Too Much Time On My Hands
Pain was the first thing he became aware of as he slipped out of unconsciousness. Pain and the fact that it was difficult to draw a deep breath. JD tried to move... and groaned aloud as the pain increased in intensity.
"Aw, hell," he murmured softly, letting his head fall back against his shoulder for a moment. After he'd gathered up his strength, he tried to move again. Something hard and immovable pressed against his chest. His right leg throbbed incessantly, as did his right hip. In the unrelieved darkness, he called out for the one person who had never failed to be there for him, "Buck? Help me?"
The sleek black Mustang lay in the bottom of a rather deep ditch. A tree had halted its forward motion, driving the engine block into the fire wall as it snapped several gears in the transmission. The airbag had deployed, protecting JD from striking the steering wheel but it was unable to prevent the wheel from pressing into his chest. The windshield had shattered, showering the interior of the car with small fragments of safety glass. Part of the rack had punctured the floorboard, pinning JD's right leg. The battery had busted, ruining any chance of using the horn to summon help.
Coughing caused bright red splotches against his closed eyelids and brought on further agony. JD's hand brushed through the safety glass as he gripped the wheel and tried to push it away. "Damn, damn, damn," he cursed between panted breaths. His hand fell away from the steering wheel as the darkness caught up and overtook him.
The next time he opened his eyes, it was still black as pitch around him. The thought occurred to him that he had his cell phone on his belt. Groping around in the darkness, he managed to cut his fingertips on the sharp edges of the safety glass that had landed in his lap. When he finally managed to liberate the phone, he let go a breath of disappointment. The instrument had been crushed between the steering wheel and his hip, it was useless.
When the muscles in his lower back began to spasm, he writhed, using his left leg to push against the floorboard. The cramp eased, slightly, and he was able to relax. "I just have to wait until morning. Someone'll see me when the sun comes up," he told himself. With that small bit of comfort, he let his eyes drift closed again.
A loud thud on the roof of the car startled him awake some time later. Having forgotten his predicament, he tried to move... and cried out in pain. Another sound drew his attention to the bulging of the material above his head. The metal of the roof popped here and there as the unseen being moved along its length. Panic washed over JD as he looked in the side mirror. A mountain lion stood on top of the car, his tongue lolled out as he surveyed his surroundings from atop the unusual perch. Adrenaline poured into JD's bloodstream as the primitive 'fight or flight' instinct kicked in. JD knew that he couldn't reach his gun; it was digging into the small of his back, he could feel it with every breath. His eyes darted around the interior of the car, looking for anything he could use as a weapon if the animal tried to get to him. He remembered the small canister of pepper spray he had tossed into the glove box after the last self defense class he had attended.
The distance to the glove box seemed like a chasm as JD stretched out his arm. Pinned as he was against the seat, he came up several inches short of his goal. A frustrated moan slipped out and the mountain lion heard it. JD's ears picked up the dull thud of the animal leaping off of the car and he broke into a cold sweat.
Golden eyes raked over the man trapped in the car as the big cat's ears swiveled around to pick up any other sounds. Raising one massive paw, the animal touched the passenger side window. Finding the entry blocked, he began to search for another way in.
Panic, bordering on hysteria, drove JD to wiggle out from behind the wheel to reach the glove box. His fingertips slipped off of the catch twice, ratcheting up his frustration. Finally, the small door opened and the canister rolled toward his hand... and right into the floorboard.
"DAMN IT!" JD yelled as the pain in his chest threatened to overwhelm him. Letting his arm lay against the center console, he lowered his head, wiping away the sweat that was threatening to run into his eyes.
Another loud pop announced that the cat was on the roof of the car again. As the animal moved, the metal groaned and shifted under his weight. Curiosity gave way to lethargy as the mountain lion stretched out across the smooth surface and went to sleep.
The golden tail with its four inches of jet black fur on the end twitched, keeping JD's attention solidly focused on the shattered windshield. The inside layer of the glass had separated, leaving only the spider-webbed outer layer between him and the big cat. Remembering the gun at the small of his back, JD wormed his hand between his body and the seat. Although he could wrap his fingers around the grip of the gun, he couldn't pull it out of the holster. Anger and helplessness waged war in his chest as the sun crested the hill, shining brightly into the car. Closing his eyes against the light, JD slept.
A motorcycle on the road above him woke the injured man some hours later. "Vin?" JD murmured hopefully. Reality slammed him hard when he tried to move and he screamed in pain. A low growl and other noises told him that the cat was resettling himself on the roof. Tightening his grip on the gun, he took several steadying breaths to prepare for the pain. "You can do this. Just pull it out of the holster, JD," he urged softly. Tightening his right arm against his eyes, he tugged, squealing through clenched teeth as the gun pulled free of the confining holster. Letting the gun rest heavily against his thigh, JD burrowed into his arm, wiping away the tears that had built in his eyes.
Curiosity was a natural instinct for the mountain lion and he had to investigate the noises coming from the man trapped inside of his new perch. Turning around, he sniffed at the clear protective material, tapping it with one massive paw. He could smell the man, he just couldn't figure out how to get to him. Moving around the perimeter of the flat surface, he found a stronger scent. The clear material on that end wasn't as solid, giving under his paw when he pressed on it.
