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This is the follow-up to the story ‘Another Fishing Trip’ where John, Roy and Chet make some new friends in Frank Dillon and Julie Clark. Julie just happens to be the daughter of one of Hank’s former Captains and once had a severe crush on him. For the sake of guessing I’ll say that this story takes up about three months after the last one lets off and I would recommend very much reading the other first because there are little things here and there that will make more sense if you do.
John turned into the drive that led to the back of the station. As he pulled in he noticed an unfamiliar car pull over in front of the station and through his rear view mirror he noticed Chet Kelly climb out of the passenger door. Stopping briefly to turn around and examine the driver of the car John could only tell that it was a woman dressed in a white nurse’s uniform and with a smirk and a shake of his head John pulled on into a parking slot then hurried in to greet his coworker.
John was surprised that Chet wasn’t standing in front of his locker when he reached the locker room and even more surprised with the slow steps Chet took when he entered.
John had already pulled his shirt off when Chet walked in. “Looks like you got lucky after the bowling match last night.” John grinned and turned to his locker.
“What?” John heard Chet question in a voice that sounded disoriented and caused him to turn his complete attention onto his friend and coworker. John’s first thoughts were that Chet was hung-over and he couldn’t quite believe that Chet would do anything as irresponsible as to show up to work in that condition.
“Wasn’t that Julie that just dropped you off?”
“No, no I ah, I don’t know who she was. I didn’t get her name.” Chet turned to face John with a look of confusion and then he sort of stumbled. John grabbed for his friends upper arm to steady him and ease him to a sitting position on the bench.
Once Chet turned to face him, John’s eyes opened wide. The confused sounding voice was enough to cause concern but the look on his face confirmed the confusion. Then looking a little lower John noticed that the area of Chet’s neck that showed between the top few unbuttoned buttons of his shirt was black and blue, brightly black and blue.
“Are you okay, Chet?” John asked while giving Marco a look that sent him into action to go find the Captain.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine, I think, um, anyway I’ve been cleared for duty,” Chet responded. His voice was slower than usual but his words were clear and not slurred, there was no smell of alcohol on his breath but John was sure he was slightly impaired. He worried about getting his friend into trouble with the Captain but there was no way he was safe to be on duty. What did he mean when he said he had been cleared for duty?
By the time John had counted a pulse and respirations, Cap was through the door and he too was quick to see the bruises on his lineman’s neck.
“Hey, Chet, what seems to be the problem here?” Hank questioned as he locked eyes with John to see that there was indeed something to be concerned about.
“No, no problem, Cap, Why do you ask?”
Cap picked up on the sound of the man’s voice and his first response was to check Chet’s breathe for the smell of alcohol. He knew the absence of the smell was not proof that he was sober but just like John he had trouble believing his trusted lineman would show up for work while being intoxicated. But still something wasn’t right and what was the story behind the bruises?
“That’s not a hickey is it?” Hank spoke softly for John’s ears only as he gestured toward Chet’s neck.
John carefully pulled Chet’s shirt collar away from his neck and noticed that the bruising went all the way around the front of his neck, and toward the shoulders there was obvious markings left by fingers. John shook his head negatively to his Captain’s question. His friend had been strangled, that much was for sure.
“NO,” Chet paused and took a breath and blew it out. “There’s no reason to do that.”
“Are you challenging your Captain?” Hank spoke sternly.
“NO, no, Cap, nothing like that. It’s just that I’ve already been checked out by a doctor.”
Chet reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. “I’ve been cleared for duty, he even had one of his nurses drive me to work.”
Hank took the paper from Chet’s hand and unfolded it. “I, um, I just feel a little off this morning, I’m not sure, I’m not sure I should really be here.” Chet shared his honest feelings as he slumped on the bench.
Hank shared eye contact with John again before turning his attention to the paper in his hands. Everyone noticed Hank’s eyes go wide. “You spent last night in intensive care over at Harbor!”
“Yeah, they said it was for observation and to make sure the swelling in my throat wouldn’t cause problems with my breathing.”
“I don’t know there, Chet. There’s quite a list of things to be careful not to do here. What do you say we have John and Roy look you over good and then call our docs to get a second opinion on this release for duty? You look like maybe you should be home in bed not pulling hose.”
Chet looked at John and gave a subtle acceptance to his orders.
“Let’s move him into the day room where he can sit in a chair with a back on it,” John instructed and Cap stepped forward to take one of Chet’s arms while Marco ran for the drug box from the squad.
Roy was already dressed and reading a book while enjoying a morning cup of coffee when the men eased through the door. He quickly jumped into the action and with two shifts still in the building Chet soon had four paramedics looking him over while Hank moved to the phone to call Rampart and give them the information on the paper he was holding before handing the phone to one of the paramedics.
“Rampart, this is Captain Stanley of Station 51. We seem to have a man down here at the station; could you please get a doctor ready for my men to inform him of their findings.” Hank had just been told that there would be a doctor available in a few minutes when the next line into the station rang.
Hank put the first line on hold and answered the second line prepared to make it a short call. “Los Angeles County Fire Station 51, Captain Stanley speaking.”
“Captain Stanley, this is Chris Kelly, Chet Kelly’s sister, I’m trying to find my brother. Is he by any chance at the fire station?”
“Yes he is.” Hank was surprised at the call.
“Captain Stanley, he’s not well, he was injured last night and left the hospital this morning against his doctors instructions.”
“Miss, he’s being looked at as we speak but I’m a little confused, he handed me a release from his doctor and claims he had his nurse drive him to work this morning.”
Hank could hear talking in the background on the phone then a new voice came to the phone. “Who was the doctor that signed the form you’re holding?”
Hank looked at the usual places for official signatures and then twisted the paper to try and decipher the doctor’s name. “It’s kinda hard to tell, but who ever sighed this is definitely a doctor. I can recognize the MD on the end of it but I’m not sure, ah… I think his name starts with a T, maybe Thomas and then next capital letter looks like a, well I think it’s either a G or a C put I’m not sure.”
Hank heard a huge sigh on the other end of the phone and then silence followed a moment later by a deep breath. “Henry, get him to Rampart. I’ll have Dr. Milner call in a consultation and whatever you do, don’t let that piece of paper out of your hands. Have them photo copy it for their files but keep the original, do you understand?”
Hank was surprised by what he was hearing but once he had been addressed by his given name instead of the nickname he preferred he knew who was talking to him and felt as if he could trust her. The hushed, almost whisper, in which she gave her last instructions had him feeling something sinister had happened. He said a quick goodbye then went back to the line where the hospital was on hold. Dr. Brackett was just picking up the phone when he did.
“51, this is Dr. Brackett. What have you got there?”
Just then a man walked up to Hank in uniform announcing he was a replacement for his injured lineman and Hank was sure once again that something was amiss.
“Dr. Brackett, we have a man that reported for duty this morning that seems a little off, when we questioned him he said he was cleared for duty this morning and was even given a ride to work by the doctor’s nurse. According to the papers he handed me he spent the night in ICU at Harbor Medical and he is showing some impressive bruising around his throat and one shoulder. I just got a call from his sister looking for him and she states he’s listed as checking out against medical advice from said intensive care unit. I’ve been advised to get him back to you as quickly as possible. I’ll give the phone to one of my paramedics to update you on their findings and vitals and such.”
Roy took the phone and started calling out vitals which were all stable and in good range before he did his best to describe the extent and location of the bruising. While Roy talked to the doctor, Johnny was looking his friend over good and found the sight of the newly discontinued IV as well as the puncture points on both wrists for blood gasses and another puncture site he guessed was for blood drawn for lab work.
He found Chet cooperative and willingly submitting to the exam but was stunned by his appearance. He had just spent the night before with him and a mutual friend bowling and all had been fine with his fellow firefighter when Chet left to take their friend back to his dorm.
“What happened to you, Chet? Frank didn’t do this to you did he?”
“No, not Frank, well he was sort of responsible for the bruise on my chest here,” Chet pointed to his chest, “but um, well I guess you could say I was being fought over.”
“Just tell me what happened.” John could see Chet was having trouble putting it all together.
“When I got Frank back to his training center last night there was a new guy there that I hadn’t met before. As soon as we were through the door he and Frank started getting into it over whose friend I was and before I knew it the other guy had his arm around my neck trying to pull me off somewhere. It was kind of hard to breathe and I remember Frank calling for Jake, the guy on duty, and then trying to pull this other guy’s arm away from my throat. At one point he put one hand on my chest and was pushing while he pulled at the guy’s arm with his other hand. When the staff got involved I remember trying to relax in hopes that I’d be able to breathe a little until they got the other guy off of me and then the next thing I know I’m coming around and I’ve got an oxygen mask being held tight to my face and Daines out of 49’s saying that I was breathing on my own now and was starting to come around.”
Chet paused in his narrative as the four paramedics looking him over exchanged concerned looks. “While the paramedics out of 49’s were working on me I was aware of Frank holding my hand and the other kid off in a corner with police and Jake, and he was just pouting about how Frank wouldn’t share.”
It was recommended that Chet be placed on oxygen and he was surprisingly calm as they laid him out on the stretcher when the ambulance arrived. Hank requested the outgoing Captain to remain on duty while he went with Chet to the hospital to find out what happened.
True to his instructions, Hank did not let the paper detailing Chet’s release from his grip. He even insisted on photo copying it himself. Before a fresh set of x-rays were completed a Doctor Milner and the Administrator from Harbor Medical were in Rampart’s Emergency Department talking with Dr. Brackett.
It was the administrator from Harbor who requested the release document from Hank several times but Hank wouldn’t give it up. He once again made a copy of it and let the man take that but it had been clear from the first moment that the administrator was most interested in damage control and protecting his hospital. Both men from Harbor left after it was determined that Chet would be admitted into Rampart for the time being. Hank returned to the station with his paramedics and the original copy of Chet’s release papers.
A few minutes after everyone had left, Dr. Milner returned to the emergency department and seeing Dr. Brackett standing in the hall looking over a chart he quietly stepped up to him and touched his arm to get his attention. “Is there someplace private we can talk for a moment?”
Kell quickly lead him to his office.
As soon as Dr. Milner sat in the chair that Kell motioned him to, he started to talk. “You’re a doctor of high reputation and I’m sure you didn’t buy a word of what the administrator was trying to bluff. I’m here to tell you you’re right and add one more little piece of information before I ask a huge favor of you. First of all, you have to know that Dr. Thomas Crammer is an exceptional doctor but I’m not defending his actions in this case. He never should have even looked at this man seeing as it was his little brother that attacked him.”
“I see,” Kell sighed in understanding, “He was trying to lessen the extent of the injuries in an attempt to keep his brother from facing criminal charges.”
“More like keep him from being removed from the facility he’s currently in.” Dr. Milner went farther than he had intended, “His brother is mentally handicapped, it’s unlikely he would be deemed competent to face any charges. As far as Dr. Crammer goes, I think we can both be pretty sure the administrator is going to see to it that it’s going to be very difficult to prove any wrong doing on his part even with that piece of paper that Mr. Kelly’s captain wisely kept a hold of.
“That leads to the big favor I’m about to ask. The nurse that put all the pieces together, or rather the student nurse, well she’s almost finished with her clinicals but if she has to work with Crammer during her ER rotation, he’ll see to it that she’s washed out or at least black listed.”
Roy and Johnny checked in on Chet every time they brought a patient in to Rampart. All afternoon they found him sleeping comfortably needing only a nasal cannula to meet his oxygen needs. Every time they returned to the station from Rampart, Cap was waiting for a report on his lineman. It was their last trip up to Chet’s room that evening, just before visiting hours closed for the night that they finally found Chet awake. Not only was he awake he looked and acted like himself and he also had other visitors.
“R…Roy! J…Johnny!” Frank greeted loud enough to wake every patient on the floor.
With smiles on their faces Roy reached out to shake Frank’s hand only to be pulled into an exuberant hug. Johnny was captured next and given his hug. Julie just remained on the other side of the bed and smiled at the two paramedics as they interacted with the mentally handicapped young man she held guardianship over.
“You sure look a lot better than you did the last time I saw you.” Julie reached out to shake hands with Roy.
“I’m feeling a lot better, too. I don’t think I ever properly thanked you for everything you did for us after the accident and then getting me home when complications set in.
Thank you so much. I know my wife asked several times for me to invite you over for dinner some night but I didn’t know how to get a hold of you. And I know that dinner invitation includes Frank here.” Roy reached out and put his arm around Frank’s shoulders and gave him a sideways squeeze.
“We can c…come on S…S…Saturday,” Frank volunteered. “I can h…help f…fix d…dinner and then we can g…go bowling afterword. Mrs. Roy c…can c…come, t…too.”
Roy smiled to buy time as he thought through his schedule. He was off that day so he thought they might be able to work that out. “What do you say I talk with my wife and we’ll have Chet tell you what time, okay?”
“Well, we have to be going so that I can get Frank back before curfew,” Julie said with a smile. “We’ll be here about three tomorrow afternoon to take you home. Oh. Jake and I got your van to your duplex this afternoon. Some of the residents were so happy to see it there this morning that they spent the whole day looking in every closet and drawer to find out where you were hiding.”
Chet laughed and Julie made her way out stopping to give Roy a kiss on the cheek, really she was whispering in his ear. “I know you don’t realize it yet but in Frank’s language you just said yes to Saturday night and the only things he knows how to cook so far other than canned soups and vegetables, are mac & cheese and Rice-a-Roni.”
After Julie and Frank left, the three firemen, one a patient, turned serious. “Thanks, guys, for taking care of me this morning. Dr. Brackett sat down with me once I finally slept off the drugs they gave me and explained what he and some other doctors are sure really happened. He thinks that they were trying to get me fired from the fire department to ruin my credibility if I tried to take the kid that attacked me to court.”
“Well Cap’s still got that release form you had in your pocket with the doctor’s signature and I can testify that you were dropped off at the station by someone in a nurse’s uniform,” Johnny informed his friend with more than a hint of anger in his voice.
“What are you going to do?” Roy questioned. He, too, knew his friend had a good case.
“Dr. Brackett said that the drugs I had in my system can affect my judgment for a couple of days so I think I’ll wait ‘til I’m home and then maybe talk to someone first. Brackett said I should be able to go back to work next shift. He’ll have me come in the night before so he can check me out first though.”
“Well you look tons better already. I just hope you can sleep tonight after sleeping all day long.” John gave one of his patented smiles along with a slap on Chet’s leg.
The overhead paging system announced the end of visiting hours so the two paramedics moved toward the door. “Everyone says to tell you ‘hi’ and we’ll look forward to seeing you back at work next shift.”
Chet did have kind of a restless night but still slept enough to feel rested when the hospital staff started running all the blood tests the doctor ordered so the results would be ready when the doctor did his rounds.
As soon as his shift mates were released from duty they all stopped by to check on their friend and were pleased to find him looking so much better and that his black and blue marks were starting to fade to green and yellow.
Chet spent the day having some tests run to confirm there were no fractures in the small bones in his throat and no brain damage from the lack of oxygen. Later that afternoon Julie and Frank arrived to give Chet a ride home where Frank used his color coded measuring cups and spoons and his special cook book to fix a dinner of a macaroni and cheese casserole with tuna and vegetables and instant pudding for dessert.
While Frank was alone in the kitchen laboriously cooking, Julie sat with Chet where she could watch every move her charge made. Chet sat next to her and smiled as he watched the pride in her eyes as well as noticed the extreme effort it was taking for her to stay sitting and let Frank cook by himself.
“So how are your clinicals coming?” Chet tried some small talk to help Julie relax a little. He also wanted to find out something else. “Are there any problems for you from calling my little issue to someone’s attention?”
For the first time Julie took her eyes off Frank as she turned to look Chet eye to eye. “Nothing really, it’s just been decided that it would be best for all involved if I transferred over to Rampart to finish my clinicals. I start in the Emergency Department there tomorrow.”
“Don’t blame yourself; this is actually a better deal for me.” Julie started to absolve Chet of any guilt he was feeling. “They’ve got a head nurse there that is former military and she’ll help me understand Dr. Frick and the way he works better for when I finish my degree and go back home.”
“Is there any chance of convincing you to stay around here when you’re done with school?” Chet once again brought Julie’s eyes away from Frank and his work as she turned a surprised look in Chet’s direction.
Chet let the silence linger for just a moment but then Julie’s questioning stare started getting to him. “I mean, well I know I’m not a Roy or a Carl but I think you’re a very special person and I like your company.”
Julie was unable to answer Chet’s question but Chet could tell that she was thinking about it and that was enough for him at the moment.
As if to change the subject, Julie cleared her throat. “There’s a question I’ve been wanting to ask you. I’m really amazed at how good you are with Frank and at least most of the residents at the training center. Is there someone in your family like Frank?”
