Sunday, July 17, 2011

Indivisible Chapter 17

Chapter 17
Vaughn hid his rifle, locked his truck, grabbed the empty gas can and began a slow jog south down highway 126 towards the town of Buffalo Creek.  The snow had stopped and the pre-dawn glow began to illuminate the cloudy skies to the east in a deep lavender.  It was about zero degrees and Vaughn’s toes were quickly lost feeling as he jogged.  He thankfully made it into the town before the pain in his knees slowed him to a walk but there was little activity.  He searched around for a house with a light on or some other feature that might invite him to dare to approach and the door and knock but none appealed to him.   
A truck appeared on the highway coming up from the south.  It was a Sheriff Deputies’ SUV.  Vaughn was too cold and too tired to flee.  Where would he run, anyway?  The woods?  He stopped on the roadside and waited.  The Deputies’ flashers came on as the SUV slowed and stopped.  The driver’s window opened.
“What ya’ doin’ out here?” asked a Deputy.

Vaughn wasn’t quite sure how to answer as he didn’t want to jeopardize Jessica.
“I ran out of gas back up the road.”
“Yeah, I thought that judging by that gas can you’re carrying,” the Deputy answered as he shifted into park.  “What I meant was what are you doin’ out at this hour?  I’m sure you’re aware there’s a dusk-till-dawn curfew.”
Vaughn’s brain raced about searching for a plausible excuse.  “Uh…my wife forgot her medicine.”
The Deputy seemed unimpressed.
“Do you mind setting that can down and taking your hands out of your pockets for me?”
“No, not at all.”
“With the way things have been lately, I have to be real careful.  You understand?”
“No problem,” Vaughn answered as he complied.
“Are you armed?”
“No sir.”
“Do you mind turning around for me slowly?”
“No,” Vaughn complied.
“Stand right there for a second.”
The Deputy got out of his truck and walked over to Vaughn and frisked him from upheld wrists to frozen ankles, apologizing as he patted him down.
“Are you arresting me?” Vaughn asked.
“Sorry to have to do all this.  I just need to be careful.”
“Yeah, I get it.  But are you arresting me?”
“Get in,” ordered the Deputy as he opened the passenger door.  Vaughn climbed inside.
The interior of the cab was all out paramilitary with two shotguns, a heads up display, tactical gear like a gas mask and night vision binoculars.  The dashboard flickered with a fruit cocktail of blinking indicator lights.  It was warm and dry as well which made it a comparative heaven for Vaughn who was fast approaching frostbite in his numb toes and fingers.  He imagined the excruciating pain he would soon feel as his digits thawed out and their sensation returned.
The Deputy looked Vaughn over for a few moments studying his expressions and mannerisms.  This, of course, made Vaughn momentarily uncomfortable.  He expected to be asked for his documents but soon enough the Deputy shifted into drive and the truck started north.  They only had to drive for a couple minutes.
“Where’s your car?”
“See it…that pickup there at the Mercantile building.”
They pulled into the lot and the Deputy motioned for Vaughn to get out.  The Deputy stepped out after him and took a long look at Vaughn’s truck, mentally noting the other set of tire tracks.
“Why don’t you stand right here against the bumper while I go get you some gas,” the Deputy asked.
Vaughn waited patiently while the cop took the gas can off the back of his truck and offered it to him.  Vaughn graciously accepted the five gallon can and took it over to his truck where he poured the contents in.
“I can’t believe you’re not arresting me,” Vaughn remarked as he poured.
“For what?”
“For breaking curfew?”
The Deputy laughed.
“That curfew’s a Federal Order and I don’t work for the feds.  I work for the County.  Now if DHS or ATF or DSF or any of those other agents catch you out here you’re probably going to jail.”
“Well, thanks anyway.  And thanks for the gas.”
The Deputy glanced over at the tire tracks again then asked Vaughn, “Are you sure you’re not in any kind of trouble?”
Vaughn continued pouring without answering or raising his eyes.
“Cuz we’ve been getting a lot a reports of bandits and kidnappers, lately.”
The last of the contents of the gas can dribbled into Vaughn’s tank.  He desperately wanted to reveal everything but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.   
“I just need to get my wife her medicine,” Vaughn explained, “but thank you very much for the gas.  You probably saved my life.  I really do appreciate it.”
Vaughn extended his hand and the Deputy shook it.
“Helping people is my job,” answered the Deputy.  “Now you get home before one of them Feds crosses your path.  You don’t want any trouble from them.”
Vaughn handed him the can, got into his truck and started it up.  “Thanks again,” he shouted out the window as he backed up and turned onto the northbound lane of the highway.  Vaughn watched the Deputy shrink out of view in his rearview mirror as he drove north.    
Vaughn battled the relentless, dueling anguish of Brooke’s and Jessica’s well-being all the way back home.  It was an agonizing drive made ever the more treacherous by the slippery packed snow and his relatively high rate of speed.  He reassured himself that Brooke would be fine, if only in a fit of screaming when he found her.  But he could not know about Jessica.
Why hasn’t my mother called me, yet?  He wondered.  Will the kidnappers get Jess the medicine she needs?  Should I call the cops as soon as I get home?  Should I call the detective?
