*Note: The views in this story are not necessarily mine but rather, with men being men, what came out for the characters.
By Audrey W.
“Man, what’re we gonna do with these?” John Gage wondered as he motioned toward the two round decorated tin containers of fruitcake on the bench seat between he and his partner Roy.
DeSoto glanced at them from where he sat on the driver’s side of the squad.
“Find someone who likes the stuff?”
“Is there such a person?”
Neither was sure of that.
It was a week before Christmas and the paramedics had been given fruitcakes in gratitude at two of the rescues on their current shift. They didn’t like the dessert and had tried to explain they couldn’t accept gifts for their work rendered. But both times, the giver insisted until they had no choice.
“What’ll we tell Cap?”
Roy took one more glance at their unwelcome gifts.
Johnny let out a brief giggle.
The paramedics were almost back to their station when they were contacted by Dispatch and sent on a run for an unknown type rescue. It was at a store that often offered bargains for shoppers.
“Squad 51, 10-4,” Johnny acknowledged. He then placed the mic back in its holder on the radio connected to the dash.
Roy turned on the lights and siren, then put his helmet on as Johnny reached behind his head for his.
The call turned out to be a female employee who’d gotten into a tussle with a customer.
“We probably shouldn’t have called you,” the manager explained. “Neither one is hurt real bad, mostly scratches . . .except my employee has a pretty good-sized goose egg above her left eye. Mostly I just thought maybe having you guys here would help to calm them both down.”
The sales clerk had gotten angry at the customer for opening a boxed item and taking it out. Neither could get it back in the box right and the lady shopping had grabbed an unopened one instead. When the clerk tried to stop her from leaving with it, the fight broke out.
The wounded female employee held the torn box up for the paramedics and a police officer on the scene to see.
“Look at this! Just look at it!” She exclaimed. “Would you buy this? It’s Christmas! Who in their right mind is gonna give a present that looks like this to anyone?”
“Which is exactly why I didn’t want that one,” the customer haughtily replied from where she sat in a chair management had brought to her.
Johnny and the officer had to grab for the sales clerk as she launched at the woman with, “But you’re the one who took it out and tore the box in the first place!”
“All right, all right. . .look,” Johnny said. “Just let us get you two checked out here, then I’m sure you can settle this in a civil manner.”
“Do either of you want to press charges?” asked the policeman.
The two women exchanged glares as the paramedics tended to their minor wounds, Roy the customer and Johnny the clerk.
“I won’t if you don’t,” the employee offered.
The other lady gave it a few seconds of thought. “I suppose not.”
Gage grinned. “Now that’s the Christmas spirit!”
But just as it seemed solved, the customer had to add, “But you know you’ve really taken the joy out of my holiday shopping.”
The paramedics’, store manager’s and police officer’s shoulders slumped in defeat when the two women started with the verbal war again.
As they headed for the squad, Johnny and Roy watched the unhappy shopper go to her car, a few shopping bags in hand.
“I think that store manager did the right thing letting her know that next time she opens a package in his store, she’s buying the item or she can find a new place to shop. Sure got ‘er to be quiet, huh?”
“It probably saved him from ‘round twelve’.”
“Hey, too bad. We coulda’ had the twelve rounds of Christmas.”
Johnny snickered at his own joke while Roy rolled his eyes at the remark.
“Either way, we lost.”
Gage looked down at the boxed cake he was carrying in his hands. The manager had given them a fruitcake to thank them for their help.
Gage nodded in agreement. “Depending how ya look at it. We were either jus’ rewarded or punished.”
When they reached the squad, they climbed inside. Johnny set the newly aquired cake by the others on the seat.
It seemed like they were on their way to having the ‘Twelve Fruitcakes of Christmas’.
Roy backed the squad into the apparatus bay at the station and parked. He and his partner eyed the cake containers.
“I can’t bring myself to unload ‘em on the guys,” Johnny said.
“Me neither. Especially since we haven’t exchanged our Christmas gifts yet.”
“Yeah,” Gage snickered. “Give ‘um these and we’re both liable to get coal.”
“Let’s just leave the things in here.”
“You won’t get an argument from me. I mean, it’s not like they’re gonna go bad, right?”
“You mean ‘worse’, don’t ya?”
Roy opened his door to get out, a smile on his face at the last comment.
Johnny climbed out on the passenger side, then came around the front end of the squad. The paramedics went into the captain’s office to fill out their log book.
“Well, haven’t seen you two for awhile,” Captain Stanley remarked as Gage and DeSoto entered the office.
“So I heard. How’d they go?”
Roy grabbed the log book off the top of a file cabinet, while Johnny kept up the conversation.
“Pretty good, Cap. You wouldn’t believe that last one, though.”
They filled him in as they wrote the information from their past three runs in the book. But they left out the part about the fruitcakes. They’d be rid of them soon anyway. . .somehow.
Johnny and Roy had no sooner gotten the log book updated when the tones went off again.
“Squad 51, child injured, 3122 South Clemens Street, three one two two South Clemens Street, time out 15:25.”
Engineer Mike Stoker had come out of the dayroom to acknowledge the call as the paramedics scrambled for their truck.
Once he gave them the slip of paper with the call information on it, they were on their way.
As soon as they’d gotten to the address, which was in an area where homes were sparse with a good distance between each, a woman came outside to greet the paramedics. She led them inside her home, where the victim was seated in the kitchen at the table.
“I would’ve taken him to the hospital myself, but we’ve only got one car and my husband has it right now,” she explained. “One of his friends helped him walk home.”
She recalled that her son’s friend had taken off in a rush as soon as she’d opened the door.
She’d already filled the two men in on how her ten-year-old son had been riding his bike down a hill he was supposed to avoid, a dare from his friend having egged him on. A neighbor’s dog, which was the reason to avoid the hill, had run out in front of him. He’d tried to stop, but couldn’t all the way and the impact sent him flying over the handlebars. The dog had faired okay, but her son, not so much. He was banged and scraped up, a split on the top of his head near the part.
“Gary, the firemen are going to take a look at you, honey. I want you to answer any questions they have.”
“Okay,” he mumbled. He kept his eyes averted, a little embarrassed over his mom’s calling him ‘honey’ in front of the paramedics.
“They’re supposed to keep that dog inside the yard,” she went on as Roy carefully examined the area where Gary’s hair was matted with blood. “But they never do. I swear, one day that family is going to have a lawsuit against them.”
Johnny set up the biophone on the kitchen table while Roy questioned the child.
“Did you lose consciousness at all? Do you remember or did your friend say?”
Roy checked his pupils with his penlight, then held up his right index finger. “Follow my finger without moving your head, okay, Gary?”
The boy passed the test.
In the meantime, Johnny contacted the hospital.
“Rampart, this is Squad 51, how do you read me?”
“51, read you loud and clear.”
It was Doctor Early.
