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Sixty-two

Peachy surprised April by traveling five blocks south. She crossed Strawberry Fields, sniffing the hard-packed end-of-summer grass in a state of deep concentration, oblivious to her trainer grasping the end of her leather leash and the detectives following fifty yards behind. Strawberry Fields was separated from Sheep Meadow by the Seventy-second Street transverse. Just before she came to the crosstown road, lightly trafficked at this hour, she suddenly swerved east toward the lake. There, she traveled around the bottom finger, the southernmost tip of the lake north to Wagner Cove, stopping once to raise her head and sniff the air.

Trotting along behind them, April felt a little lightheaded in the cool evening air. She knew that whenever John went on a search and rescue with the dog, he always took several thick meat sandwiches and Snickers bars with him for energy. The dog didn't need more than a few handfuls of dry dog food and a whole lot of water a day. And, of course, her treats for incentive. People running four, five, ten miles in a few hours, however, needed much more than that.

In the station house April had thought of the flashlights, the vests, radios, telephones, Velcro restraints, plastic cuffs, but she'd never considered the need for food at all. It was a common failing of hers. She didn't like eating the pizza and sweet, high-fat foods the other detectives and officers were always eating on the job.

No matter what the conditions, she always relied on her body to sustain her until there was time to locate food worthy of her palate. It wasn't always a wise policy. Last night around one a.m. she'd eaten very well. This morning and today, she'd had practically nothing. Around one, someone had handed her a donut, the official food of the Department. Then she'd drunk strong tea without milk and sucked an Altoid late in the afternoon. Now it was after nine. Her mouth felt furry and her stomach cried for food, but she wasn't thinking of food. She was thinking of Maslow Atkins, the missing man.

She started off at a brisk pace, power walking, and pumped for the hunt. John's SAR suit and Peachy's orange necklace radiated a ghostly glow in the darker patches of park between lampposts. With a storm coming and almost no one around, the park felt huge. Eight hundred and forty-three acres. Mike paced along beside her. Neither had anything to say, but the energy between them was electric. They had their rhythm now. Hunting together, they could walk all night if they had to. April could hear Woody a few paces back, unused to using his feet, breathing hard through his mouth.

Suddenly Peachy stopped. John stopped, and they stopped. The beautiful terrace of Bethesda Fountain was to their right. The east bank of the lake was to their left. The dog lifted her large head, sniffing the air as if lost. Her body was tense, uncertain. John opened the scent bag and let her bury her head in the pillowcase. When she was finished rooting around in it, she dropped her head and charged up Cherry Hill to Bow Bridge.

They were now mid park at Seventy-second Street. Above them was thirty miles of woodland Ramble, Belvedere Castle, and two more bridges. To the east was Center Drive and Literary Walk. If they stayed in the mid section of the park, between the east and west sides, and traveled south, they would skirt Wollman skating rink. But Peachy headed north across the Bow Bridge into the Ramble. She followed the path as it veered up the slope. Immediately between the path and undulating rock was a stand of trees. Lampost #7413. April's heartbeat accelerated. Six months ago just north of the castle, a mentally ill homeless woman had been found strangled to death. She didn't want to discover Maslow had suffered a similar fate.

After ten more minutes Peachy faltered, lost again. She stopped, turned around three times, sniffing the air. Then, keeping the lake on her left, she found lamppost #7523, another block north. There, a large tree with a double trunk that split off again to form a third trunk held her interest for a while. She stuck her head close to the deeply grooved bark. The tree bordered the water and was surrounded by hard-packed ground. April wanted to approach, but Zumech waved her back.

"How are you doing, querida?" Mike spoke suddenly.

"Okay. I'm thinking we should have more people out here."

"How about we give the dog a few more minutes?"

The wind had picked up, agitating the leaves all around them and snaking April's hope. They had no real hint of where Brandy and David had gone. They could be anywhere. The dog looked confused, and now April doubted their brilliant idea of coming here. Peachy had brought them many blocks east of the place where they'd found Pee Wee this morning. It now seemed that working the tracker at night with a storm kicking up and David's scent as their guide-when they were really searching for Maslow-might be the stupidest idea she ever had. She didn't want to say that to Mike, however. They stood in the dark while the weather deteriorated around them and the dog sniffed the tree.

After what seemed like an eternity, Peachy lost interest in the tree and plunged south again. She retraced her own steps to Bow Bridge, crossed it, and this time took the east path toward Bethesda Terrace. It was better lighted here. April moved her feet, worrying about the time and thinking in her heart they'd made a big mistake. The wind was blowing like crazy, whipping branches around. The park was empty, and now April could see the presence of CP officers, safe and dry in their vehicles. On the park roads and off the roads, unmarked units had begun to cruise, on the lookout for Brandy and David. But the Ramble was deep and thirty miles long; people hid in the foliage there all the time. They'd have to get out of their units if they wanted to help. April put the thought out of her mind.

Ahead of them Peachy was traveling dead east now. She crossed the Bethesda Terrace, jogged around the fountain, and ran up the stairs to the Seventy-second Street crosstown drive. They had done a thirty-five-minute detour. Now she was hurrying toward Fifth Avenue and the East Side. This was way out of the way, far from where the cars were parked and where April and Woody had responded to the 911 call two nights ago. If Peachy had the scent, it now looked as if David might be headed home. He lived on Sixty-fifth Street and Park Avenue. Brandy lived on Seventy-fifth and Park Avenue. Maybe the two kids had come out, then gone home again when the weather worsened.

April checked her watch. They'd been out over an hour. It felt like four hours. She was sweating now, was tired and beginning to despair. Suddenly Peachy veered south once again, toward Fifty-ninth Street. She picked up her pace and ran down the Mall toward Literary Walk, then took the Center Drive south. In twelve minutes at a dead run, they neared Fifty-ninth Street and April could hear the comfortable clack of horseshoes on the pavement as a line of buggies headed home before the storm. She stopped for a moment to catch her breath. It looked as though they'd lost him.


Sixty-one | Tracking Time | Sixty-three