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Authors: Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Contemporary

Heaven, Texas (9 page)

BOOK: Heaven, Texas
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“Hooker story?”

“You don't have to worry about sparing my feelings. I've heard it before. Did he tell you the one about me showing up drunk at all his high school games or the one where I proposition his coach on the practice field in front of his teammates?”

“He—uh—didn't mention a coach.”

Suzy shook her head in annoyance and then, to Gracie's surprise, the corners of her mouth began to curl. “It's my fault. I know he'd stop if I insisted, but—” A trace of wistfulness had crept into her voice. “I've just always been so very respectable.”

They reached an intersection, and Suzy put on the brakes at a stop sign punctured by a bullet hole. At the base of the hills off to their right, Gracie saw several low industrial buildings marked by a black-and-bronze sign reading
ROSATECH ELECTRONICS
.

“For the record, I was happily married to Bobby Tom's father for thirty years until he was killed in an automobile accident four years ago. When my son was growing up, I was his Cub Scout den mother, his homeroom mother, and team mother. Contrary to the stories he puts about, Bobby Tom had an entirely conventional upbringing.”

“You don't look nearly old enough to be his mother.”

“I'm fifty-two. Hoyt and I were married a week after I graduated from high school, and Bobby Tom was born nine months later.”

She looked nearly ten years younger. As always, being with someone so different from herself piqued Gracie's curiosity, and she couldn't resist a little gentle probing.

“Did you ever regret getting married so young?”

“Never.” She gave Gracie a knowing smile. “Bobby Tom is the image of his father.”

Gracie understood completely.

Although Suzy was doing her best to conceal her curiosity, Grade could almost see her wondering how a plain mouse with dowdy clothes and bad hair had gotten tangled up with her lady-killer son. But now that Gracie knew with whom she was speaking, she could hardly complain about his behavior.

They crossed a set of railroad tracks and entered the downtown area. Gracie saw right away that Telarosa was doing its best to hide its troubles from the world. To conceal the fact that too many of its stores were empty, civic groups were using the windows for display. She saw craft projects in what had been a shoe store and posters advertising a car wash in an abandoned bookstore. The marquee over the empty movie theater announced HEAVENFEST,
THIS OCTOBER THE WORLD COMES TO T'ROSA
! On the other hand, several of the stores looked new: an art gallery with a Southwestern motif, a jeweler advertising handcrafted silver, a Victorian house that had been turned into a Mexican restaurant, complete with wrought-iron tables on the porch.

“It's a pretty town,” Gracie observed.

“The economy has hurt Telarosa, but we've had Rosatech Electronics to keep us stable. We passed the plant coming into town. Unfortunately, the new owner seems determined to close it and move the work to another plant near San Antonio.”

“What will happen then?”

“Telarosa's going to die,” Suzy said simply. “The mayor and the city council are trying to promote tourism to keep that from happening, but we're so isolated that it's going to be difficult.”

They passed a park with neat flower beds and an ancient live oak shadowing the statue of a war hero. Gracie felt incredibly selfish. Her problems seemed small compared with the disaster facing this pleasant town.

The road curved and Suzy pulled up to the entrance of the Cattleman's Hotel. She shifted her car into park and removed her foot from the brake. “Gracie, I don't know what happened between you and Bobby Tom, but I do know that he isn't unjust. If he's wronged you, I'm sure he'll want to make amends.”

Not likely, Gracie thought. When Bobby Tom found out she'd been fired, he was going to click his heels and treat everyone in town to a steak dinner.

6

B
obby Tom pulled off his Stetson, ran his fingers through his hair, and then put it back on as he regarded Willow with cool, level eyes. “Let me make sure I understand this. You fired Gracie because
I
didn't make it here by Monday morning.”

