Digger Brown and Saul Winters had been partners for five years that seemed like ten. They had gone through the ups and downs of the department, the politics, the bullshit and a number of criminal investigations and survived subsequent inquiries into their own business. They had begun to finish each other’s sentences, complain about each other’s peccadilloes and generally bicker like an old married couple. When the first of the spontaneous combustion cases came to light, homicide hadn’t even been called into it; just some bums who found a new poison to drink. By the time the third homeless man had been found, there were polite questions. By then, the local news had gotten wind of it and like the coronavirus had latched onto another epidemic and blown it to such proportions that the public was nervous that whatever was killing them was making its way to their doorstep. Still the authorities hardly cared. But after this morning it was inevitable that the two detectives would be brought in on the case. This time it wasn’t just some bum, but a socialite’s daughter, a former reality TV star (one of those debutants the tabloids went so gaga over) burned and carted off to the hospital by the EMT’s, the top story for 57 minutes, and, as Digger Brown was want to say wouldn’t ya know it, at the crack of damnit.

“You know they’re just out to screw us,” Brown’s puffy face toked on the cigarillo in his mouth, Winters shook his head, put up with the smoke and continued to drive. “Who the hell is goin to be able to solve this bitch, anyway? There’s the perp, that blotch right there on the sidewalk or maybe it’s a smudge of oil. Or this burn mark across the concrete, look we have an arrest. Cuff the skeleton and book it.” He turned to his partner, “You know, it’s just Mosely screwin us for his dime.”

“Jeez, would you shut up,” Winters looked out of the side of his face, “it’s always someone screwing you or screwing us. I don’t get that much sex from the wife.”

“So what do we do,” Brown toked again, “go on over, move some ashes around, hell, this ain’t no CSI show we’re talkin about. No big titted girl is going to magically turn up a suspect, and you know the captain will be crawlin up our asses by tomorrow.” He brandished his cigarillo like a baton. “Where’s the suspect, who do you have and you know we won’t have a damn thing.”

“Well, here we are, Gaylord Apartments,” Winters pulled the car over the sidewalk into the yellow tape that cordoned off the alley. He flipped the door open quickly and emerged from the sedan and turned to peer back into the car, “Perhaps we could do something earth shattering like find some clues and get this pain in the ass case over with.”