Gunslinger
Chapter 3

Copyright© 2006 by R. Michael Lowe aka The Scot. All rights reserved

Three days later Kevin awoke in the hospital. Nadine Pickney, Jamar’s mother, was sitting in a chair beside the bed when he opened his eyes. Her ‘mother sense’ immediately told her he was conscious, and she hit the button to call the nurse. Turning to Kevin she could see him trying to talk, but the only sounds that came out were grunts and groans.

“Do you need some water?” she asked.

Kevin nodded, and she immediately retrieved a cup of ice water and a straw. She also cautioned him to only take small sips at the moment. Kevin still had the straw in his mouth when the nurse entered the room. She scowled at Nadine, but didn’t say anything about the water. On the other hand she ushered Jamar’s mother out of the room while she took Kevin’s vital signs.

Finally able to talk Kevin asked, “What happened?”

Still miffed because the cold water would make it harder to get Kevin’s temperature she gruffly replied someone from the Army would be in to talk to him shortly. When she left Nadine returned, along with retired Sergeant Gerald Pickney, her husband. Both of them had tears in their eyes.

A panicking Kevin asked, “Sarge, could you please tell me what’s going on?”

“Kevin, General Scott will be here shortly. He feels it’s his job to bring you up to date. I’m sure the doctor will probably want to see you first, but just remember, we’re here for you.”

With that the couple who’d been his legal guardians while his Dad was away could no longer bear the pain they carried and left the room. Moments later a doctor came in with another nurse. Then, while Kevin stared in confusion, the doctor checked his eyes and ears, along with testing for feeling in his right foot. When they finished they also abruptly left the room.

Moments later General Malcolm Scott, Colonel Mike McKinsey’s superior officer, entered the room. Through the opened door Kevin noted the guards outside the door, and they were armed with H&K MP5’s.

“General, what’s going on?”

“Son, I’m sorry to have kept you in the dark, but I needed to be the one to tell you what has happened, as some of the things I’m going to share with you are considered classified. The President and I thought that, under the circumstances, you had a right to know. First though, I’d like to ask you what you remember about that night.”

“You mean after the game?”

“Yes, and by the way that was some game. ESPN has been televising the taped replay, calling it the game of the decade.”

“Thanks. I remember getting to the house and getting out to get the mail. Dad started up the hill, but the car stalled. By the time he had it restarted and had pulled it to the front of the garage I was past the concrete wall and coming up the hill. I remember seeing a flash of light to my right and starting to scream. I don’t remember anything else until a few minutes ago.”

“Kevin, the flash of light was from a Russian made RPG seven, and it hit your Dad’s car dead on. It instantly killed your Dad and your girlfriend, and blew you over the wall before any shrapnel could get to you.

Hearing this the young man broke down in tears. Malcolm sat on the edge of the bed and held Kevin, letting him cry out his emotions and pain. Colonel Mike McKinsey was his friend. It was the least he could do.

A few minutes later Kevin began to get a hold of himself. He dried his eyes on a tissue from a box beside the bed and took a few swallows of water. There would be more tears and emotional upheaval later, but for now, Kevin knew he had to deal with reality. “What about me, Sir?”

“Kevin, you suffered a pretty severe concussion and your right heel was badly broken. According to the doctor they fused the bones of your heel. This should allow you to eventually walk with little or no pain, but you’ll never be able to play football again. Not only will it affect your running, but you won’t be able to plant your right foot to throw a pass.”

“What about the Army, Sir? Will my injury also keep me from that?”

“Kevin, I know you intended to follow in your Dad’s footsteps in the Army, but, sadly, even that option is now closed to you.”

Tears were again filling Kevin’s eyes as he saw his losses becoming an insurmountable mountain before him. Angrily, Kevin asked, “Who did it General? Terrorists?”

“We’re not sure, but we think it’s related to a case your father was working on. This is classified, but it involved the disappearance from a research lab of a previously unknown element we think was part of a meteor. My suspicion is your Dad was getting too close and they were trying to stop him. You and your girlfriend just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“What about Dad’s arrangements?”

“He was so badly burned I had him cremated. The Army is taking care of all the arrangements, and his ashes will be placed at Arlington as soon as you’re able to travel. Since he was stationed here for so many years we’re planning a memorial service for him at Fort McClellan.”

“What about Jennifer?”

