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The Greatest Gift
Chapter 1 - Tis the Season
“Ma’am…please! Would you stop!” paramedic Roy DeSoto said in a frustrated voice as he struggled to pry the woman’s hands off the box containing the doll. His twenty-four year old partner, John Gage, had beads of sweat appearing on his forehead as he tried to break her worthy opponent’s iron-clad grip at the other end of the package. His charge may have been a few years older, the dark haired paramedic estimated, but judging from the blood pouring from the other woman’s nose…she was a force to be reckoned with.
“Ladies…come on now,” John said through gritted teeth as he wrapped his hands around the woman’s arms and pulled again.
“No! I… had it… first!” the heavy set woman shrieked as Roy struggled to maintain his hold on her. The blood fell onto her festive holiday sweatshirt depicting Mickey Mouse and his gal Minnie across the front. They were both wearing Santa hats and had jubilant smiles upon their faces. The caption above their heads wished each and every reader a "Merry Christmas!”
“It’s the very last Talking Crissy Doll” the bleeding woman yelled, “…and I have been to EVERY store in town looking for her. I called a half hour ago and the manager told me they had two left in stock,” she continued as she panted heavily and hung on for dear life. “I asked the b-brainless wonder here,” she said jerking her head towards a man dressed in slacks and a button down shirt, “if he could p-possibly, you know, in the s-spirit of the season, put one aside f-for me.”
“Ma’am,” the manager answered indignantly as he watched the ensuing battle at a safe distance, “I informed you that I was sorry, but I could not accommodate you. Not on Christmas Eve! I would have hundreds of people making requests. We simply can’t do that…it is against store policy.”
“And, you raving idiot, I had it FIRST” the tall red headed woman in the younger paramedics clenches screamed at her, “You came up and ripped it right out of my hands!”
The coveted doll was slammed back and forth inside the box as the women pulled; each trying to gain the upper hand.
“I bet Talking Crissy would have a few choice words to say to these two lunatics” John fumed “cause I know I sure do.”
Both paramedics gave a final pull on their respective combatants, and the women lost their hold; causing them to tumble backwards on top of the uniform clad men. The doll fell to the floor and the manager moved in with lightening speed to retrieve the annihilated box.
Officer Vince Howard arrived on the scene and jogged through the crowded store, pulling up short in front of the foursome sprawled out on the ground.
“Hey John…Roy…what’s going on?” he said as his hands came to rest on his duty belt. The two men looked up at him and the expression on their faces said it all.
“Officer,” the manager spoke up, “I want these two “ladies” removed from my store immediately!”
The crowd pressed in leaning over each other’s shoulders trying to get a glimpse to see if more punches were going to be thrown.
“Alright folks,” Vince said in a commanding voice. “There is nothing else to see here…move along and finish your shopping.”
The crowd paused for a moment and, seemingly convinced the action was over, dispersed.
The young black officer tried to suppress a grin as he grabbed the woman’s arm with both hands and hoisted her off the blonde haired paramedic. Roy gave him an appreciative look as he reached over to the trauma box and removed some 4 x 4's before rising to his feet. He tore open the packages and approached the injured woman as his partner and the other woman slowly righted themselves into a standing position.
“Here, let me take a look at your nose,” he replied.
“Just STAY away from me,” she bellowed at him, but snatched the dressings out of his hands and brought them up to her face to staunch the flow.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to…”
“YES, I am sure. I do not need or WANT your help.”
John turned to the tall red headed woman, “Ma’am? Are you hurt?”
“No,” she stated with satisfaction, “I am perfectly alright.”
Vince gathered the ladies information and they both stalked away. He turned to look back at the two paramedics who were now taking inventory of their own injuries.
“Man, why is it we always seem to come out in worse shape than the people who are fighting?” John exclaimed as he rubbed a sore elbow. “I am gonna have a bruise there for sure.”
This year, Station 51’s A-shift ended up being on duty Christmas Eve. They were each hoping for a quiet uneventful shift; and then, with a little luck, get off on time so they could go home and enjoy the rest of the Holiday with their families. So far, that hope had not just been dashed…it was utterly decimated.
They had spent the entire day running from one crazy call to another.
It was that time of the year.
“Good will towards men,” Roy stated as he gathered up their equipment, “has pretty much gone out the window, and it seems like people have the “Every man for himself” attitude instead.”
Vince nodded his head. He had already been on several calls with 51’s crew and agreed wholeheartedly.
“I think this incident may be a close tie with the lady who was standing in the empty parking stall waiting for her husband to make his way back down the aisle; and the guy who thought it was rightfully his spot pulled in anyways and hit her with the car.”
“I still can’t believe that one,” Roy said shaking his head in disbelief. “People have absolutely flipped out. I’m glad Joanne finished up all her shopping and errands yesterday. I hate to say it, but I wouldn’t want her out with the kids on a day like today.”
The three men made their way out of the store and back to their vehicles.
“And," John continued as he slid the biophone back into its rightful place, "no holiday would be complete without at least one person falling off their ladder trying to hang last minute decorations. That guy was lucky he only broke his ankle; it could have been a lot worse. He was seventy-five years old! What in the hell was he thinking?” The dark haired paramedic said as he slammed the compartment door shut before climbing into the squad.
“Well,” the officer stated as he reached for the door handle of his squad, “If I don’t see you guys again, have a nice Christmas.”
“Same to you,” Roy replied “But I wouldn’t take any bets on that. I’m pretty confident that we will be seeing you again before the end of the day.”
“You’re probably right,” he acknowledged, “but who knows, maybe we will get lucky.”
“See ya Vince,” John called out as he proffered a wave from the passenger’s seat as his partner shifted the truck into gear and they headed out of the parking lot.
“Stupid people," John muttered under his breath while he reached around and hung up his helmet.
Fifteen minutes later, the senior medic backed the squad into the empty bay and the two men got out and looked around as they made their way into the day room.
“Where’s the engine at? I didn’t hear them get toned out on a run.”
“It was a little hard to hear much of anything, Roy, with those two crazy women going at it,” John retorted. “Let’s go see what food is leftover from lunch; I have worked up a pretty hefty appetite.”
The older man rolled his eyes and followed his partner into the day room.
“Cap was cookin lunch today so unless it’s clam chowder, you might have to appease your appetite on whatever else you can scrounge up from the last shift.”
The young paramedic’s face fell. “Man, that’s right… I forgot.” He opened the fridge and stuck his head in.
“There’s something in a pot, but its identity eludes me. I can tell you one thing…it is definitely NOT clam chowder.” He pulled the pot out of the fridge and stuck his nose close to the rim and took a deep sniff. His face wrinkled in response. “God…that is disgusting! If it tastes as bad as it smells…I can tell you exactly where the rest of our crew is,” he replied as he shoved the offensive concoction back onto the shelf.
Roy glanced at the doorway and saw Hank standing there; his arms folded across his chest as he leaned against the frame.
The blonde haired paramedic looked startled at his supervisor’s sudden appearance, which John was, unfortunately, oblivious to. Hank shook his head back and forth warning the young man not to say anything to change that fact.
“Oh yea Johnny?” Roy replied trying to keep the laughter out of his voice, “…and where might they be?”
“At Rampart getting their stomach’s pumped. Ugh…how could Cap do this to us? On Christmas Eve no less…I mean that is cruel and unusual punish…” The dark haired paramedic slammed both doors shut and turned his head to the left, “…ment.” He finished as is eyes fell upon his boss. “Oh…uh, hey there Cap.
Umm…h-how long have you umm, been standing there?”
“Hey there John. Long enough; please... continue.”
The young man turned red in the face and his eyes travelled over to his partner and then back to his Captain. His curiosity got the better of him, as well as his desire to change the topic.
“Cap, where’s the engine and the rest of the guys?”
“At Rampart getting treated; my stew gave them food poisoning.”
“For real?” he asked in surprise.
The conversation was temporarily interrupted as they heard the unmistakable sound of the engine as it pulled into the apparatus bay, and moments later, the shuffle of feet making their way towards the day room.
“No you twit!” Hank Stanley replied as he walked over to the sink to grab a clean glass that was drying on the countertop. He shoved it under the kitchen faucet and turned on the water, filling it up.
“A citizen stopped by the station and told us someone had opened up one of the hydrants down the block. I had them run over to shut it off… and didn’t feel I needed to go and oversee the event.”
He shut off the water and turned around; bringing the glass to his lips to take a drink.
“Oh yea…well, that was good thinkin Cap. Excellent decision… that’s why you’re the boss!” John said brightly as he moved to sit next to his partner at the table. He gave Roy a scowl.
Hank lowered the glass and gave his junior paramedic a stern look. “Can it Gage…”
Chet Kelly was first through the door and overheard their supervisor’s last remark.
“This had to be good,” the lineman said as he made his way to the couch and plopped down. Henry, the station basset hound, crawled onto his lap and immediately went back to sleep. Chet reached down to scratch the dog’s big floppy ear.
