Hildreth entered his house, quickly unfastening the Bossman 550’s holster as he headed to his armory.
He set the weapon on the stainless steel table in the middle of the armory, turned around and pulled a handful of stakes out of the metal drawer below his display case.
I can do this. I can do this.
He set the stakes on the table, removed the Bossman 550 from its holster, and opened its back.
I can do this.
He put the stakes into the empty slots, tightened the strings, reset the hammer plates.
Maybe I shouldn’t have left her.
Maybe I should have stayed with her.
Maybe I should have…
He closed the back of the weapon.
What if she’s hurt?
It’ll be my fault.
What if that vampire changed her?
It’ll be my fault.
He pressed the heels of his hands against the sides of his head. “Stop. Stop. Stop.” Master Shinowa would kick me so hard right now, probably throw me into the display case. Have to get out of my head. Focus on what needs to be done.
He latched the weapon shut. “I can do that.”
I have to.
Hildreth dropped his torn jacket on the floor and grabbed another jacket from the hall closet. He zipped it up, put his weapon on his back, fastened the holster, and ran out the door.
He returned to where he’d left them standing — right in front of the Humongous Fungus store.
They weren’t there anymore.
I shouldn’t have left her.
Look for clues.
Look for her.
Hope that he left a trail.
“Arrgh! I don’t even know what I’m looking for.”
What is out of place?
What is different?
What doesn’t belong?
What belongs to Elsie?
Then, he saw it – a glimmer of gold touched by the streetlight’s glow. He walked over to it – a gold necklace with an ivy-twined heart.
His first instinct was to pick it up, but he stopped.
Was it dropped just randomly?
Or is there something more I’m supposed to see? A clue so I know which way to go?
What am I supposed to see?
He smiled as he saw it.
The chain was all coiled into a clump but the heart stayed out like a sore thumb.
And, like a sore thumb, it was pointing.
The bottom of the heart was pointing straight ahead.
Maybe it’s coincidence.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it.
He ran straight ahead until he found the bracelet laid out in a straight line.
And he kept on going.
Following breadcrumbs with thoughts of Elsie in his head and hope in his heart.
They were hard to see at first – the white tissues dotted in the white snow – but he saw them.
He followed them to the tube of lipstick, which pointed straight ahead and then.
No other clues.
No other markers.
Where are you?
He pulled out his cell phone and selected her name from his list of contacts.
Her phone rang.
He heard it ring.
Loud and clear.
He ran into the alley. “Elsie? Elsie!”
The phone was lying on the ground.
There were no other clues.
Elsie was nowhere in sight.