Chapter 7: The Blind Spot
Kerri examined the battered piece of electronics in her hands, mind drifting between her present conundrum and her morning spent up on site. Josh hadn’t been able to repair the downed data link in Darren’s camp, choosing instead just to replace it, and upon examination, Kerri had no questions as to why.
The entire section responsible for maintaining Darren’s remote network had been battered beyond repair. Josh had hypothesized damage from a falling limb, but he hadn’t been able to produce any physical evidence of such an occurrence, and Kerri hadn’t been keen on sticking around to investigate further.
For her own part, Kerri thought the damage looked more biologic in nature—antler rubbing or similar, judging by the long grooves covering the equipment—but the tower was situated in a rare blind spot created by Darren’s shelter and the edge of the woods, so there was no way to be sure.
Tossing the mangled remnants to the corner of her desk, she sighed. Josh had said he’d likely be able to retrieve the data, but she wasn’t optimistic. Darren had left his HeadCam behind, anyway. The most they’d get from digging out the footage would be the trail cams surrounding his base camp.
Thinking back to her disturbing encounter in the clearing, she fiddled with her mouse until Darren’s feed came up.
He was sleeping. Maybe his body finally burned through that bunny rush, she thought darkly. The more her mind drifted back to his disquieting behavior, the frightening way his eyes had fixed on her, the way he’d made her want to tuck tail and run into the trees, the more she wanted to climb back up that mountain and kick him in the balls. But of course, there was no hint of that predatory edge now, hat pulled down over his eyes, body bundled against the cold as he slept.
Kerri clicked the screen over to Crow’s Nest. She’d have the team adjust the perspective next field check. Though, if she were lucky, Darren would simply weigh out and be sent home. That would not only solve the problem of the camera angle, but also get him back on the other side of the country, away from her. And after this morning, she couldn’t be rid of the man quick enough.
Thumping her elbows down on the desk, she ran her fingers back through her short, hat-tousled hair.
“You gonna make it over there?”
Kerri would have been annoyed, but Jim had been very attentive since she’d arrived back down from the mountain, having witnessed the entire incident first-hand through her HeadCam. He knew she was shaken—and she hated it.
“I’m fine,” she grumbled, not lifting her head out of her hands.
Jim’s chair creaked as he leaned away from his desk and spun toward her. “Really, Ker, why don’t you just go home? Call it a night. Go home, fix yourself a drink, and try to get some sleep.”
Rotating her head until she could see him from beneath the cover of her scrunched fingers, she finally puffed out her breath. “Fine. But call me if anything else happens. I don’t want to be taken by surprise in the morning again.”
“I promise. Just please, go.”
Snorting softly, she rose to leave.
The sound of her phone buzzing jolted her awake. Blinking in the dark, Kerri flopped out a hand until she felt the vibration beneath her fingers. Sweeping it up to squint at the name on the screen, she flicked open the call.
“This is Kerri,” she rasped, sleep making her voice thick and groggy.
“Hi, um, this is Jackson. I’m on Darren’s night shift. Mr. Harper left instructions that we were to tell you if anything came up, so… yeah… Darren’s missing.”
“He’s what?” Kerri answered, voice becoming stronger as a buzz of adrenaline dove through her middle.
“Not, like, missing, missing,” Jackson hurried to amend. “It’s just, he left his shelter a while back without his infrared and he hasn’t come back.”
Kerri took a minute to gather her scattered thoughts. Looking down at the time on her phone, she saw it was barely 3am. “How long has he been off-screen?”
“About 45 minutes.”
Dammit… Damn you, Darren, and your freaking nightscapades. “How did he seem when he left?” she asked rubbing a hand over her brow in agitation.
“…Fine, I suppose. Just got up and walked out. Didn’t mention hearing anything or say where he was going. Just got up and left.”
Kerri took a deep breath, remembering what he had said the morning prior. My nightscapades earned me a hare. “He’s probably trying to get lucky hunting again,” she reasoned, forcing down wave of irritation before she took her anger out on poor Jackson. “Look, we can’t send Bugout until daylight. Keep an eye out for him and just send me a text when he comes back. My bet is he’s just fine. If he’s not back by sunup, send the boat.”
Jim showed up around quarter-to-eight, a rush of cold air announcing his arrival into the viewing room. Hurrying to close the door behind him, he shook off his coat and hung it on the long rack against the wall.
“Find him?” he called as Kerri motioned to him from Darren’s monitor station. She had texted him just as soon as she’d hung up with Jackson.
“Yes,” she answered, then continued under her breath, “More’s the pity.” A soft snort from one of the viewers made her reevaluate her subtlety and she straightened. “He showed up about an hour before dawn. No explanation, no monologue, just waltzed back into camp and went back to sleep.”
Jim frowned. “Well, that’s good then, right? Why do you look so upset?”
“I’m upset because I have no idea where he went. He slipped out of his shelter and into the woods without once being seen on Crow’s Nest. It’s that damned blind spot. We’ve got to fix it. I watched him get up and leave, Jim. For all I know, he could have been sleepwalking. I’ve got to have full eyes on his camp, and his Crow’s Nest cam needs to be replaced with an infrared.”
Jim nodded, staring at the replayed image of Darren ducking back into his shelter and crawling in bed. “I’ll send the team up with field check in a few days—which reminds me, supply is ready for the tribe, it’ll be going up then, too.”
Kerri felt a lightening of the heavy feeling she’d been carrying around since yesterday. “Good. I’ll feel better knowing that’s taken care of.” One less thing to worry about.