They burned rubber getting their rental car turned around and racing after the kid.
“Did you determine which direction the car went?”
Blake shook his head. “No. The mud tracks have been obscured by traffic going both directions.”
Carl sighed. He’d been suckered by a kid, while the talkie was running. That teenage crush stuff he’d been leaking had all been an act. His father would never have fallen for a trick like that.
“The kid knows more than he’s letting on. I know it. See if we can catch up to him.”
Joe raced back the way they’d come, heading for the interstate as fast as he could. His previous motorcycle experience had been limited to dirt roads at slow speeds. This bike was nice, more suited to the highway.
Back to the interstate and then home.
That ought to have been a pleasant thought, but it filled him with dread.
Go home, and then what? Arrive back at the motel and explain to Dad what he was doing with a motorcycle—a guest’s motorcycle at that.
Judith had left it there at the crash site. She must have been in a big hurry. Had her father—had John Smith been injured in the crash? She’d gotten the car free, but her father hadn’t been able to? Had be been injured and trapped all that time?
Where would I go if I had to reach a hospital in a hurry?
Las Vegas was two hours away. Raton, maybe an hour. He wasn’t really sure.
Of course, Eagle Nest was just twenty or thirty miles away, but it was a small place. Not likely there’d be a hospital there.
But maybe she doesn’t know that. Had she ever come this way before?
Joe looked in the rear-view mirror. Morris and Blake would be on his tail any minute now.
Of course, I could go check on her.
He could locate which hospital or emergency center she found, return her motorcycle to her, and let her know about Morris and Blake. She might like to know that she was still the ‘mystery girl’ in their sights.
A dirt road turn-off appeared on the left side of the road. It was a ranch entrance. No Trespassing.
He didn’t think about it. He turned in and bounced on the gravel. Get away from the main road! He just hoped the dust would settle by the time they arrived.
“He what?” Abel couldn’t believe what his daughter reported.
Anna shrugged. “That’s what Joe said. He ran off with a girl on her motorcycle and then she dumped him out in the mountains.”
Abel Ferris sat down. “You say he called here?”
“Right. He wanted a ride home. But I couldn’t leave the office, could I?”
Abel whispered, “The biker chick.”
“When was this?”
Anna looked at the clock. “Mmm. Maybe two or three hours ago. He was walking back from the Hermit’s Peak trailhead. I half suspected he’d catch a ride.”
He stood back up and waved to his daughter, “Come on help me unload the car. I’ll need to go get him.”
She smiled as he walked out the door. Little brother was going to get it.
Blake slowed as they approached I-25. There’d been no sign of the kid on the motorcycle.
Carl pointed south. “Head for the Las Vegas airport.” A car chase made no sense when you didn’t even know which road the quarry took. Both Winston and the boy had insurmountable head starts by now.
He debated whether to remove the man at Raton Pass. As each hour passed in this fiasco, his confidence in his people was waning. If there were two traitors, there could be three, or a dozen. There’d be no way of telling without interviewing the whole organization under talkie, one by one.
He shouldn’t be here. The director shouldn’t be scouring the back-roads personally. It just underlined how much his confidence had been shaken.
And if I’m blowing my job, then what will the organization be thinking of its leader? Too many of them think I was only hired because Luke was my father. Nepotism makes sense in a group with intricate family ties, bound by a grand secret, but confidence had to be earned.
“Blake, get on the phone. I’ve changed my mind. Have BellBoy meet us at Raton Municipal, and tell Jefferson to join us there.”
Joe pulled into the town of Cimarron, feeling naked without a helmet. Joe had heard all the arguments from kids at school about whether New Mexico’s underage helmet law was unconstitutional or not. No matter if arguments were logical, it’d make no difference if a cop pulled him over and asked for proof that the motorcycle was his.
When the dirt road through the ranch land popped out on Highway 64, just next to a road sign pointing to Cimarron, he took it as an omen. He was supposed to track down Judith and win her gratitude for rescuing her bike.
For now, his main worries, other than the helmet, were how to avoid passing her by if she’d stopped somewhere.
Cimarron wasn’t a very large town, and he was confident that she’d have no reason to get very far from the main road. He drove slowly, taking his time to look over every vehicle in the gas stations.
