All Quiet On The Midwestern Plains: a Tale of Deception, Betrayal and Vindication by Dorothea Shefer-Vanson
ISBN: 9781723871801 (paperback)
ASIN: B07HJCXJRF (Kindle edition)
Release Date: September 19, 2018
It is 1985 and Israeli paleontologist is spending a year at a university in Nebraska. He encounters hostility from the head of the department and anti-Semitism in the local paper. Events seem to conspire to prevent him achieving his aim of attaining academic success, and his family is on the verge of breaking up, until he is finally able to unmask the plot to wreak havoc throughout America.
Wielding chisels and hammers, the two men busied themselves prising sections of rock away from the hillside till the sun was low on the horizon, by which time their hands were blistered and sore.
Avi carefully recorded the original position of each rock as he placed it in one of the sacks he had brought along for the purpose. They spoke little, each of them absorbed in the task at hand. After they had been working for some time Avi lit the camping gas ring he had brought along and brewed some coffee. They drank it slowly, savoring the warmth and the aroma.
“I’d like to get a few more specimens from up there,” Avi said, pointing to a higher part of the hillside. “Once I’ve done that I’ll be ready to head back into town.”
“That’s fine with me. I’ve got enough stuff here to give me years of analysis. Besides, I must confess, I don’t seem to have the stamina I once had for roughing it in the open and hacking away at rocks.”
Tom stopped working and watched anxiously as Avi balanced himself on the rocks in his efforts to prise part of the rock-face away. The effort involved in maintaining his balance while engaging in the strenuous yet delicate physical effort showed on Avi’s face. He improved his foot-hold and began to wield his tools, at first slowly, then, as his confidence increased, with growing rhythm and speed.
As Tom watched his friend he was reminded how much he enjoyed being out in the open, where the air was fresh and he could feel the earth beneath his feet, seeing everything from a different perspective. The elements seemed so docile, after the violent storm of the morning, making him think of Nancy, with her sudden violent mood-swings. One moment she would be as quiet and sweet as a dove, the next a screaming harridan. He often did not know why. Whether it was because of some imagined slight on his part or some error of omission or commission.
Avi strained to insert his chisel at an awkward angle into the rock face, lost his balance, and fell, not far but heavily. Without uttering a syllable he bumped down the jagged edges of protruding russet-colored rocks, landing close to where Tom was standing, helpless and unable to move. Suddenly Avi was lying motionless at his feet, his eyes closed, blood oozing from a gash in his forehead.
Tom’s heart began pounding at an alarming rate. He bent down and took Avi’s limp hand, trying to find his pulse. He wondered if he was badly wounded and whether he should try to staunch the blood, though he did not know what with. He did not know if any bones were broken, consoling himself with the fact that at least Avi was still breathing. After a moment he was relieved to find that his pulse was steady.
Avi groaned and opened his eyes. He put his hand to his forehead, then stared at the blood on his fingers.
“I fell, didn’t I?” he asked.
“You sure did.”
“Is it a deep cut?”
“Maybe. I can’t really tell,” Tom screwed his eyes up and peered at the wound.
“There’s a first-aid kit in the jeep,” Avi’s voice was weak. He sat up slowly, wincing in pain. The blood had drained from his face, so that his dark eyes stared out at Tom from sockets that seemed suddenly to have sunk deep into his skull.
“Don’t get up. Stay where you are. I’ll go and get the things.”
When Tom came back with the first-aid box, he found Avi sitting on a rock, dabbing his wound with a blood-stained tissue. His face was still pale, but he looked as if he was recovering from the initial shock.
“Here. Let me do it,” Avi said, and took the box from Tom. With deft fingers he cleaned his wound, dressed it, and wound a bandage around his own head. Tom nodded in admiration.
“I’ve seen medics treat battle wounds a few times. I reckon I know what to do,” Avi explained as he tightened the bandage and secured it with a safety-pin. “Sometimes we had to dress one another’s wounds ourselves when the medic wasn’t around. I could do with something to drink, though. My mouth feels very dry. I’m probably in shock. Is there any water left in the jeep?”
Once again Tom clambered down to where the vehicle was standing, and came back with their last container of water. He handed it to Avi, who gulped the tepid liquid down, then washed his face and hands, careful not to wet the bandage.
