It was dark when Ali woke. He didn't know how long he'd been out. His chest hurt and there was a cut on his chin—he could feel it. It was the thunder and cold wind that woke him. A furtive look behind told him that he was still dangerously close to the buildings. Lights flickered from several as the gusty wind whipped the leaves obscuring their view. He started once again in the opposite direction—slowly, this time. Picking his way along the hillside, every branch and bush a potential trip wire, as he made his way. To say he was scared would be an understatement. He resisted the urge to bolt, careful not to trip like before. The frequent lightning flashes helped to mark his way, but it was still tough going.
And then the rain came. There were large droplets at first, hitting the trees and filtering down to him in a fine spray. By the time he reached the creek, it was pouring. He struggled to wade across on the uneven rocky bottom as the wind and rain pummeled him. If it hadn't been for the lightning, he wouldn't have made it across. By the far bank, he was soaked through, but he continued upward to the cliff. He didn’t know where the rope was and there was no way he'd be able to climb out under the conditions, so he walked along the cliff until he found an overhang just big enough for him to crawl up under. Except for windy spray, it was dry there. Exhausted, wet and cold, he curled up and tried to keep warm. It seemed to rain forever. Sometime during the night he fell asleep.
He was warm. There was a buzzing in his ears. It wasn't buzzing! It was a sound of three trucks roaring by on the road by the creek, right in front of him! They couldn't have been more than fifty feet away. Why they didn't see him, he didn't know. There were only a few small bushes and shrubs under the trees in front of him. He was really lucky. And wide-awake, too. He had to go out, away from the cliff, to see where his rope was. He couldn't see it at first, and almost panicked thinking that the trucks would come back. He calmed himself and looked at the cliff carefully. Far up to his right, he could see where the fence up above terminated at the top of the cliff. He headed that way as quickly as he could, listening for the trucks and looking for hiding places. He heard rapid machine gun fire erupt down the valley. He hit the dirt until he realized that it was a half mile away and going away with the trucks. It still scared the hell out of him.
The rope was in plain view. Another mystery was why those guys in the speeding trucks hadn't seen it. The cliff was wet, and so was the rope, but Ali wasted no time climbing to the top. He didn't want anyone seeing him up there. He breathed a sigh of relief when he reached the top and pulled the rope up out of view. He wished he could leave the rope, but he couldn't leave anything behind for them to find. He was glad the rain had erased most of his tracks. The coil of wet rope weighed heavy on him, but he made it to the car all right. He looked around for signs if anyone had been by the car and he found none. He loaded up, turned the car around and drove to the road. He would have liked to have checked his tracks in the wet ground, but he didn't want to delay and take the chance of being seen. He turned back toward Harrison.
Ali drove slowly this time, trying to collect his thoughts. He knew he couldn't get Rob out on his own. Maybe Rob was dead anyway. He didn't want to end up hanging alongside Rob. There was only one solution--the local law. Like before, the FBI was probably too busy to be interested. Arkansas State Police were probably tied up with international terrorism work, too. He would have to go to the sheriff's office. In spite of his fear, he resolved to himself that that's what he was going to do.
It was still early, maybe only about 7am, when he circled the Boone County Courthouse and Square. The old men weren't playing cards yet. A neon sign, still on in the morning light, proclaimed the location of the "Sheriff's Office" in a courthouse annex just off the Square. Ali pulled up to one of the empty parking spaces in front of the office.
As he entered, Ali could see a 30ish woman in a headset picking on a McDonald’s breakfast behind the counter through the window. He was glad that there was no one else around. He figured that he looked pretty rough, so he tried to be as cheerful as possible. “Hi, is the Sheriff in?”
Appearing annoyed that Ali had interrupted her picking, Gladys Mobray (her nameplate was prominently displayed on the counter) gave Ali a “Don’t bother me look,” than waited her sweet time before answering. “No Sheriff Cox is out. Have a seat over there and I’ll radio him. Just what was it you wanted to talk to him about? Been in a fight?”
