Not Quite the Plan
By Marty P.
The two paramedics began putting away their gear. Johnny Gage, the slighter of the two, paused, “Unbelievable! Just unbelievable!”
Roy DeSoto, his partner at Los Angeles County’s fire station 51, clicked the latch on the biocom. “Well, now I’ve seen it all.”
“Why didn’t he tell us?” Johnny removed his hand from his face and rose slowly.
Roy slid the communication unit into its compartment on the bright red squad, and then eyed the other man, “You didn’t help.”
“The children’s hospital asked for a Santa. How was I to know Chet wanted to be him?” Johnny’s voice rose as he spoke, “I thought he was kidding!”
“You didn’t let up, ribbing him about giving the kids rubber chickens and startling them with canisters of fake snakes.”
“Now, Roy, we both know he’s likely to do those things.” Johnny said in his defense. “We’ve all seen the pranks he pulls at the station!”
“But you know the man has a heart as big as the state of Texas,” Roy turned to retrieve his helmet.
Johnny glanced back at the three story building, with its tan and lemon colored bricks, “Yeah, but I didn’t know my gentle teasing would make him give up the job.”
“Gentle?” A snort of laughter sounded from Roy’s throat, “Junior, you need to look up the definition of gentle. Telling him to give the kids coal and sardines?”
“I thought it was funny,” Johnny’s voice softened. “Okay, I overdid. I didn’t know he’d react that way.”
They both ceased talking as the subject of their conversation walked past the placard for the building: Happy Valley Home for Seniors. He adjusted his pillow before leaning over to pluck the drug box from the sidewalk. “How’s Mrs. Noel doing?”
“Once you were out of sight she calmed down and her vitals stabilized.” Johnny reported, noticing Chet’s white beard was askew, revealing his curly black locks.
“Now, what was it that happened?” Roy had his pen poised over the record they kept of runs.
Chet cleared his throat, “When I entered the large gathering room, Mrs. Noel cried out, ‘Kelly!’ then she hyperventilated and fainted. I had them call the fire department and you showed up.”
“So, you’ve met her before?” Johnny, still mystified, caught sight of a safety pin at Santa’s sleeve, connecting the white cuff to the red sleeve.
Chet nibbled his lip, “They told me I was a dead ringer for her husband, Kelly, who’s been gone ten years. I guess she thought I was him.”
“You mean you had an older twin?” Johnny snickered, “That’s a hard one to swallow!”
“Yeah, Johnny, ” Roy shared what the director passed on, “for years Mrs. Noel and her husband visited hospitals and nursing homes to spread cheer.”
“No wonder she was so startled when she saw me,” Chet’s face showed regret. “Is she gonna be okay if I go back in?”
“I think so,” Roy reached for the mic and notified dispatch they were still at the present location.
Johnny caught on, “Why don’t we tag along just in case. Just be yourself, Chet, uh, Santa.”
Chet decided to remove his beard before he reentered the facility. He rubbed his chin, “I don’t envy people who often wear these.”
Roy led the trio into Mrs. Noel’s room, “You’re looking much better now.”
“I feel so silly,” she held out her hand to the Irish fireman.
Chet came forward and squeezed her fingers, “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I was more surprised than scared, young man.” She patted the sofa next to her. “Tell me about yourself.”
“My name is Chet Kelly and I’m a fireman with the Los Angeles County Fire Department and work with these guys who are firemen and paramedics.”
“I have a proposition for you.” Her expression was wistful. “Would you take me to the YMCA down the street?”
“Now?” Chet’s eyebrows lifted, and he looked toward Johnny and Roy for assistance.
She shook her head, “Oh, my heavens, not now! Christmas Eve is in a few days and they hand out toys to needy children. I’d love to be there.”
“Oh,” Chet paused, “I’m available and would be happy to help.”
“You’ll be Santa,” Mrs. Noel clasped her hands together in delight.
Chet’s head bobbed, “Can I pick you up?”
“I’d like that,” she moved toward her closet, I have a ‘Mrs. Claus’ costume somewhere in here.”
While she was busy, Chet studied Johnny and spoke to Mrs. Noel, “I think the children would like it if someone else joined us.”
“What dear?” Mrs. Noel looped a hanger with a ruffled white pinafore apron back on the rack. “Can you say that again?”
“How about an elf?” Chet’s eyes twinkled with mischief as he stared at Johnny.
The dark-haired paramedic sputtered and poked his chest, “M-me?”
“Sounds like a great idea to me,” Roy tapped his watch to indicate it was time to go.
Chet called after them, “We’ll talk more about this later.”
“Roy, can we stop by the desk before we go back in service?”
