Makin' Miracles, page 25
Spencer had driven into Knoxville to get photo supplies and returned late in the afternoon to his house at Raven’s Den. He was surprised to find several messages on his answering machine, asking him if he knew where Zola was. One was even from Nana Etta, Zola’s grandmother.
He let the dog out and took his cell phone to the porch so he could keep an eye on Zeke. Then Spencer called Etta Devon.
“Mrs. Devon, this is Spencer Jackson. I just got home and found your message.”
“I’m so glad you’re back.” Mrs. Devon’s voice sounded agitated. “Zola is missing. She went to the bridal shower at the Chen’s restaurant at lunchtime, but no one has seen her since. Nina Chen was the last person to see her as Zola left the shower.”
“Nina is Ben Lee’s granddaughter.” Spencer remembered. “Did Nina say anything to upset Zola? Did she threaten her?”
“The girl says not.” Spencer heard Mrs. Devon take a deep breath. “She said she went out into the parking lot behind the restaurant to reassure Zola that the family held no hard feelings toward her. She said she and Zola hugged with affection before they parted.”
“Do you believe her?” Spencer whistled at Zeke, whose ears had pricked up at sight of a gray squirrel.
“I do,” Etta Devon said. “I sense the meeting with Nina is not the problem.”
Spencer overlooked that comment. “Where did Zola go when she left Nina?”
“Well, that’s just it. No one knows for sure.” Mrs. Devon paused, her voice breaking with emotion. “She was supposed to go to the store to work on inventory.”
“I heard she and Maya talking about that yesterday.” Spencer recalled. “But maybe she decided not to go. After all, Faith was there. Maybe she went shopping or something.” He looked at his watch. “It’s only about five p.m. now.”
“No, she didn’t go shopping. My boy Ray and his son Wayne found Zola’s car an hour ago, parked down the road from her place in an abandoned barn just across from Caney Creek.”
Spencer felt a thread of alarm now. “I was down at that old farm place taking photos yesterday. What would Zola be doing down there? And why would she leave her car there?”
“I don’t know that. But I get a bad sense about this.” Etta took a deep breath. “We have family out looking everywhere near the old farm but we can’t find any sign of Zola. It worries me that Zola would go over there, hide her car, and not call anyone, Spencer. That’s not like her. It’s not like her to worry people in that way. I’m thinking something bad has happened. That someone threatened her—or frightened her in some way.”
“Well, why wouldn’t she go to someone she trusted if that happened? Like to you or to Maya?” Spencer scratched his head, trying to make sense of it all.
“I don’t know that, son.”
They both grew quiet for a moment.
“You give some thought and prayer to where she might have gone, Spencer. You’ve come to know her well.” Nana paused. “Also, keep an eye on Raven’s Den and the hut she loves there. She might go there or she might come to you.”
Spencer looked down the path from his house leading to the point at Raven’s Den. “I’ll go look now, Nana. And I’ll call you if I find her. Promise you’ll call me if you hear anything, too.”
“I will.” Nana sighed. “I’ve got a bad feeling, Spencer. I don’t possess the gift Zola does, but I know when something’s not right. And I get a real sense of evil.”
“Have you called the police?”
“Vern did about thirty minutes ago when he, Ray, and Wayne still couldn’t find any sign of Zola. Chief Magee says it’s too early to send out a search when she’s only been gone a few hours and when there’s no evidence that anyone threatened her.”
“I see.” Spencer’s mouth tightened.
He hung up from Etta Devon and put Zeke on his leash to walk down to the hut at Raven’s Den. He, too, had an uneasy feeling about Zola being missing all afternoon. She would never worry her grandparents like this without cause.
Zola had made enemies lately—Madame Renee, Ben Lee, and before that, Aldo Toomey. Who knew what other people could be on the list? Not everyone felt happy with the insights Zola received. He certainly hadn’t been when he first met her.