Chet smiled and then grimaced a little. “Not in my family but when I was a kid, oh say around eight, nine years old, a family moved in next door that had a son with Down’s syndrome. The couple even took in foster kids with the same problem from time to time. The foster kids never stayed long, no more than a couple of months. They were just there until they could find the proper facility to place them. I think they might have become that kind of facility if it weren’t that the neighbors made it clear that they didn’t want to have that kind of thing in their back yard.
“I think it was listening to the adults talk that got us kids all worked up but that’s still no excuse for the way we treated Chris. He just wanted someone to play with. Every time we’d ride our bikes past his yard he’d run up to the fence and try to talk with us. One day we filled a bunch of squirt guns, three or four a piece, with every vile thing we could think of. Paint, cleaning fluids, I think one of the guys urinated it his. Anyway when Chris ran up to see us we lured him into a corner of his yard so that we could get at him from more directions and let him have it. Someone managed to get him in the eye with something that burned and well, we all got in trouble. The police were called and we were all told that we had to go over and apologize. My mom went one step farther and went over to get to know the parents and find out what I could do to really repent for my wrongdoings. Anyway, part of my punishment became going over and reading to Chris three days a week for a month. It was a real lesson in rebuilding trust. The first few times I read to him he locked the screen door to keep me out and I had to set on the porch and read to him through the screen. Then around the second week he unlocked the door and came to sit by me so that he could see the pictures. I remember being really surprised that he was capable of locking and unlocking the door. I later found out he could play some board games and was actually pretty good at checkers.
“Anyway when the month was up I continued to read to him. The kids who had helped me do such hateful things to him turned on me for a while but Chris and I became friends. I don’t know what more I can say, we became the kind of friends that the other boys had never been.”
Chet’s eyes grew moist and Julie smiled. “Where is Chris now?”
“He passed away when he was about fourteen. He got Leukemia.” Chet took a moment to get his remembered emotions in check. “The family decided to stop treatment after the first couple of weeks in the hospital. When I found out I was furious, I thought it was just because he was, you know, handicapped, One day I saw his father out working in the yard and I gave him a piece of my mind. Man, if my mom had heard some of the words I said that day, I’d have been eating soap for a month. “Anyway a few hours later both his mom and dad came over and asked my parents if they could talk with me and once I realized I wasn’t in for the worst punishment of my life they explained that the treatment made Chris so sick that he couldn’t enjoy life and that at the best it was only going to lengthen his life by a month, maybe two at the most. So they chose to take him to Disneyland once every couple of weeks and let him have fun as long as he could instead of just making the rest of his life miserable with chemotherapy.”
There was a somber silence between Chet and Julie then Chet spoke again showing his admiration for Julie. “In a lot of ways Chris was the best friend I ever had. As far as the kids at the training center go, I just pretty much follow your lead. You are so good with them and help them get the most out of the life that they have.”
“I’m not sure why we call them kids.” Julie smiled with moist eyes as she turned her attention back to Frank who was successfully finishing up dinner. “Frank there is actually five years older than I am.”
With no words to say for the moment they watched Frank move the food to the table in silence and snickered very quietly as they watched him consult a special page in his cook book to guide him in setting the table.
Once the meal was served dinner conversation was turned over to Frank who talked about his job trial at the police station washing the police cars. “It was o…o…okay I…I g…guess. The o…other g…guy with me k…k…kept t…turning on the s…sirens so we m…might not go b…back t…there for a w…while. I asked R…Rick if I c…could get a job trial w…washing f…f…fire engines, but he said y…y…you firemen w…wash your own t…trucks cause y…you’re not as b…busy as p…p…policemen.”
“That’s right we do wash our own trucks for lots of reasons not just because we’re not as busy. We have to make sure all of our equipment is cleaned regularly and just right,” Chet defended the honor of firemen everywhere even though he knew Frank wasn’t putting firemen down. The person who had talked to him had, in Chet’s mind. “We have to make sure all the fire hose is loaded just right so that it comes off of the truck in a hurry when we need it.”
“I n…n…know h…how to d…do th…that.” Frank spoke excitedly as he proceeded to tell Chet all about how to turn the hose at the connections so that the connections were always pointing to the back of the engine so they didn’t get stuck when you were at a fire. Chet really enjoyed listening to Frank’s description of this mundane part of his work. Even with his stutter it was fun to see him so excited about something. As he listened Chet started to get some ideas but he didn’t know how to act on those ideas. A quick glance at Julie and Chet realized that if he could find a job somewhere in the department for Frank then Julie would hang around to keep an eye on him.
Those thoughts kept churning through Chet’s mind all night and throughout the next day. He couldn’t wait to get back to work and check out a few things.
After a restful day at home Chet happily reported for duty. He was already dressed in his uniform and had five freshly cleaned uniforms slung over his shoulder and his duffel bag in his other hand. After entering the station he went straight to the Captain’s office before going to the locker room. As he waited for permission to enter the office Chet noticed the squad was out on a run and listened to the morning greetings of his fellow shift mates and smiled contentedly.
As soon as Captain Stanley and Mike finished receiving reports from the previous Captain and Engineer the office was vacated except for Captain Stanley and Chet was beckoned in and directed to a chair.
“Chester B. Kelly reporting for duty,” the smile that came with the report was nearly intoxicating as Chet set his duffel bag at his feet before pulling out his release paper signed by Dr. Brackett.
Captain and lineman talked a moment of what had happened and what had been done to make sure headquarters understood the situation last shift. Chet revealed that he had spoken to a lawyer and charges had been pressed if for no other reason than to get justice for the nurse who had been fired as a scapegoat for the incident. Chet had no idea what would happen next or when. He’d been told by the lawyer that he’d keep him informed.
“Will you let everyone know roll call in three minutes?” Cap requested when Chet was released from the office. Chet had just called out the three minute warning to everyone in the day room as he walked by and then to Johnny and Roy as they passed each other as he walked across the bay on his way to the locker room to place his uniforms and duffel bag in his locker.
The two paramedics held up in the bay as they heard the bay doors opening and watched as the squad back into its parking spot.
“Hey, Gage!” McGuire called out at the same time he was climbing out of the squad. There’s a new hot nurse at Rampart. At least ten other medics and myself are entering in a pool to see who can be the first to get a date with said nurse.”
John groaned. “Don’t you remember how badly things turned out the last time you did that?”
“Yeah, but wait ‘til you see Julie,” Dwyer called out from the other side of the squad.
“She’s something else, a real doll to look at and the spunk and fire of Dixie all rolled up in one.”
“Did you say Julie, as is Julie Clark?” Johnny questioned.
“Don’t think I’m going to fall for that one Gage. Ain’t no way she’s agreed to go out with you already. You haven’t even met her yet ‘cuz she’s only been at Rampart for two days.”
“We know her,” Johnny responded with a smirk. “Her father is close friends with our Captain.”
“She’s the one who helped us out and saw to it that we got back home after we were in that car accident while we were on vacation a few months back.” Roy put some light on the subject. He was pretty sure from what little he knew about the young woman that having every single male paramedic competing for her attention was the last thing Julie would want.
“Besides she’s not unattached,” Johnny added with a smile and a nod toward Chet who was headed back from the locker room hoping to get a donut before roll call. “Hey, Chet, did you know Julie is working at Rampart now?”
“Yeah, she started there two days ago after that thing with…“ Chet didn’t say any more but he pointed to his throat.
The two outgoing paramedics started laughing. “Kelly?”
“From what I hear Chester B here is spending all of his spare time wrestling with retards.”
“And losing.” The two off-going paramedics continued to laugh hysterically as Roy, John, and Chet took on serious and disgusted looks.
“Well,” Chet took in and let out a deep breath, “I guess I won’t get any competition from the likes of these guys.” With that he turned and walked into the kitchen in silence.
“I have to agree with Chet,” Johnny added before he walked off.
“Same here.” Roy then joined his partner leaving the other two paramedics to finally realize they were the only ones laughing.
Hank heard the conversation in the bay and was just taking a deep breath before stepping in to reprimand the two laughing paramedics, but when all was said and done by three of his own crew he felt as if he couldn’t say anything better or more effective.
The first run of the morning was a car accident and while Chet was helping to move a frightened three year old from one of the cars the kid bit him. Nothing really serious but it was decided by all concerned that it should be looked at by a doctor just to make sure no further treatment was needed.
He rode in the squad with Roy and as they drove the conversation was on how frustrated they thought Julie must be at all the attention the single paramedics were sending her way.
When they arrived at the hospital they found three paramedics getting in Julie’s way as she tried to move a cart full of supplies to restock one of the treatment rooms. Johnny was talking with Dixie and whatever was said it was enough to get her to interfere and Julie was assigned to assist Dr. Morton in looking over Chet’s bite.
There was one tiny section where the skin was broken so Julie handed Dr. Morton the antibiotic salve and the band-aid he applied over the top of it. The whole treatment took five minutes and that included the two minutes it took Chet to inform Julie about the barbeque and get Julie’s permission for him to announce publicly that he was taking her.
“I’ll pick you up at ten tomorrow morning,” Chet called out for the benefit of the other Wana’bes as he left the treatment room and met up with his smiling crewmates just in time to hear the tones go off on the handy talkie calling them to a structure fire.
Dixie was happy to inform the stunned intended suitors that she had just learned that Julie and Chet were a preexisting relationship.
The structure fire didn’t turn out to be much of a structure; it was a ten by twelve foot shed in the middle of a dirt field. The reason it was in the middle of a dirt field was that it was packed full of flammable liquids and there were multiple explosions before they got the fire out. There was also nothing left but the ashes of the structure and the contents when they were finished and the dirt field was now a mud field with a lot of that mud on the sides of the fire engine and coating the fire hose that was strewn about.
While they cleaned up they overheard the foreman fire a guy for setting the fire off with his cigarette. About all they could do in response was to shake their heads.
They had just reloaded the hose when they were called to assist with another structure fire. This one turned out to be just across the street from the training center where Frank was staying.
They were the fourth engine in, on a fully involved three story apartment building, and Hank was quick to notice one familiar mentally handicapped man helping the paramedics place blankets around the shoulders of some of the victims that had been gathered at the triage station.
Chief McConnike had already directed Station 51 to cover the south face of the building.
Their main assignment was to keep the area cooled down and prevent the fire from spreading to neighboring structures. While they were about their responsibilities Hank noticed Frank’s efforts in keeping his fellow residents back away from the fire equipment and how he helped move evacuees onto a transport bus that would take them to a place where the Red Cross would see to it that they were kept warm, dry and meet their other needs of food and at least short term shelter.
The Chief walked over to Engine 51 personally to tell them to shut down and start pulling the hose in. He shared the news that an illegal drug lab set up in one of the apartments had been the cause of the fire. His tone was one of disgust as he talked of the handicapped people that had been used as a shield to hide their activities and were now displaced. He then ran his finger through what was now several layers of full out grime on the side of the engine before giving one of the hoses on the ground a good kick and still not seeing the hose for all the mud and grime that was stuck to it.
McConnike was guilty of enjoying the fact that he could intimidate Captain Henry Stanley. He delighted in watching him squirm in his presence and there were a few captains under his charge that this sight would have brought an immediate reprimand or even a one shift suspension but he also knew and respected this captain and his crew enough to know that the state of this fire engine and equipment was not due to neglect.
“Looks like she’s seen some hard action this morning.” He gestured toward the engine.
Every firefighter knew it was the engine that was the Lady of the Station.
“Yes sir,” Hank answered still intimidated but relieved that he wasn’t already suspended for a week without pay. “We were just pulling in the hose from what turned out to be a real muddy mess when we got the call to join in here.”
McConnike nodded his head in understanding remembering that Engine 51 had been the fourth unit in and remembering at least a couple of lengths of hose had looked like it had just been tossed in the bed of the truck when they arrived. They could have lost more than just the one building though if 51 hadn’t arrived when they did.
“Do you think two hours of down time is going to be enough to get her back in shape?”
Hank felt guilty because his immediate thoughts were on his empty stomach and the lunch that was two hours late already not to mention he and this crew were just as dirty and grimy as the engine. But part of the reason they had been pulled into this fire before they had cleaned up after the last one is that they barely had enough fire stations in service to cover the valley as it was. Because fires like the last two didn’t happen on a daily basis and even more rarely happened back to back, it wasn’t likely that more stations would be built soon and all the more reason to get back in service as soon as possible.
“Yes sir, thank you sir,” Hank barked out while his men pulled in the hose and wondered how much effort they wanted to put into properly loading the hose when they were just going to pull it all off again so they could put on clean hose once they cleaned up the engine once they reached the station. Mike was the first one to speak up once the Chief was out of hearing range. “It’s going to be mighty hard to get her ship shape in just two hours.”
“Cap,” Chet stepped up with a hesitant look on his face. “I might be able to get us some help.”
Hank gave his lineman a questioning stare and his gaze was directed to the man with a stutter who was explaining to a dozen others why they needed to stay back away from the fire engine and let the firemen do their work. He didn’t feel comfortable having a mentally handicapped man helping with clean up but if all he did was wash the engine, which Hank was sure he could handle, then that would free someone up to get some lunch ready.
“Do you think they’d allow that?” Hank gestured toward the training center. “We’d have to have someone to handle him if we were to get a call while he’s at the station.”
“Give me a minute and I’ll find out.” Chet’s feet were in motion before he finished his response to his captain and since he had spent so much time at the training center Chet knew quickly who to talk to about inviting Frank to the station.
Chet was back before the rest of the crew had loaded a length of hose to report to his captain that the center needed to find something for Frank to do to get him out of the center for a while because Mark, the man who had tried to take Chet away from Frank, strangling him in the process, was on the war path again and they wanted to separate the two. Jake, one of the workers at the center would requisition a van and have Frank at the station as soon as they got everyone else out off the street and back into the center.
As it turned out the van from the training center followed them back to the station and Chet was able to signal to them from his seat on the engine that they should pull into the back.
The engine was only backed in as far as the front apron to avoid making a huge mess in the bay and Chet hurried to greet his friend before standing back and allowing him to present himself to the Captain.
“ F…F…F…Fire t…t…truck w…w…washer F…Frank D…D…Dillon r…r…reporting for duty.”
There was a resemblance of a salute involved and if Hank stretched his imagination a little he could see that the man was at least trying to stand at attention, although he was bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet with such nervous excitement that it was hard to tell.
“Thank you for your assistance and welcome to 51’s.” Hank extended a hand that was taken by both of Frank’s hands and shaken ‘til his arm nearly came loose at the shoulder. “I’ll put you under the direction of Fireman Kelly here and let you get to work.”
Chet pointed the way to the back of the engine and Hank watched as Frank stepped up on the tail board with the same ease Kelly did and with only a few seconds of instruction was able to work his arm through the loops of the hose in the bed and pull a huge section of dirty hose off onto the floor. By the time Hank had assigned Lopez to get something going for them all to eat and offered a welcoming handshake to the man called Jake, the hose bed was emptied awaiting Mike, John and Roy to pull the clean and dried hose from the hose rack in preparation of reloading the hose bed once it had been cleaned out.
Both Chet and Frank grabbed a bucket and filled it with water and soap and while Chet took on the hose bed to get the muck cleaned out from there. Frank went straight for the front of the engine and started to wash across the face with a soapy sponge. Hank watched the young man, somewhat nervous that he was out of sight of Chet Kelly.
When he rapidly soaped up the whole front of the engine Hank feared he wouldn’t really clean it just go through the rabid motions. However once Frank had the front of the engine soaped up he then moved to one section near the top and began to work in earnest to get every speck of dirt off. This man, even though mentally handicapped, had learned that if you apply soapy water and give it a minute to soften up the dirt that things came clean easier and quicker. Hank sighed in relief and moved into his office to catch up on the log books and reports. Jake, seeing that Frank was being supervised as well as he needed to be by Fireman Kelly, found his way into the kitchen and offered to help Marco prepare a meal.
To Hank’s pleasant surprise by the time he had filled out reports on the last two fires and updated the report on their first run with Kelly’s medical report on his bite, the engine was backed into the bay and looking ready for a parade as the men were gathering together to get clean hoses loaded into the bed.
To his uncertain surprise he saw Kelly and their guest Frank climbing into the hose bed to receive the hose. As he stood and watched Hank noticed the uncertain look on his engineer’s face and that Kelly wasn’t giving a lot of instruction. The two men were just pulling in the hose as fast as it was being fed to them. Of course Hank had to make his way to the tail board where he could climb up and inspect the work being done.
To his surprise everything was being done just as it should be with Kelly just a little faster than Frank but not as much as Hank would have expected. Every coil, every connection was lain as it needed to be to assure the smoothest and most rapid deployment at a fire just as if this man Frank had done it a hundred times before. When he finally turned his attention from Frank’s work to Kelly he was met with eye contact and a huge smile. The bed of hose was half laid when Hank’s attention was drawn to the sound of an opening door. When he looked up he saw Chief McConnike coming in, no doubt to inspect their progress.
Hank carefully looked at his watch trying not to let his actions be noticed by the chief. They were well under their two hour time frame, still plenty of time to finish the engine prep and get each of his men through the shower and fed before they would have to go back in service. With one look at the Chief as he eyed the engine over Hank could tell he was impressed with their progress.
