A smile slowly appeared on the giant's rubbery face. "Yeah." He put the truck into gear, eased forward, and joined the flow of traffic leaving the mall.
Peter McDill stood in the McDonald's Playland like a statue in a hurricane. Toddlers and teenagers tore around him with abandon, leaping on and off the foam-padded playground equipment in their sock feet. The screeches and laughter were deafening. Peter searched among them for his mother, his eyes wet. In his right hand he clutched the carved locomotive Huey had given him, utterly unaware that he was holding it.
The glass door of the restaurant opened, and a woman with frosted hair and wild eyes appeared in it. She looked like his mother, but not exactly. This woman was different somehow. She looked too old, and her clothes were torn. She pushed two children out of the doorway, which his mother would never do, and began looking frantically around the playground. Her gaze jumped from child to child, lighted on Peter, swept on, then returned.
"Mom?" he said uncertainly.
The woman's face seemed to collapse inward upon itself. She rushed to Peter and crushed him against her, then lifted him into her arms. His mother hadn't done that in a long, long time. A terrible wail burst from her throat, freezing the storm of children into a still life.
"Oh, dear Jesus," Margaret keened. "My baby, my baby, my sweet baby..."
Peter felt hot tears rolling down his cheeks. As his mother squeezed him, the little wooden train dropped from his hand onto the pebbled concrete. A toddler wandered over, picked it up, smiled, and walked away with it.
Reprinted from 24 Hours by Greg Iles by permission of Putnam Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 Greg Iles. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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