Suddenly, the feeling of being in a revised Mayberry popped and shriveled up like a shredded balloon. If Chester, who looked so jolly and friendly, could be a liar and untrustworthy, what did that say about other people here? Who could she trust if Brooklyn and the sheriff could both vanish, especially when Brooklyn was expecting Nikki to come get her?
"I'll go check into the hotel and come back, check if there's any news," she said. "Thanks."
"No problem, darling." Chester winked at her and nodded like a genial old grandfather.
Nikki felt like his eyes were digging holes in her back until she had stepped outside and moved beyond the glass doors. She shuddered. Maybe Chester was mental, or just slow but functional? Shouldn't he have at least asked for her name, since she was looking for the sheriff and Brooklyn? Shouldn't he have figured that she would have a cell phone, so she wouldn't need a hotel room number where she could be reached? Besides, no matter how small this town was, Nikki seriously doubted anyone could check into a hotel room at barely nine in the morning.
Gray whined and leaped ahead of her, tugging her down the sidewalk. He led her to a telephone pole, where a man was using a manual staple gun to attach a legal-size sheet of neon pink paper to the pole. Nikki stayed a few steps back from him, waiting until he finished, glanced at her, then headed down the sidewalk. He had a sheaf of those pink sheets tucked under his arm. Nikki stepped up to the pole to see what was on the sheet. The color sparked a sense that she should know what was on the poster already.
The picture was of a little girl, with "Lost" in big letters that spanned the entire width of the paper, above and below the picture.
A chill washed over her, then her heart skipped a few beats and started racing.
That was the little girl she had seen just a few hours ago, wandering through the meadow by the side of the road. She was positive.