"Can you take us to where you found the car Ricky? We've still got alittle sunlight left."
Nodding his head Ricky realizes the investigation is about to get intense with Mike there.
"Will do bro. We've got the car at the courthouse if you want to look through that. We've been all through it. Nothing there to fell us anything."
Jim looks over at the Sheriff, his grey hair cropped close to his scalp.
"So what have you got sofar Sheriff?"
Ricky reaches down to the folder laying on the front seat. Handing it through the wire cage, he offers it to Mike.
"Give it to Jim, Rick. He's a retired Fed. He'll know more about what you've got there than me. I'm just a grunt for him who does the outside work. He's the brains of the partnership."
Ricky turns and looks at Jim. A retired Fed. That meant FBI in Ricky's book. Or perhaps CIA, Mike had been involved with them in the past also. Jim takes the file and flips through the documents.
"Looks like you've covered it all Sheriff. It sounds like you're looking at an abduction by someone passing by?"
Ricky smiles as he drives the car down the long highway.
"That's what I figure. Scott would never try to cut through the marsh to get to Cameron. Not this time of year anyway. The gators and snakes are out. Besides, it's too long a walk even in the winter. The car is broken down, so they had to flag someone down for help. The greasey rag shows he was working on it."
Jim nods his head and looks back at Mike.
"That sounds like a likely scenario to me Mike. Scott's not stupid, someone had to pick them up."
Mike continues to stare into the passing marsh.
Jim looks back at Ricky.
"So what's being done by the state Sheriff?"
"We've notified them and given them Scott and Kari's description. They've put out a statewide alert. With Texas so close, we've notified the FBI and asked for their help. Just in case they cross the stateline. But they want proof before they come in."
Jim smiles as he looks at the window.
"Don't worry. I'll take care of the FBI. They'll be here tomorrow Sheriff."
Pulling the squad car over to the side of the highway, Ricky turns and looks at Mike.
"This is where we found the car. I figure it had been here about twelve hours. That's when the last deputy passed this way before the next one found it. Your Dad had called and said Scott was running late and how that wasn't like him. So I sent a couple deputies out in each direction. One along the beach leading to Texas, the other this way up to Lake Charles. That's the only way he could of come in. Jadon found the car sitting right there."
Mike jumped out of the car and walked towards the spot Ricky was pointing at. Jim came up behind.
Looking around the general area, Jim grimaced as he stared at the rocks lining the side of the highway.
"No way to get any tire prints from this Mike. Both sides of the road are lined with rocks."
Mike walks over to the opposite side of the road. Leaning down, he runs his hands through the white shale.
"They were picked up here. Look at the different colors of the shale. The ones I turned over aren't as bleached. The same for over there, and there. Those are large areas where the stones were flipped when the vehicle left. I'd guess a truck. Especially knowing how trucks are owned by everyone in the area. Front wheel drive I'd say Ricky. "
Ricky squatted beside Mike staring at the white stones. Sure enough, two areas had a grouping of stones that were darker than the others. Much darker. Someone had parked here and pulled off. That someone had to be whoever picked up Scott and Kari.
Ricky looked over at Mike.
"You never forgot how to track did you Mike?"
Mike shakes his head and stares into the swamp.
"No, never did Ricky. Growing up out here you learn the basics. Being in the Army, I learned from the best."
Ricky stood and wiped his hands on his dark brown pants. Looking down at Mike, he felt the difference in his old high school buddy. Learning from the best? The Army taught tracking to their Special Forces. Not to everyone. But even as a teen, Mike could track the marks of a snake through the marsh.
Mike stood and looked up the highway towards Lake Charles.
"I'll come back tomorrow morning and walk the side of the road. Maybe Scott put up a fight somewhere along the way and there will be some fresh marks. If not, it's up to you and Jim to do what you do best. I just can't sit home with Dad not doing anything while Scott is missing."
Ricky watched his friend slump as he headed back to the squad car. Looking over at Jim, he noticed the concern in the older man's eyes as Mike leaned against the car.
Walking across the highway, Ricky approaches Jim.
"Thanks for the help with the Feds. They're really needed."
Jim turns his gaze towards Ricky and nods.
"No problem. I've known Mike and Scott since they were kids. Before their parents moved to Louisiana. Their Mom use to work as a secretary at the bureau. Now, Mike works with me. I grabbed him as soon as he got out of the Army and I had opened my own investigation business. He's good at what he does. As for Scott. He's like my own son. That's how much this means to me Sheriff."
