By Audrey W.






October 30th, 1976



“Hey, hey, hey,” Chet Kelly said as he came into the locker room at Station 51.


“Mornin’,” John Gage greeted. He was standing at his own locker, in the process of getting ready for their shift that was minutes away. He buttoned his uniform shirt as Chet continued on his way to his locker. 


“Have I got a good one for you,” Chet offered.


Johnny paused in mid button.


“A good what? Or do I wanna know?”


“A good riddle. One that is gonna challenge your mind like none other. ‘Course with your mind, . . .”


The paramedic smirked. Chet loved to try to irritate him. He also loved to try to stump him. Johnny wondered just how ‘good’ this one would really be.  


Only one way to find out. . .


“Okay, shoot,” Johnny said as he finished with the last button on his shirt.


Chet’s smile grew. “All right. You sure you’re ready?”


“Yes, I’m sure I’m ready.”


“There are lots of words with more than one rhyme. But only one with none. Which word is it?”


Johnny gave it some thought, then screwed up his face. Now seated on the bench in front of his locker to tie his shoes, he sat up straight. With an  elbow on one knee and facing the curly-haired firemen, he asked, “Chet, you sure this isn’t a trick question? Every word has a rhyme.”


Chet shook his head. “No, this isn’t a trick question. There’s really a word that has no rhyme.”


Johnny gave it more thought.


“So you ready to give up?”


“No, no I’m not ‘giving up’. Not on your life. I’ll get it, I’ll get it.” He stood up. “I’ll just need a little time is all.”


“Sure, take all the time you need. But if you decide to give in. . .”


“I won’t,” he assured again.


Johnny headed for the swinging door that led to the apparatus bay as he mumbled words to himself.


Chet grinned. He had a feeling the paramedic wouldn’t figure it out very soon.  At least he hoped not.





Johnny wandered across the apparatus bay, behind the engine and squad, sounding out words that rhymed.


“What’re you mumbling about?” John’s partner Roy DeSoto wondered when he met up with the younger man.


“Hmmm? Oh, I’m just tryin’ ta think of a word that doesn’t rhyme.”


“With what? Or rather, not with what?___ I think.”


“With anything.”


“You mean you need the one word that’s a jam?”




Both paramedics’ heads snapped in the direction of Chet’s voice. The fireman had just come out of the locker room.


“Don’t tellum, Roy,” he continued as he quickly walked over to the others.


Johnny looked to his partner. “What’s he talkin’ about? All ya said was ‘jam’.”


Roy shrugged. “He’s doing a better job of giving it away than I am.”


Johnny looked at the two, a baffled expression on his face. As far as he could tell, neither one was making any sense.


Roy eyed Kelly, figuring he could explain since he’d gotten into it deeper.


Seeing that the senior paramedic wasn’t going to blow it, Chet ducked past the two men. “Excuse me, but I think I hear a cup of coffee calling my name.” He hurried off in the direction of the breakroom.


Both of his shiftmates watched his retreating back until he disappeared around the rear of the squad, then faced each other.


“I will figure it out,” Johnny assured with a crooked grin. “I will.”


Roy just hoped his partner wouldn’t drive him crazy in the process.




While he and Roy inventoried the squad after roll call, Johnny ran words through his mind and frowned when a rhyming one for each came to mind.


Roy noticed his lips moving as he mouthed the words.


“You sure you don’t want to give up?”




“The riddle Chet gave you. I can tell it’s on your mind, I can read your lips.”


“Oh. . .I was moving them?”


Roy gave a nod. “You sure were. So you ready to give up and get the answer?”


“Roy! I’m shocked! You of all people should know I’m not a quitter. No siree. I’m a lot of things maybe, but a quitter?” He shook his head. “Certainly not.”


“Okay, suit yourself.”


Johnny went on checking over the drug box while Roy stood and placed the trauma box in the squad compartment. But after several seconds, the younger man looked at the other with narrowed eyes.


