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By Brian Garfield
A MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1972 Brian Garfield
All rights reserved.
This stretch always tempted the drivers who had Le Mans fixations: it came down off the mountain like a ski slope and two-laned straight out across the twenty-mile flat below.
It was a Friday forenoon at the dying end of October. The aspen forest had turned gold. Watchman and Stevens lay in wait in the Roadside Rest Area, parked under the trees. There wasn't a billboard to hide behind but the ritual was the same. Under the molten brass sun the shadows were black and had sharp edges; drivers barreling down the highway wouldn't spot the cruiser until it had them nailed.
Downstate on more populous roads you could poke along five miles under the limit and gather a clot of traffic tamed and intimidated by the presence of your Highway Patrol car, and it would create a chain wave of caution that would slow them down for miles ahead and behind. But up in this corner of Arizona you seldom got more than one car in half an hour and the strategy of Visible Presence didn't work. They had put Watchman and the rookie on this beat four months ago and it had been easy to size up: State Highway 793 was the only through route in the district but it was wide open for a hundred and fifty miles. Watchman had planted the word with gas stations and cafés from the mountains to the Nevada line and now the tourists were getting the warnings: You want to watch out, there's a cop car posted somewheres between here and the Nevada border—speed trap, watch your step. Up here they didn't assign a ticket quota and Watchman didn't care about writing up violations but back in August a Cadillac going down this stretch at a hundred and five had dropped a tie rod and they had spent two hours with a blowtorch scraping the remains of the five passengers out of the wreckage. Now the word had spread and the road had been tamed, except for the occasional drunk and a few hot-rod tourists on their way to Las Vegas who hadn't got the word.
Trooper Stevens shook up his bottle of root beer and spouted foam into his mouth from six inches away. "This sucks. I've had more fun watching TV test patterns."
"Possibly you'd rather work for a living?"
"Typical lazy Inyun remark."
Watchman gave him a pained look. "For you I pay taxes?"
"Join the Highway Patrol, see the world. Glamour, excitement, thrills!"
Sam Watchman slid down in the driver's seat until he was sitting on the back of his neck and his knees butted the steering column. He cupped a brown hand around the back of his neck and reared his head back lazily. He hadn't expected to like working with the rookie—he'd never had a partner before—but it was working out. What Buck Stevens didn't know about the job could fill a thick manual but he was good-humored and he was flexible and in the end, when push came to shove, that was what counted: flexibility.
"Just about time to break for lunch," Stevens said. "Oh joy. Another vulcanized steak sandwich at Holcombe's."
"No. We'll go into town today. I've got to pick up something at the jeweler's."
There was a radio call, description of stolen car; Stevens wrote it down at the bottom of the week's list. The speaker sputtered out, "Ten Four," and Watchman straightened up and reached for the ignition key. "Okay, lunch." The Fury's starter popped and the engine began to hum.
That was when the speeder shot past: a baroque old oil burner of a Buick, chromium-laden, overstuffed, covered with stickers—It's Your Flag Love It Or Leave It; These Colors Do Not Run; Grand Canyon National Park—traveling at relentless speed, swaying across the white line, the bored driver's left hand hooked outside against the vent window in the slipstream.
"Jesus," Buck Stevens said. "Craig Breedlove trying for the land speed record again."
Watchman slid the Fury out onto the highway and gave chase. He pushed it up to ninety-five and Stevens said, "We're not gaining on him."
Watchman drawled gently. "Might be a good idea to clock him first, don't you think?"
A crimson flush suffused the rookie's face up to the blond hairline.
"Plenty of time. Get on the mileposts, I've got the speedometer."
Stevens got out the clipboard. "Christ, I'm sorry, Sam."
"All right. Mile zero."
The road had a high crown and blacktop patches where road crews had filled in last winter's chuckholes. Watchman had both hands full keeping the cruiser on the road and he was a graduate of the California pursuit driving course, and that clown up ahead was driving one-handed.
"Mile One. Shee-yit." Stevens checked his watch and scribbled a calculation on the clipboard pad. "Ninety-seven and a fraction."
"Confirmed," Watchman said, and flicked his eyes up from the speedometer. "Hold your hat."
He floored the pedal and switched on the rooftop dome flasher. No point turning on the siren because at this speed the Buick wouldn't hear it. The wind was a blast in his left ear, bouncing off the foothills and buffeting the road across the gaps. At a hundred and ten he was gaining on the Buick, not rapidly, but there wasn't a crossroad in thirteen miles and there was plenty of time. The Buick had got a jump on them and it took four or five minutes to get up close but evidently the driver of the Buick had no use for his rear view mirror and Watchman had to pull out alongside and blow the horn at him. When he saw the thin shoulders jerk and the narrow face shift toward him he dropped back quickly because the fool was likely to panic and he didn't want to be in the way if the Buick slewed across the road.
