Read Pipeline Online

Authors: Brenda Adcock

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Lesbian, #Action & Adventure, #Mystery & Detective

Pipeline

Pipeline

Brenda
Adcock

Chapter
One

AS I
SWUNG my Blazer onto State Highway 783 toward San Antonio, I could still hear
Cate's voice.

"Kyle's
been shot."

Her
words had jarred the serenity of a life I had finally begun to adjust to and
dredged up memories I thought were safely tucked away in the deepest recesses
of my mind.

It
had begun as a perfect day. Jack, my seventeen-hand bay gelding, had been a
perfect gentleman, wading into gently flowing low-water crossings, pausing for
a drink while I let the heat from the sun pour over my face as I watched
red-tailed hawks soar lazily over the cliffs rising from the banks of the
Guadalupe River. I needed this calm...this peace. In my own mind, I hadn't
changed over the years. But when I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror, the
face reflected there clearly showed that thirty years as a photojournalism
traveling endlessly to capture the tragedies human beings inflicted on one
another, had taken their toll on me. Thank God for the genes I inherited from
my parents. Without them I could have easily looked like the sad, defeated
women I had photographed hundreds of times in Kosovo, Mexico, and Rwanda —their
youth and their lives shattered by the events swirling around them over which
they had no control. I knew I was older, a little past my mid-fifties, but my
short, brunette hair was relatively free of gray, and I had managed to remain
physically fit. There were times when I saw my reflection in a window and
thought, not bad for a woman my age. Of course, there had been other times when
I hardly recognized myself, expecting to see that much younger woman who still
resided in my mind.

My
philosophy on living had never changed. When something is over, it's just over.
I had never looked back to think about what I had left behind. My approach had
always been to simply walk away, accepting the finality of each situation once
I had made my decision. When I was in my twenties, I couldn't wait to leave
this peaceful place, so I turned my back on it all and walked away. No regrets.
Regrets for what I left behind served no purpose. What I didn't know when I was
twenty-five was that there would always be regrets, no matter how far or how
fast you tried to walk away.

Halfway
back to my house I could feel Jack's muscles beginning to bunch, and it took
all the strength I had to hold him in check until we reached the edge of the
long green meadow that stretched for nearly a mile before my house came into
view. Still holding back the reins as Jack pranced in anticipation, I leaned
forward and stroked his neck as I whispered in his ear, "Run like the
wind, Jack." I loosened the reins and felt his powerful rear leg muscles
propel him forward. He ran flat out, rejoicing in the sheer exhilaration of
running free.

His
long stride was smooth as he covered yards at a time. The wind blew through my
short hair, and I laughed out loud, enjoying my freedom as much as Jack. As we
topped the last rise leading back to home, I caught a glimpse of a car I didn't
recognize parked next to my housekeeper's car on the lawn in front of the
house. Even as far away as we were, I could make out Lena pointing in my
direction but couldn't tell anything about the person standing on the porch
with her.

Jack
slowed as we reached the corral next to the barn. He was lathered up and
breathing heavily as I turned him toward the house. The visitor on the porch
stepped into the sunlight as we approached, and I felt my heart rate increase
when I saw her. Almost fifteen years had passed since I'd last seen her, but
from a distance it didn't seem that she had changed at all.

I
reined Jack to a stop as she came down the porch steps toward us. The sun
highlighted her shoulder-length light brown hair, and when her eyes met mine
they were the same deep blue I remembered. She was still a trim five foot seven
and looked damn good for a woman of fifty. I allowed myself the luxury of
visually scanning her from head to toe. Hidden beneath her slacks and
loose-fitting, man-tailored shirt was a body that had never failed to drive me
crazy with desire. The corners of my mouth began to form a smile, and I looked
away from her as I realized my nipples were hardening with an arousal I hadn't
felt in a very long time. She was stunning.

"Nice
car," I said casually as I swung my right leg over the saddle horn and
slid off the saddle.

"It's
good to see you again too, Joanna." She never used my full name unless she
was pissed. As soon as she set her jaw and shot me that cold look, I was
instantly reminded of all the reasons I had walked away from her in spite of my
physical desire to feel her smooth and sensuous body pressed against mine one
more time. So much for a perfect fucking day.

Pulling
Jack's reins over his head, I said, "Been a long time, Cate."

It
had been too long, and small talk had never been my strong suit. Cate glanced
over her shoulder at Lena, who was smoking what I guessed was probably her
twentieth cigarette of the day as she leaned against the porch railing.

"Is
there some place we can speak privately?" Cate asked.

"Sure."
I shrugged. "Give me a few minutes to get this saddle off Jack."

"Lena,"
I called. "Show Ms. Hammond into my office, will you?"

Lena
nodded and flicked her cigarette into a flowerbed under the porch as I led Jack
toward the barn, wondering why Cate had suddenly made a reappearance in my now
calm life.

Nearly
twenty minutes later I brushed hay from my clothes and entered my house.
Stopping in the kitchen to grab a drink, I asked Lena, "How long has she
been here?"

"Maybe
twenty, thirty minutes b'fore you get here." Lena shrugged. "She a
bill collector or sumpthin'?"

"I
wish," I muttered as I went toward my office.

When
I entered the office, Cate was looking out the window, her arms crossed in
front of her. She turned as I walked behind my desk and plopped down in the
office chair.

"What
can I do for you, Cate?" I asked as I sipped on a glass of sweet tea.

Still
standing, she looked at me and said, "Kyle's been shot."

"What?"
I set my glass down before my hand began shaking.

"It
happened early yesterday evening..." her voice cracked.

I
got up and moved toward her, unsure what to do next. "Is he..." I
started weakly.

"He's
alive," Cate answered as a tear escaped her eye and traveled down her
cheek.

