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Authors: Alison Hart

Whirlwind (9 page)

BOOK: Whirlwind
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Jas glanced over at the cowboy, who was nailing boards again. “How do you know? He showed up at the farm about the same time I did. Doesn’t that seem a strange coincidence?”

“Volunteers are in and out of this place all the time. Besides, he doesn’t sneak around listening at doors and sending messages in code.”

“Would you be serious? He could have bugged the office or something.”

Setting down Wonder’s foot, Chase rose up. “Okay, I’ll keep my eye on him—just for
you,” he said before crossing behind the colt and picking up his right foot.

“Good idea. Speaking of ideas, did you ever ask your dad if he had any suggestions about finding Whirlwind?”

“All he said was that most insurance companies have investigators they can hire who specialize in fraud.”

“I’ll mention it to Mr. Jenkins. Thanks—for everything.”

“No need to thank me.” He stared sideways at her, Wonder’s leg secure against his bent knee. “It’s my job.” Pointing the dirty hoof pick at her, he drawled, “Because I’m Bond. James Bond.”

Jas laughed. “You have seen
Goldfinger
way too many times.”

Sam followed Jas down the rocky driveway. Hope, who was finally out of quarantine, trotted by her side on a leash. The mobile home was being delivered this morning, and Jas was checking to see if the truck had arrived.

She stopped at the sign by the entrance:
S COND CHANCE    ARM
. No one had gotten around to fixing it. Jas ran her fingers over the
bumpy black wood letters, remembering the day the social worker had driven her to the farm. She’d compared everything—fencing, barns, horses, and pastures—to High Meadows and found it sadly lacking. Now she was happy to call the tumbledown place home.

And she wasn’t going to let Hugh ruin it.

Yesterday, Jas and Miss Hahn had met with Mr. Jenkins. Not only had he agreed to pursue charges against Hugh, but he was also assigning an investigator to the case. He handed Jas a card that said
M. BAYLOR
. “Best in the business,” Mr. Jenkins had assured them.

A truck rumbling up the road interrupted Jas’s thoughts. She waved at the driver to stop. “Turn left at the open gate,” she instructed. “Follow the lane to the top of the hill. We’ll be waiting.”

Jas hurried back up the driveway. Miss Hahn and Grandfather were sitting on the front porch swing. “It’s here!” she called as she ran past them to the side yard. A path led into the field. The trail branched—left to the pond, right up the hill.

When she reached the top, the truck was
winding toward her from the main road. Several days ago, one of the farm’s donors had bulldozed a flat spot. Then electric lines had been run, a well dug, and septic tank installed. Yesterday, Jas had used the string trimmer and Chase had used the Bush Hog to cut the unruly grass and weeds.

A dog bayed, and Tilly and Reese bounded through the brush. They greeted Jas with eager licks, as if they hadn’t seen her in days. Hope pricked her ears. But then she plopped to the ground and placed her chin on her paws.

The little dog was eating better but still seemed sad. Officer Lacey had set a Havahart trap at the meth dealer’s place. He’d baited it with hamburger, hoping to entice Hope’s friend—if there was one. So far, all he’d trapped was a possum.

Jas heard wheezing and panting. Sam was hobbling up the hill, his tail wagging with each step. Grandfather and Miss Hahn straggled behind him.

“You made it.” Jas trotted down the slope to meet them. Linking her arm through her grandfather’s, she pulled him the rest of the way.

While he caught his breath, they watched the driver haul the mobile home to the top of the hill. “Where ya want it?” the man shouted.

“Right there.” Jas pointed. Their new home would overlook the barns, pastures, and pond. On the right, a grove of locust trees would shade the kitchen. In back, there was enough sun for next year’s vegetable garden.

“What a gorgeous view,” Miss Hahn said. In the distance, they could see the wavy blue line of the Allegheny Mountains.

Jas squeezed her grandfather’s arm. “What do you think, Grandfather?”

“It’s perfect,” he said, tears shimmering in his eyes.

“Yes,” Jas whispered. “It is.”

The driver shifted gears, and the mobile home jerked forward. One tire bumped over a protruding rock, and a piece of window glass shattered and crashed to the ground.

The driver flashed a toothy grin out the open window. “Needs a little TLC,” he hollered.

