I was in the process of negotiating the details of my seduction by Eddie, when my pocket started to vibrate. It was after midnight, so it was either a wrong number or something important. I could tell from the phone view screen that it was Helen on the line. Since I had just seen the rebellious Julie, it was not a good sign.
“What’s the problem Helen?” I asked urgently.
“Julie came home looking like a hooker a white ago. She and her dad had words, then she ran off into the woods. She hasn’t come home yet. I don’t know what to do. Should I call the police?” she asked.
“Call the police, I am going home to change then I will be out to your place. Call me, if she shows up in the meantime. Oh yeah, put lots of coffee on just in case.” I suggested. Then as an after thought, “Call Jennifer.”
“What can she do?” Helen asked.
“I don’t know. What I know is that it can’t hurt anything to call her. If we don’t call her, there will be hell to pay when she finds out.” If I wasn’t getting laid, I didn’t care if Jennifer got inconvenienced.
“I got to go look for a lost little girl,” I said to Eddie.
“Do you need some bodies for the search party,” he asked looking around the bar. “Some of us are more or less sober.”
“Nice of you to offer and maybe later, but for now they just need me. I don’t know what else they need till I get there.” I said it getting the hell out of he bar. When I got home, I quickly changed into my light weight thermal underwear and then into a heavy pair of jeans and a couple of layers of tee shirts and finally a blaze orange thermal vest. It was going to be impossible to hide a firearm, so I didn’t even try. I just put the light weight .22mag with the 6“ barrel onto my hip and headed out. I chose the Ruger because it was in a tied down jungle holster. If I had to hump through the woods, it was less likely to get hung on a vine or sapling, than something in a quick draw holster.
I drove the old maroon colored cruiser, why I chose it I have any idea. I got to Helen’s, before anyone else. Since I broke every speed limit on the way, I was a little surprised that I didn’t have at least one sheriff car following me. I went to the front door of her house. “Helen,” I shouted from the porch.
“Maxine, thank you for coming, we don’t know what to do.” Helen said. Jack was no where to be found.
“Where is Jack,” I asked.
“He has gone looking for Julie,” Helen was in tears.
“Now you have to hold it together Helen. Where did they go into the woods?” I asked.
“Over there,” she said pointing to the closest point to the woods from where we stood.
“Okay, let’s see if we can get organized, while we wait for Jack to come back. Does he have his cell phone with him?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Helen said. I handed her my phone.
“Call him now, lets see where it rings,” I suggested.
“What,” he answered all out of breath. I motioned to her, so Helen handed me the phone.
“Jack it’s Maxine, how far are you from home?“ I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. He might have been desperate sounding, if he weren’t so worn out.
“Are you on her trail or just looking?” I asked.
“I’m looking for her,” he said.
“Jack come on back let’s get a tracker dog out there. You have likely done all that you can to find her in the dark. If she is lost, then we need to get the trackers on her trail.” I didn’t say it but he knew the less disturbed the woods were the better chance the dogs would have. After all he was a dog trainer. Not that kind of dog, but still he knew how it worked, I was sure of that.
“Alright,” he said simply. He was probably glad I had given him permission to stop looking. He sounded all in.
The Sheriff’s deputies showed up just after I broke the connection. They interviewed Helen, while I stood in the yard waiting for Jack to return. I was thankful that one of them recognized me from the TV. If not, I would have wasted valuable time explaining the pistol on my hip.
I watched Jack emerge from the woods about a hundred yards from where Helen had pointed. When he got to me Jack burst into tears. “God Maxine, what have I done,” he said between sobs.
“I don’t know Jack, but go in and talk to the Sheriff’s deputies now. Let’s get her home then worry about how to deal with her.”
It wasn’t long after when Jennifer’s car pulled up with Ruth and James inside as well. I had no idea what, if anything, they could do. It was like I said about Jennifer, it couldn’t hurt to have them at the scene.
“We are going to call a couple of more deputies and the state police tracker dogs in,” the deputy who recognized me explained.
“How long has she been in the woods?” I asked.
“About an hour, they think,” the deputy said.
“I want to go with you,” I said. “Don’t let the cane fool you, I can keep up.”
“Alright,” he said. “If you fall behind we leave you.”
“I think I’ll tag along as well,” James said. “I can hold my own in the woods as well.”
“Who are you?” the deputy asked.
“He is just a friend of mine. I’ll vouch for him.” I explained. James looked over at me and smiled.
“It’s going to be a few minutes. In the meantime lets try not to disturb the scene,” the deputy suggested.
“James, how about you and I take a ride while we wait,” I said.
“Sure,” he said. “You drive, I’ll scout.”
“Deputy we won’t get out of the car, so we won’t mess up the track.”
“Okay,” he said.
