a moment, slack-jawed. When Jake nodded at them, they quickly turned away. He stumbled up to the bar, barely able to maintain an upright position.

The bartender, a lanky twenty-one-year-old with earrings and long hair tied back, looked at Jake, but did not approach him.

“Max, mi amigo, how about a bit of the hair o’ the dog that bit me?” He reached for his wallet and frowned when he realized that Juanita had taken the last of his cash.

“Son of a bitch!” Jake forced a smile. “Hey, how ’bout it, Max? I pick up my check from the government a week from Thursday.”

Max shook his head slowly. “Sorry, Señor Jake. El Jefe says no more credit for you.”

“I can have some fresh yellowtail for the kitchen tomorrow.”

“El Jefe says no more fish for tequila.”

“Ungrateful bastard.”

Later that afternoon, Jake sat in the shade of a small cantina facing the village square. Today was market day and many of the villagers were crowded into the square, sitting at canopied booths, and selling everything from colorful cloth to cheap jewelry and chocolate covered grasshoppers. He was nursing a hangover with a Bloody Mary.

He had moved down here seven years ago for the fishing after his marriage had nosedived and his ex had taken just about everything except for his check from the VA. Maybe it was the PTSD. Maybe Jake hadn’t gotten enough love from his mother and father when he was a kid. Maybe he was simply a world- class asshole. She had said she couldn’t live with him anymore and moved out.

His pension wasn’t much. But it was enough to keep him in a boat for fishing, a cheap place to live, and enough left over for food and drink. These days, more was dedicated to the latter.

Across the square, Jake spied a familiar figure stepping into a booth featuring knockoff jewelry and gangsta-type bling. Jake had known Macario since he was about thirteen. He had become friends with Gustavo, Macario’s father, after he had hired them as fishing guides. They were from the Kumeyaay tribe, and their village was a couple hours north of San Jacinto. The native people from this part of Baja had a longstanding reputation as seafarers, and Gustavo Silvano knew these waters like no one else.

There had been years of tension between the Mexican government and the Kumeyaays. Treated like second-class citizens, most of the villagers lived in poverty. Since fishing had been restricted due to the falling fish stocks, their ability to earn a living had been curtailed even more.

Jake stood, finished the last of his Bloody Mary, and ambled across the square to the booth where Macario was looking at the trays on the tables. As he stepped into the booth, he saw Macario pull a wad of pesos from his front pocket and

peel off several to pay for a gaudy looking necklace, the type that gang bangers would wear in East L.A.

Jake sidled up next to him. “Fishing must be real good these days,” Jake said in Spanish, as he picked up an ornate silver bracelet and examined it.

Macario spun quickly, stuffing the money back into his pants pocket. “Oh, Señor Jake. How are you doing?”

“Apparently, not as well as you, kid.” Jake didn’t look directly at him.

“Papá and I had a couple of good weeks. Americans came up from La Paz and wanted to go out. They paid us well.”

“What were you fishing for?”

“Mahi mahi mostly. Twice we got into schools of crevalle jacks.”

“Hmm. Whereabouts did you go?”

Macario fidgeted. “Near Isla Tortuga. Did some deep water trolling up north.” Jake looked at Macario, who met his gaze and then looked away suddenly.

His tribe did not make regular eye contact. In their culture it was considered rude. But Macario’s quickly averted gaze spoke volumes. The kid was lying through his teeth.

“How’s your dad these days?” Jake said, with a brief hint of a smile.

“He’s good. Busy with the charters.”

“You tell him I said hello. Tell him it’s time for the three of us to go fishing again.”

Jake’s mind flashed briefly on the wad of cash in Macario’s pocket. It was going to be a long dry week until that government check came in, but he dismissed the idea of asking Macario for a loan until next week. His pride prevented him from borrowing from his friend’s son. But there was something else. Wherever Macario got this money, one thing was for certain. He didn’t come by this much cash from taking gringo fishing tourists for a joyride in the Gulf.