“Sir, watch out for the—” Jas shouted.

Too late, the front tire lurched into a rain-washed rut they’d trimmed around. Swearing loudly, the driver braked. The truck jerked to a
halt, and the trailer door crashed open. With a screech of metal, it tore off the top hinge.

Okay, our new home isn’t exactly perfect
. Jas sighed as the door flapped like a lopsided mouth.
But it’s good enough
.

Ten

“I KNOW—THE PLACE STINKS LIKE MOUSE
poop,” Jas admitted to Chase. He stood in the living room of the mobile home, holding his nose. “But be a man and toughen up.”

Jas was on her knees, tearing out chunks of rain-soaked carpet. For two days she’d scrubbed counters and walls, while Miss Hahn and Mr. Muggins had dragged out trash bags bulging with empty food cans and fast-food wrappers.

“Mouse poop I can handle,” Chase said. “It’s the other smell. Like something’s dead.”

“Gross.” Lucy’s voice came from behind Chase. Jas tensed. She hadn’t realized the older girl had arrived with Chase. “What is that smell?”

Rrrrip
. Jas tore out another soggy section of carpet. What was Lucy doing with Chase?
He said he’d been gone for two days visiting relatives with his family. Or had he really been off with Lucy?

Oh, stop
, Jas scolded herself.
That is a stupid thought
. Sitting on her heels, she blew through clenched teeth, furious for feeling jealous. Chase wasn’t her boyfriend.
And why do I care that Lucy thinks this place smells gross?

Walking over, Chase stared down at Jas.

“How was your trip?” she asked. Leaning forward, she started on another stubborn strip.

“Fun. Miniature golf and old home movies. You know, grandparent stuff.”

No, I don’t know grandparent stuff
, Jas realized. Her grandparents had been a mom and a dad to her.

“I bet you were a cutie-pie in those old movies, Chase,” Lucy cooed as she walked around the living room. Jas half expected her to whip out a clipboard and inspection sheet. Buckled paneling—check. Rain-stained ceiling—check.

Chase squatted next to Jas. “How about if I get a chain saw? I love hacking up things. Maybe there’s a dead body buried beneath the flooring.”

“Thanks, but I can handle the dirty work.” Jas wiped the sweat off her brow. It was hot outside and stifling inside. “Rand needs help building the new steps. He’s making a railing for Grandfather.”

Chase stood up. “We saw him when we came in. I’ll give him a hand.” When Chase left, Jas glanced over her shoulder. Lucy was peeking cautiously into the kitchen. She wore a turquoise tank top, white short shorts, and jeweled flip-flops. Her legs were smooth and tan and didn’t have a single bruise, scrape, or scab. In her arms, she held a box with a picture of a microwave on the side.

“Whatcha got, Luce?” Jas forced herself to be friendly.

“A housewarming present from my mom.”

“Thanks. We’ll need it. I’m not sure the oven works.”

Setting the box on the kitchen counter, Lucy looked into the sink and grimaced. “Eww.”

Jas tossed a strip of carpet into the trash can. “Quit frowning, Luce, or you’ll need Botox.”

“Not likely,” Lucy retorted, but she immediately smoothed her forehead with two fingers.
“How will you stand living here without air-conditioning?” she asked, fanning herself.

“We’ll do fine.” Jas’s voice tightened. Then she reminded herself that the older girl wasn’t being mean. She was just being Lucy. “Make sure you thank your mom for the microwave.”

“Yeah, well …” Without offering to help, she sauntered to the doorway and jumped to the ground outside. A second later, Jas heard her talking to Chase and Rand. She pictured the scene. Lucy would have one hand propped on her hip. The other would be flipping her bangs off her forehead while she chatted up the two guys. Rand’s eyes would be hound-dog eager. Chase would be drooling.

Jas rubbed her lower back. Her jeans were covered with rotted carpet fibers. The skin on her arms and hands was gray with dust. She couldn’t blame Lucy for not wanting to help. And her own frustration had nothing to do with Lucy’s flirtations. It had been two days, and still there was no word from M. Baylor. Jas was losing patience.

Grabbing the utility scissors, she attacked another section of carpet. She sawed and snipped until her hand ached.

“Where do you want these?” Chase hollered about twenty minutes later.

