Chapter Thirty-SixMature

'And you're sure this is the right place?'  Demitri stood, huddled next to me under my tiny umbrella, outside the local sports centre.

'That's what Kel told me,' I insisted.  'Her mum has a pilates class with him in half an hour.'  I shivered as I felt a raindrop dodge around my umbrella and onto my face.  Rubbing my hands against my jeans to warm them up I scanned the street for somewhere we could be less conspicuous.  'Let's go sit in that cafe over there,' I said, pointing to a Starbucks on the corner.  'We can still see the gym and it'll be a lot warmer than standing around out here.'

'Good plan,' Dem responded, almost immediately.  We ran across the road, water splashing up our legs and onto my jeans as our feet landed in puddles.  I was so relieved when we stumbled through the door and the warmth of the coffee shop hit me like a wave, sending more shivers through my body.

'You grab the table by the window,' I told Dem, 'I'll get us some coffee.'

'Remember it's a latte for me.'

'How could I forget,' I said as I wandered over to the counter.  The guy behind the till smiled at me and asked what I wanted.  'Um, one latte and a cappuccino please.'  As he moved over to the machine behind the counter, I turned and looked at the other people inside.  It wasn't very busy.  A couple of girls who looked a year or so younger than me were occupying the sofa at the back of the room, a middle-aged man was reading the paper at a table near the door and a young woman was sitting with a book at the table next to Dem.

It had taken me all of last night and most of the day to convince Dem this was a trail worth following.  Abril was still pessimistic about it, but I was convinced this was going to work and we would be able to get somewhere, instead of sitting around looking at lists of facts all day.

'Here you go,' the guy handed me two steaming cups of coffee.

'Thanks,' I smiled, handing over the money.  The bell signalling the entrance of a new customer rang delicately as I crossed the room.

'Cassie?'  I turned in surprise at the sound of my name, and nearly dropped the coffee when I saw who had just walked through the door.

'Steve!  What are you doing here?'  I tried to keep calm as my mother's boyfriend walked towards me.  What on earth was I going to tell him about my mother?

'Was having a day in town and fancied a coffee.  What about you?'

'Um, I'm here with a friend.'  I gestured towards Demitri and Steve's eyebrows shot up his forehead, obviously coming to his own conclusions about who I was with.  I knew he was wrong but didn't want to correct him

'OK then, I won't keep you, just thought I should say hi.'

'Yeah, right, hi.'  For some strange reason my brain had stopped working and I couldn't think of what to say.

'I'll see you around,' Steve said, thankfully finishing the conversation and walking over to the counter.  I walked over to Dem, still in shock and unable to say anything.

'You alright?'  Dem looked concerned as I handed him his coffee.  I nodded, not trusting myself to say anything sensible at that moment.  'Who was that guy?  Someone you know?'

'He's Mum's boyfriend,' I said, the large swig of coffee I'd taken obviously calming me down.  I turned to watch him as he left Starbucks with a paper cup in one hand and his umbrella in the other.  'A bit funny that he didn't ask about her,' I mumbled to myself thoughtfully, but brushed the thought away.  Maybe it'd just slipped his mind, or they'd had a bust up before Mum had gone missing.

Fifteen minutes later, we saw Clay Marshall walking across the other side of the road towards the sports centre.  He had the hood of his jacket pulled up against the rain but I could just about see his face in the shadow.  He didn't look up as he walked down the street and through the doors, into the centre, so I didn't think he saw us.

'Now all we have to do is wait for him to come out again,' I said.  I had a good feeling about this.  We were closer than we had ever been, I could almost see the end of the tunnel.

We waited, watching the people go in for the class, Kel's mum among them, checking the clock every two seconds to see if it was nearly time for the class to end.  We'd decided to wait outside for Clay to come out again.  We didn't want to cause a scene inside the sports centre where everyone could see us.  

Time passed so slowly.  I ordered another coffee, realising after I'd finished it that it'd been a bad idea.  I could hardly sit still as the members of Clay's class began to leave the building.

'Calm down Cassie,' Dem said, almost pulling me back down into my seat.  'We wait for him to come out, then we move, remember.  We don't want him to know anyone is following him until the team arrives.'

The plan was to follow Clay home.  When we were sure he was settled in for the evening, we would call the pub and Abril would send a group of her guys to help us break in and abduct Clay.  It wasn't the best way of dealing with the situation, but we needed him, and it wasn't likely that he would come quietly.

The minutes ticked by and there was no sign of Clay.  When an hour had passed and it was almost time for the centre to close for the day, I decided to take some more practical action.  I put my coat on and led Demitri outside and across the road.

'Cassie, what are you doing?'  Dem pulled on my arm trying to stop me.  'He's going to see us.'

'I haven't seen anyone come out of that building for the last half hour, I am tired and nervous.  Nothing is going to stop me from checking if he is still in there.'  I pulled my arm out of Dem's grasp and pushed on the door to the sports centre.

Indoors it was exactly what I expected, but I didn't pause to take in the scenery.  I marched straight up to the front desk and aimed my question at the lady sitting behind it.

'Hello.  Sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if Clay Marshall was still here?  I was meant to meet him a while ago but he didn't show up.'

'Clay isn't here I'm afraid,' the receptionist replied bluntly.

'That's not possible,' Demitri breathed, his face stunned and confused.  'He had to walk past us, there is no way he could have left without us seeing him.'

'Someone must've noticed we were here,' I said quietly to Dem so the woman wouldn't hear.  'He must've told someone that he'd been held by us and was worried that we'd find him.  They saw us and warned him.'  I turned sharply back to the receptionist.  'Are you sure he's not still here?'

'I saw him leave myself about an hour ago.'

The End

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