Everyone was lined up for role call. Captain Stanley looked at his men with a slightly stunned expression on his face. Clearing his throat several times before he spoke, he finally got his voice to work.
“Okay, men,” he said. How he was going to get through this, he did not know. His initial feeling of disbelief had been followed by stunned acceptance. Now, it was up to him to relay the news to his men. Clearing his throat a couple more times he began again, “Men, the department has decided to try something new.” Cap ran his finger over the bridge of his nose, trying to decide how to go on. “They’ve decided it would be beneficial if the battalion chiefs went on a retreat with their men. So….McConikee has…uh…selected…us to be the test group. So…next week…we’re gonna…um…gonna be spending…two days…with… him…in the woods…on retreat.” After finally getting to the end of his halting speech he looked at his men’s faces. He knew they were all aware of his rocky relationship with McConikee. They all looked slightly stunned.
“A retreat?” Came from Mike.
“That’s right,” Cap said, nodding.
“Where?” Came from Roy.
“Not sure yet, they’ll let us know, “ Cap said, swallowing hard. Continuing, he gave them all their assignments for the day. Then he turned and went back into his office, leaving the men of A-shift to look at one another askance.
“You think Cap’s gonna survive this?” John asked the others.
“Sure he will. He’s the Captain, isn’t he?” Chet said.
“But two days with McConikee?” Roy said, shaking his head. The others murmured in agreement. It could get freaky.
The retreat was at a cabin on a lake north of LA. The cabin was a large one and could easily hold all the men of A-shift as well as the battalion chief. 51’s A-shift arrived en masse in a van rented by the department, ostensibly to save the men having to drive to the retreat themselves. Chet voiced the opinion that it was so that they couldn’t leave if things got too freaky. McConikee did not arrive with the rest of the group, as he was following in his own vehicle. When the other men grumbled about the privileges of rank, Mike asked if any of them really wanted the battalion chief with them and all had to agree they did not.
When the van arrived at their destination, the men climbed out and stretched. At least if you’re going to lose your mind this is a beautiful place to do it, Cap reflected. Soon McConikee’s car came into view. The guys retrieved their things from the van and walked into the cabin. Looking around, they saw that they were in a spacious room with fireplaces at both ends of the room. A living area, complete with stuffed chair and couches was on their right, and a dining area on their left. The kitchen could be seen ahead of them on the left. A hallway, they discovered, lead to bedrooms at the back of the cabin.
“Well, it’s as nice as I remembered it being,” McConikee said with satisfaction. Answering the looks of question on the other men’s faces, he continued, “I was up here a couple of years ago with some buddies of mine. I remembered it when the department was looking for a place for this retreat and told them about it.”
After they had put their belongings in their rooms, they all gathered in the living area. When they were all there, McConikee stood before them in front of the fireplace. No fire had been lit in the fireplace since the winter before and it was unlikely one would be lit in it on this retreat, as it was the middle of July.
“Well, men,” McConikee said, as he rocked forward on his toes and then back on his heels. “This being the first retreat, we really don’t have anything specific to do. This is just a ‘get to know you’ retreat. So, we can decide what we want to do. Go hiking, fishing, boating, whatever.” The others perked up at hearing this, but his next words deflated them somewhat. “The only thing is, whatever we decide to do, we all have to agree on it and do it…as a team.” McConikee finished, looking pleased with himself.
Cap, listening to the battalion chief speak, was dismayed with this last bit of information. Not that he was concerned with his men working as a team, they worked very well together and he knew it. No, the problem was he knew McConikee was going to be watching him and any little slip up would be noted. If McConikee did not use it against him now, he would later. I don’t stand a chance of making battalion chief, not with McConikee around, Cap reflected.
The rest of that day was spent hiking and boating, working together as a team. Everyone was on their best behavior, even Chet, because they new they had to make Cap look good. McConikee, ever jovial, joked with the men and seemed to be doing his best to put them at ease. That evening after supper they were gathered once again in the living area, talking about the day and deciding what to do the next day.
Chet and Johnny sat side by side on the hearth. Suddenly, Chet elbowed Johnny. “Did you hear that?” he asked in a whisper so as not to interrupt the conversation.
“What?” John asked, surprised, “I can hear the conversation perfectly well…”
“No, not that…” Chet whispered again, “Listen, there it is again. A sort of scratching noise.”
“Chet, I don’t hear anything,” John said in exasperation.
“Would you guys like to let us in on the secret?” Cap asked.
“No, Cap,” Chet said. “I just thought I heard something.”
“I hope you heard our plans for tomorrow.”
“Oh, sure Cap, sure,” Chet assured the other man.
