I listened hard. I took a deep breath, exhaled, then held my breath. I heard a faraway voice.
I imagined him further down the slope with a broken leg. Or worse.
I followed the voice through the trees and around a bulge in the finger, certain that I would find him, but as I went over the hump I heard the voice more clearly and knew that it wasn't his. The Game Freak was waiting for me in a nest of stringy autumn grass. Ben was gone.
I called as loudly as I could.
No answer came except for the sound of my own thundering heart and the Queen's tinny voice. She had finally found Modus, a great fat giant of a man with a bullet head and pencil-point eyes. She launched kick after kick, punch after punch, screaming her vow of vengeance as the two of them fought in an endless loop through a blood-drenched room.
"Now you die! Now you die! Now you die!"
I held the Queen of Blame close, and hurried back up the hill.
time missing: 00 hours, 21 minutes
The sun was dropping. Shadows pooled in the deep cuts between the ridges as if the canyon was filling with ink. I left a note in the middle of the kitchen floor: STAY HEREI'M LOOKING FOR U, then drove down through the canyon, trying to find him.
If Ben had sprained an ankle or twisted a knee, he might have hobbled downhill instead of making the steep climb back to my house; he might have knocked on someone's door for help; he might be limping home on his own. I told myself, sure, that had to be it. Ten-year-old boys don't simply vanish.
When I reached the street that follows the drainage below my house, I parked and got out. The light was fading faster and the murk made it difficult to see. I called for him.
If Ben had come downhill, he would have passed beside one of three houses. No one was home at the first two, but a housekeeper answered at the third. She let me look in their backyard, but watched me from the windows as if I might steal the pool toys. Nothing. I boosted myself to see over a cinder-block wall into the neighboring yards, but he wasn't there, either. I called him again.
I went back to my car. It was all too easy and way too likely that we would miss each other; as I drove along one street, Ben might turn down another. By the time I was on that street, he could reappear behind me, but I didn't know what else to do.
Twice I waved down passing security patrols to ask if they had seen a boy matching Ben's description. Neither had, but they took my name and number, and offered to call if they found him.
I drove faster, trying to cover as much ground as possible before the sunset. I crossed and recrossed the same streets, winding through the canyon as if it was me who was lost and not Ben. The streets were brighter the higher I climbed, but a chill haunted the shadows. Ben was wearing a sweatshirt over jeans. It didn't seem enough.
When I reached home, I called out again as I let myself in, but still got no answer. The note that I left was untouched, and the message counter read zero.
I phoned the dispatch offices of the private security firms that service the canyon, including the company that owned the two cars I had already spoken to. Their cars prowled the canyons every day around the clock, and the companies' signs were posted as a warning to burglars in front of almost every house. Welcome to life in the city. I explained that a child was missing in the area and gave them Ben's description. Even though I wasn't a subscriber, they were happy to help.
When I put down the phone, I heard the front door open and felt a spike of relief so sharp that it was painful.
Excerpted from The Last Detective by Robert Crais Copyright© 2003 by Robert Crais. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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