Deputy Rodriguez leaned against Tisdale's cruiser, looked across its dusty roof and studied the Salzwedels' house. Perhaps he saw something, she thought, and had gone to check it out. If so, and it was nothing, he should be returning to his vehicle any second. He'd left the engine running. The Salzwedels must have locked their doors when they left, so Tisdale wouldn't have gone in. Unless...
Rodriguez reached though the open window, catching a whiff of the seatcover vinyl vying with a cheap men's cologne. She plucked the mic off its mount next to the steering wheel and put it to her mouth.
She depressed a button alongside the cellphone-size instrument as its black coiled umbilical seemed bent on wresting it from her hand. She spoke briskly into the mic: “Fourteen to base.”
The radio on the unit's center console crackled with static.
“Go ahead, fourteen.”
“Fourteen ten-twenty at Pine Ridge. Need Unit sixteen ten-twenty.”
“Sixteen ten-twenty also Pine Ridge, fourteen.”
“The unit's here but I don't see the officer. When did he last check in?”
“Sixteen went on foot ah...eleven-oh-seven. That's eleven-oh-seven. No further contact, fourteen.”
“Shirley, goddammit, get me some backup here. Now!”
“That's a twenty-one ten-four, fourteen. Twenty-one ten-four. Sit tight, Connie.”
“Goddammit,” Rodriguez shouted after tossing the mic button onto the front seat. She started back to her own cruiser, changed her mind and returned to Tisdale's. She reached in to the ignition key and turned the engine off. Still leaning against Tisdale's cruiser and keeping an eye on the Salzwedel residence, she extracted her cellphone from a small leather holster on her duty belt. She pressed Blow's number. She'd stored it on a whim when he gave it to her awhile back kidding about her ever needing a lawyer. She had the impression he was flirting.
“Joe, it's Connie. Can you swing by on your way in?”
“Sure, Connie. Where are you?”
“Salzwedels. Arlan's vehicle was running when I got here but I don't see him anywhere. It's been twenty minutes since he told dispatch he was leaving the vehicle. No word from him since.”
“You getting backup?”
“No units nearby. They'll all come a'running if I use the Officer Down code, but I can't do that yet. Not until I know what's happened with him.”
“Probly just checking around the house. I'll be there in twenty, if I don't get a ticket.”
Blow heard Rodriguez laugh before she disconnected. He knew twenty minutes could be an eternity in the kind of situation where uncertainty reigned. A newer thought chilled him: his presence might complicate any danger, as he was unarmed and unauthorized to play cop. He scanned his contact list and tapped Homer Price's number.
Civic-spirited Homer Price, third-generation owner of Price Hardware and a member of the county's volunteer fire and rescue department, was also an auxiliary sheriff's deputy.
“What's up, Counselor?”
“Elmer?” Homer's voice slid up the scale a notch. “You'd rather talk to Elmer than your old classmate?”
“No, Homer. I need you to back up Connie Rodriguez at Andrew Salzwedel's place on Pine Ridge. Bring your badge and your piece.”
“Jeezuz, Blow, what the fuck?”
“No time to explain. Connie's alone and Arlan Tisdale's unaccounted for. I'm on my way. I'll meet you there.”
“Shit yes, bubba. Elmer's out but he has a key. I'll leave a note and lock up. Pine Ridge, huh?”
“Twenty-one-oh-six. Should be two units there. If you have time to get your uniform on that might keep you from getting shot. Connie's a tad nervous.”
“Whoa! That's a big ten-four, Blowman. I'm on it.”
As Deputy Rodriguez eased back to her own unit her vigilance remained on tingle alert. Always keeping the Salzwedel house in her peripheral view she began studying the vehicles parked in neighboring driveways and along the curbs on both sides of the street.
She assumed Snow/Moriarty was driving a stolen vehicle and, because of the speed at which the master criminal was moving, she might not have taken the time to switch from the one she'd driven to the Gunthers. Problem was, Rodriguez had no idea what that vehicle might be. She hoped something might spark a connection for her, an unusual color or shape, or a dent or other blemish that would trick something up from impressions lying just below the conscious surface.
She knew she dared not leave her vehicle unless Tisdale were to appear or for something vitally urgent that trumped all professional prudence.
She glanced at the sky long enough to see a motionless cloud strata she'd not noticed earlier. The sun, undaunted as yet by the clouds, nonetheless yielded its warming strength to chilly gusts that cut like edged steel through the deputy's wool uniform jacket. Her cruiser's engine and heater were running, and the interior would be comfortable, but she knew better than to cave to the temptation. A lonely dog's distant barking seemed to acknowledge their shared predicament.
Traffic on the street slowed as drivers spotted the police units. Rodriguez played the game of pretending not to notice the peering rubberneckers while she scanned with sidelong peeks the vehicles and their drivers. Faces looking directly her way had no effect.
It was the woman behind the wheel of a lime green compact, whose indifference to the obvious “incident” she was passing punched the cop's adrenalin into overdrive.