Dedication For Julia, who helped me put Rafe’s thoughts into German words, and to her band of Merry German speakers, who gave me a magnificent list of love words when I asked for help. Thank you so much! All mistakes are mine alone. .
Z. A. Maxfield | Secret Light 2 Chapter One November 25, 1955 When Rafe entered Cinnabar on the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas was already in evidence everywhere. He took in the scene, from the live Christmas tree in the corner to the strands of tinsel shimmering over the mirror behind the bar. The place was rich with the scent of pine and tobacco and hot from strings of multicolored lights. Cocktail waitresses sported Santa hats, and Kelly the bartender worked around a miniature village display—stores, houses, and a tiny quaint church arranged on tufts of cotton batting that resembled snow. Rafe made his way through revelers, blinking against the ubiquitous fog of smoke. The smell was sure to seep into his clothes and hair by the end of the evening, and just the thought made him feel inside his coat pocket for a Pep-O-Mint Life Saver—a kind of trademark with him. He used his thumbnail to separate one, foil and all, from its fellows and rubbed it between his fingers until it was devoid of its wrapper. Discreetly he slipped it into his mouth, between his molars, and crunched down to let the almost too powerful mint flavor overwhelm his senses. He was often accused of being fastidious, but if he was going to smell like anything in public, it would be something people found soothing—something they liked. He did plan to smoke tonight, though he normally saved his cigarette use and his love of a good pipe for quiet times at home, when he was alone. To do any less with the men from work would be to invite comparison, and his coworkers were brutal to the nonsmokers and teetotalers among their growing office staff. More than one had begun to indulge out of some kind of social self-defense. .
Z. A. Maxfield | Secret Light 10 Chapter Two Once safely inside his house, Rafe Colman—Rolf Kohn—slid the bolt home. He pressed his forehead to the door and closed his eyes against the dizziness generated by drink, tobacco, and the adrenaline common to his daily high-wire act. His Mooki scrabbled around his ankles, trying to climb him like a tree. “Patience, Mooki. Give me time,” he said over the excited clatter of her toenails on the linoleum floor. The dog clearly didn’t understand. She even ventured a yip or two, desperately, though she probably knew her master would bark back. “Ruhig, Hund. Mach mich nicht verrückt.” Mooki tagged along as he walked to his bedroom and emptied his pockets onto his dresser. From there she followed him to hang up his coat and tried to squeeze through the door when he went in the bathroom to piss. Suit pants neatly folded, he wore his shorts and undershirt to the kitchen where he gathered up the makings for a little late dinner. “Papa tried to drink his dinner this night, Mooki.” He pulled two eggs and a bowl of leftover fried cabbage and wurst from the Frigidaire, giving it a careful sniff. “Mutti would have apoplexy, but Papa is not the cook she was, is he?” He missed his mother’s cooking so much. There were regional German restaurants—even a good one in the mountains—but none carried the simplicity or the hearty goodness of his mother’s home-cooked meals. Simple, seasonal foods prepared well. Unsalted butter and white wine. Potatoes, cabbage, and apples. On impulse, he got out an extra egg. Mooki’s coat benefited from a little egg every now and again, and he liked to spoil her. She could see it in his eyes too, when she won .
Z. A. Maxfield | Secret Light 21 Chapter Three December 3, 1955 A week later, the air blew warm and dry as it often did, even in early December. It seemed a bitter insult to late autumn—as confusing as it was unpleasant—yet it was a reminder that Rafe lived in a city reclaimed from the desert by chicanery and sheer force of will. The haulers Spence recommended had come and gone, hefting what was left of Rafe’s garage and those possessions he’d stored in it into a big old farm truck and taking them away for a price that seemed not overly steep to him. There was nothing salvageable; they’d had to break down pieces of the garage itself, those timbers and bits of the roof that had caved and fallen in, to fit them into the vehicle. They made several trips. Rafe’s insurance company was preparing to pay out—eventually. There would be the inevitable red tape in his near future, but in the meantime, he had enough savings to rebuild the structure. He wasn’t a wealthy man, but he lived more frugally than anyone he knew. In fact, he spent money only when others would think it odd if he didn’t—on his car and business wardrobe, or when out with his coworkers. With no wife, no children, and virtually no debt, he could afford a new garage if he needed one. For the time being, he supposed he could cover his car with a tarpaulin, but what a nuisance, having to take it off and put it on day in and day out. The ultimate cost of the fire came to him in bits and pieces. He regretted the loss of his indoor Christmas decorations—unretrieved from where he kept them stored on a shelf he’d built specifically for the purpose as he’d been waiting until closer to the holiday to purchase a tree. The small canvas tent and a rucksack he’d planned to use in .
