The Clock is Ticking...
Julie Montgomery left for work but never arrived. Her husband, Luke, reports her disappearance, but Officer Terrence Cooper isn't convinced anything’s amiss. As he looks into the case, he discovers that not only are Luke Montgomery’s fears warranted, but that Julie had been hiding a dark secret.
Julie vanished in an instant. By the time Terrence unravels the truth, will it be too late to get her back?
A demanding voice broke through Terrence’s concentration.
“I don’t care if your policy says to wait forty-eight hours. I want someone to help me look for my wife.”
He glanced up from the stack of paperwork to the man berating the front desk clerk. Late twenties, he guessed. About five foot ten, dark blond hair, fit. Probably worked with his hands, judging from the calluses visible on his palms from across the room. The man’s face shone beet red, and he glared at the poor rookie. Jack turned from the angry man and met Terrence’s gaze. He raised his eyebrows and widened his eyes.
Terrence groaned, handed the file he’d been flipping through to Officer Clark, and sauntered over.
The distraught man shifted his gaze to meet his straight on. Terrence ignored the pain reflected in the man’s eyes. Anyone could fake emotion.
“What’s the problem, sir?” He steadied his voice, exuding calm instead of the irritation bubbling inside. The best way to get someone to placidity was to lead them there.
The man spoke through clenched teeth. “My…wife…is…missing. I want someone to help me find her.”
“OK. Let’s start with the basics. What’s your name?”
“Luke Montgomery. My wife’s name is Julie.”
He held the man’s challenging stare. Mr. Montgomery refocused the conversation off himself and back to his wife. Interesting. Most missing wife cases turned out to be the husband. Deflection could be a cover. “OK. Your wife is missing. How long has she been gone?”
“About two hours.”
He blinked several times instead of rolling his eyes as he wanted. Montgomery’s wife probably decided to take a long breakfast with a girlfriend or do some early morning Christmas shopping. The possibilities were endless. “Two hours? She could be anywhere, passing time, goofing off with a friend.” He took a deep breath. “Give her some more time. She’ll show up, and you’ll laugh about it over turkey in a couple weeks.”
Terrence turned to leave, but a hand gripped the sleeve of his uniform, spinning him back around. Heat seared through his veins. “Remove your hand, sir.”
Tears pooled in the man’s eyes, throwing Terrence off balance. He stepped back, and Mr. Montgomery let go of his shirt.
“You don’t get it.” Mr. Montgomery raked his fingers through his hair. “She should be at work. Her car’s where she always parks it. She’s as reliable as a clock. She’s missing, and I know every minute ticking by means the chances of finding her diminishes.”
Terrence’s blood cooled to a simmer. He glanced at Jack and met sympathy in the young cop’s eyes. Great. This guy isn’t going away until someone talks to him. “All right, Mr. Montgomery. Why don’t we get some coffee, sit down, and tell me about your wife.”
The man’s shoulders dropped. “Thank you.”
He turned to the rookie. “Jack?”
“Interview room two is open.”
“This way, Mr. Montgomery.” Terrence led him through the desks, paused to fill two cups of coffee, then continued down a hallway and into the room with a large “2” pasted on the door. He closed the door, flicked his hand toward the metal chair on the opposite side of the table, and plunked down. He glanced behind him. Jack would have sent someone to observe from the other side of the two-way mirror in case this guy got a little too passionate about his missing wife.
He sipped from one of the steaming cups and set the extra one on the table in front of the troubled Mr. Montgomery. The man shook his head.
“OK, tell me more about your wife. When did you last see or talk to her?”
Montgomery splayed his fingers flat on the cold, hard table and stared at them. “About six-thirty when she left for work.”
“What about before that? Did y’all have a fight?” He slurped from his cup again. Black and strong. How he perceived himself. How he preferred his coffee.
Montgomery’s jaw twitched. “No. The morning went great. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until her coworker Sue called to say Julie never showed up.”
He studied the man. Creased brow, open arms. He didn’t appear to be hiding anything.
Terrence leaned back in his chair and ran his thumb along the top rim of the Styrofoam. “Let’s go back to before she left. Give me the play-by-play of the morning.”
The muscles in Montgomery’s face relaxed, and he also leaned back. “We got up at five and went for a run, like we do every weekday morning. I fixed breakfast while she took a shower. We ate together, and she finished getting ready while I showered. We kissed good-bye, got in our cars, and headed to work.”
Ugh. How disgustingly bland. No one could be that boring. He had to be leaving something out. “But she never made it.”
He scrunched his eyebrows. “No.”
“And her coworker called to tell you?” Terrence drained the rest of the bitter coffee.
“Yes, our friend Sue works with her. When she hadn’t shown up by seven thirty, a half hour late, she texted me.”
“I texted and called Julie, but she never answered. I left my job site and went to hers. I found her car in the parking lot in her usual location. I followed the path she walks every day to her shop. Sue was there, busy getting ready for the day. She hadn’t seen or heard a word from Julie. Nothing.” Tears filled his eyes, and he released a shuddering sigh. “It’s like one instant she was there and the next she was gone.”
Terrence tapped his fingertips together. The man certainly gave a good impression of being worried. If someone had abducted this woman and she hadn’t simply decided to take a break, she made it simple. A creature of habit. They were the easiest to scout. A stalker had no problem tracking down and finding an effortless path to a person who never varied from routine. Terrence didn’t believe in deviating from the law, but in matters of patterns and habits, doing things differently not only kept things interesting, but could also keep someone safe.
He needed time to think.
“You gonna drink that coffee?”
The grieved man shook his head.
Terrence reached for the cup. A tepid sip bought him a few more seconds. Under most circumstances, he wouldn’t even consider following up on something like this. They didn’t start investigating a missing person unless much more time had passed. Or they found evidence of foul play. A wife didn’t show up for work, but her car did. She followed the same routine every day, until today. It could be a case of a bored woman in need of escape. Except for the car.
An affair was always a possibility. A secret plan to sneak off with a boyfriend. It’d been known to happen.
“You contacted anyone else? See if she’s talked to someone?”
“Sue texted a couple of friends but tried not to scare them. I called Julie’s mom. Asked her what time we’re supposed to take her to dinner later this week for her birthday, so I could schedule a job. She said nothing about Julie, so I knew she hadn’t talked to her. There’s no one else to call. Not without alerting everyone she’s missing.” Mr. Montgomery lowered his head bracing it with his hands.
Not bad. He didn’t seem to be some ignorant, overly trusting husband. But still, a missing person in two hours was a hard sell. “No other family? No one else Julie might contact if something upset her?”
“No. Her dad’s been out of the picture for twenty years, and she doesn’t have any siblings. Something’s happened.” His voice cracked, and he glanced up. “Please. Help me find my wife.”
Logic told Terrence to stick to protocol. Nothing specifically screamed foul play. But he hadn’t looked for any evidence either. Maybe he could go to the work site and check things out. The trip wouldn’t take up too much time and nothing else pressed him at the moment. Just paperwork waited for him that morning.
“You said job site. Where do you work?”
“I’m a carpenter. I’m working at a house in Queen’s Lake right now.”
“And your wife?”
“Julie works at Colonial Williamsburg. She’s an interpreter at one of the small houses.” He leaned forward. “She loves her job. She wouldn’t miss a day on her own accord. She’s never even taken a sick day.”