Ali didn’t like her attitude, but figured he’d better cater to her or she’d delay his chance to see the Sheriff. “No, I wasn’t in a fight, and no, I don’t want to tell you what I need to tell the Sheriff about—just that it’s important!
“Okay, okay, … sit your important self down over there and I’ll call Sheriff Cox. What’s yer name?”
“Ali Rasheed.” Ali sat down.
“Harve? Sorry to wake you, I know you had a rough time with those boys over at Tate’s Corners Bar last night, but there’s a young boy here, Wally Sheed, that says that he’s got sumpthin’ important ta tell ya.”
Ali had to wait a half hour with Gladys eyeing him as she picked at her eggs and sausage. He eyed her right back. Finally, a brown and white pulled up and the familiar form of Sheriff Cox came through the door. He was bleary-eyed and a bit surprised to see Ali.
“Young man, you had better have something important to get me outta my bed this morning! Come into my office.”
Gladys was ahead off them with a coffeepot. She didn’t bother pouring anything for Ali. He could have used it. Sheriff Cox leaned back in his chair, took a long sip, eyeing him over the rim. Then, putting the cup down, said, “Okay, what is it? I’ve got things to do this morning.”
Ali swallowed and began, “Do you remember that I asked you where Razorback was, … well I found it. It’s out on Old 62. It’s some sort of military compound run by a guy named John White. … Anyway, … my friend Rob from San Jose is there and he’s being held captive, … Ahh, … maybe even being tortured! I saw him!”
Harvey Cox got a puzzled look on his face, and then smiled. “Now, now, don’t get so blamed excited, young man. You must be kidding? John White is one of our most solid citizens, a big contributor, helps out the Little League and everything! He trains only men over there at his camp. He wouldn’t have any truck with a kid from California. Are you sure you ain’t smoking that funny weed and hallucinating?”
“I told you. I saw him. He’s being held captive.”
“That’s private property. From what I know of it, you couldn’t get in. Even if you did, you’d be trespassing. We don’t take kindly to trespassers ‘round these parts. Even if you weren’t lying, it’s John Skaggs jurisdiction over in Marion County. If I were you, I’d pack up and head back to San Jose or wherever you come from. We are at war with someone we don’t even know who probably looks like you and you come ‘round accusing one of our upstanding citizens. Leave before you get in trouble in Boone County.”
Ali knew a threat when he heard one. He held his lip and bid goodbye to Harve, Gladys and Harrison. Within a half hour he had checked out and was retracing his steps back to California. He didn’t even stop at Big Mack’s before leaving. There was an ache in his heart and a pit in his stomach that wouldn’t go away.
As soon as Ali left, Sheriff Cox closed the door to Gladys’ prying ears and picked up the phone. “John, this is Harve. I just had some young feller from California here in my office with some cock ‘n bull story claiming that you were holding his buddy captive and torturing him. Tell me it isn’t so.”
John White was reassuring. “Yeah, we caught a young trespasser and are teaching him a lesson.”
“Well, stop it! At a time like this we don’t need the FBI or other Feds snooping around. I can keep a lid on this, but I won’t be able to if you go ’round killing kids who stumble into your camp—their mommies and daddies will come lookin’ for em. Ya hear?’
“I hear, Harve, I hear. I’ll do something about it, okay?”
“Good.” Cox hung up and sat down to finish his coffee. He was wide awake now, but unsettled. Maybe he knew too much.
Ali drove on through hunger, anger, and pain. He didn’t stop until Joplin. He spent the night at that friendly little crossroads in Kansas. The rest of the drive home was a blur of highway, checkpoints and regret. He had failed in his promise to help Mrs. Johnson and he had failed his best friend. If Rob was dead it was his fault. He kept telling himself that there was nothing he could do, but it wasn’t enough. Nothing that he could tell her would hide his shame. He decided not to call her and tell his father that he hadn’t found anything.
Driving the 580 down to the Bay to a glorious sunset, he formulated his plan. He wouldn’t call Mrs. Johnson. If she called, he’d tell his father to lie and say that he never returned from his search--both sons missing. If he could avoid running into her at the supermarket the ruse would work.