“I’m OK now,” his voice sounded stronger. “Luckily I don’t seem to have broken any bones. I really wish I could have got some rocks from up there, but I don’t want to take any more risks.”
“I could try,” Tom ventured.
“No, I wouldn’t dream of letting you. But thanks for offering. It’s funny, you know,” he added after a moment, “being here with you, like this, is a bit like being back in the military. I didn’t realize it till now, but I’m glad you’re here with me. I don’t know how I’d have managed without you. We make a good team. I’m sorry I spoiled things with this stupid fall.”
“That’s OK,” Tom recognized that this was the highest compliment Avi could give. He felt that he really ought to reciprocate in some way, tell Avi he was glad they had made the trip together, but somehow the words just would not come. Instead, he busied himself with practicalities, fussing over his friend like a mother-hen. “Here. Take my arm. I don’t want you falling down any more rocks till we’re safe in the jeep. You gave me quite a shock just now.”
With unaccustomed docility, like a newly-tamed animal, Avi took Tom’s arm, and together they made their way slowly down the hill. When they reached the road, Avi made for the driver’s seat.
“Don’t make me laugh, Avi,” Tom said. “You’re in no fit state to drive. Besides, you’ve driven all the way so far. Now it’s my turn.”
Again without demurring, Avi went round to the passenger seat and let Tom take the wheel.
“It’s years since I’ve driven a vehicle with a manual gear,” Tom said. “I guess it’ll take me a while to get used to it. Still, I’ve got to do it. So here goes.”
He engaged the engine and started to drive, raising a cloud of dust.
He was not sorry to be leaving that spot, but glad he had not let Avi go on his own. Realizing that anything could have happened if he had, he imagined how proud of him Nancy would be and gave himself a metaphorical pat on the back.
“We’ll soon have you back in civilization,” he said to Avi, who winced each time the jeep jolted on the uneven road. “We’d better get you to a doctor as soon as possible.”
“I’m alright,” Avi protested. “I just want to get home.”
Home. The magic word that since time immemorial has given fighting men the strength to endure hardship. The word that has kept soldiers going through the most rigorous training, field exercises, battles, gun-fire and falling bombs.
Avi recalled how, though still a teenager when he was doing his compulsory military service, the thought of his mother’s worn face and comfortable form, had kept him going. He would envisage her busy in the kitchen, making the food he liked, or bringing him a cup of coffee and a slice of home-made cake when he came home on leave. He imagined himself sitting in the big armchair, his legs stretched out in front of him, his boots on the floor beside him, as he read the paper.
He shook his head despite the pain and reminded himself that home was no longer his mother. Home was Rachel and the twins, who were all doubtless just carrying on with life, unaware of what had happened to him. He wondered whether his wife would spare a moment to wonder where he was and what he was doing. He glanced at his watch and calculated that she was probably making lunch for the twins, tidying the kitchen, or enjoying one of the interminable television comedies
“There’s no chance of getting back to Seabrook tonight,” Tom said. “We’ll stop at the nearest gas station and ask where we can find a doctor. Chances are that there’ll be a motel where we can stay tonight. Then we’ll be able to leave tomorrow morning and get to Seabrook by noon.”
“Couldn’t we make it back to Seabrook tonight?” Avi’s voice was wistful.
“Not if I’m driving. And you’re certainly not going to. I’m not taking any more risks. Unlike you, I don’t like living dangerously.”
“Don’t lecture me, for heaven’s sake, Tom.”
“OK. Sorry. End of sermon,” Tom said.
“Besides,” Avi continued, “What’s the point of living if you don’t take a risk or two now and again? We’d all die of boredom.”
“That’s fine with me. I get enough excitement from working with Harold Anderss and watching the Huskers playing. What more can a man want?”
“Ah, yes, the football team. I’ve heard about them. The twins said something about the game the other day. I didn’t know that you were interested in that too.”
“Interested?” Tom exclaimed, negotiating a pile of small stones that the storm had deposited on the road. “I don’t think that ‘interested’ is the right word. Everyone in the state supports the Huskers. They’re a damn good team. One of the best in the country. If not the best. Everyone’s a fan. Some people are just enthusiastic supporters, while others are real fanatical supporters. But no-one’s indifferent. I’ll have to take you to a game some day.”
“I can’t wait.” Avi said, then winced and put his hand to his head as the jeep lurched over a pot-hole in the road.
