A jeep screeched down Highway 161. A gaunt man was at the wheel. He spotted the Amber Alert flashing on a billboard: a child with a red cowboy hat had been kidnapped from his home.
After the Seventh Gulf War and the ensuing food shortage due to climate change, children were getting kidnapped. Some never came back, some were exchanged for ransoms, some were dropped off randomly at rest stops. The kidnappers had their own organization: the KKLF.
The state had been without rain for seven years now. The crops were dry, the prices for vegetables and fruit exorbitant. Rich people had their own black market, which allowed them to continue living in luxury. Was this the beginning of a famine? Would only the rich and the gangsters survive?
The gaunt man wondered how much of a ransom he could get out of the kid’s parents. The kid wore a red felt cowboy hat and leather shorts; his parents had means even in these times of penury.
So why not find the kid and live off the bounty of the ransom? He hadn’t eaten in two days. By the time he became rich he would have died of starvation.
Red cowboy hat, red cowboy hat, what did that remind him of? His grandmother reading him a fairytale to put him to sleep. Little Red Riding Hood! She was tricked by the Big Bad Wolf. The child has to be plump.
He stopped at every rest stop on the way. No luck. His vision was getting blurry. He got off the highway and slept for a while, arms and head on the steering wheel.
The gaunt man heard a little voice. “Would you draw me a wolf, please?”
The man blinked. Here he was: a boy wearing a red cowboy hat and holding pencils and paper. The gaunt man took the paper and pencils and sketchily drew what he thought looked like a wolf.
The kid looked at it critically. “His ears are too small and his tail too long,” he said.
“Okay,” said the man. “I’ll try again . . .”
This time he drew an animal with bloody fangs and red eyes.
The kid laughed, and said, “That’s cool.”
It was all very well, but the man was hungry. He focused on the child.
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