“Well? Someone fill me in. What did Gage do this time?” The Irishman looked expectantly at Roy.
“Mind your own business Chet,” the dark haired paramedic said in a low growl.
“Johnny was just commenting on the Captains…uh lunch,” Roy replied innocently.
"Gee Roy, thanks so much for having my back partner. I thought I could always count on you in a crisis. You are ready and willing to run into a burning building after me...but a stew related incident has you singing like a bird. Nice."
Chet’s face lit up. “Yea? Well, you guys sure missed out on a real treat! That was the BEST meal we have had around here in quite awhile. Why I was just telling the guys a few minutes ago how much I enjoyed it and…”
“That goes double for you Kelly,” Hank said giving his lineman a knowing look.
John snickered under his breath as the Captain, with glass in hand, walked out of the room and headed back to his office.
Hank sat down at his desk and took another sip of water. His stomach gurgled uncomfortably and he reached a hand down to pat it gingerly.
“I hate it when that kid is right,” he muttered to himself as he opened his desk drawer and reached for his stash of Rolaids. He popped a couple into his mouth and started to chew just as the tones sounded.
Chapter 2 – Mishaps and Miracles
“LA…Station 51 with Station 45…respond for a truck through a department store window…2323 Market Street…2-3-2-3 Market Street…cross Wilmington…caller advising multiple people injured and possibly trapped under the vehicle…time out 1632.”
Hank jumped out of his chair and raced towards the podium, yanking the mic off its mount. He scribbled the address on the paper before him.
His men were already seated in the rigs waiting to go. Hank thrust the slip of paper into the blonde haired paramedic’s outstretched hand as he ran towards the engine. He yanked open the door and climbed into the passenger’s seat. Mike Stoker had the wheels of the engine already rolling even before his captain had closed the door.
“This is going to be a bad one…” Hank thought as he placed the helmet on his head and pulled the chin strap tight. “real bad…”
“LA…Engine 51 and Squad 51 are at scene,” Hank called out as they rolled up to the building.
“Cap… Look at that!” Mike stated in awe as he maneuvered the rig into position and threw it into park.
Dozens of people stood about with shocked expressions on their faces as they stared at the immense hole caused by the semi-trailer that was partially protruding from the structure. The men piled out of the trucks as the dark haired captain scanned the scene, and immediately began throwing out directives.
“Lopez…grab an inch and half and stand by.”
“Kelly…check the ground around the vehicle for any leaks, and then try and see if you can get to the driver without anything collapsing on top of you. I will send you help as soon as I can.”
“Right away cap,” he shouted and took off.
A balding man in his late fifties walked as fast as his short stumpy legs would allow towards the man he deemed was in charge. He stood before Hank Stanley…His face was bright red and he was breathing hard.
“Dear God…I c-can’t believe this has happened! Please you m-must help those p-poor people,” he said in a shaky voice.
“Sir,” Hank began, “do you know how many may be hurt?
“No…no…It jjust happened so f-fast. I work in the store…it was all I could do just to g-get out of the way. I have n-never been s-so terrified in m-my entire life! I just c-couldn’t bare to look. It’s j-just so unbelievable!"
“John…Roy…,” Hank called out, “start going through that mess and see if you can get me some idea of about how many victims we are looking at… And be careful!”
Both men nodded as they hooked their coats closed and yank gloves out their pockets. The blast of an air horn interrupted the otherwise persistent siren wail as the crew from Station 45 turned into the lot.
“CAP,” the stocky lineman yelled. “One of the tanks ruptured…there is some diesel fuel leaking.”
“Damn it…that’s just what we need,” Hank said in frustration.
He turned to look at his second lineman, but Marco was already in motion dragging the hose forward. He noted Stoker was standing by the side of the rig. His hands in place, and his eyes fixed on the Hispanic fireman’s back. Marco, knowing his engineer was watching him, didn’t bother to turn around but simply nodded his head. The blonde haired engineer instantly manipulated the instruments and the hose twisted and turned as the water rushed through and burst out of the end of the nozzle.
“Engine 45…Engine 51…we have a diesel fuel leak and the number of potential victims is still unknown,” Hank reported into the HT. “Pull another inch and a half on that semi and have the rest of your men assist my medics with search and extrication. Also use caution, the building is extremely unstable.”
Two police cruisers pulled in immediately behind the second engine company. Vince and Scotty jumped out of their cars and ran quickly over towards Hank’s location.
“Damn! How bad is it?” Vince asked as his eyes turned from the Captain to look at the destruction.
“We don’t know yet. At first glance...I would say pretty bad. I am waiting to hear from Johnny and Roy on the number of causalities.”
The black officer shook his head. "We heard the call dispatched. If people got hit and are trapped under that truck…you can be sure we are gonna have some fatalities.”
“Yea…I know” he replied in a grim voice.
Vince's practiced eye scanned the ground. "No skid or yaw marks...the driver never even hit the brakes. Do you know where he is?"
"No, I am assuming he is still in the cab."
“Ok, I am going to call in for some more help. Scotty and I will keep the crowds away until they get here and then check back in with you.”
“I appreciate that Vince… thanks. We are probably also gonna need someone from Building and Zoning to come out and assess the extent of the damage, and close this area down.
“Ok…I will take care of that Hank; you have enough on your plate as it is.”
“That is definitely going to make their day,” Vince thought knowing the Inspectors were probably getting ready for a holiday get-together.
The Captain nodded his head gratefully and then turned, glancing down at the balding man who had been staring with terrified eyes at the men before him. Hank reached out and gave him a reassuring pat on his shoulder.
"What do ya think Vince…another drunk?" Scotty inquired as he started to walk away with his fellow officer.
"Who knows...Man, what a mess."
“Hey Vince,” Hank called out and the young officer stopped and looked back. “Do you think you could you take Mr…”
“Mr. Armstrong with you…and make sure he is ok? Let me know if he is need of any medical assistance.”
“Of course…Sir, please come with me,” the officer said gently as beckoned him to follow.
“T-thank you,” the man said to the tall captain before turning and hurrying forward to join the officers.
John and Roy moved quickly towards the scene, each armed with a pry bar, and then separated when they reached the back end of the vehicle. It didn’t look good at all. The eighteen-wheeler was almost completely inside the building; only the very tail end of it remained on the sidewalk in front. It had not only smashed through the window, but decimated the brick and mortar exterior wall; and had continued on, taking out a counter and clothing racks, among other things, before colliding with a main support post . Part of the ceiling had already collapsed, and what remained in tack was unstable at best. Both men had heard their crewmate shout out about the leak…and they could smell it. It was going to take some time to search for victims, and the threat of an explosion in this chaos only added unneeded stress to an already complicated situation.
“Roy, watch yourself,” John shouted the warning to his partner as he doubled checked to make sure his helmet was securely in place. The ceiling above him creaked ominously.
The two men moved cautiously forward, shifting the lighter debris out of the way as their eyes searched for signs of victims.
“Hello? Can anyone hear me…it’s the fire department?” the dark haired paramedic called out.
“Here…over here! Please help me, my leg is stuck!” he heard a male voice finally call out.
“Ok…ok…hang on. I’m coming, keep talking…I can’t see you yet.”
John continued to inch his way towards the sound of the voice. The man was trapped under a large piece of drywall.
“Hey Gage? Gage…you need a hand?” he heard a voice call from behind him. It was one of the medics from 45’s.
“Yea Brent…I got a guy trapped under this drywall. Can you get on the other side and see if we can lift it off?"
“Hang on a second and let me get into place.”
“What’s your name mister?” John asked
“Ok Sam…listen to me. We are gonna try and lift this off of ya. Do you think you can pull yourself free once we get it up?"
“Yes…yes I think so. I can move my leg…it’s just pinned.”
“If you can’t, let us know and we will get some more help…ok?"
“Alright Johnny, I’m set…on three. One…two…three…”
The two firemen got a good grip and then heaved. Sam quickly backed up over the mounds of clothes that were cast about him.
“I’m free…” he yelled out as John and Brent slowly lowered the wall back down.
John immediately went over to check him out. The leg didn’t appear to be broken, but had a bad bruise that was starting to form, along with some minor cuts and scratches.
“I think I’m alright…thank you so much,” the man said gratefully.
The dark haired paramedic’s eyes came upon a barely visible blue jeaned leg, and a small red tennis shoe from underneath the semi near one of the front passenger side tires.
“Brent, can you take this guy out?”
The other paramedic nodded and assisted the man to his feet as they slowly moved away.
“I have a visual on another one underneath the truck,” he yelled out “It…it looks like a child.” He swallowed hard. He hated rescues where kids were involved…and from the looks of things, he didn’t expect this victim to be alive.
Roy spied a blue sweater clad shoulder near the middle of the big rig. “Looks like I found one as well,” he yelled up to his partner.
