“Hardy-har Harlin”

By Ross

 

Chapter One

 

 

LA County firefighter/paramedic, John Gage, draped the cord of his ‘Day Sleeper’ sign over the outside knob of his ground-floor apartment’s front door.  The overly-fatigued fireman then shoved the heavy wooden portal shut—and locked it. 

 

In a further effort to avoid being disturbed for the next few hours, the sleep-deprived man turned and headed off in the direction of his telephones, which he intended to take off their hooks.

 

 

Gage was just about to grab the first phone’s receiver, when the instrument started ‘ring’ing.

 

His number was unlisted.  

 

Which meant, it could only be headquarters or a close acquaintance that was attempting to contact him. 

 

It took the disturbed apartment dweller another five rings before he finally decided to gamble on it being the latter, and pick up.

 

“Hello?….Who wants to know?” he cautiously inquired, when he failed to immediately recognize the caller’s voice.

 

It was headquarters.

 

Gage grimaced and mouthed the words ‘damn it’.  ‘Why did I pick up?’ he mentally reprimanded himself.  The pooped paramedic, who had just completed a rather grueling 24-hour shift, had no desire—whatsoever—to return to duty.

 

“Uhhh…Yeah.  This is Fireman Gage,” he finally fessed up.  “What?!  What happened?!…Well, how is he?…They gonna be okay?!” 

 

From what Fireman Gage could gather, Station 8’s B-Shift had just come on duty, when its Captain and crew got toned out to a structure fire. 

 

By the time the firemen arrived, the single-story wood-frame home was already fully engulfed in flames

 

While searching the residence for occupants, 8’s paramedics had both been overcome by heat exhaustion and were promptly transported to the hospital. 

 

The doctors at Rampart had refused to clear the overheated pair for duty.

 

Hence, the phone call from headquarters, informing Fireman Gage that—on account of how his name had come up on the rotation—he would be spending one of his four days off over at 8’s, subbing for paramedic Ben Franklin.

 

 

Less than twenty minutes later, Fireman Gage dutifully pulled in to Station 8’s crowded parking lot. 

 

The new arrival flicked his vehicle’s ignition off and then sat there, gazing glumly out its bug-guts-splattered windshield.  ‘Why did I have to pick up?’ he silently repeated—er, pouted.

 

The fireman’s frown turned upside down, as, just moments later, his partner backed his little yellow Porsche in right beside his off-white Land Rover, and killed its engine.

 

“I was wonderin’ who I was gonna get stuck with,” Gage lightly remarked, as the pair exited their vehicles.

 

His buddy’s right eyebrow arched upwards.  “Stuck with?”

 

“Poor choice of words.  Truth is, I was both thrilled—and relieved—to see you drive in just now.  Knowin’ the two of us’ll be workin’ together, makes havin’ to pull a double almost ‘tolerable’.”

 

L.A. County firefighter/paramedic, Roy DeSoto, didn’t say a word.  He just stood there, looking deeply skeptical.  Pulling a double was not on his wife’s loooong ‘Honey Do’ list for him that weekend.

 

The two friends grabbed their uniforms and duffels and started striding towards the red brick building’s back door.

 

 

The pair reached the locked portal.

 

Gage gave its ‘buzz’er’s button a couple of quick presses.  “Wish headquarters would a’ said somethin’.  I could a’ picked you up.  We could a’ car-pooled.”

 

DeSoto gave his downright cheery chum a perturbed glare. “I had just fallen asleep,” he griped.  “Joanne is not happy.  She wanted me to mow the lawn this afternoon,” the no longer off-duty fireman further lamented.

 

“Look at the bright side. With all the overtime pay you’ll be makin’ today, you can afford to hire one a’ the neighbor kids to mow it for you.”  Gage exhaled a silent sigh of relief, as he watched his unhappy partner’s expression promptly turn from ‘peeved’ to ‘pensive’.

 

The fire station’s back portal finally swung open.

 

“Welcome to 8’s, gentlemen!” B-Shift’s boss warmly greeted and motioned for his paramedics’ replacements to join him in the apparatus bay.

 

They did.

 

 

The remainder of the fire officer’s men had heard their back door’s buzzer, too.  Station 8’s engine crew filed out of the dayroom and into the garage, to greet their guests.

 

Since he replaced Rick Seeger on Engine 8, from time to time, and since he and B-Shift’s boss had gone through paramedic training together, Gage took it upon himself to handle the introductions.  “Captain Greg Stoner…Benjamin James Edwards the III…Richard Seeger…and last, but certainly not least, Harlin Thompson.  Guys, I’d like you to meet my paramedic partner from 51’s, Roy DeSoto.”

 

Genuinely warm smiles and hearty handshakes were exchanged.

 

John’s gaze had locked onto—and remained riveted upon—the last person he’d introduced.  “Man, I sure didn’t expect to see you here.  Don’t tell me the honeymoon is over already.”

 

“No way!” Harlin assured him.  “Cindy said she’d rather put the money toward a down payment on a home.  So, instead of jetting off to Jamaica, we went house hunting.”

 

His bachelor friend’s face filled with disbelief. “That is gonna come back and bite you in the ass,” the paramedic ominously predicted.  “If I were you, I’d purchase some more plane tickets—pronto!”

 

“I’m tellin’ yah, Johnny, Cindy is perfectly happy—at home.  She claims we don’t have to go anywhere.  According to her, ‘our life together is going to be one, long, never-ending honeymoon’.”

 

“Pronto!” Johnny adamantly repeated.

 

Harlin emitted an exasperated gasp. “Gage, you—”

 

“—I hate to cut this short,” Captain Stoner apologized.  “But the sooner our guests can get geared up, the sooner I can place the Squad back in service.”

 

“Right!” 8’s engineer, B.J. Edwards, wholeheartedly agreed. “We’ll get the Squad back up and running, and then we are gonna show you guys some genuine firehouse hospitality.”

 

“Thompson,” Stoner addressed the newlywed, “show these gentlemen to their lockers.  Oh, and fix them up with some helmets and turnouts.”

 

“Sure thing, Cap’!” Thompson eagerly acknowledged.   “We’ll fix ‘em right up.”

 

Roy quickly concluded that he was gonna need to keep an eye on that guy. 

 

Judging by the hint of mischief in his voice and the glint of mischief in his eyes, Harlin Thompson was Station 8’s equivalent of 51’s Chester B. Kelly.

 

 

The engine crew escorted their paramedics’ replacements over to the foot of a rather steep stairway.

 

The two ‘subs’ would be getting a great deal of exercise that weekend, because the fire station’s sleeping quarters and lockers were located on the building’s second floor.

 

“Hey, Johnny, who was that cute little brunette?” Thompson innocently inquired, as the group started trudging up the steps—single file.

 

“I’m afraid you’re gonna hafta be more specific,” Johnny calmly came back.  “Yah see, I am currently acquainted with at least a dozen ‘cute little brunettes’,” he immodestly added.

 

His climbing companions rolled their eyes.

 

“Okay,” Harlin begrudgingly obliged.  “The one I saw you with at our reception last Saturday night.”

 

“I’m afraid you’re gonna hafta be more specific,” his bachelor buddy wryly repeated.  “Yah see, I was with several ‘cute little brunettes’ at your reception last Saturday night.”

 

Roy suppressed a grin, as his buddy’s latest boast caused 8’s engine crew to emit a group groan.

 

“5’4”,” Harlin reluctantly described.  “Turquoise dress…”

 

“Ahhh.  Yes.  Her name is Amanda.  Why?”

 

“Just curious.”

 

They reached the top of the stairs.

 

Edwards and Seeger headed off, in search of some suitable turnout gear for their guests.

 

Thompson led the paramedics past the station’s shiny, brass firepole and up to a couple of empty lockers.  “Roy, you can take that one,” he announced, and pointed to the locker on the left.  “Johnny, you can have this one,” he determined and motioned to its twin, on the right.

 

The duo dropped their duffels down onto the bench in front of their assigned lockers, and started stripping. 

 

Their lingering guide sighed. “So-o…That was Amanda, huh…”

 

John exhaled a resigned sigh of his own.  “Yeah.  Why?”

 

“Just curious.  Yah see, I heard that you—and a special someone—have been seeing an awful lot of each other, lately.”

