Peace and . . . ?
By Audrey W.
Roy looked up from tying his shoes as his partner walked into the locker room. It was six minutes before roll call, and Gage was definitely going to be late.
“What happened? You get stuck in traffic?”
The dark-haired paramedic rubbed his eyes with this left thumb and index finger, as he opened his locker with his right hand. “No, I couldn’t get to sleep until about four o’clock this morning, so it was hard to wake up.”
“Whatdya’ do? Have a hot date?”
“Oh, I wish,” Johnny said, as he pulled out his uniform shirt and took it off the hanger. “At least that would make it all worth while. Man, I can’t believe the night I had.”
Roy stood up and closed his locker. “So, you gonna fill me in or what? Maybe I could explain to Cap why you’re gonna be late to roll call.”
“I’d rather no one know, Roy.” He cocked an eyebrow and turned to his friend. “You’ll keep it between you and me?”
“Sure, but make it quick, or we’ll both be late.”
“Alright.” Gage stepped out of his jeans and pulled on his uniform pants. “A cricket. It was a cricket that kept me up all night.”
The younger man nodded. “A cricket. It started chirping as soon as I went to bed. So I got up to look for it. I followed the sound and was just about to it, when all of a sudden it sounded like the cricket was behind me somewhere else.” Johnny waved his arms for emphasis as he explained. “When I went to the kitchen, it sounded like it was in the livingroom. In the livingroom, it sounded like it was in the kitchen. I finally gave up around two o’clock and went to bed. . .not to sleep. . .but to bed, to stare at the ceiling and listen to the chirping.”
Roy shook his head, then glanced at his watch. “I’d better get out there. I’ll let Cap know you’re about ready.”
“Thanks. And remember, Roy. Not_a_word.”
Roy smiled and nodded as he headed out the swinging door to the apparatus bay.
Johnny yawned, his eyes watering, as he put on his shoes.
Roll call went smoothly, and although he was late, Gage didn’t get in trouble. Roy used the excuse that his partner’s Land Rover wouldn’t start at first, thus running the man late. With chores assigned after the morning briefing, the men each went to the duty he was directed to.
Johnny had his head in the oven while he cleaned up yet another mess from a casserole that had boiled over on C-shift. It didn’t seem fair that he should be the one to clean up their mess, but the physical activity kept him from feeling as tired and that was a plus.
After everyone was done with the chores, the men gathered in the dayroom for coffee and donuts that Mike had brought in. Everyone except Gage. Still feeling the effects of being up most of the night, the paramedic opted to lie down in his bed to rest. DeSoto had watched as his tired partner trudged towards the dorm room. He still had to grin when he pictured Johnny chasing the sound of a cricket around his apartment.
As Roy reached for a jelly filled donut, Marco looked around the room.
“He’s in the dorm room, resting,” the senior paramedic explained.
“Gage is passing up a jelly donut for a nap?” Chet couldn’t believe it. Johnny always was the first to grab a donut anytime anyone brought any in.
“Is he sick?” Hank asked.
“No, he’s just tired. A crick--”
The four men looked at Roy, waiting for him to finish his sentence. The expression on DeSoto’s face told them he’d already said more than he should have.
“What gives, Roy?” Chet asked. “A crick what?”
“Does he have a crick in his neck?” The captain wondered.
“No, it’s not like that. There’s nothing wrong. . .really. He’s just tired from lack of sleep.” Roy sighed. “Don’t say anything to him about it, but a cricket kept him up all night.”
“A cricket?” Chet, Marco and Hank asked in unison.
Right away, Roy regretted going against Johnny’s request he not mention it. He’s gonna kill me. “Uh, yeah, but it’s no big deal. Just one of those things. It was in his apartment and. . .you know.” The blonde man shrugged. “They can be annoying.”
“Boy, isn’t that the truth,” Stanley agreed. “We had one in our house a few months ago. Took three days to find it and take it outside.”
“Did it keep you awake, Cap?” Marco wondered.
“No. It was in the laundry room at the other end of the house. But it was annoying while we were in any rooms at that end.”
