Reaching the shallow waters, she grabs the firm marsh grass and pulls herself onto the shore. Sliding herself into the reeds, Kari lays there. The sun absorbs the water from her jeans. Her designer shirt soaked and covered in mud. Raising her head, she scans the opposite bank for Oscar. Nothing.
Standing hunched over the grass, Kari runs through the mud and reeds. Still heading in the only direction she knows. Straight.
Ricky was shocked when he arrived at the motel. Jim was already there setting things up. A fax machine, computer with internet connection and multiple phone lines were now set up. A bulletin board had the map of Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas displayed. A red pin marked the spot where Scott and Kari's car had been found.
"Looking good Jim. Just like the Feds do it."
Jim turned and grinned at Ricky.
"Morning Sheriff. Any news come in last night?"
Ricky shakes his head. The reports from the state troopers hadn't said a thing this morning. His own deputies had pretty much given up, thinking the couple had been taken outside the parish.
"Not a thing. Where's Mike at?"
Jim opens a briefcase and places the folders on a table.
"He's gone to the scene. He wanted to do some scouting up and down the road today."
Ricky walks over to the map shaking his head.
"We've been through the scene a dozen times. He's not going to find anything there."
Jim smiles at Ricky.
"I'm sure you have Sheriff. But if anything can be found, Mike will find it."
Ricky turns to look at Jim. Noticing the coldness in the man's eyes Ricky feels a shiver run down his back.
"Jim, what exactly does Mike do for you? I know what he did in the Army. He was a sniper. That man use to live in the swamp growing up. But you're a private investigator now. Retired FBI. What do you need an ex-sniper for?"
Jim closes the briefcase and stares at Ricky with a mocking smile.
"Mike has other talents that were taught to him. Those are what I use. That's all you need to know Sheriff."
Ricky feels the ice in Jim's voice as he tries not to shiver.
"Okay. I won't ask. I'm going to head back to the office and check with the state troopers. You'll let me know if you learn anything?"
Jim nods his head and turns back to the files.
"Sure will Sheriff."
Ricky slides into the squad car and turns to the deputy driving.
"Let's go back to the courthouse. I've got work to do while these guys play around."
Nodding his head, the driver throws the car into reverse as he spins away from the rooms.
Ricky stares at the guestrooms now turned command headquarters. Within a few hours federal agents would be working out of there. This is going to get ugly.
Kneeling beside the road, staring at the turned rocks, Mike raises his head to the north. They went that way. Walking over to the canal that borders the highway, Mike studies the bank. No struggle here. Just old beer bottles and other trash. Mike runs his hand through his hair as he looks north.
Hopping back into the truck, Mike moves forward slowly along the edge of the road. His eyes searching the banks. Twenty-two miles ahead is a filling station. Between there and the crime scene if anything happened, Mike knew he would find it.
The knock on the door of the motel room startles Jim. He wasn't use to being disturbed when he was working on a case. Especially one so close to his heart. Slipping the 38 revolver out of the briefcase, he slides it into his belt behind his back. Approaching the door, he looks through the peephole. Two men, suits and ties.
Opening the door, Jim recognizes his brotherhood as if they were actually related.
"Mr. Abbott? I'm Agent Gibbons and this is Agent Taylor. We're here to give you a hand."
Jim smiles as his hand moves from behind his back.
"Come on in. You're early. But I'm not complaining."
Agent Gibbons smiles as he moves into the room. Studying the layout he's impressed by the setup. Jim Abbott had not lost his touch.
"You and my Father worked together a few times sir. He said for me to tell you hi."
Jim's face lights up as he remembers the younger agent's father.
"Tony Gibbons your old man? Damn! It's been ages since I've seen him. He and I did a couple electronic survelliance jobs on the mob back in the sixties. Fucking sticky, but we got it done. How's he doing?"
The young agent smiles at the man his father called a bloodhound.
"He's fine sir. What we got here?"
Jim motions to the files laying on the table.
"There's what the local Sheriff has given us, if you can believe him. He's a friend of Mikes. The victims brother. I'm not too sure how far I trust him though. These local politicians are after votes before anything else. He'd rather have this out of his hair with the election coming up in November. Mike's out looking at the crime scene now. He'll let us know if he finds anything."
Agent Gibbons raises an eyebrow as he picks up the file.
"You mean your man Mike? This is his brother missing? Damn!"