“She’s looking real good there, Hank. I have to admit that after I checked into the fire you were on before you joined us at the apartment fire I was thinking I’d been a little harsh in only giving you two hours. You’ve done me proud as usual.”
The Chief’s eyes shifted to the guest in the hose bed as he stepped up to inspect his work. He too showed a certain amount of surprise in his eyes as he watched Frank tuck in the last length of hose perfectly.
“Are you going to introduce your guest to me?”
Apprehensively Hank called out, “Frank, would you please come down here.”
Hank watched as Frank used the academy taught safe method of climbing down from the hose bed as Chet used a more not so recommended but commonly used jump over the hand rail onto the tail board then onto the floor.
As the two men stood before him Hank took just a moment to notice the protective nature Chet had in moving next to his friend and the absence of the bounce in said friend from when he first arrived. ‘We must have tired him out a little,’ Hank thought to himself before proceeding.
“Chief McConnike, I’d like to introduce you to our guest, Frank Dillon. Frank this is our Battalion Chief McConnike.”
“ P…P…P…Pleased t…to m…m…m…meet y…y…you, s…s...sir,” Frank responded and respectably extended his hand to shake the Chief’s as Hank set his back teeth tightly in anticipation of the acceptance his Chief would show to this special man.
“Frank Dillon, you say?” The Chief continued to hold Frank’s hand. “Are you by any chance the same Frank Dillon who helped evacuate the apartment building that caught fire this afternoon?”
“ N…n…no, I…I…I, j…j...just h…h…helped everyone g…g…get ou…ou…out of the b…b…burning b…b…building.”
Hank knew if Chief McConnike didn’t already know the special nature of their guest he must surely know now. Then Hank realized what the Chief had said and turned to his guest with surprised pride.
“And carried Molina Agiler from her burning apartment and then returned to get her portable oxygen tank before the fire department arrived?”
“N…n…no, I…I…I c…c…carried Mollie ou…ou…out. H…H…er a…a…apartment wasn’t b…b…burning a…at f…f…first j…j…just s…s…smoky. I…I…I r…r…remembered t…t…to s…s…stay d…d…down n…n…n…next to th…th…the f…f…f…floor. I…I…I d…d…didn’t g…g…go b…b…back f…f…for ox…oxygen. I…I u…u…used t…t…t…the e…e…emergency t…t…tank b…by the d…d…door.”
Hank stood amazed at what he was hearing and noticed the look of wonder on his Chief’s face as he stood there nodding his head and listening patiently to what the man before him was telling him. Hank also realized that the Chief knew the special nature of said man before he arrived at the station and that he had come as much to find and talk to Frank as he had to check on the progress of their clean up.
“I’ve heard lots of stories from the people you helped get out of the building. It would seem to me that you are a real live hero there, young man.” Chief McConnike proceeded to praise the young man. “I’ve just filled out the paperwork for you to get an award that will tell anyone who looks at it just how much of a hero you are.”
“NO!” Frank cried as he hid his head with his arms. “No, no, no, D…D…Dad w…w…will be m…m…mad.”
“It’s okay, Frank.” Chet stepped up to try and calm his friend. Carefully he placed a hand on Franks back as he talked. “Its okay, your dad’s not going to get mad at you, he’ll be really proud of you.”
Frank went down to his knees and Chet with him as Hank motioned to Roy with the shake of his head to get Jake from the kitchen but Jake had heard Frank call out and was on his way to see what happened. His first thought when he saw Frank on his knees with his arms over his head was that he had gotten injured and he was quickly at his side, opposite of Chet, trying to understand the crisis.
“No, no, d…d…d…dummy’s d…d…d…don’t d…d…de…deserve a…a…a…awards.”
Jake understood. “Is this about him turning in the apartment fire earlier today?”
“That and helping to evacuate the building as well as carrying out one of the residents.”
Chief McConnike didn’t understand the trauma he had caused. “I just told him he was being submitted for an award and he got all upset.”
Jake nodded his head and then pulled Frank tighter against himself as he started to rub his back. “It’s okay. Frank. This is a special award that they give to everybody who is brave and saves other people. We’ll just treat it like all of your other awards and put it in your file in case it will help you later on, okay. Your father will never have to see it.”
Everyone looked on in confusion, even Chet, Roy and Johnny. they had been aware that Frank and his father had issues, that was why Julie had been given custodianship over him, but none of them could understand being afraid of receiving awards.
Under Jake’s understanding Frank calmed down quickly as Jake changed the subject to how wet his clothes were and perhaps he should change into the dry clothes they brought with him.
“Well, if he brought clean clothes then he should get a shower just like the rest of us,” Chet spoke up while giving his captain a look that seemed to be asking permission.
“Lunch is ready,” Marco announced. “You better hurry up and get showered or it’ll burn to the bottom of the pan.” Somehow there was an implication that Frank, Jake and of course Chief McConnike were to be fed as well as the six crew members of Station 51.
“Come on, Frank, let’s hurry up.” Chet motioned to his friend, “It’s my turn to do the dishes tonight and I don’t want to have to scrub the pot if food has been burned to the bottom.”
That seemed to be all that Frank needed to overcome his fear as Jake offered him the keys to the van so that he could go get his change of clothes.
Once Frank was out of hearing range Chief McConnike touched Jake’s shoulder to get his attention. “Is it going to be a bad idea to turn him in for this award?”
Jake took a deep breath and thought his words through carefully. “He won’t enjoy receiving it, but it will be good for him and the award can help him a lot when it comes to getting placed in a housing program for people like him in the future. Due to patient confidentiality regulations I can’t explain the why of any of this.”
“I guess I can understand that.” The Chief withdrew all of the questions he wanted to ask.
“Our director should be informed about where and when you want to present this award as soon as possible so that we can prepare him to receive it.”
As they all showered everyone noticed the healed over welts on Frank’s back and they all guessed that they had something to do with Franks earlier reaction.
They all enjoyed Marco’s dump stew and the huge batch of baking powder biscuits that Jake had whipped up from scratch. Afterwards Frank and Jake helped Chet with the dishes.
As was arranged, Chet picked Julie up at her apartment before going to the training center to get Frank. Julie had convinced Frank to make his addition to the afternoon’s barbeque ahead of time and taking it with him instead of planning to cook it there. This would be Frank’s introduction to a pot luck dinner. Julie and Chet had each made something to bring too.
The barbeque was fun for everyone. Roy and JoAnne had taken time to sit with their children before hand and explain about Frank. They were nervous at first but after hearing him call their mother ‘Mrs. Roy,’ they laughed quietly. It wasn’t long before they thought of him as just an older kid like themselves and Frank played right along with them while Chet and Julie watched.
After some hamburgers and salads, and Frank’s macaroni and Cheese, they all went bowling and Frank was quick to teach Chris and Jenny a few things about the sport.
Frank was returned to the training center in time for his dinner leaving Chet and Julie the rest of the evening to themselves.
After dinner at a nice little open air restaurant that Chet liked, the two were enjoying a walk in the park while the sounds of the amusement park close by entertained them.
Julie started small talk. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the hustle and bustle of city life. Although there is something to be said about not needing three refrigerators and two deep freezers so that you only need to go grocery shopping once a month.”
“I don’t know if I could handle that, I need to be able to get fresh milk at least twice a week,” Chet responded.
“Fresh milk doesn’t come from a store,” Julie chided Chet and once he understood what she was talking about they both laughed.
“Does that mean you’re not going to stay here after you finish your schooling?” Chet dared to press forward after a moment of silence.
Julie looked at Chet for a moment then took his hand in her’s and motioned toward a park bench. “No, no it doesn’t. I’m not really sure what I’m going to do. There are certainly a lot more opportunities here in the city. More importantly, there are none of the, let’s call them socially political issues that are waiting for me back home. Dr. Frick has become an educator now. It’s something Dr. Brackett and Dr. Early talked to him about. He’ll have a steady stream of interns up to two at a time spending anywhere from six months to a year working with him as he teaches them the fine art of rural family medicine. That will really change the way medical needs are met throughout the county. I’m not sure I ever really wanted to go back and work there anyway.”
Chet just sat and listened, not sure if he dared hope or what he was willing to do to win her heart.
“I’ll have to go home for a while though once I’m finished here. My custodianship of Frank will have to be reviewed by the courts as soon as he finishes this training program. He could actually go home almost a month before I’m done but that will mean his father will have to come get him and I don’t think he’ll put out the travel money to do so.”
“What are the chances of you getting Frank permanently?” Chet was hopeful and fearful at the same time.
“Slim to none,” Julie answered with a melancholy tone. “There are a couple of social workers, my father, his father and heaven knows who else back home that are already trying to remove him from my custody. They’re right about some things, though. Frank would be happier in the small community he grew up in. I’d hoped that he could be trained to live on his own without the need for anyone to have custodianship over him but that’s not going to be. The kid can’t understand finances enough to maintain an apartment or a grocery budget. He can only read on a low first grade level and that’s only if he keeps working at it. Once he’s gone for as little as a week without supervised reading time he loses what he’s learned. I’ve often wondered if he’s not just memorizing the stories they’ve been trying to get him to read.”
“There’s a larger community about two hours to the south of my home town where they have a small training center like the one he’s in now but there’s a waiting list, a long waiting list, and they almost entirely work with Down’s syndrome patients. My dad has offered him a permanent residence in the bunk house and work on the ranch. He’d be able to work with Wally on the smaller brush fires during the summer but the courts aren’t exactly in favor of that. They don’t want him to get hurt or anything.” Julie sneered with those words.
“If I were to guess what the courts will do, he’ll end up right back with his father. They’ve made him get some counseling and take some classes to help him understand Frank’s needs. There’s been talk of him fixing up a studio apartment over the garage for Frank and letting Frank work in the geriatric ward of the hospital there. They plan to have him helping get the long term care patients to the cafeteria for their lunch every day while the staff there watches him for signs of further abuse. I don’t think it’s his best option but it is better than the way things were before.”
Chet understood more than he wanted to. He had heard John and Roy talk about their repeat calls to the same homes for the same children only to have the children returned or never even removed from the homes were they were being battered.
“At least now he knows how to fix himself a meal so he won’t go hungry like he used to. The home health people in the area will take him shopping once a week and make sure he has healthy foods that he knows how to fix on hand and he’ll get at least one meal a day at the hospital while he’s there.”
An awkward silence lingered again ‘til Chet finally asked, “How long will you have to go back for?”
“I don’t know yet. Could be as long as a month but I think if I tell them I have a possibility of a job here they’ll work out the court dates a little faster.”
Silence once again lingered as Julie cautiously snuggled closer to Chet. Slowly and timidly the two heads came closer together and eventually they kissed.
When they were done Julie leaned back just enough to look into Chet’s eyes. “That’s the first time I’ve ever kissed anyone with a mustache.”
“Do I need to shave it off?”
“NO,” was all Julie said driving Chet nearly insane as she managed to lay her head on Chet’s shoulder in thought.
Chet managed to get his arm around her shoulders and liked what he was feeling.
“I guess I should be checking to see what employment options are available at Rampart.”
Chet couldn’t sleep after he took Julie back to her apartment. All night long he thought of Julie and how unfair it was for him to ask her to give up the life style she had grown up in. Thoughts of transferring to a slightly more rural area in the county started to cross his mind and he vowed to check out the openings listed on the board once he was back on shift. Then his thoughts turned to Frank.
The things Julie told him did seem better than life had been before, with Frank being in a hospital working every day should keep his father from hurting him. He himself had heard Frank talk about how he missed his father and had been at the training center a couple of times when he called home to talk to him. Chet had even spent one day trying to help the center’s staff members teach Frank how to use the bus system but Frank just didn’t catch on. All he could do was talk about how back home he could walk everywhere he wanted to go or even ride his bike if the tire wasn’t flat.
Julie worked the next day so Chet had even more time to think, then on Monday morning he was back at the station early. The crew before him had an early morning auto accident so the station was empty when he arrived. He quickly dressed and then headed straight for the bulletin board. There were no openings that fit with his thoughts but he still had a couple of months and new listings came out nearly every week. Then he noticed another flyer, one he had known was there but hadn’t had any interest in it before now.
The trucks returned to the station and most of the crew headed for the locker room to get into their day uniforms. Their last call had come in just before wake up tones so they were all still wearing their night turn out gear. Chet didn’t even notice when Johnny hurried in to get some coffee started. He had been called in at three that morning after Carlton had fallen through a roof at a house fire. Fortunately he had only sprained his ankle but it was a bad sprain and he was expected to be out for at least three weeks.
John noticed the mustached coworker standing next to the bulletin board when he came in and offered a greeting on his way to the stove. When Chet didn’t respond he said “Hi” again. When Chet still didn’t respond he decided to go see what had his friend so consumed.
John took a good look at the notice that Chet was examining, the semi-annual tryouts for those who wanted to enter the fire fighting academy. It was put on the board in case anyone knew someone who wanted to be a fireman and John couldn’t think of anyone Chet knew that fit that bill until-
“You’ve got to be kidding; you know Frank doesn’t stand a chance of getting into the academy?”
“I know that, but just think about it,” Chet defended. “He’d have the time of his life. Maybe he’ll get someone’s attention and they’ll find someplace they can use him in the department. Not everything to do with firefighting is rocket science you know.”
John thought hard for a moment and studied Chet’s face. “You’re right about him having the time of his life but won’t it be cruel when they tell him he can’t cut it.”
“Remember when we went before we started the academy? I don’t know about you but when I went they sent over half of those that showed up packing.”
John was now nodding his head, he remembered well the over aged and overweight and just plain out of shape guys that showed up to try their hand at wrestling a hose and climbing the ladder on the ladder truck. Not to mention the ones that were afraid of heights. The day he was there the instructors had to go up and help no less than ten men back down, one guy had to be carried down the ladder in a fireman’s carry because he flat out froze. No, Frank wouldn’t be alone on the list of those sent home without an invitation to the academy.
“Besides, if we just tell him he’s getting a chance to play on and with the equipment and don’t tell him that everyone else there is trying out for the fire academy…”
“I don’t know. What if he can’t handle it, it’s all simulations but he could get hurt, you know.” Johnny clearly wasn’t as enthusiastic about the idea as Chet was.
“I’ll be right there with him, I know how to back up my partner, I’ll be sure he doesn’t get hurt.”
“Famous last words, Chet, famous last words.”
Chet spent the next week working out the details of his big plan. Julie agreed that Frank would have the time of his life and was happy that Chet was going to entertain Frank since she had to go home for the weekend to attend her brother’s wedding. She didn’t want to take Frank home with her because she feared she wouldn’t be allowed to bring him back and he still had some training to complete. Also, Frank never enjoyed her family gatherings as there were just too many people with the same names and he was easily confused. Sadly, several of those people, mostly family friends and extended family members, delighted in tormenting Frank by teasing him when no one was watching.
Whenever Frank was at the ranch he would help out with all the work that needed to be done but if there was any kind of a party or gathering, Frank preferred to hide out in the bunk house. Always in a lower bunk where he felt more protected.
John spent the week trying to talk Chet out of his plans and that’s how Roy found out about what was going on. He, too, tried to talk Chet out of putting Frank in a possibly humiliating situation. They were all very careful not to let Cap overhear them.
No one knew for sure if what Chet was planning to do was against any rules or not but the only thing they agreed on was that it was easier to get forgiveness than permission.
During the break between shifts Chet talked to Frank about the firefighter’s tryouts and Frank was so excited that he could hardly talk.
Chet had learned more from the Lawyer he talked to concerning his case with Mark’s older brother, the doctor who wrongfully discharged him from the intensive care unit and released him for duty, than anyone at the center. While talking about the case he was told that Mark’s Dad had a heart attack making it impossible for him and his wife, whose eye sight has deteriorated ‘til she can’t drive any longer, to take care of Mark at home by herself. That was why they had to place him in the training center in hopes that they could prepare him for placement in an institution where others like himself worked together to maintain a home-like environment as opposed to an institution where there are too many residents and not enough workers. This often meant that he would most likely be drugged and kept in his room for long stretches. Even though Mark had nearly killed him, Chet believed his actions were not intended to do him harm. Chet could relate to the desire to give the man the best life he could earn and had talked to Julie about what he could do to help when he was in the center visiting with Frank.
Because of that talk, before Chet left the training center that night he sat down on a chair behind the sofa Mark was sitting on and read him a quick bed time story.
On the last shift Chet worked before the big open house firefighter’s tryouts John again tried to talk Chet out of taking Frank. It was when Roy joined in and Marco overheard and joined into the conversation that Chet reveled his true intentions.
“If I can just get Frank a subsidized type of job here in the area then he won’t have to go back and live with his father, the same father who is responsible for all of the scars across his back. Julie doesn’t really want to go back there either, I mean with all the rumors going around and all the women mad at her because of what that one jerk did.”
