By Audrey W.
John Gage walked out of Rampart General Hospital’s emergency ward, and climbed into the passenger side of Squad 51, where his partner Roy DeSoto sat waiting in the driver’s seat. The dark-haired paramedic stared ahead, a stunned expression on his face, as he closed his door.
“By that look, I’d say she either kissed you right on the spot or she turned ya down.”
“She turned me down,” he offered with a slow nod, his gaze still ahead. “Said she didn’t think we should see each other anymore.”
“I thought you said you two had a great time on your date the other evening.”
Roy couldn’t hide the surprise in his voice. Gage had lagged behind inside to ask one of the young nurses about going out on a second date, and he’d been certain the younger man would have gotten a ‘yes’.
Johnny turned to face him. “We did. At least I thought we did. I mean, she seemed happy enough. I know I was.”
“Well, what was the reason she gave? Did she explain why the change of heart?”
“Nope.” Johnny’s gaze was now on the floor as he gave it thought.
Roy shook his head. This was the third girl in the past six weeks to drop his partner like a hot potato. There had to be something Johnny was doing wrong. He turned the key in the ignition and headed out of the lot.
“Where’d you take her?”
“Out to dinner and a movie. A real good one, too. We went an’ saw ‘What’s Up Doc?’, you know that new movie with Barbara Streisand and Ryan O’Neal.”
“That nice little Italian restaurant on South Hill Street. It’s not real fancy, but still, it’s Italian food. Judy said she loved Italian food, so. . .” he shrugged.
“Well, it sounds like you took her to all the right places.”
Johnny nodded in agreement. “I did. Between the two places it cost me enough, too. Over fifteen dollars.”
Roy had to smirk at what his partner deemed high-cost.
Wait’ll he has a wife and two kids to take out. . .
Still, it did seem Gage planned out a nice date this time. Roy chewed his lower lip in thought as the other watched out the passenger window, uncharacteristically quiet. Both were trying to think of what could’ve changed Judy’s mind about Johnny.
By the time they got back to Station 51, Johnny had become more vocal. He’d already gone over and over everything about his date with the nurse with Roy, repeatedly commenting, ‘There’s just no reason for Judy ta’ say no’.
The two climbed out of the squad and Roy waited while his partner came around the front end.
“I wonder if I went back to Rampart and asked her. . .”
“I don’t think that’d be such a good idea.”
Roy shook his head. “It’s bad enough getting rejected once. Why put yourself through the misery twice?”
“Well, it wouldn’t exactly be twice. It’s not like I’m askin’ ‘er out again”
The two dropped the conversation as they entered the dayroom, where the engine crew was gathered around the table eating lunch.
“Welcome back,” Captain Smith commented. “Have a seat and join us.”
“Thanks, Cap,” Roy said as he pulled out his chair. He noticed Johnny sit beside him, a lost look on his face.
Once he was seated, Roy reached toward the middle of the table and scooted a large silver pot with a lid over. The handle of a ladle was sticking out from under the lid. The senior paramedic filled a bowl in front of him with stew that was in the pot then held the ladle out for his partner. But Johnny didn’t respond. He kept his gaze locked on the table surface.
“Not hungry?” the captain wondered.
Gage seemed unaware there was any conversation around him. Thus Roy answered instead.
“He’s just got a lot on his mind.”
“It doesn’t take much to fill his,” Chet joked.
“Hmm? What? Did you say something, Roy?” Johnny asked as he came out of his thoughts.
He decided to spare the often teased paramedic from hearing what Chet had said and again held up the ladle. “Stew?”
“Oh. Sure. Yeah, sure.”
When Johnny didn’t move again, Roy sighed and spooned it into his bowl for him.
“Man, what is with you, Gage?”
“Nothin’, Chet. Why?”
“You sure you’re okay?” Captain Smith inquired.
“Other than the fact I can’t seem to get a second date lately, I’m just great.”
Roy’s eyes widened as he quickly glanced at the others before resting his look of surprise on Johnny.
“I thought you said not to tell anyone.”
“You can’t get a second date?”
“Don’t be so surprised, Marco.”
The clean shaven Hispanic looked at Chet. “Aren’t you? You’re the one who labeled him a chick magnet.”