Both men began warily making their way forward. The damage to the building and the shattered glass everywhere was making their rescue efforts difficult.
“Man…these people probably have some pretty traumatic injuries…and cuts from all this glass. I am surprised there is not blood everywhere” John thought as he maneuvered his body closer to his victim.
As the young paramedic got closer…he spied a gloved hand.
“Got another one…”
He heard the other firemen continuing to work feverishly around the perimeter of the semi trying to clear the area and locate more victims.
John finally made it to the blue jean clad leg. He reached out and stuck the two fingers of his right hand into the sock to feel for a pedal pulse.
There was nothing.
He crawled over to the gloved hand and repeated his actions…trying to obtain a radial pulse.
The results were the same.
“Hey Roy,” he shouted.
“Uh…both my victim’s aren’t…”
“I know…neither is mine.”
“Yea Johnny…we need to be sure.”
Both men diligently continued their search and were relieved to find no other victims.
“I’ve checked from the middle all the way up to the front…and it’s clear Roy,” John called out as he started to back out.
“I’m good at this end too. Let’s get out from under …”
The rest of Roy’s sentence was drowned out by the crash that followed.
“Roy?” John yelled out.
Another deafening crash was his only reply.
Chet Kelly cautiously navigated his way around the large amount of wreckage that was between him and the front of the cab. He shoved aside some ceiling tiles and then stepped on the running board and grabbed the side rail as he pulled himself up. He peered in through the driver’s side window and stared at the man seated behind the wheel.
“Sir…Sir? Are you ok…are you hurt?”
The brown haired man turned his bloodshot eyes towards the lineman with a look of shock on his face.
“You were in an accident. Are you hurt anywhere?” he repeated.
“Oh my God! Oh m-my GOD! What hhhave I d-done?”
Chet pulled hard on the door but it wouldn’t budge. He turned and saw the Hispanic lineman making his way towards him.
“Cap had 45 relieve me on the line…and told me to see if you needed some help.”
“Thanks Marco,” Chet called out to him, “can you find me a pry bar somewhere around here; the door is jammed.”
“Yea sure, how is he doing?”
“Well…he is conscious and talking, other than that I don’t know. What’s the situation on the spill?”
“The guys are watching it…but the sooner we get the hell out of here the better. It has Cap on edge knowing we are all in the thick of things. Stoker was looking a bit worried too.”
Chet nodded, “Not exactly what I had in mind on how to spend my Christmas Eve,” he stated as he reached down to accept the pry tool.
The curly haired lineman shoved the end of the tool into the door jamb moving it side to side until he had a good bite. Satisfied, he firmly wrapped both hands around the pole and leaned in using all of his body weight.
“Come on…come on…”
The door suddenly gave way and popped open. He tossed the tool to the ground as Marco moved in and together, they pushed hard on the door forcing it the rest of the way open.
Chet turned to face the man inside.
“What’s your name?”
“Ok Roger…are you hurt,” he asked again as he began to check the man over for injuries.
“No…I-I don’t think so.”
“Marco, I can’t find anything obvious…and he is moving ok. Let’s just get him out of here, and the medics can take a closer look at him.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“Roger,” Chet instructed, “we are going to move you out of here. Help us as much as you can but let me know right away if you realize your hurt…or can’t make it…ok?”
The man nodded.
The two firemen successfully escorted the driver out of the wreckage and were just making their way over to the squad when they heard a loud crash behind them, followed by another.
“Oh man,” Chet said as they hurried to deposit their victim with a medic and from 45, “that did not sound good.”
Roger Wilkens sat down on the back of the squad and put his head in his hands. His body shook as the shock of the situation hit him full force.
“I s-shouldn’t have b-been driving…this is all my f-fault!”
“What happened?” Vince asked as him as Hank Stanley came up next to the man.
There was no answer.
“Have you been drinking?” the young officer inquired.
The brown head shook back and forth. “No officer. I don’t drink…never have. I-I am a cross country truck driver. I have been on the road for the last fourteen days. My boss had all these deadlines set up, and then, my my truck broke down and I got behind schedule. He was screaming at me every day that if I didn’t make my delivers on time…I would be fired. I have a family to take care of…I-I can’t lose my job! My daughter has Down ’s syndrome, and my wife is pregnant with our second child. She has been put on bed rest because of some complications…so her mother flew in to help. I have only been catching a couple of hours of sleep here and there. This was my last deliver before going home. I guess I couldn’t stay awake any longer and fell asleep at the wheel. I’m so terribly sorry…I never would have driven if I thought I wasn’t able too. I-I just wanted to get home…and see my family. Officer, I have never been arrested before…or even had a parking ticket!”
A husband and wife with two children in tow approached the group as the driver finished talking.
“That man should be in JAIL. He is probably drunk, or under the influence of drugs,” the man spat out; his finger pointed accusingly at the driver. “He has ruined Christmas for so many people! I have never seen such stupidity and negligence in my entire life!”
“I hope you are happy with yourself sir!” the women chimed in.
The two small children stared up at their parents with wide eyes and then turned to glare at the truck driver.
“You’re a bad man…” the little boy exclaimed, as his younger sister shook her head up and down and gave him a mean face.
The crowd of on-lookers had moved in and gathered around the family echoing their reprisal of the devastated man before them.
The words cut through him like a knife, and the unmistakable signs of pain and remorse were clearly evident upon his face; yet the holiday shoppers failed to see it.
The young officer, however, did not.
“All of you…clear out of here,” Vince barked. “NOW!”
The crowd was startled into silence at the officer’s sudden outburst. The look upon his face matched the forcefulness of his message, and they quickly scattered leaving the bereaved man seated alone once again.
Roger Wilkens could hold it in no longer, and the tears dropped steadily from his dark brown eyes.
The young paramedic increased his efforts and cleared himself out of the rubble.
“ROY!” he yelled again.
John jumped to his feet and made his way around to the other side of the semi, his heart pounding in his chest. He climbed over the various obstacles in his path until he reached his destination. He saw several men from station 45 throwing various materials to the side.
“What the hell happened?”
“Some debris shifted and landed on his back as he was coming out,” Brent replied, “Don’t worry…we think he’s ok.”
The dark haired paramedic dropped to his belly and worked his way under the truck. He needed to see for himself. John wiggled forward until he was next to Roy’s right side. The senior medic turned and the blue eyes stared into concerned brown ones.
“Hey, you alright?”
“Yea…Yea...my back is just a little sore. I don’t think anything is broken.
“You scared the crap out of me partner. I do NOT want to face your wife and tell her your gonna be spending Christmas at Rampart. Jo is incredible, and about as understanding as wives come, but still.”
Roy grinned at him. “Don’t worry, I don’t think this injury is worthy of a hospital visit.”
“Yea…well we will just have to see about that won’t we? Come on…Let’s get outta here.”
The blonde haired paramedic winced slightly as he maneuvered out of the confined space.
They eventually made their way out into the parking lot and were immediately approached by their Captain.
“I take it there…there weren’t any survivors underneath the truck,” Hank said trying to read the expression on the men’s faces.
“Actually Cap, there weren’t any victims under the truck.”
“Except for Roy,” John added.
“Did you two get knocked in the head or something? I heard the guys from 45 say you had people in there. Explain…now.”
“We thought we did…”the junior medic started to say.
“…they were mannequins Cap. This must have been a display window or something.”
“Mannequins? You're kidding?”
“Honest Cap…no fatalities. Except, I guess you could say the mannequins are totaled…I don’t think they will be appearing in any store windows in the near future. A handful of people got banged up a bit from jumping out of the way and some lacerations from the flying glass; but all minor injuries. Then my pal here goes and gets himself hurt. I thought I told ya to be careful,” he admonished with a grin.
“How bad is it Roy?”
“It’s nothing Cap…just bruised my lower back,” he said casually, “Do you know how the driver is though? Had he been drinking?”
“Physically he’s ok. And no… that was everyone’s first guess. I actually feel bad for the guy; he has been working for two weeks non-stop, driving all over the place, just grabbing a few hours of sleep whenever he could. His boss had threatened to fire him if he got off schedule. Plus he also has some pretty tough challenges in his personal life.”
“Well, all of us can definitely relate on what it’s like to work with little to no sleep,” John commented.
“Boy oh Boy…there sure were some very lucky people today. This could have been a real tragedy,” Hank said shaking his head.
The two paramedics nodded their head in agreement. "I saw the leg of what I thought was a little kid...and it gave me such a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It really was a miracle that no one was killed." John replied.
“I’m glad for the driver as well. This was a serious incident and he still has to answer for his actions; but like Johnny said, no one was killed, no serious injuries, and that rig didn’t explode. So, all and all, he is pretty fortunate,” Roy stated as he reached around and rubbed his back.
“Take off your coat Roy and let me take a look.”
“It’s not a big deal…I’m fine.”
John’s eyes swiveled over to his supervisor. He said nothing…he didn’t have to.
