A week of constant whining and pleading with the boss to grant him a weekend off had finally paid off. Oscar capitulated and complied with Steve’s request. Much to his surprise, Oscar even accepted his invitation to join him on his spring fishing trip to Braxton, Maryland.
At the break of dawn, Steve picked up Oscar at his house and drove to the river.
With fishing rods in one hand, the tackle box of ammunitions in another and a rolled blanket underneath their arms, they walked toward Steve’s favorite spot near some rapids.
“This is my favorite spot. I come here every year at around this time. The river is teeming with fish; they practically jump in your lap,” Steve boasted to Oscar who was yawning his head off.
“Ah, that’s nice.”
“For the past two years that I’ve known you, Oscar, I always figured you for an early bird.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, pal. I’m a night owl. I work better at night.”
“If I’d known I wouldn’t have sounded the clarion at four.”
“The fish bite better at dawn, don’t they?”
“That’s what we’re here for, to catch fish. I bet you I can hook a bigger smackeroo than you can.”
“Why Oscar? You care to put some money on it?”
“Sure. A hundred?”
The two men shook hands and sealed the deal with a clap on each other’s backs. They moved to the riverbank where they sat on the blankets and baited their hooks.
Two hours later, Oscar was still reeling them in with an ebullient enthusiasm that grated on Steve’s nerves. He was having a good sulk at his rotten luck.
“Hey Steve! Are you sure you got a bait on that hook of yours?” Oscar teased.
“Don’t rile me, Oscar. It’s just a temporary setback. Besides I think you’re a jinx. You’re scaring all my fish away. I’ve never bringing you here again.”
“Ahhhhhh, and just as I was about to suggest we do this more often.” Oscar managed to wring a lopsided grin from Steve, one that a young boy’s shrill quickly wiped off.
“Help!” he screamed over the roaring water.
Steve zoomed in on the thirteen-year-old blond caught in the raging torrent. He removed his shoes and waded into the icy cold water, then swam out to the drowning boy. Oscar and the frantic father sidled along the riverbank, keeping their eyes fastened on the hero seizing his victim by the collar as he was being submerged. Steve struggled to keep afloat as the bionic mechanism in his arm and legs were gradually failing due to the freezing water.
Oscar and the father made their way towards Steve who had managed to swim halfway to the bank with the boy in one hand while barely clinging to a rock with the other. He handed the boy over to Oscar who in turn, gently put the quivering blond in his father’s arms. As the father returned to the land, Oscar extended his arm to Steve who tried in vain to grab it, but his numb limb made him lose his grip. The strong current hurled him backwards onto a rock where he smacked his head and passed out.
Oscar watched, helpless, while the torrent carried his friend’s body down the rapids, until a large tree truck lying across the river halted its course. Oscar waded his way to him and dragged him out of the freezing water.
He eased him down on the grass and pressed two fingers on his neck before he plastered one ear against his chest. The absence of breath prompted Oscar to stabilize Steve’s neck by gingerly tilting the head back, then pinched his nose and started mouth-to-mouth for resuscitation while keeping a finger on the carotid. He began CPR.
“Come on, breathe dammit! Breathe!”
When that failed to provide results, he rolled Steve onto his stomach, arms alongside the body, and started kneading his fists into Steve’s lower back in an upward motion in order to release the water from his lungs.
“Don’t you give up now! I won’t let you. Come on, get it out!”
He continued his massage for a good minute, which seemed like an hour to Oscar, before Steve regurgitated and coughed. When the crisis passed, he gently turned him on his back, just as the boy’s father was hurrying towards them with a blanket.
“Hallahan, Tim Hallahan,” He answered breathlessly, extending his arm to shake Oscar’s hand.
Hallahan took the blanket and spread over Steve’s shivering body. “Is he alright?”
“I don’t know. But the main thing is that he’s breathing. How’s your boy?”
“He’s alive. Thanks to him.”
Hallahan and his son were driven by ambulance to the nearest hospital, while Oscar and Steve were airlifted to Rudy’s lab.
By late evening, Steve’s unconsciousness worried Rudy about possible brain damage due to the lack of oxygen to the brain.
“Any change?” Oscar asked as he entered Steve’s room.
“No,” Rudy sighed. “How long was he under water?”
“I don’t know. I’d say close to two minutes.”
“How long before he started breathing?
“It seemed like an eternity, but I’d say roughly a minute.”
“If your calculation is correct, he should be alright.”
“Course I’m alright,” Steve muttered as his eyes flickered open.
Both Oscar and Rudy leaned over him with broad smiles.
“Steve, can you hear me?” Rudy asked expectantly.
Steve blinked heavily and moaned his answer.
“Do you know who I am?”
Steve nodded weakly.
“Do you recognize that handsome face over there?” he teased, motioning to Oscar standing on the opposite side of the bed.
Steve tilted his head to stare at Oscar with a frown, prompting the two men to exchange a worried look.
“Did you say handsome?” Steve mocked with a faint wink.
“Ah, you!” Oscar playfully swiped Steve on the shoulder. “You know who won the bet, don’t you?”
“Sorry Oscar, I have a bit of amnesia.”