“Wait a minute.”


“What?” Roy looked at the box he’d just put away. “I was done with it. . .”


“No, not that. The answer. . .you really know the answer to Chet’s riddle, don’t you?”


Suddenly Roy didn’t think knowing it would be such a good thing to admit. “I have a good guess. . .”


Johnny frowned. “Oh. Well, I wouldn’t ask for it anyway, so I guess it doesn’t matter that you don’t know for sure.” He closed the box and stood up to place it in the squad compartment as well. “Man, I just hope I don’t run outta words before I figure out the answer.”


“I’m sure you won’t.”


“I better not. If I hafta let Chet . . .or you. . .give me the answer, he’ll never let me live it down.”


Well, one thing was for sure. Gage did have the right answer there.




Later in the morning, Roy walked into the dorm room, where Johnny was making his own bed.  He’d already changed the sheets on the beds of the rest of the crew while they attended to other chores.


“Need any help?”


“Roy, I told ya, I’ll figure out the riddle on my own.”


“I was referring to the dorm room. . .do you need any help in here?”


“Oh,” he said, slightly embarrassed for the error. He tucked the sides of his blanket in under the mattress. “Nah, I got it. All’s I hafta do is sweep now.”


But he wouldn’t get the chance yet. The tones sounded and the station was sent out for a man trapped call.




When they got to the location, the captain and paramedics hurried up to the front door of the two-story home. Before they could ring the doorbell, the door opened and a grey-haired middle aged woman was in front of them. She looked past them, toward the engine.


“Oh no, I hope I didn't give the man I talked to on the phone the wrong idea.”


“Ma'am, we were sent here for a man trapped?” The captain inquired.


Not taking her gaze off the truck beyond, she explained, "Yes, yes, that'd be my husband. He's stuck in the attic." She again shifted her attention to the men in front of her. "But I never expected they'd send a whole fire department! Isn't that big truck supposed to be for fires?"


“We respond to a lot of different kind of rescues. Now about your husband. . .”


“Oh.” She stepped inside, out of the way. “Of course, please come in.”


The captain waved for Marco and Chet to join them while Mike stayed with the engine. The men were lad upstairs to where an pull-down ladder reached near to the floor in the hallway. Along the way, the woman introduced herself and supplied her husband's name.


“The fire department's here, Gary!” She called up.


“Roy, John, how 'bout you two climb up and see exactly what we're dealing with here.”


The agreed and made their way to the attic one at a time.




“It’s the damn cat’s fault,” the victim complained as Johnny appeared at the top of the ladder.  


Gary Hackey was standing in the middle of the low-ceilinged room, nearly bent over in half.


Johnny had to lean over as he stepped up into the room to avoid hitting his head on the ceiling. The paramedic glanced around the room. “Cat?”


He didn’t see one anywhere. Just cardboard boxes in stacks, an old trunk and an assortment of things here and there, like old household items.


Roy joined them as Gary offered, “I’m not usually very superstitious. But it’s awful coincidental that after I cross the path of a black cat, I suddenly develop a bad back!”


"Bad back?"


He eyed Roy. "Yeah. You see how I am right now? Well, I can't straighten up. At all."


The forty-eight year old man had been out in his front yard putting the final touches on a ‘goblin’ he’d made with a white sheet for a body and pumpkin for its head, when a black cat had run across the grass just behind him. Not wanting to make a big deal about it, the man casually walked across the path of the cat to get back to his house, where he had more Halloween decorations stored.


It wasn’t even a full ten minutes later that he'd been searching through the stuff in the attic for something and he felt a 'crack' in his lower back. He tried to move to see if he could and found that indeed he couldn't. Not without enough pain to nearly cause him to pass out. And there was no way he could maneuver himself to get on a ladder, nor could he climb down very well if he did. 


After hearing a brief rundown of what happened, Johnny acknowledged, “Ah. . .I see whatcha mean. ”


The man nodded again. “It’s gotta be the cat!”


