Chapter Two

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The rush hour traffic of midday and the Sacramento skyline was falling away in my rear view mirror when my phone started trilling. Muffled under the bulk of the newly acquired atlas, it took me a second to identify the electronic xylophone plink under the din of Bon Jovi and heavy traffic. Groping around under the book I located the phone and saw a number it would take scrubbing with boric acid to erase from my memory banks. It was also precisely who I'd been expecting. No surprise that Wesley, with his recent found talent for hovering over me like an excited mother bear (I pitied the man's poor offspring), would be the first to notice my tactical retreat.

My thumb hovered in indecision over the accept button long enough that the call bounced over to voicemail. Before I had the chance to feel guilty, it was ringing again, Wesley having apparently disconnected and redialed in lieu of leaving a message. This process was repeated a third time as I negotiated traffic.

Wesley was not a guy who did well with being ignored.

It was a useful personality trait for a detective, but one that as a friend, had more than once tempted me to sock him in the mouth.

A longer silence followed the third round of ringing, then a beep, signaling that I had a new voicemail.

I waited expectantly, seconds ticking by into a minute, but the phone remained quiet.

Thank Christ. Apparently Wesley had worn himself out.

Exhaling an undeniably relieved breath, I tossed it back onto the passenger seat and re-devoted my attention to the road.

I would have to call him back, but the call could, would, have to wait. It wasn't a conversion I could have while driving.

I knew Wesley, knew how it would go down. I'd get about as far as "canceled my lease" and he'd lose his proverbial shit. In vesuvian fashion. It would then be only a matter of time before I started replying in kind.

I'd spent enough rookie years ticketing traffic violations to know that belligerent shouting matches and moving vehicles rarely end well for any of the involved parties.

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The world outside my window grew increasingly foreign beyond the artificial oasis of Reno. Already sparse scrub became sparser yet, the terrain rockier. It was the middle of the afternoon and the sun, having long since reached its zenith, was beginning its western descent.

I'd stopped for gas in Austin, population one-hundred-ninety-two. If the sandblasted sign at the edge of town was to be believed.

Not far outside of Reno, the blue and white roadside placards had started declaring Highway 50 "The Loneliest Road in America." In the quickly fading daylight outside the Chevron station, a cursory examination of my map explained the moniker. It had been nearly two hours since I'd passed through the previous town of Fallon and it would be an hour and another seventy odd miles before I reached the next.

Talk about being careful what you asked for.

A full tank of gas, a pack of jerky (the least dubious of the convenience store's dust blanketed offerings) and yet another cup of twice-baked joe and I departed into the dark interior.

From what I'd seen in passing, Austin, despite its size, sported at least one hotel. Someone with a modicum of sense probably would have called a halt for the night right then and there. I however, was wired. Maybe it was too much coffee. Or too little sleep. Whichever it was, nervous energy not so surprisingly won out over common sense.

Fifty miles later, as alertness began giving way to hyper awareness, I started suspecting the second of the two possible culprits.

It was a sensation I'd experienced on more than a few occasions between the caffeine fueled cram nights of my academy years and the subsequent decade of a.m. calls from the station. All of which had served to inform me of one important fact. I was never half as awake in those moments as I felt and I was sure as hell not on my A-game.

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