The Last Child
they’re always close. Even if they’re dead, they’re close.”
    “That’s not always true.”
    “But sometimes. Sometimes it is.”
    Hunt stood as well, and his voice came softly. “Sometimes.”
    “Just because you quit doesn’t mean that I have to.”
    Looking at the boy and at his desperate conviction, Hunt felt a great sadness. He was the department’s lead detective on major cases, and because of that, he’d taken point on Alyssa’s disappearance. Hunt had worked harder than any other cop to bring that poor child home. He’d spent months, lost touch with his own family until his wife, in despair and quiet rage, had finally left him. And for what? Alyssa was gone, so gone they’d be lucky to find her remains. It didn’t matter what happened in Colorado. Hunt knew the statistics: Most were dead by the end of the first day. But that made it no easier. He still wanted to bring her home. One way or another. “The file is still open, Johnny. No one has quit.”
    Johnny picked up his bike. He rolled up the map and shoved it into his back pocket. “I have to go.”
    Detective Hunt’s hand settled on the handlebar. He felt specks of rust and heat from the sun. “I’ve cut you a lot of slack. I can’t do it anymore. This needs to stop.”
    Johnny pulled on the bike but couldn’t budge it. His voice was as loud as Hunt had ever heard it. “I can take care of myself.”
    “But that’s just it, Johnny. It’s not your job to take care of yourself. It’s your mother’s job, and frankly, I’m not sure she can tend to herself, let alone a thirteen-year-old boy.”
    “You may
think
that’s true, but you don’t
know
anything.”
    For a long second the detective held his eyes. He saw how they went from fierce to frightened, and understood how much the kid needed his hope. But the world was not a kind place to children, and Hunt had reached the limit with Johnny Merrimon. “If you lifted your shirt right now, how many bruises would I see?”
    “I can take care of myself.”
    The words sounded automatic and weak, so Hunt lowered his voice. “I can’t do anything if you won’t talk to me.”
    Johnny straightened, then let go of his bike. “I’ll walk,” he said, and turned away.
    “Johnny.”
    The kid kept walking.
    “Johnny!”
    When he stopped, Hunt walked the bike over to him. The spokes clicked as the wheels turned. Johnny took the handlebars when Hunt offered the bike back to him. “You still have my card?” Johnny nodded, and Hunt blew out a long breath. He could never fully explain his affinity for the boy, not even to himself. Maybe he saw something in the kid. Maybe he felt his pain more than he should. “Keep it with you, okay. Call me anytime.”
    “Okay.”
    “I don’t want to hear about you doing this again.”
    Johnny said nothing.
    “You’ll go straight to school?”
    Silence.
    Hunt looked at the clean, blue sky, then at the boy. His hair was black and wet, his jaw clenched. “Be careful, Johnny.”
     
     
     

CHAPTER FOUR
     
     
    People were not right. The cop had that part straight. Johnny had peered over more fences and into more windows than he could count. He’d knocked on doors at all hours, and he’d seen things that weren’t right. Things that people did when they thought they were alone and no one was watching. He’d seen kids sniff drugs and old people eat food that fell on the floor. He once saw a preacher in his underwear, hot-faced and screaming at his wife as she cried. That was messed up. But Johnny was no idiot. He knew that crazy people could look like anybody else. So he kept his head down. He kept his shoes laced tight and a knife in his pocket.
    He was careful.
    He was smart.
    Johnny did not look back until he’d gone two full blocks. When he did turn his head, he saw that Detective Hunt still stood in the road, a distant speck of color next to a dark car and green grass. The cop was still for an instant, then one arm rose in a slow wave, and Johnny

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