The Rental Car



By Audrey W.


Johnny stood near the rear of the station staring in shock as Chet pulled into the parking lot in a red Camaro. The paramedic couldn’t believe his eyes. As Kelly got out of the sports car, Gage hurried over to him in an instant.


What’dyado? Rob a bank?”


The fireman smiled wide. “Eat your heart out, Gage.”


Johnny stepped closer to the sports car and reached out to run his hand over the roof, when Chet knocked it away.


“Hey, hands off. That’s an expensive car, ya know.”


“Yeah, I do know. That’s why I can’t figure out how you’re driving it.”


“Hey, I can afford nice stuff,” Chet defended. A doubtful expression on his co-worker’s face had him fessing up. “Okay, it’s a loaner. But I could buy one like it if I didn’t have to pay rent and eat . . . that kind of stuff.”


Johnny arched an eyebrow. “A loaner? Who’d loan you this?”


“So, it’s a rental car. The main thing is, it’s mine to drive for now.”


“Ah, now I get it. Why the rental? Where’s your VW?”


“It’s in the shop. The engine died.” Chet glanced over his shoulder at the car as he and Gage started towards the open bay doors of the station. “Just be sure you keep your distance from that car. I’m only allowed a certain amount of scratches and dings per panel before they charge me extra for ‘em.”


Johnny feigned a hurt expression. “Chet, I can’t believe you’d suggest I’d do anything. I don’t even park near you!”


“True and maybe you wouldn’t intentionally do anything. . .”


“Look, why didn’t you just rent an already banged up car if you’re so worried about it? They do rent those out at places, you know.”


“I know. But this was my chance to drive something I can’t afford to own. It’ll be okay. Just be sure you don’t get your grubby hands on it if you come out in the lot.”


Gage nodded. “Oh sure, Chet,” he replied lightly. “No problem.”


The stocky fireman eyed his dark-haired shiftmate warily as they entered into the locker room. He had a feeling it wasn’t going to be easy keeping everyone away from the Camaro.




Mike and Roy each greeted Gage and Kelly as they walked through the doorway. DeSoto was just closing his locker after getting into uniform. Johnny was once again in the middle of reassuring Chet that the car was safe as the door shut behind them.


“Look, Chet, nothin’s gonna happen to your car. We’re all careful.”


“What’s this about?” Roy wondered.


“Oh, Chet here rented a Camaro while his old VW’s in the shop and now he’s afraid somethin’s gonna happen to it.”


“To his VW?”


“No, to his rental car.”


The curly haired fireman glared at Gage. “You’d be paranoid, too. Especially when you thought about the extra money you’d be paying out for dings and scratches.”


“He’s got a point,” Roy agreed.


“Yeah, but I told him he should’ve just rented a wreck if he was so concerned about it,” Johnny argued. “Besides, this isn’t about me,” he said, placing his right hand on his chest. “He’s the one with the rental car.”


Roy looked at Chet. “He’s got a point. On both counts.”


Kelly glanced over at Mike. “You’re usually open-minded. What do you think, Stoker?”


The engineer glanced at his watch and quickly started towards the doorway leading to the dorm area. “I think it’s getting close to roll call. You and Johnny better hurry and get dressed.”


“What kind of answer is that?”


“The only one you’re getting,” came a yell from the other room.


“Sometimes Mike plays it too safe,” Chet commented.


“Yeah, but you never hear Cap calling him a twit,” Roy said as he went out the door into the apparatus bay.


Kelly stared at the now closed door, then shifted his gaze to Johnny. “What’d he mean by that?”


“I’m not sure, but I think Roy found a way to shut us both up at the same time.”




Aside from the squad being called to a minor motor vehicle accident, it was proving to be a quiet morning. The men of Station 51’s A-Shift were out behind the building playing baseball to pass the time.


Chet tried to relax and go with the flow. But each time one of the guys whacked the ball with the bat, he had visions of it soaring across the lot to his car, placing a huge dent on the roof or the hood.


“Guys, can’t you play more conservative?” When he got four puzzled stares, Kelly tried again. “I mean, can you maybe not hit the ball? What if it one of you forgets where he’s at and sends it flying across the lot?”