“Rampart, we have a boy ten-years-old, with a one-inch laceration on the scalp. He suffered a blow to his head when he was thrown from his bicycle. Pupils are normal,” he informed after Roy had told him. “Standby for vital signs.”
They all appeared normal as well. Once they had completed their transmission, Roy pulled the mother aside to brief her where Gary wouldn’t hear.
“He’s okay overall, but he’s going to need a few stitches and I’m sure they’ll want to keep him awhile for observation . . .just as a precaution. You can ride in the front of the ambulance if you’d like.”
“Yes, let me grab my sweater.”
Gary was transported with Roy in the ambulance with him.
Once Gary and his mother were in a treatment room, Johnny and Roy took the time to grab a cup of coffee near the base station. At the moment everyone working in the ER was busy and the area was open for them to hang out.
“You ever do something your friends dared ya to do when you were a kid?”
Roy pondered Johnny’s question. “No, as a matter of fact I didn’t. I managed to do a few stupid things without their help.”
The two grinned.
“I guess that’s where the saying ‘boys will be boys’ comes from.”
“Yeah, if only it was limited to boys.”
Johnny smirked as he took a sip of his coffee. With Roy being a dad of a girl and boy, he certainly knew as well as anyone how daring both genders could be, regardless of age.
Reflecting back on the run, one more thought came to mind. They’d come away from it without an additional fruitcake.
It turned out that no one else they encountered during the remainder of their shift gave Johnny and Roy anymore fruitcakes. Thus they only had the three to get rid of. The dumpster in the back lot of the station looked tempting as a deposit box. But guilt over not appreciating their ‘gifts’ had the paramedics thinking of other ways as they headed to their vehicles in the station lot, Roy with two cakes in hand, Johnny with one.
“Maybe you can give that one to your landlady,” Roy suggested.
“Why? So she can raise my rent to get even?”
Roy laughed. “Okay, scratch that one.”
After a few seconds, Johnny snapped his fingers as he stopped walking and turned to face his partner. “I got it!”
“Hope it’s not contagious,” Chet remarked as he and Marco walked past, snickering after his comment.
Gage responded with a sour expression on his face, then returned his attention back to Roy, the joke already off his mind.
“How ‘bout we donate ‘em to your kids’ school?”
“Why? So their teachers can revoke their recess times for the rest of the year?”
“Besides,” Roy added, “they’re out for a couple of weeks as of this afternoon.”
“Oh. I guess that wouldn’t work then.”
“Nope.” Then Roy got a slight grin on his face.
“What?” Gage wondered.
“If I remember correctly, we still owe the guys at Station 8 a payback for that prank they played on us a couple of weeks ago.”
“Oh yeah. . .the fake call from the ‘local TV station’.”
They both thought back on the phone call Johnny had taken from what was supposedly a TV reporter. The man claimed he would be by to interview the crew about Christmas tree safety, and take pictures of them as well as the interior of the building and the trucks. It would be for a brief public service notice on TV and he had signed paperwork he’d show them, clearing the deal.
The men had all hurried to clean up around the station, to have it as perfect as possible. They’d also taken the time to do a once-over dusting of the vehicles. Johnny and Roy had gotten their uniforms scuffed up on a rescue, so they’d changed into the only clean ones they had left.
They’d done all that only to never have anyone show up and to hear from C-shift two days later that the guys at 8’s had set them up.
“So how do we do this?”
Roy chewed his lower lip in thought as Marco beeped a horn, then waved to his crewmates as he drove away. Chet followed behind in his VW Bus. Mike Stoker was already gone and the captain was busy talking to the next one in charge inside.
“Well, they’re getting off now, too, so they won’t be there to defend themselves. Let’s put the cakes in a cardboard box, like they were shipped. . .and have a note inside thanking them for their order. Then we can include a ‘to/from’ card, like they bought them for the other two crews.”
“I like it, man. Let’s do it.”
“Okay, you take the cakes home,” he said, handing Johnny the other two. “And I’ll be over in a bit with a box.”
Gage absently accepted them as he asked, “Why do I have the cakes?”
“Your refrigerator isn’t as full and you don’t have a wife to explain to why three fruitcakes are taking up all the space she needs right now.”
Johnny figured some day he was going to have to get married. . .if only to have an excuse handy for a lot of things. It sure worked enough for Roy.
When they returned to duty a few days later, the paramedics were not surprised to hear C-shift telling the engine crew about the fruitcake gifts at Station 8. The story had circulated around the department and most of the firemen were telling their shiftmates that anything would be a better gift than a fruitcake. Others threatened to short sheet any of their crew member’s beds who gave them the dreaded dessert.
Johnny glanced at his watch and nudged Roy, who was standing beside him.
“Those guys should be catching a lot of grief on their end right about now,” he whispered.
Roy nodded slightly in agreement, but kept quiet. No sense risking giving away the cakes were really from them.
At roll call, Captain Stanley made a point of stating the rules under his watch. No one was to even think of giving him a fruitcake. Just the look of them made him queasy.
“Uhm,” Chet began as he glanced around at the others. “Does anyone know if bakeries take returns?”
He then cracked a grin at their wide-eyed captain.
“Just kidding, Cap.”
The crew then assured Hank he had nothing to worry about.
Before they could get their morning chores done, the paramedics were toned out for a possible heart attack. When they arrived on the scene, a woman in her mid-sixties greeted them outside and led them into the one-story house, where her husband was lying on the bed in their bedroom.
They’d passed by a little girl about three years old who was seated on the livingroom couch, eating a snack while she watched ‘Sesame Street’ on TV. It was the couple’s granddaughter, who was staying with them while her parents were at work.
“How’re you doin’?” Johnny asked Harry Simmons, a friendly smile on his face. He set the biophone and drug box down on the floor at the side of the bed.
“Not so. . .” Harry winced and took a breath with added effort. “Not good. Hard to. . .breathe. Chest. . .hurts.”
“All right, just take it easy,” Gage said. “We’re here to take care of you.”
“I’m going to get some oxygen going to you, Mr. Simmons,” Roy explained as he placed an oxygen mask on the man’s face and adjusted the flow.
“Any history of heart disease?” Johnny asked Mrs. Simmons.
She shook her head. “No.”
“How about medications? Is he taking anything?”
Again she shook her head. “Other than vitamins. He never misses his ‘One a Day’”
That brought a slight smile to the dark-haired paramedic’s face. But it quickly faded in the seriousness of the moment.
Johnny jotted down the information on his tablet, then he and Roy worked quickly to get Harry vital signs. After Johnny had the pulse and respirations written down, he set up the biophone to relay the information to Rampart.
“Rampart, this is Squad 51. How do you read me?”
“Go ahead, 51,” came Doctor Brackett’s response.
“Rampart, we have a male approximately sixty-five-years-old. He’s complaining of pain in the chest and difficulty breathing. He’s cyanotic and diaphoretic. He’s got no history of heart problems and is not currently on any medication. We’ve got him on 6 liters of O2. Vital signs are pulse 120, respirations 30 and shallow, BP. . .” He looked at Roy, waiting for the answer.
