For Disclaimers See Chapter 1:
THE BLUEST EYES IN TEXAS
Copyright 2000 by Texbard
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(posted April 5, 2001)
"Kennedy Nocona." Kennedy answered her phone and leaned back in her chair, her feet propped up on the desk. It was late Monday afternoon and she had been falling asleep reviewing the deposition transcript of an expert witness regarding the care and maintenance of oil wells. It involved a mineral-rights case she had taken on in far south Texas, an area of work she was considering branching into.
"Hey." Carson's welcome voice drifted over the line, and the brunette was instantly wide-awake. "Any word from Mike?"
"Yeah." Kennedy rolled her trackball mouse, searching for a set of notes she had taken while talking to the insurance attorney. "Good news, I think."
"I could really use some." The paralegal sounded dejected, the catch in her throat suggesting she was either on the verge of tears, or more likely, she hadn't slept well the night before. Kennedy had finally gotten it out of her friend that Carson spent most of her nights since her dinner with Nick, tossing and turning, either having nightmares or laying awake worrying about how things were going to turn out.
"Mike told me that he is going to do his very best to keep all of this out of the papers, including the legal ones." She scanned the computer screen. "He also said that once everything goes down, he and his office will personally offer job placement assistance to the innocent employees of your firm, even if they have to hire an agency to help them for free."
The silence on the other end of the line seemed endless. "Carson?"
"What's the catch?" The blonde's voice was so quiet that Kennedy could barely hear it.
She's too damned smart. The attorney took a deep breath. "Mikey wanted me to stress to you that if it were up to him, he would be willing to offer all of that with no strings attached."
Carson could just imagine the threats that must have rained down from her lover for the hyperactive man to agree to that. "But . . .?"
"But no amount of screaming, threatening, or tantrums on my part held any weight with the people over Mikey's head." Kennedy swung around in the swivel chair, looking out the window at the beginnings of rush-hour traffic on the street outside. "Sorry, sweetheart. I really tried to get you completely out of having to do anything further except start packing your place up for the move."
"S'Okay." Carson had been braced all day, expecting the insurance board to want something from her. "What do they want?"
"He gave me a list . . ." She scrolled further down. "Your palm wizard is going to come in handy. They want downloads of Tony's billables for the last two years, if you can get to them. Can you?"
"Yeah." The blonde closed her eyes. So it begins. Why do I feel like Benedict Arnold? "Everyone's billables are available to anyone else who bills. Although I've never gone and looked at anyone else's hours. What else?"
"Copies of any electronic or hard copy calendars Tony keeps, also for the last two years." Valerie popped her head into Kennedy's office, and the brunette waived her away. The dark-haired woman frowned in agitation and disappeared.
"That will be easy, at least the computerized one. I can download that to the wizard too. The hard copy may be more difficult. I can probably get the one he keeps for this year, but last year may not be around anymore. He might have tossed it by now. If not, it's somewhere in the black hole of his office. I might be able to snoop around in there this weekend if . . ."
"Carson." Kennedy cut her short with one adamant word. "Don't do anything to put yourself in danger, okay?"
"Okay, but . . ."
"No 'buts'. If any of this stuff might put you in any kind of danger, don't try to get it. I'll just tell Mikey he can go stuff it up his . . ."
"Okay." Carson finally chuckled. "I'll be careful. I promise. What else do they want?"
"That's it, for now. Once they look at all of that, they will probably come back and want some records from specific case files." The brunette closed the document on her computer and leaned back again. "How are things there today? Nick bothered you any?"
"No." The paralegal was using the phone in Heidi's office to make the call. She had checked carefully to make sure no on followed her out of the building, telling Rebecca that she had an errand to run and would be back soon. Heidi was actually out of the office with a client, but had given Carson a key and told her to feel free to use it whenever she needed to. Carson suspected that was also Kennedy's doing. Nonetheless, she had purchased an expensive bottle of brandy as a thank-you gift, both for the key and for Heidi retrieving her car. She had laughed at the story of the two sleeping goons in the parking lot. It was the first time anything about the situation had made her truly laugh. "I'm at Heidi's office right now, but she's out."
"Good." Kennedy glanced at the clock. "Anything interesting happen today?"
"Interesting?" The blonde frowned, trying to determine what her lover was fishing at. "No, not really. Just played catch-up from missing work on Friday. Tony was out of the office all day in depositions. Nick was nowhere to be seen. It was actually pretty quiet. I stayed in my office most of the day. The only person who came by was Tamara. I didn't even see our firm runner today, except for him to bring me my mail."
"Oh." Kennedy opened another document on her computer, looking up the main phone number for Carson's firm. "Sweetheart, I miss you."
"Miss you too." Carson sat down on the couch in Heidi's office, sinking into the plush burgundy-upholstered cushions. "The weekend was really nice." She paused, feeling a tad bit shy. "All of it. Well, all of it after we left Mikey's anyway."
"Yeah." The attorney closed her eyes. If she concentrated hard enough, she could still conjure up the moment she woke up on Sunday morning, surrounded by the smell of rose petals, clean cotton linens, and Carson's own sweet scent, Kennedy's face pressed against the soft skin of her lover's back. Soft jazz music greeted her ears, as they had accidentally left the CD changer on continual play all night long. "You know, you're the first person I've ever spent nearly all day in bed with."
"I am?" The paralegal smiled. "That makes it even more special."
It had been a long, lazy morning. Kennedy had come away from the weekend feeling rather decadent. They shared the contents of the breakfast basket that was left outside their door, read the Sunday paper which was included in the basket, and talked extensively about all kinds of things, from their childhoods, to their future dreams, to really silly things, like whether they put both socks on before shoes, or one sock and one shoe on the same foot first.
In between, they spent a great deal of time exploring each other, unhurried, uninterrupted, and uninhibited. They had talked about personal taboos, things that each of them wouldn't do, and fantasies as well. Kennedy smiled, remembering that, especially one that Carson had shared with her involving Kennedy, the barn, and a leather jacket. And not much else. She shook her head and realized Carson was waiting for a response on the other end of the line. "Sorry. I was just thinking about yesterday. It was special. I think I know more about you now than almost anyone else I know."
"Yeah, I feel the same way about you." Carson giggled. "How many people know about that one little spot right above the back of your left knee. You know, the one that . . ."
"Errff." The brunette bit her lip, recalling a very pleasant memory. "No one. Got that? You are the only one who is ever allowed to know about that. Or touch me there. Could get pretty embarrassing, considering what it does to me."
"I kind of like what it does to you." The blonde had discovered quite by accident that stroking the spot at certain critical moments sent her lover over the top. Way over the top. She tested it a few times, just to make sure it wasn't a one-time fluke. "But you're right. I might not like it if anyone else tried it out, so your secret is safe with me, honey."
"Glad to hear it. I'd hate for it to come up, oh say, Thanksgiving weekend. Parker can be relentless in his pursuit of new and evil ways to give me grief." She clicked on her calendar. "Speaking of, Thanksgiving is only about a month away. You wanna fly down here and then drive the rest of the way out, or would you rather fly all the way into Midland?"
"It's up to you, Kennedy. I've never been out that way. How long of a drive is it?"
"It's a few hours drive to Alpine, just from the Midland airport. Flying is probably our best option." She continued to click around. "What day do you think you can leave that week? Maybe I can just book a flight now."
The paralegal became very quiet, and then she cleared her throat. "By then, I might have all the free time I could ever want."
Oh damn. Kennedy mentally slapped herself. "Carson, I'm sorry."
"It's okay." She glanced at her watch. "Speaking of, while I still have a job, I guess I better get back to the office. Maybe I can start downloading some of that stuff Mike wants."
"I'll call you tonight, okay?" The brunette went ahead and stored a booking for Carson from Dallas to Austin, and then another reservation for two from Austin to Midland on the regional carrier, just in case. Then she studied Carson's main office number. "Maybe we can figure out something about getting together this weekend."
"Oh." Carson suddenly became animated. "Halloween weekend. They have a huge street party down on Cedar Springs. You interested?"
"Do I have to dress up?" Kennedy hadn't worn a Halloween costume since junior high school.
"No. Actually, most of the women just wear jeans or khakis, or whatever. It's the queens that go all out. It's pretty amazing, actually. Almost like Mardi Gras." Carson's voice took on a teasing tone. "Although I'd love to see you in something leather."
"What is it with you and leather, anyway?" Kennedy teased back. "Do you have any barns near your apartment?"
"Oh God." The blond blushed furiously, even though she was the only one in the room. "I forgot all about that. Honey, if you wear something leather for Halloween, you need to wear a little bit more than what I described in that conversation."
"Awww. Spoil my fun, will ya?" The attorney was relieved to hear her friend's spirits pick up. "Okay, I'll come up with something you can take me out in public in. I promise. How about I fly in Friday afternoon?"
"Cool." Grey eyes sparkled at the thought of seeing her lover in less than five days. "Hey, I need to get back. Really. I'll talk to you later."