Jim nods his head.
"Yea. This is personal. I knew Scott and Mike both as kids. Now Scott's missing."
Thumbing through the reports, Gibbons nods his head.
"I don't blame you. I met Mike once. Cold man if you ask me, but good at what he does. Scott I was told had been accepted into the CIA this coming session?"
Jim nods his head.
"Scott holds a master in Russian language. He spent some time over in the East Bloc after it fell. He's a good kid. His wife Kari, is the sweetest girl you'd ever want to meet. She's naive to the world though. Lived too long with parents that spoiled her."
Handing the file back to his partner, Gibbons nods his head.
"Okay, fill me in on what you got. Then we'll let the Sheriff know we're here."
Walking over to the map, Jim begins to explain the situation to the agents. Standing there watching, the young agents are amazed at the professional approach of the older man now retired. He was back in his field. This was a time to learn.
Ricky was busy reading the weekly edition of the Cameron Pilot when the receptionist opened his office door.
"There's an Agent Gibbons on the phone for you Sheriff Boudreaux. Line four."
Ricky stares at the headlines of the paper. "Young Couple Missing"
Slamming the paper down on his desk he turns to the shapely young woman.
"Okay Melissa. I've got it, and get the paper on the phone. I want to talk with them."
Grabbing the phone, Ricky stares down at the newspaper.
"Sheriff Boudreaux here."
"Sheriff, this is Federal Agent Gibbons. I wanted to let you know we're at the motel and have set up headquarters with Mr. Abbott. We would appreciate the full cooperation of your office and any assistance needed. We're here to assist you in the search."
Ricky's mind screams at the intrusion of the agents.
"Whatever we can do to assist Mr. Gibbons. I've never worked with the feds before, but let me know what you need."
"We appreciate it Sheriff. Right now, I'd like to interview the deputy who found the car. Also, I'll need a couple deputies assigned to the command station."
Ricky looks at the desk outside his office.
"Sure thing Mr. Gibbons. I'll have the deputy over there as soon as he is able. I'll send two deputies over to assist you within the hour. I'll be there shortly to help you out myself."
"Thank you Sheriff. We are grateful for your help. Bye."
Hearing the click on the other end of the phone, Ricky slams the receiver into it's cradle.
"Damn feds come in taking over. This is my case! Now they want to use my deputies. Damn!"
Slinging open the door to his office, Ricky eyes the deputies gathered at the desk.
"Richard, Phillip! You two go the motel and assist the FBI in the missing couple case. That's the command headquarters now. Melissa? You got the newspaper on the phone yet?"
"Sure do Sheriff. They're on line one for you."
Ricky smiles as he reaches his desk and grabs the receiver.
"Hello Don. This is Ricky. I know you only print the paper once a week. But I've got some information on the Missing Couple case that'll make you sell more papers than normal. You want an interview?"
Listening to the editor on the other end, Ricky feels his re-election slip into his pocket.
Bringing the truck to a stop, Mike stares at the marks in the canals banks. Stepping from the cab, he hurries over to the mud. One long slide mark and two small feet leading away. Behind, two large feet from a heavy set man following.
Mike leans down and studies the tracks. The first small tracks are a small individual. The second are much heavier. But the sliding track is before the smaller footprints. Looking back, Mike stares at the white rocks. No steps there except for the heavier tracks leaving the rocks and sinking into the mud. Reaching into the small prints, Mike feels for moisture. Dry. At least a day old.
Stepping down the bank of the canal, Mike's eyes follow the two sets of tracks into the marsh. Following the prints into the marsh, Mike looks at the broken reeds.
"Somebody was in a hurry to run through this stuff that fast."
Leaning down to look at the broken reeds, Mike notices the drying on their edges. Just over a day old at most. Mike feels his heart skip a beat as he realizes that this is Kari's prints and perhaps Scott's.
Turning in the mud, Mike forces his feet through the calf high mud back to the truck. Time to make a call to Jim.
Ricky walks into the motel room with his two deputies. Noticing the three men dressed in cotton shirts and ties, Ricky runs his hands over his uniform to remove the wrinkles from sitting behind his desk.
Turning, Jim notices Ricky enter.
"Sheriff, glad to see you. This is Agent Gibbons and Agent Taylor. They're with the FBI."
Taking the men's offered hands, Ricky smiles at the young agents.
