Determined or Obsessed?

By Audrey W.




“Man, what a mess that was,” John Gage remarked to his partner Roy DeSoto as they headed for the front doors of a discount department store.


The two paramedics had been sent on a response for a ‘child injured’, which turned out to be a six-year-old girl who decided to try riding a bike around the toy department  while her mother argued with another mom over the momentarily last available of the latest new craze, a baby doll known as ‘Tiny Tabitha’.


The bike proved to be a little too large for the girl to handle and she lost control, running into a special display of a Lincoln Log village a store employee had just finished setting up on a round table. The impact sent little logs flying everywhere as she and the bike went down to the floor.


While the village suffered total destruction, the girl was lucky and would likely just end up with multiple bruises. With no serious injuries, Johnny and Roy recommended her mother take the girl to their family doctor if any unforeseen problems came up later.


As they headed for the front of the store, the paramedics discussed the incident.


“You know, I don’t get how people can be so obsessed with something like a doll,” Johnny ranted, “I mean, enough to lose track of what your own kid is up to?”


“As quick as they can find trouble, I’ve got to agree with you. Even well behaved kids try to get away with stuff when no one’s looking.”


“Right. And I’m sure they’ll get more of the ‘Teenie Tabitha’--”


“Tiny,” Roy corrected. Johnny stared at his partner blankly for a few seconds, then continued on.


Tiny Tabitha. The ‘Tiny Tabitha’ doll. They’re sure to get more in; after all, she even said it just came--”


Suddenly Gage’s attention was drawn to a young boy and girl standing in front of a large square machine just inside the entrance of the store. It had a solid black base that was three feet high and with a small swinging door in it at one end on the front. The upper section was made of clear glass, black trim with the company name across the front. Inside the glass were stuffed animals and cloth dolls, all tossed in at random and filling up the visible area a third of the way. Above them was a metal three-prong claw that was attached to an extending arm that the person on the outside of the machine controlled with the move of a ‘joy stick’.


“Hey, it’s one of those new crane machines,” Gage stated as he stepped closer to watch the kids in action. With a smile on his face, he eyed his partner. “I’ve heard about these things. They’re supposed to be pretty challenging.”


“They are. I tried one at another store the other day. Couldn’t get a thing out of it; couldn’t even pick anything up.”




Roy nodded. “It wasn’t easy explaining to my kids that they weren’t gonna be getting anything from it. They were sure I was gonna win two things right off the bat.”


As the two men continued on their way out, Johnny glanced over his shoulder just in time to see the silver claw grab a pink teddy bear and move back to its corner of the box; it then quickly released the toy, which dropped into a deposit where it could be reached by the players through the small trap door.


 He didn’t dare tell his partner how easy the boy and girl made it look. I’ll bet *I* could do pretty good with it myself.


The thought of being able to get Roy’s son and daughter surprise gifts at a cheap price sounded like a win-win situation.




On their way back to the station, Dispatch sent the squad to a construction site for a man injured. Engine 51 would be meeting them there. The paramedics arrived on the scene before the engine crew and were led to the victim by the foreman in charge.


“What happened?” Johnny asked as they followed along side.


“It’s the new forklift operator I hired . . . Byron Evans. He was driving the thing up an incline, carrying a small load, and he made a turn to drive across before he got to the flat surface above. Anyone with a lick of sense knows a forklift can’t be turned on an incline or the damn thing’ll tip over.”


As he finished explaining, they came around a corner to the area where the accident occurred. Gage and DeSoto trotted over to a small crowd of men and the victim who was lying beside the overturned forklift, moaning.


“I’ll get the backboard,” Roy stated as he quickly headed back for the squad. Once it was in hand, he hurried to assist Johnny. The engine crew soon arrived on the scene and the paramedics briefed their captain on the situation.


Before long, Gage was in the ambulance with Byron, headed to Rampart General Hospital. As Roy climbed into the squad to follow behind, Captain Hank Stanley came over to talk to his senior paramedic.


“How’s it look, Roy?”


“He should be okay, unless any complications arise. But I’d say it’ll be awhile before he’s driving a forklift again. The two fractures to his left leg are gonna sideline him for awhile, not to mention the other injuries he’s gonna have to heal from.”


Hank shook his head. “Makes you wonder what he was thinking when he turned the lift on an incline.”


“My guess is that he wasn’t.”


The captain just nodded, and looked at the ambulance as it disappeared around a corner at the end of the block.


“See you later.” Roy put the squad into gear and drove off in the same direction.




Johnny trotted alongside the stretcher, the victim’s IV bag in his hand as two orderlies wheeled the injured man down the corridor and into the treatment room where they were directed.


Entering the emergency doors shortly afterward, Roy headed toward the desk near the base station. Though Dixie McCall, Rampart’s most liked head nurse, wasn’t at her usual spot behind the desk, the senior paramedic figured he could at least enjoy a cup of coffee while he waited for Johnny.


After a couple of sips of the brew from the Styrofoam cup, he looked up to see both his partner and Dixie exiting Treatment Room Two.


“Hey, coffee,” Johnny stated as he glanced at the cup in Roy’s hand. He stepped past him to get a cup for himself as Dixie came around to get behind her desk.


“How’s our guy?” DeSoto wondered.


“Oh, he’s doin’ all right, considering” Gage responded as he set the coffee pot back in place. As he turned to face the others, he added, “Doctor Early didn’t want to move him right away, so we’ve gotta wait a few minutes for the backboard.”




“How exactly did he manage to tip over the forklift?” Dixie asked.


Johnny swallowed his latest sip of coffee, then answered, “Made a turn on an incline; with a load yet. I don’t know how long he’s been driving those things, but this is another of those prime examples of how some people and machinery just don’t mesh.”


Roy glanced at Johnny, a slightly bewildered look on his face. Another example? With their conversation earlier, he wondered if his admittance of being beaten by the crane machine didn’t qualify him as the other example. But for now he didn’t want to find out.


“You ready to go?” he asked as he tossed his cup into a nearby trash can.


“Sure. Let me see if the backboard’s free yet.”




Johnny took a last gulp of coffee, tossed his cup away, then stepped over to the treatment room and went inside.  A few seconds later he emerged with the back board.


“Let’s go. See ya, Dix,” he said with a nod toward the head nurse.


“Yeah, see you later,” Roy added.


“Bye.” She smiled as she watched them head for the exit until Doctor Kel Brackett caught her attention as he approached from the other direction.




On the way back, Roy chanced a couple of glances in his partner’s direction. Johnny’s attention was focused on the passing scenery.


I’ve gotta ask, Roy thought. He cleared his throat before speaking. “Hey, when you said our forklift driver was another prime example of a person not meshing with a machine, what did you mean?”


Gage turned his head. “What’d I mean?”


“Yeah,” the older man nodded. “What were you referring to as the other example?”