Z. A. Maxfield | Secret Light 30 Chapter Four December 6, 1955 Rafe was brooding at his desk when Ash Gallagher knocked. He’d smoked an ashtray full of Dunhills and left his phone calls for later. An unattractive, unhealthy miasma hung like a fog in the air. When Gallagher opened the door, he waved his hand to disperse it. “Okay, what’s wrong?” “What?” “I haven’t seen you like this since the Fahey deal fell through. Is this work, or are you suffering from the oldest malady in the world?" “Prostitution?” Rafe shot Ash a half smile. “That’s the oldest profession. You catch the oldest malady; you don’t buy it. What happened with that little waitress from Cinnabar? Did she turn your head and give you the heave-ho?” “No, of course not.” “I get it. You’re a gentleman, so you don’t kiss and tell. But I heard you were so busy with her you didn’t notice someone burning your house down.” “My garage.” “So what gives?” “Nothing.” “I’ll bet. Well, come with me, anyway. I need to drink lunch—even if you don’t want to talk about what’s eating you.” .
Z. A. Maxfield | Secret Light 40 Chapter Five December 7, 1955 Some unexpected noise woke Rafe. Whatever it was roused Mooki too—and, given recent events, every muscle in his body tensed. He rose to sitting in the still darkness of his bedroom and listened. When he heard a soft tap at the back door, he froze. A fresh flood of adrenaline caused his muscles to tighten. Even Mooki froze. She scampered up onto his chest, quivering with fear. Instinct so old it had no name kept them both silent. No one ever came to his back door. They would have to walk up his drive, past his car and the hedges that secluded his house from the front, and up the back porch stairs. Even the milkman never came up his drive. While his imagination ran wild, Rafe peered out the window but saw nothing. There was no car parked outside. The half-moon cast enough light that he could move through his house without switching on the lights inside. He grabbed the Spazierstock— walking stick—he used when he walked Mooki, and with her slinking along at his heels, he headed for the service porch. There was definitely someone there. The lace curtains—hung there by the home’s previous owner—bore the silhouette of a large man. Standing to one side as if he were in some kind of gangster movie, Rafe twitched the curtains back and glanced cautiously out. At first he didn’t recognize his visitor’s profile, but then it became clear from the cropped, dark hair and chiseled face that Ben the cop, once again dressed in civilian clothing, was peering into his house and tapping lightly on the window glass. “Rafe?” came the whispered query. “It’s me.” .
Z. A. Maxfield | Secret Light 49 Chapter Six December 9, 1955 Rafe sat in his office, tapping a pen against his blotter, staring at the same yellow lead cards he’d been looking at all day. He had to get a cup of coffee and find his gumption, or the leads would still be sitting on his desk on Monday morning. Somewhere, in that stack of little yellow cards was the man to whom Rafe would make his next sale, and getting to it meant he was that much closer to closing the deal. What was wrong with him? Rafe could not allow his life’s momentum to come to a grinding halt at the first touch of a man’s lips on his. But what an astonishing kiss. Even now he could feel the delicate brush of Ben’s mouth against his, the scratchy upper lip, the whiskey-scented breath between them. Why had he done it? Why now? After a thousand opportunities with men and an equal number of come-ons from women, why had he given in to temptation with Ben— a police officer, of all people? Why? A tap at his office door caused him to glance up. Jack Gold’s head poked in, but the rest of his body dutifully remained outside until he was invited. “Jack. Come in.” Rafe backed away from his desk and indicated that Jack should take a seat. “How are Dorothy and the kids?” “Fine, just fine. That’s what I’m here about. You probably aren’t aware that tonight is the first night of Hanukkah.” .
