“Whoa! Carson, back this sucker up.” Riley twisted in the pick-up’s passenger seat, looking over his shoulder. “There’s a car in the ravine. We better check it out.”
It wasn’t unusual for accidents to happen on this stretch of curvy mountain road. It posed a natural sobriety test, weeding out imposters and heavy-footed drivers.
The pickup was still moving backwards when Riley jumped clear and scooted down the embankment. By the time Carson parked on the shoulder and got out, Riley was scrambling back up the bank.
“Call Sheriff Tate, Carson. It’s that lady that just moved to town and went to work for Hanche. Tell Tate to bring the undertaker with him.”
“You sure, Riley? You don’t think …”
“I know what I seen. I hate it, but it is what it is. We ought to stay, I suppose.”
“Uh, Riley.” Carson was peering intently down the slope. “Didn’t that lady have a little feller, maybe second grade age? Seems like …”
Riley looked at Carson, wide eyed. “I didn’t see him,” he hollered, jumping over the edge and skidding down the slope, his boots showering rocks. “I’m taking another look-see.”
Carson stood on the edge and called the sheriff’s office, getting a glimpse every now and then of Riley searching the dense shrubbery around the car.
“Over here,” Riley yelled.
Carson launched down the slope. Riley was on his knees twenty yards in front of the wrecked car.
“That’s a drop of blood,” Riley said, pointing. “There’s another back yonder. It looks like somebody, or something drew a losing hand.” Riley moved further down the slope, leaning close to the ground. “Dadgum, Jack, I never…”
“Wat’cha see?” Carson asked, peering over Riley’s shoulder.
“I dun’no, exactly. That dark spot in the sandy place is blood. But, it’s smack in the middle of a big cat’s track. It looks like that critter was dragging something. I don’t want to ponder what that means.”
“I’ll call Indian Tom. He can track a whisper across a frozen lake.” Carson turned to crawl up the bank to where he had two bars of cell phone reception.
“Tom’s out of commission. Didn’t you hear?”
“He trailed a pretty young thing wearing a bright yellow ribbon in her pigtail. Trouble was, he ignored size twelve boot prints on the same path. The gal’s husband kicked a steel-toed dent in his head. Tom is in Sisters of Mercy hospital.”
“Riley, if that kid’s leaking blood, we got’ta find him pronto. It’s getting dark. We better get help.”
“Wait, Carson. Don’t you have that high dollar blood tracking flashlight in your tool box? The one we used to find that big twelve point last …”
Carson scrambled up the bluff hollering, “Stay put.”
It was slow going, and pitch-black down in the bottom, but from time to time a blood drop would glow in the light’s beam and confirm they were on the trail.
“Whoa,” Riley whispered. He had started around a rock outcropping and stepped back. He pointed the light beneath Carson’s chin. “Don’t the scriptures say something about the lion and the lamb lying down together?"
Carson frowned. “It’s the wolf, I think …”
“See if you see what I think I seen. I ain’t believing my eyes. Could be shadows.”
Carson took the flashlight and peered around the corner. “It’s a boy, curled up with a mountain lion?”
Riley nodded vigorously, whispering, “We got to get out of here. Is your snake charmer loaded in the truck? That boy needs help.”
“You’re right. But things aren’t as bad as they seem.”
“Are you loco, Carson?”
“You missed the blue collar on the lion, didn’t you?”
“That’s old Mary Beth McGargle’s pet lion that loped off last week after her burro kicked him over the fence. I don’t think he’ll hurt anyone. He’s licking blood oozing from a purple knot on the kid’s forehead. Unless you want to try sorting ‘em out, we better call Mary to come get the brute.”
“I’ll call her,” Riley said, turning and disappearing in the dark. Carson heard Riley stumbling over rocks, muttering, “I best go to church Sunday and tip the preacher. I never believed in miracles. But, if that kid lives, this sure qualifies.”
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Postscript: Mother and son survived. Riley polished his boots and went to church Sunday.
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