A sliver of fear threaded up Spencer’s spine at yet another thought. There still might be a murderer out there nervous that Zola knew too much. Spencer had long worried about this in relation to the disappearance of Ben Lee’s daughter.
Arriving at the hut at Raven’s Den, Spencer found no one there. He looked around carefully but couldn’t find evidence anyone had been there. He walked back to the house and made return calls to Maya, Faith, Aston, and others who’d left him messages, hoping he might learn some fact to help him search for Zola. But no one knew anything more than Etta Devon told him earlier.
In frustration, Spencer called Ben Lee, asking him if he’d seen Zola.
“Why should I see her?” His voice sounded annoyed. “Has she been looking for me to make more trouble?”
Spencer forced himself to make an evasive answer and hung up. If Ben Lee knew anything, he certainly wasn’t revealing it.
His call to Aldo Toomey netted him no leads either. Aldo and some friends had driven up to Bristol for the NASCAR races and had been gone for two days.
Calling Madame Renee proved a waste of time also.
“I have not seen Zola Devon—not in the natural or in my meditations.” Her voice took on a smug tone. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if tribulation came to her. She is a woman asking for trouble in the way she uses her gifts.”
Not trusting himself to answer, Spencer hung up on her. Annoying woman.
You’d think she might show some compassion.
He paced the floor until Zeke whined, picking up on his anxious mood.
Regretting upsetting the shepherd, Spencer decided to take Zeke for a walk. With all that had gone on, he’d forgotten to do that since getting back. Besides, it might help him walk off some of his tension.
He leashed Zeke and started up their familiar path to Shinbone Ridge. At the split in the trail, Spencer paused thoughtfully. The falls were a favorite place of Zola’s. Would she go there if troubled? Spencer decided it wouldn’t hurt to walk along Buckner Branch to check.
Arriving at the pool below the falls a short time later, Spencer scanned the rocks and the open area around the cascades. There was no sign of her. He turned to go but noticed then that Zeke was pulling on his leash, not wanting to turn back.
Looking down, he saw the dog staring intently across the creek, his ears pricked. “What is it, Zeke?”
The dog whined, his eyes still trained across the creek where a rock wall rose up behind the trees.
Ordinarily, Spencer would have reined in the dog with a rebuke, for not complying in obedience when he’d turned to go back, but this time he paused, his eyes scanning the scene before him. He couldn’t see a rabbit or a squirrel, but that didn’t mean Zeke couldn’t smell or sense one.
Following the odd premonition he felt, Spencer picked up the big dog and carried him in his arms as he jumped across the rocks. Zeke struggled to get down as they reached the bank, and Spencer gave the dog his head to follow the scent he’d picked up.
Zeke wove around through the trees and along the rock wall until he found a deep crevice in the cliffs. There he stopped until Spencer could catch up.
Looking down in surprise, Spencer saw the dog’s tail wagging.
He leaned down to look below the crevice into a shallow cave and saw a figure huddled in the dark. It took only a moment for Spencer to realize it was Zola.
Calling her name, Spencer loosed the dog to go to her and then hunched over to work his way back into the cave himself. He found Zola huddled in a blanket in the low, damp cave, her arms wrapped around Zeke.
“What are you doing in here, Zola?” he asked as he pushed the dog away to get closer to her.
Her tear-streaked face looked up at him.
She looked past him with big eyes. “No one followed you, did they? There’s no one with you?” Her voice sounded strained and anxious.
“It’s only Zeke and I.” He leaned over to kiss her forehead. “Let’s get you out of here, Zola. It’s freezing and damp in here. Your skin is cold and you’re shaking. Come on.” He held out a hand.
“I’m scared.” She curled up in the blanket, reluctant to leave.
“That isn’t the right answer, no matter what you’re scared of.” He gathered her up in his arms to hug her, alarmed at how chilled she felt. “Let’s go back to the house and talk about this in front of the fire. You need to get warmed up.”
Seeing her eyes scan the entrance, he took her hands in his. “There’s no one out there, Zola. And there’s no one at my house. You’ll be safe there.”
