I just heard the news bulletin on my car radio."
Tiel McCoy didn't begin this telephone conversation with any superfluous chitchat. That was her opening statement the instant Gully said hello. No preamble was necessary. Truth be known, he had probably been expecting her call.
But he played dumb anyway. "That you, Tiel? Enjoying your vacation so far?"
Her vacation had officially begun that morning when she left Dallas and headed west on Interstate 20. She had driven as far as Abilene, where she stopped to visit her uncle, who'd lived in a nursing home there for the past five years. She remembered Uncle Pete as a tall, robust man with an irreverent sense of humor, who could barbecue a mean brisket and knock a softball out of the park.
Today they had shared a lunch of soggy fish sticks and canned English peas and watched an episode of Guiding Light. She'd asked if there was anything she could do for him while she was there, like write a letter or buy a magazine. He had smiled at her sadly and thanked her for coming, then gave himself over to an attendant who'd tucked him in for his nap like a child.
Outside the nursing home, Tiel had gratefully inhaled the scorching, gritty West Texas air in the hope of eradicating the smell of age and resignation which had permeated the facility. She had been relieved the family obligation was behind her, but felt guilty for the relief. By an act of will she shook off her despair and reminded herself that she was on vacation.
It wasn't even officially summer yet, but it was unseasonably warm for May. There'd been no shade in which to park at the nursing home; consequently her car's interior had been so hot she could have baked cookies on the dashboard. She flipped on the AC full-blast and found a radio station that played something other than Garth, George, and Willie.
"I'm going to have a wonderful time. The time away will be good for me. I'll feel a lot better for having done it." She repeated this internal dialogue like a catechism, trying to convince herself of the truth of it. She had approached the vacation as though it were equivalent to taking a bad-tasting laxative.
Heat waves made the highway appear to ripple, and the undulating movement was hypnotic. The driving became mindless. Her mind drifted. The radio provided background noise of which Tiel was barely aware.
But hearing the news bulletin was like getting goosed by the driver's seat. With a lurch, everything acceleratedthe car, Tiel's heart rate, her mind.
Immediately she fished her cell phone from her large leather satchel and placed the call to Gully's direct line. Again declining any unnecessary conversation, she said to him now, "Give me the skinny."
"What's the radio putting out?"
"That earlier today a high school student in Fort Worth kidnaped Russell Dendy's daughter."
"That's about the gist of it," Gully confirmed.
"The gist, but I want details."
"You're on vacation, Tiel."
"I'm coming back. Next exit, I'll make a U-turn." She consulted her dashboard clock. "I'll be at the station by"
"Hold on, hold on. Where're you at, exactly?"
"About fifty miles west of Abilene."
"What, Gully?" Her palms had become damp. She experienced the familiar tickle in her belly that only happened when she was following a hot lead to a super story. That unique adrenaline rush couldn't be mistaken.
"You're on your way to Angel Fire, right?"
"Northeastern part of New Mexico . . . Yeah, there it is." He must have been reading a highway map as he spoke. "Naw, never mind. You don't want this assignment, Tiel. It would take you out of your way."
He was baiting her, and she knew he was baiting her, but in this instance she didn't mind being baited. She wanted a piece of this story. The kidnaping of Russell Dendy's daughter was big news, and it promised to become even bigger news before it was over. "I don't mind taking a detour. Tell me where to go."
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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