The young officer seemed to crumple, his right leg first, then the rest of him. Orson's back half stuck out in the line of fire, and after a short pause, the bank robber's pistol kept firing. Clay saw Orson push his torso up, off of the pavement, a terrific grimace of pain on his face.
There was blood on his right leg. "I can't … leg doesn't work!" Orson struggled to pull himself completely behind the cover of the car. Clay reached and grabbed his belt. The big man hauled hard on the leather strap and nearly threw him into safety beside the woman Orson had just saved.
Another patrol car showed up, and the gunman looked wildly around. He suddenly realized things were not going his way and he made a break for it. The gunfire stopped, and more sirens were heard around them.
"Officer shot!" Clay said into his radio. "We need medical on scene, now!" Clay went to Orson and knelt next to him. They also heard the sounds of another officer apprehending the gunman. Clay got a grim satisfaction hearing Boggs' voice reading the man his rights.
Orson was pale and held his leg with both hands just above the knee. He bled from a wound that looked to center on his kneecap, or very close to it.
Clay looked worriedly at how much blood Orson was losing. "Partner, I've got to hold pressure on it."
Orson shook his head. "Take care of her." He licked his lips. "I'm fine."
Clay quickly checked the woman. Her wound was in her upper back. Clay checked, and the bullet had managed to miss her lung and passed completely through her to exit her upper chest. She wasn't bleeding nearly as bad as Orson was. Regardless, he put a bandage from their trauma kit on the woman, then he turned back to Orson.
The young man's hands had gone limp, and his wound continued to ooze blood. He looked up, glassy-eyed at Clay. "That's the first … time you called me … partner." Then his eyes rolled back and he went unconscious. He was in shock from blood loss and pain.
"No no no." Clay held pressure directly on the wound. And he put Orson's legs up on his shoulders. He tried to keep what blood remained in the younger man's head and vital organs.
The stamp of feet and doors opening were welcome to Clay's ears, and a gurney along with a couple of paramedics showed up.
While one crew of medics helped the civilian who was shot, Clay helped get his partner up on the other gurney. Then it was their show. He watched as they loaded Orson into the ambulance, his big hands opening and closing in quiet impotence.
"Be okay, Orson. Be okay."
The uninjured perpetrator was taken in by another set of officers, while the wounded one got an ambulance ride with a police escort in the back of the rig with him. Clay rode with Boggs. His own patrol car was riddled with bullets, and it was leaking all kinds of fluids. The two men were quiet. And Boggs didn't even ask where Clay needed to go. It didn't need saying.
Clay got out as soon as they arrived at the hospital, and the big man strode through the door to the emergency department.
He walked quickly toward the front desk, but he was intercepted by a nurse.
"He's back here, Officer Jameson," her eyes were sympathetic, "but you can't go back yet. Let them do their work."
He stared down at her, and he slowly nodded. "All right." He sat in one of the chairs in the waiting room. "I want to see him. As soon as possible."
The nurse assured him it would happen as soon as it could. And he was left with his own thoughts.
'Be okay, Orson. Please … be okay.'
It was around lunchtime and Greg just finished with a cooking demonstration for the kids in the camp. During the demonstration, Samantha surprised him with her knife skills. The young lady chopped and diced vegetables for a homemade salsa with impressive speed and technique.
"Oh, I help my foster family fix meals all the time," she shrugged as if it were nothing. "I chop a lot of things. So I got fast at it."
The kids, Mason, Greg and Jeremy all ate their cheesy and gooey nachos with salsa. Greg figured this would be a popular dish with the young people and he was right. He watched the table as smiles and satisfied faces appeared. He knew it was good because even Avery was quiet as he quickly ate his food.
Greg stood up to wash his plate. "No, no." Jeremy stood up with his own plate. "Let me handle the dishes this time." He looked around the table. "And by 'handle' I mean outsource to a lucky Raven Kid."
Groans around the picnic table met that announcement, and he laughed at all of them. Quiet little Elias stood up. "I'll do them."
