Finding runaways was always a tricky thing. Some kids run away for very good reasons, and others run but not of their own accord. Val was keenly aware of both possibilities as she raced down a dark, rain slicked alley following the last person who’d seen Kelly Mashawalaran before her disappearance.
Her target was fast. All Val could see were long legs and a runner’s physique that despite Val’s fitness training she couldn’t quite match.
“How’s it going?” Tam asked over their earbud phone, crunching on a handful of tortilla chips as she sat warm and dry in the hotel suite they’d setup as their base of operations.
“Peachy,” Val said, conserving breath as best she could.
“Looks like you’re moving at quite a clip. I’ve got a map of Vancouver pulled up here if you need some help navigating?” Tam asked.
“Target’s in sight,” Val said. Unfortunately the target heard that and adrenaline apparently kicked in because she started to leave Val behind.
“Can you track the target with a spell?” Anna asked.
“Not with the ones I have available at the moment,” Tam said. “My current repertoire only has ones where I need to either physically tag the subject myself, or trick them into accepting an item or bit of food from me.”
“That sucks,” Val huffed out.
She didn’t feel ashamed at falling behind, just aggravated. The girl she was chasing, Lily Chen, was a champion track and field star for her school. Val had years of experience on the teenager but Lily’s experience as a runner was all directly relevant to moving quickly, while Val’s fitness routine was focused on producing the kind of all around strength and flexibility a fighter needed.
“Lily! Hold up! We just want to help!” Val called out, for the third time. As with both the first and second time’s she’d tried to reassure the fleet footed girl though Val’s words did nothing to slow Lily’s flight.
In a display that would have seemed like magic if Val wasn’t familiar with what serious athletes could do when motivated, Lily sailed over a chest high fence, vaulting it without slowing her pace noticeably.
“This kid is going to kill me,” Val whispered as she hurled herself over the fence in the middle of the alley. She ran as part of her training program. It was a solid method for building endurance. Endurance running was one thing however. The sort of long distance, flat out, sprinting that Lily was demonstrably capable of was quite another.
Val landed on the other side of the fence just in time to see Lily vanish around the far end of the alley. That was both good and bad.
On the upside, the road on the far end of the alley was fairly empty. There wouldn’t be many places to hide, so Lily would have to keep running if she wanted to stay away from Val.
The downside was that Lily seemed very determined to stay away from Val, and more than willing to run absurdly long distances to make that happen.
Val didn’t want to blame her for that, despite how much running herself out of breath sucked. Lily thought she was protecting her friend and herself.
“Hi, I’d like to talk to you about Kelly Mashawalaran,” Val had said what seemed like hours ago but was closer to twenty minutes if her watch was to be believed.
“What do you want to know about her?” Lily had asked, with the kind of defensive wariness in her eyes that had promised Val it wasn’t going to be an easy night. Val had found her coming out of a McDonalds with a bag of food in one hand and a large Coke in the other.
“She’s missing, and her parents have asked us to help find her,” Val had said, trying to take as gentle and reassuring a tone as she could.
“I don’t know where she is,” Lily had said and tried to walk past Val.
Reaching for Lily’s arm to slow her down had been Val’s first mistake. Her second was revealing exactly why she was asking Lily in particular for Kelly’s whereabouts.
“We have footage of you buying a bus ticket for her,” Val had said and regretted both the words and how she said them the moment they left her mouth.
Lily’s aim with her drink was good. A big splash of Coke in Val’s eyes and nose was enough to buy Lily the precious seconds she needed to put her track and field training to use.
Where Lily was outfitted in sweats and sneakers, Val was faced with the challenge of keeping up in a smartly tailored black business suit and flat heeled shoes. In retrospect, Val considered how much she looked like an operative from a shadowy government organization and decided that had probably been a strike against her too.
She turned the corner onto the street Lily had fled down and was greeted with the site of a nearly empty thoroughfare. No cars traveling down the street. No one walking along the sidewalks. No teenage girl fleeing faster than the wind.
“I lost her,” Val said, panting and putting her hands on her knees.
“Not at all,” Anna said. “You got her exactly where she needed to be.”
Anna and Lily stepped out of a doorway from an apartment building that was much farther away than Val would have guessed Lily could have traveled in the brief time she was out of sight. Damn she was fast.
Lily was panting and looked about forty percent as miserable as Val felt from the run. Her glare at Anna, who was simply standing beside her, not restraining Lily in any way, spoke of a far greater degree of unhappiness though.
“I don’t know where she is,” Lily repeated when Val walked over to join them.
“Yes, but you know where she is going,” Anna said, without reproach in her voice.
“You saw her get on the bus to Florida didn’t you?” Lily said, scowling.
“That is one possible destination she could have gone to,” Anna said. “There are however no direct busses from Vancouver to Florida. Busses make stops, and when we checked, Lily did not disembark in Orlando when the earliest bus arrived there.”
“From what I can tell, she didn’t even pass through customs getting into the U.S.,” Tam said, though Lily couldn’t hear that.
