It was Friday after school before Summer had something to report. Jean and Karen had continued to search for Sandy without luck but they became more observant of all the handyman and other contractor trucks parked in neighborhoods. They were especially suspicious of a truck just parked and the contractor sitting inside. Sometimes he was on the phone. Sometimes eating. None of them looked like they were casing the neighborhood where they were parked but who could tell?
Karen called Jean with the information. “It’s outside of town, to the south, down Forest Road 222 about three miles.”
“We should check it out.”
“Yeah.” Jean switched the handset to her left hand. “This is a chance to check out the place while it’s daylight.”
Karen took a deep breath. “What if somebody is there?”
“Put your hiking stuff on. We’ll just say we’re looking for new hikes?”
“I don’t know, Jean.”
“Better to go prepared, right? We don’t want to go tomorrow and not know what we’re up against. In the dark!”
“I guess. I’ll drive. Your Prius won’t like a dirt road.”
“Okay. See you in a few.” Jean hung up and hurried upstairs. This is perfect. We’ll scope the place out when it’s deserted and be ready for tomorrow night. She put on jeans and a tee-shirt. Then kicked off her flip-flops and put on hiking socks and her boots. Karen’s car horn sounded as she reached the bottom of the stairs. She grabbed her purse and keys and headed out the door.
“You were quick.” Jean put on her seat belt.
“I already had jeans and a tee on.” Karen backed out of the driveway and headed down the street. Just had to put my boots on.
“This is great.” Jean tapped a tattoo on her thighs with both hands. “We’ve gotten dull since summer.”
“We’ve not gotten into a fight with a crazy woman, you mean.” Karen shook her head. “I’m starting to think you’re an adrenaline junkie.”
“Nah. I just like things to be interesting.” She watched out of the window as Karen drove them south, out of town. “This is nice. I get to look around. Why is it I always drive?”
“Because you’re a control freak.” Karen laughed. “But I do drive sometimes.”
“True.” She watched another three blocks pass. “Do you know this forest road?”
“No. There are so many leaving the highway, unless it’s for something specific, I don’t try them all.”
Jean nodded. “So we’ll just cruise down the road, try to spot the place, take a look around.”
“Sure. Let’s say that.” Karen licked her lips. “I just hope no one is there.”
“Me, too.” Jean watched the scenery go by as Karen drove. It was six miles south of town where Karen slowed down and put on her turn signal. Jean perked up. “Alright.”
Karen waited for northbound traffic to pass, then pulled across the highway and onto the dirt road. “So far, so good.”
“It’s going to be hard to spot in the dark.”
“Yep. Probably a good thing we’re checking it today. Even if I am being a worry-wart.”
Jean grabbed the hand hold over the window as Karen’s Jeep hit a pothole. “Glad I didn’t bring my car.”
Karen nodded. “Sometimes the dirt roads are in really good shape, sometimes, like this one, not so much. Anyway, I set the trip odometer to zero so we can tell when we’re close.”
They traveled along the road without too many bumps until the odometer read 2.8. “We’re almost there. Keep an eye peeled.” Karen slowed down.
“That must be it.” Jean pointed to the right. The road had dipped down into a canyon about a mile from the spot. The landscape changed from high desert to wooded in the protected canyon. The spot didn’t have much to recommend it. There were no buildings. A chain-link fence circled the ring with a gate on opposite sides. Karen stopped the car and they got out. “Well, it’s secluded.”
Jean nodded. They walked around the fence. “What are these?” Away from the fence was rebar or pipes sticking up out of the ground, each one separated from the others by several feet. She crouched down to look as Karen walked up to her. She studied the dirt. It was rocky and pitted with small holes. She lightly touched a spot. “This is a chain mark. I think this is where they tie the dogs.”
Karen had her arms around herself. “I can’t help but think about these poor dogs.”
“Me, too.” Jean stood up and brushed the dirt off her hands. “Makes my stomach roll.” She looked around the barren area. “So we can’t drive up and park and come in. They’re going to know we aren’t fans. Did Summer say if they charged admission?”
“No. Just where it is. And you’re right. We can’t just walk in. We’ll have to park up the road and hike in. Then come around the back in the trees.” Karen pointed to the forest edge away from the road.
“That’s going to be tricky, the drive into the canyon was kind of narrow. We’d have to park at the top.” She turned to look down the road. “You know what’s that way?”
“Nope. But I brought the maps. Let’s see.” They went back to the car and Karen pulled USGS maps out of the cargo compartment. “Here’s the one.” She put the rest down and opened the map on the cargo compartment floor. She traced a line from Greyson to the forest road then along the thin line of the forest road. “We’re about here.” She pointed at a spot on the map. “If we keep going,” her finger traced the road, “we end up…nowhere. The road just ends. Probably at a canyon.”
“Darn it.” Jean leaned over the map. “Look, as the road reaches the canyon bottom, it opens up. We could park here.”
Karen studied the map. “Maybe. We’ll check it out on the way out.” She folded the map. “I know I’d rather not have to hike down that narrow road with traffic coming up behind us.”
“Or hike back up it. Let’s check it out.”
They closed the cargo door and got in. Karen drove slowly so they could check out possible hiding places along the way. “Look here.” Jean pointed to her right. We could pull the Jeep in behind that stand of trees. The shrub oak would hide it, especially at night.”
Karen pulled off and drove the Jeep into the spot. “Let’s look.” They got out and walked back to the forest road and then back at the Jeep. “Not hidden well for daylight but at night, no one is going to be looking over there.”
“I think it will work and it’s only a third of a mile back to the ring.” Jean stuck her hands in her jean pockets. “We’ll want pictures. Of the people, of license plates.”
Jean sighed. “I don’t know if I want to see that. Or get too close. I’ll bring my camera. It will be better than our cell phones.”
Karen nodded. “Yeah. Makes sense.” She scrubbed her face with both hands. “We’re going to regret this.”
“No we won’t. We’ll be helping to shut down this horror.” Jean pulled her hands out of her pockets. Her voice grew hard. “And send these jackwipes to jail.”
“True.” She headed back to the Jeep. “Let’s get out of here.”