Jake touched Macario’s shoulder, making the young indio meet his gaze. “You’re not getting into selling drugs, are you, son? That’s some mean shit and you’ll end up headless hanging from a streetlamp.”

Macario pulled back. “No, Señor Jake. I swear! No drugs. It’s from fishing!”

Jake relaxed his grip, then half-smiled. “Okay, kid. No worries. Just wanted to make sure you’re safe.”

Macario looked very uncomfortable, his eyes darting around the booth. “No problem. Look, I gotta go. Mis compadres are waiting for me.”

“Tell your dad to call me.” Jake made the universal sign for a telephone, placing his hand near his ear.

“I will. See you, Jake.”

The young man turned on his heel and left the booth quickly.

Jake watched him disappear into the crowd of villagers milling around the square. The kid standing behind the tables asked, “You gonna buy that bracelet, hombre?”

Jake tossed the bracelet back, and the kid nearly dropped it. “I already have one just like it.”

As he walked toward his bungalow, Jake felt something he had not felt for a long time. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing up and his gut had tightened. Somewhere nearby, the shit was about to hit the fan.

Reviews:Elizabeth Sherwood wrote:

BAJA REDEMPTION: What a WOW reading pleasure!
Posted by Elizabeth Sherwood - Retired college librarian

Author John R. Gentile has created a polished and thoroughly satisfying read by any measuring stick. Most of the well-developed and compelling action takes place in or near the waters of one of the world’s most beautiful natural settings. Readers are quickly assured they’re being enlightened by the hand of someone with hard-won knowledge of every aspect of the bones of the story: endangered whales and dolphins; . . .greed and cruelty of some the Japanese companies that pander to appetites for marine mammal flesh; and both the humorous and challenging dimensions of human creativity.

My quick review . . . (includes) sadness I feel that I can’t spend some real-life time sharing a drink with so many of the wacky, wonderful, creative, and fantastic characters that I met in this great book! THANKS, JOHN!

D. Taylor wrote:

A fast moving book with a great sense of humor! I learned more about the whales and the people of Baja, Mexico. A great read!

J. Hanson wrote:

Most of this book could be taken right out of today's headlines—illegal whaling, corrupt officials, dedicated scientists. The heroes include a broken-down U.S. veteran with a core of decency, a feisty NYT reporter, a group of militant conservationists, and Mexican subsistence fishermen trying to do the right thing. The bad guys are Japanese whalers controlled by the Yakuza. All good fun and lots of action. But when you add a group of dolphins that seem to be able to communicate with humans subliminally, things get interesting.

Pam wrote:

A maritime eco-western Bond film with ethics, heart, humanity, and beauty.

Though I've never met the author, it seems obvious to me that this book is the work of a person who cares deeply about both humans and nature, who is saddened by the abuses of both that are rampant in our world, and who strongly believes that we can do something about it. It is also a book written by someone who knows their way around the English language quite well, has a quick wit, an eye for the beauty of the Baja region, and loves surprising the reader. The cast of characters (human and animal) is both vast and beautifully and sympathetically drawn, with nature itself as an important member. It is both thoughtful and fun - meditations on the dynamics and consequences of geopolitical maneuvering, corruption, and war share page space with action sequences pulled straight from samurai films and westerns, along with some surprisingly touching moments. The writing is visual, fast-paced, accessible, and fun. Do yourself a favor and make this book a part of your summer reading list. Then, if you can, go visit Baja and spend some time on the water - I definitely want to after reading this!

Karen Christiana wrote:

Baja Redemption is one of the best books I’ve ever read! I really loved it. I love all these characters -Jake Spinner is a great character and love the name. Oh, and I love that the author's wife did the cover artwork!

