Venus in blue jeans, p.23

Venus in Blue Jeans, page 23

 

Venus in Blue Jeans
 


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  Pep peed, whimpering gratefully.

  “Considering you probably saved Docia’s life, dog, I’m going to overlook that.” Cal slid to the floor beside Docia.

  She groaned, extending her feet in front of her. “You’re kidding. That dog saved my life?”

  “He did indeed.” Cal rubbed Pep behind his ears. “Must be a sizeable amount of bloodhound in his DNA.”

  “When we get back to town, I’ll buy him a steak, assuming that’s okay. Do you feed him vegetarian dog food? I forgot to check.”

  Pep wagged his tail ecstatically, moving his head against Cal’s fingers. Cal gave him an extra rub. “I’ve never imposed my own philosophical standards on my pets.”

  “Your pet? How will you get him away from Margaret?” Docia reached out to scratch Pep’s other ear.

  “I don’t know, but I will. He’s my dog. I promised him, right Pep?”

  Pep curled up between them and closed his eyes.

  “Smart dog,” Docia murmured.

  Below them they heard a low rumble, and the sound of rushing water became louder again.

  “The bank’s crumbling away. The river’s breaking through.” Docia’s voice quavered slightly.

  Cal played the flashlight back and forth at the base of the cliff. The light reflected back from the surge of water.

  “I was supposed to be down there,” Docia whispered, leaning against him. “That’s what Brody had planned. Me drowning in that water.”

  Cal draped his arm over her shoulders, pulling her close. Her body was still damp from the sleeping bag, chilled in the night air. He wrapped his arms tighter, rubbing one hand along her side. “But you’re not. You’re here with me and Pep. You’re okay, Docia. We’re okay. We made it.”

  Docia slid her arms around his waist and tucked herself against him, rubbing her face against his chest. “We made it. You saved us.” After a moment, she pulled back to look at him again. “How did you find me?”

  So he told her. About Janie and Ham and Pep the Wonder Dog. And then, when she stayed still against him, about the bluetick with the broken leg and the kitten with toad breath. Finally, he glanced down at her tangled curls and saw her eyes were closed.

  Cal spread the lab coat across the floor behind them. There was room enough for the two of them to lie down full length with Pep slipped in at his other side. Cal figured as long as neither of them sat up too fast, they’d be okay.

  —

  Docia tried to stay awake in case she had a concussion, but she couldn’t help dozing off now and then. When she finally woke for good, all she could see at first was gray. For one panicked moment, she thought she was still in Brody’s sleeping bag and threw out a desperate arm, managing to punch Cal in the shoulder. He groaned faintly and went back to sleep.

  Cautiously, she sat up and edged forward. At the cave mouth, she stopped, staring down. The river spread across the valley floor below them like a wide lake studded with cypress and cottonwood. Occasionally, a clump of brush sailed by, turning lazily and bobbing in the grayish water.

  Brody’s trailer lay on its side against a cottonwood. The tent was nowhere to be seen.

  Docia’s stomach clenched, and she balled her fist in her lap. It’s okay. You’re okay. We’re okay.

  Cal moved behind her, then his hand was on her shoulder. “How you doing, babe?” He yawned.

  Docia turned to smile at him. “I’m fine. I’m up here with you—believe me, I’ve never been better.”

  Cal grinned back. “What do you see?”

  “A lot of water.” Docia managed a chuckle, but it wasn’t much.

  Cal moved to sit beside her, then gave a low whistle.

  Docia snuggled herself against his body, reveling in his warmth. Her clothes were dry now, but she still felt chilled.

  He slid his arm around her shoulders. His voice rumbled behind her ear. “Ham knows we’re in the valley. Janie knows Brody took you away. She was going to call…some people. Ham was going to call the Rangers. Somebody should head up here as soon as the water goes down a little. We’ll be okay.” He leaned forward again, squinting at the water. “You’ve lived around here for a couple of years—how long before the river goes down?”

  She shrugged. “It should go down quickly now. It wouldn’t even be this high if the valley weren’t so narrow. But it won’t go down as fast as it came up.”