“What’re we looking at up there, John?” Captain Stanley called from the bottom of the  ladder.


“Uh, Cap, he’s not exactly trapped in the sense we're used to!”


“Well, how is he 'trapped'?”


“His back went out!”




Hank looked at his two engine crew members, then Mrs. Hackey. “We're here for a bad back?”


“I'm so sorry. I really didn't think they'd send a whole bunch of you here if I told them he was stuck in the attic. I just thought maybe a two or three men. . .”


“It’s all right. Better to have too many than not enough.” He then called up to the paramedics. “What'a you need?”


Being they couldn't even help him to straighten up at all, he was going to need to be carried out and down.


“The stokes and backboard,” Roy said as he peered down from the hole in the ceiling. “We can contact Rampart once we get him down.”


“Okay, you got it. Marco, go get the stokes and backboard from the squad.”




Johnny glanced at his partner who was once again beside him and mumbled, “We'll be lucky if we can stand up straight by the time we're done.”


Roy had to crack a smile.




It was decided they'd need a third person to help get Gary safely in the stokes without causing any more potential injury. Thus Chet was sent up to help Johnny and Roy. It was a bit of a struggle with all three helpers being bent over to put their even more bent over victim in the stokes.


“You guys may need to carry me out next,” Chet teased.


Johnny glanced knowingly at DeSoto, then informed the other, “You're a conversation or two behind us.”




Soon  Gary was lying on his side on the backboard, still in the position he'd been in while on his feet. He was secured in the stokes and ready to be lifted down. But as he was moved toward the opening in the floor, he called out, “Wait!”


The men complied.


“I need you to do me a favor,” he told Johnny.


“What's that?”


The men listened as he explained.




Gage joined the others downstairs after he made his way from the attic, a wiry fake black cat, its back arched up, in one hand.


“I got it,” he let Mr. Hackey know. “I found it in the second box in the stack.”


The men all had to shake their heads at the irony of a man crossing the path of a real black cat, only to end up in a fix afterward while searching for a fake black cat in his attic.




“You know, while I was up in that attic looking for that cat, I kinda looked around for odd things. . .you know, uncommon stuff.”


Roy briefly glanced at his partner from the driver’s seat of the squad, as they drove back to the station after leaving Gary Hackey at Rampart.


“You did?”


“Uh huh.”




Johnny looked over at him. “I figured if I was gonna see anything strange, it would be in an attic, right?”


“Most likely. But that still doesn’t explain why.”


Roy glanced his way again, wondering where this was leading.


“Well, if the name of something isn’t gonna have a rhyme, it’s gotta  be an off-the-wall thing, right?”


“Not necessarily.”


Both men were quiet a moment before Roy spoke put again.


“Look, why don’t we play ‘hot and cold’?  You know, you make a guess or tell me how you’re going about figuring Chet’s riddle out and I’ll let you know how close to being on track I think you are. You know, based on my ‘guess’.”


He hoped Johnny would go for it. If nothing else, it might shorten the time it took him to figure the riddle out.


Gage rubbed his chin in thought as he watched out the passenger window, then after a couple of minutes hinted toward his answer.


“I guess you aren’t giving me the answer then, right? Just kinda hinkin’ me along.”


“Right,” Roy agreed with a smile.


“Okay, deal then.”


“Great!” He glanced at his partner a third time as he brought the squad to a stop at a light. “So you know your theory on the attic stuff?”


“Yeah. . .”




Johnny stared at him a moment, his mouth agape.




“Like a block of ice.”


The younger man sat back and looked out the passenger window again. Roy started the truck forward once the light changed. He couldn’t help but keep a smile on his face. This ‘hot and cold’ game could actually be fun.




“Is it bigger than a bread box?” Johnny finally asked before he and Roy reached Station 51.


Roy grimaced slightly. Maybe the game he’d suggested wasn’t going to work out too well after all. Then again, maybe after working out a few glitches, it would.


