STAR FINDER

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Chapter 20: Something Old and Something New

“Oh!” Where did he go? Lilly stretched taller, her eyes explored.

She had been so absorbed with watching her father that she had lost her bearings. This section of the city was unfamiliar. Where am I? The landscape, if you could call it that, was a drastic change from where she lived.

Lilly eased forward a few more steps and came out from the narrow passageway between tall buildings. She found herself standing in the middle of a four-lane street. Odd…no traffic?

In D. C., that was impossible.

Deep furrows creased her brow.

Streetlights, garbage collection, glass in the windows, the occasional patch of green, a tree, the gentle hum of people living their lives, and much more were absent. In fact, even the air smelled peculiar.

She stood for several seconds taking it all in. Arms tight at her sides she pivoted 360 degrees, breathed in, out, then quivered. Was she the sole survivor of an earth-altering disaster?

A loud bang, something heavy beating on metal made her mind kick in. Liberty Square. I’m in Liberty Square. That’s why everything is so…wrong.

Like a squirrel chased by a dog, Lilly scrambled to get off the street. She hunkered down in the alcove of an abandoned building. Back tight against the wall, legs pulled in close to her body, she considered the situation. What possible reason could her father have for visiting such a place? Did he associate with criminals? She flashed to the gun he was carrying. Her throat tightened. Dry, no spit, she struggled to swallow.

The banging stopped. Time to make her move. Lilly stayed low, raced across the street, and scooted in next to a graffiti adorned mailbox. Shot full of holes, she could see right through it. Unfortunately, the reverse was also true. Anyone passing by could see her. And the anyones in Liberty Square were no one she wanted to meet.

The slap, slap, slap of running feet and her heart raced to the same frantic beat. No games here. Out in the open she was vulnerable. She must get off the street, and find her father. She knew his general location.

Eyes glued on the spot where she had last seen her dad, ears wired like radar for danger, Lilly snaked along in front of deserted buildings. Glass popped, bits of metal scraped under the crush of her purple bedazzled sneakers. Cars without tires set up on blocks, marked her progress. Upturned grocery carts, broken chairs, a rolled up carpet—the littered landscape was perfect for concealment. When she arrived at the place where her father had disappeared, she braked.

An abandoned warehouse. Was he inside?

She inched over to the building. Pushing up onto her toes, she peeked in through one of the broken windowpanes and saw flickering lights. Campfires?

Strange.

“Hey, Terry!” Cosmo’s voice boomed from the dark interior of the warehouse. “I’m over here.”

Yes! Her father was inside! Now that she had verified his location, there was no turning back. Besides, she’d need him to escort her out of Liberty Square. That is if she wanted to get home with her arms, legs, and virginity intact.

As usual, Lilly organized her process. First step would be to get inside; second, demand an explanation for her father’s mysterious behavior; and last, get out and go home. Tomorrow her new life would begin. She would be the liberated Lillian.

Lilly shifted into stealth mode. Crawling through a broken window and ripping her favorite hoodie was not an appealing option. An alternate entrance must be found. Where had her father entered? She scampered to the far end of the building, looked down its length, and saw a solid brick wall. She walked around to investigate the perimeter of the warehouse for an entrance.

Loading docks covered the back of the building. As expected, the oversized garage doors had been pulled down and padlocked. Tufts of grass poked up through the black macadam in the parking lot. Railroad tracks rusted nearby. Broken bottles and a car’s back seat lay beside a tractor-trailer tire. A charred wire refrigerator shelf and blackened wood at its center ready for a barbecue.

Lilly was about to turn the last corner when moonlight glinted off glass and stole her attention. She edged around a stack of pallets, stepped through the high weeds, and discovered a shiny black SUV. It was new, the only item in the area undamaged and intact, and as out of place in Liberty Square as a brontosaurus swimming down the Potomac. The big car was the type she had seen on the news, picking up the President.

She ran a hand over the hood. It was warm. The owner had just arrived. Was her father meeting someone important? He’d done covert work for the army when she was younger and her mother was alive. And after all, this was Washington, D. C. Home turf for spy guys.

“Another mystery,” giggled Lilly feeling safer, almost cocky, knowing her father was close by. She turned the corner and found the public entrance. It was a small solid steel door recessed into the brick wall. A weathered sign read ‘MacArthur and Sons World Traders.’ Two small windows were set into the wall on each side of the door. Lilly peeked in and saw the outline of a desk and filing cabinets. The drawers were open and their contents tossed onto the floor. These had been the company’s offices.

She faced the front door. Lilly rubbed her palms together hard and fast, flexed her fingers, and slid the picks out of her back pocket.

She bent down and wiggled the knob, testing. It was unlocked.

“Damn,” she whispered. I could have used the practice. She tucked away the picks and kicked the dirt as she twisted the knob.

The creaky hinges gave way. The bottom of the door scraped, but Lilly muscled it open. She sucked in her nonexistent belly, slipped over the threshold, and entered a small alcove. Doors to the offices were on her right and left. They were closed. A set of glassless double doors, the kind that swing both ways, was straight ahead. She inched forward careful not to trip on debris or give away her presence, but her caution wasn’t necessary. Unlike the cluttered street and sidewalk outside, this area was obstacle free.

It took Lilly a moment to catch on. Oh. Someone cleaned up here. The toe of her sneaker made lazy C strokes as it brushed the floor. Even the broken glass from the double doors had been swept aside.

Lilly’s heart galloped as she pushed through well-oiled doors.

Movement, the soft buzz of many voices, and flickering lights were dead ahead.

Closer, I must get closer. She took it slow, moseyed not to attract attention.

Now she could see the innermost area. What she had mistaken for campfires, were five burning barrels in the center of a vast open space.

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