Johnny stood up from his catcher’s position near the ground. “Don’t hit it? But that’s the poi- - Oh I get it. It’s that stupid car again, huh?”


“Look, I just don’t wanta get any--”


“Dings or scratches,” they all finished for him.


“How come you never worried when your VW was here?” Marco asked.


“Because even if you did dent that one, who would notice?” Chet asked.


Gage snorted. “Now it’s my turn to say it. He’s got a point.” He then turned to Kelly. “But we’ve all got vehicles here and we’ve never hit one before. Why should we now?”


“Because now it really matters.”


The others shook their heads and went on playing.


“We won’t hit any cars,” Johnny mumbled as Roy pitched the baseball to Marco.


The Hispanic man put a little more behind his swing than he intended. The men all watched in stunned silence as the baseball sailed through the air towards the fronts of Captain Stanley’s Edsel and Chet’s Camaro. The curly haired fireman was so frozen in place, he hardly breathed as he waited for the sound of the ball impacting metal. Five collective sighs of relief could be heard when the ball hit the ground, bounced slightly and rolled underneath Hank’s vehicle.


Uh. . .maybe we’d better stick to catch,” Roy suggested as Chet crawled under Stanley’s car to retrieve the baseball. The men watched him come back out from under it, the item in his hand. When he just stood in place and stared at them all, Johnny walked over.


“Okay, Chet, give me the ball.”


The mustached man glanced over the paramedic’s shoulder at the others, then shifted his eyes back to Johnny. He shook his head.


“No? Whataya mean, no?”


“Sorry, but I just don’t trust you guys. I want to.  I just. . .well. . .”




Kelly stepped away from Gage headed towards the building. “Sorry, guys. I can’t let you do it.”


Johnny turned around, his mouth hanging open in surprise at Chet’s disappearance into the building.


“He took the ball. . .he really took it away from us.”


“I think Johnny’s about to lose it,” Mike commented to the others.


“Yeah, and Chet already has,” Marco added.




With no baseball to play with, the men went into the dayroom to play cards until they either got a call or lunchtime came. The paramedics got toned out midway through lunch, which left Chet and Marco to clear the table while Mike started washing the dishes.


Hank Stanley was just leaving the dayroom when he remembered something. “I’ll be in my office as soon as I get the catalog my wife wanted me to look at out of my car.”


“Okay, Cap,” Marco replied.


After a few seconds, what the captain had said sunk in with Chet and the stocky fireman plopped his dishes in the sink, splashing Mike in the process.


“Hey!” the engineer protested, but Kelly was already in a mad dash out of the room. Mike and Marco exchanged glances, shrugging.




Chet hurried through the apparatus bay and out to the back lot, stopping Captain Stanley just short of his car. “Cap, wait!”


“What is it?” Hank asked, turning around.


“Let me get the catalog for you,” Kelly said, slightly short of breath from his run.  “You’ve got too many other important things to do.”


“You came all the way out here for that?” He screwed up his face. “Are you nuts?”


“No, Sir. I just know how important a captain’s job is and you should get right to it.”


“Look, Kelly. . .I appreciate the concern. . .I think,’ he added warily. “But I’m already right here and the catalog is a few steps away on the front passenger seat of the car.”


“It is?”




Chet looked past the captain to the Camaro that was parked on the driver’s side of Stanley’s vehicle. “So you just have to open the passenger side door?”


“Yes. Why?”


“Oh nothing,” the fireman replied casually. “Carry on. . .Sir,” he added when Hank gave him a disapproving look. “Guess I’d better get back to the dishes.”


The captain watched Kelly walk back towards the building. He shook his head. “Sometimes I wonder who’s more of a twit,” he said to himself. “Gage or him. Some days I think it’s kind of a toss up.”




When Johnny and Roy returned to the station, Marco and Mike filled them in on the little incident with Chet. It didn’t take them very long to figure out what Chet was worried about.


Johnny shook his head at Kelly, who was sitting on the couch with Henry.


Cap, Chet? You didn’t even trust the captain not to ding your car?”