Sometimes. . .”


Apparently Johnny had the same thought about the game. He jerked his gaze in Roy’s direction with a bewildered expression on his face.


“What happened to warm or cold?”


“Weeell, that doesn’t quite fit in this instance.”


“Is it mostly bigger than a bread box?”




“I don’t know, you tell me.”


“Okay, okay. Let me think a minute.”


Roy felt his partner’s stare as he gave the question more consideration.


“Give me another question.”


Gage sighed. “All right.” Now it was his turn to consider things. He then offered, “Is it found in a person’s house?”




“Is it found in the kitchen?”




Johnny grinned. This was going to be easy.


“Is it found in a grocery store?”


“Warm again.”


“Far out! A grocery store. . .man, Roy, that could be anything!”


As Roy opened his mouth to protest, Johnny corrected, “Well, not anything, but a lot!”


He noticed a grocery store in the block ahead. “Hey, Roy. . .”


“Let me guess. We’re going shopping.”


“I need visuals.”


“Right,” Roy said as he turned on the blinker to indicate they were going into the parking lot ahead on the right hand side.




“Cereal, imperial.”




“Meal, real.”


Roy eyed his partner curiously.


“As  in ‘Malto’,” Johnny explained.


“Got it. And you’re freezing.”


I know. Ya don’t hafta say ‘warm or cold’ after everything I say if I come up with a rhyme.”


“No, but it makes it more fun.”


Gage shook his head. Down the next aisle, he continued the rhyme game.


“Bread, lead.”




“Rolls, trolls.”




They were almost to the section that might give the answer away when the HT in Roy’s hand squawked.


“Squad 51, difficult breathing, 2154 West Palm Leaf Drive, two one five four West Palm Leaf Drive, cross street Waylen Avenue, time out 11:05


Roy brought the hand held radio up to his mouth and pressed the transmit button. “Squad 51, 10-4.”


The two paramedics immediately trotted out to their squad and were on their way.




When they arrived on the scene, Johnny and Roy were led inside a home by a very distraught young mother. Her two-year-old son was lying on the livingroom floor just in front of their television set, his skin slightly discolored around his lips from lack of oxygen as he struggled to breathe.


“I only left him for a few minutes. When I came back in the room he couldn’t make a sound, then he fell onto his side. I think he swallowed his bubble gum, I tried to get it out.”


“Bubble gum?” Roy asked as he and Johnny rushed to the child’s side.


“I gave him some a short time ago.”


She nodded and pointed to a bowl full of candy, likely for trick-or-treaters the next night. The bubble gum in the clear glass bowl was large barrel-shaped pieces wrapped in paper. An empty wrapper was on top of the other candies.


Johnny immediately put his head close to the boy’s mouth and nose to check for breaths. 


“Somethin’s blocking his airway, alright.”


As he tried to dislodge the obstruction, Roy contacted Rampart on the biophone and briefed them on the situation.


“He normally does okay with stuff like that,” the mother fretfully defended.


“Two year olds are full of surprises,” Roy reminded her. “Just about the time you think you know what they’re going to do, they take it another way.”


He wanted to add that a child that age shouldn’t have even been given the gum, not a piece that size, but he had a feeling the mother had that figured out already. He also knew that Doctor Brackett would tactfully educate her on the subject as well.


Both paramedics breathed a huge sigh of relief when the glob of half-chewed chewed gum came free and popped out. Johnny put the boy on oxygen while the ambulance attendants who’d arrived came in the house with a stretcher.


Within minutes, Johnny and the victim were on their way to Rampart in an ambulance, the mother in the front passenger seat. Roy followed in the squad.  The boy’s dad would be contacted from the hospital.




After leaving the little boy with Doctor Brackett, Johnny joined his partner near the base station. Roy was talking to one of the younger nurses on the staff.


Johnny glanced at her as she walked away when he stepped up to the desk.


“Why does she do that?”




“Leave when I come around.”


