Cindy’s New Profession
by Bill Kowaleski
“You look at this car and you think, ‘Nobody could have possibly survived this’, and yet, there she is, lying in the hospital, and they say she’s gonna make it.” Sheriff Ollie Gustafson shook his head in wonder as he and Deputy Jim Walsh looked at the remains of the Lexus lit by their cruiser’s spotlights: a tree embedded deep into the hood, buck blood spattered all over the front end, the driver-side windshield shattered with the round imprint of a head.
The carnage contrasted sharply with its setting: a clear, moonless sky salted thickly with stars, dark forest enveloping from all sides, the narrow ribbon of county highway DK curving through the shadowy shapes of trees as it faded into the darkness of a northern Wisconsin night.
“I think the buck surprised them, he swerved to the right, so the buck was probably coming from his left, but he still hit the buck hard and then impacted the tree. The tree really was the icing on the cake.” Deputy Walsh, just back from his tour in the Navy, stocky, with a workingman’s face, bent his crew-cut head over the demolished buck, one of the largest he had ever seen. “What a shame. Had to be 14 points at least.”
Just then Sheriff Gustafson’s cell rang. “Gustafson. OK. Fantastic. We’re on our way.”
He put the phone back in its holster. “Good news, Jim. She’s awake and lucid. Now maybe we can find out what happened to the driver.”
* * *
“He was so cute! You don’t see guys like that around here much.” Cindy Johansson sat up as best she could. Bandages surrounded most of her head leaving openings only for her eyes, nose, and mouth. She seemed less concerned about her injuries than about the opportunity the accident had taken from her.
“So tell me everything, all the details,” the Sheriff urged.
“OK, so he came into the Tall Timber at dinner time, by himself. I asked for his table, even though it was in Rosa’s area. She’s married and fat so what does she care? He’s real friendly right from the start. Orders the oak burger, says with this killer smile that oak is his business so he just has to order that. I say that he seems like he ought to be in modeling or something like that, not buying logs, he says that I ought to be in modeling or something like that myself. Then he says...”
“Cindy, detail is good, but let’s start with when you left the Tall Timber.”
“Sorry, stuff like this doesn’t happen every day, you know. It wasn’t very busy so I asked Rosa if she could cover until closing and she was good with that. He says he has a cabin down the road where he stays for these trips, and would I like to see it. You know, it’s that little one down DK with the hunting platform that’s in the woods just beyond the clearing.”
“Let me interrupt here, Cindy,” Gustafson said. “Was this a money transaction?”
“Oh, Sheriff, you know all my secrets! But no, we never discussed money, not that I wouldn’t have taken it, but this guy, I would’ve paid him, to tell the truth.”
“Jim, be sure to get a detailed description of this guy from Cindy after she’s through with her story here.”
Deputy Walsh nodded and Cindy continued. “So we’re driving along DK, it’s just dusk and he keeps looking at me and we’re laughing and you know, he had two beers, so I’m feeling just a tad uneasy. He doesn’t seem to know that this is when the deer are out and he’s just tearing along at, like, 70.
“I don’t think I ever rode in such a nice car! It took every curve like it wasn’t there. And then just like one instant before we hit, I see the deer run out of the woods on the left. He’s looking at me and I’m looking at him at that point, so of course I’m the one who sees it. I scream ‘DEER’ and he hits the brakes and swerves and there’s two big thuds, and then my door is open and there’s lots of glass all over, and smoke, and I’m very confused. I take off the seat belt and just roll into the grass.
“Then I think about him. ‘Jason’ I say. But I don’t see him. I look all around, where is he?”
“Do you think you blacked out for a while?” asked Gustafson.
“Well, it didn’t seem that way, but I must have. Anyway, I can walk, but my head is hurting so bad. I pull out my cell, and there’s only a roaming signal so I walk up the road to higher ground and then I called for help.”
“And then you blacked out for sure, because they found you about a foot off DK. It’s a miracle you weren’t run over.”
“Yeah, it would’ve been better to just stay there, but I ain’t gonna pay those stupid roaming charges!”
Deputy Walsh had been out in the hall during much of Cindy’s description of the accident. He motioned to Gustafson to join him. “The car is registered to a Sirius Export Company in Chicago. No phone number, just a P.O. box. No reports of any injured person picked up by a passing driver. No reports of anyone that could fit the description showing up at an emergency room within twenty-five miles. He could have wandered off just a little farther than the area we initially searched, like Cindy did, and then passed out. They’ve got people at the scene looking for him now.”
Gustafson was skeptical. “I really doubt he could have walked very far. He had to have been injured much worse than she was. Did you see that dent in the windshield? He wasn’t wearing a seat belt, I’m sure.”
* * *
The Sheriff decided to take one last look at the accident scene before going home. He told Walsh to get some sleep and drove back down DK. About half a mile from the crash site he encountered some of the searchers. They were gradually working their way farther and farther from the site in all directions but so far they’d found nothing. He closely watched his odometer as he approached the scene. It should have been exactly 7.2 miles from the intersection of the state highway. But when the odometer reached that number, he didn’t see the Lexus.
He slowed to a crawl and turned on his spotlight just in time to see the dead buck. He parked off the road and walked back from the buck. With his flashlight pointed to the ground he could see the animal’s blood, beads of auto glass, plastic parts from the front end of the Lexus, and then the tree it had hit, freshly splintered, pine sap still running.
