|It was cold and damp as the big red truck picked it's way along the
narrow twisting two-lane road. Fog rolled in like a blanket, so thick
you could almost chew it. Jake strained his eyes to see ahead and
dropped another gear. A bead of cold sweat trickled the back of his
neck and the already tense muscles in Jake's shoulders and back twitched
with its touch. This was the first time Jake had ever gone to the
East Coast after a load of fish and the first time he had encountered a
true pea-soup fog. Jake muttered under his breath, cursing dispatch
for begging him to do this pickup and himself for being dumb enough to
listen. Never again, he promised himself and half smiled. A
trucker's life was full of "favors" for dispatchers that turned around
and bit you.
He cast a quick glance sideways at his buddy Traveller. Old Traveller
had had himself quite a time getting aquainted with all the cats that hung
out at the fish plant, even if he did have to convince one big old tom
that a trucking cat was no pushover. Right now Traveller was perched
on his dashboard seat peering intently at the swirling grey fog.
"I sure wasn't expecting this old buddy", Jake said to Traveller.
"When we get out of this mess I'm gonna have to have a sleep just to get
my nerves settled down again." "Maiow", agreed Traveller. Jake
squirmed in the seat to try and relax his back muscles a bit and flexed
his fingers, which were cramping from holding the wheel so tightly.
As they rounded a curve the fog cleared for a space and there
in the middle of the road stood the figure of a young girl flagging him
down. Jake gave a startled cry and yanked the truck towards the shoulder
to miss her. He jammed on the air brakes and fought the big rig to
a shuddering stop. Traveller dug his claws into his perch and hung
on tight. For a few seconds the two friends just sat there trying
to get their pounding hearts under control.
Then there was a tapping at the door and Jake reached over and wound
his window down. The pale face of the young woman stared back at
him. "Please mister", she said, "I'm in trouble and need a ride out
of here." "Sure", answered Jake, "this is no place to be stranded,
climb in." As she walked around the front of the truck to the passenger
side Jake looked at Traveller, who was watching the girl very intently.
"I know old man", Jake said, "but we can't leave her out here". "Mrroww",
replied Traveller non-commitedly.
As the girl climbed into the truck Jake got a better look at her in
the cab lights. "Can't be much more than a teenager", Jake thought
as he took in the slight figure. Her blonde hair hung wetly over
a pale face. There were muddy smudges on her face and her clothing.
"Is there anyone else with you?" asked Jake. "No, just me", she said.
"Did you have car trouble?" Jake asked as he selected a gear and started
the rig rolling again. Then he remembered that he had seen no sign
of a car. "No, no car", came the soft reply. "Well how did
you get away out here then?" "I was left here." "Alone?" came
Jake's surprised reply. The girl bowed her head, "Yes, all alone."
"How long have you been out here all by yourself?" The girl's voice
was barely above a whisper, "It seemed like a long time, a very long time.
Please mister, I don't really want to talk about it, I just want to get
to the truckstop about 20 miles up the road. My Mom works there and
I just want to see her." "Sure miss", said Jake gently, "I didn't
mean to pry. We'll get you to your Mom just fine. Don't you
Silence settled into the truck again. As they rolled along Jake
kept glancing over at his strange passenger. She just mostly sat
there looking down at her folded hands. Traveller sat on his perch
in front of her and never took his eyes off her. Then suddenly he
gave a soft Meow and reached out one paw towards her. The girl looked
up at Traveller, then smiled sadly and took Traveller's paw in her hand.
Traveller immediately began a gentle purring and hopped into her lap.
She looked startled for a moment but quickly began stroking Traveller's
head and talking softly to him. Traveller looked straight into her
eyes and smiled a happy kitty smile.
After a few minutes she turned her head to look at Jake. "You
have a good cat here", she said. Jake grinned, "He's more like a
partner actually, my best friend." "I remember what that's like",
she replied in a wistful tone, "I used to have a cat I loved very much.
But that was before....", and her voice trailed off again. She turned
her gaze back to Traveller and resumed the smooth stroking. Jake
felt a wave of pity for this obviously unhappy young woman. He could
tell there was a lot of pain behind those sad blue eyes. His glance
caught her hand as she ran it over Traveller. "That's a very pretty
ring you're wearing." She lifted her hand and looked at the ring.
"It's a gift I got for my Mom on her birthday. I never got to give
it to her." Then she turned her face back to the window. "There's
the truckstop up ahead", she whispered, "I'll leave you there." Sure
enough, the lights of a little truckstop shone through the darkness and
Jake started gearing the big rig down.
He pulled into the lot and backed Big Red into an open slot. The
girl just quietly sat there still stroking Traveller. As he set the
brakes with a hiss of air Jake looked over at her. "Just wait a second
while I check Red out and I'll walk in with you. I could use a coffee
and I'd like to meet your Mom." She just bowed her head again and
closed her eyes. Jake saw a single tear run down her cheek.
As he stepped down she looked quickly at him. "Mister", she said,
"thank you for stopping. You've been kinder to me than you know."
