Chet Kelly leaned in close to the passenger side-view mirror and smiled wide, his teeth clenched together. The fireman had reported for duty already in uniform and was on his way to the dayroom, when he’d caught sight of the mirror and couldn’t resist checking out his improved appearance.
John Gage and his partner Roy DeSoto were crossing the apparatus bay behind the squad and engine, when Johnny noticed Chet beside the smaller truck. He nudged Roy in the side and pointed.
“Maybe he’s cleaning the mirror,” Roy suggested, not really believing it.
Johnny motioned for him to follow between the two vehicles. As they neared the preoccupied shiftmate, Gage cleared his throat.
Chet spun around and quickly reasoned why he was there. “I was just making sure there weren’t any spots on the glass.”
“Uh huh,” the younger paramedic said with a nod. “And were there?”
“Spots on the mirror.”
Roy quit listening to the exchange as he tried to figure out what was different about Kelly. There was something. . .
“Not anymore!” Chet smiled, pleased with his answer, which caused Gage’s jaw to drop.
“Chet! Wha’dya do?”
It certainly became clear to Roy what he’d been missing.
“I got my teeth whitened.”
Gage put up a forearm as if to shield his eyes from excessive light. “Man, where’s a guy’s sunglasses when he needs ‘um?”
“Cut it out. They aren’t that bright.”
Johnny peered closer, which made the other step back.
“Ah, c’mon, Chet.”
“Oh, this is that new thing that’s starting in Hollywood,” Roy said as he ignored the antics between the two. He turned to his partner. “Movie stars are going for this teeth whitening treatment some dentists are offering. In Beverly Hills. I read about it in the paper.”
Johnny looked to Chet. “You went to Beverly Hills? How much did you pay?”
The paramedics exchanged glances. They figured it was probably more than the average fireman could afford.
“Why?” Gage wondered. “We’re hardly ever on TV, and it’s sure not a close-up if we are.”
“No, but who says it has to be for TV? Girls dig a guy with a nice smile.”
“Yeah, and they’ll be so blinded from yours, they won’t know what the rest of ya looks like,” Johnny added with a giggle.
Chet watched as the two carried on their way, with Johnny glancing over his shoulder once with a chuckle, then turned to look at his bright smile in the mirror again.
Next Chet found himself the center of attention at roll call. . .with plenty of ribbing.
“You look like you’re related to the Osmond Brothers,” Mike said.
“I wouldn’t keep my mouth open too long in the sun if I were you, the reflection from it is liable to start a fire,” Marco added.
Not even the captain stayed out of it. “Kelly, can you tone it down some? I can’t keep focused on my notes.”
Johnny just patted the mustached fireman on back as he giggled at the comments.
Chet figured he’d get the last laugh when he had beautiful chics chasing after him, which he hoped wouldn’t take long to happen.
Shortly after morning chores were done, the klaxons sounded.
“Station 51, motor vehicle accident, 3114 W. Cyprus Avenue, three one one four West Cyprus Avenue, cross street 31st street, time out 10:05.”
The men scrambled from the dayroom to their respective vehicles, the captain first acknowledging the call at the podium in the apparatus bay.
In less than two minutes, the men were out of the station and on their way.
The incident turned out to be in the middle of an intersection. A man in a pickup truck had run a red light and smashed into the right front fender of a four-door sedan. The driver of the sedan was checked out by Roy while Johnny took care of the man who was at fault.
Marco assisted Johnny with his patient, who was seated on a safety blanket on the ground, while Chet hosed down the fluids leaking from the wrecked truck onto the pavement several feet away.
Luckily both drivers had their seatbelts in use at the time of the accident and avoided serious injury, though they’d still require a trip to Rampart.
Once the victims were seated in the back of the ambulance and ready for transport, Roy climbed inside with them. Johnny would follow behind in the squad.
“See you back at the station,” Captain Stanley said to Gage after the paramedic was situated in the driver’s seat of the rescue truck.
As he pulled away, Johnny caught a glimpse of Chet taking a quick peek at his bright smile in the sedan’s right side view mirror. The fireman’s job of hosing off the pavement had been completed earlier, thus his lapse in judgment wasn’t harmful. Just annoying to John.
“There’s gotta be a way to pull somethin’ over on ‘um with those teeth,” he said to himself as he drove off. He’d have to give it some thought.
Johnny met up with Roy as soon as he got to Rampart. The men headed for the base station, where head nurse Dixie McCall was in the midst of a conversation with Doctor Kel Brackett.
“How was the ride in?” Johnny asked his partner as they stepped up to Dixie’s desk.
“Quiet. With quite a few angry looks from Mr. Barnes directed at Mr. Hanson.”
“At least they didn’t fight.”
“Who’s that?” Dixie asked.