“Yeah, I did. But that was before--” he cut himself off and sat back in his chair.
“Before what?” Johnny questioned. He looked at Roy, then the others, his focus eventually returning to Chet. “You know something,” he accused.
“C’mon. What would I know?”
“Chet. . .”
“John. . .” he looked at the desperate eyes pleading for an answer. “Okay. But you’ve gotta promise not to shoot the messenger if I tell ya.”
“Don’t take it out on me if I tell ya what the problem is.”
“Sure,” Johnny waved it off. “Anything. Just tell me.”
“Okay.” Chet paused a moment as he glanced at the others. His attention back on Johnny, he explained, “Remember Marcie? That nurse you went out with two weeks ago?”
“Yeah. . .” his eyes narrowed, Johnny waited for more.
“Well, I kinda asked her out after you said you didn’t wanna go out with her again. Only she told me she dumped you.”
“Well, of course she’s gonna say that. Hey, wait a minute.” Gage’s eyes again narrowed to slits. “How come you asked out my date, anyway?”
“Ex date, Johnny. And you said you dumped her. Look, do you wanna know or not?”
The paramedic sighed, a frown on his face as he sat back in his chair. With resignation, he said, “Sure.”
“Okay. She said she couldn’t handle going around town in a submarine on wheels.”
“You’re camper bus. The chick’s don’t dig a guy who drives around in a small house.”
Johnny’s jaw dropped. “I’ll have you know my aunt sold me that camper bus and it happens to be a great set of wheels! I like it!”
“Whoa! What happened to scouts’ honor?”
“I wasn’t a scout,” he grumbled.
“Well, don’t tell me how great it is. I believe ya. But you’re just gonna hafta enjoy it as a bachelor, John. A lonely bachelor. The chicks don’t dig the monstrosity.”
Johnny snorted a laugh. “Oh c’mon. A girl would hafta be pretty shallow to base a relationship on that. ‘Sides, Delores went out with me more than once.”
“But where is she now?”
“Okay, okay. . .so it didn’t work out. But that doesn’t mean she broke up with me because of what I drive.”
Chet wondered if the paramedic realized he’d just insinuated that the girls don’t stick around simply because of himself. “Sometimes he just makes it too easy,” Chet remarked to the others. He then shook his head as he got up from the table. “Suit yourself, John Boy. But I’m tellin’ ya, I heard it straight from Marcie.”
“What about you? Did she even go out with you in your ol’ Impala?”
“We’ve got our second date tomorrow night.”
With that Chet walked out of the room. Johnny sat with a furrowed brow, his stew getting cold in front of him while the others exchanged grins before finishing their meal. Chet knew how to get to Johnny and it appeared he’d done it again.
Two months and several more Chet hassles later. . .
Standing in the parking lot behind Station 51, Johnny looked at his newly purchased car with pride.
“So? How do ya like it?”
Roy walked along the driver’s side of the blue Camaro, from the front to the rear bumper. “He’s really gotten to ya, hasn’t he.”
“What? No. No, Roy, . . . I’ve had that camper bus two years.” Two just about one-date-per-chick years. . . “Besides, it was a ’67. It was gettin’ old. This is a ’72,” he explained as he rocked on his heals, arms folded across his chest. With a shrug he added, “I’ve updated.”
Roy opened his mouth to reply, but sensing he hadn’t made his point, Johnny continued on with, “I got a good deal on it too. It was only twenty-seven thirty-two. A few 73s are already on the lot for twenty-seven ninety-five.”
“You really think this is going to fix your dating problems?”
“Sure. Why wouldn’t it?”
When he didn’t get an answer, he prodded, “Roy? Oh thanks a lot. In other words you think I’m the problem.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t not say it either.”
“I’m just not so sure any girl who judges a guy by his car is even worth the effort. And what about when you go camping? You know you love to camp. How’re you gonna drag along all your gear?”
“I’ll manage.” He looked at his partner’s doubtful face. “I’ll manage,” he assured.
Roy took one last glance at the vehicle, shook his head and wandered away toward the station. Now alone, Johnny ran a gentle hand over the back end of the car, then looked to where Roy was wandering across the apparatus bay to the locker room inside.
