Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
The call came into the patrol about midmorning – somebody injured just above Lift No. 6. As I snapped the buckles closed on my boots and started for the door, an updated dispatch arrived: The downed party was the Shah of Iran.
“No big deal,” I thought, “we treat ’em all the same.”
A crowd greeted me when I arrived, and it wasn’t a curious group of onlookers. Just like in the Old West movies with tales of covered wagons, his security detail had formed a defensive circle around him, times two. Getting through that entanglement provided a new wrinkle to emergency care on Aspen Mountain, and before I was permitted to face the patient, I had to allow inspection of my ski pass. No one except me spoke coherent English.
These were the kind of guys one didn’t argue with, in any language, and as I finally got through the perimeter, there lay a guy about 7-feet tall, short-trimmed salt-and-pepper beard, with a kind look upon his face. But the cold eyes spoke of a professionalism nurtured from birth. Nope, it wasn’t the Shah, but one of his body guards, with a badly injured knee.
About then, Gary Gagne arrived on the scene, hauling the toboggan behind. Gagne, native son of Aspen’s longtime dry cleaning family, was something to behold in his own right. The loss of an eye in a military wreck and the resulting black patch had earned him the nickname, “Dead-eye,” and for what he lacked in vertical height, he fully compensated for in absolute testicular bravado.
“Gagne, just show ’em your pass,” I hollered. “Then throw me a splint and figure out how we’re gonna squeeze this guy into the rig.” As it turned out, being “too big” wasn’t much of a problem for these guys, for there was likely little in the average world that was made to accommodate them. With some expertise on our part and a lifetime of dealing with their unique problem on theirs, we loaded the sled with their fallen comrade and took off.
By now, we’d settled into a routine of dealing with this rather different scenario, and on some level, I suppose, felt comforted by the additional body guard that accompanied us down Spar. But, just as a sick elk attracts predators, it was possible we had become part of the now-vulnerable Achilles Heel of the Shah’s life-support system.
It’s a little known fact, but Gagne and I had married women from back East, both of whom were alumni of the same elite girl’s boarding school. What this has to do with a story of such magnitude about Iran is questionable, other than to note that my wife’s one-time roommate at that private school was, at the moment of our daring rescue, engaged to marry the king of another Middle East country. We couldn’t piece it together at the time, but as we descended the mountain, a universal karma of some ethereal origin held us all ephemerally together in a circle of humanistic familiarity.
As we neared a relatively flat spot alongside the Aspen Alps condos, the upright of the two bodyguards (and they could have been brothers) flagged us to stop. In a heartbeat, I saw trouble, but kept my nonexistent mastery of the Farsi language under my tongue. Gagne, realizing our position, resigned himself to weighing the options.
Things were quickly coming unraveled and while my charge fled toward the condos, the patient with the injured knee and glacial eyes began unwrapping himself from the toboggan and I could sense Gagne’s concern start to escalate. “What the hell did we get into?” The ambulatory dude hurried back from their quarters, discreetly flashing two $100 bills, with a faint grin.
It was a language we all understood, and against existing rules, we helped our patient hobble off Little Nell, back into a world in which he felt comfortable.
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