Jacob stepped of the train onto the platform of the Temecula Valley Station, which was situated east of Interstate 15 and north of the I-215 merge. The mottled green Santa Ana Mountains, covered with greasewood and manzanita and scrub oak ran parallel to the interstate less than two miles to the west. Mount San Jacinto dominated the eastern horizon. Its snow-capped peak soared over 10,000 feet into the noonday sky; even though it was thirty miles away, its presence loomed over the valley. As he surveyed the panorama of the Temecula Valley stretching out under the azure dome of a cirrus painted sky he felt as if he had come home and been tucked into a vast nest of a loving mother bird.
Palomar Mountain rose to the southeast. He could see the observatory nestled in the wooded ridge east from the peak; it looked like an aspirin set in an ocean of evergreen. The Hale Telescope housed in the Palomar Mountain Observatory was a scientific treasure. For nearly fifty years after its construction in the late 1940’s, its 200-inch lens was the largest and most important astronomical instrument in the world. He marveled at how men had learned to pull the vastness of the heavens down to the earth from so small an implement. The diminutive size of the scope was nothing compared with the boundless stretches of the universe, yet through its lens a man could lose himself in the starry expanse of .
“Doxology,” Jacob whispered to himself.
“What was that?” asked Daniel.
“Nothing, just remembering something Malachi told me a long time ago.”
As the two men gathered their luggage, a slender, energetic woman dressed in blue jeans and a white t-shirt with black hair streaked with silver bounded toward them from behind, her work boots clopping on the wooden planks of the platform. She placed her hands over Daniel’s glasses and let out a throaty, seductive “guess who?” before kissing his cheek.
“Jacob, don’t tell my wife about this, but I asked my girlfriend to come pick us up.”
Jacob shook his head, laughing lightly, “How are you Mrs. DeVaux?”
She smiled and winked at him with her gray eyes, sharp as surgical steel, yet somehow still playful, “You’re not twelve anymore, just call me Tina,” she said, “Anyway, it’s been a long time since the last time I’ve seen you and you’ve gone and got all grown up. Now get over here and give me a hug, young man.”
Jacob hugged her as she patted him on the back, “It’s good to see you again,” he said.
She said, “C’mon, lets head over to the truck and you boys can tell me all about your trip.”
They made their way off the platform over to Tina’s 1984 Chevy diesel pickup. The old patchwork beater had a brown bed, powder blue doors and quarter panels and a primer gray hood. She mainly used it to navigate the acreage of their vineyard, Chateau Raconteur. The old truck ran on biodiesel Daniel made from the grease-traps at St. Jude’s Tavern.
After they loaded their belongings in the bed of the truck, Daniel asked, “Did you want me to drive?”
“If this is your crafty ploy to not have to sit in the middle, nice try,” she said.
“I can see who still wears the pants in this relationship,” Jacob interjected.
“You don’t know the half of it, Jacob,” said Daniel playfully, “If she wasn’t so busy operating the vineyard, she’d probably be mayor of Chaparral, since she practically runs the town anyway, so it’s not just me she’s the boss of.”
Tina remained every bit the force of nature that Jacob remembered and Daniel so loved. As the matriarch of the DeVaux family, she raised two daughters, passing on her strength and verve to them. Julian and Mak were also pillars in Chaparral. Julian was married to the Pastor of Ascension Presbyterian, Karl Torrance, and Mak ran St. Jude’s Tavern for Daniel. Tina and Daniel had taken the inheritance money Daniel received from his father and purchased property on the southern end of Rancho Pauba. She had taken a failing old horse ranch and turned it into a winery and resort that was worth over a hundred million dollars. Chateau Raconteur was a jewel in the Temecula Valley Wine Country, and a destination for residents of San Diego and Orange County who wanted to escape the crowded cities to taste the valley’s fine wines and forget their cares, if only for a while. Tina had taken this calling on with tenacity and joy, feeling that her patrons needed a place of refuge and beauty, even as the world outside Chaparral seemed gripped by madness.
The three of them drove down Jefferson Avenue through Old Town Temecula discussing the cross-country trip. Daniel waxed poetic about the Rocky Mountains, and told Tina how they needed to take some time away in Sedona, which was along the new tracks that ran from Salt Lake City to Phoenix. While Daniel talked on about the sights and scenes from the trip, Tina turned on Temecula Parkway to make her way out toward Highway 79. Jacob had a hard time recalling anything other than a few poignant conversations with Daniel that interrupted nearly three days of drinking to try to drown out the echoes of war and the constant chattering of train tracks. so he drank. However, somewhere in the midst of his efforts to cope, he had managed to slow his drinking the day before arriving in Chaparral, and as Tina took a left off of the highway onto Pauba Road, Jacob noticed that he was no longer in the grips of the vicious hangover that had plagued him over the past twenty-four hours.