They were standing next to the production trailer. It was just past six o'clock, and they had finished shooting for the day. Bobby Tom had spent most of the time either standing around sweating in the heat or having somebody fuss with his hair. Neither activity appealed to him, and he was hoping the work would get more interesting tomorrow. So far the only acting he'd done had involved coming out of the back door of the house, dunking his head in a bucket of water, and walking over to the corral. They'd photographed him from every possible angle, and David Givens, the
Blood Moon
director, seemed happy.

“We're operating on a very tight budget,” Willow replied. “She didn't do her job, so she had to go.”

Bobby Tom dipped his head and rubbed his eyebrow with his thumb. “Willow, I'm afraid you don't understand something that was evident to Gracie the first time we met.”

“What's that?”

“I'm completely irresponsible.”

“Of course you're not.”

“I sure am. I happen to be immature, undisciplined, and self-centered, pretty much a little boy stuck in a man's body, although I'd appreciate it if you didn't quote me on that.”

“That's not true, Bobby Tom.”

“The fact is, I never think about anybody but myself. I probably should have told you that from the beginning, but my agent wouldn't let me. I'm going to be honest with you. If somebody's not around to keep me in line, there's a good chance you're not ever going to get this picture made.”

She fiddled with her earring, the way some women did when they were nervous. “I suppose I could have Ben take care of you.” She gestured toward one of the grips.

“That goofy-lookin' character in the Rams' hat?” Bobby Tom gazed at him in disbelief. “Do you seriously think I'd pay attention to a Rams' fan? Sweetheart, I earned my Super Bowl rings playin' for a real team.”

Willow clearly didn't know what to make of this. “You seem to have been taken with Maggie in props. I'll assign her to you.”

“She's a real pretty lady, that Maggie. Unfortunately, the two of us struck passion-sparks the minute we looked at each other, and it seems once I start romancin' a woman, I can talk her into just about anything. I'm not saying this to brag, you understand, but just as a point of information. I doubt Maggie'd be able to stay in charge of me for too long.”

Willow regarded him shrewdly. “If you're angling to have Gracie back, you can forget it. She's already proved she can't control you.”

Bobby Tom gaped at her as if she'd lost her mind. “You're kidding, aren't you? That woman could give lessons to a prison guard. Shoot, if it'd been up to me, I prob'ly wouldn't have been here till October. Fact is, I had an uncle I wanted to visit in Houston, and I think it's un-American to go anywhere near Dallas without a visit to the rodeo in Mesquite. I also need a haircut, and the only barber I trust lives in Tallahassee. But Miss Gracie kept putting her foot down, and I couldn't get her to lift it back up. You've seen her. You tell me she doesn't put you in mind of one of those old maid English teachers you had in senior high.”

“Now that you mention it  .  .  .” Willow seemed to realize he had almost cornered her, and she immediately retrenched. “I understand what you're trying to do, but I'm afraid it's not going to work. I've made up my mind. Gracie has to go.”

He sighed. “I apologize, Willow. I know what a busy woman you are, and here I am wasting your time by not making myself clear.” His smile grew more gentle, his voice softer, but his blue eyes were as hard and cold as ice chips. “I'm going to need a personal assistant, and I want it to be Gracie.”

“I see.” She dropped her eyes, well aware that she'd been given an ultimatum. “I suppose I should confess that there's been a lot of belt-tightening going on around here, and we've had to streamline several jobs. If I hire her back, I'll have to fire someone else, and we're already short of staff as it is.”

“There's no need to fire anybody. I'll take care of her salary, although we'd better keep that piece of information quiet. Gracie is real funny about money. How much do you pay her?”

Willow told him.

He shook his head. “She could do better delivering pizzas.”

“It's an entry level position.”

“I'm not even going to speculate on what kind of position she had to assume for that particular form of entry.” He turned to walk toward the Thunderbird and then paused.

“One more thing, Willow. When you talk to her, I want you to make one thing absolutely clear. Tell Gracie I'm in charge. One hundred percent. Her whole purpose in life is to keep me happy. I'm the boss and whatever I say goes. You understand?”

