The rain that had fallen all afternoon had diminished to a fine drizzle by nightfall, but it had left standing water in the parking lot; the lights from the truck stop—OPEN 24 HOURS, DINER, and a half-dozen blinking beer signs—shimmered against the black asphalt, the colors all bleeding together. Saint didn’t see the car at first (Clark had said to look for a beige Chrysler) so he drove around the building. He spotted it in the rear lot, the one reserved for the big rigs, parked out near the dumpsters and the wooden fence that marked the boundary between the truck stop and a Denny’s. Saint pulled his BMW up behind and cut the headlights and the engine, got out. The night air felt plenty warm, even for February, comfortable even in short sleeves. A light breeze teased at his long hair.
Saint walked up to the passenger side of Clark’s car and tapped on the window. Clark rolled down the glass.
“Hop in,” Clark said. Saint complied.
“Little far south for you, id’n it, Dudley?” Saint said.
“I’m enjoying the mystifying absence of snow,” Clark said. “You people call this winter?”
“Now you know the real reason the Cajuns left Canada,” Saint replied. “This here’s ’bout as cold as it gets mos’ times, down here in the bayou country.”
“I would consider relocating, if not for my grandchildren,” Clark said. “How’s Miss Youngblood?”
“She’s fine. Says tell you hello.”
Clark smiled. The lights from the building were reflected in the lenses of his glasses. “It’s funny, seeing you domesticated, settled down with one woman.”
“I broke my record. This here’s the longest stretch I’ve ever been with the same girl.”
“Way too many beautiful women in the world, Dudley. ‘Course it does help a little when the one you’ve got at home is so damn pretty. Jus’ easier, y’know? No reason ta’ go out huntin’ ’em when you’ve got one right there in front a’ you. An’ she’s even a good cook.”
“You’re turning into a regular homebody, then,” Clark asked. “And unless I miss my guess, you’re so bored you’re about to pull all that pretty blonde hair out.”
“You’re damn right about that.”
“Doesn’t take me long to get the measure of a man,” Clark said, “especially one I’ve been around the bend with.”
“You know me that well, you reckon?”
“I know you well enough. I know that you’re a good man to have with you in a pinch. Also, as I am a man interested in preserving law and order, I want to assist you in staying out of trouble, now that you’ve ‘gone straight.’ I figure the best way to do that is to keep you busy.”
“That why you called me up? You wa’n keep me out a’ trouble?”
“Far be it from me to disturb your newfound domestic bliss, but perhaps Miss Youngblood wouldn’t mind you being away from home for a little while?”
“What you got in mind?”
“Well, as you know, ever since that thing with Maka’kahu, I have people contacting me all the time. I don’t mean reporters, although there were plenty of those for a while. I mean people calling me about, um, let’s say ‘unusual’ cases, things they’ve experienced, certain peculiar problems. I’ve even had police agencies calling me, as if I’m some kind of expert now.”
“What’s that got ta’ do with me?” Saint asked.
“I’m considering coming out of retirement,” Clark said. “Going into the private sector, consulting work. I’m not looking for a partner, mind you, but there is this one specific case.”
“Keep talkin’,” Saint said.
“On the surface it’s a standard case. A woman was murdered. They were able to get a DNA sample from underneath her fingernails. She fought back.”
“What’s the twist?”
“Not all the DNA recovered was human, and what was human belonged to a convicted murderer who’s been dead for fifteen years. The authorities suspect the same individual to have been responsible for three other murders. They’ve managed to keep a lid on things so far, but they want this one solved ASAP, before they have a panic on their hands. They called me, offered a generous fee if I’d fly down to help, a fee I’d be willing to share.”
“Where is this?”
“Utah. When I started thinking about it, if I were to require back-up, there’s no man I know of better qualified for something like this than you. I realize you don’t need the money or anything.”
“Save the hard sell, Dudley.”
Saint couldn’t help the slight smile that had come to his face, or the quickening of his pulse.
“You’re interested?” Clark asked.
“When do we leave?” Saint said.