Fool Me Once
"We've got a memo from
headquarters," Hank Stanley announced over lunch. He held a paper on official
letterhead in one hand and shoveled Marco's chili casserole into his mouth with
the other. It had been an extremely busy morning for A Shift and all the men
were eating quickly before they got toned out again.
"What's it say, Cap?" Johnny asked, or at least that's what Hank thought he asked through a mouthful of chili and cornbread.
"Looks like the Department has teamed up with Rampart to hold a fund raiser for the hospital's new burn unit." Hank took another bite of his lunch, but made sure he chewed and swallowed before he spoke again. "They're putting on a carnival... you know, games, pony rides, bake sale, the whole shot."
For a long moment, no one said anything. The only sound was chewing. Finally, Roy spoke up.
"What do they want us to do?" he asked, voicing the question for everyone.
"Each station is supposed to provide a game booth. They've given us a few guidelines." He held up the paper. "But mostly it's up to us."
Once more silence reigned in the day room. Hank watched as each of his men avoided looking at each other or making eye contact with him. Obviously this wasn't something they were thrilled about.
"All three shifts will be involved," he pointed out. "We won't have to do it all ourselves."
"When is it?" Marco asked.
"Yeah, how much time do we have to come up with something?" Chet added.
Hank glanced at the paper. "Says here, it's April 1st. But all the ideas for the booths have to be approved by March 15th."
"But that's next week," Johnny protested. "How're we supposed to come up with somethin' that fast?"
"Well, I had an idea about that," Hank informed them with a smile. "I suggest we pick one man from each shift to form a committee. Whatever they decide, the rest of us go along with. That way we don't have to worry about trying to get everybody together for a meeting."
"That sounds great, Cap, but who are ya gonna pick to represent us?" Johnny's voice sounded hesitant. Hank couldn't blame the paramedic for not wanting to be the one. The last time Gage had represented their shift, it had cost them all a bundle and the rest of the guys didn't speak to Johnny for several days.
"I was thinking of asking for a volunteer. Anybody want the job?"
There was another long silence as each man eyed the other, waiting for someone else to speak up. Just when Hank thought Roy was going to bite the bullet and raise his hand, Chet suddenly jumped in.
"I'll do it, Cap."
"You will?" Johnny echoed Hank's incredulous question.
"Sure," Chet replied, looking hurt at their surprise. "I'm a civic minded guy. And it's for a good cause, right?"
Hank nodded, then pointed his spoon in Kelly's direction. "Just remember, it has to be in good taste."
"Ca-ap," Chet protested the insult to his character. "Would I make you guys do anything dumb? Don't answer that," he quickly added as Johnny looked about to say something. "Seriously, guys, I'll do ya all proud, you'll see."
"All right," Hank shrugged. "I'll talk to Captain Hookrader and Captain Fox and I'll let you know what they say."
"Great, Cap." Chet rubbed his hands together, then stood and took his dishes to the sink.
Hank wasn't sure he liked the smile that played on the Irishman's face.
Johnny sat at the table,
slowly finishing his milk. Chet was humming happily to himself as he cleaned up
the kitchen and Johnny regarded him suspiciously. It wasn't like Kelly to jump
up and be the one to volunteer. Something was up.
He got up and sauntered over to the sink. He handed Chet his empty glass, then leaned against the counter top, his arms crossed over his chest. He stood there for several minutes before Chet gave him a quizzical look.
"What's wrong with you, Gage? Don't you have something to do?"
Johnny gave Chet a smug grin. "I'm doing it."
Chet eyed him curiously. "Oh yeah. What's that?"
"I'm waitin' for you to tell me what's goin' on."
The Irishman shook his head. "I don't know what you're talkin' about."
Johnny decided to cut to the chase. "Tell me why you're so all fired up about being on this game committee. Sounds like a headache to me."
"Shows how much you know," Chet told him, his face now wearing the smug grin.
Johnny stood up straight, a frown on his face. "Oh yeah, what does that mean? You have to go to the boring meeting and be in charge and make all the phone calls. That's a ton of work."
Chet's grin turned devious and a gleam appeared in his eyes. "Yeah. But it'll be worth it."
"How so?" Johnny was truly worried now.
