River Of Night – Snippet 25

“Ralph, grab the radio,” Tom ordered. “Tell Kap we got a crash, we’re stopping. Worf, I need cover fire right away. Once I stop, organize a firing line and deny the road to anyone that shows up.”

“Check.” Sergeant Copley said. His tone was all business.

“O-okay.” Fat Ralph stuttered as the abused transmission clunked back into drive.

Moments later Tom drew abreast of the crash. He ran to the ruined vehicle. The acrid scent of coolant was distinctive as the radiator fluid from a smashed radiator splashed across the hot engine.

He could hear one of the kids crying inside and tore at the airbags which obscured his view. When he found Durante he tried to understand what he was seeing.


Modern passenger vehicles are engineered to be highly resistant to impact damage from front and rear collisions. The sheet metal that makes up the unibody is designed and assembled so that it crumples inwards, absorbing and dispersing the huge amounts of kinetic energy created when a fast, heavy vehicle is stopped almost instantaneously. The passenger occupied space is further protected by a special cage of thicker metal, intended to prevent a phenomenon that pre-Fall automotive collision experts antiseptically labeled a ‘compartment intrusion’.

In short, modern vehicles could take enormous amounts of damage while keeping their occupants alive, if not uninjured.

Had Dave Durante actually struck the rail squarely, the crumple design would have worked as intended, preserving the integrity of the passenger compartment. The airbag deployment would have reduced internal trauma even further. Instead, his last ditch effort to avoid the collision changed the impact aspect of the Dodge in important ways.

First, the sudden braking made the front of the car dip slightly. This permitted the rail to impact just above the bumper, engaging the sheet metal of the hood and fender instead. Second, the last moment course correction changed the impact from a full front aspect collision to a different sort of accident, labeled by those same cheerful automotive experts as a ‘short overlap impact’. This denied the crumple zone geometry a chance to protect the driver and permitted the full force of the impact to focus on a single concentrated part of the SUV’s body, the driver side window pillar.

The end result was that Dave blearily regained consciousness to find his view blocked by the white fabric of the now flaccid airbag. He reflexively attempted to swipe it aside with his left hand but his arm wouldn’t move properly. He looked down to find the dashboard in his lap and his left leg twisted into the firewall at an impossible angle. He waited for the pain, but only the throbbing in his stomach was perceptible.

He squinted his eyes and years later opened them again. This time he saw Tom staring at him.

“Goddamn it, Gravy!” Smith said urgently. “Can you hear me? We have to get you out.”

Smith swiftly cut away the air bag with a folding knife and then blanched at what he had revealed.

“That bad?” said Dave, coughing. “You should see your face.”

Blood trickled from his mouth.

“Jesus,” Smith turned to yell over his shoulder only to bump into Kaplan who had run up, rifle in one hand and a trauma bag in the other.

“Hey Gravy, you just fucking around or wha…” Kaplan’s comment died away. “Aw, fuck, Gravy. Jesus.”

“Ha,” Dave tried to chuckle. “I don’t think that He’s here, just now.”

“How do we cut him out?” asked Kaplan. “If we take the leg he’ll bleed out.”

“No one is taking my leg!” he wheezed, squinting as the pain began to bloom up his broken arm. “Get the kids out. Gimmee a rifle and go.”

Risky appeared in Dave’s vision as she move to help the battered passengers out.

“Maybe we can dismount the seat from the pan…” Tom said, leaning into the back seat area, desperately trying to come up with a solution.

Kaplan’s head jerked up as they all heard a bullet snap overhead.

“These fuckers ain’t giving up, Tom.”

“Buy me time,” Smith ordered, his voice harsh. “Okay Gravy, what we’re going to do is–“

“Tom, just give me a rifle and go,” Dave said, wearily cutting him off. “I’m hit bad. My leg was gone before I piled this shitheap up. Losing blood. That’s why I dumped it. No point. Just let me do my thing and buy you time.”

“What?” Smith stopped trying to muscle the seat from behind and turned to look more closely and the bullet wound. Underneath Durante blood was pooling in the ruined seat. “Shit, how bad?”

“Gut shot,” Dave stated, his voice beginning to fade a little. “Maybe some splinters the spine. No feeling in the leg.”

Smith rummaged urgently in the trauma kit, plastic wrapping and gauze flying haphazardly. He popped the fasteners on the body armor and opened Dave’s shirt. Locating the messy exit wound, he immediately packed it with a blood clotting bandage, drawing a pained grunt from Durante.

“The damage is inside, Tom,” Dave heard Risky as she handed tape to Smith, one piece at time. “The bleeding will continue, we don’t know how bad.”

“She’s right,” the wounded man said, looking up at his friends. “Give me a weapon.”

“Gravy, I can’t–” Smith began, but Risky leaned back into Durante’s field of view, handing another open package of blot clot to Smith.

Behind her, he could hear a rifle popping rounds too quickly to be accurate. There was a pause and Gravy distantly heard Kaplan correcting Fat Ralph’s shooting.

“Tom, we can’t stay,” Risky said gently. “We must go. Let him have what he wants.” She looked at Dave. “Dave, I’m so sorry.”

She leaned over Durante and kissed his forehead.

“Godspeed, Horatius.”

Dave smiled. “I got the first kiss after all.”

It wasn’t a bad way to go. This was alright. He looked towards Smith in time to see his friend’s face change.

Smith had looked up from the wounds in Dave’s abdomen and turned to face Risky, his face terrible, angry.

You,” Smith said, packing pain and anger into a single syllable. “You and that girl.”

“Smith. Smith. TOM!” The unexpected strength in Dave’s voice cut through Smith’s anger.

Smith looked back at Dave.

“Stop it,” the trapped man said, his voice husky with pain. “She’s right. I woulda done the same thing if I had the balls. Saving little girls is what we’re supposed to do, Tom.”

He began to cough, hacking sounds wracking his chest.

“Save the rest, leave me,” He said, spitting blood on the airbag, making a crimson splash on the white fabric. “It’s the right call. You know it is.”

Dave exchanged a look with his friend for a long moment. Two friendly rifles were barking now, their cadence growing in urgency. Another round snapped overhead.

“See you, Risky,” Dave offered. Straightening, she looked at him again, her violet eyes sad. Then she turned and trotted away.

“You too, Tom,” Dave added.

A long moment passed. The sharp metallic impact of a round striking one of their vehicles prompted a short heartfelt monosyllable from Fat Ralph, unseen behind them.

“Everyone back in the trucks,” Smith ordered, keeping his eyes on Gravy’s.

Letting his own AR hang by the sling, he reached for Dave’s weapon. He automatically performed a chamber and safety check to confirm that it was loaded, ensured that the optics were intact and then laid the pistol grip in Durante’s right hand.

“See you in Hell, boss,” Dave said. “Can’t be worse than here.”

“Save me a spot.” Smith answered, and looked at his friend’s face for a long final moment.  “I’ll be along presently.”

Then Smith straightened, blinked twice and turned to jog back to the remaining vehicles.

By touch, Dave flicked the safety on his AR off safe. Then he looked up at the ceiling of his SUV, and took slow measured breaths, willing energy into his good arm.