“Our latest recuees,” Johnny answered, and he went on to explain how the accident had happened. She already knew the two minorly-injured men were being brought in together.
“It may be better if we make sure to keep them apart here,” Brackett put in. “Not being in a confined place anymore where they really needed to behave, they may just let it all out now.”
The paramedics laughed slightly and nodded in agreement.
“Mr. Barnes said a lot while I was working on him at the scene,” Roy said. “But I’m sure he’d jump at the chance to lay into Mr. Hanson once they’re either close to being or are released.”
Just then a woman came walking very quickly toward the foursome, a worried expression on her face.
“Yes, can we help you?” Dixie offered.
“I hope so. My husband was brought in awhile ago. . .two of his co-workers brought him in with symptoms of a heart attack.”
The case immediately was familiar to both the doctor and nurse.
“You must be Nancy Litton,” Brackett said, extending his hand. “Kel Brackett,” he offered. “I assisted with your husband when he first arrived.”
“Is he okay? Where is he?”
“Your husband’s doing well so far. We were able to get him stabilized. But we’re going to need to keep him for observation. He’s in a room in the CCU where his condition can be monitored. A cardiologist . . .Doctor Brown. . . is caring for him now.”
Dixie stepped around the desk and put her left arm around the woman’s shoulders. “C’mon. I’ll take you up there. We’ll find the doctor and you can see your husband.”
“Oh thank you. I’ve been so worried. I would’ve been here sooner, but I wasn’t home when his boss first called. He just got a hold of me and I came right over.”
The three men watched as the two ladies headed for the elevator, then Johnny’s gaze shifted to something else. . .or someone. Two young nurses not far away were in the middle of a conversation and he couldn’t help but notice one’s teeth were so white when she smiled, they didn’t look real. He wondered if she went to the same place as Chet.
“You ready to go?” Roy asked his distracted partner.
“Back to the station. Are you ready to go back to the station. . .”
“Oh. . .Sure.”
“See you later, Doc,” Roy said as they stepped away.
“I’m sure you will,” the doctor said.
Johnny glanced over his shoulder once as they headed down the corridor toward the exit.
Man, her teeth are so white, I can still see ‘um from here!
He wondered just how big the fad was going to get.
When they got back to the station, the engine was already parked in the apparatus bay. Johnny and Roy climbed out of their squad and wandered into the dayroom, where the others were seated at the table.
“Have a seat, gentlemen,” Captain Stanley said, as he motioned with an open hand toward two empty chairs. “We could use your help.”
“What’s up?” Johnny asked as he pulled one of the chairs back from the table and sat in it in one swift motion.
Roy was about seated when the captain mentioned paperwork. He stopped in mid sit, then was up again when the klaxons sounded. It was a call for the paramedics.
“Squad 51, man down, 3123 West Pine Street, three one two three West Pine Street, time out 11:50."
The two trotted for their vehicle, while Mike Stoker acknowledged the call at the podium. Once they had the slip of paper with the information on it from him, Roy drove the squad into the street and away from the station.
“It’s all businesses there, isn’t it?”
Roy nodded. “The address belongs to our family dentist.”
The news brought a frown to Gage’s face.
The two adults in the waiting room of the dental office looked up in alarm when the two paramedics walked in, the biophone, drug box and oxygen canister in tow.
The receptionist who was behind an open window at a counter opposite the main entrance quickly disappeared from view. The twenty-three year old woman then peeked out from a doorway beside the window.
“This way,” she directed, her tone anxious.
The patrons continued to watch quietly as the door closed behind John and Roy.
One woman finally got to her feet and headed straight for the window to wait for the receptionist to return.
“I don’t know about you,” she said to the man seated one chair over from where she’d been. “But I’m canceling my appointment.”
The receptionist led Gage and DeSoto to a room three doors down the hallway.
“Nancy was working with Doctor Gleeson when she ran into the office and told me to call the fire department and wait there until someone came. . . that’s all I know.”
Roy was familiar with Nancy, a pretty young hygienist who assisted on his and his family’s mouths many times. He never thought of her as one to panic. He figured it must be pretty serious.
The paramedics followed the receptionist into the room. She immediately bolted toward the threesome already inside.
“Oh my gosh!”
The middle-aged dentist was in the chair with blood on his lips and chin. His very large burly male patient was standing to the side, a paper bib still clipped underneath his chin. Nancy was also beside the chair and turned to face the new arrivals as soon as the door opened. The expression on her face was fretful.
“It happened so fast!” she blurted out. “Just ‘bam!’ and the doctor was out!”
“What happened?” Roy questioned as he approached the chair.
“I’m afraid it’s my fault,” the large man offered. He rubbed the knuckles on his right hand.
