It was during that winter break that my friend Obert came over with his brand new western style .22 caliber pistol, and suggested that we go target shooting. All we had to do was to find some empty land out in the county, near the bay, and we could plunk to our hearts content. My father had given me a .22 Ruger revolver several years earlier, and a real nice leather rig to carry it in. He had purchased a .38/.357 Ruger at the same time. So we packed up the weapons (even the .38), purchase a half-dozen boxes of ammo and headed to a secluded part of the bayshore.
We parked as close as we could, and then hiked over several hills until we reached the railroad tracks and the shoreline just beyond. We knew this area well because several months earlier I had borrowed my father’s Landcruiser and we had driven all over the hills four wheeling. Obert’s Ford station wagon was limited to the dirt parking lot.
We reached the tracks and there was a natural little cove that had a small pond created by the winter’s rain. It was a nice secluded spot where the sound of gunfire would reflect out to the bay instead of the nearest house, which wasn’t that near in any case.
The pond was typically muddy at the edges, tule rimmed, and with dozens of floating bottles. Perfect! All we had to do is augment the debris with as many cans and bottles that we could find and we had a target range. After several minutes of scrouging and collecting everything in sight, we hurled the entire mess into the pond. There was very little water visible as everything was one compacted mass of floating garbage.The pond was actually in a depression several feet below where we stood at the edge.
Soon we were loaded up and firing at random cans, filling them with enough holes to send them to the bottom. We saved the bottles because one accurate shot would eliminate them completely. Periodically we would fire my father’s powerful .38.
After a long time we were down to the last rounds of ammo, a strange mixture of .22 shorts, .22 regular, and .22 long rifle. Coincidently, we were also down to the last few floating bottles, we generally waited for each other the finish loading then blasted away until it disappeared. Then we ejected the shells and reloaded the scrap ammo. I had reloaded faster than Obert and was waiting for him so we could fire on the last bottle. I noticed one last half submerged can, and thought I would quick draw to see how fast and how close I could place a bullet.
A typical holster rig has a leather thong tying the end of the holster to the leg. This thong helps keep the holster ridged so when you pull the revolver out it the holster doesn’t jam the action and twist the pistol awkwardly. My Ruger was a single action, meaning the hammer must be pulled by the thumb to a full cock position before the trigger is pulled. Everything must be perfectly timed; draw the weapon, cock the hammer, aim the barrel, and then pull the trigger. Things can go very wrong if you get things out of order. Now, I had probably practiced thousands upon thousands of times, with no bullets in the gun, and I had even done this hundreds of times with bullets. However, this time I had failed to tie the holster to my leg.
The holster twisted and the barrel got caught causing the whole gun to twist in my hand. The twisting of the gun caused my thumb to slip off the hammer before it was fully drawn back so it fell back to the chambered bullet. Normally this might not have had enough force to fire the round, but this time it did. The bullet fired, the barrel was pointed directly at my leg but still in the holster. The lead penetrated the holster leather, then went through the belt part of the holster, then went through the last fold of the holster leather, that’s a total of three thick pieces of leather. The bullet kept going and went through my corduroy jeans right between the ridges, then entered my leg muscle only to hit my thigh bone, break up into six or seven pieces and bounce lower into my thigh muscle. All this happened in an instant. And of course I didn’t know any of this at the time.
All I knew was that I was focused on the can, I drew the gun, I heard a noise, and then suddenly I was flying forward through the air in a huge somersault, landing on my back in the mud several feet below me with my feet in the pond, and my gun still in my hand. I was very confused, how did I get down here? The gun went off and maybe the recoil hit my leg, knocking me off balance? That seemed unlikely, but here I was in the mud and I couldn’t move my right leg. After several seconds I thought the worst and called out to Obert telling him, “Obert, I’m shot!”
I twisted around to see that Obert was still putting the last rounds into his gun. He looked over to where I should have been, and seemed confused because the sound of my voice was coming from somewhere else, and then returned his focus to loading his gun. “Obert, I’m shot!”, I repeated. He finally looked down into the pit to see me lying in the mud spread eagled. “Um, no you’re not, I didn’t hear anything!”
For a split second this comforted me, perhaps I wasn’t shot, maybe I slipped. But I had heard the shot. “Besides, where is the blood?”, he said. That’s right, there was no blood! At least I didn’t see any blood. Maybe I was knocked down? That didn’t quite explain why I couldn’t move my leg. “You’re not shot!”, Obert declared once more. Not willing to argue with him, but I did ask why was I lying in the mud? That did seem to raise a question so he responded, “So where is the hole?”
Good point, where was the bloody hole, or the bloodless hole as it may be. I looked and couldn’t find anything. I couldn’t move my leg, there was no pain, it was just completely disconnected, brain signals couldn’t get through, it just lay there, I could feel things, I could wriggle my toes, but I couldn’t move it at all. I removed my holster and belt. Once I inspected it I could see the hole through three thicknesses of leather, my stomach felt I little queasy. I suppose I was still hoping to find a flattened bullet stopped by that last thickness of leather, but leather isn’t bullet proof, not even for small .22 caliber bullets. It was in my leg. I still couldn’t find any blood and I still couldn’t see where the bullet went through my pants. “Okay, maybe the gun fired in your holster, but you just got knocked down there. I still say you are not shot!”, Obert repeated a third time.