“Well, he may be a captain, but he’s still only human.”


“How long are you gonna have that stupid car, anyway?” Gage asked.


“Yeah, Chet,” Marco jumped in. “How many shifts will we have to go through this?”


“Don’t rush it. I like having that car.”


“How can you say that?” Johnny wondered. “Chet, you’ve been nothing but a nervous wreck anytime anyone or anything goes near that car!”


“Well, that’s just here. But when I’m out in it driving down the street. . .man. . . the chicks turn their heads. It’s incredible!”


“So what happens when you park it? You actually let people near it?”


“Park it?”


Gage nodded. “Yeah. You do stop somewhere and park don’tcha? I mean, you can’t drive aimlessly around town just to be seen in the car.” Chet’s wounded expression gave him the answer. “You do just drive it around aimlessly?”


“Hey, if I have to go to the grocery store or somethin’, I’ll park it. Out away from the store, but I’ll park it.”


“Guess if any girls wanna get picked up, they gotta chase ‘im,” Mike snickered.


Kelly scowled. “Well, I hate to end your fun here, guys, but there’s something I gotta do.”


The men watched as the curly haired fireman left the room.


“Bet he’s going to check on the car. . .again,” Marco said, shaking his head.


Gage snorted. “I don’t know about everyone else, but I can’t wait till he gets his VW back.”




When Chet stepped out into the lot, there was Charlie the mechanic slowly walking around the red sports car, eyeing it. Panic set in when Kelly saw the man run his hand over the hood.


“What’re you doing?”


“Whose car is this?”


Mine. . .sort of.” Chet couldn’t help but glance over the hood as Charlie pulled his hand away.



“Nice car.”


“Thanks.” You can step away from it any time.


“I always wanted a red Camaro. But the wife hates red. Never would agree to it.”




“You married?”




“Smart man. Not that I don’t love my wife. I do of course. But there are times . . .like when I wanted a car like this . . .that I wouldn’t mind being single.”


Chet nodded. He was half listening, but really he just wanted the mechanic to leave.


Charlie continued on. “But then I imagine when you sit down to a TV dinner for a meal, you wish you were married.”


When is he gonna shut up? Kelly wondered. He talks more than Gage.


“Sometimes,” the fireman answered. C’mon, I’m giving one-worded answers. Can’t you tell I don’t wanna talk about this?


Finally Charlie stepped away from the car and headed towards the building. “Well, I’m just here to do a quick maintenance inspection on the trucks. Better get with it.” He patted the trunk of the car as he left. “Nice lookin’ car.”


Chet watched the man walk away, then quickly went over and peered closely at the area where Charlie touched the car. He huffed on the smudges, then wiped each one with the edge of his shirt after pulling it out of his pants. He then stood back and smiled, admiring the shiny car. 


There, that’s better.




By the end of the shift, the others couldn’t wait for a break from Chet’s obsessive behavior. It was wearing them out to see the fireman run to the lot behind the station between each and every call. No amount of reassurance could convince Kelly that nothing bad was going to happen just because he was driving a Camaro. 


Johnny and Roy watched as the fireman drove out of the lot.



“I sure hope he gets his VW back by next shift,” Johnny said, shaking his head. 


“Don’t count on it.”


Gage looked at his partner in question. 


“I have a feeling he’ll keep it a little longer if he can,” Roy explained. “Call it a hunch. But I don’t think we’ve seen the last of that car.”




The following shift, Captain Stanley gathered his men for roll call. When only four showed up, he frowned. 


“Where’s Kelly?”


“I haven’t seen him, Cap,” Marco answered. The others chimed in that they hadn’t either. 


Johnny shrugged. “Maybe he got his VW back and it broke down again.”


“Whatever it is, it had better be a good reason.” Hank glanced at his notes and sighed. “There isn’t much I need to go over with you guys. Go ahead and take the chores you were assigned last shift. In the meantime, I’ll make sure Henderson sticks around to cover for Chet.”


“Okay, Cap,” came a couple of replies. 


Johnny looked at the others as the captain headed for the dayroom. “Well, at least Henderson gets the latrine duty,” the paramedic snickered. 