Johnny looked from him to the dentist, who was clearly in a stupor.
Both paramedics were with the injured man right away, one on either side of the chair. The threesome stepped back to let them do their job; the receptionist then left to let the other patients know they’d need to reschedule their appointments and to wait for the ambulance to arrive. Little did she know at least one of their patients was a step ahead of her on the first task.
“Doctor Gleeson was just about to give Mister Rolland here a shot of Novocain, and all of a sudden he clobbered the doctor in the side of the head and he dropped to the floor,” Nancy told them.
As they worked on the injured man, the original patient went on to explain, “I’m a Dentophobiac. I’ve been suffering with a toothache for days now, so my therapist told me I needed to go to a dentist and face my fears. He was sure after months of therapy, I’d be okay.” The man frowned. “I guess he was wrong.”
“Doctor Gleeson, can you tell me how many fingers I’m holding up?” Johnny asked after he checked the dentist’s pupils with his penlight.
“F. . .four,” came a groggy answer.
Both Nancy and the burly man gasped.
“I’m sure he’ll be okay,” Roy said to the two after he’d finished giving the victim’s vitals and report of double vision to Rampart. “He’s got a concussion, but he’ll be in very capable hands at Rampart. They’ll take good care of him.”
Once the ambulance arrived and they had Gleeson secured on the stretcher, Johnny walked out with the ambulance attendants and the patient while Roy once again assured Nancy everything would be okay. He also found himself reassuring the tough on the outside, but obviously softer on the inside dentophobiac.
Johnny and Roy met up at the base station near Dixie’s desk once their patient was with a doctor.
“Early ordered a CT scan as a precaution. But he says Gleeson’ll need dental x-rays soon for sure. Looks like there’s a coupla loose teeth.” Gage shook his head. “Man, ironic, isn’t it? Poor guy takes in a new patient and now he’s in need of a dentist.”
“Yeah, I’m just glad it wasn’t any worse. I’ll call later to see how he’s doing.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
The two headed for the exit.
Roy was relieved to find out that the CT Scan on Doctor Gleeson cleared up any worry about injury from his brain getting jostled. He would just have to stay in the hospital a couple of days for observation. But with dizziness and nausea likely two of his problems, both paramedics doubted the dentist would object.
“Maybe Chet can hook Doctor Gleeson up with his dentist,” Johnny quipped.
Roy just rolled his eyes.
The following shift, Chet was still sporting a very bright white smile. But the others came prepared. When Captain Stanley gathered them for roll call, he as well as Gage, DeSoto, Lopez and Stoker all showed up sporting sunglasses.
“Very funny, guys,” Chet remarked. He reached out beside him to grab Johnny’s glasses off his face, but the paramedic pulled back in time to make Chet miss.
It wasn’t until the next roll call that they’d see the results of their prank. Chet showed up in sunglasses, which took the fun away from the others.
“You know what they say,” he reminded. “If you can’t beat ‘um, join ‘um.”
Which gave Johnny another idea; if only the rest of the crew would go along with it.
The next shift after having two days off, the morning started out like any other on duty might. Chet arrived at the station about the same time as Johnny, Roy and Marco. Thus the four men talked about their days away from the station while they changed into uniform in the locker room.
“So how’s the new white, bright smile workin’ with the chics, Chet?” Johnny wondered as he tucked in his blue shirt.
“That’s it?” Johnny had expected a lot more. “That’s all you’re gonna say?”
“That’s right, Johnny baby. That’s all you need to know.” Chet turned around and sat on the inside edge of his locker to put on his shoes.
“In other words,” Marco said, “nothing’s changed from before.”
Johnny snickered, Roy just smiled.
With his shoes on, Chet headed for the exit that led to the apparatus bay.
“You’ll never know how much a bright smile can change a guy’s life,” he commented after he paused at the door. He then left, his destination the dayroom across the bay.
“Marco’s right,” Johnny said as he and Roy headed for the dayroom a few minutes after Chet had. “If Chet’s not boasting, there’s nothin’ to tell.”
“You hope, anyway.”
Gage gave him a disappointed look. Roy was right. Boy did he ever hope that was the case.
When roll call came around, the men lined up. Captain Stanley excused himself a moment, as he’d forgotten some of his notes he’d prepared. When he returned, he was subdued, very much unlike his cheerful self who’d just been there a few moments earlier.
Chet was about to ask if everything was okay, when Hank opened his mouth to make his first announcement. The bright white vampire teeth in his mouth made Kelly uncharacteristically speechless.
The mustached fireman looked to his shiftmates to see their reactions. But they too were wearing grins with white vampire teeth.
“What’sa’ matter, Chet?” Johnny asked.
“Fangs? You guys got fangs?”
