Still trying to remembering how to get the breath in and out of his lungs, Cole saw the flashing police lights reflected in Matthew’s widening eyes.
In the space of a heartbeat, Cole knew the cops were here for the kid and that Matthew was about to bolt. Cole still didn’t know why he believed in this kid. Why the hunted look in those eyes reached into his gut and made him want to help. Matthew opened his mouth, but Cole cut him off.
“Hide. I’ll get rid of them.”
“You don’t know—”
“I don’t care. But if you disappear, I swear to God I will put the cops on your ass myself.”
The pounding at the door jolted Matthew into motion, he disappeared into the storeroom. Reminding himself not to let nervousness get him babbling again, Cole opened the door to the two uniformed officers.
“Can I help you, officers?”
“We’re just checking around.” The officer who spoke put his hand on his flashlight. At least it wasn’t his gun. “We received a call about a disturbance in this area. This is the only place open.”
“Actually I’m closed.”
“We saw your lights on. Is this your store?”
“I’m the owner. I was just doing some inventory after hours.” Cole waited for the cops to ask for ID, curling his tongue back in his mouth to remind himself not to let unneeded excuses come pouring out.
“Have you seen anyone around?”
The officer who’d remained silent pulled out a paper and handed it to Cole. “Have you seen him anywhere?”
Cole braced himself for the sight of Matthew on a wanted poster, but it was just a copy of a photograph, and it wasn’t Matthew. The dark-haired boy looked to be about Matthew’s age. Glad to be able to answer truthfully, he said, “I’ve never seen him before.”
“We could take a look around the place, make sure no one broke in.”
“That won’t be necessary. I have an alarm system. And—and a guard dog.”
The officers looked surprised and one stepped over the threshold, looking into the store.
“He’s very well-trained. That’s why you didn’t hear him bark. I saw your lights and told him to be quiet.” Shut up, Cole.
The policemen exchanged a look. “We’ll check around back for you. Hang on to that picture and call 911 if you see him.”
“Why? What did he do?”