The beat-up old Chevy made its way up the winding driveway off of Pauba Road to the DeVaux Villa. It was a beautiful Spanish ranch-style home tucked into the shadow of a north-facing ridge in the Black Hills, the small range in the southern end of the Valley. Its white stucco walls were accented by climbing bougainvillea plants, and its roof was covered in red terra cotta tiles. About fifty yards east of the house was a similarly structured garage adjoined by a small stable that housed the DeVaux’s horses. The chapel that stood adjacent to the villa was situated between three Engelmann oak trees on the far western edge of the property where the ridge curved in toward the road. Jacob stayed by the chapel while Daniel and Tina took Daniel’s bags into their home. He peered eastward where acres and acres of grapevines sprawled along between the ridge and the road.
“This is quite the place.” Jacob said to Daniel, as he walked down the flagstone path from the villa to the chapel, “How’d you manage to swing this on a professor’s salary?”
“Ha,” said Daniel, “Well, I would have had to work a few hundred years as a professor to afford a place like this. We purchased this property with the inheritance money we received after my father passed away. He was an executive for Michelin Tires and had amassed a small fortune in his lifetime.”
“I guess it doesn’t hurt to have rich parents.”
“Certainly not,” said Daniel, “We’ve tried to put it to good use. Anyhow, what do you say we head into town. I have some business to tend to at the tavern before things get busy this evening at St. Jude’s. We have a condo there for you above the general store across the street from the Tavern, and I am sure you’d like to get situated.”
“Sounds good to me. I’d like to get settled in before I start work on Monday.”
Daniel chimed in, “Oh, I forgot, every Friday night at nine o’clock I have a round table gathering with a few friends from the area, and some that come in from time-to-time out of San Diego. You’re free to join us; the conversation usually gets pretty lively.”
“Count me in,” said Jacob.
While they could have walked the mile or so into Chaparral, Jacob still had his luggage in the truck, so they drove into town. Chaparral was a small village off of Pauba Road, it occupied a small alluvial plain between ridges in the Black Hills where Temecula Creek once ran before it was dammed further up the canyon at Vail Lake. The valley ran north to south just under a mile before widening. While it was once bare, it was now full of Valencia orange trees that flanked the town. Chaparral’s Main Street ran a mere fifteen hundred yards off of Oak Mountain Road between the two ridges, which terminated into Vail Avenue on the west end of the valley, where a large oxidized ferrous rock escarpment rose into the hill above.
St. Jude’s Tavern and City Hall were on Vail Avenue in the shadow of the crimson rock cliffs. Two- and three-story buildings ran along Main Street, which were comprised of storefronts and businesses on the street level, with residential housing on the levels above. All of the buildings of Chaparral were made of the same reinforced adobe, smoothly plastered over with an earthen hue of tan stucco. The roofs of the buildings were polished copper that gleamed in the afternoon sun. Two churches that architecturally complimented the other buildings, Ascension Presbyterian and Resurrection Baptist, were in the town as well. Ascension was on the south end of Vail Avenue further up the valley behind the Main Street shops and condos. Resurrection was on the north end of Vail Street. St. Jude’s Tavern was on Vail Avenue where Main Street ended. It was a large two-story building that was connected to Chaparral’s City Hall on its north wall. City Hall was three stories high and capped with a patina copper dome that stood in distinction from the polished copper roofing that adorned the rest of the .
It was clear to Jacob that a good deal of thought and planning had gone into the construction of Chaparral. Ash trees lined the streets, and would one day create a tunneled canopy over them. The streetlights were enameled black cast iron that housed three round globed lights that would emit a soft yellow hue that minimized light pollution for the Palomar Observatory at night. The streets themselves were paved with cobblestone, and the sidewalks were made of stamped concrete. town was a return to the sort of public spaces that were lost in America in the age of suburban blight, big-box retail stores, and strip malls. There was a steady stream of foot traffic on the broad sidewalks, where restaurant patios extended, and storefronts with large paned windows invited the public in. His condo was on the southwest corner of Main and Vail on the third story that looked across the street toward St. Jude’s. Daniel parallel parked on the corner, and helped Jacob unload, instructing him to swing by the Tavern anytime, but that he’d be available sometime after eight o’clock that evening.
It took two trips to unload all of Jacob’s belongings into his small, one-bedroom apartment. Fortunately for him, it was already furnished. He spent the better part of the afternoon unpacking and then spent the evening walking around Chaparral. He enjoyed an excellent plate of tamales and enchiladas at Sanchez Cucina, and passed his time in the various shops along Main Street before making his way to St. Jude’s Tavern just before eight that night.
A strange half-remembered feeling crept over Jacob as he approached the Tavern. The large, diagonally-paned window next to the entrance was emblazoned with a sizeable stained glass of a boat sailing upon a blue sea with the emblem of a halberd and a carpenter’s square on its unfurled sail at its center. The warm light of the crowded bar out into the cool night like an invitation. The imposing, rough oak door, with a black twisted iron handle and large iron bands binding its planks together stood as a stark contradiction to the inviting window. But, it was the sign above the door that marked the entrance that set St. Jude’s apart from ordinary taverns. It was made of similar rough, stained oak as the door. The haunting script looked as if it was burned into the wood, just as it would burn into the minds of any who braved the entrance. The sign read:
THE DAMNED MAY ENTER