Picking Up the Pieces
The trip to Lake Tahoe was uneventful, made more so by the fact that the car's computer did most of the driving. At one point, Ali had a bit of a tussle with it over what was the best route to where he wanted to go. He decided he would go scenic US 50 rather than taking I-80 all the way. Every time he tried to reset the route, the computer changed it back. Finally, he figured it out. He had selected, "Best fuel saving mode." The computer would not allow any change in route other than the most efficient one. When he deselected that annoying mode, the problem went away. It was a good thing, because he was in Sacramento fast coming up on the I-5, US 50 interchange and wanted to catch it to South Tahoe. His blood pressure was definitely up by that time. The road rage indicator on the dash was flashing red. If that had continued, he expected that the car would have pulled over and stopped until his anger with the car's performance cooled down.
It seemed strange not to be driving as the car climbed the gentle foothill slopes and then into the steep, slope-clinging ride that is the Sierras. Ali decided just to relax and enjoy the scenery. It was uncanny how the car still kept to the road in the very difficult climb to Echo Pass. Before he knew it, he was descending rapidly again. The blue expanse of Lake Tahoe dominated his left. A forest of pole straight honey brown sugar pines with evergreen tops covered slopes to his right. Far up, the barren light gray rock of the summits awaited the soon first white of snow. His route took a left on California 89 in South Lake Tahoe and wound through tall trees, following the western lakeshore on its way to the north side of the lake. When he passed Meek’s Bay he knew he was close. The flashing yellow indicator shifted to orange, and then to red as the car announced, “We are here”, and pulled up to a gate with a sign over it that read, Allah's Haven, and a mailbox with Jaheed painted on it. The gate was locked. There was a camera and intercom, but it wasn't working. At least the intercom wasn't. Ali had remembrance of being at a place like this twenty years before. But then, this was California, and he had a beautiful lake to his back, not Arkansas. He tried the phone number. A message informed him that, “This phone has been disconnected and is no longer in service.”
Ali looked at the map, noticed that Tahoe City was just to the north, and redirected the car to it. Soon, he was cruising through the business district and went directly to the American flag flying at the Post Office. At midday, the little Post Office was empty except for a man at the counter who looked to be in his mid-40s with waist long black hair in a pigtail and headband. Sewn into his uniform was his name, Joseph Davis. Ali addressed him. "Mr. Davis. I'm looking for my father, Rashid Jaheed. Can you tell me where he is?"
"Oh, old Mr. Jaheed? He died. Must have been, ... let me see now, ... about six months ago. A real shame too. If our rural carrier hadn't noticed that his mail was piling up, who knows when they would have found him? Kept to himself. As it was, he must have been dead at least two weeks because the animals had started in eatin' on his body. Died outside on the porch. Right in view of Lake Boulevard. They say he had no known next of kin. Had a son somewhere, but they couldn't find him. Say, … didn't you just say you were his son?"
"Yes, Mr. Davis, I am. I just got back from a twenty-year hitch with the Marines. Jeez, I wish I'd kept in touch with him more. Got any idea where I should go to clear up the mess?"
"Well, the Sheriff's still got the case open, and they're looking for you. Now don't get me wrong, the autopsy showed that he died of a heart attack. They're looking for you ‘cause he had papers showing that he had a son named, ... what you say your name was?"
"That's it! Ali Mohammad or something like that. Anyway, they're looking for you. Case solved.”
"Where can I find this Sheriff?"
"Well, the Sheriff’s in Auburn, but the local station is right up Lake Boulevard, about four miles.—2501.” He pointed to some notices with the address on them. You can’t miss it; just beyond the golf course on the right. We're spread out, but still a small town, Mr. Jaheed.”
Ali thanked the man, stepped out of the Post Office, and in ten minutes,
found the Substation of the Placer County Sheriff's Department. A blonde young lady in uniform watched the monitors and electronic equipment that surrounded her station.