“BP is 100/70.”
“I’ll get the leads on him,” Roy said as Johnny waited for instructions.
“10-4, 51. Start an IV of D5W TKO. And send me an EKG.”
“10-4, Rampart. IV D5W TKO. Standby for EKG.”
Roy glanced up and noticed the little girl was standing in the doorway behind her grandmother. Though too young to understand it probably wasn’t a good idea for her to be watching. He gave a nod toward the girl.
“Seems we have a little visitor.”
Mrs. Simmons quickly turned around.
“Haley! No, no, sweetheart,” she said as she swept the child up in her arms. They could hear her talking to the girl about Sesame Street and Cheerios as the two went down the hall toward the livingroom. Mrs. Simmons would return before the paramedics were done.
Roy attached the leads to the victim’s now exposed chest, while Johnny got the IV in place.
“Rampart, this will be lead two,” Johnny reported once they were ready. He and Roy watched the scope on their end as the doctor evaluated it on the other end.
“It looks stable for now, 51. Is the ambulance on scene?”
“Affirmative, Rampart. It just arrived.”
“51, continue to monitor and transport as soon as possible.”
Johnny replaced the receiver on the biophone.
Soon they wheeled Harry Simmons out through the livingroom on a stretcher.
Roy continued toward the door with him while Johnny stopped a few seconds to take a second glance at what Haley had done while they were busy with her grandfather. It gave a whole new meaning to the words ‘toe jam’. Between each of her toes were stacks of round cereal pieces, some two or three high.
She plucked a couple of Cheerios from between her toes where she sat on the couch and held them out.
“You wan’ some?”
The paramedic cracked a wan grin. “Uh. . . no, sweetheart, I think I’ll pass.”
The three year old popped them in her own mouth as he continued on. Johnny didn’t see the action, though he had a feeling she would. He never turned around to find out.
They had informed the grandmother on where they were taking her husband. She’d be there soon, but had to get her granddaughter ready first.
The ambulance had just pulled away and Johnny was about to climb in the squad when Mrs. Simmons came out of the house with a foil-wrapped loaf. Gage could only hope it was banana bread.
“I so want to show you boys my appreciation for all you did. Please accept this.”
“Really, I can’t, ya see--”
But the hurt look on her face got to him.
To heck with rules, this is a sweet lady. I’ve *gotta* do it for her. . .
“Sure, thank you.”
“No, thank you.”
He gave her a reassured grin, then quickly got into the squad after setting the still-wrapped loaf on the middle of the seat. He was already running too far behind. Johnny turned on the lights and siren as he pulled away.
Johnny climbed out of the squad as soon as he arrived at Rampart’s emergency entrance. But as he went to close the truck’s door, he again eyed the loaf.
*Please* let it be banana bread. . .
He reached in and lifted the edge of the foil. His hopes were quickly dashed.
Roy was not going to be happy with him.
Johnny stopped to see Dixie McCall at the desk near the base station. She’d just recently finished with helping out in another of the treatment rooms.
“So, how’re you doing today?”
“Not bad since I turned down an offer for a free breakfast.”
Dixie raised her eyebrows in question. “Oh?”
Gage grinned, then told her about Haley and the Cheerios.
“How about you?” He wondered as set the HT in his right hand on the desk.
“Well, I lost Goldy this morning. Found her dead when I got up.”
“Man, didn’t you have that goldfish for a long time?”
“For a fish, I suppose. Five years. Now I just have Jewel.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Dix. Did ya do anything special to send her off?”
She shrugged. “Not really. Just one quick flush and it was over.”
Johnny pulled back in surprise at the casualness in her voice. “Remind me not to put you in charge if anything should happen to me,” he kidded.
Roy then came out of Treatment Room Two and joined them.
“Dixie lost one of her fish,” Johnny immediately blurted out.
“I’m sorry to hear that. Did you do anything special for a send off?”
Johnny shook his head slightly as Roy had asked the question.
“Just the usual.”
“One flush, huh?”
“Remind me not to put you in charge if anything should happen to me either,” Johnny wryly remarked.
Which might be sooner than he thinks once he sees that cake in the squad. .
Turning more serious he asked, “How’s Mr. Simmons?”
“Is his wife here yet?”
“No. Should be soon though.”
Suddenly the HT squawked and the threesome was quiet as they listened to Dispatch. Johnny and Roy were sent out on a rescue for an elevator stuck at one of the local malls. Engine 51 was unavailable, already out for an accident on the 405. So Engine 8 was dispatched for the rescue as well.
Once in the squad, Roy took a curious glance at the foil loaf.
Johnny shrugged. “I couldn’t turn her down, Roy.”
“I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me that’s banana bread.”
“I wish I could. Man, do I wish.”
Roy shook his head. He hoped that the fruitcake gift wasn’t a sign of things to come.
The paramedics entered the two-story mall at the west entrance. They were familiar with the layout, so they knew which way in would be the most direct to where the elevators involved were located. There was a pair at both ends of the structure.
The engine crew arrived just after them, and soon was with the paramedics, gathering information from both mall management and witnesses on the lower floor.
“There’s four people inside,” a manager explained. “We tried prying the doors open. . .won’t budge.”
As he explained, they could hear a very muffled voice of one of the female passengers. She sounded rather frantic.
The captain put his mouth up near the doors and hollered, “Just try to relax. I’m with the fire department. We’re going to have you out of there soon!”
It was a good thing the voices inside were muffled, because the reply he got sounded more like words a sailor would use in frustration than a woman who just started a day of Christmas shopping.
Then again, when they heard what sounded like small children, they thought maybe it would’ve been better if she was muffled on the other side instead.
After a failed attempt at prying the elevator doors open themselves, the paramedics and firemen had the equipment they needed to climb down from the second floor into the short shaft and enter the elevator car from the top. Johnny dropped in first, while Roy readied to follow.
“Oh thank God you’re here!” A very frazzled looking sixty-year-old lady exclaimed.
Her friend looked equally as relieved.
The two boys, who were about eight and six-years-old, were more thrilled to see a fireman than they were about the idea of getting out.
“Is everyone okay?” Johnny asked as Roy dropped down in as well.
“Define ‘okay’.” The less frazzled lady stated.
The other added, “Have you ever been trapped in a ‘closet’ with two little. . .” she glanced at the kids who were still going on and on with each other about how much they loved fire trucks, sirens and cool helmets. . “very talkative boys?”
Both paramedics grinned. They could only imagine.
“They aren’t yours?” Roy then asked.
“No. Goodness no. Boys,” she said as she glanced at them again. “Why don’t you tell the nice firemen why you aren’t with your parents.”
“ ‘Cause our dad told us ta go play on the elevator while he an’ mom shopped!” the oldest proudly announced.
Johnny and Roy hoped the parents would show up while they all were there so they could see why that wasn’t such a good idea.
