The Kentucky Caver Quarterly Proceedings of the
Bluegrass Grotto: the North Central Kentucky Area Chapter of the National Speleological Society
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 vol. 41. iss. 1, March 2006
of a very dull party.  And now the party was over. 

I asked J.R. if he’d like to check out the scene at the greenhouse and he said sure, just let him refill his White Russian, and he started the painful journey upstairs.  But then the anxious deputy asked if he could snag a ride with me.  Space in the already bursting Nissan was less than accommodating and the deputy was not exactly petite, so I told J.R. I’d be back for him after I dropped off the deputy.  How could I have known how quickly Fate would make a liar of me?

The greenhouse scene was hopping.  It looked as if a parking lot carnival was in full swing as we drove up, slack-jawed with amazement the both of us.  Cars parked willy-nilly, an officer directing traffic with a flashlight-baton, the thunderous whopping of the helicopter, the urgent growl of generators, an unearthly pink-orange blaze of halogen lamps, and the bustle of people as animated and feverishly occupied as an anthill riven by a plow—all of this chaos was a staggering contrast to the lonely vigil in front of Dorothy’s.  How could such furor have been going on all this time without our knowing it, without our hearing nary a peep of the cacophonous uproar we were now confronting?  The first thing I learned was that the rescue was definitely NOT over.  If anything, it was just beginning to come to a roiling boil. 

The deputy whisked me through the tumult to talk to the sheriff and the rescue personnel coordinators.  The roar of the combined elements was deafening; I understood more by gesture than by word.  I gathered that I was to lead in the next rescue party immediately, the fourth to enter thus far.  Though I had heard Jim Currens’ distinctive voice call my name as I’d stepped from the car, I had not yet picked out one familiar face in the throng.  Then, all at once, I was surrounded by them.

Chris Reynolds was trying to jockey his truck through the ever-shifting maze of folk and vehicles.  Tom Crockett stepped into view, telling Chris to park up at the house.  But Chris found a place beside the fire truck, and the two of them joined me at the knot of rescue organizers.  Anthony Dean walked up shortly after them, his usually cheerful face stricken with seriousness; Annette Durbin stood close beside him. 

Tom summarized the important details of the accident, but it wasn’t registering in its entirety against the din.  Who fell?” I yelled.  “Mike Harrington’s brother, Gregg,” and the realization went through me like a gunshot.  I had written Mike to remind him of the meeting, told him we’d go caving together, that we’d go caving together today.  I was late; they went caving without me.  “Everybody else is out already,” Tom yelled back at the blank stare I must have been giving him.  “Everybody but Mike.  He’s still underground with Gregg.”  And I stood there for a moment, held by the sardonic thought, “And so we shall, my friend; so we shall go caving together after all.” 

I noticed a clutch of shivering young people (so old have I become!) wrapped in khaki-colored blankets beside an emergency vehicle.  I approached them, recognizing Brian Heckman and Alan Abt among them.  They told me what had happened.  I need not repeat the story here as John Young’s harrowing trip report is more than ample testimony.*  This was no longer a faceless chore for improvident strangers.  This was suffering friends on a trip that would not have happened had I typed a little faster, had I come to Sloan’s when I said I would, had I...  “Goddamn,” I said, just as I became another, more formidable person.  A person ready for hellfire, if hellfire be met.  The transformation was instantaneous and good thing, too, because all at once the pace was ragtime. 

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