By the time Tuesday evening rolled around, with no word from Robert and the money still sitting, unclaimed, at the Western Union office in Las Vegas, I ratcheted my worry up a notch or two.
More calls to the Stardust, pages unanswered, phone silent. Did he try to come home without the money? Had he tried to hitch-hike? Was he laying dead by the side of the road somewhere between here (San Antonio, Texas) and there, his pockets turned inside out? Where was he? And WHY hadn’t he surfaced?
I mentally reviewed our last conversation. He sounded calm and rational. Didn’t appear to be overly worried or upset about anything. Of course, Robert never is. That’s just his nature. So there were really no clues there. Our last conversation was that I would wire him the $100 and I was to look into prices of a one-way plane ticket back home to San Antonio. I knew Robert was a “tough old bird” and it wouldn’t be beneath or beyond him to hop a bus or a train or thumb his way home if he thought he could.
I had some vacation time coming to me so I talked to my boss and decided to take the rest of the week, plus the following week, off. I got out my atlas and studied the map. I figured I’d drive out to Las Vegas and try to find him. I decided I’d stay a day or two at the most and if I didn’t have any luck, I would return home. What I’d do after that remained to be seen.
My boss, a naturally timid and cautious woman, was worried about me driving to Las Vegas in my 1983 Ford Escort that I’d just purchased and learned how to drive (it was a stick-shift) only a few weeks before. I told her that it was 1986 and that I was going to Las Vegas in a fairly new car, on an interstate highway — not through Donner Pass in a covered wagon. She still didn’t like the idea. And made me promise I would fly out there rather than drive. Sure, okay, right, whatever.
So the next day, I took my car in for an oil change and cursory inspection, ended up repacking the wheel bearings and getting four new tires. I did a couple of loads of wash to be sure I had clean clothes for the trip, ran a few errands and returned home to pack and rest up.
Bright and early the next morning, I packed some sandwiches and snacks, a large Thermos of coffee, a plastic gallon jug of drinking water, several changes of clothes for the both of us (ever the optimist) and a selection of cassette tapes for the long drive.
I carefully reviewed the route I would take and left a note for Robert to this effect. I also indicated that I would be calling the house every six hours or so in the event that he made it home, so I could head back at the earliest opportunity. I had gone to the bank the day before and gotten plenty of cash for the trip so I left a twenty dollar bill, along with the note, on the kitchen table where he’d be sure to find it. I boarded my cat at the vet and headed west. It was ten o’clock in the morning on a Friday. I had exactly ten days to get to Vegas, locate Robert and get back home in time for work the following Monday. A piece of cake.
(To be continued)