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Missing in Indio

Posted on Feb 15, 2018

The Magnificent Seven (as they’d named their group on the flight to LA from Vancouver) dropped their luggage in the wide foyer and kicked off their shoes. They were guests in the home, after all, and needed to treat it with respect. They set their shoes against the wall in a tidy row and padded into adjacent rooms, each heading in a different direction to explore their sprawling digs.

Clay headed down the hall to lay claim to his preferred bedroom. He was flying solo this weekend so he didn’t need much – a double bed and a large screen tv were all he required. An ensuite would be a bonus, but he knew their winners (both couples) should get those. He would choose a bedroom nearest the bathroom he and Graeme would share. Fingers crossed there was a third bedroom with an ensuite for Karen!

Karen and Graeme headed straight for the kitchen, where their weekend cook-off would be taking place. One of the couples joining them on this trip had brought along a trophy they’d had made – Master Chef, Stagecoach 2018 – and each of them was certain they were going to win it. They were spending four nights in Indio, so each of them would cook for the group on two of the four nights. Karen would take the first and third nights, and Graeme would cook on the second and fourth nights. Game on!

Winner Colin and his wife Jenna tried to find the pool and hot tub in the back yard but instead ended up in the middle courtyard. They could see the pool but couldn’t get to it so they backtracked to the foyer and collected their bags where their bathing suits awaited. They ran down the hall, grabbed the first room they found with an ensuite, slammed the door and stripped down. After nearly six months of rain and cold temperatures in Vancouver, all they wanted to do was take in the sunshine for a few hours.

Lisa had also won her way into the trip to Stagecoach music festival, and there’s no one she would rather share the experience with than her dear husband, Matt. It was their 20th anniversary that month and they wanted to celebrate in style. After raising their three kids, it was finally time for them to reconnect. They wandered from room to room not looking for anything in particular, just taking it all in. They admired the abstract art on the walls, the splashes of red decorating the sitting room, and the jet tub in the large bathroom. After their circuit they settled in on tall stools at the kitchen bar and watched Karen and Graeme taking inventory of the cooking utensils while the menu options rattled through their minds.

Karen’s head popped out of a lower cupboard and she exclaimed “Look at this!” She pulled out a flat novelty toaster with two bread shaped holes and two paddles attached in the middle. It was a toaster defibrillator! They all gathered around to take turns pretending to bring toast back to life. It would be the source of many a joke that weekend.

Clay waltzed into the kitchen, swung open the stainless steel refrigerator door and announced “NO BEER!” He turned around and said “Who wants to do a beer run with me? I’ll bet they’ve got some great craft beer down here!”

Karen volunteered to go – she was cooking that evening and had a long list of groceries she needed to buy. They had found many staples in the cupboards but they needed fresh foods. While snacks were important, fruits and vegetables would be imperative to help their bodies deal with all the alcohol they were about to imbibe. The two piled into the rented van and headed off to find a grocery store. With nothing left to do but wait and lounge, Graeme went on the hunt for a bedroom to call his own. The first door he came to was closed and presumably occupied. He stuck his head in the second room across the hall and, finding it empty, tossed his backpack on the bed. He walked to the window where he peeked through the blinds into the sunshine. The houses were oppressively close together and he could practically reach across to the next home’s wall! He closed the blinds and changed into his swimsuit – it was time to hit the pool!

Upon their return an hour later, Karen got busy in the kitchen while Clay took one case of his purchases out to the pool. There he found the two couples in their bathing suits soaking up the rays. It was a warm and comfortable 26 degrees that day, and the sun wasn’t due to set for four more hours. Clay offered bottles to his new friends and went back in to get his shorts on.

“Where’s Graeme?” he asked Karen as he unpacked his beer bottles into the fridge.

“How should I know?” Karen shrugged. “I was with you! I know as much as you do!” she snapped at him. The two often bickered like a married couple. After being cohosts for over 20 years, they were more like brother and sister than they cared to admit. There were very few secrets between them, and they had a playbook full of shared experiences and private jokes. Their knowing looks and unspoken understandings were a social psychologist’s dream study, and most of the time the closeness made those around them uncomfortable. Graeme had seemed to infiltrate their little club, though, and he was a good fit. He didn’t take sides, and had a healthy rapport with both Clay and Karen. The listeners also enjoyed the youthful energy he brought to the show.

The couples by the pool said Graeme had come for a swim but hadn’t stayed long. They didn’t pay much attention to what he was up to – they were too busy enjoying themselves!

