It has been five days since Carol Grabowsky disappeared. Her mother, Doris, chokes on the panic when she allows her mind to range from the minutiae of the search: Turn left here, she tells her husband, Arthur, a 64-year-old retired janitor. He has meaty hands that clamp the steering wheel of their white Ford Taurus as he speeds from light to light in downtown Sacramento, navigating streets he doesn't know.
There was a sighting at Richards Boulevard, Doris Grabowsky says, consulting the map book. Have we been to Richards Boulevard? Where is Richards Boulevard? Where is Carol?
"Ca-rol," Doris Grabowsky screams to the American River from the bike path near Northgate Boulevard. "Ca-rol," she hollers into the dense shrubbery that lines the paths to the homeless camps beneath the Highway 160 overpass.
It was Monday when the staff at Orange Grove Adult School in Foothill Farms called to say Carol had not made it to fourth period. She is 31 and autistic, with the mind of a 7-year-old.
Carol does not wander. She thrives on routine. She is up at 6:30 a.m. and has cold cereal for breakfast. Her mom helps her dress and then applies a little lipstick.
At 8:20 a.m. the special education bus comes to take her to school. Three classes in the morning, then lunch.
After lunch, she brushes her teeth in the school bathroom, then it's on to fourth period for basic education. She has done that weekday after weekday, month after month, since she and her parents moved here two years ago from Anaheim.
Doris dressed her lightly Monday, on account of the heat. She wore her white blouse with the capped sleeves and oversized purple, pink and yellow flowers. Her shorts were light brown, almost to the knees.
She wore a pair of white tennis shoes and carried the purse she always carries. No sweater. Nothing to protect against the cold night air.
Doris thought there would be no need, because come 3 p.m., Carol would take the special education bus back to their Antelope home, right to the door. Weekday after weekday, month after month.
"She's probably going to die of exposure," Doris, 62, says now, and the sobs work their way up her throat.
"I've got to get her to the hospital. We have to go right away. I don't know what's happened to her.
Just to think she's out there at the mercy of anybody. It's worse at night. We're so used to having her safe in her bed under the blankets. She's not going to make it if she doesn't get help. She's not getting proper nourishment. She might have an infection."
But this line of thought does not end in a place that a mother can bear. So Doris pulls herself together. The search is the task at hand.
On Saturday, Doris and Arthur Grabowsky held a press conference outside the Sacramento Association for the Retarded at 21st and U streets to plead with the community to help find Carol. They believe she is here. They believe she is alive.
Sacramento County Sheriff's Department dogs have tracked her scent to a bus stop at Auburn Boulevard and Orange Grove Avenue near the school. The bus that stops there would have taken her into Old Sacramento.
There have been three sightings of her since, according to sheriff's spokesman John McGinness.
Someone called Thursday to say they had seen her the night before, seated alone on the boardwalk in Old Sacramento, one shoe gone, rocking back and forth.
Someone else reported seeing her in an Old Sacramento candy store late Wednesday, with a man approximately 6-foot-6, 150 pounds, who also appeared to be developmentally disabled. A third person reported seeing her sometime this week near the Richards Boulevard overpass on Interstate 5.
Carol's parents and school officials are convinced, because of her penchant for rigid routine, that she was kidnapped or somehow lured away when she went to the school bathroom to brush her teeth.
They say Carol has the mind of a child, but at 5-4 and 150 pounds, the face and body of a woman. What that might mean for their daughter, alone on the streets, are thoughts Doris and Arthur Grabowsky turn away daily.
Late Saturday morning, the Grabowskys headed to Loaves and Fishes, whose volunteers supply the city's homeless with food and shelter.
In the back seat of the Taurus was their niece, Carmen Scherubel, 39, a beauty consultant for Mary Kaye Cosmetics who lives with her husband in Phelan, near Victorville.
Gripping fliers that bear Carol's picture, the three moved from group to group of homeless men and women to ask if they had seen her.
They hung on the words of Bo, 27, a gaunt, heavy-smoking blond who assured them that if Carol makes it to Loaves and Fishes, "someone would snag her up and help her out."
But no one had seen her.
Battling wrong turns and dead-end streets, they made their way to the American River Parkway in search of homeless camps. "Maybe the people who took her are hiding her," Doris said.
Wearing white sandals, her ankle wrapped from a sprain she got while searching the day before, she hobbled down a dirt path to the river with her husband and niece, stepping over Budweiser cans and clothing. They took their cause to three men camping in the shade. In the background, a fourth sat on a log, gesticulating wildly.
One of the men said he may have seen Carol, but can't be sure when. All pledged to keep their eyes open. The Grabowskys headed back to the car, Doris calling, "Ca-rol," out into the heat. Bee/ Dick Schmidt: Volunteer Mickey Johnson talks to a man Saturday in Capitol Park after giving him a flier on Carol Grabowsky.