“Oh. Well, I don’t know. . .I guess I wasn’t really referring to anything in particular. You know. . .we see a lot of ineptitude with man and machine. Take for instance that kid we had to get freed from the donut mixer. Or the lady who got her hair tangled up in the mixer. . .man, people sure do have problems with mixers, huh? Anyway, you know, I was just generalizing over the past few years. Why?”


Roy shrugged. “I just wasn’t sure if you were referring to something a little more recent.”


A small smile played on Johnny’s lips. “Wait a minute. You weren’t thinking I was referring to you and the crane machine were ya?” DeSoto’s lack of response answered the question. “Roy! How could I blame that on your ineptitude if I don’t know how hard it is to do myself? I mean, just because a couple of kids--” He cut himself off when Roy gave a sharp look. “Look,” Johnny added, “Until I do better with it, as far as I’m concerned, you’re as good at it as the next guy.”


“You’re going to try it?”


“Sure,” he shrugged. “Sure. It might be fun.”


Roy looked ahead and rolled his eyes. He secretly hoped his friend would fail miserably or he’d never hear the end of it. Then again, I might not if he does as bad as me.




When Roy and Johnny got back to the station, the engine crew was just sitting down for a late lunch.


“Hey, good timing,” Captain Stanley stated as he pulled out a chair and took a seat. “Chet made tuna sandwiches.”


“Are they actually going to taste like tuna this time?” Johnny wondered. He recalled a time when some tuna sandwiches they’d had tasted more like chicken.


Chet made an annoyed face as he set the platter of sandwiches on the table where Mike and Marco were already seated and waiting.


Roy and Johnny no sooner got situated with the others, food on their plates, when the klaxons went off.


“Squad 51, unknown type rescue, 2114 North Hill Street, two one one four North Hill Street, cross street Moyer Avenue, time out 13:25.”


Roy was about to take a bite of his sandwich and quickly set it back down while Johnny did manage to get a chunk out of his before getting up to follow. Mike Stoker was already on his way to acknowledge the call.


The paramedics climbed into the squad and were soon on their way.




The address of the call turned out to be at a house that was set back off the street, with a large front yard and a paved driveway that was on an incline and curved to the left midway.


An elderly couple was standing near the bend in the driveway, looking at a four-inch round drainage pipe that was alongside it, ending near the bottom close to a storm grate.


Roy parked the squad on the side of the street and the two paramedics climbed out.


“What’s the problem?” Johnny asked as they approached the couple. There didn’t seem to be an urgent situation.


“It’s our Muffin,” the man explained.


The paramedics exchanged puzzled glances. “Muffin?” Roy wondered.


The couple nodded as the husband answered, “Our kitten. Our cat we had for sixteen years passed away about two weeks ago and we’ve just missed her so much, we decided to get a kitten. Well, as you know, they can be a handful. She got out when I opened the front door and ran down here. Now we can’t get her to come out.”


With one hand on his hip, Johnny pointed to the pipe that was cemented to the ground. “You want us to get the kitten. . .uh, Muffin. . .out of there?”


“Please. We’ve tried coaxing her out with food, but it didn’t work.”


Johnny and Roy once again looked at one another. Neither wanted to turn the couple down, but it wasn’t exactly what either would deem as an emergency.


“Mr. . . .uh. . .”


“Mason,” the man offered. “Howard Mason, and this is my wife Lucille.”


Roy acknowledged her, then addressed Howard. “Mr. Mason, do you think Muffin might just come out on her own when she’s ready?”


“Maybe sooner or later. But she’s already been in there for nearly an hour. I haven’t cleaned it out lately, so what if she’s stuck somehow?”


The paramedics realized they weren’t going to be able to just walk away.


“I’ll get a flashlight,” Gage said as he took off for the squad. Once he returned, he got down on his hands and knees and looked into the pipe. “I can see her. Looks like she’s right about in the middle. I’d say she’s clear to move in either direction.”


Sitting back on his heels, he looked up at Roy. “Whataya think?”


“The garden hose might do the trick.”


The woman gasped.


“Don’t worry, ma’am. It’s just going to be enough to get her moving.”


After dragging the couple’s hose to the top opening of the drainage pipe, Roy handed the nozzle to his partner, then proceeded up to the house to turn on the water. But the effort didn’t help.


Once again standing near the pipe both men were wondering what to try next.


“Man, it’s gotta be easier to get a toy out of a crane machine than it is to get a real animal out of there,” Johnny commented.


Roy rolled his eyes. “Don’t bet on it.”


“Well, what should we try next?”


After using a prod to gently nudge the kitten, she soon came out the lower opening, dripping wet and looking like a drowned gray rat.


“Oh my goodness!” Lucille exclaimed as Johnny carried the kitten to her. “She looks like she shrank!”


“Don’t worry. She’ll look better once she’s dried off.”


After the Masons thanked them, they were on their way back to the station.


“So when are you going to give the crane machine a try?” Roy wondered.


Johnny shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe tomorrow.”


“Better have plenty of quarters handy.” Though he couldn’t imagine his often thrifty partner spending much money or time on a game where the only reward would be a toy.




At the beginning of the next shift, Johnny whistled an upbeat tune as he climbed out of his Land Rover. He looked over and waved as Roy pulled into the lot. Once the senior paramedic was parked, Johnny grabbed a couple of items from his vehicle and walked over to his partner’s Porsche and tossed him a pink teddy bear in a ballerina tutu as soon as he got out.


Roy caught the toy and looked at the younger man in surprise.


“For Jennifer,” Gage clarified. He then brought a brown stuffed bear in an LA Rams uniform out from behind his back and handed it to the still silent DeSoto. “And Chris.”


Roy eyed the two toys in his hands, then Johnny. “The crane machine?”


“Uh huh,” Gage replied as he rocked on his heels.


“How much did these cost ya?”


“Seventy-five cents.”


When he got a surprised look in return, he repeated with a smile and shrug, “Seventy-five cents. I couldn’t believe it. There I was all set to lose and in one try, I got Jennifer’s bear; Chris’s bear only took two.”


Roy turned slightly and tossed the toys into his car. “I guess there really is such a thing as ‘beginner’s luck’.”


“Yeah,” Johnny snickered. “I guess so.”


“Of course that doesn’t help explain my case.”


“Maybe you were tryin’ too hard, Roy. I mean, I just lined the claw up over each bear – kinda centered it, ya know? And that’s about all it took.”


“Well, we’ll never know because I’m not going to waste my money on it again.” He shut the car door.


“Waste? I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a waste,” Gage stated as they headed for the rear entrance of the apparatus bay.


“I appreciate what you did for the kids. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled. But to do it again just to do it would be a waste. . .yeah.”


“I don’ know, Roy. It was actually kinda fun.”


“I can think of better things to do with my time.”


Johnny shrugged again. Having the ‘thrill of victory’ on his first try had made the experience an enjoyable one.