"Later." Kennedy frowned as Valerie appeared in the doorway again. "Love you." The frown became a scowl, as Valerie puckered up, kissing the air silently several times in an exaggerated fashion.
"Love you too," the paralegal's voice held a slightly uncertain note, and the attorney listened as Carson hung up. As soon as she heard a dial tone, she immediately began plugging in her lover's main office number.
"Hold on there, Aphrodite." Valerie stepped into her office. "I need your John Hancock on these payroll documents, unless you want what meager staff we have to bolt for greener pastures. The bank closes in an hour and the check-processors need this deposit made by today, or they won't have the paychecks here by Friday."
"This will only take a minute." Kennedy continued with her call, listening for someone to pick up on the other end. Valerie tossed her free hand up in the air and sat down in a chair across the desk, determined to keep her distracted partner on track.
"Hello." Valerie watched as the brunette spoke with some urgency. "I need to speak with Tamara, she's an attorney in your office. I'm sorry, I don't have her last name. Richardson? Great, thanks." Kennedy's fingers drummed her desktop impatiently. "Hello, Ms. Richardson? You don't know me, but I'm Kennedy Nocona . . . yeah, that Kennedy Nocona . . . no . . . I'm really sorry to bother you, but I was wondering . . ." She glanced at Valerie and swallowed what was left of her pride. "Carson was supposed to get some flowers from me today, and I have a feeling they didn't . . . oh . . . That's what I figured . . . Yeah . . . thanks. Hey, if you don't mind, please don't tell her I called you. I'm going to try to get it fixed, but it might be tomorrow, so I kinda want it to stay a surprise . . . yeah . . . you too. Thanks. Bye."
"Son of a bitch!" The attorney slammed her fist down on the desk. "Of all the times for the florist to screw up. I send her roses every Monday like clockwork, then the first time we . . ." She caught herself ranting in front of a very bemused Valerie. "Dammit!" We make love like bunnies all weekend and then I don't send her a damned thing. No wonder she was sounding so dejected on the phone.
"Now will you sign these?" Valerie started to stand, and was waived back.
"Just a second. I need to make another call." Valerie sat back down. This should be fun to watch, at any rate. Kennedy forcefully punched another number into the keypad. "Hello, this is Kennedy Nocona. I need to speak to the manager . . . Oh, not there? . . . What do I need? I need to know where the hell the flowers are that I ordered this morning . . . I don't know, you tell me. All I know, is they aren't in Dallas where they're supposed to be . . . yeah, well maybe you need to find a different floral affiliate up there . . . I don't care, just . . ." She looked at a small crystal clock on her desk. "You have two hours before that office up there closes. I want those flowers delivered within the hour . . . No, you will not charge me extra. In fact, you're going to toss in an extra dozen at no cost . . . listen, why don't you pull up my account . . ."
She smiled wickedly, waiting. "Yes, that would be me. The one who has used you to send very expensive floral arrangements to everyone and their dog for the past five years. Yes, Im the one who sent our only female governor the farewell arrangement . . . yeah, I felt bad for her too. Besides, I worked on her campaign. It was the least I could do, considering the idiot she lost to . . . yeah, I agree, he'd never be there if he didn't have his daddy's name . . . Yeah, complete moron, I can't believe it either . . . Yeah, too bad we're stuck with him, one way or the other, even after the election."
Valerie watched in total amusement. This was Kennedy at her best. Within a span of minutes, the attorney had managed to turn a potential enemy into a friend, even after she was initially abrasive. It was one of the brunette's professional gifts, the ability to quickly find common ground with someone and win him or her over. She was deadly in front of a jury.
"Yes, I'd appreciate it. You have no idea how important this is . . . Stuffed animal? . . . No charge, huh? Do they have a teddy bear in a leather jacket? . . ." The brunette heard Valerie make a choking noise, and grimaced. Guess I can just burn my butch card after this conversation. "That would be perfect. No, just 'Love you - K' is fine. I need to be discreet . . . wonderful. Thank you so much." She smiled and hung up.
"You are such a schmoozer." Valerie shoved the payroll documents across the desk, watching while Kennedy absently scribbled her name in all the appropriate places. "I take it you had a good weekend?"
The brunette looked at her, her face practically glowing. "Best weekend of my life."
"Oh? Ohhhhh." The dark-skinned woman gave her a knowing grin.
"No. Not that." Kennedy waved her hand at her. "Well. Yeah, that. But that's not what I mean. It was just . . . magical."
"Magical?" Dark brown eyes grew wide. In the four years she had known Kennedy, Valerie had never heard the attorney speak in any way other than a very logical manner. "Kennedy, I know I teased you last week, but you really are in love, aren't you?"
Blue eyes grew deadly serious, more like the Kennedy she knew. "Yes. I can't ever imagine feeling about anyone else the way I feel about her."
"Does she feel the same way?" Valerie knew a little bit about Angela, and that Kennedy hadn't been out on so much as a date since then, as far as she knew. Not until she met Carson. She fervently hoped her friend wasn't setting herself up for a fall. "I mean, this was kind of fast, wasn't it?"
"I . . . I think she feels the same way. I hope so, anyway. She and I talked for a long time yesterday." Kennedy looked down at her lap, collecting her thoughts. "Really talked." Misty blue eyes looked up. "I know her, Valerie. I may not know everything about her yet, but my heart knows her. I don't think I can be without her anymore. It hurts too much when I have to leave her."
"Well. I need to get to the bank." Valerie stood up, trying to hide her concern. "I'm happy for you, my friend. I hope it all works out for you two."
"Thanks. So do I." She watched her friend leave. So do I.
"Ohhh, Carson!" Kevin's excited voice preceded him from way down the hall. "You must have scored some major points this weekend."
The blonde looked up from downloading the billing information and calendar to her palm wizard. What appeared to be a miniature rose bush walked through her office door. "Oh my God. What the heck is all of that?" She smiled. Thought she forgot.
"Let's see . . ." The runner sat a huge round glass bowl on her desk. "It appears to be two dozen assorted roses, half a dozen heart-shaped balloons, and a teddy bear who likes to hang out at biker bars."
"Huh?" Carson looked down at the desktop, as Kevin placed a stuffed brown bear in front of the flowers. A bear that was wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket and a pair of tiny sunglasses, with a little red bandana tied around his head. She blushed. I am soooo not ever going to live down that particular fantasy, am I?
"Carson? Girlfriend, you're looking a little flushed there. Are you feeling alright?" The runner reached down, resting the back of his hand against the paralegal's forehead. "You're a little warm."
"Kevin." Carson batted his hand away and blew an agitated breath out of her mouth. "I'm fine, really."
"Uh-huh." Kevin didn't appear convinced. "Are you sure?"
The phone rang, and the blonde picked it up. "Carson Garret . . . Yes, they just arrived, thank you . . . Look where? . . . Oh, okay." The paralegal put the caller on hold and reached over, grasping the bear and unzipping a pocket on the leather jacket. "Oh my." She peered inside and then looked at the phone. Then she looked up. "Kevin, can you please close the door on your way out?"
"Fine." The runner pretended to be miffed. "I never get to have any fun."
Carson waited until she heard the door latch click closed, and then took the phone off hold. "Yes, I found something there, thank you . . . Yes, you can tell your client that everything arrived just the way she ordered it . . . Yes . . . Thank you again. Bye."
She hung up and just stared at her gifts. She counted eight red roses, eight dark pink roses, eight lavender ones, and a single white one in the middle. Tied to the thick mouth of the fish-bowl container were six silver Mylar heart-shaped balloons. Her eyes finally came to rest on the bear. She dipped her fingers into the open pocket and withdrew a small velveteen bag with satin drawstrings. Slowly, she opened it. Kennedy, what have you done?
She tipped the bag over, and a tiny platinum key charm fell into her hand. She recognized the logo on the small black jewelry bag as that of a prominent department store that was located several blocks from her office building. Wonder what she had to go through to do all of this? She thought about their earlier conversation and realized that her lover had been subtly trying to find out if the delivery had arrived or not. Poor Kennedy. She smiled.
She looked back up at the flowers and frowned. She picked up the phone and dialed Tamara's extension. "Hey. You're the flower expert. What do white roses stand for?"
Her friend smiled and cradled the phone against her shoulder while she finished drafting some notes. "Pure intentions. Did you get a dozen of those this time?"
"Um . . . no. Just one white one." The paralegal wrinkled her nose. "I got red ones too, which you said mean 'I love you.' There are also some pink ones and some lavender ones. What do those mean?"
Roaring laughter on the other end of the line was her answer. Tamara finally managed to speak, wiping a few tears from the corners of her eyes. "Oh, God." She coughed.
"So what do they mean?" Carson scowled at the phone.
The attorney laughed again while she did a quick search on the Internet and then cut and pasted some information into an e-mail. "Here. I'm sending you an answer right now. I need to get back to work. How about we go to lunch tomorrow, 'cause based upon those flowers, I definitely have some questions for you."