“Yeah, I’ve got to admit I’d like to see her get a job and settle down someplace away from her home where she’ll be appreciated,” Roy added. He held Julie in a special place not only because of the care she gave him when she was newly burned and needing time to recover herself. He also felt a little protective of her because of the expectations hinted at simply because of his name.
“I’ve been kind of hoping that you would be the one to give her a reason to stay.” Roy added a hint as he placed a hand on Chet’s shoulder. Both men blushed slightly.
“Workin’ on it,” Chet whispered, more to himself than anyone else but all those around him heard whether he wanted them to or not.
At Rampart Julie was still dodging paramedics who hadn’t heard or didn’t believe the news that she was in a relationship. Dixie noticed not only the interference the boys in blue caused her new student nurse; she also noticed the frustration Julie felt with all the attention she was getting. Unlike most of the student nurses Dixie hadn’t had a chance to get to know this one before she came on board. Kell had pulled her aside sometime during the second shift Julie had worked, and explained about her being the one to bring some questionable treatment from one of the doctors at Harbor to the attention of people who could take care of things and as a result had a target on her back over there.
Even thought she didn’t know much about the young lady, Dixie was pleased with what she was seeing. The girl was older than most of her student nurses, self assured and confident but not cocky. Even as annoyed as she clearly was with the paramedics trying to win a date with her she was pleasant with them.
The girl had the ability to wrestle down a drunk and could easily calm a frightened child, yet when the nurses gathered for their breaks or before their lectures Julie was often by herself. She was never seen joining in on the gossip sessions. She either just sat alone or kept her head in a book.
Dixie looked at the clock and noticed that it was time for her lunch break and decided to rescue Julie in the process.
“Don’t you boys have work to do?” Dixie stepped between the pesky fire boys and her student nurse.
“Yes, Miss McCall,” was heard and cringing men in uniform quickly disappeared.
“Ann, will you take over getting treatment room three ready; Julie is going to lunch with me.”
As soon as they were in the hall outside the emergency department on their way to the cafeteria Julie started to talk. “I’m sorry, Miss McCall, I’m really not trying to encourage them. I…”
Dixie held up her hand to stop Julie from saying more. “You are no different than any other attractive nurse I’ve ever had in my department. I’m guilty of promoting it from time to time and possibly guilty of some of the attention you’re getting now. When you first started working for me I didn’t know if you were in a relationship or not so when the guys asked me that’s what I told them. Hopefully the word will make it through the grapevine that you are in a relationship and things will quiet down by the beginning of next week.”
“Did you have this kind of problem while you were at Harbor General?” Dixie asked as they stepped into the line at the food counter.
“No, not this bad, but then I was in other areas of the hospital there where paramedics seldom go and can’t get into without scrubbing and gowning.”
“So is Emergency your last rotation?”
“Yeah.” Julie started to eye over what was being offered to eat. What Dixie didn’t know was that in her locker was a can of soup that she planned to eat for lunch, warm if she could find a place to get it warm, cold if she couldn’t.
Food was purchased and Dixie noticed Julie counting the money in her pocket before choosing her food. In response to what she’d seen Dixie picked up a second piece of pie and added it to her tray but once the two of them reached the table where they were to share their lunch break the second piece of pie was slipped over to Julie’s tray.
“I usually meet with my student nurses one on one before they start in Emergency, just to get to know them a little; I understand you and one of the doctors over at Harbor didn’t see things eye to eye.”
Julie then knew she was in Dixie’s sights and not feeling any guilt for what she had done it was time to find out if her actions were going to cause problems for her at Rampart. One thing for sure news of her perceived crime was going to make its way to Rampart sooner or later and who knew what form or level of exaggeration they would arrive in.
“The biggest problem started when Dr. Crammer’s brother was placed in the same center for education of the mentally handicapped as the young man I have custodianship over. Until just a couple few of weeks ago his brother has lived a sheltered life in the care of his parents who catered to his every need but have now grown too old and of frail health to care for him any longer. Mark is about the same age as Frank, my ward, and didn’t, well, still doesn’t understand following the rules of the center and why he can’t leave the center like Frank does, nor does Mark like that Frank get’s lots of visitors. Me and my friend Chet are there three to four times a week and one of us takes him out, usually bowling, every weekend, then he has special instructors come in throughout the week to work with him and help him learn the skills he’s going to need when I have to take him back home to his father.
“Mark is still working on the preliminary testing to determine his current level and how he learns best before he will be assigned the instructors he needs and he doesn’t get any visitors in the way of family. That’s where Dr. Crammer and I clashed the most. I guess someone at the center talked to him about the conflict with Frank and Dr. Crammer responded by coming to me and requesting that I stop visiting Frank so much so that his brother could settle in better.”
“You must be the one that called Dr. Crammer’s actions to his higher ups when he prematurely discharged Mr. Kelly from ICU.” Dixie was starting to put two and two together.
“Not exactly, Chet’s sister called me to see if by any chance Chet was at my place. I hurried to the hospital to help them search for him. There were no records of him being discharged in his chart so at first we thought he must have just wandered off somewhere else in the hospital. When we couldn’t find him we remembered that he was supposed to go on duty and thought to call the fire station to see if anyone there might know where he was. That’s when Henry, Chet’s captain told me he was there and that he had a release from the hospital in his hands declaring him fit for duty. I asked who signed it and that’s when I figured out what had happened. I went to Dr. Milner, the doctor who treated Chet when he was brought to the hospital and asked him to call the doctor here and bring him up to date on what had been done for him. It was Dr. Milner who went to the administrator demanding disciplinary actions on Dr. Crammer for discharging his patient. I’m the one who told Henry not to let that piece of paper out of his hands. I’m sure if that gets out someone’s going to want a piece of my hide.”
Any ounce of worry Dixie had before this lunch was now gone. “Well they’ll have to get by me to do it. I admire a nurse who puts the patients first.”
Dixie then directed the conversation to where Julie was from and what her training had involved so far and then to what she planned to do with her training when she actually had her nursing license. That was the first time Dixie put Julie together with the EMT that had brought Roy back from his vacation in the sleeper section of an eighteen wheeler after he started exhibiting complications to a head injury he received. The two nurses were still laughing at the memory of a semi hauling hogs bringing patients into the hospital and all the things the driver said to Dr. Morton while the patients were being unloaded.
Later that afternoon Dixie filled Dr. Morton in on her discovery and he remembered the burns he had redressed and how in awe he was that she had given such care in her condition.
Both Dixie and Dr. Morton watched as a familiar semi made a quick stop just after Julie was off shift and Julie climbed up into the cab before it started up again.
“They only have a private air strip and no bus station in her home town,” Dixie enlightened Dr. Morton. “This is the closest thing they have to public transportation to get her home for her brother’s wedding.”
Chet showed up at the training center the next morning to pick up Frank, he found him busily finishing his chores and was told that he had traded for chores that he could have done before he needed to go to his big adventure.
While Chet waited with a smile for Frank to dump his mop water he saw Mark coming for him out of the corner of his eye.
Seeing the speed in which Mark was moving, clearly in his direction, Chet ran and jumped over the sofa in the main common room. While Mark looked confused one of the other residents, a young girl, started scolding Chet for jumping on the furniture.
Mark soon started to run around the sofa but Chet kept moving too, he moved in any direction he needed to, to keep the sofa between him and Mark. After a couple of laps around the sofa Chet noticed that three of the supervisors had been alerted to the situation and were watching from a short distance to see if their intervention was needed. It was a smile on Chet’s face and him holding up a hand in their direction that kept them at a distance then Chet started to talk to Mark.
“You hurt me; you have to stay over there.” Chet was using his very best imitated ten year old voice.
Mark curled his lip in a pout, “I didn’t mean to.” He stomped his foot on the floor and threw his slightly clenched hands around. “It was just a mistake. I wanted my turn to have friends.”
“I’m the only one who gets to choose who my friends are. My friends don’t hurt me.” Chet continued with his ten year old voice.
Mark was nearly to the point of breaking down into tears as he stomped on the floor once again. That’s when the staff member who was assigned to Mark stepped forward. There was no surprise in Chet’s mind that he was the biggest and most muscle bound staff member they had. The man named Gus stepped up to Mark and bent his head so that he was looking eye to eye with Mark.
“He’s right you know, friends don’t hurt their friends. Not even by mistake.”
“What are friends supposed to do?” Mark asked in total sincerity and Gus was scrambling for an answer that Mark could understand.
“Well, to start with they tell each other their names,” Gus suggested.
“I’m Mark!” Mark called out over the sofa maybe a lot louder than he really needed to.
“I’m Chet,” Chet responded in a more appropriate volume and tone.
“Then,” Gus started to instruct again, “you share things with each other about yourself, show them things you like to do and when you find something you both like to do then you can do it together.”
“I can show him things?” Mark questioned, again in surprising sincerity. “What can I show him? Wait, I’ll find something, you make him stay here. I’ll be back.”
“Well now, Mr. Chet isn’t a prisoner here, it would be wrong for me to make him stay. The way a friend would do things is to ask him to stay and wait for you, and a real friend would remember to say please.”
Mark looked at Gus like he had two heads for a minute. “How do I ask him?” Again his question was in total sincerity.
“Okay I’ll help you this once.” Gus motioned for Mark to stand next to him and then whispered in his ear the things he should say.
“Mr. Chet, would you please wait here for me to go get something to show you?”
“Mr. Chet, please wait here so I can get something to show you.”
“Okay,” Chet responded hesitantly as he glanced at the clock on the wall. “But I can only stay for a minute. I have to go somewhere in a little while.”
“Thank you,” Gus whispered in Mark’s ear but Mark was in too big of a hurry to get to his room. As he headed toward his room he kept his eye on Chet.
“Stay right there, I’ll come back. Don’t go; I’ll hurry.”
The door to Mark’s room was visible to Chet and as he waited he watched Mark nearly toss his room. Watching Mark made him think of what a burglar would do while looking for some hidden valuables.
When Mark returned he was carrying a largish three ring binder and he nearly ran right to Chet’s side. Before he got there Chet ran around to the other side of the sofa calling out, “Don’t hurt me.”
There wasn’t anyone in that room that didn’t know that Chet was only half way acting. Mark could have killed him on their first encounter if there hadn’t been proper intervention.
Giving Chet a smile of approval for his actions Gus was soon at Mark’s side again and he encouraged him to open his book and tell Chet about it. From across the sofa Mark opened his book and with some excitement started to turn the pages and show Chet his stamp collection.
Chet showed some interest in his book, not that he was really interested in stamps but because he respected the young man enough to let him share his interest. As the pages were turned Chet noticed several brightly colored stamps many of them from foreign countries, all of them canceled. They were attached to the pages in a less than organized fashion testifying to Chet that Mark and placed each of them in his book.
Interspersed among the stamps were several adhesive stickers of decorative design and as Mark talked about them it was clear he didn’t know the difference between stamps and stickers. But that was alright.
“That’s a really neat collection,” Chet praised when Mark had turned the last page, he then looked up and noticed Frank standing near the exit with his duffel bag over his shoulder and waiting patiently for Chet.
“I have to go now but thank you for showing me your stamp collection.” Chet started to move away. “It’s really neat.”
“I, I, got two of these, do you want one,” Mark started to tear the paper around a star sticker and handed the torn page toward his new friend.
Chet was sorry he had prompted Mark to tear one of his pages but with the gestured encouragement from Mark’s handler Chet extended his hand and took the paper and star sticker from Mark.
“Thank you.” Chet genuinely spoke, not because he was that impressed with the sticker, but because he did recognize the sincerity in which it had been offered.
“My Daddy gave that to me.” Mark worked for every extra second he could have Chet’s attention.
“I’ll take good care of it.” Chet slipped it in his pocket and then turned to leave, if they didn’t leave soon they could end up late and that was something Chet was determined to avoid.
Once Chet got in his van he placed the sticker behind the registration holder that was clipped to his van’s sun visor and then watched as Frank stowed his duffel bag in the back and buckled his seatbelt.
On the drive to the training facility Chet talked to Frank about what to expect and gave him advice on how to act.
“I’ve already filled out your application form for you so all you need to do is hand it over at the desk and then follow me to where we’ll wait for our turn to show what you know about the equipment. Do you have any questions?”
There was a silence for a moment but a quick glance out of the corner of his eye Chet could see that Frank was thinking hard. Then he spoke.
“W…why d…did th… the f… firemen p…pull th…the c…ceilings d…down af…after th…the f…fire?”
That wasn’t one of the questions Chet was expecting or prepared for but it was no big deal to answer it. “Are you talking about the apartment fire across the street from the training center?”
“That’s what we have to do to make sure the fire is all the way out.” Chet began to explain, thinking hard with every word he spoke to make his explanation level appropriate for Frank. “There could be just a small smoldering coal or piece of insulation in the ceiling that can smolder there sometimes for days until it burns to a place where there is enough air for it to start a fire again.”
The rest of the trip to the firefighter training facility Chet explained the process of a fire and the required combination of heat, fuel, and air. Chet was sure most of what he said was way over Frank’s head but Frank listened carefully and nodded his head from time to time hinting that he understood.
Once they pulled into the parking area of the training facility the silence in Chet’s car was deafening. The car was parked, and the two men got out, Frank slower than Chet and not before he reached into his duffel bag and pulled out the firefighter baseball cap Chet had given him when he first came to California. Frank stood at the side of the car while Chet locked the doors, then straightened to his tallest height pulling his baseball cap on his head before silently following Chet with his papers in his hand and a look of resolve on his face.
Even though they were early there was still a line up at the sign in table so Chet stepped aside as Frank took his place in the line.
Chet was watching Frank move forward and realized that as long as he didn’t say anything no one would know of his friend’s special needs. He was aware of someone stepping up to the side of him but took a moment before he turned to see who was there and just how close.
“Johnny? What are you doing here?”
Johnny turned his gaze to the special young man in the line, “Same as you. I expected you here fifteen minutes ago. I was beginning to think you came to your senses and decided not to bring him.”
“Are you kidding, once I told him about it there was no way he’d let me not bring him.”
“He actually looks like he’s ready for whatever they throw at him.” A new voice was heard to Chet’s other side. Turning quickly his eyes confirmed what his ears had told him. Roy DeSoto was standing next to him and behind Roy was Marco.
Once Frank was signed in the four firemen from Station 51 gathered around him and helped him place his name tags and entry number appropriately as they moved to where the training officials were still setting up the hose drill staging area.
There was an older fire engine, one retired from active service and appointed to the academy for the purpose of training, parked at the edge of the staging area. It was hooked up to a fire hydrant and two hoses were stretched out and lying limp toward an area where three men were working to hook up a gas line that would supply controlled fuel to the fire the firefighting wana’bes would be demonstrating their abilities on at a later point.
“Alright Frank, it’s going to be a few minutes before they’re ready to start. When they do start I want you to listen carefully to everything they tell you. Don’t talk just listen, if you don’t understand come to me and I’ll explain it to you ‘til you do understand, okay?” Chet offered up the final pep talk.
“O… o… okay.” Frank responded before turning all of his attention to the men setting up for the drill.
Chet stood by watching Frank with a smile on his face at how calm his friend was. This was surely going to be the greatest adventure Frank had ever had, at least while he was in California. Chet was almost to declare in his own mind that this was better than taking Frank to Disneyland when someone at his side let out a sickening “Oh no!”
Chet’s attention was quickly drawn first to Rogers from station 110 with his younger brother standing at his side looking totally terrified. Chet’s attention was next drawn to the group of men walking up behind them and he stomach and his heart both began to fight for a position in his throat.
The group of men walking in their direction was Captain Stanley, Mike Stoker, Chief McConnike and someone else with an official looking uniform identifying him as someone from headquarters.
Chet’s first response was to send an accusing look at Johnny.
“I didn’t tell him,” John defended himself.
“Me neither,” Marko added before Roy mimicked him.
Looking back to his captain, Chet thought for sure he was really going to get it when he saw them all stop and look at the gathered firemen. Both Cap and Stoker stood fixed with their arms folded across their chest. It was Chief McConnike that gestured for the men to join them and the four firemen left Frank to continue watching the set up to go find out just how much trouble they were in.
Chet took his place at the front of the pack, this had been his idea and his plan, and he would take the brunt of the punishment whatever it was going to be.
“How did you find out sir?” Chet asked after a moment of tense silence.
“I have my sources,” Hank declared elusively. The last thing he wanted his men to know was how the bay sometimes amplified their low volume talk and funneled it right into the office. He didn’t want them to figure that out and find a way around it.
There was another moment of stiff silence before Chet turned to look at his friend who was still studiously studying the set up as others moved in behind him to do the same thing. He then turned back to his superiors. “Are you going to stop him from participating today?”
The man whom they didn’t know from headquarters stepped forward. “We’re here to tell you that it’s not necessary for him to participate today, we’ve been talking to Chief McConnike and the officials at the training center where Mr. Dillon is currently residing. We are very impressed in Mr. Dillon’s demonstrated abilities and aptitudes toward fire fighting. We are therefore prepared to offer him a position here at the academy. He’ll be able to offer supervised assistance in maintaining all of the fire equipment we use here and other duties once we’re sure what he’s capable of.”
