Frantic barking yanked me from sleep at two o’clock in the morning on the last day of January.
Sitting up, I shoved blonde hair off my forehead and yanked at the hem of my skimpy red cotton nightie. I was five-feet-nine and I didn’t want to meet trouble with a bare ass.
The Air Force sergeant I dated when he was in-country had given me the nightie for Christmas.
Rudolph leered from my chest and the script below asked, “Want to play any reindeer games?”
The only nightie I owned, I wore it when I slept alone.
I was in Central America and the equator was only a thousand miles south of me. The temperature was a balmy seventy-two degrees.
I’d turned the metal handle in my floor-to-ceiling bedroom window to tilt the horizontal slats open.
The German shepherd’s howls came through loud and clear.
The dog was part of the rental package for the three-story house. While I slept, she patrolled the walled-and-gated grounds.
Yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday. I’d spent the afternoon at the home of the embassy’s rowdy assistant defense attaché. We drank local pilsner and listened to a shortwave broadcast of the game.
The Redskins beat the Dolphins and claimed the 1982 championship. We cracked more brews in celebration and belted out repeat choruses of Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.”
I’d been wasted when I got home and I’d slept soundly.
Till the dog barked.
Her voice kicked my heartbeat into double time.
Beneath the thin cotton, my body temperature rose while my fingertips grew icy.
Dried leaves skittered across the bricks of the terrace beyond the window.
I inhaled a gingery scent like florists spray on hothouse carnations. The odor came from spiky blood-red tropical flowers blooming in my yard.
My dog snarled.
She hadn’t fine-tuned her alarm system.
I didn’t know if she was angry with an innocent passerby who’d lingered on the concrete sidewalk to peer through my gate’s iron bars at the well-tended lawn and garden.
Or if the dog was baying at a Communist insurgent who’d made it over my wall, intent on taking a hostage.
He could be breaking into my house while I huddled under the sheet.
My top floor bedroom was twenty-feet-square, furnished with a double mattress and box spring on a wheeled metal frame.
The embassy thoughtfully supplied an American-sized bed so I could sleep on my own US-made linens.
I’d bought this set in a late-night fit of comfort shopping via the Spiegel catalog. They were pale yellow and monogrammed KC, my initials and my nickname, Casey.
Fresh, they smelled of laundry detergent and sunshine.
My Salvadoran landlord had provided the pine bedside table.
I didn’t switch on the reading lamp. The light shining through my window was brighter than moonbeams.
Security lamps lined the driveway that ran from the street in front of my property, alongside my side wall, to the larger estate beyond my rear wall.
The neighbor’s motion-triggered lights must be on.
Metal clanked as the heavy electrified gate at the estate end of his driveway slid open. A motor whirred.
I pictured the neighbor’s squat beige security vehicle rolling toward the matching gate at the street. Three out of four window openings bristling with rifles.
Were they hunting an intruder?
I tasted copper pennies, cheap metallic fear.
Sliding open the drawer in the bedside table, my fingers found the checkered laminated wood grip of the revolver.
The day I brought it home was when I stopped sleeping in the nude.
Gun in hand, I slipped out of bed. The marble floor tiles cooled my bare feet. I opened the bedroom door and stepped into the dark sitting room.
Fronds rustled on the palm tree rooted in the indoor garden at the center of the house. It rose three stories and extended through an opening in the roof.
I padded across the carpet to the iron railing that marked where the floor ended and the atrium began.
The railing continued down the broad staircase that led to the dining and kitchen level.