And if flexibility was ever called for, it was when Russell Dendy's daughter was allegedly kidnaped.
Tiel held the pay phone's sticky receiver pinched between the pads of her thumb and index finger, loathe to touch any more of the surface than necessary. "Okay, Gully, I'm here. Well, near, at least. Actually, I'm lost."
He cackled. "Too excited to concentrate on where you're going?"
"Well, it's not like I've missed a thriving metropolis. You said yourself, the place isn't even on most maps."
Her sense of humor had worn off about the time she'd lost all feeling in her butt. Hours ago, her posterior had gone numb from sitting. Since talking to him, she had stopped only once, and then only out of extreme necessity. She was hungry, thirsty, tired, cranky, achy, and none too fresh because she'd been facing into the setting sun for a long portion of the trip. The car's AC had gone humid from overuse. A shower would be bliss.
Gully didn't improve her mood any by asking, "How'd you manage to get lost?"
"I lost my sense of direction after the sun went down. The landscape looks the same from every angle out here. Even more so after dark. I'm calling from a convenience store in a town with a population of eight hundred twenty-three, according to the city-limit sign, and I think the chamber of commerce fudged that number in their favor. This is the only lighted building for miles around. The town is called Rojo something."
"Flats. Rojo Flats."
Naturally Gully knew the full name of this obscure hamlet. He probably knew the mayor's name. Gully knew everything. He was a walking encyclopedia. He collected information the way frat rats collected coeds' phone numbers.
The TV station where Tiel worked had a news director, but the man with the title conducted business from inside a carpeted office and was more a bean counter and administrator than a hands-on boss.
The man in the trenches, the one who dealt directly with the reporters, writers, photographers, and editors, the one who coordinated schedules and listened to sob stories and chewed ass when ass-chewing was called for, the one who actually ran the news operation, was the assignments editor, Gully.
He'd been at the station when it signed on in the early fifties, and had mandated that they would have to carry him out of the place feetfirst. He would die before he retired. He worked a sixteen-hour day and begrudged the time he wasn't working. He had a colorful vocabulary and countless similes, an extensive repertoire of yarns about bygone days in broadcast news, and seemingly no life beyond the newsroom. His first name was Yarborough, but only a few living persons knew that. Everyone else knew him strictly as Gully.
"Are you going to give me this mysterious assignment or not?"
He wouldn't be rushed. "What happened to your vacation plans?"
"Nothing. I'm still on vacation."
"I am! I'm not canceling my week off. I'm just postponing the start of it, that's all."
"What's the new boyfriend gonna say?"
"I've told you a thousand times, there is no new boyfriend." He laughed his phlegmy, chain-smoker's laugh that said he knew she was lying, and that she knew he knew.
"Got your notepad?" he asked suddenly.
Whatever germs had been teeming on the telephone were probably living with her now. Reconciled to that, she propped the receiver on her shoulder and held it there with her cheek while she removed a notepad and pen from her satchel and placed them on the narrow metal ledge beneath the wall-mounted telephone.
"The boy's name is Ronald Davison," Gully began.
"I heard that much on the radio."
"Goes by Ronnie. Senior year, same as the Dendy girl. Won't graduate with any honors, but he's a solid B student. Never in trouble until today. After homeroom this morning, he boogied out of the student parking lot in his Toyota pickup with Sabra Dendy riding shotgun."
Copyright © 2000 by Sandra Brown
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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