by Chance Dibben
The search for a missing billionaire yields insights into previous crashes. The explorer’s family courageously holds hope while others find closure. Grandchildren of the deceased receive artifacts of people only known by whispers: class rings, dog tags, bullet-proof Bibles, monogrammed canteens, and journals whose missing pages tell us they were burned for fire.
This penetration of the desert, however, finds little of the billionaire, even as billionaire friends give support, channeling massive sums of money into the effort. Specialized forces are hired for the search, working hand-in-hand with the usual authorities, all rough-and-tumble characters whose empathy hides behind mirrored sunglasses and ten-gallon hats.
As billionaires go, this one, this guy, is beloved. Too flamboyant and charming for people to really care about his politics (center left). Too generous with his money for others to care how he earned it. His disappearance has turned small town diners prosperous and brought a media frenzy to areas that can name each rain of the past decade. The searchers are astonished by what they find. The clean skeletons they stumble across in the naked desert sun don’t inspire fear, but rather melancholy peace.
There’s chatter about this being a hoax, a way for the billionaire to disappear somewhere else, to a foreign land with a big, bushy beard and a suitcase full of prismatic currency. Most, though, have accepted the billionaire’s death and that months of searching with no trace of him or his plane likely mean they won’t ever find him.
There’s arguments about what to do next, how they will continue the fight, and where, in this heat-streaked squat of land, should they place the memorial marker. There’s the gambler’s fallacy of “just a few miles more,” “just a few days more.”
At one of the diners, the sheriff shares a cup of coffee with the widow — a tableau of class contrast and emotion. The sheriff holds her hand, doesn’t say much. She already knows.
“You’ve found so many other crashes. That has to mean something, right? That means you’re close.”
“Ma’am, I’m not sure what to tell you. We’ve tried. We’ve tried hard.”
“And look what your husband did, brought us all here, helped out all those people. Those stories now finished. That’s a good thing.”
“It might take some time, it might not be us, but someone will find him. And then a new generation will know his life and know his story.”
The sheriff is right. It won’t be them that finds the billionaire, but he will be found, in about 40 years, when an experienced driver loses her way, crashing her Jeep a mere 100 yards from his point of impact. By then the desert will have much more history to reveal.
Chance Dibben is a writer, photographer, and performer living in Lawrence, Kansas. His writing has appeared in Split Lip, Reality Beach, Horsethief, Yes Poetry, Atlas and Alice, as well as others. Find him on Twitter @chancedibben | chancedibben.com.