Brad leaned against his patrol car raising binoculars to his eyes. Scanning up and down the purple-hued borrow-ditch overgrown in Eryngo and into the afternoon gloom beneath the cedars beyond, he but saw no sign of the dog. “Idiots!” he thought. I’ve got better things to do than kill a ghost dog.
“Sheriff, I can’t take it anymore” Ms. Mattie had complained. “I don’t know who shot that hound, or who he belongs to, but they crippled him. When I drive to town he’s usually limping along in the ditch looking half starved. First time I saw him his lower right foreleg was dangling and flopping about. Now it’s missing. He must have snagged it on something or gnawed it off. He’s scared of people, won’t even eat the food I’ve left for him.”
“Well, if he isn’t bothering anyone and you can’t catch him, let him be.”
“That’s just it. He’s almost caused two head-on’s. People are looking to catch a glimpse of that poor devil so much they aren’t paying attention to their driving. You got to get him, Sheriff, before someone gets killed.”
Brad had his cell phone in hand to report in when Sheriff Johnson called him. Brad listened intently, then replied, “Let me say it back, make sure I got it right. ‘Four year old Shellie Burris disappeared; might have wandered off or been kidnapped.’ I’m about two miles from the Burris place, Sheriff. I’m on my way.” Brad ended the call, and raced to the Burris farm, lights flashing and siren blaring.
Six hours later the response to Shellie’s disappearance was growing in intensity. Sheriff Johnson was monitoring a command post in the Burris house to intercept a telephone call from a kidnapper, if one came. A seedy-looking stranger had been seen nearby about the time Shellie went missing. Roadblocks were posted.
Mrs. Burris was in her bedroom, sleeping off a sedative. She had been too hysterical to help except to say Shellie was wearing a blue play-dress and black tennis shoes. Mr. Burris was threatening to kill the lowlife that took his daughter. He said Shellie was scattering chicken-feed beside the barn the last time he saw her. Confusion reigned.
Radio and television announcements were asking everyone to watch for a four year old girl in a pale-blue dress, possibly in the custody of a Caucasian male, age mid-twenties, with shoulder-length brown hair. He could be driving a white, mud-stained panel van with a cracked windshield.
Sheriff Posse members on horseback were scattering over the adjacent terrain using flashlights, shouting Shellie’s name, hoping she had only wandered away. The Posse, Boy Scouts and other volunteers would begin combing the wooded hills around the Burris place at sun-up. A prayer vigil was being held at Faith Community Church.
Having done all he could, Brad headed home to catch a few hours sleep. The cool night breeze washing through the open window felt refreshing. Baaruuuuhhhh…Baaruuuhhh. The mournful sounds of a baying hound were song-bird clear, and close. Stopping the patrol car, he grabbed a six-volt flashlight and got out.
Pointing the powerful beam in the direction he thought the baying had come from he …Jumping Jehoshaphat! Could it be? “Shellie, is that you?” A bedraggled little girl in a torn blue dress stood clutching the neck of a Bluetick hound. The dog’s eyes gleamed gold in the reflected light.
“Yes” she sobbed. “Don’t make me go home!” She shielded her eye from the light.
Brad lowered the beam, noticing as he did that her left eye was swollen shut and her face had bruises. “Okay, Sugar. Why not?”
“Daddy slapped me. And he shot Roy.”
“Is that Roy you’re holding?”
“Roy is Mr. Carter’s dog. Daddy caught him eating our eggs. I peeked and saw Daddy hiding Roy in the garden. He slapped me and said I didn’t see nothing. I ran away, but Odis found me.”
Brad moved closer. “Who is Odis?”
“This is Odis, silly” Shellie said, flopping one of the hound’s big ears up and down with her hand. “He only likes me. Daddy shot Odis, ‘cause he killed a chicken.”
“Shellie, I’m going to take you to a safe place. Okay? And we’ll find Odis a home, too.”
“What’s that?” Shellie asked, pointing at Brad’s badge. “I’m hungry. What’s your name?” Shellie reached for Brad’s outstretched hand.
Odis arched tan eyebrows, and limped into the darkness.
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