But that’s not what he finds when he looks outside.
My phone rang. The caller ID listed the Paradise Police Department. I picked up my phone. “Hello, Alicia.”
“Hello, Rick. Sorry it took so long to get back to you. Medical examiners take their time to do things the way they need to be done. That is always the right way, so it will hold up if it becomes a court case. Anyway, I’ve emailed my report, the medical examiner’s report, and the coroner’s report, and they should arrive in your inbox in a few minutes. I also have a summary that I can read you on the phone if you’d like.”
“Yes, and I’d like to get a copy of the summary, please,” I said. “Would you also send the reports to Lieutenant Brian Jackson at the Walnut Creek police department, please?”
“He’s already on the cc list, so he’ll get them at the same time you get them.
“First, I’m not going to bother you with the description of the location where she was found. You’ll see the map and photos in my report that I emailed.
“Second, the current cause of her death was accidental death by drowning. It’s subject to modification depending on the autopsy results.
“Third, the causality of her death. On Sunday, November fifth, 2017, at eleven p.m., based on the built-in GPS in her SUV, it appears the car was driven off the edge of a private road that leads to some new houses that have been built above Jordan Hill Road. These houses are north-northeast of the unincorporated town of Magalia, located at the north end of the city limits of Paradise.
“The car was found abandoned at about ten a.m. on Monday, November sixth. A resident of one of the houses was walking his dog. The dog ran away from him and started barking, then he saw the car and phoned the police.
“That’s what we knew as of Monday, November sixth, 2017. Now, for what happened since then.
“For some reason, instead of going back up the hillside to the private road, she went downhill and ended up on an unmaintained and unnamed trail that runs along the top of a canyon above the west branch of the Feather River. Her visible track disappeared, and she was declared a missing person.
“We used tracking dogs to see if we could find her. It appears that she initially traveled north on the trail along the west side of the river for at least three miles, then changed direction, possibly because the trail becomes more difficult for anyone who doesn’t have appropriate equipment and isn’t an experienced hiker. If she’d kept going north for another half-mile, she would have come to the Jordan Hill Road bridge that crosses the river, where there’s easy access from the trail to the road where she could have waited for a car to come by.
“But it appears that she turned around and traveled south for over seven and a quarter miles. Continuing south, the trail eventually becomes dangerous because in that area, the canyon is steep and rocky, both upslope and downslope, and the trail becomes narrow and very rocky. Also, she was wearing tennis shoes, not appropriate for hiking on this part of the trail.
“We found where she had slipped off the trail and slid down a steep slope and ended up in the West Fork of the Feather River and then into some rapids north of where Rattlesnake Creek joins the river. This was confirmed when we found one of her tennis shoes in the rocks at the bottom of the slope. She was still wearing the matching shoe. There was a lot of water in the river caused by snow and rain in the mountains earlier this month. We think the fast-moving rapids carried her to some large boulders on the west shore of the river about three miles from the slope where she became wedged and drowned. That’s where we found her body today, Thursday, November sixteenth, 2017.
“The boulders in the West Branch of the Feather River are where it flows through a wilderness area about eight miles south of where her car had been found.
“Her body was recovered by a helicopter sent from the Butte County Sheriff’s Office to fulfill a request from the coroner’s office.
“The medical examiner said he could not determine if she drowned when she initially fell into the river, or when the rapids swept her down the river, or when she became wedged in the boulders.
“The medical examiner also said he could not determine a precise date and time of death. That’s because the temperature of the water lowered June Rios’ body temperature and because she was in the water between one to three days and nights. Because of bruising and blood pooling, it appears that her body had been wedged in the boulders for at least one day and night before we found her body. Preliminary examination of her body’s condition shows she may have been in the river for as long as three days and nights. He recorded the official Date of Death as approximately Monday, November thirteenth, 2017.
“That’s about it unless the medical examiner finds something during the autopsy. The autopsy will be held tomorrow.”
“The medical examiner is working on the weekend?”
“Yes. He doesn’t want the body to sit until Monday because of its condition.”
I’d been writing down the dates and days from what she told me.
“That’s a comprehensive summary, Ashley. Thank you. Let me summarize the timing so I can be sure I got it correctly — if that’s okay.”
“Yes, that’s okay.”
