Who kidnaps a kid only to give the police instructions on where to conduct a manhunt?
He could still feel the laminated piece of white paper buried under the packing materials and knife on the kid’s bed.
“You’re doing it again,” Donny said in a slightly scolding tone.
“What?” asked Ralph. He finished off the water and crushed the flimsy plastic against his leg.
“You’re thinking that something’s off about that note.” Donny opened a fresh bottle of water, drank a good bit of it, and poured the rest over his graying black hair.
Unable to deny it, Ralph just shrugged. “What kind of criminal leaves notes these days? That’s for low budget films and cheap paperbacks.”
“The kind of sicko who leaves a knife tucked up in a kid’s bed,” Donny replied, matching Ralph shrug for shrug. “We’re all agreed that this guy’s a few cards short of a deck, but don’t let it get to you.”
A high-pitched, female scream disintegrated any sort of reply Ralph could possibly imagine. Exchanging a grim look with Donny, Ralph tossed the useless water bottle to the ground and ran toward the commotion. His breaths came in gasps, and he thought he might keel over from a heart attack at any moment. Nevertheless, Ralph forced himself to jog along in Donny’s wake.
Got to work out more. Got to eat less.
Ralph’s boot caught briefly on a tree root. He grunted and
stumbled forward into a small clearing. At first, he couldn’t see anything unusual. A bunch of people milled about in front of a tree like agitated ants.
Everybody babbled, and nobody heard anything.
The first real sound that broke through Ralph’s desensitized senses was a woman’s sobs. Knowing she would have some answers, Ralph weaved through the milling crowd toward the sobs.
A flash of white pulled Ralph’s gaze upward just as Donny gripped his right bicep hard. Ralph speared Donny with a glare before letting his eyes follow his friend’s line of sight up, up, and up some more until he finally saw a child’s body hanging from the tree.