7:14 P.M., Friday, October 10
Mario Dublin stumbled along the busy downtown street, a dollar bill clutched in his shaking hand. With the intense purpose of a man who knew exactly where he was going, the homeless derelict swayed as he walked and slapped at his head with the hand that was not clutching the dollar. He reeled inside a cut-rate drug store with discount signs plastered across both front windows.
Shaking, he shoved the dollar across the counter to the clerk. “Advil. Aspirin kills my stomach. I needs Advil.”
The clerk curled his lip at the unshaven man in the ragged remnants of an army uniform. Still, business was business. He reached back to a shelf of analgesics and held out the smallest box of Advil. “You’d better have three more dollars to go with that one.”
Dublin dropped the single bill onto the counter and reached for the box.
The clerk pulled it back. “You heard me, buddy. Three more bucks. No ticky, no shirty.”
“On’y got a dollar. . . my head’s breakin’ open.” With amazing speed, Dublin lurched across the counter and grabbed the small box.
The clerk tried to pull it back, but Dublin hung on. They struggled, knocking over a jar of candy bars and crashing a display of vitamins to the floor.
“Let it go, Eddie!” the pharmacist shouted from the rear. He reached for the telephone. “Let him have it!”
As the pharmacist dialed, the clerk let go.
Frantic, Dublin tore at the sealed cardboard, fumbled with the safety cap, and dumped the tablets into his hand. Some flew across the floor. He shoved the tablets into his mouth, choked as he tried to swallow all at once, and slumped to the floor, weak from pain. He pressed the heels of his hands to his temples and sobbed.
Moments latter a patrol car pulled up outside the shop. The pharmacist waved the policemen to come inside. He pointed to Mario Dublin curled up on the floor, and shouted, “Get that stinking bum out of here! Look what he did to my place. I intend to press charges of assault and robbery!”
The policemen pulled out their nightsticks. They noted the minor damage and the strewn pills, but they smelled alcohol, too.
The younger one heaved Dublin up to his feet. “Okay, Mario, let’s take a ride.”
The second patrolman took Dublin’s other arm. They walked the unresisting drunk out to their patrol car. But as the second officer opened the door, the younger one pushed down on Dublin’s head to guide him inside.
Dublin screamed and lashed out, twisting away from the hand on his throbbing head.
“Grab him, Manny!” the younger cop yelled.
Manny tried to grip Dublin, but the drunk wrenched free. The younger cop tackled him. The older one swung his nightstick and knocked Dublin down. Dublin screamed. His body shook, and he rolled on the pavement.
The two policemen blanched and stared at each other.
Manny protested, “I didn’t hit him that hard.”
The younger bent to help Dublin up. “Jesus. He’s burning up!”
“Get him in the car!”
They picked up the gasping Dublin and dumped him onto the car’s rear seat. Manny raced the squad car, its siren wailing, through the night streets. As soon as he screeched to a stop at the emergency room, Manny flung open his door and tore inside the hospital, shouting for help.
The other officer sprinted around the car to open Dublin’s door.
When the doctors and nurses arrived with a gurney, the younger cop seemed paralyzed, staring into the car’s rear where Mario Dublin lay unconscious in blood that had pooled on the seat and spilled onto the floor.
The doctor inhaled sharply. Then he climbed inside, felt for a pulse, listened to the man’s chest, and backed outside, shaking his head.
“No way!” The older cop’s voice rose. “We barely touched the son-of-a-bitch! They ain’t gonna lay this one on us.”
. . .
Because the police were involved, only four hours later the medical examiner prepared for the autopsy of the late Mario Dublin, address unknown, in the morgue on the basement level of the hospital.
The double doors of the suite flung wide. “Walter! Don’t open him!”
Dr. Walter Pecjic looked up. “What’s wrong, Andy?”
“Maybe nothing,” Dr. Andrew Wilks said nervously, “but all that blood in the patrol car scares the hell out of me. Acute respiratory distress syndrome shouldn’t lead to blood from the mouth. I’ve only seen that kind of blood from a hemorrhagic fever I helped treat when I was in the Peace Corps in Africa. This guy was carrying a Disabled American Vets card. Maybe he was stationed in Somalia or somewhere else in Africa.”
Dr. Pecjic stared down at the dead man he was about to cut open. Then he returned the scalpel to the tray. “Maybe we’d better call the director.”
And call Infectious Diseases, too,” Dr. Wilks said.
Dr. Pecjic nodded, the fear naked in his eyes.
Packed inside the high school auditorium, the audience of parents and friends was hushed. Up on the bright stage, a beautiful teenage girl stood in front of the scenery intended to depict the restaurant in William Inge’s Bus Stop. Her movements were awkward, and her words, ordinarily free and open, were stiff.
None of that bothered the stout, motherly woman in the first row. She wore a silver-gray dress of the kind the bride’s mother at a formal wedding would choose, topped by a celebratory corsage of roses. She beamed up at the girl, and when the scene ended to polite applause, her clapping rang resoundingly.
