“Let’s go.” Clisty placed her coffee cup on the table and grabbed the envelope with the precious four-leaf clover inside. “Hurry, Becca. The news will be back on at eleven.”
“I know. I’m the producer.” Becca fumbled with her yogurt container. Her spoon teetered on the saucer. “No, don’t fall on the white area rug,” Becca moaned.
“Don’t worry about it.” Clisty brushed it off, crossed the room and pulled her coat from the hall tree.
“Don’t worry about it?” Becca questioned. “This, from the girl with a sterile home, except for the picture of two rag-a-muffins?”
“Okay, okay,” Clisty agreed. She fished in her pocket for her gloves and car keys.
“Where are we going?” Becca asked. Outside, she slipped on the fresh powder of spring snow as she hurried behind. “The time is flying. You have to be behind the news desk before eleven.”
“I know, Becca. But, I also know that was Faith in that ATM surveillance video. She’s the bank robbery witness everyone is looking for and she’s been missing for years.” She fumbled with the remote entry button. The buzzer squawked and the two women jumped into the SUV.
The leather seats had grown cold. She shivered as she tried to force the key into the ignition.
Becca interrupted. “Wait a minute. I need to know where we’re going.” She patted Clisty’s hand. “Take a deep breath and tell me what’s going on.”
Clisty let the motor idle. Her hand trembled on the floor shift. “Becca, the image in the ATM video was my friend, Faith.”
“Honey, she was nine years old when she was kidnapped. That was eighteen years ago.”
“I know,” Clisty pounded on the shift knob. “But, I know Faith Sterling’s eyes. That was her.” Tears welled up and spilled down her cheeks.
“Don’t mess up your makeup. You may not have time for a touch up before the late-night news.” She patted Clisty’s hand again. “Now, where are we going?”
“First, we’ll stop at police headquarters and hope Jake is there.” She looked right and left. It was early in the evening. On-coming lights sparkled on the windshield’s frost patches. “I think I know where Faith is, but I don’t know if it’s safe to go there alone.”
“Okay. With Jake along, I’ll feel better.” Becca buckled her seat belt. “Why didn’t you just call or text him?”
“I’m a little scattered.” Clisty pulled her phone from her pocket and pushed a button.
“Speed dial?” Rebecca teased.
“Never mind ...” Clisty put the receiver to her ear. “It’s ringing ... pick up Jake.” She disconnected and looked out at the road ahead. “He’s on duty. Why doesn’t he answer?”
“Leave a text message and let’s go,” Becca said urgently.
• • • • •
Clisty pulled into the police parking lot and had her hand on her seat belt clasp before the engine stopped. She flung the door open and dashed toward the door when Becca slipped a little as she stepped from the car.
“Becca, are you okay?” Clisty turned back quickly.
“Just trying to catch up. I’m wearing the wrong shoes for a hot pursuit.”
Clisty waited at the door for her. “I’m sorry. You didn’t hurt yourself, did you?”
“I’m fine,” Becca assured her.
Outside, the daylight had slipped into early spring-evening darkness. But, inside the station, lights beamed in every corner. The smell of freshly popped corn penetrated the room. An officer jumped to his feet when Clisty walked in.
“Clisty Sinclair ... pardon me, Miss Sinclair,” Jeremy Rhodes blustered. “What may I do for you?” He blushed as a few corn kernels fell from his uniform to the floor.
“That’s alright. Call me Clisty.” She paused and glanced around. “Is Detective Davis here?”
“No, Ma’am. Jake’s been out since the bank robbery.” He paused. “But, you know about the robbery. You broke the news at six.”
“Yes ...,” she frantically checked the room. “He hasn’t come back?”
“No, Ma’am. He’s interviewing the bank teller at the hospital. She was shot-up pretty bad.”
“The hospital?” She turned to Rebecca. “He probably has his phone off if he’s in the E.R. We’d better hurry on.”
“Clisty, I don’t know.”
“I do,” she snapped. Her texting thumbs flew over the phone’s keypad. “Now, where are my keys?” she asked as she fumbled in her pocket. “I just had them.”