But there was no car. It was inconceivable that anyone could have started it much less driven it from that spot. The front axle had been sheared apart by the tree, one of the tires, complete with part of the axle was still visible to his left. He looked for signs of a tow truck but saw no tire tracks in the soft sandy soil other than those of the Lexus.
It was so late, he was so tired, he must not be thinking clearly, this simply couldn’t be happening. He ran his fingers through his graying hair, scratched his shaggy, walrus moustache and lifted his hefty frame back into the Tahoe.
* * *
Deputy Walsh had gotten an early start and was full of news when the Sheriff arrived the next morning. “I checked every tow operator in twenty miles and they all swear they had no business last night. But I found out where he was staying, who he’s been doing business with. Jerry Andersson, you know, the sawmill, he talked to this guy yesterday.
“The description matched what Cindy gave me. Jerry says the guy comes up here from time to time, buys individual oak logs, very strange. He checks every one and picks ones that meet certain requirements that Jerry’s never quite been able to figure out. But he pays really well.”
“Interesting.” Gustafson scratched his head, sighed. “What about the cabin?”
“Already was there. Not much. It’s a furnished cabin about two miles from the accident scene, two bedrooms, used by hunters, tourists who want to get away from it all. We’re sending state forensics people in, and the blood sample is at the state lab now.”
“So I guess you’re telling me that there’s still no sign of him or his car.”
“Yup, that’s what I’m telling you.”
“How does this guy get the logs back to Chicago?”
“Jerry didn’t know. The guy has them delivered to his cabin. Nobody’s ever seen them on the road, in town, anything, after they get delivered to that cabin. These are big logs, not cut down into lumber. They need special equipment to haul, yet none of the operators in the area know this guy, except of course Jerry’s trucker, and he just takes the logs to that cabin.”
“Any logs outside the cabin?”
“No, he didn’t actually take delivery yet. They were supposed to deliver them to him today after he came back and paid for them. We asked Jerry to contact us immediately if he hears from this guy. Oh, another little item of interest: When I got the description of this guy from Cindy she said that he told her he liked the Tall Timber because of the beautiful oak bar. Before they left, he went over to the bar and ran his hand up and down it like he was caressing a beautiful woman. She said his eyes went all glassy and he was like he’d died and gone to heaven.”
Gustafson sighed. “Man, I’m feeling in over my head. I hope those state guys got some ideas, because all of this is just not adding up at all.”
* * *
Weeks passed and then months. Meanwhile, Jim Walsh claimed the buck and had it butchered. Cindy recovered and returned to both her professions. The Directors of Sirius Exporting reported that Jason Wise had disappeared and that they had received no communications from him. The blood sample from the Lexus’ windshield seemed to have been contaminated; it didn’t look the slightest bit human, and the state decided to discard it. The case got cold, investigators moved on.
And then a handsome young stranger walked into the Tall Timber.
“You see that one, Rosa?” Cindy drooled. “He looks a little like a very young Paul Newman, don’t you think?”
“Who’s Paul Newman?” Rosa lived profoundly in the present and knew nothing of the world before 1999.
“Well, he’s in your area. Can I take him?”
“Sure, give me one of yours. Maybe that old bald guy there? He’s gonna tip really well.”
“You got him.”
Cindy smoothed her long golden hair, pulled up her tight jeans, opened the top button of her thin white blouse to reveal her substantial cleavage, wiggled over to the handsome new customer, smiled in her friendliest manner, and whispered, “Hi there. Welcome to the Tall Timber. Did anyone ever tell you that you look a little like Paul Newman?”
He smiled. “Oh a few times, I guess, but we’re not related. Did anyone ever tell you that you look more than a little like Angelina Jolie in her prime?”
And then he said something that took her breath away. “You should be in modeling, or something like that.”
She put down the menu and stared at his smiling face intently. “You wouldn’t be in the timber business would you?”
“How did you guess? I just really have a thing for wood. In fact I like to come here because of the beautiful oak bar, and of course the great oak burger.”
She took his order and then quietly stole outside where she saw an Infiniti M with Illinois plates among the pickups and wrecks of the locals. “Cindy,” she whispered to herself, “Whatever you do, don’t leave with this guy.”
As she stared at the Infiniti, she felt a soft touch from behind. She jumped and almost screamed, but he put his hand over her mouth and whispered in her ear, calming her. “I’m so sorry about what happened to you. Sirius Exporting wants to make it up to you. Would you like to get together tonight?”
“Are you gonna tell me what happened to Jason and his car? Nobody understands!”
“Yeah, we’re in the dark too. But maybe if you and I put our heads together we can solve this.”
“You should talk to Sherriff Gustafson...”
“And I will, but I want to hear about it from you. Does tonight work for you?” He looked down to her chest. “I can see by your nametag that you’re Cindy. I’m Sean.”
An idea came to her, but she needed to buy a little time. “No, I’m busy tonight, Sean, but tomorrow I only work lunch. How about after two?”
“Tomorrow’s a busy day. Would six work, right here? We can go to my cabin.”
“Only if I drive!”
He laughed and they walked together back into the Tall Timber.
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by Bill Kowaleski