Authors: Shawn Grady
I parked curbside in front of a single-story stucco home, a sprinkler moved streams in a slow arc over a small lawn. I clipped my radio on my belt and walked up the front path. Bones trailed behind, hands in pockets. Standing to the side of the door, I gave a couple raps with my knuckles. A long-haired gray cat appeared on the windowsill beside the door.
I tapped the window. “Hey, kitty.”
It hissed and let loose a high-pitched growl.
A bolt shifted inside, and an older woman opened the door and slid off a chain. She wore a long black dress that matched the color of the dark streaks interspersed through her silver hair. “Can I help you?”
The purpose of the black and the realization that she had only recently learned of her husband’s death hit me. I’d been so focused on finding answers that I hadn’t even taken her circumstances and feelings into consideration.
“Is there an emergency, gentlemen?”
“So sorry to disturb you, ma’am. Are you Mrs. Martin?”
“Yes, I am.”
“We . . .” How did I put a professional spin on the real reason we were there?
I knew it was a stretch, but I went with, “We’re here to offer our sincerest regrets and to follow up with you about your recently departed husband. We were the paramedics who responded to the 9-1-1 call for him.”
She glanced back at Bones. He gave an acknowledging smile. She lifted her chin. I was sure she would send us on our way.
“Come in, gentlemen, please.”
Sunlight pouring through a large front window lit her living room. Brass lamps with dangling crystals sat on coffee tables bordered by fine-quality cream-colored couches. She sat in a chair perched on ornate wooden feet.
She waved at the couch. “Have a seat, please.” The tabby trotted over and hopped on her lap. She stroked the fur between its ears as it glared at me.
Bones stood behind the couch. I unclipped the radio from my belt and leaned forward. “We’re very sorry for your loss.”
“So you said, young man.”
I swallowed. “Mr. Martin, he was – ”
“Yes. My bad. Dr. Martin.”
“My . . . mistake.”
She nodded. “Go on.”
“Dr. Martin . . . did he know a man named Simon Letell?”
Her face lightened. “Oh yes. Simon. We had him over for dinner a couple months ago.”
“So he and Dr. Martin were friends.”
“Oh yes. Old friends. I still need to contact him about Richard’s passing. But I can’t find his number. Is he . . . I hope everything is okay.”
“I’m so sorry to tell you this, but Simon Letell is dead too. He died the day before your husband.”
Mrs. Martin turned her head, touching fingers to her lips.
I unfolded Letell’s note. “Before he died, he handed me this paper. He said, ‘Give this to Martin.’ ” I stood and offered it to her. “Do these markings make any sense to you?”
A perplexed look came across her brow. “No. I . . . Are you sure it was him? Did he still live in that house off of Apollyon Way?”
Fitting street name
. “No. No, I don’t believe so. He’d been living in a motel downtown. It was Simon Letell, though.”
She stroked the tabby harder between the ears. It lowered its little pentagonal demon head in rhythm, squinting at me and flipping its tail. “They
working on something.”
I caught Bones’s glance. He raised his eyebrows.
“They had this game,” she said. “It started when they were in graduate school together. Little math games. Puzzles. They’d look for patterns in chemical formulas and create ways of encoding them. One was always trying to outdo the other, see if he could make a code the other couldn’t break. It stopped a little after Richard started his doctorate.”
“Letell couldn’t keep up anymore?”
“Yes, I suppose. Simon is, was, very bright, though. I thought they’d just grown out of it.”
“Had they started working on something new?”
“Yes. It reminded me of their little puzzles. But they worked together on this.”
A grandfather clock gonged in the hallway. Bones checked his watch.
“Do you know why Letell – why Simon didn’t go on to get his doctorate?”
“Oh, that was his plan. But his poor mother. She became ill and suffered a stroke. It left her weak on her whole left side.”
“Did he go to care for her?”
“Simon brought her to live with him. He worked nights in a lab and cared for her during the day. He tried for years to take doctoral classes, one at a time.” Her eyes trailed off. “He became reclusive. Never married. We lost contact. Stopped seeing him for years. Then about a year ago he and Richard reconnected. His mother had suffered some sort of heart failure and passed away. ”
Bones cleared his throat.
I glanced at the clock. “What exactly were they working on?”
She looked at the floor and shook her head. “We’d have him over for dinner. I think he liked the companionship. They’d go down to the basement, play pool, and . . .”
“About . . . ?”
“That’s it. I didn’t really pay attention. I thought it was just two old friends meeting up again.”
“They had to have said something. What led you to believe they were working on something?”