 

Gage managed an amused gasp and began rummaging through his red canvas duffel. “Yeah?  Well, you heard wrong.” He found his black, leather work boots and dropped down onto the bench, to swap them for his sneakers.  “I haven’t been seeing an awful lot of anybody—including Amanda.  The two of us have never even dated.  Heck, I don’t even know her last name.”

 

Edwards and Seeger reappeared just then, their outstretched arms bundled high with borrowed bunker gear.

 

“You sure ‘bout that, Johnny-boy?” Harlin and his crewmates exchanged knowing glances.  “Cuz, rumor also has it, that there may be ‘wedding bells’ in your immediate future.”

 

Upon hearing that, Johnny-boy laughed outright. The fireman finished changing and turned to beam a big, confident grin at the rumormonger. “Believe me, there are no ‘wedding bells’ in my future—immediate, or otherwise.” With the rumor hopefully dispelled, the paramedic stood back up and opened his locker to stow his hangered street clothes away. 

 

Harlin, and his fellow firefighters, laughed heartily as hundreds of tiny white wedding bells came cascading out of the opened cubicle and onto the confirmed bachelor.

 

John backed up into the bench and then stood there, buried knee deep in wedding bells. 

 

“You still sure ‘bout that, Johnny-boy?” Thompson taunted, when he could finally speak again.

 

Johnny-boy’s shoulders sagged in defeat. “We don’t call him ‘Hardy-har Harlin’ for nothing,” he announced, purely for his partner’s benefit.

 

DeSoto just stood there, grinning.

 

“I must confess,” Thompson continued.  “The idea didn’t originate with me.  B.J. and Rick pulled this on me last week, right before the wedding.”

 

“That figures.” John snatched two of the dainty little white 3-dimensional paper bells up and gave them several quick shakes.  “It would take a couple a’ real ‘ding-a-lings’ to come up with something like this,” he teased and tossed the bells at his ‘dingy’ pals.

 

“Watch it!” B.J. warned with an unrepentant grin, as one of the tossed objects glanced harmlessly off his chest.

 

“Yeah.  Watch it!” Rick repeated, looking and sounding every bit as un-remorseful as his fellow ‘ding-a-ling’.  “They’re a lot easier to pick up, when they’re all in one place.” The still grinning fireman passed the paramedic his ‘procured’ gear. Then he pulled a large plastic bag from his back pocket and started stashing wedding bells into it.

 

Gage gazed glumly down at the enormous pair of bunker pants he’d just been handed.  “What happened to the turnouts I usually wear?”

 

“You usually wear my turnouts,” Rick reminded him.  “Only, I’m gonna be in my turnouts.  So, you get to wear Franklin’s.”

 

John’s frown deepened.  “Franklin’s turnouts?”  He slipped the over-sized fire coat on and then peered up one of its looong canvas sleeves, in a futile attempt to find his fingers.  “That’d be okay—if Franklin’s body came with ‘em.”

 

Once again, his fellow firefighters were forced to chuckle.

 

Recalling that their Captain was extremely anxious to get their rescue squad back in service, Harlin quickly provided the complainer with another, more suitable, set of turnouts.  “Here.  Try these.  They belong to a guy on C-Shift.  The two of you are about the same size and build.”

 

John tried on the new gear.  The coat and helmet were a perfect fit.

 

DeSoto stared at the strange name that was stenciled across his buddy’s back.  “C’mon, ‘Waring’,” he wearily invited.  “Let’s go check out the Squad.”  The paramedic picked up his own borrowed gear.  Then he latched onto his partner’s elbow and started towing him towards the top of the stairs.

 

John jerked his sleeve free and crossed quickly over to the circular hole in the second floor’s floor.  “I, uh, prefer to use the pole.”  That said, the big kid—er, fireman wrapped his wrists and legs around the shiny, brass object.  Less than an instant later, he and his smile slid out of sight.

 

‘That did look like fun,’ DeSoto silently admitted. ‘And ‘sliding down the pole’ would require less expenditure of energy than ‘climbing down the stairs...’ With that rationalization, the completely exhausted man tossed his borrowed coat and helmet on and then followed his friend’s route to the fire station’s first floor.

 

 

Gage had opened one of Squad 8’s side compartments and was just about to cram his—er, Waring’s turnout coat into it, when he heard a rustling sound. The paramedic swung his still-helmeted head around just in time to watch his partner—er, Piedmont? ‘drop in’—with a grin.  Which John promptly returned.

 

His friend wasn’t completely out of his ‘Woe is me, cuz I can’t please both headquarters and my wife’ funk, yet.  But the grins were a sign that he was gradually getting there.

 

DeSoto got his—er, Piedmont’s coat and helmet stowed away and then promptly returned to their rescue truck’s passenger side.  “Guess we’d better take a look, huh,” he reluctantly determined, and motioned to the compartments containing their paramedical equipment.

 

“That’s not a bad idea,” Gage agreed.

 

Each paramedic team had its own ‘unique’ way of doing things.

 

It would help to know where ‘stuff’ was, before they got a run.

 

John clipped his borrowed helmet to the bracket behind his seat and then he and his buddy began opening and emptying compartments.

 

The paramedics lined the plastic cases up on the floor of the garage.  Then they each took a knee and started flipping them open.

 

The O.B. kit and Trauma box passed inspection.

 

Roy jerked another case open—and his jaw dropped.  “Would you look at this!” he ordered more than asked.

 

His partner obligingly looked down at the open case. 

 

Their Drug box’s contents were in complete disarray.

 

John continued to gaze, disbelievingly, down at the mess.  “Franklin and Potter apparently have their own…system.”

 

System?!” Roy repeated, sounding every bit as upset as he looked.  “How do they ever find anything in there?”

 

Gage grinned, as something suddenly occurred to him.  “Purely by accident,” he lightly replied.  “Get it?” he prompted, as the pun failed to coax even a ‘slight’ smile from his extremely unhappy-looking partner.  “Accident by accident?” 

 

Roy finally rolled his eyes, but his facial expression remained unchanged.

 

‘One step forward and two steps backward,’ John glumly realized.

 

 

Squad 8’s equipment compartments were quietly repacked and closed.

 

Roy crossed back around to the truck’s driver’s side and climbed in behind its wheel.  “How does she handle?” he cooly inquired, as his partner slipped into the seat beside him.

 

John gave his weary shoulders a shrug.  “I ride the other rig, when I work over here.  Remember?”

 

Roy flicked the truck’s ignition on.

 

Nothing happened.

 

“Great!” Roy grouched.  “Even if we can get this thing organized, it won’t start!”

 

Captain Stoner stepped up to Bill Potter’s apparently unhappy replacement.  “Franklin and Potter told me to tell you to jiggle the key,” he obligingly passed along, through Squad 8’s open window.  “Oh.  And to not mess up their equipment,” the fire officer added with a grin.  He’d been ‘listening in’.

 

Squad 8’s occupants turned to one another and exchanged looks of utter disbelief.

 

“It’s gonna be a looooong shift,” the dark-haired paramedic gloomily predicted.

 

His fair-haired friend’s frowning mouth opened, but his comment was drowned out by the sudden blaring of the fire station’s alarm.

 

Squad 8…

 

Captain Stoner turned and went trotting off, in the direction of the call station.

 

It took a few moments for Roy to realize that ‘they’ were Squad 8.  He turned the truck’s ignition on.

 

Nothing happened.

 

“Jiggle the key,” Gage suggested.

 

DeSoto did.

 

The engine turned over…caught…coughed…and sputtered—before finally taking off.

 

The running rescue truck’s driver exhaled an audible sigh of relief.  “Ready, Waring?”

 

“Whenever you are, Piedmont,” its passenger lightly replied.

 

Waring and Piedmont turned to each other and traded grins.

 

Roy realized that Johnny was right.   The two of them working together did make having to pull a double almost ‘tolerable’.  ‘Almost,’ he silently stressed.  Stressed being the opportune word.  Roy could still feel a few vestiges of extreme vexation lingering, just beneath the surface.  He took the call slip from Captain Stoner, passed it along to his partner, and then started driving off. “Which way?” he anxiously inquired, as the truck exited the fire station.

 

“Uhhh…Hang a left,” his navigator advised, after a careful consideration of the call’s address.

 

DeSoto did as Gage directed and Squad 8 disappeared down the street, with its emergency lights flashing and its warning siren wailing.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

Seven minutes later, Franklin and Potters’ replacements arrived on scene…well, as close as they were going to get to their victims with their vehicle.

