William Diehl: Eureka

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William Diehl Eureka
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William Diehl


So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

— The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald



If you’re a cop, the best thing you can hope for is to have a partner like Ski Agassi. That, and a beautiful lady who loves you. I was thinking about both, lying on my hospital bed watching morphine drip into my arm. It started as a small bubble, very slowly turned into a teardrop, then silently fell into the tube. I was concentrating on that process, wondering how long it would take for that drop to weave its way through my veins and into my brain when the doctor came in.

His name was Meisel, a short man with alert eyes and graying hair and a jovial attitude that helped, considering the situation. I had a hazy recollection of having met him briefly when I had arrived at the L.A. hospital the night before. He had a large envelope under his arm.

“Morning, Sergeant Bannon,” he said. “How’s the pain?”

“I’m kinda numb all over.”

“Good. If it becomes a problem, call the nurse and she’ll give that little knob a twist and make it go away.”


“What do they call you, by the way?”


“Like the letter zee?”

“Yes, sir.”

He nodded.

“Okay, Zee, here’s where we stand. They did a pretty good job back at Walter Reed. Basically your left leg is fine. And they’ve got the bones in that right leg lined up. The ankle is still a mess but we’ll take care of that in due time. The good news is that I’m the best there is at this kind of thing. I’ll get you back on your feet without so much as a limp. The downside is it’s going to take time.”

“… okay.”

“How does six months sound?”

I didn’t know how to answer that. It had already been three, six more sounded like forever.

He didn’t wait for an answer. Instead he took an X ray from the envelope and slapped it against the windowpane. He pointed to the bones in my right leg. The leg looked a lot better than the first time I had seen a picture of it. Then, the bones looked like a bunch of scrambled, broken toothpicks. The shinbone was shattered in a half-dozen places and the ankle was twisted almost backward.

The bones still looked like toothpicks but now they were straight, and held in line with metal pins. The foot still looked like it had been tacked on as an afterthought.

“We’re looking at three more operations. One to get the shinbones back together and two more on that ankle. Then two to three months teaching you how to walk again. At first you’ll be staggering around like a drunk stork.”

I laughed. “Better than crawling,” I said.

Meisel nodded and smiled broadly. “Good attitude. At least you’re back in California. How about family? You’re not married?”

I hesitated a minute and said, “No, sir.”

“You list your next of kin as Ski Agassi?”

“My partner when I was a cop before the war. I… haven’t really been in touch for a while.”


He pulled a chair up and sat beside me.

“I’ve reviewed your records, Zee. It helps me to know how you got your wounds.”

“I was a traffic cop, Doc. Drove my jeep over a land mine.”

“You were trapped in your jeep with your legs almost broken off and you took out a German Tiger tank with a bazooka.”

“Wrong place at the wrong time.”

“They don’t hand out Silver Stars and Purple Hearts for driving over land mines. Look, I’ve treated a lot of wounded soldiers. I know there’s a certain amount of guilt involved in survival. But you have to help me help you to get well. Your frame of mind will have a lot to do with how fast we accomplish that. I’m an expert at the mechanics. But you need friends for support.”

“I’m just not ready to…” I paused, trying to frame the rest of the sentence.

“Hell, son, heroism is not a choice you make, it’s made for you. It certainly isn’t something to be ashamed of. I don’t care what you tell people, tell ’em you broke your leg skiing in the Alps for all I care. But you need support in this effort. You’re facing a long and dreary process. The last thing I need is for you to go getting depressed on me.”

He slapped his hands on his knees and stood up.

“Besides,” he added, “if you think you’re going to be a burden on people who care for you, you’re wrong. You’ll be a bigger burden if you cut them out.”

“Hey Doc,” I said, as he started toward the door.


“What day is it?”

“It’s August tenth.”

“Christ, I’ve really been out of it. The last thing I remember was getting on the train. That must’ve been… two weeks ago? I keep losing time with all this morphine.”

Meisel stopped and stared at me with curiosity.

“They kept you very sedated on the train because of your foot.”

“I guess so. I don’t remember the train ride. I barely remember meeting you last night. Anyway, thanks.”

He came around the bed and leaned over.

“You don’t know about the bomb?”

“What bomb?”

“My God,” he said. “We dropped something called an atomic bomb on Japan five days ago. It wiped out a whole town called Hiroshima. We dropped another one on Nagasaki yesterday. They expect the Japanese to surrender within the week.”

“Aw c’mon.” It’s all that morphine, I thought.

“Zee, the war is over.”

I just stared at him.

“And I slept through it,” I said finally.

He started laughing, a big belly laugh. And then I joined him. The first time I had really laughed in a long time. He was shaking his head as he walked toward the door.

“It’s you and me against that leg from here on out, Zee. We start at eight in the morning. No food or drink after midnight. I don’t want you puking on me in the middle of the operation.”

Ski showed up four days later.

The big bear of a man appeared in the doorway. He was wearing a red silk tie and a white shirt under a dark blue suit, expensive, the kind that comes with only one pair of pants. And he was carrying a black briefcase. I remembered him being heavier, perhaps a little taller, a bit younger, a lot sloppier. That’s the way the memory works. Nothing changes in your mind. Nothing ages. Everything is just as you last saw it and I hadn’t seen Ski in four years.

“That must’ve been some big dog that bit you,” he said, nodding at the cast on my leg.

“You look like a damn stockbroker,” I said. “That what happens when you make lieutenant?”

“It’s my Sunday suit. I decided to come formal now that I outrank you.”

That tickled me. Some things never change. He pulled a chair over beside the bed, sat down, and my hand disappeared into his giant paw.

“I missed you, pal,” he said gently. “You’re lousy when it comes to writing home.”

“Ah, I didn’t have anything to say you couldn’t read in the papers. How’d you find me?”

“I’m a cop, remember? I’m also your next of kin. They kept me informed.”

“Meisel called you,” I said.

He smiled. “That, too.”

“He’s part shrink,” I growled.

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