"Well . . . yeah. I thought you knew."
"No." Her facial muscles felt stiff and inflexible. "You have failed to mention a Mrs. Marcus."
"Because my marriage has nothing to do with you, with us. It hasn't been a real marriage for a long time. Once I've explained my situation at home to you, you'll understand."
"You're married." This time it was a statement, not a question.
"No, no, I'm not going to listen, Joseph. What I'm going to do is hang up on you, you son of a bitch."
The telephone receiver she had been so reluctant even to touch ten minutes earlier she now clung to long after replacing it on the hook. She leaned against the pay phone, her forehead pressing hard against the perforated metal while her hands maintained their grip on the greasy receiver.
Married. He had seemed too good to be true, and he was. Good-looking, charming, friendly, witty, athletic, successful, and financially secure Joseph Marcus was married. If not for an airline ticket she would have had an affair with a married man.
She swallowed a surge of nausea and took another moment to compose herself. Later she would lick her wounded ego, berate herself for being such a Pollyanna, and curse him to hell and back. But right now she had work to do.
Joseph's revelation had left her reeling with disbelief. She was furious beyond measure. She was terribly hurt, but more than anything she was embarrassed by her gullibility. All the more reason she was not about to let the bastard affect her work performance.
Work was her panacea, her life support. When she was happy, she worked. Sad, she worked. Sick, she worked. Work was the cure for all her ills. Work was the remedy for everything . . . even heartbreak so profound you thought you'd die.
She knew that firsthand.
She gathered up her pride, along with her notes on the Dendy story and Gully's directions to Hera, Texas, and ordered herself to mobilize.
Compared to the dimness of the hallway, the fluorescent lighting in the store seemed inordinately bright. The cowboy had left. The elderly couple were browsing through the array of magazines. The two Spanish-speaking men were eating their burritos and talking quietly together.
Tiel sensed their smoldering gazes as she went past them on her way to the refrigerated cabinets. One said something to the other that caused him to snicker. It was easy to guess the nature of the comment. Thankfully, her Spanish was rusty.
She slid open the door to the refrigerator and selected a six-pack of high-voltage cola for the road. From a rack of snack food she chose a package of sunflower seeds. During college she had discovered that cracking open the salty seeds in order to get to the kernel inside was a good manual exercise to keep one awake while studying. Hopefully it would translate to night driving as well.
She debated whether or not to buy a bag of chocolate-covered caramels. Just because a man she had been dating for weeks had turned out to be a married shit-heel didn't mean she should use that as an excuse to binge. On the other hand, if ever she deserved a treat
The security camera in the corner of the ceiling virtually exploded, sending pieces of glass and metal flying.
Instinctively Tiel recoiled from the deafening noise. But the camera hadn't exploded on its own. A young man had entered the store and fired a pistol at it. The gunman then aimed his weapon at the cashier, who screeched a high note before the sound seemed to freeze inside her throat.
"This is a holdup," he said melodramatically, and somewhat needlessly, since it was apparent what it was.
To the young woman who had accompanied him into the store, he said, "Sabra, watch the others. If anyone moves, warn me."
Well, I might die, Tiel thought. But at least I'll get my story.
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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