So far, mentioning Johnny’s problem appeared to have been okay after all. Everyone seemed to understand. Roy just hoped no one would say a word to his partner about it.
After coffee and donuts, Roy went to check on Johnny. As he entered the dorm, he could see the supine figure of his partner in the bed across from his. Gage’s left arm was draped over his eyes. Sensing someone had walked in, the younger man lifted his arm slightly and peeked at the visitor.
“I thought you were asleep.”
Johnny slowly sat up, rubbing his eyes. “I thought I would be, too.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know, Roy. I just can’t sleep. It’s like I’m waiting for something to start making noise. Know what I mean?”
“Like you can’t believe you’ve finally got peace and quiet?”
“Yeah. . .yeah, like that.”
Roy nodded. “I feel that way some mornings after the kids have run through the house a few times. I lay in bed waiting for them to do it more before I can finally get to sleep.”
“If I’m lucky we’ll have a quiet shift--”
“Station 51, Engine 8, structure fire, 2120 Clairmont Street, two one two zero Clairmont Street, time out 9:45.”
“You were saying?” DeSoto said as he headed for the door.
“I have a feeling I’m gonna regret what I just said.” Johnny shook his head. Why did I have to go and jinx myself?
When the firemen arrived at the scene, Engine 8 was already in place and working on getting the fire under control. Roy brought the squad to a stop near the engine, with Mike pulling up close behind. The men climbed out of the trucks and immediately began laying out the inch and a half as Stanley went to talk with the other captain.
With word that everyone had gotten out safely, the paramedics joined in with the others in handling a hose. Once the fire was out, they headed back to the station. Engine 8 stayed at the scene on clean up duty.
Roy and Johnny walked into the dayroom, the others following behind. Roy went over to the refrigerator, and pulled out the carton of milk. As he poured himself a glass of the liquid, Johnny grabbed a couple of cookies out of the jar. The younger man sat down at the table across from Chet.
“So, Gage, you have a rough date last night? You look tired.”
Roy nearly spit out a mouthful of milk. He immediately faced the stocky fireman and shook his head slightly. Chet ignored the body language and planned his game as Johnny answered.
“No. I just watched the baseball game on TV.”
“Oh yeah. That’s right. . .the Dodgers and the Yankees.” Kelly rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I thought you might’ve had a date with. . .” Chet paused, setting up the final blow. “Someone named Cricket.”
Johnny immediately spun around in his chair and faced Roy. “You told!”
“It slipped out,” Roy defended. “Cap thought you were sick and I was trying to explain you were just tired and it slipped out.”
“But, Roy. . .you had to tell Chet? Who else did you tell?” The younger paramedic asked, looking around. He could see by the expressions, everyone knew. “Oh, great.” He put his head in his hands and slowly collapsed his folded arms onto the table, his face still hidden from sight.
Gage was grateful when the tones sounded again, sending the squad on another run. He didn’t want to spend a morning listening to Chet’s cricket jokes, and keeping busy was a good way to forget how tired he was.
As the two paramedics headed to the call for a woman down, Johnny discussed his latest dilemma with his partner.
“You know, I’ve gotta think of a way to get rid of that cricket.”
“Just be sure you don’t kill it.”
Gage glanced at Roy. “Why? Is there some kind of cricket protection law I’m not aware of?” He gave a snicker at his own sarcasm.
“Joanne always says it’s bad luck to kill a cricket in your home.”
“Oh yeah?” Turning his gaze forward again, Johnny gave the idea thought. “Huh. . .”
“Why don’t you just catch it in a jar and turn it loose?”
“Well, of course I’ve got to catch it, Roy. It’s finding the darn thing that’s the problem. How am I gonna lure him out in the open?”
“Maybe if you get down on the floor and chirp, it’ll think you’re another cricket and come join you.”
“Oh very funny.” Gage shook his head. “You’re a real Bob Hope, you know that?”
Roy grinned as he turned onto the street of the call.
Once they got the victim to Rampart, Johnny stopped by Dixie’s desk to replenish some supplies, while Roy went into the treatment room with the injured woman.
Pouring himself a cup of coffee, Gage watched the head nurse gather the items on his list.
