A favorite move of officers everywhere to stop errant vehicles. She’d trained on the maneuver at Quantico, but memories of how to respond when on the receiving end had disintegrated the moment he’d struck her Tahoe. And to be fair, she’d never experienced it at sixty miles an hour.
She braced herself, hit the seat belt button, and slid out of the SUV, dropping two feet more to the ground than usual, and brushed airbag dust off her clothes. Her legs shook as she stepped back to inspect her vehicle, and she leaned weakly against a big rock, welcoming its solid, immovable presence. The rear axle of the Tahoe had come to rest on huge boulders, its back tires nowhere near the ground.
I’m not going anywhere.
She pulled out her phone, trying to recall any description of the pickup that’d hit her. She had impressions, not memories. She thought it had been dark red, and there might have been two men in the cab, but she wasn’t certain.
Why? Who’d run me off the road?
Her brain refused to consider the question; its current primary goal was to get help.
She called 911 and reported the incident, advising the operator that the truck might have body damage on its right front end. After reassuring the operator that she wasn’t injured, she hung up and scrambled up the incline to the highway. Her truck had ended up in a spot a dozen feet lower than the road.
They picked a good spot. If I’d been injured, no one would have seen me.
She fumed. Pure luck had kept her Tahoe from rolling. The shoulder where she’d gone off the highway was wide and level before gently angling down to the rocks. If it’d been soft dirt or a more abrupt incline, she would have rolled across the big lava rocks. She called Eddie.
“Are you sure you’re not hurt?” he asked. “Sometimes you don’t realize it until later.”
“My back and neck probably won’t be happy with me tomorrow,” she admitted. “But I’m okay now. Can you pick me up and then take me to get a rental car?”
“I’ll pick you up, but then I’m taking you to the hospital. You’re not going anywhere until your spine is x-rayed. And Jeff will agree with me.”
“Crap.” She didn’t have time for this.
“Did you call Truman?”
“I don’t want to interrupt him while he’s working. I’m fine and you’re my ride. I’ll tell him later tonight.”
Eddie sighed in the phone. “You don’t know anything about men, do you?”
“I don’t need Truman to come pick me up. I’m on the job, so I called a coworker. That’s what I should do, right?”
“Call and tell him what happened. Don’t make me call him.”
“Why would you do it?” Exasperation made her want to shake him.
“Call it a man code thing. When your friend’s woman has been in an accident, you let the dude know.”
“That’s the most caveman thing I’ve ever heard you say.” She didn’t know whether to be shocked, flattered, or amused. “I didn’t realize there was a thing between you and Truman.”
“Just do it, okay?” he pleaded. “Tell him I’m on my way and that I’m taking you to the hospital.”
“Call me a tow too,” she said before they ended the call.
She looked down at her vehicle and wondered when it’d be drivable again. She liked the Tahoe. It’d become her buddy, and she felt safe and secure while driving it. What if the damage underneath is too much to repair? The thought depressed her.
She went to clear her things out of the vehicle, starting with her always-ready backpack stashed in the back. Her truck was also well supplied with equipment for her job. She’d have to transfer it to Eddie’s car before the tow truck arrived.
She sat on a rock by the Tahoe and called Tilda, canceling their tea date, promising to do it tomorrow.
Then she called Truman.
“So I wrecked my Tahoe,” she blurted when he answered.
“Are you okay?” he nearly shouted.
“I’m fine. There’s no fuss needed. I’m just pissed because I screwed up and now I’ll have to miss an appointment.”
“What happened?” he asked in a calmer voice.
She relayed the whole story, feeling slightly unnerved as he grew very, very quiet while she spoke.
“That’s all you remember of the vehicle that ran you off the road?” he finally asked.
“Sadly yes. Some investigator I am.”
“Did you go anywhere for work today?”
She told him about her and Eddie’s trip to Tom McDonald’s ranch.
“Any chance the vehicle could have been from there?”
“I can’t rule it out.” She rubbed at her forehead, feeling a dull ache start in her brain. Why didn’t I look closer at the truck before it passed? Could that little squinty-eyed ass from the ranch have run her off the road?
The thought made her headache worsen.
“When’s Eddie going to get there?”
“Soon. And I’m supposed to tell you he’s taking me to get my back x-rayed.”
“Then I’ll need a rental.”
“You won’t get one tonight. By the time you’re out of the ER, it’ll be too late.”
He’s right. Dammit.
“I’ll meet you at the ER.”
“That’s not necessary. I don’t want you to have to—”
“I’ll meet you at the ER.” Anger infused his tone.
Eddie’s earlier words about Truman ran through her head. “Okay.”
They ended the call, and she went back up the slope to keep an eye out for Eddie. A Good Samaritan stopped to see if she needed help. The driver had to be in her seventies and insisted on waiting until Mercy’s ride showed up. “I can’t leave another woman alone on the side of the road out here. If you don’t want a ride, I’ll just wait here until yours shows up.” She offered Mercy the warmth of her car, but Mercy turned it down, preferring to stand outside where Eddie could easily see her.
The cold cleared her head, and the more she thought about the wreck, the more convinced she became that someone at the ranch had followed her. She could understand that she’d ruffled some feathers, but not enough to make them hurt her.
Hell, I could have died.
The decision to stand outside resulted in two more Good Samaritans stopping. Mercy finally decided to accept the offer of the warm car, and she called Eddie to tell him to keep an eye out for a two-decades-old white Cadillac on the side of the road.
The woman chatted pleasantly as they waited, and Mercy learned she was a retired nurse.
“Weren’t you worried about stopping for a stranger?” Mercy asked.
“Oh no, honey. I could tell by your face that you were a good girl.”
Mercy thought on that for a while, uncertain whether to take it as a compliment or not.
Eddie showed up and charmed her companion as Mercy transferred the things into his vehicle. The tow truck showed up a minute later, and the driver scratched his head as he eyed the Tahoe stuck on the rocks below the road. Mercy didn’t have any advice to share. He was the expert, and it was now his problem to figure out.
Minutes later they were en route to the ER. Mercy leaned her head against the back of her seat and sighed. “I don’t have time for this.”
“Get over it,” said Eddie. “Let’s make sure you aren’t going to wake up tomorrow with some devastating injury from shards of bone working their way through your spinal cord or internal organs.”
She glared at him. “Thank you for that visual.”
“Truman said he’d be there in about an hour.”
“You called him? I told you I would do it.”
“He called me to see if I’d picked you up yet.”
She didn’t say anything. Knowing that people had talked about her when she wasn’t present made her want to pout like a cranky toddler. Even if their intentions were good. When that was combined with the growing certainty that someone had tried to hurt her, her mood grew darker by the minute.
Tension ratcheting through his veins, Truman followed the nurse’s direction to the curtained-off bed at the end of the small emergency room. He spotted a man’s shoes below the curtain hem.
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