She stared at him in bewilderment. “But that defeats the purpose of everything you've said.”

He gave her a wide, bone-melting grin. “Now don't you worry about it. Gracie and I'll work it out just fine.”

 

By nine o'clock that night, Willow still hadn't found Gracie, and even Bobby Tom's brutal workout in the exercise room he'd built next to the apartment over the garage hadn't relieved his frustration at her incompetence. Fresh from his shower, he settled down on the ruffled chaise in the bedroom of the white frame house that sat in a small pecan grove just outside Telarosa. He'd bought it three years ago so his mother could have some peace when he came home. Proving his point, the phone began to ring. He ignored it and let the answering machine pick it up. When he'd last checked, the machine had registered nineteen messages.

In the past few hours, he'd done an interview with the
Telarosa Timer,
Luther had popped up at the door to ask about Heavenfest two of his old girlfriends, along with one woman he didn't know, had shown up to invite him to dinner, and the high school football coach had asked him to make an appearance at practice that week. What he really wanted was to buy a mountaintop somewhere and sit there all by himself until he felt like being with people again. He'd do it, too, if he. didn't hate being alone so much right now. Being alone made him remember that he was thirty-three years old, and he didn't know how to be anything but a football player. Being alone made him remember that he no longer knew who he was.

He still couldn't quite explain why he hadn't gotten rid of Gracie back in Memphis, except that she'd kept surprising him. She was one crazy lady, he thought, remembering the way she'd sabotaged his car and thrown herself in front of the wheels. But she was nice, too. The best thing about having Gracie along was that no matter how mad she made him, she didn't wear him out like a lot of other people.

When he was with her, he didn't have to use up all his energy just trying to be himself. She also amused the hell out of him, and right now in his life, that counted for a lot.

Where the hell was she?
Between her innocence and her damned curiosity, she'd probably already landed herself in a mess. According to Willow, no one knew how she had gotten into town, only that she'd picked up her paycheck at the hotel and disappeared. He still had her suitcase in his trunk. Not that there was anything in it that shouldn't be burned for the greater good of mankind. Except for her underwear. During her striptease and that vault she'd made over his car door, he hadn't failed to notice that Gracie did have herself some nice underwear.

Tossing his legs over the side of the chaise, he got up and began to dress. He didn't want people in Telarosa to think he'd gotten a big head, so he bypassed his Levi's for a pair of Wranglers, then pulled on a baby blue T-shirt, a sleeveless black denim vest, and a pair of boots. Just before he left the room, he grabbed a straw cowboy hat from his closet. So far he'd managed to avoid going into town, but with Gracie missing, he knew he couldn't put it off any longer.

With a combination of despair and resignation, he walked over to a small painting of a ballerina, opened it by pulling back on the gilded frame, and entered the combination on the wall safe behind. When the lock released, he extracted a royal blue velvet jeweler's box and flipped it open with his thumb.

Inside lay his second Super Bowl ring.

The team logo of three interlocking gold stars in a sky blue circle had been replicated on the top of the ring, with the points of the stars executed in white diamonds while three larger yellow diamonds formed the centers. More diamonds spelled out the Super Bowl roman numeral designation and the year of the game. It was big and flashy, which was pretty much a requirement for Super Bowl rings.

Bobby Tom's lips tightened as he slipped it on his right hand. Although he'd always had an aversion to gaudy masculine jewelry, his reaction wasn't based on aesthetics. Instead, wearing the ring made him feel like so many of the retired players he'd known over the years, men who were still trying to live out their glory days long after they should have put the past behind them and gotten on with their lives. As far as Bobby Tom was concerned, once he'd blown out his knee, he hadn't ever wanted to touch this ring again. Wearing it was a reminder that the best days of his life were behind him.

