Skip to content

President Still Missing. Day 11.

It was the headline of the San Juan Record, and my friends and I were finishing our ham and eggs at PJ’s Restaurant in Monticello. We were the second shift for breakfast. Monticello was really struggling to handle the 250 journalists, cops, and Secret Service folks in town. PJ’s is still for sale, by the way, if you’re interested.

“What the hell happened?” This was my newspaper buddy Hal from the Salt Lake Tribune. We were sharing a room together with three other people at the Motel 6. Housing was tight. Really tight. As in people sharing rooms at hotels and private homes, even the temple and the BLM offices were renting sleeping space. People who never would have even spoken to each other before this were together, sharing bathroom sinks and toilets. Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, Socialists, conspiracy theorists, TV and radio pundits. All spread around PJ’s and other Monticello restaurants. Subway even began serving breakfast on Day 4 of the President’s disappearance. We were even pouring coffee for each other sometimes, for gods sake.

Hal was back from pouring coffee for Sean Hannity. Hannity didn’t say anything, just kept staring into his phone. I looked over at Hannity, then back at Hal. “Well,” Hal said sheepishly, “I was up.” Hal set the coffee pot down onto a pile of napkins at our table. I knew a few facts, but that didn’t mean the whole situation didn’t feel pretty damned mysterious.

“He and Barron were going on some special tour,” I said, “to see some rock art,” Some other journalists scraped their chairs over to us. “Valley of the Gods B&B was their last sighting. They had had breakfast, but the group was pretty quiet since Trump had just had an argument with the B&B owner about not getting chocolate cake and not being able to get cable down there.”

My tablemates were silent.

“Cable?” said Lawrence O’Donnell from MSNBC. “He’s in the middle of god’s country and he’s worried about cable?”

My cell rang. Shit. It was Zinke again. I’d just talked to him a few hours before. The guy would not let us do our jobs. Well at least he called me only every two hours. He called Search and Rescue and the San Juan County Sheriff every half hour.

Ryan Zinke has arranged the tour of Bear Ears for Trump. Barron had begged his mom to let him go. Even wore a red bandanna. Zinke gave the kid a cowboy hat, too. A white one, though Barron had requested a black one. “Remember,” Zinke had told him, “you’re one of the good guys.” Kinda pathetic, but Barron was into it.

“Some reporters did a bunch of iPhone photos and interviewed Trump and his son just before the Jeep caravan arrived. The Utes and Navajos were going to show him Valley of the Gods, then explore some more roads up north in the monument, and finally meet some oil and gas honchos at some potential drilling sites. Barron was excited about meeting some real Indians. Tell all his pals all about it back in D.C. and Maryland. About two hours after the caravan departed, the oil and gas guys called, asking where everybody was. That became officially Day 1 of Trump’s disappearance.

“Barron called about two hours later, said he was at the intersection of 95 and 261, and could we go pick him up.”

“And he was the only one there when they picked him up?” Hal said.

“Yup.” I held my coffee cup to my forehead. It was getting cold these mornings in early November. And I wasn’t sleeping all that well. My roommates all snored.

“And what kind of shape was Barron in?” Hannity asked.

“Pretty good, actually, for an urban preteen kid in the wilds of Utah.”

I didn’t share the description the Sheriff had told me. “Poor kid,” the Sheriff had said. “He was frozen half to death in some golf club nylon windbreaker he had on. But otherwise he talked the whole way back to the B&B about experiencing the wild west, how cool the Indians were, when could he come back. He wanted to keep Zinke’s hat, too.”

“Nothing about his dad?” This was John from The Journal out of Cortez.

“Not until one of the deputies asked,” I said, pouring myself more coffee.

“Oops,” said John, checking his phone. “We gotta go. The third shift is due in a few minutes.”

We cleared our plates and mugs into the tubs provided and waved thanks to the exhausted staff at PJ’s. We didn’t get to order breakfast; PJ’s just set out bowls family-style at each table. I’d heard the Peace Tree was letting people go into the kitchen to help themselves. PJ’s next breakfast shift was standing inside the door.