"Thank you, Elias." Jeremy smiled at the boy. "After you're done, you get to pick our next activity."
The skinny teen perked up at that. "Oh. Cool." He began to collect plates from the table. "I wanna try pottery. Is that okay?"
Jeremy looked at Greg. Greg nodded. "Yep. We've got everything set for the Clay cabin. I even got some basic directions for mixing the clay powder with water, and for using the wheel. They're in the cabin beside the potter's wheel."
"I did pottery in Art class last year," Mason said. "I can help out."
The rest of the kids were assigned by Jeremy to get four batches of clay mixed and ready to go while Elias washed their dishes.
Greg walked over to the sink where Elias scrubbed their metal enamelware plates. "Elias, do you need …" Greg stopped mid-sentence as his phone vibrated. He looked and saw Clay's name. "Excuse me." He stepped away and answered the call.
"Hey, Officer Jameson."
"Hey." Clay's voice sounded flat, almost as if he were in shock.
Greg instantly felt the hair on his neck rise. "Clay, what's wrong?"
"Just … I just needed to hear your voice." Greg heard Clay take a deep breath. "It has been a bad day."
Clay went on to tell Greg about the robbery, and Orson's injury.
"This kid … he just … he saved that woman. He didn't hesitate. He just did it." Clay's voice held a respect and regard that Greg rarely heard from him. "He lost a lot of blood. And now they don't know if he's even going to live." He took another breath. "I should have been the one to go get her."
"Oh no. Don't you do that." Greg shook his head. "This isn't your fault. He made the choice, Clay."
"I know." It tore at Greg's heart to hear the dejected tone in Clay's voice. "I was afraid, Greg. All I could think about was … was not seeing you and Mason again. And I was afraid."
Greg swallowed the lump in his throat. "You were being shot at, Clay. Anybody who's not afraid when that's happening is crazy or suicidal. It doesn't mean you failed. You still did your job, even through the fear. And that's the definition of courage."
There was no response for a while, "Thanks, Greg. I love you."
"I love you." Greg sighed. "I'm really glad you're okay."
"Yeah. Me too." Greg heard some conversation in the background. "I've gotta go. They're letting me go back to see him."
"Okay." Greg felt an incredible pride in this young man who did such a heroic thing, even though he had never actually met him. "Tell that officer what a great job he did."
"I will. I'll call you tonight."
Greg hung up and he gave a relieved breath. He knew it was selfish but he was glad Clay wasn't the one to take the bullet. He looked across the campground and saw Jeremy and Mason outside the "Clay" cabin. He set his jaw, and he went to go tell Mason the news.
Orson was confused. There was something in his wrist, and he frowned at the offending tube that ran from his body up to a red bag. He reached for it.
"No." A firm but gentle grip circled his wrist and prevented him from yanking on the tube. He blinked up at his partner, Clay. "Leave that alone, Orson." Clay's face showed immense relief as he looked down at the young cop.
"Hey." Orson felt as if he were trying to push his thoughts through cold honey - everything took longer, and nothing was as clear as it usually was. "What's … what's going on?" He finally realized he was at the hospital, but he struggled to remember how he got there.
Clay released his wrist and he sat in the chair beside the bed. Nurses moved around him as they prepped Orson for surgery on his mangled knee. "You got shot, buddy."
Orson frowned at him. He spent a while on that bit of information, as he began to recall bits and pieces of the gunfight. Then his eyes widened. "Are you okay? Is the lady?"
There this young man lay in bed, injured, being prepped for surgery, and he asked if Clay was okay. Clay rubbed his own face. "Yeah. I'm fine. And she's in surgery right now. It's looking good for her." Clay's eyes expressed his regard for Orson. "You did a great job."
Orson smiled, a little lopsided and goofy. He had some powerful drugs in his system. "Good." He looked up at the ceiling, a thoughtful expression on his face. "My leg feels weird."