“I don’t know. . . .” She took a deep breath. “I do remember Richard being distressed and speaking with a cynical tone about some kind of corruption.” She studied the carpet. “Something that they couldn’t yet pinpoint, that needed to be ferreted out.”
A male dispatcher’s voice came over the radio. “Medic Two, Aprisa.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. They were very cryptic. Whatever they’d found, they were being very careful that no one knew they had come upon it. I should have paid closer attention. I just . . . Like I said, I just chalked it up – ”
“That’s okay. It’s all right. You don’t need to blame yourself for anything.”
“Medic Two, do you copy?”
Bones walked out the front door. “Aprisa, this is Medic Two. Go ahead.”
I stood. “Thank you so much. We can only imagine how difficult this time must be for you.”
“Medic Two, are you currently in your rig?”
I heard Bones’s voice over the radio. “That’s negative, Aprisa.”
Mrs. Martin released the cat and rose from her chair with effort.
I clipped the radio back on my belt.
“Copy, Medic Two. We’re having trouble with your GPS signal. What’s your location?”
I turned to leave.
Mrs. Martin caught my hand. “Thank you, boys, for trying to save my Richard.”
Her fingers were cold but smooth. I looked into her hazel eyes. “Take care, Mrs. Martin.”
“Let me walk you to the door.”
My radio again. “Medic Two? Aprisa.”
At the entryway she waved and smiled.
I waved and jogged down the walkway to meet up with Bones. He climbed in the passenger side of the ambulance, holding up his radio. “Aprisa, we’re in the area of Rock and Victorian post.”
“Copy,” dispatch said. “I’m sending out a supervisor with a mechanic to take a look at your rig.”
I jumped behind the wheel and turned the ignition.
“Medic Two copy.” Bones glanced at me. “ ’Bout what time would you say we should expect them?”
I swung the box around.
The sultry-voiced dispatcher came on. “Medic Two, stand by for a landline.”
I plodded through the residential neighborhood, eager to turn onto Prater and speed up. The rig cell phone rang.
Bones flipped it open. “Medic Two.” He listened. His eyebrows relaxed and his face took on the appearance of a little boy gazing at his favorite toy through a window display. “Okay. Okay. Yes . . . Yeah. Okay, thanks. You too.” He hung up the phone and leaned back in his seat, staring at the ceiling.
“What’s going on?” I said.
“Hey, Danny Zuko. What’d she say?”
“What? Oh. She said they left ten minutes ago.”
“Bones, we’ve got to be there now.”
The supervisor would be at Rock and Victorian post any moment. We’d be fired for tampering with the GPS. Not to mention for traveling out of our post area.
I traced my finger over the emergency light-bar switch.
No, no, Jonathan.
I made the turn onto Prater and laid into the accelerator. Bones stared out the window in reverie.
I shook my head. “You are so of no use to me right now.”
I hung a left at Rock and barreled toward Victorian. In the distance I could see our post building. Still no supervisor vehicle. I let out a relieved breath.
We stopped at the light at the intersection of Rock and Victorian. The Aprisa supervisor’s SUV approached on Rock from the south. From the angle we were at, they likely wouldn’t see us. But I didn’t have time to park in front of the post. The light changed and I made a quick right into the gas station on the corner and parked along the curb by the air pumps.
“Quick, Bones. Go buy some Twinkies.”
“What?” Bones blinked as if he’d just woken up.
“Spitzer’s going to be here in seconds. We need an excuse for why we’re not parked in front of the post.”
Realization flashed in his eyes. “Right.”
The supervisor’s car passed on the opposite side of the street. Spitzer. Tom the mechanic rode in the passenger seat. I waved. Spitzer didn’t return the gesture. They’d make a U-turn at the intersection and pull in next to us. From the way I’d angled the ambulance, I was pretty sure they couldn’t see Bones.
I clenched my teeth. “That’s them. Go, man. Don’t let them see you.”
Bones glanced in the side-view mirror and slid out his door. He disappeared between two cars and the gas pumps. Even I couldn’t see him after a couple seconds. I was impressed.
Spitzer pulled up next to the ambulance. I shut off the motor and rolled down my window.
He got out like he was the town sheriff, aviator glasses on, strutting with his thumbs in his belt. “Hey, pal.”
I nodded. “Hey.”
Spitzer looked at the passenger seat. “Where’s your partner? Snoozing in back?”
“Nah. He’s inside getting a Twinkie.”
“A Twinkie, huh?”
I glanced through the store windows. No Bones in sight. “You know Thaddeus. Super health foodie.”