“DeSoto, do as he says…now.”
Roy sighed and removed the coat. The dark haired paramedic moved around and lifted his partner’s shirt. There was a large red mark going across the length his back. Practiced hands probed and palpated the injury sight while the senior medic tried unsuccessfully not to flinch.
“Hey Cap,” John replied pulling the blue uniform shirt back down, “It doesn’t seem like anything is broken, but if we aren’t needed, do you mind if we run into Rampart? We have to pick up some more supplies and I want the Doc take a look at him anyways…just to be sure.”
“Yea…go ahead. We got it from here. Call me right away if he is gonna be out. It’s going to be next to impossible to get someone to replace him at this point,” Hank said as he took off his helmet and ran his hand through his hair.
“Cap…I promise you, it’s not that…”
“Yea Cap…we’ll do. Thanks… see ya later,” John interrupted.
They gathered their gear and walked over to their squad; Roy headed towards the driver’s door.
“Nope,” John replied, “I’M driving…”
The young man slid behind the wheel wearing a pleased expression on his face.
"LA squad 51...what's your status?"
John looked over at his partner and shot his hand out to grab the mic. Roy, however, was faster.
"Squad 51 is available at scene," the blonde haired paramedic replied.
"10-4...stand by for an assignment."
"Nice try Pally, but you are still going," John said firmly.
"LA...Squad 51...respond for trouble breathing...213 Hickory ... 2-1-3 Hickory cross street Howard...time out...1710.
Roy started to pull out the maps and flip through the pages as his partner gave him sideways glance.
"Forget Roy...I know where I am going. Just sit back and enjoy the ride."
Roy grinned at his friend and shoved the book back into the glove box. He reached down on the seat to retrieve his helmet, planting it firmly on his head.
The two paramedics finally arrived back at the station after three more runs. They did manage to squeeze in a brief stop off at Rampart. Dr. Kelly Brackett just barely had time to check out Roy's injury before the guys were running out the door again.
"This is getting a little ridiculous," John grumbled as they trooped into the day room. "It's after 8:00pm...and we haven't even eaten yet!"
"Hey there," Hank greeted them as the two men made their way inside. "Come on in and pull up a chair. We have a gourmet feast...compliments of Joanne DeSoto and my wife."
They look around and the table was loaded down with food. GOOD food.
"I think I have died and gone to heaven," John said as he eyed the spread with a wild look in his eyes.
"The girls brought it over after we got back from the last call. Dig in, everything is still warm."
John Gage did not need to be told twice. He dropped down into the nearest chair and continued to fill his plate until there was no room left.
"Junior...we’re gonna need a crane to lift you off the couch if you eat all of that."
"Yea...so?" the young man said around the mouth full of food.
"Your hopeless...you know that?"
John flashed him a crooked grin as he shoved another fork full of turkey and mashed potatoes into his mouth.
Chapter 3 - Holiday Cheer
“LA…squad 51…respond for a sick child…679 Concord…6-7-9 Concord… cross street Dover…time out 2041.
The paramedic team groaned as they pushed back from the table and headed out the door. The rest of the crew, including their Captain, showed no sign of relinquishing the reclined positions in their chairs unless it was absolutely necessary. Roy stopped at the podium and copied down the address and then snatched the mic up in his right hand.
The dark haired paramedic slid awkwardly into the passenger’s seat. Luckily they had gotten to finish their meal uninterrupted…but Roy had been right. They only thing he felt like doing was assuming a horizontal position on the couch and join Henry in taking a long nap. However, he was not about to let that fact on to his partner. He burped unashamedly as he placed his helmet atop his head and accepted the slip of paper that was handed to him.
“Phenomenal meal Roy,” he commented as they pulled out of the bay and sped down the street. “You and Cap are a couple of LUCKY guys.”
“Squad 51 is at scene,” John called out as they pulled up in front of a sprawling home that was decorated to the hilt. There were cars everywhere.
“Man, they must be having a huge party. Listen, just let me out…I will grab the biophone and drug box and head inside and see what we’ve got while you try and find a place to park.”
Roy nodded his head as John exited the squad. He quickly opened the compartments and grabbed the black and orange cases. He got half way up the walkway before the front door flew open and a young woman in a dark green dress stood there with a panicked look on her face.
“Please…hurry! It’s my son. I don’t know what is wrong with him.”
The dark haired paramedic picked up his pace and reached the front door.
“It’s ok ma’am, where is he?”
“In...in here… the family room.”
John pushed his way through the crowded room and his eyes located the boy sprawled out on the couch. His movements were jerky and his breathing was fast and heavy.
“Folks, please…let me through,” he said in frustration.
The crowd ignored his request, and the young man started elbowing bodies to get them out of his way. He had reached his limit in dealing with annoying people today. No more Mr. Nice guy. He didn’t care if it was Christmas Eve.
He finally made it to the child and set the equipment on the floor as he dropped to one knee.
“Hi there buddy,” John said loudly trying to compete with the music and background chatter of the crowd. He gave his patient a smile as he reached for the small wrist. “What’s your name?”
The boy stared back at him trying to keep his eyes open.
“Don’t go to sleep now…stay with me. Can you tell me your name?”
“Hey Bobby…my name is Johnny, I am with the fire department…and I am gonna take good care of you ok?”
“Fireee truckkkss…” the boy mumbled out incoherently.
“Ma’am…how old is he?”
The young paramedic quickly obtained his patients vitals as his partner came up alongside him and flipped open the biophone reaching inside to grab the handle. Roy picked up the piece of paper that was handed to him and read through it.
“Can you tell me what happened? How long has he been like this?”
“He was just fine about an hour ago…and then he started acting strange. He can’t keep his balance and has trouble talking. The woman’s husband came up next to his wife and threw an arm around her shoulder…his free hand held a tall glass with a dark liquid.
“Babe, I-I’m ssure he is gonna be aalright,” the man said as he wobbled unsteadily on his feet. “It was probably somethin he ate.”
John Gage’s eyes looked around the room and lost count at the number of intoxicated guests. He turned his attention back to his young patient and leaned in, sniffing his breath.
He sat back on his heels and shook his head.
“Definitely not something he ate…more like something he DRANK,” he thought with disgust.
“Rampart…this is squad 51…how do you copy?”
“This is Rampart, came back the well known voice of head nurse Dixie McCall, “go ahead.”
The blonde haired paramedic relayed the information as John attempted to talk to the little boy.
“Bobby, can you tell me if you drank anything that tasted…funny?”
His glazed eyes attempted to focus on the man before him and he nodded his head up and down, and pointed a finger to a glass on the table. John picked it and sniffed it as well; a perfect match.
They young paramedic stood up.
“Morgan…Betty Morgan. Please…what is wrong with Bobby?”
“Mr. and Mrs. Morgan, your son is um…drunk.”
“DRUNK? What…how? No…no, that’s not possible! You must be mistaken. What do you know anyway, you’re just a fireman? You’re not a doctor,” she exclaimed.
The young paramedic clenched his jaw, fighting to keep back the comment that would surely earn him some time off. He was so sick and tired of hearing that remark.
“No ma’am, I am not a doctor,” he ground out, “But I don’t need to be one to figure out that your son, is in fact, intoxicated. He picked up one of your guests drinks,” John stated as he held up the glass in front of them.
“What a great mother you are Betty,” her husband shot out. “You were so busy with your party; you weren’t even paying attention to your own son!”
“Well…what about you? Why do I have to do EVERYTHING around here huh? Could you, for once in your life, help out,” she screeched back at him.
The man rolled his eyes as an older woman with graying hair approached.
“Folks…please stop fighting,” John interjected, “He is gonna be alright…but we would like to take him into the hospital and get checked out.”
“Don’t you start in on my son again, Betty. He works very hard to give you all of this and should be extremely grateful to have married a man like him!”
The ambulance attendants appeared in the doorway and Roy waved them over. John sighed and knelt back down next to his inebriated little patient.
“I don feeeel sooo…,” Bobby slurred before he jerked to an upright position and proceeded to expel the contents of his stomach all over the front of the young paramedic.
Roy froze as held the biophone in his hand and looked over at his partner.
John’s gaze slid down to stare at the front of his uniform shirt and jacket then closed his eyes and shook his head.
The end of this shift could not come fast enough.
John parked the squad in their customary spot at the hospital and slowly opened the door. The offensive odor still hung about his nostrils and it was all he could do to not allow his own meal to make a re-appearance. He followed his partner and the now snoring little boy on the gurney into the treatment room.
John had ditched his uniform shirt and blue jacket in a plastic bag the boy’s mother had begrudgingly given him, and was now just wearing his white t-shirt.
Thankfully not much of the substance had landed on his pants.
Dixie eyed the young man as he came through the door.
“Why Johnny, what happened to your…,”
“Don’t ask! Believe me you …just just don’t ask,” he growled out. “I am going to go get cleaned up,” he said to his partner as he pulled open the door and stomped off towards the bathroom.
