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Then he 'd, "Gotta fly," and he knew.

Initially he did not know where he was going. Then he had a vague feeling that he should return home. Rapidly the feeling became a strong hunch, the hunch became a conviction, and the conviction became a compulsion. He absolutely had to get home.

Holly had been given an advance copy of the book, Soughing Cypress and Other Poems, when Tom Corvey, the editor of the Press's entertainment section, assigned her to the story. She had wanted to like it. She enjoyed seeing people succeed-perhaps because she had not achieved much in her own career as a journalist and needed to be reminded now and then that success was attainable. Unfortunately the poems were jejune, dismally sentimental celebrations of the natural world that read like something written by a Robert Frost manque, then filtered through the sensibilities of a Hallmark editor in charge of developing saccarine cards for Grandma's birthday.

Voices in the dirt? Holly thought, and almost laughed.

The clerk who served him was a clean-cut young man, as straight-arrow as a Disneyland employee-at first glance.

, Jim switched on a bedside lamp.

Jim realized he was clenching his teeth. He looked down at the armrests of his seat, where his hands were tightly hooked like the talons of an eagle to the rock of a precarious roost.

Then he 'd, "Gotta fly," and he knew.

While the clerk processed the credit card and issued the ticket, Jim noticed the guy had pierced ears. He wasn't wearing earrings on the job but the holes in his lobes were visible enough to indicate that he wore then regularly when he was off duty and that he preferred heavy jewelry.

Holly Thorne was at a private elementary school on the west side of Portland to interview a teacher, Louise Tarvohl, who had sold a book of poetry to a major New York publisher, not an easy feat in an age when most people's knowledge of poetry was limited to the lyrics of pop songs and occasional rhyming television ads for dog food, underarm deodorant, or steel-belted radial tires. Only a few summer classes were under way.

Holly Thorne was at a private elementary school on the west side of Portland to interview a teacher, Louise Tarvohl, who had sold a book of poetry to a major New York publisher, not an easy feat in an age when most people's knowledge of poetry was limited to the lyrics of pop songs and occasional rhyming television ads for dog food, underarm deodorant, or steel-belted radial tires. Only a few summer classes were under way.

Another instructor assumed responsibility for Louise's kids, so she and Holly could talk.

"The flight to Portland leaving in twenty minutes," Jim said. "Is it full up?" The clerk checked the computer. "You're in luck, sir. We have three open seats."

The drive to John Wayne Airport, on the southeastern edge of Santa Anta, took less than half an hour. Along the way he saw subtle reminders at southern California had been a desert before the importation of water through aqueducts. A billboard urged water conservation. Gardeners were planting low-maintenance cactus and ice plant in front of a new southwestern-style apartment building. between the greenbelts and the neighborhoods of lushly landscaped properties, the vegetation on undeveloped fields and hills was parched and brown, waiting for the kiss of a match in the trembling hand of one of the pyromaniacs contributing to the annual, devastating wildfire season.

He drove too fast, weaving in and out of traffic, taking chances, which was uncharacteristic of him. If a cop had stopped him, he would not have been able to explain his desperate urgency, for he did not understand himself It was as if his every move was orchestrated by someone unseen, controlling him much the way that he controlled the car.

Another instructor assumed responsibility for Louise's kids, so she and Holly could talk.

Holly Thorne was at a private elementary school on the west side of Portland to interview a teacher, Louise Tarvohl, who had sold a book of poetry to a major New York publisher, not an easy feat in an age when most people's knowledge of poetry was limited to the lyrics of pop songs and occasional rhyming television ads for dog food, underarm deodorant, or steel-belted radial tires. Only a few summer classes were under way.

They sat at a redwood picnic table on the playground, after Holly checked the bench to be sure there was no dirt on it that might stain her white cotton dress. A jungle gym was to their left, a swing set to their right. The day was pleasantly warm, and a breeze stirred an agreeable fragrance from some nearby Douglas firs.

"The flight to Portland leaving in twenty minutes," Jim said. "Is it full up?" The clerk checked the computer. "You're in luck, sir. We have three open seats."

While the clerk processed the credit card and issued the ticket, Jim noticed the guy had pierced ears. He wasn't wearing earrings on the job but the holes in his lobes were visible enough to indicate that he wore then regularly when he was off duty and that he preferred heavy jewelry.

Nevertheless Holly intended to write an uncritical piece. Over the years she had known far too many reporters who, because of envy or bitterness or a misguided sense of moral superiority, got a kick out of slanting and coloring a story to make their subjects look foolish.

Except when dealing with exceptionally vile criminals and politicians, she had never been able to work up enough hatred to write that way-which was one reason her career spiral had spun her down through three major newspapers in three large cities to her current position in the more humble offices of the Portland Press. Biased journalism was often more colorful than balanced reporting, sold more papers, and was more widely commented upon and admired. But though she rapidly came to dislike Louise Tarvohl even more than the woman's bad poetry, she could work up no enthusiasm for a hatchet job.

Nevertheless Holly intended to write an uncritical piece. Over the years she had known far too many reporters who, because of envy or bitterness or a misguided sense of moral superiority, got a kick out of slanting and coloring a story to make their subjects look foolish.

Then he 'd, "Gotta fly," and he knew.

When he returned Jim's credit card, his shirtsleeve pulled up far enough on his right wrist to reveal the snarling muzzle of what appeared to be a lavishly detailed, colorful dragon tattoo that extended up his entire arm. The knuckles of that hand were crusted with scabs, as if they had been skinned in a fight.

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