Santa was a problem. After one (or seven or eight) too many rum eggnogs he hitched up his reindeer and headed it for a small bluff so he could take off to fly around the world. The reindeer -- in actuality a goat that he'd stolen from a small petting zoo -- sensibly stopped at the edge of the hill and stepped aside. Santa's sled, which in a previous life had been his seven-year-old son's soapbox derby car, continued merrily on its way.
One-ten brought St. Nick in around eleven P.M. and it took the better part of three hours to get him set, cast, moderately sobered up and handed off to an extremely irate Mrs. Claus. By the time Dixie McCall was able to return to the relative calm of her nurses' station late Christmas Eve had segued into early Christmas morning and she was more than ready for a distraction.
She found Roy DeSoto and John Gage standing close together, peering suspiciously into the pot of amber liquid that was warming on the hot plate where the coffee normally sat.
"It's spiced apple cider," she told them. "Try it. It's good. And it won't keep you awake when you get back to the station either." She pushed her own ceramic mug over towards them.
The two paramedics glanced at one another, communicating on some level that was accessible only to them. Roy picked up the pot and poured out two Styrofoam cups of cider, then turned and filled Dixie's mug. He set the pot back, then he and Johnny turned to the desk, cautiously sampling the cider and approving of it. As they sipped cider Dixie studied them.
They were as different as night and day, and like night and day they were two parts of a whole. Her world would not be complete without either. They were tall men, both of them towering over the nurse, but there the resemblance ended. Roy was broad-shouldered, blue-eyed and fair with a quiet sense of humor and a calm demeanor. Johnny was dark and lanky, excitable and comedic. They had been best friends almost from the minute they met, at ease with one another, often bickering but always on the same side against the rest of the world. They were brothers who were not related, little boys who had never grown up. They were two of the best paramedics in Los Angeles, where the program had been born, and thus were two of the best paramedics in the country.
Tonight they were in a good mood, Dixie saw. Their eyes were bright and they were almost smiling. A good run then.
"I'm surprised you fellows aren't hurrying back to bed."
"We're waiting for Chet to show up with the squad," Johnny explained. "The patient asked us both to ride in with her. It wasn't really necessary, but Cap said okay. They had to clean up at the scene, though. He'll be here soon."
"So what brings the two of you out at this hour?"
They glanced at one another, smirking. "You wouldn't believe us if we told you," Roy said.
She picked up an ink pen that was lying on the counter and fiddled with it, tapped the cap against her teeth. "Try me."
Again with the silent communication. Sometimes she could read their looks.
Roy: Do you want to tell it or shall I?
Johnny: You go ahead. I'll jump in when you screw up.
Roy, sarcastically: Yeah, thanks, Junior!
"Well," Roy began, "we got the call about a quarter after eleven . . . ."
"Station 51. Unknown type rescue. 1225 Bethlehem Road. Cross street Crèche Crescent. Time out 23:12."
Captain Stanley grabbed the mike. "Station 51 10-4. KMG 365." He handed the call sheet in to Roy, who passed it off to Johnny, then ran around to take his place in the engine. With the squad leading the way, Station 51 headed out into the no longer silent night.
The road led upwards, towards a sparsely populated area on the outskirts of the city. Johnny was navigating. "Turn left here and take Dan to Beersheba."
Roy glanced over. "You're joking, right?"
"You wanna trade places? Hey, keep an eye out. We'd oughta be getting close."
They came up over a rise and Roy slowed the squad, trusting Mike Stoker not to ram into them with the rig. They passed a rundown motel, the Bethlehem Inn, where a "no vacancy" sign flashed in orange neon, and found the road thronged with costumed hordes. "Where'd all these people come from? What is this? Some sort of street festival or something?"
"People?" Johnny repeated incredulously. "People? Forget the people! Look at all the animals! Is that a camel? That's not a camel! Tell me that's not a camel, Roy."
"That's not a camel."
"Well, what is it then?"
"It's a camel."
"But you said --?"
"You said you wanted me to tell you it's not a camel."
John Gage glared at his partner in the darkness. "You have a very weird sense of humor, you know that?"
People were shouting as they passed and waving them forward. The two paramedics noted long robes and head coverings. "This must be some sort of nativity pageant," Roy realized. He pulled forward slowly, his eye on a little boy who had a skittish lamb on a rope lead, and rolled to a stop beside a group of people gathered around a figure that was writhing on the ground. They were a few dozen feet short of a churchyard where a life-sized manger waited.