Maybe I wasn’t! Only one thing to do us pull my pants down to check my leg. Kind of hard to do without being able to move my right leg, but I rolled around and slipped my pants to my knees. Checking my thigh I saw a small round hole rimmed with what looked to be charcoal, seeping just a small amount of blood, no more than a scratch worth. “See,” I yelled triumphantly, “There’s the hole!”. For a moment it was more important that I had won the argument, Obert brought me back to reality by asking if there was an exit wound. I had heard about how small entrance wounds could be and how huge the exit wound might be. I quickly looked at the inside of my thigh. Not knowing the exact angle I didn’t know exactly where where to look, it was possible that it was further down but also possible that it was further up. I really didn’t want it to be further up. I couldn’t find anything and that was a relief, except now I had a vision that the bullet was still in my leg, and we had to make a fire, heat up a pocket knife and cut it out. Or maybe, just go to the emergency room. First I had to get my pants back up and Obert had to drag my out of the pond. “Obert, get me out.”
It seemed like a normal request, but I could see that Obert now seemed unsettled, he was suddenly dancing around, moving his weight from one leg to the other. The reality was that his friend was wounded, lying on his back in the mud, and he had to do something. He had to drag me out, carry me with all the weapons over several hills to the car, and then drive to the hospital. Or maybe, just maybe, he had to go to the bathroom. It was the latter. I waited in the mud.
Soon, Obert was dragging me up to dry ground and jointly we were pondering his ability to carry me over several hills to the waiting car. Not good, the hills were steep and muddy. There was a road next to the train tracks that fisherman used and perhap track workman, it wasn’t very wide and it was full of potholes and water but if the gate was open Obert could drive several miles north and get access to the road. It was a lot faster than dragging me over the hills. It was agreed, he would try to find the access road, and if he found the police he would have them unlock the gate.
So, I was made as comfortable as possible, some mud scraped off here and there, and Obert strapped on all the weapons and headed over the hill towards the parked station wagon. As he calmly walked away I was thinking how lucky I was that it wasn’t my father’s gun- that .38/357 magnum would gave blown right through the right thigh, breaking bones, tearing flesh, blasting through the main artery on the inside if the thigh, tearing through the artery on the left leg, smashing the bone on the left leg, then leaving my bone and perhaps hitting Obert who was standing next to me. If it had been my father’s gun we might both be bleeding to death in thus mud hole.
Thankfully, it was my .22 and perhaps the round was a tiny .22 short, not much power and maybe the bullet was just under the skin. My mother used to tell me about the time she accidently shot herself in the right foot while squirrel hunting with my father. It was a .22 as well, and it cut through her bootlaces right where they crossed and entered the top of her foot, but didn’t go through the sole of the boot. My father took her to the doctor and they removed the boot and he probed the wound trying to find the bullet. It was very painful and he couldn’t find the bullet because it went entirely through her foot, but was stopped by the silk stocking that she wore. She used to show me the scar. Now I had one just like it on my thigh. Visions of a heated knife or a stainless steel probe was still in my future.
Suddenly, I snapped out of my thoughts and saw that Obert, was still calmly walking to the hill. “Obert, I’m shot. You can run if you want.”. I knew he was trying to stay calm and collected, but I wanted out of there. Then Obert was at a semi run heading for the hills. I looked near the top and I could a man apparently walking his German shepherd. it was clear that in several minutes he would meet Obert climbing up. The distance was too great for me to hear anything but the dog’s barking, but I could see that Obert was gesturing to me and perhaps the distant parked car, and then he pointed to the road next to the railroad track.
Obert was asking directions. Now, in general that is not bad thing, but I had driven with Obert for years in lots of strange places. Acting as navigator I calmly gave drections, “Turn left here! Right at the next stop!” And almost half the time Obert would follow my directions. The other half he would do just the opposite, suggesting that perhaps he was dyslexic, but now that I think back, there were plenty of times that he just plowed straight on so, maybe the left/right confusion is not accurate. He was just…Obert! I was doomed.
Now he was getting very accurate, lengthy directions, with lots of arm waving and pointing from a man with a dog. I wanted to scream “Go find a policeman!”, but I wasn’t sure I could be heard. I knew in my heart that it would be hours before I’d see Obert. Perhaps I would be dead from internal bleeding. Could there even be internal bleeding in the leg? I didn’t know.
Eventually Obert disappeared over the hill and the man with the dog came down the hill, and I expect he was coming over to aid me in some way. Naturally the dog got to me first but not before he waded through the muddy hole and pond. Max was his name and he stood over me panting and dripping swamp water for several minutes before his owner came up.
