Monday, September 24, 2012
The "A Walk in the Park" story posted a few weeks ago on this blog is a 1 page re-write done for a writing workshop about a year ago. This is the original 6 page version of "A Walk in the Park" that is a much different story, as you will discover after the first two paragraphs. I think you will like both of these stories, born of the same seed.... Enjoy.
I had finally escaped the office for 3 days of hiking in the Okanogan National Forest in my home state of Washington. Just me, my sleeping bag, and a 50-pound backpack filled with all the comforts of, well, maybe not home, but close enough. Half way up the side of the ridge I decided to take the path least traveled, picking my way between loose gravel and broken rocks, I was sure going to give my new hiking boots a good workout.
Once up over the ridge, and down into a hollow I saw a huge field of beautiful wildflowers. I could not resist. I dropped my pack and grabbed my new 7 mega-pixel camera and tripod. I framed the shot in the picture viewer, and set camera to “Trap Focus” so it would capture every movement once I was on my mark. Like a little girl I bounded to the spot I figured to be center frame and I started mugging for the camera.
CLICK… I looked to my right, and there in the tall grass I thought I saw something.
CLICK… I jumped up to get a better view.
CLICK… It was an injured hiker. I started to tremble. He was bleeding profusely from a large cut on his neck.
CLICK… As I approached him I could see he was blinking so I knew he was alive.
CLICK… I took out my phone to call 911 and …CLICK.
Two months later.
“Ranger base, this is Ranger 2 over.”
“Go ahead Ranger 2, over.”
“Mike, I’m circling the Northwest side of Hadley ridge. I’m observing what looks like a discarded backpack in a field, and some matted grass not far off, I’m going to set it down and take a closer look. Over.”
“Copy that Ranger 2, and Jim-bo, report your progress to base every 15 minutes, over.”
“Affirmative Ranger Base, Ranger 2, over and out.”
Jim Maguire was an experienced pilot. The landing was a piece of cake. He put his chopper down right between the backpack and the matted patch of grass. He mumbled to himself as he surveyed the scene.
What do we have we here … a camera on a tripod… the backpack is intact … Oh OK this must have been where the camera was packed away. Camera’s dead. Kind of pointing at that patch of tall grass and the matted patch over there. Where the heck is our photographer friend at?
I started walking to the patch of matted grass that I had seen from the air.
What the heck was he filming …. Whoa, what’s this? Oh Crap. I ran back to my chopper as quick as I could.
“Ranger base, Ranger Base, this is Ranger 2. Do you copy?”
“Ranger 2, this is Ranger Base, why so excited Jim-bo?”
“Looks like a lot of blood, but I don’t think it was a deer hunter. Maybe was, maybe not. I can’t find signs of a gut pile anywhere. That abandoned equipment is giving me a bad feeling. I think we better get the State Troopers up here with a test kit to check it out. Over.”
“Roger Jim-bo, I’ll get a hold of State and see what they want to do, but don’t hold your breath, the State Fair in Calhoun has them stretched pretty thin. Over.”
“Ranger 2 standing by. Over”
“Ranger 2 this is Ranger Base, over.”
“Ranger Base, go ahead Mike, over.”
“Yeah Jim-bo State is real interested, they think every runaway kid and escaped nut heads for our pretty little park. They’re gonna chopper in a team to your coordinates, ETA 2 hours.”
“Crap, Mike call my mom and tell her not to hold dinner.”
“Roger Jim-bo, Ranger Base standing by.”
“Ranger 2 standing by.”
State was interested all right; they had their team on site in an hour and a half. It took them all of 5 minutes after touching down to prove the dried blood I discovered was not only human, but also that it was from 2 different people.
Well, past experience told me that at this point the State folks would ignore me like a piece of crap so I went back to my chopper and sat comfortably in the pilots seat while they went about their business. Surprisingly, after about an hour the head of the crime scene team came over and sat in my co-pilots position.
“How much daylight we have left up here Ranger?”
“Dusk in .. oh… half an hour … dark as a witch’s cape in two.”
The lead CSI stepped out of my chopper and yelled to his crew, “OK People, lets wrap it up, pack it up, and move this investigation indoors.”
CRACK. The unmistakable sound of a rifle shot tore through the crisp mountain air and the lead CSI’s head exploded in a spray red mist. Instinctively I grabbed my rifle and dove out the door of my chopper as two more shots were fired and the windscreen directly in front of my Pilots position was shattered.