“Not worth the effort. He’s been married too long.”
Johnny drove his blue Camaro into the lot behind Station 51. As he got out of his car, he glanced at the old fire engine he and Roy had purchased that was now parked a few spaces over. They’d spotted it a few months earlier at a junk yard during a small fire and decided to buy it as a fixer-up project. Though the cost was only forty dollars for each initially, the price for improvement was adding up to a lot more than either could afford. It was going to take them a few years to get it done.
He sighed as he reminded himself if he’d kept the camper bus, he wouldn’t have a monthly car payment. And without the monthly car payment, he would’ve had more money to put into the old fire engine. It might’ve even been drivable by now. Of course at the time he made the purchase, there was no way of even knowing he and Roy would stumble on their project. But it didn’t change the fact the car was indirectly hampering their progress.
That wasn’t the only problem with the Camaro. Just as Roy predicted, Johnny’s weekend camping trips dwindled. He found himself only going when he could borrow a truck from a friend, which meant his car went as a temporary trade for a few days; not the best arrangement considering his vehicle was usually much newer.
And his luck with girls? Sure, he got more winks and smiles while in traffic. But it hadn’t changed his dating life much. Other than an occasional girl here and there who’d go out with him a few times, he found himself still with too many one-time deals.
A thought that had run through his mind many times over the past year resurfaced. Man, I wish I still had my camper. . .
‘Hind sight is always 20/20’, his aunt once told him. He had to agree. It sure was.
With a sigh, he headed into the station to get changed into uniform and set for another twenty-four hour duty.
“Hey, good morning,” Roy greeted from in front of his locker as Johnny walked into the room. He noticed a bit of somberness on his partner’s face with the “mornin’” he got in return.
Uh oh. “So. . .uh. . .how were your days off?”
The younger man stepped over the bench near both their lockers and opened the door to his. “Okay, I guess.”
“Did you go anywhere?”
“I swapped vehicles with Kirk on B-shift so I could go camping.” Try as he might, he couldn’t get any excitement behind his words.
Roy fastened his belt as he commented, “You don’t sound very happy about it.”
In a white undershirt, his blue uniform shirt in his hands, Johnny leaned against the outer edge of his locker and sighed. “It’s just. . .well, I’m tired of swappin’ cars, Roy. I just wanna decide ta go away for the weekend and go. Not make three or four phone calls to see who can trade transportation with me.” He stood up straight again and slipped on his shirt. “I jus’ want a car that’s more suited for me.”
“Trade yours in and get something else,” he shrugged.
“I don’ know, Roy. It seems awfully soon. They’re gonna think somethin’s wrong with it. ‘Sides, I’m not sure exactly what else I’d wanna get.”
While Roy put on his shoes, Johnny questioned, “What about you? How were your days off?”
“Great. We loaded up the station wagon and took the kids to San Diego. Went to the zoo.”
Johnny just nodded. Roy may have been married too long to understand the single scene, but he sure had the importance of hanging onto the right vehicle for one’s needs figured out.
Captain Hank Stanley, who’d been put in charge of the crew in early 1973, gathered his men together in the apparatus bay for roll call. Afterward, Chet motioned with his hand to get Johnny’s attention before the paramedic went to inventory the squad with Roy.
“Hey, how’s the chick scene? Anymore hot dates lately?”
The truth, of course, was no. But being he’d exaggerated and boasted about some at times, Johnny didn’t want to let on that things hadn’t changed much.
“Of course. I’m surprised you had to ask.”
A hand splayed on his chest, Chet commented, “John_I’m surprised you’re surprised. I’m just asking out of concern. After all, I’m the one who got ya to make a change. Like it or not, I’m invested.”
“Right.,” he said dryly. “It’s been nearly two__ years! How long are ya gonna hold it over my head anyway?”
“How long are you gonna be dating?”
Johnny rolled his eyes and walked toward the squad.
“Ah, c’mon, John,” Chet called out. But when Gage didn’t turn around, he just shook his head, then turned to go out to the hose rack to help Marco, who was waiting impatiently at the open rear bay door.
