The A-Shift crew of Station 51 was gathered around the kitchen table enjoying a cup of coffee and donuts that Marco Lopez had brought, before beginning the days assigned duties. The comradery they shared equaled that of a family.
Hank Stanley, the A-Shift's captain, was also enjoying the pleasantness of the morning ritual that, for once, wasn't interrupted by the klaxons. A long sigh excaped him when he realized it was time to get to work. He rose and made his way over to the sink to rinse out his cup. Turning around, Hank surveyed his crew, a crew he considered to be the best group of men that he'd ever had the pleasure to work with.
After a few seconds of contemplation, Hank cleared his throat, "Uh, guys, five more minutes, then let's get this day started. I have a couple of drills that I need to go over as soon as everyone finishes." With that said, he walked out the door and called over his shoulder, "I'll be in my office," then he was gone.
The scream that pierced the air, sent the remaining five firemen scrambling from their seats.
Roy DeSoto was the first to reach Cap's office. The sight that greeted him was unnerving. The rest of the group stood fast, taking in their normally stoic captain's apparent distress. John Gage, the other half of 51's paramedic team, stood next to his partner feeling the same unease. A quick glance between the two spurred them into action.
Slowly, both paramedics moved closer to Hank, who was sweating profusely and quivering as tremors ran through his body.
Roy placed his hand upon Stanley's shoulder and gently turned him around so he could make eye contact, in hopes that it would help to ease the older man, but as soon as he touched him, another scream erupted.
Mike Stoker watched as the scene played out in front of him. "What's wrong with, Cap?" Mike asked. He was as affected by what was happening to his mentor as the others.
"Somebody go get the bio-phone and drug box."
"I'll get them, Roy," Marco said as he sprinted off to do Roy's bidding.
Like cold water being poured on an open flame, Hank regained his sense of awareness and began to struggle against the hands that held him. Both paramedics were startled by the forcefulness that expelled from their captain. Johnny stumbled backward into a chair which toppled over, leaving the hapless man sprawled on the floor.
Mike stepped forward to help Roy with Hank, while Chet lent a hand to Johnny.
"Cap? Are you all right? Can you tell me what's going on?" Roy questioned.
"Uh! What?! Oh, man!" Hank replied.
"How are you feeling, Cap?"
"I'm fine, Roy! I'm fine!" Stanley persisted.
"Cap...." Johnny, now back at Hank's side, reached for his superior's arm, only to have it jerked from the younger man's grasp.
"I said I'm fine! Uh, sorry, guys. I know you're only trying to help, but really, it's nothing. Actually it's rather silly," Hank apologized for his abruptness, while feeling a bit awkward about his recent behavior.
"How about you let us check you over?" Roy began to plead his case when Hank began to shake his head no. "Just to soothe our minds. You had us a little worried," Roy continued as he reached for the blood pressure cuff Marco had brought from the squad. Hank agreed to the exam but was somewhat embarrassed by all the attention.
After Johnny and Roy had done a thorough check, they were satisfied that Hank was ok, although his blood pressure was a bit elevated. With the reassurance that Cap was indeed fine, they tried to get some details of what had just occurred. Everyone wanted to know what had caused the unusual behavior.
"Mmm, Cap, what happened?" Johnny dared to ask.
Red faced, Hank averted his eyes from his crew to stare at the floor of his office. Not a word was uttered from the stoic Captain, but he pointed with his left index finger to his desk. All eyes followed the direction in which the digit was headed and noticed the new addition to the Captain's office.
"Hey, Cap, when did you get that?" Marco asked.
All the others, with the exception of Chet Kelly, just stood staring at the object of their captain's trauma. Chet was making a beeline for the office door when he heard Hank bellow, "Kelly, where do you think you're going?" Chet stiffened, then turned to face the so called music.
"I, uh, I was just gonna go, uh, get you a drink of water. Yeah, I mean...." Chet stumbled over his words.
"Yes, Cap!" Chet looked everywhere but at his crew mates and captain.
"You know anything about....." not even able to look at the object of his distress, Hank just gestured to it. "......about this?"
"Cap, I didn't mean anything by it, it was only meant to be a joke. Besides, I thought it would add a little color to your office. How was I to know..." he was interrupted by Hank.
"Stop right there. You heard what I told John and Roy when they went up to Santa Rosa County. So what would possess you to do this?"
"No! You didn't!"
The four remaining men watched in complete fascination. An understanding finally dawned upon them. The reference to Santa Rosa, and Chet just being Chet, solved the mystery.
Resigned to confess, Hank sighed. "Ok, guys, listen up. What I have to say stays in this office. That's a direct order!"
All heads nodded, agreeing that not one word would leave the confines of the Captain's office.
"I'm afra.... no, I'm....Damn, this is hard," Hank declared.
Finally getting his bearings, Hank began again, "I have this phobia. It's called, Ichthyophobia."
Even though they knew what had traumatized their captain, they weren't sure what Ichthyophobia was. Noticing the confused looks upon his men's faces, Hank reiterated, "Fear of fish."
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" was the resounding reply.
Pointing his finger at each member of his crew, he repeated his earlier warning, "Not a word, guys. Got it?!?"
All reaffirmed they understood and made there way to leave the office.
"KELLY! Aren't you forgetting something?" Hank inquired.
"Oh, yeah. Sorry, Cap, I didn't know," Chet apologized.
"It's ok, Pal. Just don't let it happen again," Hank reassured.
Chet couldn't believe he came out of this whole mess without some sort of punishment. Walking over to the desk, he picked up the bowl and was headed toward the door when he heard Hank call out, "You do know that you have latrine duty, indefinitely?!"
Looking down at the tiny goldfish that had been the object of his undoing, Chet replied, "Yes, Sir."
Once Chet was gone, Hank sat down behind his desk and pondered the 'whys' of a full grown man being afraid of a little fish. The answers never came.
Epilogue: The goldfish, now known as Uncle Johnny, Jr. resides with Jennifer Lynn DeSoto.
Thanks to Jean and Heidi for taking the time to beta this story
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