His phone’s blare woke him up from a restless sleep, “Mathers,” he grumbled into the phone. He tensed a bit when he heard the sobs.
“Justin, I need you.” The soft female voice cried out.
“Iris? Hey, what’s wrong?” he sat up, becoming more alert now. He glanced at his bedside clock. It was two a.m. in Oklahoma, which meant it was one am in Ohio.
“Marnie’s missing.” His older sister choked out.
“What?” he demanded, getting out of bed and began to get his jeans and gray t-shirt on he had stripped off only a few hours earlier.
“She was at a friend’s house, she was supposed to be home four hours ago, Clay went to get her, but she wasn’t there.”
“Okay, next plane out I’ll be there, what are they doing there?”
“Nothing, yet, she’s the fifth girl that’s disappeared in the last few months, not including the one that disappeared six years ago, Justin, I’m scared.”
“Don’t worry, Iris, I’ll figure it out, I’ll be there as soon as I can be.”
“Thank you, little brother.” Iris ended the phone call.
Justin began to grab everything and shoved into a carry-on bag and took off. He’d call his partner later and explain what was going on. He called the airport as he thudded down the steps from his apartment in Oklahoma City and then the one in Columbus. In Columbus, he arranged for a rental motorcycle to be there waiting for him when he arrived.
He purchased the ticket over the phone, his flight left in an hour. It would be a four-hour flight. Then he’d have about a two-hour drive ahead of him to get to Iris’s home.
Everyone in the family got along, and he knew Marnie wouldn’t have run away, there never were any disagreements between the parents and daughter. Something was very wrong if Marnie was missing and there was some horrible foul play, and he didn’t like it.
He wouldn’t rest until he found her. He lugged his carry-on over his shoulder as he headed to his motorcycle and took off. His partner could pick it up for him at the airport later. He sped through the light traffic and finally arrived at the airport. This was going to be the most prolonged six hours of his life. He boarded the mostly empty plane and settled himself in his window seat. He couldn’t even think straight at the moment.
All he could do was worry about was his niece, he knew what kind of sick fucks took sixteen-year-old girls. He’d have to do a lot of investigation and figure out who all had been taken and he knew the district cops weren’t going to like that he was barging into the investigation and he didn’t give a crap.
He would solve this case with approval or without it. No one went against him, and he’d challenge these cops no matter what. He refrained from snatching his black Stetson off and dig his fingers through his hair. He felt he could have gotten there quicker riding his motorcycle, but knew it was impossible.
He’d just have to keep himself calm and relax, he wouldn’t be any help if he let the anger take over, but if he found the bastard who took his niece, he’d kill them. He had to find her before it was too late, and they’d lose all trace of her.
He refused to believe Marnie wouldn’t have put up a fight, he taught her so many self-defense techniques it seemed impossible for someone to take her, and no one knew until it was too late.
He pulled out his mini notepad, and a pen then began to jot down everyone he’d want to question when he got there. All the information he wanted from the cops in Saint Clairsville. Those cops would be getting a piece of his mind, and he didn’t care.
That’s what made him a good cop before, and now a P.I.
His plane finally landed, and he rushed off the plane and out to the motorcycle that was waiting for him. He jumped on, jumped the engine to life, and tore out of the parking lot and drove to Iris’s subdivision home. It’d be seven before he got there, and he wished he could be there sooner.
He finally whipped up into the driveway of the white picket fenced in, brick home. Too bad that was just a fake persona. Nothing was this cheerful or safe, obviously. He rushed up the wooden steps to the porch and didn’t bother to knock. He barged into the house, his boots clanking against the brown tiled floor, “Iris!” he yelled.
She came running out of the kitchen and fell into his arms, laying her head against his chest with him being six-four and her five-seven. He ran a hand down her soft, long blonde hair, “I’m here, sis, I’ll find her.”
“Oh, Justin, this is the worse,” she sobbed out as she dug her head into his chest.
“We’ll get to the bottom of this, c’mon, let’s go to the station. I need a lot of information to start with.”
“Okay, Clay can drive us.”
Justin stomped into the station and walked up to the front desk, “I want to speak to the chief and now.” He demanded, glaring at the desk cop.
The cop practically ran away, and she was then leading a heavy set, balding man back.
“I’m Chief Michaels, can I help you?”
“I want every information you have on every girl that’s disappeared, including the recent one, Marnie Benson,” Justin demanded, pulling out his P.I. License.
“And what makes you think I’m giving it to you?”