I wonder what the odds are of it being as easy again? Maybe it’s not beginner’s luck. After all, it *does* say ‘test your skill’ on the machine. Maybe it’s skill that won the two bears. . .


There would only be one way to find out.


The two continued on their way to the locker room to get changed into uniform.




The twenty-four hour shift went quickly for the crew of Station 51’s A-Shift and soon they were each on their way home.


Having stopped at a gas station on his way across town, Johnny pulled out his wallet to pay for the fuel and two quarters fell to the ground in the process. The paramedic handed a ten dollar bill to the gas station attendant, then picked up the coins, eyeing them in thought.


A popular and often quoted Clint Eastwood line from the movie Dirty Harry went through his mind. . .


‘Do you feel lucky, punk? Well do ya?’


He wasn’t a punk, but. . .


Do I?


It wouldn’t be out of his way to give the crane machine another try now and the store opened at 9:00.


Ah, hell. Why not?


After getting his change back, which gave him another two quarters, Johnny was on his way.




On duty once again and dressed in uniform the following morning, Johnny turned from his locker to face the doorway as his partner came into the room. He grinned wide as Roy stepped over to his own locker and opened the door.


“What the. . .?”


A pink stuffed pig with a bow on its head and a blue toy dog fell on the floor, while a stuffed giraffe and monkey with a pacifier remained inside.


Roy quickly looked to Gage, who was now beaming.


“Don’t tell me. . .a dollar.”


“No, but close. I must’ve hit it when everything was just right. It only took a dollar seventy-five.”


“I think I’m afraid to ask why they’re in my locker. I don’t suppose it’s just to rub it in. . .”


Johnny feigned a hurt look. Placing his right hand on his chest he stated, “Roy, I wouldn’t do that to you.” His face brightened again. “Nope, those are for Jennifer and Chris.”


“I kind of thought so. You’re gonna spoil them, you know.”


Johnny put a foot up on the bench in front of their lockers and leaned with a forearm on his knee. “Spoil ‘em? They’re just cheap toys – they probably won’t even last. . .” He stood up straight and waved a hand as he tried to think of a time period. “Oh, say a couple of months.”


“Yes they will.”


“No, they won’t.”


“Jen tends to just set these kind of things on her bed after the newness wears off and Chris chucks them in his closet. Trust me, they’ll last forever.”


“Well, even so, we’re only a kid once. . .”


Roy looked at his partner. “I don’t know about that.”


Johnny rolled his eyes when he caught the meaning and was about to comment when Chet walked into the room, already dressed in uniform as well. Roy was picking up the pig and dog, and had one in each hand.


“Bring a few things to make you feel more secure on the job, Roy?”


The senior paramedic frowned and shoved the two animals into the unsuspecting Gage’s hands. “No, but Johnny here did.”


“Now that doesn’t surprise me.”


Johnny gave a disgusted sigh, then reached over and stuck both toys in Roy’s locker. “They’re for his kids, Chet. I got ‘em for his kids.”


You? Mister ‘spend as little as I can on a date’ bought Roy’s kids toys?” Chet shook his head. “Uh uh. . .I’m not buying it.”


“Neither did he,” Roy put in.


The curly-haired fireman was baffled. He looked from one paramedic to the other, wondering what part of the conversation he’d just missed.


Seeing the lost expression, Johnny sighed and explained. “I won ‘em. In one of those crane machines.” Still seeing an uncomprehending look, he tried again. “You know, the game where there’s a bunch of toys in a big clear box and you have to try and pick them up one at a time with a three-prong claw looking thing.”


“Oh, you mean a prize grabber.”


“Yeah. . .I guess you could call it that.”


“I do.”


“It doesn’t matter what it’s called. The point is, I won some toys for Roy’s kids.”


“You know, I’ve never tried one of those grabber things. I figured nobody ever really wins anything,” Chet shrugged.


“Some people don’t.”


When he noticed Johnny glance at him, Roy just shook his head and turned toward his locker. He needed to ignore the current conversation and concentrate on getting changed into uniform.


“So how many tries did it take? To win the first one, I mean.”


A grin spread on the dark-haired paramedic’s face. “One,” he answered with pride.


“And how many hundreds to win the rest?”


After displaying a sour expression, he answered, “Ha ha.” He closed his locker, then stepped past Chet toward the dorm room. “It so happens I got almost all of ‘em on the first try.” With a smug grin, Johnny left.


Chet turned to look at Roy.


“He’s making that up, isn’t he?”


Not wanting to start a competition between the two, he gave the safest answer he could think of on short notice. “I don’t know. I wasn’t there.”


Chet paused a moment, giving it thought, then nodded his head slightly as he turned to leave the room. “He’s making it up.”


Once he was alone, Roy stared at the pile of toys in his locker. Johnny’s thoughtfulness toward Jennifer and Christopher was nice. But with him and his sometimes over-enthused attitude, a little encouragement could go a very long way.


A winning streak can only last so long. . .maybe he’ll quit while he’s ahead. . .




After making it through another shift that seemed to go by quickly, Roy headed home with a smile on his face. Though they’d all had to put up with a lot of verbal clashes between Johnny and Chet because the curly-haired fireman kept ribbing Gage about the toy animals he’d won, Roy had to admit that some of the teasing was actually entertaining and helped to pass the time; even kept them all in an easy-going mood.


All except for Johnny.


The senior paramedic thought back to the night before The six crew members had just gotten into their beds in the dorm room when Chet decided to continue his ribbing.


“Hey, John. Aren’t you forgetting something?”


“If you’re about to say what I think you’re gonna say, don’t say it.”


“Well, since I’m not a mind reader . . .yet. . .I guess that leaves the door wide open.”


Though the room was darkened to where it would go unnoticed, Johnny rolled his eyes at the comment. “Does it have anything to do with a pig, a bear, a giraffe and a monkey?”


“Now that you’ve brought it up, I was kind of curious about how you decide which one to sleep with. I mean, you can’t flip a coin, there’s only two sides. And--”


“Chet!” both Johnny and Captain Stanley shouted simultaneously, shutting him up.


Roy had to hold back a snicker with his bed being directly across from his partner’s. But his smile widened now that he was alone in the car. He then recalled Johnny’s swearing off the crane machine; vowing not to go near one again until Chet forgot about the subject.


“It’ll save you a little money,” Roy had encouraged.


“I guess so.”


“And you won’t have to stand there with other kids staring at you while they wait for their turn.”


Johnny’s head jerked around to look at him. “How’d you know about that?”


But before Roy could answer that it only seemed likely, the dark-haired paramedic continued, “Oh never mind. Bottom line is, I’m done with it for now; maybe forever. Chet just had to go and ruin a good thing.”


The senior paramedic felt a twinge of guilt for not giving the usual pep talk of turning Chet’s teasing around; to not let him win with his comments. But the vision of a mountain of stuffed toys they didn’t need had kept his mouth shut.


His thoughts back to the present, Roy pulled into his driveway and shut off the car. He reached over and gathered up the four toys from Johnny and climbed out.