Clay flinched. "Yeah? Well, these folks are gonna fix you up." He motioned at the nurses moving around him. Clay stood and grabbed one woman as she walked by. "Is he going into surgery soon?"
She glanced at Orson, then back to Clay. "Yes. The doctor wanted to get a couple of units of blood in him before we took him up." She smiled, an attempt at reassurance. "Officer Warner is in good hands."
Clay nodded. "Thanks." She smiled again and then went to continue her work.
Soon Orson was readied for the surgical ward, and Clay patted his shoulder. "See you soon, partner."
Orson smiled up at him from the bed. "I like that - 'partner'."
Clay laughed a little at him. Then they wheeled Orson away. As he watched the gurney go he felt a little relief. But there was still surgery to get through.
Clay got an estimate of the time Orson would be in surgery, then he went back out to the waiting room. A parade of Huntsville officers had come to see Orson, though, as his partner only Clay was let back. He quickly filled them in on what he knew about the young officer's status. All of the policemen and women had grim and proud expressions on their faces. Clay hadn't talked about the shooting, but there were witnesses, and word gets around. They all knew - Orson had acted above the call.
He caught a ride back to the station. He knew there was a debriefing ahead of him and he wanted it done so he could return in time for Orson to wake.
Clay gave his statements of the events to the detectives in the debrief. The men were thorough but understanding. Once done, they informed Clay he was off-duty for the next 48 hours. Though he was to see the in-house counselor during that time. After they finished he was told he needed to report to Human Resources.
He grumbled. He wanted to get back to the hospital. Instead, he walked to the HR office.
"Hello again, officer Jameson." James Wilson shook Clay's hand and motioned at the chair in the office.
"Hello, Mr. Wilson." Clay was nice, but he was also impatient. "Is there any way whatever you need can wait? I need to get back to the hospital."
James closed the door. The man walked back around the desk and had a seat. On the wooden surface were a few documents. "I'm sorry, it can't. But we'll keep it brief." He looked at Clay, his expression curious. "The reason it can't wait is that Officer Warner put you as his emergency contact."
Clay frowned. "What?" He looked at the form on the desk. "Why would he do that?"
James steepled his hands in front of his face. "There's no family listed in his records. And I can't dig up a next of kin, apart from a second cousin in Omaha." He sighed. "I remember when we did his processing into the department, he told us he was an only child, and that his parents are both dead. When I asked who should be his emergency contact, he said 'whoever my partner is going to be.'"
Clay felt a bone-deep sadness that he struggled hard to control. "He's alone."
James watched Clay's face. "As it concerns blood relatives, yes. He is."
The big cop immediately leaped to the next steps. "Who's going to help him?"
"One thing at a time. He's in surgery now. We don't know how long his recovery will be." He looked uncomfortable. "Or … if there will be a recovery." Clay bristled at the implication and James held up a hand. "I'm only saying that these are unknowns." He put his hand down on the surface of the desk. "But I wanted you to know this information sooner rather than later."
Clay slumped and looked down at his hands in his lap. He blinked slowly, then he finally nodded. "Okay." He took a breath and looked up at James' blue eyes. "Thanks for telling me."
The handsome man smiled sadly. "You're welcome." He made a motion with his head at the door. "Go see to our officer."
Clay stood up, opened the door and left.
A short patrol car-ride later he was back at the hospital.
Clay found an uncomfortable plastic chair and sat in the surgical ward waiting room. He leaned forward a bit, his forearms on his knees, hands limp and dangling. He stared, eyes unfocused on the floor in front of him.
And he waited.
"Is the policeman going to be okay?" Avery asked, his blue eyes were worried, and his hands covered in sticky clay. All of the kids, Mason and Jeremy looked at Greg.
He had just told Mason about the shooting that involved Clay and he was overheard by the kids. So now he spoke to all of them about what happened. "I don't know yet. Clay hasn't called back. The officer is probably in surgery, or it's too soon after to know."
Patrick frowned. "I hope he's okay." He looked at Greg. "He sounds really brave - what he did for that lady."