"I get to choose what the booth will be," Chet reminded him, then smiled even wider, "and you guys have to do whatever I tell you."
Johnny stood there, mouth open, as his mind registered the impact of Chet's words. After a moment, his face screwed up in disgust.
Chet arrived for the
next shift whistling a jauntily off-key tune. It immediately raised Johnny's
suspicions, and he lifted his hand away from the handle of his locker.
"You're in a good mood, Chet. What are you up to?"
"I know that gleam in your eye. You put something in my locker, didn't you?"
"Gage, you're paranoid."
"I am not paranoid. C'mon, what is it? A water bomb? Shaving cream pie?"
"There's nothing in your locker. Besides you were here before me today."
"Oh. Hey, you’re right," a broad grin lit the paramedic's face, "So if you're not tormenting me, what's up with the whistling?"
"Me and the guys from B and C shift met yesterday and decided on our booth for the fund raiser."
"Oh, yeah? So what's it gonna be?"
"Patience, Johnny, patience. You'll find out soon enough." Chet turned his back and went about donning his uniform, leaving Gage with no choice to do the same.
With a few minutes prior to roll call, both men rushed to the kitchen for coffee and each managed a few sips before the Captain's summons rang out.
"Gentlemen, nice to see everybody on time today. Only two announcements from Headquarters today. One is for all of us to remember to fill out the new insurance forms if you haven't already done so. And the second announcement is that all the booths for the fund raiser have been approved. Chet, I believe you’re going to tell us what our booth is?"
"Uh, yeah, Cap. Me, Dwyer, and Thomas decided... we... uh... decided on a Kissing Booth."
"A KISSING BOOTH?" Five voices rang out in consternation.
"Well, we figured with all the single guys at 51s, it'd be a great opportunity to raise decent money."
Captain Stanley continued to stare at the mustached Irishman as his shift mates grumbled and groaned.
"Okay, quiet! Let's finish roll call before this... um... discussion breaks out. We've got a couple of drills we need to try and complete today. John and Roy, your logbooks need work. And there's a ton of hose to hang, C-shift had a busy night. Now, assignments are as follows..."
A few minutes later roll call was finished and the men all turned to Chet.
"A kissing booth? Chet, you've got to be kidding me." Johnny was the first to voice his opinion.
"I'm not. Think about it, Gage. Gorgeous women lined up as far as the eye can see, waiting... just waiting to get a chance to give you a kiss. On the lips. At a dollar a kiss, we'll be raking in the dough."
As Chet's words sank in, Johnny's crooked grin made an appearance.
"Hey, I hadn't thought of that. That might be kinda fun."
Roy glanced around at the other single firefighters who were all now wearing dopey grins. He shook his head. Oh, brother.
"Uh, guys, you might wanna think about this. There's no guarantee that all the woman are going to be pretty or young. I mean, it could be a line of grandmothers for all you know."
The locker room was
quiet, but Johnny still cast a nervous glance over his shoulder before he turned
to stare at his reflection in the large mirror over the sink. He normally didn't
give his looks much thought. Sure, he didn't think he was too bad off in that
department, but he didn't have any illusions that he was a super hunk or
anything like that.
He turned just enough that he could examine his profile, then glanced down at his thin build. Facing the mirror once more, he reached up and tugged at a wild tuft of hair that was hanging in his eyes. Maybe if he got a hair cut before Friday.
He frowned for a moment, thinking about Roy's comment the other day about who might line up to buy tickets for a kissing booth. He wasn't concerned about kissing a few old ladies. It was for a good cause, after all. No, he was more worried about who wouldn't be lined up to kiss. He was scheduled to pull an hour's turn in the booth right after Charlie Dwyer. The tall, blond C shift paramedic was always bragging about his good looks and how many chicks he dated. When Johnny found out the duty roster, he'd felt a sudden stab of doubt that he couldn't compete with that. How humiliating it would be to have the line suddenly disappear after he came on.
He leaned forward with his hands resting on the edge of the sink. Why couldn't he have pulled the slot after Chet? Anybody would be an improvement over Kelly.
"You thinking of a face lift?"
Johnny whirled, his breath catching in his throat until he saw it was only Roy standing there. He let out a relieved sigh.