I hope Joanne doesn’t mind, he thought to himself. 




Shortly after getting home from the station, Johnny headed out for a nearby convenience store. He needed to pick up some laundry detergent and a few other items.


As he walked through the entrance, something caught his attention; something that he figured had probably been there before, but he’d never noticed in this store before.


A crane machine?


As much as he wanted to walk past it and go on about his business, there was something unseen that wouldn’t let him; a seemingly magnetic force that was drawing him over to it.


This is crazy. . .


But as much as he thought that, he still had to step over to it and take a look. After glancing around as if to make sure Chet and Roy wouldn’t be there to see, Johnny quickly made his move.


As he eyed the assortment of toys inside the glass box, he found himself automatically searching for any that looked like they’d be easy grabs. When he spotted a white bear with a pink bow around its neck, he studied it, making sure it was clear of the animals piled together near it. Sure enough, the bear was completely in the clear.


Ah man, I can’t pass that up. It’s too easy.


He found himself digging in his pocket for a quarter. By luck he had one, along with a dime he wouldn’t be able to use.


I hope I get it on the first try. . .


The paramedic didn’t notice the audience of a mother with her arms folded in impatience while her little girls waited their turn.




Roy watched with a smile on his face as Jennifer and Chris sat at the breakfast table, each with a stuffed animal on either side of them on their chairs. Joanne hadn’t been overly pleased with the new additions, but when her husband had assured her this should be the last of the ‘surprises’, she was more understanding and appreciative of Johnny’s thoughtfulness.


“He means well,” Roy had reminded her.


Now he was left to wonder what would be Johnny’s next endeavor. He’d never known anyone who could get enthused over so many different ideas one after another like Gage. At times he envied that youthful exuberance. But being a family man, he couldn’t just fly with an idea and not think more into the end results.


As he once again eyed the stuffed toys and the happy faces on his children, he couldn’t help entertaining a certain thought.


Just *once* I’d like to win them something with that game myself.   




Gage kept his eyes fixed on the three-prong hook as it closed around the white bear. After a couple of seconds it was lifting it up and Johnny smiled, shaking a fist slightly as he whispered a triumphant “Yes!”


He watched as the claw slowly returned to its starting point with the prize still in its grasp. It wasn’t until the toy was released into the hole where it could be retrieved by hand that Johnny realized he hadn’t taken a breath since the bear was first on its way across the box.


Still oblivious to his surroundings, he squatted down and reached into the trap door to pull the toy out. As he stood and turned around, he saw the mother and her daughters staring at him; one of the kids in amazement and the other in obvious anger, probably because he’d won what they should have if he hadn’t been in the way. The mother’s face displayed annoyance. Johnny thought it was because he’d kept them waiting. He didn’t know it was because she knew now she was going to have to win something for her little girls if they couldn’t do it on their own. And her planned excuse of ‘Well, no one really wins at this game anyway’ was just blown out of the water.


As he took in the faces, Roy’s words played back through his head. ‘And you won’t have to stand there with other kids staring at you while they wait for their turn’. Wait. . . what’d he mean by *other kids*. . .? But before he could deal with that added thought, he still had an audience to address.


The paramedic felt his face grow flush as he gave an embarrassed grin and shrugged.


“Uh. . .it’s not for me,” he stated, holding up the bear as he referred to it. “It’s uh. . .it’s for a friend of mine. . .. . .uh, for his daughter. . .uh. . .little girl,” he quickly filled in.


Their expressions unchanging, he took a step back, then turned and headed into the store without another word.


Man, some people take this crane machine business too seriously.




Soon Johnny was on his way back out with his purchases in a large brown paper bag and the bear inside on top of the rest. He couldn’t help but notice the mother and her children were still at the machine, none looking very happy and still empty handed.


Though he would’ve liked to have won Chris something, he didn’t dare stop with the trio there. The last thing he’d be hoping for was to win again. He hurried out to the parking lot, wondering how he would let Roy know he got sucked into the crane machine game again.




Johnny cracked open the door to the locker room and peeked inside. It was the beginning of a new shift and, afraid he’d end up saying too much thus giving his crane machine cave-in away, he had purposely pushed his arrival till the latest possible time where he’d still be able to make it before roll call.


When he saw that the room was empty of any of the crew members, he breathed a sigh of relief and stepped inside. The dark-haired paramedic opened his locker and began to unbutton his brown shirt.


“I was beginning to think you’d forgotten we were on duty,” Roy stated, noticing that Johnny had startled when he spoke. He was surprised as he thought for sure the younger man had heard him step in.


But Gage went on as if he hadn’t reacted physically at all.


“I was beginning to think I’d never get here. I swear, every light I hit was red.” He smiled when his excuse even sounded convincing to himself.


Roy snickered and leaned his left shoulder on his locker. “The kids really liked the stuffed animals.”




He nodded. “They played with them all day yesterday; wanted me to tell you ‘thank you’ for them.”


A grin played on Johnny’s lips. “Well tell ‘em I said ‘welcome’. I told ya they wouldn’t just toss ‘em in the closet or on the bed.”


Roy pushed off the locker and stood up straight. “Don’t forget, that’s only day one. So what’d you do yesterday?”


Johnny shrugged as he fastened his uniform trousers. “Oh stuff. . .laundry . . .nothin’ special.”  He hoped he sounded casual and not like he was hiding anything.


 “No new love interests, huh?”


“Nope.” He sat down on the bench to put on his shoes. “Why?”


Roy shrugged. “Just making conversation.”


Johnny stopped in mid progress of tying his shoe and looked up at his partner. “Well, if ya wanna talk, I’ve got a question for you.”




“What’dya mean yesterday when you said something about the ‘other kids’ waiting to use a crane machine?”


Roy stood speechless a few seconds, then glanced at his watch. “Better get out there for roll call,” he said as he motioned toward the apparatus bay and headed for the exit.


“Roy!” But the senior paramedic was gone, the door closing behind him. Johnny shook his head and went on to tie the other shoe. He’d gotten his answer.


“Just wait till he gets hooked on something one day. . .”




Later in the morning the men were hanging out in the dayroom after doing some chores around the station when the klaxons went off. The call was for an unknown rescue.


As they responded, Johnny grew uneasy with where they were going. It was the same store he’d been at the day before; the scene of his ‘cave-in’ when the crane machine proved to be irresistible. He just hoped that ‘magnetic force’ wouldn’t be pulling at him if they had to go inside the store.




The men brought their trucks to a stop in front of Super Savings Discount Store and climbed out. A woman was holding open a door at the entrance waving them over as soon as their feet hit the ground.


 “In here! Hurry!”


“What’s the problem, ma’am?” Captain Stanley wondered as they hurried to the door.


“Come see! You won’t believe it!”


The firemen quickly exchanged puzzled glances, then immediately did as she suggested. They didn’t have to go far to see what the cause of the commotion was. Johnny’s jaw dropped farther than anyone’s.