  Already the flood had ebbed around the edges. Docia could see the high water mark on the limestone cliffs across the valley. A hint of dirt road showed at the far side, although the bridge over the river was gone. Below them, she could see a broad stretch of muddy ground.

  Behind her, Chihuahua claws clicked on limestone. Pep yipped. “Sorry, buddy, no food right now.” Cal’s voice was warm, chipper, as if he hadn’t climbed up a wet rock face in the dark with a Chihuahua in his pocket and a terrified woman at his back. After a moment, he scooted next to her again, draping his arm around her shoulders. “So since we have some time to kill here, how exactly did you end up stuck in a tent in a sleeping bag that had been superglued shut?”

  Docia sighed. “It all started with that idiot Clete Morris.” At least telling the story took her mind off being hungry and thirsty with bruised, aching toes.

  Cal said nothing while she told it, just held her a little tighter when she got to the part about Brody and the tent.

  “I started to think he was behind everything when he made excuses for Clete back in the shop. I don’t know why exactly. But he saw that I’d figured it out. That’s why he…went after me.” Docia was chilled again, even nestled against Cal’s warmth.

  Cal shook his head. “He lost it. All he had to do was get Clete out of there and then make up something to explain why he was in the shop. He didn’t need to do anything to you. He must have been panicked over something. I wonder what was going on, why they were there?”

  The soft cadence of the rushing water below echoed in the cave. Pep snuggled in between them.

  “Dub Tyler.” Docia grimaced. “I heard Brody say Dub left something worth millions in the shop. And he said ‘Goddamn Dub Tyler’ before he hit me. It’s something to do with Dub’s mystery package. That old SOB must have hidden it in the shop when I wasn’t looking.”

  Cal leaned back on his elbows. “And this mystery package would be?”

  “I don’t know what it is.” Docia leaned back beside him. “I won’t know until I’m back at the shop and can search for it. Brody was pissed because killing me was going to make it tougher for him to get back inside. I guess that’s why he panicked. He was afraid if I knew, they wouldn’t be able to get back into the store and find what Dub left there.”

  Cal kissed the top of her head, pulling her against him more tightly. “Whatever it was, it’s over now.”

  Silence stretched between them, filled only by the far-away sound of the water. Docia sat up again. “Stupid as this may sound, I’m thirsty.”

  “Not stupid at all. I’m thirsty and hungry.” Cal rummaged through his pants pockets. “Not even a stick of gum.”

  “We need something to take our minds off it.”

  Cal grinned. “I’d suggest sex, but given how hard this limestone is, we’d both end up with serious bruises. Plus we might have some problems with Pep.”

  Hearing his name, the Chihuahua raised his head and gazed at them, bright-eyed.

  Docia grinned at him. “Is it just my imagination or does he seem happy to be here?”

  Cal reached out to scratch him again. “He’s always happy.” His expression darkened. “Or at least he is now.”

  Docia turned away from him. “Ever since you found him.” She took a deep breath. “He and I have something in common, I’d say.”

  —

  Cal lay back, propped on his arms, watching her. Now was as good a time as any to ask. “Why’d you go home yesterday, Docia? What did you need to think about? Was it me? Did I do something wrong?”

  Docia dropped her forehead to her raised knees. “No. No
t exactly. I mean it wasn’t your fault.”

  Cal grimaced. “Please don’t say ‘It’s not you, sweetheart, it’s me’.”

  Docia raised her head again, staring out at the rushing water. “But it is me. Or the people around me anyway.”

  “Okay, that’s fairly cryptic. Want to give me some details here?” Cal kept his voice level.

  “It was…” She sighed. “What do you know about BK Enterprises, the company that owns the lot next door to the clinic?”

  She turned back to look at him, her eyes luminous green in the dim light.

  Cal stared at her, trying to figure out what the hell this had to do with them. He had a feeling it was important—at least to Docia. “Nothing. Horace is handling all of that. He and Hobie are negotiating with them. When they finally agree on a price, we’ll buy the land and expand the clinic. Apparently, we’re doing well enough to justify it.”