“Okay, there’re the two IV bags you needed.” She carefully checked over the small box on the desk as she placed them inside it. “And everything else on the list is accounted for. You’re good to go.”
The dark-haired man glanced at the supplies and smiled. “Thanks, Dix.” He stifled a yawn as Roy came out of the treatment room and joined them.
“You look a little tired,” Dixie remarked, studying Johnny’s face. “Rough morning already?”
“Didn’t he tell you about the--”
“Roy!” Gage said between clenched teeth. “Are you gonna tell everyone?”
“Maybe Dixie has a solution,” he shrugged. “You never know until you ask.”
The nurse looked from Roy to Johnny, and back to Roy again. “A solution to what?”
Gage sighed. “Okay, maybe you’re right.”
Dixie stared at Johnny expectantly.
“I didn’t get much sleep last night because of a cricket in my apartment. It kept on chirping and every time I thought I’d found where it was,” Johnny explained, becoming animated and motioning with his arms, “the sound seemed to be coming from somewhere else.”
“Ah I see,” she nodded knowingly. “And I do have a solution.”
“You do?” Gage was surprised. He hadn’t expected her to really know what to do. “Well, c’mon, Dix. Spill it.”
Roy was beaming. He was sure that his partner would quit thinking about the cricket after this.
“Ear plugs,” Dixie said, matter of fact.
“Uh huh. Earplugs. You won’t hear a thing.”
“Yeah, including my alarm when it goes off,” Johnny said, frowning. “I don’t think that’ll work. But thanks anyway.”
“Maybe Kel or Joe would have an answer. Did you ask them?”
“No.” the younger man shook his head. “And enough people know already.”
Roy rolled his eyes. “It’s pride. He doesn’t want everyone to know he’s at war with a cricket . . .and the little guy is winning.”
Dixie smiled as the two paramedics stepped away from the desk. Johnny picked up the box of supplies and turned to leave.
“See ya later, Dix.”
“See ya,” DeSoto gave a small wave, the HT in his hand.
“Okay. Oh, Johnny!”
Gage turned around to face the nurse.
“Try not to worry too much about the cricket. They tend to move on after awhile. It may not even be there by the time you get off shift tomorrow.”
Johnny nodded and waved. The two men continued towards the exit.
Roy climbed into the squad, then watched as his partner did the same. Johnny was still frowning.
“Cheer up. You heard what Dixie said. The cricket may not even be in your apartment by the time you get off duty.”
“Yeah. . .maybe. My luck, he’ll be around so long, I’ll have to give him a name.”
Roy shook his head and sighed.
The rest of the day was steady with calls and brief breaks in between. Finally things settled down after ten o’clock at night and the crew of A-shift was getting some much needed rest.
Johnny lay in his bed, his left arm draped over his eyes, listening to the quiet. He moved his arm away from his face and glanced at the bed beside his. Roy was staring at him.
“What?” The younger man whispered.
“You. I knew you’d still be awake.”
“I can’t believe it’s so quiet. I’m enjoying it for awhile.”
“And missing out on sleep you could finally be getting in the meantime.”
“You’re right, Roy. Night.” Johnny placed his arm over his eyes again, then lifted it when he sensed he was being watched. Glancing over at his partner who was still staring at him, he asked, “What?”
“I think I stayed awake too long waiting for you to go to sleep.” Roy pushed off his covers as he sat up on the bed. He pulled on his turnout pants and slipped on the pair of boots that were with them. “I’m gonna get a drink of milk. I’ll be right back,” he whispered, being careful not to wake the others.
Johnny nodded and watched as his partner left the room.
When DeSoto returned to the dorm a few minutes later, everyone, including Gage, was asleep. The blonde paramedic got back into bed and stared at the ceiling above. Johnny was right; the room was almost too quiet. Roy laid there listening to the lack of sounds.
At four o’clock in the morning, the tones sounded, waking the crew. After pulling on turnout pants and boots, the men ran to their respective vehicles. The call was for a possible gas leak.