A few hours later, Karen rang the dinner bell and everyone convened in the kitchen. She had set the table with seven places, squeezing in an extra chair at one end of the six-person table. The food dishes were laid out on the kitchen bar, serving ladles sticking up from bowls full of salad, quinoa, and stir fry. Three bottles of red wine were left to breathe on the counter next to a tray of wine glasses. There was no harm in plying her judges with a little alcohol to ensure her eventual cooking contest win.

As they each served themselves at the bar then took their seats at the dining table, Graeme sauntered in through the front door. “Where’ve you been?” asked Karen motherly.

“Just checking things out,” was his nonchalant reply. He told them he had gone for a walk in the neighbourhood hoping to find a corner store nearby, but had ended up walking for an hour before he ran into a strip mall. Luckily the gps on his phone had guided him back to the house just in time for dinner!

With their bellies full and the wine flowing, they all gathered in the living room and tried to figure out the TV situation. There were very clear instructions for the wifi and tv, but with seven brains working at different speeds, it took some sorting before they were able to log into Netflix. Now came the struggle to agree on a show to binge watch.

“Graeme and I are totally into Suits, right G-Man?” said Clay as he looked around for Graeme to back him up. “Graeme? Where’s Graeme?” Clay asked, looking from face to face. Everyone shook their heads and shrugged. No one had seen him leave so they all assumed he’d slipped away for some quiet time in the bathroom. All that exercise and eating could make for some much needed toilet time.

An hour later Graeme hadn’t returned so Clay went looking for him. He came back five minutes later looking puzzled. “He’s not here!” he said in astonishment.

“Did you check everywhere?” Karen asked concernedly.

“No, I’m an idiot.” Clay rolled his eyes with sarcasm.

“Is the van still here?” Karen asked, ignoring his snark.

Clay shrugged and turned on his heel, not wanting to admit he hadn’t checked the driveway. He returned shortly with the keys in hand and said “wherever he went, he went on foot.”

One of the guests said “he’s a big boy, he can take care of himself.” Everyone agreed and they went back to watching Netflix and drinking. If Graeme wasn’t back by the time they went to bed, then they could worry.

Just before 10:30 Graeme appeared from the kitchen with a beer in hand. As much as they all wanted to ask him where he’d been, they wanted to respect his independence and privacy and simply acknowledged his return with a nod. Clay and Karen shot a look at each other but neither said anything.

It was Friday morning and the Magnificent Seven prepared themselves for a day of festival fun. FGL didn’t come on until later in the day but there were a lot of great acts throughout the day – they didn’t want to miss any of it! They got into the van with all their personal gear and decided on a plan for the day. They would spend the entire day at the fair grounds but they didn’t have to stick together the whole time. They would agree on a meeting place and check in throughout the day. After FGL, they would meet at a specified time and place and head back to the house together.

They had no idea what a challenge that would be. The sheer enormity of the festival was indescribable. If you got separated here, it was unlikely you would find each other again. Karen suggested they find someplace shady and use that as a home base. They found a rare spot of shade beside a large light stand and dropped their gear. Clay and Karen assumed Graeme would stick close to them but before they knew it, he was nowhere to be found. Oddly, the two couples stayed close and set up their blankets right next to each other. There was safety in numbers, and they wanted to get a lay of the land before wandering off too far.

After the FGL show, the six of them waited for Graeme to show up so they could head back in the van. Graeme didn’t show up. Numerous texts to his cell phone went unanswered, and since no one had seen him since they had arrived, they began to worry. Karen called his cell phone but it went directly to voice mail. Clay checked with security to see if anyone had been taken into custody – Graeme was an ex hockey player after all, and it’s possible he got into a scuffle. Karen went to the First Aid tent to ask if they had seen him, or sent him away in an ambulance with heat stroke. They had not.

It was late, it was dark, and everyone was tired and hungry. They sent Graeme one last text to say they had headed home, and he could catch a cab there when he was ready to join them. Karen was very worried, wondering what could have happened to him. Was he hurt? Had he been mugged? Was he laying in a heap somewhere, bleeding? Clay was less concerned, thinking Graeme was a grown man and just enjoying his freedom at a festival. Maybe he’d made friends and they had invited him to a party. Maybe he had gotten lost or tired and just decided to go back to the house. Maybe… maybe…

The happy mood of the group was dampened by Graeme’s absence and, worse, his silence. If only he’d let them know where he was going, they wouldn’t have to worry. With no way of reaching him, they sat in the kitchen in thick silence. Occasionally someone would shrug it off and say “he’s fine, he’s just out having fun.” But deep down they were all concerned.