When B-shift took over the next morning, Johnny and the others headed for home. The dark-haired paramedic was lost in thought as he gave Roy’s words from the previous morning more consideration.
Trade this in. . .but for what?. . .For what? What would be more like me besides another camper bus?
He was so focused on the issue that he didn’t notice the thin trail of smoke that began to filter into the car from under the dashboard.
What am I thinkin’? It’s like I told Roy. . .it’s too soon. . .but still. . .it would be nice. . .
Suddenly his thoughts were interrupted by a horrible smell. He quickly looked down and saw smoke now pouring into the car from under the dash.
He was in the left lane and would have to get over to the right to be able to pull off and stop. Three cars passed before he could make his move. By the time he was able to bring the car to a stop just inside a small parking lot off the street, it was filled with thick acrid smoke.
Johnny threw open the driver’s side door and scrambled out. Coughing, he stumbled away from the car. He struggled to breathe as he choked out, “Oh man.”
Smoke was now billowing out of the vehicle’s open door and from under the edges of the hood. Luckily there was only one other car in the area, parked several spaces away. He wouldn’t have to worry about anyone else’s property getting damaged.
“I called the fire department!” the owner of the store the lot belonged to yelled out to him. He’d just recently arrived to get his business ready to open for the day.
His eyes watery from the sting of the smoke, Johnny stepped farther back and watched in stunned disbelief as his car burned, sending a black plume of smoke into the sunny sky.
Very soon sirens could be heard as a squad, fire engine and police car approached.
Johnny’s lungs burned from the small amount of the smoke he’d actually inhaled. But that seemed the least of his troubles at the moment. He coughed again as he looked at the thick black trail above.
“Just keep it on,” paramedic Bill Mason from Station 51’s B-shift directed Johnny. Twice Gage had pulled down the oxygen mask from his face to make comments, which were broken up by more coughs. It was definitely a struggle for him to speak.
The other paramedic on duty was talking to a doctor at Rampart via the biophone. They had guided a still in shock John Gage over to a wooden bench in front of the store, which was a safe distance from the burning car so they could work on him. He’d sat down and wearily leaned against the back.
Kirk was busy putting out the fire with the other crew members from B-shift’s Engine 51. He and another were on the line, while the engineer manned the gauges and their captain stood ready to assist any of the men on scene if needed.
Vince Howard, the police officer on duty, shook his head as he watched the flames diminish, obviously a little too late.
I can’t believe it, Johnny thought to himself when he saw what was left of his Camaro once the fire was out. It was just an empty blackened shell.
“What in the hell happened?” Kirk wondered when he was finally able to talk to his friend.
“I don’. . .know,” Johnny coughed out, the mask once again pulled down from his face. “It just . . .started. . .smokin’.”
Bill sighed in exasperation and replaced it. He gave Kirk a look of disapproval afterward.
“Good thing this didn’t happen when I had it the other day. I don’t know how I’d’ve broken the news to you.”
And suddenly it dawned on Johnny. Kirk had used his car. Could he have inadvertently done something that caused this? But then why wouldn’t it have burst into flames when he drove it home from Kirk’s apartment or to work the morning before?
All he could do was ask. But with the ambulance now on the scene, he didn’t have much time.
“Kirk,” Johnny croaked. When he saw he had his attention, he questioned, “Whadya. . .do. . .to my. . .car?”
“Nothin’. I hardly even drove it anywhere.”
The ambulance attendants wheeled the stretcher over and Johnny was helped onto it. As he lay down, he reminded himself, what ever the cause, he should just be thankful he nor anyone else got seriously hurt.
He eyed the destroyed Camaro again as he was taken to the rear of the ambulance to be placed inside. As bad as the damage was, he doubted he’d ever know for sure what exactly had gone wrong.
Johnny sat on the exam table in Treatment Room Two, an oxygen mask still over his nose and mouth. Doctor Early and Nurse Dixie McCall were in the room with him, the paramedics from Squad 51 having gone out on another call.
Dixie looked at him with sympathetic eyes. “That’s a shame about your car.”
Johnny frowned and just nodded his head in agreement since it still hurt too much to talk. Now he didn’t even have a trade-in if he needed one.