“If it doesn’t take long.”
Johnny asked for information about Mrs. Noel. She lived independently until six months ago but moved to the home for seniors because she was lonely. She had three children and the closest one, a son, lived in Sacramento, but didn’t visit often.
During the next shift at the station, Chet teased Johnny about his costume for the upcoming event. “Your shoes with curled toes will have bells on them.”
“Whatever,” Johnny lifted the newspaper he read higher, to avoid seeing his nemesis.
Chet batted it down, “Gage, ya wanna wear a floppy Santa hat or one that looks like a court jester’s?”
“Have you forgotten this is for the kids?” Johnny slapped down the daily news and went to wax the squad.
Captain Stanley crossed his arms, “Don’t ya think you’re taking this too far?”
“Aw, Cap,” Chet tossed a piece of carrot to the resident basset hound, Henry. “He didn’t let up when I wanted to be Santa.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to follow his example,” Marco looked up from the sugar cookie dough he was rolling.
Roy leaned back in his chair, “Don’t antagonize Johnny. It may backfire on you.”
“I’ll be glad when all this is over.” Engineer Mike Stoker said, returning his attention to a newsletter on water pressures.
Chet ambled out to the apparatus bay, “Hey, Johnny. Can we go together to get Mrs. Noel. My station wagon overheated on the way to work and I don’t trust it.”
“Yeah,” Johnny tossed a rag toward him as he buffed the bumper. “I’ll pick you up at 4:00. And, we’re gonna get dressed at the Y.”
The next day Johnny beeped the horn on his Land Rover as he waited for outside Chet’s abode for the man to emerge. His face took on an impish grin as he contemplated the next several hours. At last Chet came into sight. “Sorry, I had a scuff on my boots and was polishing them.”
“Mrs. Noel will wonder where we are,” Johnny stated as Chet settled into the front seat after storing his attire on the backseat.
Johnny parked and the two men made their way to locate Mrs. Noel. She looked like pictures they’d seen of Mrs. Claus, with a red dress covered by the white apron with pockets. Her mob cap sat comfortably on her gray hair and she wore granny glasses. She looked excited, “I want you to meet my son. This is Greg, he came down from Sacramento.”
“You don’t mind if I join you, do you?” Greg could’ve been older Chet’s brother with his wavy coal black hair and dark eyes.
Chet looked pleased, “Sure, come on.”
“Uh,” Greg sucked in his lips and his face reddened. “Mom would be tickled if I played Santa.”
“Sure,” Johnny didn’t give the original Santa an opportunity to object. “We have everything in the car.”
He led them outside.
Chet hissed, “What am I supposed to do?”
“Oh,” Johnny held the door open for Mrs. Noel as she got into the back seat. “I’ve got that covered.”
“You planned this, didn’t you?” Chet was speechless for a moment.
Johnny thought before he answered, “Well, I did want Mrs. Noel to see her son. I just told him it would make her holiday if he came and visited. It was her idea he be Santa.”
“And you didn’t want to be the only elf.”
“Isn’t the saying the more the merrier?” Johnny slapped Chet’s knee. “Aw, c’mon, don’t be sore.”
“Oh, no!” Chet’s face puckered into frustration. “I bet it’s too late to call them off.”
“What are you talking about?” Johnny made a left onto the street beside the YMCA and parallel parked near the Chinese take-out restaurant.
Chet took a deep breath, “Don’t be mad. I called the press to tell them about the event. You know, human interest story and all that. Good publicity.”
“Well, we’ll have to make the best of it.” Johnny watched Greg guide his mother out of the Rover and into the building. “We better go change.”
At first both men were self conscious when they entered the gymnasium where the children gathered for the gift distribution. Johnny tugged his green tights which felt constraining, causing the bell on his cap to jingle while Chet slid his finger at his collar because the fabric was itchy.
It didn’t take long for Mrs. Claus to put them to work, and they reveled in the children’s excitement as they ripped open packages. Chet began to make fun of Johnny by snapping his peaked hat. Chet got a huge belly laugh when he quipped, “Hey, elf, if you were wearing red and white stripes they’d mistake you for a candy cane!”
“Not you!” Johnny’s comeback was, “You’d make a perfect gumdrop in your red and green outfit.”
They didn’t notice the reporter getting information from Mrs. Noel and the photographer snapping several pictures.
At the station the next day, Chet glanced at the front page, and then did a double take. There was a sizable photo of the two elves. The caption read: Many consider firemen angels, but at this time of year they also give Santa assistance.
*Click above to send Marty feedback
July Picture 2009 Christmas Stories Stories by Marty P.