“Because, apparently, you haven’t had any luck, and now that my niece is involved, I’m now involved, and I know what it’s going to take to solve these disappearances, now all of the information.” Justin wasn’t backing down.
The older man let out a sigh and motioned for Justin to follow him. He was taken back to a small office where Chief Michaels motioned for him to sit in one of the gray cushioned chairs. Justin didn’t want to sit, he had done enough of that on the plane, but he guessed he should if that was going to get him in good graces in with the chief.
So he sunk into the chair but didn’t relax his frame.
The chief pulled out five folders from the middle of his black metal desk and handed them to Justin, “Five girls in eight months, we’ve never had something like this before, and we’ve had a trail for a little bit, but then they just die out. We’re still working all of them, every angle, hell who’s to say they are even here anymore or even in the states.”
Justin’s gray gaze sliced through the chief, no wonder they weren’t having any luck with thinking like that. It was like they had already given up all hope of finding the girls. He began to shift through the folders. All the circumstances were the same, the young girls hanging out with friends and going to be picked up by their parents, but when the parents showed up to get them the girls were gone, just vanished. He grimaced when he looked over the ages, and the youngest was thirteen when she was taken, now fourteen, Tinley Jamison, Vanessa Peters, seventeen, June Austin, sixteen, Krystal O’Hare, fifteen, and then Marnie, sixteen.
He let out a huff. None of them had any similarities, so was who took them lining them up for one person or multiple buyers?
There were multiple surveillance photos from street cameras, that had a black SUV, Justin glanced to the chief, “Plates are fake, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, they are, and after we follow it to the outskirts of town, it just disappears.” The chief grumbled.
“Is there anywhere someone would hold the girls until the plan unfolds for them to sell them off, probably?”
The chief pulled out a map, that was marked with a decently sized red circle and in that circle were blue x’s, “The circle has some abandoned buildings. The problem is, it’s such a tree infested area we can’t investigate enough of it fast enough, nor can we find these buildings, but it’s a shot in the dark because the girls might not even be there.”
Justin mulled everything, read every single not of every interview the chief himself had conducted. Not much of a struggle, no sounds, no one seemed to know anything. The only thing he could do was go to the wooded area and begin his own search.
“Mind if I keep these?”
“Sure, no problem.” The chief waved his hand.
Justin headed out of the office with the folders and headed to Clay and Iris. They looked like they hadn’t slept at all since Marnie went missing. He couldn’t blame them, but they needed to rest to welcome Marnie back home when he brought her back.
Gray eyes locked with Clay’s brown eyes, “Come on, let’s get you guys home, I’m going to need some supplies to get ready for my search.”
“I’m so worried about her, Justin.”
“I know, I’ll find her, I promise.” He didn’t know how he could make a promise like that, but he just did, and he’d do everything in his power to deliver.
They pulled up into the driveway, and Justin made his way over to his bike just as his phone began to ring. He pulled it from his belt, “Yeah, Holly?”
“Justin, oh my gosh I was so worried about you when you didn’t come in today, where are you?” Holly’s gentle voice asked.
He rolled his eyes, he should have brought someone else with him from the station. A man would have been better, they wouldn’t have been overly worried, and he wasn’t even sure what Holly brought to the table to their little group, “I’m going to be gone for a couple of days at the least, my niece is missing, I’ve got to find her.”
“We’re not busy here, I could come help.”
Justin rolled his eyes again. He was surprised they weren’t permanently skyward because of how often this annoying woman made him roll his eyes, “No, I’ve got it, for now, just stay there.” He didn’t know how much more obvious he could be. She was interested in him, he was not interested in her.
“Are you sure? I’m bored here, Justin, please?” she begged.
He could imagine her sitting at her metal desk, puckering out her bottom lip, batting those eyelashes over her green eyes, and twirling one of her slender fingers around her straight red hair, “Whatever, Holly, just let Ben know.”
“Really?” she practically squealed.
“Doesn’t mean anything, I’ve got to go, bye.” He hung up and jumped on his rental bike and made it rumble to life. He went to the camping store in town to get all the supplies he would need.
Once he gathered everything, he threw the backpack onto his back and headed to the area they believed the SUV had been lost. When he pulled up to the woods, he was taken aback. He never expected it to be as thick as it was.
He grumbled as he cut the engine and steered the bike a little ways off the road and hid it hopefully well enough that no one would spot it. He began the trek through the thick woods.
