Word prompt — “Dumped” (Based on a true event from 1984.)
Angry and upset, Bradley strode from the office building. The meeting had not gone as he hoped. The marketing deal did not go through. Sam, his boss, would not be happy. Bradley decided not to prolong the inevitable and pulled out his cell. Head down, focused on his phone, Bradley didn’t see the man sitting on the sidewalk until he tripped over him.
“What the hell? You idiot! You better hope my cell phone isn’t broken!” Bradley jumped to his feet and checked out his cell, turning it over in his hands. The screen wasn’t damaged, but there was a small scratch on the titanium case.
“Son of a bitch! Do you have any idea how much this phone cost me?” He smirked at the unresponsive man. “Of course, you don’t. I’ll bet you know the price of the cheapest bottle of wine the liquor store sells though, huh?”
The disheveled man remained silent, but Bradley Harper noticed his shoulders slump. He leaned toward him.
The clothes he wore were not his own. The coat, too hot and heavy for summer, was at least two sizes too large. The pants stopped just below his calves, leaving his long, pale, ashen legs exposed. Ragged white socks covered his feet, but instead of shoes, he wore light slippers.
“What’s wrong with you? Can’t you talk?” The man said nothing. Bradley glanced around the trendy Inland Empire business square. People went about their day. No one paid any attention to them.
“The cops are good about keeping this area clear of your kind. How did you get this far downtown without being stopped?”
The man mumbled something, still not meeting Bradley’s gaze.
“Oh, great! A homeless drunk who makes no sense. I do not have time for this bullshit. I’ll let the cops deal with you, buddy.” Bradley backed away from the man, looking around the area for security. More mumbled words caught his ear. “Are you saying something?”
He tried to nod, but Bradley noticed the movement caused the man’s whole body to shake.
“I don’t have time for this! I need to get back to my office and find out if I still have a job.”
The man struggled to remove something from his pocket. Without raising his head, he thrust a handful of folded papers in Bradley’s direction.
Exhaling with a growl, the harried advertising executive shook his head, walked back to the man and took the papers from his outstretched hand. Bradley unfolded the thick bundle and read, his brow furrowed. Bradley’s eyes widened at the information the documents held.
“These are hospital discharge papers. Dated today.”
One nod from the silent man.
Bradley read on. “You’re Patrick Peterson?”
Another single nod.
“You spent the last three days in San Antonio Regional Hospital with pneumonia and they discharged you this morning.” Bradley frowned. “But how did you get here?”
“Van? A van brought you here? What kind of van? Why?”
“Hospital… van. No insurance.”
“Patrick? Are you telling me the hospital discharged you and dumped you on the street because you have no insurance?”
“Son of a bitch! Those heartless bastards! This can’t be legal! Damn! Patrick, I’m sorry about my-”
A violent coughing spasm wracked Patrick’s body. Bradley could hear the wet, phlegmy infection rattle in the gaunt man’s chest and throat. Patrick’s body convulsed. Bradley Harper thought the man might lose consciousness.
“You’re still sick. They dumped you on the street… and you’re still sick.” Bradley shook his head. “This is too fucked up for words.”
Patrick thrust his head back, gasping for air. The movement helped, and the coughing subsided, but his breathing was so shallow, Patrick rested his upturned head against the building taking in as much air as he could.
Bradley saw the chain around his neck. He waited a few more minutes for the coughing to stop.
“Patrick, were you military?”
Bradley fumed. This was no way to treat someone who served their country.
“Why didn’t they take you to the Veteran’s hospital?”
“Don’t want me… too much trouble.”
“You’re too much trouble for your family? What the hell?” Bradley caught himself and gave Patrick an inquisitive look. “Why does your family feel you’re too much trouble?”
Patrick hesitated. He clenched and unclenched his emaciated hands several times before allowing them to rest limply on the sidewalk.
Bradley wasn’t surprised by Patrick’s answer. “Are you violent?”
Patrick shook his head. “I… never… hurt anyone.”
Frustrated, Bradley waved the papers around like a mad man.
“Man, I don’t understand! If you’re not violent, how are you too much trouble? Why did your family just turn their backs? That’s some evil bullshit!”
For the first time since Bradley tripped over him, Patrick raised his head and looked Bradley in the face. The haunted look of the ex-Marine’s piercing, ice blue eyes shocked and saddened the concerned accountant.
“Because… I’m not myself. Voices… from that morning… fire fight. First lieutenant. Sargent. Hollenbeck. All gone.”
Bradley watched as the distraught man’s eyes pooled with tears.
“It plays on repeat in my… head. No one… can make it… stop.” Fatigued from illness and conversation, the poor man slumped back against the building.
Compassion and anger battled inside Bradley Harper. This man served his country and watched his team die. He was blessed to be alive himself… to return home and live on the streets. Patrick Peterson deserved better. He deserved treatment. He deserved proper care. Patrick deserved respect, not to be treated like trash.
There was no way Bradley could walk away from Patrick. He had nowhere to go. Bradley knew if he abandoned the sick man, it would only be a matter of days before his lifeless body was found.
Pulling out his cell again, Bradley scrolled to Sam’s name and clicked Call. He wasn’t concerned with the customer inside the building or any damn contract. Bradley wasn’t even concerned about his job for the moment.
Sam Lemmer was a retired Marine and would know how best to help Patrick. It took little to send the former Captain off on a tangent about the country’s treatment of its military personnel. Meeting Patrick and hearing his story would be spark enough to set the decorated war hero into action.
Light snores caused Bradley to glance down at the abandoned man.
“Don’t worry, buddy. You’ll never sleep on a sidewalk again.”