Crack-Clang, Crack-Clang, Crack-Clang, he put 3 rounds into the State chopper. CRACK, and a streak of red, a tracer round shattered against the engine compartment of the State chopper. CRACK-Streak, a second tracer round smashed into the State bird, and that was it. Black smoke and a little bit of flame signaled the end of the State choppers flight log, and the shooter had inadvertently told me what part of the woods he was shooting from. The shooter had forgotten a cardinal rule; tracers work both ways.
I settled into a safe position, and got ready to return fire. Then heroics took charge of the situation, or stupidity interfered. It depends on how you look at it. A young female CSI ran to the burning State chopper to retrieve some evidence she had already stowed on board, and CRACK, she caught one in the hip. Their Pilot reacted by getting up on his knees and ineffectively returning fire with his .38 caliber service revolver. CRACK, he caught a bullet in his chest, and paid the ultimate price.
Crack-Clang, Crack-Clang, the shooter was putting armor piercing rounds into my chopper’s engine compartment now. I settled in over my sight and waited for the tracers. Crack-Clang, the third armor piercing round, now if he were a creature of habit, he would sign his death warrant with tracers.
CRACK-Streak … POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP, I fired half my clip at his position. The resulting dead silence was only broken by the moans of the wounded CSI who was lying dangerously close to the State chopper, now fully engulfed in flame.
I had to do something. I jumped to my feet, and dropped to the ground quickly to see if I would draw any fire. Nothing. Good. I got into a low crawl position and darted a few yards, and dropped to the ground again. Still, no more gunfire coming from the tree line. The shooter was dead, wounded, gone, or playing possum.
I made for the state bird and pulled the wounded CSI clear of the burning hulk. Once I was sure she was OK I made my way back to my bird and got on the radio.
“Mayday, mayday, mayday. Ranger Base, this is Ranger 2.
“Ranger Base, what is your emergency Ranger 2? Over.”
“Shots fired, 3 officers down. Choppers disabled, no egress available. Need medevac stat. Over.”
“Jim-bo, stay down boy, I’m gonna call the cavalry. Mayday Mayday, Shots fired, Officers down, all stations respond.”
“Ranger Base, Ranger 1 available, and standing by.”
“Ranger Base, this is County Air Rescue. We are on the pad at Memorial, and available. Over.”
“Ranger 1 this is Ranger Base. Get in the ATV and make your way along the firebreak to the Northwest side of Hadley ridge. Wear your night vision equipment and report anything hot. We got us a shooter out there. Do not approach, just report. You got that son?”
“Affirmative Base. Ranger 1, on my way, ETA 3 hours. Ranger 1 out.”
“County Air Rescue, this is Ranger Base.”
“C.A.R. is by, Go ahead Ranger Base.”
“CAR, we have not yet ascertained if the area is safe. I can’t expect you to go in there, but we got Officers Down.”
“Ranger Base, I have 2 Sheriffs Department Deputies on board with me and my EMT. We are in route. ETA 30 minutes”
“God bless ya CAR. Stand by for Comm. instructions.”
CAR, this is Ranger Base. Tune to Ranger Frequency 191.7 Repeat, 191.7, and radio check when you get there. Over.”
“Copy that Ranger Base, One Nine-er One, dot Seven. Ranger Base this is County Air Rescue on One Nine-er One, dot Seven, do you copy?”
“Ranger Base has you 5 by 5 CAR. Over”
“County Air Rescue, this is Ranger 2, that you Shaky?”
“Ranger 2, Damn Jim-bo, what’s goin’ on down there? Over.”
“CAR I’ve got 2 KIA and one Whiskey-IA. The Whiskey needs immediate evac, she’s lost a lot of blood. Be careful. We had a shooter in the tree line. He’s been quiet since I unloaded a half clip of .308 at him. He’s either dead, dieing, or boogying out. Over.”
“Yeah Jim-bo, I have visual on a fire up on the ridge.”
“Affirmative Shaky, that’s the State's bird. Come in from due South of it. My chopper is disabled and will be 20 yards to the 8 o’clock position of the fire. The area to the 4 o’clock of the fire is open flat field. Clear for landing.”
