The Wanting Heart, Ch 6

“You’re going out again.” Ranae’s voice filtered through the door and into the bathroom where Kate was getting ready. “Aren’t you sick of him yet?”

“There’s nothing else to do around here,” Kate replied.

“Yes there is. I thought we were going to go for ice cream in Cheyenne and that was weeks ago.”

“Well, a lot’s happened since then.” Kate walked into the hallway where Ranae was.

“I know, but I think we should at least—”

“Should what Nae? I don’t know what I’m doing. When I look at my future I don’t see anything that I planned coming true. I get to graduate in May with my teaching degree, but now that Lady Bug is gone…beyond that I have no clue.”

“I wish you wouldn’t be so sad.”

“I’m not sad. That’s not the word.”

“Well mad then. But not everybody’s life turns out like they plan, you know.” Ranae crossed her arms and backed up.

“Damn it. I know that,” Kate said as she wrapped her arms around Ranae. “I’m sorry for yelling.”

“That’s okay. I’m getting tougher. I don’t let things people say, get to me, all the time.”

“I know you are. But I just don’t know what to do now that I’m almost finished with school. Get a teaching job sure, but where? I don’t want to quit riding to sit in one place nine or ten months out of twelve, teaching other people’s kids so they get to where I am right now. With nothing as their future!”

“I know you’re miserable. But maybe you could still find a way to rodeo. Don’t people loan horses sometimes?”

“I won’t do it without her.” Kate swore when her chin trembled. “We were a team. She’s all I had left.”

“Well, we’re your family now,” Erin said as she walked up and wrapped her arms around them.

“We love you just as much as your mom and Lady Bug, or even Blake ever could.” Ranae squeezed both girls a little tighter and then stepped back saying, “And we had better get you ready for your date, even though I really don’t want you to go.”

“You’re right. She is getting tougher.” Erin smiled. Ranae’s childhood had been horrible and abusive. It had been years since she’d had a single bruise, but confrontations were still hard. “Besides, Kate has to go. I have that web-cam thing hooked up to transmit part of their date to Nichole.”

“I know,” Ranae scolded, “but for two weekends in a row, you haven’t even been in the state. Your first date to California worried me enough, but the weekend before last you went hot air ballooning in Lake Geneva, wherever that is, and then last weekend you went to New Orleans to visit dead people you don’t even know.”

“Lake Geneva is in Wisconsin and we did more than visit dead people in New Orleans, we went to practically every shop in The French Quarter, there was this amazing little trinket shop on Bourbon Street where I bought you that necklace and we ate Cajun catfish and listened to jazz.”

“Awesome! When will the pictures be developed?” Erin asked, long ago coming to terms with Kate insisting that her pictures be developed and not just downloaded to a computer.

“We can pick them up tomorrow.”

“How do you know you’ll be here tomorrow?”

“Luke said we’d have a local date.”

“What does that mean? You going to Texas, that’s pretty close?” Ranae tapped her nails on the bathroom counter.

“No. We’re staying here in town.” Kate paused. “Nae, what’s the matter?” Kate looked at her. Surprised to find fear in her eyes instead of the teasing she was expecting. “What is it?”

“I don’t know. I just can’t put my finger on it, but I get more nervous for you every time you go anywhere with him.” Ranae tried to smile and mask her fear. “Maybe I just miss you.”

“I miss you guys, too,” Kate said. “How about we do something tomorrow, all of us?”

“Oh yeah, we can go to the Pig,” Ranae said. “It’s a Saturday night after all.”

“I hate that bar,” Erin protested.

“You had fun the last time we were there,” Ranae reminded her.

“Well, if we go it’s going to be somebody else’s turn to be the DD.” Erin pointed at herself. “I have to be drunk to like that place. So I’m gonna to get piss-faced.”

“It’s my turn anyway,” said Kate. “I’ll be happy—” Kate stopped when the phone rang. “I’ll get it. It might be Luke.” Kate raced to the phone. “Hello, this is Kate.”

“Well, you sound like you’re doing fine, Darlin’.”

“What do you want, Blake?”

“Guess I wasn’t who you were hoping to talk to.”

“No, sorry, I was just expecting Nichole to call.”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“What do you want?”

“I was just callin’ to say that we have some calves that were born late. Grandma and Grandpa, well all of us were goin’ to hold a special branding for them?” Blake paused. “It’s tomorrow about noon. If you want to come.”

“I kind of have plans with the girls.”

“Oh. Well, that’s okay.” Blake’s voice fell. “Maybe next time.”