"Nice you meet you. I'm Sheriff Boudreaux. I wanted to come by and make sure everything is satisfactory and drop off the two deputies I promised you."
Gibbons smiles at Ricky.
"We really appreciate your help Sheriff. Jim has told us everything you gave him. You've done a good job. Let's hope we can find these two."
Ricky smiles at the recognition.
"Well, that's what we're here for Mr. Gibbons. We're all in law enforcement one way or another. So let's work together."
Ricky feels the buzzing of his cell phone on his hip. The loud beep makes each man look to his waist. Smiling, Ricky grabs the phone.
"Hello, Ricky here."
The agents introduce themselves to the deputies. Each deputy smiling uncomfortably.
"Okay, I'll be right there. Don't worry Uncle Andrew. He's probably fine. But I'll go take a look anyway."
Shutting off the cell phone, Ricky apologizes for having to leave.
Jim watches Ricky as his hand plays with his belt buckle.
"Everything okay Sheriff?"
Ricky smiles weakly at Jim and nods.
"Yea, it seems my cousin went into the marsh gator hunting and hasn't made it back yet. My Uncle is worried about him."
Jim nods his head in understanding.
"Then good luck Ricky. I hope you find him."
Ricky nods at Jim and turns to leave.
"Oh Ricky, how long has your cousin been missing? Since we're here, maybe we can help."
Ricky shakes his head.
"That's okay Jim. I know his trapping area. He's only been gone a day or so, but should of been back last night. I'll be able to fine him. But thanks."
As Ricky leaves the motel, Jim reaches down and grabs his cell phone.
"Jim, this is Mike. I've got tracks about 14 miles up from the crime scene. I'm going to need some equipment to follow them."
Jim motions to Gibbons and Taylor.
"What do you mean you have tracks Mike?"
Jim listens intently as Mike explains his findings. Nodding his head, the older man agrees with Mike's findings.
"Okay Mike. What do you need?"
"I need a helicopter. The oil companies have a base right outside town. See if we can lease one. If not, I'll need an airport. Also, just in case the large tracks aren't Scotts, I'll need my rifle and sidearm. I'm on my way back to the motel now. Ricky can get us an airboat if we need one. Let him know."
Jim holds the phone close to ear as he becomes silent.
"You there Jim?"
"Yea, I'm here Mike. I'll take care of it. Don't worry. See you when you get here."
Placing the phone back in it's holder, Jim looks at the two agents and relays Mike's messages.
Gibbons nods his head as he looks at the map.
"Okay, the tracks are approximately here."
Pointing at the map, the three men stare at the thousands of acres of empty marshland.
"We'll see about leasing a chopper to do the search. If not, the local ranger will have an airboat, or perhaps the Coast Guard on the Island. Either way, we'll have one when Mike gets here. The Sheriff is out looking for his cousin in the marsh. We'll let him know what's going on when he gets back."
Jim stares at the map and nods. From living a life of intrigue and mystery, worry creeps into his mind.
Kari feels her legs tire as the mud sucks her deeper into it's depth's. With each step, the gunk covers her once white shoes. Looking over her shoulder, she scans the horizon for Oscar. For the last few hours, since leaving the canal, there hasn't been a sign of the young man stalking her.
But Kari never saw him when he took his shot and missed. Just because she didn't see him didn't mean he wasn't there. That lesson had nearly cost Kari her life.
Stopping in her motion, Kari watches the snake slide across her path. Almost two days now she'd been heading in one direction. Within that time Kari had seen snakes, gators and eaten bugs. The streets of Dallas held nothing against the swamp. As the snake slithers out of her slight, Kari lifts her legs forward.
Looking into the sun, Kari realizes the time is getting close for the night. Just a few more hours. Then, it's time to find a place to sleep. Until then, Kari looks over her shoulder and moves forward. In the cloudless sky, the sun slowly lowers towards the horizon.
Mike pulls into the motel and slams the truck to a halt. Jumping from the cab of the truck, he runs into the makeshift headquarters. As he flings open the door, Jim and the agents turn.
"Okay, what we got? I'll be ready to go in a few minutes."
Jim watches Mike run to the back of the room and open his bags. Pulling out the camouflaged fatigues, Mike strips and begins to redress.
"We've got a chopter from the heliport on it's way out to do a search now. The Coast Guard is moving their airboat to the crime scene now. It will be there when you get back. Gibbons here will go with you."