“These what?” She looked over her shoulder.

Chase slid two boxes through the doorway. “Dishes.”

“Dishes?” Jas stood, groaning at the pain in her knees. Chase took a running start and leaped into the living room, landing beside her. “Who brought them?” she asked.

“Mrs. Quincey.”

“Oh, her.” Jas knew her as “the old lady who volunteered in the office Monday mornings.” Bending, she poked through the silverware, dishes, glasses, hot mitts, and cooking utensils. “That was really nice.”

“She’s moving into assisted living and needs to get rid of her kitchen stuff.”

“That’s
really
nice.” Jas held up a blue-rimmed plate. “At High Meadows Farm, no one was nice.”

Pulling out a hand beater, Chase whirled it next to her ear. “No one?”

“Grandfather, of course, and Grandmother when she was alive.” Carefully, Jas unwrapped two flower-painted glasses and set them on a cupboard shelf. “And Phil Sparks, I guess.
When my grandmother died, Hugh got meaner. Maybe when she was alive, she’d forced him to be human.”

“So even
you
were meaner then?” Chase handed her a plate.

She ignored his teasing. “Not mean. Just
not nice
. Now that I look back, I see that living there was changing me.”

“You were turning into a mini Hugh!” Chase gasped with horror.

“Are you ever serious?” Jas poked him with a spatula, then placed it in a drawer. “I’m trying to say something profound here.”

“Mini Hugh wasn’t profound?”

“Actually it was. Maybe Whirlwind ‘dying’ was the best thing that ever happened to me. It got me away from there.”

“Plus it got you sent to Second Chance Farm. Where I met you,” Chase said. His back was to her as he reached up to put a plate on the shelf, so she couldn’t see his face. But she could tell by his voice that for once he wasn’t joking.

“That too,” she said, realizing how fast her heart was suddenly beating. Quickly, she banged shut the drawer. “I’ll put the rest away later. I’ve had enough for one day.”

Turning away, she washed her hands under the kitchen faucet, which spat rust-colored water, and dried them on a paper towel. “Is Rand finished working? I don’t hear any hammering.”

“He and Lucy went to feed. It’s almost four.”

“So you’re free to do some detective work?”

Facing her, he gave her his usual teasing grin. “There really
was
a body under the floorboards?”

“No, doofy.” Jas tossed the wadded up towel at him. “I’m tired of waiting for Investigator Baylor to show up. Grandfather and Rand gave me some names of people who haul horses in the area.” She pulled a scrap of paper from her back pocket. “I say we find the Yellow Pages and start phoning.”

Chase pointed a wooden spoon at her. “I knew it was a good idea.”

Fifteen minutes later, they sat side by side on the porch swing. Jas sipped lemonade while Chase drank a soda. His left leg was next to her right one. Sawdust clung to the golden hairs on his knees. Her jeans were sprinkled with dirt. Both of them were thirsty, hot, and smelled like sweat.

Jas smiled, liking the closeness. “Horse
haulers. Horse transport,” she guessed as she flicked through the Yellow Pages. “I’m not even sure what to look under.”

“Horse killers?” Chase suggested. “Oh, wait, that would be under
R
, for Robicheaux.”

“Wait. Here it is. Equine Transport Services. Only two companies listed.” She punched a set of numbers into the portable phone. Taking it from her, Chase pressed the
OFF
button. “Why’d you do that?” she asked.

“Do you know what you’re going to say? We don’t want to make them suspicious.”

“Oh, right.” She gnawed her bottom lip, thinking.

“Does Hugh have a secretary or accountant? You could pretend to be one of them, checking on a bill or something.”

“Good idea.” She flipped the pages until she came to Accountants. She randomly selected the name of an accountant to use, then dialed one of the horse transporters.

“Hello. My name is Esther uh … Smith … of EZ Bookkeeping and Accounting in Harrisonburg. I work for Mr. Hugh Robicheaux at High Meadows Farm in Stanford.” As Jas spun her story, Chase gave her a thumbs-up. “You sent an invoice dated June
first for hauling a horse from his farm. I need to verify that information. Thank you. I’ll hold.” She covered the mouthpiece. “They’re checking.”

BOOK: Whirlwind
4.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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