I feel the situation sliding towards hopelessness, like that day Francis and I were trapped in the fire station with an unconscious Zoey slowly bleeding to death in the back of that derelict ambulance.
Francis. I think wistfully. Where are you now? Keeping the others safe, I hope. I sure could use some of your single-minded focus about now.
“Damn it all, Bill!” Donovan blurts out in exasperation. “You got us in here! Think of something! Didn’t you used to be some sort of special forces soldier? Didn’t they train you people to make explosives and stuff?
“Donovan,” I say with resignation. “Improvised munitions would have had zero tactical value in the kinds of operations we were running. And it’s not like the average Vietnamese household had things like potassium nitrate just lying around. That I could use. With that and a couple of pounds of sugar, I could make a bomb. But Donovan, it‘s not like in the movies. You can't just mix Draino and tile cleaner and make an explosive. Even if we could, setting off something like that in a room this size would be suicide. The window would be blown open, but we wouldn’t be alive to take advantage of it. We don’t want a violent explosion right now. We need something to exert slow, steady pressure against those boards. Like a pry bar.”
“Or a car jack,” Donovan responds, absently.
“Or a bag lift,” I add, my mind still on Francis and the fire station.
“A bag lift. Fire departments and rescue personnel use them to jack up building debris or wrecked vehicles to free victims. It’s funny, because just now I was thinking about the last time I was in a fire station and Francis wouldn’t give up and how he …..
“... how he?”
“.... how he was just too bull-headed to give up,” I begin slowly, my mind racing to make a connection that’s just beyond my grasp. “And how what we needed more than anything just then was a jump starter, so Francis made one out of something that had no business being a jump starter.”
“Yeah, but we can’t use a jump starter right now, Bill.”
“No Donovan,” I agree, it suddenly coming to me. All the pieces, right before my eyes. “You’re absolutely right. But we could use a bag lift, couldn’t we? Right between the hurricane fencing and the boards behind that window!” Ducking back under the quivering shower curtain rod, I throw open the small towel closet and withdraw the air mattress, unused, still in it‘s packaging.
“Bill,” Donovan says, looking at the packaged air mattress doubtfully. “Those things are meant to be inflated with an electric pump. It’ll take us a half an hour to blow that up ourselves.”
“You’re wrong about that, Donovan. We can blow it up ourselves, a lot more quickly and with a hell of a lot more pressure than any electric pump.” I’m kneeling at the bathroom vanity again, opening the doors to the cleaning supplies underneath. “And you were the one that had the idea for it!”
“A bomb? I thought you said we couldn’t - ”
“ - Not a bomb exactly,” I correct, locating and withdrawing the box of baking soda and the jug of vinegar. “But a very energetic chemical reaction. Something that produces a lot of gas, very quickly.”
Working together, we unpackage the air mattress and unscrew the large nozzle designed to accept an air pump. I pour the entire box of baking soda through the open air nozzle, where it settles into the interior of the air mattress. “Get as much of that air mattress between the barricade and the hurricane fencing next to the window glass! And hurry!”
Hastily, Donovan feeds the limp folds of the uninflated air mattress through the gap at the top of the window frame. “Leave a few inches around the air nozzle hanging out,” I direct, uncapping the jug of vinegar.
“You hold the nozzle up and I’m going to pour as much of this vinegar into it as I can. It’s going to start bubbling like crazy. But Donovan, when I say to, you have to screw that air nozzle closed and you have to stuff the rest of the mattress completely behind those boards. If you don’t, we won't contain the pressure and the mattress will rupture before it can bust through these boards. Got that?
Daylight streams in through the gap created by the missing board, a tantalizing hint of the possibilities lying just inches beyond. It illuminates Donovan’s face as he grimly nods to me in understanding.
I begin pouring and almost instantly I can hear hissing coming through the air nozzle, and from within the mattress behind the window barricade. “Get ready, Donovan!” I empty a little less than half of the jug into the air mattress before a frothy mixture begins spewing vigorously back out of the nozzle. Not nearly as much vinegar got into the mattress as I had hoped. It’ll have to do. “Now Donovan! Close it off!“
His fingers a blur, Donovan begins twisting the nozzle cap closed. At first, he misaligns the threads, but without a trace of panic, he deftly backs the cap off, ignores the steadily increasing volume of bubbling liquid spewing around the cap, and then begins tightening again, closing it off tight. I drop the vinegar jug and working together, we half roll, half stuff the remaining several inches of the air mattress within the confines of the window frame behind the boards.
We back away as the barricaded window emits a squealing sound, escalating in pitch, as the rubberized mattress material expands to fill the last voids behind the boards. Then we hear the brittle crackling of the window pane behind the hurricane fencing starting to give way, followed by the groaning of wood screws straining to hold the wooden boards in place against the window frame.
“Bill, what happens if the glass cuts open the air mattress?”
“Then it vents off the pressure, the boards stay in place and we both die.”
“I hope it doesn’t cut it open then.”
The sounds of the straining woodscrews, splintering glass and squealing of the air mattress are approaching a crescendo when I think to warn my companion.
“Uh, Donovan? You know how I said it wasn’t possible to make a real bomb with what we have in here?”
“Yeah, so?” Donovan relies, looking intently at the window barricade.
“Well, I think I might have sort of outdone myself.”
“What to you mean?”
“I mean, DUCK!” I scream and bodily throw Donovan into the bath tub and jump on top of him, smashing my nose against the bath faucet in the process.