Dustin didn’t awake with a jolt, a shriek or even a long slow agonized moan. Instead, he silently became aware that two people were talking over him. Through the blackness and the splitting pain that enveloped his head, he listened to their dialogue.
“I’m telling you, he’s going to lose that leg whether Saunders wants to accept it or not.” One of them said. “We might as well amputateit and get the hell out of here.”
“Now you know as well as I do that we don’t amputate Gary.” Another replied. “Got to have a doctor for that.”
“Yeah, but this is different.”
“Earthquake!” The man said as if it were a given. “We can do whatever we need to do.”
“Probably, but Saunders plays by the rules.”
“Well, if we don’t have a rescue team up here within the hour then I’m going to go in there and hack it off myself.”
“He’s hydrated.” The other man argued. “There’s not reason to amputate yet.”
“What about aftershocks?”
“What about them?”
“One happens, the roof caves in.”
“And then everyone gets killed.”
“Yeah.” The man said, a self satisfied tone creeping into his voice. “Give me the pack.”
Dustin heard a brittle crunching sound and then his eye was covered in ice. He sat up, grabbing the bag off his face. He opened his eyes.
He was sitting in the bed of Aldrich’s pick-up truck outside an enormous house with large windows. Some of them were broken out. He could see an enormous, sweeping porch that wrapped around the front of its exterior. The door was open.
At the tailgate two EMT’s stood looking at him. Dustin recognized them as one of the pair that delivered the bodies of the grocer’s parents to the funeral home that morning. Behind them, both of the ambulances sat, their lights flashing and circling brightly in the growing dusk.
The one that he remembered being named Donaldson, dropped a clipboard he was writing on to his side and jammed and pencil in Dustin’s direction. “How many time’s have you been hit today buddy?”
Dustin looked at the ice bag. It was one of those compact little packages that cools itself with a chemical reaction. No ice, but the feeling of ice all the same.
The other one, Gary, gave a snort. “You had the start of a black eye when we saw you this morning. Now you’ve got a real shiner and someone busted up your lip really good.”
Without thinking, Dustin pressed the bag against his forehead.
“Keep it on the eye.” Donaldson chided, coming around the side of the truck and grabbing Dustin’s hand, to move it into the position that he wanted.
Dustin shook him off. “Don’t touch me.” He said, shrugging the man off and repositioning the bag over his brow.
“Hey!” The EMT scoffed, backing away with an offended expression. “We’re just trying to help.”
“I don’t like being touched.” Dustin said, motioning for him to stay back.
“Screw you.” The man spat.
Dustin stole a quick look down at his legs. They seemed fine. “Why did you want to cut off my leg?” He asked dumbly.
The one named Gary shook his head. “Not you, dumbass.” He said giving a jerk of his shoulders towards the house. “The guy in there.”
The EMT shrugged. “I don’t know.” He grumbled. “The dude who owns this house. A big redwood beam from his ceiling fell on him. His wife came home and found him about an hour ago. He’d been trying to call her all day long. He should’ve just called 911.”
Donaldson made a note on his clipboard. “He’s in shock.” He muttered matter of factly. “People do stupid things when they’re in shock.”
Dustin looked around. “Where is everyone?”
“Inside.” Gary said. “The dude who brought you up here is a real handy guy. He’s trying to use a car jack to get that beam off this guy so we can transport him.”
“Why aren’t you two in there?”
Donaldson shot him a rueful expression over the clipboard. “We came out here to help you.” He said disdainfully.
Still feeling lightheaded, Dustin used the side of the truck to push himself into a standing position. The dull throbbing in his head swelled and then slowly subsided. The EMT’s made no effort to assist him further. Instead, they backed away wearing matching expressions of mild amusement as he stumbled off the tailgate weak-kneed to the ground.
Dustin stood there a moment trying to regain his composure. His face felt warm where the blood swelled around his wounds. His phone was silent. Why would the stranger call him again? His wife had come home and now there were friends and trained professionals gathered around his body helping him out. This was what Dustin had been trying to make happen all day.
The grocer had parked in a rutted dirt driveway next to a large rock outcropping that jutted out from the earth like a tombstone. A tree grew up from beneath it, seeming to be the only thing keeping it from falling over. There were no other houses around as far as the eye could see. It was remote.
In all of their phone calls, Dustin had never been able to talk the old man into giving him his location but now, by shear chance and serendipity he was sure that he was standing outside that very address. The two ambulance drivers took notes and debated cutting off the leg. Dustin didn’t want to go inside. He didn’t want to face Aldrich and Kennedy again. He wanted to run away and disappear entirely but instead he felt a compulsion to meet this stranger and the wife he called Sylvia.
Looking across the yard he could see the bay and beyond it, the outskirts of the city. Fires still burned although there weren’t as many. Helicopters circled overhead, some of them turning spotlights onto the ground in order to compensate for the days vanishing light. The man had been right about the view. The panorama from their bedroom must be extraordinary.
Using the side of the truck to steady himself Dustin began walking in the direction of the homes front door.
“Where are you going?” The EMT named Gary asked.
“Inside.” Dustin answered stepping onto a sidewalk and slowly climbing the steps of the porch.
“I don’t know why.” Dustin said, turning. “I think that I need to find out why I can’t help this guy.”
Once again Donaldson dropped the clipboard to his side. “Don’t say anything that will make him kill himself.” He warned.
Grinning from ear to ear Gary added. “And don’t let the roof fall in on your head.”