 

As the last traffic sign had predicted, East Everett Lane ‘Dead End’ed, or rather, petered out into a dirt path, which crossed a small, grassy clearing and then promptly disappeared into a heavily-wooded area.

DeSoto pulled Squad 8 to a stop beside a couple of cop cars and he and his partner piled out.

 

“Somebody strung a steel cable across the path,” one of two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies informed the firemen as they began opening and emptying their truck’s equipment compartments.

 

“And motorcycles and steel cables don’t mix,” the other deputy morbidly added. 

 

“We got one dead.”

 

 “And one barely hangin’ by a thread.”

 

The paramedics paused in their equipment piling to exchange a couple of solemn, somewhat confused glances.  Why hadn’t the engine company been dispatched with them?

 

“We got plenty of warm bodies,” one of the deputies announced, duly noting, and correctly interpreting, the exchange.

 

“That’s good to hear,” Gage relievedly remarked and motioned to one of two equipment-laden Stokes.  “You guys wanna grab that,” he told, more than asked, their only visible source of manpower.

 

The ‘warm bodies’ obediently did.

 

John latched onto the front of the remaining Stokes.

 

Roy hefted up the rear of the stretcher and all four of them headed off down the dirt path.

 

 

The rescuers quickly reached the woods.

 

As they stepped beneath the canopy of trees, the air temperature dropped—a good ten degrees.

 

From a branch, somewhere overhead, a Hermit Thrush began to croon his hauntingly beautiful, and highly melodious, tune.

 

Thrush singing in a tree.jpg

 

John just had to smile as that song, and the steady drumming of their boots striking the dirt path, were the only sounds his straining ears could now detect. 

 

Whenever the paramedic wanted to escape the ‘brown L.A. haze’, and all of its accompanying noise pollution, he would head for the woods.  There was something mystical about the place.  Once he was surrounded by trees, John swore he could actually feel the stress leave his body.  Why, even just a brief sojourn with nature seemed sufficient enough to suck at least some of the hectic-ness out of the fireman’s rather fast-paced life.

 

The Thrush’s crooning continued and John’s smile returned.  “Wanna hear…something funny?” he breathlessly called back over his right shoulder.  “I was gonna go hiking…when I woke up…And now…here we are…strolling through the woods…communing with… Nature.”

 

Roy stared at his almost ‘perky’ sounding pal’s back in disbelief.  His arms and shoulders were already aching with fatigue.  And who knew how much further they had to go?  Speaking of going…The two of them had just finished a fifteen-run shift.  DeSoto was ‘dead on his feet’ and desired to be ‘dead to the world’…for a few hours, anyway.  “I’d rather be…communing with…my mattress.”

 

His grumpy reply caused his partner’s unseen smile to broaden into an unseen grin.

 

 

About a quarter of a mile in, it became apparent that Roy’s arms weren’t the only ones that were aching.

 

“Man!...What do yous…got in…this thing?” one of the warm bodies suddenly, and rather sarcastically, inquired.

 

“I’m guessin’…bricks!” his buddy breathlessly blurted back when the firemen failed to reply.

 

The blond-haired paramedic was finally forced both to smile and to speak up.  “I don’t know…what the two of you…are complaining about.”

 

“Yeah…” his still grinning, dark-haired partner agreed.  “We gave you guys…the light one.”

 

Upon hearing that, it was the deputies’ turn to grin.

 

 

Another quarter of a mile of ‘nature communing’, and ‘heavy Stokes toting’, brought the rescuers to a little rise in the previously completely flat—and perfectly straight—path.

 

John stopped—rather abruptly—at the top of the rise.  “I see it…but I don’t believe it,” he mumbled numbly to himself.

 

Roy, who’d just been Stokes’ed in the stomach, caught the quiet comment and followed his friend’s gaze.

 

The trail ahead dropped sharply away and then disappeared behind an exceedingly dense clump of trees.

 

Speaking of being exceedingly dense…

 

DeSoto dropped the ‘sudden stop’ complaint he was about to lodge and dazedly insisted, “Nobody could ever…really…be stupid enough…to string a steel cable across a path…around a blind curve…and then not post…a ‘WARNING!’ sign!”

 

“Yes,” one of the warm bodies behind him regrettably replied.  “They really could.”

 

The deputy’s somber reply caused the paramedic in the lead to proceed at an even more rapid rate of speed.

 

 

The rescue party reached the bottom of the slope, rounded the blind curve—and then came to another sudden stop.

 

Sure enough.  Some idiot had strung a steel cable across the dirt path.

 

The new arrivals quickly surveyed the accident scene.

 

Directly ahead, two off-road motorcycles were lying on their sides, their engines silenced. 

 

Both of the bikes’ riders were also lying motionless on the ground.  One on each side of the cable. 

 

Four more ‘warm bodies’ were huddled around the victim on their side of the cable. 

 

Two teen-aged boys were kneeling next to the victim on the other side.

 

One of the on-scene deputies approached the paramedics and began filling them in.  “Witnesses report both riders were traveling at an extremely high rate of speed.  Looks like the lead bike, there, hit first.  The cable whipped up over the windshield and the guy was decapitated,” he paused to point out the headless corpse his fellow deputies were still huddled around.  “The second  bike hit the back of the first and its rider was catapulted over the cable and into one of those trees over there,” he paused again, to point out the crumpled body lying at the base of a towering California oak.  “He’s hurt real bad.  Lucky for him, a couple a’ high school kids happened to be running on the trail at the time.”  The deputy picked the cable up to allow the rescue party access to the gruesome accident’s sole survivor.  “They managed to get the bleeding stopped.”

John had doubled over and was just about to step under the cable when he caught sight of a motorcycle helmet resting on the blood-soaked ground beside his right boot.

 

The first victim’s head was still strapped inside it.  The guy’s glassy eyes were still wide open.  The expression on his ghostly-pale face was still one of abject terror.

 

Gage grimaced and quickly averted his gaze.  “Watch where you step,” the sickened paramedic grimly advised his partner, before finally ducking beneath the deadly cable.

 

 

The rescuers reached the second victim and set their equipment-laden Stokes down.  “Hi.  I’m Johnny. This is my partner, Roy,” Gage greeted the teens as he grabbed their Bio-phone.  “You two okay?” he tacked on, noting that the boys looked both dazed and a bit ‘green around the gills’.

 

“Y-Yeah,” the kid applying direct pressure to their patient’s left femoral artery shakily replied.  “I’m Robby Elliot.  This is my buddy, Todd Jason.”

 

Roy was already kneeling beside their patient with their Drug and Trauma boxes opened.  “You’re doin’ a terrific job, Robby,” he commended the kid and began his IPS.

 

Gage inserted the Bio-phone’s antenna and snatched up its handset.  “Rampart Base, this is Rescue Fifty—uhhh, correction, Rampart.  This is Squad 8.  Do you read?”

 

The blond fireman finished his initial patient survey.  “Think you can keep applying arterial pressure, while I  grab a quick set of vitals, here?”

 

Robby nodded.  “We’ve been taking turns.  I just took over.”

 

DeSoto flashed the ‘first responder’ a grateful smile and snatched up his stethoscope.

 

This is Rampart,” Brackett finally came back.  “Go ahead Fifty—Go ahead, Squad 8…

 

“Rampart, Squad 8.  We have two male victims of a ‘motorcycles versus steel cable’ accident.  The, uh, first victim is a D.O.A..  The second victim is—” he paused to note the name and age on the driver’s license one of the deputies had just pressed up in front of his face.  “—Daryl Alexander.  Age 43.  Mr. Alexander rear-ended another motorcycle, at a rather high rate of speed, and was catapulted into a tree.  The patient is currently unconscious, but breathing.” Gage’s gaze shifted from their victim’s chest to his severely damaged limb. 

 

The thigh portion of the guy’s left pant leg was torn and saturated with bright-red blood—arterial blood.  A jagged end of femur bone was protruding from the tear.  The unbelievable whiteness of the bone stood out in stark contrast against the mangled flesh and blood.

 

Nothing was quite as white as bone.

 

In fact, John figured that firemen could come up with enough colors to fill their own box of Crayons…smoky gray, flame orange, urp green, bone white, blood red, cyanotic blue… “He has a compound fracture of his left femur.  The femoral artery has been compromised.  Direct pressure has been applied.  Standby for vitals…” 

 

Roy passed his findings on to his partner.   “You doin’ okay, Robby?  You want one of us to take over?”

