He took a turn off the highway I’d never noticed. It started out as a dirt road, smoothed and dustless, probably one of the locals had sprayed it with some diesel illegally. After the third sharp turn the truck hit gravel and Jack slowed down a bit. “It’ll get a little bumpy in a few minutes, but we’ll save some time and the kid looks like time is more important than comfort right now.” He had read my face and I acknowledged his answer with a nod.
“What about the call for help? Won’t they be looking for us on the highway?”
“Doubt it. They never take our calls up here as very immediate priorities. By the time they think about scrambling a life-flight and calling for landing possibilities, we’ll be off the hilltop and pretty close to the hospital. Beats waiting helplessly.”
The truck hit a patch where the gravel had dissipated and a puddle shone through. The bundle in my lap didn’t moan or register any disturbance. I was afraid to even look at him for fear he’d be more pale then when last I checked. Earlier Jack had grabbed a blanket from behind my seat and thrown it over him. “Keep him as warm as you can; somewhere in that little shell he’s got to be going through some shock. We’ll get a little warm in here, but I’m turning on the heat to try and help him out.”
We rounded another corner and I saw why this way was shorter than the graded highway. There were less switchbacks with a steeper grade between each, and a straight shot to gun an engine from turn to turn. That’s exactly what he did. s we’d approach a curve at near 80, Jack would tap the breaks gently until we had slowed for the switchback. Then we rounded each corner at about 15 miles per hour to avoid careening off the edge where no guard rails or cement blocks stood between the truck and the town in the valley below.
“Wanna’ try to answer some questions for me? I can wait until we get there if you want, but it may help take your mind off what we might find out.”
“The truck that drove away looked like his dad’s truck. I’m pretty sure it was.” I almost whispered it in case the boy could hear, as if he wouldn’t have known or out of some sort of motherly protection mode.
“Did you see him? Tell me what you saw.”
I relayed the story to him as best I could. I told him about the man grabbing his shoe from the boy’s gut and putting it back on, then driving off. I shared my frustration and hatred for the boy’s family in the little single-wide trailer, after I had kicked the door repeatedly and no one had answered my frantic shouts. “I didn’t actually see the man’s face, but it didn’t look like the guy I’ve seen pick him up before.”
“But you recognized the truck? Can you be sure it was the same truck?”
“Unless someone else got the window tint from somewhere that looks like they use purple cellophane to wrap the glass? Has a ‘Welcome to Fingerbone. Now take your wolf and go home,’ bumper sticker on the driver’s side cab window? I’m pretty sure it’s the same one.”
I could see his brow wrinkle as he processed what I had told him. “Did you hear any noise from inside the trailer? Anything at all?”
“The TV was on and it was loud, so I’m not sure. I heard what sounded like a car chase, wheels screeching – that kind of thing. I figure that was on the TV. I know it must have been, because I could see the light of the TV on the window pane they have in the front, right next to the door. I couldn’t make out anyone in there from that view. And I didn’t, you know, feel the thing vibrate or move like someone was walking or anything.”
“But the kid came from inside to the truck, right?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t even pay attention until I head him …”
My ears teared up at the memory again, and when I tried to keep the anger at bay, I only made it worse. I cringed inside at what a frail, female mess I must look like to him.
Jack ignored it, whether out of professionalism or kindness, I didn’t know. “So you didn’t see what direction the boy came from … or, wait! Is it possible the boy could have gotten out of the truck?”
I remembered the open door, the driver’s open door. What would the kid be doing over by the driver’s door? If he’d come from the trailer to get in his dad’s truck, wouldn’t he have gone to the passenger side? What was he doing on the street side, by the driver’s door? I shared this with Jack.
“It leaves more questions to be answered, sure. Just remember, every question is also an answer to something that could get us closer to the truth. I’ll call Hen and get her to make some calls after she gets back from the trailer.”
He had called his other Deputy after we left the highway for the Lower Ford’s Creek shortcut. Fat, grey Hen was my friend. We’d gotten to know each other shortly after I’d moved to Fingerbone and hit it off right away. Nicknamed “Hen” for her mother hen appearance, her real name was Darling. She preferred Hen and I could understand why in a place where the only single men were either rugged (and usually drunk) loggers or scraggly meth heads.
We’d become instant best friends based solely on our inability and lack of interest in fitting in on the hilltop. She was large and loud, unlike the pretty but mostly timid housewives or the quite but articulate artisans. Most of the women steered clear of her because of her brash, tell-it-like-she-saw-it attitude. They steered clear of me in case being a lesbian was contagious. Hen teased me often about being overly concerned with this stigma. I teased her for having a head full of silver hair at the young age of 38.
The doors of the ER opened and three people came racing toward the truck. Jack hadn’t let off the horn from the instant he’d turned into the hospital and which had probably been the first clue something was up. I let the first one cradle the boy out of my arms as Jack filled them in non-stop with as many details as he found pertinent. Before I could even speak they had whisked him away and out of sight. Jack had to help me out of the truck; I hadn’t realized the effort I’d put into tensing up and relaxing the whole way in an attempt to ease the bumpy ride for the boy’s little frame. My body felt like I’d been hit with a Mack truck.
“Let’s get them as much information as they need and wait for the social worker to get here. I’ll see what Hen has found at his place and we’ll head to the office to get the report filed. Are you hungry? We can grab something from the cafeteria here while we do this. It’s pretty bland, but it’ll save time and I have a feeling we need to make every second count, OK?”
“Yeah,” I said. Then I fainted in his arms.