“Rough night huh? It’s been that way here too…if it makes you feel any better,” Dixie replied as she watched Johnny disappear out the door.
“Carol, take over for me here… ok?”
“Yes Miss McCall,” the young nurse responded as she moved in to gather the little boy’s vitals.
“Come on Roy,” she called as she walked over to the door and opened it, beckoning him to follow.
The young man complied and trailed after the pretty nurse as she headed towards the base station. He walked over selecting a cup, and proceeded to pour the dark liquid slowly until it was about half full. Roy set the pot back down and turned around. He leaned wearily back against the counter as Dixie shimmied up on the stool, and opened the file in her hands quickly jotting down some notes before closing it and sliding it into the rack.
“You want a cup?” he asked tiredly.
“No Roy…but thanks for asking.”
“So, before your grumpy partner returns,” she said with a grin, “want to fill me in on what’s going on?”
He looked up. Nothing much really fazed her. She would get upset on occasion, but the lady, Roy acknowledged, was the calm in a storm for them. This he reasoned, was probably why she was so damn good at her job. The blonde haired paramedic looked into her questioning blue eyes and quickly filled her on the highlights of their day.
Dixie shook her head, “I just don’t know what gets into people sometimes. I understand why you guys must be at your wits end…but don’t let it spoil your holiday spirit. Things always seems so much more horrible when we are going through it, and then something happens that just makes you realize all the angst was for nothing. Because there are more important things…we just get caught up in the negativism and let it build up.”
They spied Johnny making his way down the hallway towards them. He was holding the HT in his hand and the look on his face was a good indication his mood had not improved.
“Hey there handsome,” she said knowing his face usually lit up when she called him that; especially around the nurses.
“Hey Dix,” he replied in a flat tone.
“Come on now Johnny, Roy told me you two have had a grueling day, I get it… but you need to put it behind you. So, I am going to give you a prescription. Go back to the station, put your feet up, flip on the TV, and watch a good Christmas program.”
“Sounds nice… you want to tell them,” John said waving the HT back and forth, “that Roy and I will be out of service… reviving our holiday spirit.”
She gave them both a hug followed by an affectionate push towards the door. “Go on…and have a wonderful Christmas tomorrow.”
“Thanks Dix,” they replied somewhat sullenly, “You too.”
They arrived back at the station and Roy walked into the day room to find the rest of the crew gathered around the television watching “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“Where’s your partner?” the stocky lineman asked glancing over his shoulder.
“Did you finally take my advice and leave him on another stations door step.”
“He is in the locker room changing from the last run we were on. And Chet… lay off ok?”
“Oh… alright. Sometimes I can’t help myself and stuff just slips out. I’ll behave.”
“Yea right…I will believe that when I don’t hear it,” Marco chimed in.
Roy dragged two of the chairs over from the kitchen table, and eased himself gingerly down into one of them. His back was definitely going to be a bit sore for a couple of days. A few moments later, the dark haired paramedic entered the room and he sank into the seat next to his partner.
The crew settled in, and were just beginning to relax when the tones went off.
“LA…Station 51…Station 36…house fire, 4540 Surrey 4-5-4-0- Surrey….cross street…Park…time out 2149.
The men jumped out of their seats and scrambled through the door.
“I thought things had finally calmed down for the night,” Hank sighed as they pulled out of the bay.
Two hours later the crew returned to the station. It was almost midnight and the men were exhausted. They trooped into the bunk room, peeled off their uniforms, set out their gear, and literally fell into bed.
Chapter 4 – The Accident
The noise and bright lights that flooded the bunk room startled the men from their sleep. They blinked in a moment of puzzlement as their bodies automatically bolted upright in their beds. The fog cleared in a matter of seconds and there was a flurry of movement as they cast aside blankets, and shoved sock covered feet into waiting boots.
“LA…Station 51…respond for a single car accident at the intersection of Fairview and Pine…Fairview and Pine…time out…0312.”
The men jogged to their respective vehicles, donning turnout coats and helmets.
“If this is some drunk,” Chet grumbled as he clambered into his seat behind the engineer, “he is gonna get a special holiday surprise…courtesy of the phantom.”
“There…” John pointed as he spotted the dark blue Ford Galaxie on the parkway, the driver’s side door was wedged up against a large tree.
Roy pulled up and parked behind the squad car that was already on the scene. The officer turned his attention from the smashed car and approached as the paramedics got out.
“What have we got,” John asked.
“There are four people in the car, a husband who was driving, and his family who are in the back seat. The wife and kids seem to be ok, but the man is unconscious and bleeding from the head. It also looks like he is trapped in there as well.”
“Ok…thanks Bob, we got it from here.”
Both men moved towards the vehicle as Stoker parked the engine on the adjacent street.
Hank leaped down from his seat and slammed the door, falling in step behind his medics.
“What’s the story?”
“Don’t really know yet Cap,” Roy replied tiredly as he reached the passenger side back door, “the officer advised there are four people in the car, and it looked like the driver was the only one who sustained any injuries. He also might be trapped in there.”
“Ok…well let me know what you need.”
The senior paramedic nodded as he opened the door. John was already seated in the front passenger spot attending to the driver.
“Hi ma’am, my name is Roy DeSoto,” he said to the young woman, “I am a paramedic with the LA County fire department. Are you or your children hurt?”
He glanced over and saw a small boy about three or four years old sitting next to her. A little blonde-headed girl, he estimated to be about a year, was wrapped in a blanket and held firmly in the mother’s arms.
“No…I think we are all fine. The kids were sleeping and I held on tight to them when we slammed into the tree. We were jostled around a bit…but are ok. Please… take care of husband, he’s unconscious... I think he is hurt bad,” her voice was filled with concern.
“Don’t worry…my partner is taking care of him. Let’s get all of you out of here so I can take a better look and just be sure…ok?”
The woman looked reluctantly at her husband, not wanting to leave him.
“Daddyyy,” the little boy called out in a scared voice.
“It’s okay son, your daddy is going to be fine…Ma’am?”
She nodded her head and Roy took her arm and carefully assisted her out of the vehicle. He then reached into the car and withdrew the little boy, handing him off to Chet who had come over to help. The curly haired lineman led the young woman over to a grassy area to sit down and then lowered the child onto the ground next to his mother. He flashed a grin at the little boy and removed his helmet, plopping it on top of his head.
“Roy,” John called out as he emerged from his awkward position on the floor boards. The blonde haired paramedic crawled into the back seat.
“Can you tell Cap I need a c-collar, short board, and the porta-power.”
“Got it…how’s he doing?”
“He is still unconscious…probable concussion and a closed left tib fib fracture. I can’t find any signs of internal injuries…but man; he is jammed in here pretty good. How are the others?”
“Seem to be ok…I will check them out and then get on the horn to Rampart. Have one of the guys run your victim’s vitals over to me when you have them. We are setting up there,” he pointed, “on the grass.” His partner nodded and then added, “Roy, what in the heck was this guy thinking? It’s just plain crazy to be out driving around with a young family at 3:00 o’clock in the morning. Those little ones should be at home in bed,” he said in an exasperated tone.
“Ya got me Junior. I gave up trying to figure this day out about ten runs ago.”
Roy shook his head and exited the car as John’s adept hands felt carefully along his victim’s neck and spine; he felt no deformities. The man suddenly let a low moan and slowly began to open his eyes.
“W-where am I?” he asked in confusion.
“You’ve been in an accident…just sit still and don’t move around. Can you tell me what happened?”
“My family! Oh my God... How… how is my family?” he started to struggle and cried out in pain.
“Take it easy…take it easy don’t move around,” John admonished as he grabbed the man’s shoulders and held him back on the seat. “You could injure yourself even worse by thrashing around. They’re fine…my partner is checking them out just as a precaution.”
The young paramedic maintained his firm grip until he felt his patient begin to relax.
The man turned to look at the fireman next to him. His face was a mask of pain and anguish.
“I’m… I’m not gonna make it,” he said quietly.
John looked questioningly at the man, “What’s your name?”
The man took several deep breaths before answering.
“Listen to me Mike…we are going to get you out of here, and you ARE going to make it.”
The man slumped back into the seat and closed his eyes.
“You… don’t understand,” he said in a defeated voice.
Roy had spread out the equipment and completed a more thorough assessment on his three victims. After confirming the family was indeed ok and he had checked in with Rampart regarding the husband, he sat back on his heels.
“Ma’am I don’t mean to pry,” Roy stated, “but can I ask you what happened? What are all of you doing out driving around at this time of the morning…and on Christmas day?”
“Please, call me Stacy,” she said as she re-adjusted the sleeping infant in her arms. Her eyes swept over to check on her little boy who was deeply engrossed as the curly haired fireman showed him the big red engine.
