Brant Smith steered the dingy back up the channel, retracing the route that he and Matt had followed earlier that afternoon. It was now getting late in the afternoon, almost evening, and he knew that the shadows might make finding the same location a little difficult. His Coast Guard partner, Fisk Richards, sat lazily in the bow, enjoying the sun that was shining, seemingly without a care in the world.
Brant pondered about the different personalities that made up this Coast Guard company stationed out of Mobile. Their captain was abrupt and brash, prone to giving directions first and asking questions later, or maybe not asking questions at all. Still, the captain had a wealth of experience to draw on, and so far Brant had never seen an occasion when his hunches had been wrong. It was almost like magic that the captain knew where to find a stranded fisherman, or rescue a midshipmen washed overboard in a storm. Now that he thought about it, the captain had originally sent him and Matt upstream looking for the girl that was missing instead of downstream – and that was where they eventually found her today. Brant hoped that one day he would develop a similar ability to just “know” where a rescue was needed.
Fisk, on the other hand, who now accompanied him in the boat, was entirely different. Brant hadn’t heard the whole story, at least not from Fisk, but the bits and pieces of the story that he had been able to put together added up to a tragedy in the man’s past. Something about Fisk’s family being lost in some kind of accident while he was out drinking in a bar after a long day at work. Now the dull eyes that Fisk usually allowed the world to see were surely hiding the hurt inside that was too intense for him to allow to surface.
Brant remembered seeing Fisk retrieve a small child’s body from a flooded drain during one of their rescues. Unfortunately the child was already gone when he rescued him out of the water. Although Fisk was dripping wet from the rescue, the drops of water falling from his face were too plentiful to merely be running off the surface. Ordinarily Fisk seemed to be the most lazy lay-about that ever joined the Guard. If you didn’t know better, you would wonder how he ever made it through Swim School in the first place.
So, while Brant steered the small boat upstream around fallen logs and debris, looking for the location of the earlier rescue, Fisk merely sat with his eyes closed, leaning back with his hands behind his head. He offered no assistance and attempted no conversation.
“Bad business, that train wreck,” Brant said, hoping to start a discussion with his partner.
“Yep,” was the only reply from Fisk.
“You ever been on a train wreck cleanup before Fisk?” he tried again.
“We should be getting close to where we found the girl earlier.”
Fisk did not reply or change positions to look.
Brant decided to try a more dramatic approach to get a response, “What I’ve been wondering ever since we rescued her was how she got all her clothes off with that broken arm and leg. I think if it were me, I might have at least left my pants on to go swimming if my arm and leg were broken.”
Fisk open one eye and looked at Brant, then closed it again without saying anything.
Brant continued the fabricated tale, “No sir. It’s not everyday that you’re called on to rescue a naked woman in peril.”
Without opening his eyes or saying anything, Fisk slowly lowered one hand to the water outside the boat. He suddenly slung a handful of water into Brant’s face.
“Hey, what’s the big idea,” Brant sputtered.
“You better cool off boy,” Fisk answered, “before I have to dump you in the water and let you swim back to the cutter.”
“You mean you don’t believe my story?”
“Whether it’s true or not, it’s probably not a story that the girl or her parents would want you telling, now is it?”
Brant felt totally deflated after being so handily dressed down. “Never mind,” he said, “I was just joking, but I can see you’re in no mood for a joke. Go back to sleep.”
“Don’t take it personally, young pup. I was just thinking how I’d feel if my daughter was in the same need of being rescued. I wouldn’t want those stories told about her.”
“I didn’t know you had a daughter.”
“Yeh, well, it don’t do good to let everyone know everything.”
“What’s her name?” Brant asked, glad that Fisk was finally talking to him.
“Her mom wanted to call her Sarah, so we did.”
“How old is she?”
“Yesterday would have been her sixteenth birthday if she had lived.”
“Sorry, I didn’t know.”
“It’s not your fault. That girl you two brought on board reminded me of her. I guess it got to me a little bit.”
“We don’t have to talk about it, Fisk. I’m just the bonehead that stumbled onto the wrong topic of conversation.”
“Naw, Brant. It’s OK. I made peace with it a long time ago. I blame myself for not being clear-headed enough that day to be with them when it happened. Could I have done anything if I had been? I’ll never know this side of Heaven. All I know for sure is that I didn’t do anything because I wasn’t with them.”
“How do you get past something like that,” Brant asked, honestly wanting an answer.
“You don’t get past it – you just go on through it. There’s nothing fair about it. It never makes sense. It’s just the way it is.”
“Wow, Fisk. I’ve never heard you open up like this before.”
