I AWOKE THAT MORNING IN THE BLISTERING HEAT OF summer with something tickling my foot. At first I thought it was some kind of bug because I was sleeping in the backyard in the bed of my pickup truck where such creatures are not uncommon, but when kicking the sheet and wiggling my toes didn't make it go away I opened my eyes to see what it was.
"It" was Fritz Calder, a six-foot two-inch male of my own species who was smiling at me quite mischievously. Even though I had begun in recent months to grow quite fond of this male, I flinched with surprise. "Fritz!" I gasped. "Where did you come from?"
A shadow of worry swept across his face. "Sorry," he said. "Didn't mean to surprise you, I--"
"Out for your morning run?" I asked, quickly reassuring him with a smile. I didn't want him to go away. It was nice to see Fritz in the morning in his T-shirt and shorts, his cheeks flushed with exercise. He looked really good leaning against the side of my truck, the branches of the apple tree spreading out over him, the deep blue Utah sky winkingbetween the green leaves and reddening fruit, but then, Fritz usually did have a way of looking good. In fact, in that moment, goodness suffused that tiny backyard, filling the intimate confines of the cedar fence and my landlady's tomato plants with a bucolic glow.
I had known Fritz for a year and a half now, and we had become good friends. Of late I had seen him mostly on evenings when one or the other of us thought up something nice to do together, such as a game of tennis (unbelievable, I know ... cowgirl Em Hansen swinging a tennis racket) or a hike in the hills above the city or even a spin in the new airplane Fritz is developing. The plane needed exercise, too. It went like spit and Fritz knew I liked to zoom out across the desert landscape of Great Salt Lake and the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Fritz smiled back. "Up and at 'em, bright eyes. Seven A.M. and it's already eighty-five degrees out. Gonna be another scorcher."
"Pray for rain." I sat up and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, hugging the sheet to myself with my elbows. I couldn't remember what I had on underneath it. A T-shirt was my standard sleep attire, but had I kept on much else in this heat?
"Too hot in the house?" he inquired.
He looked up at the brick Victorian in which I rented an upstairs apartment. "I'll bet it roasts up there when it gets this hot, but isn't it a little unsafe to sleep outside like this? Salt Lake is the big city, Em. You're a long way from Wyoming. People might come by and see you here."
"Joggers, for instance. Renegade flyboys like yourself. No end to the depravity." I slid a hand under the sheet and discovered, to my relief, that I was indeed wearing a pair of athletic shorts and not just panties. I flicked off the sheet and was pleased that Fritz's gaze immediately dropped to my legs. "Breakfast?" I inquired.
Fritz's lips stretched into a grin. "Whatever you want to call it."
Fritz's jest tippled me into the wobbly sense of confusion in which I had been finding myself with increasing frequency around him. "I meant something like eggs and toast," I said.
Fritz's smile tightened and a scorching blush crept up his throat. "Well ... ah ..."
I was saved from thinking up my next volley by the arrival of a second healthy male of the species, good old Detective Thomas B. Raymond of the Salt Lake City PD. The gate squeaked shut behind him, bringing me to wonder how Fritz had come through it without waking me up.
Fritz turned to face Ray, his smile vanishing.
Ray nodded at Fritz, his expression equally unwelcoming.
I said, "Kinda early, Ray."
Ray said, "Sleeping in your truck again?"
"What do you mean, 'again' ? You turning into a prowler or something?"
Ray's jaw muscles flexed.
Fritz's did, too.
I stood up, put a hand on the side of the truck bed, and vaulted out onto the gravel driveway. "Fritz and I were just getting ready for breakfast," I announced, realizing too late that saying this would make the collision even worse. "I suppose you've already eaten."
"Right." Ray's eyes were still on Fritz.
I sighed with irritation. "All right, what's up, Ray?"
Ray finally turned to me. "Fresh corpse. Still in place, just the way you like them. Nobody's touched it yet."
I stared at the ground, where I had a nice view of everybody's feet. "Circumstances?"