When the men pulled up to the scene in their trucks, they could see a few people standing near neighboring houses. A man and a woman were out in the yard of the home the fire department was called to. The man was clad only in boxer shorts; the woman in a terrycloth bathrobe, large rollers in her hair.
While the engine crew and paramedics waited for instructions, Captain Stanley approached the couple.
“We got a report of a gas leak here?”
The man shook his head. “There’s no gas leak. The house is full. . .and I mean full . . . of bug spray fumes.”
“Yep. My wife here,’ the man explained, indicating the woman beside him, “decided she was going to get rid of a cricket that’s been chirping in the house the past few nights, keeping her awake. She must’ve used more than one can trying to kill that thing.”
“Did you open any windows to air the house out?”
“Who had time? She damn near killed me in the process. It’s all I could do to get out in time.” He spread his arms out wide. “Look at me! I’m out here in my danged underwear! I’m just waiting for the muscle twitches from the chemical to start soon.”
Hank waved his men over. “Marco, Chet. . .get on your gear and see about opening the windows to air out the place; we’ve got a house full of bug spray.”
“Bug spray?” Chet asked.
”Yeah, seems a cricket was keeping these fine folks awake.”
“Her,” the man in the boxers corrected. “Keeping her awake.”
“Right.” Hank grinned at his men. “Keeping her awake.”
Chet looked at Johnny, who had been listening to the exchanges.
“Don’t say a word, Chet. I don’t wanna hear it.”
Kelly and Lopez trotted towards the engine to grab their gear.
“Sir, my paramedics can check you out to make sure you’re okay.”
“Good.” The man glared at his wife. “I’m sure I breathed in enough chemicals to make me sick.”
Gage motioned for the underwear-clad man to follow him over to the squad, while Roy approached the woman.
“Ma’am, why don’t you come with me. We need to make sure you’re all right, too.”
The woman quietly walked beside the paramedic, listening to her husband’s rantings from near the squad.
“You know, I’ll bet that cricket’s out here laughing at me now.”
Johnny nodded, only half listening as he checked the man’s vitals. Once it was determined that the couple was okay, they went to a neighbor’s house to stay, agreeing to see their own physician if they began to feel ill.
When the men got back to the station, they headed for the dorm room to try to catch more sleep. As Johnny got into bed, he heard Chet from across the room.
“Hey, Gage. Don’t forget to stop by the store on your way home. You can pick up some bug spray to get rid of your cricket. Just be careful you don’t overdue, or B-shift may have to come rescue you in your boxer shorts.”
“Shut up, Chet,” the dark-haired paramedic said, turning onto his side.
When Johnny opened his apartment door, he was greeted with silence. The tired paramedic made his way across the livingroom to the kitchen, glancing around as he walked. He was hoping the cricket had let its guard down while alone in the apartment, and was out in the open.
With no sign of the insect, Gage opened the refrigerator and pulled out the orange juice. Too tired to bother with a glass, the bachelor drank a few swigs straight from the carton. After putting the carton away, Johnny headed to the bathroom for a shower. Finally clean and comfortable in his boxers, the man went to bed for a short nap.
Later in the day, Johnny headed out on a date. He hadn’t heard or seen the cricket since he’d been home, and thought his problem may be over with. When he returned a few hours later, he got his answer.
Once again dressed in boxers, the paramedic turned out the lights and got into bed. He laid there a minute, listening to the quiet, then turned onto his side to sleep. The sudden sound of a cricket chirping had the man sitting straight up in bed, a discouraged expression on his face.
“Man, I don’t believe this!” Johnny threw off the covers and got to his feet, turning on the light. He slowly walked down the short hallway, and into the livingroom. He ran a hand through his hair in exasperation. Once again, Johnny couldn’t tell which room the cricket was in. He sat down on the couch and placed his elbows in his knees, his chin resting on his hands.
This is like a cruel joke. I knew I was gonna have this cricket long enough to name it.
Gage got up off the couch and walked over to the television, turning it on. He returned to the couch and plopped back down.
“I guess I’ll see what the late movie is.” He stared at the screen, giving up on any hope of sleep for awhile. “I hope you’re happy, where ever you are,” he directed at the cricket.