“Mike,” she continued, “that’s my husband, we live in Northern California; Lake Tahoe to be more exact.” She stopped and tears filled her eyes.
“I-I’m sorry, I just can’t believe that all this is happening. It…it took me so long to convince him…and now, it’s probably too late.”
She looked up, “We are here in Carson to see my in-laws; whom I have never met. Mike had a…a falling out with his parents, primarily his dad, about five years ago. They…they haven’t spoken since, and he had refused to have any contact with his brothers and sister as well. Mike was so angry…he just left and never looked back. I had tried for years to talk to him about it, but he would shut me out.”
“Roy, I come from a very close family and we are always there for each other…no matter what. We don’t give up and walk away…that is just not an option. It took awhile, but my family and I finally got through to him…that things can be worked out. I think after having kids of his own, he began to realize and understand. We were planning on coming here after the first of the year, and then late yesterday afternoon, we got a phone call. It was from his sister Ann.”
The child in her arms began to stir and the eyes briefly fluttered open. She gently rocked the infant, whispering softly into the blanket until the lids drifted shut once more. A small hand emerged from the wrappings and wandered aimlessly in the air until the extended thumb found its target. The little mouth closed in around the digit and sucked contendly.
Stacy looked back into Roy’s face. She didn’t know why she was sharing their personal problems to a complete stranger, but it just felt like the right thing to do…so she continued.
“Ann told me that Mike’s father had been diagnosed with cancer… pancreatic cancer, about four months ago. They thought he was in remission and then within a week, he took a turn for the worse. She called to say that they…they d-didn’t think he would make it through Christmas. When I told Mike, it hit him hard. He always assumed there would be time, and now that time had run out, and he realized he would never see his dad again…to apologize. He couldn’t stand the thought of not making peace with him. We tried to get a flight…and couldn’t. So, I just started packing… throwing suitcases and wrapped Christmas presents into the trunk of the car. We piled in and hit the road hoping to make it in time. They don’t even know we are coming.”
She took a deep breath, “We were going through the intersection here and a vehicle blew through the red light and almost crashed into us. Mike was able to swerve to avoid a collision with the car, but he ran off the road and hit the tree. We have been travelling for more than seven hours and are probably only about ten or fifteen minutes from their house. His parents live over on Emerson Street…205 Emerson.” The young woman shook her head, “Fate … can just be so unfair. This is going to absolutely devastate my husband. I know he will carry the regret with him…for the rest of his life.”
Roy put his hand out and touched her arm. “I am really sorry... Is there anything I can do?”
She looked up and gave him a small smile.
“No…thank you Roy. You just listening to me, and letting me talk about what is weighing heavy on my heart at this moment…was so helpful. I am sorry to burden you with such a story…on Christmas day. Not very joyful I’m afraid,” she replied sadly.
Roy glanced up and saw his partner making his way towards them; Mike laid upon the backboard with Chet and Marco stationed on either end. The two linemen set the man down onto the ground and Stacy immediately removed one hand from the bundle in her arms, and grasped her husband’s fingers. He turned to look at her, and both men saw the intense pain in his eyes… and realized it had nothing to do with his injuries.
“I’m so sorry Mike,” she whispered.
“I d-deserve it,” he replied “this is g-going to be my punishment.”
“Johnny,” Roy said as he watched the young couple, “Rampart said to start an IV with D5W, immobilize the fracture, dress the head wound, and grab his vitals again before we transport. Did you find anything else wrong?”
The junior paramedic looked up; the expression on his face had changed dramatically from the one he had worn most of the day.
“What? Oh…no, I didn’t find anything else,” he said as he flipped open the black box and removed the items he needed to get the IV going.
The paramedic’s completed their tasks and motioned for the attendants to load the man onto the gurney and into the ambulance.
John stood up watching before turning towards his partner.
“Roy, uh…Mike, I mean my victim and I were talking while I was working on him in the car. I found out why they are here,” he said.
“Yea, I was talking to his wife; she filled me in on everything as well.”
“Man, that’s just so…so…”
“I know…” the senior medic acknowledged.
The two men stared at each other for several moments.
“I will contact Rampart,” Roy finally stated, “You go talk to Cap…”
“Right,” John said as he jogged quickly in the direction of the engine.
Roy assisted Stacy and the two children into the back of the ambulance and slammed the door shut. He quickly picked up the rest of their equipment and shoved it into the compartments. Hank Stanley came up behind him as he was opening the driver’s side door of the squad. The Captain yanked his gloves off and shoved them in his pocket. He placed his right hand on his senior paramedic’s shoulder. Roy stopped and turned around.
“Take your time…ok? We will see you back at the station.”
Roy nodded his head as his supervisor started to walk away.
“You bet Pal…you bet,” he replied as he called out to the rest of his crew.
“Okay boys…let’s go home.”
The blonde haired paramedic climbed into the squad and waited until the ambulance pulled away from the curb, and he proceeded to shift it into gear and followed behind.
Chapter 5 – The Promise
At 4:08am, the two vehicles rolled silently down the residential street, which was illuminated with beautifully colored lights that twinkled brightly in the pre-dawn hour. Holiday decorations adorned the windows, front lawns, and even roofs of some of the houses. They pulled up in front of a small ranch style home, and noted several cars parked in the driveway.
Roy glanced at the numbers displayed above the garage door. After confirming it was correct, he put the squad in park and got out. It was so quiet… peaceful. He smiled to himself as he walked to the back of the ambulance and pulled on the handles of the doors swinging them open.
He helped Stacy and the baby onto the pavement, and then reached in, taking the tired little boy once again in his embrace. The child’s eyes were drooping and one arm wrapped around the blonde paramedic’s neck, while the other held on protectively to a package. He let his head drop down and snuggled against Roy’s shoulder.
Stacy was exhausted as well and had started to take a step, and then looked in bewilderment around her.
“This…this isn’t the hospital,” she said slowly, “w-where are we?”
Roy looked down at the child in his arms, and then glanced up to stare at the woman in front of him.
“My partner and I thought it would be a good idea, to take a little detour, before heading to the hospital.”
The young woman looked from the fireman…to the house. It dawned on her where they were and she fought to keep the tears back that were threatening once again to fall.
“You…you did this…for us? For Mike and his dad?”
Roy gave her a simple smile as an answer.
“I- I don’t know what to say,” she whispered.
“Here,” he said, as he shifted the boy’s weight to one side and gestured towards the house. “Let’s go up and introduce ourselves.”
Stacy looked back inside the ambulance. Her husband had not spoken during the entire ride, and his eyes had remained closed; unwilling to look at anyone. She watched as the dark haired paramedic pulled the stethoscope out of his ears, and then checked the drip on the IV.” He glanced over and gave them the “OK” sign.
Roy led the way and Stacy nervously followed him up the steps. They saw a dim light glimmering through the drapes of the large picture window. Roy paused a moment and then took the initiative and knocked on the door, but received no answer and tried again. The attendants waited at the back of the ambulance, watching intently. The front door of the house opened tentatively and a woman in her late fifties peered out. She gave a perplexing look at the ambulance and rescue squad…and then at the people on her front step.
“I don’t understand…w-what you are doing here? W-who called you? T-there is nothing you can do.” She said in a defeated voice.
“Mrs. Garman?” the young woman asked.
She nodded her head slowly. “Yes…w-who are you? What do you want?”
“We are so sorry about the intrusion at this hour...please let me explain. My name is Stacy and this is my son Luke and my daughter Emily. I’m…I’m Mike’s wife. And these are your… grandchildren.”
The older woman’s eyes widened, and looked around not fully comprehending.
“Mike’s…wife?” she whispered, “Where…where is he? Is Mike… here?” she said glancing around anxiously.
The blonde haired paramedic spoke up.
“Ma’am, my name is Roy DeSoto…I am a paramedic firefighter with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Your son and his family were involved in a traffic accident tonight.”
“What?” she said as her hands flew to cover her mouth.
“Oh dear Lord…p-please don’t tell me he is… d-dead. I-I can’t lose both of them,” her voice was quivering in fear.
“No…no ma’am he is not dead,” Roy assured her, but he is injured and needs to get to a hospital for treatment. Mike and his wife explained to us the reason they were out at this time in the morning was because they were trying to get here…in time. My partner, John Gage, is in the ambulance with your son.”
Stacy spoke up again. “I-I received a call from Ann yesterday afternoon that his dad…wasn’t doing well; and that he might not make it through Christmas. We drove here because he wanted to see him and tell him he was sorry and ask for his forgiveness; and also so he could meet his grandchildren.” She looked down at the sleeping child in her arms.
“We were almost here…and then, well, we got into this accident and the police and fire department had to come. Mike was hurt and trapped inside the car. The paramedics finally got him out and we thought we were going straight to the hospital. But…but they completely surprised us and brought us here first, so Mike could see his dad and… and say good bye.”
The older woman suddenly reached out and hugged the girl before here tightly. “I am so happy to finally meet you Stacy,” she replied as she released her hold and turned to look at Roy.
