Merline Lovelace

A Man of His Word


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physical and mental exhaustion of a shoot. Even more important, she’d need her wits and all her charm in full functioning order when she met with this Henderson guy in the morning.

      She’d give herself just a few more moments, she decided. A last stretch of peace before the work began. A quiet time with her father and her dreams.

      A rumble of thunder shattered the quiet less than a half hour later. All too soon the moon disappeared behind a pile of dark storm clouds

      Sydney lifted her head, chewing on her lower lip as she eyed the lightning that lit the clouds from the inside out. Damned El Niño. Or maybe it was the depleted ozone layer that was causing the violent, unseasonable storms that had plagued the southwest this summer.

      Whatever had spawned them, these storms could wreak havoc with her exterior shots, not to mention her shooting schedule. With luck, this one would break soon, dump its load, and move on so her crew could shoot their preparatory exterior tests tomorrow in bright sunshine. Sydney wanted light. She needed light. Light formed the essence of film and video imagery.

      Scowling at another flash of white against the dark sky, she pushed to her feet and headed for her rented Chevy Blazer. She’d taken only a few steps when the wind picked up. The leaves on the cottonwoods lining the canyon rim rustled. The ends of the mink-brown hair tucked haphazardly under her L.A. Rams ball cap flicked against her cheek.

      Suddenly, Sydney spun around, heart pounding. There it was! The sigh. The cry. The sob of the wind through the canyon.

      Aiiiiii. Eee-aiiiii.

      She stood frozen, letting the sound wrap around and through her. She could almost hear the despair behind the soughing sound, feel the unutterable sadness.

      Another gust cut through the canyon, faster, deeper. The leaves whipped on the cottonwoods. The cry increased in pitch to a wail that lifted the fine hairs on the back of Sydney’s neck.

      Slowly, so slowly, the wind eased and the eerie lament faded.

      “Now that,” she muttered, rubbing the goose bumps that prickled every square inch of her bare arms, “was one heck of an audio bite. I wish to heck Albert had caught it.”

      Her soundman wouldn’t arrive from L.A. until tomorrow noon, along with the camera operator and the grip she’d hired for this job. Only Sydney and her assistant, Zack, had come a day early—Sydney to snatch these few hours alone with her memories before the controlled chaos of the shoot began, Zack to finalize the motel and support arrangements he’d made by phone weeks ago.

      Sydney could only hope the wind would perform for them again tomorrow afternoon when they shot the exterior setup sequences she’d planned—assuming, of course, this Reece Henderson approved her shooting schedule when she met with him in the morning.

      Another frown creased her forehead as she dodged the first fat splats of rain on her way to her rented Blazer. She had enough documentaries under her belt to appreciate the intricacies of negotiating permits and approvals for an on-location shoot, but the requirement to coordinate her shooting schedule galled more than a little. Hopefully, this guy Henderson would prove more cooperative in person than he had by fax.

      Sliding inside the Blazer, she shut out the now-pelting rain and groped for the keys in the pockets of the military fatigue pants she bought by the dozen at an Army-Navy surplus store in south L.A. The baggy camouflage pants didn’t exactly shout Rodeo Drive chic, but Sydney had found their tough construction and many pockets a godsend on isolated shoots like this one.

      One foot on the clutch, the other on the brake, she keyed the ignition and wrapped a hand around the shift knob, wishing fervently she’d thought to specify automatic drive before Zack arranged for rental vehicles. From the way the gears ground when she tried to coax them into first, the Blazer obviously wished so, too.

      “Sorry,” she muttered, working the clutch and the stick again.

      After another protesting snnnrck, the gears engaged. With rain pinging steadily against the roof, Sydney eased the Blazer onto the road. She kept her foot light on the accelerator and her eyes on the treacherous curves ahead.

      Little more than a dirt track, Canyon Rim Road snaked along the canyon’s edge for miles before joining the state road that accessed the dam. The stone outcroppings that edged the road on the left made every turn a real adventure. The sheer drop on the right added to the pucker factor. The deluge that poured out of the black sky didn’t exactly help either visibility or navigability. Chewing on her lower lip, Sydney downshifted and took a hairpin turn at a crawl.

      A few, tortuous turns later she was forced to admit that it might have made more sense to wait until daylight to drive along the canyon rim. She’d needed this time alone with her memories, though. And there’d been no indication earlier that a storm might—

      “What the—!”

      She came out of a sharp turn and stomped on the brake. Or what she thought was the brake. Her boot hit the clutch instead, and the Blazer rolled straight at the slab of rock that had tumbled onto the road from the outcropping beside it.

      Choking back an oath, Sydney swung both her foot and the wheel. With the rock wall on the left and the sheer drop-off on the right, there was no room to maneuver around the obstacle. The Blazer swung too far out before she jammed on the brake and stopped its roll.

      To her horror, she felt the road’s narrow shoulder begin to crumble under the Blazer’s weight. The vehicle lurched back, dropped at an angle, stalled. Frantic, Sydney dragged the stick back to neutral, twisted the key.

      “Come on! Come on!”

      The engine turned over at the exact moment another piece of the rim gave. The four-wheel tilted at a crazy angle and started to slide backward.

      “Oh, God!”

      Shouldering open the door, Sydney threw herself out. She hit on one hip and twisted desperately, scrabbling for purchase on the rain-slick earth. Beside her the Blazer gave a fearsome imitation of the Titanic. Metal groaned against sandstone. Nose up, headlights stabbing the rain, it slid backward like the great ship slipping into its dark grave, then slowly toppled over the edge.

      The echoes of its crashing descent were still ringing in Sydney’s ears when sandstone and muddy earth crumbled under her frantic fingers and she followed the Blazer over the edge.

      Reece Henderson slapped a rolled-up schematic of the Chalo River Dam against his jeans-clad thigh. Jaw tight, he waited while the phone he held to his ear shrilled a half dozen times. He’d started to slam it down when the receiver was fumbled off the hook. Reece took the mumbled sound on the other end for a hello.

      “Where is she?”

      “Huh?”

      “Where’s Scott?”

      “Whoziz?”

      Gripping the receiver in a tight fist, Reece glared at the mirrored calendar on the opposite wall of the office set aside for his use.

      “This is Henderson, Reece Henderson. Chief engineer on the Chalo River Dam project. Where’s your boss?”

      “Dunno.” There was a jaw-cracking yawn at the other end of the line. “What time izit?”

      “Eight forty-seven,” he snapped. “She was supposed to be here at eight.”

      The irritation that had started simmering at 8:05 was now at full boil. He’d hung around topside waiting for the blasted woman, wasting almost an hour he could have spent down inside the dam with his engineers.

      “Did you, like, try her room?” The kid at the other end of the line sounded more alert now, if not more coherent.

      “Yes. Twice. There wasn’t any answer. The motel operator said you were her assistant and would know where she was.”

      Actually, Martha Jenkins, who pulled triple duty as owner, operator and day clerk at the Lone Eagle Motel, had provided Reece with more details than he’d either asked for or wanted. Martha hadn’t been on duty when Sydney Scott and her gum-popping, green-haired, multiple-body-pierced assistant Zachary