Z. A. Maxfield | Secret Light 57 Chapter Seven December 10, 1955 Jack Gold and his family lived in a pleasant little suburban house near Inglewood High School. It was hard to find parking on the street, indicating that maybe there was more than one holiday party going on. Three houses down from the Gold place, someone was playing Bill Haley and the Comets, and teens were dancing in the driveway. He got Rachel’s and Karen’s presents from the trunk and headed up the path to the Golds’ front door with Mooki prancing along on her leash. As a general rule, Rafe wouldn’t bring a dog to a party, but the Golds were the exception. The girls had always loved Mooki, and Mrs. Gold herself was as dog crazy as he was. When Dorothy opened the door, the family’s schnauzer, Schatzi, made a play for Mooki, but she nipped his ear soundly and reminded him she was a lady. The two dogs scampered off to find the children and the inevitable treats that awaited them. Rafe shook hands with Jack and kissed Dorothy on both cheeks. Dorothy took the gifts he offered. “For the girls.” “You shouldn’t have, Rafe.” She held the presents up for Jack to see. “So pretty! Too pretty to unwrap.” Jack asked, “Did you get that listing you were after?” “I did.” Rafe grinned at him. He started to say more, but Jack interrupted. “I know. Nobody says no to Rafe.” Jack rolled his eyes. “Congratulations. Still, it would be nice if you’d leave at least some business for the rest of us.” “In future, I shall try to remember.” .
Z. A. Maxfield | Secret Light 64 Chapter Eight December 12, 1955 Ben rang the bell at the front door of Rafe’s place and was surprised when an elderly man answered, grinning through tobacco-stained teeth. “I’m Ed”—the man held out a hand for a no-nonsense handshake—“from next door. I’ve been helping out while Rafe gets his bearings. You here about the attack? Helluva thing. First the garage and now this. This used to be a nice neighborhood.” “I thought I’d follow up…” “That guy jumped Rafe right out from the bushes. Didn’t take anything or nothing.” “It seems to have been an unusual situation.” “Don’t I know it. I hope you catch the bastard.” Finally Ed backed up enough that Ben could see into the living room. He spotted Rafe in his wing chair, dozing with his feet up on a hassock. Ah, damn. Rafe’s arm was splinted and wrapped in a thick white dressing, and his face was so pale it was nearly gray. Dark shadows lay like smudges below his eyes. His cheeks looked hollow. Maybe it was the light that made him look lifeless, but all the same, it turned Ben’s stomach. Lashes, long as a showgirl’s but so light they were barely noticeable most of the time, fluttered open to reveal the startling, clear lake blue of Rafe’s eyes. Next to him, in what looked to be a bassinet of some kind, lay Mooki. She slept soundly, the center mass of her body wrapped in white bandages like some hairy Egyptian mummy. “Ben?” .
Z. A. Maxfield | Secret Light 75 Chapter Nine “What? No—” “If you only knew how long it’s been since I’ve felt like this.” Rafe’s heart thundered. He gripped Ben’s hand, intent on getting as much of the life-affirming touch as he could. “I—” Ben pulled back. “Stop. You’re all doped up.” “What of it?” “If I’m going to touch you, I want you willing. I want you participating.” “I am willing. I only need to know what to do.” How frustrating. Finally Rafe was willing and opportunity presented itself, but Ben apparently had scruples. Ben disengaged his hand gently but firmly. “Not like this. Not because you’re sky high and I’m available.” Rafe exhaled. He was a millisecond away from begging. “It seems I’ve embarrassed myself.” “Of course you haven’t. I just couldn’t stand it if you had regrets.” Ben clasped his hands together. “I don’t want a man who has to get drunk or take a pill to be with me.” Absurdly, tears clouded Rafe’s vision. He rubbed them away with the heel of his good hand. “You don’t understand.” “Then make me understand. Tell me who you are. Tell me what you want from me, because the last time we talked, it sure the hell wasn’t a hopped-up roll in the hay.” “No. It surely wasn’t.” Rafe’s head fell back onto the pillow. “Do you have any idea how exciting—how unbelievable—the idea of being with you is to me?” Ben rested his elbows on his knees and shrugged. “No.” .