Mike and Roy watched a tired Gage wander into the locker room.
“The cricket again?” Mike asked.
“Uh huh. Chester.”
“Chester?” Roy wondered.
“I named him Chester B. Cricket. Seemed to fit.”
Mike and Roy grinned. They could just imagine Johnny talking to the chirping cricket, referring to it as ‘Chet’.
“Well, maybe ‘Chester’ will get tired of your place and move on soon,” Roy offered.
“I doubt it,” Johnny said, shaking his head. “I think he’s trying to push me out and take over the place.”
“Wait until Chet hears his namesake is a bug,” Mike said, laughing.
Johnny watched as Stoker walked out of the room into the apparatus bay.
“Wait till he finds out? You know, Roy, if I didn’t know better, I’d say Chet planted the cricket in my apartment.”
The senior paramedic laughed. “See ya at roll call.” He pushed open the swinging door, leaving his partner alone with his thoughts.
After roll call, Chet was at Johnny’s side. “Hey, Gage, I can’t believe you’d name a pesky bug after me.”
“Oh, c’mon. I’m not a pest. I just keep things interesting around here.”
“In your eyes, maybe.”
“I don’t mind someone naming their dog after me,” Chet suggested. “But a bug?”
“Oh, Kelly, it’s just a--” Johnny paused at the sound of the tones.
“Engine 110, Squad 51 in place of Squad 110, motor vehicle accident, 1800 Crescent Street, one eight zero zero Crescent Street, time out 8:30.”
“Looks like it’s starting out to be another shift like the last one,” Johnny said, stepping away from Chet.
“Yeah. Looks like it,” Kelly mumbled, as he watched Gage trot towards the squad. Chester B. Cricket? Sheesh!
It was early afternoon and the crew of A-shift was enjoying lunch after a busy morning. Soon after the paramedics had gotten back from the motor vehicle accident call, the station had been sent to a three-alarm warehouse fire, where they were assigned as part of the mop up crew once the fire was out.
“Pass me the ketchup, will ya, Chet?” Johnny asked.
“Sure.” Kelly reached for the condiment, when once again the tones sounded.
“Station 51, woman trapped, 1703 North Hill Street, one seven zero three North Hill Street, time out 13:50.”
Gage plopped the remainder of his hamburger on his plate. “Ah man. Right in the middle of lunch,” he moaned.
“Yeah, if they just could’ve waited ten more minutes,” Marco added, pushing his chair away from the table.
The men hurried out of the dayroom.
At the scene, a woman came running up to the firemen as they got out of their trucks.
“Oh help! Please! My friend is stuck in her house!”
“Stuck in her house?” Captain Stanley wondered. The house in front of them looked to be in good shape.
“Yes! I can hear her calling out for help. But I can’t get in to help her!”
“Can you show us where approximately she is in the house?” The captain asked.
“Yes, I think so. It’s hard to tell. About the time I think I’m near where she’s at, it sounds like she’s in a different room.”
Johnny looked at Roy. “Am I dreaming this?”
“No, it’s real.”
“Okay, if you say so.” Gage glanced at the woman, then back to his partner. “How do I know you’re real?”
Roy reached out and pinched his arm.
“What are you doing?”
“Did that hurt?”
“Yes, it hurt,” Johnny said, frowning.
“Then I’m real.”
Gage shook his head as they came to a side of the house. The men all listened for the sound of the woman’s voice from inside.
“Ma’am, we’re from the fire department!” Hank Stanley called out. “Can you hear me okay?”
“Yes! Yes! I can hear you,” came a muffled voice. “Help!”
“Are you hurt?” Johnny asked.
“No, I’m just stuck!”
“It sounds like she’s on the other side of this wall, or near it,” Captain Stanley said. He turned to the trapped woman’s friend. “And you’re sure the exterior doors are locked?”
“Oh yes! I tried them both. Locked and a chain latch on the inside, too, I’m sure.”
“Okay, let’s break this window,” Hank instructed.
Everyone stood back as Roy broke out the glass in the window. He then ran his helmet along the edges to knock out the excess pieces that still remained. Johnny turned to the victim’s friend.
