“Let’s quickly load him and get out of here,” Barney said to me.
We were standing knee keep in a Wyoming snow field easing the dead and frozen body onto the stretcher. Our breaths came quickly like puffs of smoke, which hung in the air momentarily, but rapidly, fell to earth as it froze.
I worked quietly, but I knew Barney on the other hand, had to keep talking, as it was his nervous habit to chatter while around a body.
“Damned bag,” Barney growled.
He had been fumbling with the olive-green piece of plastic for a couple of minutes. The zipper was stuck, than it tore. He wadded it up and tramped back to the waiting ambulance.
When he returned he carried a folded sheet. Barney flicked it out, still holding onto the edge and let the white material float down on the body until it was draped.
I moved quickly around the stretcher tucking in the outside edges and clicking the safety belts in place to hold the body onto the stretcher.
Together the two of us gently lifted the stretcher until the wheels locked into place. Then we muscled it through the snow to the running ambulance.
“Help me get him turned around,” I demanded.
The body had been loaded feet first which did not look right. Barney shook his head from side-to-side and turned to crawl into the front of the cab.
“He’s dead, Tommy. What’s it matter?”
I sighed loudly as I buckled the safety strap back into place.
Soon I was up front as well, in the driver’s seat. Barney reached over and picked up the microphone to call in their position ad estimated time of arrival.
I let out the emergency brake and the ambulance moved forward through the snow.
As soon as Barney hung up the microphone he turned on the heater full blast. He knew that if his feet were cold than my feet must be frozen since I had suffered frost bite less than three months ago and was in constant pain when my toes grew cold.
“Thanks, Barney,” I said cheerfully as I secretly wiggled my painful toes.
Within minutes we were passing through the gates of the base. It had started snowing again covering the gray asphalt over in white.
I flipped on the windshield wipers on, then grabbed up the microphone.
Suddenly Barney’s eyes grew wide and his chatter became a stammer. I looked at my partner, then caught movement out of the corner of my right eye.
The fact that the movement was startling and that Barney screamed caused me to react by slamming on the brakes. With that, the ambulance started to slide, the rear end swinging hard to the left.
Jus’ then Barney went gone wild. He was unbuckled and standing hunched, back against the windshield, when he reached down and flung his door open, bailing out into the whiteness.
Within seconds the ambulance came to a stop. It rested sideways in the street, its front wheels touching the curb of the sidewalk.
I popped open my door and bolted like a coyote held in captivity.
Several strides from the ambulance I regained my wits and jogged back to the ambulance as a security police cruiser pulled up. Staff Sergeant Jenkins got out and walked over to me, where I explained what happened.
We walked over to where the ambulance had started sliding to see if Barney was injured, laying in the snow. We found nothing but a couple of foot print jus’ beyond the curb.
Barney later explained that he saw the body slowly sit up. Then it started to reach out towards him.
“That’s when I jumped out,” he said, adding “I didn’t stop running until I reached the hospital.”