Pleasantly surprised smiles covered the faces of all of the men gathered before their superiors as Johnny gleefully slapped Chet on the back before giving his shoulders an excited shake.
“But,” the official from headquarters regained everyone’s attention, “there are a few issues that will have to be dealt with before this offer can be realized. They’re complicated issues I’m not prepared to discuss here but most of them are legal issues that have to be determined by the authorities in Mr. Dillon’s home state. Still the offer will be presented in writing for whatever influence it will offer in the decisions of those authorities.”
The exuberance and excitement was tempered somewhat by the added news most noticeable on Chet’s face as he remembered Julie’s predictions of what would happen when the courts back home reevaluated her custodianship status.
Chet was preparing to request permission for Frank to participate anyway when they were all stunned by the sound of an explosion in the staging area.
As the trained firemen in the midst tried to investigate they were blocked by a crowd of stunned wana’bes and observers frozen in their tracks three men deep all around the entire perimeter of the staging area. All they could really see was the towering flames that rose over the heads of those they were trying to push themselves past.
Inside the ring of bystanders Frank, along with three other brave souls, sprung into action. The men who had been working on the gas line that had just exploded were covered with the fire blankets that had been sitting on the ground near the engine.
It was Frank that grabbed them and threw them over the top of the men to smother their smoldering clothing, others wrapped them tighter around the men to smother any flames and two men were rolled over so that the fire blankets were then underneath them so that they could be drug to safety by pulling the blanket. While the injured men were being cared for Frank ran to the truck and after starting the engine to get the pumps running he pulled the levers necessary to charge the two hoses stretched out on the ground. This was the exact moment Chet, Captain Stanley, Chief McConnike, Mike Stoker and the others shouldered through the crowd in that order. The others were close behind and now that the crowd was starting to part they were bunched up not pushing through single file.
Everyone was surprised to see Frank pulling the levers on the truck and stood stunned for just a millisecond. John and Roy raced to the injured and started to work on them being joined by another Paramedic from the crowd.
Mike stepped up to take over on the pumps pushing Frank out of the way only to notice that he had the pressure just where it needed to be for the job at hand.
The fire was still under control, which was understood by most people around. All that needed to be done to put it out was turn the gas off and one of the authorities from headquarters sent someone to take care of that.
With a look of pride on his face Chet pulled on a turn out coat and a helmet then stepped up with a turn out coat and a helmet for Frank. “Let’s go show them what else you can do.”
The two of them walked toward the hose nozzle and Chet talked just a little about how to hold it and how to adjust it to a spray before he motioned for Frank to take the lead and stepped up behind him.
The shut off valve was damaged either by the explosion or the cause of it, resulting in it taking a few minutes to get the gas shut off instead of the seconds he should have taken. For as long as it took them to shut things off Chet talked to Frank about moving the hose around and how to stand to brace himself against the power of the hose.
The injuries and burns on the men knocked down by the explosion were mild thanks to their protective clothing and the speed in which the flames were smothered by those who stepped forward. Many were wondering why Chet Kelly stepped forward to put a hose on the fire that they knew was just a switch away from being turned out. Even more wanted to know more about the wana’be that stepped up and started up the pumps. Chief McConnike and the representative from headquarters were staring down Captain Stanley.
“You taught him how to run the pumps?” McConnike spoke in clear disapproval.
“Nope,” Hank spoke with comfortable innocence. “He came here knowing how to do that already. I’ve been told that he helps out with the volunteer fire department in his home town and that he’s the one that makes sure the straps on their air tanks are untwisted when they roll on a fire.” Hank paused and noticed the ear to ear smile on Frank’s face as he wrestled the hose.
“Kelly told me they never let him work the hose but from what I’ve seen from the young man so far I get the impression they’re quick to stick him with the clean up and all the grunt work.”
“He seems to be handling himself quite well on the hose. He looks like he’s on a ride at Disneyland.”
Johnny walked up right then to report that all of the men only had minor injuries but that their supervisor instructed them to go to the medical center and get checked out further. Looking over at Frank as they shut off the hose and lay it back down on the ground Johnny just shook his head.
“Chet was right. Frank’s just as good as half of the people here and he’s having the time of his life.”
The representative from Headquarters gave permission for Frank to continue on as long as the men from Station 51 stuck with him and made sure he was safe and didn’t get hurt. For the rest of the afternoon they mostly just cheered him on as Chet stayed glued to his side.
For the hose relay, where they have to demonstrate the ability to carry and lift rolled up hose, Frank’s time was six seconds inside the acceptable range. His mile run he was a minute fifteen outside the acceptable range. Johnny thought he could gain a lot of time by just learning a proper running style but they all knew this was just for fun and even though Frank didn’t meet the cutoff he was a long way ahead of the last person across the line.
Because it was a special permission situation, Frank and his supporters had to wait to be the last ones to go up the ladder of the ladder truck, climb through the window of the training tower and run down the stairs taking time to retrieve the practice dummy and drag it out through fake smoke and all this while wearing full gear.
For nearly an hour Frank watched others perform the trial. Some froze near the top of the ladder and others went up to help them back down. Three men slipped and nearly fell through the ladder causing Chet to double check Frank’s shoes. When they noticed there were only four men left before them Chet started talking to Frank.
“Okay, Frank, I don’t want you to worry about how long it takes you. It’s much more important that you get your feet on every rung of that ladder and when you come down the stairs you need to take every step. You lose lots of points if you slip and fall. Do you understand?”
Frank was excited and only seemed to be half listening, but he gave a strong nod yes.
“I’ll be right behind you and,” Chet looked up to see who he could volunteer to take the lead. The only person he could think of was their sometimes third at bowling, “and, Johnny will go ahead of you to show you the way okay?”
“O…okay, D…d…do I…I g…get t…to w…w…wear th…the m…m…mask?”
When there were only two men to go before Frank was to get his turn Johnny was quick to pull on his turn out gear as Mike, Chet, Marco and Cap helped Frank into his turn out gear and made sure the straps on his air tank were strait. While Chet geared up Mike and Roy worked together to help him fit his mask to his face and gave him a chance to get used to it.
As the last person ahead of them started up the ladder Chet took the mask and gave it one more good polishing to ensure Frank had the best vision possible and then cautioned him one more time. “Take your time, Frank; make sure you touch each rung and each stair.”
When the person ahead of them climbed through the window at the top they all waited thirty seconds and then Johnny took the lead. He climbed on the running board of the truck and then reached back to help Frank up. He then showed him the proper places to put his feet until they were actually on the ladder. John continued to lead the way forcing himself to take it slower than his normal pace in order to slow Frank down.
He looked back often but each time he did he saw Frank doing just what he had been told to do, he put a foot on each ladder rung. When they got to the window Johnny climbed through and turned around to help Frank through but he didn’t need any help. They both waited for Chet to climb through the window before they moved for the stairs. As they started down Chet took Frank’s hand in his and placed in on the hand rail.
When they reached the last landing before the fake smoke was to be added to the mix Johnny stopped and turned around. Frank’s vision was so tunneled by his face mask and he was looking out to the side at the moment so he didn’t see Johnny and plowed right in to him. John stumbled down two steps and slammed his back into the hand rail. He’d have gone down farther if it hadn’t have been that Frank was able to grab hold of him with his free arm and held on tight.
Once Chet caught up which was less than a second later they pulled Johnny back up to the landing and allowed him to catch his breath and do a self evaluation.
“S…sorry,” Frank got out before Johnny tapped him on the chest to gesture that he was alright before he regained the wind that had been knocked out when he slammed into the rail.
“You okay, Johnny?” Chet questioned.
“Yeah, yeah,” Johnny responded while shaking his shoulders, “Just got the wind knocked out of me. I wanted to stop and give you a warning that we’re about to get into the smoke so it’s going to get even harder to see. Do you know how to deal with smoke?” Johnny realized that this was something he and Chet should have discussed with Frank before they even helped him put on the gear. Still, better late than never.
“Y…yeah, s…stay l…low to th…the f…floor a…and c…crawl.”
“That’s right,” Chet beamed. “While we’re still on the stairs you need to keep a hold of the hand rail, this is the last set of stairs before you get to the bottom, so when you run out of stairs and hand rail you need to get down on your knees. Okay?”
Frank just nodded his head with excitement so Chet smiled and continued. “Remember we have a body to rescue on the ground floor.”
Again Frank just gave a nod of his head, but he nodded so enthusiastically that he shifted his helmet on his head. Chet repositioned it and then motioned for Johnny to start moving as they fell in behind him.
As the smoke got thicker John slowed down and Frank bumped into him a couple of times before they reached the bottom of the stairs. When they did reach the bottom of the stairs Johnny flattened next to the wall and watched as Frank quickly got down on his knees. Johnny then quickly got down next to him and started to show him how to sweep the floor with his hands to find the victim as Chet got down on his other side and together they moved toward the hint of light through the smoke that was the doorway out.
Chet was the first one to find the dummy and managed to get out of the way and steer Frank toward it then he and Johnny watched with wonder as Frank used his hands to determine where the head was before laying down next to the dummy and pulling an arm around his neck then grabbing hold of a hip with his other hand and rolling back over on his knees with the dummy on his back. They all moved toward the door with Frank leading the way and John and Chet behind him to make sure all was well.
Johnny would later voice some concern about the way both feet were hanging off on the same side potentially pulling the body off as well and making for improper balance that could cause an injury to the rescuer but Frank made it out to a cheering crowd.
The dummy was lifted off his back and Frank was taken hold of by his air tank straps and pulled to his feet by Roy. Everyone else gathered around him to pat him on the back as they walked over to the area where they would all help Frank strip out of his turn out gear.
They had just pulled his face mask and helmet off and were allowing Frank to get his eyes adjusted to the light when a golf cart arrived with the man from Headquarters who had given them permission to take Frank through the course.
“I’m sorry,” the man spoke quickly. “I know that I gave you permission to take your friend here through the course but we can’t allow you to take him on this exercise. It’s far too dangerous and there are too many chances of injury for us to be willing to accept that liability in this case.”
Now because the man could see that they already had the gear on the guy and he didn’t want to get into a debate about it he simply added, “That’s the final word,” and turned leaving the men standing.
Most of the men were able to hold their breath until the guy from headquarters was on his way but some started giggling before he was gone.
“You know he’s right,” Cap spoke first and then they all nearly bust a gut in laughter at the timing of the ultimate decision.
It was Mike that took Chet aside as the others helped Frank get out of his air tank.
“He was right on the money with his time, right to the second on the cut off. If it weren’t for his run time and of course the written test he could get into the academy.”
Chet took in the look on Mike’s face, it was one of sheer disbelief combined with amazement and Chet thought he saw a little disapproval. “Of course you know they have a slower time for the tryouts than they require for graduation from the academy.”
Chet just gave a short smile and went back to help Frank slip out of his turn out coat.
As they knew he would be, Frank was covered with sweat and the cool breeze was a little extra cool on his back. It was Marco that loaned him his jacket til they got back to Chet’s car and Frank’s own jacket. They all felt good about what had been done that day and were all more than a little amazed at how well Frank had been able to do.
All eight men went out to a drive-in not far from the training facility for chili dogs where Frank told them how he had been trained to help the residents out of the long term care section of the hospital back home in case there was a fire.
When the chili dogs were consumed and Frank was cleaned up and changed into some chili free clothes, it was suggested that they could go bowling but Frank admitted he was a little tired.
He fell asleep in Chet’s van on the way back to the training center.
When they arrived back at the training center it took Chet several minutes to wake Frank up enough to get him out of the car. For a while Chet was afraid he’d have to carry Frank in using the fireman’s carry but Frank did arouse a little. Chet ended up grabbing his duffel bag and then pulling an arm over his shoulder as Frank sleepily staggered next to him ‘til they were through the door.
As the two men sleep staggered dance through the door and down the hall towards Frank’s room Chet caught the forward movement of Mark out of the corner of his eye as staff members came forward to help with Frank.
“Is he sick?” Mark asked and Chet noticed that he had moved to and stopped on the other side of the sofa from him and Frank.
“No, he’s not sick,” Chet answered with a smile as he rubbed Frank’s back as his steadying was shifted over to one of the staff members who proceeded to guide him the rest of the way to his room. “He’s just really, really tired. He worked hard today.”
“I thought he was going to have fun,” Mark questioned.
“Sometimes hard work is fun.” Chet responded, going back to his imitated ten year old voice without even thinking about it.
“Uh ha,” Mark denied the possibility. “I should know, I had to clean my room today.”
Chet’s mind quickly flashed back to the memory of Mark tossing everything in his room as he looked for something worthy of showing him that morning. That definitely had to have been a chore to clean that mess back up again.
“Yeah, but sometimes you find treasures or things you’ve lost when you clean your room.” Chet tried to put a positive spin on the situation.
“Do you still have the stamp I gave you?” Mark questioned and Chet smiled carefully noticing that Mark was staying across the sofa from him.
“Yeah, it’s in my car, I’ll go get it.” Chet quickly moved back through the door he entered from and toward his car where he retrieved the star sticker from the safe place he had stored it. He then got into his glove box and pulled out some firefighting stickers and a coloring book along with a small box that contained four, three inch long colored pencils. Rolling the coloring book and stuffing it in his belt in the back and the pencils in his pocket Chet went back inside.
When Chet got back inside he was surprised to find Mark still standing on the opposite side of the sofa but he could take that.
“See, I still have it,” Chet held the star sticker and the piece of paper it was attached to out so that Mark could see it. “Do you want it back?”
“NO,” Mark spoke adamantly. “I gave it to you.”
Chet placed it back inside his shirt pocket vowing to keep it safe so that he could show it to Mark every time he came if he needed to. “The place I went to today had some things they were giving people.” Chet started pulling the stickers from his pants pocket and handed the sticker with Smokey Bear on it toward his new friend. “I got one for you.”
The first exchange was made at arm’s length by both people involved and then Chet offered a shinny metallic sticker that was meant to look like a badge. Mark’s eyes got big and round at the sight of that one and he was soon kneeling on the couch and leaning over the back of it. Chet took half a step forward to hand him the sticker.
“Do you like color books?” Chet asked as he reached for the rolled up coloring book tucked in his belt and offered it to Mark.
Mark grabbed for the book eagerly. “Wow, this is about fire trucks.”
Chet then offered the small box of colored pencils. “This isn’t very good, it’s only got four colors but it came with the book. Maybe I can bring you a bigger box of Crayons next time I come.”
“That’s okay, I have a big box in my room, it has hundreds of colors,” Mark called out as he opened the book and turned the pages, not showing any interest in the box of pencils. “Are these fire engines the red ones or the new yellow ones?” Mark asked after turning his third page.
“I guess they can be any color you want them to be.”
“There are lots of fire trucks in this book I can have some of each,” Mark figured. “DO you want to help me color them?”
“I kinda need to go home and clean my room first. Then I have to wash my clothes so I have clean ones for work day after tomorrow.”
“You have to clean your room too?” Mark asked in total surprise. “How come your mom doesn’t do it for you?”
Chet hid his laugh pretending to cough then looked at Mark. “I don’t live with my mommy anymore; her house is too far away from my work.”
Julie staggered into the hospital just after the 6 a.m. shift change. Dixie was just finishing her report to the nurse coming on when she noticed her and quickly found her way to Julie’s side.
“Looks like your back from the wedding. I didn’t think you were supposed to work here again until this afternoon.” Dixie started small talk as she evaluated the student nurse at her side.
“I just got dropped off. I need to get something from my locker then I’ll go home and get some more rest and some things done before I have to be back at noon.” Julie rubbed at her eyes.
“You look exhausted. Did you drive all night?”
“It’s more like I’m not fully awake yet,” Julie answered with a smile. “I slept in the sleeper all the way here. My cousin Jack just woke me up after he pulled over in front of the hospital to let me out.”
Dixie Smiled. “That is sure an interesting mode of transportation you have there.”
“It works and with the resources of my home area there are not a lot of options.”
“What do you say I buy you a cup of coffee and we can talk a little while you finish waking up?” Dixie offered as she took Julie by the arm and led her to the doctor’s lounge.
“So, was it a good wedding?” Dixie asked as she carried two cups of coffee over to the table where Julie was sitting.
“I guess,” Julie answered then warmed her hands on the cup of coffee.
“That doesn’t sound like you enjoyed yourself all that much,” Dixie commented with a command to tell all in the glare she was giving Julie.
“It’s just that my sisters and my sisters-in-law are overly concerned with my current marital status.”
“Set you up did they?” Dixie was reading between the lines.
“Worse than that, not only are they worried about my current marital status they are clearly afraid I’m not going to maintain the family tradition.”
“Family tradition?” Dixie questioned and continued her friendly glare.
“Yeah,” Julie responded with a shake of her head and a mischievous smile for her training superior. “It’s a long story, are you sure you want to hear it?”