"Hi, I'm Ali Jaheed. Understand the Sheriff is looking for me. My father died, ...?"
The young lady, with the nametag, Deputy Amy Judson, got a very surprised look on her face, and exclaimed, "Oh, you're the one we've been looking for! Awesome! I'll call the Commander right away!" She touched a button on the console and began speaking. "Commander Jackson! Commander Jackson! What's your 1020? We just got a break on an open case.”
A larger than life voice boomed from the console. "Damn it! Amy! How many times have I told you to use codes? I'm right around the corner. I'll be there in five.”--"To kick your ass"--under his breath, but still very audible.
Amy smiled sheepishly. "I'd better take you back to the Commander’s office. He's right. I shouldn't be talking over the air, but I just got my degree in criminal justice from Chico State and haven't gotten the hang of operating this console business yet. We've got a lot of celebrities living around here and the paparazzi monitor our conversations all the time. Come.”
Ali followed her down the hall to a large office filled with memorabilia. Amy pointed to a chair and said, "Sit here. The Commander will be along in a minute.”
Ali spent a minute thinking about what had happened to his father and then turned his attention to all the awards and pictures of the Commander, Otis Jackson, with celebrities--most of whom he didn't know--just that they were clearly, celebrities. Otis had apparently had another life with the LAPD.
There was loud talking and a lot of commotion down by the entrance, but Ali stayed put. He did get ready to run though. He didn't have to. A large black man came through the door and placed his hat on the desk. Reached out his hand, and announced, "Hi, I'm Commander Otis Jackson, the law in these parts. Sorry about all the commotion. But when I drove up that rat, Pinky Sheridan, was setting up his camera outside the door. They wanna get pictures for their sleazy operations. Makes it very hard to do investigations. I told Amy to only use codes, but they've got those, too. She said you could help us with a case. Which one?"
"I'm Ali Jaheed. Amy said that my father died and the case was still open. I'm back from a twenty-year hitch in the Marines. I didn't know any of this had happened.”
"Well, if you are who you say you are--and I don't doubt it--it's good news that you came here. We've been looking for you ever since Mr. Jaheed died. That's funny, because I thought we searched the military databases. Have you got any identification?"
Ali reached for his billfold and produced his international driver's license, Social Security card, and his service card. Sheriff Jackson studied them for a moment, noting that the issue date on the service card and driver's license was only two days before. Ali had been in many tight spots before, but the Sheriff's scrutiny was making him squirm a bit.
"Marines, huh? You're awfully young looking to be Lieutenant Colonel. Got any papers to back this up?"
"In my car, outside. Do you want me go get them?"
The Sheriff's face softened as he smiled. "No, I believe you. Damn! A Lieutenant Colonel! I'll have to get my picture taken with you.” He waved his hand toward all the pictures on the wall. He rounded his desk, plopped down on his big office chair, leaned back and put his hands behind his head. He thought for a moment, and then continued.
"Your father was a sad case. We got a routine call from the postal carrier that your father hadn't picked up his mail. It's common around here because lot of these people only come to their properties occasionally and some forget to tell the Post Office when they're away. So I sent Deputy Granger out to take a look. When Grainger couldn't raise anybody on the intercom, he walked up to the house to take a look. He knocked on the drive door, but got no answer. Looking in the windows didn't help either, although he saw lights on inside. He walked around to the front of the house and that's where he found him. On the front porch. Crows, rodents and who knows what else and already got to him. So he was a real mess. The coroner figured it was a heart attack because of his medical records. It was hard to tell from the condition the body was in. What's left is in the morgue at Auburn. The house wasn't disturbed and there was food on the table. We couldn’t detect any foul play. Only trouble we had was locating you. It looks like he was worth a lot of money. The judge put a hold on everything until you were located. I'll give you to her after you sign some paperwork.”