“I c-can’t even begin to tell you what this means to me, my family, and most importantly…my husband.”
Roy gave her a warm smile.
“Ma’am,” we have their luggage and some uh…other items in our squad.
Would it be alright if we put them in your garage for now?”
“Oh…yes of course. Thank you…that is so very kind of you.”
He nodded and turned to make his way down the walkway. He reached the ambulance and poked his head through the open back doors; his partner was talking quietly to the young man.
“Okay Junior…you set?”
“You…you were really serious,” Mike asked in softly, looking up at the young paramedic.
“Yea Mike,” he replied as he took the IV bag off the pole and pushed it gently under the man’s right shoulder giving him a crooked grin, “I was serious. You ready?”
“Yes,” he whispered, “yes… I’m ready.”
“Let’s go…” John said as he nodded towards the attendants and they pulled the man out. The dark haired paramedic jumped to the ground as the gurney cleared the back of the ambulance, his hands firmly gripping the front end.
The small group navigated their way up to the front door, and came to a stop at the entrance. Mike stared up at his mother for the first time in five years; his eyes searching her face trying to comprehend what thoughts were running through her mind.
“Mom, I-I am so sorry for everything,” he finally managed to say in a hitched voice. “Am I… Is it too late?”
She paused briefly before leaning over and taking his face in her hands. She lovingly kissed his cheek, and then lowered her head onto his shoulder. Her body shook as she sobbed onto the young man's shirt. After a moment, she raised her head.
“No Mike…it’s not too late,” she said as she wiped the tears from her face. Her eyes travelled with obvious concern to the IV protruding from his arm and the bandages about his face. “Are…are you alright?”
“I’m ok…please don’t worry about me. This guy,” Mike indicated over to John, “has been taking real good care of me.”
John Gage gave him a reassuring grin.
“Thank you…so much,” the older woman said with gratitude.
“Yes…ma’am,” the dark haired paramedic replied as he looked into her tired face.
She turned her attention back to her injured son…“Let’s go see your dad…and wish him a Merry Christmas.”
John and Harold hoisted the gurney up the front steps and guided it carefully through the door. Once inside Roy leaned over to the attendant and spoke to him briefly.
“No problem, we’ll take care of it,” Harold said as he released his hold on the gurney and hurried back out the door. The group’s attention was drawn to the living room on their left. A hospital bed now occupied the space, along with various other equipment deemed necessary to attend to the dying man’s medical needs. In the far corner near the bed there stood a tall magnificent Christmas tree. The soft white lights, in the otherwise darkened room, provided a warm and inviting feeling. It had been decorated with the utmost of care.
Beautiful ornaments, some store bought, others made by the hands of the Garman children, adorned every branch. Each one carried a special memory…a loving history of this family’s wonderful life together. Some were of “Babies First Christmas”; others had pictures of the children through the school years, and still others showed various places the family had visited on vacations they had taken together. There were also words carefully cut out of wood and painted a shimmering white that dangled from delicate ribbon hangers.
“Joy”…”Celebrate”… “Peace”… “Rejoice”…“Love”. They were interspersed throughout the tree and conveyed the true spirit of the season.
Christmas music, just barely audible, played in the background.
Their eyes travelled from the tree to the older man lying in the hospital bed. He was conscious, but struggled to draw in each new breath. His facial features were sunken and the hair that still remained on his head was white as snow and extremely sparse. Though he was mostly covered beneath the blanket, there was no mistaking the emaciated condition the disease had inflicted on the man’s body. His wife had moved into the room and stood at his bedside. It was evident that she had conveyed to him that they had some unexpected visitors as the ailing man, with great effort, tried to see who had arrived. Directly behind her, two men and another woman, whom John and Roy assumed were Mike’s older siblings; had their arms wrapped around each other for support, and wore an expression of happiness at the sight of their youngest brother.
Roy walked over and gently placed the now sleeping child in his arms onto a nearby couch. He took the position at the foot of the gurney and together, he and his partner moved Mike right up next to his father…and then backed away.
The sick man turned his head and he lit up at the sight of his son.
“Mike…” he said in a frail voice, and then a worried look clouded his face “w-what h-happened to you?”
“I’m fine. That’s not important right now…please just…just listen to me.”
“Dad,” he began… his voice cracking as he poured out his heart to the dying man, “I am so sorry for…for everything. I-I let my anger and my stupid pride overshadow the truth. I can see that now. I love you so much…it it hurts. I can never get back the years that I stayed away, and I will have to live with that for the rest of my life. But I want you to know that you were an amazing father; the very best. And I love you more than words can say. I- I just pray that you will forgive me.”
The weak man lifted his arm up, and Mike grasped the hand in his.
"There is nnnothing to f-forgive. You are my s-son...and I never s-stopped loving you, or g-gave up hhhope that I would see you again b-before I died. And m-my hope... was not in v-vain."
Mike motioned for Stacy to come over with their children. Ann broke away from the group and walked over to the couch; she bent down and picked up her nephew who stirred in her arms. She smiled down at him as she carried him back to her father’s bedside.
“Dad, I would like you to meet my wife Stacy.” The young woman instinctively leaned forward and kissed the man tenderly on the sallow cheek. I am so glad to finally meet you…dad.” The man gave her a loving smile.
“This pretty little thing,” Mike continued, “is our daughter Emily.” The older man released his hold on Mike’s hand to reach over and gently brush a shaky finger across the child’s soft cheek. She smiled contently in her sleep.
Ann approached with Luke, who was now awake, and staring at the group around him.
“And this is our son,” the boy looked expectantly at his father and then at the man lying in the bed.
“Luke, can you say hello? This is your grandpa.”
“Hi grandpa…you…you don have any presents under your tree,” the boy said rubbing his eyes, “Santa hasn’t been here yet.”
There was a collective chuckle in the room at the innocence of the statement.
“Wait, I have one for you grandpa,” he said as he squirmed out of his aunt’s arms. He ran back over to the couch and retrieved the package that he had left behind. He returned and began to climb onto the bed, trying to thrust it into the older man’s feeble hands.
Frank Garman was too weak to hold the package…much less open it.
“Can y-you help m-me?” he managed to get out.
“Yes grandpa! I’m a really good present opener,” the boy said excitedly as his ripped open the paper. He opened the box and triumphantly held up a framed photograph of his family.
“It’s us! It’s for puttin on your wall so you can see us all the time!”
“It’s the p-perfect ggift. I l-love it,” he choked out.
The little boy gave him a big grin as Stacy moved in and helped her son off the bed and together they went to sit back on the couch. Luke leaned against her side and her spare arm wrapped around his little body and she pulled him close, whispering quietly in his ear.
Mike gave an affectionate look towards his wife and kids before turning his attention back to his father. He was fading quickly…and they all sensed it.
"Son, p-please make me a promise... that you will n-not live your l-life with r-regret or dwell on what has happened in the past. It serves no… p-purpose other than to b-bring you continued sadness… and pppain. Neither of which n-nurture… your s-soul," the sick man's voice was just barely above a whisper, and he was working harder to get out the words out that he wanted to say.
"Instead... r-remember the blessings we have received, the devotion of f-family, and the incredible amount of… l-love that is taking place in this rrroom... at this v-very moment. It is a g-gift Mike…the Greatest Gift. Neverr ffforget…" his voice trailed off.
“I won’t dad…I promise," he said in a voice strangled with emotion.
Frank gazed once more upon the woman he adored and with whom he had been married to for thirty-five wonderful years. He looked at his two older sons and daughter… And then his weary eyes finally came to rest on his youngest child. A single tear of joy slid down his cheek as he closed his eyes for the last time. They watched for several minutes as his breathing slowed, and then his chest rose and fell one final time… and Frank Garman was gone.
"I promise," Mike murmured again.
The room was quiet, except for the song that had just begun to play on the radio. Tears rolled down his cheek in a steady stream as the young man squeezed the limp hand clenched in between his own. He stare was fixed upon his father's tranquil looking face as they all listen to words, absorbing them into their hearts, until the song came to an end.
“…sleep in heavenly peace…oh, sleep in heavenly peace.”
John and Roy hated to disrupt the moment, but they knew they needed to get their patient to the hospital. The staff would be wondering where they were.
“I’ll…do it,” the dark haired paramedic mouthed to his partner as he quietly made his way forward until he was standing alongside the gurney.
“Mike?” he said softly.
The young man continued to stare at his father as he answered the paramedic.
“I know…it’s…it’s time to go,” he replied in a raspy voice as he reluctantly released his father’s hand and laid it carefully back on the bed.
John reached around and grabbed hold on the front of the gurney, and motioned for one of the attendants who had returned to come forward to assist. They wheeled him back to the front door and the family moved in to offer hugs and words of love and encouragement.
“I will go with you Mike,” Stacy said as she gathered up her purse.