A small crowd had gathered near the crane machine and there sitting inside in the middle of it was one of the little girls he’d seen with her mother the day before. Her older sister stood directly in front of the machine bawling, the mother holding her hand as she tried to tell her youngest daughter to quit playing with the toys around her.


 “How’d the kid get in there?” Chet wondered out loud.


“Through the trap door,” the woman replied. “I saw her do it when her mom turned her back to tell her other daughter to stop throwing a tantrum. I was so shocked at what I was seeing, I was speechless!”


“If she got in through the trap door, can’t she get out the same way?” Marco asked.


This time it was Gage who explained. “It won’t work. The door swings inward. She wouldn’t be able to push her way out.”


“Maybe Johnny here can get her with the crane,” Chet remarked. “All that practice he’s had might finally pay off.” 


Johnny made a sour face. “Very funny.”


“How are we gonna get her out?” Mike asked.


While the men had been discussing it, the captain was already in a conversation with the store manager, who appeared to be around the same age as him.


“Don’t you have keys to the thing?” Hank wondered.


“No, sir,” the man replied. “It’s actually taken care of by an outside vendor; they send a rep about twice a week to pick up the money from it and to add toys if needed.”


“Did you call them?”


“Yes, but they don’t have anyone in the area right at the moment. It’ll be about an hour before anyone can get here.”


“Okay. Well. . .” He eyed the machine his men were already looking over to see how they could get in to get the girl out if it came to that. “Any ideas on what would be the easiest way without breaking the glass?”


“I thought you guys knew all about this kind of stuff,” the manager stated.


Hank couldn’t help but grin slightly. “It’s not very often we see a kid in one of these things. In fact, this is my first. I’m sure it’s theirs, too,” he added, motioning toward his men.


“Oh. Right.” He shook his head, then offered, “Well, the lock’s on the back. Maybe you can get in that way somehow.”


“We’ll take a look.”


The captain stepped over to his crew. “There’s not going to be anyone available to open this thing up with a key for about an hour. We’re gonna hafta break in.”


“How?” Marco wondered.


“There’s a lock on the backside. Let’s move this thing away from the wall and see what we’re dealing with; maybe we can cut it off.”


“What’s taking you so long? Please get Chrissy out!” The mother was holding her other little girl who was still sobbing and whining, “I wanna play with the toys, too!”


Hank just had to shake his head inwardly at the mother’s impatience. If she had kept an eye on her daughter in the first place, she wouldn’t have crawled up inside. But then he knew some victims never looked at it from that angle anyway.


“We’re working on it, ma’am. How old is Chrissy?”




If someone had told him the day before that a four-year-old child could get in through the opening with the little swinging door, he’d have never believed it.


Once the crane machine was away from the wall, the firemen saw that it was a keyed lock, meaning they’d have to pick it. After several minutes of trying, they gave up and went to ‘plan B’ – attempting to pry off the top.


Johnny maneuvered the pry bar up under an edging that went all the way around the top of the machine. Little by little he got it loosened until twenty minutes later the entire top could be lifted. With Chet on a step ladder at one end and Marco on one at the other, they carefully lifted and slid the top toward the front. Johnny and Mike grabbed it to help bring it all the way off and rested it on its end against the front of the machine.


Chrissy was directed to stand and reach up with her arms while Roy leaned over the top edge having been given a taller ladder. He reached in and when he had a hold of her, he lifted her out and climbed down.


Not wanting to come out empty handed, Chrissy had brought a stuffed giraffe with a straw hat on its head with her. That issue was going to be the mother’s problem to settle. After a brief once over to make sure the little girl was okay, Roy and Johnny let the child go back with her mom and sister.


Johnny grinned and nudged his partner. “You realize what just happened, don’t cha?”


“Whataya mean?”


“You had to have the help of a four-year-old kid, take the top off, and it’s really not ‘yours’, but you just got your first prize outta the crane machine.”


Roy rolled his eyes, then pointed toward Chet, who was eyeing the toys inside. “Looks like it’s contagious.”


“Roy, you would not believe the powerful hold that thing can have on a person. It’s like a magnet or like a . . .a fishing line. . .you know,  with a huge hook on the end that just reels a person in.”


“Hey,” Hank called out. “Let’s get this top back on. They’ll have to have someone come fix it, but we can at least get it up where it belongs.”


The paramedics stepped over to help, Roy hoping he wouldn’t soon have another shiftmate bringing his kids stuffed animals they didn’t need.


Johnny was just glad that by the time he saw a look of recognition register on Chrissy’s and her mother’s face, that the others were already out the door. They didn’t hear the little girl exclaim, “Look, Mommy! It’s the man who took our teddy bear!”


He hurried out to join the rest of the crew.




Two days after getting off duty, it was time to pull another shift. Roy climbed out of his Porsche and was just about to close the door when he heard a “Psst”.


He looked around, a puzzled expression on his face, then shrugged.


Must’ve been hearing things. . .


But after closing the car door, and taking a step away, once again he heard, “Psst”.


This time he saw Chet Kelly peeking around the rear of his VW Bus.


Roy walked toward the curly-haired fireman when he motioned him over.


“What’s up?” He figured it had to be about a prank of some kind on Johnny.


“Nothin’. I’ve just got somethin’ for ya. Before Gage gets here.”


Roy already had an idea what was coming next. He’d half expected it, though he was a little amazed that Chet would go through with it after the hassle he gave Johnny.


“How much did they cost you?”


“Promise you won’t say anything to John?”


The senior paramedic just looked at him, figuring a pile of toys would come tumbling out of the back of Chet’s VW bus if he opened the rear doors.  


 “Okay, four dollars.”


Yep, it was going to be a load of stuffed animals. He’d gotten even more carried away than Johnny. Roy voiced his thoughts. “What’d you do? Empty out the machine?”


“Well, no. . .I guess. . .” he stepped over to the passenger side door, and opened it, pulling out a stuffed bear in a cheerleader outfit and a gorilla in paisley swimming trunks. Chet held them up as he returned to the end of his bus. “I guess it’s not as easy as I thought,” he admitted sheepishly.


“You mean after giving Johnny such a hard time about spending a few quarters, you spent three times as much for less?”


“I couldn’t help it. I mean. . .well. . .I had the bear on the first try. I was sure I got it. It was a done deal, right? But then the claw jerked when it came up and dropped the bear. But it looked like it was really gonna be a sure deal after that. So I tried again. And it was. . .until the claw moved after picking it up and damn if it didn’t drop it again.” He sighed. “Roy, don’tcha see? The thing was winning. I couldn’t let a stupid prize grabber beat me. I couldn’t let Gage beat me. So I had to get that bear. Just to prove I could.”


“And the gorilla?”