Ali was crying. Where this wave of emotion came from he didn't know. Perhaps it was the thought of his father dying, all alone, without him being there. Perhaps it was the relief of finally finding him, even though he was dead. He really felt alone. More lonely than he ever felt, "Out there.” He was a stranger in his own land.
"Now, now. Colonels don't cry.” Ali looked up through his tears to see the big man gently patting him on the shoulder. He wiped his tears aside and got up to follow the Commander to where Amy was retrieving the case file. Once he signed off the papers closing the case, Jackson gave him directions over to courthouse to see the judge in Auburn.
It was an hour drive. Ali told the car where to go, and it dutifully headed north on 89 toward I-80.
Judge Pat Adams greeted Ali with a handshake and a smile. He didn't have to wait to see her. She had been waiting since receiving the Commander’s call. "I don't know why we were unable to contact you, but I'm sure glad you're here. According to his will, your father left you his thirty-acre estate there on Lake Tahoe and a considerable amount of money in cash and stock. There was no attorney of record, so I appointed one and had the bank where he had his money manage the funds until you could be found. You were in the service?”
"Yes, the Marines. Sort of, ... under cover. I've just been discharged and came right here to find my father. We hadn't communicated for some time. It's my fault.” Once again, tears welled up in his eyes.
"The clerk will give you the keys to the house and you can go there now if you like. I'm sorry, but we could only keep his body in the morgue for six weeks. The Coroner's Office at him cremated, and using funds from the estate, had him buried in the Moslem section of the Collins Road Cemetery. I hope you understand. We have guidelines for these things.”
"That's okay.” Ali was filled with emotion. He wasn't thinking well. He'd just have to get through it. "I'll have to check with the mosque in San Jose to see if there is anything I should do. I'll leave him where he is at for now. Thank you for taking care of him in my absence. I'm ashamed that we didn't keep in closer touch.” Ali rose from his chair and shook the Judge's hand. He signed the necessary papers and picked up the keys to his father’s estate from the clerk.
After grabbing a bite to eat, Ali was back at his father's estate in another two hours. It was getting late and the autumn sun was already set behind the high range to the west. There was a chill that came with it. With some trepidation, he unlocked the chain securing the gate and pushed a button for the control. It didn't work. Of course, the power was turned off. He turned around and drove to a country store that he'd seen on Lake Boulevard about half a mile back. At the store, Ali bought some food, tools, and a fuel cell light that he would need and called a power company. When they asked for the account number, he didn't know. Gradually, by using his father's name and address, he was able to determine which company and account number had provided his father's electricity. They told him that it would take three days for the power to be turned back on.
He returned to the estate. Using the tools he bought at the store, he removed the hinges from the gate and was able to swing it aside so that he could get in. After driving past the gate, he moved it back in position and locked the chain so that it looked like no one had entered. He took extra time to take a branch and smooth out his tire tracks in the sand from the road to the gate. Fortunately, no cars came by and saw him doing this. For now, he didn’t want the neighbors to know that he was there. He knew he would have to leave the place unattended to make his rendezvous. Leaving it undisturbed the way the Sheriff's men had left it was the best thing to do.
It was a long drive in, but he enjoyed the peace and solitude of the narrow drive through the furs and pines. Gradually, the drive curved and ascended to a circular drive ringed by a large house with a garage and other outbuildings, set back in the trees. It was mid 20th century rustic. Some rich person's idea of heaven--well planned. Ali liked it from a distance. He parked his car in front of the main entry door. When he tried the key, it worked. The Commander’s crew had not disturbed much. There was the familiar clutter that was his father. And the polished natural wood that reminded him of the Sierra summer camps of his childhood. The smell of cedar permeated the place and made him feel at home. A huge all-purpose room with a glass wall overlooking the porch and the lake dominated his view. His father's familiar reading materials were scattered about along with a pair of his eyeglasses on a side table by a large, overstuffed chair.