“June Rios’ car was found on Sunday, November fifth. Your staff found her body today, Thursday, November sixteenth.
“June Rios had been on the trail or in the river for as long as ten days starting Sunday, November fifth until today, Wednesday, November sixteenth.
“The questions I have are: Where was she and what was she doing for those ten days between driving her car off the road until her body was located? Why did it take so long to find her body?”
“Rick, remember, the dates I’ve given you are estimates by the medical examiner and the coroner before her body was available to be examined. June Rios could have been in the river for a longer time than their estimate; that’s probably the most reasonable scenario. She could have been staying in one place for a day or two, perhaps waiting to see if some hikers came along. The time we estimated for her travel from the starting point to the easternmost point before turning around and returning to where we think she fell into the river are estimates. It could have taken her longer than our estimates. It’s also possible that she left the car, got up to the road, went somewhere, and later returned to her car and slid or fell and ended up on the trail. We will be investigating these alternatives. Unfortunately, it’s possible we won’t find any answers beyond what we already know — or presume — happened.”
“Thank you, Ashley. Now I have to plan how I’m going to tell Adam Rios that his mother drowned.”
“I feel sorry for the boy and that you have to tell him what happened to his mother.”
“Unfortunately, that’s something that we at the CPS have to do from time to time. Actually, that’s too often. Thanks for your diligent work on this case.”
“Thanks, Rick. Do you want me to call you tomorrow when I get the medical examiner and coroner’s reports?”
“If you don’t mind, that would be great. I won’t be in my office in Pleasant Hill. My nephew is here for the weekend. You can call my personal cellphone.” I gave the number to her.
“I’ll call you, assuming that the medical examiner finishes the autopsy. If it’s not finished tomorrow, I’ll text you with his estimate of when he expects to have his report finished. So I’ll say goodbye for now.”
“Thanks again, Ashley. So long for now.”
It was almost three o’clock, and time for me to leave and pick up Adam at Lincoln High School. I gathered work files that I might need over the weekend and walked to Jared’s office.
“Hi, Jared. I’m picking up Adam. If Brian is with him, do you want me to pick him up too and invite him to have dinner with us?”
“Sure, thanks. Hmm…. I think with what you have to tell Adam and your nephew arriving for a visit, also having Brian at your place might be a bit much. So, you can tell him that I requested you take him home.”
“That’s a good idea. Okay, I’ll do that. Did you talk to Brian about the plans he and Adam have to go to see a movie tomorrow?”
“Yes. It’s fine with me. It depends on how Adam feels after hearing about his mother. I’d rather not tell Brian about June Rios’ death,” Jared said. “I think it’s best if Adam tells him, or decides to withhold that information.”
“I agree. That sounds like the best approach.
“So, after I talk to Adam, I’ll ask if he still wants to go to the movies with Brian after we talk about his mother. He might, as a distraction. If he doesn’t want to go, I’ll ask him to call Brian and let him know. If he isn’t up to talking to anyone, I’ll text you, and you can tell Brian that the movie is off because Adam is meeting his cousin.”
“What was the cause of death?”
“It was drowning. Once the medical examiner completes the autopsy, the cause of death might change.”
“When is the autopsy?” Jared asked.
“Saturday? That’s sort of pushing things, isn’t it?”
“Not according to Ashley Allisonn. She said that because June Rios had been in the water for several days, the medical examiner doesn’t want the condition of the body to be further impacted by waiting until Monday.”
“So, there’s no foul play?”
“No foul play, again pending the autopsy and completion of the investigation by the Paradise Police Department and the Butte County sheriff’s office. You might look over the material that Ashley Allisonn is emailing us today and come up with some ideas about what happened,” I replied.
“You have questions, I assume,” Jared said.
“Maybe. I want you to draw your conclusions independently.”
“Interesting,” Jared commented.
“Time for me to go. I’m running late. I’ll see you on Monday. Say hello and welcome home to Joyce for me.”
“Will do. See you Monday.”
I hurried out and drove to Lincoln High. Neither Adam nor Brian were waiting in the pick-up area. I rolled down my window and sat watching for them. About ten minutes later, they came out of building 100, the administration offices.
“Hey!” I called out to them. Adam looked up and waved, and both boys ran over and got in the car.
“Hi,” I said. “Brian, your dad told me that I was to take you home.”
