Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Write in the MYSTERY genre (04/05/07)
TITLE: The Case Of The Shoe-less Joe
By Lynda Schultz
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No one was supposed to stop along the shoulder of the highway. The unfortunate man who had not filled up before starting across this barren stretch of road hadn’t had a choice. It was he who discovered the shoe.
At first, the motorist didn’t give it much thought. He had a greater concern — his own feet, and how far he might have to walk to get help. Besides, people tossed all kinds of things from their car windows as they sped between their urgent Point A’s and their imperative Point B’s. There was a hefty fine for throwing litter on the highway. But, oddly enough, no one paid for the seemingly endless pieces of shredded tire strewn along hundreds of miles of roadway. That was apparently acceptable environmental “collateral damage.” The nation would be brought to its knees without the goods loaded behind the cabs of all those trucks. It was a pity that the rubber they dropped, along with their products, wasn’t biodegradable. Someone would have to come along eventually and pick it up: hopefully before it caused an accident.
Happily, the road kill was more environmentally friendly, and more easily dealt with. The wheels of progress saw to that. The crushed remains of rodents, raccoons, porcupines, cats, dogs, and even the occasional deer, were common roadside waste, studiously ignored by most travelers as nothing more than one more bump in the road.
However, brand-new Italian leather was something noteworthy. The stranded driver called the police.
The state trooper who responded to the call had been hiding in a gully on a grassy median to the west. It had been a slow day for speeders, so even a single shoe found by the roadside was a break from the monotony. He’d seen lots of shoes: sneakers hanging by their laces from telephone wires, holey soles tossed out of car windows, a single shoe fallen accidentally from an opened door when some other hapless driver stopped by the side of the road. Nevertheless, the trooper had a bad feeling about this one. He was no Horatio Caine,* but it looked to him like there might be blood on this particular designer’s masterpiece.
So, he called it in. Everyone else was apparently having a slow day too. From every nook and cranny in the county, police cars emerged, lights flashing as they sped along the shoulders of the interstate. When a trooper roaring in from the east noticed an abandoned car just a few hundred yards from where the shoe had been found, the “plot,” as they say, thickened. A car, AND a single shoe, both with no occupant, shattered the boredom of a hot and humid afternoon.
Miles away, the traffic slowed. The sight of such an overwhelming number of police vehicles rushing toward the horizon was surely a sign of some major pileup. Necks stretched, motorists grumbled, and speculation grew until every passerby crawled up to the scene, and then with great disappointment, picked up speed and drove away. There was nothing to see except half of the county’s police force studying the ditches and scratching its’ collective head under the blazing afternoon sun.
Perhaps the stranded driver had been picked up and taken to the nearest gas station (though this didn’t explain the shoe). The car and the footwear were not necessarily connected. Could it have been a kidnapping? This part of the country was known as “Bible belt.” There were almost as many churches as there were service centers. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek the theory was proposed, by the irreligious among the troopers, that the rapture had taken place, and the owner of the shoe had been whisked away to his heavenly reward. Though it was meant to be a ridiculous suggestion, it did cause some nervous glances between the less secure of the churchgoers among them. No real answers were forthcoming.
Far away, resting quietly in the coolness of the swamp, a ‘gator burped. That last bite of dinner had been tough — a little like Italian hand-stitched shoe leather. However, a touch of indigestion was fine with him. He’d done his duty as he felt compelled to do it: an eye given for an eye, a tooth taken for a tooth, a man called Joe, received in payment for one of God’s other critters so carelessly and mercilessly tossed by the side of I-75.
*Horatio Caine, fictitious Crime Scene Investigator on the hit series, <i>CSI Miami</i>
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