Full Scoop(81)

By: Janet Evanovich

"Age appropriate," Queenie supplied. "Meaning no tequila shooters."

"Right. And since you and I would be here acting as chaperones, I don't think parents would have a problem with boys attending. And I think it would be okay if Mel and Travis got together once in a while, like on Saturday. They could play putt-putt or go to the library. I would drive them, of course."

"Travis is really worried about Mel," Queenie said. "He wants to get a bunch of his friends together on bicycles and look for her. I told him you'd call him if you wanted him to set it up. I hate I had to lie to him about Zack being gone. He's such a nice boy. On the honor roll too," she added.

"Yes, he's very polite," Maggie said, remembering how respectful he'd been when she'd called and taken him to task for slipping out of the theater with Mel.

"Of course, Mel is going to have to realize that if she wants to have a little more freedom, she has to earn it," Maggie continued. "She'll have to take on more responsibility around here, and improve her attitude."

"Amen to that," Queenie said.

"And she has to regain my trust."

"Are you going to ground her when she comes home?"

"Damn right I am. She's going to read David Copperfield." Maggie gave a tremulous smile. "This is too hard, Queenie," she whispered.

Queenie took one of her hands and held it tightly. "Hold on, Maggie. I'm not going to let you fall."

* * * * *

Carl Lee sipped his beer on Lydia's sofa in silence while she sat across from him and glared. He had been drinking for two hours, his mood becoming progressively worse. "Does Maggie still have that old trunk that belonged to her grandma or her great-grandma or somebody or other?"

Lydia tapped her lingers impatiently on the arm of the chair. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"It's sort of grayish-brown and has leather straps on it."

"Oh. She keeps it in her living room. Why?"

"I just remember it being in Maggie's parents' barn. A friend of mine had one just like it." He took another sip of his beer and wiped his mouth. "Does she have a boyfriend?"

Lydia gave an enormous sigh of disgust. "I don't know, and it's none of my business. The woman is trying to build a practice and raise her child as best she can. Why can't you just leave her alone? And why would you take an innocent child who has never done one thing to you?"

"You need to shut up, Lydia," he said, waving the gun at her. "I don't think you know what I'm capable of."

"Well, if you think I'm going to let a child and an old man lie upstairs without food and water you'd better think again. I'd rather be shot than watch suffering."

She stood and squared her shoulders.

Carl Lee immediately straightened. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"I just told you."

Lydia turned and started toward the kitchen, her fingers touching the pocket that held Ben's syringe. She jumped when she heard Carl Lee pull back the hammer on his gun. Lydia closed her eyes and took a deep breath. And waited.

Carl Lee laughed.

* * * * *

Zack walked into the room with his coffee cup, and his gaze immediately sought out Maggie. "How are you doing?" She shrugged and looked away because her tears were too near the surface, and her eyes already ached from crying.

Queenie reached for the small pouch and handed it to Zack. "Keep this in your pocket," she said. "It'll help you find Mel."

"Really?" He looked it over. "Is it some kind of tracking device?"

"You don't really want to get on my bad side right now," she said.

He grinned and stuffed it into the pocket of his jeans, then filled his coffee cup and returned to the living room.

Max walked down the hall, obviously to check on Jamie.

"Excuse me for a minute, Queenie," Maggie said and joined Zack in the living room. She took in the makeshift office, which had started out with Zack's laptop and had turned into a conglomeration of complicated-looking equipment with Max's arrival. Several telephones had been connected to various blinking apparatuses, and cords sprouted from every direction and coiled like snakes on the wooden floor. She wasn't sure what they were doing, but she knew they were doing everything they could to find her daughter. That was enough.

"Didn't mean to mess up your living room," Zack said, reaching out to her. She joined him on the sofa, and he took her hand and held it for a moment. He turned it over and traced the lines inside her palm.

His touch made her stomach quiver. "I appreciate all your hard work," she said. "Max's, too," she added. "I'm sure you had to lean on Lamar to get things moving so quickly." She suspected he felt as guilty as she did that Mel had slipped from the house unnoticed.