Sargent Malloy wrapped the blanket tighter around the old man’s body and breathed a sigh of relief as the screaming sirens told him Emergency Medical was almost there. He glanced over at the shivering teenage girl sitting on the rocky bank of the river. She too was wrapped in a brown, wool blanket and aside from a large bump on her forehead, seemed to be doing just fine.
The old man was another story. Sargent Malloy had serious doubts about his chances. His breath was ragged and his pulse indicated tachycardia and was very weak. His lips were blue.
Looking down at his tiny, wasted frame, it was almost impossible to imagine that he had somehow managed to swim out through those frigid, raging waters to the submerged car some twenty yards out in the river. It had to have been pure adrenaline and will-power that carried him out there. It must have been the same that carried him back with the unconscious teenage girl in tow.
Sadly, that wasn’t going to save him now. In his 22 years on the force, Sargent Malloy had had the unfortunate opportunity to see plenty of dying men. This, he was sure, would be one more.
The sirens were straight above him now and gave a final whoop before an unseen hand flipped a switch and stopped their wail. The paramedics would soon be making their way down the bank to assess and assist the two patients.
Just then, Sargent Malloy heard a moan and looked down as the old man’s eyelids fluttered and opened. A pair of pale, blue eyes stared up at the Sargent and equally pale, blue lips moved as the old man tried to speak. The Sargent kneeled down and placed his hand on the old man’s hands which struggled beneath the blanket.
“Just relax sir. Help is on the way.”
The thin, blue lips turned up in a quivering smile and the old man shook his head and spoke in a weak voice.
“Where’s the girl?” he asked, his voice barely audible.
The Sargent pointed to the girl.
“She’s there and she’s going to be just fine. You saved her life. I don’t know how you did it, but you saved her life. You are a hero my friend.”
The old man’s eyes filled with tears and he spoke once again.
“I did it! I said I would and I did! I just needed a chance you see…that’s what I told him. Just a chance…”
His voice trailed off at he end, but the smile remained. He drew in one final ragged breath. His eyes fluttered and closed.
Sargent Malloy pulled back the blanket and felt for a pulse. There was none.
It was then that the Sargent realized that the paramedics had made their way down the bank. There were four of them, two pairs with stretchers filled with bags of medical equipment. They would be taking over now. They would be treating the young woman for hypothermia and her head injury. They would be working feverishly to revive the old man, but the chances of success, he knew, would be very small. They would then load them up in the ambulances and the sirens would wail again, all the way to the hospital.
Sargent Malloy had been the first on the scene and he would be the last to leave as well. It was time to climb back up through the jagged rocks and do the rest of his job. Secure the old man’s property. Take pictures of the twisted rail where the teen’s car had left the road. Interview any potential witnesses and then head back into the Department and file his report.
Securing the old man’s property was going to be rather easy he thought. There was no vehicle. He had obviously been on foot. The only piece of property was an old, leather backpack which Sargent Malloy had just picked up from the ground as the paramedics went to work on the old man.
The pack was light. He shook it, then unzipped it and peered inside. He moved aside a shirt and a pair of socks with one hand and felt more objects at the bottom. A small wad of cash. Maybe twenty dollars. A toothbrush. A small leather-bound book.
It was a Bible. A very worn bible, it’s pages dog-eared and fanned from many years of use. The Sargent fanned the pages with his thumb. Most pages held notes written in the margins. Hundreds, if not thousands of scriptures were underlined in red ink. He put the Bible back where he found it and heard one of the paramedics talking on their radio. Declaring one victim with no vital signs and asking for medical direction.
Sargent Malloy felt some very rare tears sting his eyes. He glanced over where the girl had been sitting and saw that the paramedics already had her strapped into the stretcher. He took one last look at the old man’s lifeless face and turned and began to ascend the bank, the old man’s backpack tightly gripped in one hand.
He had gone back to the department and filed his reports and made it home just after dark. He had hugged his wife, gave her the short version of his day and headed down to the basement to shoot a game of pool and unwind.
But the old man had been on his mind. There was something he had to know.
The problem he was having was that he had gone through the old mans pack again and found no identification. Then he had dug further and found a piece of paper folded and tucked under the pad in the bottom of the pack. It was a letter of pardon from the Governor of the State. It was plain and official. It stated that Clarence Samuel Watkins, Inmate #714623-12 had been fully pardoned for his crimes and was a free man. That was it in essence and it was dated two weeks earlier. Two weeks. That’s how long the old man had been out of prison. That’s how long it had taken him to end up on the banks of the river breathing his last.
It was the how and the why that bothered the Sargent. He had the mind of a cop and he needed answers. What had the old man done? What was he pardoned from and why had the old criminal risked his life…ultimately gave his life to save a complete stranger. Just two weeks after gaining his freedom.
After filing his reports, he had emailed the Governor’s office and requested the information, officially for an accident report, citing the fact that he had no other source of identification and no way of knowing for sure if the man was indeed Clarence Samuel Watkins.
Saturday passed. A day of wondering and a nearly sleepless night. Was Clarence a criminal or a hero? Could he be both? What had he done that required the Governor’s pardon which was always a last resort after failed parole bids were exhausted. Just who was Clarence Samuel Watkins?
Sargent Malloy found out Sunday morning at 10:00 AM.