Several hours after dinner, Max sat in the comfy chair while Jack and Pip talked on the couch. The dishes sat in the drying rack and the dish towels hung over the open cabinet doors.
Pip, with tears in her eyes and a grin from ear to ear came to the end of her story. Jack matched her grin, waiting with baited breath "… and the sergeant holds this two foot turd in a bag in front of the company, demanding —"
They drove in silence for the better part of two hours before Max finally asked "Are you sure you know where you're going?"
"Yeah. Yes. Of course." Jack peered into the darkness outside the car. The roads through the woods started to look the same about half an hour ago. "Definitely. I mean, the directions were practically in the letter."
"I read that letter. No. They weren't."
"Maybe not explicitly. But if you read between the lines …" Jack trailed off as he took a right turn onto a dirt road. "This feels familiar."
"So you keep saying. Let's here this fine plan then." Max leaned back in her chair.
"Okay." Jack stood and paced in front of the white board. "Tomorrow morning I have to meet Smitty at his family's cabin in Connecticut, so I'll leave tonight. After I meet with Smitty tomorrow, Max will take my car and drive around the back roads of New Jersey until she is kidnapped."
"Alright, thanks Sarah. Fast as you can get 'em." Max waited for a reply from Sarah on the other end of the phone. Jack and Henry talked quietly about the case.
"Wait, hang on. I'm gonna put you on speaker." Max pulled the phone away from her ear and pressed an icon on the smooth screen, then set the phone on her desk. "Okay, now Jack and Henry can hear. Can you say that last part again?"
"Sure." Sarah's tinny voice radiated from the phone's speaker. "This girl you're missing is the fourth one we've seen in about six weeks."
Jack pulled the car over to the side of the road. Everyone got out and gathered on the passenger side. Max held Jack's notes. "This is the last place Irene was seen. They found her car just here." Jack gestured to the shoulder of the road.
"It was empty?" Henry asked, taking in the area.
"Yeah. Well, no people, at least. Still had groceries." Max picked up one of the cameras and started taking pictures.
Henry Risinghawk sat on the stairs in front of the office building that housed Marten & Nix Investigations. Jack greeted him with a smile and a handshake. "Henry! It's been too long. You keeping busy?"
"Oh, yeah. Plenty of work for a big guy like me." Henry stood, and with Jack one step higher on the stairs, the two men saw eye to eye.
Max popped the last dumpling in her mouth. "It's getting late, Jack. Not sure how much more we can learn from the board. I'm gonna go out to Jersey tomorrow, check around where Irene was last seen. You want to come along?" She stretched in her chair.
"Connecticut! Smitty! His letter said Connecticut. His family's got a cabin out there." Jack bounded to the white board and wrote "Smitty" in a circle in a free space, unconnected to Irene and Laurel Stokes. He added the Connecticut connection a moment later.
"Okay, but what's that got to do with the missing girl?" Max leaned forward in her chair, trying to follow along. She'd learned sometimes it was better to trust his mania to either lead somewhere interesting, or burn itself out before she could convince him to do something else.
Jack glanced at the unopened envelope. He'd moved it to the "in" box on his desk where it sat atop the pile of bills and other correspondence. "You say Irene hasn't been seen for a week?" He tapped at the legal pad on his desk, the pen striking a pattern of small dots on the corner of the page of notes.
Max stood and stretched, arching her back and rolling her shoulders. She reached high above her, fingertips brushing the ceiling of their office. She let out a languid sigh and spoke. "I don't know about you, but I'm ready for some lunch. What do you say?"
Jack grunted a reply, staring at his screen. His fingers hovered above the keyboard, ready to type, but not yet moving.
"Come on, Jack! Lunch! Food! You want me to bring you back something?"