Disclaimer: As much as I'd love to find them in my Christmas stocking, Jim and Blair belong to Danny and Paul.
The rain fell softly against the Volvo's windshield as Blair drove down the highway connecting Seacouver to Cascade. Joe Dawson had found a book by a member of Burton's expedition to Paraguay during his last trip to Paris. Even though the man no longer ran his rare bookstore, he still would find books for some of his special customers. And Blair was one of the privileged few.
The woman appeared out of nowhere. He caught a glimpse of her white face before he slammed on his brakes. He skidded a short distance down the rain-slick highway before he brought the car to a stop.
Shaking, he opened his car door and stumbled out. The woman was pulling herself up in a sitting position when he reached her.
"I'm okay. You didn't hit me." Her voice held a hint of a southern accent, and Blair thought he smelled honeysuckle in the air. "I'm sorry."
"S-s-sorry?" He stumbled over the word. "What for?"
"For walking out in front of your car. I wasn't paying attention to where I was going." She scrambled to her feet and wiped her hand on damp jeans before extending it. "Stacey Madison."
"Nice to meet you, Blair."
He motioned to his car. "Could I give you a lift? I'm heading to Cascade."
Stacey smiled at him. "Cascade? That's where my mom lives."
"I'll take you to her house then." Blair bounced lightly on his toes.
"I don't want to be any trouble."
"No trouble." As long as we don't run into psychotic killers, renegade CIA agents, or terrorists along the way, he thought.
The rain started to fall like cold needles. Blair and Stacey ran to the Volvo, laughing as they climbed inside. Stacey wrapped her arms around herself, trying not to shiver. Quickly, he cranked the engine and turned on the heater. He reached behind him and pulled his jacket from the back seat and handed it to Stacey. Even though it was raining and the temperature was in the mid-fifties, Stacey wore only a thin T-shirt and blue jeans that were a faded gray instead of blue.
"Where are you do live?"
"Seattle. My car broke down a few miles back."
He glanced at her before he turned his attention back to the road as the rain splattered in sheets against the windshield. He hadn't seen a car on the shoulder of the highway as he drove back.
Stacey grew quieter and paler the closer they got to Cascade. "Are you feeling okay?"
She shifted in the passenger seat. "I'm fine. I-I haven't seen my mother in a long time." At Blair's frown, she added, "I've been away."
"What's your mom's address?"
"3325 Anthol Street."
Anthol Street. Stacey's mom lived not far from where Susan Frasier lived.
Blair stopped at a red light a block from Anthol Street. The rain was falling in a soft mist now. "Stacey-Stacey!"
The passenger seat was empty. He looked in the back seat. No Stacey. Even his jacket was gone. He scrambled out of the car. Stacey wasn't anywhere nearby.
Not knowing what else to do, he slipped back inside the car. The only trace of Stacey was the scent of honeysuckle that still hung in the air. He reached in his pocket for his phone, then stopped. There was nothing that Jim could do that he couldn't do himself right now.
He drove to the address that Stacey had gave him. It was a only a few houses down from the apartment building that Susan Frasier had lived in. The house was in need of paint and one of the shutters hung crooked but shrubs and roses were well tended and if he was any judge the small plot in front of the porch would be a mass of color as soon as it grew warmer.
A step squeaked as he walked up on the porch. It was several moments after he knocked before he heard a chain rattle and someone open the door. An elderly woman looked out at him.
"Can I help you?" Her southern accent was even stronger than Stacey's
"Uh, Mrs. Madison?"
Blair pushed rain damp hair off his face. "Is Stacey here? I was driving her here-"
"You've seen Stacey? Come in."
Mrs. Madison showed him into the living room and motioned for him to sit on the couch. She walked over to the fireplace mantel and picked up a picture from it. Cradling it gently, she carried it back to Blair and handed it Blair. "Is this the woman you were giving a ride too?"
Stacey looked back at him from the picture. Her arm was around the waist of a woman that resembled a younger version of Mrs. Madison.
"That last picture taken of Stacey and me before she murdered."
Murdered? Blair kept his hands steady as he handed the photo back to Mrs. Madison. She sat on the couch beside him, the photo in her lap.
"Stacey was my only child. She moved to Seattle after she graduated Rainier. She was coming home for my birthday and never made it here. Her car was found on the side of the road. The police believed it had broke down and someone offered her a ride. Her body was found in a shallow grave a month later by some kids playing hooky from school. They never found who did it."
"But I saw her."
She reached out and took his hand. "I know. It was raining like this the day she disappeared. Every year since when it's like this, someone knocks on the door. They were driving Stacey here when she disappears from their car."
Blair remembered the feel of her hand in his when they shook hands. Her skin had been soft and warm in his. Not the hand of someone who was dead.
Mrs. Madison started to stand. "I'll fix you some coffee. You must be cold and I know that this must be a shock to you."
Blair found his voice. "No, you don't have to do this. I-I better be going."
"No, stay please."
The sun was starting to set when he drove into the cemetery where Stacey was buried. He had stayed with Mrs. Madison for several hours. She had told him about Stacey and where she was buried. On an impulse, he drove there. It didn't take him long to find the grave. He saw something was draped over the headstone as he walked nearer.
With a trembling hand, Blair reached out and touched the jacket he had loaned Stacey.
Notes: You probably recognize the urban legand that it is based on. I think about every state has a story about a phantom hitchhker. One of my favorites is about tow high school students on the way to graduation. They spot a young woman wearing a cap and gown in their school colors walking alongside the road. They stop and offer her a lift even though they don't recognize her. They talk and find out her name. When they don't see her after they get to the school and don't hear her name called out, they get concerned. Going back to their car they find a letter addressed to the girl so they deceided to take it to her. When they get there, they found out the girl was killed on her way to her graduation six years before. The letter the kids found was about a scholarship the girl had won. Her parents knew that the letter was in the car with their daugther but was unable to find it after the accident.
As for Stacey, Blair and Jim might go after her killer. Something tells me that Blair won't live her murder unsolved. Now if he'd just tell me what happens...