In darkness, Dustin crept down the hallway feeling for the door to the bedroom. When he got to it, he turned the knob. Inside, gathered around a pool of light he found the rest of the paramedics and the people that he’d come with. Behind them the city stretched the length of the bedrooms panoramic windows. Their panes were missing. White gossamer curtains billowed inward from the evening’s breeze.
The old man lay on the floor beneath the ceiling beam. It was leveled over his chest pinning him to the ground. His arms dangled over the top of it as if he were trying to keep from slipping off.
The artist knelt beside his head. “Hang in there John.” He said.
At first Dustin didn’t understand why the EMT’s downstairs had been arguing about cutting off the man’s leg. The beam appeared to be pinning him down from above his waste leaving his extremities free. It was only upon closer inspection that he saw the real problem.
Stepping forward, Dustin could suddenly tell that it wasn’t the redwood beam that was trapping the man but rather a metal support that jutted from its side. The twisted steel had somehow been warped into a long crescent shape during the quake and it had fallen around the man’s ankle and embedded itself into the floor. It was fortunate that it hadn’t severed the limb but still, the manner in which it had come to rest had caused his leg to literally be shackled to the hardwood planks of the bedroom.
Hearing his entrance, they all looked in Dustin’s direction.
The ambulance driver named Saunders shined the flashlight that he was holding into Dustin’s face. “This guy again?” He heard the man exclaim as he shielded his eyes. “Jesus, how’d you get so dirty?”
Dustin blinked away the stars as the EMT lowered his beam. “I had to climb down a hole.” He answered.
“That crack?” The man shot back. “The one at that cemetery?”
“Jesus Christ that’s morbid.” Saunders scoffed looking at him in disgust. “Why would you want to climb around in a pile of dead bodies?”
“I don’t know.” Dustin said sadly.
“Were there snakes down there?”
“No, just dinosaurs.”
Dustin could see Kitten Kennedy leaning against an ornate wooden dresser and training another flashlight onto where Aldrich was working with the jack. She shook her head and sighed. Alexis sat on the bed watching her fish. The old man lifted his face, peering at Dustin over the rafter. “Is that my sandwich?” He asked.
Dustin looked at the two pieces of bread that he held. He’d eaten most of it but still he came over to the man and placed what was left of it into one of his free hands.
The old man held the sandwich up, looking at it in confusion.
“Sir?” Dustin said, coming around and stepping over the girder to look down at him face to face. “I’m the one that you’ve been calling all day long.”
The old man regarded Dustin then pried open the bread checking what was inside.
Dustin took his phone out of his pocket and held it out. “This is my phone.” He said in an overly demonstrative way. “You’ve been calling me.”
The old man glanced back at him. “Did you eat my sandwich?” He asked with an accusatory tone.
“Yes.” Dustin admitted. “I wanted to help you. I couldn’t get you to tell me where you lived but I tried to help you.”
“Was it good?” He replied.
Dustin couldn’t remember tasting the thing. He’d been so famished when the woman had handed it to him that he’d wolfed his part down without even considering the flavor. “Yes.” He lied.
“Sylvia makes such lovely sandwiches.” The old man smiled, his mood suddenly softening. “I’m glad that you enjoyed it. We should have you out sometime for diner. She enjoys cooking for people and planning those sorts of things.”
“You told me that over the phone.” Dustin nodded. “One of the times that you called today, you invited me over for diner.”
“That was you?”
“Yes.” Dustin answered turning his phone back and forth as he held it over the old man. “This is my phone.”
“Well you aren’t very polite.” He quipped, his words filled with directness.
“I’m sorry.” Dustin said. “The last time that you called, I had a lot going on. I got frustrated. I just wanted to help you.”
“You ate my sandwich.” The old man said fixing him with a heavy gaze.
“I’m sorry.” Dustin repeated.
Aldrich pumped the jack. “If we can get this metal out of the floor, we can just cut around the wood and lift it off him.” He said.
The old man tossed the sandwich aside.
“Hang in there John.” The artist repeated.
Dustin lowered his phone. “You called me by mistake.” He said.
James looked up at Dustin. “Are you saying that you knew that John was trapped?” He asked.
Dustin nodded. “He called me.”
“I called my wife.” The old man argued.
James made an exasperated gesture. “He could have died.” He said looking down at the old man. “You left him to sit up here trapped and all alone? Why?”
“I couldn’t find out who he was.” Dustin said. “I tried to get him to tell me where he lived many times.”
“My wife knows where I live.” The old man grumbled.
The artist was still aghast. “My God!” He said shaking his head. “He invited you to diner Dustin! How did you not know where he lived if he invited you to diner?”
“He never told me where to go!” Dustin shot back defensively.
“He could have died!” The artist repeated.
“Sylvia gets up every morning and goes to the gym.” The old man interrupted rubbing at his temples. “She stays gone for hours at a time and then she tells me that she’s doing it to stay in shape. Do you find her attractive?”
Dustin nodded absently. “Yes.” He said. “But it was my phone that you called. Not hers”
“We have this beautiful house with this amazing view and still she strays.” He muttered sadly.
“She didn’t stray sir.” Dustin said, correcting him again. “I’m not sleeping with her.”
“But you answered her phone.”
“It was my phone.”
“And you ate my sandwich.”
The artist watched Aldrich work. “If I would have known to bring my welding equipment this would be so much easier.” He said desperately.
“It’s coming up.” The grocer replied without much enthusiasm.
The old man winced.
“I need to help.” Dustin continued.
The old man looked up at him.