"Okay then. Not too far in front of you is a turnoff onto state highway Two-oh-eight. Take it south to San Angelo. On the south side of San Angelo you're gonna intersect with"
"Gully, about how far out of my way is this detour going to take me?"
"I thought you didn't care."
"I don't. I'd just like to know. Rough estimate."
"Well, let's see. Give or take . . . about three hundred miles."
"From Angel Fire?" she asked faintly.
"From where you are now. Doesn't count the rest of the way to Angel Fire."
"Three hundred round trip?"
She expelled a long sigh, but was careful not to let him hear it. "You said highway Two-oh-eight south to San Angelo, then what?"
She steered with her knee, held the phone with her left hand, and took notes with her right. The car was on cruise control, but her brain was in overdrive. Journalistic juices were pumping faster than the pistons in her engine. Thoughts of long pleasant evenings spent in a porch rocker were swapped for those of sound bites and interviews.
But she was getting ahead of herself. She lacked pertinent facts. When she asked for them, Gully, damn him, turned mulish on her. "Not now, Tiel. I'm as busy as a one-armed paperhanger, and you've got miles to cover. By the time you get where you're going, I'll have a lot more info."
Frustrated and supremely irked with him for being so stingy with the details, she asked, "What's the name of the town again?"
The highways were arrow-straight, flanked on both sides by endless prairie with only an occasional herd of cattle grazing in irrigated pastures. Oil wells were silhouetted against a cloudless horizon. Frequently a tumbleweed rolled across the roadway in front of her. Once she got beyond San Angelo, she rarely saw another vehicle.
Funny, she thought, the way things turn out.
Ordinarily she would have elected to fly to New Mexico. But days ago she had decided to drive to Angel Fire, not only so she could visit Uncle Pete along the way, but also to get herself into a holiday frame of mind. The long drive would give her time to decompress, work the kinks out, begin the period of rest and relaxation before she ever reached the mountain resort, so that when she did arrive, she would already be in vacation mode.
At home in Dallas, she moved with the speed of light, always in a rush, always working under a deadline. This morning, once she had reached the western fringe of Fort Worth and put the metropolitan sprawl behind her, when the vacation became a reality, she had begun to anticipate the idyllic days awaiting her. She had daydreamed of clear, gurgling streams, hikes along trails lined with aspens, cool, crisp air, and lazy mornings spent with a cup of coffee and a fiction best-seller.
There would be no schedule to keep, nothing but hours in which to be lazy, which was a virtue unto itself. Tiel McCoy was way past due to engage in some unabashed ennui. She'd already postponed this vacation three times.
"Use 'em or lose 'em," Gully had told her of the vacation days she had accumulated.
He had lectured her on how her performance, as well as her disposition, would greatly improve if she gave herself a breather. This from the man who hadn't taken more than a few vacation days in the past forty-something yearscounting the week required to have his gallbladder removed.
When she reminded him of this, he had scowled at her. "Precisely. You want to wind up an ugly, shriveled, pathetic relic like me?" Then he'd really hit the nail on the head. "Taking a vacation isn't going to jeopardize your chances. That job'll still be up for grabs when you get back."
She easily inferred the meaning behind that sly remark. Miffed at him for homing in on the real reason behind her reluctance to leave work for any period of time, she had grudgingly consented to going away for a week. The reservations had been made, the trip scheduled. But every schedule should have a little bit of flexibility built in.
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