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Ron Hutchison began writing fiction full time at the age of 66 after a long career in journalism and public relations. An Op-Ed writer for The Joplin Globe, he holds strong opinions on today’s polarized America:

“Discuss any social issue and you will hear as many voices from the left as you will hear from the right. The country appears evenly split between progressives and conservatives, and these debates, much like the debate over slavery 150 years ago, are reaching critical mass. There seems to be little compromise on the important social issues facing us.

“To think the United States is immune from geographic division is arrogant. The breakup of the Soviet Union was caused in large part by economic factors. The country simply went broke, and given our mounting debt in the United States, the same thing could happen here.”


The 38th latitude divides the United States roughly in half. After decades of blistering partisan debate over immigration, gay rights, euthanasia, gun control, capital punishment, school prayer, same-sex marriage, and on the brink of total anarchy following three bloody nationwide riots over pro-choice, the United States is forced to split itself into separate north and south republics along the 38th latitude.

LATITUDE 38 is a cautionary tale of love, peril, and one woman’s quest to die with dignity. Diego and Adriana Sanchez are deeply in love and their world is shattered when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. They live south of the 38th where terminal patients are given only placebos to fight excruciating pain. Their sole option is to flee to the north where euthanasia is mercifully encouraged. LATITUDE 38 is the story of Diego and Adriana’s enduring love and their courageous journey in search of dignity and humanity as a small group of “tourists” attempts to secretly cross the heavily guarded border in a cruel, dogmatic, and violent world.

LATITUDE 38 is Ron Hutchison’s second novel, and to help set the stage, we include a brief excerpt of this riveting, yet most human story.





Ron Hutchison

Copyright © 2010 by Ron Hutchison
All Rights Reserved



It began its cross-country pilgrimage on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean not far from Maryland’s George Island Landing. Continuing west across the southern tip of Maryland, it forded the Intracoastal Waterway and extended into Virginia, climbing the Appalachian Mountains.

The ghostly line next crossed the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, and then jumped the Tug Fork River into Kentucky on a route south of Louisville. Cutting a narrow swath through Indiana, north of Evansville, it knifed into Illinois, then hopscotched the Mississippi River into Missouri. Spanning the Show-Me State on a path that ran a few miles north of the Mark Twain National Park, it continued west, traversing the sprawling Kansas prairie.

In Colorado, the dead-straight span ascended the Continental Divide, passing like a phantom through the shadow of 14,014-foot San Luis Peak. From there it slithered into Utah, across the barren wastelands of Nevada, and up and over the Sierras, ending its 12-state odyssey at the Pacific Ocean 35 miles northwest of San Francisco beneath the sun-kissed sky of Point Reyes, California.



Diego and his wife returned to their Baker Street apartment that afternoon. They hadn’t spoken a dozen words to one another during the half-hour drive home. Diego had thought of any number of things to say—small talk mostly—but idle chitchat seemed meaningless. The word terminal had sucked the life out of them.

Diego parked in the small private lot behind their apartment building, and he and Adriana walked up the steps to their second-floor flat. They had climbed those stairs hundreds of times, but today they seemed steeper. Diego found the business card wedged into their apartment door.

Detective Duke Cunningham

San Francisco National Police

Homicide Division

It was bad timing. No, it was worse than bad, and Diego wondered what other terrible news was headed his way. It always came in threes, right?

“Why would a homicide detective be leaving his business card?” Adriana asked. Her voice seemed raspier.

Ron Hutchison

“I have no idea,” Diego said. A phone number was printed at the bottom of the card.

They went inside and Adriana immediately opened the packet of ten Z patches that Dr. Chiapas had given her. She applied one to her right forearm. Diego stepped into the kitchen and prepared an antioxidant-rich beverage of blueberries and kale, and while Adriana relaxed on the sofa with her drink and the August issue of Archaeology Today, he called the number Dr. Chiapas had hastily scribbled on the palm of his hand.