She sat there a while longer and still hadn’t heard the door lock of her prison. Had Burly been that upset that he forgot? She slowly made her way to the door and pulled. It opened quietly. Could she escape?
She opened the door enough to slip out and pulled it shut. The floor was ice cold against her bare feet. It was quiet. She knew what was to the right, stairs, but she couldn’t escape that way. She went left, and she froze when she heard a sob.
“Hello?” she called out softly.
“Help, get us out too, all of us, there are at least six of us?” the voice whispered behind a metal door like her own.
She stepped closer, “I’m one of them. They forgot to lock my door, who are you?”
“Marnie Benson, please, get help, find a Justin Mathers when you’re out, he’s my uncle, he’s also a cop, he’ll know what to do, please?”
“I’ll try, Marnie, I have to get out of here first.”
“Which one are you?” Marnie asked.
“The one who bit the lanky man when he touched me, I don’t know which way to go, I don’t even know who I am.”
“Okay, listen to me,” her voice sounded calm but worried at the same time. “Go down the hallway, there’s a window that’ll open out, it swings, go that way from the window, you’ll come to a road, eventually, please hurry,” Marnie begged her.
“I’ll go as fast as I can, thank you, Marnie, and I wish I could take you all right now.”
“It’s okay, when you get to that road, flag down a car, and tell them to take you to the station here, and tell them to get a Justin Mathers, from Oklahoma, please remember that name.”
“Justin Mathers, right, okay.” She ran down the hall and found the window Marnie mentioned. She got it unlocked and began to slip out just as the loud voice shouted.
“No, One six nine is gone.” It was Burly’s voice.
Fear gripped her heart as she squeezed through the window opening. She felt the pain in her leg and looked down quickly. Blood ran down her leg like a river, but she just ran straight ahead. She had to get away.
An alarm began to blare behind her. She had a month before they’d ship the girls away to who knew where, but now that time was more than likely cut in half. She continued to run as sticks punctured her bare feet, but she pushed through the pain. It was nothing compared to the kicks, punches, and shoves up against a wall she would receive and have received.
She was so afraid to see if someone was coming after her, but she heard the alarm shut off and then a gunshot. She didn’t think, she just dove to the ground, twigs, and rocks scrapping her legs and arms. She scurried back to her feet and ran her lungs burned and feet ached. Low limbs slapped her in the face as she flew, causing more scratches.
She tripped over a log and tumbled down a dip in and the land, and she splashed into a creek. She laid there on her back for a minute. Maybe she was the wrong one for the job. She ached so severely and barely ate enough to keep herself alive because she had actually wanted just to be done and die for the longest time. She had tried a few times in that cell of hers. She looked around, had she ever seen the outside before? Or was she born into the hellish place?
She struggled to her feet and climbed up the other side of the dip, dirt caked under her bitten-off fingernails. She shivered as the coldness crawled around her. She bit back tears of pain and frustration as she limped away from the water. She wondered how long before she’d get to the road.
She didn’t enjoy anything around her because she didn’t know how to. As she continued around the thick trees, the sun began to set. She wrapped her arms around herself, trying to ward off the cold, but it wasn’t working. She was so cold.
If it had been any darker, she would have run face-first into the run-down wooden building. She looked it over for a second and then went to the door, barely hanging on to the building. She managed to push the door open a little and looked inside.
Every inch of the place was covered in dust, and everything seemed as dilapidated inside, but she knew she couldn’t keep going in the dark. She felt so cold too. She squeezed inside and closed the door as best she could. She walked up to the cot, up against the one wall, pulled the blanket off it, and wrapped it tightly around herself as she shivered again.
She knew she wouldn’t sleep, but she at least wanted to be a little warm. She climbed onto the cot and pressed her back against the wall, pulling the blanket around her tighter. How was she going to explain to anyone that she had no clue who she was? She would get looks like she was crazy if she told them her name was One six nine. She shuddered and pulled her knees up to her chest. Then again, she probably was crazy since she was traipsing through the woods in a t-shirt and a pair of barely-there panties, who else would do that unless they were crazy?
Justin let out a huff as the sun sunk lower and lower on the horizon. Soon he wouldn’t be able to see. He gave up for the night and climbed up a thick, huge oak tree and found himself just as a thick branch. He pulled out a sleeping bag and draped it over himself as he settled back against the solid tree, but he knew sleep would evade him. He just didn’t want anyone to see him on the ground, especially the bastard who took precious Marnie if was indeed out there. ‘Don’t worry, honey, I’m coming, and I’ll find you.’