“Jake!” Clisty called in relief as Detective Davis jumped out of his car in front of her parents’ house. ”You remembered the story about my childhood clubhouse!”
“Of course I did.” He gathered her in his arms. “Clisty, who was that?” He pointed back to the person who had darted past him.
"Did you see her?” She gasped breathlessly.
“Her?” he questioned. “I saw him, the guy who beat it out of here as I pulled up.”
“Then, you didn’t see Faith?”
“No, I was watching the man.”
“I wish I could have watched him!” Rebecca growled as she rubbed her shoulder. “He hit me.”
“Are you okay?” Clisty asked and gently touched her. “Jake, you know Becca, my news producer.”
"Right,” he said. “You need to have that shoulder looked at.” Then he asked, “Aren’t you two supposed to be at the station right now? The news is on again at eleven.”
"It’s a long story.” Clisty said as she put her arm around Becca. “Are you okay? Can you walk down to the corner coffee shop so we can fill him in?”
Becca flexed her arm. “I’m more angry than hurt.” She raised her arm over her shoulder. “You fill him in. I’m still trying to catch up to what’s happening.”
“How is the bank teller?” Clisty asked. The snow started falling again and tiny ice flakes stung Clisty’s nose and cheeks.
“She’s conscious. Doctors say she’ll mend,” Jake said.
“You had better put your hood up, or your hair will have to be done again before the late news,” Becca cautioned.
“If I put my hood up, I’ll need a major overhaul, not a touch up.” Clisty slipped a little and looked down. She had forgotten she was still wearing on-camera heals. Her feet were cold and had started to hurt. “These shoes weren’t made for chasing criminals or ghosts.”
“Ghosts? Here, you can hold on to me,” Jake offered as he held out his arm. “What is going on?”
“Wow, arm and arm. Now, that’s sweet,” Becca cooed.
“Here, Becca, grab hold of my other arm,” Jake offered.
• • • • •
Clisty stepped into the small, warm coffee emporium and rubbed her gloved hands together. “It feels good in here, Sharon,” she said, smiling at the waitress. The wall-mounted TV whispered dialog, but she was too cold to pay attention. She scanned the menu above the serving counter. “My favorite is café mocha. I’d like an extra half shot of café and a double shot of mocha.”
“Wow, with all that, it’s my hips that would be shot,” Becca moaned. “Coffee, black and a double shot of hot.”
“Let’s sit here by the window,” Clisty suggested as she walked a few feet to a small table with four chairs clustered around it. “It’s homey here.”
“Hey, I thought I told you to get along home,” Sharon snapped at a scruffy girl who slipped in behind Clisty and her friends.
“I’m cold,” the child whispered.
“Then, sit right there,” Sharon pointed to a bar stool in front of her. “Where’s your mom?”
“She’ll be here soon.”
Clisty watched the frightened girl and smiled, but gave her the space she needed to warm up to her and the other strangers inside the Emporium.
At the table, Becca gulped as she leaned into the cold glass of the window. “Is that the guy in the hoodie again?”
The child gasped in fear and pulled her wet shoes up onto the seat and hugged her knees. She looked like a small turtle with every vulnerable part hidden.
“That’s my husband on his way home from work,” Sharon laughed and waved a full cup of coffee in his direction.
Clisty watched the child pull a tight, shabby coat around her. Sharon brought the steamy cups to the table and Clisty’s focus shifted.
“I wondered about that guy too.” Jake agreed.
“I’ll hug the cup for warmth.” She put her gloves in her pocket and blew across the surface of the coffee. “I’m warming my face with the rising, deliciously sweet steam.” She closed her eyes and let the rising vapor warm her cheeks.
“I’d be happy to keep you warm,” Jake offered.
Clisty looked at Becca to see if she had heard him. Becca raised her eyebrows. Over at the counter, big round, hollow eyes watched her sip the warm brew.
“Do you like cocoa?” Clisty asked the child.
“I think I had it one time.” Her voice was as thin as she was, and as distant.
“Did you like it?” Clisty asked. The girl smiled. “Sharon, get her a big cup of your best hot chocolate.” She smiled at her. “Will that be okay with your mama?” The child nodded a firm yes.
“When will your mother get back?” Jake asked. He lowered his voice. “I can’t let a seven or eight-year-old run around town at night all alone.”
“Probably when my cocoa’s done,” the girl said as she took tiny sips. “She’ll meet me here.”
Sharon wiped a cocoa ring from the counter. “Did that guy find you, Clisty?”
She froze inside and looked up slowly from her chocolate laced coffee. “Who? What guy?”
“He was tall and tattered, in a dark sweatshirt. I didn’t tell him anything about you, Clisty. We’ve been friends since kindergarten. I’ve got your back.” She slowed as she dried a cup and several spoons. “I wondered how he could be warm in ...”
Clisty’s eyes grew large as she turned toward the darkness beyond the window. “When was he in here?”
“Was the sweatshirt a hoody?” Jake asked.
“Yes, he had it over his head but I could see his eyes. It was strange. He had the most beautiful brown eyes, sunk down in a face that belonged on an FBI most wanted poster.” Sharon shuddered. “He scared me.” She too looked out into the night. “He was in here just a little bit ago. I was glad when he left.”
“Which way did he go?” Jake asked.
“Down toward your parents’ place,” Sharon nodded in Clisty’s direction.
Clisty stiffened and Jake took her hand. She could feel his warmth caress her skin. She squeezed his palm and tried to relax. “Sharon, have you seen a young woman around here that isn’t from the neighborhood?”
“Yes, that was another strange thing. Before you got here, this woman slithered around the side of the door and slipped in. It seemed to me she might have been dodging someone. Her eyes darted around the restaurant and she shifted back and forth.”
Clisty’s heart pounded as she held her breath. “And ...?”
“She said she saw you come in here earlier today and asked me to give this to you.” Sharon reached into her apron pocket and drew out a pink plastic hair bow. “She said it’s yours.”
Clisty took the barrette from Sharon’s hand and rolled it over and over. Tears came to her eyes and threatened to spill down her cheeks. She blotted them with a napkin. “Yes, it’s mine,” she whispered. “Becca,” her voice cracked, “I gave this to Faith the morning of our last day together. Her hair kept falling in her eyes.”
“Who is Faith?” Jake asked.
“She’s your missing witness to the escaped bank robber suspect,” Clisty announced. “I recognized her in—“
“The ATM video!” Sharon squealed and pointed to the TV. “I saw her on your newscast and thought she looked familiar. She had the same scar above her left eyebrow. Clisty, I thought someone had killed her years ago.”
“That’s what everyone thought, except her parents ... and me. This proves even more, that she’s alive.”
The child at the counter hopped down and slowly approached the small table. “No, Ma’am. That clip is mine,” she announced.
“Yours?” Becca asked.
“Miss Sinclair said it belongs to her, Honey,” Jake chimed in.
But the girl shook her head in defiance while willful curls slipped to her eyebrows. “No, it’s not. It’s mine.” She grabbed the hair bow, wiggled back up onto the bar stool and took another gulp of hot chocolate with the barrette clasped tightly in her hand.
Clisty got up, slowly walked over and gently touched her small shoulder. “I had one just like it.” Her eyes glistened. “I gave it to my very best friend in all the world.” She started to reach out for it but stopped when the child pulled back. “What’s your name?”
“My name’s Pooky.” She held the hair clip in both hands and drew it close in a caress. “My mama gave me the hair bow a long time ago.”
Clisty wrapped her arms around the girl. “My name is Pooky, too. I think I know your mother.” She looked over at Jake and Becca and smiled. “We have to hurry but I think we can find her before the eleven o’clock news.”