On my office wall the thermometer’s mercury was bubbling up like a geyser and this gumshoe’s throat was as dry as the Santa Cruz in June. I headed outside my downtown office and after a Tucson minute the noonday sun had bullied me into the Hotel Congress Tap Room for a little neon and Corona.
Summer was back in town and I’d been expecting him. The signs were all around. The golden palo verde blossoms had fallen like snow and turned to dust. My steering wheel was a branding iron under my mitts. The Catalinas had been bleached a pale blue.
The street sizzled under each footstep as my favorite season approached. When Summer pulled open the saloon door, the bartender hissed at the invading light like a cockroach. “Close that door. You’ll kill the vampires in here.”
A Western sunslinger with dust devils circling his boots and a tumbleweed for hair, Summer radiated the kind of warmth that barbecued buzzards. Clenching an unlit match in his teeth, he nodded, turned to drop two-bits in the jukebox, pressed A-1 for “Dusty Chaps” and jangled his spurs over to the bar, the diminutive dust devils at his feet spinning to his favorite tune.
It’s a hundred and ten in Gila Bend,
in Buckeye it’s a hundred and two,
summer’s here and I just can’t find
a way to stop loving you....
“Where you been?”
“Cooling off in Hell.” His dark shades rested on a sun-fried nose as red as a lobster’s backside.
“You just missed Spring.” Summer winced and loosened his cow-skull bolo tie. She hates him for what he does to her wildflowers in June. I changed the subject. “So, uh ... what are you up to today?”
“Warming the hearts of rattlesnakes and frying eggs on your sidewalks. Mostly, I’m blasting the last snowbirds out of your God-forsaken town.” He sucked in a mouthful of air and looking like a crimson blowfish with stubble, he bent down to the counter and blew my cocktail napkin off the bar with a dismissive “fuff” of hot wind. “I’m God’s leaf blower.”
Cackling like a raven he lifted his shades, turning on his stool to check out the patrons.
“I see the usual desert rats, burn-outs and sun worshippers are here. What? No snowbirds?”
He grinned and turned to the barkeep. ”Shot of Tequila. No ice. I hate ice.”
I loosened my tie. “Isn’t the black duster a little much?”
“Me and Marilyn Monroe both like it hot.”
I kept grilling Summer. “Nice T-shirt. What’s it say?”
“But, it’s a dry heat.”
“Never heard that before. What’s new?”
“Wildfires, my little briquet. Tell Utah to fetch some marshmallows, New Mexico to bring S’mores.”
Next to me, Padre Kino, a former-priest-turned-roofer-turned-shot-glass-theologian ordered a chalice of his favorite Holy Water.
“Who’s your friend?”
Summer smiled at Kino, pulled a buzzing black cicada from his pocket and, over the deafening buzz, shouted, “My calling card, Padre! Summer’s the name.” He returned the protesting monster to his pocket and slapped the startled old man on the back.
“Your coming has been foretold by Erin Christiansen, my son. Thou hast come to cleanse our valley of the fair weather infidels. Bless you, my boy.”
I added, “Welcome to our Parish of the Parched. ”
“Shh! Listen! Hear that?” Summer was transfixed.
“Hear what?” I said. “I can’t hear a thing thanks to your locust ringing in my ears.”
“The squeaky fans rolling in thousands of swamp boxes all over Tucson. That’s the sweetest siesta lullaby you’ll ever hear. I love that sound. Listen closer and you can hear the sound of water trickling — drip, drip, dripping down onto thousands of straw cooler pads. Sounds just like summer rain echoing in a tin can.”
“Whatever,“ I said. “The rust bucket on my roof stinks like a fish tank. I got to change the pads.”
“Do it when the sun’s going down.” He walked over to the jukebox and kicked it into compliance. “This one’s for you desert rats.”
summer in the city,
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty,
Been down, isn’t it a pity?
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city....
Summer put his arm around me. The heat felt good. Like bathing in sunshine, like a solar massage. His breath was hotter than a Gila Bend sidewalk in July. “Love to chatter like a pair of cactus wrens, sunshine, but I got to go. It’s time for me to turn Speedway into molten lava and suck the life out of prickly pears. Remember, wear sunscreen.”
The dust devils followed him out the door. I could hear the sidewalks rolling up behind him.