The teenage attendant at the gas station chewed gum languidly as he filled their tank, all the while leaning against their mud-encrusted vehicle. He told them that they’d find a doctor and a motel in the nearby town of Spurling.
The light was beginning to fade as the two men checked into the motel on the outskirts of the town. The clerk at the desk looked at Avi’s bandaged head with some concern. The blood that had oozed out of the wound had dried into an ugly, rust-colored stain that resembled the map of some unknown country.
“That looks real bad,” he said. “How d’ya get that?”
“He fell. I’d really like to get him to a doctor,” Tom said. “Where can we find one?”
“Well now, let me see,” the clerk closed his eyes and sucked his teeth, evidently to aid concentration. “Doctor Thompson lives out over on the other side of town, and I think you’ll find he’s a real good doctor. There’s another one, Doctor Harris, who’s nearer but ain’t so well thought of. But he’s out of town right now anyway. He goes out of town a lot. Mostly on fishing trips. Though he does some hunting too sometimes. That’s why people prefer Dr. Thompson. Anyhow, you just take the main road through the town and you’ll find him right at the other end.”
Tom looked anxiously at Avi, who was standing next to him at the counter and beginning to sway. His face had now turned a delicate shade of gray, and the bloodstain on the bandage round his head was spreading gradually.
“You’d better get your friend over to the surgery real quick,” the clerk said. “He looks real bad to me.”
“Thanks, I will,” Tom said, taking Avi’s arm and steering him back to the jeep. Avi leaned on him for support, causing Tom to struggle with his considerable weight.
By the time Tom had located the surgery Avi could barely sit upright in his seat, so that Tom had to come round to the passenger seat and haul his friend’s half inert body out. The effort made his arms ache and left him breathing heavily.
The doctor took one look at the dusty, blood-stained pair on his doorstep and helped Tom bring Avi into his office. He lay Avi down on his examining couch and went over to the sink to wash his hands.
“How did it happen? Hunting? Climbing? he asked while he checked Avi’s pulse and eyes, then gently unwound the blood-soaked bandage.
“He fell down some rocks. We were out at Horseshoe Rock collecting specimens. We’re paleontologists from the university in Seabrook,” Tom said.
“A dangerous profession,” the doctor said.
Avi groaned gently, his eyes closed.
Tom watched, both fascinated and repelled. Once again the vulnerability of the human body was brought home to him. One minute Avi had seemed almost god-like, clambering over rocks like a mountain goat, and the next he was a frail bundle of blood, flesh, and potentially brittle bones.
“It’s a deep gash. He’s lost quite a lot of blood,” Doctor Thompson said, examining the wound. “He’ll have to have stitches. And he’ll need plenty of rest. He may even have concussion, though at least he doesn’t seem to have broken any bones. You’ll have to get him to hospital.”
“Can’t you stitch it, doctor?” Tom asked. “How far is it to the nearest hospital?”
“No. I can’t. The nearest hospital is in Seabrook, which is where you’re headed anyway, isn’t it?”
“I don’t want to go any farther tonight,” Tom said. “We’ve driven a long way today. And worked in the hot sun for hours. Got drenched in that rainstorm this morning, too. I’m tired. I need to rest. And my friend certainly can’t drive.”
“I don’t like it, but I suppose I could apply a temporary dressing. That should get him through the night. Do you have somewhere to stay?”
Tom nodded, and Doctor Thompson cleaned and dressed Avi’s wound. When he had finished, Avi opened his eyes, looked from the doctor to Tom, and gave a weak grin. The color was gradually returning to his face.
“Come back to me in the morning. And if there’s any change in his condition, call me in the night. Though of course I’d prefer it if you didn’t. The main thing is to keep him as still as possible. Here’s my card. That will be thirty-five dollars. I’ll give you a receipt so you can get a refund from your medical insurance.”
After Tom had paid the doctor Avi stood up unsteadily and mumbled some words of thanks. Once they were in the jeep he reached into his pocket, took out his wallet, and thrust thirty-five dollars into Tom’s hand.
“I can’t have you subsidizing my foolishness,” he said as Tom tried to push the notes away. “Anyhow, give me the receipt and I’ll get the refund.”
Tom relented, shivering in the chilly night air. The two men drove back to the motel, stopping only to get some pizza on the way.
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