"Russ Dendy's child."
"His one and only."
"Is the FBI on it?"
"FBI. Texas Rangers. You name it. If it wears a badge, it's working this one. Waco all over again. Everybody's claiming jurisdiction and wants in on the action."
Tiel took a moment to absorb the broad scope of this story. The short hallway in which the pay phone was located led to the public rest rooms. One had a cowgirl in a fringed skirt stenciled in blue paint on the door. The other, predictably, had a similar silhouette of a cowpoke in chaps and ten-gallon hat, twirling a lasso above his head.
Glancing down the hall, Tiel spotted the real thing coming into the store. Tall, slender, Stetson pulled down low on his forehead. He nodded toward the store's cashier, whose frizzy, overpermed hair had been dyed an unflattering shade of ocher.
Nearer to Tiel was an elderly couple browsing for souvenirs, apparently in no hurry to return to their Winnebago. At least Tiel assumed the Winnebago at the gas pumps outside belonged to them. Through bifocal eyeglasses the lady was reading the ingredients of a jar on the shelf. Tiel heard her exclaim, "Jalapeño pepper jelly? Good lord."
The couple then joined Tiel in the hallway, moving toward their respective rest rooms. "Don't dally, Gladys," the man said. His white legs were virtually hairless and looked ridiculously thin in his baggy khaki shorts and thick-soled athletic shoes.
"You mind your business, and I'll mind mine," she retorted smartly. As she moved past Tiel she gave her a men-think-they're-so-smart-but-we-know-better wink. Another time, Tiel would have thought the senior couple cute and endearing. But she was thoughtfully reading what she'd taken down almost verbatim from Gully.
"You said riding shotgun.' Strange choice of words, Gully."
"Can you keep a secret?" He lowered his voice significantly. "Because my ass will be grass if this gets out before our next newscast. We've scooped every other station and newspaper in the state."
Tiel's scalp began to tingle, as it did when she knew she was hearing something that no other reporter had heard, when she had uncovered the element that would set her story apart from all the others, when her exclusive had the potential of winning her a journalism prize or praise from her peers. Or of guaranteeing her the coveted spot on Nine Live.
"Who would I tell, Gully? I'm sharing space with a fresh-off-the-range cowboy buying a six-pack of Bud, a sassy granny lady and her husband from out of stateI'm guessing by their accents. And two non-English-speaking Mexicans." The pair had since come into the store. She'd overheard them speaking Spanish while heating packaged burritos in a microwave oven.
Gully said, "Linda"
"Linda? She got the story?"
"You're on vacation, remember?"
"A vacation you urged me to take!" Tiel exclaimed.
Linda Harper was another reporter, a darned good reporter, and Tiel's unspoken rival. It stung that Gully had assigned Linda to cover such a plum of a story, which rightfully should have belonged to her. At least that's the way she saw it.
"You want to hear this or not?" he asked cantankerously.
The elderly man emerged from the men's room. He moved to the end of the hall, where he paused to wait for his wife. To kill time, he took a camcorder from a nylon airline bag and began tinkering with it.
Gully said, "Linda interviewed Sabra Dendy's best friend this afternoon. Hold on to your hat. The Dendy girl is pregnant with Ronnie Davison's kid. Eight months gone. They've been hiding it."
"You're kidding! And the Dendys didn't know?"
"According to the friend, nobody did. That is, not until last night. The kids broke the news to their parents, and Russ Dendy went apeshit."
Copyright © 2000 by Sandra Brown
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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