Every Little Bit Helps
By Audrey W.
The men of Station 51’s A-shift sat around the table in the dayroom after having a dinner of chili and cornbread prepared by Marco. The dirty dishes from the meal sat stacked on the counter near the kitchen sink, as Mike and Johnny waited for their food to settle before doing their assigned chore of cleaning up the sink.
Hank Stanley was already back in his office taking care if some paper work he hadn’t been able to get to earlier in the afternoon.
Johnny leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head as he watched Chet set up his fifth date in less than two weeks. Hanging up the telephone receiver in its cradle after talking to his latest girlfriend, the curly haired fireman turned around, a smug grin on his face.
“What’dya’ do, Chet? Rob a bank?” Gage teased.
“Yeah,” Marco added, “this’ll be the fifth time you’ve taken Candy out in ten days.”
Chet shrugged. “Hey, I work for a living. I can afford to take a chick out now and then.”
“Well, I know I can’t afford to pay for myself and a chick to go to dinner and a movie every other night on my salary,” Gage said, splaying a hand on his chest and sitting forward. “I don’t see how you can being that we make about the same amount.”
“Gage, you’re so tight, you wouldn’t spend it if you did have it,” Kelly shot back.
Roy sat quietly listening to the conversation, glad that as a married man, he didn’t have to say a word.
Normally not one to say much, Mike jumped into the mix. “That’s true, Johnny. I remember when you spent eight dollars and forty-two cents on a dinner for both you and your date together.”
Gage sighed. “Mike, you’re losing the focus here. This conversation isn’t about me. We were talkin’ about Chet. Don’t let him get ya off the subject.”
“That’s right.” Marco looked to Kelly, who was just about to leave the room. “So, how do you do it?”
Chet turned around and shrugged. “Does a guy haveta give away all his secrets?”
“Yeah. . .” came three replies at once.
Just then, Hank Stanley came into the room and noticed Chet seemed to have an audience.
“Well. . .what’s up in here?” he asked.
“Chet was about to tell us how he manages to afford to take out a date every other night,” Marco explained.
“Really.” The captain glanced at Chet, noticed an ill expression on the fireman’s face, and decided it could be interesting to stick around. He walked over to the table and took a seat in one of the chairs. His arms folded across his chest, he leaned back. “Go ahead, Kelly.”
“Uh. . .well. . .it’s really no big deal. . .” Seeing five faces staring at him, still waiting, he continued. “I’m . . .uh. . .I’m a Secret Shopper.”
“A what?” Johnny and Hank asked in unison.
Much to Chet’s relief, Roy saved him some explaining.
“Oh, I’ve heard of those. Joanne thought about becoming one once.” He noticed the others still looking puzzled. “You sign up with a company or two and they send you to different movie theaters, restaurants, or stores to be a ‘customer’. Then you report on how you were treated, the current condition of the place at the time, and so forth. After you do your report, the company reimburses you for the expenses plus a little extra.”
“Oh, I get it,” Marco said. “Chet is taking his date with him and getting paid for his portion, so it’s like paying for just one person.”
“Yeah, no wonder he can afford to take his girlfriend out every other night,” Mike added.
“Chet, is this true?” Captain Stanley asked, while Johnny blurted out, “That’s illegal! Isn’t it?”
The Irishman shrugged. “It’s a win-win situation. I’m only getting reimbursed for myself and no where does the contract say I can’t bring a date along. I do pay for her stuff,” he assured.
The others were silent as Hank got to his feet. “Well, it sounds like you’ve got a plan there, Kelly,” he said, walking over to Chet. “Just hope you don’t regret letting the cat out of the bag,” he added, patting the fireman on the right shoulder and exiting the room.
“But I thought I had to. . .” Chet’s gaze followed the captain till he was gone from sight. I thought he said I *had* to tell. The fireman then looked to the others. Mike and Johnny were already headed for the sink to wash the dishes and Marco was opening the refrigerator to look for something to drink. Roy was still sitting at the table, and simply smiled and shrugged.
Two weeks later, Chet came into the dayroom prior to roll call for another shift, a frown on his face. Leaning over the table to look at an assortment of donuts the captain had brought in earlier, Johnny stopped whistling the tune If You’re Happy And You Know It when he saw his shiftmate’s discouraged expression.
“Whatsa’ matter, Chester B.?”
Marco came in whistling a happy tune and also stopped when he saw the downcast look on Kelly’s face. Mike soon followed suit.
“What’s wrong, Chet?” Stoker wondered. “Can’t find your favorite kind of donut?”
The others chuckled as Kelly continued to frown.
“No. My ‘Secret Shopper’ job, that’s what.”
“What happened?” Johnny asked. “They fire ya?” he snorted.
Again, Chet failed to see the humor. “I’m not sure what’s up. They just told me they had more than enough people for the job assignments and that I’m only needed once a week now.”
Marco, Johnny and Mike suddenly were heading for the exit to the apparatus bay, avoiding eye contact with Chet, when Roy walked into the room. The three men stopped near the doorway and listened as DeSoto talked to Kelly.
“Hey, Chet, I owe you one. I signed up for that ‘Secret Shopper’ job and you’re right. . .it’s pretty good.”
“You did?” the curly-haired fireman didn’t seem happy.
Roy nodded. “Yeah. When you brought it up, I got to thinking . . .and it sounded like a good way to make extra money, plus since my portion is paid for, Jo and I just have babysitter expenses and her half to pay for. Every little bit helps these days, especially with a family.”
“No kiddin’,” Chet mumbled.
Next Hank Stanley came into the room and stood beside Roy, a big smile on his face. “Chet, I gotta hand it to you. That part time job was the best idea you’ve come up with yet.”
“You mean you’re . . .?”
“Oh, I’m not doing it,” Hank answered, a hand splayed on his chest. “I’ve got enough to worry about here.”
Kelly sighed in relief.
“My wife is. I mentioned it to her and it’s turned out well. Gives her an excuse to get out of the house and she makes extra spending money to boot.”
Chet couldn’t believe it. He almost expected Gage to try to jump in on the idea. But there were two of his slots taken between Roy and the captain’s wife. It was when he glanced at the other three and saw the looks of guilt all over their faces that he realized where the rest of his slots had probably gone.
Johnny, Marco and Mike too?
“Don’t tell me. . .you guys. . .”
Gage grinned and shrugged, Marco suddenly noticed a small stain on his uniform, and Mike claimed he’d left the water running in the latrine.
“It figures.” The curly haired fireman sighed. “Well, I guess there’s always Plan B.”
“What’s that?” Johnny asked.
“Start making a few phone calls to see if I can market my Human Fly Shoes.”
Thanks to Jill H. and Kenda for the betas and suggestions to improve the two scenes.
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