Debbie Ensign wrote:

I absolutely loved this book! It's a great story full of suspense that takes place in Baja California, Mexico. It involves a wonderfully eclectic set of characters attempting to stop the brutal slaughter of whales and dolphins by a Japanese cartel. The author's descriptions of Baja and his portrayal of the people risking their lives to save these special animals are so beautiful that I felt I was there with them. Without giving too much away, the ending was hugely satisfying!

Tim Fagan wrote:

For me, Baja Redemption was a delight to read. As a person who has visited southern Baja California multiple times and seen the whales and dolphins at close range, sometimes close enough to touch, this book brings back a multitude of memories. The sights and sounds are accurately and beautifully depicted and presented. The descriptions of the food reminds me of fragrant, sumptuous and satisfying meals.

For those who have seen, followed, and even touched, the dolphins and whales, and observed the family interactions, this book accurately and beautifully depicts them. Observation of the individuals and pods reveals that these are sentient beings, who no more deserve to be killed than our fellow humans.

The beauty and grandeur of the land, sky and sea are revealed, as are the beauty and friendliness of the people. The characters are well developed and believable. There is a great deal of exciting action, on land, sea and in the air. This book inspired me to make a return trip as soon as possible. For those who have never been to southern Baja, it should create the desire to experience this for yourselves.

Ginia Desmond wrote:

I finished reading Baja Redemption 5 minutes ago, and I'm totally blown away on so many, many levels. As a novel, it's truly compelling, a page turner, you are THERE in every paragraph, wanting to know what happens next. The variety of characters, both good and evil are beautifully woven, from the local fishermen and their world in Baja to the intense Japanese mafia types, to the 6 main characters you love from the get-go in spite of and because of their peculiarities. The premise of the story...save the whales, save the porpoises, is eye opening, and educational, and maybe the best most wonderful part is understanding better how they communicate with one another, and on occasion, a human being. If you love to read, you will love this book. I'm hoping it will be picked up by HBO and made into a series. Kudos to Mr. Gentile.

Debra-Ann Strahl wrote:

I deeply enjoyed the adventure! I loved the beginning as the father and son were headed out for the hunt. The sensations and emotions caught me as they struggled with the reality of the reason for being on the water just as the sun rose. The vulnerability and preciousness of life was captured and set the stage for the story.

The characters were quite a mix of personalities and very believable. It is a gift to be able to create characters who are relatable, flawed, and that you want them to win. It was clear that Jake really was more dead inside than he was alive. Yet he was not mean spirited. He retained his skills from a life forgotten except for the devastating pain of trauma and loss. There were many reasons not to like him, yet he was kind to the dolphins by giving them fish when no one would know of his tender sharing. He also was able to accept influence from Emily, and change how he related to Beau who was tracking the ship.

The descriptions flushed the story to life rather than bogging it down. I could feel the boat moving in the water, the wind on my body. I could hear the sea, and smell the water. I could connect with Jake when he was wounded in the water. His mix of emotions, his dreams of what was important to him as he knew he was deeply in trouble.

The book included an incredible amount of knowledge of many and varied subjects. You did your homework well. Since I am married to an engineer, I appreciate the understanding of how things work and the value of the needed skills. This was an enormous amount of work and you showed respect by going the distance.

Humor was important in this book. The humor helped to connect me to the characters and buoyed me up. It softened the experience so that the harsh realities and losses were tolerable. Humor was used well and very much served the story.

Your work is impressive. Very well done.

Marlene Shamis wrote:

"John, what a great story! Breathtaking throughout. I couldn't put it down. Intelligent, emotional and entertaining. Thank you!"

Barbara Everett, Berlin MD wrote:

"Wow, what a book! As a past and present member of organizations such as WWF, Greenpeace, Save the Manatee and several others, this really hit me. So brutal and heartbreaking. We have watched whales, dolphins, manatees and turtles from New England to Florida, from Hawaii to Alaska. If and when John R. Gentile writes another in the series, as was indicated, I will definitely read it."

