Shadowed(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 2)(21) by Connie Suttle
"When did she leave? Do you recall?" Lawford asked.
"Around four-thirty, maybe? Two more customers came in around the same time." Jane finished folding a turquoise T and patted it into place on a display table.
"Did you see which way she went?"
"North, I think. Why do you want to know?"
"Possible runaway, ma'am," Agent Lawford's voice was flat and unemotional. "Stole her mother's credit card and slipped out of the house."
"The credit card was stolen?" Jane seemed more concerned over that than a runaway teen.
"She may be in danger," Trace added, since the agents hadn't expressed the urgency of the situation.
"I'll check with the businesses north of here and ask if they saw her," Marcus walked out the door. Derik North frowned at Marcus' retreating back.
"I'll go with Marcus," Trace figured they'd gotten all the useful information they were going to get from the dress shop owner. His and Marcus' noses might tell them more than the agents were likely to get.
"If you think of any other information, let us know," Agent Lawford handed a business card to Jane. Jane blinked, open-mouthed, as the two agents rushed out the door. Department of Homeland Security was printed plainly across the top of Nick Lawford's card.
* * *
Ren had left two hours earlier and Ashe, unable to explain the discomfort he felt, nearly jumped when his mother knocked on his bedroom door before walking inside. She hadn't been home long; it was after seven and sunset was still more than an hour away.
"Honey, that was Marcus on the phone," Ashe's blue eyes met his mother's light-brown ones and he shivered.
Ashe crawled inside the agents' van fifteen minutes later. "Ashe, Elizabeth Frasier got away from us somehow, even though we can't get any fresh scent that shows she left the house. Went straight to Cordell and bought a bunch of clothes," Trace said as Ashe buckled in and Marcus closed the door.
"I was afraid of this," Ashe murmured.
"Afraid of what?" Marcus glared at Ashe from his seat in the center of the van.
"I can turn to mist and mindspeak, and I'm like them," Ashe jerked his head toward the row of mobile homes behind his house. "It makes sense that at least some of them might be able to do those things, too."
"This is a nightmare," Marcus growled and turned to face the front again.
"You think that girl turned to mist and got out that way?" Trace asked softly.
"It makes sense; that's how I got grounded," Ashe grumped unhappily.
"It sure does," Trace settled back in his seat. "Mrs. Pruitt is helping us guard the rest of those kids while we go to the last place the girl was seen."
The last place Elizabeth Frasier was seen ended up being a gas station and convenience store on the northern edge of Cordell. Agent North had stayed behind earlier to question the employees. They'd watched Elizabeth Frasier climb into a sports car with two young men after tossing her new tote bag into the back seat.
"The car was black, but the right front fender had gray primer paint on it and it hadn't been repainted yet," the owner of the service station said. "The girl came in askin' us if we'd drive her someplace, but we're not that stupid."
"Did you recognize the boys?" Ashe, Trace and Marcus walked up as Derik North asked the question.
"Nah. Probably some kids from Clinton or Elk City." The man might have been in his mid-fifties and had worked outdoors most of his life, Ashe decided as he watched the man. His face was the weathered brown of old leather and wrinkles fanned out from the corners of hazel eyes. Ashe was as tall as the man was, but his younger employees were slightly taller and in their early twenties.
"I don't suppose you got a tag number," Agent North asked hopefully.
"The last part was GVU. I didn't get the numbers before that," the youngest employee said. His brown eyes appeared more worried than his elder employer's did, while his close-cropped blond hair stood up like ripe wheat in a summer field.
"Oklahoma plates?" Nick Lawford asked.
"Yeah. Car was a sixty-eight Camaro. Looked like they were restoring it." Ashe nodded at the employee's description—Sali would have noticed what the car was, too.
"Run a check," Agent Lawford jerked his head at Derik North, who walked toward their van to make the call.
"Let's look around a little," Trace steered Ashe away from the questioning. Trace would sniff his way through the business while Ashe looked. Ashe trailed Trace as he followed Elizabeth's scent, ending up outside the women's bathroom. "Ever been inside a ladies' room?" Trace grinned at Ashe.
"When I was in the third grade," Ashe nodded. "Sali shoved me inside as a joke."
"This one might be cleaner than most gas station bathrooms," Trace shouldered his way through the door without knocking. Ashe held his breath until he realized there wasn't anyone inside. Releasing the air in his lungs as a grateful sigh, Ashe began to search the restroom.
"Tag from Janie's" Ashe poked the tag with the toe of his shoe—the small paper tag was lying next to the toilet in one of two stalls.