  “BK stands for Billy Kent.” Docia’s voice sounded choked suddenly. She turned away from him again. “It’s my dad’s company. One of them.”

  “That’s…interesting.” Cal tried to figure out where this was going. “I don’t think Horace knows that. He didn’t mention it anyway.”

  Docia took a deep breath. “My dad owns a large part of South Texas. My mom’s a Brandenburg.”

  “A Brandenburg?” Cal figured that was supposed to be significant, although he didn’t have a clue why. “What does that mean exactly?”

  “She’s a member of the Brandenburg family. They owned some of the early oil leases around Beaumont.” Docia grimaced and turned back to stare out at the valley. “I’m trying to tell you my family’s filthy rich.”

  “Okay.” Cal felt the corners of his mouth inch up into a tentative smile. “I’ll try not to hold it against you. Is there a reason you didn’t tell me this until now?”

  Docia looked back at him again, then glanced away.

  “Docia?” He sat up, reaching for her. “Is that a sore point?”

  She pressed her face against his chest for a moment, then pushed back gently, pulling herself away. “A couple of years ago, I was engaged to a guy in San Antonio. He owned a real estate company. He was setting up a development outside Austin, and I gave him some money. A lot of money. When he’d gone through that, he asked me to go to Daddy and talk him into investing in his business.” Docia took a breath, then looked out over the valley again. “So I did. But Daddy turned some private investigators loose on Donnie. Turned out he had a…history. Other girlfriends he’d fleeced. Some shady business deals. Nothing he could be prosecuted for, but close.” Her forehead dipped to her knees again. “I was pretty much a convenience for him, a route to Daddy. I broke up with him after I found out and then I moved to Konigsburg.”

  The final words came in a rush, as if she was trying to get them out before he could stop her. Cal blinked, trying to process everything she’d said—and what she hadn’t. “He was using you.”

  Docia nodded, her mouth a thin line.

  The pieces suddenly dropped into place. Cal’s stomach clenched tight. “You saw the BK Enterprises specs and you thought…”

  “I just needed to think.” Docia’s voice dropped to a whisper. “It happened once. I needed to be sure…”

  “You thought I was going to do the same thing. That I was another sleaze, somebody who’d cheat and lie and hurt you like that.” Cal stared at her. His body was numb, as if he’d just taken a blow that hadn’t started hurting yet. “You didn’t even ask me first.”

  “Cal.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry.”

  A throbbing began in his chest, pain and anger mixed together so tightly he couldn’t tease them apart, making it hard to breathe. “God, Docia. How crooked did you think I was? Did you think what was between us was all because of your money? Or was I just after the money as a bonus?” Cal stared at her, trying to keep his voice level. “What did I do exactly? What did I do that would make you believe that about me?” He paused, trying to loosen his clenched jaw. “So when I told you I loved you, did you think that was a lie too?”

  “No. No, I didn’t. Not really,” she stammered. “I…just had to think about it. Alone.”

  Cal pulled away from her, sinking down against the wall on the other side of the cave. So much for opening up. It didn’t work so well if you were the only one doing it. “You thought I was just like your other crooked boyfriends. Just another liar after your money.”

  “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “Please, Cal, I’m so sorry.”

  He turned away from her, staring back into the depths of the cave, trying to make the pain around his heart go away. He wished to God he could do what she’d done—go off by himself until the wound scabbed over. The love of your life was not supposed to use your heart for target practice. “Sorry doesn’t cut it right now, babe,” he muttered, glancing back at the entrance.

  For a moment, she sat huddled against the other cave wall, not meeting his eyes. Then she raised her head, quickly. “Listen!”

  —

  Docia strained to see across the valley. The river had already dropped far enough to make the road clearly visible. Staring at the horizon was also the perfect way to avoid looking at Cal.

  She couldn’t bear to see the pain in his eyes, the pain she’d put there. Why the hell had she told him? She’d thought about making something up, dodging the question, but then she’d heard Mama’s voice in the back of her mind: There are honest men out there—you just have to be honest with them too. For somebody who’d spent most of her life paying little or no attention to what her parents told her to do, she’d picked a fine time to get conscientious!