Chet shrugged. “Well, I couldn’t leave Chris out. Besides, you wouldn’t believe it. . .I wouldn’t have if I didn’t experience the phenomenon myself. . .there’s just somethin’ about that machine. It’s like a. . .like. . .”


“A magnet?”


“Exactly! How’d you know?”


Roy opened his mouth to reply just as they saw the front end of Johnny’s Land Rover start into the parking area from the side of the station. Chet smashed the animals into Roy’s arms and turned him away from the approaching Rover. 


“Go stick those in your car.”


Roy did as asked while Chet smiled and waved at Gage, hoping to keep his eyes off his partner.


Johnny parked next to Roy’s car and climbed out of his vehicle just as Roy shut a door and Chet hurried into the station.


“What’s Chet up to now?” the younger man wondered. He’d seen that *I’m not up to anything* look on the fireman’s face enough times to know it meant he was scheming something.


He wasn’t on anyone’s side, so Roy motioned him over and opened the car door.


Johnny peered inside and grinned. “Chet too?”


Roy nodded. “I don’t know whether to thank you guys or --”


“Hang us up on a crane?” He snorted.


“That’s an even better idea.”


He closed the door and headed for the rear entrance of the station, leaving Johnny wondering what the original idea was and what he was going to do with the six homeless stuffed animals now in his Land Rover.


Neither Chet nor Johnny was aware Roy had given a crane machine another try too, only to come up empty handed. He understood the magnetic pull more than either of them realized. Even if it was just to take a look at what was inside. There was just something about those machines. . .




A few hours into the shift, the paramedics were returning to the station after their second response of the day. Roy brought the squad to a stop in the apparatus bay and sat back, his eyes on his partner.


“So how long are you gonna wait till you spring it on Chet that I ratted him out?”


Johnny shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I’m not.” He paused a few seconds, then added, “For your sake, of course.”


“Thanks,” Roy said as he reached forward and removed the key from the ignition. “I was wondering when I might need to suggest a run to Rampart for supplies we didn’t need.”


Gage looked over and grinned as both men opened their doors. “Roy, would I do that to you?”


The senior paramedic climbed out and closed the driver’s side door as Johnny came around the front of the squad. He thought of making a comment, but decided to head for the dayroom instead.


No sense in dragging it out. He might re-think it.




Johnny and Roy walked into the dayroom where three members of the engine crew were sitting at one end of the table, Chet and Mike playing Chess while Marco looked on. The men glanced up, greeting the paramedics before returning their attention to the game.


The younger paramedic pulled out a chair and sat while Roy continued on to the refrigerator to get the milk out.


“So, who’s winning?” Johnny wondered.


“Nobody,” Chet stated. “Not yet, anyway.”


Johnny studied the pieces while Roy poured milk in a glass and returned the beverage to the refrigerator.


Chet glanced at the dark-haired paramedic. “Don’t you have something you need to be doing?”


“No,” he said as he shook his head.


A few more seconds of trying to concentrate, and Chet was once again addressing Gage’s presence. “Maybe we should get Cap to ask for one of those prize grabber machines. At least it would keep you busy.”


Me?” Johnny asked as he splayed his hand on his chest.  “What about you?”


Roy’s mouth dropped open at the slip, but no words would come out. Instead he just gave a disbelieving look at his partner.   


Chet’s head whipped around, his eyes first on Johnny, then Roy. And though he initially wasn’t positive it had been a reference to him actually playing the machine, DeSoto’s expression confirmed it.


Johnny immediately placed his elbows on the table, his fingertips on his forehead and thumbs just in front of his ears. An ‘I can’t believe I did that’ look was on his face.


Man, why’d Chet have to bring up the subject? Roy’s gonna wring my neck. . .


In the meantime Marco was taking in the exchanges with amusement; Mike smiled and declared, “Checkmate!”


“What?” Chet’s attention was quickly back on the game.


“Checkmate. I won.”


“You can’t checkmate a guy when he’s not looking.”


“Sure I can. I just did.”


“Mike. . .”


“So what’s with the prize grabber machine, Chet?” Marco asked. He then grinned wide, his gaze on Johnny and Roy, then once again the curly-haired fireman. “Don’t tell me you’re hooked too.”


“No. I may’ve played it once. . .” The sound of a throat clearing from Roy had him adding. “All right, a few times. But I’m not like John here. . . I can stop.”


“Hey! I stopped, “ Johnny declared indignantly. When doubtful eyes were focused on him, he added, “Sorta. . .”


“Stopped what?” Captain Stanley wondered as he strolled into the room.


“The prize grabber machine,” Marco answered.


“Prize grabber machine?” The captain was looking from one man to the next for more of an explanation.


Roy set his empty glass on the counter. “The thing the little girl was stuck in the other day.”


“Oh, that. You mean the claw machine.”


“I’ve never seen a game with so many names before,” Mike commented. “With Monopoly, you get Monopoly. . .Parcheesi, Parcheesi. . .Chess, checkmate,” he looked at Chet and smiled, quickly adding, “I mean Chess. But this other thing has at least three names so far. And that’s just among the six of us.”


“I wouldn’t give it up,” Stanley said as he walked over and grabbed a cup from the cupboard. He poured himself some coffee and turned to face his men. “We just give the toys my wife wins over to Goodwill or the Salvation Army,” he said with a shrug and walked out of the room.


The others looked on with open mouths, four in surprise and Roy beginning to wonder if he was the only person in Carson who couldn’t win.




Soon after the captain’s comment about crane machine prizes, Johnny and Roy were on their way to a call for a man down. When they arrived on the scene, they could see there was indeed a man down on the ground in a gravel covered yard with man-made dirt mounds scattered about, each with some kind of plant or tree on it.


A well-endowed woman in her early thirties who’d been kneeling down beside the victim got to her feet, waving the paramedics over as curious neighbors stepped out to see why an emergency vehicle was in their area. When they realized it was Frank Hill on the ground near the bottom of one of his landscaping projects, they turned and headed back to their homes. They’d seen him take a fall often enough; none of the tumbles had been very serious.


“If a man’s going to build big bumps in his yard, he ought to be able to walk on or around them without falling down,” one man muttered to another as they walked away from the edge of the hedge trimmed yard.


Johnny and Roy hurried across the dirt surface to where Frank was lying on his side, pain etched on his face. He was in front of a fourteen-inch high and three-foot across mound of dirt where a very small rose bush had recently been planted. The dirt was wet from it having been watered and an obvious foot print indicated a slide in the mud on the side of the mound. The garden hose was lying nearby as well.


“What happened?” Johnny asked as he and Roy knelt down beside the man.


“Ah, I guess I got. . .got the dirt too wet. Slipped and lost my balance.”


“His back went out when he fell,” the woman explained, a concerned look on her face. “He’s been doing a lot of work out here lately. I told him to take it easy. Frank, is there anywhere else you hurt?” she asked in an effort to help the paramedics.


He nodded. “My knee. . .I think I twisted my right knee. . .too.”


“Are you his wife?” Roy asked.