“The safety net.”


Johnny looked curiously at him. “Huh?”


“When she's talking to a married man, she know it’s safe. It’s just gonna be a casual conversation and that’s it. But if it’s a single guy. . .like you. . . who tends to wanna date nurses, then the ‘what if he gets the idea I want more when I don’t and he asks me out’ comes into play. Thus a married man is a safety net. A bachelor, there’s no certainty.”


Johnny shrugged. “I guess you’ve got a point there.”


Roy smiled, then grew more serious again. “How’s Trevor?”


“Doin’ good. Doin’ real good.”


Roy had seen his mother go in the treatment room as Johnny came out. Dixie McCall had let her know that the doctor just wanted to talk to her and she could see her boy, probably take him home within the hour. The father would likely be there very soon.




“So, you ready to blow this popsicle stand?”


“I was thinking we could get lunch in the cafeteria. All that looking at food in the store made me hungry.”


“Okay. All right. But then we get right back to the word with no rhyme,” Johnny said, his right index finger raised.




Roy hoped that the younger man would realize the answer should be in the cafeteria, too. Or at least ask if it was so he could give the answer of, ‘Hot!’ and get things well on track.




Unfortunately for Roy, Johnny had taken a break from his rhyming words, except for a playful ‘plate, ate’ and ‘glass, mass’ during their meal.


They headed back to the station, bypassing the grocery store for the moment. Johnny had decided sitting down and writing out a list might be more productive. Roy wondered how long it was going to take him to figure out the solution now.




“Well, well, look who’s back,” Chet said when the paramedics walked into the dayroom. He was seated on the couch against the wall across the room, a window above it with blinds that were closed. Marco and Mike were watching TV, their chairs pulled away from the table and facing the wall opposite the kitchen area.


Mike glanced over his shoulder. “You missed lunch. . .Cap’s clam chowder.”


Johnny gave his partner a pained look. “Ah man, they had Cap’s clam chowder for lunch.”


“I seem to’ve heard that somewhere,” Roy said with soft spoken sarcasm.


Marco turned in his seat to face them. “We saved you some, though. It’s on the stove; we kept the burner on low so it’d stay warm.”


“All right!”


Johnny hurried over to the stove and lifted the lid off the pot. He picked up a large wooden spoon from the counter and stirred the chowder. Suddenly disappointment was on his face.


“Ya know, I don’t think I can eat much more right now.”


Roy agreed as he peered over Gage’s shoulder at the tasty food.


While the paramedics were busy, Chet stirred another ‘pot’, making his way over to the two men.


“Are you ready to give up on the riddle yet?”


Johnny shot a look his way. “Give up? Are you kiddin’ me? Not on your life.”


“But you haven’t figured it out yet.”


“No, but I’m sure I’m close. I’ve gotta be close to havin’ the answer.”


Chet looked at Roy. “Has he tried to cheat?”


The dark-blond paramedic shook his head. “In fact when I tried to get him to let me give him the answer, he firmly shoved the idea away.”


Chet smirked. “Just let me know when you give up, Johnny boy. I’ll be right here with the solution.”


“Ha, keep on thinking’ that, Chet.”


Roy leaned past Johnny and took a whiff of the clam chowder. It smelled good enough he now was almost to the point where he could eat some. But the klaxon sounded and the squad was sent out for a run involving a man trapped.


As they hurried out the door, Johnny directed, “Put the chowder in the fridge. We’ll have it for supper later!”




After acknowledging the call and handing Roy a slip of paper with the information on it, Captain Stanley watched as the squad pulled out of the station. He then made his way into the dayroom to see what his engine crew was up to.


“Did the guys get a chance to eat?” He wondered.


Chet let the cupboard door shut and turned toward the captain after he grabbed a large bowl to put the leftover chowder in.  “They ate at Rampart, Cap. Guess they’re having it for dinner, so it looks like they’re gonna stay one meal behind us.”


With that settled, the captain shifted his attention to the others.