"Sure. Sounds great." The blonde hung up, and watched the 'new message' envelope pop up on her screen. She clicked on it, reading the message once, and then reading it again, more slowly:
Pink Roses: I want your body. Can also mean 'you were great last night.'
Lavender Roses: I am enchanted by your loveliness and I really like your breasts.
She rubbed her thumb along the cool metal surface of the key charm. Nocona, you are in so much trouble. She smiled, in spite of herself.
It was almost 6:30 P.M. on Monday when Carson finished downloading the last of the information Mike needed. She grumbled to herself, having missed her spin class. Guess I'll just go put in some time on the step mill. She watched the last file finish copying, and then hit 'send' on the wizard, propelling the information on its way to Kennedy's palm wizard.
She sighed with relief and shut down her computer. Her bears were still standing guard. Every morning when she came in, the bears had been re-arranged overnight so that the camera lense would not be blocked. Every morning when she came in, she put their legs back in front of the lense before she booted up her computer. She hadn't told Kennedy about this new development, not wanting to worry her friend.
It did tell her two things. Someone else had a key to her office and was snooping around in there every night. It also told her that more than likely, they knew she was on to them, at least as far as the camera was concerned.
She packed up her brief case and clipped her slim cell phone to her waistband under her silver grey suit jacket, securely buttoning the single front closure button. She was almost out the door when her office phone rang. Get it or not? She frowned and stepped next to the desk, picking up the receiver. "Carson Garret."
"Carson," Tony's voice sounded urgent. "Glad you're still here. Can you come down to my office for a minute? I need to go over some changes in that Motion for Summary Judgment you drafted this morning. We need to get it filed first thing tomorrow."
The paralegal's shoulders slumped. "Sure. I'll be right there." Wonder if I'm ever going to make it to the gym tonight. And I'm supposed to call Kennedy after that. Hope she's up to a late-night conversation. Carson smiled. Like we haven't been having those almost every night we're apart recently.
She made her way down the hall, noting the completely empty workstations along the way. It never ceased to amaze her how quickly the office was vacated after 5:00 each day. Even most of the attorneys were gone, despite constant gripes by the younger associates that they never saw daylight.
Tony's office door was open and she walked in, approaching his desk. "Hey, Tony." Tony was facing away from her, toward his computer, and she watched him slowly turn to face her. His face was pasty and a fine sheen of sweat covered his forehead. He tugged agitatedly at his tie, loosening it until the knot was pulled halfway down the front of his shirt.
"Tony, are you okay?" She watched him lick his lips a few times, as if he were nervous. "You look like you might pass out or something."
The door behind her suddenly clicked shut, and her nape hairs prickled. She spun around and her knees almost buckled.
"Hello, Carson." Nick stepped out from where he had been hidden behind the door. "We have a few questions about you computer usage this afternoon."
"I . . ." The paralegal turned to look at Tony, who was still sitting mutely at his desk. "Tony?"
"Carson, I'm so sorry," the attorney whispered.
"Where did you download the billing files to, Carson?" Nick circled her. "We know they went to some remote piece of equipment. Something we don't have any tracers on. You have a laptop in that briefcase in your office?"
"No." She tried to bolt around him toward the door, when another man entered the room. She recognized him as the photographer who had followed her and Kennedy at the fair. Oh, God. He grabbed her roughly, and shoved her down into a chair.
"Too late," the photographer snarled. Carson saw her palm wizard in his hand, and realized she had been lured out of her office so it could be searched. "Little bitch already sent the information to that dyke she's screwing."
Anger boiled to the surface, and the paralegal barely kept from lunging at the man. "That's mine. You have no right to go snooping through my office."
"Your office is pretty interesting, little girl. I'd love to have video of whatever you did to earn those flowers. Cute little charm, too." The man grinned evilly and dangled the platinum key in front of her face, before he tossed it into the trashcan.
The paralegal felt her fear growing exponentially. "Please, give that back." Her throat felt constricted, and her voice came out in a choked wheeze.
"Shut up." Without warning, the man slapped her hard across the face, and her head snapped back. Her eyes grew wide in shock, and she wiped her hand across her mouth. She looked down and saw a small smear of blood on her fingers, and felt a throbbing sensation in her upper lip.
"Hey." Tony stood up. "There's no need for that."
"Sit down," Nick growled, and the attorney meekly complied. The short man turned to the stunned blonde and shook his head from side to side. "Oh, Carson, if only you had waited a while before sending out that information, this would have been so much easier. We could have simply deleted it from the wizard and had a nice little chat with you. Now what are we going to do? You've already sent it to Kennedy. She's going to need some incentive to destroy that evidence. We know you two visited the state board of insurance on Friday."
Grey eyes blinked in surprise.
"Yes, we have our sources." Nick sat down on the edge of Tony's desk. "We had hoped it was just a visit between old friends, but we have to check out everything, just to be safe. We have a copy of your friend Mike's file. And here you thought you had eluded us on Thursday. We found out late Friday afternoon exactly where you had been. We lost you again after that, but no matter. We got the important information we needed."
Carson casually eased her hand inside her jacket, pretending to cross her arms, locating her cell phone by feel. "I don't know what you're talking about." She prayed she was hitting the correct numbers on the keypad, as she kept her eyes pinned on Nick.
"I think you do." Nick nodded toward the photographer, who produced a small vial from his pocket, along with a syringe. "We need to go on a little trip, Carson. But we need to make sure you're nice and relaxed for the drive."
"No." The blonde eased out of the chair and started backing toward the door. The photographer tackled her, pinning her to the floor. She screamed and he slugged her, knocking her out. She never felt the needle as it entered her vein.
Kennedy's cell phone rang and she plucked it from her belt. She smiled, noting Carson's number on the caller ID. "Hey there." She frowned, hearing only some very low muffled voices. Then she smiled. I need to show her how to lock the keypad on that new phone. The attorney assumed her lover was out somewhere and had accidentally hit her number on speed dial. She started to hang up, when she realized she heard the same touch-tone phone notes being played over and over again. That's weird. "Carson?" She yelled into the phone. The line went dead and she shrugged, clipping the phone back to her belt.
She looked back at her computer screen, where she had been doing legal research. Something kept nagging at her. Those tones. She tried to ignore her guts, which had started to churn. Okay. She picked up her desktop phone receiver and pressed each number until she found one that matched one of the two tones she had been hearing. "Six?" She spoke aloud to the empty office. She played some more and found the second tone. "Seven."
She closed her eyes, hearing the notes in her head again. "Seven six seven, over and over again." She studied the keypad. "Seven six seven." She looked at the letters underneath the numbers. "Oh my God." She flew out of her office. "Valerie! Call the Dallas County Sheriff's department. Give them Carson's home address and office address. They're both in her client file. She's in trouble."
"What kind of trouble?" The dark-skinned woman appeared from her own office.
"I don't know. I'm on my way to the airport right now. Give them my cell phone number and tell them I'll contact them as soon as I get there." She fumbled with her truck keys. "Her message just said 'SOS'."
Tony Moore stumbled out of his office and lurched around the corner and down the main hallway to the night typing pool bay. A lone typist sat at an end station, intent on a transcription tape. He gripped the edges of her desk with white knuckles, a steady stream of sweat pouring down his face, soaking the collar of his shirt.
The typist looked up and gasped. "Tony?"
"Call the police." Without another word, he passed out, hitting the floor with a resounding thud.
Kennedy exited the plane at a run, shouldering her carry-on and brushing past several passengers, mumbling apologies as she hurried to get a rental car. Two hours had passed since she left her office, and she was beyond frantic. Luckily, her duffle from the hiking trip had still been in the back of the Four-runner, so she at least had toiletries and casual, if soiled, clothing. As she entered the terminal, she found herself snagged and pulled aside by a firm but steady hand.
"Hey there. Slow down before you run over somebody," a raspy voice burred in her ear.
The attorney turned, one arm cocked into a fist. She blinked and pulled her punch at the last minute, watching her assailant duck anyway. "Heidi? What are you doing here?"
"Whoa." Heidi stood back up to her full height. "Glad you recognized me. Valerie called me and told me you were on your way here. Didn't take rocket science to figure out which airline and which flight you'd probably be on." The tall woman handed her friend a large styrofoam cup. "Here. Dinner."
"Not hungry. Gotta go get a car and then meet up with the sheriff." Kennedy's muscles were all in fine-twitch mode, and her eyes darted back and forth warily.
"Shea." The non-nonsense voice broke through, as Heidi gently pulled her friend over to a bench, forcing her to sit down. "Calm down for a minute, while I fill you in on what we do know. As soon as Val called, I did some checking around. Now drink. You're not going to be any good for Carson if you get run down. God knows you have no fat stores, so you've got to keep your energy up." She shoved the cup at Kennedy again. "It's one of those god-awful health shakes you're always drinking."
"Can't." The attorney wrapped her arms around her torso and bent over slightly. "Stomach's all in knots."