“Kevin, I’ve talked to her parents, and they’re pretty upset and angry at the moment. They don’t blame you or your Dad, but until they undergo some healing they don’t want to see you. They also had her cremated, and I was able to get the people at the crematorium to prepare this for you.” With that Malcolm pulled out a small metal capsule suspended on a chain.

“What is it?”

“A small amount of her ashes you can wear close to your heart.”

Kevin smiled, and said, “General, I think you are a ‘closet romantic.’

“Let’s just say I understand what you’re going through.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

“Kevin, you’re welcome. Just understand, your Dad wasn’t just one of my officers, he was my friend. I’ll help you anyway I can.”

“Thank you, Sir. What happens to me, now?”

“First, I have to tell you Auburn has had to withdraw their offer of a football scholarship, but replaced it with a full academic scholarship. Your Dad had a fair amount of insurance, and the Army will extend his retirement benefits and survivor’s benefits to you as long as you’re taking classes, even through graduate school. Based upon that you won’t be rich, but you should be able to live comfortably. In addition, if you’re interested, a two thousand acre block on the back side of Fort Mac will be available for you to purchase at very favorable terms. It backs up to the Talladega National Forest and has plenty of water. We’ll need to clear it of any unexploded ordnance and replace a few fences and buildings, but it’d make a very good horse ranch.”

“Thanks, General, but I’ll have to let you know on that one. What I’d like more is to get my sights on the people who did this.”

“I understand, but for now you need to get better and finish school. You won’t be eighteen for a few more months, but we’ve arranged for you to continue to stay with the Pickneys. Social Services wasn’t excited about it, but the temporary custody papers from your Dad helped. When they still pushed to put you into a foster home I made some calls. When they found their funding suddenly threatened they backed off. I will say I got the impression the woman in charge is a vindictive bitch who may well try to cause trouble sometime in the future.”

“How long will I be here?”

“I don’t know for sure, but possibly another week. That’s pretty much controlled by your recovery rate.”

“What about school?”

“That’s all being taken care of, and your teachers are making sure you don’t miss anything. I also have the feeling you won’t be getting lonely. Your teammates have been worrying the hospital to death, and there are a lot of retired Army people here who knew and respected your Dad. I suspect they’ll be almost fighting each other to do things for you.”

“Sir, I don’t know if I can handle that.”

“Well, you need to try. Remember, these men need to grieve too, as they lost one of their own, and a special one at that. Helping you at this time will enable them to get through this as much as it’ll benefit you.”

“I never thought about it like that. I just don’t want to be a bother.”

“Kevin, you can’t separate yourself from the world. There are too many people in the world that need you. Just remember calling on them for help is not a bother. They’ve made that perfectly clear.”

Visiting hours were over at eight, and Malcolm left when a nurse came in to check Kevin’s vital signs.

When she wrote the results on his chart Kevin asked, “How am I doing?”

“Actually, you’re doing pretty good. I’m going to give you something for the pain and to help you sleep. According to the doctor’s instructions, you’re supposed to be allowed to eat in the morning.”

“Good, because I’m starved.”

“I can imagine. Just remember, we’ll have to start you out slowly, so don’t set your expectations very high. I suspect once you’re able to urinate normally and had a bowel movement they’ll begin working on your physical therapy. I’ve no clue if it’ll be with you as an inpatient, or an outpatient.” At the end of her conversation, the nurse injected some medicine into Kevin’s IV and turned down the lights as she left the room. A few minutes later he was asleep.

The next morning, Kevin was taken off the IV and allowed to have a piece of toast and some weak tea. At lunch he was allowed to have some chicken noodle soup and saltine crackers, along with Jell-O. By dinner the doctor had decided Kevin could have some solid food and by noon the next day he was back on a normal diet and starving to death for something more substantial.

Around three forty-five that afternoon his coaches came by to see him. While the other coaches asked how he was doing Coach Bryson brought out a juicy hamburger fresh from one of the better restaurants in town. Kevin thought he’d died and gone to heaven. Of course, one of the nurses came in and caught them, but she just smiled and never said a word.

After she left Coach Bryson asked, “Kevin, how are you doing?”

“Coach, right now I’m miserable. I’ve lost my Dad and Jennifer, and I don’t even know why. In addition, my football career is over, as is my option of going into the Army. The future I had all mapped out, including the girl I expected to make my wife, was destroyed by someone with a grenade launcher. I honestly don’t know where to go from here, nor am I really sure I even want to try.”

A surprised Coach Bryson said, “What’s this about a grenade launcher? We were told it was caused by a gas leak.”

