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.
"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.