 

“No…I’m good…You guys kin just do…what you gotta do.” 

 

 The blond fireman flashed the kid another grateful smile and began setting up for back-to-back IVs.  “Where did you two learn to apply arterial pressure?”

 

 “We both plan to apply for lifeguard jobs next summer, ” Todd told him.   “So we’ve been taking a Red Cross Advanced First-Aid Course after school. You’re not gonna believe this,” the kid predicted, “ but last night’s class was all about the proper use of tourniquets and applying direct pressure to control excessive bleeding.  Pamela—er, Miss Morgan just showed us all the pressure points…just last night!”

 

“Luckily for Daryl, here, you two were paying Pamela—er, Miss Morgan such close attention,” Roy wryly added, and finally succeeded in coaxing a couple of shy smiles from the obviously shaken first-aiders.

John passed Brackett’s instructions for definitive care on to his partner and then proceeded to help carry them out.  “Luckily for Daryl, here, you two happened to come along when you did, or he would have bled out in a matter of minutes.”

 

“These guys ran us off the path, about a quarter of a mile back,” Todd announced.  “We heard the crash and came running.  This part of the path runs through Old Man Ryan’s property.  He died a couple a’ months ago.  We heard his relatives had sold his estate.  Apparently, the new owners don’t want motorcycles on their property…” his words trailed off and his sad eyes riveted on the newly installed cable.  “That wasn’t there last weekend.”

 

“We run through here…every Saturday morning…around this time,” Robby explained and watched as the dark-haired paramedic ‘properly’ applied and then ‘time-stamped’ a tourniquet high on the bleeding guy’s left thigh.  The fireman motioned for him to release the arterial pressure he’d been keeping, so he slowly removed his cramping fingers from the bleeding guy’s left groin.  “We’re both on the track team,” he calmly continued, as no spurting blood appeared from the wound.

 

“What a coincidence,” Roy remarked.  “My partner, here, ran track back when he was in high school.  In fact, he still holds some sort a’ state records,” he further informed the runners, in the hope of restoring some degree of normalcy to their—so far—completely discombobulated day.

 

It worked. 

 

Normal color returned  to the two kids’ faces, as their attention suddenly turned from the tragedy at hand—to past track events and times—er, record times.

 

Yes sir!  Running the 220 in 21.2, and the 440 in 46.3, proved to be very distracting accomplishments, indeed!

 

 

Twenty minutes later, in Rampart General’s Emergency Receiving…

 

Gage and DeSoto were leaning over the counter at the Nurse’s Station, nursing the cups of freshly-brewed coffee that were cradled in their hands.

 

“Barring a brief ‘identity crisis’—on both ends,” John thoughtfully began, “I’d say our first rescue went rather well…all things considered,” he morbidly tacked on, just beneath his breath.

 

Roy caught the quiet comment and winced.  The image of the head in the helmet had been indelibly burnt into his brain, as well.  

 

“That just goes to show,” Dixie McCall calmly interjected, “we’re all ‘creatures of habit’.”

 

“What are you guys doing here?” Doctor Early inquired as he came stepping up to the Station.  “Your shift should’ve ended hours ago.”

 

“Yes,” Roy grumpily agreed.  “It should have.”

 

John gave the ‘gloomy Gus’ standing at his side a few sympathetic pats on the back before finally answering the physician’s question. “We got called back to replace Franklin and Potter.”

 

The third ‘creature of habit’ exited Treatment Room 4 and quickly made his way over to the counter.  Brackett passed his ‘motorcycle accident’ patient’s medical chart to his head nurse and then turned to address the poor guy’s suddenly solemn looking rescuers.  “X-rays indicate extensive brain injury.  He’s headed for surgery.  It’ll be touch and go.  I promise to keep you guys posted.”

 

“Thanks, Doc,” the pair simultaneously replied.

 

DeSoto stared thoughtfully down at his nearly-drained cup.  “Yah know, if it wasn’t for those two kids, he wouldn’t have had any chance at all.  I mean, they really came through in the clinch.  Didn’t they?”

“They sure did!” Gage eagerly agreed.   “They should get some kind a’ Citizens Award, or something.”

 

“Maybe you guys should look into it,” Dixie suggested.

 

“Maybe we should,” the dark-haired fireman further agreed.  “Thanks for the coffee, Dix.”  He placed both of their drained cups down on the counter, then he snatched their hand-held radio up  and started pulling his partner off down the hall, in the direction of the exit.   “C’mon, Piedmont.  We better get Squad 8, I repeat, 8 back to the station.”

 

“You forgot to put us back in service,” DeSoto suddenly realized.  “Didn’t you, Waring.”

 

Gage looked guilty as charged, but then brightened.  “I thought I’d wait til we returned to quarters.”

 

His glum buddy didn’t disagree.  Roy just sighed and said, “That’s fine by me.”

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

Squad 8 returned to an empty quarters and was promptly placed back in service.

 

Its engine was silenced and its cab was slowly vacated.

 

Suddenly remembering what day of the week it was, Gage headed for the dayroom and the station's 19-inch color television set.

 

Recalling how sleep-deprived he was, DeSoto dragged himself up the stairs and dropped face-first, and fully-clothed, onto an unmade bunk.

 

 

Less than five minutes later…

 

John was still seated in front of the TV set, sipping leisurely away on a cup of extremely black coffee. He heard the garage door grind open and Engine 8 back in.

 

Truck doors slammed, the garage door ground closed and the truck's crew, minus two, came shuffling into the kitchen.

 

"When did you guys get back?" Harlin wondered as the new arrivals made a beeline for their Bunn.

 

"About five minutes ago," John replied, without removing his gaze from the television's screen.

 

Thompson noted their coffeemaker's nearly-drained carafe. "Would yah look at this…He left us with the dregs."

 

"Five minutes?" B.J. set his empty mug down on the counter and set about making a fresh pot. "Before you sat down, you should a' put some fresh coffee on, John."

 

"I actually considered it," Gage insincerely admitted. "Bu-ut, I didn't wanna deprive you guys of an opportunity to display some a' that genuine firehouse hospitality," their guest further teased and finally turned his gaze away from the television. "Wait!" he pleaded, upon seeing that the now-grinning engineer was about to pour the carafe's remaining contents down the drain.

 

B.J. obliged, but begrudgingly. "It's just the dregs," he reminded Franklin's replacement, as he came racing into kitchen.

 

"That isn't dregs," the paramedic calmly corrected and held his nearly-drained cup out for a refill. "That's high-octane firefighter fuel."

 

Thompson and Edwards exchanged looks of extreme skepticism.

 

John caught the exchange and continued. "Sure. Yah see, as it sits on the warmer, the water starts to evaporate. The longer the coffee sits there, the higher the concentration ofcaffeine. Why, I figure that stuff must be close to 90 proof."

 

The engine crew looked even more skeptical.

 

"It's just the dregs," B.J. staunchly repeated, but obligingly topped off their guest's cup.

 

"Thanks," John shot back over his shoulder and quickly reassumed his seat in front of the set.

 

Harlin collapsed into an adjacent chair. "Where's your partner?"

 

John's eyes remained riveted to the TV's screen. "He's upstairs…communing with his mattress."

 

Harlin arched an eyebrow and then looked up to see what was keeping his paramedic friend so preoccupied.

 

Bugs Bunny was being chased by an old witch.

 

Harlin couldn't help but smile. 'Saturday. Of course. Bugs Bunny.' "It doesn't take much to keep 'some' kids entertained."

 

"Cartoons aren't just for kids," John countered.

 

Harlin's gaze gravitated back to the television screen.

 

Somehow, Bugs had managed to get his hands on a magic wand. He tapped the old witch with it and she instantly turned into a very sexy looking female bunny. Bugs' face filled with delight. He took the beautiful bunny's arm in his and began escorting her off into the sunset.

 

The femme-fatale bunny fluttered her long eyelashes back at Bugs and then cackled like an old witch.

 

Bugs' face filled with alarm. But then he shrugged and calmly walked on with her. Finally, he glanced back over his shoulder and addressed his cartoon audience. "Oh well. Aren't theyall witches underneath?"

John cracked up.

 

Harlin was even forced to chuckle.

 

Gage got stiffly to his feet, clicked the TV set off and then plunked himself back down in his seat, before turning to his entertainment critic. "Now, you can't tell me that that wasn't directed at adults."