Spitzer laughed and stopped abruptly, pushing his glasses up on the bridge of his nose.
Mechanic Tom walked up wearing grease-stained blue coveralls.
He nodded. “Hey, Jonathan.”
Spitzer ran his tongue along the inside of his lower lip. “Why’re you guys parked over here, anyway? Too long of a walk from the post for you?”
I raised my eyebrows. “Here? Oh, right. Actually, you know, Bones has been in there a seriously long time. I don’t know what’s up with him.”
“Probably letting out a growler,” Tom said.
Thank you, Mechanic Tom.
“Yes. You know, I mean, that’s probably it.”
Spitzer folded his arms and stared at the convenience store. “You know, you guys really should use the post bathrooms. This is horrible customer service. That’s why we provide these posts. They’re there so you’ll use them.”
I tapped the steering wheel. “You’re absolutely right. I really don’t know what Bones was thinking.”
How’s that for throwing my partner under the bus?
Spitzer leaned an elbow on the doorframe and took off his glasses. “You know, these posts are a privilege, not a right. That privilege can be taken away at any time.”
Bones walked across the parking lot, unwrapping a Twinkie.
Spitzer straightened and raised his chin. I could tell he was about to lay into him too.
Bones opened his door, and I said, “Feel lighter, Bones?”
Bones hopped up in the passenger seat, giving an inquisitive look. I gave him the heat-vision stare.
His eyebrows tightened and he swallowed a bite of Twinkie. “Oh yeah. Man. I seriously couldn’t hold it. I had this Thai soup last night that you would not believe, and – ”
“Okay, okay.” Spitzer put his hands in the air. “Spare us the nasty details. Sheesh. You guys. Let’s keep a demeanor of professionalism around here, huh?”
I turned toward Bones and rubbed the back of my neck, glancing toward the ceiling in reference to the foil. I turned to the window. Only Spitzer stood there. My heart dropped. “Where’s Tom?”
I felt the back of the ambulance dip. He was on the tailboard. The back door opened. I leaned to look through the doghouse and saw a pant leg and boot disappear up to the roof. I dropped back against my seat.
We are so hosed.
The whole ambulance shook. I heard scuffling and movement.
I scratched my head and stared out the windshield. The ambulance rocked again, followed by the sound of boots clacking on the tailboard and then dropping to the ground.
Spitzer looked toward the back. Tom stood somewhere in the blind spot of the side-view mirror.
“Oh my.” Spitzer put his hands on his hips. “Now that is completely unacceptable. Is that all you found up there?”
I rubbed my brow and shut my eyes.
Well, I was planning on quitting soon anyway.
“Can you believe this?” Tom said.
Spitzer shook his head. “This will definitely get back to the board. There is no way we can allow this to happen.” He turned to me. “Did you know about this, Trestle?”
I had no idea how to respond. I looked at Bones. He was texting on his phone. Probably putting out resumés.
Time to face up to it. “It really is – ”
“Unacceptable.” Spitzer pointed at Tom, who walked up, his coveralls stained with bird droppings and dust. “This is absolutely unacceptable. I know you guys are tired at the end of shift and you expect the vehicle service technicians to do everything for the rig, but come on. These rigs need to be clean. This is what we were just talking about. Pride in your job, guys. Come on now.”
I swallowed down the wrong pipe and coughed. “Right.” I coughed again. “Absolutely. Our oversight. We really do need to help those guys get this thing back in service each night.”
I looked over at Bones. He smirked as he texted.
Spitzer’s phone rang. “Spitzer. Yeah? Good. Satellite glitch? All right. Good work.” He hung up. “Well, your GPS is working fine now. Just a technical issue, but you guys don’t have to worry about that.” He tapped on the door. “Just keep in mind what I said.
. All right, pal?”
I nodded. “Sure thing.”
“Stay safe out there.”
Spitzer hooked on his aviators and swaggered back to the SUV, scanning the near horizon as if to make sure no trouble loomed. He nodded to Tom. “Hey, brush that off before you get back in, will you?”
I rolled up my window. “Bones, how did – ”
He twirled a piece of aluminum foil between his fingers. “Never again doubt my mad ninja skills.”
“When did you . . . Before I came out of the house?”
“A good ninja never reveals his secrets.”
“That’s for magicians.”
“Every good ninja is also a magician.”
I started up the engine and shook my head. “You’re incorrigible. You know that? You could have at least told me sooner.”
He chortled. “But it was so much more fun this way.” He unwrapped the second yellow pastry from the package. “Want a Twinkie?”