Please forgive the paragraph formatting on the following passages. For some reason, I can't get them to behave.
|Rio Grande Gorge Bridge|
Jim had radioed the tower well before touching down at the small municipal airport, and Officer Delfino met the plane, as promised. He turned out to be a police officer with more than a touch of the local blood. Standing five-foot-six in his boots with coarse black hair not quite long enough to wear in the traditional bun but shaggier than most lawmen, he projected a calm competence as we shook hands. It would not be wise to provoke this man. His hatchet face wore an air of serious determination, an impression reinforced by his extraordinarily broad shoulders and deep chest.
“Mr. Vinson, we might have a problem,” he said. “The sheriff’s people couldn’t find the Porsche in El Segundo, but a unit spotted it on the road. There’s a cruiser on its tail right now.”
“Do you know where it is at the moment?”
Not far to the west of us, as a matter of fact.” He motioned with his chin. “Headed for Agua Amargo…or in that direction, anyway.”
“That’ll take them over the gorge, right?”
“They’ll cross over in a few minutes.”
“Well,” I said, “let’s get going, unless you think the Cessna might make a good spotter for the sheriff’s people.”
He eyed the machine with evident interest. “Can’t hurt.”
He raised the Sheriff’s Department on his cruiser’s radio while I prepped Jim. Within minutes, we took off with the Taos policeman occupying the right hand seat while I crammed my carcass into the baggage storage cavity behind the two men. Delfino would have fit much more comfortably in the small space but he knew the territory, and I didn’t. He was of more value as a spotter in the front.
The countryside east of the airport is relatively flat and open, so automobile traffic was clearly visible. Almost immediately, we saw a county car, lights flashing, on the road ahead of us. Leading the sheriff’s cruiser by almost a mile was a blur of color that was undoubtedly Orlando Alfano’s orange Boxter. Both vehicles had already crossed the gorge.
“These guys aren’t fugitives, are they?” Delfino asked. “I thought we were just locating them for a family matter.”
“That’s right,” I said.
“So why’re they running?”
“I don’t know. Have two Anglo guys from California had any trouble around Taos in the last few days?”
“There’s no record of Alfano or Norville in the area, period. I checked every motel in the vicinity after the Albuquerque Police called. If they were here, they didn’t leave any tracks.”
“Then how did Alfano’s car get here?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but there it is right down there. Uh-oh,” Delfino said, “It turned off the road. Hope our guys see it.”
“They’re still back around the curve. They won’t see the maneuver unless the dust gives the Porsche away.”
Delfino asked Jim if he could buzz the cruiser and try to alert them.
“I can do better than that if you know the county frequency.” Jim reached for his radio dial.
Within seconds, Delfino was talking to his compadres. By that time, they had passed the point where the Porsche had left the main road. Before the cruiser could reverse direction, the orange car regained the highway, heading back toward Taos.
“You want me to distract them?” Jim asked.
Delfino shook his head. “No, they don’t realize we’re a spotter. Let’s let this play out.”
“Here they come.” I nodded at the county car now in hot pursuit. “But I doubt they have the muscle to overtake the Porsche.”
“Maybe not, but we can keep them in sight from up here,” Delfino replied.
The occupants of the fleeing car were obviously aware of the posse on their tail. The vehicle hugged the ground as it took off like it had been goosed in the rear by a hot-shot. The erratic way the car raced down the road made me question if an experienced driver was at the wheel.
“We got him now.”
Delfino pointed ahead of us. The Porsche rapidly approached the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge where a second sheriff’s vehicle sat in the middle of the span, blocking the fugitives’ escape. Even from this distance, we saw officers herding tourists off of the walkways and observation platforms of the bridge.
“Christ!” the pilot muttered. “Those guys better slow down.”
Delfino grabbed the radio mike and shouted warnings to the sheriffs’ deputies. Belatedly, the Porsche tried to stop, but it was traveling too fast. Skidding sideways, the car almost went over. Then it left the roadway short of the bridge, careening through a vacant rest area and sideswiping a stone picnic shelter. Now totally out of control, the Porsche crashed through the fenced area at the brink of the gorge. We let out a collective groan as it hurtled out into space.
Jim banked over the canyon to watch the automobile take flight. It free-fell a couple hundred feet before striking the side of the gorge, tearing out a sizeable chunk of the wall. From our perspective, it looked as if the car dropped in slow motion, tumbling over and over before smashing into the bottom of the gorge. There was no dramatic explosion, merely an awful finality as the machine appeared to disintegrate like a toy automobile smashed beneath a child’s heel.
Delfino and the pilot crossed themselves and muttered a “Hail Mary,” bringing home the awful, tragic reality of the last few moments. This was no movie stunt. Someone had just died.
I really get caught up in these word paintings of some of our natural wonders. Hope you don’t get tired of me fawning over the Great State of New Mexico.
Next week: The Muse hasn’t spoken.
New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.
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