The phone clicked off before Kate could respond. She felt a moment of regret. She loved branding at the Spencer’s. Leona was always such a blast, kicking around in her red boots, swearing at the cows and the cowboys like they didn’t have any sense. Kate could hear her now, “You know I think if brains were feathers and you boys got together, you couldn’t hardly make a pillow. Now you get over there and catch that calf.”

“What the hell did Blake want?” Erin interrupted her thoughts.

“He wanted me to go out to the branding they are having tomorrow.”

“So late?” Erin might be the business major and look beautiful in a backless dress, but she could still muck around in a cow pasture and look like an ace doing it. Her father’s daughter to the bone, she knew ranching.

“Just some that were born late,” Kate said as the phone rang again. “Kate here,” she answered.

“Hey. It’s me.” Nichole’s voice sounded through the telephone. “I was just calling to say that I wish I could’ve stayed longer, but my boss wouldn’t budge. He had a hard enough time understanding why I had to have leave in the first place.”

“It’s fine. I’m fine.” Kate said, hoping that one day it would be true.

“Did the vet say anything different?”

“No. It’s still pretty much the same.”
“Do the cops have any leads?”

“No. I’m sure they have better things to do than find out who over-medicated my horse.”

“I know we talked about this, but I just read in the paper about a girl who wanted to play varsity basketball and she had the top player injured so she could take her place. Do you think…?”

“Absolutely not. That doesn’t happen in rodeo. We may be competing against each other, but—it just doesn’t happen.”

“Okay,” Nichole said letting the topic drop. “What are you doing tonight? Are you and the girls going out or something?”

“Luke and I have plans.”

“Good. I’m sorry I didn’t get see him again while I was out there. It sounds like you guys have been having a lot of fun, Lake Geneva and New Orleans and all that. Have Erin hook up the webcam tonight so I can see you guys.”

“Okay.” Kate paused. “Hey, Nic?”

“Yeah.”

“I didn’t say it before, but thanks for being here.”

“What are best friends for?”

Kate knew Nichole would be smiling as she hung up. The best friends statement was something left over from high school when the world’s biggest problems could be solved with an ice cream cone and movie rental. But somewhere between the mint chocolate chip and Clint Eastwood, Kate’s life had fallen apart.

“What’d Nichole want?” Ranae asked.

“She just wanted to make sure Erin was going to set up the webcam so she could see Luke and me tonight.”

“Good God! She’s hounded the hell out of me about that! We are doing it today! I don’t want any more of her yapping—” Erin’s voice changed into an impression of Nichole’s. “‘I want to see Luke and Kate together.’ Flap-flap-flap. I’m sick of it. So if we aren’t expecting more phone calls, let’s get logged onto the internet.” Erin pressed the power button on her laptop. “She’s going to start complaining now about how you guys don’t have wireless! Yap! Dial-up is slow. Yap! Yap!”

“No we aren’t expecting any more calls. I just want to finish getting ready.”

Kate walked back to the bathroom. As she twisted the wand of the mascara and brushed it through her lashes, she began to feel anxious about the evening. She didn’t want the girls to know, because she hoped it was just a phase, but the constant attention Luke gave and expected was a bit overwhelming. When they were walking along Jackson Square in New Orleans, Kate had wanted to put her hair up because of the heat. She’d released Luke’s hand to reach in her purse for a hair band.

Luke instantly questioned, “What are you doing?”

“I’m putting up my hair. I’m hot.”

“Don’t you want to hold my hand?”

“Of course I do. I just need two hands to do this.” Kate smiled and when finished, she immediately reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze, thinking that he must have had a rough time growing up. He seemed really insecure. She’d tried that night to ask him about his parents.

He responded with, “Why, don’t you think I’m good enough? Do you have to meet them to prove it?”

Kate tried to apologize, and say of course he was good enough and that she was only making conversation, but it took him several hours to get back to his normal cheery mood. I’ll have to be more patient, Kate thought as she finished applying the gloss to her lips.

Without wanting him to, Blake came to mind. What to do about him? With him came ranching and cows and rodeos, everything she wanted. Then what am I doing with Luke? Kate shook her head. She knew the answer. Luke was easier. Her heart wasn’t involved. There was too much pain when it came to Blake. He represented everything she couldn’t have. And she couldn’t trust him.

The doorbell rang.

“Luke’s here.” Ranae walked to the door.

Hearing Nae open the door and greet Luke, meant her time was up, when it came to solving problem number two. Looking in the mirror, Kate took several deep breaths. The girl that stared back wasn’t anyone Kate knew. She looked as hollow and exhausted as Kate felt. She’d felt this way since she’d stood in the rain smelling of diesel fumes and hearing the low rumble of the backhoe as it filled Lady’s grave with dirt. Smoothing her palms down Erin’s black Levis and peach shirt, Kate slipped on a pair of Ranae’s brown loafers. The rodeo clothes were gone, just as the rodeo was.

