Heller walked into Whelen Sporting Goods. He needed to replenish his supply of ammo.
There were very few full-service sporting goods stores within 30 miles of where Heller lived. There were even fewer that offered low prices and extraordinary service. In fact, there was only one, Whelen Sporting Goods which was a regional chain.
Walking back to the most remote corner of the store, Heller spotted his favorite salesman, Dusty. Not only was Dustin cordial but he was very, very well informed about firearms. And it wasn't "magazine smart". It was time-behind-the-trigger smart.
“Hey Dusty, how’s it hangin’” Heller asked.
“Its been better, Heller. How about for you?” Dusty replied.
Heller cocked his head in consternation. Dusty, in spite of his handicaps was one of the most unfailingly cheerful people Heller had ever met.
“Whats going on for you?” Heller asked, completely ignoring Dusty’s question.
“It is my last day” Dusty said. “I got laid off.”
“What the hell…” Heller said. “What is that all about?”
“Look around. What do you see?” Dusty said.
Whelen’s always seemed to be “skinny” on the inventory side. Their philosophy was that if it didn’t sell in a couple of weeks to start marking it down. They figured that feeding frenzies worked in their favor.
But now the inventory was broken. There was almost nothing on the racks. What was there was clearly picked-over and dowdy or odd sizes. Looking at the shelves, there was very, very little ammo and almost no firearms.
“What happened?” Heller asked. "I thought this store printed money!"
“We got bought out by a ‘Capital management firm’ and they took out a boat-load of loans in our name. They passed the money through a firewall and then when they couldn’t get any more loans they cut us loose to sink” Dusty said.
“Pretty hard to keep the store stocked when most of your accounts are past 60 days payable. Suppliers stop shipping product” Dustin said. “They smell the blood in the water. The company is swirling the drain.”
Heller furrowed his eyebrows while he tried to absorb what Dusty said.
“Its like a girl-friend who runs the spurs into you to take out more credit cards. Then she maxes them out and then she dumps you. Who suffers?” Dusty asked.
“Its legal for companies to do that?” Heller asked, dumbfounded.
“Apparently so” Dusty said. “That is what Heroton Capital Management did to us.”
“I ain’t complaining. I had a good, fifteen years here. They hired me even though I was disabled. I will find something, even if it is flipping Whacker Burgers.”
“You know, I was always curious about why you need crutches. I hope you don’t mind if I ask...what happened?” Heller said.
Dusty’s eyes unfocused and he looked up at where the wall met the ceiling.
“It was a patrol in Falluja, just like the fifty other ones before. The route had been sanitized and it was supposed to be a walk in the park.”
“I was dismounted and an Improvised Explosive Device went off about 100 meters away. It had been tripped by a civilian and it tore him to pieces” Dusty said.
“A tiny bit of shrapnel...no bigger than the nail on your finger flew that hundred meters like a frisbee and hit me in the leg just above my knee” Dusty said.
Then Dusty pulled up the left leg of his cargo pants and showed Heller the tiny scar two inches above the back of his knee.
“I thought they could fix all of that?” Heller said.
“They can replace joints. They can repair bones and muscles. They can staple tendons to bones. But only God can repair nerves and he does it if-and-when he is ready. And mostly he ain’t” Dusty said.
“That is why the IRA used to ‘knee-cap’ stool pigeons. It wasn’t the bones...although that was bad enough. It was because the nerves never heal. Cut the nerves and the traitor will never walk again” Dustin said.
“But that isn’t your knee-cap” Heller objected.
“I don’t share this with a lot of people” Dustin said. “But I got religion after I got back from the sand-box. God knew what he was doing when he designed the human body. He ran the nerves right behind the big bone in the thigh and then split them apart to get them around the knee. The nerves are protected by the biggest bone in the body and then half go one way and the other half go the other way when the bone ends.”
“I would have been fine if the metal splinter had hit me from the front. My femur, the thigh-bone, would have stopped it. But I got hit from behind” Dustin said. “And that is an entirely different story.”
“Sounds like you studied it, some” Heller opined.
“Yeah. It helps give me a sense of control to know what happened” Dustin said. “The surgeon was more than happy to tell me about the anatomy and what I could do to minimize the effects of being a cripple.”
“According to him, it was a good thing the IRA didn’t understand how the nerves were actually routed. Knee-capping typically only severed half of the nerves when they shot the traitors in the knee-cap. It would have been far worse if they had blown off the lower end of the femur...two inches above the knee-cap. Then they would have wiped out all of the nerves to the lower leg” Dustin said.
Heller shook his head. “That absolutely sucks, man. I just wish there was something I could do for you.’
Dustin said, “I have never known prayers to hurt. You might give it a try.”
Heller wasn’t too sure. He wasn’t the praying type.
Heller bought out the last of the 9mm ammo and insisted on giving Dustin a $50 tip.