Hard Pack – snow that is firmly packed; ice.
Kristy’s hands shook as she swiped the small red and white box on Jessica’s phone. She told herself it was just the cold. On the My Emergency Information list was one contact: Karen and Doug. She took a deep breath and tapped on it. The phone began to ring.
“Jessie, hi! Where are you? Your mother was starting to worry,” a man’s voice said.
“Is this Doug?” Kristy asked.
“Yes, who’s this? Where’s Jessie?”
“What’s wrong?” Kristy heard a woman’s voice say in the background.
“Sir, my name is Kristy Cole. I’m a member of the Tri-County Search and Rescue response team. Your daughter has been in a car accident.”
“Oh my god! Is she all right?”
“What’s happened?” she heard the woman say.
“She’s is being taken by ambulance to Three Pine County Hospital.”
“What’s happened?” the woman said again.
“Shush, Karen. I can’t hear!” Doug said.
“Miss, is there anything you can tell me about her condition?”
“I’m sorry. All I know is where she’d being transported.” Kristy hated this part. Policy was to not state the condition of an injured accident victim because it could quickly change.
“What about my grandson? He was with her.”
As the boy was completely unharmed, Kristy told him, “Little Rick is fine.”
“Oh, thank god.”
He hadn’t mentioned the baby. Kristy tripped over her tongue.
“Sir? Doug. There’s an infant car seat in your daughter’s car….” She left the sentence dangling.
As if on cue, Kristy heard over the line a baby start to cry.
“She’s with us! Rachel’s with us. We were waiting for Jessie to pick her up. She was running late from work and had to pick up Rick.”
Kristy felt relief wash over her.
“Okay, thank you. We were hopeful that was the case.” When Jessica had started screaming the girl’s name the tone of the rescue had turned completely grim. Additional floodlights were on standby if it was determined that the baby had been in the car.
“Where’s my grandson now?” Doug asked.
“He’s with me. Are you far from Three Pine?”
“It’s about thirty minutes west of us.”
Thirty minutes west. By Kristy’s estimate she was about forty minutes due east hospital. That meant Jessica was pretty close to her parent’s house when she went off the road.
“Are you going to the hospital?” she asked, although she was certain she knew the answer.
“We’re already getting into the car,” he replied.
“I’ll meet you there. I know your grandson will be very happy to see you.”
“Thank you so much, Kristy.”
Kristy ended the call and stuffed the phone in her pocket. She hurried over to the sheriff’s car, which had been designated as the incident command post. She let him know that the baby was safe and they could call off the floodlights and the search. After that the scene began to rapidly pack up and shut down. She sought out Trooper Judson to return the phone to him but ended up with both the phone and the pocket book back to take with her and give to the woman’s family.
Some other team members helped her re-pack and reload her equipment into her truck. In their urgency, she and Brent had forgotten to call their training leader to let them know that they had responded to an emergency but that turned out to not be any problem. They had gotten the message through their emergency call system and relayed their congratulations for a job well done.
As there was no car seat for Little Rick, he and Kristy rode to the hospital in the back of the ambulance. A small seat against the wall with an adjustable shoulder strap was used to safely secure the small boy. Kristy sat on the technician’s seat and strapped in next to him. Brent drove over in her truck.
To amuse the boy she handed him her phone, but before she knew it, she was the one being amused. He swiped at her apps and set up games she didn’t even know were there. They handed the phone back and forth as the played and were having a grand old time when the phone began to ring.
Rick answered it.
Kristy tried to take the phone from the boy but he wriggled away.
“It’s okay,” he said, “It’s for me.”
Kristy could only hear the boy’s responses to his father’s questions.
“Yes, Dad. Fine. Yes. I don’t know. Kristy. Yes. Okay.”
The boy handed over her phone to her. “Daddy wants to talk to you.”
“Thanks, Rick,” Kristy said and felt a knot form in her stomach as she put the phone to her ear.
“Hello, Derrick,” she said.
“Kristy, I only just heard. Jess’s parents left a message on my voicemail. I didn’t check it. I didn’t realize there was any emergency. The scanner at the lodge was down. We never got the alert. How’s Rick’s mother? How’s Jess?” he asked.
Kristy took a deep breath. Derrick knew his son was sitting right beside her. What could she say? Plus, she was not sure of the woman’s condition. She only knew that she had been brought up to the road on the gurney alive.
“She’s on her way to Three Pine in another ambulance.”
“Damn-it, Kristy! Don’t give me an official answer, give me a real answer.”
Kristy looked at the little boy, whose eyes had grown fearful. He hadn’t asked where his mother was and she hadn’t said anything except that they were going to meet his grandparents. She didn’t think that he could exactly hear what his father was saying, but could hear that he had risen his voice.
“Derrick, she is on her way to Three Pine. Hey, Rick,” Kristy said trying to distract the boy, “Open that little drawer right there.” In the drawer were boxes of gloves in different sizes. She peered into the drawer. “Let’s see how well you can count, Little Rick. Can you pull out ten gloves for me?”
The boy nodded and started his task, “One, two….”
Kristy sat as far back from him the boy as she could and said as pleasantly as she could, “I’ve told you all I know and all I can say right now.”
“Was she alive?” he hissed.
“Yes, Derrick.” But she knew he knew that was not a definitive answer. That Jessie had yelled out deliriously for her children was a concerning sign, but there was nothing more that Kristy could say.
“Eight, nine, ten!” the boy finished. Kristy fist bumped him.
Derrick spoke again, “Let her parents know I’m on my way, please.”
“I will.” Kristy promised and then he was gone.
She stared straight ahead as the ambulance swayed and bumped along the road. Little Rick tapped on her leg.
“What do you want me to do with the gloves?” he asked.
Kristy pointed to a small recess in the wall near the boy’s hip.
“Let’s put them in there,” she said not knowing what the space was for but figuring she could just remove them later.
“Okay,” the boy said and began to shove the gloves one at a time into the space. As Kristy watched him a thought occurred to her. She wondered to herself why Derrick wasn’t on Jessie’s emergency call list.