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The first thing I noticed that morning was the quiet, the deathly quiet. And then I noticed I was cold. For the first time since Karen divorced me, leaving me in sole possession of the covers and taking her perpetually frigid feet elsewhere, I woke up with cold feet, and not just feet, either.
It took a while to figure out that what was missing was the comforting rumble of the building's heat pumps on the roof outside my penthouse apartment. It was not quite sunrise on a wintry early January morning, and those warmth-giving pumps were definitely off. Had been for some time. My bedroom was freezing.
I put in an irate call to the manager, who confirmed what I already knew. The heat pumps had "gone on the blink." For some unaccountable reason, the heat pumps in Belltown Terrace, a luxury high-rise condominium in downtown Seattle, are built to function fine in temperatures all the way down to fourteen degrees Fahrenheit. Down to, but not below.
So when the thermometer hit a record-breaking six degrees above zero sometime during the late night hours of January second, Belltown Terrace's overworked heat pumps kicked off entirely. By the time I woke up several hours later, the, thermometer in my apartment read a chilly forty-five.
Leaving the manager to summon the proper repairmen, I headed for the warmest spot in my house -- the two-person hot tub in the master bathroom. I turned on the air jets and climbed into the steaming water, fully prepared to stay there for as long as necessary.
I lay in the tub with my eyes closed and my head resting comfortably against one of the upholstered cushions. Reveling in luxurious warmth, Iwas jarred from my torpor by a jangling telephone in the chilled bedroom behind me. Weeks earlier, Ralph Ames, my gadget-minded attorney in Arizona, had hinted broadly that I might want to consider buying myself a cordless phone, but I hadn't taken his advice. Now I wished I had.
"Smart ass," I grumbled for Ralph's benefit as I threw myself out of the steamy tub, grabbed a towel, and dashed for my old-fashioned and very much stationary phone.
If my caller had been Ralph Ames, I would've had to tell him his suggestion had a lot of merit, but it wasn't Ames at all. Instead, the person on the phone was Sergeant Watkins, my immediate supervisor from Homicide at the Seattle Police Department. When Watty calls me at home, it usually means trouble, but surprisingly, he didn't launch into it right away.
"How's it going?" he asked with uncharacteristic indirectness.
"Colder 'an a witch's tit," I answered tersely. "Our heat pumps went off overnight. I'm standing here dripping wet."
"Your heat pumps went off?" he echoed with a laugh. "What's the matter? Did one of you fat cats forget to pay the bill down at City Light?"
Sergeant Watkins doesn't usually beat around the bush discussing the weather. "Cut the comedy, Watty," I snapped. "I'm freezing my ass off while you're cracking jokes. Get to the point."
"I've got a case for you, Beau. Initial reports say we've got two stiffs on Lower Queen Anne Hill. We've got some people on the scene, but no detectives so far. You're it."
"In the Seattle school district office. Know where that is?"
I was already groping in my dresser drawer for socks and underwear. "Not exactly, but I can find it," I returned.
"The streets outside are a damned skating rink," Watty continued. "It might be faster if you go there directly from home instead of coming into the office first."
During the call I had managed to blot myself dry with the towel. Now I held the phone away from my ear long enough to pull a T-shirt on over my head. I returned the phone to my ear just in time to hear Watty continue.
"Do that. Detective Kramer'll meet you there as soon as he can. The guys in the garage are trying to find another set of chains. One broke just as he was starting up the ramp."
"Kramer?" I asked, hoping I had heard him wrong. "Did you say Detective Kramer? What about Big Al?"
I can get along all right with most of the people in Seattle P.D., but Detective Paul Kramer is the one notable exception. When it comes to my list of least favorite people, Kramer is right up there at the top -- just under Maxwell Cole, the lead crime columnist for our local news-rag, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
"I thought someone would have let you know," Watty returned. "He and Molly both came down with a bad case of food poisoning after a Daughters of Norway dinner Saturday nightThey ended up in the Ballard Hospital emergency room along with fifteen or twenty other people. He's still in no shape to come back to work. And Kramer's partner called in sick as well."
"So we're stuck with each other?"
"For the time being."
Having to work a case with Detective Kramer was a bad way to start a new week and an even worse way to start a new year. If I were superstitious, I might have seen it as an omen.
"Swell," I grumbled. With that, I hung up on Watty and dialed the concierge, making sure someone was working on the heat pump problem and asking her to call for a cab while I finished dressing.
People in the Pacific Northwest are used to clouds and rain in winter. That kind of weather is expected and comes with the territory. Arctic cold isn't, and nobody here knows what to do when it comes.