“It’s the only kind of fake teeth you can buy in a dime store,” Hank explained.
Chet just shook his head. What would they come up with next?
Johnny and Roy returned from a run after lunch, while the engine was still out on a different response for a traffic accident. As Gage came around the front of the squad, he continued with a conversation they’d been having on their way back from Rampart, “You mean to tell me Chet’s not drivin’ ya nuts with his obsession with his teeth?”
“I try to ignore it. For the most part anyway.”
“There’s gotta be a way ta end this madness.”
“Well, you’d be an expert on madness.”
“Oh very funny,” he said with a glare. He then wondered to himself what it would take to end Chet Kelly’s obsession.
When the engine crew got back to the station, Johnny and Roy were already dispatched on another response.
Chet headed for the latrine to brush his teeth since he hadn’t had a chance to right after lunch. Marco and Mike stood in disbelief at how vain their shiftmate had become.
“You know, there has got to be a way to end this,” Marco commented.
Mike nodded. “We could always knock out his teeth.”
The Hispanic fireman shot a surprised look at the engineer. He never expected the quiet man to think of something so violent, even with a joke. But then again, wasn’t the saying, ‘it’s always the quiet ones’?
“You wouldn’t,” he said, playing more on the subject.
Mike sighed. “You’re right. But there are some moments. . .”
Marco had to grin. If only they could think of a real plan, one that wouldn’t put Chet in Rampart.
The paramedics had been sent out for a case of difficult breathing. When Roy knocked on the door of the apartment listed on the call slip, they heard a muffled female voice call out between gasps, “Come. . .in!”
Johnny suddenly had a dejavu’ of a rescue they were on a couple of years earlier for the same reason, difficult breathing. That time they were also met with the voice of a woman gasping for air inside an apartment. It had turned out that her girdle was too tight and restricted her breathing. Gage had ended up being the one to cut it off, which made him the recipient of a sudden girdle slap to the face when it shot free. He hoped this wasn’t going to be a repeat performance.
Roy opened the door with his free hand, the biophone in his other. Johnny followed him in, pulling the oxygen canister alongside, the drug box in his other hand.
It wasn’t difficult breathing after all. At least not in the sense they had expected.
“I’ll get the OB kit,” Johnny stated, and immediately headed back for the squad.
The young woman in labor had dropped the phone before she could explain why she was breathing abnormally and was lying on the livingroom floor. Roy let the dispatcher know they were there and placed the receiver back on the main body of the phone, then quickly returned to their patient.
“That was a very cute baby you guys delivered,” Dixie said when the paramedics stopped by her desk.
“Isn’t she though?” Johnny agreed. “You know a lot of babies are kinda homely at first, but this kid. . .no way.”
“Well, I’d say the mom and dad deserve all the credit,” Roy said with a grin.
Dixie agreed with that, but Johnny was already distracted by another pretty face. One that included a very white smile.
Not another one!
For the second time there was a nurse with unnaturally white teeth.
Not in on Roy and Dixie’s conversation at all anymore, Johnny blurted out, “Dix, what’s with all the flashy smiles around here?”
The head nurse stopped in the middle of a comment to Roy and addressed the younger man.
“You noticed. . .”
“How could I miss ‘em?”
She smiled. “That seems to be a new fad among some of our younger nurses.”
“Man, if they act anything like Chet, I’d sure hate to date one of ‘um.”
Dixie raised her eyebrows in question.
“Chet whitened his teeth,” Roy explained. “And now he’s always brushing them, checking himself out in the mirror. . .Johnny’s annoyed with it.”
Gage snorted a laugh. “I’m not the only one.” He looked at Dixie. “Please tell us you’re not gonna try it.”
“I think that’s one promise I can keep.”
Johnny opened his mouth to comment, but was cut off when the handie talkie in Roy’s hand beeped. DeSoto reported them in as available and dispatch sent them out for a junk yard fire with possible injuries. Engine 51 was sent on the call as well.
“Good luck with Chet!” Dixie called out as the paramedics left.
Johnny gave a quick wave, then the two disappeared around the corner near the exit.
It was two shifts later when five really annoyed firemen and their bright-smiled crewmember found themselves interrupted in the middle of lunch by the klaxons. Soon they were on their way for a call involving a ‘woman down’.
As they headed toward the location, Johnny shook his head. “Man, can you believe Chet’s reaction when Marco told him he had a piece of broccoli between his front teeth?”
“I have to admit I’ve never seen a guy get up from the table so fast in search of a mirror.”
“Turn left up here,” Johnny directed, then added to the conversation, “Maybe we oughta glue Chet to his seat next time we eat.”
Roy glanced at him as he made the turn. “Only if we want latrine duty for the next six months.”
Gage nodded in agreement. It was a fun thought though.
