The coffee maker bubbled to life the moment Cassie Alberta pressed the button. Despite the steady dripping, she doubted that it would brew soon enough. A quick glance around Mirabel’s Diner revealed that the breakfast crowd continued to grow, and the coffee pots were not likely to keep up. She grabbed a few menus from the counter and headed toward a new group of diners that walked through the door. Once they were settled, she returned to the counter to find the owner of the diner, Mirabel Light, starting another pot of coffee.
“Busy morning.” Cassie grabbed a few mugs and lined them up beside the filling coffee pot.
“Very.” Mirabel brushed her crimson braid back over her shoulder and sighed.
“Are you getting any rest with a thirteen-year-old crashing in your spare room?” Cassie raised her eyebrows as she noticed the shadows under Mirabel’s bright blue eyes.
“She’s no trouble really.”
“Mirabel, it’s Maisy we’re talking about.” Cassie smiled as she met her boss’ eyes. “Everyone in this town knows that she can be a bit of trouble.”
“She can be.” Mirabel smiled. “But I have to admit, I love that about her. That’s not what’s keeping me up at night, though.” She frowned. “I haven’t heard a single thing from her grandmother. I just can’t believe that June would abandon her. She didn’t always have an easy time with Maisy, but I know how much she loves that girl. I just can’t shake the idea that something terrible has happened.”
“It is very troubling.” Cassie winced as she recalled her search late into the night. She’d hoped to come across something about June Roller’s disappearance by searching through all of the local news outlets in the area. “I didn’t come up with anything last night, either. I’m sure that Maisy is worried sick.”
“It’s worse than that.” Mirabel sighed. “I think she really believes that her grandmother just left. The poor girl has it in her head that she’s just that bad of a kid, that she drove her away.”
“That is the only thing that I know for sure isn’t true.” Cassie shook her head. “Maisy can be a handful, but from what I’ve found out about her grandmother, I don’t think it’s possible that she did something like that.”
“Which is why I’m getting more worried as time goes by. We should have heard something from her by now.” Mirabel poured coffee into one of the mugs and carried it over to Stephanie Vail who sat at the counter. She had returned early from California after another unsuccessful acting audition.
“You know, I was quite a bit like Maisy when I was her age.” Stephanie took a sip of her coffee, then nodded. “I can imagine how she’s feeling right now. We might all tell her that this isn’t her fault, but she’s never going to believe us. We need to find her grandmother, so she can tell her.”
“But how?” Mirabel swept her gaze over the crowd again. “I’ve done everything I can think of to find her, and Ollie hasn’t been able to turn up any leads on where she might be.”
Cassie knew that Detective Oliver Graham was determined to find Maisy’s grandmother, and her heart sank at the thought that even he hadn’t managed to turn something up.
“We’ll need to infiltrate the bingo crowd.” Stephanie smiled. “I’m sure one of the people that June plays with every Saturday night has some idea of what happened. They may just feel uncertain about coming forward. I’ll ask around and see what I can find out.”
“Good idea.” Cassie poured another cup of coffee just as the front door of the diner swung open. She looked in the direction of the door and saw a woman step through it. “Valda.” She snapped her fingers. “Yes, that’s it, right? I’m trying hard to learn the names of the locals.”
“She’s not exactly a local.” Mirabel peered at Valda. “She and her husband moved here about five years ago, but they keep to themselves mostly. They travel a lot for their business. She looks upset.”
“You’re right, she does.” Cassie passed the cup of coffee she’d poured to another customer at the counter. “I’ll see if I can help.”
As Cassie walked around the counter, Valda’s gaze circulated the crowd again and again. Her hands clenched at her sides, and she released a heavy breath.
“Valda, what can I get you?” Cassie smiled at her as she reached her side.
“My husband.” Valda’s voice wavered.
“Your husband? Is he here?” Cassie glanced around at the tables and the counter.
“No, he’s not here,” Valda whimpered as she pressed one hand against her lips. “I had hoped that he might be. He sometimes comes by for breakfast when he has time, but he’s not here.”
“Okay, well if he’s not here, maybe he’s somewhere nearby?” Cassie searched her eyes. “Is everything okay, Valda?”
“No, it’s not!” Valda squeezed her eyes shut, then sighed as she opened them. “I haven’t seen him since yesterday. How could he just vanish like this? He would never disappear without letting me know where he was going!”
“Here, sit down, Valda.” Cassie guided her down into a chair, then kept her hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Take a moment and think about this. Is there anywhere else that he might be? Could he have spent the night somewhere else last night?”
“Are you asking me if my husband is having an affair?” Valda glared at Cassie and brushed her hand off of her shoulder. “I shouldn’t be wasting time talking to you. I need to find him.”
As Valda stood up from her chair, the door to the diner swung open again.
Oliver stepped inside. His eyes locked briefly on Mirabel, before they swung toward Valda who continued to try to dismiss Cassie.
“I’ll find him on my own, I don’t need your help!”
“I didn’t mean to imply anything, Valda, I’m so sorry.” Cassie frowned as Valda stalked toward the door.
“Valda, what’s the problem?” Oliver stepped in front of her before she could get through the door. The badge he wore on his belt glimmered in the overhead lights. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“My husband, Peter.” Valda stared into his eyes, then shook her head. “I don’t know, maybe the waitress is right, maybe I’m just overreacting.”
“Tell me what’s happened.” Oliver lowered his voice as he met her eyes. “Maybe I can help.”
“It’s just that he never came home last night. We were supposed to meet for lunch yesterday, and he never showed up.” Valda wiped at her eyes as a few tears slipped past. “He never does this. He never shuts me out. I have such an awful feeling that something terrible has happened to him.”
“But there’s still a chance that he could have just lost his phone, or maybe forgotten to tell you about a trip, right?” Oliver glanced at his watch. “Has he even been gone twenty-four hours?”
“Just stop!” Valda snapped her words. “I know what the policy is. You won’t even start looking for him for forty-eight hours, right?”
“We can’t file a missing person’s report before then.” Oliver nodded as he took a step back.
“I knew the police wouldn’t help me. I know something is wrong. I can feel it. He would never go off on his own.” Valda crossed her arms as she glared at him. “We need to help him.”
“Valda, Valda.” Oliver looked into her eyes. “Why don’t you just answer a few questions for me, alright? Then I’ll make sure that all patrol officers who are out and about keep a lookout for him. It’s the best I can do.”
“I suppose it’s better than nothing.” Valda sniffled. “What do you need to know?”
“Tell me what car he was driving, when you last saw him or heard from him, and what your last conversation was like.” Oliver pulled a small notebook from his pocket.
“He’s driving his station wagon. It’s blue.” Valda frowned.
“Had he been having any trouble with it lately?” Oliver asked.
“No, he had it serviced last month, there were no issues.” Valda shook her head.
“And, what happened when you last saw him? What kind of mood was he in?” Oliver made a note in the notepad.
“He was just normal.” Valda sighed. “There’s nothing else I can say about it.”
“He wasn’t worried? Or upset?” Oliver met her eyes. “Were you two getting along okay?”
“That’s it! You’re useless!” Valda threw her hands up in the air, then turned and stormed out of the diner.
“I don’t think that went too well.” Cassie winced as she watched Valda slam the door.
“Great, now we have two missing people.” Oliver shoved the notebook back into his pocket.
“Do you really think he’s missing?” Cassie tipped her head to the side. “Maybe he just needed a break from Valda.”
“Maybe.” Oliver frowned as he watched Valda stalk toward her car. “But something tells me there’s more to the story.”
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