The original stagecoach road into Yosemite Valley runs the length of our property. At the time, it had been neglected for many, many years. Not only could you not drive it, there were places where it was difficult to walk it. Our standard walk of the property is to go down the stagecoach road to the big meadow on the far side of the property where we used to camp, cross the creek on the bridge my uncle built and walk back to our driveway on the paved county road.
As we crunched our way through a foot and a half of snow, the gray and white silence was ripped with a plaintive cry with a bird like quality. But, it was no bird I had ever heard. We looked at one another and began to speculate as to what it was and where it might be coming from. Our place is in a little hollow that gives very odd acoustic variation to sound. The melancholy sound intensified as we seemed to come closer to the source. Essentially at the same time, Whitny and I looked at one another and said: "That's a woman screaming...isn't it?" We slogged on for a couple hundred yards and then entered the section of the road where it borders the creek and is still heavily forested. By this time, we could clearly tell that is was indeed a woman screaming. In lower tones, coming in staccato bursts was the voice of a man, panicky and full of mounting anger. Then, the occasional revving of a large V-8, tired and in need of a tune-up. We still could not make out the words, nor the direction from where they were coming. I felt a little shiver of apprehension as I realized it was all somewhere in front of us. The fact that the sounds were in front of us meant they were on our property. The only way they could have gotten where they were was via the gate at the other end of the property which had a substantial chain and lock securing it. I would have been somewhat more optimistic about what we were about to encounter had the weather been different. But, in my experience in those woods, the only people out roaming about in those conditions, under those circumstances, are tweakers.
For those of you unfamiliar with the species, tweakers are former human beings who have traded their status in the evolutionary chain for a life of wandering the forests in search of anything of value that they might trade for meth. As we rounded the last corner, my worst fears were realized. Tweakers can be identified upon sight. They look like they just stumbled out of a concentration camp, covered with open sores, and they manage to acquire a filthiness that I have never seen anywhere else. Sitting in front of us was an old Ford F-150, jacked up at least 18", but as we looked on, it was sitting on the frame in the mud. We were still mostly concealed by foliage and the occupants had not seen us. Again, because of past experience, I don't go out into the woods unarmed. On this particular occasion I not only had a pistol in a shoulder holster, but I had dropped a another in my jacket pocket that had a tactical light.
As I handed Whitny the Glock I had a very disquieting emotional disconnect. My daughter was in danger and I would do anything to protect her. At the same time, I was glad to have her there to back me up. I very cautiously approached the driver's window with the pistol in my hand, down, against my side, but visible. I asked the guy what he was doing on our property, but in the middle of the question I saw that he had a 12 gauge shotgun with the barrel and stock cut off and wrapped in duct tape between his legs. This is a weapon with the sole purpose of blowing a very large hole in a person at very close range. At that moment, I was the person who had just been pigeon-holed in this a-hole's brain most likely to need a large hole in them. My pistol came up, muzzle right in his face. He went through a number of contortions and facial expressions that gave no clue as to what he was thinking. He completely ignored my question regarding the reason for their trespass. Instead, he chose to state the obvious. "We're stuck. Can you help us out?" My reaction surprised me again. I was feeling anger. I was feeling indignation. I had an odd sense of violation. And, I had a gun in this guy's face. It's so odd to think of what ran through my mind...inane things like...yes, I could get you out...I have a backhoe, but I'd rather not, because you are not a good person. And you've placed me in an odd position...you see, I'm tempted to say, "Yeah, let me go get my backhoe." because that's the kind of guy I am, as opposed to the kind of guy you are...a guy who broke into my property and you have a gun sitting there that only has one purpose and that purpose is to kill people like me and my daughter who accidentally catch you doing things you shouldn't be doing. While I was thinking all these things, some other autonomic part of my neurological system made my mouth say, in a civil, yet, sarcastic tone: "Not without a Chinook. You are really stuck." Then my mind raced again. I thought, you know, there really isn't good etiquette information for situations like this. He is completely ignoring the fact that I have a gun in his face and really placing me in an awkward social position. The other thing that popped into my head was that in my peripheral vision I was fairly certain I was seeing the woman slamming crank (colloquialism > v. to inject meth) in the back seat. Now you have your tweakers, and you have your really hardcore tweakers who would actually shoot up. And, so, Jim was thinking...what do I do next? I'm kind of in a life and death situation with people who are in that second category and totally spun and if they feel any emotion at all its going to be paranoia. (random, racing thoughts don't have grammar or punctuation really).
Then he asked me if Whitny and I could stand on his rear bumper to give him traction. This was good. I turned and whispered to Whitny to just take off as fast as she could toward the meadow. I started walking backward, my gun pointed at him. This was the most tense part of the whole ordeal. I had no idea what level of cognitive function this guy had going on, but I had to assume he had perhaps done something similar before and knew that...given the weapon he had, putting a little distance between us, especially where I couldn't see if he was going for it, gave him an advantage. Anywhere from the time I left the window to, let's say, 75 feet away, in a situation like that you don't get to use the sights. I was trying to watch two people, walk backwards in the snow and if that shotgun did come up I would have to point and shoot...not aim and shoot...point and shoot. Whereas, should he decide to shoot when I was still within that range, he couldn't miss. I explain all this just so you can appreciate my relief when I got out of range and caught up with Whitny. I suppose I was giving this guy more tactical thinking ability than he deserved. But, it wasn't like I had a choice regarding what was going to be running through my head. In retrospect, I have thought I should have taken the shotgun before backing up. But, I had no clue what was going on in the back seat and getting away as quickly as possible seemed the most appealing choice at the time. Since I am sitting here writing this with no superfluous holes in me, I suppose I made the right choice.