The ‘woman down’ was on a baseball field. A new community league for women had been started a few weeks earlier and the first real game had left one batter down for the count before she even got off home plate.
Johnny and Roy worked on the now groggy-but-awake player while the engine crew stood ready to help. Chet was right beside Johnny, Marco near Roy. The captain was talking to the male coach about the new team.
Suddenly Chet caught something out of the corner of his right eye. He jerked his head around and gaped at the baseball that was rapidly heading right for him. Only one thought ran through his mind in the very few seconds he had to react.
The fireman made a quick dive for the ground.
The swift move left the squatting dark-haired paramedic an open target.
Johnny no sooner looked to see why Chet had gone down when he was clobbered in the head. He didn’t even have time to flinch at the ball before it hit.
Suddenly blackness filled his vision and he fell to the ground in a heap.
Roy hadn’t seen the baseball at first. Just his motionless partner drop across the lower legs of their patient.
Hank immediately reported the Code I via his HT, and requested another squad and ambulance. He and Marco were at the wounded paramedic’s side within seconds. A stunned, speechless Chet Kelly joined them.
“What’s he doing?” the patient asked, still in the process of coming to her own senses.
“He got knocked out,” her coach quickly explained, his gaze never leaving the new victim.
Roy tried to get a response from Gage.
“Johnny? Can you hear me?” The paramedic looked at the captain. “Can you help me lift him off of her?”
Chet was still speechless. What could he say?
Two young women who’d been practicing with pitching and batting had come running toward the men after the shock of what their extra efforts had caused.
“We’re so sorry!” one called out.
“Is he okay?” the other wondered. “We didn’t mean to hit him, honest!”
But they didn’t get an answer. Just a scornful eye from the coach.
With Johnny now laid out on the ground face up, Roy tried once again to get a response from him. “Johnny!” He gave his sternum a quick but firm rub, which elicited a moan and Gage’s head lolled to the side. But his eyes remained closed.
“Chet, get Rampart on the horn again,” the captain directed as Roy checked his partner’s pupil reactions with a penlight before getting his vital signs. In the meantime, Marco grabbed some sterile gauze from one of the supply boxes as directed by Roy. It was for a gash that had opened up where the ball impacted, not far above Johnny’s right eye and slightly to the side.
Chet nodded in response to the captain’s instructions, still stunned at what had happened. He would’ve taken all of his front teeth getting knocked out to this.
Well, maybe not *all*, he reconsidered right away. But he sure as hell felt guilty for ducking and leaving Gage vulnerable with no warning as to what was headed right for them.
The mustached fireman picked up the handset to transmit to the hospital.
“Rampart, this is Squad 51. How do you read?”
“Read you loud and clear, 51.”
“Rampart, we have a second victim at the scene. He’s unconscious from a blow to the head. Standby for vital signs.”
“Standing by, 51.”
He rested his right forearm on his thigh, the handset still loosely in his grasp, as he remained squatted while he watched Roy examine their downed co-worker.
Johnny stirred and once again groaned. His eyelids fluttered before he peered upwards with a squint.
“Hang in there, partner,” Roy said as he placed the BP cuff on Johnny’s arm. Marco had the gauze in place, the captain having helped to secure it.
“Man. . .” the younger medic groaned.
Roy got the blood pressure reading, then gave the vitals to Chet to relay.
“Johnny, do you remember what happened?”
The wounded man grimaced, then his head once again lolled to the side as he slipped back into unconsciousness.
“He’s got quite a goose egg already,’” the captain observed as he noted the lump that had already begun to form beneath the bandaging.
Marco shook his head. “He’s going to have one heck of a headache.”
Roy listened as Chet relayed the instructions from Doctor Early. He then gave a follow-up on their first victim, who was being placed on a stretcher and readied for transport.
The sirens from the second squad and ambulance could be heard in the distance as they approached.
Several other young women involved in the game had stayed back to give the firemen room to work, but gathered around the stretcher with their teammate to give her words of encouragement and well wishes. They stepped back when it was time to wheel her to the waiting ambulance.
With nothing more he could do for Johnny, Roy closed up the supply boxes. Marco and the captain carried them to the ambulance.
The senior paramedic was still squatted down beside his partner. His face still full of worry and concern, he patted Gage on the left shoulder.
Johnny’s eyes once again fluttered open and he turned his gaze upward.
“Roy?” he weakly called out.
“Yeah, I’m here.”
“Wha. . .wha. . .hap. . .pened. . .?”
“You took a baseball to the head.”
After a brief pause, the younger man groggily asked, “Did. . .we. . .win?”