As he met those sad eyes Jake's heart swelled and tears welled up in his
eyes. "I'll just be a second", he rasped in a voice that was suddenly
strained with emotion, "then I'll see you safe to your mother's arms."
Jake was blinking back tears as he quickly made his circle check.
As he rounded the back of the trailer he saw the passenger side door standing
wide open. An unexplainable feeling of dread rushed over him and
he ran to the open cab. There was no sign of the girl. Jake
spun and looked around the parking lot. It was completely empty,
nothing moved. A soft "Maow" turned him back to the truck.
Traveller was sitting there pawing softly at something in the seat.
Jake stepped up and looked in. There on the seat lay the girl's ring
and a single red wild rose. Jake and Traveller looked at each other
in silence for a minute. Then he picked up the ring and the rose
and ran towards the restaurant with Traveller hot on his heels.
Jake rushed into the restaurant and looked quickly around. There
was no sign of the girl and only a handful of people there. A big
man in white who was obviously the cook stood up from the counter where
he had idly been sipping a cup of coffee. "What's your problem Mac?",
growled the cook, "What's the idea of busting in like that and scaring
everyone?" Jake took another look around. Besides the cook
there were only two customers who were obviously truckers, a tired looking
cop having a late night break and two waitresses. On a second look
one of the waitresses caught Jake's eye, there was something about her.
"Look folks", Jake said, "I'm sorry if I startled you. I'm just
looking for a young woman who flagged me down up the road." He glanced
at the waitress again. "She told me her Mom worked here." The
place went totally silent for a few minutes, broken only when the waitress
gasped and broke into tears. The cop stood up and approached Jake
with an unfriendly frown. "Look buddy, I don't know what your game
is but you better sit down and explain yourself right now." Jake
looked around at the angry faces and the sobbing waitress with a sinking
feeling. As he was being hemmed in by unfriendly men a grey blur
shot by him. It was Traveller, who had quietly slipped in behind
Jake and had been sitting and watching. But now that his friend was
in danger Traveller decided to act. He leaped up on the counter,
his ears flat and eyes shooting fire he glared at the men and gave a low
throaty hiss. In spite of themselves the men stepped back a pace
and gave Jake a chance to collect himself.
He scooped Traveller up in his arms and faced the cop. "I think
we both have things to talk about", he said and seated himself at a table.
The cop sat down opposite, gave Traveller a wary look, and said, "OK, I'm
listening." Jake went through the events of the past minutes and
watched the hard look in the cop's eyes turn to a look of wonder.
Jake finished his story and he set the ring and the rose on the table.
As everyone sat looking at the display a trembling hand touched Jake on
the shoulder. He looked up into the saddest eyes he had ever seen.
The woman placed a photo on the table before him. "Is this the girl
you say you saw?", she said softly. Jake looked down at the photo
and the face that looked back at him was the same as the one that sat beside
him for the past miles. Traveller nosed the photo and broke into
a gentle purr. "Yes, that looks like her, Jake answered, "but the
girl I saw was much paler and looked somewhat older. I guess the
sadness in her face could account for that." "That's my daughter",
the waitress replied, "she disappeared around a year ago." Jake reached
out and took the woman's hand. "I don't know where she went ma'am,
but I do know she wanted to see you." He reached out and picked up
the ring. "She was wearing this. She said it was a birthday
gift that she wanted to give you." He placed the ring in the woman's
hand. Traveller picked the rose up between his teeth, walked across
the table and laid it down in front of the woman. He looked up at
her and mewed softly. "This rose was lying on the seat with the ring",
said Jake, "but the girl was gone." The woman gently petted Traveller
and picked the rose up. "My little girl's name was Rose, I used to
call her my Wild Rose." She had a cat she loved very much, but after
Rose disappeared her cat just wasted away. She died about 3 months
later in her sleep, lying on Rose's bed." Her voice broke and she
turned away, her body shuddering with sobs.
Jake looked back at the cop who was sitting there with lowered eyes.
"I don't understand", Jake said, "if everyone knows this girl, why aren't
we out looking for her?" "Yeah, you don't understand", replied the
cop, "follow me outside and I'll explain." Jake and Traveller followed
the officer back out into the parking lot. It was still cold and
empty. The cop stopped, lit a cigarette and looked at Jake.
"Rose was a wild young girl. Not bad you understand, just headstrong
and hard to control. She hated this place, said she wanted more than
this. Finally she ran away and was gone for months before anybody
heard from her. Then one day her mom got a call from her. Rose
said she was coming home for her Mom's birthday. Ellie, her Mom,
was thrilled. But Rose didn't show up and of course that crushed
poor Ellie all over again. Rose wasn't real popular with Ellie's
friends that day. But Ellie was still hoping. That night we
got called to an armed robbery at a store in town. The robber shot
the cashier and two customers, killed the cashier. Anyway, after
a high-speed pursuit involving half the police force, we cornered the guy
but he decided to try shooting his way out. He didn't survive.
But when forensics checked out the getaway car it turned out to be registered
to Rose. We found a whole lot of bloodstains inside the car.
They turned out to be Rose's too. I was the one who had to tell Ellie."
