Lucy came into the living room. She was wearing a black business suit over a cream top, but she was carrying the suit jacket; her pants were wrinkled from so long in the car. She was clearly tired, but she made a weak smile.
"Hey. I don't smell hamburgers."
It was two minutes after six. Ben had been missing for exactly one hundred minutes. It had taken Lucy exactly one hundred minutes to get home after we last spoke. It had taken me one hundred minutes to lose her son.
Lucy saw the fear in my face. Her smile dropped.
She glanced around as if Ben might be hiding behind the couch, giggling at the joke. She knew it wasn't a joke. She could see that I was serious.
"What do you mean, missing?"
Explaining felt lame, as if I was making excuses.
"He went outside around the time you called, and now I can't find him. I called, but he didn't answer. I drove all over the canyon, looking for him, but I didn't see him. He isn't next door. I don't where he is."
She shook her head as if I had made a frustrating mistake, and was getting the story wrong.
"He just left?"
I showed her the Game Freak as if it was evidence.
"I don't know. He was playing with this when he went out. I found it on the slope."
Lucy stalked past me and went outside onto the deck.
"Ben! Benjamin, you answer me! Ben!"
"Luce, I've been calling him."
She stalked back into the house and disappeared down the hall.
"He's not here. I called the security patrols. I was just going to call the police."
She came back and went right back onto the deck.
"Damnit, Ben, you'd better answer me!"
I stepped out behind her and took her arms. She was shaking. She turned into me, and we held each other. Her voice was small and guilty against my chest.
"Do you think he ran away?"
"No. No, he was fine, Luce. He was okay after we talked. He was laughing at this stupid game."
I told her that I thought he had probably hurt himself when he was playing on the slope, then gotten lost trying to find his way back.
"Those streets are confusing down there, the way they snake and twist. He probably just got turned around, and now he's too scared to ask someone for help; he's been warned about strangers enough. If he got on the wrong street and kept walking, he probably got farther away, and more lost. He's probably so scared right now that he hides whenever a car passes, but we'll find him. We should call the police."
Lucy nodded against me, wanting to believe, and then she looked at the canyon. Lights from the houses were beginning to sparkle.
She said, "It's getting dark."
That single word: Dark. It summoned every parent's greatest dread.
I said, "Let's call. The cops will light up every house in the canyon until we find him."
As Lucy and I stepped back into the house, the phone rang. Lucy jumped even more than me.
I answered the phone, but the voice on the other end didn't belong to Ben or Grace Gonzalez or the security patrols.
A man said, "Is this Elvis Cole?"
"Yes. Who's this?"
The voice was cold and low.
He said, "Five-two."
"Who is this?"
"Five-two, motherfucker. You remember five-two?"
Lucy plucked my arm, hoping that it was about Ben. I shook my head, telling her I didn't understand, but the sharp fear of bad memories was already cutting deep.
I gripped the phone with both hands. I needed both to hang on.
"Who is this? What are you talking about?"
"This is payback, you bastard. This is for what you did."
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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