MISSING

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Running late. In a hurry. A quiet town where nothing ever happens. They’re going to be late for supper. . .

From my recently released crime/detective novel, GROUND EFFECT:

The Rutherford County traffic deputy sat under the shade of the small trees in the grassy island at the end of the mall parking lot. The shift was ending soon and the deputy had two crash reports to finish before he went home. The BOLOs piled up in the file minimized on the computer screen on his console but did not attract his attention. He had tickets to a show up in Nashville for later and his wife was home getting ready to put the kids in bed before the babysitter got there. Easy money for her to watch TV while the kids slept.

“Police car,” Ghali said and held out an arm to stop Walid from passing by him at the mall exit. “He is there by the trees.”

Walid stepped back behind Ghali and looked out of the door at the green and white marked car that sat less than fifty feet from their white Impala. He had the shopping bag with their clean clothes in his hand and saw Ghali touch his shirt at the waist where it covered the dead trooper’s pistol.

“We can circle and come up behind him,” Walid said.

Ghali looked at the nearly empty parking lot behind the police car and saw no cover. They had to step aside as several women and two young children came to the door and went out. “We have to wait until he goes. If he does not, it may mean he is watching for us.”

But the mall speakers announced that the stores were closing and urged shoppers to make their final selections. Time seemed an enemy now. Ghali stood for a few more minutes and more customers filed past and out the door. Finally, he spun and said, “Come, let’s go,” and walked through the store and back into the common area in the mall.

Ghali picked the exit on the opposite side from where they’d parked. They stepped out into the Tennessee evening and both looked around and then at each other. There were quite a few cars in the lot, some parked farther out in spaces near the road that formed the outer ring. As they stood on the walkway, the exit doors opened and a woman of about thirty pushing a stroller heaped with shopping bags came out and started across the lot.

They watched her work her cell phone and try to keep the stroller from skidding sideways until she stopped beside a gold Lexus SUV and fumbled the phone back into her pocket. Then she dug intently in her purse for the keys. Eventually she got the rear passenger door open and then the back hatch opened for her to load her packages. Ghali was moving now and looking around for others in the lot. Walid followed with a curious look on his face.

Half way to the Lexus, they saw the woman was now leaning into the back seat lifting a toddler out of the carriage and into a car seat. She had her back to them and was struggling with the squirming child and the straps. Ghali leaned back to Walid and said softly, “The other side.”

It happened all at once. Ghali moved behind her and hit her hard with the heel of his hand at the base of her skull. Walid was in the open door on the opposite side and pulled her into the back seat and dropped her on the floor. The little girl in the car seat just stared and then her eyes reddened and the wail came out shrill and loud. The sound was shut off from the outside as Ghali slammed the rear door shut and snatched the keys from the bonnet of the stroller. Walid slid into the back seat next to the screaming kid and watched for movement from the body at his feet. Neither gave a thought to the abandoned stroller and the purse stuck down inside the now empty seat where the woman had left it.

The deputy was a quarter of a mile away and thinking of Bluegrass music as he headed in to sign out. He was moving south while the gold Lexus went north.