The cruiser worked it’s way out of the yard rapidly filling with cars. “Where are we going?” James asked.
“I’m going to drive down these country roads. The kid doesn’t know anything about the area. We might just see her walking down one of these roads. If she found a road after being in those woods a while, you can bet she stayed with it.” I suggested.
“Yeah, I can see that,” he agreed. “Since we aren’t a cop car we have a good chance to slip up on her.”
“Yep she might even flag us down,” I said. “By the way welcome to Aster. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“This is a better gig than I usually get involved with,” he said quietly.
“I hope it ends better for sure,” I replied. I drove the more or less main road in the direction she went when I came to an even smaller road entering from the right. I figured that Julie probably would have cut the side road before she came to the main road, so I turned right. We were quite a ways down the road when we spotted her. She was almost staggering as she walked away from us. She wasn’t headed back into the woods. She was definitely happy to be out of them, I expected. I pulled up behind her and stopped the cat. James was ready to take off if she tried to run away. All her fight was gone. She would have gotten into the car with Ted Bundy at that point.
I opened the door stepped into the road then said, “Julie come on, I’ll take you home.”
“I’m not going home,” she said. “You can’t make me.”
“Wrong, I can’t make you stay, but I can damn sure make you come with us,” I said it with something less than a smile on my face. Which of course she couldn’t see anyway.
“Come on little lady,” James said gently. “No one is going to hurt you, I promise.” Something about his voice made me believe it for sure. Since she walked to him, it looked as though she did as well.
It was clumsy but Julie sat in the back. I thought that she might have been the first person to sit in the back seat. at least since I owned the Cruiser. I walked away from the car leaving Julie in the back and James in the front. I wanted to make the call, that would call off the dogs, far away from Julie. I didn’t want to burden her with the trouble she had caused just yet. As far as I was concerned a large part of the inconveniences was me not getting laid.
“Helen,” I said when she answered. “We found her and will be there in five minutes.”
When I got back in the car,. James was turned toward her. The two of them were talking like they had known each other for years. “So yeah, I grew up on a place like your dad’s. I ran away and joined the Marines a long time ago. Believe it or not, I’m here to buy a place just like the one where I grew up. Well as much as I can make it anyway.”
“All I can think of is getting away from here. I want to go somewhere there are kids and people having fun.” Julie said.
“Well I can understand that,” James said. “Why don’t you join the military. You will have to cut all his this drama though.”
“Or go to college,” I suggested. “The community college is full of kids, surely some of them know how to have fun.”
“Yeah if you want to do that, when I get my horse farm open, you can come help me teach kids to ride.” James said.
“I can’t ride,” she admitted.
“Then you will be my first student. I’ll find you just the right old nag,” James said as we pulled into the yard of Jack and Helen’s house.
James got out first. He approached the agitated Jack and had a quiet chat with him. I was pretty sure Jack came around to his way of thinking, whatever that was.
“Julie, don’t run away again. You do have options.” I said. “James and I are going to see to that.”
“Can I come live with you?” she asked.
“You know that you can’t do that. You need to stand on your own, not lean or me or your dad. I know you think you have been on your own, but you haven’t really. Now you need to think hard about the decisions you make, because they are going to affect the rest of your life.” I said in my preachy voice. “Here call this number tomorrow ask for some help. The lady who runs it is a friend and she knows exactly what you are going through.” I had given her Cheryl’s card of course.
“I will stop and think before I run into the woods again I promise,” she said smiling. “That wasn’t any fun at all.”
“Yeah and go wash your face,” I said with a laugh. “If you want to play with make up, go take the cosmetology course at the community college.”
Everything took a few more minutes to calm down. When the cops left, and Jack, Helen, and Julie were inside the house, Jennifer said to me, “Pancakes for everyone.”
“Let the peasants eat pancakes,” I said.
“Off with their heads,” Ruth chimed in.
“Guillotine, Guillotine,” James offered.
“Then, I’ll meet you at Tex and Barb’s in ten minutes,” I suggested to Jennifer.
“Tryon’s best all night pancake house,” she explained to Ruth.
James turned to Ruth and asked, “Honey would you mind, if I rode with Maxine?”
“Not at all,” Ruth answered with a smile.
It was much easier to get the cruiser out of Helen’s yard without all the cop cars parked like cops do at a crime scene. It always looks like a random scene from a game of pickup sticks.
“So James you wanted to talk?” I asked.
“No one needs to know who we are.” It was more than a suggestion.
“Oh did I say something,” I asked.
“No you were fine, just keep it that way.” he replied.
“That was my intention. Oh and James, don’t ever threaten me again. It makes me worry and trust me, you won’t like me, if I’m worried about you.”
“Ditto,” he said with a smile.