Quiet lay upon the meadow like a soft, green blanket. The sun, a globe of molten gold, shot laser beams across the fields and through the trees, burning away the early morning mist. The valley began springing to life. Rusty hinges of cottage doors squeaked open as farmers and factory workers slipped out into the narrow alleys to begin another day. The air was fresh and cool. A few friendly voices broke the stillness, A rooster crowed in the distance. A lone horse's hooves and wagon wheels clacked against the stone pavement. Peace reigned everywhere. If there were a heaven, its beauty and peace could not surpass the serenity of this countryside.
Michael Whitehead walked down the alley toward the main street on his way to work. "Good morning!" he yelled to his neighbor, Charlie Fellows.
"Good morning, Mike. It's too nice to work today. I'd rather be fishing."
Mike and Charlie had been friends since they were kids. They were inseparable. Mike was Catholic. Charlie was Presbyterian. It made no difference. Their families were close. Though they were not officially allowed to take part in each other's religious services, they were unofficially godfathers for each other's children. This did not sit too well with some individuals in town who wanted to keep everybody where they "belonged."
As the two men walked down the street together, a little voice called out, "Daddy, Daddy, you forgot your lunch again." It was Mike's daughter, Annie. She was only four and her father's pet. She and her brother, Pat, who was Charlie's godson, were running up the alley toward the main street, trying to catch up with their father.
As the two children reached the corner, barely a hundred feet behind the two men, an old beat-up car careened around the corner. A hand jerked open the window and tossed a grapefruit-sized object into the street just behind Mike and Charlie. It bounced and rolled away from the men and toward the children. The screeching tires were familiar sounds and almost always presaged some evil and violent act. The men reeled around, suspecting the worst. They saw the object and tried to warn the children, but it was too late. The thing exploded and hurled little Annie into the wall of the house on the corner, her father's lunch pail flying clear across the street. The boy, who was a few feet behind his sister, was somewhat shielded from the full impact of the explosion, but the force was so great, it lifted him off the ground and threw him to the stone pavement. His body was badly mangled.
Both men screamed in horror and disbelief. Instinctively, one man went to one child, the other to the other child. The girl was dead. The boy was in shock, unconscious, his left arm torn off and lying in the street a few feet away, his left leg cut in a hundred places and bleeding profusely. It would be a blessing if the child died. Mike cried like a baby, not knowing what to do with what remained of his son. Charlie told him Annie was dead and went to pick up the boy's arm. Mike made a tourniquet to control the bleeding from the stump, then picked up his son. Charlie carried the limp, lifeless body of the girl. The two men ran down the street as fast as they could to the doctor's house, praying that he would be home.
Joe Kelly, though everyone called him Tony, was a slow-moving, peaceful man. He talked little, but his quiet, thoughtful gaze missed nothing. One could tell he had seen a lot and felt deeply about everything but revealed nothing of what he thought. As early as it was, it was unusual to catch him home. He began his rounds of the village early each day, long before he went to the hospital.
Charlie knocked on the door. It opened immediately, as if someone had been waiting. It was the doctor. He winced when he saw the bleeding child in his father's arms. He told the men to put the children on the two examining tables in his office, He checked the girl. She was dead. He examined the boy and checked his vital signs. He was alive, but barely. Joe Kelly had a rare genius for diagnosis. He was careful and sure and usually right.
"We'll have to get him to the hospital immediately. Bring the arm here," he ordered as he readied a large plastic bag full of ice.
The three men went out the door to the doctor's jeep. Mike sat in the back seat with his son on his lap as the vehicle backed out into the street and started down the main street. There wasn't much traffic, so the doctor didn't use the siren, as he liked to do during busy hours, but used his CB radio to call the emergency ward at the hospital, telling the nurse what he wanted ready as soon as he got there. They would also need Dr. Stern, the microsurgeon. Although he worked in the big city, he lived nearby, and with any luck they could get him at home. There was no time to spare.
Everything went with perfect precision at the hospital. Dr. Kelly's cool manner kept everyone else calm. Dr. Stern arrived and said little, just examined the boy, the arm, consulted with another doctor, and went to work. The operation took a good part of the day. By late afternoon the arm was reattached, and the boy was resting in the recovery room.
While the doctors worked on Pat, Maureen, beside herself, came running into the hospital. She had been told by a neighbor some of what happened, but it was all garbled. She raced to the hospital and demanded to see her children. The nurses tried to calm her, but when she saw the dead body of her baby lying on the table, her face gray, she wailed like a person who had lost her mind.
It was the first tragedy to strike the young couple, and it came upon them with such devastating fury that it was impossible to control the emotion.
"Did you see who did it?" Maureen asked through her tears.
"No, they looked like strangers," Charlie said. Mike half agreed, but secretly was sure he recognized one of the men.
"They were after us," Charlie said. "But the kids were right behind us, and the grenade bounced in the street and rolled right toward them. They didn't have a chance. But we'll find out who did it."
That was little comfort to a mother whose daughter was dead and whose son's life was hanging by a thread. Mike put his arm around his wife, trying to comfort her. "I swear on my grandmother's grave I'll find who did it. I won't rest until I bring the cowards to justice, even if I have to do it myself," Mike said, not fully realizing what he said.
Charlie felt guilty for what happened. He knew it was because of his friendship with Mike that they did this. Their sick minds couldn't stand to see the love the two had for each other and for each other's families. He found it hard to face Maureen. However, being a true friend, he stayed with them right to the end.
The three of them remained at the hospital all day. Charlie called work and told the boss what had happened and said they wouldn't be in. There wasn't much they could do. Charlie said little, his just being there, just being a friend, was a comfort, though the thought that just being a friend was what brought all this on. It wouldn't have happened otherwise. Mike and Maureen thought the same thing, but banished the thought immediately. Charlie was too good a friend and loved the kids as much as if they were his own.
Late in the afternoon, Pat opened his eyes, looked at the three hovering over him, smiled faintly, and went back to sleep. The simple sign of recognition reassured them. The three stayed until evening and lights-out. If the child woke up, he would be given medication anyway. Besides, arrangements had to be made for Annie's funeral.
Copyright © 1989 by Joseph F. Girzone