Forgotten Trails(7)

By: Bonnie R. Paulson


Her stomach rumbled and she winced as she left the aromatic building. Maybe she had forgotten a stale donut or crusty bagel in her car somewhere. She would let the possibility carry her until she was able to eat again.

She didn’t want to wait too long to check on the man in the automotive shop. If she waited too long, she would lose her courage and hide in the car.

She glanced at the large illuminated clock set in the center of town. Crap. Wasn’t even six in the morning yet. They said that Cook’s didn’t open until nine.

Great, now she had plenty of time to lose her courage.

Plenty of time to talk herself out of pursuing anything.

Maybe she would go search her car for any food remnants. Her stomach growled again, nudging her to find something, anything.

She needed to fill the hole inside her with chocolate or acceptance, whichever came first.

~~~

Wiping her hands on the thighs of her jeans, Rachiah approach the shop. A knot tightened in her stomach.

The building wasn’t intimidating with its faded white siding and chipped wooden sign declaring itself as Cook’s Automotive. There was no pretentiousness in the cracked trim and stack of tires on the side of the building. Multiple cars lined up inside a chain link fenced yard protected by a sleeping pit bull.

None of that mattered. As far as Rachiah was concerned, it might as well have been a castle with knights and cannons and blazing arrows.

The streets weren’t overall teeming with activity. A few men wandered the sidewalks here and there as if they might have a destination or they might now.

She missed seeing cowboy hats everywhere she went. She’d spotted a couple earlier, but for the most part, they wore baseball caps. Probably because the majority of them were truck drivers in that little town.

Taking a deep breath, she leaned her shoulder against the smudged glass of the door and walked inside. She hadn’t found any food and she was a little worried she might grow light-headed.

At the counter, Rachiah leaned over the glass top with its receipts and business cards and dog-eared newspaper ads displayed underneath. She peered toward the door leading to the garage portion of the building to see if anyone hid among the lifted bodies and sticker-covered tool boxes.

A silver ding bell with a wrinkled sign taped to it waited for her to do as the sign bade “Ring for service”.

Hesitantly, Rachiah reached out as if the bell were actually a rattle snake softly tapped the top tab. The noise in the utter silence startled her and she jumped.

She glanced around as if expecting to be in trouble. The cloying scent of engine grease and motor oil filled the air. They were scents she was more familiar with than perfumes and potpourris.

“Just a minute!” The deep voice carried to her from a different door a moment before a man entered the room. With short, spiky blond and silver streaked hair, he turned. His blue eyes lit when he saw her. He wiped oil stained hands with an even oilier stained cloth and approached her. A wide smile on his face, he nodded. “How can I help you?” A chip in his front tooth lent him a charming flaw to his affable All American look. “We just opened. I was trying to get yesterday’s discarded oil into the transfer container. It just made a mess.”

Rachiah swallowed, and then she swallowed again. Would she be able to confront him, ask him what she needed to know? He couldn't be the guy she was looking for. Of course not. He was blond for crying out loud. What if he knew, though?

What if she was so much closer than she could comprehend?

He had said we just opened.

As in we.

As in more than one.

Someone else was there.

She swallowed again. “Is, I mean, are you... I mean are you, do you know who Jeffrey Howard is? I'm looking for him or anyone who might know him.” She better stop while she was ahead. When she was nervous she tended to ramble and that was proving to be no different. Only this time she was rambling in her head and nodding her head like he could hear everything she was thinking.

He narrowed his eyes and thrust his jaw to the side as if considering her question. “A pretty thing like you is looking for him? He's a pretty lucky guy then. But no,” he shook his head with an apologetic smile, “I don't know a Jeffrey Howard. Pretty common name though. I'm sure you'll find him. Especially if he knows you're looking for him.” He tapped his index finger on the edge of the counter, a little streak of oil marking his movement.

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