“When you’ve been around a while, my boy, you’ll find that life toughens you. Good or bad, you develop a tough skin, especially in this job.”
“I hope not,” Brant admitted.
“Here we are,” Brant told him, grounding the boat in the same spot as earlier that day. He spotted the keel mark on the bank, and the slide marks where they had slipped and slid getting Anna into the boat. “Anna was right here on the bank when we first spotted her. She said that Samuel’s cabin was behind her through the trees.”
“Should’ve brought my waders,” Fisk said sarcastically.
“We ought to see some tracks or a trail or something. I would have expected all the cabins to be right on the water’s edge so the old boys can use their boat to run about. But there’s nothing here.”
“Let’s walk around a bit. Keep your radio on. It’ll be dark before too many hours, and we want to be back to the cutter before that.”
“Roger that,” Brant answered automatically.
They walked away from the water’s edge into the trees and underbrush in diagonal directions from each other. It wasn’t too many minutes before Brant heard Fisk call in his radio, “Brant, you got anything?”
“Nothing, how about you?”
“Maybe. Why don’t you head this way and tell me what you think.”
“Roger that. State your position.”
“Maybe 50 yards from the boat, in the direction that I was headed when you last saw me.”
“Have you got any landmarks?”
“Naw. There’s just more trees, but kind of a clearing out to one side.”
Brant easily found the clearing that Fisk had spoken of. At first he didn’t see Fisk, but soon saw him emerge from the far side of the cabin.
“Is this the cabin that you’re looking for?” Fisk asked skeptically.
“This place is falling down. It doesn’t look like anyone has lived here for years, does it?”
“Who is it that we’re looking for?”
“She said someone brought her to Samuel’s cabin, and he cared for her injuries.”
“Then this can’t be the place. You’re right, it looks like no one’s been here for years. I’ll keep looking around,” Fisk told him.
“While we’re here I’m going inside to check it out just to be sure.” Brant stepped on the porch and the board broke under his weight. “Whoa – wasn’t expecting that.”
“Watch yourself, son. We don’t want any injuries on this mission.”
“I’m with you on that one.” Brant managed to make it across the porch without further breakage. “Samuel!” he called several times as he open the door and entered.
Inside was not as big a mess as he expected. There was one small combination kitchen and entry room, with a bedroom and bathroom off the back. He glanced in the bathroom, then entered the bedroom. The sun was shining in the open window, illuminating an area on the floor in front of the old dilapidated bed.
He looked twice, not believing what he saw. But there was no mistaking it. He went back outside and called for Fisk to come and take a look too.
Fisk stared intently at the area on the floor for a minute, then said, “Well, maybe this is the cabin after all. What leg did you say was broken?”
Brant answered, “Left leg, right arm.”
“That sure looks like a right foot print to me in the dust on the floor – fairly narrow like a woman’s might be – small toes.”
“That’s what I thought too,” Brant answered. “But look where we’re standing, we’re making footprints.”
“I see where you’re headed,” Fisk told him quietly. “Besides ours, I don’t see another footprint in the whole room except that barefoot one beside the bed.”
“Something’s not right here.”
“You think she’s making it up about Samuel caring for her?”
“Maybe. But how could she do that good of a job of splinting her own leg with a broken arm, or splinting her broken right arm? And how could she have gotten this far from the wreck on her own with a broken leg?”
“Obviously there’s more to this story than we know. So where did her Mr. Samuel go?” Fisk seemed to be asking himself out loud, looking around for clues. There was a pair of leather gloves lying on the bed. Nothing else noteworthy caught his attention until he saw what might have been a filthy pink T-shirt and blue pajama pants lying in the corner. He didn’t touch them in case they were evidence of some sort.
“If Anna was here, then this is likely where he would come looking for her. It’s time we headed back to the cutter. Let’s just leave a note explaining that Anna has been rescued by the Coast Guard, and give a number that he can call for more information.”
“Works for me,” Fisk agreed. “Leave this job for the experts.”
“You mean the police?”
“Police, FBI, railroad investigators, I don’t care. No crime’s been committed that we know of, so who cares who investigates. But there’s obviously no one here in need of rescue, so our job is done. Besides, aren’t you getting hungry, boy? I know I am.”
“I’m starving,” Brant admitted.
Back at the Coast Guard cutter, they gave their report to the investigators, who promised to investigate the vacant cabin the next day, or when time allowed.
Matt had gone in the helicopter with Anna, so Brant climbed on board his air boat, and started back toward the boat launch where he left his truck and trailer. The ride was not quite as much fun without Matt on board scared out of his wits, but Brant still managed to get airborne a few times over some barge wakes, making it an enjoyable ride.