Roy shut off the engine and they jumped out, pulling out their gear as an anguished moan rent the night. Ten yards away a handful of people were crawling frantically through the dark grass.
"What seems to be the problem here?" Roy asked as he approached the supine figure.
An angel with a crooked halo and drooping wings grabbed his arm and dragged him forward. "It's Mary! Hurry! She's gone into labor!"
"Well, isn't that the idea?" Johnny asked, and got an angelic glare in return.
Roy dropped down beside the woman and took her wrist, checking her pulse. Even in the darkness he could see her stomach moving with the force of her contractions. "Something tells me that's not a pillow stuffed under your robe," he observed mildly, smiling at her reassuringly.
The woman smiled back, her face pain-filled but her eyes luminous.
"What's your name, dear?"
"Maria," she told him, her voice soft with a South American accent.
"Oh! So you really are a Mary, then?"
"Si! Yes! And my husband, he is Jose."
"Mary and Joseph?" Dixie cut in. "I don't believe you."
"It's true!" Johnny raised his right hand and put his left over his heart.
"Uh huh. And I suppose next you're going to tell me that she was a virgin?"
"Well," Roy said, "we didn't ask, but I'm going to take a wild guess here and say that, no, she probably wasn't."
Dixie gave them both a long, suspicious look and judged that they weren't putting her on. "So you had Mary and Joseph in a nativity pageant and Mary went into labor for real?"
"Yeah," Johnny said. "But that wasn't the half of it . . . ."
"When are you due?" Roy asked the woman.
"The day after -- gasp! -- tomorrow. I know it's -- gasp! -- close, but the pageant . . . ."
"Yeah, looks like somebody else wanted to be in the pageant too."
Cap came up with Chet Kelly on his heels. "Roy, John. What've we got?"
"Mary here is in labor."
"Well, isn't that the idea?" Cap grinned.
Johnny gave him an exasperated glare.
"Do we have an ETA on the ambulance?" Roy asked.
"You're not going to try to transport her?"
"No," Johnny answered him. "But we'd like to get her someplace more comfortable and more private before we deliver the baby."
Cap raised his radio and spoke with L.A. for a minute. "There's been a delay on the ambulance. ETA is thirty minutes."
"Cap," Roy said, "in thirty minutes this kid's gonna be twenty minutes old. Can we take her into the church?"
One of the figures crawling through the grass jumped up and ran over to them. He was a stick thin man with a wild mop of dark hair, his skin pale in the engine's floodlights. He was wearing a priest's robes and as he spoke he waved his arms about frantically.
"I lost the keys! I don't know how! I was just standing there talking and they went flying out of my hands! I can't open the door! I lost them! They're lost! We're looking but they're lost and I lost them and now I can't open the door!"
"Does he always wave his arms around like that?" Roy asked Maria.
She bit her lip against a contraction and nodded regretfully. "Si."
Roy and Johnny exchanged a look. "Those keys could be anywhere between here and San Francisco," Johnny muttered.
The two men looked around, considering and dismissing both the engine and the squad. Their gazes fell on the manger, waiting on the church lawn. Roy's eyebrows rose and the corners of his mouth turned down very slightly, not a frown but a doubting question aimed at his partner. Johnny raked one hand down the side of his long face, opened his eyes wide and shrugged.
"I'll get the sterile sheets and the OB kit," Johnny said turning for the squad.
"Cap," Roy spoke up, "can I get some help moving her?"
Cap followed Roy's look and his face lit with comprehension. "There?!? You can't be serious!"
"We don't have any choice, Cap." Roy bit back a sudden giggle as he pointed at the motel. "There's no room at the inn!"
"I don't believe you," Dixie said. "Now I don't believe you. You've gone too far!"
"Scout's honor!" Roy swore, raising his right hand in the BSA salute.
"Honest Injun!" John Gage grinned wickedly.
"I carried her!" A new voice chimed in. They turned to find Chet coming down the hall towards them. "Did they tell you that I'm the one who carried her?"
"Kelly! Give Roy a hand here!"
Roy was in a crouch, one knee touching the ground. He had one hand on Maria's stomach, monitoring the progress of her contractions, and he was listening to the baby's heartbeat. Chet stooped and got one hand behind her back and the other under her bent and spread knees.
