By Audrey W.
“Ah. . .man! I’m never gonna get it!” John Gage groaned as he leaned with his elbows on the front desk at Rampart’s ER, his hands covering his discouraged face.
Head Nurse Dixie McCall glanced from the young dark haired paramedic to his partner Roy, who didn’t appear to be much happier. She raised an eyebrow in question.
“He’s stuck on a riddle,” Roy explained. “Unfortunately for me, I get to listen to him talk it out while he tries to come up with the solution.”
John moved his hands away and eyed the nurse, a frown still on his face.
“Chet Kelly. . .uh. . .came in this mornin’ with a riddle. An easy one. What’s so fragile that when you say its name you break it?” After a brief pause he deadpanned, “Silence.”
Dixie smiled in reaction. “That’s a good one.”
“Yeah, well, I got it right away. Then I made the mistake of acting smug since I did.”
Roy nodded, his face still displaying a hint of agony. “Imagine this conversation. Oh, c’mon, that’s so easy a kindergartener could get it right. Let me know when you’ve got something real challenging. You want another one? Sure. Why not? It’ll just take up another couple of minutes of my spare time.” He looked at Gage. “That couple of minutes has turned into over an hour. . .minus the rescue we were just on of course. . .so far.”
“Man, I didn’t think he was gonna come up with a good one.”
“What is it?” Dixie wondered.
John pulled a small slip of paper out of his shirt pocket that was folded in half. “I’ve got it written right here, but I really don’t wanna chance anyone giving me the answer before I figure it out myself.” He glared at Roy. “Which I will, eventually.”
Roy just rolled his eyes. He hoped eventually would happen soon.
“I understand,” Dixie assured. “But when you decide you want to share what it is, be sure to include me.”
“I promise I’ll tell you the riddle and the answer.” He glanced at Roy. “ ‘Cause I’ll have both .”
The senior paramedic gave Dixie a look of hopelessness.
Within another forty minutes, the paramedics were sent out on a rescue to a high school library, where the middle-aged librarian had fallen off a lower rung of a ladder when she misjudged which step she was on. She’d just finished placing a couple of returned books on a high shelf above.
Lying on the floor on a backboard in place as a precaution while the paramedics continued to check her over, she sighed.
“Maybe this is someone telling me I should retire.”
Roy glanced around at the concerned faces of the students, some who’d already asked repeatedly if she was going to be okay.
He smiled slightly as he told her, “I have a feeling there’s plenty of people who wouldn’t be too happy about that.”
“I probably wouldn’t either, truthfully. Since becoming a widow four years ago, this has been my life.”
John had just closed up the biophone and sharply jerked his head in the direction of the librarian at the mention of the word ‘widow’.
Throw me from the window, you’ll leave a grieving wife. . .a widow. . .minus the N. . .that’s it! The answer to the riddle. It’s the letter ‘N’.
He couldn’t believe it. It had been so easy. . .so obvious. . .he’d missed it.
“Man, I can’t wait to tell Chet I solved the riddle.”
Roy glanced at his gloating partner in the passenger seat of the squad. The look on his face concerned him. Gage looked too confident again.
“Yeah, well don’t let him snooker you into another one. Sooner or later he’s bound to stump you and it’s going to drive you crazy. “
Not to mention me, he thought to himself.
“Don’t worry. I learned my lesson.”
“You mean that sincerely?”
“Yup.” He turned in the seat to face Roy. “Ya know, I was surprised Dix got it so fast when I finally read the riddle to her.”
“She’s a natural problem solver.”
The younger man nodded in agreement. He couldn’t argue with that. Dixie had helped them through a lot of real life problems, little or big.”
That and it was an easy one after all, he reminded himself.
When they got back to the station, Roy went into the captain’s office to fill out the log book while John went in search of Chet to give him the answer to the riddle. He found him in the locker room in front of the sinks, washing his hands and face. The engine crew had just returned from a fire recently and Chet was in the process of cleaning up from it.
“So what brings you in here, Johnny boy?”
Gage hid any annoyance and grinned. “It so happens I’ve come up with the answer to the riddle, just like I said I would.”
“Yeah? Well, let’s hear it.”
“It’s the letter ‘N’.” He went on to recite the first part of the riddle, followed by, “Bring me back, but in the door, you’ll see someone giving life. As in donor. Widow and donor.”
“Wow, I’m impressed. So, you’ve tackled two now. You ready for another one?”
Gage shook his head.