John was right. Harlin couldn't.

 

Thompson eyed his still-snickering chum. "I can't wait till some pretty little filly puts her brand on you, Johnny."

 

"Yeah? Well, don't hold your breath," the bachelor advised. "We stallions love our freedom. Captivity breaks our spirit."

 

"You find the right filly and it won't seem like captivity," the newly-wed quickly came back. "In fact, the right girl can make it a very sweet surrender…" his words trailed dreamily off. "Besides," Harlin continued, once he'd returned to reality, "Cindy hasn't taken my freedom away. She hasn't taken anything away. It's just the opposite. She adds something to my life…something so warm…and so wonderful…and so special. Come to think of it," the fireman popped up out of his chair and started heading for the station's pay phone, "I could use a little of that something right now…"

 

"Don't use up all of your change," John advised his recently branded buddy. "Cuz you still gotta call a travel agency. Remember?"

 

Thompson glanced back just long enough to give his grinning friend a roll of his eyes.

 

"How'd your first run go?" Captain Stoner inquired as he came strolling into the kitchen, in search of caffeine.

 

"There was a slight problem with radio communications," Gage truthfully told him. "We caught ourselves calling in as 51 a few times. Brackett recognized our voices and had the same problem. Dixie claims it's cuz we're 'creatures of habit'."

 

"Well, I'm sure you 'creatures' will get it all worked out," Stoner assured him with a smile.

 

"Yeah.  By the end of the shift," John half-jokingly supplied, and his Captain's smile broadened into a grin.

 

Stoner suddenly realized Potter's replacement was not present. "Where's your partner?"

 

Gage glanced at his watch. "He's been dead to the world for about ten whole minutes, now."

 

"You got that straight," Rick Seeger assured him as he came sauntering into the rec' room. "I just came from the dorm. I saw six buzzards circling his bunk."

All five firemen swapped grins.

 

Seeger poured himself a cup of freshly-dripped coffee and sank into Thompson's vacated seat. "Why aren't you sawin' logs?"

 

Gage gazed back at him in disbelief. "Are you kiddin'? Firemen never get any sleep on weekends. Weekends are when millions of people leave the relative safety of the workplace, and then spend the majority of their leisure time dreaming and scheming of a zillion and one ways to get themselves into trouble. Which is why—"

 

"—firemen never get any sleep on weekends," Rick finished for him.

 

"Exactly," the paramedic concurred. "Besides, I know the moment I'm horizontal, the alarm is gonna go off. It never fails. If I even mention slee—" Gage grimaced as the claxons cut his statement short.

"Squad 8," the dispatcher began, and a groan accompanied the grimace.

 

"I rest my case," Gage mumbled—er, grumbled on his way to the garage.

 

 

 

The paramedic entered the parking bay just in time to see his rudely awakened associate slide down the pole.

 

The pair piled into the squad and donned their helmets.

 

Captain Stoner pressed the garage door's 'OPEN' button and then stepped over to the call station.

 

Waring chanced a glance in Piedmont's direction.

 

Adrenaline was an amazing drug. His formerly 'dead' friend was now fully alert. Why, Roy didn't even need to be reminded to 'jiggle the key'.

 

"Witnesses report two men down at the Horseshoe Tournament at Addison Park…on the corner of Ridgeway Avenue and Sepal Verde Boulevard…Repeat, the corner of Ridgeway and Sepal Verde…Cross street is Morrow…Ambulances have been dispatched…Time out: 11:47"

 

"Squad 8. KDW—386," the Captain acknowledged and passed his replacement paramedics their copy of the call slip. Stoner watched with concern as the rescue truck exited the bay, hung a right and then headed off down the four-lane street in front of the station. The frowning fire officer also hung a right and then headed off, himself—to make a couple of phone calls.

 

 

 

When Squad 8 arrived at Addison Park, six minutes later, the firemen found the first 'man down' in full anaphylactic shock and the second 'man down' bleeding like a stuck pig, from a five-inch gash to his forehead.

According to eyewitnesses, victim one was just beginning his potentially tournament winning toss, when this huge hornet nailed him—right in the back of the neck. The horseshoe went flying out of his hand and hit a bystander, smack dab in the middle of his forehead. Victim one had started gasping and eventually passed out.

 

Victim two had remained conscious and coherent the entire time.

 

Since Airway and Breathing trump Circulation, Gage passed the man who'd taken a horseshoe to the head some sterile gauze 4x4s and ordered him to apply direct pressure.

 

Direct pressure was applied and the guy's scalp wound immediately went from gushing to seeping.

 

The hornet-stung horseshoe tosser was now in full respiratory arrest, and Roy was busy bagging him.

 

Rampart was contacted, an IV was started, and epinephrine was administered.


Within just a matter of minutes, their 'horseshoe to the forehead' patient had stopped bleeding and their 'anaphylactic shock' patient had started breathing.

 

The Horseshoe Tournament's spectators applauded the rescue's happy outcome.

Adrenaline truly was an amazing drug.

 

In fact, the hornet stung fellow declared that he now felt fit enough to continue tossing.

 

Much to his—and his team's—dismay, the emergency room physician in charge of his medical care did not agree with that decision.

 

Morton flat-out refused to allow his anaphylactic shock patient to resume 'pitching horseshoes', as though nothing—nearly fatal—had happened.

 

Gage completed his IPS on their head trauma victim and secured the blood-saturated dressings in place. Since the guy's vitals were well within the norm, and there were no signs of a concussion, and the patient had not lost consciousness, his request to transport their victims together was okayed.

 

One of the ambulances was canceled.

 

Both victims were loaded into the back of the remaining one…when it finally arrived. DeSoto climbed aboard, Drug box and Bio-phone in hand, and accompanied their stable patients to the hospital.

Gage stood there, studying the tournament's horseshoe toting contestants for a few moments. 'A bunch a' old geezers…for the most part.'

 

The young geezer started stowing their remaining gear away. 'Man! Who would a' ever thought 'Horseshoes' could be a contact sport?' With that, the pensive paramedic climbed up into the cab of Squad 8, repeat 8, 'jiggled' its key in the ignition, and then headed for Rampart…to pick up 'Piedmont'.

 

 

Chapter Four

 

Twenty minutes later…

 

Squad 8’s occupants had completed their hospital follow up and were, once again, returning to quarters.

 

The vehicle reached a ‘bad stretch’ in the street it was traveling down and its speed was adjusted accordingly.

 

Its driver swerved to miss one pothole and ended up hitting another.

 

The rescue truck’s right front tire bounced up out of the hole and its passenger bounced up out of his seat. “Hey…Roy…There’s a gas station about three blocks up…on the right.  Pull in.  Okay?”

 

“Why?”

 

“I need to use the restroom.”

 

“We were just at the hospital.”

 

“I didn’t need to ‘go’ then.”

 

“We’ll be back at the station in less than five minutes.”

 

“Yeah.  Well…my bladder’s gonna burst in less than four.  Even sooner…if we hit another bump like that last one.”

 

“Downing two cups a’ coffee—every hour on the hour—has been known to have that affect,” Gage’s straight-laced partner smugly observed.

 

“What can I say?” DeSoto’s straight-faced friend simply stated in his defense. “Pullin’ double-duty requires a steady supply of…fuel.”  John’s suppressed smile escaped as he was rewarded with yet another eye roll.

 

 

As per his friend-with-a-full-bladder’s request, Roy pulled into the gas station and then parked as close to the establishment’s front door as he possibly could. “In case you need the key,” he patiently explained, upon receiving a questioning glance. “In case we get a call,” he further stated and passed his rapidly departing partner their portable radio.

 

John accepted the explanations and the handy-talky and then left—on his rather urgent mission.

 

The remaining fireman settled back into his seat and allowed his heavy eyelids to droop.

 

 

DeSoto was just about to doze off…when a child’s heart-wrenching scream—and a woman’s horrified shriek—came wafting through his truck door’s open window.  The father of two snapped bolt upright in his seat.  His tired eyes snapped wide open and promptly riveted upon the source of all the ruckus.

 

The new fangled ‘self-service’ filling station had four islands.  The troubling sound seemed to be coming from the vicinity of the furthest one. 

 

The paramedic kept one weary eye peeled on the scene as he piled out of the squad and began opening its compartment doors.