“Well, I have this thing all ready to go,” Erin said when Kate walked out of the bathroom. “I’ve explained it to your dude here and he knows what to do.”

Luke stood and pulled Kate in front of the monitor’s camera, swept her in a long dip, kissed her cheek and pulled a red rose from behind his back. “For you,” he smiled.

“Thank you.” Kate stood, smelled the rose and talked to Nichole through the camera. “This is Luke. You remember him, I’m sure. He and I are off to eat and watch a movie. I love you, bye.” Kate waved.

Erin waved to Nicole through the screen, “Happy now. Sheesh!!” Then she shut the lid to her laptop.

“Well, I guess we’ll go,” Kate said to Erin and Ranae and walked toward the door.

“Kate,” Ranae interrupted, “just a second.” She glanced toward Luke.

“Luke, why don’t you go on out, and I’ll meet you in a few minutes.” Kate smiled and squeezed Luke’s hand.

Luke nodded and shut the door behind him.

“What is it, Nae?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think you should go. I can’t seem to shake the feeling that you’re in danger.” Ranae shook her head. “You know how you said you fell asleep on the way to California? I didn’t want to bring this up before, but what if you were drugged or something?” Fear accented every word.

“Nae, that only happens in big cities. And I was really sleepy. You know I’d been out the night before trying to photograph the moon. The car ride just made me groggy, and I never drink champagne. I had two glasses.”

“It doesn’t just happen in big cities,” called Erin from the computer. “I have a cousin who lives in Durango and it happened to her. But I think she’d been doing other drugs, though. Hell, I don’t know how that drug works. I don’t even know what in the hell it’s called. He’d better hope to hell he didn’t try any shit. We’ll kick his ass to hell and back!” Every word got louder.

“Enough with the hells already,” Ranae said as she took hold of Kate’s arm. Real fear showed on her face. “The airport is only five miles away. How could you fall asleep in five miles?”

“Oh, you guys, what’s he going to do here in town? If he was going to do anything, don’t you think he would have done it by now?”

“Maybe,” Ranae said.

“I think I should go. He’s waiting for me.”

“Well, at least come home early,” Ranae said. “I’ll wait up.”

“Shit, I guess I will, too.” Erin turned off her computer. She unhooked everything and was plugging the cord back into the phone as Kate shut the door.

Immediately, the phone rang.

Erin picked it up. “Hello.”

“Erin, Oh my god.” Nichole’s voice cried. “Has Kate left? Don’t let her!”

“Shit, Ranae, go get Kate,” Erin yelled.

Ranae bolted out the door. She could hear Nichole’s voice crying, “Don’t let her go!”

“Nichole,” Erin said into the phone, “Nichole. Nichole! What the hell’s going on?

“She’s gone.” Ranae came running back.

“Oh, No! Call the police. He has to be stopped.” Erin clicked on the speaker so Ranae could hear Nichole. “I knew it that night in the Pub. I knew I recognized him, but I couldn’t place him. And I didn’t say anything because I was glad Kate had found someone besides Blake. I forgot about my suspicion. Damn it!”

“Nichole, just tell us who he is,” sobbed Ranae.

“He’s the Red Rose Serial Killer,” Nichole’s hoarse voice whispered.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Erin yelled.

“Don’t you guys watch television? He’s all over the news. He always gives the girl a red rose on the night he’s going to rape and kill her,” Nichole raged. “This guy’s a murderer. Call the police.” The phone went dead. Nichole sobbed and prayed for Kate as she dialed the number of her travel agent. She was going home.

*

As soon as Nichole started yelling to call the police, Ranae grabbed her cell phone from her purse. “Oh God!” Her fingers shook as she struggled to turn it on and dial 911. While she ranted at the police to go find this guy, Erin called the only other law in town, the Spencer’s.

She swore as it rang and yelled into the receiver as soon as Leona picked it up, “I need to speak to Blake Spencer right damn now. It’s about Kate!”

Since Erin had called to cuss at him a time or two in the past when he had made Kate cry, Blake didn’t know whether to come to the phone or not. Something in his gut told him to. When he heard what was going on, he grabbed his rifle and headed to the door. Jack and Leona weren’t far behind him in their truck.

* * *

He’d tried to keep the anger away, but it was his master. It won. He needed to do what it commanded. “Kill her,” the beast said. “Kill them all.”