“Everything okay down there?” The captain called down. “Do you need any of your supplies?”
Roy looked upward. “No, everything’s fine! No one’s hurt!”
Shortly another fire fighter was on the elevator roof and helped to get the victims out and set with a safety belt. One by one they were hoisted up to the second floor. When they were all out, the boys waited with one of the managers while their parents were paged. The grateful ladies went on with their shopping, vowing to take the stairs or escalator the remainder of the time there.
As the firemen and paramedics prepared to leave, the owner of a snack and dessert stand that was set up in the corridor near the elevators came over to them, a large bag in hand.
“While you guys were working to get those boys and ladies out, I couldn’t help but think about how I could do my part to thank you for all you firemen do, especially at this time of year. Then I realized it was right in front of me.”
He held out the large gift bag.
“We really aren’t suppose--”
“Accept gifts? I know. But it’s Christmas. C’mon.”
Roy, Johnny and the other firemen gave the captain in charge a glance, waiting to see if he would give his approval. He gave a nod and the men accepted the offer.
With the bag now in his hands, Roy instinctively pulled it open and peeked inside. There were two eight-inch round fruitcakes, wrapped in green cellophane.
“Uh. . .thank you.”
The shop owner’s smile broadened. “You’re welcome. And merry Christmas to you all!”
The men from Engine 8 peered in the bag as well. They in turn thanked the man. They wished him a ‘Merry Christmas’ as well, then were on their way, the equipment they’d used in hand.
“DeSoto,” the captain began. “I didn’t want to say anything in front of the shop owner, but we are not going to take one of those. We’ve had enough with fruitcake already. You and Gage are going to have to take them both.”
The two paramedics glanced at one another. They both knew exactly what he was referring to. The question was, did he know they knew? They tried to keep their ‘poker’ faces on as Roy played on with innocence.
“Sure. Sure, no problem. We heard through the grapevine about the cakes at your station.”
“Yeah. We understand completely,” Johnny added.
“Good. Maybe you can give them to the rest of the guys at 51 as a gift.”
“Right,” Roy quipped.
On their way back to the station, the paramedics pondered the situation.
“You think they know it was us who set their shift up?” Johnny wondered.
“Sure sounds like they might. Or it could be Captain Greyson just took advantage of the situation to fish around and see if he could get us to give ourselves away.”
Johnny gave it some thought. After a few seconds, he offered, “I think we held our own, don’t you?”
“I think so.”
“So now we’re jus’ stuck with three fruitcakes.”
“And we can’t dump ‘em on another station, because now we have witnesses.”
“We can’t be the only ones getting’ these things as ‘thank you’ gifts, can we?”
“I hope not. I’d like to believe someone else is sharing in our misery.”
“Ya know, if I didn’t know better, I’d almost wanna say the guys at 8’s set us up. . .but they can’t control where we go an’ who we see. It’s all random.”
“Nope, they can’t.”
The two were quiet a moment before glancing at one another again with a firm “They can’t” in unison.
DeSoto and Gage decided to leave the fruitcakes in the squad once they were back at the station. No need to display their less than desirable ‘trophies’ once the engine crew returned eventually.
Johnny put the first cake in the bag with the others, then climbed out to follow his partner into the dayroom.
A bit later in the day, the men were in the middle of eating an early lunch when the buzzer sounded.
“Anyone expecting company?” Hank asked as he glanced around the table.
All five of his men shook their heads ‘no’.
Mike pushed his chair back from the table when the buzzer sounded again.
“I’ll get it,” he said as he stood.
“I wonder who it can be?” Johnny stated.
“Maybe Santa is making his rounds early,” Chet suggested.
The other four at the table half laughed, then Marco added, “I hope not. I haven’t finished my list of things I want yet.”
The comment drew more snickers.
“I don’t think he’s known for ringing doorbells,” Johnny put in as Mike returned with their visitors.
It was a family of three the paramedics had treated at a minor motor vehicle accident a week before. The mother and father each had a plate with a loaf of sorts on it while their eight-year-old son just stood with them empty handed, but smiling just as wide as his folks.
Johnny and Roy quickly pushed back their chairs and got to their feet, Gage still chewing on the remnants of some food in his mouth.
“Well, what brings you by?” Roy asked. “Cap, this is Mr. and Mrs. Brogan. Johnny and I treated them at an accident last week.”
“Please, call us Greg and Patricia. This is our son, Greg Junior.”
Now the captain was on his feet as well. He almost reached out to shake the man’s hand, then let his own hand drop to his side when he realized they were still holding the plates.
“We just wanted to bring you a little token of our gratitude,” Patricia explained.
The paramedics both looked at the captain, wondering what he would say. If the loafs were what they thought they were, he’d be a great help if he would stand firm on the ‘no gifts’ policy.
“Well, that’s very kind of you,” Hank said. “But really we’re not supposed to--”
“We know,” Greg Senior cut in. “You aren’t supposed to accept gifts. But this is Christmas.”
Suddenly Johnny and Roy found themselves having a dejavu, and had a feeling it was about to grow.
Hank sighed. “John, Roy. . .get your gifts.”
Though their faces immediately displayed alarm, the two quickly masked it with polite smiles. After all, the family sure meant well.
Once the visitors were gone after a brief tour of the station, Roy and Johnny set their fruitcakes on the table.
“I’ll give you till dinner to have those things out of here.”
Johnny’s jaw dropped while Roy reminded, “But, Cap, you’re the one who told us to accept them.”
“That’s right, I did. Because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Now those anyones are gone, they won’t know what happens to those cakes.”
They couldn’t argue with him. He had a point and he was the captain, afterall. The paramedics took the cakes to the squad and put them in the bag with the others.
“These things sure are adding up,” Johnny remarked.
“No kidding. Who ever thought we’d be getting them in pairs?”
“It would’ve helped if captains were a little less sensitive to feelings. Man, we’d have four less fruitcakes if they’d just had the gumption ta say ‘no’. Four less.”
“What’re we gonna do? Just pitch ‘um?”
Gage shook his head. “Nah. . .I can’t just throw out a gift, Roy. I can’t.”
“Well, we’d better think of something or pretty soon there’s not gonna be any room for us in the cab.”
Johnny leaned with his back against the map on the wall near the front of the squad, his hands on his hips.
What could they do that wouldn’t be wasteful?
The whole crew of A-shift was watching afternoon cartoons when the klaxons sounded, interrupting them.
“Squad 51, man trapped, 3125 West Oak Street, three one two five West Oak Street, time out 13:15.”
The paramedics got up and trotted to their rescue truck.
Roy knocked on the door of the apartment they’d been sent to. Immediately there was a response from inside.
“Door’s unlocked! Come on in!”
The voice was slightly muffled, but the paramedics could still understand what was said.
Roy turned the knob and the two entered, glancing around in the process.
“I’m in here!”
