Tech worked three days a week, assembling toy models for a hobby shop off Marietta Square. It was just something to keep his hands busy. Rhodes circled the Square three times searching for it, then spent fifteen minutes to find parking.
When he finally stepped into the store, he found Tech immediately. A nook at the back of the store was partitioned off with velvet ropes. Beyond them, Tech sat at a large table. Rush played softly from a stereo behind him. Rhodes watched as he arranged minuscule bits of castle out by pattern, then set to work painting a dainty figure. The chemicals in the paint must have been burning his nose, because he sniffled.
“What is this going to be?” Thrace asked, although it was obvious.
Tech peered at him over his magnifying glasses. “Ah,” he grunted, recognizing him as the deputy. “A castle. Late medieval. This, I suppose, is the damsel in distress.” He stared at the figure, forgetting Rhodes was there.
“What’s distressing her?” He pulled the old man back. “Is there a dragon?”
“A man, I suppose. I have an… evil wizard here somewhere.” He sifted through a box of rejected figurines, then turned back to the little girl in his hands. “There would have to be some kind of magic, of course. Otherwise, I imagine this damsel-in-distress business would get boring. Eventually, she would get tired of it and just run out the front door!” He smiled at the deputy, but his eyes were pained.
Rhodes smiled back; The old man could not possibly be so naïve. “Either magic, or he could keep the front door locked.”
“I suppose that works just as well,” Tech sighed with a shrug. He lowered the figurine onto its back and picked up his paintbrush.
Sniffing, Thrace skimmed the models collecting dust along the walls of Tech’s nook: airplanes, historical buildings, epic battles, scenes from books and movies. His eyes landed on a box close to him. He reached in and plucked out a felt rabbit. He held his breath as he inspected it: The rabbit was made of tan felt with a yellow felt hat, marked with Sharpie to make it look like woven straw. It wore overalls cut from denim, most likely an old pair of jeans.
“Br’er Rabbit,” Tech said, making him jerk his head up. He pointed to the doll.
“Heather made this,” Rhodes said, then pursed his lips.
Missing the slip, Tech nodded. “That’s just a prototype. Lauri’s youngest has the other one. No… David… Second-youngest.”
“Can I…” Rhodes paused. He reached up to tug at the hair on the back of his head. “How much would you like for it?”
Tech snorted with a sad smile. He shook his head. “It’s not the store’s,” he said. “I don’t even remember how it got here.” He pointed at the models on the wall in front of him. “I must have used it in one of these scenes.” He stared at the rabbit, then rubbed his beard with the back of his hand and waved dismissively.
“Take it,” he said. “It’s best if…” He shook his head. “You can give it back to my granddaughter when this nightmare is over.”
Rhodes stared at the old man, rubbing his thumb over the front of the rabbit’s overalls. Tech would not meet his eyes.
“I will,” Rhodes said.