In La Graciosa, ten miles from the sea, the most luminous summer evening can still suggest winter's chill. The central plaza's park benches, its bear statue, the winding creek, even the asistencia itself can abruptly vanish behind a low, thick wall of fog. Cars crawl then, blinking futile headlights. Pedestrians step with care, searching for familiar landmarks. Muffled voices blend with the smell of kelp. Invisible feet crunch on gravel. "Goddamn, Jimmy, you know where we're going?" Douglas Bard, Chumash County sheriff's detective, peered into the mist. "Of course I do," promised Jimmy O'Brien, editor of La Graciosa's News-Times. "I can find my way to JB's blindfolded." "Just what I'd expect of a journalist. No doubt you've memorized each step from the newspaper to the tavern?" "That would require far too much concentration. I'm just following the smell of whiskey." "All I smell is seawater." "Jesus, Doug, how can you be a detective if you can't find your way to JB's?" In truth, Doug Bard could find his way anywhere, for he held in his mind an intricate image of Chumash County. When all else failed, this mental map guided him through the densest fog. He savored La Graciosa's misty insulation. To him, it felt like the protective embrace of home. "That's why I need you, Jimmy. You're better than a guide dog. Without you I couldn't" A burst of static from Bard's two-way radio interrupted him. At first he heard only a crackly electronic hiss. Then a distant voice. Jake Baum, the sheriff's dispatcher. Trouble at Ollie Merta's house . . . not sure what's up . . . urgent open call . . . Whoever's listening, get on out there . . . need all the help we can get tonight . . . Repeat, this is urgent . . . "Ollie Merta?" Jimmy frowned. He knew Merta as a kindly if peculiar old man. Not someone to have trouble at his house. "What's that about?" "I don't want to know," Doug said. "I'm off duty." "As are all your colleagues." Jimmy had a point. It was early Sunday evening, so there were only two deputies working. Likely, one would be trying to resolve another of the Clackhorns' sorry domestic disputes, while the other would be in bed with the Foghorn's barmaid, his radio turned off. Bard gazed in the direction of JB's, then turned and started for his car. "Okay Jimmy, you win. Hold a stool for me at JB's, I'll be there just as soon as I can." "What do you mean, hold a stool? I'm coming with you." "Why bother?" Bard asked. "Haven't you already closed tomorrow's paper?" "I can reopen it if I want. That's the awesome power of a small-town newspaper editor." Ollie Merta's home, ten miles from La Graciosa's central plaza, sat by itself in a tranquil, oak-thick dell framed by the eastern foothills of Chumash County. Bard kept his foot heavy on the accelerator despite the fog. Heading down a twisting country lane, he and Jimmy could see a pink glow in the distance. Black smoke began to fill the sky as they closed on the house. Rolling around a final bend, they found three county fire trucks and four sheriff's patrol cars, their blinking red lights piercing the mist. A dozen men milled about while radios screeSiegel, Barry is the author of 'Lines of Defense' with ISBN 9780345438218 and ISBN 0345438213.