“At what point do we call the cops?” asked Clay.

No one replied, they all just contemplated their drinks and came up with their own quiet scenarios. It was midnight when they finally decided to give up and go to bed. Nothing could be done at this point, they would re-evaluate in the morning. Perhaps he would be there when they woke up.

Karen lay in bed, pictures of Graeme scared and alone whirling in her head when she closed her eyes. She listened for the front door to open, hoping to hear him stumble in after some hard partying. She didn’t think that was his style but how well did they really know him?? People sometimes went wild when they were away on vacation and got a taste of freedom. And he’d kept disappearing – maybe he had a drug problem they didn’t know about! The more she thought, the worse she felt. When she finally did drift off to sleep, she had nightmares about having to tell Graeme’s girlfriend Alex about his disappearance. How were they going to explain they had lost him on their very first day there? Ugh, how horrible.

Clay and Karen were up with the sunrise at 6am, their bodies accustomed to getting up with the birds. They found Graeme’s bed empty and made, obviously not having been slept in. “What are we going to do? Should we call somebody?” choked Karen. She wavered from worried to angry to upset and back to worried, not knowing how she should feel from moment to moment. Clay tried to keep things light by making a joke about using the toaster to jump some life into her, and she shot him a look that made him clamp his mouth shut. She found no humour in their predicament, and not knowing what to do made her all the more frustrated.

The festival opened at noon that day so they had six hours to find Graeme and get some answers. Repeated calls to his cell phone went to voicemail, and still no reply to texts. Clay called the show’s producers to ask if they had heard from him. He didn’t want to alarm them, but there was no sneaky way to bring it up. No one had heard from him, and now everyone started to worry.

There were no clues to his whereabouts in his room. Graeme had unpacked his bag but had basically just dumped everything on his bed. His toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, hair gel, and deodorant lay untouched in the plastic baggie he used as a toiletries bag. The only things missing were the clothes he wore to the festival the previous day. Where could he have gone??

It was pointless to go driving around aimlessly since the festival grounds is where they saw him last. He’d made no mention of anything he’d wanted to see or experience while in Indio, so all Clay and Karen could do was wait and hope for him to show up. They drank their coffee in silence while the two couples fixed them all breakfast. Poached eggs on defibrillator toast with avocado and goat cheese was delicious but Karen pushed the plate away after a few bites. She had no appetite, worry knotting up her insides and caffeine eating a hole in her stomach.

When the front door opened and Graeme walked in, everyone stared in disbelief. He wore a big smile and looked none the worse for wear. Quite the opposite! He carried a grande Starbucks in one hand and a brown paper bag with a Starbucks logo on it in the other.

Clay got up so fast he knocked his chair over. “Where have you been, young man?!” he demanded. Karen wanted to wring his neck but all she could do was hug him. “We were so worried about you!” was all she could manage to say. Admonishments seemed pointless when relief had washed all the worry away.

“I’m sorry, my cell phone died,” Graeme explained, “I think it got overheated and it won’t even turn on!” He went on to tell his travel companions about how his girlfriend Alex had come to Stagecoach with some friends and they had rented a house nearby. He had visited them twice the previous day, and had met up with them at the festival. When it was time to find his group, he couldn’t remember where they were – the festival grounds were the size of a small city and he couldn’t remember what landmark was near the light post. His phone had died so he didn’t have anyone’s phone numbers, neither did he have the gps to guide him back to their house. By the time they got back to Alex and her friends’ house, he just wanted to crash and deal with it all in the morning.

“I didn’t want to tell you where I was going because we were told we weren’t allowed to bring our spouses on the trip and I didn’t want to get fired. I didn’t think you’d all be that worried about me!” he laughed.

“Gimme that!” Karen barked as she tore the brown bag out of Graeme’s hand. “I oughta box yer ears but I’m just gonna eat my frustrations away instead,” she grumbled as she dug into a croissant. Clay couldn’t decide if he was angry or impressed so he reserved judgement and decided to enjoy the weekend. Besides, it’d make for a great story to tell the listeners on Monday morning.

Graeme held up the defibrillator toaster’s handles and said with a grin “jump start my heart!”

Karen glared at him over her croissant.

Graeme’s smile faded fast, he looked to Clay and whispered, “too soon?”

Clay nodded.