But he was in Telarosa now—the favorite son of a dying town—and what he wanted didn't matter all that much. In Telorosa he had to keep the ring on his finger, just as he'd worn its predecessor, because he knew how much it meant to everybody who lived here.

He walked into the living room and headed toward a round table nestled between two gilt chairs. The table's overskirt was printed with pink-and-lavender flowers and streamers of green ribbon. A small cut glass bowl filled with dry rose petals sat on top, along with a white marble statue of Cupid and a bone china pitcher bearing clusters of violets. Bobby Tom picked it up and tilted out the keys to his pickup truck.

After replacing the pitcher, he gazed around the living room and began to smile. As he took in the pastel wallpaper, the lace curtains caught back with candy-striped bows, the plump chintz sofas and overstuffed easy chairs with deep ruffles that brushed the carpet, he reminded himself never again to give a lady who was pissed off at him the job of decorating one of his houses.

Everything was either lace, pink, covered with flowers, or had a ruffle on it. Sometimes all four at once, although his former girlfriend/decorator had been careful not to overdo. Since he didn't fancy the idea of having his buddies bust a gut laughing at him, he had never permitted any of the decorating magazines to photograph the interior of this particular house. Ironically, it was the only one he really liked. Although he'd never admit it to a soul, this silly little candy box of a house relaxed him. He had spent so much of his life in exclusively masculine enclaves that entering this place always made him feel as if he were taking a short vacation from his life. Unfortunately, the minute he walked out the front door, the vacation was over.

The spacious freestanding garage that sat behind the house held his Thunderbird along with his black Chevy pickup. He'd turned the area above it into a weight room for himself as well as a small apartment where he could tuck away all the visitors who didn't think twice about dropping in on him without warning. A retired couple from town took care of everything when he wasn't here, which was most of the time, because being in this place he loved more than any other spot on earth was sometimes more than he could bear.

He maneuvered the pickup down the gravel drive to the highway. Across the road, he could see part of the landing strip he'd built on some additional acreage he owned. The Baron was tucked into a small hangar set back from the highway amidst the mesquite and prickly pear.

A truck loaded with pigs blew by. After it had passed, he turned out onto the asphalt. He remembered all those summer nights when he and his friends used to run drag races on this very road. Then they'd go down to the South Llano, where he'd drink too much and throw up. By the time he was seventeen, he'd already figured out that he didn't have the stomach for hard liquor, and he'd been a light drinker ever since.

Thoughts of the river reminded him of the nights he and Terry Jo Driscoll had spent down there. Terry Jo had been his first real girlfriend. She was married to Buddy Baines now. Buddy'd been Bobby Tom's best friend all through high school, but Bobby Tom had moved on in the world and Buddy hadn't.

He reached the city line and saw the sign that had been erected when he'd been named All American his sophomore year at U.T.

 

T
ELAROSA
, T
EXAS

P
OPULATION 4,290

H
OME OF
B
OBBY
T
OM
D
ENTON

AND THE
T
ELAROSA
H
IGH
S
CHOOL
T
ITANS

 

There had been some talk of taking his name off the sign when the Chicago Stars had drafted him before the Cowboys had a chance. It had been hard on the town to watch its favorite son go to Chicago instead of Dallas, and whenever his contract with the Stars had come up for renewal, he would receive a series of phone calls from the town's leading citizens urging him to remember his roots. But he'd loved playing for Chicago, especially after Dan Calebow had taken over as head coach, and the Stars had paid him millions of dollars to make up for the embarrassment of his becoming a part-time Yankee.

He passed the turnoff that led to the small enclave of executive homes where his mother lived. She'd had to attend a Board of Education meeting that evening, but they had talked earlier on the phone and would spend some time together this weekend. Until recently, he'd thought his mother had adjusted well to his father's death. She had taken on the presidency of the Board of Education and kept up with all her volunteer work. Lately, however, she'd begun to ask his opinion about things she never used to bother him with: whether to get the roof repaired or where she should take her vacation. He loved her dearly, and he would have done anything for her, but her growing dependency was uncharacteristic, and it worried him.