“Well, at least your insurance’ll cover it,” Early put in. “Should make it easy to replace it.”
He’d forgotten all about his insurance. It wasn’t his fault the vehicle had gone up in flames. He hadn’t knowingly done anything to cause it. So his insurance would cover it. He’d have plenty of money for a down payment on another car. Suddenly Johnny’s brown eyes brightened. There was a silver lining in that dark cloud of smoke after all.
Johnny stayed at Rampart for treatment and observation for a twenty four hour period. And he’d miss one full shift of duty while recovering at home. The doctor didn’t want him to chance being exposed to anymore smoke for a few days at the very least.
There’d been a theory on what had gone wrong with his Camaro. It was possible a wire or two behind the dash board had worked their way loose over the past two years and possibly chaffed, causing a short. There’d been no other reports of the cars suddenly catching fire, so it wasn’t a habitual problem but rather a fluke.
Just my luck to get a fluke, he’d grumbled to himself.
But the time off gave him a chance to look for the next vehicle of his dreams, with Roy as his chauffeur.
“And this time I’m gonna forget what the chicks like,” Johnny told Roy as they scouted out another dealership. There was a hint of raspiness to his voice, a remnant from his ordeal. “This one’s gonna be strictly for me. An’ I’m gonna make sure it’s right because this is gonna be it. The one I’ll have for years.”
“As long as you remember that later.”
But his friend’s attention was already on something else. “Roy! Stop here!”
When Gage pulled into the station’s lot in his newly purchased white Land Rover, he noticed a Volkswagen Bus parked beside Captain Stanley’s truck. It wasn’t a camper bus, but rather a standard one. And although it was the first time he’d seen it here, it obviously wasn’t brand new.
But then his Rover wasn’t either. In order to get what he wanted and have it affordable, with extra play money available to spend on the old fire engine he and Roy were still working on, he’d decided to go with a used one from 1972. Two years old was fine though. He was just happy the previous owners took good care of it and had decided, oddly enough, a camper bus was more suited to them. So they’d traded the Land Rover in. Apparently he wasn’t the only one who had to find the right car through trial and error. And from what he’d witnessed over time on the job, not the only one from a mishap either.
“So, anyone know whose VW Bus that is out there?” Johnny casually asked as he changed into his uniform.
He, Roy, Chet and Marco were all in the locker room, Gage having arrived the latest.
He whipped around and looked sharply at Chet. “Yours?”
The curly haired-fireman closed his locker and nodded. “That’s what I said. Mine.”
“What happened to your Impala?”
“I traded it in. It was time for a change.”
“He traded in a ’69 for a ’68,” Marco explained. “Try to figure that one out.”
Johnny screwed up his face in puzzlement. “Chet, why in the world would ya do that?”
“That bus is in great shape and costs a heck of a lot less than a brand new one would.”
Then it suddenly dawned on Gage. “Wait.” He raised his hand as if to stop his shiftmate from moving, though he was a few steps away. “You traded in your car for a bus? After all I’ve been through the past two years because of your claim that chicks don’t go for big bulky vehicles. . .as in buses?”
“Yeah. . .so?”
“So?” Johnny looked at the other two, his gaze first on Marco, then Roy. “Do you believe him?” But before either could answer, he addressed Chet again. “Sooo. . . why would you switch to one now?”
The fireman shrugged. “I don’t think a guy should listen to everything one chick says.”
With that he left the room and an open-mouthed John Gage behind.
“At least you got the Land Rover,” Roy reminded him. “You were happy with that.”
Johnny slowly nodded, still staring toward where Chet had exited in the direction of the dorm room. He was very happy with the Rover. In fact he figured in the long run, he really owed Chet a favor in a round about way. And some day he'd be able to admit it to him. But right now he could ring his neck.
The dark-haired paramedic again faced his locker and continued to get changed.
‘I don’t think a guy should *listen* to everything one chick says’. He rolled his eyes as he again glanced toward the dorm. One of these days, Chet. One of these days. . .
*Click above to send Audrey feedback
*By the way. . .apparently Johnny forgot what he said to Roy: this Land Rover is two-tone. Hmmmmmm. . . .