Watching Scott struggle under the hood of the car, Kari sighs as the Louisiana sun heats up the vehicles interior. Of all places to break down, it would have to be in the middle of Cameron Parish. Nothing around for miles but marsh and mud. Opening the door and stepping out into the two lane highway, Kari didn't bother looking for traffic. There wasn't any. Who in the world would want to come down to this armpit of the world?
"Did you find out what's wrong?"
Scott looks from under the hood at his young wife and smiles.
"No, not yet. But I will eventually. Then we'll be at sitting at Dad's drinking lemonade and laughing. Don't worry honey."
Kari shakes her head as she looks up the long, deserted highway. This was to be the first time she was to meet Scott's father. An oilfield worker in the swamps of Louisiana. She'd left the comfort of Dallas to drive the long hours to meet her father-in-law and see where Scott had grown up. It had been a nice trip up to this point. Now, they were stranded.
Looking out over the marshland, Kari couldn't help but admire the primeval beauty. Being an artist, she'd always looked for the beauty in everything. Green swamp grass covered the area for miles. White egrets stood poised on the edge of waterways hunting for their dinner. Seagulls squawked overhead after their flight from the coast. Off in the distance, the derrick of an oil rig could be seen reaching into the sky.
"You know honey, this is really pretty country. I'm glad I brought my supplies. I think I'll paint a scene of your home while we're visiting your Dad."
Scott moves from under the car's hood. Grabbing a rag, he wipes the grease from his hands as he looks around.
"You think it's pretty? Only an artist would say that."
Kari moves over to Scott and gives him a big hug. Feeling his body against hers, she smiles.
"It's gorgeous honey. How's the car going?"
Scott shakes his head.
"I'm no mechanic Kari. We'll have to see about getting a tow and putting it in the shop when we get to Dad's. Any luck with the cell phone?"
Kari shakes her head.
"None whatsoever. I keep getting no signal."
Scott turns and looks out over the marsh.
"Well, someone will come by and we'll hitch a ride from them. Until then, we'll just have to sit here and wait honey. I'm sorry."
"That's okay Scott. I'll grab my pad and do some sketching. I really like the way it looks out here."
Scott laughs as Kari runs to the trunk of the car and sorts through their luggage.
Looking up and down the road, Scott sighs at the non-existent traffic. Gazing back to the marsh, he eyes the driftwood laying on the banks of the canals.
"Kari, over there! That's a gator. Why don't you sketch that?"
Kari jumps as she comes running with the pad and pencil.
"A gator? I've never seen one in the wild. I'd love to draw it!"
Closing the trunk, Kari hops onto the car and begins to sketch.
"Wow! That's a big one. He must be 6 ft long if he's an inch."
Scott moves over to watch Kari work. They'd been together for 4 years before getting married. Even now, Scott loved to watch Kari's hands create the art she was so well known for.
"That's looking great honey. But he's not that big. If you go out farther, you'll see alot bigger gators than that. He's just a scrounger."
Kari stops the charcoal and looks up at Scott.
"That's okay. I'm fine drawing this one. I don't care to see the big ones."
Scott laughs as he turns back to the driver's door. Glancing up the road, he notices a flash in the afternoon sunlight.
"Someone's coming our way Kari. I'll flag them down and we'll be off. FInish up."
Over his shoulder, Scott listens to Kari mumble. Once she got started, Kari always hated to rush her artwork. To her, perfection was a middle name.
Watching the vehicle grow closer, Scott walked up the highway waving his grease covered rag. Maybe this was someone he went to school with. It would be nice to see a high school buddy again.
Staring up the road, Scott watches the outline of a pickup truck begin to form. Scott just grins. He had forgotten that most people in this area drove pickups. He and Kari could ride in the back if the cab was full. That should give her a new thrill.
Watching the truck pull over to the side of the road, Scott breathes a sigh of relief. Thank God they're not just driving by. Turning to Kari, he yells over his shoulder.
"Let's go honey. It looks like we've got a ride."
Waving at the pickups driver, Scott walks over to the cab grinning.
"Thanks for stopping. The car broke down. My wife and I would appreciate a lift to the nearest phone if you don't mind."
The driver of the truck smiles at Scott as he leans out the window.
"Dat's no problem. We about to set the traps for the night and heading by ol'Beauregards filling station. He's got a phone. I'll drop you off dhere."