“I have just had one hell of a night on shift and I could really use something to help me unwind before I go home and I have a hunch your story, however long it is, is going to do the job.”
“Alright you asked for it.” Julie let out a sigh and then began a story she has told more than she cared to count.
“My Father’s name is Carl, so is my oldest brother, then came twin sisters whom my parents named Beth and Anne. Then I was born, followed a few years down the line by my younger brother Roy.
“Well as time went on my twin sisters each married a man named Carl. All of the Carls have named their firstborn male Carl and my sister who has all girls is now pregnant again and the sonogram has reveled that after four girls she’s finally having a boy so they announced at the pre-wedding gathering that they’re going to name him Carl Miller the fourth.
“Between all of my extended family, all of my new sister-in-law’s extended family and all of both family’s friends who showed up there were twenty three Carls at the reception and whenever my family gets together with friends there is always at least half a dozen wisecrackers that like to shout out, “Hey Carl,” at any given moment just to see how many heads pop up. It’s enough to drive anybody insane.
“Anyway, soon after my sisters got married my brother Carl married a woman named Beth Anne, and just this last weekend my younger brother Roy, married a girl by the name of Julie.”
Dixie started giggling as she added the last part of the story. “Now you’re expected to marry a man named, let me guess, Roy?”
“Yeah,” Julie nearly groaned. “Each one of my sisters and each one of my sisters-in-law brought someone to the wedding for me to meet.”
“All of them named Roy?” Dixie was still laughing making it possible for Julie to see some humor to the situation.
“Yeah, Roy 1, Roy 2, Roy 3, Roy 4, and worse yet, Julie’s Uncle Roy.” Julie paused to shake her head once again. “Now Uncle Roy wasn’t as old as my father but he’s old enough to be my father, not to mention his love of the punch bowl, and when that was empty he had his own very ornate flask in his back pocket. Before he let one of the other Roys cut in on the dance floor he invited me to share his hotel room for the evening. As far as the other four go I can’t say that there was anything about any of them that caught my attention. They were all okay on the dance floor but about the only good thing I can say is that I didn’t have any trouble remembering their first names.”
Now both women were laughing and it was safe to say that Julie was now fully awake and Dixie was completely unwound.
“So if things work out between you and Mr. Chester Kelly is it fair to say your family is not going to welcome him into the family with open arms?”
Julie turned very sober all of a sudden. “Well, Chet and I aren’t at that point yet but, if and when I ever get to that point, no matter who it is I get to that point with, it will be my choice and no one else’s. If they don’t like it, well, too bad.”
Before the two nurses parted company Julie talked to Dixie about putting in some extra shifts so that she could finish her degree a little earlier. While she was home there had been hints that she may be required to bring Frank home to his father sooner than she had before hoped and she was told that if they declared a date she would have to comply regardless of what else she was doing in her life. Dixie agreed and a quick stop by the desk was all they needed to schedule the extra shifts.
Julie went to her apartment and after checking the time called Chet to get all the details of how Frank’s visit to the firefighting training facility went.
She listened with pride to Chet’s very detailed recitation of the day and held her breath when he told her of the job offer for Frank to help maintain the equipment at the training facility.
Julie’s next call was to the training center where Frank was currently living where she talked with his lead training supervisor. She was pleased to find out that they knew all about the job offer but sobered as they listed the steps that would have to take place before Frank could accept it. In short order Frank would have to be able to master finances enough to be able to maintain his own household and be declared legally competent to be separated from parental custody. It was a long shot but Julie was pleased to hear that the main focus of Frank’s training from now until he was ordered to return home was to teach him how to maintain a budget. There was not a lot of hope but everyone involved was determined not to give up without giving it their best shot.
Julie was also saddened to hear that the fire department officials decided not to traumatize Frank with his award and simply handed it over to the officials at the training center to be placed in his file. Frank never touched it. Jake was sure it had as much to do with the department dignitaries not feeling comfortable with Frank and people of his kind as anything else and even he was slightly disgusted in the way it was dealt with. Jake even suggested that perhaps Mr. Kelly and his friends would like to present it to him in a little more dignified manner.
When Julie hung up with the training center promising to be there the next day to spend some time with Frank she then dialed Chet again and the two talked the morning away. They talked about this and that and absolutely nothing before Julie informed Chet that she brought him back some barbed wire samples for his collection.
After literally talking to Chet on the phone for two hours Julie then got ready and headed back to the hospital early in order to check out the job board before her shift was to start.
For the next two weeks Chet’s shifts and Julie’s shifts seldom matched up. There were only two evenings when they were able to get together and on both of those evenings they started by taking Frank grocery shopping and helping him plan a menu as well as patiently teaching him how to use a calculator.
Frank had a limit to the money he could spend and they were starting him out with three meals per shopping trip. It was hard for both Chet and Julie to watch him have to put good food choices back because they cost too much but they both knew they had to keep from giving him the extra money he needed to buy them. Another challenge was that not all food was clearly marked as to the price, and they had to constantly remind Frank to add the decimal point as he entered the numbers into the calculator. It was almost painful to realize that to Frank those numbers meant nothing except that they matched a number on his calculator. It was learned that even counting to three when he helped lift something was only a mantra similar to ready, set, go.
Once back at his training center Frank was helped to put his canned goods together in meals. One can of main course, soup, chili, ravioli, was grouped with a can of vegetables and a single cup of prepared pudding.
Every time either Chet or Julie went to the training center they always made a point to say, “Hi”, to Mark. They never interacted with him for more than just a few minutes but they often found him running to get his greeting and tell them something new he learned to do. Often he had a brightly colored certificate to show that stated his most recent accomplishment. Julie was able to inform Chet that it was these certificates that Frank’s father didn’t approve of.
Mark always made a point to stay on the other side of the sofa and for a while there was a chair placed back to back with the sofa and Julie would laugh as Mark would kneel on the sofa and Chet would kneel on the chair as the two talked.
Julie seemed to smile the biggest at the ten year old voice Chet used whenever he spoke with Mark. He had explained that the first time he had interacted with him after the near strangulation, he had been afraid of him and that was the only way he could force himself to talk to Mark. “After that, it just sort of feels natural whenever I see Mark I just pull out my ‘talk to Mark’ voice.”
“He’s really responding to it.” Julie tucked her arm around Chet’s and moved closer. “He values your attention, so much so that he’s being more cooperative to the testing they’ve been giving him and he’s trying harder to learn the things they’re trying to teach him.”
Marco had been good to bring Chet a bunch of stamps that had come on letters from extended family in Mexico and the rest of the guys would bring in anything they got that was in the least bit different. Chet would give Mark one or two every visit intermingled with whatever new sticker he could come up with. Roy and John brought him a few back from Rampart and Chet was able to beg a few off of both the police officers and the county sheriffs that they often worked alongside.
When Mark was telling him that one of the residents complained that he hugged too hard Chet got an idea and he asked Mark to wait for him. He then ran to his car and found the bag of balloons that were under the seat, left over from a party he’d helped decorate for at the station. Chet started by blowing one of the balloons up and tying it off before handing it to Mark and telling him to practice on the balloon. It popped.
Chet blew up two more before Frank was ready to leave and each of them was quickly popped as well. Chet left the rest of the package with one of the staff members and the next time he returned he brought two more packages. He was pleased to hear that Mark learned how to give a gentle hug before he used up all of the balloons; he was even able to demonstrate by giving Chet a hug, over the back of the sofa. He was so excited that he had given a truly gentle hug that he followed it by giving Chet a slap on the back that sent him nearly half way across the room. That boy clearly didn’t understand his own strength.
One of the staff members reported that Frank was teaching him how to help people get out of the building during the required weekly fire drills.
Each time Chet and Julie took Frank back to the training Center they would then spend the rest of the evening together. Their evenings usually involved a quick meal; usually a chili dog or a hamburger and then they would talk.
They talked about Frank and his progress, what was expected to happen next and the differences between him and Mark. They talked about Julie’s schooling and how fast she was finishing up her clinicals and some of the different employment options she was applying for. Chet was thrilled that most of them were in the L.A. area but not all of them.
For his part Chet talked about his work and some of the runs they rolled on. On both nights the evening ended with Julie falling asleep on Chet’s shoulder. She was the perfect example of someone who was burning the candle at both ends and Chet loved the way it felt to hold her in his arms as she slept.
As their schedules continued to conflict, Chet looked ahead to the days after Julie would finish her clinicals and was done with her schooling. The formal graduation would take place after she returned home with Frank but she wouldn’t walk across the podium, she would wait by the mail box for her diploma. Chet regretted the absence of that celebration of a well earned accomplishment but Julie did not.
She had done it and in following Frank’s example that was enough for her. Since Julie would be out of school at the same time he had a four day break they planned to take Frank to Disneyland before he had to go home. It just didn’t seem right that he would spend so much time so close to it and not get to go to Disneyland.
Three days before that was to happen, Chet’s shift started with a phone call from his lawyer telling him that Dr. Crammer had decided to settle out of court and all of their demands were going to be met. Chet could expect a large check to be delivered by currier with in the week.
Stunned, Chet sat in the nearest chair. The list of grievances had been slightly exaggerated and the monetary compensation had been much higher than anyone really expected to receive.
The rest of the shift was a busy one. The hose bed of the engine was in need of being switched out and the dirty hose tested, washed and hung to dry. It was later in the afternoon when Captain Stanley opened the door of the station to Julie who was dressed in a mud and dried blood covered expensive business suit.
“May I please speak with Chet Kelly for a few moments?” Julie requested as she removed her mud crusted heels from her feet and left them outside the door before stepping in with only her nylons covering her feet.
Julie was offered a seat in the common room but she just took one good look at herself and suggested that if Chet was out back it would be best if she went to him. “You should have made me hose off before you allowed me in the station,” Julie joked to her long time family friend. “My mother would have.”
“You are a sight,” Hank agreed as he walked Julie through the bay and out back to meet Chet. As Chet was giving her the most surprised and questioning look Hank silently signaled the rest of the guys to come in and give Chet and Julie some privacy.
Chet walked over to Julie with his hands out silently gesturing for an explanation when she started talking.
“I tried to call you earlier this morning but there was no answer here at the station.”
Julie stopped her progress toward him and Chet could tell by the look on her face that the news she carried wasn’t good news.
“We’ve had a lot of runs this morning, back to back some of them. What’s wrong?”
Julie looked at the ground and clenched her fists before meeting Chet’s eyes once again. “We have to cancel Disneyland, Social services back home called me this morning and told me that I have forty-eight hours to get Frank back into the custody of his father.
They called the training center yesterday and were told that it’s unlikely that Frank will improve any more than he has with further training and there’s some issue with him being out of state this long that no one claimed to be aware about before now. I had a job interview that I’m just coming back from, now I need to go pack up my apartment and clean it out so I can get my cleaning deposit back. The staff at the training center is helping Frank do the same so we can leave first thing in the morning.
“First thing in the morning?” Chet was totally lost for something to say. He knew this moment was coming, Julie had even warned him that the two of them could be called home early, but still he thought he had another week and a half.
The silence was too much for him and yet he didn’t know what to say so he changed the subject.
“So how did the interview go this morning?” Chet then gestured toward Julie’s mud covered business suit.
“I guess it went alright, the men giving the interview were leading me on a tour of the construction site when some scaffolding fell. With all the rain the last few days it softened the ground and some of the footings sank pulling the scaffolding off balance. Three men were caught in the collapse.” Julie just gave a shrug of her dirty shoulders, “Well, I’m a nurse with a fair amount of rescue training and wasn’t really dressed for the job but I did the best I could before the fire department arrived with the jacks to complete the extrication. I offered to go with the patients to the hospital but I guess they didn’t want me messing up their ambulance.”
“Must have impressed the guys doing the interviewing,” Chet commented hopefully.
“They did say they liked the idea of a nurse that wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. They said they’ll make their decision sometime in the next two weeks. The building won’t be ready for a little more than a month so that works with taking Frank home and the court date and all.”
“The court date is still the same?” Chet questioned why they had to go home so long before. The court date was still four and a half weeks off.
“Yeah, the judge wants to see how things are going to work out with the new arrangements before he makes his decision. But as long as Frank’s Dad doesn’t beat him up in that length of time the court date is pretty much just a formality. Even if his dad does mess things up I’m pretty sure they’ll relocate him to some kind of a facility in state. All those awards he’s earned will help there.”
“I wish I could help you pack up, maybe I could get someone to come in and replace me…”
Julie stopped him before he could finish, “That won’t be necessary, it’s just a furnished studio apartment and I’ve been mostly living out of my suitcase since I moved there from the training center. My uniforms are already packed up and in the back of the truck. It shouldn’t take me more than an hour to get everything loaded up and a few hours to clean the place from top to bottom. Should be the same for Frank, I know he’ll want to come by the station and say good-bye to everybody, do you think that will be alright?”
“I’m sure that would be fine, better check with Cap. What time are you going to be heading out in the morning?” Chet talked as he started leading Julie toward the captain so that they could make their request.
Just then the tones sounded calling Chet and the station to a traffic accident with injuries. Chet started running for his place on the engine knowing Julie would find her way back to her truck. “I’ll talk to Cap and give you a call.”
“The phone will work until I unplug it to leave in the morning.”
That was it, the worst good-bye Chet had ever said. And still he was unable to say more.
Chet did call later that evening and permission was granted for Julie to bring Frank by before they left. Thanks to an early morning fire at a car repair garage the good-byes were said during shift change a couple of hours after Julie had hoped to be on the road.
Cap pulled his smoke and soot covered platoon to attention and did them all proud as he presented Frank the polished wood plaque. Explaining that this award wasn’t for something he had learned but for putting the welfare of others ahead of himself and using what he had learned to save their lives, ending with telling this special man with eternal youth that it had been an honor to have him at the station to help out and they would all miss him.
The oncoming platoon stood in on the presentation but the snorts and smirks from a few annoyed the men who truly respected this young man.
All six firemen from A shift walked Julie and Frank to the truck that was loaded with everything they had brought with them along with what they’d collected while they were there. Frank was given an LA County Fire Department T-shirt as he climbed in the truck. With everyone there Chet didn’t have the privacy to say the good-bye he wanted to. He probably couldn’t have found the words he wanted to use anyway but he still wanted to say something more, something to let Julie know that he wanted her to come back.
The two did exchange a friendly kiss and Frank shared a smile that resembled a little brother that had just earned teasing fuel. They promised to keep in touch, but nothing else was spoken.
Chet was still standing on the curb in front of the station long after Julie’s truck had driven out of sight.
Author’s note: This is not the end of the story just the end of the chapter, there will be more chapters to come.
The next shift seemed extra quiet, and it wasn’t until Cap came into the day room looking for Kelly that they all started to figure out why. The following shift started out to be just as bad. They were all in the locker room chatting as they changed into their uniforms. Chet had been in earlier than anyone else and was silently sitting on the bench in front of his locker applying a fresh coat of shoe polish to all three pair of his work boots.
When John had finished adding his badge and utility pouch he couldn’t take the silent Chet Kelly any longer.
Cautiously preparing to engage in a conversation with his friend Johnny placed his foot on the bench and then, with his arms folded, leaned on his raised knee. “So, um, Chet, have you, um, heard anything from Julie since she left?”
Before he answered Chet stopped what he was doing and looked around at all of his crewmates. “Yeah, a couple of letters, a phone call.” He guessed they were her friends too, so he could let them know that she was still in communication. He didn’t intend to tell them everything she’d written or what they’d talked about.
“How’s Frank doing now that he’s home?” Roy stepped into the conversation with interest.
“Don’t know,” Chet answered, “Julie’s not been allowed to maintain contact with him once custody was transferred back to his father.”
“Yeah,” Roy sighed at the discomfort he knew he had added to Chet’s obvious misery. “I forgot they did things that way.”
“Is she working in the hospital there now that she’s finished her education?” Johnny questioned more remembering how well they all just loved her, or rather wished she’d drop dead, at that little hospital in the middle of nowhere.
“She’s covering one of the outlying clinics while the nurse there takes her vacation. She says one of the residents there right now is named Roy.” Chet smirked at the family joke. Still there was a down and out appearance to their friend. " I guess the whole community has come together and set a wedding date but it looks like it’s going to be an interesting wedding since the groom already has two wives back in Nairobi where he came from to learn medicine so he can treat his people. And Julie is not in the least ways interested in being wife number three nor is she interested in relocating to Nairobi.”
John and Roy gave out a smirking laugh as Marco looked clueless.
Chet returned to his downtrodden mood as they moved out to stand in line for roll call. Little did anyone know that Chet wasn’t down because of what was being written or told to him in a phone call. He was down because of his inability to tell Julie what was in his heart and terrified of what would happen if he didn’t manage to let her know how he felt about her. There were clearly a lot of Roys in the world and her sisters were managing to find them by the bunches.
From roll call Chet was called to the office where Hank had him sit down.
