"Tony, this is Lotta," the next day Lotta called Tony back. She couldn't get 'Find Jorgé' off her mind and had a nagging thought that there was something more to the unknown beaten man than Steve's theories. Why did the victim have bird feathers on his clothes? Tony ran into undocumented workers in her job as a social worker and Lotta wanted to know more about it.
Tony was free for what would be an early lunch for her and a late breakfast for Danny and Andy so they all met downtown at a small deli near the American Station Trolley Stop.
Tony told them that the battered man was one reason why she wanted to see them and had to hear the whole story again.
Then she explained, "Some people who are having a hard time in their country are willing to do anything to get into this country and a job in order to be able to send money home to their families. As bad as it sounds a few of them will even do a smuggling run if it gets them across the border. They may have families here, sisters, brothers, a mother, you know, but they aren't allowed to immigrate for various reasons. Some of these people are criminals in their country but most just want to work toward a better life.
"Any idea why he would have feathers on his clothes? Andy asked.
"Nope. But he probably wasn't living in the best conditions." Tony suggested. "Poverty isn't wonderful and it can be hard to keep things clean. Maybe he had to sleep around chickens."
"If the mugged victim has family here how would they ever know to come and identify him?" Andy wondered. "There was no picture in the paper."
"They probably wouldn't and, as you say they might be afraid to."
"If this guy 'Jorgé' is not one of the smugglers he could be in trouble somewhere on the desert. It's getting hot out there during the day now and anyone without water won't last long," Danny said.
"How can anyone 'Find Jorgé' if we can't find out who the mugged man is?" Andy wanted to know.
They thought about that awhile as the trolleys rumbled by.
"Tony, you handle this kind of problem all the time and have some contacts. Is there any way to put out the word to the Latin-American community so that if he does have family here they'll feel safe enough to come forward?" Lotta asked, genuinely concerned.
"Hmm. Yeah, the churches and the community center: The center has a bulletin board and the churches have newsletters and Father Timothy of Saint Anthony's or Reverend Michaels of the First Evangelical might be able to help. I'll give them a call. They would be willing to act as mediators with the police, too, so that there would be no misunderstandings. They've been through this before, believe me." Tony replied.
Danny and Andy were ready to make the move to the cabin in the Laguna Mountains after lunch. The cats finally cooperated by getting into the carriers but only after Danny put cat treats inside.
"Did you get the dog biscuits? When is Fina suppose to have the puppies?" Danny asked.
"Actually, our neighbor, Mrs. Kassas, was vague about the exact day Fina got away from her. She was watching Fina while we were in the desert for a few days a couple of months ago. But probably she's due very soon. Do you need batteries before we go?"
"I need an extra photo card. Since I'm just learning I tend to take a shotgun approach - take lots of pictures and hope some come out ok."
"Well, we wouldn't want you to miss any important shots so we'll stop and pick up photo cards." They didn't know at the time how true that would be!
They packed up the animals into the SUV, left a message for Mrs. Kassas who looks after the house when Andy and Lotta are away and took off for the beautiful Laguna mountains.
As the desert wind swirls around them, two men meet on a lonely stretch of highway late at night.
"Hey! This is only half of what they promised!" The taller man was angry as he helped to load the crates from the smaller van into his larger one. "I can't be wasting my time with you jerks if you can't deliver."
"Listen, buddy, we had to bring it in a smaller van. Some nosey campers found the body and probably got a look at the truck." The man with the gray hat was equally aggressive. "If your people would have done what you were supposed to do we could have delivered all these lousy crates tonight. Instead there's going to be two deliveries. We'll be back next week so look for a message at the regular website and we'll let you know when and where."
"I don't like it. Isn't that Ricardo's hat you have on? I thought it was the kid they were going to dump?"
"Yeah, well, your people blew it and we had to clean up the mess. You take orders from the Big Man and he says one more delivery. Just shut up and do your job right so there won't be any more mess ups."
"Ok. Ok. But I'm..."