Ali walked to the French doors and opened them to the porch. Someone had had a picnic out there from the trash scattered about, but there was no evidence that they had tried to get into the house.
By this time Ali was tired, very tired. He built a fire in the big fireplace to take the chill off and heat his food. It reminded him of the days he camped here in his youth. He cried softly as he ate by the firelight. Finding a guest room, he pulled back the new, but slightly musty, covers and crawled in.
The sun streaming in the window woke him up. He looked out and saw the lake sparkling far below. He took a quick, icy cold, shower. There was good pressure, but he didn’t know how much was in the tank. Until he had electricity, he’d have to conserve.
Walking around the grounds, Ali found a large, three-car garage and several other, smaller buildings, including a guest cottage. Everything was locked, so he went back to the house and found those keys hanging on hook in the kitchen. There were remotes lying on the counter that probably opened these places when there was power. Ali took the keys and headed for the garage. Once inside, he found a rather dusty Ford FreeAir. Its tires were low and it had either bird or bat droppings punctuating the dust on the hood. After studying the console and fiddling with the controls a bit, he pushed the right buttons and it fired to life, its array of LEDs both surprising and startling him with their color and complexity. The garage also contained a motorized snow blower for clearing the drive in the winter, snow mobiles, four-wheel all terrain vehicles, and other toys. Rashid had stocked the building with much sport equipment, perhaps in anticipation of Ali's arrival to use it. Once again, a tear came to his eye.
From the porch, the view of the Lake was spectacular. Ali could visualize his father spending most of his time out here. By the water, he could see a stone and timber boathouse. He took the long trail down and the tunnel under the highway to reach it. Opening the door, he was surprised to find a classic 1940's style mahogany Chris-Craft launch stowed neatly against the far wall and a, apparently new, Honda Water Sprite to his right. Hydrogen powered, it appeared that this baby would skim the surface of the water like a water spider. Trying her out would have to wait.
When Ali got back to the house he called the rental car company and made arrangements for them to pick up the rental car. When they told him that he would have to return the car to a town where they had an outlet, he checked and found that there were two places in South Tahoe that he could drop the car. The rental had a remote control unit, and if he set a location for it to go on the map, it could drive there by itself.
Back out at the garage, Ali found a battery powered electric air pump. He soon had all four tires on the FreeAir inflated. He started it up again, and drove it around the yard. He found a water hose with pressure and soon had the dust and droppings washed off. Everything seemed to be in order. All he needed to do was find the title and get it transferred into his name. He went to the rental, set its GPS trip plan to the Holiday Inn in South Tahoe, and then returned to the FreeAir. He started up the rental with his remote, turned on the autodrive, and followed the rental south into town. The autodrive even parked the car. There was an automatic check in for the cars, but Ali walked into the Inn and made sure that the rental was checked in and paid for. He drove the FreeAir through a car wash and went shopping for groceries.
Estimated to be at least ten years old, the FreeAir was still like new and very sweet to drive. Ali enjoyed taking it through the curves on his way back to the estate. He had picked up some groceries, so set about making an early evening meal at the fireplace when he got back. Eating on the porch, he was pleased to see how peaceful it was by the lake in the waning hours of the day. He worked by candlelight that night, although he’d seen a generator in the garage. He’d get it going in the morning.
It took him two days to go through all the papers Rashid had left behind. The computer was somewhat easier, although Ali had to guess at a few passwords until he got them right. By now, something was knawing at his mind--the thought of his rendezvous with Dina at the bridge. He had to leave. The power still wasn't on, so the next morning he shut down the generator and carefully reattached the hinges to the gate. He was quite certain that no one would bother the place while he was gone.
He took the quick route to I-80 on 89, stopped in Auburn to get the title to the FreeAir transferred and met with the trustee for his father’s bank. By nightfall he was back in San Francisco. This time he checked into the Edward II Bed and Breakfast by the wharfs. It was only a two mile walk to the Bridge.