Donald Harstad: A Long December

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Donald Harstad A Long December
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    A Long December
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A Long December

Donald Harstad

15: 26

Slugs ripped through the barn’s old boards, showering us with dust and debris. I got even lower than I had been before, pressing my cheek against the sooty limestone foundation. I could see George hunker down along the thick support beam he’d found, and I heard Hester, who was off to my right in the gloom, say “Shit.” At first I thought she was just sort of venting, but then she kept going.

“Shit, oh shit, shit, shit.”

Hester’s no shrinking violet, but she’s not one to curse for the hell of it, either. I rose and turned to her, and noticed that she’d rolled away from her vantage point near the rotted ground-level boards, and was half sitting with her back against the foundation wall.

“What? You okay?”

“My face,” she said. She held the right side of her face with one hand while she struggled to reholster her sidearm with the other. I saw blood ooze between her fingers. “Shit, shit.” she repeated.

George and I both got over to her as fast as we could crawl. “Let me see.”

She reluctantly moved her hand from her face, and I saw blood and torn flesh. Not too much. It was hard to see in the shadows. I unsnapped my coat and daubed her face as gently as I could with the fleecy lining. It was all I had.

“Ahhh!” She pushed my hand away.

“Sorry, sorry, just a sec, just let me look.”

“Don’t press.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said as I pulled off my gloves, fumbled under my sweater, and dipped into my shirt pocket for my reading glasses. I put ‘em on and looked again. Sticking out of her right cheek was about a half-inch stub of an old, rusty square nail, flattened, but about half as big around as a pencil. It had embedded back toward the corner of her jaw. “I see it… it’s an old square nail. Part of one. There’s a chunk of nail stuck in your cheek.”

“Don’t touch it!”

“No, no.”

“I can feel it,” she said after a second, “with my tongue.” As she spoke, a rivulet of blood dripped over her lower lip and onto her parka sleeve. “It’s gonna hurt,” she said, and then shivered violently. “It’s inside my mouth. Oh shit.”

“It doesn’t seem to be bleeding very much,” I said. “But spit, don’t swallow it.”

“I just had a first aid class,” came Sally’s voice from behind the rickety and rusty milking stanchions. “Somebody get over here, and let me come take a look.”

George reached out and patted Hester on the arm. “It’ll be all right,” he said. “Okay,” he said to Sally, “be right there. I’ll get you my stuff.”

Hester nodded, but said nothing as he crawled away.

“It’s not a bullet,” I said. She was shivering pretty hard, and breathing in deep, shuddering gasps, and I could see the clouds of frozen breath forming in the cold air. I didn’t want her hyperventilating on us, and tried to reassure her. “It’s just a piece of old nail, must have been hit by a slug. It’s not life threatening, okay? It’s not a bullet. Lots slower. There’s no damage other than a little hole.” It occurred to me that she might be worried about disfigurement. And it really wasn’t a very big hole. “Real small,” I said. “Try to slow your breathing, if you can.”

She nodded. “It’ll hurt,” she said, with a quaver in her voice. “Hit my teeth. Numb now…but it’ll hurt…oh boy.” She didn’t look at any of us, just stared at the concrete floor, concentrating, and beginning to try to breathe slowly and deeply.

If she was right about her teeth, it really was going to hurt like hell.

Sally scuttled over on all fours. “Hi, Hester. Let me see what I can do here, okay? You’re gonna be all right…”

“Sure,” said Hester. Her words were less distinct. Swelling inside her mouth?

Sally briefly examined the wound. “We need some sort of compress,” she said. “Just to protect it, if we can. Some water to irrigate it, maybe? Later, we better let the doc remove it, okay?”

As soon as I heard “irrigate,” I reached into my parka pocket and pulled out one of my bottles of water and handed it to Sally. As far as I knew, all our real first aid equipment was still in our cars, and they were effectively out of reach. I thought for a second. “My T-shirt? It’s clean today…”

“It’ll have to do,” said Sally. She too reached out and patted Hester on the shoulder. “You’re gonna have the world’s biggest compress.”

Hester made a muffled sound, and I think she wanted to sound like she was laughing. I took off my coat and started pulling my sweater over my head.

“It starting to hurt yet? “asked Sally.

Hester shook her head gingerly. “Mumm.” She tried again, making a real effort to be distinct. “Numb.” It was swelling all right.

“Here, put your sweater back on,” George called out to me, and I heard the distinctive sound of Velcro ripping open. “This stuff is part of my kit,” he said, and tossed over a blue nylon bag with a red cross in a white square stitched on the front. “Take my muffler, too, it’s warm and can hold the compress in place.”

“All right!” Sally opened it up. There were several packets inside, each labeled for a different medical problem. “Fracture. Burns. Drowning”-Sally riffled through-”ah, Wounds and Bleeding”-then tore the pack open. There was a large compress, gauze, disinfectant ointment, and a scissors. “Shit, this is great…”

“I’ll get an ambulance coming,” I said. For all the good it would do. There was no way we cold get Hester to the paramedics until we got lots of backup. I keyed the mike on my walkie-talkie. “Comm, Three… ten-thirty-three.”

Of course it was 10-33. This had been an emergency since the first shot was fired. But I had to say something to convey the extra urgency, and there’s no code for “more urgent than before.”

“Three, go ahead.”

“Okay, we have an officer down now. Get me a ten-fifty-two down here at the old Dodd place. Fast…but tell ‘em to hold until we clear ‘em in.”

“Ten-four, Three. Copy officer down?” She repeated it that way so everybody who was listening knew what we had, without her having to inform them separately.

“Ten-four, need as much ten-seventy-eight as you can get, and the ambulance. We are still pinned down. Repeating, still pinned down. How close is backup?”

“Ten-four the ten-fifty-two,” she said, and I could imagine her hitting the page button for the Maitland ambulance service. “And…uh…backup is en route.”

I was glad she acknowledged the ambulance request, but just telling me that the backup units were on the way, without giving me their current location, meant that it was going to take a while. I wasn’t certain just why, but there was obviously a problem with backup. It was so damned typical of the complex kind of plan that we were working under. I was angry, but there was nothing Dispatch could do about it. I was just sorry she hadn’t been able to give me an estimate. That was bad.

“Ten-four. Look, tell the responding units that we are still taking automatic weapons fire, from two or three locations. Repeat that, will you. Auto weapons fire from multiple locations.”.

“Ten-four, Three.” She repeated the message, and as she did so she sounded about ready to cry. Being completely powerless in a tense situation will make you sound that way. “Can you be more specific regarding the location of the automatic weapons fire?”

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