Greg nodded. "I hope so too. And yes - he does sound really brave." Greg motioned at the potter wheel. "I'm sorry to interrupt, guys. Get back to it."
All of the kids talked quietly to one another and Avery resumed his work on the potter's wheel. Greg pulled Mason away from the group, behind the Clay cottage. Once they were out of sight the two wordlessly embraced.
Mason squeezed Greg tight. His eyes were closed and he clung hard to the man. Neither of them said anything. Each supported the other, each was relieved beyond words.
It was always a concern in their worlds - that one day they would get a call. That they would never see their loved ones again. This time, Clay was okay. And the relief settled into their bones and into their souls.
Greg took a deep breath, patted Mason on the back and they separated. The teenager reached up and wiped his face. They both looked at one another nodded then rejoined the others.
Jeremy watched Mason as he worked with the kids. He could tell the teenager was still processing the close call Clay had in Alabama. During a moment that Mason was away from the others, in the far corner of the cottage, Jeremy put his hand on his back.
"Hey. You okay?"
Mason looked at Jeremy's blue eyes, took a breath and nodded. "Yeah. It's just a scary thing." He wet his lips. "It could have been my dad. He could have been killed."
Jeremy patted his back, well aware four pairs of eyes could be watching them. "If you need anything let me know."
"Okay." Mason turned and unexpectedly hugged Jeremy. The redhead smiled in his arms and squeezed the teenager reassuringly. After a long moment, they separated and Mason nodded at him, a small smile on his lips.
Mason left the cottage to go get more water for the kids. Jeremy tracked him as he left then he noticed that he had an audience.
"Awwwwww … Mr. Adams!" Samantha grinned at him, and the other three wore the same expression. "You like Mason!"
Jeremy instantly blushed, "Kids, just … just get back to what …" he stammered.
"Oh, you DO like him!" Avery's blue eyes twinkled mischievously.
Even Elias had a little smirk on his face and watched Jeremy squirm. The pure joy in their faces and voices was hard to ignore. And finally, Jeremy laughed.
"Okay … fine. Maybe a little."
Squeals of happiness came from Samantha and Avery. Elias and Patrick only grinned at him. The kids loved Jeremy. And they often harassed him over his lack of attachment. They didn't know about his status, and Jeremy wanted it to stay that way. Though … that wasn't the only reason he stayed away from connections with men. Well, until now.
"Can we get back to work?" Jeremy laughed again and tried to redirect the energy of the group back to pottery. "Come on, let's finish up."
Finally, they got on with their projects.
After about forty minutes each of them held their masterpieces. All chose to make bowls except for Elias. Instead, he made a thin-walled, delicate mug with an artfully styled handle. As Jeremy examined it, he realized that it was nearly perfect in symmetry.
"Elias … this is really good." He gave the boy a careful look. "Did you ever do pottery before?"
Elias shook his head and seemed to cave in on himself from the attention.
Jeremy made to pat him on the back but stopped when he saw Elias flinch. "Oh, I'm sorry, Elias. I forgot." He refocused on the mug. "Well, this is great." Then he looked over the rest of the pieces of work. "They all are." He nodded, proud of his students. "Okay, let's put them on the shelf so they dry. When we leave the campground tomorrow I'll take them into town to get them fired."
Jeremy helped with the cleanup of the Clay cottage. They had the foresight to put down a tarp on the floor before they started, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Once the place was as clean as it started Jeremy turned his kids loose to do whatever they liked.
Elias picked up an old paint can that held a wet chunk of clay they hadn't used. "Mr. Adams? Can I make something else? I don't need the wheel."
Jeremy nodded. "Sure. No problem, Elias."
The boy smiled, and he walked out of the cabin with his pail of clay.
Jeremy left the cabin and he checked on his other kids. Patrick and Samantha were down at the river. He caught sight of them as they sat on the big stone near the water. It looked as if they were just chatting and laughing. He smiled at them, then quietly headed back up the trail.
