Unforeseen Side Effects

The stupid van was late again. He hated it when the van was late, it just added to the feeling of helplessness and vulnerability that draped over him like a wet blanket. At times it was almost suffocating. He sat in the wheelchair, looking a lot smaller than his five foot eight inch height. His brown hair had turned gray at the temples, but it wasn’t a distinguished look. Not with the scraggy way his hair had grown back after chemotherapy caused him to lose it –leaving him bald as a cue ball for fourteen long months. He still wore a hat, a habit after wearing one so long to hide his baldness. Actually, the bald part wasn’t so bad as getting there, when his hair came out in bunches and left him looking mangy and diseased. The chemo had dried his skin out as well, leaving him with patches of flaking areas that rained dry skin flakes from his head to his shoulders like dandruff gone berserk. Once weighing in at 180 pounds, he was a slight 102 now, his muscles atrophied, consumed the same way the cancer had consumed his entire body. He was being eaten alive.

It was a blustery day, snow flurries on and off were driven by a cold wind that cut through the coat he wore and chilled his legs through his pants. If he’d had his druthers, he’d have stayed home today, but the doctor made an appointment for a reason and so he came. He rode his scooter the six blocks from his apartment to the outreach center where he parked his scooter in a storage room and was helped into a wheelchair by a volunteer and loaded into the step van that made a courtesy circuit for a number of disabled veterans, getting them to their appointments various places around town. It was almost haphazard, appointments of some causing delays that built up and affected the others on the van. He appointment had been over for nearly forty minute, leaving him sitting on the corner, shivering, and waiting for his ride.

He felt a presence from behind him and arms reached to either side and unlocked the chair’s brakes. He felt himself start to move and spoke over his shoulder that it was about time they picked him up, he was freezing his ass off. His comment brought no reply and he craned his neck around to look at the van driver and attendant pushing him along. But the man he saw wasn’t the driver he expected, it was someone he didn’t know. Even with the quick glance he knew something was amiss. He was being pushed by a scruffy looking kid, maybe eighteen, maybe more. He had that look of life wearing heavily, like the countenance of a drug addicts. He noted the greasy look to the coat worn by the man, a look that said it had been a long time since it had seen a cleaning, the cuffs frayed and threadbare. “Who’re you?” he asked. But still he got no reply. He began to look up and down the street, but there was no one in sight, just a few cars, their windshield wipers trying to stay ahead of the wet flurries that had been growing in intensity along with the wind. They were moving pretty quickly now, faster than he liked and his fear was adding to the chill he felt, it was making his legs shake almost uncontrollably. “Where are you taking me?” he shouted. But still no answer.

The area of town had the streets fronted by buildings of concrete and brick, mostly medical, a thousand different offices located within them. Some had parking in under-building garages, and his abductor was wheeling him into one. In through the wide door, his captor pushed him and then darted him in between a row of cars before roughly spinning the chair around. His hand was pinched between the side of a van and the arm of the wheelchair and he shouted in pain. His abductor backhanded him across the face and finally spoke. “Shut the fuck up, gimp.” he said. “Just shut up and cooperate and we’ll be done and you can get back to wherever it is you crips disappear to. But first, I know you got money. Give it to me. And if you got any drugs, I;ll take those too.”

“I don’t have anything. I got nothing. I’m just a diabled guy, no better off than you.”

“Naw, you’re worse off than me, dipshit. I got arms and legs that work, I’m no gimpy ass retard like you. Now give it up.”

“But… I don’t have anythi…” he was cut off by another vicious backhand. He felt the pain and warmth it made on his face, and then felt the trickle he knew was blood running down from his nose. His captor roughly pushed him aside, almost teetering the chair over. He roughly started feeling for bulges, stuffing his hands in pockets. Finding nothing on one side, he repeated the move on the other. This time his hand came out of a pants pocket with a small wad a bills.

“Nothing, eh? Lyin’ sack o’ shit.” He slapped his victim again, much harder this time. It caused stars and a rushing noise in his ears. The frisk continued and from the coat pocket he pulled a small paper bag. In it were a pair of amber medication bottle. The label of one was marked “Calcium,” the other was marked “Morphine.” I knew it. I fuckin’ knew it. You wimp as bitches are all alike..” The assailant pocketed the money and the morphine and threw the calcium supplements on the concrete floor of the garage.

“Okay, okay. You got everything I got. Take it. Leave me alone, please.. Just go.”

“Go? You don’t fuckin’ tell me to go, gimpy. You lied to me. Tere’s a price for that. Where’s your wallet?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but pulled his victim forward by his collar, dumping him face first onto the cement. The impact was agony, his entire body reacting painfully to the fall. He lay there on his hands and knees as the perpetrator checked his back pockets for a wallet. He found it, empty except for some ID and a debit card. He pulled the debit and tossed the wallet so it skittered across the floor, coming to rest under a parked station wagon. “What’s the pin number, Gimpy?”

Angered and humiliated, the last thing the vet was going to do was give his pin number to his prick. He remained silent. “Nothing to say, fucker? Fine.” he was grabbed and stuffed back into the chair, again sending jolts of electric agony through his tortured body.”I think you’re gonna tell me.”  Then he was moving again. His chair was shoved forward and out from between the parked cars that had concealed the mugging. “You got one chance, asshole. Tell me the number or I’m gonna shove your ass in front of a bus.” The agonized vet just gritted his teeth and refused to give the punk satisfaction.

The chair was accelerating and the vet could hear the exertion of his captor as he got the chair moving faster and faster, the wide garage door coming closer all the time. On the street outside, traffic had started to accelerate, the cars released by a stop light at the end of the block. “Last chance old man!” And then he was freewheeling into the street. In his pain, spiked by fear, his vision was a jumble, he only registered the pickup truck bearing down on him at the last moment. There was a squeal of brakes and then everything went black. He didn’t see that he’d been knocked from the chair to sail across traffic where a woman with her two teen aged daughters in the car ran over his broken body. He didn’t hear that squeal of brakes –nor the hysterical screaming of the woman driver or the confused shouts of the pickup driver. Truth told, his last earthly experience was the adrenaline rush of realization as he saw the truck coming his way, much too fast to stop. Time’s up, he thought.

An overloaded police department gave some attention to the case. But no one was sure whether it was an accident, no one having seen the assailant vanish back into the garage to exit through the back side of the building. The victim wasn’t alive to testify, and so the death certificate was marked as “Death by unknown misadventure” and the case was closed. There was some question on the part of the responding officers, but tight schedules and reduced budgets left him a low priority. After all, disabled people, especially cancer victims died all the time. His premature death might have done him a favor, said a number of cops.

An ironic death, like so many. He’d been disabled as a result of his military service. Fighting for the rights and freedoms he found important enough to risk it all for. A dedication too many American’s simply don’t feel. Fact was, his van driver had forgotten him entirely. He’d been abandoned and there was every chance he might have perished from hypothermia. But those who fight and return as disabled vets knew the risks going in. It was he who volunteered to go fight, so it wasn’t anyone’s fault but his that there was a later price to pay. After all, a single choice can lead to any number of consequences.