The next morning Cap woke to the sounds of banging and shouting. Wondering what was going on, he jumped from the bed and ran out into the living area where the sounds were coming from. The sight that met his eyes startled him. Four of the other men of A-shift were standing in the living area in their underwear. Only Marco was missing from the group and Cap distractedly wondered where he was as he took in the rest of them. Johnny, in red boxers, was leaning down and yelling up into the flue. Chet, in faded pink boxers, was hitting the fire place shovel on the chimney, one source of the banging. Roy, in tweety bird boxers, was banging the poker on the hearth, another source of the banging. Most surprising of all was Mike, in navy blue boxers, stamping his feet and clapping his hands.
Cap, in his white briefs, hands on his hips, stood watching the activity for a few moments. Then a thought occurred to him; McConikee. What would McConikee think if he saw them acting like this, what would he tell the battalion chief? That his men had lost their minds?
“Hey you twits,” Cap said, trying to make himself heard above the clanging and shouting. Just then the door flew open and Marco came into the room in white boxers.
“Hey guys it’s not…” he came to a halt when he saw the captain standing in the hall doorway. The clanging and shouting stopped. Every one turned to look at their captain.
“What do you twits think you’re doing?” Cap asked, tersely. “You’re going to wake McConikee.”
“No we won’t,” Mike said. “He went out for a walk a little while ago.”
“Well, someone want to tell me what you twits think you’re doing?” Cap asked, glaring at them. All he needed was for McConikee to walk in and see this group in their underwear…doing what?
“We’re trying to get rid of the raccoons,” Chet explained. “I heard a noise last night and then again this morning.”
“Yeah, it appears there’s a mother raccoon and her babies up there in the chimney.” Roy added.
“So we thought if we made enough noise she would leave.” John finished.
“Well it didn’t work you guys, she’s still there.” Marco informed his crewmates.
“Then what are we going to do?” Chet asked of no one in particular.
“Why do you have to do anything?” Cap asked, exasperated.
“Because McConikee said he was going to tell the people who own the cabin about the raccoons and they would probably get an exterminator,” Chet said, incensed.
“So we thought if we could make enough noise it’d scare her away and there’d be no need for an exterminator,” Mike said.
“Hey I know, barking,” said Chet. “Raccoons don’t like dogs, maybe that would do it.”
“We don’t have a dog, you twit,” Cap said.
“I’ll bark,” Chet said. Bending down, Chet “barked” up the flue.
“That’s not the way to do it, Chet,” John said, frowning at his crewmate’s efforts.
“Well then you try it,” Chet said, standing upright once more. Getting down on his hands and knees, the paramedic “barked” up into the flue. A flurry of sound came from the chimney and Marco ran back outside. John stuck his head in the fireplace and looked up to see if he could see anything. The only thing he saw, however, was soot raining down on him. Drawing his head back out of the fireplace, he dragged his hand down across his soot covered face. When Marco came back in, everyone looked at him expectantly, but he shook his head.
“Very effective you guys,” Roy said, with his arms crossed over his bare chest.
“All right then, you try it,” John said, still wiping at the soot on his face and chest. “See if you can do any better.”
“All right, I will,” Roy said, after a few moments thought. He took his turn bending down and “barking” up the flue. No sounds came from the flue, not even scratching.
“Good one, Roy,” Chet said.
“Let me try,” Mike said. Everyone turned and looked at him, incredulous. “Why not, might as well give it a try,” Mike said, shrugging. The others stood back and watched as he bent down and “barked” up the flue in his turn. A flurry of activity started up in the chimney sending Marco out the door once again. But once again, when he returned, it was to report that the raccoons had not moved out.
“I’ll give it a try,” Marco said, and moved over to stand before the fireplace. Bending down, he “barked” up the flue in his turn. Nothing.
“Let me try,” Cap said. Having watched in fascination as each of his men had “barked” up the flue, he had gotten caught up in the effort. Now he walked over to the fireplace and bending down on all fours, “barked” up the flue. A flurry of activity was heard once again in the chimney. This time they were all dusted with soot as it came puffing out of the fireplace. Marco ran out of the cabin. Cap continued to “bark” up the flue. More activity was heard from the chimney and more soot puffed out of the fireplace. Chet bent down to join the captain in his efforts and began “barking” up the flue. He was soon joined by John, followed by Roy and Mike, all bending down to “bark” up the flue. They sounded like a pack of hound dogs after a treed coon. Chattering came from above and the soot once again puffed out of the fireplace. They finally had the coon on the run!
About that time the door opened and everyone turned expectantly to see what Marco would say this time. Standing in the doorway, surveying the scene was McConikee. Marco came up behind the battalion chief as he stood in the doorway staring at the sight before him. Five of the men of A-shift in their underwear, covered with soot, kneeling on the floor in front of the fireplace, barking. McConikee shook his head in disbelief.
Captain Stanley wished the floor would open up and swallow him. He was never going to live this one down!