Scott smiles as he hears the heavy cajun accent. Remembering his friends from school and how they use to have problems in the huddle during the football games trying to get him, the newcomer, to understand what they were saying.
"Hurry up Kari. It's time to go."
Watching Kari throw her work into the backseat of the car and run towards him, Scott turns to the driver.
"We'll just hop in the back. You've already got someone up front."
The driver shakes his head and slaps the man beside him.
"Get in the back boy. Let these folks ride up front."
Scott watches as the young man exits the cab and run to the bed of the pickup.
"You two sit up here. That's my boy. He be fine sitting back there with the traps. He can open the back window and talk all he wants. Kids do that nowdays."
Scott smiles as he grabs Kari's hand and leads her to the passenger side of the truck. The door left open, Kari waits on Scott to enter first.
"Okay, I'll straddle the stick. You sit next to the door."
The driver laughs as Scott's long legs move on either side of the stick shift.
"Son, you got longer legs than a damn crane. Just give me room to shift and we'll make it where we're going."
Scott spreads his legs as the driver begins to shift the trucks gears. Behind him, the window to the bed of the truck slides open.
"Hiya, I'm Oscar. How you folks doing?"
Scott looks over his shoulder at the young man sitting in the bed of the truck.
"We're doing better now Oscar. Thanks for giving up your seat."
Smiling, Oscar proudly displays his few remaining teeth.
"Dat's no problem. I like sitting back here with the traps. The wind feels good."
Scott looks at the traps sitting in the back of the truck. Big ones. These guys are after gators. The lines, hooks and rope are the only thing used to catch gators. Remembering his big brother, Mike, trying to catch him a baby gator he laughs.
"You guys going for alligators?"
The driver nods.
"Yep, we got a license this year. So we're legal. You know about gators?"
Scott nods his head.
"Yea, sure do. My family moved to Cameron when I was 14. My big brother tried to catch me a baby gator before he left for the army. The funny part was, when he pulled the line up, he had a big one and it chased him clear through the swamp. He broke a baseball bat over it's head to slow it down until he found a fence pole to sit on."
Oscar and the driver burst out laughing.
The driver looks over at Scott and Kari.
"So you two from Cameron?"
Scott smiles and shakes his head.
"I am. My wife is from Dallas, that's where we live. We're coming down for her to meet my Dad. James WIlkerson. You know him?"
Oscar yells in the back window.
"Yea, I know dat James. He's not too bad a man. Remember him Dad? He fired cousin Reuben off the rig for taking those wrenches."
Oscar's Dad nods.
"Yea I know him also. Pretty decent fellow from the meetings I've had. Good man."
Looking over at Kari, Scott grins. It's nice to be home. Even with the car breaking down, the trip was worth it. Taking Kari's hand, Scott squeezes it in reassurance.
"So, what you guys using to catch the gators with?"
Oscar points to an ice chest leaning against the gate of the truck.
"Red meat mainly. Whatever we can get that is fresh. They like dat."
The driver smiles and looks over at Scott.
"The fresher and bloodier the better. It attracts the bigs one. That's where the money is."
Scott shakes his head in understanding. Mike had told him that also. He'd studied trapping before trying to get him a pet that he insisted on having.
"So how much you getting now for a big gator if you don't mine me asking?"
The driver spits his tobacco out the window before he answers.
"Dhey say about ten grand for one good size one. The french are in town this year buying all the hides for dheir purses and things. A man will do anything for dat kinda money. Especially when you can kill around 20 this year."
Scott's eyes widen.
"Twenty this year? It use to be 12."
The driver grins and nods at Scott.
"Yep, use to be. Now you can make alot more money. You just got to know where to find them and have good bait.
"Well it sounds like you've got it all worked out. You using fresh cows for bait?"
The driver looks at Scott and smiles.
"Sure am. Unless we can find something better."
Feeling Oscar breathing over his shoulder, Scott grips Kari's hand and stares at the passenger's door.
"What's better than fresh beef? Gators love it."
Looking back at Oscar, the driver grins and nods.
"Show him boy."
With a flash of his hand, Oscar pulls a knife out of his boot and grabs Scott's head. Scott reaches and opens the passenger door of the pickup. As the door swings open, Scott pushes Kari out into the marsh. The bright flash of the blade slashes across Scott's throat.
