Roderigo wrapped his hand tightly in his jacket and smashed the driver’s side window. A cloud of soot fell into the cabin, drifting into his lungs and making him cough. Through the dust and debris, they could see pillars of smoke rising into the air around them, each one coming from any of a few dozen vehicles that had been caught in the collapse.
“I think I broke my ass,” Steven said. He pushed himself up from the back seat, and winced. “I hope I didn’t shatter my tailbone.”
“You’ll live,” Roderigo said. With a quick push he freed a chunk of concrete that was blocking the window, securing an opening large enough for them to climb through. “I panicked as much as guys did. Pretty foolish of me.” He saw Yvonne sitting in the seat beside him, her face and shirt soaked in blood. There was a gash on her forehead. Reaching into the back seat, he grabbed one of her shirts from a travel bag and began pressing it against the wound. Yvonne began to stir. “Do you think you can stand?” he asked.
She turned away in an obvious attempt to hide her wound. “I’m fine,” Yvonne said. She began pulling herself through the window, her hand slipping on the frame of the door. Roderigo grabbed her arm to steady her. After a few seconds, she had climbed out onto the rubble. He motioned for Steven to go next. Still clearly sore, the young man somehow managed to squeeze out the window. Roderigo began to pull himself through.
As Roderigo stood, he saw what had caused Steven’s comment. Surrounding them were the remains of three long, crumbled bridges, all collapsed inside a massive sinkhole. He was so stunned by the sight that he wasn’t aware that Steven had turned back to face the car until he heard him moan. “Your back still hurting?”
“Oh man,” Steven mumbled. “My Aklys….”
The sound of helicopters filled the air. It seemed that several news stations had already moved in, and were now competing with search and rescue teams for air space. Roderigo stared back back at the car. The driver’s side mirror was cracked. Pulling out his pocketknife, he began working one of the pieces until it was free. He then carefully grabbed it and began attempting to catch a glare from the midday sun. Almost immediately, a rescue chopper began to respond.
Yvonne stumbled. Steven reached out to steady her. “I’m fine,” she said. “Just a bit woozy.”
“You could have a concussion,” Roderigo said, once again noticing the blood on her forehead.
He gazed back up at the sky. The chopper had ceased its descent, and was instead circling the air about a hundred yards above them. Roderigo knew that the helicopter couldn’t risk landing–there was no telling how sturdy the ground was, and there wasn’t a good landing spot anywhere near them. Sure enough, he watched as a man began to descend on a line.
As the rescuer neared them, Roderigo helped Yvonne toward the landing spot. The rescuer quickly set his feet down on the rubble, but didn’t unlatch himself. Instead, he grabbed a small harness and began to put it on Yvonne. Once she was strapped in, he turned to Roderigo. “The other teams will come back for you,” he shouted. Roderigo could only barely hear him over the sound of the rotors.
“I know the drill,” Roderigo shouted back. With that, the man tugged on the rope, and the line began to lift. Roderigo flashed a sign to Yvonne, telling her he loved her. As she signed back, the drone of several other choppers could be heard closing in.
As the second chopper began lowering its crewman, Roderigo motioned to Steven to come. The crewman began strapping Steven in, who muttered something as the harness was secured around his chest. Roderigo could tell Steven didn’t like it–he knew from past experience that these vests weren’t that comfortable–but he was glad that Steven didn’t fight it.
As that chopper pulled out, Roderigo knew his turn was next. He wasn’t looking forward to the harness, but he knew it was important. With the helicopter so high off the ground, and the rubble potentially unstable, he wasn’t looking to test his strength. He grabbed the rope as the medic secured the harness and stared up at the chopper as they began to descend. Once inside the cabin, he finally noticed the deep gash in his right arm–he’d made the right choice.
One of the medics began irrigating the wound. As he did, the copilot motioned toward the other helicopter. “Is he your brother?”
“I’m flattered,” Roderigo said. “He’s my nephew. I’m twenty-four years older than him.”
“You’re shitting me,” the copilot said. “How old are you?”
“You look about half that,” the medic said. With the wound clean, the medic began to examine it. “You’re gonna need stitches. If you want, we can do them here. The hospitals are going to be flooded, and critical patients will have priority.”
“Not a problem,” Roderigo said. “Wouldn’t be the first time I was patched up in the sky.”
The medic smiled and pulled out a needle. “This is Novocaine,” he said, “although I guess as you already know that.” He inserted the needle into the nerve. “So what branch?”
“Is it that obvious?” Roderigo asked. “Navy, Special Weapons Combatant-craft Crewman. I was a Petty Officer First-Class when I was discharged.”
“Boat guy, huh?” the medic said. “Impressive. I should have guessed it was something like that. Not too many people take a cut like this lightly, and most of them haven’t had experience with first aid in a helicopter.”
“Guess not.” As the medic began to stitch the wound, he gazed back at the devastation disappearing in the distance. What was once the most notable highway in South Kansas City had been reduced to rubble. He could see at least fifty cars inside the sinkhole, all totaled, and he guessed that even more were buried in the debris. It was a devastating sight.
As the last stitch went in, Roderigo checked his watch. After five, he thought. Need my pill. He reached into his pocket and removed a small white bottle, and then asked the medic for some water.
“Not a good idea. You might have internal injuries.”
“My gut feels fine,” Roderigo said. He shook the bottle. “The pill that’s in here isn’t really optional anyway.”
The medic handed him a bottle of water. “Serious condition?”
“Depends on how you view it,” Roderigo replied.