That answered one of the questions Roy had. He was clearly disoriented. If that was the most serious problem to arise from this, it would be okay. But until they did more extensive tests at the hospital, Roy could only hope for the best. He knew one thing in Gage’s favor. It wasn’t a professional batter who’d hit the ball, nor one with brute strength. Things would likely be a whole lot worse if that were the case.
As soon as the other paramedics arrived, Roy filled them in on Johnny’s condition, including the latest development. He then hurried to the ambulance with their first victim. He’d rather have ridden in with Gage, but he was one of the first to treat the woman and administered an IV, therefore protocol was that he should accompany her until she was in the care of a doctor.
“Marco’s gonna drive the squad in.”
“Okay, thanks, Cap.”
The superior officer gave a nod, then reassured his obviously worried paramedic, “He’s in good hands, Roy.”
Hank smiled slightly in hopes that would help. He then closed the doors and gave them a slap to indicate they were secure. The ambulance pulled away, Marco right behind in the squad as promised.
The captain trotted over to where John was being lifted onto a stretcher.
“How’s he doing? Has he said anymore?”
“He has only asked if he made it to home plate,” Craig Brice replied.
Hank looked down as the ambulance attendants secured the very woozy Gage on the stretcher. He leaned over and gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze.
“Take it easy, pal.”
Johnny just closed his eyes in hopes that would help end his wooziness.
After the ambulance transporting Gage and other squad were on their way from the scene, Hank noticed Chet still watching where they’d disappeared around a corner beyond the chain link fence.
He walked over to the fireman. Looking in the same direction, the captain asked, “Are you ready to head back to the station?”
Chet bit his lower lip before replying, “I should be the one in that ambulance.”
Hank furrowed his brows. “What’re you talking about, Kelly?”
He eyed the captain. “Didn’t ya see? I saw the ball comin’ and I dove for cover. I didn’t even think about John being next in line. All I could think about. . .” he paused as he wondered if he should tell whole truth. There was a way to say it and not disclose every detail. “All I could think about,” he began as he looked at the ground. “Was that I was in the line of fire and I hit the ground.”
“Yes, I knew that’s what happened. But I don’t think anyone holds you responsible for John being in that ambulance. I know I don’t,” he assured. “You had a normal human reaction to an object coming at you at a high rate of speed. I’m not sure any of us would have made a different decision in the split second you had to make it.” He patted the crewman on the back. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You didn’t hit that ball with the bat. You weren’t the one still playing baseball in an area where a rescue was taking place. It wasn’t your fault.”
Chet glanced up and gave a small grin of ‘thanks’. He was right. But there was still that little nagging voice inside that reminded him of why he worried so much about getting hit. That would plague him for awhile no matter what anybody else said.
As a still dazed John Gage eyed Craig Brice, he vaguely recalled the often annoying paramedic being nearby when he was lifted into the ambulance. His thoughts then went to the throbbing pain in his head that was now making itself known.
“Oh man,” he grumbled, his right hand going to the site of the injury.
Craig gently pulled his hand away and brought it back to his side.
“I’m sorry I can’t give you anything for the pain. But you know the rules with a head injury.”
Johnny squinted as he frowned at the words. He then closed his eyes.
“Stay with me, Gage.”
“I’m with. . .ya. . .I’m . . .with ya. . .,” he mumbled. “Roy?”
“DeSoto is with another victim in the other ambulance.”
So they must’ve been on duty. But then why were they playing baseball? And why with Craig Brice? He decided he was in enough pain without adding more in trying to figure it all out.
Once at Rampart, Johnny was placed on an exam table in Treatment Room Two. After a quick evaluation, Doctor Early ordered a full skull series to be sure there wasn’t a more serious threat to the paramedic besides a moderate concussion and one hell of a bruise already forming around the cut on his head, not to mention the swelling. He'd also need a few stitches.
His patient already in the care of Doctor Donaldson, Roy had gone inside the room with the others. It was good to see his partner had regained consciousness and was at least aware enough to know he was at the hospital. He also knew his name, however the date was another matter. But that was always a little trickier to know anyway, even on a good day.
“Hey. . .Doc. . .” the wounded medic whispered. He suddenly appeared to look a bit queasy.
There were no other words needed. Dixie McCall was standing beside the table and recognized the signs immediately. She grabbed a basin bowl while Roy and Early quickly worked together to turn the paramedic on his side.
Craig made a disgusted face as Gage vomited into the bowl beside his head. Brice then sighed in relief. He knew that reaction could’ve come sooner and it wouldn’t have been good for he or Gage if it had. He would have had to scramble to prevent Johnny from aspirating and likely would’ve been wearing some of the vomit right now.
“Man. . .” Johnny groaned after Dixie wiped his mouth off with a damp cloth. “Remind me. . .to stick. . .to bowlin’ . . .”
Not long after Gage was brought in, everyone had to clear from the room so the technicians could do their job.
