All the time his friends had been going to school and visiting the amusement park on weekends, he’d been working. And saving. He’d been tired, exhausted at times, but never scared. Hardly even worried. Deep down he’d known it would all come together and that someday he wouldn’t have to watch his pockets empty out at the first of every month.
It had worked out and he no longer fretted when it was time to tear off another page of the calendar. He wasn’t flush with money, but his family was clothed, fed, had a roof over their heads and there was still money in the bank at the end of every month for rainy days.
Flipping the sign hanging on the door of his gas station from Closed to Open, Scooter stared through the glass, not really looking at anything in particular. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. The train whistle sounded as usual. A normal day.
Except everything was not normal. He had an overwhelming desire to punch something.
Scooter unlocked the door and pushed it open. For the first time in his life, hard work, long days and short nights weren’t going to be enough. Furthermore, he was scared. And he didn’t like it.
He’d spent half the night trying to come up with a plan to rescue those girls in Duluth, which would also put a stop to Josie’s trips, but he knew nothing about going up against mobsters. Ty had told him to hang tight for a couple of days, give him time to investigate a bit more, and that left Scooter feeling as if he was sitting on a gas can in the middle of a ring of fire.
Scooter grabbed the bucket he used to wash windows on customers’ cars and carried it to the water spigot to fill it for the day. He’d just wet the rags he hung to dry each night when a car pulled into the station.
He filled the gas tank, checked the oil and tires, washed the windows and made small talk with the owner, then did the same with the next car, too. Customers pulled in regularly, as was customary, for the next hour or so. Willard Ralstad had just driven away in his old Model T when Dac Lester pulled up in his one-ton stock-hauling truck that doubled as his shine runner. Yellow and black, the GMC was a brute of a vehicle, with a box longer and taller than all others around. The painted wooden slats on the sides were nailed close together. Nothing but a hump of hair could be seen of the big black bull Dac hauled with him everywhere he went.
Scooter cranked up the gas pump again, preparing it to fill the stock truck, when the phone in his station rang.
As Dac cut the truck’s engine, he leaned out of the window. “Go ahead and answer that, I’ll get the gas.”
Scooter acknowledged Dac with a wave before jogging through the door he’d propped open. The phone hung on the wall next to a set of shelves full of oil cans. He rested one arm on the top shelf while grabbing the earpiece and speaking into the mouthpiece attached to the wooden base. “Scooter here.”
“Scooter, it’s Maize.”
He grinned. Norma Rose had called yesterday and offered Maize a job working at the resort.
“Shouldn’t you be working, not talking on the phone?” he asked teasingly. Deep down, he was glad she’d accepted the opportunity. Maize had rarely left the house for the past three years, and she had been very excited when she’d driven away this morning.
“I thought you’d want to know something,” she said.
The concern in her tone had him standing upright. “What? What is it?”
“Dave’s car is missing.”
“He’s here, but no one else is. Norma Rose and Ty took a load of things to Twyla, and Roger went with them.”
Scooter had noticed Ty’s truck go by earlier and assumed the load in the back had been for Twyla. “Where’s Josie?”
There was a noticeable pause before Maize said, “At her Ladies Aid meeting.”
Scooter cursed. He hadn’t told Ty to find a way to make Josie stay at home. He hadn’t thought it was necessary. The tingling of his spine told him all he needed to know, yet he asked, “Is her car there?”
“Yes,” Maize said. “It’s in the garage. Dave says it won’t start.”
Scooter cursed again under his breath before he said, “Let me talk to Dave.”
A second later, he heard the man say, “Hey, Scooter.”
“When did your car come up missing?” Scooter wanted to tell Dave to start taking the keys out of his car. Twyla had stolen it a couple of weeks ago. He’d been the one to call Forrest that morning and tell him Twyla was heading to town. But a car without keys wouldn’t have stopped Josie.
“I just noticed it was gone a short time ago,” Dave said. “I was out late last night and slept in this morning. I’ve gotta be back down in St. Paul in an hour.”