"Geeze, you shouldn't sneak up on a guy like that."
Roy merely smiled and sat down on the bench. "What're you doing in here? We're supposed to be going over to the high school for that CPR demo."
"I know, I know. We got plenty of time." Johnny came over an plopped down next to his partner. "You're sure lucky you're married," he announced glumly.
"That's what I keep telling you," Roy answered with a chuckle.
Johnny's brows lifted. "I didn't mean I wanted... I mean, you're lucky you have Joanne and all... but I meant..." He blew out a heavy breath and ran a hand through his mop of dark hair. "I just meant you're lucky you don't have to be in that stupid booth."
"I thought you were looking forward to it."
Johnny's mouth twisted in a dubious grimace. "Yeah... I am... I was... I mean..." He paused and fixed his partner with a serious glare. "You're the one who said it might not be all it's cracked up to be."
Roy's eyebrows climbed into his hairline. "So it's my fault you've gotten roped into doing something you don't want to do?"
"No, no, no." Johnny waved his hands to negate any anger on Roy's part. "I don't mind helping out. That's not what I said."
Roy shook his head in confusion. "I'm not sure you've said anything at all."
"Oh ha, ha, very funny." He stood up and moved to the door. "Since you're married, I wouldn't expect you to understand."
Roy got that look on his face that told Johnny he might as well have spoken in Chinese and the younger paramedic rolled his eyes. "C'mon, let's get going. We're gonna be late."
The carnival was in full
swing when Roy left Joanne and the kids at the pony rides and went with Johnny
to take a look at the rest of the exhibits. They had about 15 minutes before
Johnny was due to take his turn at the kissing booth. They wandered around for a
few minutes checking out the various booths and attractions. The mood was light
and cheerful, laughter the order of the day.
"Looks like everyone's having a good time," Roy commented.
"You don't sound very happy."
"I... I... oh, never mind. I just wanna get this over with. Let's go find the booth."
Before they reached their destination, they were intercepted by a grinning Chet Kelly.
"Well, what do you know, you didn't chicken out. I was hopin' you would so I could pull double duty."
Johnny snorted. "Geez, if you did that they'd have to shut it down for lack of interest."
"Hey, Gage, I forgot to tell ya. We added a new element to our booth."
"The tone of Kelly's voice set off an internal alarm for the dark-haired paramedic."
"Oh, yeah? What?"
"Welllll, we decided make it a kissing and pinching booth."
"You know, they get to pay a dollar for a kiss first, and then they pay an additional dollar if they want to pinch your rear end."
"WHAT! Huh uh. No way."
"C'mon, Johnny, don't be a spoilsport. Dwyer's been having the time of his life. And you should see the chicks who've been in line. Gorgeous, just gorgeous! And we're making a fortune so far."
Johnny swallowed hard, more nervous than ever.
"Okay, fine. Let's just get over there."
The trio made their way over to the kissing booth. It was decorated with brightly colored ribbons and paint, a sparkly sign on the front announcing the cost of a kiss. A smaller second sign, minus the sparkles, was posted haphazardly under the first. A sheer curtain opened and closed whenever it was time for a shift change.
Johnny groaned silently as he entered the back of the booth. The sheer blue curtain was just swinging closed. Charlie Dwyer swung around and grinned sloppily at Gage. Several shades of red and pink lipstick swirled around his lips.
"Boy, Johnny, you're in for a treat! All these beautiful women - whew. I'm exhausted." As Charlie spoke, he grabbed a washcloth and cleaned up his face.
"Really? Beautiful women, huh? Umm, what about the... the pinching?"
"Oh, that's just an added bonus. You should hear them giggle when you turn around. I think I've picked up at least four phone numbers in the last 15 minutes."
The dark-haired man's mood brightened at the mention of phone numbers. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.
Dwyer exited the booth whistling a happy tune.
"You ready Johnny? We're gonna open the curtain."
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess."
The blue curtain drifted open, and Johnny's mouth dropped open in shock. The first person in line was Dixie McCall.
"Yep. Here's my dollar." The nurse waved the bill back and forth.
