This stretch always tempted the drivers who had Le Mans fixations: it came down off the mountain like a ski slope and two-laned straight out across the twenty-mile flat below.
It was a Friday forenoon at the dying end of October. The aspen forest had turned gold. Watchman and Stevens lay in wait in the Roadside Rest Area, parked under the trees. There wasn't a billboard to hide behind but the ritual was the same. Under the molten brass sun the shadows were black and had sharp edges; drivers barreling down the highway wouldn't spot the cruiser until it had them nailed.
Downstate on more populous roads you could poke along five miles under the limit and gather a clot of traffic tamed and intimidated by the presence of your Highway Patrol car, and it would create a chain wave of caution that would slow them down for miles ahead and behind. But up in this corner of Arizona you seldom got more than one car in half an hour and the strategy of Visible Presence didn't work. They had put Watchman and the rookie on this beat four months ago and it had been easy to size up: State Highway 793 was the only through route in the district but it was wide open for a hundred and fifty miles. Watchman had planted the word with gas stations and cafés from the mountains to the Nevada line and now the tourists were getting the warnings: You want to watch out, there's a cop car posted somewheres between here and the Nevada border-speed trap, watch your step . Up here they didn't assign a ticket quota and Watchman didn't care about writing up violations but back in August a Cadillac going down this stretch at a hundred and five had dropped a tie rod and they had spent two hours with a blowtorch scraping the remains of the five passengers out of the wreckage. Now the word had spread and the road had been tamed, except for the occasional drunk and a few hot-rod tourists on their way to Las Vegas who hadn't got the word.
Trooper Stevens shook up his bottle of root beer and spouted foam into his mouth from six inches away. "This sucks. I've had more fun watching TV test patterns."
"Possibly you'd rather work for a living?"
"Typical lazy Inyun remark."
Watchman gave him a pained look. "For you I pay taxes?"
"Join the Highway Patrol, see the world. Glamour, excitement, thrills!"
Sam Watchman slid down in the driver's seat until he was sitting on the back of his neck and his knees butted the steering column. He cupped a brown hand around the back of his neck and reared his head back lazily. He hadn't expected to like working with the rookie-he'd never had a partner before-but it was working out. What Buck Stevens didn't know about the job could fill a thick manual but he was good-humored and he was flexible and in the end, when push came to shove, that was what counted: flexibility.
"Just about time to break for lunch," Stevens said. "Oh joy. Another vulcanized steak sandwich at Holcombe's."
"No. We'll go into town today. I've got to pick up something at the jeweler's."
There was a radio call, description of stolen car; Stevens wrote it down at the bottom of the week's list. The speaker sputtered out, "Ten Four," and Watchman straightened up and reached for the ignition key. "Okay, lunch." The Fury's starter popped and the engine began to hum.
That was when the speeder shot past: a baroque old oil burner of a Buick, chromium-laden, overstuffed, covered with stickers- It's Your Flag Love It Or Leave It; These Colors Do Not Run; Grand Canyon National Park -traveling at relentless speed, swaying across the white line, the bored driver's left hand hooked outside against the vent window in the slipstream.
"Jesus," Buck Stevens said. "Craig Breedlove trying for the land speed record again."
Watchman slid the Fury out onto the highway and gav