by Walt Staples

Ike Perlman had just stepped out of the ER’s ambulance entrance for a smoke as the wagon from Trauma 4 screamed into the lot. He flicked the just lit cigarette away and ran to help hurry the gurney and its load through the doors. “Kitten” Kelly set her coffee cup down at the nurse’s station, called, “Number 5,” and pointed. That everyone involved, including the EMT’s, knew which bay was five and hardly needed the sign language from the large ER Head Nurse wasn’t remarked on–it was just Kitten. Once, an EMT had had the temerity to ask about it. She smiled down at him and, gesturing at the unconscious form on the gurney, answered sweetly, “Sugar, maybe you know, and staff knows, but the patient don’t necessarily know.”


Fred gazed out the window. It seemed to him he’d been on this bus forever. He grinned. It didn’t matter; he was going home. They were already in the upper reaches of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. He wasn’t quite sure where, but it didn’t matter.


As he helped cut away the patient’s clothes, Ike called out, “What’ve we got?”The EMT wearing the nametag reading “Gonzalez” read from his clipboard, “Gunshot victim, male, 67, name…Frederick Charles Hubble, intubated, plasma started.” He shook his head. “We pumped three into him on the way over.”

The ER doctor felt for a pulse. As he did so, a part of his mind noted the faded globe and anchor tattoo on the bicep and the imprint of a ring on the left ring finger. He frowned and glanced up at the monitor screen. Not good. Not good at all.

Short Annie, the new RN, asked, “Should I cut off his necklace?”

Ike looked. “Scapular. No, leave it. It’s not in the way.”

He took a breath. So, old man, you served your country, loved somebody, and believe in something. You and dad would probably get along great.


Fred looked around at his fellow riders. He didn’t recognize anyone, but they seemed to share his good spirits. He wondered where Helen was. It was a pity she’d never met his mom and dad. She’d have liked Grinder’s Switch, he was sure. Not like that other place—his mind sheared away from that line of thought.


Ike stepped aside as the X-Ray tech rolled the portable unit to the treatment table’s side. “Where was he shot and what with?”

“Foxhall Estates,” Gonzalez supplied.

Ike made a face. “Okay, then, it’s either .22, .380, or 9 millimeter.”

The X-Ray tech piped up, “Four-year-old girl in Two was .380. Clear.” He stepped away and triggered the machine. As he stepped back, he glanced at the patient. “Looks to be two—no, three 9 millimeter, probably.” After a while ER staffs become experts.

Ike asked, “What happened to her?”

Gonzalez looked like he’d bitten into something nasty. “Same firefight. A difference over sales territory, you might say. She and the old-timer got in the way” He shook his head. “Guess it just proves you shouldn’t skip rope or carry groceries home in Foxhall.”

Ike looked back up at the monitor. His eye strayed to the time in the corner of the screen—five to eight. Eight o’clock, Friday—Shabbat. Dad ought to be going through the door of temple right about now.


Fred was getting excited now. They were in Danube County! The bus was just approaching St. Dismas’. He wondered what Father Pete was doing at the moment. Fred had been an altar boy that Sunday morning when Father groaned, clutched his chest, and fell face first to the floor right after Communion. For some reason, Fred thought of Gunny Talbot. He was as profane as Father was pious, but each was, in his way, a teacher. They’d have probably liked each other, he decided.


A loud steady beep came from the monitor. Ike called, “Clear!” and triggered the defibrillator paddles for the third time. He watched the monitor as the blood pressure and temperature continued to fall and the other traces stayed flat. He sighed and said a word his mom hadn’t liked. He reached over and turned off the monitor, then tried to work the kinks out of muscles that had been tensed too long.

Short Annie was taking off the leads and other equipment when she stopped. “That’s weird.”

Ike regarded a discarded wrapper on the floor. “Friday or Saturday night in an ER and you notice ‘weird?’”

“He has a smile.”

Ike turned and looked. By golly, he did have a smile! The ER doctor furrowed his brow. Normally, they just looked blank at this point. He shrugged and headed outside for his rudely interrupted smoke. Maybe I’ll go see dad in the morning after he gets back from Torah study. He grinned. Knowing dad, more likely Torah argument.

He heard the approaching sirens as he was passing the nurse’s station. Kitten said, “Trauma 3 and 6, and Cloverdale coming in—car wreck,” as she looked around to see who was free.


Fred grinned at the cheering crowd as he came down the bus steps in front of Kelso’s store. There was his Helen, and mom and dad. Father Pete and Gunny Talbot stood together. He instantly recognized the tall, bearded and robed man who threw his arms wide to embrace him in a hug. Home.



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