Thunder and lightening was ear-splitting and the rain was coming down in sheets. Suddenly a vehicle turned onto Henderson Canyon with only its parking lights on. It was a light colored large van!
It stopped about a quarter of a mile from their camp near a grove of grapefruit trees. From their position they could see dark vehicles converging on the van. They knew that the rangers were waiting for the other vehicle to appear so that they could arrest more of the parrot smugglers.
Quickly Andy called Tim.
"Tim, he's stopped by that grove near here." Andy whispered.
"Let me know if he starts up again, Andy, thanks. I'm parked near an old shed so they can't see me but I can't see much from here either. There are several units in the area."
A few minutes later, "Andy!" Danny shouted over the thunder. "It looks like another van is creeping down Henderson from the other direction!"
"Tim, we think the other one has arrived," Andy spoke into the cell phone and everyone's heart was pounding.
The new vehicle was darker. It was hard to tell color in the night and through the rain but it looked green. It proceeded to the end of Henderson and then made a slow U-turn and stopped beside the big van.
The rain stopped and both drivers jumped out and began to transfer boxes into the green van. They looked angry but kept their voices down at first.
"Jin says it looks like they are loading the boxes into the other van and arguing with each other," Danny reported.
"They've transferred all the boxes and now they look like they are yelling at each other." Danny was looking through the telescope now and Andy was reporting it all to Tim. They could hear the voices echoing in the desert night as they got louder.
"Wow!" Danny exclaimed. "That guy we think is Larry in the big tan van just pushed the other guy who fell into the muddy wash. Now Larry jumped into the green van with the birds!"
They could hear the van engine revving up. The tires spun in the sand on the highway and then the van shot off down the road rocking slightly from side to side.
Suddenly, a million lights came on as every police unit in the area converged on the vans with lights flashing and sirens blaring. The driver of the light colored van leaped up and ran off into the dark desert night. At first he headed north but he swerved and came directly at their camp!
The man on foot had to splash through the wash and was slowed up by the wet sand and fast water but he was covering ground quickly. The officers at the scene were having a hard time finding him in the dark but Jin could see him very clearly in the telescope. Andy, Trevor and Jason took off to intercept him as he neared the camp.
Suddenly a sidewinder lifted out of the sand to bounce off from the smuggler's sandal hissing as it danced sideways over the wet sand. The man must have nearly stepped on the snake and as it twisted away it lashed out at the foot that had disturbed it. The smuggler was so startled that he slipped and let out a scream leaping back into the torrent rushing down the wash. He fell hard on a boulder trying to get away from the snake. He seemed to be out of breath but did not stop for long!
Before Trevor and Andy could reach him he was off through the creosote bush scrub and vanished into the blackness. He seemed to be limping from his fall on the rocks. They heard footfalls farther and farther away as his sandals slapped the wet sand and then there was only silence.
Meanwhile, Larry took off in the green van ramming an unoccupied police car out of the way with the heavy grill on the front of the van and smashing one of the headlights as he tried to escape. Tim Blain attempted to cut him off but the van sideswiped Tim's jeep sending it into the muddy wash as the van accelerated.
Tim rammed his four-wheel drive into gear and fishtailed out of the wash in rapid pursuit sending up a spray of wet sand and water. Several of the other vehicles dodged around the smashed unit and were close behind Tim.
Sheriff Sadler stayed behind to organize a search party for the driver of the light colored van. Andy, Trevor, Danny and Jin helped for awhile. They wandered in a short time later empty handed.
"He could be hiding anywhere out there." Jason said as he sat down in one of the camp chairs and downed some lemonade. "He spooked some Big Horn Sheep rams up there and they went trotting up the side of the canyon on a trail only they know about.
"They'll have to wait until morning and track him." Trevor suggested reaching into the chip bag. "That snake freaked me out!"
"Too bad he had sandals on." Jin added as he helped Danny pack up the telescope.
"Sidewinders can strike very high if they want. Their strike is fast and their fangs are like needles so sometimes people don't realize they've been bitten right away." Andy said.
"It's pretty dumb to be wearing sandals out here," "Trevor said.
"Man, I am never going to wear sandals out here again!" Danny said staring down at his own sandals. "Those things are invisible in the dark!"
"They are invisible during the day too because they are the color of dry sand and they bury their bodies in the sand up to their eyeballs." Andy said. "I was out on the dunes by Ocotillo Wells last year and nearly stepped on one early in the morning. I jumped a mile!"
"What do you have to do if you get bit, Andy?" Jin wanted to know.
"Well, people have lots of ideas. Mostly you want to get to a hospital right away." Andy said.
"For a shot?" Jin asked.
"They don't always give antivenin. It depends. One of the rangers out here who is a really big guy was bitten by a sidewinder. He stepped out the back door of his house and stood on the cement just outside the door calling his dog one summer night. He was wearing those thick-soled flip-flops people wear at the beach.
Anyway, a small rattler, only about ten inches long bit him. He went to the Brawley Hospital right away. They didn't give him the antivenin because he was such a big guy. He went home and got really sick and had to go back to the hospital. He stayed in the hospital for 3 days and was off work for a while."
"What would you do if you were out hiking and got bit along the trail?" Trevor wanted to know.
"First, you should have someone with you so that they can get help. Second, don't run around. Try to be calm so you don't make your heart pump blood any faster.
"Look," Danny pointed. "The Sheriff's men are coming out of the canyon."
"They are probably giving up for the night." Jason suggested.
"Did you find him? Danny called to the officers.
