She was sitting at the counter of “Dippin’ Donuts,” jus’ north of Adelanto proper, working on a cup of coffee when she noticed the tiny ripples forming in the dark liquid. Before Cari could think any further — the earth jumped forward, then backwards, splashing coffee all over the counter.
She’d been in earthquakes before, but this one was much harder than she’d ever experience. Cari held tight to the counter top to avoid being knocked to the floor.
The jolt lasted only a few seconds, but it was enough to cause the window to the little donut shop to shatter. Cari heard Joe in the back of the building cussing a blue streak as he picked up whatever pots or pans had fallen.
Evelyn stood feet and hands planted solidly in the doorway between the counter and the kitchen. She was obviously frightened, her eyes opened wide and wild staring at the female deputy hanging tight to the counter to her right.
“Is everyone okay?” Cari hollered loud enough for Joe to hear her.
“Yeah, son-of-a-bitchin’ quakes,” Joe responded.
Evelyn stepped out of the doorway, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Cari answered. “Shit! I got coffee on my uniform!”
“Do they have earthquakes in Florida?” Evelyn asked, hoping to break the tension.
“Hell, I don’t know,” the deputy retorted sounding angrier than she’d wanted too. Then she added in a more friendly tone, “But I know they got alligators.”
Both women smiled at each other.
Cari’s cell phone rang and she fished it out of its leather holder on her equipment laden belt. It was the Kern County Sheriff’s dispatch.
“Yeah, I’m okay? She answered. “How about you guys?”
“Okay,” she added, “I’m on it.”
For the next 48-hours Deputy Cari Tom Owens remained busy taking reports of damaged property throughout the county. She recorded everything from broken windows and cracked walls to various outbuildings having fallen over to large upheavals that ran though residents property.
Meanwhile the earth continued to quake – though not as violently as it had that first day.
Jus’ as she was getting ready to go off shift the second day, she received a radio call about a possible 10-50 north and east of Wilson Ranch and Holly Road. A couple of ATV riders had found what they believed to be a dead body.
Cari swung her patrol truck around on Three Flags Highway, better known as U.S. 395 and headed north towards Seneca Road. Soon she was east bound looking for Wilson Ranch Road in order to get to Holly and the reporting parties.
It took her less than 20-minutes to find the ATV riders. The youngest of the pair looked shaken, “At first I thought it was a mannequin or something.”
The oldest pointed out the body.
“Yeah,” she spoke calmly over her radio, “I’m gonna need the M.E. out here.”
Soon more squad cars and fire trucks started arriving. Officers, deputies and firefighters worked to secure the scene while still others took statements from the riders and searched the area for possible evidence.
Meanwhile, Cari documented the body and the area in which it lay. She tried to photograph it from every angle possible, much like she’d been doing with property damage reports the last couple of days.
It took about five-hours for the Medical Examiner to load the body and clear the scene. Finally, Cari thought, “I can get home, shower, eat and get some sleep.”
The following morning she arrived early at the examiner’s office to find out what, if anything, the doctors had learned about the dead man. She found Dr. Michaels sitting at his desk, looking perplexed.
“I’m a little confused,” he admitted.
“Why?” Cari couldn’t help ask, knowing it wasn’t a necessary question.
She jus’ wanted see the smug S.O.B. sitting in front of her sweat a little. Time and again Michaels had set her up to be embarrassed — usually over something overtly sexual.
“You ought to file sexual harassment charges against the asshole,” her sister. Maggie Tom told her.
“That’ll cause more trouble than he’s worth,” Cari replied as they sat, sipping coffee on the porch of her sisters little home on the Walker Lake Reservation.
“Maybe,” Maggie responded, “but he shouldn’t be able to do that stuff to you.”
“I know,” Cari said, allowing the subject to fade.
“Well,” to begin with,” Michaels started, “His clothes are antiques – and he had a two 1902 half-dollar coins and four Indian-head pennies in his pocket along with a cloth billfold containing photo of a woman dressed in a Victorian-style gown and a letter from April 2nd, 1906 — but no I.D.”
Cari frowned slightly – “Could he be one of those re-enactor guys I’m always seeing on the History Channel?”
“Yeah,” Michaels returned, “But I don’t think so.”
“Of course you don’t,” Cari thought, adding, “You pompous mother-fucker.”
Sometimes she wished she didn’t think stuff like that – she feared one day she’d say it aloud by accident.
“So what are you thinking, Doc?” she asked.
“He’s got compression injuries, sand in his airway and mashed deep into his skin,” he said, pausing, “and if I didn’t know better, I’d say he was trapped in a mudslide or a cave-in.”
“There’re no mudslides where he was found,” Cari tossed out, “and I didn’t see any place where there could’ve been a cave-in, either.”
“Yeah,” Michaels replied, “I didn’t see any either. If I didn’t know better I’d say our guy’s been dead a long time, but I don’t see any freezer burn to his organs and though I think he’s about 30-years old – desiccation says he’s a helluva lot older, so I don’t get it.”
“Well, I’ll go out there and look around to see if we missed anything,” Cari offered.
Michaels then invited her to have a closer look at the body. The dead man was about 5-foot, eight-inches, medium built with dark brown hair, eyes and rather large moustache.
Outwardly there didn’t appear to be anything outstanding about him. Then Michaels pulled the sheet covering the body all the way off.
“Good lord!” Cari exclaimed.
“Yeah,” Michaels relied, relishing the deputy’s reaction, adding, “Eleven-inches, limp. Maybe he works in the porn industry.”
Cari was wishing at that moment she’d done a better job at containing her surprise. She knew Michaels enjoyed this perverse sense of power.
“God Dammit,” she chided herself as she left the building, walking to her truck.
Within the hour she was back at the place where the body had been found. She spent the next three-hours walking through the tumble weeds, looking for anything that might prove useful to her investigation.
There was nothing but scrub brush, rocks and garbage on the trail-crossed land and no sign of a cave-in or mudslide. Cari did note the ground had shifted about two-inches, forming an opening that ran nearly a quarter of a mile in a northwest-by southeast direction.
She pulled out her note pad and penned a small map in it. It was then that a strange thought trickled into her brain, “What if…”
Before she finished, she felt the ground buck violently beneath her feet, emitting a sharp crack. She sensed herself falling and a sudden inability to breathe or move.
It wasn’t until the next day her abandoned patrol vehicle was found and they realized Deputy Cari Tom Owens had vanished.