At the final curtain, she leaped to her feet to applaud. She went around to the stage door to wait as the cast emerged in twos and threes to meet parents, boyfriends, and girlfriends. This was the last performance of the annual school play, and they were flushed with triumph, eager for the cast party that would last long into the night.
”I wish your father could’ve been here to see you tonight, Billie Jo,” the proud mother said as the high school beauty climbed into the car.
“So do I, Mom. Let’s go home.”
“Home?” The motherly woman was confused.
“I just need to lie down for a while. Then I’ll change for the party, okay?”
“You sound bad.” Her mother studied her, then turned the car into traffic. Billie Jo had been sniffling and coughing for more than a week but had insisted on performing anyway.
“It’s just a cold, mother,” the girl said irritably.
By the time they reached the house, she was rubbing her eyes and groaning. Two red fever spots showed on her cheeks. Frantic, her terrified mother unlocked the front door and raced inside to dial 911. The police told her to leave the girl in the car and keep her warm and quiet. The paramedics arrived in three minutes.
In the ambulance, as the siren screamed through the Atlanta streets, the girl moaned and writhed on the gurney, struggling for breath. The mother wiped her daughter’s fevered face and broke into despairing tears.
At the hospital emergency room, a nurse held the mother’s hand. “We’ll do everything necessary, Mrs. Pickett. I’m sure she’ll be better soon.”
Two hours later, blood gushed from Billie Jo Pickett’s mouth, and she died.
Fort Irwin, Barstow, California
The California high desert in early October was as uncertain and changeable as the orders of a new second lieutenant with his first platoon. This particular day had been clear and sunny, and by the time Phyllis Anderson began preparing dinner in the kitchen of her pleasant two-story house in the best section of the National Training Center’s family housing, she was feeling optimistic. It had been a hot day and her husband, Keith, had taken a good nap. He had been fighting a heavy cold for two weeks, and she hoped the sun and warmth would clear it up once and for all.
Outside the kitchen windows, the lawn sprinklers were at work in the afternoon’s long shadows. Her flower beds bloomed with late summer flowers that defied the harsh wilderness of thorny gray-green mesquite, yucca, creosote, and cacti growing among the black rocks of the beige desert.
Phyllis hummed to herself as she put macaroni into the microwave. She listened for the footsteps of her husband coming down the stairs. The major had night operations tonight. But the stumbling clatter sounded more like Keith Jr., sliding and bumping his way down, excited about the movie she planned to take both children to while their father was working. After all, it was Friday night.
She shouted, “Jay-Jay, stop that!”
But it was not Keith Jr. Her husband, partially dressed in desert camouflage, staggered into the warm kitchen. He was dripping with sweat, and his hands squeezed his head as if to keep it from exploding.
He gasped, “. . . hospital. . . help. . .”
In front of her horrified eyes, the major collapsed on the kitchen floor, his chest heaving as he strained to breathe.
Shocked, Phyllis stared then she moved with the speed and purpose of a soldier’s wife. She tore out of the kitchen. Without knocking, she yanked open the side door of the house next to theirs and burst into the kitchen.
Capt. Paul Novak and his wife, Judy, gaped.
“Phyllis?” Novak stood up. “What’s wrong, Phyllis?”
The major’s wife did not waste a word. “Paul, I need you. Judy, come watch the kids. Hurry!”
She whirled and ran. Captain Novak and his wife were right behind. When called to action, a soldier learns to ask no questions. In the kitchen of the Anderson house, the Novaks took in the scene instantly.
“Nine-one-one?” Judy Novak reached for the telephone.
“No time!” Novak cried.
“Our car!” Phyllis shouted.
Judy Novak ran up the stairs to where the two children were in their bedrooms getting ready to enjoy an evening out. Phyllis Anderson and Novak picked up the gasping major. Blood trickled out from his nose. He was semiconscious, moaning, unable to speak. Carrying him, they rushed across the lawn to the parked car.
Novak took the wheel, and Phyllis climbed into the rear beside her husband. Fighting back sobs, she cradled the major’s head on her shoulder and held him close. His eyes stared up at her in agony as he fought for air. Novak sped through the base, blasting the car’s horn. Traffic parted like an infantry company with the tanks coming through. But by the time they reached the Weed Army Community Hospital, Major Keith Anderson was unconscious.
Three hours later he was dead.
In the case of sudden, unexplained death in the State of California, an autopsy was mandated. Because of the unusual circumstances of the death, the major was rushed to the morgue. But as soon as the army pathologist opened the chest cavity, massive quantities of blood erupted, spraying him.
0His face turned chalk white. He jumped to his feet, snapped off his rubber gloves, and ran out of the autopsy chamber to his office.
He grabbed the phone. “Get me the Pentagon and USAMRIID. Now! Priority!”
Copyright 2001 by Myn Pyn LLC