It was a crazy voicemail. Thinking he had dialed the wrong number, Diego hung up and placed the call again. No, it was the right number—it was just a freaky message. A man’s husky voice said: “You’ve reached A and C Adventure Tours. If you’re interested in the next cross-country junket, meet with the tour leader at our store, located on Fisherman’s Wharf, on Wednesday, August the fourth, at nine p.m. Our next tour leaves in three days. The cost is $40,000 per person. Bring cash.”

Diego hung up and made some notes. Forty thousand dollars seemed a small price to pay to insure that Adriana receive a smooth, pain-free ride on what Dr. Chiapas had euphemistically labeled “the next bus to heaven.”

Diego joined his wife on the sofa. “Anything new in the world of archaeology I should know about?”

“Something about Paleolithic people gathering wild grasses.” She gave a wan smile and laid the magazine aside. “I’m afraid my train of thought is a bit jumbled. Any luck with your phone call?”

“Voicemail. Sort of strange,” Diego said.

“How was it strange?”

“Just…strange. We’re to meet a man Wednesday night at Fisherman’s Wharf.” Diego let out an anxious sigh. “Are you sure this is what we should do, Adriana? I don’t think this little escapade will be a walk in the park.” Thinking about all the risks caused a fist to clench in his stomach.

PNN’s News at Six often led with another harrowing story of someone killed or apprehended trying to cross the 38th latitude. It was government propaganda bullshit—Diego was savvy enough to recognize the lame attempt at brainwashing—but at some level in his mind the Pavlovian conditioning had worked.

“Adrianna, are you sure this is what—”

“I heard you the first time, Diego. Just trying to sort through everything.”


“And…I’ve never felt more certain about anything in my life,” Adriana said. “It’s just that we have so much…so much on our plate.” Then, as if remembering something, she smiled.



“You,” she said.


“I’ve never seen you glare, but you were actually glaring at Dr. Chiapas today.”

“Hey, I can glare with the best of them,” he said, studying her face. “How’s the pain? The patch working?”

“Yes, it’s working. Boy, is it working.”

“A real buzz, eh?”

“I’m halfway to La-La Land.” She rolled her head. “Neck’s still a bit stiff.”

“But no pain?”

“Not much,” Adriana said quietly, the brightness leaving her face, her eyes welling.

Diego understood his wife’s sudden heartache and he wrapped her in his arms. Adriana hadn’t shed a single tear when the cancer had made its debut performance four years earlier; instead, she had accepted her bad luck and made plans to change it. Nor had she allowed the melancholy to stir her emotions two years later when Dr. Chiapas told them the cancer had returned for what everyone believed would be a final engagement. But now it was back for one last curtain call. Now it was terminal—the tissue in her throat and neck could not withstand another round of radiation treatments and chemo alone wouldn’t kill the cancer—and Adriana lowered her head and wept quietly in her husband’s embrace.

“Go ahead and let it out,” he whispered, his heart breaking into little pieces.

“I’m not...not crying for myself,” Adriana sobbed. “I’m not afraid to die, sweetie.” She raised her head and looked at him with red, moist eyes. “Honestly, I’ve made my peace with God and I’m not afraid.”

“You are one tough little lady.” He had a lump the size of a softball in his throat. He tried to swallow it away, but couldn’t.

“I’m crying for you. I worry that—”

“Adriana, I’ll be fine…honestly.” It sounded trite, but it was the best he could do. He brushed away the tears from her toast-brown face with the back of his hand. “Have I told you today how much I love you?”

Adriana stifled a sob. “No, and I’ve missed hearing it.”

“I do, you know. Wildly, crazily, madly in love.” He stared into her big dark eyes. They were filled with a tangled mishmash of pain and fear and uncertainty.

“You wouldn’t kid a girl, would you?”

He shook his head. “Not a chance.”

In a voice that sounded delighted but tired, Adriana said, “Then you’ll have to prove it, Mr. Sanchez.”

Diego leaned in toward her, finding her mouth with his own. He kissed her passionately, and then pulled away with a devilish smile. “You scientists are all alike. You always want proof.”


Then Diego made love to his wife on the sofa.




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