"I think she changed clothes first, then put on makeup at the sink and probably brushed her hair, so she had her purse with her," Trace agreed, sniffing around the Formica vanity and mirror.
"Find anything?" Agent North joined them in the small bathroom. Collecting the tag and a strand of long, dark hair from the sink that Ashe and Trace pointed out, the agent placed both in evidence bags.
"We've got the local authorities and Oklahoma Highway Patrol looking for the car," Nick Lawford said as soon as Ashe, Trace and Agent North came out of the restroom. "Owner says those boys filled up and paid cash, so no credit card records to tap and no security camera, either."
"Let's take the kid home and we can start looking for ourselves," Derik North suggested to his superior.
"Sounds as good as anything else," Nick Lawford agreed. Marcus, who'd stayed with Agent Lawford, hadn't said anything during the questioning, settling for listening and observing while the others talked.
"The owner knows something he isn't giving up," Marcus slid into the same seat he'd occupied before as the others loaded up and buckled in around him.
"I get that idea, too," Agent Lawford agreed.
"He frowned at the boy who told us what kind of car it was," Ashe said.
"Caught that, too, did you?" Agent Lawford spared a grin over the back of his seat for Ashe. "Kid, you're better than a lot of agents I know."
"Well, it makes sense that he may have seen those boys before," Ashe offered. "This isn't a regular hangout for tourists driving through, and there's another gas station only a little farther down the road, between here and the interstate. Their gas is more expensive, though. But you wouldn't know that unless you were familiar with Cordell."
"You think the kid may have friends or family here?" Derik North asked.
"Possible. I can bring Aedan or Nathan back after sunset and question the owner again," Marcus offered.
"Do it," Lawford said. The gravel drive surrounding the service station crunched beneath the van's wheels as the agent drove away from the service station.
* * *
"You didn't tell us you were running away." Nineteen-year-old Dale Sherman glared accusingly at Elizabeth, who sat in the back seat of his nearly restored 1968 Camaro. His uncle had called Dale's cell, so he'd pulled over at a truck stop on I-40 East to answer. "Now Uncle Rick has police crawling all over his gas station."
"I said I'd pay," Elizabeth's haughtiness was beginning to wear on Dale's nerves. Dale's best friend Lex lifted his chin over the seat to stare at Elizabeth as well.
"Uh-uh. You get out here. They said you were fifteen, not eighteen, like you told us. You get out now. You can call your folks or get another ride. I'm not goin' to jail for you." Dale's pale-blue eyes sparked with anger; his brown hair stood up in spikes after he'd raked fingers through it in frustration.
Elizabeth glowered at the two boys—they'd jumped at the chance to make five hundred dollars—that's what Elizabeth offered them to drive her north. She didn't have an exact location; the seductive whisper that had come the moment she left Cloud Chief behind kept promising all sorts of things if she'd travel to North Dakota. The term Grassland kept popping into her head, but that meant little to Elizabeth. She also didn't have five hundred dollars in her purse as she'd promised—but the voice was so persuasive Elizabeth would do anything to get where it asked her to go.
"One of those truckers would take you." Lex Snelson, worried that he'd be hauled off to jail with his best friend, urged Elizabeth to try other means to reach her destination. He figured his description—not that different from Dale's (brown hair and blue eyes, they were distant cousins, after all), was already in the Highway Patrol's database, along with a description of Dale's Camaro. Uncle Rick's new employee hadn't been warned to keep quiet before the cops showed up.
"I'm not that stupid," Elizabeth huffed. "You have to let me out, jerk." She lifted a spike-heeled foot and kicked the back of Lex's seat, ripping a hole in Dale's new upholstery. Dale cursed at the damage his passenger had caused as Lex opened his door and got out, pulling the passenger seat forward so Elizabeth could exit the vehicle.
Lex and Dale watched as Elizabeth walked unsteadily across the uneven truck stop parking lot in the heels she wore. Both struggled to hold onto car doors when the fierce blast of wind hit. It swept Elizabeth off her feet and carried her ten feet into the air, pushing her along with the force of a tornado until she crashed through the thick, plate-glass window of the truck stop. Dale's leg was nearly crushed in the door of his car as the wind slammed it shut. Lex had slid across the rough surface of the parking lot, ending up on his belly halfway between the Camaro and the building. Road burns covered his torso where the T-shirt he wore had been ripped away. Lex and Dale lifted their heads in horror as screams emanated from the building.
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