Ricky nods his head in understanding.
"Well, just call me Ricky or Rick. We'll find them I'm sure."
Jim turns and heads for the car with Ricky. With his hands tucked in his pants pockets, Jim looks out over the wet marsh.
"Ricky, tell me something. The scenario we have is not good. Do you know the odds of finding Scott alive?"
Ricky stops and stares at Jim. His hands feeling sweaty as he plays with the keys.
"I know they're not good Jim. Especially for Scott. But Kari may have a chance."
Jim nods and turns back towards the car. Hopping inside, Ricky turns the motor as they drive away. Looking into the rear view mirror at Mike, he notices the tears form in his dark eyes. Tomorrow, he's going to be riding up and down this road. Looking for any sign. Any glimmer of hope. Ricky couldn't blame him. Mike was a grunt. He had to be doing something. There was no way he was going to sit around waiting for the state police to call and give updates. He had to feel useful.
Feeling the water soak into her sneakers, Kari moves through the marsh. With each step, her small frame sinks into the swamp. With a sucking from the bogs, she lifts her foot to take another step.
Around her, she listens to the sounds of the marsh. Just yesterday she had commented to Scott about it's beauty. Now, she listened for it's danger. Last night she found she couldn't sleep. The sounds of the night hunters keeping her on edge. The croaks of the frogs and gators. The buzz of the mosquito's. All sent her a warning to stay awake.
Looking at the setting sun, Kari knew she would have to sleep tonight. She had no idea how many days it would take to walk through this murk. But her stomach was reminding her she was hungry. Taking sips of water from the canals, she had hoped to quell the hunger. But not anymore. Kari was thin enough as it was, she couldn't afford to lose anymore weight.
Turning to look back over the marsh, she watched for Oscar's bobbing head. She'd seen it twice since Scott had shoved her from the truck. Her body landing in the mud as it slide into the canal. Her last vision of Scott was his eyes glazing over from the lost of blood.
The last time she had seen Oscar, Kari had laid in the tall grass and edged herself forward. When she peeked over the top of the weeds, Oscar could not be seen. She immediately headed deeper into the swamp. It had been hours since Kari had seen him. Now she has to eat and find a place to sleep.
Looking around, Kari eyes a small mound protruding from the mud. The grass growing high over the small hill, she edges her weary body to the haven.
Slipping into the grass, Kari looks between the reeds to search for Oscar. Nothing. Turning her eyes to the canal, she watches the bugs scurrying across it's surface. Reaching down, she snares a waterbug in her petite hand. Opening her hand to watch the insects, Kari mumbles to herself.
"What was it Mike had said? Bugs are full of protein and help you survive in extreme circumstances."
Kari remembers sitting there tossing a kitchen towel at Scott's brother after he said that. Mike was different from Scott. Brothers, yes. But Scott joked around and enjoyed life. Mike was quiet. His eyes always seem to show pain. The two were much different. But Scott loved his big brother. He had told Kari about Mike's past. At least what he knew of it. That wasn't much. Mike seemed to live in a secret world.
Feeling her stomach rumble again, Kari stared at the bugs in her hand.
"Well Mike. I guess I know how you feel now."
Opening her mouth, Kari empties her hand. The water helps wash the food down. Swallowing hard, Kari reaches into the canal for another serving. As the rumbling stops, Kari slips into the reeds of the hill. Laying down, her body curls into a ball.
As the sun sets and darkness envelopes the open marsh, Kari listens to the sounds of the night. One sound in particular she listens for is the slogging of Oscar through the mud. When she hears that, she knows her time is about over.
Sitting in his office looking over the nights reports, Ricky raises his head as Mike and Jim knock on the door.
"Morning you two. How about some coffee?"
Mike smiles as he looks at the pot.
"Now is that the good stuff Rick or you using the weak coffee now?"
Ricky laughs as he motions to the receptionist to fix a couple cups of coffee.
"The good stuff Mike. It'll put hair on the bottom of your feet."
Laughing, Mike and Jim grab the chairs in front of Ricky's desk.
"So, any news from the state Rick?"
Ricky looks at Mike and shakes his head.
"Not a thing bro. How's your Dad doing?"