Roy closed the log book, then put it away, As he started for the doorway, he saw his partner come in, a sour expression on his face.
“You took on another riddle. . . .”
“I don’t know how it happened, Roy. I heard the word ‘no’ in my brain. I even shook my head ‘no’. But somehow ‘yes’ came out.”
“Well, what is it? Maybe I can end this one sooner for you.”
John’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “Oh no. I took it on, I’m gonna solve it. I’ve already gotten two right, why wouldn’t I be able to handle a third one?”
“Because it’s Chet you’re dealing with.”
The sour expression returned.
Marco and Mike looked up from their seats at the table when Chet came into the dayroom. The two men were just starting a game of checkers having cleaned up right before their crewmate.
“What did you do, Chet?” Marco wondered.
“What do you mean, what did I do?”
“He means the look on your face. It’s got sneaky all over it.”
“Not sneaky,” Chet defended as he pulled out a chair and took a seat at the table as well. “Johnny solved the second riddle, so I just gave him the hardest one I know. You know, to keep him busy for awhile,” he added with a satisfied look.
“I wonder who suffers the most with these riddles,” Mike pondered out loud. “Johnny or Roy?”
If they had to guess, all three would say the answer had three letters in it.
Captain Stanley returned to his office after he’d gathered up a few papers off the desk near his bed in the dorm room. The paramedics were just leaving and both appeared to be preoccupied as they exited.
“Is everything okay?” He wondered.
He got two answers simultaneously, neither of which matched.
‘Yeah, sure, everything’s fine, Cap’, was Gage’s response. Roy, ‘ask me in about two hours’.
He couldn’t help but smirk. Obviously, as usual, John was ‘focussed’ on something Roy likely had less interest in.
For both his own sake and his partner’s, John spent some time sitting alone in the dorm room while he tried to figure out the third riddle. First he’d lain on his bed staring up at the ceiling. When that didn’t help the thought process, he’d moved to the desk in the room.
He’d once again written down the riddle and had it on a small piece of paper. He sat in the chair and stared at it, wishing the answer would click.
Gage sat back with a sigh, then was on his feet when the tones sounded, followed by Dispatch.
“Squad 51, man down, 3224 West Citrus Avenue, thirty two twenty four West Citrus Avenue, time out 14:25.”
He grabbed his paper from the desk, shoved it back in his shirt pocket. The problem solving would have to wait with his focus now completely on his job.
‘Man down’ turned out to be an understatement. The male victim wasn’t just down, but in the process of regaining consciousness. The twenty-three year old had deiced to play a prank on his girlfriend while she waited to meet up with him for an afternoon picnic date. She’d been seated on a bench near their favorite spot in a park when a man wearing a black ski mask over his head ran up and grabbed her purse. She’d immediately gone after him, swinging the full picnic basket. As he turned to tell her he was her boyfriend in disguise, she clobbered him in the head and knocked him out cold. When the police arrived and pulled the mask off, she’d discovered who it really was.
“How many fingers am I holding up?” Gage asked as he checked the victim’s vision.
“F. . .four. . .?”
“Double vision,” he mumbled to Roy. He’d only had up two. The man also had trouble following his finger as it moved.
“I. . .don’t feel so well . . .”
“You’ve got a concussion,” Roy explained to him. “You probably won’t feel so well for awhile.”
The girlfriend kneeled nearby, chewing nervously on her lower lip. “I’m sorry, Billy.”
“It’s my. . .my own. . .stupid fault, Nancy.. . .Not cool. . .at all . . .”
The ambulance arrived on scene and the paramedics soon had him on his way to Rampart, John in the ambulance with him. Roy followed in the squad, while the girlfriend drove herself there.
Roy brought his styrofoam coffee cup down away from his mouth when he saw his partner approach the base station area where he was waiting.
“How is he?”
“About the same. Maybe a few less ‘cob webs’ in his brain.” The younger man glanced toward the ER waiting area. When he didn't see who he was searching for, he asked, “How's Nancy? She still feelin' pretty guilty?”
“Yeah. Dixie let her go in the office to call Billy’s mother and let her know her son is in the hospital. . . and why.”
“Bet that isn’t an easy phone call to make.”
John walked behind the desk and grabbed a styrofoam cup for himself. As he poured coffee into it, he offered, “Ya know, I should’ve tried the riddle out on him to test his thought process. Somethin’ tells me it’s gonna take a scrambled brain to solve it.”
“I don't know. You haven't figured it out yet.”