I saw Ray's weight shift in his shoes as he transferred his gaze back to Fritz. "Point of the Mountain. The gravel quarry. Employee just found it the hard way, with a front-end loader. All that's sticking out so far is one leg."
"That doesn't sound good."
"No, it is not. I warn you, this one's going to be bad."
I scratched my head. "So ... a quarry wall collapse. Nailed by a few tons of falling gravel, right?"
Ray said nothing. I looked up at him. His eyes were closed and his eyebrows were beginning to jump. Not a good sign.
"A John Doe?" I asked.
Ray said, "Everyone who works there is accounted for, if that's what you're asking. It's not my jurisdiction. I'm just here to perform a courtesy."
"I was asked to locate the state's forensic geologist, who's not answering her phone because she's sleeping in her truck."
"Who has the jurisdiction?" I asked, ignoring his barb.
"Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department."
"They have a homicide squad?"
I began to think out loud. "So they're wondering who the guy is and what he was doing wandering around a quarry in the middle of the night."
Ray's eyes snapped open. "That will be the sheriff's department's problem to figure out. Your job is to examine the ... what do you call it?"
"The trace evidence."
Fritz gave Ray a cocky smile. "The dirt in the dead man's shoes."
Ray's jaw muscles began to bunch again. He refused to look at Fritz as he told me, "You look at the dirt in his shoes, and then you go back to your office. Stay out of trouble. If you know how to do that." His scowl deepening, he said, "They need you now."
I said, "Give me ten minutes, Ray."
"No, I'm going back to my office," he said. "Identify yourself to the sheriff's deputy at the gate to the quarry.There is more than one quarry out there. You want the one on the west side of the highway. The others are part of Draper City's jurisdiction. Take whatever ID you have as a state employee, or they won't let you in."
"Oh, come on, Ray, you want to see this."
Ray closed his eyes again.
I said, "I'll follow you down there. That will make it quicker for me to get through the gate." I started toward the back door of the house, leaving Ray to make his decision.
Fritz fell in beside me on the walkway, bowing his head to get it closer to mine. "I don't have time for chow anyway," he said, keeping his voice down.
"I'm sorry, too," I said.
"I need to be at the airport in an hour. So this is it, your big chance, huh?"
I nodded. "Yeah. I've been trying to tell them to let me look at things before they yank the body. There's so much a geologist can learn from a clandestine gravesite. Tool marks, for instance, and--"
Fritz patted me on the head. "I know, I know. You've told me all about it. You gonna be okay with this guy?"
"Yeah. Ray's okay ... just got dropped on his head too many times when he was a kid." I looked up at Fritz and impulsively gave him a squeeze. "Besides, it's you he doesn't like."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
I almost said take it as a victory, but instead asked, "You flying a charter this morning?"
"No, but Faye's got one, so I've got to run the shop while she's gone. It's challenging having a business partner."
"You mean it's challenging having Faye as a business partner."
"Right. You come out over your lunch hour. We could take a quick flight, get up above the heat for a while."
I smiled. "Sure. I'd like that. In exchange, I'll make you some dinner this evening. That way you still get something to eat out of the deal."
Fritz shook his head. "Can't do dinner."
"Is my cooking really that bad?"
"Cooking? Is that what you call that?"
I swatted him on the elbow.
"Nah, I love the way you char hot dogs, and your 'leftovers surprise' is the tops, but I have a charter later in the afternoon, soon as Faye gets back with the plane. That guy that likes to run back and forth to Denver all the time."
"Be gone overnight on a Friday? Doesn't that guy have a life?"
"He pays his bills on time."
"Gotcha. Noon it is."
Fritz gave me a quick one-armed squeeze, then turned himself around, gave Ray a serene little wave--barely a twiddling of the fingers--and jogged away.
Which left Ray standing a respectful but irritated ten feet away with one hand clamped on the nose of my truck as if he were about to crush it.
I let it pass. "Okay, I still have eight minutes. About time enough to get a quick shower and stuff some food into my mouth, okay?"
"I'll wait here," said Ray.
Copyright © 2005 by Sarah Andrews Brown.