Mike looks over at Jim and sighs. The older man sitting patiently as he takes the cup of coffee from the receptionist.
"Not good Rick. And Norma is still the bitch she's always been. God, I don't understand why Dad married her after the divorce."
Ricky smiles at Mike across the desk. Mike had never liked Norma from day one. Of course, not too many people did. But Mike actually hated the woman. His falling out with his Dad had been about the woman. For years, Mike and his Dad never spoke to each other. Mike was not about to apologize for saying Norma looked like a bulldog and could strike oil if she wore high heels. One thing about Mike, he always told you what he thought when he was mad. Otherwise, he was quiet. You just didn't want to piss him off.
"What about your Mom Mike? Is she coming over?"
Mike runs his hand through his hair and sighs as he looks at Jim.
"Yea, she's flying in this afternoon. She's pissed at Dad for not calling her and letting her know. She's going to get a room at the motel. Jim has his secretary flying in with her. Could you spare someone to go pick her up Rick? If not, I'll go. I'm just planning on searching the highway today."
Ricky nods his head as he turns to look at Jim.
"We'll get her back home Mike. Don't you worry. Jim, what about the Feds? You need to make a call?"
Jim sips his coffee as he shakes his head.
"No, already done it. There will be two agents here by noon. The state is sending a couple investigators also. We're setting up a command headquarters in the motel."
Ricky sits up in his chair and stares at Mike and Jim.
"A command headquarters in the motel? This is my jurisdiction. I'll be damned if you two are running things."
Ricky stares at Mike and Jim. His blue eyes moving from one man to the other.
Mike sets his coffee on the desk and stares back at Ricky.
"Ricky, we know it's your jurisdiction. We're not stepping on your toes. I just want everything close to me. I can't have that here in your office. My little brother is missing and I'll do whatever I have to do to get him and his wife back. Jim has set everything up. We've taken four rooms at the motel and that's our command and control. That's the brunt of it. I'm sorry."
Throwing the report across his desk, Ricky slams his open hand onto the desk as he stands.
"Damnit Mike. You're a private citizen. You're not with the government anymore. You can't do this."
Mike stares at Ricky.
"Rick, I not only can. I have. Assign who you want to our enterprise. We need the local help. But I'm not going to sit here waiting on state trooper reports. We want answers. And, we'll do whatever it takes to get them. Either you're with us or on the outside. It's your choice."
Ricky stares at Mike dumbfounded. Feeling the case slip from his grasp, Ricky slips back into his chair.
Turning to look at Jim, Ricky watches the older man sip his coffee.
"Jim? Can you excuse Mike and I a moment if you don't mind?"
Jim nods as he stands and moves to the door. Shutting the door behind him, Jim goes to talk with a deputy.
"Okay Mike. What the fuck is going on?"
Mike looks across the desk at Ricky.
"It's like I said Rick. We're setting up a command station in the motel."
"That's not what I mean Mike. You know I'm the Sheriff for the parish. You and that retired agent can't come in here and set up things. The agents from the bureau and the state will be stationed here. This is not the military. You will work under my jurisdiction."
Mike slams his cup down on Ricky's desk. The brown liquid spilling over the papers.
"Ricky here's the facts. The Feds are here because we called them. The state investigators are here because we had the Feds pressure them. You've done nothing but sit back and wait on state troopers to solve your case. Not anymore. If you have a problem with that then call the bureau."
Turning towards the door, Mike hesitates as he turns to face Ricky.
"Look Rick. This is my little brother. I'm calling in all favors for this one. So is Jim. Work with us and we'll give you all the credit for your re-election bid. Just don't work against us."
Ricky stares at Mike as he leaves the office. He knew his friend had connections, but not like this. His case was dissolving before his eyes. In a small town like Cameron, everyone would know the truth. But perhaps, with Mike's help, he could be re-elected. All he had to do was follow their lead. If they screwed up, it was the Feds fault, not his. Ricky and his men were just following orders against his will.
Resting his chin on his steepled fingers, Ricky watches Mike and Jim leave. He'll follow their leads. This could prove to his advantage either way.
Kari felt the warmth of the sun on her face as she slapped at the mosquito's. How long had she slept?
Raising her head to peek above the reeds, Kari scans the marsh. No sign of Oscar.
Feeling her stomach rumble, Kari looks back at the canal. Not yet. Maybe tonight.