“There’s been a request from the Training Center for the Mentally Handicapped for one of their residents to be given a special tour of your station.”
“Ohhh. Cap, don’t say that. I don’t want everyone, including you, mad at me.” Chet grimaced as Hank smiled. “You didn’t approve the visit did you?”
“Actually, Headquarters approved it. (Translation, headquarters ordered it.) It would seem that this visit is a reward for completing all of his training. According to the information I received over the phone your influence had a lot to do with motivating him to do what he was being taught so now he wants to see your fire engine.” Hank smiled at his lineman to let him know he didn’t take it personally but the increasingly worried look on Chet’s face warned him something was coming.
“Did they happen to tell you what the residents name was?” Chet had a sinking suspicion but he was hoping he was wrong.
“Yes it’s a man by the name of Mark, let me see here,” Hank looked at his notes again, “Yeah Mark Crammer. Do you…” Hank took one look at the blanching face of his formerly mischievous line man and knew they were in trouble.
“This is the same person that nearly strangled you, isn’t he?”
Chet nodded his head in response as he was trying to figure out a way to rearrange the furniture from the day room into the bay so that he could keep the couch between him and Mark while he told him about the engine.
Slowly he began to explain to his captain that he was no longer worried about being physically harmed by Mark. “The trouble is, Cap, he’s got the mentality of a three or four year old in the body of a professional line backer. I’m not sure how he’s going to react to the engine. He could very easily just run at the engine in excitement shoving all of us out of the way as he goes and start yanking levers, breaking them off in the process. To say this guy doesn’t understand his own strength is an understatement.”
Hank’s facial coloring matched Chet’s as the two looked eye to eye over the desk. “He’ll be here around three this afternoon. You have ‘til then to teach the rest of the crew how to help you deal with him.”
“Um, Cap, there’s one thing I think you should know. I don’t exactly act my age around Mark.”
Hank wiped his hand down the length of his face hiding his smile as he did so.
“Something tells me we’re in for a very interesting afternoon.”
With time to prepare, the squad was sent to borrow an extra large set of turn out gear from a neighboring station and the sofa was moved in the common room so that it performed as a safety barrier while Chet explained the rules of the station. When the van from the training center arrived their guests were guided through the side door and Chet was waiting for them on the other side of the sofa.
Even though Chet had told them what to expect when Mark arrived the rest of the men were still surprised by his size and obvious weight training. As had been agreed upon once Mark and his trainer were welcomed to the station they were left alone with Chet but before they left the room they all noticed Chet’s ‘talking to Mark’ voice and found themselves giggling in the bay until they knew it was safe to go about the chores that still needed to be done.
Once Chet had finished the rules and Mark agreed to obey them Chet hesitantly stepped around the sofa and stood next to Mark. “Okay, let’s go through that door.”
Mark was quickly excited that Chet had a red engine, he liked those best. He was also excited that he had a big one and a little one. Chet explained that the little one was for taking care of people that were hurt or sick and the big one was for putting out fires.
Mark didn’t like the turn out gear, it was too hot to wear, and the face mask was too scary to put on. The fire siren was too loud and needed to be turned down so that it didn’t hurt his ears and the beds in the fire house dorms were too small for Mark, Chet had to agree.
When they came back into the bay Mark noticed Mike and Marco working to roll up the hose that Johnny and Roy were taking down from the hose tower and he wanted to help. Making that long thing go round and round really looked like fun to Mark. The guys stepped back and let Chet try to teach him how to do it. Each time Chet finished rolling a hose either Mike or Marco would take it and stack it in the storage closet, before Mark reached the end of his hose he would get off center or some other way that it wasn’t able to be stacked so he would just unroll it and begin again.
Chet just kept encouraging him to try again and practice ‘til he got it right.
When it was time for Mark to leave the station Captain Stanley presented him with a fire hose of his own. It was a larger fire hose but unlike the fifty foot lengths they had been rolling this one was only twenty five feet long. It had been run over by an ambulance while it was fully charged with water and burst a hole in the side so now needed to be retired.
Hank felt as if he had given the man before him the world all rolled up with the hose. He quickly unrolled it and because it was bigger and shorter he was able to roll it back up again and then he picked it up and gave it a hug before carrying it to the van to take back with him.
As soon as the van drove off Chet’s talking to Mark voice went with it and all was as it had been before. They went back in and moved the sofa back under the window where it belonged and went on with their day. It was noticed that Chet also went back to being quiet.
During the break John had tried to get Chet to go on a double date with him but Chet had declined saying he’d be lousy company. The same thing happened with the following break.
When Chet arrived early for work a week and a half later he was given a letter that had been sent to the station through headquarters. As the rest of his crew trickled in they found Chet sitting on the bench in front of his locker reading it and they were excited to hear him laughing.
“Is that a letter from Julie?” John was quick to ask.
“NO, Chet responded without taking his eyes from the papers in his hand. “It’s a letter from Mark’s brother, look at this picture.”
Chet produced a photograph and the three men in the locker room gathered around to get a good look at it. It was a picture of Mark a sleep in his bed with the unrolled fire hose in bed with him, tucked under his arm like it was a teddy bear. They all shared a laugh with Chet as he told them more about what was in the letter.
“His brother said that now that he’s finished his training Mark’s qualified to move into a home with others like him that is just across the street from the retirement center where their parents are staying now. That means they’ll be able to see each other on a regular basis.
Chet didn’t tell them about the part of the letter where Dr. Crammer admits that he didn’t think his brother had a chance of learning what he needed to learn to live in such a center. He was sure that he was destined for a lock down facility where he would have to have been kept sedated to keep him under control.
He had only agreed to put Mark in the Training Center at his parents’ insistence because he didn’t want to upset his father before he’d had a chance to recover from his heart attack. There was also something in the letter about how he had appreciated Chet’s assistance in getting his brother to cooperate as well as Frank’s help in teaching him some of the things he needed to learn.
The men were lined up for roll call when Captain Hookraider, who had been in the office finishing up his end of shift paperwork, stepped out of the office and talking more to Captain Stanley than anyone else, informed all that were listening that there was a call in the office for Chet Kelly. “They say it’s long distance.”
Chet was motioned to the office with the command to, “make it quick.”
Hookraider lead the way back to the office and the look on his face showed his disapproval for the personal call during the business hours at the station. If it hadn’t have been long distance he’d have told them to call back in an hour.
“Los Angeles County Fire Department Fireman Chet Kelly speaking,” Chet made sure to go through the whole spiel for the benefit of Captain Hookraider.
The look on Chet’s face turned instantly troubled. “Gone, gone where?”
Warning: tissue alert death involved; I recommend you break out the tissues before you read.
Hank had just read the second notice to his remaining crew when Captain Hookraider returned to his side and seeing that he had his attention he stepped close and whispered in Hank’s ear. The look on Hank’s face in response to what he heard was enough to alert the crew that something bad had happened and they all suspected it had to do with Chet Kelly.
Mike was about the only one close enough to hear Hank whisper back to the outgoing captain. “Is he alright?”
“He might be in a minute or two but right now he looks like he’s been kicked in the guts by a mule. I’ll go see if one of my men is still around just in case.”
Hank turned a concerned gaze toward the office before letting out a deep breath. Figuring Chet needed a moment alone to finish his phone conversation and regroup before he was asked to explain, Hank turned back to his notices. There was only one more notice from Headquarters to read and then duty assignments to give out. He read the last notice numbly, and then gave the assignment list a quick looking over mentally switching Chet to the dorms before calling out the rest of the assignments and dismissing his men to their work.
Hank turned and headed for the office to see what Chet’s needs were.
Chet had managed to tell the person on the phone to be sure to keep him informed, promising to do everything in his power to get there for the funeral. Now he sat at the desk still holding the lifeless phone in his hand.
His mind replayed the entire conversation including every feeling he had including the moments he felt nothing.
He could hear the tears in her voice the instant she spoke and it troubled him that he couldn’t take her in his arms to comfort her. “Chet, its Julie… Frank’s gone.”
“Gone? Gone where?” Chet’s first instant interpretation was that Frank had run away from his father and that he was likely to show up at the station anytime now by way of the Lazy J semi-transportation line.
“He’s dead,” Julie froze his ability to breath as his heart jumped into his throat blocking all passage of air in or out.
“Dead? How?” Were the only words Chet’s strangled voice could utter. He had been aware of a strong hand taking a hold of his arm and pulling him toward the chair that was being pushed into the back of his knees.
Julie’s voice was hitched as she took an audible breath. “I don’t know all the details yet, but he was at a fire… he had to have gotten there before the fire department because they never let him do anything other than stay by the engine or the ambulance. Sometimes they let him change their air bottles or thaw out their regulators but...” Chet heard the hitched gasp for air and the emotion in Julie’s voice. “I was told that he was handing children out of a window when the ceiling came down on him.”
Chet’s replay of the phone conversation was interrupted by a gentle and supportive hand placed on his shoulder. That’s when he noticed the beeping in the phone confirming that the call had been discontinued and the phone needed to be hung up.
Chet was sure the hands that had placed him in the chair he was sitting in had belonged to Hookraider, but the hand that was rubbing his shoulder was more compassionate, so much more tender than Chet believed Hookraider was capable of. A turn of his head confirmed it was his Cap trying to comfort him.
“Are you okay there, Pal?” Hank asked as he took the phone hand set from Chet’s still stunned hand and placed it back on the phone.
“Yeah, Yeah, I’m okay; I, I just need a minute.”
“Hookraider said he was pretty sure that phone call was to inform you someone had died, do you need me to get a replacement for you?”
Chet took a deep breath then closed his eyes tight against the tears that were threatening to fall.
“No, I want… I need to go to the funeral; I’ll need, need time off then, better stay on shift now.”
“Who was it, Pal?” Hank asked. He had to determine for himself if Chet was capable of staying on shift. If it was an immediate family member there was compassionate leave that would allow him to take time off now until the funeral providing it wasn’t more than a week.
“Oh, oh man,” Chet’s emotions broke through. “I have to tell the guys, the rest of the crew, they’ll want to know.”
That was the point when Hank knew the death was someone they all knew. Not able to guess with any certainty who it was, Hank left Chet’s side for just a moment.
Standing in the doorway to the office he could hear John and Roy checking out the squad and called out John’s name.
John’s head popped up on the other side of the squad like toast out of a toaster. “Would you gather the crew in the day room please?”
It was clear by the look on John’s face that he knew they were about to be given bad news. Unable to speak he simply nodded his head and ran to where the rest of the guys were.
Hank returned to Chet’s side and rubbed the back of his neck one more time before helping him to his feet. Together they moved toward the day room stopping at the radio console.
“LA, this is Station 51,” Hank managed to keep the sound of any emotion out of his voice. “Time out 20 minutes.”
They were in the doorway to the day room before dispatch responded, “10-4, 51”
Four men sat at the table looking expectantly at Cap and Chet as they moved toward the table. Captain Hookraider had been standing at the stove but he now felt as if he was butting in on this shift’s family crisis and quietly slipped back to the office to finish his paper work.
Chet took a firm hold on the back of the chair in front of him and turned his moist eyes to the line were the ceiling and the wall met.
“Frank Dillon was killed sometime last night or early this morning.” He spoke clearly and quickly.
“Fran… Frank, Julie’s Frank?” Hank stammered in surprise. Frank hadn’t been on his mental list of possibilities. Of course, it had been a long distance phone call. He had forgotten to add that into the equation.
"How did it happen?"
“Was it his father?” John and Roy asked in unison.
“I wasn’t able to get all of the details but apparently there was a house fire, and um, he was handing children out of the window when there was a structure collapse.” Chet had to turn away to hide the emotions he could no longer contain. His voice would no longer work; there was nothing more he could say.
The rest of the men all sat stunned, unwilling to believe what they had just been told.
Before the twenty minutes had elapsed Chief McConnike arrived to investigate the reason for the time out. He too was stunned by the news.
Chet was allowed some private time in the dorm and returned put together. His red eyes betrayed the tears that had been shed in private but he was able to convince both Captain Stanley and Chief McConnike of his ability to do his job. Hank knew he’d benefit by the companionship of the rest of the crew so he welcomed him to stay on shift.
The moment Station 51 went back in service they were called out on a minor traffic accident that had just managed to start a brush fire. The men were all hopping there for a while to get the fire contained making them late getting back to the station for lunch.
While Marco and Mike teamed up to get a meal ready Chet got on the phone. He started by calling a dozen fellow firefighters that owed him a favor. He was only able to speak to one of them in person. He readily agreed to cover one of Chet’s next four shifts.
To all the rest he left a message that he was trying to clear the way to attend an out of state funeral, and from there he had to wait for them to return his call and hope he wasn’t out on a run when they did.
The day proceeded to be semi busy, with just enough runs to keep them all from thinking a lot about their fallen friend.
Hank had watched Chet in action and he seemed to be doing fine as far as doing his job but he wasn’t talking to his shift mates when he was back at the station and Hank knew he had to have a heavy load on his soul that he really needed to share. They had all spent some time with Frank but none of them anywhere near as much time as Chet. He had truly taken that young man under his wing even if it was just to get closer to Julie.
Chet was climbing the walls inside of himself. He needed to get to Julie, he could only hope that she had someone to hold her right now but he wanted to be that person so much his whole being ached. And Frank how could he really be gone?
It was good that work had been busy enough that he didn’t have a lot of time to think because when he did he had to ask himself if he weren’t somehow responsible for the death of his friend. Had he helped him experience more about the world of firefighting than he should have? Did taking him to the open house make him believe that he could do more than he really could?
Fortunately while the engine was out dealing with a few inspections John had taken a call for him and two more of his next four shifts were now covered. If he could just get next shift covered he’d leave as soon as he got off shift in the morning and head out.
Chet started making a list; he couldn’t afford to forget anything. He’d need to make sure he packed his dress uniform. Frank deserved to be honored as a fallen firefighter. He had no idea how the people in his home town would handle the situation but Chet was determined to honor him.
The rest of the crew kept an eye on Chet throughout the day. They were quick to hand him a cup of coffee when he looked like he was a million miles away. Someone made sure he was escorted to the table when meals were ready but no one was surprised that he didn’t eat much. While everyone made a point to stay close no one forced him to talk. They all understood that there really wasn’t a lot to say; still they were quick to place a supportive hand on his shoulder or to just sit next to him to let Chet know they were there for him. They all wished there was more that they could do but couldn’t think of what that might be.
Nearly all of them wondered if they shouldn’t be trying to get to the funeral, more so Roy and John. Would they be butting in if they went? Where would they stay?
Chet had said that they hadn’t set a date and time for the funeral yet, would they find out when in time to get there? What if the funeral was scheduled for when they were on shift?
Before dinner was ready Chet had not only received return calls confirming that all of his next four shifts were covered there had been three extra offers. Each of the men asked whose funeral Chet was trying to get to, each man was just told that it was a close friend.
During dinner the phone rang and Hank answered it before offering the phone to Chet. It was Jack Mumford on the line.
“I just so happen to be headed down to San Diego with a load then I’m picking up a load of seed to haul back. Carl Clark suggested I give you a call and see if you wanted to ride back with me. He said to tell you you’re welcome to stay in the bunk house.”
“Jack, I’d love to take you up on the offer but I don’t get off shift until eight o’clock in the morning.”
“That sounds great; I’d love to get a hot sit down breakfast for a change. Can I pick you up across the street from the station there? It will be a whole lot easier to park this beast I drive.”
“Sure, I’ll be ready for you.” Chet agreed and as soon as he hung up he just picked up the phone again. He called his sister and begged her to pack him a suitcase for a week and please pack his dress uniform.
Cindy Kelly showed up at the station before everyone turned in for the night with the requested items. Chet let her take his car for the week in return.
It was a quiet night at the station, one of those rare ones when you didn’t get called out, still the men didn’t sleep well, Chet not at all.
Chet finally moved to the common room, Hank followed a few minutes later to find his lineman with his head in his hands. Once again he sat next to his friend and started to rub his back. No words were spoken; there just wasn’t anything to say.
Jack arrived at 7:45 the next morning; Chet’s replacement had been early also so Hank gave him the go ahead to leave. He didn’t even try to change out of his uniform. Chet just grabbed his bags and started running across the street after looking both ways for cars.
As soon as Hank arrived home he gave his onetime Fire Chief a call. He hated some of the things he heard and was frustrated that no funeral date and time had been set yet. But he and all of his men had been invited to stay in the bunk house and Carl Clark promised to call him back with the date and time as soon as he heard what it was.
Jack had been able to tell with one look that Chet hadn’t gotten any sleep the night before. He had a co-driver this trip that Chet remembered from their patient transport trip when they hauled Roy, with complications of a head injury and the town doctor with complications of a blood clot in the leg, back to Rampart in this very eighteen wheeler pulling a trailer full of pigs. James and his wife, who was nearing the end of a pregnancy with what turned out to be triplets, had been in a car following behind them all the way.
