"No. This isn’t like me at all." She waited for Morgan to react with shock or disgust, but she didn’t. She surveyed the room again, her expression focused.
"Fill me in – on all of it. Start at the beginning. Seriously," she added when Claire began to protest. "Don’t frill it out with a million details – just give me the bare bones. It’ll go faster than you think. Once I know the history of you and Daniel, I can help make a plan."
Hesitantly, Claire began, but as she told Morgan about her fights with her mother, her desperate bids for attention, catching her with Mack and then leaving home to move to Billings, going to work at Ledstroms and falling for Daniel, she warmed to the story. Morgan listened avidly, asking one or two questions, but otherwise keeping silent. Claire went on to describe working with Daniel, becoming his lover, how his betrayal hurt her, but she saved the company and continued to run it under the same name. How he came back and took it away from her. His threats.
"And you saw how he was in the parking lot," she added.
"Yeah, high as a kite."
"Really? You think he was high?"
Morgan shook her head at her. "You know, on the one hand you’re tough and practical. On the other hand, you’re kind of sheltered, aren’t you?"
Claire bristled. "Victoria isn’t exactly Compton Heights from what I’ve heard. I bet you’re pretty sheltered, too."
"I’ve seen a thing or two," Morgan said. "I know when someone’s on something, and he was definitely on something. Cocaine, maybe."
Claire thought back to her time with Daniel, thoroughly taken aback. She’d never seen him do drugs. Sure, he’d been erratic, but most creative people were. He’d kept her separate from his other friends, but she’d taken that as a compliment at the time – that he hadn’t wanted to share her with them. Had he actually not wanted her to know what they were doing?
He was secretive. Sometimes he’d gotten phone calls and left the room to take them. Other times he went out and wouldn’t tell her where. She hadn’t liked it, but he was her boss as well as her boyfriend and had one hell of a temper. He’d definitely had all the power in their relationship. Afterward, she’d assumed those phone calls and meetings involved Edie.
Maybe not all of them.
"I’m still not sure I believe that," she said finally.
"Suit yourself. I’ll bet a bundle I’m right. I bet he’s into other trouble, as well."
"So what do we do?"
"You tell me. If Daniel was going to hide a whole bunch of boxes, where would he store them?"
"Not at the office – he knows I’d tell the police to look there." She tapped her foot. "At his Mom’s house. It’s out on Old Hardin Road – outside Billings. Her health is failing, and she moved into a care facility last year, but he hadn’t sold it when he ran off."
"Let’s go check it out."
Jamie was just about to pull out of the driveway when Jake Matheson jogged up beside him and called through the open window, "Want some company?"
"I thought you were entertaining the ladies."
"Autumn told me what you were up to. I thought I’d come along, just in case."
"In case of what?"
"In case of trouble," Ethan said, coming up beside Jake. "Morgan told me Daniel was hassling Autumn yesterday. I don’t like the sound of it. Now her house has been broken into. Too much of a coincidence to me. I’m coming, too. So’s Rob."
"Don’t worry, I’ve got Ned covering for me with your mystery midnight caller," Rob said, catching up to them.
"I’m surprised Luke isn’t along for the ride, too," Jamie drawled, tapping his fingers impatiently as they climbed into his truck.
"He’s helping Autumn," Jake said.
While Jamie had always been closest to Rob, the rest of the Mathesons hung around a lot when he was growing up, so he knew Jake well. They rode to Billings in a comfortable silence, although as the minutes ticked away, he worried more and more about what they’d find when they got there.
"Have you talked to her?" Jake asked when they were more than an hour into the drive.
"No. She’s not picking up her cell."
"I’ve got Morgan’s number. She programmed it into my phone today," Ethan said, perking up. He pulled out his phone and punched a button. Jamie kept his eyes on the road. He knew Ethan never used the thing, hated gadgets and technology. But couldn’t he have thought of it just this once? Would have been helpful to have that bit of information long before this. "Hey. It’s Ethan. Are you at Claire’s?" He listened a moment. "You’re what? Bad idea, Morgan. We’re on our way – we’ll be there in half an hour. Just sit tight, okay?" He was silent again. "I don’t care how close you are, I don’t want you going any farther until we get there." A short pause. "I say so. I’m your brother, that’s who. Sit tight. Fuck – she hung up on me."
"Sounds like she takes after Claire," Jake said.
"Both of them are insane. They’re going after this Daniel guy – just the two of them. Claire thinks she knows where Daniel put her stuff."
"His mom’s house. She said something about Old Hardin Road. Near Noblewood."
"That’s not much to go on; there’s got to be a hundred houses near there," Jamie said.
"Give me that," Jake said and took the phone from Ethan. "I’m surprised you know how to work this thing."
"I don’t," Ethan grumbled. "Morgan showed me which button to push to reach her."
"That’s a top of the line model," Rob said, leaning in to look at what Jake was doing.
"Claire bought it. She wanted another way to boss me around."
They all laughed, but the atmosphere in the truck remained tense in spite of it. They didn’t know anything was wrong, Jamie thought. Not in any concrete sense. Daniel might not have had a thing to do with the break in. But that didn’t matter, because every man present had the gut feeling trouble was brewing, and if all four of them felt it, they were probably right.
"Here. I’ve got it. Ethel Ledstrom, 6500 Old Hardin Rd. I’ll give you directions when we get closer."
Jamie pushed the accelerator down. "Call Cab. Tell him what’s going down."
* * * * *
"I wish you had two of those," Claire said, nodding at the baseball bat Morgan gripped in her right hand. "Did you find it in your rental car or did you bring it with you on the plane?"
"It was in the closet of my motel. From now on I’m packing one in my carry-on bag, though. I had no idea how handy they are. Are you ready?"