But the Buick slowed well, with just a touch of brakes, and when Watchman parked on the shoulder behind it Stevens said, "I'll give him credit. He's good."
"Good and dead if he hit anything bigger than a jack rabbit at that speed."
"Can I tag this one, kemo sabe?"
"Go ahead, paleface."
Stevens' face was still a little red. He reached for the door handle. Up front the driver had got out of the Buick and was standing with his hands in his pockets and his face wreathed in saturnine disgust.
"Give him the cheesecake," Watchman said. He slipped one of the three-by-five glossies out of the envelope. It was a good sharp photo of the remains they had torched out of the Cadillac. He had bought six dozen copies from the police lab. "Don't let him rile you."
"I'll tell him if he don't behave I got a wild-eyed partner who'd just as soon lift his scalp." Stevens left the door open and walked over with his clipboard. Watchman saw the way the driver sized up the rookie—thinking about asking if twenty dollars cash would take care of it, and rejecting the thought at close sight of Stevens' earnest young varsity pass-receiver's face.
A few years back Watchman had been a rookie himself, partnering in a cruiser with a veteran hairbags trooper named Custis, and when they had pulled over a stop-sign runner and Watchman had started to make out the first moving-violation ticket of his career the driver had shown the edge of a twenty-dollar bill and lifted his eyebrows inquiringly. Watchman had gone back to the cruiser full of excitement and told Custis about it: "We can arrest the son of a bitch for attempted bribery, Fred."
"You crazy? I'll handle it." Custis had left him behind and gone over to talk to the man and Watchman had seen the money change hands. When Custis had returned he'd offered to split the money with Watchman. Watchman had refused, and Custis had said, "Gee, thanks, Sam, that's white of you," and launched into a hard-luck story about his wife and kids and how much he needed the money.
Now Fred Custis was a Captain in Phoenix and Sam Watchman was a line trooper overdue for promotion and assigned to the dullest hick bailiwick in the state, and there was a connection between those two facts. Fred Custis handled beat assignments and Fred Custis didn't like Watchman. It had something to do with the fact that Watchman was a fullblood Navajo. Something. Well that was all right too. Watchman didn't itch to set the world on fire. You just did your job and went through each day at a steady pace. In the end it would take you longer than it would take a white man but if you did the job well enough you'd get the promotions sooner or later and that would be good for Sam Watchman and good for The People too. And in the meantime you'd get married and move into the cute little two-bedroom in Flagstaff and maybe have a kid or two, with your black-olive eyes and Lisa's blinding smile.
The rusty wreckage of a pickup truck came rattling up the road from the direction of San Miguel and the cowboy driver gave Watchman a cold look on his way past. Watchman wrote up the time and milepost location in his daybook and checked down the stolen-car list but the old Buick wasn't on it. The car had local plates and he had a feeling he'd seen it, maybe parked up in Fredonia or Marble Canyon. He'd never seen the driver. The man was rawboned, dressed in khaki trousers and a thin windbreaker with sleeves six inches too short for him. He had a sardonic look and he wasn't arguing, just standing there waiting for Stevens to finish writing up the ticket. Once the man turned his wrist over to look at his watch and Watchman saw a large pale weal of hairless flesh running up the wrist and forearm—the scar of a bad burn. It was instantly noticeable, the kind of "Identifying Marks or Scars" you loved to be able to put out on a fugitive description, but by the same token you wouldn't forget a feature that striking and Watchman knew he had never come across it in a mug book. He played this game with himself to test his own diligence, studying faces everywhere he went; once in Holbrook he had spotted a wanted man walking across a gas station apron and had arrested the man on the spot. It had earned him a citation but no promotion.
Stevens tore out the ticket and handed it to the man, gave back the driver's license and registration, and stepped back while the driver got into the Buick and drove away sedately.
When Stevens got into the cruiser he said, "He didn't even bother with a preamble. Just asked me, 'How much was I doing?' I told him ninety-seven and he just shook his head and smiled with half his mouth. Oddball kind of character. He must've had something on his mind."
"Any reason for the big hurry?"
"Said he had to get to the bank in San Miguel before closing time. Hell, he's got three hours yet." Stevens was writing up the tag. "Name of Baraclough. The car's registered to somebody named Sweeney in Fredonia. Baraclough's brother-in-law, he says."
