Old Silas Garcia stumbled from the convenience store restroom yanking his concho-studded belt tight. His left hand clutched a scrap of paper. Lurching toward the cashier, failing to latch the belt’s fastener, he braced the counter with his right hand. Gravity stacked his pants beneath his knobby knees revealing red boxer briefs festooned with yellow polka dots.
The matronly clerk grabbed a fly swatter, raising it chignon high. Connie’s tolerance for mischief was minimal on a good day.
“No! Connie,” Silas exclaimed. “Don’t.” Yanking up his jeans he thrust the paper at her. “This was stuck in the mirror.”
Chewing gum furiously Connie read the message scrawled in blue ink on the back of a receipt for pepperoni pizza: Knapped Help red trk.
Her plucked eyebrows arched little tents. “A curly-haired blonde ‘bout ten years old was in there ‘fore you. She … uh, they were in a red truck like Rooster’s. Didn’t buy anything, either. Her dad, least I thought he was, said she had a tummy ache”
“You better call Sheriff Patterson, Connie. They head toward Lampasas?”
Connie nodded, eyeballing the Dr. Pepper clock above the foot-long hot dogs rotating on the grill. “’Bout ten minute ago – no, more’n that. I’m not rightly sure. Others been traipsing in and out.” Connie picked up the phone.
It wasn’t five minutes before the top law-dog arrived, heard the details, put on his specs, read the note. “I better use my cell,” he boomed decisively. “That squirrel might be monitoring our channels. They do that, you know.” Yanking a phone from his belt he punched numbers.
“Shut up and listen Buster. If you spot a pickup like Rooster’s with a white man and a blond girl, about ten, could be older, stop ‘em. The kid left a note in Connie’s restroom when they stopped for gas. What …? Just a minute, Connie’s saying something.” He ducked his chin, listening.
“She said they didn’t get gas, but the kid might have passed some. She had a tummy …. Aw, Connie. What the …? She thinks they headed south on 281. Keep your eyes peeled and … You what? You just met ‘em? Buster, stop ‘em! The girl’s note said she was kidnapped. I’m headed your way. 10 – 4.”
Buster flipped on the bubble lights, screeched a U-turn and stomped the gas pedal. He almost tailgated the truck before realizing the culprit was pulling over. Exiting the patrol car, Buster hitched his belt under his overhanging belly and eased forward, sideways, his hand on his weapon.
“Something wrong, deputy? I wasn’t speeding.”
Buster squinted at the man; tall, thirtyish, dark sunglasses, wearing a Ranger’s ball cap, tanned hands on the leather-wrapped steering wheel. The girl was peeking over the top of pink-frame sunglasses.
“Are you okay, Miss?”
“No.” She ducked her head.
“Step out of the car, mister.”
After the driver exited, Buster spun him around and cuffed him, ignoring his pleas for an explanation.
“Okay, Missy, you’re safe now. “You left that note back at the store, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” she replied, softly.
The alleged kidnapper spun, struggling against Buster’s grip. He looked through the window nailing Melody with a penetrating stare. “What did you do? Tell me.”
“Shut up, Mister. I’ll ask the questions. Missy, why did he kidnap you?”
“Kidnapped! Melody’s my daughter.”
“I told you to …”
“Officer, take these cuffs off, please. I’m taking her to my mother’s for a week. I’ll miss my flight to Norway if I can’t get on down ...”
“I’m sorry Daddy,” Melody wailed, “I don’t want to stay with Grandma.” She threw her sunglasses on the floor board and dug fists into her teary eyes.
Buster scratched his bushy mustache with a stubby finger, looking from one to the other.
“I don’t want him to go,” Melody sobbed. “Mama died. I don’t want Daddy to leave me.”
“You’re not kidnapped?” Buster asked.
Melody hesitated, and then shook her head no.
Buster removed the cuffs. “I’m sorry about your mama, Melody. Promise me you won’t be leaving any more kidnap notes and we’ll forget about this.”
Melody nodded, teardrops falling into her lap.
Buster was watching them pull onto the highway when Sheriff Patterson slid to a halt scattering road-edge gravel, his hot motor pinging.
“That warn’t them?” the Sheriff asked, obviously disappointed.
“It was them alright, Buster said, hitching up his trousers. “But it wasn’t a kidnapping. It was just a lonely little girl practicing to be a writer.”
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