Gage rolled his eyes. “Ha. . . ha”
“You know, you can always ask--”
But the dark-haired paramedic cut him off with a raise of his left hand. “I’m just kiddin’. I’ll get it on my own. I’ll get it,” he assured a doubtful looking DeSoto.
“Okay. If it helps, I admire your integrity.”
John took a sip of his coffee, then shook his head. “It doesn’t.”
Another rescue later, John mumbled as he watched thoughtfully out the passenger window of the squad. Occasional words such as what, yet and sometimes could be deciphered from his self conversation.
“You sure you don’t want to give up this time?”
Gage turned in his seat to face his partner.
“No way, man,” he said with a shake of his head. “No way. I can do this, Roy. It’s gotta be like the other one. So easy, I can’t see it. . .yet”
The two paramedics were on their way back to the station after taking a near drowning victim in to Rampart.
John pulled the paper from his pocket again and began to study it intently.
“I just don’t get it, Roy. How can all this lead to one thing?”
“I’m sure you’ll understand if you ever figure it out.”
“When I figure it out, Roy,” Gage stated firmly. “When.”
It was Roy’s turn to mumble, making sure John wouldn’t understand what he said.
Slightly later in the day, the engine crew and paramedics gathered at the table in the dayroom for dinner. As John took a seat, Chet questioned from where he sat at the far end, “So, Gage, you haven’t mentioned the riddle I gave ya since just after lunch. You got the answer or are you gonna wave the white flag on this one?”
“Neither.” He reached toward a platter in the middle of the table and grabbed two pieces of fried chicken. As Roy handed him a glass of milk, the dark-haired paramedic defended, “I don’t recall you giving me a time limit. I’ll figure it out and get back to ya when I do.”
“Okay, but don’t forget, I plan on retiring around the age of fifty-five.” Chet looked at the rest of the crew with a smirk.
Gage frowned. “Very funny.”
Roy sat down in the chair beside him. “Maybe if you think about it less, the answer’ll come right to you.”
The younger man’s face brightened. “Hey. . .you know, it just might.” He patted his partner on the back, a lopsided grin on his face. With an air of victory he sat back in his chair and eyed Chet. “Man, I’ll bet I get it in no time, now.”
Roy was just glad the suggestion was taken on. If he was right by chance, it would be a bonus.
By morning, Gage was no closer to solving the riddle than the day before. Though he’d tried not to think about it, it wasn’t that easy, thus the paramedic had lost some sleep on an otherwise peaceful night. By two o’clock in the morning, he’d actually been hoping for a run to keep him busy and his mind off the puzzle.
Since he hadn’t managed to solve it, he was going to have to listen to Chet’s verbal spars on the way out to their vehicles as soon as they got off duty.
“Maybe Cap’ll let me go a few minutes early,” John told his partner, sincere hope he was right.
The two were out in front of the station putting up the California state and American flags. John had volunteered for the task and motioned for Roy to come outside with him. It was the only place he could be sure Chet couldn’t eavesdrop on their conversation.
“I don’t know.” Roy folded his arms across his chest as the other secured the flags' rope to a hook on the pole. With his head cocked to the side, DeSoto wondered, “Wouldn’t it just be easier to tell Chet he really stumped you this time and get the answer to the riddle?”
John quickly faced him, his mouth open in surprise. “Tell Chet he stumped me?”
“Really stumped you. You forgot the ‘really’ part.”
Gage splayed a hand on his chest and laughed slightly. “I’m not stumped. I never said I was stumped. It’s just takin’ me longer than I ever expected to figure this one out. That’s all. And I don’t wanna hear Chet’s opinion on it anymore.” He shook his head. “I don’t think I wanna hear yours anymore either.”
“Okay, suit yourself. But I think giving up might make your days off a little easier.”
Gage was happy with the reminder they had days. . .as in multiple. . .as in three in a row. . .off. All that time with no one to cast doubt on his ability, to rush him, to nag him for an answer. Nope, he had three days to figure it out and show them all he could solve it by the start of the next shift.
How long had he been awake? John rolled over in bed and squinted at the glowing hands on the face of his alarm clock that was in his nightstand beside the bed. It was three o’clock in the morning. That meant he’d been awake for about twenty-one hours because he hadn’t gotten to sleep since getting up in the morning at the station.
Oh man. It’s all that stupid riddle’s fault.
He gave it a little more thought.
It’s all Chet’s fault. . .
He still hadn’t come up with an answer to the riddle Chet had given him in what he now considered a trick.