"You have any reason to disbelieve him?"
Stevens looked up. The pencil paused. "I guess not."
"Only—I don't know. You can lose a lot of money playing hunches."
"You didn't push it, then?"
"How could I?"
"Never mind, then. Let's go on into town and eat."
They drove into San Miguel past the strip signs: MODERN CABINS—EAT—BAR & GRILL—AIR CONDITIONED—SALES AND SERVICE—ALL CARDS HONORED—REASONABLE RATES. It was a company town and it was the only town of any size on the plateau. The interstate highways had bypassed the region and it was untouched by mushrooming population because few living things could survive in it: in winter the snow drifted deep and in summer the heat could reach 135 degrees, and so the twenty-five thousand square miles were mostly uninhabited except for ranches, filling stations, crossroad bars, campgrounds, and the town here that had grown up around the big open-pit diggings of the San Miguel Copper Company. Most of the surrounding land was Federal—Reservations, National Forests. For active men and women San Miguel was a dead dull town; the mine and smelter employed 12,400 workers and a good many of them spent their weekends in Las Vegas, which was one hundred fifty miles away but the nearest entertainment available to them.
The main street was nine blocks of parking meters and facelifted chain stores, a grain warehouse, used-car lots with flapping pennants, three gas stations, the company-owned San Miguel Bank & Trust, the Hollywood Beauty Salon ("What Price Beauty? Free Estimate!"). Rusty pickup trucks and muddy Chryslers were parked on the slant at a few meters and the clinging film of red dust coated everything—the display windows, the beer joints, the hamburger drive-in, the laundromat and the baroque old Paramount movie show with its Moorish marquee.
Watchman parked in front of the Copper King Café and plugged a nickel into the meter. "I'll meet you inside." He walked on past Woolworth's to the corner, turned by the bank entrance and went into Zane's Jewelers next door. Behind the glass counter the old man looked up from his watch-repair bench, jeweler's glass perched on top of his spectacles.
"So. You've come to ransom the ring? I thought it was about time." The old man got it out of the safe and Watchman bent over the countertop on his elbows, laboriously scrawling out the check in his crabbed hand. When he looked up the old man had placed the pale blue velvety case by his elbow.
The old man picked up the check and examined it as if he suspected its worth; held it up against the light, flapped it back and forth and blew on it, although Watchman's pen was a ballpoint.
Watchman popped the velvet lid open and the ring winked at him with all its facets.
"You gotch self a beauty there."
"I guess so," Watchman said. "It sure cost enough."
"Hell, I give it to you cheap. Anybody else had to pay a hundred more. Some of us appreciate what you people do for us." The old man said it accusingly. He filled out a receipt and pushed it across the counter.
Watchman gave it a wooden look. "At least us redskins only scalp enemies. You always skin your friends like this?"
The old man was hurt. "Sam—Sam!" He spread his hands wide in the Old World gesture of helplessness, head cocked to one side. "You can afford it, you've got a steady job."
"Aeah. The pay's bad, but the work's terrible." He snapped the little box shut and put it in his pocket. "Thanks." And went outside with his hand in the pocket touching the velvet-covered hardness of the ring case. Going around the corner he was picturing Lisa, her lovely eyes, the surprise of delight that would shine in them; he almost crashed into old Jasper Simalie on the bank steps.
"Jesus, Tsosie, you want to look out where you are going." Old Jasper was grinning.
Jasper Simalie still had a full bush of hair, grayshot and thick but very short; he had a big round Navajo face, deep square brackets creasing it right down past the mouth into the big dependable jaw. He had put on a few pounds since they had measured him for his guard's uniform and he was beginning to look a little like W. C. Fields as the Bank Dick, with the grey seams straining around his shoulders and paunch. He had a big forty-five in the black Army holster at his waist and the policeman's cap was tipped far back on his head.
Watchman grinned and poked his jaw toward the café. "Buy you a lunch."
"Naw. I got to es-stick close to the bank." Jasper indicated the green armored truck parked across the street in the shade. "It's the fourth Friday."
Every second and fourth Friday of the month the company-owned bank had a heavy load of cash brought in from Salt Lake to meet the payroll needs of the mine and smelter. On weekends the casinos over in Vegas wouldn't accept out-of-state payroll checks and San Miguel accommodated its employees by cashing their checks before they set out for the Nevada weekend.
Excerpted from Relentless by Brian Garfield. Copyright © 1972 Brian Garfield. Excerpted by permission of A MysteriousPress.com.
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