Rating: 4 stars
Homeland Agent Pete Olivera is only on loan to the Evansville Police Department. Temporary assignments mean going in doing the job and getting out, no emotional entanglements needed or wanted. Then Officer Joseph West shoots a young boy in self defense and Olivera’s self isolation is compromised by his need to help Pete through the trauma he knows the young officer is going through. Olivera understands the crushing guilt and pain West is feeling because he has been there himself.
Olivera shows up on West’s doorstep and hauls Joe away to Olivera’s rustic cabin in an effect to help Joe comes to terms with the shooting. Peter’s empathy for Joe starts to turn into a deeper emotion that Joe returns, A single redemptive weekend has given the men a chance at a relationship and peace if only they will allow themselves to grab at it.
At 65 pages, Dawn Douglas gives us an intense glimpse into the traumatic beginnings of a relationship between two men working in law enforcement. One, Pete Olivera, is a hardened experienced agent. Olivera rose out of the Hispanic ghettos of Los Angeles, served in Afghanistan before returning to the States and working in Homeland Security. A solitary man by choice, he is still able to recognize the depths of Joe’s pain and want to help. Joseph West is younger with less experience and time on the force. He has coached baseball teams made up of troubled kids and dreamed of working in the Gang unit of the Evansville PD. When the youth he shoots in self defense turns out to be someone he once coached, the pain and guilt is trebled and he crumbles. Dawn Douglas makes it all feel so real. The portraits she paints of these two men are undeniably some of the most realistic short story characterizations I have read. Joseph West’s pain is palpable and you can feel the weary wisdom that experience has given Pete Olivera. The cabin is the perfect location for West’s intervention and the descriptions of the rustic setting add the right amount of isolation and peace necessary for it to work. The author gives us real men, the situation is one we read about daily in the papers, and makes their shared pain that brings them together understandable and easy to empathize with.
Douglas gets all the details right, including Pete’s remote cabin where he goes for peace and quiet whenever possible. With every moment the men and Joe’s dog, Jack, share out in the woods they allow themselves to open up to each other and the possibility of a continuing relationship. Every hesitant step forward is so beautifully portrayed and always in keeping with the established personas. No instant love, no overly romantic prose between the men, just authentic dialog and small moments that keep adding up page after page until we reach a totally satisfactory and believable end. I kept flipping back and going over certain sections, admiring how the author brought character and scene together in a great cohesive portrait of pain and quilt absolved, if only temporarily.
This was the first story I have read by Douglas. I am going to immediately seek out more. I admire and recommend One Day At A Time and can’t wait to see what she will do next.
Cover: LC Chase is the artist for this remarkable cover. The naked torsos are offset by the lovely painting of the cabin at the bottom of the cover. Everything is just right. Great job.