Though Brice and his partner had to leave on another run, Roy and Marco hung around a little longer to see what the results of the skull series would be. The two waited in the nurses’ lounge, each with a cup of coffee in front of him. But neither had taken a sip.
“I hope they get the results soon,” Marco said as he looked toward the closed door.
“Same here. I don’t wanna leave until we know exactly what Johnny’s up against.”
Marco glanced at his watch. “How come time always seems to stop when people are waiting for something important.”
Before Roy could respond, the door opened and Dixie came into the room. When she saw the two very concerned faces looking back at her, the nurse made sure to smile.
“You can go see Johnny again now if you want.”
Both were on their feet, their chairs pushed back in the process.
“Doctor Early can fill you in more there, but he wanted me to tell you the results were negative. Johnny’s just got the moderate concussion he already diagnosed. But he wants to keep him here a few days for observation.
“He’s not going to like that,” Marco commented as he exchanged a knowing glance with Roy.
“Well, judging by how disoriented he still is,” Dixie said, “My guess is he won’t recall some of his stay anyway.”
Both firemen figured she was probably right.
Johnny didn’t appear to be awake when Marco and Roy opened the door to the treatment room. But when they stepped inside, he opened his eyes and gave an ever so slight crooked grin.
“How’re you feeling?” Roy questioned as he walked over to his partner. Marco followed beside him.
“Dizzy. . .an’ like my head. . . is gonna. . .explode.” His voice was weak.
“I can imagine. Do you remember what happened now?”
Johnny slowly moved his head from side to side two times.
“We were on a rescue, a lady had been knocked out by a baseball. Before we were done, you ended up in the same situation. Only judging by how she is compared to you, I’d say you took a harder hit.”
“That explains. . .my headache. You know what’s. . .really bad?”
“Every time I close. . .my eyes. . .all I can see. . .is white teeth in a huge smile.” Johnny peered up at him through his still squinted eyes. “There’s no escape. . .from that flashy smile,” he groaned.
Roy had to grin at the information. No doubt Chet played a big part in that. The nurses at Rampart going along with the same trend probably did too. He turned away from Johnny when Early came in. The doctor motioned he and Marco to an area in the room away from Johnny.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” Roy assured.
“Me too,” Marco added, to which Johnny lifted his right hand slightly off the table in acknowledgement.
When they were away from the resting patient, Roy let the doctor know what Dixie had told them.
“He’s fortunate he doesn’t have a skull fracture,” Early said, his voice hushed. “I was also concerned about bleeding in the brain, but there’s no sign of that either. But as you know, the first twelve to fourteen hours after a head injury like this are the most critical. If he’s going to start bleeding in the brain, it’ll be within that time frame. I don’t anticipate it, but you just never know.”
Roy nodded. He certainly was aware of the risks still involved.
Marco glanced over at their friend and co-worker, once again with his eyes closed. If only those ladies hadn’t decided to bat the ball.
As soon as they talked a bit more with Joe Early, then promised to stop back in later to see Johnny, Roy and Marco headed back to the station to fill the rest of the crew in.
“I’ll bet Chet will be relieved to hear the news,” Marco said from the passenger seat.
Roy brought the squad to a stop at a red light and glanced in Marco’s direction.
“He sure looked worried.”
“He always does when Johnny gets hurt.”
Both thought it was funny how Chet loved to torment Johnny so much at the station, with pranks and all, but when the chips were down, he was one of the first to be there for the paramedic.
When they got back to the station, Roy headed for the captain’s office to fill him in. Marco went in search of the others. He found Mike right away, in the dayroom.
Mike pointed toward the doorway Marco had just come in.
“In the dorm room. How’s Johnny?”
Marco told him what they knew, then went to tell Chet.
Roy had explained everything to the captain. The superior officer sat back in his chair, his hands clasped behind his head.
“We have another problem, thankfully a lot smaller.”
“Chet’s kind of kicking himself around for diving for cover and leaving John an open target.”
“Yep. I talked to him; told him no one blames him. It may’ve sunk in, but I’m not totally convinced he’s done with it yet.”
“I’ll talk to him.”
“Great,” he said as he brought his hands down to his desk.
“I’ll go find him now.”
“Okay. Oh and, Roy. . .”
The paramedic turned around.
“I’m sure John will be okay. He’s skinny but tough, remember?”
Roy nodded slightly, a small smile on his face.
Hank watched him leave the room, then sighed. He couldn’t wait for the next day to come.
Roy met up with Marco as soon as he came out of the captain’s office. After a brief exchange, both decided to talk to the curly-haired shiftmate.
Roy pushed open the door to the dorm and stepped inside, Marco right behind. Right away they saw Chet sitting just on the other side of the brick divider, on the side of his bed. He was facing away from them, his gaze on the floor.