Feeling his life ebb, Scott watches Kari fall into the canal beside the highway. Looking down, he cries as the blood soaks the shirt that Kari had picked out for him to wear to meet his Dad. Raising his head, Scotts eye dim as he stares at the driver. The gold and purple LSU cap perched on his head, the driver smiles at Scott.
"Like I said boy when we picked them up. Fresh bait. Now let's go get the bitch."
The last fleeting thought Scott has is of Kari. Thrown into the swamp, she's now on her own. He can no longer protect her. If she survives, she'll never be the same.
The slamming of the gavel against the wooden block ends the record breaking bids.
"Winning bid is by the French Consortium. The amount is $15,000 US."
Kevin looks over at the old trapper who won.
"Woooooooooooooooooohooooooooooooooooooooo! You broke the record Andrew. You owe me a beer mon ami."
Andrew grins at Kevin. He'd taught Kevin how to trap. Not all the secrets of course. But enough so the star quarterback would make more than a decent living.
Kevin walks over to Andrew and gives him a firm handshake.
"You taught me well Pops. When you going to teach me how to catch the big ones like that?"
Andrew laughs at Kevin and shakes his head. No matter what you taught him, Kevin would never learn.
"I told you before boy. You have to watch the gators. Dhey grow and you watch. Dhen, when dhey big enough, you grab'em. Dat's not too hard for a jock like you right?"
Kevin laughs as he slaps Andrew on the back.
"No Pops. That's not hard at all. But I did good today with the added quota. Monica is going to love this paycheck."
"Well boy, just remember what I taught you. Watch them grow, be careful and always use fresh bait. Gators are smarter than you think. They know what they like."
Kevin nods his head and grins.
"I remember Pops. Now about those beers."
Shaking his head, Andrew shoves the cap back on his head and goes to the bar. This was his night. He'd made more than anyone ever had in the history of trapping. The beers were on him.
The phone in Sheriff Ricky Boudreaux's office seemed to never stop ringing. The local newspaper, the Dallas Times and Herald even the New Orleans Picayune were ringing every hour for an update of the progress.
The couple hadn't been missing but over a day. Yet, the boys father was an oilfield executive and very well liked in the community. People were wanting to help in the search.
Sheriff Boudreaux re-opened the map of the local marsh. Shaking his head, he stared at the marks of swamp grass and canals.
"There's no way Scott would go into that. Something else happened. He would never leave the highway. There is no need for a seach."
Ricky knew Scott from school. He'd graduated with his brother, Mike. Ricky left Cameron and joined the Army the same as Mike did after graduation. Ricky to the MP's, Mike to the Special Forces. Together, they'd watched Scott grow up and become the attraction of most girls in Cameron.
Now, his high school buddies brother was missing, along with his wife. RIcky stared at the map praying for answers.
As the door to his office opened, Ricky raised his head. Noticing one of the deputies Ricky wondered what the interruption could be now.
"Sheriff, there's a long distance phone call for you from someone claiming to be Mike Wilkerson. He's insisting on talking to you about the missing couple. Says he's an old friend of yours?"
Ricky lets out a deep breath as he nods to the deputy. He'd been expecting this call. Now he had to face up to it.
"Put him through Junior. That's Scott's brother. Him and I graduated together."
Waiting on the call to be transferred, Ricky stares at the map. There is no way Scott would of headed into the swamp. Something else had to happen.
As the phone buzz's his office, Ricky grabs the headset.
"Mike? It's Ricky, long time no see. How you been?"
The voice on the other end of the line sounds different than he remembers. Ricky can hear the worry.
"I'm fine Rick. I'm calling to fine out what you have on Scott. Dad called me earlier. The only one I knew to turn to was you. What's up?"
Running his hand through his balding hair, Ricky sighs into the phone.
"Mike, we've got an abandoned car. Right now that's it. There are some tire tracks across the street, but we have no idea how old they are. Other than that, we're seaching the marsh and surrounding areas. If they're out there, we'll find them."
The silence on the other end of the phone speaks volumes.
"Ricky, I've got a flight into Lake Charles tomorrow morning. I've contacted some friends. They're going to come in and investigate."
Feeling more than alittel perturbed, Ricky forces his voice to be pleasant.
"Mike, we've got it under control. If you want I'll meet you at the airport tomorrow. You're Dad doesn't need to be driving that far with everything going on. We can talk then if you like."
