Darryl slid three quarters into the vending machine and weighed his options. Ten minutes earlier he had been rousted from a restless sleep on a hard bench by a graveyard security person at the Greyhound bus station. “Day shift will be here soon Doc. Sorry, but my butt is still in a sling from last week when I didn’t get another guy out.”
“Thanks … ah … Guard.”
Darryl had a five-year history of overthinking, indecision, and not remembering names. Neither could he fathom why everyone who seemed to know him called him Doc. He fingered the other three quarters in his pocket and mumbled the coffee vending machine choices. “Black, black with sugar, sugar and cream, hot chocolate – too many.” Buck and a half for a breakfast burger. And I can get a free water. He tapped the coin return pad and took the quarters from the return cup.
He limped out of the station into a mix of rain, sleet, and snow driven by swirling blasts of late November wind. His exposed face and hand smarted. I hate Minneapolis! He covered his right ear with his right hand and leaned into the wind. His left ear went unprotected. The empty left sleeve of his too large jacket twirled and smacked him on the chest, head and back as he shuffled toward the illuminated White Castle sign a long block away.
He uncovered his ear and the elastic string of his mask slipped off. The wind took it. He struggled to catch his flopping, unfilled left sleeve and tuck it into the same side jacket pocket.
The wind switched directions at the intersection; he eyed a shallow alcove, hesitated, then stepped behind the post supporting the cover. Should get farther in. Traffic eased and he went to the curb to wait for the white hand crossing signal or traffic to end, whichever came first. A passing Twin Cities Metro Transit bus splashed slush and street debris infused water from a clogged drain. The mini-flood blasted onto the age pitted sidewalk and washed over the tops of Darryl’s scuffed ankle-boots. His Salvation Army gifted argyles and feet were saturated.
The light changed to all-way pedestrian and he slogged through the traffic rutted seasonal muck. A red-light running high lift pickup passing behind him splattered his back with water and slush. Only his arm and chest were dry under his well-worn, faux-leather, faux-sheepskin lined, aviator jacket.
A blast of hot air from the overhead heater just inside the White Castle melted slush in Darryl’s greying hair while he waited his turn. Rivulets guided by his unkempt over-the-ears hair ran inside his jacket collar. His shiver was spontaneous. He took a one-to-a-customer ear loop mask from the box by the door and slipped the bands behind his wet ears before shuffling to the ordering end of the counter.
“Morning Doc,” came from the man behind the pass-through window to the kitchen. Same?”
“Well, Cook, … ah … well sure.”
Darryl slid six quarters under the Plexiglas next to Girl at the till and followed the floor arrows to the exit end of the counter. Girl picked the bagged sandwich from the pass-through and put it with a steaming 20 oz. cup of sugared and creamed coffee on the serving end.
“Can’t buy coffee this morning Girl. Water will do.”
“Not too many customers in this morning Doc. Coffee’s not gross yet but could go that way. Cook said, ‘on the house’ so it is.”
She reached under the counter and put a small, pressed paper clamshell next to the sandwich bag. “Cook had a leftover bear claw. You should have it. Want your sandwich in with it?”
“Well … ah … sure.”
“And Doc,” Girl said, “your change is in the clamshell.”
Darryl slid the clamshell into his jacket pocket, picked up the coffee, and backed out the door into the alley side alcove. The rain, sleet, and snow mix had turned to dry snow but was still whipped by gusts of wind. He saw the next customer at the pickup end of the counter through the partly frosted door window. Gotta move. He sat the coffee on the step, removed his mask and took a long drink. The hot liquid burned his mouth and throat, but he felt the instant warmness in his empty stomach. A little rum would be a nice add, but this will do.
A navy medic in US Marine Corps combat uniform slid into the chow line behind a Gunnery Sergeant and a PFC. The young one striper turned saying to Gunny, “Twenty minutes or ten?”
“Split the difference. You hear that Doc?”
The medic nodded and took a sausage-egg breakfast burger and coffee from the serving line.
The lee side of a Dumpster in the alley gave Darryl some shelter. He pulled a broken milk crate from behind the trash bin for his breakfast table. He ate the still warm breakfast sandwich first, gulped some coffee, then nibbled the bear claw with intermittent sips of coffee. He took the six quarters from the container and dropped them into his pocket. With his stomach full and warm, he fell asleep sitting on the milk crate. Dry snow drifted and covered his already ice incrusted boots.
Gunny shouted, “Doc, Doc, wake up!”
Darryl struggled to roll over. A burning Humvee held him face down and windblown sand peppered his face as he writhed in pain. Gunny and PFC struggled to tip the vehicle from Doc’s left arm.
“No use,” Gunny said. “He might live if I take off his arm. If it blows, we’ll all go.”
Gunny’s prediction wasn’t totally right. The explosion finished the amputation and seared Doc’s open veins, arteries, and flesh where Gunny’s cut had been made through the shoulder joint. Doc and Gunny were found semiconscious in a ditch. PFC was dead.
Girl shouted, “Doc, Doc, wake up!”
Darryl struggled to roll over. The wind tipped dumpster held him down by the left sleeve of his jacket and windblown snow peppered his face as he twisted and wrenched with memory pain. Cook and a just arrived patrol officer struggled to tip the overloaded snow laden dumpster from his empty sleeve. Girl tried to help, but it was too heavy for Cook, Girl, Officer, and their adrenaline.
“Give me your knife officer,” Cook said, “I’m going to cut it off.”
“Paramedics are less than a minute out, they’ll help lift.”
“It’s an empty sleeve. His arm is somewhere near Baghuz Fawqani!”
Officer questioned, “What?”
EMTs wrapped Doc in a warming blanket and started taking vitals. As they started to close the door, Officer asked Cook, “How’d you know about the sleeve?”
“I cut off his arm!”
A small voice came from inside, “It’s OK Gunny. I know there was no option, you had to do it.”