They followed the voice and saw that it was a man with shoulder length hair in the kitchen that was separated from the livingroom area by a snack bar. He was across the other side of the hallway-wide kitchen area.
Johnny and Roy entered the small room, then stopped when they saw his left arm leading into the sink. The shirtless jean-clad man was in a predicament. He was fortunate that the wall phone in the kitchen was within reach.
“Is your hand stuck?” Johnny asked. It was only to verify what he and Roy already suspected.
“Man, you really are good!” The impressed victim exclaimed.
They’d certainly seen the situation before, more than once in fact.
“Oh. Well, maybe you can help me get the class ring out too, huh?”
“Class ring? You dropped it down the drain?”
He looked to Roy. “Yeah. And it’s not mine, so I really need to get it back.”
It was sounding like more than they were in it for, so Gage decided he’d better speak up.
“Uh. . .we’d be glad to oblige ya, but we’re not plumbers.”
The victim moved his hand that was stuck down in the drain around inside the enclosed area, a look of concentration on his face. In the meantime, Roy handed Johnny a bottle of dish soap. It had worked before.
Gage poured some of the soap down the drain, around the victim’s wrist. Hopefully it would ooze down onto his hand.
“My name’s Thomas, by the way.”
When Johnny didn’t respond at first, Roy offered, “I’m Roy DeSoto, that’s my partner, John Gage.”
Thomas frowned. “So he’s taken?”
Johnny’s gaze shot up in alarm. He looked from the victim to Roy, his mouth agape.
Roy grinned slightly. “That’s business partners. We’re a team. I’m married.”
Thomas looked to Johnny, who was still staring at Roy in disbelief.
“How ‘bout you? You married?”
Johnny gave a distracted shake of his head and he quickly busied himself with getting Thomas’s hand freed. “Uh. . .no. No, I’m not married.”
“Far out. You interested in anyone?”
Damn, Johnny thought, This is takin’ waaay too long for me. . .
For a second time he tried pulling Thomas’s hand out, but so far it wouldn’t come free. Gage felt himself growing antsy with the awkward questions. Maybe there was one way to end them and it wouldn’t exactly be a lie.
“Yeah. . .Peggy.”
She was a nurse at Rampart that Johnny was interested in, though so far she hadn’t shown equal interest in him.
Thomas was quiet a moment as he watched Johnny work. Roy had poured cooking oil down the drain next since the soap hadn’t done the trick.
“You’ve got such smooth hands. I’ll bet you give great massages.”
Perhaps it was the comment that willed Johnny’s strength to pull out the stuck hand or maybe the oil had just done its part. Whatever the case, Thomas’s hand was free. Johnny used the advantage of needing to wipe off his own hands with a towel to turn the careful examination of Thomas’s hand to Roy, the married one that didn’t have to worry about whether he had soft hands or not.
“How’s it feel?” Roy asked, not having found any injury. He’d rinsed the hand clear of soap and oil.
“Clean. . .sorta.”
Johnny had to give the man credit for a great reply and snorted a laugh.
Thomas eyed the younger paramedic with a smile. “If things don’t work out with Peggy and you wanna try swinging the other way, I may just be available. ‘Cause when my roommate finds out we gotta pay a plumber big bucks to get his class ring I dropped down the drain,” He motioned toward the sink. “He’s gonna be pretty upset with me.”
“Uhm. . .I’m not a. . .uh. . . swinger. But hey, good luck. I hope things work out.”
As they started toward the livingroom, he stopped them with a “Wait!”
The two turned around. He held out a foil-wrapped loaf. “I wanna give you guys a Christmas present.”
Johnny didn’t move and Roy hesitated. He knew what he should say, but didn’t want to hurt any feelings.
Apparently I’ll make a good captain some day.
Roy reached out for the foil wrapped loaf and thanked the generous man as he handed it to him.
“You’re very welcome.”
Johnny just stood watching the exchange with his mouth open in shock.
“Let’s go,” Roy said as he waved his partner on.
Gage complied, his lower jaw still slack. When they got into the hallway, the door closed behind them, Johnny finally found his voice again.
“What’d ya do that for?”
“Accept the fruitcake?”
He nodded, his gaze on his partner.
“I didn’t wanna hurt his feelings,” Roy shrugged. “He seemed like a nice guy.”
“Who wanted to date me!”
Roy held the loaf up in one hand while waving his other hand above and beneath it. “Look, no strings attached.”
Johnny’s face soured. “Ha ha. Very funny.”
As Johnny and Roy put the equipment they’d taken up to Thomas’s apartment with them back in the squad compartments, the former wondered out loud, “Those guys from 8’s couldn’ta arranged this. Could they?”
“No way. Dispatch sent us here. There’s no way they’d allow a prank over the radio.”
“Yeah, you’re right. But it woulda’ been one helluva a payback, huh?”
“I’d keep that to myself, if I were you. No one needs any ideas. We all get each other enough without added inspiration.”
Johnny nodded in agreement. With that settled, though in reality he knew what Roy did anyway, he returned to his original thoughts on the situation.
When they got back to the station, Johnny was still going on about the newly acquired cake.
“You just don’t understand, Roy,” he said as the senior paramedic brought the squad to a stop in the apparatus bay.
“Look, all I did was accept a gift from the guy. That’s all.”
“From a guy who was hittin’ on me.”
Roy opened his door to climb out.
“Maybe you oughta be flattered.”
“Flattered!” Johnny said as he opened his door as well. “Flattered? Roy, there’s just one problem with that. I’m not gay!”
Chet had just come out of the dayroom to greet the paramedics, who were both suddenly as still as statues. He glanced at Roy.
“Does he mean he’s not happy?”
Roy in turn glanced at Johnny, who seemed to not know what either of them should say. So Roy made the choice. “No, he means he’s straight. As in only goes for girls.”
“And that would be a good thing,” Chet stated. “Since we live in. . .well, kinda cramped quarters here.” He then addressed the dark-haired uniformed crew member. “So why the sudden clarification, John? I mean, we all assumed you were straight as an arrow.”
Chet snickered at his own clever reference to part of Gage’s heritage, while the paramedic rolled his eyes and shook his head.
“Never mind, Chet. It’s not a big deal.”
When the mustached fireman glanced at Roy in hopes of an explanation, the latter repeated what his partner had said. He knew to do otherwise would have made for a long remainder of their shift.
Chet wisely let the subject drop, then eyed the foil wrapped item in Roy’s hand.
Roy glanced down at the loaf. “A fruitcake.”
“Tis the season,” he said with a shrug. He’d absently picked it up off the seat since he and Johnny had both been too into their conversation to remember to add it to the bag. Roy did so then before closing the door to the squad. With that taken care of, he headed for the dayroom.
Chet followed behind, with no idea just how many cakes Johnny and Roy had collected so far.
When the engine crew was sent out on another call without them, Johnny decided it was safe to try a new strategy. He left the dayroom to go to the squad, then returned with the latest foil-wrapped loaf in hand.