The men headed for their respective duties when the klaxons sounded. 


“Station 51, man trapped on the 405 near the Glendale Boulevard off ramp, 405 near the Glendale Boulevard off ramp, time out 08:10.”


Everyone hurried to the trucks and climbed in. Lights and sirens going, they pulled into the street.




Johnny and Roy looked in shock as they approached the scene of the call. A red Camaro was flipped over and resting on its roof. Three police units were parked on the sides of the highway and two officers were directing traffic around the wrecked vehicle.


“That’s Chet’s!” Johnny said as he and Roy climbed out of the squad. He quickly helped his partner get supplies out of the compartments. Captain Stanley and the rest of the crew hurried over to see if the man inside the sports car was their missing shift mate. 


Officer Vince Howard was explaining the incident to Hank and the others as they approached the wreck. The paramedics caught up after a few seconds.


“So apparently he was going just over the speed limit when the right front tire blew and sent the car out of control. According to witnesses and by the skid marks,” he said, pointing at the black marks on the pavement that stretched a great distance, “the car veered left across a lane, then swerved right where it got on the shoulder. It started to the left again, but flipped and rolled to where it is now. Luckily no one else was caught up in the accident other than a few fenders being banged together from people having to lay on the brakes unexpectedly. Chet says he's all right, but. . .”


Hank squatted down near the open passenger door and saw Chet still seat belted in and hanging upside down. “Kelly, are you sure you’re okay?”


The fireman didn’t turn his head when he answered. “Yeah, Cap. Can I get out now?”


“Just hang on. . .uh. . .sit tight. John and Roy are gonna check you over so we know exactly how to go about it.”






Johnny got on the driver’s side of the Camaro, where the other door had been forced open.  With Roy on the other side setting up the biophone, he relayed Chet’s pulse, respiration and blood pressure readings to DeSoto to give to Rampart. 


“Can you tell me where you’re hurt?” Gage asked as he removed the bp cuff. 


Uh. . .it hurts where the seatbelt’s on me. Can I take it off now?”


When he saw Chet’s hands move to the buckle on the belt, Johnny stopped him. “No, not yet. Just take it easy, Chet. You’re lucky you had the seatbelt on.”




“Yeah.” Kelly seemed somewhat lost as to what was going on. Was it the shock of what happened or did he hit his head? Looking closely, Gage could see a slight knot and bruise on the fireman’s left temple. He had hit his head. “Did you lose consciousness at all, Chet?”




“Consciousness. Did you pass out?”


Uh. . .no. . .I don’t think so.”


“Can you tell me what day it is?”


Uh. . .Thursday.”


“Name?”  He’d better get this one right after I’ve called him by name, or something’s very wrong .  


“Chet. . .Chet Kelly.”


Johnny nodded. “Do you remember what happened?”


Chet rubbed at his forehead in thought. “An accident?”


“Yeah, an accident.”




“Yeah?” Johnny asked as he checked his co-worker’s legs and arms for injuries. He frowned when the fireman didn’t continue.






“Stay with me, man.”


I. . .I am.”


Johnny pulled away from his position just inside the car and signaled to the rest of the crew. “Okay, we can release the belt and get him out.”


Roy crawled in on the other side and released Kelly’s restraints while Gage eased him down and out after putting a c-collar on him as a precaution. 




“Yeah, Chet?” Johnny said as he continued to pull the man out. 


“How bad is it . . .the car? Is there more. . .more  than one scratch or dent on each panel?”


The paramedic looked at the upside down wrecked vehicle. “Uh. . . yeah, I’d say so.”


Marco and Mike helped in getting Chet situated on a backboard just outside the car.


“How is he, John?” Captain Stanley asked. 


“He’s a little disoriented.” Gage began to check for rigidity in Kelly’s abdomen as Roy shone a penlight on his pupils. The senior paramedic got on the biophone again.


“Rampart, this is Squad 51.”


“Go ahead, 51,” came Doctor Early’s reply. 


