The Forgotten Bridge ~ Part One
The Schaefer River Bridge clung to the side of the canyon as it had for almost a century. Alexander stood with his hand on the crumbling post. He had been there for the better part of an hour, wondering what in the world had brought him to what the townsfolk called The Forgotten Bridge. He knew the answer — a panicked phone call from his brother — but he still didn’t know the why of it all. His brother, Maxwell, had called him in the middle of the night, babbling something about seeing their missing sister down by the bridge.
Alexander didn’t believe that. There was little doubt in his mind that their sister was dead. She had been missing for more than a decade now, having been last seen with an abusive monster of a boyfriend on their way out of town. But still, when the sun came up, he had driven all the way out to Schaefer River Bridge to meet with his brother. Yet, as he looked around, there was still no sign of the younger man. “Damn it, Max. If you drug me all the way out here for nothing, I’m going to kick your ass,” he said.
The only response was the burbling of the water and the creaking of the boards of the old, covered bridge. Alexander stood there another ten minutes before deciding enough was enough. Pulling himself away from the post, he turned to walk back to the car he had parked along the edge of the road. His chest tightened and sweat beaded on his forehead as his eyes scanned the now empty place where he had parked. He took a breath, then a second, before reaching into his pocket and pulling out his phone. He dialed a number from memory and listened while it rang.
It was picked up on the fourth ring. “Hello?” a woman’s voice questioned.
“Hey, Bek, it’s Alex.” He paused, trying to find the right words. “Has Maxwell left yet?” he asked, hoping to avoid any really difficult questions.
The Powers that be weren’t with him that morning. “What do you mean, has he left? He never came home last night.” Her voice was threaded with panic and fear.
Alexander’s heart raced. He had been hoping Maxwell would be home and all of this one of his bad jokes. It was starting to feel like something much darker as his eyes went back to where he had parked his car. “Don’t panic, Bek. When did you see him last?” He asked the question knowing the answer before she even spoke.
“Yesterday afternoon, probably about two o’clock, why?” she asked.
Alexander sighed; that was not what he had wanted her to say. “Okay. He called me after midnight last night, wanted me to meet him at the Schaefer River Bridge this morning,” he said.
There was a long pause on the phone line as he waited for her to respond. “He’s always been obsessed with that thing.” Her words didn’t bring him any comfort.
“Yeah. I know. Normally I would have told him to leave me alone, but he sounded so panicked. I had to give in and tell him I would come.” He looked around. “But he’s not here. No one is.” He looked around again. Still no sign of his car or anyone else. “Something is wrong, so very wrong.” His voice had become a whisper, and the phone started to slip from his hand. He tightened his fingers around it.
“What was that, Alex?” she asked.
He shook his head and let words tumble out. “Nothing, just rambling. I’ll find him and call you back.” He didn’t wait for her to respond before hanging up. Flipping the phone closed and back open, he dialed a second number from memory. It went straight to voicemail. He clicked it off and tucked it back into his pocket.
There were still no sounds other than the water below him when he focused his mind on the area around him. He walked over to the other edge of the road, where he could see down to the water. The waterline looked disturbed, and the voice in the back of his mind told him to check it out. Maybe Maxwell had been here and slipped down the side of the embankment. He could be down there, hurt, and unable to cry out if it had happened just after his call. “Max!” The word tore itself from his lips. He listened for any response.
Nothing but the sound of rushing water and a breeze that lifted the scent of wet dirt to his nose.
He grabbed the torn part of the chain fence and levered himself down the embankment, the voice in the back of his head mumbling something about the idea of worrying about his car. He pushed those mumblings away and began to search for his brother as fear truly settled into his heart. Alexander slipped a few steps down the damp grassy slope, losing his footing and sliding all the way to the river’s edge. The heels of his boots touched the water as he stopped sliding. Yanking them away, he pulled himself to his feet. “Max!” he bellowed again. Still nothing.