“I’m gonna have a piece of this fruitcake,” he announced to his partner.
“I sure am.”
He set it on the table, opened it up, then went to the drawer near the sink to grab a knife. Roy watched in wonder, surprised he was actually going to go through with it.
“I thought you hated fruitcake.”
“I do,” Johnny admitted. “But if this trend is gonna keep up, I figure we’d better learn ta like it. So I’m givin’ it a shot. What about you?”
Roy shook his head. “I’m not ready to throw in the towel. Yet.”
Gage frowned. Maybe he was throwing in the towel too soon. Oh well, he’d already cut a slice. He may as well go for it while he still had the determination. He took a bite and chewed, his sour face soon turning to one of surprise.
“You know,” he said, the bite of cake shoved to the inside his left cheek, “This isn’t that bad.” He chewed a little more. “In fact, it’s actually pretty good!”
“It is?” Roy asked with a wary expression.
Johnny nodded as he took another bite. “It’s real good. You gonna have some now?”
Roy again shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“Well, for one, how do I know you aren’t pretending to like it so I’ll have some and join in your misery?”
“Roy, do I look miserable to you?”
“Not on the outside.”
“C’mon, try it.”
“Okay,” Gage shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
He took a second slice, this one much thicker than the other. He sniffed then studied the piece in his right hand.
“I wonder what he put in this to make it different.”
“Maybe it’s just your mind over matter.”
“You’ve talked yourself into thinking it tastes all right.”
Johnny took a seat at the table, a glass of milk in front of him and his thick slice of cake on a plate. He scrunched up his face as he gave Roy’s comment thought. Had he really given in so much that he was able to block out the bad flavor and convince himself it was good?
Johnny had just finished his third helping of fruitcake when he and Roy were sent out for yet another rescue. It was for a public Christmas tree display that had fallen over into a crowd. Though most had run to safety, three people hadn’t quite cleared the very tall tree and were injured, though not seriously. However, two had to be transported to Rampart.
Roy came out of the nurses’ lounge and hurried over to where Johnny had just come out of Treatment Room Three.
“In a minute.”
“A minute? What’s the delay?”
Gage screwed up his face in puzzlement.
“Delay? Since when is a minute a delay? ‘Sides, I just wanna say hi ta Peggy. She’s workin’ the desk,” he said with a wave of his hand toward the desk near the base station.
As he stepped forward, Roy grabbed his upper right arm and pulled him back a step.
Johnny looked from the hand on his arm to his partner’s face.
“What’s with you, man?”
“You know the fruitcakes we’ve been chauffeuring around?”
Johnny nodded. “Of course. Whata bout ‘um?”
“Well, I just left the ones we still had in the squad in the nurses’ lounge. So I think it’d be a good idea if we got out of here before they have a chance to figure out who it was.”
“You dumped the cakes here?”
“Yeah, now c’mon.”
He pulled Johnny toward the exit, then released his hold when it was apparent Johnny would follow.
“Roy! I can’t believe you, man. This is ingenious!” He grinned and patted his friend on the back. “I didn’t know you had it in ya!”
Roy glanced over his shoulder. “Well, it’ll only be ingenious if we make a clean escape.”
Johnny glanced over his shoulder as well, his expression turned to one of worry, then his grin returned when he didn’t see anyone reacting differently.
The two hurried out the automatic doors and to their squad.
Roy breathed a sigh of relief as he drove away from the hospital.
“Now if we can just avoid anymore ‘gifts’ of the fruity kind.”
Gage snorted a laugh. “Yeah, that’s a big if.”
What was left of his fruitcake. . .the one that tasted so good. . . was in the refrigerator, that was enough for him.
A bit later, the paramedics were seated at the table in the dayroom, about to have dinner with the engine crew, when the tones interrupted them. The station was dispatched out for an unknown type rescue, once again in an area where houses were sparse in a hilly terrain.
Johnny looked out the windshield in disbelief and wonder at the sight before them. Surely he wasn’t seeing what he thought he was. His gaze shifted to the passenger window as Roy drove past the odd vision and parked the squad.
“I don’t believe it,” Gage stated, still staring out through the glass.
“Yeah, well it might explain why we’re here. Maybe someone got hurt from it.”
They opened their doors and as they climbed out, Johnny muttered, “Let’s hope we don’t end up needin’ another squad for us.”
“Hey, can you move any faster?”
The man’s voice had come from a now open front doorway of the home.
But neither Johnny nor Roy was sure ‘fast’ was the way to go. They slowly made their way to where the engine was parked further back. The crew had just exited their vehicle as well.
Again the man called out to them. “He needs help and he’s only gonna stick around so long, ya know!”
“This is our rescue?” Captain Stanley hollered back.
“You see anyone else in peril?”
“Not yet, but there could be six more here shortly,” he mumbled to himself.
The firemen all set their gazes on the center of the problem.
A buck with four-point antlers had somehow managed to take down a string of Christmas lights. They were now in a tangle on his racks. For now he was in the front yard of the home, standing calmly on the grass.
“Well, what’re ya waiting for. . .Christmas?” The man called out.
“Everyone’s gotta be a a comedian,” Johnny grumbled to the others.
“There’s gotta be a way to get those lights off without hurting the deer.”
“I’ve got an idea, Cap,” Roy offered.
“I’m open to suggestions. Shoot.”
“I thought we weren’t gonna hurt ‘im,” Chet put in, then traded grins with Marco and Mike.
“Not now, Kelly.”
“Right, Cap. Sorry, but I couldn’t resist.”
“Go ahead, Roy.”
But before Roy had a chance to voice his suggestion, a woman came running around the front of the engine from driver’s side, where she was safe from the buck. She’d gone out the back door of the house and traveled the parameter of the yard to keep a good distance from the buck while her husband was busy shouting out to the firemen.
The men all turned to see her approach in a hurry with a mop handle, minus the mop.
“I thought you might need this,” she said breathlessly as she handed it to Johnny. “I told Frank to use it to get that stuff off the poor deer, but he wouldn’t even step out on the porch.”
Well, that explained why he was shouting at them from the house and didn’t come out to talk to them. He apparently was braver taking on a crew of six men rather than one big buck. He yelled to his wife, wondering why and how she got out to where the firemen were. She assured him she was fine and would fill him in later.
The paramedic glanced around at the others, his gaze finally resting on Captain Stanley.
“Whata we do?”
“I guess while you’ve got it in your hands, we give it a try,” he shrugged.
Johnny again looked at his crewmates, wishing that at least one might volunteer for the job. But it was no such luck.
“Okay,” he gave in with a sigh. He felt a nudge on his left shoulder. Gage glanced behind. Roy had retrieved his helmet from the squad and handed it to him.
“Might come in handy.”
“Thanks,” Johnny said with a hint of sarcasm. They all knew that if the deer decided to attack, a helmet wouldn’t make that much difference.
