The Tabasco Express rolled out of New Iberia, Louisiana like a sumo wrestler lugging a refrigerator but eventually gained downhill speed and choo-chooed straight into the spicy heart of Sherlock.

As a little girl, Sherlock nibbled raw bacon, ate corn from the can, stole sips from her Daddy's beer, and as soon as she could reach the table better, nabbed the hot sauce. Tabasco Pepper Sauce to be exact, made of the finest vinegar, red pepper and salt from the oh-so-saintly McIlhenny Company of the aforementioned New Iberia, Louisiana. The Mecca of hot stuff. Sherlock, to be sure, became hot stuff in more ways than one.

She ricocheted into adolescence, and as is often the case, adulthood, although she'd never admit it. Her appetite for food bordering on the flammable defined her. The mildest, blandest situations became sensation-tickling events. Applesauce-and-dry toast gatherings turned into Caligulan orgies as soon as she brushed the perimeter. A trip to the grocery store became the Indy 500 without pit stops. She once whipped a New Year's Eve party into a coastal sailboat cruise.

Bartenders looked upon her as a bonfire to be put out. No amount of beer, wine or liquor, however, could do it. Flown to new heights of thirst by nuclear chicken wings with extra hot sauce on the side, a platter groaning with fat, gleaming jalapenos as chasers, beer, one of the best fire extinguishers known to man for its egoless, buddhalike demeanor, became her second blood, her shadow, her sidekick, her hobo pal hopping a freight on the Tabasco Express. Her hair danced in the speeding wind.

Sherlock's hair, a deep golden yellow infused with the light of a thousand Caribbean sunrises, had been given to her by a mermaid in an earlier life. It threw people off who considered her yet another dense dumpling fraulein. Surely someone with such an affinity for heat would have bright auburn locks at least!! Sorry, bubs. The heat stayed inside. Little flames danced around her, and she could feel them. She yearned and sought intense life.

Just as her Tabasco Express always found new tracks down which to chug, so her Caribbean sunrise hair intimated a gentler, no less vivid side. She would stroll along the beach after an early Sunday morning round of Bloody Marys, fried eggs bleeding hot sauce, hash browns buried in black pepper and a few jalepenos for nibblets, flying her hair in the breeze, splashing the sea rushing up to say hello, hurling a shell back to its home and think. The sun rolled over in a gray blanket mailed from the north, but sweatered and shoeless Sherlock ambled warmly enough.

This would be the perfect day, she thought more often than she realized, if only I had a little baby to spend it with. To build sand castle cities with and play in the waves. To teach lessons learned too hard and to babble in the grocery line. To hold and laugh and feel something back.

Then she saw a mother teaching her son how to walk. What a great place to learn, she thought. That's what I'd do.

She sat far away, between some dunes, shy behind the sea oats and watched until the boy took his first steps, a beaming, laughing Frankenstein falling into his mother's arms.

Sherlock applauded in her hiding place, and from where she sat she gave the boy a hug.

She trudged over the sand and toward town, and later on she would meet some friends and not tell them everything about her day. It would be enough for them, she knew, as long as she turned up the flame.

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