"Breathe, Shea." Long fingers carefully probed at Kennedy's corded neck muscles, which were so tight she swore they might snap like a rubber band.
The attorney dropped her head, her hands visibly shaking as they hung over the tops of her knees. "Tell me that this is all a huge misunderstanding on my part, and she's safe at home curled up with those two damned cats I have to compete with for bed space."
Heidi smiled briefly and she swallowed, studying the tormented figure next to her. "No, Shea. She's not. We don't know where she is. Her car is still parked in the lot across from her building. All her stuff was still in her office, purse, brief case, and that flower shop you had delivered to her today. Even the little bear." Under any other circumstances the tall woman would have given her friend major grief about the bear, but it was obvious Kennedy was very close to the breaking point. "I put her briefcase and purse in my car. And the bear."
"Who's on the case?" The attorney finally felt her blood pressure begin to lower, and her brain slowing down enough to have a few rational thoughts.
"Well, um . . . no one." Heidi's fingers stilled, waiting for the explosion.
Her pulse rate shot back up. "No one? What do you mean 'no one'?" The alto voice was a low controlled growl.
"Shea, the sheriff's office said that Valerie didn't give them enough information to warrant sending someone to check it out." Tense muscles became tighter, and Heidi watched the long lean body shift, coming out of the chair in one swift fluid motion.
"You mean no one has gone to check out her office or her apartment during the two hours since I left Austin? God-Dammit! I've got to get out of here." Are there cars available right now?" Kennedy's eyes focused on the rental car counter way down at the end of the terminal.
"Calm down. After I checked her office, I checked Carson's apartment too, used the key in her purse and accidentally set her alarm off, since I didn't have the code. I looked around real quick and then got out of there, since it's a monitored alarm. Didn't want to get arrested when the police showed up. There was no sign that she had been there since this morning. And you are not driving." The tall woman's voice was firm. "I am. The last thing Carson needs right now is for you to get in a wreck because you're so distracted you can't drive."
"I 'm fine . . ." The attorney protested, already moving toward baggage claim. "I've got to go collect my Glock."
"Shea." Heidi pushed off her seat, matching her friend's long strides. "Humor me, please? No arguments right now. You've certainly taken care of me plenty of times when I was in no shape to drive. Let me finally return the favor, okay?"
Blue eyes met hazel in mutual memory and understanding. "Okay." Kennedy reluctantly acquiesced, and finally accepted the shake cup. She took a tentative sip from the straw and entered the revolving doorway that exited to the baggage claim area. She waited on the other side as Heidi joined her. "You remembered to get soy instead of yogurt. Thanks."
"That was easy." Heidi followed her friend across the large room. "I went to the smoothie shop and asked for the worst-tasting, healthiest, all-natural shake they have. Figured that would be right up your alley."
"Good call." The attorney managed to smile. She moved to the doors where security-sensitive luggage was hand-delivered, and paced back and forth for five minutes until an airport guard appeared with a small black case in hand.
"Kennedy Nocona?" He looked past her, as if she were invisible, even though she was the only person waiting nearby. "Mr. Kennedy Nocona?" His voice rose a bit, directed toward the myriad of people milling around the as-yet empty baggage carousel.
The brunette sighed and whipped out her claim ticket, ID, and concealed-weapons permit. "I'm Kennedy Nocona."
The man appraised her skeptically and studied the ID, checking the information on the claim ticket twice. He openly stared, taking in her tailored black pants suit and cream-colored silk blouse, trying to reconcile the strong feminine figure with the bag he held in his hands. Slowly, he relinquished possession of the case. "Here you go, ma'am. You know the rules. Don't open the case until you're outside the terminal, please."
"Yeah." The attorney took the case and re-settled her duffle bag. "Thanks."
They made their way outside and Kennedy stopped. "Hold on a minute." She opened the case and quickly attached a holster to her belt. She shoved a few magazines of ammunition into her pocket and then smoothly slid the Glockmeister 27 into its holster, carefully concealing it underneath her long suit coat.
"Think you're going to need that?" Heidi frowned.
"Hope not." The attorney's chopped voice indicated that the gun was not open for discussion. "Let's go to Carson's office first. Where's your car?"
They reached Heidi's BMW and were soon speeding toward downtown Dallas. Carson's office was only about a fifteen-minute drive from the regional airport. Kennedy shifted, stretching her long legs out in front of her and turning so that her body partially faced Heidi. "Was anyone else at her office when you went by there?"
"Just a few odd associates and a couple of night-secretaries. I hesitated to ask any of them if they knew where she was, 'cause I wasn't sure who all you two are afraid might be on Nick's side." Heidi rolled the window partway down. "Mind if I smoke?"
"No, go ahead." The brunette watched her friend light a cigarette and sighed heavily. That actually looks good right now. Kennedy hadn't smoked since her vision quest five years earlier. With my luck I'd take one puff and get sick. Not a good idea. She pondered calling the sheriff's office and then discarded the idea, deciding to investigate Carson's office herself first.
The ride passed in edgy silence, Heidi nervously smoking two cigarettes and Kennedy staring out the window in mute shock. She replayed her recent conversations with Carson, trying to remember her friend's encounters with both Nick and Tony. She was fairly certain Carson had told her about each time Nick talked to her. Tony was a more difficult issue. As Carson's boss, the paralegal had a lot of contact with him that was totally legitimate. She knew things had been strained between the blonde and her boss, compounded by Carson's conversation with Tony's wife at the health club. Black brows knitted as she focused in on her friend's betrayal by the spineless man. I think he's the first person I need to talk to.
They reached Carson's office and parked Heidi's car, pulling into the space next to Carson's red Integra. Kennedy opened the door and swung her legs out of the car, quickly moving to peer into the Integra's driver's-side window. She used her hand to shield her eyes from the strong overhead outdoor lighting, pressing her face against the untinted glass. A few cassette tapes were scattered on the passenger seat, but the car was otherwise empty.
The attorney moved away from the car and looked up at the sky. Where are you baby? She felt a lump form in her throat and swallowed. Can't cry now. Gotta stay focused. She blinked away a single tear and drew in a long shaky breath. She felt a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"Come on, Shea. Let's go inside and look around." Heidi guided the brunette toward the high-rise. They rode the elevator up and then stepped off at the eighteenth floor. Kennedy looked around the entry area and then up at the security camera. She briefly considered flipping it off and then thought better of it. She opened the door and walked into the mostly-quiet office, her feet sinking into the thick Oriental rug that covered most of the reception-area floor.
She wasn't surprised the main office entrance was unlocked. It was late on a Monday, a night when many employees in law firms found themselves working late, catching up from mail and phone messages that collected over the weekend. She cocked her head and listened, hearing the quiet clicking noises of a computer keyboard. She motioned for Heidi to follow her, as she moved toward the source of the sound.
She rounded a corner into an open area consisting of several empty workstations. One woman sat at a computer, earphones on and fingers flying at a blurred pace as the woman transcribed a dictation tape. Kennedy moved into the woman's line-of-sight, not wanting to startle her. The woman, who appeared to be in her mid-to late twenties, paused, pulling the earphones around down her neck, and pushing short brown bangs out of her face. "May I help you?"
"Yes." Kennedy smiled. "I'm looking for a friend of mine who works here, Carson Garret. Do you know her?"
"Yeah." The woman turned in her chair, more-fully facing the tall woman. "Paralegal, right?"
"Right." The brunette took a seat at the station next to the woman, not wanting to intimidate her with her height. Heidi followed suit. At six feet two inches, the honey-haired woman slightly topped Kennedy's five feet eleven inches. Standing together they were quite formidable. "Have you seen Carson tonight?"
"No." The secretary adjusted a pair of wire-framed glasses further up onto the bridge of her nose. "But with all the excitement, it's quite possible I missed her if she did walk by here."
"Excitement?" Kennedy's eyes lit up, hoping for a clue as to her lover's whereabouts.
"Yeah." The secretary warily eyed Kennedy, who appeared ready to spring from her chair. "One of the attorneys came out here earlier this evening and passed out right here in front of my desk. I called the paramedics. Poor man, he was so out of it, he asked me to call the police instead of an ambulance. He was really confused, sweating and real pale."
"Oh." The attorney slid to the edge of her seat. "Who was it?"
"Tony Moore." The night worker bit her lip in thought. "Hey, isn't he Carson's boss? I mean I don't always keep track of who goes with who around here, since most of the time I'm here late at night by myself, but . . ."
"Son-of-a-bitch!" Kennedy abruptly stood up. "Where is he now? Do you know what was wrong with him?"
"They took him to the ER, only about thirty minutes ago. I contacted Mr. Howard, the head guy, and told him what happened. He was going to get in touch with Tony's wife. I think I'm the only one left in the whole office right now. Place emptied out after that happened. No one could concentrate on work anymore, except me. I have no choice. One of the real slave drivers wants this document finished by eight a.m. tomorrow. That's all I know. The wheeled him out on a stretcher. Had all kinds of tubes and an Oxygen mask on." The secretary also stood up. "Do you know Mr. Moore, too?"