Standing on the mound, Kari turns to run over the peak. Suddenly, the sound of a rifle echoes in the distance. The round splattering mud a few feet away. Falling to the mud, Kari squirms across the hill.
Oscar was within range. She needed to stay low. Kari was not about to become a target.
Hopping in his Dad's truck, Mike throws the vehicle in reverse. Backing out of the driveway, he switches on the radio. Country music fills the trucks cab. Shaking his head, Mike flips through the channels. Everything in this part of the world was country. Not that Mike didn't like country music, he'd heard enough of it growing up. Waving to his Dad and Jim, he pulls the truck onto the highway. Finding some rock on the radio, Mike cranks up the volume. Laughing, he shakes his head as he forgets the idea of leaving the radio on the rock station for his Dad.
Mike sighed as he thought of his Father. He was looking haggard. Obviously he hadn't had much rest since Scott had come up missing. His curly grey hair was long and uncombed. His eyes were staring blankly out of their sockets. He just looked blankly at Mike when Jim told him about the coming help and what was arranged.
When Mike was about to leave that morning his Dad was sitting there drinking coffee. Mike patted his father on the back and headed out the door.
"Mike. Get my boy back. Do whatever you have to do, just get him home."
Mike turned and saw the tears in his Dad's eyes.
"Don't worry, Dad. I'll find him."
Looking out into the marsh, Mike prayed Jim and Ricky would have some luck these next few days. Mike still had about 30 minutes before getting to the spot where Scott and Kari's car had been found. Not that he expected to find anything. Mike just needed to get out and feel useful. Looking for clues at a scene was what he did. Mike just needed to do something.
Andrew stared at the pole bending into the still canal. Smiling at his luck, he cocks the rifle and edges his way forward. Jerking on the pole, Andrew feels the line drawn tight against the bottom of the bayou.
"Ewww Weee! This gator is big. I sure glad I put the da big rope on dat pole."
Grabbing the spare rope looped over the end of the pole, Andrew walks it back to his marsh buggy. Feeling the mud under his rubber boots, Andrew cast a glance back at the canal.
Reaching the buggy, Andrew wraps the rope around the front mounted wench. Tugging on the rope, the pole releases it's burden. The slackened rope immediately tightens.
Smiling at his luck, Andrew turns the motor of the wench on. Watching it begin to pull the catch from the canal, Andrew raises his rifle and aims at the rope.
The whining of the wench begins at the same moment the canal's smooth surface erupts. A reptilian tail slashes across the surface, it's jaws locked tight on the bait. Turning over to drag it's catch down, the gator struggles for his life. The rope twist tighter as the ancient reptile struggles.
With the wench struggling in his ears, Andrew watches as the gator struggles onto the bank of the canal. Seeing Andrew, the gator opens it's wide jaws. Andrew grins as he sees the hook firmly set in the gators throat. The gator snaps his gaping jaws and begins to move towards his foe.
Watching the gators eyes, Andrew slowly squeezes the trigger. With a loud crack, the rifle releases it's answer to the gators roar. Ducks warming in the nearby ponds leap into the air. The seagulls over head decide to look elsewhere for their meals. The gators tail twitches as his nerves refuse to die. Then he's still. His cold body absorbing the sun's warmth for the last time.
Andrew lowers the rifle and smiles.
"Now dat fella has got to be 13 ft at least. Damn I can get dose big'uns."
Setting the rifle in the buggy, Andrew grabs the knife from his boot and approaches his catch.
"Damnit, dis is the part I hate. That's what Oscar is for. Dat boy better hurry back here. I'm getting alittle low on bait."
Looking out over the swamp, Andrew begins to worry about his son.
Kari watches the canal's water rolling past her. So far she had stayed out of Oscar's sight. Now facing her was a running canal about twenty feet wide. Kari stared at the water. At least it would cool her down for awhile. Looking up and down the banks, Kari's brown eyes search for her tracker. Nothing. Maybe she could swim downstream for a while and lose him. Kari had seen that done in the movies.
Sliding into the warm water, Kari moves into the middle of the canal. As the flow of the water carries her down, she remembers the alligator she'd seen sitting on bank by the car. With a new burst of energy, Kari strokes for the opposite bank. Feeling the mud under her feet, Kari plants herself into the canals floor and pushes herself towards the bank.