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PARTNERS / Fred Haefele IT WAS THE HOTTEST SUMMER in ten years and the woods were dry as paper. There were hundreds of burns up and down the Rockies and still days, which was most of them, a thick haze hung over Missoula from fires as far away as fifty miles. There was a steady stream of smoke jumpers and hotshot crews in and out of town, most of them squeezing a twenty-four-hour drunk between fires, and there was something crazy in the air. The clogged skies turned the sunsets a rich, jukebox purple and seemed to magnify everything, so that by nightfall the stubby, two-story buildings along Charlo Street threw block-long shadows to the east, and when you walked past them you could feel the old brick oozing heat until late into the night. For three years Kyle and I had been sawing partners, working for gyppos around the state. It was late July, I remember, when we quit Willis Banks. We'd had problems with him all along but when he moved us from Ovando down to Dillon, Kyle and I had had about enough. The sale was so steep there was no place to put your saw without it tumbling off down the slope. We told Willis he'd better cut that stand himself, and we drove back to town. As soon as we got in, Kyle phoned around to some other outfits and the second one he tried hired us on the spot. That night we went down to the Chickenshift restaurant for some dinner, and we drank several pitchers, too. At eleven we were still sitting there, talking loud and flirting with Darcy, one of the waitresses, who'd squeezed in the booth with us and was teasing us like a sister while we told her ridiculous stories. Kyle had just begun to tell her about the time he punched a cop, a story I'd heard so many times I could probably tell it better than him. I decided to turn in and was just getting ready to leave when I spotted Germaine walking past the window. Now all there is to know about Germaine and me is that we used to be neighbors and we had been giving each other looks for some time, and they might even have come to something if it hadn't been for her kids, who never let you get a word in. The week was turned upside down already, and it seemed just perfect that I should run into her. I was up and out of that booth like a shot. Before I slipped out the door I could hear Darcy snicker but I didn't care. "Germaine," I said, "what are you doing on this evil street all by yourself?" "Robin," she answered, "I was looking for you." 246 ยท The Missouri Review That might have been true, although I had seen Germaine on Charlo Street plenty of times when she was definitely not looking for me. But that night she was wearing a very thin top and very tight jeans, and just standing there looking at her I could feel something kick over in my belly. She smiled then, as if she could see that happen, and the wind picked up and blew a strand of long, taffy-colored hair across her glasses. "How'd you know I'd be in town tonight?" I said. "Robin," she repeated, "I was looking for you." It sounded good enough for me. When I went back in the restaurant to tell Kyle that Germaine and I were going to the Back Door Lounge for a bit, Darcy was behind the bar washing glasses and he was sitting by himself. "We got to leave in about five hours, Rob," he said, "and you know you won't be worth a damn if you stay up." I nodded my head. "You're probably right, Kyle," I said, trying to look serious. "But you know what? I think I'll try to get away with it." I grinned at him, and he laughed and waved me off. "See you in the morning," he said. The Back Door Lounge was...


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