Karen Lunda wrote:

I absolutely loved your book! The story was intriguing and educational and the characters interesting and well developed. I appreciated the detail and description of events, people and places. I am impressed!!

Ellie Patterson wrote:

I am reading Baja Redemption and I just had to tell you how much I am enjoying this thriller. It’s an excellent read! I remember Katie saying that it’s a real page-turner. That it is! You and your wife, Katie, are both so talented in so many areas.
I’m also learning so much about cetaceans (I had never used that word before 😊) as well as enjoying the various characters.
Thank you for writing such a remarkable and enjoyable book.

Mike Lawler wrote:

I just finished reading Baja Redemption. I was delighted! The characterizations were strong- Spinner is a fantastic character and he’s surrounded with other interesting and strong characters. The settings are evocative. And I learned a lot about whales and dolphins that I didn’t know. And I loved the way the story is formatted- with the dolphins and whales’ thoughts italicized.
I was sorry to finish. This is definitely a page turner.
I look forward to your next project. Congratulations!!

Book III of the SOFAR Trilogy

Book Cover: Sirens Song
Part of the Sofar Trilogy series:

The image of Cooper Ridley flashes on television screens all over planet Earth. Ridley warns of an unimaginable danger, a threat to all Earth’s creatures.

Azrnoth-zin, Mara-jul and the Displaced Alien Work Force join Ridley to convince the world’s leaders to unite against this deadly menace. Cooperation is not forthcoming.

Using secret contacts and brilliant disguises, the Phoenix Project surfaces in a final attempt to seize alien technology. A near fatal encounter occurs at the United Nations building leaving the Phoenix Project exposed. Duped by her own cabinet, The President and her family are taken hostage.

Earth friends, the Dutchman and marine biologists Doctors Darcy Billings and Teresa Gamez, become involved and, along with Ridley and his small group of aliens, are the only deterrent to the Trochinids. In an undersea base nearly two miles down, the marine biologists and a team of scientists work frantically to discover a weakness in Trochinid physiology.

Under attack at Pisaster base, Darcy, Teresa and Mara-jul make a discovery that may turn the tide of the war. In the final moments, they place all their hopes on a strange phenomenon in the SOFAR channel. It is Earth’s last hope.

Reviews:Lynn Hughes wrote:

Years ago, you did a reading of your first book in a small California town…Lakeport (at Catfish Books, owned by Lynn Fegan).
I was captured by Blue Planets. Having just finished Siren’s Song, I am saddened to realize that 3 books make a trilogy ….well, I really did know, but will miss all of the friends I made taking this journey.
Thank you so much for all your dedication to making these stories fanciful but full of thoughtful insights.

Harry Hayes, Arizona Pioneer Family wrote:

I connected with the characters and how they related to the natural world.
Blue Planets, Offworlder and Siren’s Song will reside on the shelf next to my entire collection of Louis L’amour’s books. I am absolutely going to read the SOFAR Trilogy again!”
“And, Az-r-noth-zin – I love that guy.

Harry Jamison, retired Corporate Executive, October 24, 2007 wrote:

A few months ago I became acquainted with John Gentile through his day job as a physical therapist as he helped my wife in her recovery from surgery. I learned that he had authored a sci-fi trilogy and that we were invited to attend a book signing on the occasion of the publishing of the final volume. My wife purchased all three books, for me, since she doesn’t really cotton to science fiction.

Recently I laid down the final volume with a sense of profound disappointment. (I had promised John that I would be objective and honest in my review and opinions). The observations that follow illustrate my regrets and personal feelings of loss as I reflect upon how and why the Trilogy affected me.

I am sad to report that “Siren’s Song” writes finis to the adventures of Cooper Ridley and his band of oddly acquired and fascinatingly odd brothers – and sisters. What a great yarn! The real and imaginary worlds of Arizona, the Sea of Cortez, Delphinus and remote galaxies are interwoven with real and imaginary humans, dolphins, Delfinians and Trochinids who wage war with both atavistic ferocity and futuristic science.