“Leave anything for us?” This was Rachel Maddow, who with her cameraman was slumped against the wall.

“Looking very western dude this morning, Rachel,” I said. She had on black jeans and a black hoodie that said, “Straight Outta Moab.”

“Don’t want to stick out too much like a sore New York thumb,” she said.

“I’d lose the ostrich cowboy boots then,” I said, pushing my way out the door.

“The ostrich leather is fake by the way!” she yelled after me.

I compared notes with my roommates who were gearing up to drive down to Blanding. We’d heard there would be some kind of announcement at noon. Phyllis of the San Juan Record was loading into my Subaru a duffle with sodas and salty snacks. Phyllis and I were sharing one of the double beds, while our two men roommates shared the other one. Phyllis zipped up the duffle.

“What do you think the announcement will be about?” I said.

“Arlene from the Park Service overheard a Secret Service guy say the Indian Jeeps had been found back in Owl Canyon, and that the sheriff’s getting some horses and dogs to track them.

I was silent. Tracking meant they’d be using Cyrus Yellowcat, the best tracker in San Juan County. He and I had worked together trying to find a missing kid back in 2012. It hadn’t ended well. But Cy was a professional. He’d find Trump and the Indian guides if anybody could. With or without dogs. We arrived at the parking lot of the Rodeway, where everyone had gathered.

“Well,” said Sheriff Eldredge, “he’s back.”

“’He’ who?” said John of Cortez.

“The President. He’s back. We found him.”

The press group erupted into shouted questions. The Sheriff waved us to be silent.

“He’s back, he’s safe. We’ll give you more details in a couple of days.”

More shouted questions.

“The Native American guides put him on some gentle old horse,” Sheriff and he met Mr. Yellowcat on one of the roads near Cedar Mesa,” the Sheriff continued. “First thing he asked for was some chocolate cake and a Diet Coke.”

There was uneasy laughter, then more shouted questions, mostly about Trump’s horse. Her name was Thunderbolt, the Sheriff said. She was 25 years old, a pinto. Trump was pretty saddle sore, seemed he’d been on old Thunderbolt for at least half a day. And, no, it wasn’t the first time he’d been on a horse, but he’d only had lessons on an English saddle.

Thunderbolt was going at a slow walk when Mr. Yellowcat’s border collie started barking, and Trump started yelling. That’s when Cy—Mr. Yellowcat—found him. Oh, and Trump had $500 in cash on him. He said the Indians gave it to him. That and an old poncho over his business suit. Oh, and the border collie’s name is Hagsy.”

“Short for Haggis!” I shouted out. I’d worked with this dog before. Laughter all around.

“Can we interview Mr. Yellowcat?” somebody yelled.

“In a few hours maybe. Now he’s talking to Homeland Security, the Park Service, and the San Juan Sheriff’s Department. You can take photos of Hagsy and Thunderbolt right now, though, if you want. But Mr. Trump’s been taken by helicopter to Denver for a thorough examination.”

* * *

We never learned exactly what had happened during those eleven days Trump was missing. The President refused to answer any questions about it, but he resigned from office a month later, so maybe it didn’t really matter. But Phyllis had a theory.

“Did you guys ever read the story ‘The Ransom of Red Chief’?” Phyllis had said. We’d been checking in at the Grand Junction airport. Some shook their heads, some nodded. “That’s probably what happened,” she said, “like in the story. The Indian guides got so tired of Trump, listening to his dealmaking bullshit, they decided to give him some money and turn him loose on their slowest horse. Then they’d go back to fighting the Bears Ears thing in court.”

Sitting next to Rachel Maddow on the flights to Dallas, then New York, I’d shared Phyllis’s theory and asked her what she thought.

“I did read ‘Ransom of Red Chief,’” she said, “in high school. And that is probably exactly what happened. And maybe later Mike Pence paid off the Utes and Navajo guides himself.”

One Comment