"No." Kennedy nervously curled and uncurled her fists. "Not personally. I think I'll be going now, since Carson isn't here."
"Oh. Okay." The woman put her earphones back on. "Sorry I couldn't be of more help."
"No problem." Kennedy made her way back through the reception area toward the other side of the firm and Carson's office, the sounds of the secretary's keyboard fading away behind her. Heidi followed, looking over her shoulder every now and then. The tall woman shivered, an internal chill rather than one induced by the abundant air conditioning so common to Dallas office buildings.
The brunette reached Carson's office and slowly stepped inside. She inhaled the scent of fresh-cut roses, mingled with a slight hint of her lover's perfume. The paralegal's computer was shut down, and there was no sign of any kind of struggle in the small space. "Let's go check out Tony's office." Blue eyes rested thoughtfully on the large bouquet. I'm gonna find you, sweetheart. And you're gonna get flowers from me for a long time to come.
They made the turn down the corridor that led to the plush corner office. Kennedy flipped on the lights and walked very slowly around the room, taking in the framed diplomas and various sports-related memorabilia, including several autographs of famous golfers, baseball players, and football players. She moved toward Tony's desk and idly spun his leather desk chair around. She turned to go back to the doorway where Heidi was keeping watch, when light glinting off metal caught her eye. She looked down and sucked in a breath, retrieving a small object from Tony's trashcan. "Oh God, Heidi. They've got her."
"Shea." Heidi watched her friend sink into a guest chair. "What is it?"
"I . . . gave her this with the stuffed bear. Called the store and ordered it, and then had the florist pick it up on their way here. I . . . just wanted to give her something special that she could carry around with her." She rubbed the key thoughtfully with her thumb, realizing it was too small to really bear any fingerprints.
"What is it?" Heidi bent down, looking at the platinum charm.
"Key to my heart," the broken voice whispered. "I didn't really spell that out for her. Was going to tell her in person, and give her a charm bracelet to put it on. Thought I'd get some more charms to add to it before this weekend."
"Shea." Heidi placed one hand against a broad upper back. "Do you really think they've taken her somewhere? And do you know who 'they' might be besides Nick?"
"I just don't see why this charm would be in Tony's trash can." She raked her hand back through thick dark locks. "I guess it's conceivable that she could have been holding onto it or had it in her pocket, and accidentally dropped it while she was in here for some reason. But seems awfully funny that it just happened to fall into the trash can."
"I think you should call the police again." Heidi stepped around the desk to pick up the phone.
"Wait." The attorney stood up. "I want to go over this office with a fine-toothed comb first. Make sure I have enough information for the bastards to have to come down here." Kennedy peered out the window at the downtown Dallas night skyline, a mixture of white, red, and green lights that bore testament to a new thriving inner-city area, where many people had chosen to live in high-rise apartment buildings and renovated lofts right in the heart of the business district. "Heidi, can you go down and get Carson's purse and briefcase from your car? I want to check the contents for clues."
"Sure." The tall woman moved across the floor and then paused in the doorway. "Will you be okay here until I get back?"
"Yeah." Kennedy's attention was only halfway on her friend, her eyes already searching around the office. "Be careful."
Heidi disappeared, and Kennedy moved to the other side of the desk. She opened each desk drawer, finding nothing of interest. She looked around the entire office, trying to see if it looked like anyone had fought or struggled there. There were several footprints pressed into the carpet, but nothing she could really distinguish as Carson's. She sighed in frustration and sat back down in the guest chair, resting her elbows on her knees and placing her head in her hands.
She blinked, surprised at the scattering of tears that ran down her nose and dripped off the end onto the leather seat between her legs. She reached down and brushed them off the smooth surface. As her vision cleared she frowned, noting a small brownish-red dried streak on the seat. She stood and knelt down next to the chair, getting at a low angle. Looking more closely, she saw two dried fingerprints on the arm of the chair, the dark substance in contrast to the slightly lighter tan leather.
Blood? The fingerprints were small enough to be Carson's. Kennedy shuddered and spent a long moment staring at the prints. That should be enough to make the police get their asses down here.
She stood and picked up the trashcan, carefully sifting through the contents. Several drafts of documents were waded up, along with a couple of gum wrappers and the remains of a package of antacid. She reached the bottom of the container and gasped softly, spying a syringe. She left it in place, careful not to touch it, her mind reeling at the possible implications. I hope Tony just has a serious drug habit, or is a diabetic.
She sat down in Tony's chair and closed her eyes, waiting for Heidi to return. Please God. I know I don't talk to you very often, but please let her be okay. Please bring her back to me. I can't lose her. I can't go through that again. Please.
Heidi returned and stopped in the doorway. "Shea?" She moved closer, watching as the strong body shook slightly in silent tears. "Did something else happen?"
The attorney sniffed and swiped her hand across her face. "Give me those." She took Carson's purse and dumped it out on the desktop. A wallet, a pair of sunglasses, a package of breath mints, a comb, a container of lip-gloss, and a packet of tissue fell into a pile. "Nothing here."
She opened the leather briefcase and peered inside. Heidi watched, hearing a small displeased grumble. "Shea, will you tell me what's going on? Are you going to call the police now?"
"No." Kennedy stood and walked over to the window, hugging her body with her arms. Carson's palm wizard was conspicuously missing from her brief case. She knew the blonde never took it out of the case, except to use it. She watched idly as a fire truck passed by on the street below, lights turning but no siren noise to accompany them. She turned back around, her facial features an odd mixture of grief, anger, and stubborn determination. "No. We're going to the hospital."
Slowly, Carson became aware of her surroundings, her eyelids still too heavy to open. She tried to swallow but her mouth was so dry, it hurt. Her tongue cleaved to the roof of her mouth, and her chest felt as if it were constricted by thick bands. Drawing breath took extreme concentration.
Uggghhhh. Her brain was not yet able to focus, her thoughts scattered in random patterns as she began to make some sense out of her current state. She tried to move, tried desperately to open her eyes, but even her eyelids felt like they weighed a hundred pounds. Her legs and arms refused to obey her feeble mental commands to bend.
She released a shallow rasping sigh, and was vaguely aware of shadows shifting over her. Gruff male voices reached her hearing but she couldn't understand what was being said. She finally made out the sound of feet pattering across the room, and a door being opened and closed, the hinges squeaking slightly with its movement. The door opened again and the footsteps approached her.
"Dammit Marcello, I think you gave her too much of that . . . what was it?" Nick's eyes bulged with anger and his face was flushed dark red.
"I dunno," the Italian man scratched his head. "Some sedative my brother got somewhere. He told me to just fill the syringe and stick her."
"She's kind of small. Don't you think he should have taken that into account?" Nick peered at the blonde, who had been completely out for almost four hours. "Shouldn't she be awake by now? Dammit, if she dies because of your screw-up, you're taking the fall for it, not me. I need her coherent enough that she can talk to her girlfriend and help us convince her to get her friends at the state to call off their investigation." The short man stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
The loud clap of the door against the frame caused Carson to jerk, her eyes still closed. She mumbled incoherently, her throat muscles working as she tried to swallow again. That voice. The voice frightened her but she couldn't remember why. Or where she had heard it before.
Marcello observed her slight movements and shrugged. He stole across the room and poured a large cup of water and made his way back to the bed, stopping for a moment to see if the blonde would wake up of her own volition. Her eyelids fluttered slightly, but didn't open. He grinned. Wake up little bitch.
Cold water splashed across her face and chest, and Carson whimpered, trying to shrink away from the source. Her body wouldn't obey, and she whimpered again. Her eyes opened briefly, but the brightness of the track lighting bore into her dilated pupils, and she cried out before closing them again. The pain was intense, shooting into her skull and filtering out to her temples. A low moan emanated from her lips, and with great effort, she dragged a heavy hand up to cover her face.
"Come on, wake up Blondie." Marcello shook her violently, sending jolts of additional pain through her hypersensitive nervous system. "You ain't gonna die on me."
The paralegal felt the darkness closing in, and she shuddered, before it claimed her once more.
"That's it, ma'am." The policeman made a few notes on a pad and slipped his pen into his pocket. "We'll send the syringe and the samples to the lab. It should take twelve to twenty-four hours to get the results back. You're sure these strands of hair belong to your friend?"
"Yeah." Kennedy felt her cheeks burning. She had gone into her own duffle bag to search for the short blonde hairs, not trusting that all the ones in Carson's office belonged to Carson. She had carefully plucked several of them from her hiking clothes and the little red tank top she had worn on Saturday night. "They're hers."
"We'll have our video specialists start looking at these tapes first thing in the morning." The officer held up a box that contained twenty hours worth of video, ten from Carson's office and ten from Tony's. They had broken into the surveillance room on the seventeenth floor to collect them.
"Tomorrow morning?" The attorney felt her tight hold on her polite control slipping. "Why not tonight? She could be anywhere by tomorrow morning. Don't you think that the sooner we look at them, the better?"