"Thank
God!" I breathed. "Do the police know who shot him or why?"

"They've
apprehended someone but have no idea why."

"I
appreciate you coming here, Cate. But you could have called."

"I
didn't think this was something I should tell you about our son over the
phone," she said as her eyes shot up to mine and hardened slightly. I knew
I should have taken her in my arms to comfort her, but somehow I wouldn't allow
myself to get that close to her again.

"Is
there anything I can do?"

Cate
crossed the office and sat down on a rocker in front of my desk. "I drove
to San Antonio last night as soon as I was notified. Kyle has a girlfriend,
Sarita Ramirez. She said something odd while we were waiting for him to come
out of surgery."

Returning
to my chair, I leaned my elbows on the desk. "What did she say?"

"She
was rambling quite a bit and was obviously upset, but she kept insisting his
shooting was her fault," Cate said.

"What
exactly did she say?"

"That
she knew this would happen. I have no idea what she meant. When I asked her
about it she would only say it was about a story he was researching."

"Which
was?" I pressed, beginning to tire of having to drag every iota of
information out of her.

"I
don't know, and she wouldn't talk about it anymore. When I was alone with Kyle
this morning I asked him what story he was working on, but he just said it
wasn't related to his shooting. Then he told me not to worry."

"A
little too late for that," I said with a slight chuckle.

Leaning
forward in the rocker, Cate asked, "Would there be any chance you could
come to San Antonio to see what you can find out?"

"Sounds
to me like he doesn't want any help. And he sure as shit wouldn't want any from
me."

"He
was hurt when you left, Jo," Cate said.

"The
way I recall it," I frowned, "I was asked not to return."

Cate
pushed herself out of the rocker and looked at the floor for a moment before
looking at me again. "Well, I wanted to let you know about Kyle. I'd
better get back to San Antonio before it gets any later."

As
she turned to leave, I rose from my chair to escort her back to her car. She
slipped her sunglasses on as we approached her car. I reached around her and
opened the car door for her. "Have a safe trip," I said.

Although
I couldn't see her eyes as she stepped into the car and looked up at me, I knew
I had disappointed her the way I had so many times in the past.

"It
was good to see you again, Jo."

I
nodded and closed the door as she started the ignition. I stood with my hands
in my jeans pockets as she backed away and turned to drive down the gravel road
and out of my life...again. Regret. What a bitch that can be.

Lena
was leaning against the doorframe, a cigarette dangling from the side of her
mouth as I trudged slowly up the front steps.

"That
you ex?" she asked.

"Yeah,"
I answered as I glanced over my shoulder and watched the dust kicked up by
Cate's car dissipate.

Chapter
Two

THE
MORNING AFTER Cate's unexpected visit, and a night of fitful sleep filled with
nightmares and pleasant memories that merged incoherently, I carried a cup of
coffee into my office and dug through the drawers in my desk until I found my
address book. It was as old and beaten up as I was, but I hoped the numbers
were still good. Thumbing through the pages I found the name I was looking for,
punched in the number, and leaned back in my chair, holding the receiver
against my ear with my shoulder. A few rings later a woman's voice answered.

"San
Antonio Express."

"Frank
Escobedo, please."

"One
moment and I'll connect you."

The
Express was one of those companies that had adopted Muzak for its phone system
to entertain customers on hold. Streisand cooed one of her bigger hits into the
headset. I liked the song, and it made the wait tolerable. At least it was
better than that crap that passed for music these days. In the middle of a
line, the music stopped abruptly.

"Escobedo,"
a familiar voice said.

"Frank,"
I said. "Joanna Carlisle."

"Jo!"
he said with surprise in his voice. "I heard you was dead."

"Yeah,
I heard that rumor, too." I smiled.

"Where
the hell are you?"

"I'm
back at the ranch outside Kerrville. Listen, Frank, I need a favor."

"So
what else is new?" He laughed. "What'cha need this time?"

"My
kid is a reporter in San Antonio, and apparently he's gotten himself into a
little trouble. I need to find out what he's working on."

My
kid. The words sounded funny to me now. He hadn't been my kid for a long time.
I had given all that up by making a decision. Whether it had been right or
wrong didn't really matter now. It had seemed like the only decision at the
time.

"He
a reporter for the Express?" Frank asked.

"The
Light."

"You
let your kid work for that rag?" He snorted.

"We're
not exactly close. Someone shot him, and his mother asked me to look into it.
See what you can find out, will you?"

"What's
your kid's name?"

"Kyle
Hammond."

"Think
I saw a news flash come across the desk about that shootin'. What hospital is
he at?"

"Hell,
I don't know. You're a fuckin' reporter, find out."

"You
want me to call when and if I find somethin'?"

"No,
I'm coming to the city tomorrow. I'll swing by your office."

"I
bought the last time, Jo."

"I
remember. This one's on me, and if you find out anything useful, so's the next
one."

He
laughed. "Damn, it's good to hear your voice again, gal. See ya
tomorrow."

IT
WAS SHORTLY after noon, two days after Cate's visit, when I pulled into the
visitor's section of the San Antonio Express parking lot. Early in my career I
had sold a few pictures to the Express. Mostly guts and gore traffic stuff. The
more gore and guts the better back then.

The
receptionist at the front desk gave me directions to Frank's desk, and by the
time the elevator door opened into the second floor newsroom, I was feeling at
home in familiar surroundings. Frank Escobedo was a made-for-the-movies news
reporter, craggy-faced with white shirt sleeves rolled halfway up his arms and
tie hanging loosely around his neck. All the veteran reporters I have ever
known had the same hairstyle, combed by running fingers through it while they
talked on the phone chasing down tips and ferreting out information.

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