No siren shrieked in the distance, and I didn't expect to hear one. In our special town, the police answer calls with utmost discretion, without even the quiet fanfare of flashing emergency lights, because as often as not, their purpose is to conceal a crime and silence the complainant rather than to bring the perpetrator to justice.
"He's only five, only five," Lilly said miserably. "Chris, what if this is that guy on the news?"
"The serial killer. The one who...burns kids."
"That's not around here."
"All over the country. Every few months. Groups of little kids burned alive. Why not here?"
"Because it isn't," I said, "It's something else."
She swung away from the window and raked the yard with the flashlight beam, as though she hoped to discover her tousle-haired, pajama-clad son among the fallen leaves and the curled strips of papery bark that littered the grass under a row of tall eucalyptus trees.
Catching a troubling scent, Orson issued a low growl and backed away from the planting bed. He peered up at the windowsill, sniffed the air, put his nose to the ground again, and headed tentatively toward the rear of the house.
"He's got something," I said.
Lilly turned. "Got what?"
When he reached the backyard, Orson broke into a trot.
"Badger," I said, "don't tell them that Orson and I were here."
A weight of fear pressed her voice thinner than a whisper. "Don't tell who?"
"I'll be back. I'll explain. I swear I'll find Jimmy. I swear I will."
I could keep the first two promises. The third, however, was something less meaningful than wishful thinking and was intended only to provide a little hope with which she might keep herself glued together.
In fact, as I hurried after my strange dog, pushing the bicycle at my side, I already believed that Jimmy Wing was lost forever. The most I expected to find at the end of the trail was the boy's dead body and, with luck, the man who had murdered him.
Copyright © 1998 Dean Koontz.
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