"Ma'am." The policeman scratched his head. "Like I told you when you first called us. Until we determine that the blood scrapings from that chair belong to your friend, or until the syringe proves to have samples of her tissue on it, we have to treat this like a regular missing persons case. We don't usually consider foul play until someone has been missing for forty-eight hours. Our video guys are all gone for the evening. The first one comes back on duty at o-seven hundred."
"Then let me look at them. I know when I last talked to her. I don't see why you needed that many hours of tape anyway. You really only needed about five hours, from two o'clock on." Kennedy reached for the tape box, only to have it slowly withdrawn from her reach.
"Sorry, ma'am. I can't let you have these. They're police evidence now." The officer reached out and briefly patted the brunette's arm. "Why don't you go get some sleep and call us tomorrow afternoon after we've looked at these?"
Kennedy jerked her arm away. Several choice responses came to mind, and she felt a slow boil in her veins. She measured her words carefully. "How am I supposed to sleep? I'm not going to be able to rest until she's safe. Do you understand that?"
"Shea." Heidi moved in beside her. The tall woman had been quietly observing from a couch in the law firm's reception area. "Let them do their work, okay?"
"That's just it." The attorney hissed through clenched teeth. "They aren't. They don't care that she's somewhere with a man who might hurt her, or . . . something." Kennedy would not allow herself to dwell on the possibilities. She had re-counted their entire history regarding Nick Giovani to the police. The knowledge that he wanted to sleep with her lover, and the thought that he might have her with him, made her so nauseous that twice she had gone running for the ladies' room, almost losing the health shake she had managed to consume.
"We do care ma'am." The policeman did look genuinely sorry, his kind eyes appraising the torn woman in front of him. That she cared a great deal for her missing friend was obvious. "It's just that we have procedures we're bound to follow. We can't change them for one person."
"Fine." Kennedy threw up her hands in defeat. "Go on. But you'll be hearing from me first thing in the morning."
"Thank you ma'am. Try to have a good evening." The officer tipped the edge of his hat and hastily left the office before the brunette thought of more questions to ask.
"Dammit!" Kennedy picked up a stapler from the receptionist's desk and hurled it across the waiting area. It hit the far wall and broke into two pieces as it slid down to the floor. "God-Dammit!" She kicked the desk. "Ouch! I think I broke my dammed toe." She hopped backward on one foot, collapsing onto the couch.
"Shea." Heidi carefully sat down next to her, sinking into the dark navy upholstery. "I'm sorry. I know you feel helpless right now, but you did the right thing. Calling them was the right thing to do."
"Was it?" Pained blue eyes looked over at her, deep worry lines etched in Kennedy's forehead. "They won't try to track down Nick because his wife says he's in New York on business. They won't to talk to Tony Moore because he's in ICU and can't be disturbed right now. They won't look at the video until tomorrow, and they won't put a rush order on the lab work. The fact that Carson disappeared and left her stuff and her car behind means nothing to them. Even after I looked at my palm wizard and discovered she had sent me those downloads maybe thirty minutes before I got that call, even that means nothing to them. What kind of idiots are they hiring at the police department these days, anyway?"
"In Dallas . . ." Heidi rubbed her friend's back. ". . . idiots who are overworked and underpaid. Shea, let's go back to my place and try to get some sleep. It's almost midnight. You need to get some rest."
"No." Kennedy scrubbed her face with her hands. "I need to ask a favor of you. Can you go stay at Carson's place tonight, just in case she calls there or comes home? I need to go take care of something."
"Sure. Do you have the alarm code?" Heidi eyed the brunette suspiciously, noting the expression on her face that indicated the brunette was already formulating a plan. One that more than likely was outside the parameters of police procedure. "Shea, what are you going to do?"
"Go visit a friend in the hospital." She stood up, re-tucking her blouse into her slacks and buttoning her suit jacket. "It's what I should have done in the first place."
"Shea . . . I don't think . . ."
"Heidi." The attorney cut her off, her facial features set in stone. "Don't. I have to do this. I'm not going to rest until I do. Just go to Carson's and wait for me. And Parker. He said he'd be here by two a.m." A phone call to her brother had sent him running for the Midland airport.
"Okay." The tall woman reluctantly agreed. "Are you going to walk down with me?"
"Yeah. I'm going to take Carson's car." Kennedy felt around in her pocket for her lover's keys, closing her hand around them.
They reached the cars and parted ways. Kennedy drove in silence, unable to find any music on the radio that didn't grate on her nerves. She considered the past few hours, trying to decide if anything had been accomplished.
Heidi had convinced her that taking matters completely into her own hands was wrong, and Kennedy realized that she was right. She partially blamed herself for not getting the authorities involved from the beginning, wondering if Carson might be safely at home now if she had. After dealing with the police, she wasn't so sure anymore.
They had called the police, and Kennedy had been transferred around several times before they decided that her case belonged with the missing persons unit. It had taken the police thirty minutes to arrive at the firm. The first thing they did was call Trevor Howard, who had come storming down to the offices, not pleased that he had been called down twice in one evening to deal with a crisis.
Against Kennedy's wishes, the police had told Howard most of her story. He had stared at her incredulously, occasionally shaking his head in total disbelief. He repeated several times that Tony Moore and Nick Giovani were fine upstanding men, and there was no way they were involved in anything as heinous as Kennedy was suggesting. She snorted in disgust, just thinking about him. He's either one hell of an actor, or totally clueless as to what's going on right under his own nose. She wasn't sure which one was worse.
Howard had stayed around for an hour, and then finally left after the police investigation was well underway. He had shaken hands heartily with the police officers on the scene, and glared at her before he exited the premises. It was obvious to her that he had at least partially deterred the officers from going after Nick or Tony right away, other than the obligatory phone calls that were made to Nick's home and the hospital. Kennedy had withheld her knowledge of the video surveillance cameras in the computer monitors until after Howard was gone. It was one less thing for him to deny or protest about.
Her thoughts turned to the man she was about to confront. You better not die, you damned bastard. You're gonna tell me where she is, or I'll pull the freakin' plug on whatever they have you hooked up to. She held the steering wheel in a death grip, her fingers curled tightly around the molded plastic covering. Her head had been aching for hours, and she had popped one of her migraine pills just in case. Can't even go there right now.
She reached the hospital and made her way inside, locating the emergency room reception area. There were several people in the adjoining waiting room, most with maladies undetectable to her eyes. She approached the desk and waited for the lone attendant to look up. A pair of brown eyes finally appraised her passively. "Fill out the form and return it to me. If you have insurance, please make sure to give us a phone number to call for verification, and leave your card with me so we can make a copy of it. Then have a seat in the waiting room until we call your name." The woman shoved a clipboard at her.
"I'm not here to see a doctor. I'm here to visit a patient, Tony Moore. He was brought in earlier with heart symptoms." She plastered a concerned look on her face, hoping the woman would have pity on her. "Can you tell me where he is?"
"You family?" The woman eyed her skeptically.
"No." The attorney leaned forward in an effort to get closer to eye level. "Co-worker," she lied. "Fellow attorney." She emphasized the last word. She hated it when her peers used their position to gain favors or to intimidate, but she was desperate.
The woman sighed and rolled her eyes. "It's really after visiting hours, but just a moment." She turned to her computer and typed in a few commands. "He was admitted with a mild heart attack. He's in stable condition in ICU. You can go look at him through the window, if he's awake, but they aren't letting anyone in right now."
"Where is ICU?" Blue eyes darted about the area, ever cautious lest one of Nick's men might be around. She didn't know what all of them looked like, but she assumed they all knew what she looked like.
"Down that hallway and then to the right. Just follow the overhead signs." The receptionist dismissed her with a wave of her hand.
"Thanks." Kennedy slowly made her way down the indicated hall. The sharp medicinal odor that hung in the corridor assaulted her senses and her nose wrinkled in defense. Her loafers tapped quietly on the linoleum floor, and the dry air from vents high on the wall chilled her skin, causing her to shiver.
She made the final turn and moved cat-like toward tall double doors under a lighted sign that read "ICU." She pushed through the doors and walked from window to window, reading the patient names that were posted inside each one against the glass. The last one on the wing bore the name "Moore, A." Oh yeah, his name's Anthony.
She stopped, studying the sleeping figure in the bed. Tony's chest rose and fell evenly, an oxygen line feeding from a tank to his nostrils. An IV hung from an overhead frame, clear liquid dripping into his left arm. Several electrodes were attached to his chest area, and a heart monitor's light blipped in a steady rhythm next to the bed. He was resting in a slightly elevated position, a light blanket covering him up to his chest.
Great. Now what do I do? She looked around, spying a sign indicating that a lounge area was around the corner. She followed its red arrow and pulled up short. A woman with blonde hair was curled up on the couch, two little blonde girls tucked tightly against her. All three of them were asleep, the soft sound of toddler snoring reaching her sensitive ears. Tony's wife and kids. They have to be.
