I stumbled. I managed to keep my balance, but dropped the phone. When I bent over to pick it up, I felt light-headed, so I knelt instead. I scooped it up and looked around. I was about halfway down a gravel road the approximate width of a sidewalk that wound through a knee-high field of grass and weeds. The grass on the right-hand side of the road had been flattened recently.
Ahead a few yards on my left, there was a shape that looked like a bus. Beyond it was a trailer with the windows lit up.
Mosquitoes buzzed around my ears and bounced off my face, drawn to the dried blood. I stood up slowly, ears pricked for any sound (just the whine of the mosquitoes), nose primed for any scent (just dirt and the one I’d followed, the exhaust from the truck). I moved to my left, into the field, and headed for the bus, the vegetation whisking against my pants.
It was an RV, not a bus. I was approaching its right side; the door that had opened into the living area was gone. I paused in the doorway and sniffed. No fresh human scents. Just rot and mildew and a long-gone possum. I climbed inside and sat down on the threadbare carpet, my back against a kitchenette cabinet.
The first voicemail was from the dispatcher. The other three were from the shift sergeant, Greg Thibodeaux. His last message, he said he was sending a unit to my location. Hang on, he said. Hang on.
“Shit,” I muttered. I called him back. I kept my story simple: I’d let the vehicle I’d pulled over go with a warning to slow it down, and when I’d picked up the mike to report in, I’d discovered the radio was broken.
“I have no idea what I did to it. It was working fine earlier.”
He admonished me for not sticking to protocol and using my cell phone to check in.
“I didn’t have a signal,” I replied. “But I’m a few miles down the road now.” I thought that explanation was damned clever: it explained why I hadn’t called in earlier and why, if there was a car sent to my location, it wasn’t finding me.
Thibodeaux chewed me out for a few more minutes, then told me to head back in. I would switch cars and finish my shift in one with a working radio.
“It’s going to take me a while to get back, Sergeant.”
I pulled a number out of thin air. “Forty-five minutes. I guess.”
“Goddamn, where are you, Anderson?”
In a shitty-smelling recreational vehicle. “Near that dirt bike track. I’m turning around now, Sergeant.”
He finally let me go. I checked the time on the phone. I had an hour, I figured, to get back. Lucky he hadn’t told me to stay put and wait for backup to get to me–
The phone rang. Thibodeaux was calling back. I clicked the phone off and stuck it on my belt. I got into a crouch and duck-walked to a window that looked out at the trailer. I used the side of my fist to wipe some of the grime off of the window and peered out.
There was the truck. And my cruiser. No longer attached to the truck, that was good. What were the chances that the keys were in its ignition, and I could just drive it out?
I crept out of the RV and across the field to find out.