He crossed the railroad tracks, glancing up at the water tower decorated with the flying orange
T
of Telarosa High, and then turned onto Main Street. The sign advertising Heavenfest on the marquee of the old Palace theater reminded him he had to call some of his buddies one of these days and invite them down for the celebrity golf tournament. So far, he'd been making up the guest list off the top of his head just to keep Luther quiet.

The bakery had closed since his last visit, but Bobby Tom's Cozy Kitchen was still in business, along with BT's Qwik Car Wash and Denton's Championship Dry Cleaning. Not all of the businesses in Telarosa were named after him, but sometimes it seemed that way. As far as he knew, nobody in town had ever heard of such a thing as a licensing agreement, and if they had, they would have dismissed it as some kind of left-wing horseshit. In Chicago, local businesses had paid him nearly a million dollars over the years to use his name, but the citizens of Telarosa freely appropriated it without giving a thought to asking for permission.

He could have put a stop to it—if it had happened any other place he would have—but this was Telarosa. The people here figured they owned him, and they would only have been mystified by any arguments to the contrary.

The lights were out at Buddy's Garage, so he went around the corner to the small wooden house where his former best friend lived. As soon as his truck entered the drive, the front door burst open and Terry Jo Driscoll Baines came running out.

“Bobby Tom!” He grinned as he took in her short, plump body. After two babies and too many bake sales, she'd lost her figure, but in his eyes, she was still one of the prettiest girls in Telarosa.

He jumped out of the truck and gave her a hug. “Hey there, sweetheart. Do you ever look anything but gorgeous?”

She swatted him. “You are so full of it. I'm fat as a pig, and I don't give a damn. Come on. Let me see it.”

He dutifully extended his hand so she could see his newest ring, and she let out a squeal of delight that could have been heard all the way to Fenner's IGA. “Gawd! It is just so beautiful I can't stand it. Even prettier than the last one. Look at all those diamonds. Buddy!
Bud-dee!
Bobby Tom's here, and he's wearin' his ring!”

Buddy Baines came slowly down off the porch where he'd been standing watching the two of them. For a moment their eyes locked, and decades of old memories passed between them. Then Bobby Tom saw the familiar resentment.

Although they were both thirty-three, Buddy looked older. The cocky, dark-haired quarterback who'd led the Titans to football glory had begun to thicken around the middle, but he was still a good-looking man.

“Hey, Bobby Tom.”

“Buddy.”

The tension between them had nothing to do with Bobby Tom having been there first with Terry Jo. Instead, their problems had begun because Buddy and Bobby Tom together had carried Telarosa High to the Texas State 3AAA Championship, but only one of them had received a full ride to U.T., and only one of them had made it to the pros. Even so, they were each other's oldest friend, and neither of them ever forgot it.

“Buddy, look at Bobby Tom's new ring.”

Bobby Tom slipped it off his finger and held it out. “You want to try it on?”

With any other man, he would have been rubbing salt into an open wound, but not with this one. He knew that Buddy figured at least a couple of those diamonds rightly belonged to him, and Bobby Tom figured so, too. How many thousands of passes had Buddy thrown to him over the years? Short, deep, down the sidelines, over the middle. Buddy had been throwing footballs at him since they were six years old, and they'd lived next door to each other.

Buddy took the ring and put it on his own finger. “How much does something like this go for?”

“I don't know. Couple of thousand, I guess.”

“Yeah, that's what I figured.” Buddy acted as if he priced expensive rings every day when Bobby Tom knew for a fact-that he and Terry Jo never had anything left over at the end of the month. “Do you want to come on in and have a beer?”

“I can't tonight.”

“Come on, B.T.,” Terry said. “I need to tell you about my new girlfriend, Glenda. She just got divorced, and I know you're exactly what she needs to take her mind off her troubles.”