“We’ll be here for moral support,” the captain stated. “But I think the less people encroach on his space, the better. Just what ever you do, be___ careful. We all know how dangerous wild animals can be.”
“Well, wish me luck.”
With that, Johnny slowly edged his way forward toward the tangled buck.
“Sure gives Rudolph some competition with his one light as opposed to a whole string,” Chet remarked as the men watched Johnny slowly approach the deer.
“Yeah, but none of his lights are lit up. Rudolph’s nose glowed bright red.”
“I know, Marco. But all you’d have to do is plug this guy’s stuff in. . .”
Captain Stanley kept his gaze on the animal as he added, “Somehow I don’t think he’d appreciate it too much.”
Roy just hoped his partner came out of the whole situation unscathed.
“Easy, boy,” Johnny soothed as he neared where he’d be able to use the mop handle effectively. “Just take it easy. No one’s gonna hurt ya.”
Amazingly, the buck did just that. . .took it easy and stood still. It was as if he knew he needed Johnny’s help.
The dark-haired paramedic slowly reached out with the rounded end of the handle. He got it through part of the clump of wires and started to move it upward.
“Don’t forget it’s their mating season right now!” The woman’s husband hollered. “They tend to be extra aggressive right now!”
How could he forget what he didn’t know? Sure he enjoyed nature, but he sure as hell didn’t know everything. This latest was a detail that would’ve been nice to know before he’d gotten the mop handle worked into the lights on the hormonal buck.
Roy couldn’t help but wonder if Johnny had the same thought at the news as he did. That given the earlier encounter with Thomas, and now the buck, it just might be Gage’s day for awkward situations with males.
Johnny didn’t know if it was the thought of dealing with a potentially aggressive antlered animal or something else, but whatever the cause, he started to feel queasy. His stomach groaned as if to confirm things weren’t all that well.
On the bright side, he had gotten a portion of the string of lights off. But there was still a clump to go. Ignoring the oncoming ill feeling, he repositioned the mop handle with an assurance to the buck that it was doing just fine.
Wish I could say the same for *me*. . . he thought.
The rest of the crew was unaware of Gage’s sudden sour stomach. They watched intently as he removed a second portion of the lights.
“I’ll be damned,” Chet muttered. “He’s actually gonna get this done. I guess I should of bet a buck on this one.”
He got four sets of eye rolls and two shakes of heads in response.
But bad plays on words aside, Captain Stanley had to admit it was going much smoother than he’d expected.
With just one more section to go and the light string dangling from the buck’s antlers, off to the side, Johnny swallowed convulsively in an effort to ward away the nausea. But it seemed inevitable that something was going to have to give.
Just not now. . .not now. . .not. . .
However, now was the time and he certainly couldn’t stop it. The only good thing was, he managed to keep the mop handle in place as he leaned to his right and vomited.
Though he didn’t need it, Roy had the captain’s urging to go to his partner.
Still aware of the whole situation at hand, Roy hesitantly made his way over to where Johnny was in a second bout of heaving up the contents of his stomach, which wasn’t a lot. Mostly hints of fruitcake.
As he neared, the younger man quietly stated, “Man, I don’ feel so good. . .”
“Go back over to Cap. I’ll finish this.”
Gage gave a brief nod. He didn’t like the idea of leaving Roy stuck with the task now, but he sure wasn’t in any condition to complete it. If anything, he risked upsetting the buck.
As he reached the others, Captain Stanley asked, “What happened? Is it the flu?”
Johnny swiped at his mouth, then plopped down on the front bumper of the engine. He leaned forward and groaned, “I don’ know, Cap. . .but one thing I do know. . .fruitcake doesn’t taste so good when it comes back up.”
The thought almost made Hank gag. He had Chet and Marco go to the squad to retrieve the equipment Roy may need to treat the ill paramedic.
The buck had taken a couple of steps back with the exchange in personnel helping him. But he’d still allowed Roy to do what was necessary to free him from the tangled lights. Once they were off, the deer made his way into a hilly field adjacent to the home.
It was truly a miracle to Roy that he’d cooperated and it had all turned out so well.
Except for. . .
He immediately was over to check on his partner’s status.
Even with nothing more to come up, Johnny heaved, still very nauseated. He was doubled over with a crampy stomach.
“I called for an ambulance,” Hank informed his senior medic.
Roy gave a nod in acknowledgement, then went to work on taking care of the ill crew member while Hank contacted Rampart.
Now lying on a stretcher in the ambulance, an IV in his left arm, Gage groaned as he held his right hand on his abdomen.
“Man, Roy. . .wors’ stomach ache. . .I’ve had in ages. . .”
“Well, take it easy, we’re almost to Rampart.”
“At least the . . .buck came out. . .okay.”
He shut his eyes tight in an effort to ward off even more nausea.
“I’m sure it’ll be awhile before he goes near any Christmas lights again.”
Roy had a feeling it would be awhile before Johnny ever got near a fruitcake again, if his theory on the sudden illness was correct.
By the time they arrived at Rampart, Johnny was ready to accept whatever fate the doctor threw at him, be it to go home or stay in the hospital for the night. Anything just to be able to lay down on a bed for awhile.
At least he’d stopped vomiting, though the nausea remained.
When he got into the exam room, Johnny was glad to see that Doctor Early was there and waiting. He’d have liked to see Dixie as well, but she was busy assisting with a patient in another room.
“How’s he doing, Roy?”
“A little better. Says his stomach still hurts though.”
“A lot. . .” Johnny added.
The doctor pulled open Gage’s already unbuttoned shirt and pushed his white t-shirt up a bit. He then gently palpated his abdomen.
“Is it tender here?” He asked.
Johnny shook his head slightly. “No. . .it jus’ aches. . .crampy like. . .”
The fact he didn’t have diarrhea along with everything else was a plus.
The doctor checked him over while a nurse verified that Gage didn’t have any sign of a fever and his other vitals were within normal range.
“Have you eaten anything unusual in the past twenty-four hours?”
“He ate some fruitcake,” Roy quickly offered. “Home made.”
Both Roy and Johnny nodded.
“I’d say that’s likely the culprit, but exactly what’s causing it, I don’t know. We’ll run a few tests through the lab though, just to be sure it’s nothing else.”
Johnny thought back to the fruitcake. Tastes sure could be deceiving if it turned out to be what made his stomach churn.
When Doctor Early got to the door, he turned to face the paramedics.
“By the way, speaking of fruitcakes, we had some left here anonymously in one of the lounges earlier. You two wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”
Though the two friends tried, they couldn’t hide the guilty looks on their faces.
Early grinned. “Relax. Your secret’s safe with me. I was just curious. I’m sure there’s someone in this building who likes the stuff. We just haven’t found that person yet.”
He then exited the room. Johnny looked up at Roy from where he lay on the exam table. Neither man said a word.
Roy remained with Johnny in the treatment room while Joe Early was with another patient. The test results weren’t back yet and the doctor said as soon as they were, he’d return.