“What’re you watching?”


“Let’s Make a Deal just ended, it’s The Ten Thousand Dollar Pyramid now,” Mike answered.


“Great,” he said as he pulled a chair away from the table to sit on.


Chet listened to the categories mentioned by the host of the show, Dick Clark. He still liked his current game better: Stumping John Gage.





Johnny and Roy couldn’t believe the situation they’d arrived at. A man in his early twenties had climbed into the trunk of an old car in his driveway and couldn’t get out.


“He bought it for twenty dollars at the junk yard,” his girlfriend explained. “We had it towed here and he was going to be dressed as a vampire tomorrow night and pop up out of the trunk to give trick-or-treaters a scare, you know?”


“Shouldn’t a vampire come out of a coffin?” Johnny asked. He grabbed the forcible entry tool from the squad while Roy communicated with the victim from near the trunk to see how he was fairing and to let him know they’d have him out soon.


“He wants to be a vampire of the 70s. . .said this was more modern, up to date.”




“Look, Clint’s really a smart guy. It was just dumb bad luck the trunk latch was messed up,” his girlfriend defended.


But she really didn’t need to worry. With all they’d seen over their time in the fire department, Johnny and Roy remained professional during rescues, not making personal judgments on a victim. Things happened to the brightest of individuals as often as they did the ones with a little less sense. It was just how life worked.


He assured her they understood.




“Got it!”


After a few minutes of straining, Johnny finally got the trunk to pop open. He stepped back as the lid flew up with the help of Clint.


Both paramedics looked in amusement and bewilderment when they saw what a 70s vampire supposedly looked like.


Dressed in disco clothing along with a bright multicolored cape, his fake fangs still in his mouth, Clint sat up and wiped the sweat from his face. He also took off some white make-up with it.


“Man, that was getting hot in there. Thanks, guys!”


Roy recovered from the sight and reached out as he stepped over. “You need help getting out?”


“No, no. I’m fine. . .now that I can breathe!” He smiled with his fangy teeth.


“You sure?”


Clint shifted his gaze to Johnny. “Yeah, I’m sure.” He took in a huge whiff of air and blew it out. “Man, that feels good.”


Roy had him sign an MICU form, showing he refused treatment, then advised him if he had any problems from the ordeal later to call his own doctor. 


As they walked to the squad, Johnny did a double take at a little four-year-old brown haired boy who’d come running from the house next door. His tongue was going in and out of his mouth at a constant rate, his lips still together. He stared up at the two stopped paramedics on the sidewalk.


“That’s Daniel, the neighbors’ kid,” Clint’s girlfriend called out. “He’s going to be a lizard for Halloween. He’s been practicing for days now, ever since they got back from visiting relatives in Arizona!”


That explained it, especially when Daniel took a few seconds of a break to confirm what she’d said by proudly informing Johnny and Roy, “I’m a lizard.”


He then went back to sticking his tongue in and out.


“We see that,” Johnny said with a crooked smile. “You’re doin’ a good job, kid.”


As he and Roy climbed in the squad, Gage mumbled, “Either he’s gonna get a lot of candy for bein’ cute, or he’s gonna offend so many people, the kid’ll come home empty handed. . .”


Roy just smirked.




“Man, I’m glad we’re not working Halloween,” Johnny said as Roy drove the squad away from the scene. “If people are already havin’ trouble with stuff now, imagine what it’s gonna be like tomorrow night!”


“Unless they get the bugs worked out by then.”


Gage frowned. “Yeah. . .you’re right. . .maybe we shoulda’ taken Halloween instead.”


Roy grinned. They didn’t exactly have a choice anyway. It was just the way the schedule turned out.




The paramedics were on their way back to the area of Station 51, with hopes they’d have time to return to the grocery store they were in earlier before another call came in. By the way the shift had started out, they had doubts, but there was always that chance things would slow down more.