Alexander turned from the water and walked along the wet ground until he was under the shade of the bridge. His eyes traveled over the small signs of human activity. From piles of trash to what looked like a relatively fresh homeless camp. The place was devoid of anyone, though. Walking closer to the makeshift tarp tent, he noticed a pair of familiar work boots just outside the shelter. They looked like the boots he had bought Maxwell the winter before.
Why in the world would Maxwell be sleeping under a bridge when he had a house only a few miles away with a wife and two adorable little boys? Reaching out to move the flap of tarp out of the way, that question solidified itself in Alexander’s mind.
Inside the tent lay what he assumed to be two bodies. One freshly dead and the other having been gone long enough for only bones and rags to remain. He could see the more recent body was Maxwell, his hair wild against what looked like a rolled-up coat that had been tucked under his head.
He spun on his heel, moving quickly back to the edge of the water as his stomach rebelled, and he lost everything, including the memory of food. He stood there bent at the waist, hands on his knees, gagging for a long moment before managing to compose himself enough to stand.
Alexander pulled his phone from his pocket and dialed 911. Standing there numb as he waited for someone to answer. He looked back at the bodies, not wanting them to vanish like his car had before someone could come and deal with them.
“911, what’s your emergency?” an almost friendly voice asked as the line was connected.
He swallowed, keeping his eyes on the body of his brother. “I’m at the old Schaefer River Bridge. I’ve found a body.” He kept the information simple and to the point. He knew just by looking there was no way his brother was still alive. The slice across his throat looked deep, and his eyes had rolled back, so only the whites were showing.
“Rescue is on the way,” the voice said.
Alexander said, “No need to rush; he’s gone. I won’t leave until someone gets here.” He hung up the phone without waiting to see what question she was going to ask next. Moving a few feet up from the river’s edge, he dropped down on a rock that looked as if it had seen many people sit on it before him to wait for the police.
He didn’t have to wait long. Within a couple of minutes, he could hear the sirens coming down the street above him. He stood, walked over to where he would be able to look up and see the emergency crew, and waited. Less than a minute later, he could see three people standing at the edge of the embankment.
He called up to them, “Careful coming down. It’s rather slippery.” He pointed to the track where he had slid down.
The tallest of the three shouted down to him, “Thanks for the heads up.”
Alexander watched as they slowly picked their way down the embankment with more luck than he had, managing to keep their feet and not drop the medical bags they carried.
As they got closer, he could tell that it was two men and a woman coming down. The woman was the next to speak. “I assume you are the one that found the bodies?”
Alexander nodded in the direction of the tarp and the bodies. “Yeah, over there under the tarp. I can tell you the fresher one is my brother.” He figured it was best to get that part out in the open before any major questioning started.
She looked at him hard for a moment before nodding. “Don’t go anywhere. The police are going to want to talk to you.” She shivered. “They aren’t even going to let us move the bodies before they examine everything. I don’t know why they send us out first on calls like this.” She finished. She got a good look at what was under the tarp when her co-worker lifted the door of the makeshift tent.
Alexander gave her a nod. Before any of them could do more than struggle to keep their breakfasts down, more sirens cut through the air. He went back to where he had told the emergency service people to be careful and prepared to do it again. His heart sank as the uniformed man came into view. Closing his eyes for a moment, he called up as before, “Be careful. It’s slippery.” He opened his eyes as the first of a group of men and women in police uniforms came down the slope of the embankment.
“Alexander?” the man asked, his voice overflowing with concern.
“I’m fine, Uncle Jay. But it’s not good,” he said, then waited as the older man made it the rest of the way over to where he was standing.
“What happened, Son?” Detective Jay Sanborn asked, pulling out a notebook.
“I don’t know much, but I can tell you what I know, and maybe two murders can be solved by all of this,” Alexander said, watching out of the corner of his eye as the remaining police began to document the scene.
Photo by David Mark from Pixabay