“Yes. Yes, I’m Marcia. Marcia Hill.” She held out her hand in a friendly gesture, but Gage and DeSoto each nodded once in acknowledgement and continued to work on her husband.


Once they had him set and Roy was helping the ambulance attendants secure him on the stretcher, Johnny glanced around the yard at the dozen or so mounds of all sizes and the greenery growing in each one.


“You sure have a lot of landscaping,” he commented to Marcia.


“Oh, that’s all Frank. That’s his project, not mine.”




She nodded her head. “He has a thing for mounds.” She then glanced down at her obviously large bosoms beneath her pink t-shirt. “He’s a breast man.”


Johnny just gave a weak grin and a snort as he nodded, and made a quick escape to close the ambulance doors. 




After they left Frank Hill in the care of Mike Morton at Rampart, the paramedics were once again on their way to the station. Johnny chewed his lower lip in thought as Roy wondered what could be on his partner’s mind next.




“Okay what?” Gage wondered.


“Okay, out with it. The suspense is killing me.”


“I was just thinking about hang-ups.”


“Like the crane machine?”


“Kinda. Actually I was thinking about Frank’s.”


“Oh that.” Johnny had filled him in at the hospital as they were getting more supplies.


“Yeah. Well, the way I see it,” he began, his right hand splayed on his chest, “the crane machine’s not such a crazy hobby. And if you take into consideration what Cap said, it’s actually beneficial; not only to the person doing it but to those who get the rewards from the game.”  He noticed Roy frown and recalled his partner hadn’t won yet. “When. . .uh, when they win. . .you know.”


“Somehow I get the feeling you’re gonna be facing the stares of more kids.”


Johnny sat back and sighed. At least he didn’t say ‘other kids’ this time.




Captain Stanley’s suggestion about crane machines had made Johnny and Chet both more comfortable with the idea. They no longer felt like they needed to be ‘closet’ game players. And with the idea of what to do with any stuffed animals they won that didn’t involve saddling Roy with a load of toys, there seemed to be no reason to try to avoid the machines.


With another day off and plenty of spare quarters, Chet found himself standing in front of the prize grabber as the claw slowly made its way across to a brown bear in a fireman’s uniform. How appropriate it was going to be for him to give that one to someone. He couldn’t let it go without trying.


He smiled  wide as the claw dropped and picked up the animal with no difficulty and brought it across to the front left corner where it would drop into the hole and he could pull it out.


Chet waited as the three prongs opened. But the bear stayed put.


What? Drop, you stupid thing!”


Little kids watched with their mouths open as the grown man tried shaking the machine. But still the bear stayed suspended.


Chet peered closer and noticed that somehow a very small bit of the bear’s brown fur was stuck to the center of the claw. How that had happened, he didn’t know. But it was obvious the animal wasn’t going to move. He put in another quarter, hoping it would fall as soon as the claw started to move, but the bear stayed in place until it was back over the other animals in the bin. Then it dropped and lay belly-up.


“Oh, that’s just not fair!”


He put in another quarter to try for the bear again, but the angle was off and the claw barely scraped it. Five quarters later, Chet was ready to give up. The bear had been stubborn and he was out of coins.


“It was so easy at first, how could I miss it that many times?” he muttered to himself as he walked away. Suddenly there were squeals of delight and he glanced over his shoulder. A little boy had gotten what he couldn’t.  Chet sighed, and consoled himself with, “Well, I guess I got it right to where it had to be for someone else to get it.”


But that only made him feel worse. If I’d just had one more quarter. . .


He could see where this hobby was going to take him if he really kept it up. I won’t have any money for dates. Or Poker games. . .


The thought of the latter cured him of any desire to go near another crane machine.


I don’t know how Cap’s wife can put *up* with this kind of stuff. . .




 Johnny wasn’t fairing any better than Chet. After three quarters he hadn’t snagged a single thing. It seemed as though his luck had run out. With one last quarter, he tried again. Johnny watched as the claw made its way across the interior of the box until it suddenly stopped.


The paramedic opened his mouth in surprise and protest. He hadn’t stopped it yet. He tried moving the joy stick in all directions, but nothing happened. The claw was still stuck. He tried pressing the button in the center of the control to make it go down to retrieve a prize. Still nothing.


Gage glanced around to see if anyone had noticed and it was then he saw the familiar mother and her two daughters entering the store.


Don’t they *ever* shop anywhere else?


But he quickly had to admit, he was in as much of a rut going to the same place as they were. Not wanting them to see he once again most likely interfered with their plans for the game, he put up one hand to hide his face from the side as he hurriedly walked toward the main doors. He chanced a quick peek and the youngest girl caught a glimpse of him. Johnny immediately stepped up his pace with his hand once again shielding his face. As he made his escape outside, he heard the little girl exclaim, “Mommy, he broke the machine!”


Though he had a feeling he’d be sucked in by the ‘invisible magnet’ again sometime, for now Johnny figured he was better off steering clear of the crane machine world. It would give his luck a chance to kick back in; and hopefully allow the mother and her daughters to forget who he was.


I wonder if Cap’s wife ever has these kind of things happen to her . . .




With no plans set for the day, Johnny decided to take a drive down to the coast to see if he could get any interesting pictures. When he’d filled up the roll of film in his camera snapping shots around San Pedro and Long Beach, he got onto the 7 Freeway to return to Carson.


Only a few minutes into the drive and up to full speed, Johnny was enjoying a song by the Eagles playing on the radio when he suddenly saw a brown pelican flying toward the front of his Land Rover.


He was sure the bird would pull up in its flight pattern, but in the next few seconds it became obvious that it was heading straight for his windshield. He didn’t have room to take evasive action. There was a car coming up fast in the lane beside him. And a pickup truck that was tailgating him made it near impossible to slow down suddenly to swerve onto the shoulder and maintain control. Before he had a chance to try anything, the bird was just a brown blur as it hit the windshield, shattering a large hole. Small pieces of glass flew in all directions inside as the pelican's momentum carried the bird into the passenger seat with a smack. Stunned, Johnny hit the brakes after all and tried to veer off to the shoulder. But the driver of the pickup truck behind him didn’t react in time to avoid ramming into the Land Rover. Though he was seat belted in, the paramedic’s upper body was jolted backward and then forward, his head whipping with the motion.


The driver of the car to the side of him saw the bird go through the glass and immediately hit his brakes as well, not realizing a tractor trailer was approaching in the same lane from farther back. Unable to stop his massive truck, that driver tried to move to the next lane on the left and lost control, his big rig jack knifing across all the lanes before he came to a rest. Several more vehicles who couldn’t take evasive action to get past the out-of-control semi, collided as they attempted to avoid running into it as it blocked their way.


When everything had come to a stop there were nine vehicles involved, with everything from minor to major damage and one dazed bird on the seat of Johnny’s Land Rover. The paramedic released his lap belt, grateful he’d had it on. He glanced at the still stunned pelican. It seemed to be okay over all.