She looked at the scene before her. If not for the circumstances, it would have been one of blissful tranquility. For the first time, the man back in the bed became human to her. This was a family that was about to be ripped apart. Even worse than it already was. You stupid bastard. You have this, and you threw it all away. If Carson and I ever have kids, I'd protect them with my life.
Her thoughts surprised her, and her eyes grew wide as she examined them for a moment. Was she really thinking of the paralegal in those terms? Forever. Commitment. Family. Things that up until a month before, she had firmly closed the door on, convinced that she wasn't fated to have them.
Wonder if she even wants kids? And how would we get them? Would one of us get pregnant, find a sperm donor? Adopt maybe? She smiled. I'd love them, no matter how we get them.
The smile turned to a frown, and she drew in a long shaking breath. Like I deserve that. I can't even protect my girlfriend from people I knew wanted to hurt her. Would probably be best for her if we just go our separate ways after this. What was I thinking? She moved out of the waiting room doorway and sat down on the floor in the hall, her back resting against the cold plastered wall.
She drew her knees up to her chest and rested her forearms across them, her head dropping forward against her arms. Who do you think you are anyway, Xena or Wonder Woman or something? Her cell phone rang, the noise shattering the silence. She quickly plucked it from her belt, and as she swung it around, it rang again, almost causing her to drop it. She juggled it in mid-air before re-gaining her grip, and placed it against her ear as spoke softly. "Hello?"
Carson woke up again, this time opening her eyes. It was dark wherever she was, save for pale light coming in through a window. She listened, trying to determine if she was alone, and heard only the low hum of an air conditioning unit. The cloth against her chest felt wet, and she frowned, slowly lifting her hand up to touch it.
Her body felt so heavy. Her throat was even drier than it had been before, and her head was throbbing. She could feel her heart beating, pulsing and pounding in her chest. Where am I?
She fought to grasp recent memory, and came up blank. She shook slightly, as chills coursed through her body. She realized she was laying in an unfamiliar bed, and had no idea how she got there. Her face hurt, and her upper lip felt swollen. Images of a hand coming toward her face raced across her vision, and she cringed as if she were being hit again. Who hit me?
As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, the objects in the room with her gradually took shape. She could make out a table next to the bed, a sturdy lamp perched on top of it. Across the room was another long table that bore a television. To her left was a closed door. She had no idea what was on the other side. At the end of the room was another door that was open. She heard the sound of water dripping, and was reminded of how thirsty she was.
She tried to roll over, but her body wouldn't obey. There was a phone on the table next to her. With no further thought, she reached over and picked up the receiver. It took all her effort to haul it to her ear. There was no dial tone. She closed her eyes in frustration, and saw a pair of pale blue eyes, framed by dark classical cheekbones and thick black hair. Kennedy. She smiled, the movement causing dry lips to crack and bleed.
Need to call. Her hand came to rest against her hip, feeling the small phone that Nick and his men had failed to notice. She struggled to retrieve it from beneath her jacket, and then concentrated, trying to remember how to use it. She pressed some buttons and waited, her dizzy mind spinning as a voice she could never forget enveloped her like a warm security blanket. She tried to speak, and only a low croak escaped her constricted throat.
Kennedy jerked the phone in front of her eyes. Carson's caller ID was flashing on the small screen, and her heart leaped into her throat. "Carson?" She heard a wheezing noise. "Baby, is that you?"
"K . . . K." The blonde managed the first sound of her lover's name. "Cold." She shivered, her clothing and hair still damp from where Marcello had doused her with the water.
Kennedy closed her eyes as tears squeezed from them. "Baby." She steadied her own voice, which was starting to shake. "Where are you? Are you alone?"
"Where?" Carson mimicked her. "I'm here." Her mind reasoned. "Need you."
"I know." The attorney brushed her fingertips across her face, wiping away the tears as they continued to fall. "Carson, you have to help me. Do you know where you are?"
The paralegal fought for sanity. "No. Dark and cold. In bed." She tried to roll over again. "Can't move."
"Carson, listen to me, okay? I think you've been drugged. That's why you're having trouble talking." Kennedy stood up and walked quietly down the hallway to the ladies' room, not wanting Tony's wife to wake up and hear her just outside the waiting room. "I need you to look around and tell me if you can see anything. Anything at all. Just tell me everything you can see."
"See?" Carson swallowed painfully.
"Yeah. Can you do that for me, sweetheart?" The attorney perched on the edge of the washroom counter.
"'Kay." The blonde looked around. "TV . . . table . . . lamp . . . doors . . . phone . . ." She frowned, reaching for a book on the bedside table. Her fingers examined the pebbled leather cover. "Bible."
"Bible?" Kennedy's mind raced ahead of her. "Baby, is it a Gideon Bible? Are you in a hotel room?"
"Hotel?" Carson croaked dutifully. "Don't know."
"Baby, is there anything else in the room? Anything at all. Is there a window?" The attorney felt her adrenalin pumping, wondering where her friend was, and how long they would be able to talk without whoever was holding Carson walking in on her.
"Yeah." The blonde smiled. "Pretty lights."
"Lights?" Kennedy surged up from her seat and began to pace. "What color, sweetheart? Tell me what you see out the window."
"White. Red. Horse." She giggled.
"Horse?" The brunette frowned. Horses? Where the heck is she? She slowly processed the information and then it hit her. "Baby, is the horse a lighted red one on top of a building?"
"Yeah." Carson's voice rasped. "Flying red horse."
Flying red horse. Kennedy's heart skipped a beat. The flying red horse on top of one of the Dallas office buildings had been a landmark of the downtown area since the fifties. She's somewhere in or near downtown. She forced herself to be calm and continue talking to her lover for as long as possible. "Baby, can you get up and go look out the window?"
Carson held onto the voice that was anchoring her, and forced herself to roll out of bed, landing sprawled on the floor. In the process, she dropped the phone. It hit the carpet with a muted thud, and Kennedy frowned. "Carson? Are you there?" She heard a fumbling noise and then her lover's voice.
"K . . ." The blonde crawled painfully across the thin carpeting, the looped fibers pressing into the palm of the one hand she used to balance with while she held the phone with the other. She finally reached the wall just below the window. "Can't get up." She reached for the windowsill and grasped it, but couldn't muster the strength to pull herself up.
"Baby, you have to try." The brunette desperately needed for her lover to describe the view directly below the window. "Come on, Carson. Please get up and look out the window for me."
Kennedy paused, listening. She quit breathing, as she heard an angry male voice. "Hey, what do you think you're doing?" She heard a slapping noise, followed by a cry that she knew came from Carson. Then she heard a shattering sound, as the phone was slapped from Carson's hand and hit the wall. She heard a few more blows and she gasped, unable to do anything but listen. "Carson?!" She called out. Then the line went dead.
Some goon was beating up her lover. She bent over double, her guts clenching as her breathing came in shallow uneven heaves. Stumbling into a stall, she finally lost the battle to her ongoing nausea, as she gave up the contents of her stomach. Ugghhh. She walked back out and ran cold water, splashing her face and rinsing her mouth out. Her adrenalin was pumping out of control, and a fine sheen of sweat broke out on her forehead. Think.
She snatched up the phone and dialed the police. After screaming at a few people, she was put through to Officer Stanton, the policeman who was in charge of Carson's case. "Officer Stanton, you need to get down to Central Hospital now. I just heard from Carson and she's definitely in trouble . . . Where am I?" She paused, walking out of the ladies' room. "I'm in ICU with Tony Moore. Get down here, now!" She listened as he told her he was on his way, and then hung up.
With singular purpose, she stalked down the hallway and rounded the corner to Tony's room. She quickly looked around and grunted quietly, satisfied that no one was watching. She felt as if she were moving in slow motion, standing outside her own body, as she watched her own hand reach up and push open the door to his room.
Tony stirred in his sleep, sensing her presence as she loomed over his bed. His eyes fluttered open and he blinked. "Who are you?"
"Who am I?" She sat down on the edge of the bed. "I'm Kennedy Nocona, and a heart attack is the least of your worries right now. Jig's up asshole. The police are on their way. Now . . ." She leaned in, making sure he could read the rage in her eyes. "You are going to tell me where Carson is, or else I'm going to start yanking all these tubes and wires from your body, and then I'm going to choke you with them. Do you understand me?"
Tony's eyes grew wide, and then they filled with resignation. He merely nodded, and then thought better of it. "I think I need to call a lawyer."
Kennedy whipped out her cell phone and offered it to him. Very slowly, he punched in a number, and Trevor Howard was called from his home for the third time that evening.
"Hold it! Just hold it!" The judge raised her voice over the small throng that had gathered in the waiting room of the hospital. "This may not be my courtroom, or even my chambers, but you are still under my jurisdiction, and I will not have you talking over each other." The frustrated woman pushed short blonde hair out of her eyes, and searched around for a makeshift gavel, finally pounding her fist on the low coffee table she was seated behind.