“Then, Coach, I just revealed something I shouldn’t have, so please forget I even said anything. I will tell you the house was totally electric; there wasn’t any gas to leak out and explode.”

“Kevin, with that information I can understand your feelings. What everyone at school was told implied only an unfortunate accident. You’re saying Jennifer and your Dad were murdered. I accept the need to keep this quiet, but Jennifer’s parents need to know.”

“Coach, I agree, but they’re not talking to me at the moment. They don’t blame me, but they sent word I represented all the pain and anguish they’d experienced. They don’t seem to realize each of us have suffered a great loss. We’re all victims, here.”

“You’re right, son. I’ll see if they’ll listen to me.”

The coaches stayed a little longer and then went home to their families. Coach Bryson kept his promise about talking to Jennifer’s parents. When they showed up just after dinner Kevin thought it must have been some talk. Jennifer’s Mom asked, “Kevin, how are you doing?”

“I’m not in any physical pain at the moment, but my emotional pain is almost unbearable.”

Mr Thompson responded, “And I’m sorry we weren’t there for you. We lost our little girl, and you were the easiest person to blame. We never thought about the love you had for each other, or your hopes and plans for the future. Of course, we know ‘nothing’ about the events that transpired, but we now understand we’ve all been victimized by the same traumatic event. Will you forgive us, and try to include us in your life?”

Confused, Kevin answered, “Of course I forgive you, but I don’t understand the other.”

Mrs. Thompson explained, “Kevin, at first we didn’t want to see you because you represented our loss. Now we realize because of the love you had for each other you actually represent the memory of our daughter. We’ve discovered your two lives were so intertwined for such a long period of time it’s almost impossible to remember her person and her life without also seeing you as part of it. Therefore, we’d like you to consider yourself part of our family.”

“I understand, but you realize there are already some custody problems, so it’d have to be at an emotional level only.”

Mr Thompson asked, “We haven’t heard of any custody problems. What is going on?”

“It’s not common knowledge, but my Dad gave temporary custody to Jamar’s parents while he was traveling. Because they are a black family the local head of social services has been trying to get me removed from their home and placed with a foster family.”

“Son, I know you two boys are close, but why would your father give them temporary custody?”

“When Dad was still a green ‘shave tail’ lieutenant he lead a platoon in Nam. Gerald Pickney was Dad’s platoon sergeant. I never heard the whole story, but I think they must have saved each others’ lives several times. Because of their relationship, until he retired a few years ago, Sergeant Pickney’s career was tied to my father’s. There was no one my father trusted more to look out for me.”

There were tears in Mr Thompson’s eyes when he said, “Son, that’s a tremendous story. I was going to offer to adopt you, but now I think it’d be a dishonor to your father to do so. I’ll tell you, and I’ll pass it on to Sergeant Pickney, we will be there for you in any way that’s needed.”

Turning to his wife he said, “Now, Momma, I think we need to let ‘our son’ get some rest.” They both gave Kevin a big hug, and she gave him a mother’s kiss. That kiss was still on Kevin’s mind when he fell asleep a short time later.

The next morning Kevin was awakened early by a nurse wanting to check out his vital signs. When she finished she pulled the curtains to give him a sponge bath.

As she was getting him clean Kevin thought This sure isn’t like some of the stories you read. First, she’s not that attractive, and second, she is totally professional. Well, I guess that’s why it’s called fiction.

“Why are we getting started so early?” Kevin asked.

“My understanding is since you’re able to urinate and have a bowel movement yesterday they may release you today. I was also told if your vitals were okay I was to get you ready to go on a trip. From the rumor I hear you’re going to meet the President.”

“I doubt that, but I do know I’m supposed to go to Washington to bury my Dad. That must be what this is all about.”

“Oh, I guess when someone heard Washington they just assumed the President would be involved.”

Looking at her name tag Kevin replied, “Betty, that would make sense. I can’t imagine why the President would want to meet me anyway.”

“If he’s seen that video of your game against Dothan, I can sure understand. That was phenomenal.”

“Thanks, but unfortunately, from what I understand, that was my last game.”

“I’m sorry. I hadn’t heard that.”

“From what I’ve been told the damage to my heel might not keep me from walking, but I’ll never be able run again, much less to plant my right foot to properly pass a ball.”

“So what happened to your scholarship?”

“They had to rescind the offer of a football scholarship, but they replaced it with an academic one. That says a lot to me about the school, as they didn’t owe me anything.”

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