“Rampart, the victim is now out of the vehicle. Pupils are equal and reactive. There’s some bruising from the seatbelt on the abdomen but no sign of rigidity. There’s a bump on his right temple where he apparently hit his head. Patient doesn’t recall losing consciousness. No change in vital signs.”


“10-4, 51. Is the ambulance on the scene?”


“That’s affirmative, Rampart.”


“Okay, bring him in.”


“10-4, Rampart.”




Once they had Chet on the stretcher and ready to transport, he was placed in the ambulance. Johnny climbed inside with him. Roy closed the doors behind them and gave the customary two slaps signaling it was clear to go. The senior paramedic headed for the squad as the ambulance pulled away.




“Boy, that’s some mess Chet made of that car,” Mike remarked, shaking his head. 


Captain Stanley was standing beside him, his hands on his hips. The two watched as the tow crew hooked the cables on their truck to the wrecked Camaro to upright it. Marco and Henderson stood ready to help if needed.


“You got that right, pal. Good thing he was too out of it to realize what he did or John and Roy may have needed to use the defibrillator on ‘im.”


Mike snickered. It was a bad thing that had happened. But now that they could breathe a sigh of relief knowing Chet wasn’t seriously injured, the humor of the situation was easier to see. After all Kelly had put them through with the car, he ended up completely doing the car in himself.




Johnny looked down at Chet laid out on the stretcher, his eyes closed. “How’re ya doin, Chet? You still with me?”


“Umm hmm.” His eyes remained closed.


The dark-haired paramedic frowned. “Your head hurtinya more?”


“No. I’m just hoping if I keep my eyes closed long enough, I’ll wake up and this’ll all be one bad dream.”


“Sorry, but. . .”


“I know.” Chet opened one eye and peeked at Gage. 


“Look at the bright side, Chet.”


“And that is. . .?”


“You’re still in one piece and no one else got injured.”


Even slightly dazed, Chet had to admit the man was right. The insurance he paid for would cover the damaged rental car. But had anyone else gotten hurt. . .


“You know somethin’, Johnny?” Kelly weakly asked.




“You’re right.” Chet had both eyes closed again and lay still. In a few seconds he peered out of one eye again to see the reaction on his shiftmate’s face.


Johnny was grinning. The paramedic couldn’t help but smile. He figured admitting he was right probably bothered Kelly as much as wrecking the car did.




When they arrived at the hospital, Johnny followed alongside Chet and helped to transfer him onto the exam table in the treatment room. The paramedic then stepped back as Joe Early started to check the patient over.




“He’s been more oriented,” Gage offered, thinking of the comment Chet had made to him. At least he knows rhyme from reason.


“Thanks, Johnny.”


Gage lightly patted Kelly’s arm. “Take it easy, man. I’ll catch ya later.” He started for the door.


“Okay. Hey. . .”


When Johnny stopped and turned to face his friend again, Chet continued.


“Thanks. And tell Cap I’m sorry.”


“You’re welcome, but I don’t think Cap’s the one who’s gonna want an apology from you concerning the Camaro.”


Right. . .the rental car place. . .”  I can’t believe I wrecked the car.




A few days later, Chet was doing better. The fireman had lucked out with just a mild concussion and some deep bruising from the seatbelt.


Having recovered from his injuries, Chet was on duty after missing a couple of shifts. Happy to be back in his VW bus again, he pulled into the station lot and parked next to Hank Stanley’s car. As he climbed out of the vehicle, the other men of A-Shift made their way over to greet him. 


“It’s good to see you back in your old bus,” Johnny said, patting the rear of the VW. The others agreed, until they saw a familiar recent expression on Chet’s face. Johnny noticed the stern look and slowly pulled his hand away, puzzled at his shiftmate’s reaction. 


“Don’t tell me you’re still gonna make us walk on eggshells around this old thing.”


Everyone waited as Chet kept the same stern look. Slowly a smile spread across his face. “Ha ha, had you all going, didn’t I?”


Johnny and the others relaxed. Chet definitely was his old self again. They laughed as they walked towards the open rear doors of the station, each taking dibs on who was going to be first in practicing his pitching or hitting the baseball later in the day.



Thanks Jill H. and Kenda for the beta read and suggestions!