I get out of the truck and start to head back to the Ford, but I think to look in the back in case there is anything in the bed I can use as a cane to help me walk the distance along the dirt road. I might even be better off walking along off the road, as long as I keep it in sight. I clip the radio onto my pants, but of course, Daniel is too organized to keep equipment in the back of the truck. If I had my Forest Service truck, I’d have something available to me, but I instead start on my walk and decide to look along the ground for a potential walking stick.
I find one after about twenty steps. It’s not the right height, but it’s better than putting weight on my foot or hobbling down the rough road, and I can always surrender it for a better one if I find one. It takes several minutes to reach the truck between the boulders and my hindered pace, but when I see the open door on the far side, I notice the interior lights are out. The overhead light must have shut off, because once I open the driver’s side door, it comes on, giving me a little work illumination.
The keys are in the ignition, probably left to allow Jacob to start up the engine for warmth if he needed. It didn’t sound like he did that, though, from the way he talked about being cold overnight.
I nose around the truck, but I don’t find a wallet, or any items providing ID for Kenny. I reach under the front seats and find an empty gun sleeve under the passenger seat as I explore each side. It’s a safe bet he took it with him. If it were me, I would. If nothing else, it could make noise to signal others.
I disconnect Jacob’s game and the extension cable from the truck. I check the glove box for anything that might be important, not really knowing what I think I’ll find or take. It also occurs to me that with the flashlight in one hand and the stick in the other, there really isn’t a lot of places to carry anything I take from the truck. I find a backpack and based on its lack of contents, I suspect it might be Jacob’s. I put the phone and the cord inside, plus the truck keys to secure its contents. I don’t expect there will be a lot of people passing by here, but if anything happens to it after my initial once-over, it could be my fault.
I opt not to take anything, and I also leave all the gear that’s in the bed of the truck in its spot. I don’t want to rifle through their belongings, and I don’t want to spend more time here than is really needed. Sadly, I cannot do anything to help Kenny at this point, but I can care for Jacob. I need to make his safe return my priority. I find a better stick on my return and practically fall on my face just trying to make my way back to my own truck.
I didn’t try to radio Aaron from Kenny’s truck as I know his initial transmission was better than even I would have expected at our cabin and it would be nearly impossible here. I decide I will try to radio again once I get back home.
Jacob plays his game all the way back to the cabin, which makes the drive feel longer for multiple reasons. For starters, it doesn’t occur to him to mute the repetitive ice-cream-truck melody of the game. I know this is a distracter for him, and is the price I am willing to pay to have him remain far calmer than I feel. Additionally, the light on the phone illuminates the cab of the truck, making it far more difficult to see the road back. Again, I take it upon myself to focus on the road ahead, even if it means sitting closer to the steering wheel to position myself forward of its direct glow.
Given these conditions, I keep my speed considerably slower than the drive out, even though I would like to hurry to the house. My foot is not happy and I can only be thankful that I didn’t injure the right one. I cannot imagine trying to drive with the other foot. And the bumps and dips of the road are also not helping. I hardly even realize where I am on the road until I catch a glimpse of the flatbed with the flat tire I passed on the way up, but since it is parked next to several trees, I don’t see it until it is almost next to me. I nearly miss our cabin, not recognizing the approach in the darkness from the opposite direction.
“Where are we?” Jacob doesn’t look up immediately when I pull up, needing to finish wherever he is in his game.
“This is my cabin.”
“Is my Dad here?”
“No, but I thought maybe you might want to stop and use the bathroom.” He suddenly starts wiggling and he may have needed to do so for a while, but was too ensconced in his game to ask.
“Oh, yeah,” he says as he unbuckles his belt. “Can I leave this here?”
“Sure.” I turn off the engine and try to manage a way to get out, get to the door, and get him inside before he opts for the trees beside the cabin.
My foot is throbbing, and I’d like to stop and check it, but I realize I should try to radio Aaron again and I left the radio in the truck. Once I point Jacob in the right direction, I hop back to the truck having left my walking stick where I found it. Leave no trace.
“Stafford from McClure.” I wait, static.
“Stafford from McClure, do you copy?”
“Stafford here. Any news?”
“Yes, I found the boy.”
“Affirmative.” Aaron sounds excited, but I stick to the basics. My foot hurts, I’m tired, and emotionally spent.
“What about the Dad?”
“Negative. He left his son to go for help when their vehicle became disabled.”
“Any indication where he went?”
“Negative, but I think he has ID with him, and a sidearm.”
“Copy that.” He didn’t sign off, but I’m not sure what to do about Jacob. I wait a moment and then ask.
“Should I transport the minor?”
“To the Bighorn County Sheriff’s Office?”
“Affirmative.” At least I know I’m thinking clearly.
“What should I tell him?”
“Is he there with you?”
“What’s your location?” Aaron actually asks, so I realize he might think we are in the forest still.
“We are at the cabin. I attempted to make contact from the location where I found him, but you didn’t respond.”
“I didn’t receive you.”
“Acknowledged.” Again, a break of silence. “So, I should transport him to Greybull?”
“Can you contact their office and advise?”
“Affirmative.” I pause, knowing he’s probably right, but also knowing I don’t want to drive another hour plus down the mountains with a sore foot.
“Any chance we can wait until daylight to transport him?”
“Negative. They will want to contact his family.”
I really just wanted to crash in my cozy cabin and call it a night, but I know he’s right. I suppose I can try to reach Daniel, or maybe send an email when I get to where I actually have cell service.
“I’ll notify the SO. Anything else?”
“Negative. McClure out.”
“Nice work. You may have saved his life. Stafford out.”
The thought never crossed my mind and now I can’t shake the possibility. It certainly gives me a reason to get him off the mountain.
NEXT: Falling Forward – Part 34