His deeply wrinkled fingers left their prints on the dusty photo album and he bent double to study them after placing it on his coffee table. He could almost make out the fleshy peaks and valleys on its cover.
He chided himself for being a silly old man and opened the plain black album, its pages separating with the crack of plastic pressed together too long. The smile appeared on his lips instantaneously.
The first five pages showed pictures of him with his three closest childhood friends - Luke, Tyler, and Ted - at the beach when they were five. Ted and Luke were constructing a sand castle, their tanned faces scrunched up in fierce concentration, while he and Tyler prepared their assault. They’d wanted to use a ranged attack but their mothers had put a stop to that as soon as they realized what the piles of rocks were for.
Next came images from the following spring, telling the story of the construction of their prized tree house. The fathers had done most of the work, but the boys were shown wielding (plastic) hammers and carrying lengthy pieces of two-by-four, one at each end.
The man laughed at the sight of his younger self wearing a hardhat that very nearly rested on the bridge of his nose. His mirth was cut short by a rasping cough that caused his body to tremble violently and threatened to bring tears to his eyes.
He gave himself a few minutes to recover before pouring a stiff drink. He knew he’d catch hell from his wife when she smelled it on his breath, but he’d cross that prickly bridge when it appeared.
The pages and years continued to pass before his eyes. It was all there: the snowball fight of ‘49 that had lasted nearly a week before a winner was declared; the school scavenger hunt the four boys had won as a team in ‘53; and all the group Halloween costumes, from the set of crayons to the fire fighting crew drowning in oversized uniforms.
Easing the album closed, he sat back on the couch and released a long, soft sigh. There were other albums, one filled with pictures from the backpacking trip through Europe they took after college, another with more recent memories, but he left those on the shelf. He had seen enough.
The four of them had been through it all, or damned near close anyway. But now Ted had gone missing and the circumstances had been deemed suspicious. The cops had no suspects, no leads, no nothing.
Perhaps, the man thought as he reached for the phone, it was time for one last adventure.
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