  She sighed, peering back across the valley. On the far side of the river, something moved.

  Cal slid to the front of the cave, staring. “Someone’s over there!”

  Distantly, Docia heard amplified voices, although the words weren’t clear. The sound bounced back from the limestone walls. “Anybody over there?”

  Cal was on his feet then, waving his arms. “Here,” he shouted.

  Docia stood beside him, cupping her hands around her mouth. “Up here! Look! We’re up here!”

  Something moved then, along the distant road, a line of somethings, actually. Three shiny black SUVs rolled down toward the river, followed by a white Konigsburg police car with a revolving red light on top.

  Docia shook her head. “They won’t be able to cross yet.” Below them, mud stretched to Brody’s wrecked trailer. “Maybe we could climb down now.”

  Cal glanced at her bloody feet. “I don’t think so. You can’t make it down with feet like that.”

  He looked away from her again. Docia was suddenly chilled to the bone. “I guess we wait then.”

  Below them the line of SUVs stopped at the river’s edge. Someone stepped out of the lead vehicle and walked back to the police car. A moment later, an amplified voice boomed across the valley. “Docia Mae, is that you?”

  Docia took a deep breath, then waved at the distant figure standing in front of the head SUV. “It’s Daddy.”

  Cal grimaced. “Maybe he’ll buy you a helicopter and airlift you out.” He sat on the opposite side of the cave again, staring off across the valley.

  Docia leaned against the cave wall, watching the cars across the river. She hoped her father would step on it—she had a feeling it was going to be a very long day.

  —

  The morning stumbled on like a wounded buffalo. Cal sat silently on the opposite side of the cave from Docia, watching the water level drop and the SUVs edge closer. Billy Kent gave up trying to talk to them, since talking turned out to be one-way only.

  Finally, he got back into one of the SUVs and drove off.

  “They’re not going to get across.” Docia sighed. “Even an SUV can’t drive into that water without getting washed downstream.”

  Cal checked the water level below them. Right now he’d settle for a sandwich and a Dos Equis if Billy and the boys would just throw him one. The mud st
retched beyond the trailer as the water ebbed. They could probably walk to the water’s edge, but there was no way Docia could climb down with her battered feet, and he wasn’t quite willing to leave her. Not yet, anyway.

  Briefly, Cal considered carrying her, but he didn’t think that would work. She wouldn’t fit neatly into his pocket like Pep, and he wasn’t sure how eager he was to have her in his arms right then.

  An ache throbbed in his chest whenever he looked at her, but he wasn’t sure whether it was rage or longing. Love was a bitch. He decided he’d avoid it in future, maybe for the next couple of millennia.

  Around midday, a voice yelled “Coming down!” from somewhere above them. Then a rope dropped in front of the cave. Seconds later, a pair of boots appeared. Finally, a large man in a protective helmet landed on their ledge.

  “Ms. Kent?” he asked politely.

  Docia moved forward slightly from her side of the cave. “That’s right.”

  “I’m Dolph Berman, from Wilderness Search and Rescue. Your father sent me to get you out of here.” The man narrowed his eyes, staring at Cal. “Both of you, I guess.”

  Cal folded his arms across his chest. “I can climb down, but Docia can’t.” He pointed to her feet. “Take her up and I’ll get out on my own.”

  Berman grimaced. “No you won’t, not with the conditions the way they are right now. Looks like we’ll have to go with Plan B.”

  “What’s Plan B?” Docia asked quickly.

  Berman didn’t answer. He gathered his rope again and barked, “Coming back up,” into his helmet mike.

  They watched his feet disappear above them.

  “Already I don’t like Plan B.” Docia wrapped her arms around herself tightly.

  “It’ll be okay.” Cal shrugged. “Any way of getting out of here is better than sitting around waiting for the water to go down.”

  And not talking to each other.

  Scraping on the wall above them heralded Berman’s return. He jumped down in front of them again. “Okay, here’s how we’re going to do it. The crew will lower a bosun’s chair on a rope, then we’ll winch you up.” He gave Cal a quick once-over. “You’re Toleffson, right?”

 
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