Gage gulped and reluctantly took the money. He leaned forward, closed his eyes, and soon felt the press of soft feminine lips. It was over in a second, and he breathed a sigh of relief. He opened his eyes and felt his cheeks heat. Dixie was holding out a second dollar bill.
"Uh... uh... Dix?"
"C'mon, Johnny, turn around."
With a horrified look on his face, Gage turned to face Kelly.
"Chet, I'm not doing this. Forget it. No way. I refuse. You take my spot if you want, but I'm not doing this."
Johnny glanced at his partner, who was wearing a horrified expression of his own, and then looked at Chet. A sharp flash of light blinded him for a second. It took him a minute to realize that the other fireman had just snapped a picture and was grinning from ear to ear. Then all at once, Chet started to laugh and doubled over. Johnny suddenly realized that Dwyer was standing off to Kelly's right, holding his sides and laughing as hard as Chet.
"Gage, you should see the look your face! You can relax. It's all a joke. An April Fool's Day joke. There is no pinching."
"Why you... you... Chet!"
Before Johnny could go on with his rant, he was aware of the distinct feel of female fingers pinching his rear end. Stunned, he whipped around.
"Well, I couldn't let Chet have all the fun now, could I?"
"Don't worry, Johnny. I won't think of this at all the next time I have to give you a shot."
Roy stood in the shade a
few feet from Station 51's booth and watched his partner, a wry smile on his
face. Only Johnny could wind up in a situation like this, but in spite of his
initial dismay, the younger paramedic didn't seem to be minding the attention
too much. Not if the grin on his face was any indication. Roy had a feeling that
he might have a fight on his hands when it came time for a change in shift at
Roy turned at the sound of his daughter's excited shout. He smiled when he saw Joanne and the kids coming this way. Jenny broke away from her mother and ran towards him, a stuffed bunny under one arm. He caught her up in a big hug and reached out to tousle Chris' head.
"Hey, guys. Are ya having fun?"
"We sure are," Jenny exclaimed. "See what Chris won for me?"
Roy admired the stuffed animal, then turned to his son. "That was pretty nice of you," he praised.
Chris just gave an embarrassed shrug. "Aw, who the heck wants an old stuffed animal anyway. They didn't have any neat stuff."
Roy laughed. "Well, it was still nice of you." He leaned over to give Joanne a quick kiss. "You guys want something to eat?"
"Yeah!" was both children's enthusiastic response.
"Where's Johnny?" Joanne asked. "Are we waiting for him?"
Roy nodded towards the booth and grinned when Joanne's eyes grew wide.
"My word, I had no idea the line would be so long." She glanced up at Roy. "Has it been this busy all day?"
"Well... not exactly." Roy couldn't keep the amusement out of his voice and it only got worse when Joanne's eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"Roy, what's going on? Did you guys do something to Johnny?"
"Not me," Roy replied with a laugh. "Chet set him up for an April Fools Day joke. But it's kinda backfired... on everybody." He quickly explained to his wife about the fake pinching sign Chet had put up and Johnny's reaction. Then he gestured helplessly to the long line of women waiting their turn at the booth. "But before Chet could take the sign down they all just showed up. When we tried to explain.... well, they got a little ugly."
"So poor Johnny's stuck letting all these women pinch his rear?" Joanne looked like she was ready to go defend their friend against this army of brazen hussies, so Roy hastened to calm her down.
"Relax, honey. If you take a look, I don't think Johnny's suffering much."
As Joanne peered at the line, a smile appeared on her face. "Now how did he manage that?"
Roy just shook his head. "I think it's just that old Gage luck working overtime. And is Chet ever steamed." He smiled widely and let his gaze rest on the long silver bus parked a few feet away, the sign on it's side spelled out L.A. Rams Cheerleaders Goodwill Tour. "The best part is," Roy added, "they're only gonna be here a few more minutes. When it's Chet's turn in the booth, they'll be long gone."
Joanne shook her head. "He may not be able to sit tomorrow," she observed.
Roy just laughed as another beautiful girl handed his partner a dollar and gave him a long, lingering kiss, then reached into her bag and fished out another bill. "I don't think he's gonna care."
Jill Hargan Vanessa Sgroi
Stories By Jill H.
April Fools Day Stories
Stories By Vanessa Sgroi