 

A distraught woman exited the driver’s door of a pale-green, four-door, Pontiac Safari station wagon. 

 

The car was packed with kids and, judging by the now uncontrollable sobbing, one of them was apparently in a great deal of distress. 

 

The lady jerked the back door on her side of the car open and the volume and intensity of the child’s cries diminished…somewhat.  “I always say ‘Watch for fingers’,” the woman told no one in particular. “I always say it!” she reiterated and began rocking the scooped up child in her arms. 

 

“Fireman DeSoto,” Roy introduced as he came jogging up. “I’m a paramedic. Okay if I take a look?”

 

The woman gazed at the ‘fireman-from-nowhere’ for a few moments, looking both dazed and amazed, and then stammered, “Ye-es…I…gue-ess.”

 

The paramedic placed his equipment cases down on the pavement in front of the Pontiac’s open car doors and flashed the still-whimpering four-year-old a warm, reassuring smile. “Hi.  I’m Roy.  What’s your name?”

 

The boy blinked the tears from his blurry eyes and stared wonderingly back at the stranger and his shiny policeman’s badge. “Da-Da-Daniel,” he finally managed to get out, between gasped inhalations.

 

“Daniel, do you think you could show me the hand that hurts?”

 

The boy nodded and promptly proffered his car-door-crushed appendage.

 

The skin had not been broken and the fingers showed no deformities or discoloration.

 

The fireman’s smile broadened.  “That doesn’t look so bad.  You must be pretty tough.”

 

The boy’s blurry eyes brightened and his blond head bobbed up and down.

 

“If I promise to be very careful, do you think I could take a closer look at your boo-boo?”

 

The boy’s blond head bobbed again, though a lot less enthusiastically.

 

Roy tenderly cradled the child’s limp left hand in both of his and gave it a thorough—and very careful—examination. 

 

Daniel was indeed a brave little boy, for he barely flinched.

 

DeSoto flashed the tough little tyke another warm smile.  The paramedic carefully released his hold on the injured hand and then turned his attention to the child’s mommy. “Well, Mrs….?”

 

“Conway,” Daniel’s worried mommy obliged.  “Roberta Conway.”

 

“Well, Mrs. Conway, nothing appears to be broken.  But, if he’s still complaining of pain in a few hours, I advise that you see your pediatrician and have it x-rayed.”

 

The woman exhaled an audible sigh of relief and extended her hand.  “Thank you soooo much, Fireman DeSoto.  I certainly will!”

 

Roy took and shook the grateful lady’s hand.  Before gathering up his gear, the paramedic paused a moment to flash Daniel one final smile and give his six, no, make that seven spell-bound siblings a ‘goodbye’ wave.

 

“Michael, get in the back so Daniel can sit up front with me,” he heard the woman say as he turned and walked away.

 

“Why-y?” Michael whined back.

 

“Because I said so.  That’s why.  Now, everybody sit down and, for pity’s sake, plea-ease watch for fingers!

 

Both car doors were closed—uneventfully—and the re-packed Pontiac finally drove off.

 

Roy couldn’t resist one last glance in the departing vehicle’s direction. 

 

Speaking of repacking…

 

The fireman’s focus reluctantly returned to their truck.   The rescuer stepped up to its side compartments and began stowing their Bio-phone and Drug box away, smiling all the while.

 

 

Gage got back to the truck just as his partner was about to close its reloaded compartments.  “What were you doing with the equipment?”

 

“It just so happens that, while you were in there—dumping fuel, I was out here—working.”

 

“Workin’, huh?” John glanced around the gas station. 

 

There were no victims—or other vehicles—in sight.

 

“On who—er, what?” His friend’s face suddenly filled with mock horror.  “You weren’t messin’ with the Drug box!  Roy, you heard what the Cap said about messin’ with the Drug bo—”

 

“—Mrs. Conway’s four-year-old son, Daniel, got his fingers caught in a car door,” Roy smugly stated, interrupting his friend’s facetious remarks.  “I gallantly came to his rescue.”

 

“Oh yeah?”

 

“Yeah!” Roy replied, sounding smugger than ever.

 

Gage studied his gallant—and much too smug for his own good—partner.  “You were sleeping in your uniform, weren’t you.”

 

“Yeah.  So?”

 

“Nothin’.  You just look a little…frumpy…is all.”

 

“It’s permanent-press.  Says, right on the label: ‘Wrinkle resistant.’ ‘Never needs ironing.’”

 

John threw his hands up in surrender.  “Hey, if you—and the label—say so,” he wryly conceded and started heading for his side of the squad—before the grin he’d been suppressing could escape. 

 

The remaining paramedic promptly took an upside-down look at his attire.  The fabric could have used a little bit more resistance

 

The squad’s passenger reassumed his seat.

 

Before climbing aboard, its driver took a moment to tuck his light-blue shirt’s tails a little deeper into the waistband of his dark-blue slacks.

 

Gage couldn’t keep from grinning. 

 

His fireman friend was both gallant and…a little gullible.

 

Roy ‘jiggled’ Squad 8’s engine to life and then left the station, en route to another.

 

John pulled a pen and his little notepad from his left shirt pocket.  “Humph…” he commented, after flipping through a few of its pages.  “Interesting…” he added and finally succeeded in piquing his partner’s curiosity.

 

“All right.  I’ll bite.  What’s so ‘interesting’?”

 

“Ah…I just noticed that all the people we’ve run into on our calls this shift have something in common.”

 

“And what, pray tell, would that be?”

 

 “Their last names are also first names.”

 

“You’re kidding.”

 

“Nope!” John assured him and began reading aloud, “ Robby Elliot.  Todd Jason.  Daryl Alexander.  The three deputies we spoke with: Kent Nelson.  Dave Benjamin.  Doug Curtis.  Even the Red Cross lady: Pamela Morgan.”

 

“And who could forget Old Man Ryan.”

 

“Right!  Old Man Ryan.”

 

“What about the dead guy?”

 

“Frank Lewis.”

 

 “And the guys at the Horseshoe Tournament?”

 

“Phillip Wayne and Ron Thomas.”

 

“That…that is pretty interesting, all right.”

 

“It’s pretty amazing!  We were on a roll…That is, until your Mrs. Conway came along and spoiled it.”

 

“We still are ‘on a roll’.   Roberta Conway didn’t ruin anything.”

 

“You sayin’ that Conway is a first name?”

 

“Yup.”

 

“Ro-oy, who in the world would ever name their kid Conwa—”

 

“—Conway Twitty.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Conway Twitty.  He’s a famous Country-Western singer.”

 

“I-If you say so.”

 

“You mean to tell me that you’ve never heard of Conway Twitty?”

 

“No.  But then, I ain’t into any a’ that ‘Hee-Haw’ music.” 

 

Roy arched an eyebrow.  “Hee-Haw music?”

 

“Yeah.  You know.  All that whining…and the twang’ing.  And, what is with that whole slide guitar thing?  Man! Even the guitar sounds like it’s whining.”

 

DeSoto completely ignored his partner’s critique of Country music, and chose, instead, to numbly restate, “I can’t believe you’ve never heard of Conway Twitty.”

 

“Okay.  Name one his songs.  Maybe I’ve heard of it.”  

 

“Hello Darlin’.”

 

“Nope.  Sorry.  But that reminds me.  I heard a good one the other day.  What do you get when you play a Country-Western song in reverse?”  His friend wasn’t immediately forthcoming, so he continued, “You get your wife back.  You get your kids back.  You get your dog back.  You get your house back.  You get your truck back.”

 

Try as he might, Roy couldn’t keep from grinning.  His opinionated partner was right.  That was a good one.

 

And, speaking of getting trucks back…

 

They finally reached the Fire Station.

 

 

Captain Stoner and the Department’s chief mechanic, Charley Mitchell, heard the squad pulling in.  The pair exited the Captain’s office and stepped into the bay, to greet the returning firemen.

 

The mechanic caught sight of the squad’s occupants and his face filled with recognition.  “You two!  It figures.”

 

John’s face filled with annoyance.  “Now wait a minute.  You can’t blame this one on us.  This thing was broke waaaaay before Roy and I got here.”

 

“Likely story,” the mechanic muttered, mostly to himself.

 

Gage heard him and exchanged miffed glances with his partner.

 

The two of them got out, so the mechanic could get in.

 

Charley slid in behind the wheel and turned the key in the ignition. 