Just then the man with the gray hat heard his cell phone. "Yeah? Got it!" He snapped the cell phone closed and turned on the tall man. "So what gives? Are you guys planning to take off with this stuff or what? The boss heard a rumor that you pulled up stakes and are planning to run out on us." He was yelling now.
"What are you talking about? I kept all my agreements so far. It sounds like you guys are trying to pull something on us! Hey! What are you doing?"
Gray hat punched the tall man. "You try anything and you'll get more than a sore jaw from the Boss!"
The tall man bolted into his van and drove off. The man in the gray hat did the same, screeching his brakes to avoid a collision with the oncoming traffic.
Julian is on the Cuyamaca side of the mountains. After dropping their stuff and the animals at the cabin in the Laguna Mountains they made the drive through the hills following Sunrise Highway to the north end of Lake Cuyamaca. Lotta, Danny and Andy had planned to stop at the Julian Cafe for a late dinner on the way down Highway 78 to Sentenac Canyon on the desert.
They passed the lake at sunset. There had been heavy late spring rains so it was brim full, overflowing its normal boundaries and stretching to within two football fields of Sunrise Highway. Everyone was out canoeing or fishing.
"I'd like to get a few shots of the lake with the sunset colors and all," Danny requested. "I'm trying out a new camera adapter for my telescope. I can practically read the T-shirt slogans on the boaters clear out in the middle of the lake but I'm still learning how to get a good focus with it."
"We have plenty of time so practice as much as you want." Later when some of his pictures became crucial to the investigation they were glad he'd stopped to learn how to focus.
After a few shots Danny was ready to move on. In Julian there was a wait at the Julian Café so they crossed the street to the hardware store. Lotta wanted to have plenty of flashlight batteries at the cabin and had forgotten to get them when they shopped for Danny's photo cards in town.
They had packed Danny's telescope in the truck and the plan was that he would sky watch and take photos while Lotta and Andy trudged around beside the stream listening to frogs. Lotta was waiting to see if she would be able to do fieldwork around Danny now. He used to be so quiet but now he talked away about his various interests including it seemed Jamie Vargas.
"How long are the Vargas' going to stay with us?" Danny asked.
"Anna said they would all be there for the weekend but its summer so maybe Jamie could stay longer."
"Great. She said she wanted to learn how to use my camera."
"She seems to be interested in animals. Does she go to your middle school?" Andy asked.
"No but she volunteers at Mission Trails Park like I do. She wants to be a vet. She likes animals, especially snakes but spiders freak her out."
"I remember the first time I saw a rattlesnake. I went to the desert one night several years ago with a friend." Lotta liked to tell field stories.
"It was in late spring but was really cold and windy. On one short stretch of Henderson Canyon Road we saw so many sidewinder rattlesnakes we lost count. They must have been having a convention. The area around there is very sandy and that's just the kind of habitat they like and they aren't very friendly."
"You're always telling me about how cool night driving is, Aunt Lotta. When can we do it?"
"We might see something on the road back to the cabin tonight but it's really best earlier in the spring. When the days are warm and the nights are cool that's when things come out on the road to warm up," Andy answered him since Lotta was concentrating on the road.
"Sentenac Canyon is a crazy place to try to pull off the road." Lotta said as she drove down Banner Grade on Highway 78 toward Sentenac Canyon. "In college some of my more intense biology friends would drag me off to the desert for several hours at night to look at the animals that come out on the highway after dark. We would slam to a halt in the middle of the road to see the snakes, geckos and walking sticks that think of the road as a giant heated patio and use it to warm up before going about their adventures in the dark.
You can see some of the most beautiful and exotic animals that live out here on the desert at night in this canyon. I am astonished that we never caused any accidents. There wasn't so much traffic then."
Highway 78 is narrow, winding its way through desert riparian habitat with cottonwoods rustling along the stream. Cottonwoods are a relative of the quaking aspens in the Rocky Mountains. The leaves have very loose attachments to the branches and the slightest breeze makes them twirl around on their stems. A strong wind can make them sound like ocean surf rushing over a pebble beach.