“I'm real sorry, Terry Jo, but a friend of mine is missing, and I'm kind of worried about her. You wouldn't have happened to rent a car to a skinny white lady with funny hair, would you, Buddy?” In addition to running the garage, Buddy had the town's only rental car franchise

“No. She with those movie people?”

Bobby Tom nodded. “If you see her, I sure would appreciate it if you'd give me a call. I'm afraid she might have gotten herself into some trouble.”

He chatted with both of them a few minutes longer and promised to hear all about Glenda on his next visit. As he was getting ready to leave, Buddy pulled the Super Bowl ring off his finger and held it out to his former best friend.

Bobby Tom kept his hands at his sides. “I'm going to be real busy for the next couple of days, and I'm afraid I won't get a chance to stop in and visit your mama right away. I know she'll want to see that ring. Why don't you hold on to it and show her for me? I'll pick it up over the weekend.”

Buddy nodded as if what Bobby Tom had proposed was only fitting and slipped the ring back on his finger. “I'm sure she'll appreciate that.”

With the possibility that Gracie had rented a car eliminated, Bobby Tom spoke next with Ray Don Horton, who operated the Greyhound depot, then Donnell Jones, the town's only taxi driver, and, finally, with Josie Morales, who spent most of her life sitting on her front step keeping track of everybody else's business. Because he'd played ball with so many black, white, and Hispanic kids, Bobby Tom had always moved freely across the town's racial and ethnic boundaries. He'd been in most everybody's house, eaten at all their tables, felt at home everywhere, but despite his network of connections, no one he spoke to had seen Gracie. All of them, however, expressed their disappointment that he wasn't wearing his ring and everybody either had a girl they wanted him to meet or needed a loan.

By eleven o'clock, Bobby Tom was convinced that Gracie had done something stupid like hitch a ride from a stranger. Just the thought of it made him crazy. Most of the people in the state of Texas were good solid folk, but there were lots of certifiables, too, and with Gracie's overly optimistic view of human nature, she was likely to have run into one of them. He also couldn't figure out why she hadn't tried to retrieve her suitcase. Unless she hadn't been able to. What if something had happened to her before she got the chance?

His mind rebelled at the thought, and he debated stopping at the police station to talk with Jimbo Thackery, the new chief of police. He and Jimbo had hated each other's guts since elementary school. He couldn't remember what had started it, but by the time they'd reached high school and Sherri Hopper had decided she preferred Bobby Tom's kisses to Jimbo's, it had escalated into a full scale feud. Whenever Bobby Tom came back to town, Jimbo'd find some excuse to act nasty, and somehow Bobby Tom couldn't imagine the police chief going out of his way to help him find Gracie. He decided to make one last stop before he threw himself on the dubious mercy of the Telarosa Police Department.

The Dairy Queen sat on the west end of town and served as Telarosa's unofficial community center. Here, Oreo blizzards and Mr. Mistys managed to accomplished what all America's civil rights legislation had never been able to achieve. The DQ had brought the people of Telarosa together as equals.

As Bobby Tom pulled into the parking lot, he saw a pickup held together with baling wire sitting between a Ford Bronco and a BMW. There were a variety of family vehicles, a couple of motorcycles, and an Hispanic couple he didn't recognize climbing out of an old Plymouth Fury. Since it was a weeknight, the crowd had thinned out, but there were still more people inside than he wanted to face, and if he weren't so worried about Gracie, nothing would have made him come here to this cemetery of his old glories, the place where he and his high school teammates had celebrated their Friday night victories.

He parked on the farthest edge of the lot and forced himself to climb down out of his truck. He knew that, short of using a loudspeaker, this was the fastest way to get the word out that Gracie was missing, but he still wished he didn't have to go inside. The door of the DQ swung open, and a familiar figure came out. He cursed softly. If someone had asked him to make a list of the people he least wanted to see right now, Wayland Sawyer's name would have been right on top of Jimbo Thackery's.