The story line captures one’s attention first. Then the characters, both of this and other worlds, become friends and foes who occupy the reader’s imagination and demand his belief in their escapades. The blending of natural science narrative, drawn from the author’s expertise, with the imaginative scientific technology of the various beings from other planets in other galaxies is seamless.

One surprise to me was the ease with which the dialogue flows, particularly when one considers the difficulty of communication among such disparate characters. It not only reads easily, but also reflects and displays the personas and cultural biases of the individuals.

A word of warning to the potential reader: read each volume in its proper sequence to fully appreciate the story itself. And furthermore: don’t expect to read “Blue Planets” and forget the two sequels. Curiosity will defeat you! Then, after the middle book, “Offworlder,” anticipation of the climactic events in “Siren’s Song” will pull you into its whirlpool.

As I said –“What a great yarn!”

Book II of the SOFAR Trilogy

Book Cover: Offworlder
Part of the Sofar Trilogy series:

Cooper Ridley was dead. At least until Azrnoth-zin turned his ship around and brought Ridley’s body aboard his spacecraft. In a desperate act to save Ridley’s life, Azrnoth-zin goes against all Delfinian tenets of first contact and places him in a neural reorganization chamber. Ridley’s life functions are restored, but something is wrong. Ridley now discovers he has mental access to the alien history including secrets not known to most Delfinians, including Azrnoth-zin. They finally catch up with the remainder of the Delfinian fleet; the Water Council deems Ridley to be a threat and banishes him to the Displaced Work Force, where every day is a fight for survival. Meanwhile, Azrnoth-zin is tried as a deserter and traitor and is handed a sentence worse than physical death. Now, many light years from his home world, Ridley comes face to face with the Trochinids, a malevolent alien force moving through the systems, consuming everything in their path. He must use all of his newfound knowledge, along with some good old-fashioned Earth-borne skills to survive the Trochinids, the Delfinian Water Council, the exotic and beautiful squadron commander Mara-jul, and a bunch of displaced aliens who just don’t like the way he looks. Maybe staying dead wasn’t such a bad idea.

Reviews:Aimee Bradford, RN of Tucson, Arizona wrote:

Cooper Ridley is the new Travis Magee -his own man and everyman.

Roseann Hanson, Executive Director, African Conservation Fund wrote:

I liked Blue Planets a lot (the first book in the Sofar Trilogy), but this one blew me away. I was so wrapped up in the exciting, gripping ending that I blew off work for the rest of one afternoon just to finish it!

Much more in-depth character development than the first – more characters to like, too – and it all takes place in another galaxy, so I was impressed by the sense of place developed by Mr. Gentile, whom I presume has had no out-of-our-galaxy experien

Book I of the SOFAR Trilogy

Book Cover: Blue Planets
Part of the Sofar Trilogy series:

A spaceship’s fiery crash into the Gulf of California . . .Kidnapped by a pod of dolphins . . . An injured alien with an attitude . . . Murderous clandestine agents who would just as soon kill you as look at you . . . A dire warning of an impending alien Armageddon.

Cooper Ridley has just embarked on the kayak trip from hell.

Reviews:Laurel Dunlap, Tucson, Arizona wrote:

Thank you for writing this fantastic adventure, that brings to life all the diverse habitats of the Southwest. The beauty of the desert, mountains, and sea, the folklore of Indigenous People, science exploration, and ordinary folk doing the extraordinary; this book has it all!

The Arizona Daily Star, J.C. Martin, May 2, 2004 wrote:

If you've ever wished for a UFO in your own back yard, this is pretty close. Complete with his decoder ring, Azrnoth-zin from Delphinus in the seventh world of the Yllantros system crashes his spaceship into the Gulf of California. He is rescued by an American seafaring jack-of-all-trades but not until after he has been tracked by a couple af astronomers on Kitt Peak.