Highway 78 is a straight shot from the farming areas outside Brawley to Julian through the winding canyon and then over the mountains to San Diego. The hay truck drivers out of Brawley think they're shooting the rapids as they maneuver at high speeds around the curves. More often than necessary a truck looses a load here to the delight of the local people with horses, cows or goats to feed.
A driver must have just lost a load of hay and Lotta, Danny and Andy saw hay bales everywhere. Most of it was shoved to the side of the road. There was a large pile at one of the turnouts just past a particularly bad curve and a couple of pickup drivers were taking some home. Their trucks were full and they were just turning back onto Highway 78.
Since cars were slowing to avoid the hay bales Lotta decided to take advantage of the slow speeds and pull over. The hay pile made a good place to hide the SUV. It is a good idea not to be conspicuous out in the middle of no where at night. You never know who you might meet up with on these lonely roads in the dark.
Danny set up his telescope on the other side of the stream from the road, on a ledge jutting out from the rocky canyon wall. Andy was going to sit down a ways away to record the night sounds and Lotta decided to walk up stream. Danny watched the crescent moon rising over the canyon wall with his telescope.
"My science teacher has a telescope hooked up to a laptop computer. All he has to do is type in what he wants to view and the software tells the scope to move there."
"That'd be a neat program to have. Do you get to use it?" Andy asked.
"We use another program that allows us to position the Mount Wilson telescope that's in the mountains outside of Los Angeles. We plan it during class and then request the time on the Mount Wilson scope. Then we have an evening star party to look at it on the computer using the Internet."
"Wow! You must be getting good at computers. Maybe while you are here you can make my web page for me."
"Ok. I'm just learning to do neat stuff like animations. You know, if those guys who beat up the man we found are smugglers what ever they are smuggling is probably being advertised over the Internet."
"I've read that the government monitors the Net sites for illegal activity but how do you ever find specific sites unless you know an address? These illegal sites are probably not listed with browsers." Andy said.
"Oh, it isn't really hard if you spend a lot of time at it. Some of my friends practically live on the Net." When Danny became absorbed in his scope Andy wandered away to record the animal sounds.
After awhile they all took a break and shared some cold Julian apple cider.
"Have you guys noticed all the traffic on the road tonight? All those head lights are ruining my night vision and messing with my timed camera shots."
"Tell you what, Danny, next time we'll go to a more remote spot. The traffic is making it hard to record the frogs, too." Lotta said. "I'll have to come to this site on a weeknight instead of the weekend to get any good recordings. Why don't we head back to the cabin?"
As they started to pack up Danny pointed to the next turn out about a quarter of a mile ahead where two vans had pulled off, one from each direction and the drivers were taking something out of the van heading east. He turned the telescope on them and had the others look.
The men were transferring large wooden crates from the eastbound van to the westbound van.
Danny got some photos of the vans. "Its probably too dark for them to be very good shots. I can't make the shutter speed slow enough to pick up enough light for night shots because they're moving around too much."
"I'm glad that the truck is out of sight because what they are doing is making me nervous." Andy said. "Let's get behind the hay Danny. I don't know what those guys are moving but I don't want them to see us," Andy urged.
"It must be illegal or why else would they meet clear out here?"
"You may be right. We'll stop by the Tamarisk Grove ranger's house before we go home and report it. Can you get the license number?" Lotta asked.
"Looks like - 6, R, 2,7 5 ...maybe a 3 and then I can't get the other number. One of them is standing in front of it but I just got a clear shot of him handing something to his partner. While they were standing in the lights."
"Take a few photos of their faces if you can get them." Andy suggested.
"Come on buddy, turn around. . . That's it . . just a little more . . . Got him! Hopefully, if I have the settings right those should be pretty clear. They stood really still in the headlights for a second like they were listening to something and then the one guy yelled. The other guy looked mad. One of them hit the other one and then they both jumped into their vans."
After the vans drove off, each back in the direction they had come from, Lotta, Danny and Andy slid out from behind the hay bales and drove over to Tamarisk Grove to talk with Ranger Douglass.
©Copyright - Ann Wellhouse 2015