“Seriously, we are here to help her,” Val said, mostly succeeding in catching her breath.
“Yeah, right,” Lily said.
“Ms. Mashawalaran did not enjoy the best relationship with her parents?” Anna said, more a statement asking for confirmation than an actual question.
“Why don’t you ask them?” Lily said.
“We did,” Val said. “They regret the blow up they had when she told them she was pregnant.”
“They regret it now that she’s out of their control,” Lily said. “That’ll last about five minutes after she comes back though.”
“We are aware of that,” Anna said.
Lily blinked and looked at her with disgust. “And you’re still going to bring her back to them?”
“No,” Val said. “I’m sorry, you didn’t give me time to finish explaining.”
“Ms. Mashawalaran’s parents asked us to find their daughter. We made it clear however that she would only be returning home is that was what she desired,” Anna said.
“Wait, so you just want to know where she is?” Lily asked. “But that’s so you can tell her parents so they can go get her themselves.”
“Nope,” Val said. “We know Kelly’s father threatened to kill her and the baby. That is something we take very seriously. Whether he’s apologetic now or not doesn’t matter. What’s important is that she be healthy, safe, and supported.”
“Shame her stupid boyfriend doesn’t feel like that.”
“He has waived all parental rights,” Anna said. “Which I gather will come as a relief to Ms. Mashawalaran?”
“I thought his mother wanted to keep the baby for herself?” Lily said. “She was going to fight Lily for custody of it.”
“That was not his mother’s decision to make,” Val said. “Also, we had a conversation with her so she’s clear on where her rights in this end. If Lily wants to keep the baby and introduce them to their paternal grandparents, that’s fully within her rights. If she wants to flee Vancouver and never look back, that’s also something we can arrange.”
“What do you mean?” Lily asked.
“Kelly’s parents called us in, but we’re not the police, or human services,” Val said. “We took this case because Kelly needed help, and we want to make sure she gets it.”
“I don’t get it, what’s so special about Kelly?” Lily asked.
“Apart from the fact that you love her?” Anna asked. “Her mother wrote us a very compelling letter. She knew what she was asking for, and that our support might very well take her daughter away from her forever. What was important to her though was that her daughter not suffer the same trials that she had.”
“She wanted her daughter to have the second chance that she never got,” Val said.
Val stripped out of the sticky, Coke covered suit and made a beeline for the showers as soon as she was back in their suite.
“Sorry about that,” JB said from their room without looking out. “Arranging a side mission for you while you were in diplomatic clothes may not have been the best idea I ever had.”
“It’s fine,” Val said. “I can’t believe how quick her reflexes were though. One second it was simple conversation, the next it was all bubbly soda up in my nose.”
“Kind of my bad too,” Tam said. “I knew she’d bought Kelly the bus ticket. That probably should have been a clue for me to hack Lily’s email too.”
“How would that have helped?” Val asked, leaving the door to the shower room open so she could continue the conversation while she washed off.
“I only checked on Lily’s emails after she took off,” Tam said, leaning against the outside of the doorway and speaking over the rushing water. “If I’d done that I would have noticed the one where she said she’d do anything to help Kelly and then confessed her feelings. That would have been a tip off that she wasn’t going to react well to questions about where Kelly was.”
“Anna mentioned that too, about Lily being in love with Kelly,” Val asked as she turned the shower off. “What’s the story there?”
“Fairly normal I think. I’m guessing about this from some later emails because I think they actually got together and talked it out – but it looks like there’s no romance there, Kelly’s not interested, but still a damn strong bond on both sides.”
“Good for them,” Val said, toweling herself off. “Anna should be collecting Kelly about now, and she’s going to need some solid people in her corner.”
“Yeah, I wish we could stay around longer and see how this all turns out for her,” Tam said.
“Alas, duty calls,” JB said. “I’ve got another formal suit in your size coming up in a few minutes.”
“Thanks,” Val said. “I’m amazed you were able to find someone at this time of day.”
“I’ll be buying the drinks tonight for my local friend but I think it’s worth it,” JB said. “Charlene gave us an important assignment but that doesn’t mean people like Kelly are unimportant.”
“Charlene said this was bigger than looking into PrimaLux?” Val asked.
“Yeah, I’m going to bet that’s only partially true though,” Tam said. “I get the feeling that PrimaLux is all kinds of dangerous.”
“Wouldn’t that be an even better reason for us to look into them?” Val asked.
“In Charlene’s view? Maybe not,” JB said. “For as long as I’ve worked with her, Charlene has been very aware of the things she asks the club’s associates to do. We take risks for her but she’s dead set against us taking unnecessary ones, or attempting anything suicidally difficult.”
“PrimaLux is that bad?” Val asked.
“Maybe,” Tam said. “Or maybe Charlene just wants to look into them and make sure that they’re not before she asks us to take them down.”
“It’s also possible that she honestly believes this meeting is more important,” JB said. “I mean how often is it that you get a chance to open diplomatic relations between the Second Chance Club and foreign royalty?”