A woman in a frayed coat scooped keys off the floor and handed them to the officer. He thanked her and turned the keys over in his hand. “Initial—P? And ... they’re yours, Miss Sinclair?”
“Yes,” Clisty allow a smile to lighten her face. “Grandma called me Pooky.”
“Pooky?” He raised his eyebrows. “Where did your grand-parents live?
“Over on Norman Avenue.”
“Six-twenty-four Norman Avenue, right?” Rhodes smiled.
“How did you know?”
“My parents bought their house when your grandparents moved to Florida. We lived there for seven years. When Mom and Dad had more kids, we moved. There was a little angel in the kitchen window. On the bottom was a name. Mom told me it was a Christmas Prayer Angel and we should pray for the person. Each person in the prayer partner exchange wrote their name on the bottom. It was Pooky.”
Clisty gasped. “Grandma said she lost my angel, but she prayed for me every day anyway.”
“Pooky,” Rhodes whispered, “I’ve prayed for you since I was a kid.” He paused then asked, “What happened about ten years ago, in the spring?”
“My boyfriend and I were in a car accident after the Senior Prom.” She rubbed her finger over the initial on the key chain. “I was in a coma for two weeks.”
“I could feel it,” Rhodes whispered again. “Something seemed wrong. I prayed twice a day during that time.”
Clisty took the officer’s hand. “Thank you.” Tears again threatened to drown her resolve. She looked away. “Becca, we’d better hurry.” She gathered her keys and spoke again to Rhodes. “If Jake comes back and hasn’t gotten my message, tell him I was here and to meet us at the clubhouse.” She hurried out the door with Becca matching her steps.
“Maybe we should wait for Jake until he can be reached. He’ll turn his phone on soon,” Becca warned.
“We’ll be fine,” Clisty brushed off her concern and pulled her coat more tightly around her. The spring air had taken on a bitter chill.
• • • • •
Clisty reached for the car radio. “There may be more news about the robbery. Maybe they’ve found Faith.”
“We just came from the Police Station. There was no news about the witness or the robber.” Becca lowered her voice to a soothing whisper. “Clisty, Faith was kidnapped. If she’s alive, where has she been and how did she get away?”
“I don’t know. But, I’m going to where she directed.”
“Yes, the four-leaf clover. We kept the treasures we found at the clubhouse. I’m sure she’ll try to meet me there.”
“Where is it?” Becca asked.
“In my parents’ back yard,” Clisty said as she turned the corner and headed to the north side of town.
“I thought your parents were visiting your grandparents in Florida.” Becca spoke slowly. “No one will be there.”
“But, that has nothing to do with the clubhouse.” Clisty downplayed the caution she heard in her friend’s voice. “I can always get in there.”
“I’m not thinking about ease of entry. I’m wondering how safe it will be to poke around in a dark backyard and shed.”
“We’ll be fine. It’s my parents’ yard.” Clisty eased onto Keystone Avenue and followed the winding road into the next block. The street light in front of her parents’ home was out.
“It looks dark,” Becca gasped.
“Come on fraidy-cat.” She popped the door open, jumped out and hurried toward the back of the house. A dog’s bark in the distance hung on the crystal air. The cold gravel crunched under their feet.
“Clisty ... wait,” Becca called in a hoarse whisper. As she tried to catch up, a dark figure approached them from behind.
Clisty strained to see into the darkness behind her. Dim light filtered through bony trees a few houses down. She saw something piled on the ground and gasped. She had just walked from that direction and there had been nothing there. “Becca?” she called into the darkness. There was no answer.
Fear gripped her chest as she crept closer. “Becca?” she whispered. Her eyes darted frantically from bush to each dense hedge around her.
“Oh ...,” Becca moaned as she rolled over on her elbow. “What happened?”
Crack! A noise shattered the blackness around them. A large, burly figure about ten feet away staggered and fled from the yard. The shape of a woman wielding a large branch darted off in the opposite direction.
“Faith?” Clisty shouted frantically after her. The bells of the church on the corner chimed. It was eight p.m. News was at eleven.