Her Last Goodbye Page 51

“She was literally running for her life. I doubt she was even thinking at that point. She kept moving on instinct. The fact that she’s an avid hiker and runner probably saved her life.”

“Remind me to start exercising,” Morgan said. “I doubt if I could run two miles without collapsing.”

They’d stopped for takeout earlier. Energized by the thought of taking action, Morgan had polished off every fry in her bag. Lance was glad to see her eat.

The greasy burger and fries might be unhealthy in the long run, but his body had appreciated the calories as well. He didn’t remember the last time he’d had a Coke, but the sweet, fizzy drink had hit the spot. The sugar practically vibrated in his system.

Just before Burns’s house, the woods cut away. They followed the edge of the forest, arcing around the back of the property. Ahead, the detached garage and house lay dark.

Lance removed his night vision binoculars from his bag and scanned the backs of the buildings. “No windows on the garage and I don’t see his truck.” He also didn’t spot any security cameras.

“Maybe he’s not home.”

“Or his truck is in the garage.”

There was only one way to find out. They were going to have to break in to the garage.

They jogged across the open space, keeping the garage between them and the line of sight of the house. Even so, Lance was glad for the absence of the moon and the exceptionally dark night. Unfortunately, the entry door was on the side of the garage that faced the house. They crept around the corner of the building. Despite the sharp chill in the air, sweat dripped between his shoulder blades. Approaching a building with unknown occupants felt much more dangerous since he’d been shot and nearly died in such a situation. And fear for Morgan’s safety drove his apprehension levels through the roof.

He motioned her to wait in the shadows as he drew his lock picks from his pocket. The lock was surprisingly simple, and a slight tingle of doubt crept into Lance’s gut. If he were keeping a woman prisoner, he’d use a complex security system.

Stepping into the open, Lance inserted the two thin blades into the lock. In less than twenty seconds, he felt the gentle click of tumblers sliding into position. He turned the knob and opened the door, slipping inside. For a few seconds, he listened for a chirp that would indicate an alarm system, but he heard nothing. Morgan’s body bumped him as she entered the garage behind him. She closed the door and absolute blackness fell over them.

Though his eyes had adjusted to the night, inside was far darker. There were no windows in the building. His night vision binoculars required at least scant light to function. They’d be useless in the pitch black of the garage’s interior. Lance risked the flashlight. He clicked it on, aiming a narrow beam of light on the floor. The garage was one large open space filled with junk. Disappointment welled inside him as he surveyed the clusters of discarded furniture and boxes. Even before they’d made a complete circuit, he knew the missing woman wasn’t here and that Chelsea hadn’t been held there either. There wasn’t enough security. No setup for even keeping a captive.

Morgan led the way back outside. Lance carefully locked the door as they left, and they retraced their steps back to the woods. The sound of an engine floated on the cold air.

“I hear a car.” He tugged Morgan behind a few trees. They crouched and waited as headlights approached then taillights faded before resuming their trek. Burns’s house and the auto shop were only a quarter mile apart. They passed the place where the Jeep was hidden and continued along the edge of the woods until the forest ended and the cleared space of the auto shop and salvage yard began.

They stood at the edge of the woods and surveyed the landscape, all dirt and shadows in the darkness. Ahead, a soft light shone from the exterior of the auto shop and one office window glowed pale yellow.

“Did he leave a light on or is someone there?” Morgan asked.

“Impossible to say without getting closer.” Which might give them away.

“Do you see Burns’s red truck?”

“No.” Lance used the binoculars to search the darkness behind the shop. “But it could be inside.”

The auto shop had multiple bays and overhead rolling doors. But there was no need to search it. Creeps did not usually keep prisoners in buildings frequented by customers. Holding a woman for eight months required privacy.

“Then we’d better be quiet and quick.” Morgan turned away from the office and toward the scrap yard. They skirted the forest until they reached the rear of the property.

“I don’t see any cameras back here.”

“Guess we’ll find out.”

They entered the scrap yard. Most of the land was open. Rusted vehicle carcasses were piled and clustered seemingly at random. Dirt-and-weed tracks large enough to drive on meandered around them. A small area was enclosed by a six-foot-tall chain-link fence. The vehicles inside looked like later models, some heavily damaged by accidents but likely still worth money for parts.

No moon lit the way, but Lance couldn’t risk using the flashlight out in the open.

“We’ll take it slow. Watch where you step.” He steered Morgan around a rusted fender.

Passing the severed front half of a crushed and rusty Volkswagen Beetle, she tapped her scarred forearm. “Good thing I’ve had a tetanus shot recently.”

They stopped at the chain-link fence. Most of the vehicles within its enclosure were intact and organized into rows, more like a parking lot than a junkyard. In the center, stood a large metal shed.

“You wait here. I’ll climb in and check out the shed,” Lance whispered. “The gate is around front, behind the shop. I don’t want to go in that way.”

“I don’t like splitting up,” Morgan said. “But I’d just slow you down.”

Lance removed his lock pick from the backpack and tucked it into a pocket. Then he handed the bag to Morgan. “I’ll be quick. Back before you know it.”

He scaled the fence and dropped off the other side. Adrenaline hummed in his bloodstream as he glanced back at Morgan, standing alone in the dark. Her dark clothes had blended well in the woods, but out in the open, she was a clear human shape. He didn’t like to leave her alone.

“Watch your back,” he said.

“I’ll watch yours too.” She pivoted to put her back to the fence.

Turned back to his task, Lance crept through the rows of vehicles. There were too many places to hide in and around the cars. He strained for sounds in the darkness but heard nothing unusual.

He approached the shed. It was longer than it had appeared. A few snowflakes drifted down to the dirt, but the ground had not yet frozen, and they melted on contact. The only entrance to the building was a set of metal rolling doors secured with a chain and padlock. Lance could probably pick the lock. If not, he had a set of bolt cutters in his backpack, but he’d prefer not to leave evidence of their search or damage any property.

Broken windows were spaced out along the side of the shed, but they were two feet above Lance’s head. He looked for something to climb on. Spotting a cluster of barrels near the back of the building, he climbed on one and peered through the filthy, spider-cracked glass.

All he could see was darkness.

He lifted the binoculars from his chest and used them to scan the interior. The space was full of vehicles and engines. A few long workbenches were stacked with car parts. There were no rooms inside in which Burns could have kept a woman captive.

Lance jumped down from the barrel and retreated to the fence. Morgan crouched where he’d left her. He scaled the fence in a few swift motions and landed softly next to her.

“Anything?” she asked in a low voice.

He shook his head.

They resumed their search. Lance’s pulse thudded in a steady, highly tuned beat as they crept around piles of junked vehicles. Near the back center of the scrap yard, they came upon a single trailer set on cinder blocks. The rectangular structure was rusted and dented. Instead of steps, a single cinder block stood just below the narrow door, which was secured by a heavy-duty padlock. A dim yellow bulb glowed next to the door.

The hair on the back of Lance’s neck quivered. “I wonder what they’re keeping in there.”

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