At least it’s still alive. . .


But he was worried about what had taken place behind him and how the others involved had faired. Gage quickly opened his door and scrambled out just as a couple of people on the scene came toward him.


“Are you okay?” a man asked.


“Yeah.” Johnny looked at the pickup truck that had ended up half in the lane and half on the shoulder of the freeway and up against his bumper. He was relieved to see the driver get out, apparently all right.


He then hurried to check on the remainder of victims caught up in the accident as the concerned witnesses followed. “Do you know if anyone’s seriously hurt?” he asked.




Coming around to the other side of the tractor trailer, they saw the driver run from his rig to the cars that had smashed into one another behind him. The ones who could get out of their vehicles were, but some were trapped by jammed doors or the fact they’d been caught up in the middle and were blocked in by other ruined cars.


Johnny rushed over to do what ever he could until help arrived. Miraculously the injuries to everyone involved were only minor.


Once the fire department was on the scene and Gage had told his version of what happened to one of the police officers there, he made his way back to the Land Rover to check on the pelican.


He sighed and frowned when he saw the damage to the vehicle as he approached. In his haste to make sure everyone else was okay, he hadn’t paid much attention. Now it was obvious he’d soon be in a rental car for awhile.


A police officer was at the Land Rover with the driver’s side door open and was talking to the still disoriented bird as he waited for animal control to arrive on the scene.


“How’s he doin’?”


He looked at Johnny and shrugged. “I guess okay. He hasn’t said much.”


The paramedic snorted a laugh despite some concern for the pelican, then slid back into his seat, being careful of the glass here and there.


“He really did a number on your windshield.”


Johnny looked at the hole. “Too bad that’s not all he did.” He eyed the feathered traveler.

“If you only had any idea what you just caused. . .”


As he leaned over toward the bird, Johnny felt some soreness in his neck and shoulders. All this time, he’d figured he was fine so he hadn’t worried about the paramedics checking him out right away. He’d insisted they take a look at the other victims first. But he realized now it was possible he wasn’t as okay as he’d originally thought. Suddenly he wasn’t sure moving around so much had been a good idea either.




Holding a brown paper bag in one hand, Roy knocked on the door to Johnny’s apartment and waited patiently for the younger man to answer. He knew his partner was getting around slower than usual. It had been five days since the accident, but Johnny was still very sore from the jolt he took.


Finally the door opened, and Johnny greeted him wearing a white t-shirt, gray shorts and still sporting a neck brace. The game show ‘Jeopardy’ could be heard in the background.


“C’mon in,” he said as he stepped aside.


Roy did as requested. Once inside he eyed his friend. “How long till you get that thing off?”


Johnny held out his hands palms up in place of a shrug. “I don’t know. . .hopefully soon.”


“I guess you won’t be ‘craning’ your neck at any machines for awhile, huh?”


“Ha ha. Very funny.” Johnny shifted his eyes to look at the bag still in Roy’s hand. “What’s that?”


“Oh, just something I ‘picked up’ the other day.”


The dark eyes held a wary look as Roy handed Johnny the bag, but he kept the conversation going. “I can’t wait till I can go back to work. I’m goin’ crazy with all this free time.”


“Well, you’ll be glad to know you missed out on one thing. . .we had another run to that store. . .they got a few more of those Tiny Tabitha dolls in, but apparently not nearly enough. This time it was an all out fight between three women.”


“I s’pose we can kinda see how someone might get a little obsessed with a toy now, huh?”


Roy gave a slight grin. “Maybe. But at least we didn’t get into any fights.” Johnny’s face registered doubt, which prompted him to question, “Did you. . .?”


“No, of course not.” But he had found a rivalry in the woman and her daughters. He was glad that mother wasn’t the fighting type or he may have been in traction instead of just a neck brace.


“So were you able to find out how the pelican is doing?”


“You mean Chester P?”


“Chester. . .P?” Roy questioned, his eyebrows raised.


“Uh huh. P for pelican. And, hey, after what he’s put me through, he’s definitely a Chester.”  Johnny ignored the eye roll and continued. “Anyway, I sure was. Aside from a few cuts, he’s doin’ all right. But you won’t believe what they told me.”


Roy waited as he continued.


“The bird was flying under the influence.” When Roy’s eyebrows once again rose, Johnny added, “He was drunk.”


 “How. . .?”


“Something about the algae in his system. Apparently he’s not the first one to do this after consuming it and they recognized the symptoms fairly easily. You know, never in my life did I ex. . .pect. . .” he trailed off as he held the bag so that he could see in it. “Roy. . .”


“I think I finally figured the crane machine out. It’s all about attitude and timing.”




“Well, before I couldn’t win anything. But I was just trying to get my kids something I knew they didn’t need. So maybe deep down I didn’t think I should win. But when I walked over to the machine and saw that, well, I knew I had to get it. It was just too good to pass up. So,” he said with a smile and a shrug, “I won.”


Johnny just stared at him a brief moment. “I think we’ve been friends too long,” he kidded. “You’re starting to sound like me.”


“At least I’m not sounding like Chet. He’s convinced the machines cheat.”


Gage snorted a laugh, then let the bag drop as he pulled out a plush pelican. “You’ve gotta rub it in, huh?”


“Just getting you ready for when you get back.”


And the younger man knew what that meant. He’d just gotten through the crane machine hassles, and now there was likely to be a fallout of jokes thanks to the pelican . . . it was going to be a long time before he had any peace.


He tossed the toy bird onto the couch, then stepped over and eased himself down, offering for his friend to have a seat and stay awhile. Roy settled in a nearby chair, glad to just be sitting in it. There was a time when he’d tried to sleep in it when he stayed at Johnny’s while his house was being fumigated. It converted to a twin sized bed, but it was never comfortable enough to actually fall asleep for long. It had actually snapped back at him a few times during the night.


"You want anything to drink?" Gage asked.


"No, I'm fine. What about you? You need me to get you anything?"


"Nah, I'm good."


Just then a cartoon commercial featuring a little boy asking an owl how many licks it took to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop came on TV, drawing their attention. Both men watched in amusement as the owl chomped down the sucker just after taking two licks. His answer, ‘three’.


Johnny furrowed his brow. “You know. . .I wonder how many licks it does take to get to the center.”


“The world may never know,” Roy quoted from the commercial.


“Or maybe it will.”


Here we go again.






Thanks to Jill Hargan for the beta read and suggestions. Any errors are mine. :o)


This story came to mind because I understand the crane machine fixation all too well. :o) The drunk pelican is a recent finding about some of the ones on the coast of California. Certain algae they consume is really causing them to fly ‘under the influence’. And thanks to my daughter for the Tootsie Pop inspiration. It takes 1029 licks to get to the Tootsie Roll center. Or at least it did for my 11-year-old.  :o)


*Click above to send Audrey feedback



Stories Page