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Officer Jim Chee was thinking that either his right front tire was a little low or there was something wrong with the shock on that side. On the other hand, maybe the road grader operator hadn't been watching the adjustment on his blade and he'd tilted the road. Whatever the cause, Chee's patrol car was pulling just a little to the right. He made the required correction, frowning. He was dog-tired.
The radio speaker made an uncertain noise, then produced the voice of Officer Delbert Nez."...running on fumes. I'm going to have to buy some of that high-cost Red Rock gasoline or walk home."
"If you do, I advise paying for it out of your pocket," Chee said. "Better than explaining to the captain why you forgot to fill it up."
"I think..." Nez said and then the voice faded out.
"Your signal's breaking up," Chee said. "I don't read you." Nez was using Unit 44, a notorious gas hog. Something wrong with the fuel pump, maybe. It was always in the shop and nobody ever quite fixed it.
Silence. Static. Silence. The steering seemed to be better now. Probably not a low tire. Probably...And then the radio intruded again.
"...'catch the son-of-a-bitch with the smoking paint gun in his hand," Nez was saying. "I'll bet then..." The Nez voice vanished, replaced by silence.
"I'm not reading you," Chee said into his mike. "You're breaking up."
Which wasn't unusual. There were a dozen places on the twenty-five thousand square miles the Navajos called the Big Rez where radio transmission was blocked for avariety of reasons. Here between the monolithic volcanic towers of Ship Rock, the Carrizo Range, and the Chuska Mountains was just one of them. Chee presumed these radio blind spots were caused by the mountains but there were other theories. Deputy Sheriff Cowboy Dashee insisted that it had something to do with magnetism in the old volcanic necks that stuck up here and there, like great black cathedrals. Old Thomasina Bigthumb had told him once that she thought witches caused the problem. True, this part of the Reservation was notorious for witches, but it was also true that Old Lady Bigthumb blamed witches for just about everything.
Then Chee heard Delbert Nez again. The voice was very faint at first. his car," Delbert was saying. (Or was it his truck"? Or his pickup"? Exactly, precisely, what had Delbert Nez; said?) Suddenly the transmission became clearer, the sound of Delbert's delighted laughter. "I'm gonna get him this time," Delbert Nez said.
Chee picked up the mike. "Who are you getting?" he said. "Do you need assistance?"
"My phantom painter," Nez seemed to say. At least it sounded like that. The reception was going sour again, fading, breaking up into static.
"Can't read you," Chee said. "You need assistance?"
Through the fade-out, through the static, Nez seemed to say "No." Again, laughter.
"I'll see you at Red Rock then," Chee said. "It's your turn to buy."
There was no -response to that at all, except static, and none was needed. Nez worked up U.S. 666 out of the Navajo Tribal Police headquarters at Window Rock, covering from Yah-Ta-Hey northward. Chee patrolled down 666 from the Ship Rock subagency police station, and when they met they had coffee and talked. Having it this evening at the service station post office grocery store at Red Rock had been decided earlier, and it was upon Red Rock that they were converging. Chee was driving down the dirt road that wandered back and forth across the Arizona New Mexico border southward from Biklabito. Nez was driving westward from 666 on the asphalt of Navajo Route 33. Nez, having pavement, would have been maybe fifteen minutes early. But now he seemed to have an arrest to make. That would even things up.
There was lightning in the cloud over the Chuskas now, and Chee's patrol car had stopped pulling to the right and was pulling to the left. Probably not a tire, he thought. Probably the road grader operator had noticed his maladjusted blade and overcorrected. At least it wasn't the usual washboard effect that pounded your kidneys.
It was twilight twilight induced early by the impending thunderstorm when Chee pulled his patrol car off the dirt and onto the pavement of Route 33. No sign of Nez. In fact, no sign of any headlights, just the remains of what had been a blazing red sunset. Chee pulled past the gasoline pumps at the Red Rock station and parked behind the trading post. No Unit 44 police car where Nez usually parked it. He inspected his front tires, which seemed fine. Then he looked around. Three pickups and a blue Chevy sedan. The sedan belonged to the new evening clerk at the trading post. Good-looking girl, but he couldn't come up with her name. Where was Nez? Maybe he actually had caught his paint-spraying vandal. Maybe the fuel pump on old 44 had died.
No Nez inside either. Chee nodded to the girl reading behind the cash register. She rewarded him with a shy smile. What was her name? Sheila? Suzy? Something like that. She was a Towering House Dineh, and therefore in no way linked to Chee's own Slow Talking Clan. Chee remembered that. It was the automatic checkoff any single young Navajo conducts male or female making sure the one who attracted you wasn't a sister, or cousin, or niece in the tribe's comp, lex clan system, and thereby rendered taboo by incest rules.
The glass coffee-maker pot was two-thirds full, usually a good sign, and it smelled fresh. He picked up a fifty-cent-size Styrofoam cup, poured it full, and sipped. Good, he thought. He picked out a package containing two chocolate-frosted Twinkies. They'd go well with the coffee.Coyote Waits. Copyright © by Tony Hillerman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.