He didn't see Avery. But he heard a discordant noise from Mason's cabin. Jeremy made a face. It sounded like a guitar in acute distress. He stuck his head in and Avery had an old Martin guitar on his lap. He hammered at the strings with his fingers, and the instrument rewarded him with a wall of noise.
"Avery!" Jeremy stepped in and put a hand on the strings to quiet them. He shook his head at the blonde boy. "Don't do that, you'll damage the instrument. Here, let me show you how to hold it."
"Oh, no, it's okay." He handed the guitar to Jeremy. "I just wanted to make some noise." He got up and left to find something else to occupy his thirty-second attention span.
Jeremy sat on the futon in the cabin and laughed. Then he looked down at the guitar in his hands. Slowly his face went slack.
"Whh … what?" His eyes widened in realization as he stared. "I can't believe this."
"Officer Jameson?" A hand gently rocked Clay's shoulder and he woke. A man in scrubs looked down at him.
Clay sat up and blinked. "Uh, yeah." He rubbed his eyes. "Doctor …" Clay looked at his nametag, "Anderson." He shook his head to clear it. "How's Orson?"
The man's lips pressed together in a serious expression. "He's alive. And that won't change anytime soon. So we've got that going for us."
Clay didn't like that 'not entirely good news' answer. He stood up. "I want to see him."
Dr. Anderson nodded. "Okay. I'll take you back. But first I wanted to tell you what we had to do."
Clay folded his arms over his chest. "Go ahead."
The doctor swallowed. "There was a lot of damage to his popliteal artery, and the bundle of nerves that runs almost directly over the kneecap. Not to mention, the patella was shattered too." Anderson looked down and sighed. "We tried … but we couldn't save his leg. We amputated the limb, just above the knee."
Clay felt his blood go cold. He put his hand over his mouth and he stared down at the doctor's feet.
"Officer Jameson?" The man's warm hand rested on his shoulder. "I really am sorry." He squeezed a little. "If you can't see him right now …"
"No." Clay looked up and nodded. His face was grim and determined. "Let's go."
He followed Dr. Anderson back through the surgical ward into a post-op room. Clay looked at Orson's form under the sheet on the bed, and Dr. Anderson sighed. He patted Clay's back and turned to go.
"Doc?" He turned back to Clay. The policeman didn't look at him, he continued to stare at Orson. "Thanks for saving his life." Then he walked into the room.
The surgeon smiled sadly, then he left the two men alone.
Clay went to the bedside and he looked down at Orson. The younger man must have sensed his presence, and he struggled to open his eyes.
He managed it, and he focused on Clay. "Hey. Partner." Orson said, then he laughed quietly. "Though, pretty sure I won't be calling anybody else that." Orson's hand rubbed what was left of his right leg.
"Hey, partner." Clay forced a smile. "It's a little early. Let's wait till everything shakes out."
Orson swallowed, and a tear streaked down his face. "Yeah. Sure." He nodded slightly. "I mean … I see lots of one-legged cops out on the beat." He began to cry in earnest and his breath became ragged. "This was … this was all I wanted." His face screwed up and he shook his head. "Being a cop. Helping people. It was all I wanted."
Clay grabbed his hand and clasped it tightly. "I know." He shook his head. "I'm sorry. I should … I should have …"
Orson shook his head. "Don't." He wet his lips with his tongue. "You didn't fuck up, Clay." He gripped Clay's hand hard. "I want you to know, being your partner has been the best thing that has ever happened to me." He was so emotional he almost couldn't speak. "You're my best friend. And I know how sad that is. Because … I didn't even know you three weeks ago."
Clay began to shed tears of his own. And he continued to hold on.
Orson breathed through his mouth, and tears fell from his lips to land on his tongue. "I don't know what I'm gonna do. I don't know what I'm gonna do."
The big man leaned down and he pulled Orson’s torso up off of the bed into a hug.
And together, they mourned the death of a dream.
Please let me know your thoughts on the chapter at the following email address link. Wayne Gray
And thank you for reading!
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