“What’s her name?”
Johnny heard Chet’s snicker behind him and the dumbfounded paramedic could only think if one thing to do. He reached out and pinched Roy’s arm as the older man was climbing in the window.
“Ow! What was the purpose of that?”
“I wanted to make sure I was real and not part of your dream.”
It turned out that Crickett was stuck under one of the beds in the room the men entered into. The reason her friend had heard her in more than one room, was because Crickett’s head had been near a floor vent. Uninjured except for losing a few hairs off her head to the bedsprings her hair had been caught on, she thanked the men for their help.
As the crew of A-shift walked back to their trucks, Chet grinned at Gage.
“You’ll never guess what Crickett does for a living.”
“I don’t wanna know.”
“C’mon, Johnny. Just guess.”
“Okay, I’ll tell ya, then. She’s a singer. . .in a night club.”
Gage shook his head at the snickering fireman, then climbed into the squad. When Roy was in the driver’s side, the younger paramedic looked over at him.
“You know that pinching thing?”
“I don’t think it proves anything. A woman named Crickett trapped under a bed, her voice carries between two rooms, and she’s a singer in a nightclub? One of us has to be dreamin’”
Roy turned the key in the ignition and pulled the squad onto the street. He tried his hardest not to say any sarcastic remarks to his partner.
On Captain Stanley’s suggestion they show respect for Crickett, no one made any jokes regarding the rescue of the woman. Hank was more concerned with John’s nerves getting on edge if the guys overdid on the teasing, but he figured they didn’t have to know that.
When the shift was over, Johnny resigned himself to the next night at home being a sleepless one. Roy had offered for the younger man to stay at their house, but Gage refused to let the cricket win.
As darkness fell, Johnny decided it wasn’t even any use going to bed. He grabbed a pillow and blanket off of his bed and placed them on the couch in the livingroom. He then turned on the television, ready for a night of low-budget horror movies.
Johnny figured sometime in the night he must’ve fallen asleep because he found himself opening his eyes to a television screen that was just the snow that came on after a station signed off. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, looking around at the room lit by the television. There was something not right. Suddenly it dawned on him that there was no sound of the cricket; the apartment was quiet. Johnny smiled as he sensed victory. Chester B. Crickett was gone.
Gage sat on the bench in the locker room as the others came in to get dressed for roll call. Already in uniform, the younger paramedic looked downcast.
“Hi.” Johnny mumbled.
“You’re here early,” Roy remarked. “What’s with the glum face? Another bad night with Chester B. Cricket?”
Chet frowned at the mention of the name; Johnny shook his head.
“That’s great, Johnny,” Marco said, smiling. “Now you can sleep better at home.”
Gage shook his head.
“I can’t believe it, but I miss the little guy.”
Roy stared at his partner in disbelief. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope. Roy, it’s too quiet at my place.”
“I’ll lend you two kids and you won’t be saying that.”
Gage got up and walked over to the door leading to the apparatus bay. “I knew you guys wouldn’t understand,” he mumbled as he left.
“Boy, Johnny’s really lost it this time, huh?” Mike commented.
Roy sighed. “He’ll get over it. Just give him a day or so.”
That night A-shift was turning in after another busy day. With the lights in the dorm room out, the men got into their beds, ready for a good nights sleep. A sudden chirping noise had them all sitting upright.
“Gage, did you bring Chester Cricket in here?” Kelly groaned.
“No, it’s not my fault a cricket’s in here. It’s just a coincidence.”
Giving up any hope of getting sleep as the chirping continued, the firemen grudgingly pulled on their turnout pants and boots. The five men walked across the apparatus bay to the dayroom. They gathered chairs in front of the television and turned on the late movie.
Meanwhile, still in the dorm room, John Gage laid in bed, a smile on his face. The chirping sound was music to his ears. It wasn’t his old cricket pal, Chester B., but close enough. His left arm draped over his eyes, Johnny drifted off to sleep with the sound he had gotten used to.
Thanks to Kenda for the beta read. And to Tracy R., for mentioning the thought of Johnny and a cricket.