“No honey please, I would prefer if you stay here with the kids. They are going to be confused if they wake up and don’t see either one of us here. I-I will call you from the hospital.” He glanced over at his mother. “I mean…if that is…alright with you?”
“Of course it is Mike…I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The two paramedics got their patient loaded and settled back into the ambulance. Roy was just about to slam the doors shut as he observed the elder Mrs. Garman come running out to them.
“Please…may I see you both for a moment?”
Roy smiled “of course…Johnny, can you come out here for a second.”
The dark haired medic was just about to take Mike’s blood pressure, and nodded, placing the cuff on the seat next to him.
He leaped out of the back and stood next to his partner.
The woman looked at both men. Her face was a mixture of pain…but also indescribable relief.
“I cannot even begin to tell you what your compassion and thoughtfulness has meant to our family. This has been one of the most challenging and difficult experiences I have ever had to deal with. I don’t know how or why you did what you did…but we will never forget.” She reached into the pocket of her sweater and withdrew two ornaments she had taken from the tree.
She swallowed the lump in her throat. “I want you both to have these, she said thrusting the small silver ornaments into their hands. I know it is not much, but it is my hope that you will hang these from the Christmas trees in your homes each year…and remember the caring and kindness you showed our family…and hold that feeling in your hearts.”
The two men looked at each other; technically speaking they were not supposed to except gifts of any kind. They hesitated…
“Please…Frank gave them to me the first year we were married to put on our Christmas tree. We didn’t have a lot of money back then, and they really do not hold much monetary value, but I found that the most important things in life…don’t have a price tag attached to them.”
“Ma’am,” John began, “we couldn’t possibly accept something that has so much sentimental value for you.”
“I have over thirty-five years of things and treasured memories that I have created with Frank. It would mean so much to me…if you would accept these. Every Christmas day, I will know that these ornaments are hanging on your tree…and that we have become a small part of your life’s story. Please…”
They looked down at the ornaments in their hands…
“Thank you,” they said humbly and the woman reached out and quickly gave both men a hug before turning on her heels and hurrying back into the house.
The ambulance backed up to the doors at Rampart and the attendants jumped out and withdrew the gurney. They wheeled it into the treatment room where Dix and Dr. Kelly Brackett were already waiting. Roy and John assisted the man onto the treatment table.
“Okay gentleman,” Kel Brackett said in a low voice as he turned his wrist to look at his watch. A serious frown appeared on his face as he looked up to address his two paramedics. “I granted the “slight detour” you requested…now what gives?”
“Sorry Doc,” John said contritely “there was a very special Christmas gift we had to deliver that just couldn’t wait.”
Kel Brackett folded his arms and waited for Johnny to continue with his explanation, and then soon realized that was all the young man was going to offer up.
Mike Garman looked past the doctor and stared intently at both paramedics.
"I-I really don’t know how to thank you both. No…no words can even come close to...," he paused as the realization hit him that there was no need for a dramatic or emotional display. He sensed the two paramedics already knew and understood the depth of his gratitude. John reached out to squeeze him gently on the shoulder.
"You're very welcome Mike. We are both so glad that it worked out…for all of you. Take care of yourself…ok?" the dark haired paramedic replied as they made their way out the door.
Mike Garman nodded as he watched the men depart.
"Did I miss something?" Dix asked, looking at the dark haired doctor.
“You were on break when this call came in. The boys had asked me, since their patient was stable, if they could take a brief detour before bringing him into the ER. They said they would explain later; and Gage, in my opinion, did not supply much in the way of an explanation. I don’t know…maybe their patient is just grateful to them for rescuing him,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders.
"Maybe, but that doesn’t explain the “detour” part," Dix said, her keen womanly instincts kicking in. “There is something more...something much more."
“Well, you have as much information as I do. I don’t know what the big secret is. Maybe you can finagle it out of those two later, but right now…I have a patient to attend to,” he said matter-of-factly as he spun around and strode toward the table.
Dixie smiled as she thought about her two favorite men in blue. They were pretty special… and she could tell the patient lying before her had, somehow, come to that understanding as well.
Roy and John finally returned to the station at 5:26am. The partners had not spoken a word since dropping off their patient in the capable hands of the Rampart staff. They were beat, but both knew there was no way they could sleep after what they had just experienced. A sense of peace and tranquility had replaced the frustration and aggravation they had felt for most of the shift. The two had received an amazing gift this Christmas morning, and they both knew it.
Hank suddenly appeared from around the front of the engine. He walked towards the squad and leaned down resting his forearms on the hood. John and Roy opened the doors and stepped out. They each flanked either side of the truck and copied their boss’s actions.
“Cap, what are you still doing up?”
“I don’t know…I guess I just couldn’t sleep. So can you tell me? How did it go?”
John’s hand went up to the right side of his chest and unbuttoned his shirt pocket. He reached in and removed the little silver ornament and held it gently in his hands.
“It…it was an amazing experience, Cap… and also heartbreakingly sad at the same time.”
“Did you get him there in time?”
“Yea, but just barely. I think they each got to say…what they needed to…before the father passed away. At first it felt like…like we were intruding. I mean, this is about as personal as it gets for a family. But then everyone in the room was just a part of what was happening. I think for both Roy and I…it was difficult not to act. I have never stood by and passively watched a person’s life end without trying to do…something. That was kind of hard.”
The senior paramedic nodded in agreement. “I hadn’t gone into detail with Brackett on the radio about why would be delayed,” Roy said, “but I don’t think he was expecting us to take as long as we did.”
“Was he mad? I can call and talk to him Roy…”
“No…no Cap he wasn’t mad or anything. But I don’t think he felt Johnny here elaborated enough on our explanation; but it really wasn’t the time or place to do that. The man had been through enough. Brackett let it go and we will square it up with him later…I’m not concerned. The family needed closure, and Johnny and I had it within our control to help them with that. It was the right decision and we have no regrets.”
Hank looked upon his two paramedics with admiration before speaking.
“This has, unfortunately, been a day of people displaying nothing but insensitivity, rudeness, and in some cases, out and out hatred. There hasn’t been much good will demonstrated on any of the calls we have gone on.” He paused trying to find the right words. Hank was not a very demonstrative person by nature…but on this day, he wanted to convey his true feelings to the men before him. “You two went above and beyond for that family tonight. You put aside the negative feelings we have all been carrying today…and acted from your hearts. I have never been more proud to have you guys as part of my crew…or what an extreme privilege it is that you two are a part of our “family”. Merry Christmas boys,” Hank said before he turned and walked quietly back to the dorm.
“Merry Christmas Cap,” they called after him.
The men grinned at each other, walking in the opposite direction of the dorm and entering the day room. The light was on over the sink in the otherwise darkened room. Roy pulled two chairs up in front of the television set and then reached over to turn it on before sitting down. “It’s a Wonderful Life” again, appeared on the screen.
John had made a left behind his partner and walked over to the fridge; opening it up and grabbing the carton of milk inside.
“Roy?” he said as he held it up in his left hand with a questioning look on his face.
The blonde haired man turned in his seat to stare behind him “Yea partner…thanks.”
John shut the door and walked over to the sink and picked up two clean glasses and tucked them carefully under his left arm. As he made his way back, he stopped off at the cookie jar and removed the lid. He reached in and shoved one into his mouth, half of it hanging out…and grabbed another handful. He walked over to his partner and gave him some cookies and motioned for him to grab the glasses. Roy complied and held them as John filled each one. The dark haired paramedic then settled himself in the chair and placed the container on the floor next to him. He reached over and retrieved his glass from Roy’s outstretched hand. They both turned their attention to the screen as they munched on cookies and sipped milk. The station remained silent for the next hour and a half except for the low murmur of the actors talking. The final scene of the movie was playing.
Zuzu Bailey: “Look, Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.”
George Bailey: “That’s right, that’s right.”
George Bailey: “Attaboy Clarence”
John reached his arm out and shut of the TV, and then looked over at his partner as he leaned back into the chair.
“Frank Garman was right,” he said softly as he clasped his hands together.
Roy looked over at his partner and best friend.
“I look back at the last twenty-three hours and how the situations and people we encountered affected my attitude. I can honestly say that I had pretty much written off Christmas this year. All I wanted to do was get off duty, go home and crawl into bed, and sleep the day away…trying to forget.”
The blonde haired paramedic shook his head up and down.
“Me too Johnny, it wasn’t just you.”
“It took a guy, who wanted nothing more than to see his father again, and a dying man… to restore my holiday spirit. Frank Garman recognized and embraced the things in life that are truly meaningful. He could have held onto anger, hatred, and resentment, and let Mike live the rest of his days with the regret he knew he was carrying. Instead, his final wish was for his son to have peace.”
The dark haired paramedic paused before giving a slow nod of his head.
“This Christmas Frank Garman both received and shared the greatest gift there is...Love.”
Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year
Published to site 12/14/13
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