Any hope he'd had that Sawyer wouldn't notice him disappeared as the owner of Rosatech Electronics stepped down off the curb and halted, the vanilla cone in his hand stalling in midair. “Denton.”

Bobby Tom nodded.

Sawyer took a bite of ice cream while he stared at Bobby Tom with cool eyes. Anyone looking at Rosatech's owner in his plaid shirt and jeans would have figured him for a rancher instead of one of the top business minds in the electronics industry and the only man in Telarosa who was as rich as Bobby Tom. He was a large man, not as tall as Bobby Tom, but solid and tough. At fifty-four, his face was compelling, but too rough-hewn to be classically handsome. His dark, wiry hair was cut short and threaded with gray, but his hairline had barely receded. It was as if Sawyer had drawn an invisible boundary on his scalp and declared that not a single follicle dare shut down behind it.

Since the rumors had surfaced about the closing of Rosatech, Bobby Tom had made it his business to learn everything he could about its owner before he'd met with him last March. Way Sawyer had grown up poor and illegitimate on the wrong side of Telarosa's railroad tracks. As a teenage troublemaker, he'd been tossed into jail for everything from petty theft to shooting out porch lights. A stint in the marines had given him both discipline and opportunity, and when he'd come out, he'd taken advantage of the GI Bill to earn an engineering degree. After graduation, he'd gone to Boston, where, with a combination of intelligence and ruthlessness, he'd climbed to the top of the growing computer industry and made his first million by the time he was thirty-five. He'd also married, had a daughter, and divorced.

Although the people of Telarosa had followed his career, Sawyer had never returned to town. Therefore, everyone was surprised when, after announcing his retirement from corporate life, he'd shown up eighteen months ago with a controlling interest in Rosatech Electronics and announced his intention to run the company. Rosatech was small potatoes to a man with Sawyer's reputation, and no one could figure out why he'd purchased it. Then, six months ago, rumors had surfaced that he would be closing the plant and moving its equipment and contracts to an operation in San Antonio. From that point on, the townspeople had been convinced that Sawyer had only purchased Rosatech to take his revenge against the town for not treating him better when he was a kid. As far as Bobby Tom knew, Sawyer had done nothing to dispel that rumor.

Sawyer gestured with the cone toward Bobby Tom's damaged knee. “I see you got rid of the cane.”

Bobby Tom set his jaw. He didn't like to think about those long months when he'd been forced to walk with a cane. Last March, during his recuperation, he'd met Sawyer in Dallas at the request of the town fathers to try to persuade him not to move the plant. It had been a fruitless meeting, and Bobby Tom had taken a strong dislike to Sawyer. Anyone ruthless enough to ruin the well-being of an entire town didn't deserve to be called a human being.

With a flick of his wrist, Way tossed his barely eaten cone into the stubbly grass. “How are you adjusting to retirement?”

“If I'd known it would be this much fun, I'd have done it a couple of years ago,” Bobby Tom said, his expression stony.

Sawyer licked his thumb. “I hear you're going to be a movie star.”

“One of us has to bring some money into this town.”

Sawyer smiled and pulled a set of car keys from his pocket. “See you around, Denton.”

“Bobby Tom, is that you?” A female shriek came from the direction of a blue Olds that had just pulled into the parking lot. Toni Samuels, who'd played bridge with his mother for years, came rushing forward and then froze as she saw who he was talking to. Her cheerful face hardened with hostility. No one made a secret of the fact that Way Sawyer was the most hated man in Telarosa, and the town had turned him into a pariah.

Sawyer seemed impervious. Palming his keys, he gave Toni a courteous nod, then walked away toward a burgundy BMW.

Thirty minutes later, Bobby Tom parked in front of a big white colonial on a tree-shaded street and got out of his truck. Light splashed on the sidewalk from the front windows as he approached. His mom was a night owl, just like him.

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