“That’s okay. I have a major chemistry exam on Monday, and I’m going to have to really hit the books and make sure I get an A. So a ride home will leave me with more time to study.”
“Guess what?” Adam asked.
“You have a calculus test on Monday?” I asked.
“That’s silly. I’m not taking calculus. Yet.”
“Then why were you guys in the administration office?” I asked.
“We were checking on those bullies, Arvin, Beazley, and Kilpatrick,” Brian said.
Adam continued, “They came back to school today and were escorted off campus since they aren’t supposed to come back until Monday. Charles Arvin’s father was with them. He’s a lawyer and said that they got a week’s suspension and should be in class starting today. The principal differed, and she read the suspension order, which stated that their return was Monday, November thirteenth.”
“We watched Mr. Arvin and the three bullies walking away from the admin building,” Brian said. “None of them seemed happy.”
“Adam, how did you learn how the suspension order read?” I asked.
“I was waiting to see my counselor and make sure I would get the web design class next semester. I overheard what Ms. Gibbons, the principal, said to Mr. Arvin. He also wanted his son and the two others to play in the football game tonight, and she read the part of the suspension order that said all three of them would be ineligible for the football games on November sixteenth and November twenty-third.” Adam was grinning about the way Mr. Arvin had been shot down.
“Did any of the other kids say or do anything when they were leaving the campus?” I asked.
“No. A few kids said they wanted to applaud but decided it was a lot more effective having everyone just stand there real quiet and watch them leave,” Brian said.
“I don’t think anyone at school wants them back on Monday or ever,” Adam added. “That includes the football team. During lunch, we heard that a lot of the guys on the team told Coach Reynolds if any of those three guys were allowed to return to the team, they were going to resign, and Coach Reynolds said those three guys were not going to be reinstated.”
“By the way, Mrs. Billingsley asked me to pass on her congratulations for your wrestling victories,” I said.
“That’s nice,” Adam said. Then he told Brian about Mrs. Billingsley.
We’d arrived at Brian’s house, and he said goodbye to Adam and to me. Then we headed home.
“Do you have to go back to the office?” Adam asked.
“No. You and I need to have a discussion.”
“Uh… did I do something? Am I in trouble?”
“No. Did you do something that you should be in trouble for because you did it?” I was able to stifle my grin.
Now I grinned. “I didn’t think so. How was school today? Much homework?”
“It’s mainly the same as usual. We’re starting to get some pre-Thanksgiving tests like the one Brian has on Monday. My exams are in World History and Geography and Living Earth. I’m up-to-date in all my classes. In those two, I’m keeping a chapter ahead. It’s amazing how much that helps me when we’re having discussions in class and tests, even though the stuff in the chapter where I’m ahead isn’t part of what the teacher is lecturing. For some reason, it makes the current stuff that we’re covering easier for me to understand.”
“I’m proud of you, Adam.”
“I know, but thanks for telling me. I like it a lot when you say things like that. I never had anyone who’d tell me they were proud of me before.”
Neither of us said anything else until we got home.
“Go ahead and change, and then let’s sit down for a few minutes.”
“Okay.” Before he walked out of the living room, he looked at me. “I think I know what it’s about.” He turned around and went to his bedroom.
I didn’t doubt that he guessed it was about his mother.
After Adam changed, he came into the kitchen where I’d just started a pot of coffee.
I heard him say, “Uh-oh!”
“What?” I asked.
“You have a whole pot of coffee brewing. That means this is either a long talk or an important talk or both.”
“It’s important. Are you hungry? Do you want a snack?”
“Sure. Lemme check what we’ve got in the refrigerator.”
Adam picked an apple and cored and sliced it into wedges. He sat down at the table. The coffee maker had finished, so I filled my mug and sat down across from Adam.
“They found my mom, right?”
“She’s dead, right?”
“Yes. She was walking on a narrow trail above the West Branch of the Feather River northeast of Chico. It appears that she slipped off the trail into the river and was swept downstream. She drowned.”
“Yes. It appears that she was in the river for several days, lodged among some boulders on the river’s east side. Let me give you the details.”
So I read the parts of the summary that Ashley Allisonn had read to me, and I’d written down, starting from when June Rios’ car ran off the side of the road on November the fifth until her body had been found on November the sixteenth.