I was wrong about the aid, the owner stopped about twenty feet short, and then whistled for the dog, and then threw a ball. After several minutes of throwing the ball he said, “Yeah, when I was younger I used to come down here to shoot.” He never even looked at me when he said it, in fact he was moving away towards the bay while continuing to throw the ball. I just looked at him and then down the tracks in the direction where I had hoped to see my rescue. Except by now I thought that Obert was lost in the maze of streets near the tracks in the next town. It would be dark before he came. There was also some considerable pain went I moved, not that I had any control of the actual leg, but if i raised up to see down the road then sharp pains would register from some unknown place, which might be my right leg. There was no question that I was not going to hobble out of here on my own. Periodically Max would come over with the ball and drip swamp water on me.
Minutes passed. More minutes passed, almost an hour later I heard a rumbling down the road. A vehicle was coming at high speed, pounding and bumping it’s way next to the railroad tracks. I could see that the man, and the dog, could see what I still could not see. It must be Obert, it has to be him. Then I saw the trusty old Ford enter my field of vision, drive straight on past me, and head further down the tracks. Just like that, he was gone.
No, wait, he slides to a stop, spins the car in reverse, turns around and pulls up near me. Obert then calmly gets out and walks around to where I was sitting. “Okay, let’s get going!” My hero then picks me up and carries me to the passenger seat only to find the door locked, and the keys still in the ignition. So, he sets me down, calmly walks around to turn the car off and get the keys. Back around on my side, he unlocks the door, swings it open then turns to pick me up. That’s when Max, remember Max? Max then jumps into the front seat, dripping his swamp water and barking. The owner was several hundred yards away, walking slowly in our direction. Obert set me down once more and moved to drag Max out of the front seat. Max moved willingly and Obert came back to pick me up, preparing to set me down on the damp swampy seat, except he couldn’t, because Max had already jumped back in. Perhaps he was tired of playing ball and wanted a ride home. Fortunately the owner had now come and could keep Max from jumping back in. “I see you found the gate, lucky that it was open,” he said.
Yeah, real lucky. Finally Obert got me in and then he climbed into the driver’s seat. All we had to do is start the car. That again would normally be an easy process. For some reason I have never had friends with cars that started reliably. Michael had a Studebaker that would never start until I opened the glove compartment and sang “Maria” from West Side Story. It’s true that the old Ford was warm and had just been running, but there was always the chance of flooding out. It didn’t, it roared into life and we were soon bumping and sliding down the road.
I was grabbing my leg to hold it still through the bouncing, but I didn’t have quite enough hands to keep me from sliding around around on the wet, muddy bench seat of the Ford. At some point I was sliding into Obert, and then just as suddenly bashing back into the passenger door.
Splashing through the various mud puddles were throwing great gobs of mud and debris on the hood and windshield, and it was getting difficult to see around the little mud islands. I was just thinking that it would be good to wipe them off the windshield when I realized that it would probably blank out the entire view. Obert was saying that he wasn’t going to stop to find a policeman, that he intended to drive straight for the emergency room. I nodded and just then noticed Obert reaching for the windshield wiper knob. Before I could say anything the screen was entirely brown, with not a hint of daylight. We both screamed loudly to roll the windows down. Obert leaned out the left side, and stuck my head out the best I could on the right. Somehow between the yelling and screaming we kept the vehicle in the center of the road until we got to the pavement where we had to make a right turn onto the paved city street.
Fishtailing and sliding around the corner we maintained our heads out the window, but for safety’s sake Obert begin pounding on the car’s horn at the intersections.
A quick stop at a gas station failed to clear the windshield, so we determined to drive the several miles to my home to pick up my mother, to provide insurance information for the trip to the emergency room. Obert furiously pounding the horn at every intersection. Oddly enough we attracted no police because we were looking forward to an escort.
Soon the mechanical connection of the horn gave out under the abuse, the horn’s button detached and under the spring’s pressure it flew at Obert’s head, just missing his eye and landed deep in the back boot. The spring was just dangling out of the steering column like a decapitated jack-in-the-box. Oh yeah, and the horn was stuck on, loudly proclaiming our presence to all within several miles.
Once at the hospital, we got into the emergency and the professionals took over while Obert went back out to the parking lot to disconnect the battery.
I was first sent to have an x-ray, and then I was preparing myself for the probe and the hot butcher knife. Waiting in the emergency room, laying on my back I began to think about what had gone wrong, how was I going to explain this to my parents and friends, and what the hell was that blood doing on the ceiling tiles?
After the police discovered that I was not part of a gangland shooting I was left to explain to my parents how I came to be shot, and to prepare them for a son who will likely have his right leg amputated. We waited for the doctor for almost an hour.
Finally he came in waving the x-ray and he said with a calm but defined voice, “You’ve been shot.”. Yes? “and the bullet has bounced against the bone breaking up in five or six pieces spreading throughout the leg muscle.” Yes? “And perhaps in twenty or thirty years the shrapnel will work themselves to the surface and you’ll scratch it with a fingernail and pullout a piece of lead.”
Yes? No hot knife, no bloody painful probe?
“Go home and see your family doctor in a couple of days.”
What? I couldn’t believe it. I was shot and they couldn’t do a thing. I had more care given when I had the flu. So, nothing to do but go home.
By the time college classes started I was walking like a duck with the aid of a cane. It took several months to have full control with no pain. I’m still checking my leg to see “shrapnel”.