The two new arrivals exchanged a quick glance, then walked around to confront the obviously still worried man.
“What’re you doing hiding in here?” Roy asked, his tone light.
Chet looked up. “How’s John?”
“He’s doing okay. Doctor Early had a skull series done and it came up negative.”
Roy and Marco both nodded.
But it looked like the captain was right. Chet seemed bothered about something. He didn’t even flash his unusually bright smile.
“I wish I could have a few words with those ladies who decided it was okay to pitch and bat a ball close to a rescue. Especially after someone had just gone down by a hit with a baseball,” Roy commented, all the while keeping a close eye on Kelly’s expression. “I’d love to know what they were thinking.”
“If it wasn’t for them,” Marco said, “Johnny would be here right now.”
“Instead here I am waiting for a temporary partner to get here,” Roy added. He shook his head. “I’d sure like to let them know exactly what I think of the whole thing.”
“I’m not sure it was just their fault.”
The two knew what Chet was referring to. This was their chance to say something without letting on the captain informed anyone else.
“Whose else could it be?” Roy wondered.
“Yeah, Chet. No one else was playing baseball at the time.”
“I didn’t exactly help matters by diving for cover, you know.”
“So you think you being in the hospital with a concussion would be better? It stinks either way,” Roy assured.
“It wouldn’t be better if any of us were in Johnny’s place,” Marco put in.
Chet felt a little better. The captain was right, the men didn’t blame him.
After a few more words were exchanged and Chet was alone, he gave the situation more thought. Roy and Marco were right for the most part. But there was still one part to the whole thing they weren’t aware of. His vanity had gotten in the way. A vanity he hadn’t had until. . .
A couple of weeks later, Johnny was cleared for duty in the field and returned to Station 51 after pulling desk duty for a few shifts. He’d never had any complications from the head injury, so his recovery was swift.
The dark-haired paramedic was in the midst of getting changed into uniform in the locker room when Roy came in.
“Good mornin’,” Johnny said as he tucked in his blue uniform shirt.
“Morning. How’s it feel to be back?”
“Great. It feels great.”
“I figured it would.”
Roy opened his locker, then unbuttoned his civilian shirt. “Have you seen Chet yet?”
“No. Last time I saw him was over a week ago. Why?”
When Roy didn’t respond right away, Johnny guessed, “Don’t tell me he’s still struggling with guilt over what happened on the baseball field. I told ‘um I didn’t blame him.”
“No, that’s not it. . .”
Johnny stopped in mid-action of fastening his trousers. “Then what is it?”
Roy was considering how much to say when the subject of their conversation entered the room from the apparatus bay.
Johnny turned and furrowed his brow as he scrutinized Kelly. What was Roy talking about?
Chet noticed the look and returned the puzzled stare.
“Good morning, Chet,” Roy greeted, his gaze then shifting to Johnny.
Gage peered closer. It was barely visible when Chet spoke. He’d have to see it again to be sure. But now Chet was over at his own locker. Kelly glanced at the still staring paramedic.
“What? You forget what a hard-working fireman looks like?”
“Your teeth!” Johnny pointed toward him. “Your teeth aren’t blindly white anymore!”
Chet glanced at Roy before addressing the comment, his attention back on Gage. “That’s right. It was getting too difficult to keep my dating calendar straight, so I decided I’d better go back to the old average Chet Kelly.”
Johnny took a peek at Roy to see his reaction. The eye roll he caught told him he was being fed a line of bull. So he decided to play along until he could get the real answer.
“Ah, I see. That’s too bad, Chet. I guess it’s true then that there is such a thing as too much of a good deal.”
“There sure is.”
The conversation then switched to Johnny being back and how Chet had barely noticed he was gone. Another statement that earned an eye roll by Roy and a grin by Gage.
After Chet left the room, Johnny turned to his partner.
“Quick, we’ve only got a few minutes before roll call. What’s the real story behind the change back?”
“According to Marco, Chet not only found that girls were turned off by his self-obsessed personality his bright smile brought on, but he was too. Chet claimed it was ruining the humble him we all know.”
“That’s what Marco said he said. So he’s been drinking as much coffee as possible and doing anything else he can to dingy up his teeth a little. Anything to get back to just being average.”
“It’s about time.”
John closed his locker and they headed for the exit.
Chet becoming average again, which would make him more tolerable. . .to everyone. Now that was a bright idea. . .
Note: I realize teeth whitening wasn't a huge deal like it is today. We had toothpastes for it and some used baking soda, but the results weren't as stark as these days, nor did celebs on TV and in movies seem to worry about it, they all appeared pretty average there. But for story purposes, I put the trend back in the 1970s. :o)
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