"I've got her. Just keep the baby from squirting out all over me!"
Roy paced them as Chet carried her swiftly to the manger. "Babies don't squirt! At least not until you start trying to change their diapers. Got a good strong fetal heartbeat," he told Maria encouragingly.
Johnny was ready for them, with an orange rescue blanket spread over a soft bed of straw and topped with a sterile sheet. Chet lay Maria down and made a hasty exit as the two paramedics covered her with another sheet. Roy knelt between her knees, cut away her underclothes and did a quick pelvic exam while Johnny set up the biophone and contacted Rampart.
"And did everything go okay?"
"Oh, yeah! Like a charm! The guys rigged up some tarps across the opening to give her some privacy and Johnny got behind her and supported her head and back and coached her on her breathing."
"Yeah, but Roy got to play catch," Johnny complained mildly, grinning just the same.
"It was my turn!"
"Yeah, well . . . okay. But just remember! Next time we deliver a baby in a manger on Christmas Eve it's my turn!"
"Actually," Roy said, "Cap and Mike and Marco all played catch too, while we were at it."
Dixie's eyebrows rose. "How so?"
"Well," Johnny took over the story, "Marco caught Jose when it sank in that he was a father and he passed out cold."
"Yeah," Roy picked up, "and Cap and Mike caught the little drummer boy trying to stow away on the engine . . . lamb and all!"
Dixie smiled and took a long drink of cider. "Well, it sounds like you fellas had quite a night of it!"
"Did they tell you what she named the poor kid?" Chet demanded.
The two paramedics were grinning. Dixie glared at them suspiciously. "Well, I know it's still a common name in South American communities . . . but . . . she didn't?!?"
"Yup!" Roy said.
"Jesus," Johnny confirmed, giving the name its Spanish pronunciation of "Hey-soos".
"Yeah," Chet said, "but that's not the worst part. I'm surprised they haven't blurted it out yet! You know," he turned to his station mates, "you guys have more self-control than I gave you credit for." He returned his attention to Dixie. "That poor baby," he said, "is going to have to go through life with the name Jesus Roy Roderick Ortega!"
"Aww!" Dixie exclaimed. "Mary and Joseph named the baby Jesus after you!"
Roy DeSoto and John Roderick Gage grinned and blushed and nodded bashfully. "Name's bigger than he is," Roy admitted.
"Well, it'll give him something to grow into then. But, tell me -- how do two paramedics fit into the nativity scene?"
"You know, we talked about that."
"You can't be the wise men," Dixie considered, "because everyone knows there were three wise men and there are only two of you."
"Yeah, and they're not wise," Chet added.
Johnny glared at him. "Anyway," the young Indian said, "Cap and Mike and Marco decided that they're the wise men -- because they stayed outside until it was all over with."
"There's a point."
"Roy suggested that we could be shepherds, watching over Mary's little lamb as he came into the world."
"Aww! Now that's sweet!"
"Yeah, but," Roy blushed furiously and shrugged, embarrassed, "Mary didn't think so."
"No," Johnny confirmed. He was grinning his crooked grin, his face dark red.
"Mary said--," Roy's face was pink, pleased and abashed. He ducked his head, raised one shoulder. "She said we were the Lord's angels."
Dixie regarded her favorite pair of paramedics affectionately. "Wellll . . . I'd think Mary should know what she's talking about."
Chet snorted. "Please! You're all making me sick."
"Kelly, you were sick to begin with," Johnny shot back scornfully. "You're just jealous because you're not one of the Lord's angels!"
"I am not! I never wanted to be a sissy old angel anyway! I'm probably one of the kings or . . . or . . . ."
"Actually," Roy spoke up, "Chet played a very important part in the nativity!"
Johnny, naturally, caught on at once.
"Yeah! That's right! He did, didn't he?"
"I did?" Chet repeated.
"Sure!" Johnny moved over to stand next to the shorter fireman. He dropped one arm around Chet's shoulders and gave it a hard squeeze. "You carried Mary to the manger!"
"Yeah! I did!" He looked around, stabbing the air with his forefinger for emphasis. "I did that! That was me!"
"So . . . " Roy began.
"So. . . ," Johnny took up. He thumped his fist against Chet's shoulder. "I'd say that makes you the ass!"
The End and Merry Christmas!
*Click above to send E!lf feedback
Stories by E!lf Christmas Stories