“Man, Roy. . .I swear. ..if only it wasn’t impossible. . .I’d think those guys know. . .and are settin’ us up. . .ta get even.”
“You mean 8’s?”
“Yeah. Yeah. 8’s.”
“If you want to know the truth, in an indirect way, I think they are.”
Johnny wrinkled his brow in confusion. “No way. No way. . .it can be done.”
The younger man was quiet a moment before responding with, “If that’s the case. . .maybe you’d better. . . brace yourself. . .After all, you left the. . .cakes here.”
Roy suddenly had a sinking feeling.
Johnny slightly nodded knowingly at the sudden look of worry and paleness to his partner.
“So it’s nothing more than indigestion for sure?”
It was a relief to Roy and Johnny when Doctor Early gave them the news after receiving the lab results.
“That’s right. It’s just your system not liking what you ate. I guess you could say you aren’t compatible with fruitcakes.”
You can say *that* again, Roy thought to himself.
Johnny had to admit, he was feeling better after having lied down for the duration of their wait. But Doctor Early still prescribed some medication to help ward off the remaining indigestion and nausea. Both paramedics were sent on their way back to work.
They stopped by the base station to refill a few supplies. Dixie was still busy in another treatment room, so they didn’t get a chance to visit with her again. But while they were there, they overheard nurses talking about the mystery giver with poor taste. Gage and Desoto tried to maintain bland expressions on their faces so as not to give themselves away. . .again.
On their way out, Johnny and Roy ran into A-shift’s paramedics from Station 8. Those two were just on their way in with a victim who’d gotten quite an electrical jolt when he plugged in his Christmas lights display.
“Hey, Gage. . .Desoto.”
“Hey, man. If we don’t see ya before ___ Merry Christmas!” Johnny called out as the others continued on with the stretcher and patient.
One of the men glanced back over his shoulder and hollered back, “Merry Christmas! Oh, and hey! Beware of fire fighters bearing fruitcakes!”
Johnny and Roy stopped suddenly and watched as the busy paramedics disappeared into the room they’d just come out of.
“Fire fighters bearing fruitcakes,” Gage quietly echoed. “They do know,” he mumbled. “Roy, they know it was us.”
“Maybe not. . .technically we’re paramedics, remember?”
His gaze still on the door, he pondered, “Beware . . .does that mean they’re gonna get even?”
Roy shrugged. “It probably means they just suspect some firemen . . .and that we could be next on the list. . .if it wasn’t us in the first place,” he added with a grin.
“It was karma,” Johnny said with a shake of his head as they continued toward the exit. “You were right the first time. It was karma. The fruitcake makin’ me sick was karma.”
On the way back to the station, Johnny was still going on about the karma issue. Suddenly he turned in his seat to face Roy.
“I know how ta fix this.”
“Roy, what’ve I been talkin’ about for the past ten minutes?”
“I don’t know. . .I’ve been looking at the lights. You know, traffic and Christmas. . .you should try it. Takes your mind off other things. . .”
The younger man let out a long sigh. “Karma, Roy. I’ve been talkin’ about karma. We gotta do somethin’ before it gets you next. An’ I know just what that somethin’ is.”
“Take leave to a deserted isle?”
“No, man. Ya can’t run from karma. Ya can’t hide. But,” he added with his right index finger held up. “You can make things right before it hits.”
“Whataya you suggest we do?”
“Well, I think we need to do a good deed. You know, somethin’ extra special for someone.”
“I’ve been thinking about that, too. I say we buy Dixie a new goldfish for Christmas. We could have ‘er come by the station tomorrow morning to get her present.”
Roy gave it thought. It sure couldn’t hurt. And there was still a little time left before stores would be closed for the night.
“Okay, let’s do it. But aren’t you forgetting someone else you could use this to make it right with?”
Johnny gave him a baffled look.
He shook his head. “I’m not the one who dumped the cakes in the nurses’ lounge. We’re doin’ this for you. ‘Sides, it’s gonna take a lot more than good karma to stand a chance with Peggy. A whole lot more.”
Johnny grinned wide when the door buzzer sounded the following morning. He and Roy had stayed past the end of their shift to give the off-duty head nurse from Rampart time to get by Station 51 to pick up her gift from them.
Dressed in denim jeans and casual collared shirts, the two hurried to the front bay door to open it and greet their guest.
“Well, good morning to you guys, too,” she greeted back with a smile. “How’re you feeling, Johnny? When Roy called yesterday evening, he said you were still a little queasy.”
“Oh, I’m better. Much better.”
The news about Johnny getting ill from the fruitcake had spread at the hospital rather rapidly and Dixie found out before Roy asked her to come over to the station the following morning.
Both men noticed a medium sized gift bag she had with her, but didn’t inquire as to what it was. In a sense they were afraid to find out.
The paramedics led her into the dayroom, where the new goldfish swam around in a small glass fish bowl that was on the table. There was a red bow stuck on the front of it.
“Oh, you didn’t!”
“We did,” Gage said as he rocked on his feet, a crooked grin still on his face where he stood beside her.
“We thought Jewel could use some company again.”
“I love it, thank you.” She peered closer at the fish. “That was so thoughtful of you guys.”
She shifted her beaming gaze to them, then stepped back from the table.
“This is for you.”
Suddenly both men had one word flash through their minds in unison.
Roy hesitantly accepted the gift bag she held out, then peered inside, Johnny looking over his shoulder. Relief spread through and their shoulders visibly relaxed when they saw there were two round clear plastic containers of sugar cookies inside.
“Well, Shafer did say beware of fire fighters,” Johnny discretely mumbled to Roy out of the corner of his mouth.
After a brief visit, Dixie was on her way with her fish. Johnny and Roy watched as she drove away, each with his gift of sugar cookies in hand. Gage glanced down at his, then once again at the near dot that was Dixie’s car in the distance.
“Ya know, Roy. . .”
“With all we’ve been through the past twenty-four hours or so. . .whether we put ourselves through it or not. . .I’ve come to one conclusion.”
“That karma is a state of mind?”
The younger man shook his head. “Nah, it’s real. Good or bad, it’s real. No, that when it comes to gifting, it’s much easier to be on the giving end than the receiving.”
Roy smiled slightly and nodded in agreement as they walked back inside. He then hit the button to close the front bay doors before he and Johnny headed out for their vehicles in the rear lot.
Though they expected it to somehow happen, Johnny and Roy never had a fireman. . .any firemen. . . bearing fruitcake show up at the station, even by the time New Years came around. They surmised that if the guys from Station 8 were getting even, it was to do nothing and have them waiting for a surprise around every corner, so to speak. . .forever.
Whether it was the 'good deed' that made a difference, they'd never know. But the fruitcake gifting during rescues stopped.
With things obviously not improving between Johnny and Peggy by the middle of January, he moved on to another nurse. . . .and another one after her. Finally he’d scored a date with the third one, with the possibility of another evening out with her in February.
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