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"Time to close shop, Chuck," announced a voice from the back room. Charlton lowered the steel shutters over the store windows, secured the back door, and locked the cash register. "When you're finished, you can leave," said the voice, it's redheaded owner appearing from behind the back room door.

"Bye, Frank," called Charlton as he exited the door. Charlton had worked as a salesman for a camping equipment store called, "Venture Outdoors" for the past three years. He enjoyed the work, and the pay didn't hurt either. Once in a while, Frank, the owner of "Venture Outdoors," would collect the names of a few people who wanted to go camping, but were too inexperienced to go by themselves. After each person had paid a nominal sum, Frank would furnish the required supplies. As Charlton for a guide, he would lead them to the best camp sights and instruct them in the do's and don'ts of outdoor survival. Depending on the humor of the city dwellers who were unused to "roughing it," the camping trip would last three to five days.

Charlton inhaled a deep breath of fresh Montana air and started his sports utility vehicle (SUV).

Back at the apartment, Charlotte was still consumed with her homework. The telephone rang, breaking into her concentration. It was the landlord reminding all the tenants to leave the light on in the hallway at night. There had been two break-ins lately, and the landlord attributed it to the fact that everyone kept turning off the hallway light at night, making it possible for thieves to skulk about in the dark. Charlotte promised she would pass the message on to her father and hung up the receiver. Before then, she hadn't noticed that he wasn't home yet. It was ten o'clock.

"Daddy got off work at five," she thought. "Maybe he went out with Frank and forgot to call," she reasoned. Charlotte called Frank, who said he hadn't seen Chuck since they closed the store. He told her not to worry.

"He's probably out having a good time somewhere and just forgot the time," said Frank. Charlotte muttered something in the affirmative and hung up. No matter what Frank said, it was not like her father to be this late. She grabbed her red windbreaker and headed out the door.

The sun had long ago retired behind the steep Montana mountains, leaving a dark blanket of black to cover the sky. Not even the moon could be seen tonight. Charlton looked up from the steering wheel. It was dark outside. He was parked on the side of the road. Where was he? None of his surroundings looked familiar. Charlton noticed his hands were trembling. He rubbed them together and started the engine. The dark trees whizzed by his window as Charlton made the long drive back home. He tried to reason away the thoughts in his mind.

"To much stress," he thought, "that's it. It has to be stress."

It was one in the morning by the time Charlton was back in front of his apartment building. After thinking up a reasonable excuse, he went in.

"Daddy, where have you been?" demanded Charlotte. "You had me worried to death!" Charlton gave his daughter a hug, which was not reciprocated.

"I was with Frank," he explained, "and just forgot the time. That's all. Nothing to be concerned about," he added, disappearing behind his bedroom door. Charlotte knew her father was lying.

Since father and daughter were close, this holding back of the truth hurt her more than she liked to admit. She knew she never told her father everything that was on her mind, but she always had the assurance that he would. Charlton shared everything with her.

"He's OK," she thought, "that's the important thing."

The next morning, both acted as if nothing had happened the night before. Charlotte kissed her father and went to school. Even though Charlton pretended that it was an ordinary morning, it was just that-- pretend. He had spent the night in wakeful fits, half afraid to admit to himself what he was thinking. Charlton called in sick, and made an appointment at the doctor's office for that afternoon.

Dr. Estrada was a short man with white hair that stuck out every side of his head, excepting the top. His small mustache sat perched on his upper lip as if to defy gravity. When children sat in his office, their thoughts would be momentarily diverted by the hypnotic movement of Dr. Estrada's cookie duster.

One look at Charlton's face told the doctor that he was dealing with a very concerned man. After the doctor did a general examination of Charlton, he led the patient into his office.
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