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Mitch locked his tight gaze toward the front as he followed the black and white sheriff car through the window high grass.
“Grampy, how much further?”
“Not long, Danny. And remember you’re staying in the pickup. Sheriff White Cloud just wants me to take a look at something. We’ll only be a minute.”
Mitch glanced over at his riding companion. “What are you asking, Danny.”
“What does he want you to look at?”
“A pickup they found.”
“Is this about Ben?”
Mitch glanced at the young boy and saw a mask of fear over his face. “It’s nothing to worry about. They just want me to take a look and see if I’d seen it before. You can wait in the pickup. We can even lock the doors if you want.”
“But you’re going to be careful. Right, Grampy?”
“Sure. I’m always careful. Don’t you worry.”
His grandson caught him with a look of doubt, but turned to watch as they drove over the rugged prairie toward their goal. They topped a ridge to find themselves on the rim of a wide canyon. From the thickets of trees and small bushes, Mitch guessed it contained a running creek. He glanced toward Danny, but there didn’t seem to be more than the usual level of anxiety that Mitch had noticed in the past few months.
He glanced around to get his bearings before easing over the edge and into the creek bottom. If the level of animal activity was any indication, this definitely was a long term water supply at least. He crept along as rabbit and a covey of quail fled. He caught a glimpse of a doe and fawn just before they disappeared into the deep shadows of the blackjack thicket. Their disappearance snapped Mitch back into the reason for being there. The sheriff hadn’t been too specific when he’d called so Mitch hoped he hadn’t made a serious error in bringing Danny with him.
They eased around an impenetrable cluster of trees, to find the black and white sheriff’s car parked on the other side. Jim was talking with one of his deputies when Mitch rolled to a stop behind him. He glanced around to see two more county sheriff cars a short distance away. This seems a little more serious than I’d thought at first.
Jim glanced up and motioned him over.
He opened his door before turning to Danny. “You stay here. I won’t be long. Sheriff White Cloud just wants to have me look at something.”
Danny nodded his head vigorously, but was scanning their surroundings more closely than the deer they’d just passed. “Okay, Grampy. But you be careful. There could be snakes or something around here.”
Mitch reached in and ruffled his hair. “I’ll be fine. It’s just an old abandoned pickup. Why don’t you try to find us a good radio station to listen to on the way back.”
Danny’s head bobbed up and down. Before Mitch had moved more than a few steps, his grandson was focused on his assignment. He felt a strong sense of trepidation as he headed for the sheriff. As he got close, the sheriff looked up and gave him a nod.
“Morning, Mitch. This might be nothing. But I thought it was worth checking into. We found this old pickup that was reported stolen a few months ago. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the case, but who knows. We’ve already went over it. But I wanted you to see it before we towed it in.”
Mitch walked around the vehicle slowly, studying each bit of it. It seemed vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t place it. The red and white body was straight from the seventies and at the end of its life. He cracked open the door. A peculiar scent drifted past him. He tried to catalog it for a few moments before turning to Jim.
“We don’t know either. One of the deputies who’s also an EMT thought it smelled antiseptic. But that isn’t quite it.”
Mitch leaned in to examine as closely as possible without disturbing the content.
“Grampy! What are you doing! Stay away from that.”
He turned to Danny, annoyed that he’d followed them. “Danny, you were suppose to stay in the pickup. I’m almost done. You head back.”
“No, you have to come with me. I don’t want you to stay here.”
“It’s okay, Danny. The sheriff is here. We’re perfectly safe.” He watched the young boy’s panic grow for reasons Mitch couldn’t discern. He gave Danny a few more minutes and then squatted in front of him so they could talk face to face.
“What’s wrong, Danny? It’s just an old beat up pickup.”
Danny was almost in tears. “I can’t tell. He said he’d hurt everybody if I did.”
At those words, Mitch’s emotions became a powder keg ready to explode. He was still trying to thread the pieces together when the sheriff joined them,
“What if I guaranteed I’d keep everybody safe? Could you tell me then? Because I promise no one is going to hurt anyone else in your family.”
“But he said…”
Jim gently took the panicked boy’s face between his hands. “I promise, Danny.”
He nodded slowly. “Okay, if you promise.”
Danny gave each man a piercing look before continuing. “That’s the pickup the man drove who took me.”
“Are you certain?” the sheriff asked.
Danny nodded slowly as he studied the side of the pickup. “Yeah, that rust patch that looks like Texas–it’s the same.”
Both men studied the oddly shaped rust formation before their eyes met.
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