After a little argument, he persuaded her to follow him out of the cave. He took the dog across the stream and then came back to help Zola across the rocks. He wished he wore a coat to wrap her in, but he knew she’d begin to warm up some as she hiked up the hill to the ridge.
“What’s happened, Zola?” He asked as they started up the trail.
She walked beside him, holding onto his arm with one hand and clutching the old quilt around her with the other.
“I saw something bad.” Her voice was a mere whisper. “And I don’t know whether someone else saw it, too, or not. I think he did and I thought he might come after me. That’s why I needed to hide.”
“Why didn’t you tell someone?”
Her breath caught. “I was afraid someone else might get hurt if I did.”
Spencer realized then why she’d hidden her car and headed out on her own.
Zola shivered. “Juan Chen murdered his wife Seng Ryon, Spencer. I saw it.”
He blinked in surprise. “How did you see this, Zola?”
She paused, her eyes finding his. “I saw Seng like a ghost below the pavement in the parking lot behind the Chen Palace Restaurant.”
Spencer knew his eyebrows lifted, because she frowned at him. “I know it sounds strange, but I swear, Spencer, it happened.” She shivered again. “Ben’s daughter, Seng Ryon, reached out a hand and touched my leg. It was awful, Spencer. I’ve never had any kind of sight like this before. God has never let me experience anything this terrible. I hated it. I didn’t want to see those things.”
He put his arm around Zola and hugged her close while she spilled out the rest of the story. Spencer knew Zola would never make up anything this bizarre. She ended her story crying raggedly.
His voice grew gentle. “Zola, you remember Ben Lee said for weeks that he prayed God would show you what happened to his daughter.” He leaned over to kiss Zola’s forehead. “Evidently, God answered Ben’s prayer.”
“But why in such an eerie, horrible way!” She shuddered.
“I don’t know,” he said, leading her up the path.
Back at the house, Spencer started a fire while he sent Zola into his bathroom to get a warm shower. He found her a T-shirt and a robe to put on while he dried her wet clothes in the dryer. Her outfit was damp from the cave, and she was still chilled and shaking from the hours she’d spent hiding there.
He called the Devons, Maya, and Aston to let them all know Zola was all right. Without asking Zola, Spencer also made a call to Police Chief Bill Magee, who said he’d drive up immediately to talk to her.
“She’s had a bad experience, Bill. Don’t make it worse for her when you come. But be prepared to listen.”
Zola grew upset when Spencer told her he called Bill.
“He won’t believe me, Spencer.” She started to cry, the anxiety of the day kicking in. “And what will happen if he actually does? It will tear a whole family apart and I will be responsible! I know all the Chens. They will never forgive me for being the one to reveal this.”
“I don’t believe that,” Spencer said, going to answer the door to let Bill Magee in.
Bill sat on the couch and let Zola tell him the whole story. Admittedly, it was an incredible one, but he listened calmly, never questioning Zola.
Between the telling, Zola sipped on hot cocoa Spencer had heated up for her. Her big eyes still held anxiousness and fear.
Bill Magee scratched his chin. “You say you saw Ben Lee’s daughter under the pavement. I assume that means she was buried there.” He pulled out his cell phone. “There’s an easy way to check that one out. I’ll call Dean Murphy at the paving company, see when he put in that new blacktop behind the Chen Palace.”
He made the call, talked briefly, and hung up. “Well, we’ve got enough for me to get the judge to get a paper to dig up that parking lot. Dean said he laid the blacktop the next morning after Seng Ryon went missing.”
“What will you tell the judge when you call him?” Zola chewed on her nail anxiously.
Bill smiled. “I’ll tell him I got an anonymous tip saying someone thought they saw Juan Chen out digging in the parking lot before they did the paving. And that they thought they saw something fishy going on—but didn’t put it together until now what they might have seen.”
Zola frowned. “But that’s a lie.”