He sat there looking at me, not showing any emotion. Then he said, “She hated hiking and being in the woods. She didn’t know how to swim and was afraid every time I went swimming, no matter if it was in a pool or a lake or the ocean. This whole thing seems suspicious to me.”
“It does to me, too.”
I could see tears welling up in Adam’s eyes. I got up, moved to the end of the table, and put out my arms. He shoved his chair back, jumped up, and ran into my arms. I held him while he cried.
He pulled back, wiped his face with a napkin, and looked at me.
“Does there have to be a funeral?”
“Only if you want one.”
“No, I don’t want a funeral in a church with a casket and her in it.” He shook his head. “I don’t want that. Instead, maybe one of those things where it’s not religious. I don’t remember what they’re called.”
“A memorial service?”
“Yeah, maybe that’s it. Do we have to tell Ted? I don’t want him there.”
“That’s up to you. Who would you invite to the memorial service?”
“We don’t have any relatives except my grandma, and she’s got Alzheimer’s and can’t get out of bed. Mom had friends at work in the lab at John Muir Hospital. Then there’s Mrs. Billingsley, you, me, and Brian. That’s about it. Is that okay?”
“Yes. The only name that surprised me was Brian.”
“He’s my boyfriend, so I need to ask him to be there.”
“That makes sense,” I responded.
“Mom told me that she wanted to be cremated, and her ashes buried under a tree in the backyard. She really liked that tree. She told me that she planted it herself after I was born and she came home from the hospital. How do we have her cremated? How do we do a memorial service?”
“The cremation would be done by a funeral home. The memorial service could be at the funeral home. Or you could have it in your backyard, and we could bury her ashes under the tree. People could say things about your mom that they remembered.
“Adam, I think Mrs. Billingsley would help you plan the memorial service. She probably knew your mother the best of anyone other than you and her friends at work. She also knows if any neighbors should be invited.”
“I like that idea. I like the idea to have in the backyard, too.”
Adam pulled back and stared at me. “You’d said you wanted to adopt me. Do you still want to adopt me?”
“More than anything else in the world. No, anything else in the universe. I love you, Adam. I want you to be my son. I want to be your father.”
He started crying and grabbed me in a tight hug. I hugged him back. He pulled back.
“I love you, too — more than anything in the universe. I want to call you my dad. Is that okay? Dad?”
“That is more than okay, Adam. It’s perfect.”
“I’m sad about my mom, but I’m tons and tons happier because you’re going to adopt me and because you’ll be my dad. And because I won’t be alone.”
“I’m so happy that you want to be my son. We’ve only known each other for…” I calculated the number of days, “…nine days, but I feel like I’ve known you for a lot longer than that.”
“Me, too.” He looked down at the table. “I guess I’d better eat my apple before it gets funny.”
“You know that Eric is on his way here. He should arrive soon. Do you want to tell him about your mother?”
“I don’t know. Probably not. It just seems weird to tell someone that I don’t know about something so personal. I don’t want to turn his visit into something where he doesn’t know what to say to me.”
“Okay. I’ll leave that up to you. Now, there’s a new subject. You told me that you wanted to go on a date with Brian and see a movie on Saturday. Is that still on?”
“No. We talked about it at school today and decided to put it off until next weekend because Eric’s going to be here.”
“Okay. Another new subject. Let’s talk about the sleeping arrangements while Eric is here. I’m going to let the two of you decide if you want to share your bed. Otherwise, Eric can use the guest bedroom.”
“Yeah, maybe the guest bedroom’s best because we don’t know each other. Should I move his clothes into the guest bedroom?”
He got up and put his plate in the dishwasher. “Okay, I’ll do it now. There’s not much to move, anyway.”
I went to my home office and logged on to get my CPS email. Ashley might have more information for me, but the only message that was interesting was from Donna Joiner about the Elliotts. She wrote that they and the three kids seemed to bond, and after they left, the kids asked if they could be their foster parents. Also, the Elliotts were eager to start the training class so they could be eligible to be foster parents. They even asked about the possibility of adopting the three kids. Donna and Jennifer were ecstatic about how well the first meeting went. The kids were at Clement House, an excellent short-term foster facility that specialized in fostering preteen kids.