"Sorry, your honor." Kennedy stood up tall, doing her best to stay in the disgruntled judge's good graces. Judge Judith Meshuggen was known for her firm no-nonsense approach to the law. She was fair to a fault, but she would not put up with either disrespect or egos that were too big to fit through the courtroom doorway, and she had very little patience for attorneys that loved to hear themselves talk.
It had been a long night, and it was far from over. What had started out as a group of four, Kennedy, Tony Moore, Trevor Howard, and Officer Stanton, had rapidly grown into a small melee of attorneys, police officers, medical personnel, and finally, the judge had been called in, since Tony Moore was in no shape to travel to the courthouse.
Officer Stanton and Trevor Howard had arrived at the hospital at the same time, and briefly talked to Tony. Tony started to tell Howard about his dealings with Nick Giovani, and partway into the discussion, Howard had determined that he could not represent Tony because there was a good chance the firm would be suing him for his indiscretions against interest. Patricia Moore, who was practically blowing smoke out her ears at her husband, had been gracious enough to call the most prominent criminal defense attorney in the city to the hospital, and they had quickly retained him to represent Tony.
Officer Stanton had called the police lab to expedite the tests on the blood scrapings and the syringe, and one of the video experts had been paged to go down to the station and start watching the tapes. At the same time, Kennedy forwarded the information stored in her palm wizard to Mike in Austin, and called him to tell him what was going on. He immediately called some of his statisticians, and they were already busy analyzing the calendar information and the billing information for discrepancies.
It had snowballed from there, with the district attorney, Tony's doctor, and finally the judge and her court reporter being called to the hospital. For much of the discussions, Kennedy paced back and forth in the hallway in abject frustration. No full confession or any helpful information was yet forthcoming, and she still had no idea where Carson was. Parker had arrived and had paced up and down with her, trying to keep his sister in a relatively calm state, explaining to her that her desire to go in swinging would not be a good idea, especially with the police and the district attorney already on site.
Tony's attorney, Russell "Greyhound" Harrison, nicknamed due to his penchant for slipping over the border to the dog tracks in Louisiana, was a savvy defense attorney, and had spent a good part of the evening discussing a plea bargain for Tony with the district attorney. Kennedy had sat in on part of the talks as Carson's representative, and Howard had done likewise on behalf of his firm. The initial charges consisted of insurance fraud, sexual harassment, accessory to stalking, accessory to racketeering, and accessory to kidnapping. The combined maximum penalty for all five charges would have landed Tony in prison for most, if not all, of the rest of his natural life, with possible parole for good behavior.
By the time Greyhound Harrison was done, they had agreed to drop all charges except insurance fraud, and Tony, through Harrison, had agreed to a minimal penalty of two years in federal prison. He had also agreed to quietly give up his law license, so that the firm's name would suffer as little damage as possible. In exchange for the reduced charges and penalties, Tony would tell them everything he knew about Nick Giovani and his activities. However, he wasn't talking until all the details of his plea were completely ironed out. He was, in fact, still back in his hospital bed, with Harrison shuffling back and forth between Tony's room and the lounge area where the rest were gathered.
Kennedy would have agreed to almost anything, if only to speed along the process. She painted on her professional demeanor, but it was obvious to Parker that she was very close to unraveling. Her features were drawn, and more than once he watched her blink and then quickly swipe her hand across her eyes, cursing under her breath at her own perceived weakness. "Hey." He moved in next to her. "Shea, there's no shame in loving someone."
She smiled briefly, releasing a shaky little chuckle in the process. "Thanks." She reached out and clasped his shoulder, giving it a squeeze. "Just need to stay focused right now, and I'm having a real hard time of it. Parker, we've got to get to her. This is making me crazy. What if we take too long, and they move her . . . or something?" Her entire chest ached with pent-up grief. The sounds of the slaps she heard over the phone kept re-playing themselves in her head, and each time she almost jumped a little, imagining what her lover must be going through.
Her phone rang, and she excused herself to go back out into the hallway and answer it. She peered at the caller ID and discovered it was not a published number. She muttered another quiet curse and flipped the phone open with an irritated flick of her fingertips, swinging it up to her ear. "Kennedy Nocona."
"Well, well, well," a male voice greeted her ears, one she didn't recognize.
"Who is this?" She almost growled. I so do not have time for salesmen or prank calls right now.
"It doesn't matter who I am, Ms. Nocona," the voice paused, drawing in an audible breath. She couldn't tell if the man was smoking or maybe having an asthma attack. He coughed, and continued. "What matters is that I know you've got a small army of legal professionals gathered down there at the hospital, and I don't like it."
Her heart almost stopped. "You have Carson, don't you?"
"Maybe I do, and maybe I don't. I do know where she is." The man taunted her with a long bit of silence, now listening to Kennedy's breath deepen, her fear evident even over the phone line. "Listen to me, Nocona, and listen very carefully. Call off your dogs. Call off the police and call off your insurance friends in Austin. You're a smart girl. You figure out a way to tell them this was all a big mistake. Once my sources verify you've complied with my requests, I'll call you back and we'll talk about releasing your girlfriend."
"Please," Kennedy pleaded. She walked out of the ICU area to avoid being overheard. "Carson is innocent. Let her go. I'm the one you're after, right? Tell me where to meet you and I'll trade places with her."
"Come on, now, Ms. Nocona. Surely you don't think Im that stupid. She's my ace and you know it. I have her, I have you. This didn't have to get so complicated. We just wanted Carson to cooperate with us, but no. You had to jump in and screw it all up. This is all your fault, Nocona." The man laughed, enjoying the torment. "If anything happens to her, that will be all your fault, too. You've already managed to get one of your girlfriends killed. It would be a crying shame for you to lose another one, now wouldn't it?"
The brunette gasped, feeling his words as strongly as if he had kicked her in the gut. "Okay." She leaned against the wall and closed her eyes, her sweat-slick palm sliding against the rough surface. "Just give me a little time to get them all off your tail, please. Please don't hurt her."
"Oh, I won't hurt her, regardless." The voice laughed again. "My friend, now he's another story. See, when he caught her talking to you earlier, he got mad and he hit her. I don't know how she did it, but she somehow found the strength to hit him back, kicked up at him actually. We think she broke his nose."
You go, Carson. Kennedy smiled for the briefest moment. So at least one of those slaps I heard was Carson fighting back.
"Anyway, he was furious, and I had to convince him to not kill her right then and there." He coughed and cleared his throat. "But given the slightest provocation, I might not be able to restrain him a second time."
The attorney swallowed hard. "Okay. Give me a few hours, then call me back."
"Will do. Dont disappoint me, Nocona. I am not a forgiving man." The line went dead and Kennedy slowly placed the phone back on her belt. Her eyes narrowed and she stalked quietly back into ICU, slipping into Tony's room. She breathed a sigh of relief that no one else was present but the two of them.
Tony stirred and gasped. Two blue ice chips were glaring at him, cold and angry. Kennedy stood over him, playing with the IV line between two fingers. "I just got a call . . ." She leaned in, one hand pressing into the mattress surface, making close eye contact. ". . . Nick . . . or someone . . . has threatened to harm Carson if I don't call all these people off." She let out a dramatic breath. "There's just one small problem. It's way out of my hands right now."
"They're really saying they'll hurt her?" Tony's eyes lowered in shame. "I never meant for anything bad to happen to her."
"That's debatable, but I don't have time to argue right now." She poked one long finger into a clear space on his electrode-covered chest. "What you are going to do, is tell me where she is. Now. I don't give a rat's ass about your plea bargain. She dies or gets hurt any worse than she already is, and all bets are off, plea or no plea. I'll wait until you get out of prison, and then I'll come hunt you down. You will never know a moment's peace for the rest of your life, Tony. Are we clear on this?"
"Yes." He licked his lips and closed his eyes. "She's probably in one of two places. Nick has a penthouse apartment over on Turtle Creek. He also has a fairly permanent suite at the City Central Hotel downtown."
Kennedy processed the information and frowned. "Do you know if either of them have a view of the lighted red Pegasus?"
"What?" Brown eyes grew wide in confusion.
"Think, Tony." The attorney's voice grew desperate. "It's very important. Have you been to both places?"
"Yes, I have." He frowned in concentration. "The hotel suite. It faces the Pegasus, I'm pretty sure. I think the penthouse faces north, away from downtown and overlooking Highland Park."
"Okay." She stood all the way up. "One more thing. You and I never had this conversation, understood?"
"Sure." His eyes were brimming with unshed tears. "I'm so sorry."
The attorney couldn't bring herself to respond, and turned, leaving him behind her. She was too angry, and too close to punching him out, despite his heart condition. She looked around and quickly made her way to the elevators outside the ICU entrance. Sorry, Parker. She silently apologized to her brother. I've got to do it this way. They'll hurt her if I bring the police down on them.
The elevator doors opened and she stepped inside, firmly pressing the button for the lobby. She squared her shoulders and fished for the car keys in her pocket. Hold on, baby. I'm coming to get you.
To be continued in chapter 9 . . .
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