Magee laughed and rubbed his chin again. “Well, in this case, Zola, I think a bit of a fib is better to use than the full truth.” He patted her knee fondly. “If this blows up into a murder, I’d like to leave you out of it. Plus testimony of seeing a ghost or spirit in the pavement isn’t likely to be admitted in court.”
After a little more discussion, Bill Magee stood up to leave. “There’s nothing for you to be afraid of anymore, Zola.”
He looked down at her thoughtfully. “You know, I’ve been a Christian since just a boy, but I really marvel, Zola, at how God uses His ways to show you things the way He does.”
Zola started to respond, but Magee shook his head at her. “Yeah, I know stuff like this is in the Bible, Zola, but somehow folks don’t expect it to still be happening today.”
Spencer grinned. “I don’t think folks expected to see it that much in the Bible days, either, Bill. Things haven’t changed that much.”
“Well, I reckon that’s true. We’re all real interested in saying we believe in the supernatural of the Bible until we get confronted with it in the here and now.”
Zola held up a hand to Bill. “Thanks for being so kind.”
He took her hand and patted it. “You just rest and get over this. I guess it was a bit of a scare for you, seeing what you did.”
Spencer walked out to the car with Chief Magee.
“Do you think Juan really murdered his wife, Bill?”
“It will be easy enough to check it out.” His voice trailed away. “In this business, I frequently find the perpetrator of a crime is right in the victim’s family. Sad to learn it, but it’s often true.”
“Well, thanks for being so willing to check this out and for not ridiculing Zola.” Spencer took Bill’s hand in a firm handshake.
“I don’t always understand Zola, but I’m fond of her. She’s got a good heart, and things she’s seen have helped a lot of folks.” He frowned. “I don’t mind her getting mixed in an investigation like I mind that crazy fortune-teller on the highway putting her oar into things.”
“Miss Mildred Renee Dupler has caused problems in these parts for nigh about twenty years.” He shook his head. “It’s rare anything she says she sees in her cards or her crystal ball amounts to anything. Most times, it just causes a bunch of trouble for folks. Like that business with Aldo Toomey and now this with Ben Lee. I’ve had to put staff out looking for a kidnapper due to the publicity generated by Renee’s predictions. People are gullible about believing fortune-teller nonsense.”
Spencer kept his voice casual. “Do you think Madame Renee will try to cause trouble for Zola if this murder turns out to be legit?”
“Only if she gets wind of it somehow.” He got in
Zola didn’t usually travel to Mooréa in summer, during the height of the tourist season in Gatlinburg, but this time was an exception. She simply had to get away. Pressures coming against her were intense, and she’d lost her peace. And her confident faith.
She sat now on the shady veranda of her father’s house, high on a hill above the coast at Temae. Down through the palms and trees around the island house, she could see the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean spread out before her. She had taken many calming walks up the beach in these last days, letting the sound of the ocean waves soothe her soul.
Hearing the door open, Zola looked up to see her father coming out to join her, carrying his morning coffee and the newspaper.
He sat down at the table with her. “You’re beginning to look more rested, daughter.”
Seeing his kindly, familiar face, Zola felt a surge of love.
Stanford Devon crossed an ankle over his knee and began to study the newspaper while sipping his coffee.
His dark hair was graying and receding from his forehead now, and age lines marked his face, but the same peace Zola always remembered still radiated from him. Her mother told her it was this same peace that always so soothed his patients. Stanford Devon had always been a man confident that he was in the will of God for his life. Zola envied him that right now.
He glanced up to catch her eyes studying him. “Ready to talk yet, Zola?”
She smiled at him. “There’s not much more to say than what I’ve told you. I know you’ve talked to Nana Etta. You know what happened.”
His eyes moved to her open Bible, still on the table from her morning devotions. “It was a hard vision you were given.”
Zola bit her lip. “Do you think the Lord is going to start giving me this sort of sight on a regular basis, Daddy? Do you think He’s changing my gift, escalating the kinds of things I will have to see?”
His eyes moved out over the ocean view in thought.
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