I went into the family room and turned on the TV and picked up my tablet, and started reading No Problemo, a short story about a teenage boy named Darryl who’s in foster care and having problems, including physical abuse. The story sounded like Ricardo Arragon’s problem when he was being fostered by the Rodriguez family, except even worse. Of course, No Problemo is fiction, but I’d seen enough working at CPS to know that situations like the one in the story are sometimes real life for foster kids.
I’d just finished the story and heard my cellphone’s ringtone. I didn’t recognize the number, but it was in the 530 area code, where Davis is located. Maybe Eric changed his cellphone number.
“Hello?” I said, using a gruff voice in case it was a wrong number.
“Hi, Uncle Rick. It’s is your favorite nephew. My name is Eric, in case you forgot.”
“You might have the wrong number,” I said, using the same gruff voice. There was silence on the other end of the call. I laughed. “Got ya!”
“Yes, you did!”
“What’s with the new cellphone number?”
“How do you know?”
“Because when I get a call, it shows the callers name if it’s from someone in my contacts list. There was no name on the call, but it was a 530 area code number, so I assumed it had to be yours. Why the new number? And where are you? When are you going to get here?”
“I was getting too many spam calls, so Dad got me a new number. Cost $25.00. I’m here now. I’m at your front door.”
“That’s a complete reply! Do you think that I should open the front door?”
“That’d be great! Thanks.”
I heard him chuckling, so I ended the call, then got up, went to the front door, and opened it. Eric was standing next to another boy who I didn’t know.
“Uncle Rick, this is my boyfriend, John Ito.” John seemed nervous.
I smiled. “Hi, John. Welcome.” We shook hands. “Come on in, both of you.”
Eric and I hugged. I hugged John too, and he relaxed a little. Then we walked into the family room. Adam was standing and looking lost.
“I’m Adam. Which one of you is Eric?” he asked. “Probably you,” and he pointed to Eric.
“How did you know?” Eric asked.
“You’re part Chinese and part Caucasian.” He pointed to John Ito. “You’re not. You look Japanese.”
“You can tell that I’m Japanese just by looking at me?”
“Sure.” Adam chuckled. “Well, it’s also because I heard Eric introduce you to my Dad as John Ito, and Ito is a Japanese last name.” Adam grinned.
Eric was staring back and forth between Adam and me. Finally, he looked at me and asked, “So, what’s this ‘dad’ bit?”
“I’m fostering Adam now, and I’ll be adopting him as soon as possible. We agreed that he can call me dad now.”
Eric grinned and grabbed Adam in a hug, then held his shoulders and pushed him out to arm’s length. “Fantastic! We’ll be cousins. You’ll be my only cousin, and I’ll be your only cousin who’s a guy.”
“You’re the only cousin I’ll have except for your sister. Now that my new dad is adopting me, I’ll have all kinds of relatives. That’s cool. But what about John? Since you two are boyfriends, isn’t John sort of my cousin-in-law?” He wiggled his eyebrows and giggled.
“I don’t think it works that way,” I responded.
“Whatever. But it ought to be that way. It’s nice to meet you, John,” Adam said, and they shook hands.
“Nice to meet you too, Adam,” John said, smiling.
Eric looked at me, then pointed to Adam. “Adam is a keeper, Uncle Rick!” he whispered.
“That he is, that he is for sure,” I responded.
“You two must be tired from the drive here,” I said. “Grab your stuff, and we’ll move it into the guest bedroom, then we can sit and talk.”
They picked up their backpacks and duffel bags, and I led them to the guest bedroom.
“Are the clothes I left here in this bedroom’s closet?” Eric asked.
“Yes, and your bathroom stuff is still in the bathroom. John, if you need anything, just ask.” He nodded.
After dropping their bags on the floor, we moved into the family room and sat down.
“Eric, I assume John is the secret you wanted to talk about, right?”
“Yes. But let’s do that later. Right now, we’re hungry.”
“Is Yan’s okay?”
“Oh, yeah! That’ll be fantastic. I’ve been telling John how very excellent it is.” He looked at me, pointed his thumb at John, and, in a stage whisper, said, “It better be as excellent as it’s always been whenever we’ve eaten there. Otherwise, I’ll never hear the end of it from him!”
“We’ll go there for dinner, and you can test it yourselves,” I said. “Time to use the bathroom and wash your hands, comb your hair, then we’ll leave for Yan’s and what will be a very excellent Chinese dinner.”
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