We got to the meadow and saw where they had broken in and driven through the snow. The tire tracks explained their movements and it appeared as though they didn't really mean to try and come up the stagecoach road. They were just so high, I think they got confused as to which way to go to get back to the county road.
All the way back to the house, Whitny and I could hear them. It's a bit difficult to describe if you haven't been there, but we had to walk away from the house to get to the paved road, and then back toward the house. The paved county road and the stagecoach road parallel each other with the creek in between. So, since we knew where they were, the acoustics were no longer an issue. We could tell they were still trying to get the truck out. It took maybe 20 minutes to get back to the house and call the sheriff. We're in what they call "north county" and Mariposa is almost an hour from us. You never know how soon the sheriffs will show up. This time, there were some deputies at the north county substation which is only a couple of miles from us. I have no idea how long it actually took them to get there, but it seemed like Whitny was calling downstairs to me telling me they were coming up our road as I hung up the phone.
Two deputies showed up, each in their own 4X4 with AR-15s in the racks. I walked out to meet them. One drove to the front of the house, the other drove up the cement driveway part way that leads to the upstairs portion of the house. After Whitny and I explained what had happened, they decided it would be best to box them in. So, one went down the stagecoach road straight toward them and the other asked me to go with him and show him how to get in the back way. We had to park in the meadow and walk in. As we were walking, the deputy said, "I hope they run. I love it when they run."
It was 12 degrees and the woman was in a tank top and men's boxers. That's it. No shoes...nothing. They didn't put up any resistance. They were so high still I just can't even imagine what was happening in their brains. I shouldn't say they didn't put up resistance. He didn't. She was still screaming. The first time I actually understood words was when she was protesting to the deputies that she wouldn't step out of the truck into the snow without shoes. It was all so surreal. One of the deputies carried her to his truck.
When they told the deputies their names, one said to the other, "Man, we finally got 'em." I asked what he meant. Apparently they had found the cabin these two had been living in and it was filled with stolen property, including a phone booth. Don't ask me.... And...wanna guess? Her birth certificate. Looking at this pair, as Whitny put it: "They looked like they were about 35, but a really hard 35." As it turned out, he was actually 21 and she was 18 and they had two kids in the foster system.
I really wish the story ended there. But, at some point while I was helping the deputies look through their truck to see how much of the stolen property was mine, something felt wrong. I felt light on my left side. Seriously, when I reached up and felt my empty shoulder holster, I had more of a sick feeling in my stomach than I had when I saw the shotgun. My mind started racing. It wasn't like I lost my watch. As I stood there, probably with my mouth hanging open it just got worse and worse. OK, on the positive side, it was obviously on our property somewhere, so, it wasn't going to fall into the wrong hands. The only other place it could have possibly been was in the deputy's truck. That seemed unlikely...didn't it? I was getting frantic. The deputies left and I told Whitny what happened. And then, I thought...it was one of the guns listed on my CCW. Great...I get to go tell the sheriff that I lost my gun during that fiasco. What a nightmare....
I walked the quarter mile loop probably 6 times while it started to snow again. Eventually, at like 3am Whitny convinced me to stop wandering around like an idiot in the snow and go to bed. As I laid in bed reliving the entire experience it occurred to me what happened. I had taken it out of the holster when I was calling the sheriff. When Whit called down that they were coming up the road, I shoved it in my shoulder holster and didn't snap the strap, thinking I was just going to come back in the house and take it off and put it away. So, when the one deputy asked me to go with him and my pistol way just shoved in the horizontal shoulder holster sans retaining strap...it was inevitable. The next morning I woke up to another 6 to 8 inches of snow. OK...there was no way I was going to find it by just looking. My anxiety was peaking. Fortunately I have a brilliant daughter. She said, "Dad, what about a metal detector? Do you have a metal detector?" I felt a surge of hope. "No, I don't, but we can go buy one." I said happily. After a number of phone calls we found a place in Merced that sold metal detectors. Only an hour away. So, we jumped in the truck and drove to Merced. When we got there, I thought Mapquest had led us astray. Our directions said to turn left, away from the shopping centers, down a farm road. A couple miles down the road, there was the address. It was a farmhouse. At least we had cell reception. So, I called the shop to see where we had gone wrong. The gentleman said from the metal detector shop listened to my dilemma, instead of explaining where Mapquest messed up, he said "Is that you outside in the red Avalanche?" OK....I mean, the ad in the phone book....well, he was a nice guy and he had a metal detector. Yes, one metal detector. His Yellow Pages ad itself would wipe out his profit margin. Oh well...not my problem. But...I did have another problem...this guy was a cash only guy and he hadn't bothered to mention that on the phone. I just realized I still owe Whitny for the metal detector.
So, we get back home and I start walking the loop. I start finding old nails, license plates, barbed wire...just cool stuff in general. I mean, why didn't I think of this before? The original stagecoach road...there is all kinds of cool stuff. But no gun. I spent all day walking that loop. I couldn't imagine where it could have gone. Finally, I resigned myself to the fact that I had lost an $800.00 gun that I was going to have to report to the sheriff in disgrace. I was sitting on the porch, looking out across the meadow and noticed some tracks in the snow. I was staring out at them, wondering what would have left such big tracks so close to the house. Bears wouldn't be out that time of year. Oh...I felt foolish. That was where the deputy and I had run up to his truck parked on the driveway. A light bulb visibly appeared above my head. I ran to get the metal detector. What a brilliantly beautiful melody the metal detector played. What a glorious light show....little green LED lights dancing as if to tell me that all was well with the world and there really is a Santa Claus.