Sure, he made the first one so easy, he knew I’d ask for another one. Then the next one had to be fairly simple so I’d agree to yet another one after that. . .
Another brief time of pondering. . .
I hate when he knows me so well.
Earlier, around midnight, Gage had come to realize the bad side of having three days off. He’d have to wait that long to ask for help in finding the answer unless he really wanted to make a big production out of it by calling Chet at home.
Yeah, like I’d wanna do that.
But what was he going to do? He had a date in the coming evening. He sure didn’t want bags under his eyes. Worse than that, he didn’t want to be on the verge of nodding off due to lack of sleep.
He eyed the darkened outline of the phone beside the alarm clock.
Man, what’m I thinking? I can’t wake Chet up in the middle of the night over this dumb riddle. . .
He stared at it a little longer.
Nope, can’t wake Roy up either.
With a sigh of resignation, he rolled onto his back, placed his left forearm across his eyes and hoped he’d fall asleep without realizing it. But with the riddle stuck in his head after having read over it so often, he doubted it.
He knew he was lucky if he’d gotten two hours of sleep. However, some time after four o’clock in the morning, he’d managed to drift off to dreamland. Still, it was going to be rough staying up through the day and into the evening with his date later. He’d need to at least try for a nap.
John sat down at the kitchen table of his apartment, a cup of black coffee, glass of milk and a plate with two pieces of buttered toast in front of him. The small paper with the riddle on it lay not far from the dish.
He read over the words again as he took a bite of his breakfast, followed by a swig of milk. John slowly chewed the now wet mass in his mouth as he thought over the words for what he figured had to be nearing the thousandth time.
Man, I can’t believe I haven’t figured this out yet.
In fact, he had to admit that it might just be his inability to figure it out that had him annoyed so much, more so than the riddle itself.
He took another bite of toast, chewed a few times, then shoved the wad of bread in his inner left cheek with his tongue as he gave his dilemma more thought, his gaze fixed on the paper.
There really was only one answer. He could see that now.
“Good mornn’, good mornin’ good mornin’,” John cheerfully greeted as he entered the locker room at the station. It was about ten minutes prior to roll call for their next shift.
“You certainly are happy,” Roy observed. “You must’ve solved the riddle.”
The dark-haired paramedic eyed his partner standing in front of an open locker. John had come in dressed in uniform, but Roy had changed at the station.
“You could say that.”
Before he could elaborate more, they heard Chet’s voice as he and Marco approached from the dorm room.
“I’ve got another one for the pigeon just as soon as he finishes with the one he has now. . .”
“I believe that would be you he’s referring to,” Roy commented to his partner who was standing by the sinks.
Gage scowled, then rolled his eyes. But he knew he was right.
Chet and Marco emerged through the open doorway.
“So, Johnny, did you figure out the riddle yet?”
“What’s the answer?” Marco asked. “Better than that, what’s the riddle? Chet won’t tell me that either.”
John gave a knowing grin his partner’s way, the pulled the paper from his shirt pocket. He opened it in grand fashion, then read aloud, “What is a word made up of four letters, yet is also made up of three, sometimes is written with nine letters, and then with four. Rarely consists of six and is never is written with five?”
Marco just stared blankly at him, while Roy appeared baffled as he tried to put the hints together. Gage had been right. How did all those things equate to one answer?
“The answer is in the words,” John explained. “What has four letters in it. Yet is a three letter word. Sometimes has nine letters, then has four. Rarely has six and never has five.”
“When did you finally figure it out?” Chet wondered.
“When I decided it was an emergency.” He eyed the puzzled crewmates. “Where else would one go with an urgent situation?” He shrugged. “I went to Rampart and gave the riddle to Dixie.”
At least he still has his integrity, Roy thought to himself. But so much for the scrambled mind theory. . .
Chet looked at the floor as he shook his head. “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny.” He brought his gaze upward and on the paramedic. “Well, at least you admitted you had help. So are you ready for another one to redeem yourself?”
Gage put his hands on his hips. “Lemme put it this way. What's bigger than a bread box and a whole lot wiser than yesterday?” After a few seconds he answered as he headed for the door that led to the apparatus bay. “Me . . .not taking on another riddle.”
“Ah c'mon. ”
The paramedic pushed the door open and was gone after a quick wave.
Chet stood and watched the door close behind him, while Roy smiled as he sat on the bench to tie his shoes.
A trip to the ER and John Gage was riddle -cured.
This was inspired by the title. :o)
April Picture 2014