Mike buttons his shirt and looks up at the agent.
"If you're going then get dressed. You got any camo's?"
The agent shakes his head. Mike reaches into his luggage and throws the young man a uniform.
"You've got ten minutes. Or I leave without you."
Jim smiles at Mike. His eyes flashing with the excitement of the hunt.
"Don't worry about driving back to the scene. PHI has a chopper waiting to fly you there. Thought it might help with the sun about to set in a few hours."
Mike secures the jungle boots to his feet and looks up at Jim.
"Thanks Jim. Did you let Ricky know what was going on? He has family that traps that area and they might be able to help."
Jim shakes his head. His dark eyes growing serious.
"No, sure didn't. He's gone looking for a cousin who went alligator hunting and hasn't returned. His Uncle Andrew called him. But there was nothing new in the state trooper reports."
Mike nods his head as he turns and walks towards the door.
"You got the stuff in the trunk Jim? I need them."
Jim nods and throws Mike the keys.
Gibbons stands as he buttons his camouflaged shirt and looks at Jim.
"Stuff? What stuff does he need to do a search Mr. Abbott?"
Jim smiles as Mike walks back through the door.
Mike lays the case down on the table. Opening the case, he slips a 45 caliber browning pistol into the holster hanging on his hip. Reaching back inside the case, magazines of ammunition are grabbed and placed into the pouches on Mike's web gear. Reaching once more inside the hardsided case, Mike pulls out an M-14 mounted with a scope.
Agent Gibbons eyes widen at the sight of the armament.
"Now hold it. We're going after a girl who has ran into the marsh. Possibly with Scott behind her. What the hell do you need all that for?"
Mike grabs the last item out of the case. A K-bar combat knife, and slips it into the sheath on his boot.
"It's like this Mr. Gibbons. Kari is running. Do you know what we'll find when we get to her? I don't. Lesson one when you work with me. Expect the worse and be prepared. Those could be Scott's prints running behind, but I doubt it. My brother would of gone back to the highway and followed it home. There are no other tracks leading out. Kari is being chased."
Agent Gibbons nods his head.
"Okay Mike. But you do not fire that thing without my approval. Is that understood?"
Mike moves towards the door. Turning to Gibbons, his eyes send a chill down the young agents back.
"I'll do what I have to do to save my brother's and Kari's life. I will not wait for your approval or anyone else's. You're coming along because I'm allowing it. Is that understood?"
Gibbons feels his face pale as he turns to look at Jim.
Winking, Jim nods his head and smiles.
Turning to look back at Mike, Gibbons hears the helicopter landing on the highway outside.
"Okay Mike. It's your call. Let's just find Kari and get her back home."
Mike nods his head as he turns towards the door.
"That's my intention, Agent. That's my intention."
For Ricky, his missing cousin was an inconvenience. Uncle Andrew knew where he went into the swamp. Why he didn't just use his marsh buggy to go find him he'll never know. The Boudreaux's had been trapping this area since before Ricky's birth. Ricky had learned this part of the swamp at a young age. But this was Oscar. Everyone knew Oscar wasn't too bright. So Ricky looked after him. Now he had to go find him in the marsh.
Grabbing his radio, Ricky calls the dispatcher.
"Sylvia? This is Ricky. I'm going to Uncle Andrews house. Oscar is overdue from a hunting trip. Tell the editor I'll get with him later. Okay?"
The crackling voice over the radio responds.
"Sure thing Sheriff. I thought you'd want to know also Ricky. Richard, who you assigned to the feds. Well, he reports Mike found some tracks. They're putting a helicopter from PHI up to look around. Mike and an agent are going out by airboat to search the swamp."
Ricky slaps the steering wheel with his large hands. Grabbing the microphone Ricky stares out the front window.
"Okay Sylvia, thank you. Where are they going to be looking at?"
The crackling voice over the radio responds.
"About 10 to 14 miles south of the filling station on the highway. PHI has a helicopter there now doing an overhead search. Word is the Coast Guard has an airboat waiting for the agents."
Ricky runs his hand through his hair.
"Okay, Sylvia. Thanks. Keep me informed."
"Will do Ricky."
Kari watches the bright yellow helicopter circling overhead. Looking over her shoulders for Oscar. Kari scans the top of the reeds. Nothing.
Removing her designer shirt, Kari swings it into the air. Her half-nakedness exposed to the men above.