“Roger that Ranger 2. I’m going to make a pass over the landing zone with my Infra Red before putting her down. Over”
“All Rangers on frequency, this is CAR. I have one heat signature next to the creek, just inside the tree line on the north end of the field. I have one possible weapon, and no movement. I’m coming round to the South to put her down. How’s our Whiskey –I-A doing Jim-bo? Over.”
“She’s hanging in there CAR. Ranger 2 out.”
Shaky put his bird down right where we needed it. There was no gunfire from the tree line. Shaky got to my position next to the wounded CSI with a stretcher and a field dressing kit. He patched her up and we carried her back to the Rescue Bird while the EMT checked over the two other CSI and confirmed what I already knew. The two Sheriffs Deputies split left and right and leapfrogged each other as they made their way to the tree line at the north end of the field.
The EMT joined us at the chopper and tended to the wounded CSI. Shaky jumped into his pilots seat, and I stepped off the Rescue chopper and yelled at Shaky.
“Shaky. This is my park, I’ll catch the next ride.”
We gave each other a “thumbs up” as Shaky hit the throttle and took our surviving casualty to the hospital.
I stood around for 20 minutes or so in the cool mountain air with only two silent corpses to keep me company. They lay there in the flickering shadows of the field illuminated by the State choppers slowly dying firelight, and the half moon rising in the night.
“Hello the camp!”
“Come on in Deputy.” One of the Sheriff’s men joined me back at my chopper.
“How do Ranger, I’m Paul. Ronny is back with the shooter. Bastard’s breathing, but he ain’t gonna make it till morning. He’s just about all bled out. You got him good in the thigh. Let’s get County Rescue back here quick.”
I ran the few steps to my cockpit and grabbed the radio microphone.
“CAR this is Ranger 2. CAR, Ranger 2, over. CAR this is Ranger 2. Come in CAR this is Ranger 2, over.”
“Ranger 2, this is CAR. I’m on final approach to the hospital. What’s up Jim-bo? Over.”
“Shaky. Turn it around as quick as you can, the shooter is still alive. Over”
“Affirmative good buddy. You might want to know; Doc gave our Whiskey CSI an I.V. and she has a big ol’ smile on her face. I’m on my way back to you just as soon as they roll her into emergency. Over.”
There was silence on the radio.
“Ranger 2, this is CAR. You copy? Ranger 2? Ranger 2 do you copy. Over?”
“Yeah I got ya Shaky. Cancel that return trip. Nothing left to do up here but a morgue run. We'll have Ranger 1 take care of it. Over.”
While Shaky was giving me the good news about the CSI with the slug in her hip, Deputy Ronny had joined us at camp, carrying the scoped hunting rifle used by the shooter.
“You sure Ronny?”
“Yes Sir. He started to rattle in his chest right before he stopped breathing. Sure enough he peed and crapped his pants. He’s done, put a fork in ‘em.”
“Now Ronny you get back up there and make sure the critters don’t mess up the body. I’ll be down here with the Ranger and the two victims.”
Three weeks later I was instructed to report to State Police Headquarters wearing my dress uniform for “a Little Something Special.” When I got there I met a number of Police Officials, and a very pretty young CSI on crutches. Shaky was right, she had quite a nice smile. This was not going to be a ceremony in the usual sense of the word. I wasn’t going to get a medal or even a citation. What I was going to get was a special showing of the digital pictures on that camera I had found in the field back when this all started.
I took a seat next to my attractive young CSI lady friend. Lights out.
Click, a Turkey Buzzard flying high.
Click, a duck in a creek.
Click, wild flowers.
Click, the back of a young girl in shorts, tank top and a bandana, running.
Click, same girl sitting near the flowers.
Click, she is standing up, looking at something.
Click, she is moving almost completely out of frame.
Click, she is kneeling, but only her boots are in frame.
Click, oh no, from the other side of the frame, is it a bear?
Click, no, it’s a man in camouflage, holding a huge knife.
Click, I can’t watch the screen. I turn my head and I watch the young CSI’s eyes instead.
Click, her eyes flinch just a bit.
Click, she turns her head just for a second, then returns her professional gaze back to the screen.
Click, her eyes start to get wet.
Click … a single tear runs from her eye and down her soft young cheek.
Click... she turns to look at me, both our faces wet with tears. I help her to her feet, and we leave the room together.