"No. They are bringing over the helicopter from Brawley so we're going to rest until they get here."
The Sheriff eventually wandered over to the camp as some of his officers beat the bushes to find the escapee under the powerful beam from the helicopter after it arrived.
"We have to stop meeting like this," the Sheriff said trudging up the hill to the makeshift camp. "Looks like you brought your posse with you tonight." Danny introduced him to everyone else as he climbed up the slope to avoid the flowing water.
"That telescope sure came in handy tonight, Danny," Sheriff Sadler complemented. "We haven't caught him but we at least know what direction he went in. You really helped while we were waiting for those guys to arrive, too. You know, I was wondering if we should put some officers over in this area. When I found out what Tim had arranged with you I wasn't sure if we should do it that way but it turned out fine."
"At least no one got hurt," Ben said shaking his hand.
"Well, not yet anyway. There's another roadblock that will probably pick up Larry if Tim Blain doesn't get him first. We think he will head straight east and have road blocks on those highways." The Sheriff said. "They won't play around. They'll just blow out his tires. They have the tire spike strips already on the road. Hopefully he won't run off like this guy did."
"If I know Tim he's mad enough to catch that van on foot right now." Andy added. "He's very proud of that jeep."
"Tim's vehicle will be in for repairs for awhile and that car looks totaled." Jason said taking down a tent and shaking his head.
"As loaded as that van is it isn't able to go any faster than Tim's jeep tonight." Trevor added, grabbing the last of the cookies. "Tim will probably be able to catch him."
"Speaking of going faster," Andy glanced over at the once dry wash that was now a swift flowing stream. "Looks like it is going to be awhile before we can get the truck back across. The truck will sink into that watery sand and become part of the landscape here. It's a good thing you parked on the other side Trevor."
"I'll get one of the rangers to winch your vehicle across just as soon as I call in the tow truck for this wreck." The Sheriff offered dialing a number on his cell phone.
"We better do it soon. There may be lots more water coming off the Santa Rosa Mountains. It looks like it's still raining up there." Jason suggested, as another jagged lightening strike lit up the Mountains to the north of them.
The Sheriff nodded and spoke into his phone for a few minutes. "Paul will be right here." The sheriff said later. "He has the best winch. He'll have you high and dry in no time."
"Where's Officer Jamison tonight?" Danny asked.
"I've been wanting to apologize for his rude behavior the other night." Sheriff Sadler said. "Funny thing, though, he has just up and disappeared. He turned in his gun and badge and put in his resignation yesterday. Said he had had enough. No one has heard from him since he left the station. He moved out of his apartment without notice. It's a mystery." The sheriff shook his head.
"We had begun to suspect that he might have something to do with this smuggling business. He always seemed to be around when it was being discussed. Once we had a bust planned and when we got there everyone had cleared out. We'll probably never know what happened to him. The last anyone saw him he was trying to get into the evidence locker where we put that money box of Mama Maria's."
It was surprisingly easy to get the truck across when it was attached to the towline of a big jeep. It wanted to slide in the direction of the flow but the ranger in the jeep put on some speed and the SUV popped out of the wet sandy wash. It was covered up to the windows in mud and junk carried along by the water.
"Jason you were right! Just look at that river now." Danny said safely from the other side a short time later as they watched a torrent of water wash over the sand to flood the road with more rocks and debris.
As they watched a sudden racket broke out behind them coming from the abandoned van. They all began to run in that direction thinking there were parrots that had been left behind.
As the group arrived at the van Sheriff Sadler broke the lock and yanked open the back doors of the van. The only thing inside was a large garbage bag that was rolling back and forth on the floor of the van, banging against the sides and emitting muffled sounds. The Sheriff and Jason jumped inside and grabbed the bag. Whatever was inside that bag got really violent and they had to let go of it. Finally, the sheriff backed away and yelled in a commanding voice, "Stop! This is the sheriff".
The bag slumped against one wall of the van. Jason tore at the plastic bag as the sheriff shined his flashlight directly at the lump. As the plastic came loose they could see that it was a person wrapped up in duct tape!
"We have to get him loose before he suffocates!" Sheriff Sadler yelled for everyone to help.
Andy had her pocketknife out and cut through the tape binding his wrists and ankles. It must have been painful to rip off all that tape but there was no other way.
Soon a face was visible and they could see it was a young man. He looked dazed and bruised but he was definitely alive!
Sheriff Sadler was gruff, "Who are you? If you are part of this bunch of thieves I just want you to know that we have arrested your gang so don't try anything funny!"
"My. . .name . . .is Jorgé."
A short while later Andy was on the phone to Tony. "Poor Jorgé! There he is thinking he is at the end of his rope and going to be left to die on the desert when a whole hoard of crazy people descend on him. We were all so relieved to find him that everyone wanted to help get the tape off and give him first aid. Everyone was yelling and congratulating him on staying alive and I'm sure he thought we were nuts."
"Well, he couldn't have known you were all looking for him," Tony laughed. "He is certainly going to have an interesting story to tell. Ken just got Julie up so why don't you let her talk to Jorgé? She is looking so relieved!"
Andy passed the phone to Jorgé who had drunk nearly a gallon of water and eaten two sandwiches as soon as they offered them. He talked to Julie for a short time in Spanish and then one of the ambulances arrived to take him to the hospital.
"We did it, Andy!" Danny shouted after the ambulance left with its precious cargo. "We found Jorgé!"
What a night! But it was not over yet...!
©Copyright - Ann Wellhouse 2015