Nothing could be done about any of it until he got home.  The drive was maybe forty five minutes but might as well have been forty five grueling hours.
The sun came up and the clouds broke apart.  Vaughn passed a smattering of semi tractors on US 285 and then a convoy of military vehicles: Humvees, MRAPS, flatbeds, pods, and lorries with materiel sheathed in tan canvases.  It was headed towards Denver, shunning the more visible I25 corridor which was the direct route from Fort Carson.  It was odd.
Vaughn finally made it home, discouraged to find that his mother’s car was not in the driveway.  He scrambled into the house and, thankfully, found everything in the exact same state of disarray that he had left it.  All was quiet.  Brooke?  He stormed down the hallway to her room and eased open the door.  She was still asleep.  Thank god, he thought.  But his relief over Brooke immediately turned into despair for Jessica.
Vaughn had to decide what to do and he set himself about it.  He got Brooke up and fed her a breakfast of boiled egg-noodles and powdered milk.  He pondered opening one of his stockpiled cans of fruit cocktail but that felt extravagant.
There weren’t many options and the ones he had were not good.  He thought about it as he watched little Brooke dance in clumsy circles with tiny raised hands singing “Ring Around-the-Rosie”.
There really weren’t many options at all.   
“We all fall down!”  Brooke exclaimed as her rubbery frame collapsed in slow motion into a ball on the floor.
Vaughn watched as she performed the routine a dozen times, enthralled by an innocent children’s dance about death by bubonic plague.  He mustered a smile for her on each repetition, trying to ratchet himself down from the brink of emotional collapse.
There was really only one option.
“Mommy coming home?” Brooke asked.
“Soon, princess,” he answered, hoping it was true.
Vaughn was waiting for the call from the kidnappers but it didn’t come.  He dialed the number on the grease-stained card that the detective with the chicken nuggets and the thinning hair had left.  The detective answered.  Vaughn explained over the phone the entire early morning episode including his good fortune meetup with the Deputy that gave him a ride and gasoline.
“Why didn’t you tell the Deputy everything?” the detective asked.
“I was afraid,” Vaughn answered honestly, although his fear had more to do with his illegal firearm possession which he didn’t disclose to the detective either.  “The kidnappers told me not to tell the police or something bad would happen to Jessica.”
“Well, you might have blown a real opportunity to catch them,” the detective answered.
“I don’t care if you catch them.”
“I said I don’t care if you catch them.  I just Jessica back safe.”
“What kind of attitude is that?  You want these guys to stay out there?  What if they kidnap cops of officials?”
“I don’t care about them.  I just want Jess back.”  Vaughn redirected.  “What do we do now?  Are you going to investigate the site at the Mercantile?  Could there be any clues there?”
The detective sighed.  “We’ll send someone over to check it out.  But next time let us know when something like this happens.  You’re not being completely cooperative and that doesn’t reflect well on you, Vaughn.”
“It’s not about me.  It’s about my daughter’s mother.”
“We’ll be in touch.”
Before he could talk himself out of it, Vaughn dialed Jessica’s mother in Seattle.  Predictably, she became nearly hysterical with distress.  He tried to calm her but it was of no use.
“What are the cops doing about it?” She asked.
Vaughn wanted to say “nothing” but that would just pour fuel on her emotions.  Instead he answered, “they’re conducting their investigation.”
“What about her medicine, Vaughn?”
“I’m sure they’re taking care of her.  She’ll be okay.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“Because she’s no good to them if she’s…” he caught himself.
Jessica’s mother wept.  Vaughn just sat there and listened for several agonizing moments.
“Is that mommie?” Brooke asked, tugging on Vaughn’s pant leg.
“It’s grandma.”
Jessica’s mother stopped crying.
“Yeah, I’m here.”
An uncomfortable silence followed as Vaughn looked down at little Brooke who was staring up at him with her saucer-like eyes and china doll face.  She wanted to be picked up. Her running nose needed to be wiped as well.
“I’ve heard of these kidnappings happening around here in Seattle,” his mother in law explained.
“I’m sure they’re happening in lots of places.  These are crazy times.”
“You always said that if something was to happen to your family that…well…”
Vaughn knew what she meant.  He had already drawn that conclusion.  The call to the detective was a pointless exercise which he knew in advance.
“I know…” He answered.
“What are you going to do then?”
“I don’t know,” he answered, picking Brooke up and carrying her over to the kitchen where he wiped her nose with a dish towel as the paper products ran out three weeks before.  “I don’t know who these people are.  I don’t know where they are.  I don’t know anything about them.  So I guess I have to start there.”
“Please get her back, Vaughn.”
“I’ll do whatever I can.”
“What are you willing to do to get her back?”
Vaughn was instantly cognizant of the likelihood that his phone conversation was probably being recorded by the detective.  He answered with trepidation.  “Whatever…whatever I have to do…I’ll do it.”
His call waiting feature beeped.  It was his mother.

Chapter 16                 Chapters 18 and 19 will be available next weekend

Indivisible can be purchased here from Amazon: