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Friday, July 15, 2011

Fiction Friday: One More Time, Chapter 17


CHAPTER 17 - MAY, 2008 CE – THE CAR IS FOUND

Paul gave up hope of finding Sarah alive in her car, and the thought depressed him more than he could have thought possible before she disappeared. But he had to find closure. Maybe if there were a funeral or memorial service, he might stop expecting her to walk through the door—but they had to find her to do that. Otherwise, it would remain an open investigation until she could be declared legally dead. Or maybe she was still around somewhere. His heart couldn’t accept the notion of her being gone forever.

Early May is one of the nicest times of year in the Valley of the Sun, 80s or 90s for the high, 60s and 70s at night. Paul rose early one cool Saturday morning and thought it would be a great day for a drive. He remembered Sergeant Beulah’s admonition to restrict driving to the Wickenburg to Tempe areas. Bummer.

Okay, then, maybe I could take another drive along the route Sarah usually took to work and hike around a bit, too. This time I’ll wear comfortable shoes—the dress shoes I wore for work weren’t cut out for walking in the desert. Better take my walking stick—lots of diamondbacks on the move looking for mates this time of year, and they tend to be a little grouchy with other critters—except a rattlers of the opposite sex, anyhow.

There were a few places along the way where a small gold Taurus could go off the road and be difficult to see from the highway. There was one place in particular that drew him, downstream on the Agua Fria River after it passed under the Carefree Highway. The river wasn’t flowing deep now. He could at least eyeball it. There were several other small creeks and gullies, but they were less likely. Usually, they only ran for brief periods after rainstorms, and then went dry again. Not nearly as deep as the Agua Fria, either. It hadn’t rained in a few weeks now, so he should be able to see a car. He might need to hike some distance down the river. If a car went into that one when it was running full, which it was when she disappeared, the car could be carried downstream for a mile or so.

Paul made several stops along the way to the Agua Fria crossing on State Route 74, but just as he thought, there was no trace of a car or wheel marks going off the highway near any of the gullies or creeks.

He pulled off the highway at the entrance to Lower Lake and parked beside the road in a wide spot. He took the walking stick out of the back seat and put his water bottle and his cell phone into holsters on his belt. Several cars passed before he could cross to the south side of the highway. It’s sure a lot busier than it used to be before they built the new dam. It’s been twenty years since the construction on the New Waddell Dam and power plant was completed. Lots of pickups pulling boats going to Lake Pleasant and then towing them home again. Except for the ones that rent docking spaces.

He was glad he had the walking stick not ten steps off the highway. A Gila monster took offense at his stick and snapped his jaws at the tip. For a slow-moving big lizard they could turn amazingly fast, and their bite was poisonous. Paul gently urged the large black and orange lizard off to the side, and it obligingly ambled off to the right of the path, stopping to sun itself in a bare section of dirt.

The only snake he saw was a five-foot long red racer, for which Paul felt grateful. Rattlers weren’t his favorite animals. Some javalinas trotted away from the river when they saw him, and several jackrabbits took off, bouncing high every few jumps to see if he followed. Normally, all this wildlife would have made Paul smile, but his mood was grim. He hiked for about an hour south along the Aqua Fria, but didn’t see anything that even faintly resembled a car in the riverbed.

He hiked back discouraged. He bent over to retie a loose shoelace, and that was when he saw it.

Under the bridge, the sun glanced off a mirror or something shiny. His heart froze. Could that be her car? He got as close as he could, but some water still flowed and mud was nearly as deep as the water. He couldn’t get in a position to see anything. He would have to call the sheriff’s office again. He pulled the cell out of the holster. Hmm. No Service. He shrugged and hiked up to the road.

This time, the cell showed three bars. He punched the buttons and hoped Sergeant Beulah would answer, but she was off on weekends. A Lieutenant Tony somebody took the call. Paul didn’t catch the last name, and he was too excited about his find to ask him to repeat the information.

“Listen, Tony, I’m Paul Johnson. There’s an ongoing investigation in your department to find my wife, Sarah, who’s been missing since April 8. I’ve been hiking from State Highway 74 downstream on the Agua Fria, and I think I might have found something. I can’t get out into the river, but it looks like there’s something that might be a car under the bridge.”

“Wait just a minute, Mr. Johnson. I’ll check your file—the computers are running a little slow this morning.” After a pause, the Lieutenant continued. “Yes, I see the investigation. We’ll send a team out there. Would you please wait there for them?”

“Yes. I’ll be at the edge of the highway on the south side.” Paul wiped his forehead and hoped they wouldn’t be long.

Paul hiked up to the edge of the highway and sat on the guardrail. A half hour later a patrol car pulled up. He led the two officers to a place downstream of the bridge where he had caught sight of the mirror-like gleam. The sun was no longer in a position for the reflection to be obvious, but Paul pointed, and they took out their binoculars and located what he saw.

“You could be right, Mr. Johnson. We’ll get a team out here to check it out. I’m not sure when we will be able to get one set up here, probably sometime today. You might as well go on home. We’ll call you with our findings.”

The officers led the way back to the patrol car, where one of the officers called the find into their office. Paul crossed the highway, got into his car, and drove back home to wait for their call.

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