Her Last Goodbye Page 24

Another bald-faced lie.

Morgan took the photo and composed her game face. “Thank you so much for trying.”

She left a card on the counter.

She went outside and walked toward the Jeep. Lance wasn’t in it. She was reaching for the passenger door handle when an arm blocked her path. Morgan startled, spun around, and found herself staring up at Harold Burns.

“I hear you’re looking for me.” He’d changed his appearance. His face was clean-shaven, his hair buzzed short. His brown eyes, which had appeared dead and emotionless in his registry photo, were narrowed and intense.

Morgan took a step backward, then stopped herself. Showing fear to a man like Harold was like dripping blood in a shark tank.

“Did you fix Chelsea Clark’s Honda Accord last month?” she asked, remembering that she wasn’t supposed to know him on sight.

“Maybe.” He stepped forward, eliminating the gap she’d put between them. “I fix a lot of cars. I don’t remember each one.”

Morgan opened her bag and reached for the photo. While she was in there, she checked the location of her pepper spray—open side pouch, right where it belonged. She showed him the picture. “She needed a new battery. Also had her oil changed and tires rotated.”

Harold glanced at it. “Jerry handles the customers. I stay in the back.”

He took another step forward.

“Always?” Morgan moved backward. She couldn’t help it. He repulsed her on a cellular level. “You’re not in the back now.”

“You think you’re so smart. You know I’m on the sex offender registry.” Anger glittered in his eyes. “That’s why you’re here. If anything bad happens in this town, the cops always come looking for me.”

“I’m not a cop.”

“No, you’re not. But you’re a nosy, lying bitch.” His lips peeled off his teeth, more snarl than smile. He pressed closer.

The smell of grease clogged Morgan’s throat. She retreated farther. Her back hit the side of the building.

She was trapped. Her lungs tightened.

It’s fine. It’s broad daylight. Lance is around the corner. He’ll be back any second.

But no matter what she told herself, her primal instincts wouldn’t listen. Under her coat, sweat broke out between her shoulder blades. Do not show fear. It would encourage him. As she forced her spine straight, her insides curled into a fetal ball.

“The woman is missing.” She stuffed the photo in her bag. Her fingers closed around her pepper spray, and she stepped sideways to go around him.

But Harold mirrored her movement, staying between her and the Jeep.

“Hey,” Lance yelled.

Morgan exhaled, her muscles relaxing.

Harold got one look at Lance and backed off. “I don’t know anything about a missing woman.”

The tendons on the side of Lance’s neck had gone rigid. He stalked closer, planting himself between her and Harold.

“You worked on her car.” Lance’s statement was cut-the-bullshit.

“This is harassment.” It was Harold’s turn to back up as Lance got in his face.

“Fine.” Lance raised his hands, palms out as if he’d given up. “We just wanted to talk to you. But if you’d rather talk to the sheriff, that can be arranged. I’ll call Sheriff King now.”

He took out his phone.

“Wait.” Harold glanced at the auto shop. “I remember her, but I didn’t even talk to her when she came in here. Jerry doesn’t let me in the office. I stay in the back or I’m fired.”

Brotherly love had its limits.

“Maybe we don’t have to call the sheriff.” Morgan put her hand on Lance’s shoulder. The muscles under her palm were hard as concrete. “Let’s go.”

“Don’t come back.” Harold spat in the dirt at his feet.

Lance didn’t turn his back on Harold as he opened the passenger door for her. He kept one eye on Harold until he went back into the auto shop.

Behind the wheel, Lance faced her. “I can’t believe you don’t want me to call the sheriff about him.”

Morgan stared at him. “Of course we’re going to call the sheriff. Harold worked on Chelsea’s car. He noticed her. He remembered her. He had access to her address.”

“But you told him—”

“I said maybe we didn’t need to call the sheriff.” She set her bag at her feet. “I don’t want him to run. I want him to think he’s safe.”

“Well played.”

“I’ve had lots of experience not showing my utter contempt and disgust in the face of criminals.” Morgan fished her phone from her purse and called the sheriff. The receptionist patched her through to his office.

“Yes, Ms. Dane?” Sheriff King sounded irritated.

“Hello, Sheriff. We just left the auto shop where Chelsea Clark had her vehicle serviced last month. The mechanic who worked on her car is a registered sex offender.” She gave him the information on Harold Burns. “I wanted to call you right away in case you wanted to interview him.”

“I’ll send a deputy out to talk to him today,” King said, then spit out a grudging, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” She ended the call.

The sheriff could pressure Harold in a way Morgan and Lance couldn’t. But would he?

“Do you want to stop for lunch before we drive to Grey’s Hollow?” Lance pulled back onto the road and drove toward the interstate.

Morgan plugged the GPS coordinates for the Grey’s Hollow train station into her phone. “Let’s grab something we can eat on the way. I don’t want to waste time. Looks like rain is coming.”

Storm clouds darkened the horizon.

They bought sandwiches at a coffee shop and ate them on the drive north. An hour later, Lance exited and threaded his way through the rural roads until they approached the tiny town of Grey’s Hollow. On the narrow country road leading up to the station, they passed a smattering of homes. Lance slowed the car as they neared the station. The Grey’s Hollow station was basically a platform and parking area. There was no ticket booth, no shelter, no restroom. Nothing except a tiny deli that butted against the platform. Riders bought tickets online or on the train. The small gravel parking lot held six cars.

“She didn’t get on the train?” Lance asked.

“No,” Morgan answered.

Lance accelerated, and they left the station behind. Chelsea’s car had been found a quarter of a mile down the country road. The Jeep came to a stop in the approximate location. Morgan slipped off her heels and put on the cheap flats she kept in her bag for traipsing around in the mud.

She and Lance got out of the vehicle. The wind that whipped Morgan’s coat around her legs smelled of rain, and she buttoned her coat. She leaned back inside the Jeep, took her umbrella from her tote, and tucked it into the deep side pocket of her trench coat.

Lance had his camera in hand as they walked to the side of the road.

“This is pretty isolated.” Lance stared over a broken fence that ran along the side of the road, separating it from a cornfield. Past harvest, the dry stalks were cut and smashed on the ground. Random stalks that had escaped the tractor blades waved in the wind. “Why leave her car here? Why not in the train station parking lot?”

“Maybe someone didn’t want Chelsea’s car to appear on the parking lot security cameras.”

“Did you look up the weather report for last Friday night?” he asked.

“I did. It was clear, cold, and breezy. The temperature hovered just above freezing.”

“So she wouldn’t have gone walking if she didn’t have to.”

“No.”

Lance snapped pictures of the surrounding landscape then lowered the camera. They walked along the roadside. Morgan stepped ten feet off the pavement. Lance walked a parallel line ten feet farther away. Eyes on the ground, they continued their trek, their eyes sweeping the ground for anything out of the ordinary. After a hundred yards, they turned around, crossed the road, and went back to the Jeep. Wind stirred dead leaves and dirt into a mini tornado. Morgan’s hair blew into her face. She pulled an elastic band from her pocket and secured her hair in a ponytail. They repeated the process in the other direction, not rushing despite the approach of the storm.

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