The sound of the safety glass falling on the dash caused JD to lift his head slowly. To his horror, one of the mountain lion's paws was sticking through the windshield. The glass bowed as the cat applied more pressure. JD's eyes opened wider as he brought the gun to bear on the threat. He didn't want to have to kill the animal but he would if he had to. His gun felt abnormally heavy in his hand and it shook when he tried to aim. A large section of the glass disintegrated, leaving a hole as big as a basketball in its wake.
Feeling the barrier fall away from his paw, the big cat tucked his head over the edge to look into the small 'cave.' He could smell the fear coming from the man. Stretching out one leg, he tried to reach the shiny object pointed in his direction.
Seeing the clawed limb coming for him, JD squeezed the trigger. Before his hearing was lost, he heard the cat yowl in pain. The weapon became impossibly heavy, slipping from his fingers to land in the passenger side floorboard. Pain swamped JD, carrying him away to the waiting darkness.
The car door squealed loudly as it was wrenched open, rousing JD slightly. A hand touched his outstretched arm, capturing his wrist in a familiar hold. Some time later, something was pressed to his face, creating a cold sensation. Other hands touched, moved him gently. A sting on his arm made him flinch but he couldn't pull away from the firm hand that restrained him. It was getting harder and harder to breathe. He wanted to struggle, to sit up and relieve the spasms in his lower back but he couldn't.
"Buck," he moaned softly.
From the police-enforced perimeter, the other six members of Team 7 waited anxiously. A tourist reported having heard gunfire and the police discovered the wreckage of the Mustang in the ditch. While waiting for the paramedics to arrive, the officer ran the license plate. Chris had taken the call, in the midst of coordinating the search for their missing teammate.
"Which one of you is Buck?" the fireman called. Immediately, the mustached man stepped forward. Motioning for the officer to let him through, the fireman met him some distance from the tangled wreckage. "He's calling for you. Now before you go charging over there, listen to me," he said, quickly grabbing the man's arm. "We have to cut him out of the car. He needs to remain still and calm. I want you to talk to him, reassure him that he'll be all right. Can you do that?" Seeing Buck nod, he began to lead him over to the car.
The paramedics had JD on oxygen and had started an IV in his arm. An inflatable neck brace kept him from moving his head and provided some support. Falling to his knees in the open doorway, Buck reached out to envelope JD's hand. "Hey kid, you had us all worried when you didn't show up for work this morning," Buck said as he leaned in so he could see JD's eyes. JD's left arm moved and Buck reached for his other hand. "You need to be still. You hear me? Just be still and let them do all the work." JD's eyes welled up with tears and Buck felt the burn in his own eyes. "Don't go all to pieces on me now, kid. It's gonna be all right."
Buck stayed hunched over his young friend until the paramedics forced him to move out of the way. The firemen were going to cut the roof off of the car and he couldn't remain there while they worked. Promising JD that he would be right back, Buck slipped his hands free of JD's, only breaking eye contact when the paramedic drew the protective blanket over JD's head.
What took only an hour felt like an eternity to the anxious men waiting behind the police line. Only Buck was allowed into the area where the rescue team was working. Nathan pumped anyone who came close to them for information about JD's condition. So far, all the news had been cautiously optimistic. JD was pinned in the car, some broken ribs and possibly broken ankle but he was stable for the time being. The men watched as the roof supports were cut and the roof peeled back like tin foil. It took longer to cut the steering column because it was pressed against JD's hips. Once the wheel was out of the way, the paramedics went in with a backboard.
The hands were back, pulling the blanket away and shoving something behind him. The muscles in his back went into spasm again and JD cried out, clawing at the oxygen mask as he reached for something to push or pull against.
Hearing JD's pain-filled voice, Buck shoved the fireman out of the way and reached for the scrabbling hand. The paramedic tossed him a dirty look until he realized who it was. Buck let JD pull on his arm until the agony in his back ebbed and he could breathe again. The rescue team carefully eased JD into a sitting position, tightening the straps on the backboard and immobilizing JD while the firemen worked to free his leg. Buck stayed close, talking to JD and reassuring him that he was going to be fine.
Finally, the last bit of metal was pulled out of the way and JD's ankle slipped free. It took eight men to lift him, carefully avoiding bumping any of his limbs, to set him gently on the waiting stretcher. JD was immediately whisked to the waiting ambulance, Buck pushing a paramedic aside to get in after him. The doors were slammed closed, the fireman giving two resounding thumps to the panel to let the driver know he was clear to go.
Not even the emergency room staff was brave enough to try to wrest Buck from JD's side while they examined him. Buck kept one hand on JD's arm, shoulder or head at all times, letting him know that he was there. Only when JD went into X-ray did Buck part from him, using the brief respite to go to the restroom and grab a soda from a vending machine.
Finally, several hours later, as the sun was beginning to set, nearly 24 hours after he first went skidding off of the blacktop; JD was moved to a private room. His broken ankle was elevated, his broken ribs were securely bound, and the multitude of tiny cuts from the glass had all been cleaned. The rest of the team crowded around, getting their fill of his battered features. One by one, they touched him, or spoke to him, before finding places to settle in for the night.
That night, after the sun went down, the mountain lion made his way back down to the car. He bristled slightly at the strong smell of man that filled the area. Sitting briefly on his haunches, he began to lick the grazed spot on the pad of his paw, where the bullet had almost missed him. It was almost, but not quite, enough to convince him to stay away, but the insatiable curiosity drew him back. Climbing over the crumpled metal, he settled in the back seat, his claws making holes in the fabric as he got comfortable. Over the singing of the crickets, the big cat purred as it slept.