 

Nothing happened.

 

“You, uh, gotta ‘jiggle’ it,” Roy helpfully informed the infuriating little fellow.

 

“Jiggle it?  Jiggle it?! There may be a short somewhere.  What are you guys tryin’ to do?  Start an electrical fire?”

 

Gage, who was becoming more animated by the moment, gave the mechanic a disgruntled glare. “The only thing we’ve been tryin’ ta start is this…stupid truck!” he stated and motioned to the offending vehicle.

 

Charley exited the cab and stepped back up to the Captain.  “Guess we should just be grateful they weren’t usin’ that…defibrillator thing ta start it.  Ahhh gee.  I prob’ly shouldn’t a’ said that out loud.”  He winked and then turned back to his favorite paramedic team—to tease.  “Pretend you didn’t hear me say that.  I don’t wanna be givin’ you guys any ideas.”

 

John’s smoldering dark eyes narrowed.  “Ideas?!  Look—”

 

“—How much time do you think it’ll take to fix it?” Stoner interrupted, suppressing a smile all the while. 

 

Charley shrugged.  “A couple a’ hours.  Maybe longer, if I gotta pull the whole steering column apart.”

 

The Captain crossed over to the call station, latched onto the mic’ and thumbed its send button.  “L.A. Squad 8 will be out of service and in quarters, for maintenance, until further notice.”

 

Roger that,” the dispatcher acknowledged. “Squad 8 out of service until further notice.”

 

Stoner replaced the mic’ and stepped back up to his paramedics’ replacements.  “You guys can go grab some lunch.  Then I want you both to try to get some sleep.  Understood?”

 

The guys glanced uncertainly at one another and then simultaneously, and rather joyously, replied, “Aye, aye, Cap!”  The pair then disappeared into the dayroom.

 

The Captain exchanged wry smiles with the mischievous mechanic.  “You seemed to enjoy getting a rise out of those guys.”

 

Charley’s wry smile broadened into a sly grin.  “They make it so easy.  Like shootin’ fish in a barrel,” he declared and then headed off…to fetch his tools.

 

 

Chapter Five

 

Three hours of nearly constant claxon ‘clang’ing later…

Roy DeSoto rolled out of the bunk he’d dropped—face-first and fully-clothed—onto, and dragged himself over to the circular hole in Station 8’s second floor. ‘Sheesh…I feel more exhausted, now, than I did before I laid down,’ the mattress communer wordlessly griped. The fireman grabbed onto the shiny brass pole in the center of the hole in the floor and he, and his frown, dropped into the garage.

Engine 8 was currently in quarters.

Squad 8’s hood was down, its doors were closed and there was no sign of the Department’s mechanic.

Roy was tempted to give the truck’s new ignition a try. But the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee was even more enticing. So he turned and headed for the station’s kitchen/dining area, instead.

 

Johnny was seated, sideways, at the kitchen table—sound asleep. His buddy’s booted feet were propped up on a neighboring chair, his arms were crossed and his chin was resting on his chest. The upper half of his slouching self was currently leaning, rather precipitously, to the right.

The rest of the guys were gathered around the table, sipping coffee and making wagers on which side of his chair his partner was going to fall off of.

B.J. was the first to spot the new arrival. “How ‘bout it, Roy? You got an inside tip for me?”

“Yeah,” Harlin joined in. “Like, which way does he usually fall?”

A chorus of chuckles followed.

Roy poured himself a cup of coffee and then stood there, studying his precariously perched pal. He thought of his partner’s uncanny ability to sleep while hanging half out of his bunk. “He won’t fall either way.”

Edwards and Thompson exchanged looks of extreme skepticism.

“Now, now. Roy just might be right,” Rick told the two skeptics. “I watched the man doze through dozens of lectures and he never once fell out of his desk.”

More snickers ensued.

John suddenly stirred in his seat, still soundly asleep. The movement resulted in an even greater defiance of gravity.

“He’ll fall for sure, now,” B.J. confidently stated. “It’s just a matter of time. Nobody can lean that far out of a chair and not fall.”

Roy remained equally confident. “Yeah. Well. If somebody could, he’d be the one.”

B.J. exchanged another quick glance with Harlin and then tapped the paper upon which he had been keeping track of their wagers. “I’ve got four bits that says he falls. You, uh, willing to match that, Roy?”

The paramedic pulled a couple of quarters from his right pant pocket and pushed them across the table toward the bookmaker.

B.J. recorded the bet and then he and his companions continued to silently observe the still sleeping—and right on the very verge of falling—fireman.

 

Three minutes later, the center of their attention stirred again.

B.J. groaned and Harlin let out a hoot, as the paramedic’s torso suddenly shifted from far right to far left. If he were to fall now, he’d be hitting the floor, instead of the table.

Captain Stoner entered the kitchen just then and spotted the completely zonked out paramedic. “Why isn’t he doing that in his bunk?” he demanded, and aimed a look of extreme annoyance in DeSoto’s direction.

Roy mulled the frowning fire officer’s question over for a few moments before replying. “I think he’s afraid that, if he lies down, his uniform is going to get wrinkled. And he doesn’t wanna look ‘frumpy’.”

Frumpy?” the Captain repeated, once the latest round of laughter had subsided.

“His choice of words,” Roy quickly clarified. “Not mine.”

Stoner’s frown gradually turned upside down. “I just put the Squad back in service.”

Roy nodded his acknowledgement of their current status. “Did Charley say what was causing the problem?”

This time, it was the Captain’s turn to nod. “The ignition switch was completely worn out and one of the wiring harnesses was faulty. Since he already had everything torn apart, he decided he might as well install a whole new ignition system.”

Roy felt both relieved and—somewhat—rested. “Thanks for the nap, Cap’.”

Stoner’s smile returned and broadened—a bit. “You’re welcome.”

Benjamin James Edwards the III exhaled an exasperated gasp. “Why doesn’t he fall already?”

Harlin’s bored—er, thoughtful expression immediately turned to one of amusement. “Maybe Gage has got a gyroscope in his as—butt?”

Engine 8’s crew cracked up.

Even Roy couldn’t keep from grinning at that mental image.

B.J. managed another impatient gasp and gazed down at his wristwatch. “If he doesn’t fall pretty quick, the alarm’s gonna go off and wake him up—” Something suddenly occurred to the Bookie and his attention turned to the vertical paramedic. “If the alarm goes off before he does, all bets are off…”

Roy thought the engineer’s proposal over for a moment and then nodded. “Fair enough.”

All eyes in the room suddenly re-riveted on John as he proceeded to list even further to the left. Just when it was beginning to look like the leaning chair-sleeper might finally be succumbing to the earth’s gravitational pull—the station’s claxons sounded.

The suddenly wide awake fireman lost his balance and would have fallen—left—right onto the kitchen floor, if his partner hadn’t a’ caught him under his still-crossed arms.

Engine 8…Assist Truck 122 and Battalion 10 with a structure fire…

Engine 8’s crew quickly exited the room.

Roy got his partner’s posterior resituated in his seat and gradually released his steadying hold on him. “You okay?”

“Not yet. But I’m getting there. Did Charley get the Squad fixed?”

“Yup. Took a whole new ignition. But it’s good to go.”

“Unlike me. I don’t know why, but I always feel like crap right after a nap.” John’s bleary-eyed gaze suddenly locked onto the piece of paper and piles of loose change that were resting there on the table. He slid the paper over and squinted down at it until the pencil-printed words finally came into focus. “Left-Thompson 5 Seeger 5. Right-Edwards 5 Go-Edwards 50 No go-DeSoto-50?” He paused in his perusing to direct a darn good question at ‘No go-DeSoto’. “What’s this?”

The re-sounding of the station’s alarm saved his bet making—er, taking buddy from having to reply.

Squad 8…man down…possible broken leg…

Gage got stiffly to his feet and the two overly-tired firemen reluctantly began heading for the garage and their recently-repaired rescue truck.

The pair reached the Squad.

“I’m definitely gonna need more ‘fuel’,” Gage grumbled beneath his breath, as the pair climbed aboard.

“Me, too,” DeSoto admitted, just as he was about to jiggle the key.

John copied the address down and then latched onto their dash-mounted radio’s mic’, to acknowledge the call. “Squad 8. KDW-386.”

“Which way, Waring?” Piedmont pondered, as they exited the parking bay.

“Left.”

“Left?”