They were headed down a street that led to an onramp to the 405 when they noticed something strange. First there had been one semi-smashed pumpkin in the street that Roy and other drivers had to dodge. But then there was another in the following block, then two the next block up. It was as if someone were leaving a trail of pumpkins on purpose.


What concerned the paramedics most was that that ‘someone’ was apparently headed for the 405 as well.


“They dump random pumpkins on there and there’s gonna be an accident for sure,” Johnny commented, agitation in his voice.


“If not a major pile up.”


Johnny called it in so Dispatch could pass the information onto the police while Roy headed for the freeway with hopes of spotting the culprit.




Johnny and Roy knew their hunch had been correct when they had to swerve slightly to avoid two pumpkins smashed on the on-ramp. Johnny again contacted Dispatch to give the confirmed information.


The paramedics-turned-detectives then saw the ones responsible for the pumpkin messes quite a ways  ahead once they got on the 405. The bed of a pickup truck was overfilled with pumpkins and none were secured. The vegetables were falling off one at a time from the truck hitting slight rough spots in the pavement, or changing lanes now and then to get past slower moving cars.


Motorists honked their horns at the offenders, but that didn’t seem to make a difference. 


So far the other vehicles had avoided the few scattered pumpkins on the 405, but how long would luck hold out?


“Roy! Those guys may not even be aware they’re doin’ it!”


“I’ll try to catch up to them.”


He turned on the lights and siren as he made his way past cars that moved to get safely out of the way, going around those that wouldn’t.




Roy accomplished the feat, the price being a pumpkin that rolled off the pile in the truck and smashed against the right corner of the squad bumper as he came up behind the truck. He’d cut off the lights and siren several car lengths back. He didn’t want to cause any distraction for the driver, nor influence him or her to make a sudden lane change, which could increase the danger of the situation.


“What’ll we do now?” Johnny wondered.


“Follow behind till the CHiP gets here. At least that way we can keep any other cars from being the first ones in line for a falling pumpkin coming at them. We’ll be expecting it, so it won’t cause us any problems.”


The truck hit another rough spot in the freeway surface. Another pumpkin fell off the pile and smashed on the ground, pieces of shell and orange inards flying in all directions. Roy couldn't avoid it, and they could only imagine the mess.


Johnny winced. “Cap’s not gonna like this.”


Roy silently agreed.  




Soon the highway patrol caught up to the pickup truck and pulled the driver over. His temporary spy duty done, Roy brought the rescue truck to a stop up ahead of the other truck and two motorcycle cops on the side of the freeway. He and Johnny got out to take a look.


“Man, what a big orange mess,” Johnny stated, shaking his head at the pieces of pumpkin shell, seeds and the slimy mess still stuck to the grill, bumper and front tires. 


Roy shot a look his way. “Hot!”




“Hot! What you just said, you were hot! I mean, by my guess you are.”


He still didn’t want to let on he’d known for sure all along.


Hot?” Johnny was baffled, then it clicked. “You mean. . .”


Roy nodded. “Exactly.”


“I’m hot. . .well, mess has a rhyme. . .orange?”


“That’s it. Or oranges. But either way, I’d say you solved the riddle. Try to think of a rhyme, then you’ll know for sure.”


Johnny couldn’t come up with one.


“I did. I did solve it.” He then eyed Roy curiously. “How’d you know the answer, anyway?”


“H.R. Pufnstuf.”




“Not a who. A what. Well, kind of a what instead of a who, but it’s a who, too. . .just not a real one.”


“I’m almost sorry I asked.”


One of the CHiP officers came down and got a statement from Roy while Johnny gave the explanation more thought. When the cop was done and on his way back to his motorcycle, Johnny continued his questioning while he and Roy got back into the squad.


“So who. . .or what. . .is H.R. Pufnstuf?”


“It’s a show. That’s the name of it, but one of the characters is named that, too.”


“Oh. Well, what’s it about?”