A silver Lexus SUV. He knew what it looked like. He’d just wished he’d memorized the license tag. It was on the registration card in the office.
But there were no Lexus vehicles of any color or shape to be seen. Chevys and Fords were much more common here, often white with a tinge of rust for color.
He moved on, and the town dropped away as the sides of the canyon began closing in the sky. The road paralleled the creek, running down the bottom of the canyon.
There were fishermen pulloffs every few hundred yards, many of them with vehicles. More infrequently, there were real campgrounds. Joe slowed to scan for a flash of silver in the shadows among the trees, but he didn’t go in. He couldn’t risk the delay. It was unlikely she’d stop here.
Not too far into the canyon, the traffic slowed to a crawl as he got behind two large aluminum Airstream trailers. It was a narrow and twisty road—double yellow stripes all the way.
Joe rode at the snail’s pace for a mile, and then revved the engine. They were doing less than twenty miles per hour, and a motorcycle was much more agile than a car. Gambling that he’d react quickly enough, he zipped around the first trailer, paused a moment, then raced past the other one. He was lucky. No on-coming traffic jumped out at him.
Driving the road next to the creek gave him a funny sensation. Water flowed down hill, the oncoming flow meant he had to be climbing, but it seemed as if he were driving level or even downhill at times. He shook his head and trusted the water.
The shady confine of the canyon was also letting the air temperature drop. It was summer, but in spite of it, he felt a chill. He wished he had his own leather jacket, or at least a long-sleeved shirt.
I’m going uphill. That would make the air cooler, too.
The canyon walls opened wider. For a bit, there was room for a few buildings and a few homes. He pushed on, and the walls closed in again.
He was definitely climbing, no matter what the illusion was. Even when he twisted the throttle harder, the bike didn’t move much faster. Besides, the curving road itself limited his speed.
Just pay attention to the campgrounds. Look for silver. He’d be at Eagle Nest soon enough.
And then, the engine sputtered. For the first time, Joe noticed the gas gauge. The needle was hard against the E pin.
The engine quit completely, and with the slope against him, he didn’t coast very far.
“Stupid!” He’d passed a half-dozen gas stations. Why hadn’t he even bothered to check?
What should he do? The last gas station was eight to ten miles back. He knew that Eagle Nest was just ahead. But it would be hard to push it uphill.
He tried to visualize the terrain he’d just passed through. It hadn’t been all uphill. It wasn’t just a matter of coasting back until he reached a gas station.
No help for it. He began pushing the bike forward. Just a few minutes later, he had to get it off the pavement as the two large Airstream trailers passed him by.
The police car pulled up to the Railroad Motel’s office. Abel Ferris was out the door before Cal Lawrence had turned off the engine.
“I got your call, Abel. What’s happened to Joe?”
They shook hands. “Cal, I don’t know what to think.”
Quickly, he told the officer the story Anna had related to him.
“I drove Hot Springs Road to the campground and back, and there’s no sign of him. I took every shortcut through town I could think of.
“I know that it’s too early to file a missing person report, but something has to be wrong. You know Joe; he’s been the most conscientious of all my kids. He would call. He did call, and that’s why I think something’s happened to him.”
Cal nodded. “I’ve got bad news from my side, too. I saw Joe this morning, a few blocks this side of Municipal Park. He was on his bicycle. I saw a commotion and it looked to me like a man in a black suit was tying to catch Joe. I put on the lights and called ‘em down.”
He shook his head. “In the fuss, I lost track of where Joe was. Anyway, these two guys produced FBI badges.”
Abel nodded. “Joe told me about them. They’d visited all the motels.”
“Right. We were looking for them. Well, I had my suspicions, but their badges looked authentic. I called them in, and for about five minutes, the FBI database claimed they’d never heard of these jokers. I was ready to put the handcuffs on them. Then, a call came in.
“Abel, I’d’ve never believed what happened next. Santa Fe called me on the radio. The Deputy Chief himself. He said to let them go. I asked why, but he didn’t know any more than I did.
“Word had come down. Someone from very high up vouched for these guys. So I was stuck. I gave them back their guns and badges, and off they went.
“I checked the database again, and like magic, their names had appeared.
“Abel, honest, if I’d had any idea they were after Joe I’d’ve found some way to keep them locked up. But they’re gone now.”
“And so is Joe.”