"Okay Rick, thanks. My flight arrives at 9:30 am. I'll see you then. Thanks for everything bro."
Rick hangs up the phone and stares at the receiver. Mike was coming back into town. That didn't mean trouble, but with his brother missing it meant that Mike was going to run things. He was going to find Scott and Kari no matter who's toes he stepped on.
Rick straightened himself and stared at the pictures on his office wall. Most were from school. A few from the military. But those didn't seem to impress the locals as well as school hero photo's did.
The majority showed him and Mike together. He as the blocker and Mike as the receiver. Together they'd been quite a pair. Rumour even had it that their senior year they'd been responsible for winning the state championship. Ricky patted his gut as he stared at the old photo's. That was along time ago. Times had changed.
The military photos show Ricky as an MP. His armband displayed proudly as he pullled patrol. One photo showed him and Mike posing together. Mike had visited Ricky in Korea. It was in 79 during an operation one of the yearly Operation Spearheads. Mike had appeared on the barracks steps with his green beret slouched over his eye and smiled.
For Ricky, that was when he realized his high school buddy had changed. He would still joke around and drink beer with the best. But he watched everyone warily. He was no longer the young wide receiver who would run out and make plays happen.
Now he was coming home to search for his brother. Ricky stared at the picture alittle longer.
"I don't want to imagine what the search entails buddy"
Grabbing the maps in his large hands, Ricky exits the office and locks the door. Signing out at the small desk, Ricky hops into his truck and drives home.
Kari moves the marsh as the water laps around her legs. Her tears had for Scott had stopped hours ago. She'd cried as much as anyone could every cry. The last image of her love was him pushing out the door of the pickup as Oscar grabbed him from behind. He protected her to his end.
Looking around the mud, Kari wanders through the marsh. Not having any idea of North or South, Kari wanders aimlessly. At night, she stops to rest. Listening to the croaks of the gators and the croaks of the bullfrogs. But something else is out there. Something far more dangerous. Oscar is following. The driver let him out.
Kari is now on her own.
Sitting at the small airport sipping coffee, Ricky turns to watch the Piper aircraft roll up to the one gate. As the few passengers climb down the ladder, Ricky has no difficulty picking out Mike. At 6 ft, Mike towers over the other passengers. His slim build and erect stature gives away his military background.
Rising from his chair, Ricky heads towards the gate as Mike grabs his bags from the attendant. Raising his head, Mike smiles at seeing his friend approach.
"Ricky, you're looking good man. It's good to see you again."
Ricky grasp Mike's hand as he slaps him on the arm.
"Good to see you also Mike. How was the flight?"
Mike turns to look at the small plane as the crew begins to refuel.
"Not bad this time. No turbulence. I've always hated flying in those small things. I'd feel alot better if they'd just give us chutes when they take off."
Ricky laughs as he remembers a Christmas pass where he boarded one of the small Pipers in New Orleans with Mike. It was dark and windy. You literally sat behind the pilots and looked over their shoulders. As the turbulence would hit, the small Piper would drop a few feet. Not far, but enough to make your stomach dance. The co-pilot had looked back and grinned at the passengers offering his confidence. When they landed, Mike was the last one to get off the plane. Even then, his feet weren't too steady.
"Ricky, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine, Jim Abbott. Him and I work together in Dallas."
Turning, Ricky looks at the aging man. Jim holds out his hand as he smiles. A smile that doesn't reach his eyes.
"Sheriff, it's nice to meet you."
Ricky takes Jim's hand and is surprised by the firmness in the man's grip. Old, but not weak.
"It's nice to meet you also, sir."
"Jim brought some equipment to use Ricky. It should help out in the search."
"Good. We can use all the help we can get. I've got the car parked out front. We can get started back to Cameron as soon as you're ready."
Mike grabs his bags and looks over at Jim. Nodding, Jim grabs his gear and follows Ricky and Mike towards the front exit.
Throwing their luggage and equipment into the trunk of the squad car, Mike hops in the back seat as Jim sits upfront with Ricky.
"So Rick. How's Dad doing?"
Ricky looks in the rearview mirror at his friend.
"Not real good Mike. He and Norma are worried stiff. I've never seen your Dad this worried before"
Mike runs his hand through his close crop brown hair. Looking out the window, he stares as the scenery changes from scattered houses to the long marsh.