“A boy who plays the flute is stranded on an island. . .it’s called ‘Living Island’. . . where there’s a dragon for a mayor. . .that’s H.R. Pufnstuf. The kid’s flute is named Freddy and it can talk. There’s an assortment of characters, things like frogs, owls, lions, spiders, vultures and witches …some are friends and some are foes.”


Johnny looked worried. “Roy, you know way too much about this.”


“It’s a Saturday morning kid show. I have kids.”


That reminder eased the younger man’s mind. Of course Roy would know much about the TV shows Christopher and Jennifer watched.


“So how did this orange thing come into play?”


“The witch was in disguise and sang a song about it. My kids watched a rerun of it a few days ago, that’s why I figured I knew what Chet was talking about. The one word that’s a jam.”


Roy glanced in the side mirror to make sure it was clear to get back onto the 405, then pulled into the far right lane.


“So why was Chet watching this ‘H.R. Pufnstuf’?”


“I guess you’ll have to ask him.”


Johnny gave it thought, then shook his head. “No. No, I don’t think so. But I do have an idea.”


Roy glanced over at him and saw a grin spread across his partner’s face. Gage definitely was up to something.




A stop at a local manual car wash and a dollar fifty in coins later, the paramedics were back at the station.


Roy was happy because the captain would never need to know about the mess that was made on the squad.


Johnny was equally as happy, knowing he was about to hit Chet with not just the answer to the riddle he’d given him, but with a little something extra.


As they sauntered to the back lot where Chet, Marco and Mike were playing basketball, Johnny grinned smugly.


Mike noticed the familiar facial expression.


“Uh oh.”


Chet and Marco stopped their battle between each other for the ball, the latter holding it in his hands, then focused their attention on the new arrivals.


“What. . .”


“Chester B, I believe I’ve sooolved the riddle,” Johnny stated gloatingly.


“Fire away.”


“It’s oranges. The word that has no rhyme is oranges.”


Chet shot a look at Roy. “Did you tell ‘um?”


“No,” he tossed back with a shake of his head. “He guessed it.”


And that’s all Roy figured he needed to know.


“I gotta hand it to ya, Gage. I really thought it’d take you longer than this.”


“Well, it just goes to show ya, Chet, sometimes there’s more to a guy than meets the eye, especially when he’s got a lotta’ perseverance.”


Or, you just got lucky,” Mike put in.


Johnny shot him a brief glare, while Roy and Marco grinned.


Chet grabbed the basket ball out of Marco’s hands while he was distracted




Wanting to stay on track with his idea, Johnny made an effort to move past the last comments.


“Anyway, that brings me ta this.”


“To what?” Chet wondered as he dribbled the ball to keep it away from Marco.


 “A riddle of sorts for you.”


“I can’t wait for this one.”


Gage gave his partner a wink as Roy quietly observed.


“What grown bachelor watches a Saturday morning show about a kid with a talkin’ flute, a dragon for a mayor, and a witch with a ‘vroom broom’. . .by himself?”


Chet had stopped dribbling and stood still as a statue, a look of dread on his face.


“By that expression you’re wearing, I’d say on a scale of cold to hot, you are definitely boiling.”


Johnny flashed Roy a knowing crooked grin.


Chet had a good idea now how Johnny had figured out the riddle. But it wasn’t going to change the fact that his secret had been discovered. He gave a wan smile as he shrugged. He could think of a couple of comebacks, but somehow it seemed better to quit on the subject before he was further behind.


Perseverance usually paid off, but there were those occasions where it could sink a person like a rock.





I remembered the episode of H.R Pufnstuf from years ago when Witchipoo sang the song ‘Oranges Smornges’ and Jack Wild (as Jimmy) sang ‘Pronouns’. My sister and I watched the show every Saturday back in the early 70s.For story purposes the show was rerun on Saturday mornings in 1976.  In defense of ‘Chet’, I’ve watched it as an adult, too. :o)  This story was inspired by pumpkins being orange in color, and the rest fell into place.  :o)




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