celine walked up the straight paved road. the trees on the side began to thin out.
the day was bright, and she could see clearly up ahead.
she saw a checkpoint gate, and a small guard’s booth, with no one in it.
she looked around to make sure there was nobody in sight, and walked around the gate and kept going up the road.
she saw a car parked up ahead. a limousine - surely the one described by the girl stephanie - but it too seemed unoccupied.
the girl’s story was checking out so far. not that celine had doubted it, but you never knew.
she passed the limo, walking as casually as she could. a quick glance inside - it did not look like anybody, alive or dead, was in it.
as the girl had described, there was a small airstrip - and a small plane on it. the bright sun was shining on the plane’s windows and on its insignia, the insignia celine recognized as parthia’s.
the airstrip was so short any plane on it would have to be capable of almost straight vertical takeoff.
she shielded her eyes to try to see if there was anybody or anything inside the plane and suddenly it’s engine roared to life.
celine stepped back toward the limo.
the plane was turning on the strip, facing away from her. the engine revved up for another ten or fifteen seconds and the plane shot into the sky at almost a 180 degree angle.
so that was that. celine was sure that there was nothing left behind worth looking for or finding, but she checked so that she could say she did.
there was a wooden shack. empty. not a scrap of paper, or a phone or radio, or anything else
there were a couple of cigar butts on the ground outside the shack. she wished she had a plastic bag to put them in, but she didn’t so she put them on a shelf in the shack, in case anybody wanted to check them for dna or whatever.
she approached the limo. might it be wired in some way? it seemed unlikely. she would just as soon have left it alone but she had to make sure the girl’s sister was not in it.
she tried the handle on the driver’s side. it was unlocked.
there was nothing in or under the seats. nothing in the glove compartment. nothing at all except a faint whiff of cigars. and no keys in the ignition.
she popped the trunk. she walked around and found it as empty as she expected.
as she closed the trunk she heard a car behind her. her own blue car, with priscilla at the wheel.
priscilla pulled up, and got out. “i heard the plane, “ she told celine. “i had to make sure you were not on it.”
“no, i timed it perfectly. a few minutes earlier, and i might at least have had to tell someone a story.”
“you always time things perfectly,” priscilla laughed.
“yeah, right. let’s get out of here. if davis wants to check this place out he can send somebody.”
stephanie had gotten out of the car. “what about laurene? did they take her?”
“they must have, honey,” celine told her. “she’s not here. she’s not in the car, she’s not in that shack over there. look around, where else would she be?” she did not add, they did not have time to bury her anywhere.
“they brought her here to take her somewhere, and they did,” priscilla added. “you were the lucky one - the cool one - getting away.”
“i guess,” stephanie agreed.
“let’s get out of here,” celine repeated. she got behind the wheel of the blue car.
none of them spoke until they were off the road to the airstrip and back on the highway.
“do you want us to take you home?” celine finally asked stephanie.
“do i want you to take me home?” stephanie exclaimed. “why, where else would you take me?”
“oh, we will take you home if you want to,” priscilla quickly reassured her. “no problem there.”
“are you in a hurry to get home?” celine asked.
stephanie didn’t know what to say. she didn’t really want to go back and explain to joanie lee what had happened.
joanie lee would have a million questions stephanie could not answer, and when she couldn’t answer then joanie lee would get mad and blame her for - blame her for something , anything, because that was the way joanie lee was.
maybe joanie lee wasn’t even there. maybe the servants were not there, maybe nobody was there, and she would never see any of them, including her father, “the prince”, “ again.
“i’m not in any hurry,” she told celine.
“good. we will find someplace we can have a little talk.”
“as i said before, my dear,” priscilla said. “we were - are - quite impressed with your cool demeanor.”
“yes, indeed,” celine added.
priscilla turned around and faced stephanie. “now if we take you back to your home, with the war on, what do you think will happen to you?”
“you tell me.”
“you will probably be set to work rolling bandages or blankets for soldiers or some such nonsense - something from the last wars that most likely won’t mean anything in this one,”
“ha!” said celine. “more likely she will be put in an army as a soldier herself.”
“does that sound like it would suit you?” priscilla asked.
“not much,” stephanie agreed.
“well then, stick with us and we will find something a bit more interesting for you. we can always use someone young and with a head on her shoulders.”
“will i get killed?” stephanie asked.
“ha! ha! right to the point,” priscilla glanced over at celine. “well, you might be. we certainly can’t make any guarantees. but at least you won’t be doing the same thing every day.”
“and you will get to sleep late, most days,” added celine.
“all right,” said stephanie. “i will hear what you have to say.” she looked out the window.
there was a line of heavy traffic going in the other direction.