“Right. A lot more fuel.”

 

Chapter Six

 

 

Nearly five hours of back-to-back runs later…

 

Roy tossed Franklin and Potter’s log book onto the table in Station 8’s kitchen and then collapsed into a chair.

 

His partner carried two cups of freshly-poured, but not freshly-brewed, coffee over to the table and dropped onto the chair beside him. 

 

Two untouched cold dinner plates were setting there before them.

 

It would have been nice to come ‘home’ to a hot meal and some of that ‘genuine firehouse hospitality’ B.J. had been boasting about.  But the engine crew had been kept almost as busy as them.

 

John popped a piece of the mystery casserole dish into his mouth.  “It’s edible,” he determined.  “But, a little on the dry side.”  They were gonna need some milk to wash it down.  So he hauled himself up out of his chair and crossed over to the closest cupboard.

 

Roy pulled a pen from his left shirt pocket and reluctantly opened the log book.  He located the last entry and then looked up.  “You got the slips?”

 

John set two glasses, brimming with ice cold milk, down on the table and quickly reassumed his seat.  He pulled a wad of call slips from his right shirt pocket and passed them on to his partner.  “They’re already in the right order, time-wise.  We just gotta sync’ ‘em with my notes.”  That said, the paramedic removed the little spiral notebook from his left shirt pocket and located his first entry.  Recalling that first run caused the fireman’s empty tummy to feel a might…queasy.

 

Making log entries did not mix well with eating.

 

“We definitely broke our ‘last name also a first name’ streak,” John said, in an attempt to get the ‘face in the helmet’ image out of his head.  “Charles Mason —”

 

“—Mason Williams,” Roy interrupted.  “Famous musician and composer.  Wrote ‘Classical Gas’,” he added, upon noting his partner’s look of extreme skepticism.

 

“Connie Truman?”

 

Truman Capote.  Famous author.”

 

 “Patricia Hamilton?”

 

Hamilton Burger.  The prosecuting attorney on ‘Perry Mason’.  Which, by the way, is another ‘last name first name’.”

 

DeSoto’s amazed amigo flipped another page.  Donald Gordon, Daniel Martin, Ted Mitchell and David Shelly all fit the bill.  Leaving just the little old lady they’d encountered on their last call.   There was no way she was gonna make it.  “Edith Cameron.”

 

Cameron Mitchell,” his knowledgeable buddy quickly came back.  “Famous actor.  Played Buck Cannon on ‘The High Chaparral’.”

 

John just sat there for a few moments, in stunned silence.  “As unbelievable as it may be,” he finally managed to mutter, mostly to himself, “it seems our ‘last name also a first name’ streak still holds.”

“Actually, ‘last name first names’ aren’t all that uncommon.  Heck, we’ve got two right in our own station: Chet Kelly and Hank Stanley.”

 

Two out of six is one thing.  But, nineteen out of nineteen?  Man, that’s…that’s incredible!”

 

“The Department’s mechanic, Charley Mitchell,” Roy calmly continued. 

 

“What about Charley?” Captain Stoner queried, as he came strolling into the kitchen, closely followed by his engine crew.

 

Harlin immediately headed for the coffee pot.  “You guys left us the dregs again.”

 

“What channel is the game gonna be on?” Rick wondered, making his way over to the station’s TV.  He flicked the set on and began clicking its dial, in search of the Dodgers.

 

Judging by the surprised looks on their faces, their paramedics’ replacements had been so absorbed in their conversation they’d failed to notice the Engine’s return to quarters.

 

John jumped at the chance to explain the incredible—and downright quirky—streak they were on.  “His last name is also a first name.”

 

“So…?” Stoner prompted.

 

“So are the last names of everybody we’ve come across on our calls so far this shift, Cap.”

 

It was now the engine crew’s turn to look surprised.

 

John handed their skeptical Commander his notes.

 

Stoner stared down at the names on the little notebook’s pages in disbelief.

 

B.J., who’d been reading over his Captain’s shoulder, suddenly looked up.  “Nelson?  Nelson’s not a first name.  Is it?”

 

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald,” John’s partner replied.  “‘America’s Singing Sweethearts’.”

 

Stoner passed the notepad back to Gage.  “Towing skateboarders behind a truck?”

 

John winced as he recalled the carnage.  “Should’ve at least been using a solid tow bar.”

 

“Tow bar, tow line,” Roy ruefully joined in, “either way, the kid was playing ‘crack-the-whip’ with his buddies.   Can you believe it? I tell yah, teenagers just don’t think these things through.” He snatched the notebook from his partner and flipped the page.  “And this guy—can’t afford to hire a professional house painter or rent the proper scaffolding.  But he can afford a painful E.R. visit and a huge hospital bill?  Not to mention missing a couple a’ months a’ work.”

 

John tugged the notebook back from his frustrated friend.  “Look, why don’t you let me do this, and you can go call Joanne and see what she and the kids have been up—”

 

Roy rolled his eyes, as his partner’s appeasing suggestion was cut short by the klaxons.  “Or, we could both take this call,” he quickly countered and began heading for the garage. 

 

John pocketed his notebook and started following his friend, and their Captain, from the room.  The paramedic paused at the door and pointed to the station’s call slip strewn table.  “Pa-leeeze, don’t touch anything,” he pleaded, and then disappeared.

 

Stoner’s guys glanced at one another and grinned.

 

 

 

Four minutes later…

 

DeSoto braked Squad 8 to halt.  He killed the siren, but left the truck’s engine, headlights and overheads on.

 

The pair piled out and was greeted by a frowning, middle-aged female wielding a flashlight.  “He’s out back.”

 

“What happened?” Roy asked, as the pair grabbed their gear and began heading ‘out back’.

 

“My husband and his buddies were playing lawn darts, and the back of his right wrist got burned.  I put a wet towel on it.  Idiotic, if you ask me.  Got just what he deserved.”

 

“How does somebody get burned…playing lawn darts?” John wondered in a hushed tone, as he and his partner were herded into the sprawling, nearly black back yard of 418 West Amberlee Lane.  “Isn’t it a little dark to be playing lawn darts?”

 

The pair reached the charcoal grill lit scene of the…er…mishap, and stared disbelievingly down at the probable cause. 

 

The grimacing homeowner, and his four glassy-eyed guests, had fastened charcoal lighter soaked rags to the lawn darts and had been lighting them on fire before flinging them. 

 

The probable cause for this ill-advised behavior was also clearly evident. 

 

The patio table their wincing victim was seated at was buried beneath about three dozen, or so, empty brown beer bottles.

 

“Not if you down too many brew-skees and light them on fire,” Roy sardonically responded, in an equally hushed tone.

 

His quiet comment caused his partner to purse his lips and grit his teeth.

 

Roy dropped his equipment cases, and one knee, to the damp grass on the ground before the flaming lawn dart tosser.  “Hi.  I’m Roy.  He’s Johnny. What’s your name?”

“Ron…Ron Vincent.”

 

Ron Vincent’s rescuers exchanged a couple of ‘of course it is’ glances.  “Okay if I have a look, Mr. Vincent?”

 

Ron nodded.

 

His wife obligingly riveted her flashlight’s beam on her husband’s boo-boo.

 

Roy carefully un-wrapped the wet towel from their victim’s forearm.  “Well…that’s not so bad,” he determined, upon inspecting the second degree, fifty-cent-piece-sized burn. 

 

They’d phone it in, but it was a sure bet the doctors would be advising their victim to seek his own treatment. 

 

‘As long as he doesn’t drive himself to the ER,’ DeSoto morbidly mused.

 

 

 

Five minutes, a half a bottle of normal saline, some antibiotic ointment and gauze-bandage-wrapping later…

 

The ambulance was cancelled and Squad 8 was cleared.

 

They’d no sooner got their equipment cases back into their respective compartments, when another call came in, this one dispatching the entire station to a “Possible gas leak at 1127 East Broderick Blvd.

 

“Broderick? That’s just two blocks from here,” John informed his friend as they packed themselves back into their compartment.  “A bunch a’ condominiums,” he added, reaching for their dash-mounted  radio’s mic’.  “Roger that, L.A.  Squad 8 responding with Engine 8.  ETA two minutes.”

 

10-4, Squad 8,” L.A. acknowledged.

 

Barring a mechanical breakdown, they were going to be ‘first in’.

 

TBC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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April Picture 2007             Stories by Ross