He stopped speaking and stood silently for a few minutes. Jake and
Traveller waited for him to resume. "We never found a trace of Rose
after that. No body, no anything. We figured she's dead judging
by the amount of bloodstains we found. Ellie still hoped for months
but she'd started to accept it. Then you walked in tonight."
A cold chill ran over Jake. "I don't know what to tell you officer,
but I saw that girl sitting in my truck as clear as I see you now.
She did have smudges of mud on her face and clothes, but everything else
is exactly like I told you. Traveller here even sat in her lap most
of the way. I don't know what else to say."
The officer stood quietly looking off into the dark for a minute or
two, then he turned to Jake with an odd look on his face. "If you
can spare a little time would you be willing to take me back to where you
first saw her? We can take my cruiser so it shouldn't take long.
There's just alot of things that need to be cleared up about tonight."
Jake looked directly into the cop's eyes and saw no betrayal there.
Traveller put one paw on Jake's leg and gave a soft Meow. Jake looked
down at his partner, then back at the cop. "Well, there's your answer
officer, let's go."
The three drove silently back over the road that Big Red had covered
just a short while before. The fog had started to creep back in to
add to the sense of unreality each of them felt. Finally, Jake pointed
and said, "Over there." The cruiser pulled over onto the shoulder
and all three sat there looking out at the wet trees with a curious sense
of reluctance to step out. A movement to one side caught Jake's eye
and he turned his head. "My God", he breathed, "look it's her, the
girl I picked up. How'd she get back here?" The cop grabbed
the mike to his PA system and called to the girl, "Miss!! Rose!! Stay right
where you are. Don't move." The figure of the girl turned and
moved back into the bushes. Jake and the officer both jumped out
of the cruiser. Suddenly Traveller shot between Jake's legs and leaped
into the bushes where the girl had been. Jake shouted and ran after
Traveller. The cop grabbed his flashlight and followed. They
wound their way through the brush and the fog and suddenly stepped into
a small clearing. Traveller was in the center of that clearing, digging
madly at the base of a small bush and crying loudly.
"What the heck ails your cat?" the cop asked. Jake walked over
and knelt beside Traveller who was now sitting under the bush looking up
into Jake's face. He suddenly bent down and looked closer at the
dug-up soil. "You better come see this officer", he said. The
cop had been peering at the surrounding bushes, looking for some sign of
the girl they had seen just moments ago. He walked over and shone
his light where Jake was pointing. "That's cloth", he said and knelt
to dig a little deeper with his hands. He drew back startled as his
fingers found the bones of a skeletal hand. Traveller laid down on
the edge of the hole and let out a soft mournful cry. The cop turned
to Jake, "I think we'd better call this in."
Within a couple of hours the site was a bustling hive of activity.
Jake, Traveller and the officer all sat silently in the cruiser, each thinking
his own thoughts. They looked up as the Medical Examiner and one
of the detectives walked out of the bushes and approached the car.
"It's definitely the remains of a young girl", the detective said sadly,
"there's a bullet hole in the skull so it's a homicide for sure."
He held out his hand. "We found this on the wrist of the skeleton.
We won't need it to identify the remains, so I thought you'd like to take
it to Ellie." He gently placed the object into the officer's palm.
It was a golden ID bracelet and on it was engraved the name Rose.
The cop closed his hand on the bracelet and gave a choked sob. He
turned to Jake with tears streaming down his cheeks. "This'll hurt
Ellie bad", he whispered, "but at least she'll know now. She'll have
closure and a body to bury." He bowed his head and collected himself.
"I don't know what to think. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes
I wouldn't have believed it. God knows how I'll be able to make out
my report." He shook his head and gave a sigh. "Come on, I'll
take you back to your truck."
Neither man said much on the drive back to the truck stop. Jake
and Traveller both went in and sat with the cop as he told Ellie about
that night's events. Jake was watching this unfold when his attention
was drawn to Traveller who was idly pawing at something on the counter;
the beautiful flower that the girl had left in the truck. He gave
a slight sigh and when everyone looked at him he picked the flower up in
his fingers. "I just realized something. The bush where Traveller
found your daughter ma'am, it was a rose bush, a wild rose bush."
A few minutes later Jake carried Traveller out to Big Red. As
he unlocked the door and sat Traveller on the seat Ellie's voice turned
him. She reached out and took his big rough hand in hers. "I
just wanted to say thank you", she said in a voice made husky by crying.
"Rose must have known you two were special. Thanks for bringing my
daughter home." Then she kissed Jake on the cheek and retreated back
to the restaurant. Jake stood and looked after her for a long minute,
then climbed back into Big Red. He looked at Traveller and Traveller
looked back at Jake. Jake sighed. "Well old man, this is one
run we're going to remember for a long time. But I guess we better
get ourselves back on home." With that he fired up the big diesel
and Traveller hopped up on his perch on the dash. Jake was just reaching
to release the air brakes when he froze. Across the parking lot stood
the figure of Rose. She was clean and smiling now and she waved to
him and Traveller. In her arms lay a cat.