“I’ve got James along on this trip,” Jack talked as he thumbed Chet into the sleeper, “Got to get him out of the house as much as I can these days if he has any hope of getting sleep with them triplets at home now.”
Chet gave a week smile and thanked them both for allowing him to ride with them. It must have been the steady vibrations of the engine and the road but somehow Chet managed to fall asleep. He woke up as they stopped at the last state line check point to find that someone had straightened him out on the bed and covered him with a blanket.
Jack stopped to unhook the trailer and drop James off then drove the tractor section of his semi with Chet out to the ranch. As he drove he explained that he’d be heading out tomorrow with a load of sheep they were exchanging with another ranch to make sure they didn’t have a problem with inbreeding.
They pulled up at the ranch as another semi was backing up to a pen to unload a bunch of pregnant ewes.
Chet was quick to shoulder his garment bag and then grab his suitcase and jump down from the tractor. He couldn’t see Julie anywhere and the only person he recognized was her father who was organizing the unloading of the other semi.
Carrying his bags, Chet walked toward him and waited for him to give instructions to one of his men.
“You know where the bunk house is,” Carl spoke matter-of-factly. Chet detected a sour tone in his voice and hoped it wasn’t aimed at him. “Once you drop your bags, you’ll find Julie in the barn. She’s taken to milking the cows and cleaning the barn where she can be by herself since we got the news.”
Chet didn’t like the sound of that and was quick to head off to unload his arms and then find her. He had just turned to leave when Carl took a hold of his arm to stop him.
“Someone claimed that Frank started the fire that got him killed.” There was anger in Mr. Clark’s voice but Chet felt assured that it wasn’t aimed at him. “There’s a Grand Jury type thing tomorrow where they’re getting all of their evidence together to see if it’s anything more than a sour rumor certain folk in this area like to spread. Julie’s taking it real hard.”
Chet felt some of the same anger he was feeling from the man talking to him. There was no way he could believe Frank would set a fire especially in a house where someone lived.
Chet took the steps to the bunk house two at a time and when he reached the top he found the door unlocked and stepped in just far enough to drop his bag on the first bed, then looking sorrowfully at the bottom bunk were Frank had slept when they first met him, Chet then left in search of Julie.
He found Julie right where her father had said she’d be she was sitting on a stack of hay bales as a couple of cows fed in the next stall.
Chet announced his presence. “This must be the very finest in fresh milk dispensers.”
Julie looked up with tear filled eyes and ran into Chet’s waiting arms.
Dinner was ready to go on the table at the Clark home and Carl Clark the oldest was looking for his daughter and since she had spent so much of her time the last few days in the barn that is where he looked first.
When Carl walked into the barn he quickly saw his daughter with the fireman from California. She looked as if she had cried herself to sleep in this man’s arms.
Julie had finally shared her grief with someone. He wished she could have opened up to him but after all he had said to her in opposition of the time she spent with this handicapped young man to make his life better he could understand why she wouldn’t come to him. Carl’s thoughts turned to Julie telling him that she didn’t want just any guy; she was holding out for a man.
Mr. Kelly was still in his uniform, a testament to the fact that he just hopped in Jack’s semi and came right from work. The moisture on his face bore testament to the fact that he cared for this young man as much as his daughter did. There was noticeable dampness to the front of the uniform in the area of each of the shoulders. Carl Clark Sr. felt at peace at last. It was clear that his daughter had found such a man.
Less than an hour ago he had learned why his daughter came home and kicked two bales of hay apart the night before they learned of Frank’s death. What had Julie ever done to deserve the vindictiveness of the folk in these parts?
Carl quickly removed his coat and wrapped it around his daughter’s shoulders as she slept on Chet’s shoulder. Chet just moved to place his arm on the outside of the coat and hold it tighter around her as he tucked the front part between Julie and himself.
“Thank you,” Carl spoke to Chet quietly.
Chet smiled but said nothing.
“I came to get you two for dinner but I don’t know what she needs most food or sleep, don’t think she’s had any of either since we got the word.”
“Well,” Chet whispered, emotions affecting his voice. “She’s made it to sleep maybe it would be best to let her at it and feed her when she wakes up.”
“Yeah,” Carl responded nodding his head as he spoke. “I’ll help you get her inside where it’s warm.”
Before Carl was able to move into a position to help lift his daughter Chet slipped the hand that had been stroking her hair under her knees and stood up with Julie in his arms making it clear that the only help he needed was for someone to open the doors for him. Carl moved ahead to do just that.
Chet walked along carrying Julie pausing only to kiss her forehead and snuggle her into his shoulder with his cheek when the cool breeze started to awaken her. It wasn’t a long distance to the house and once they were there Carl lead the way to Julie’s room and turned down the bedding. Chet lay her in the bed and carefully removed her father’s coat from around her shoulders as he pulled the blankets up and talked soothingly as he did so. Like Chet had been in the semi Julie was exhausted enough to go back to sleep and once she stilled and settled in Chet silently followed her father out of the room.
With a jerk of his head Carl directed Chet to the dining room table. “It’s not anything really fancy just a pot of clam chowder, Julie seems to like it and she really needs to eat something.
Not knowing what to say and feeling a little hungry himself Chet watched as a ladle of chowder was poured into a bowl and placed in front of him. Waiting patiently for his host to be ready to eat Chet took his first, best table manners yet, taste.
Smiling Chet went back for his second taste to confirm his suspicions. “You must be the one who taught Cap how to make such great clam chowder.”
“Are you telling me that Henry still uses the recipe he begged a year and a half to get me to write down for him?”
“Well, it tastes the same, but he doesn’t use a recipe anymore; he makes it from memory and if it took him that long to get the recipe I guess that’s why he will never let anyone around him while he’s cooking it.”
It felt good to smile and then a second later it felt wrong to smile. Chet took another taste of his chowder then set his spoon down.
“Sir, I’ve gotten to know Frank really well the last few months and I have to tell you that there is no way that he started that fire.”
Carl toyed with his chowder then looked up at his guest. “It is possible alright, but I know he didn’t do it either.”
“I didn’t take it personally when the state fire marshal asked his questions. He doesn’t know anyone in this area from Adam. He’s just came in to do a job and he’s doing the right thing to check out every lead. They’ve got a problem in town; have had for close to two years now. I’ve heard of similar problems throughout the county and into the next.
For some time now, two maybe three times a year an older house burns to the ground.
There’s no way Frank is responsible for the fires in the neighboring areas. Unless he was driven by someone else he never went any farther than he could walk. He was here on the ranch when several of the fires took place. There were two such fires while he and Julie were in California. Whoever is responsible seems to be accelerating."
“I used to think it was just an inadequate Fire Chief. The one they’ve had for the last eight years or so is more than a little short of knowhow. But then what can the town expect when they’re only willing to pay fifty bucks a month and obsolete and worn out equipment or no equipment, no one else wants the job.“They had a guy about ten years ago that was a former firefighter out of Arizona. The Mayor ran him out on a rail after about six months. Every town council meeting he’d ask for money to make the department safe. Things like turn out coats that were newer than fifty years old and not deteriorating, replacing the clutch on the fire engine before it broke down completely and had to be towed to the fire, stuff like that."
“The Mayor doesn’t like to spend money the city doesn’t have, I’ll give him that but there are needs that he doesn’t see as needs. The man runs unopposed in most elections, guess no one wants his job either."
“I suggested they bring in a state investigator to look into these fires nearly a year ago. Now that there has finally been a fatality they have no choice. I don’t like some of the rumors that are going around but it’s about time they got to the bottom of things.”
Carl took several more spoons full of chowder as he gave Chet a look that made him uncomfortable."
“The investigator was here late this afternoon asking if there was any truth to the rumor that Julie was pregnant.” Chet suddenly and completely understood the look he had been getting.
Chet answered without hesitation. “No sir, I have not taken advantage of your daughter. She has been working her butt off to finish her education, work a part time job to be able to cover what expenses her savings didn’t and spending whatever time she could to see to it that Frank was taken care of and had the support he needed to advance in the program he was enrolled in.”
Carl nodded his head in satisfaction with the answer given. “Actually, it seems the rumor going around is that she’s carrying Frank’s child. I knew that wasn’t the case. Those of us that have known Frank for a few years now know that his father saw to it that he was rendered incapable of producing offspring before he reached puberty.”
Chet understood where the man across the table from him was coming from. Instantly he was grateful that he had asked him instead of Julie to confirm or dispute the rumors he had been asked about. Chet felt assured that he had passed the test.
Chet’s mind turned to Frank and wondered if his father had used medical intervention or a painfully placed foot to render his son sterile. He told himself that it was none of his business and then asked the other question he wanted an answer to.
“What is it that people around here have against Julie?”
Carl actually looked pleased with that question.
“I don’t really know. I suspect that each person involved has their own reasons. For the most part I think that it’s in response to pain others have caused and by wana’be suitors that she’s rebuffed. There are times when she can be a regular bull moose when she’s right and she knows it. That’s caused a few waves.
“Mostly I think the rumors are started by people that feel trapped in this territory that time forgot and can’t take it that she’s made something of herself and can go anywhere she wants with the skills that she has and the name that she’s made for herself. Some are afraid she’s going to take their job, others are just plain jealous.”
After dinner Chet made even more points with Julie’s father by helping with the dishes before the two of them sat in front of the fire place.
Carl broke a long silence. “I have a couple of favors I need to ask of you if I may.”
“If I can,” Chet was quick to respond.
“First, I’d like you to go with us to this inquisition thing tomorrow afternoon. I want you to tell them about Frank and the time you’ve spent with him. You’ll probably be considered an expert witness because of your education and years with the fire department back in LA.”
“I want to go anyway. I want to be there for Julie.”
Carl smiled again. “The second favor, well, someone needs to go through the closet in the bunk house where Frank’s things are kept. For years now this has been the place he would come when his Dad admitted he needed a break from him. We’ve always kept at least three changes of clothes for him, you know, one to wear, one to wash and a spare.
I knew it was just going to be a matter of time before he’d be back even after the six months in California. He also left his favorite fireman print pajamas here when he went home this last time. His dad thinks they’re ridiculous and he wanted to try hard to make his dad happy that he was coming home.” Carl huffed at that thought then held his breath for a moment.
Carl took a deep breath to keep his emotions from over flowing, “There’s a sock monkey out there that Julie made for him. I think she may want to keep that, but everything else can go in a box and a, well I guess it should just be dropped off at the nearest Goodwill store, or maybe that training center he just came from could put them to use.”
“I’ll take care of it, sir,” Chet solemnly agreed.
Carl took a break to go get a drink from the kitchen and stopped by Julie’s room to check on her before he returned. She was lying there awake so he coaxed her to come with him to sit by the fire. The remaining clam chowder was warmed up and Chet convinced her to eat it. Actually he told her that if she didn’t eat it herself he was going to spoon feed her and that got her started. After a few spoons full she realized how hungry she was and finished off a couple of bowls full.
The three of them stayed by the fire late into the night and since Carl felt a change of topic of conversation was in order he asked how his old friend Henry was as a Captain. The conversation led to the crush Julie had on him when he worked at the ranch the summer just before he got married and they were all laughing before they split up to try and get some sleep.
Author’s Note: As I stated repeatedly in the first story of this series, there is a lot of comparison to the area I grew up in. I’ve also repeatedly reported that each character was built by combining traits of several different people to make one person in the story. That said there was one such special friend in my life that did meet with a tragic end that was my inspiration for killing Frank off. My friend didn’t die in such a heroic manner as Frank did but that ending fit with my story. Also the part about the fire chief being paid fifty dollars a month is true for such area’s including the one I grew up in. I have lost touch with the area now and have no idea what the pay scale is back home today.
I do have to add that as was reveled in the prequel chapter of the first story, my father was the fire chief in our area during the time frame that this story is based. I feel that for future hope of any relations with said father I have to add that the part in this last chapter that will be continued in the next chapters do not relate to him. My father was one of a dozen firefighters when he was still in high school that completed a correspondence course in fire fighting while he was part of the fire department. His Chief at the time taught some of the lessons during fire drills. After years with the local fire department he was appointed as the local fire chief, a position he held from the time of my early youth until he feared he was getting too old to do the job any longer. His pay at the time was a paid health insurance premium.
The man that took his place was a medically retired firefighter from a larger city and he was appalled with the equipment he inherited to work with. The city council didn’t like him much and his appointment was unappointed in a matter of months. I could say some things about the Chief that took over next but since he’s still in charge I think I better not.
Chet was awakened the next morning by the muffled sound of a telephone. He opened his eyes and took just a second or two to remember where he was and from there he was able to find the cabinet where the phone was hid before it stopped ringing.
“Good morning,” Carl Clark responded. “There’s a member of the investigation team here who would like to ask you a few questions. Are you decent?”
“I will be in two minutes,” Chet started grabbing for his pants as he spoke.
“I’ll send him on over then. When he’s done with you breakfast will be ready at the house.”
Chet realized that the pants he had grabbed were his uniform pants so he dropped them again and opened his suit case. Realizing as he did that he had no idea what his sister packed for him and wondered if he needed to do a load of laundry to have something appropriate to wear to the Grand Jury that afternoon. He was pleasantly surprised by what he saw and then remembering he hadn’t had a shower in two days now Chet opted to pull his work pants on and then another shirt. He was just buttoning his shirt up when the knock came on the bunk house door.
Chet opened the door to see a man holding his credentials up for him to see. “Come,” a yawn he couldn’t hold back interrupted his welcome. “Sorry about that, come on in.”
Chet stepped back and covered his mouth as another yawn came. As he did so he felt his stubbly face. He’d have to make sure he shaved before he went over for breakfast.
“Sorry,” Chet apologized.
“That’s okay. Mr. Clark told me that you’d been up talking quite late last night. I was hoping I could ask you about some of the training Frank Dillon received while he was out west these recent months.”
“Sure,” Chet responded, the talk he had with Julie’s father during dinner last night had really put him at ease with the investigation that was taking place. Chet turned around to look for a place to direct the man before him. His bed was unmade his suitcase lay open on the next bed on top of the garment bag that he had lain out to keep his dress uniform from wrinkling. “Um, there’s a kitchen at the other end down there; what do you say we go there and talk.”
Chet led the way, yawning a couple more times as he walked. When he got to the table he pulled out a chair and then took one on the other side of the table.
As soon as the man sat down Chet started to talk. “I’m not sure I can tell you too much about the training Frank got, I know they checked him out on things like making his bed and doing laundry and stuff like that but he knew all that before he got there. I know they taught him how to cook—“
“That’s not the training I was asking about,” the man interrupted Chet as he talked.
“We have the records from the training program Mr. Dillon was involved in. What I want to know is what you trained him to do in regards to firefighting.”
Chet was surprised by that line of questioning. “Nothing, sir. What Frank knew he knew before he arrived out west.”
“You mean to tell me you didn’t teach him the things he’d need to know in order to be accepted at the Firefighting Academy out there?”
“No sir, I gave him the opportunity to do a few things that he’d never get a chance to do here, like climb the ladder on a ladder truck and descend the stairs of a training tower, but aside of telling him to take it slow and make sure he touched every rung and every step it was all for fun. Yeah, nearly everyone else that was there that day was trying out for a spot at the academy but hey, I knew Frank wasn’t academy material, I mean he couldn’t even read. There was no way he could take the written test. I just knew he would have the time of his life and he surprised a lot of people with how well he did. I was even surprised a little. His run time was off but everything else he did, his times would have got him on the list.”
“So you didn’t train him in preparation for this academy tryout?”
“No, not at all.”
“I was told that you had him over to the fire station on several occasions to participate in training drills.”
“Well, I don’t know who told you that. He was only at the station three times that I’m aware of.”
“Tell me about those times.”
“Well, the first time was when he first arrived in California. We, me and two of my shift mates, had been out here on a fishing trip. On our way home we were in an accident not far from here. We barely missed being in a head on collision and to avoid it we were up on two wheels for a while. One of my friends was in the back of the Rover and he didn’t have his seat belt on so he got tossed around a little and got a head injury but the other truck over corrected and ended up rolling several times. That driver was hurt pretty bad and then his truck started on fire. Any way we did what we could for them and Julie, Frank and her brother just happened along to get us in to the nearest hospital.
When Roy, he’s the one who got the head injury, anyway he started having problems so we hitched a ride back to LA with her cousin who drives a semi and then he came out again a few days later with Johnny’s truck and Julie’s truck and Frank, oh and all of our fishing and camping gear. Since they were dropping everything off at the fire station I made arrangements to give Frank a tour of the station. He surprised us then by talking through the steps to work the pumps and charge the hoses and then told us about all of the differences between our truck and his back here.
“The second time was my first shift back after being in the hospital. Frank and Julie had given me a ride home from the hospital and then Frank practiced one of the dishes he’d learned to cook. While we were eating dinner he was talking about a work trial where he had participated in washing police cars.” Chet paused to smile at that memory, “It was clear that he was disappointed in washing police cars and he told us that he had asked to get a work trial washing fire engines but was told that he couldn’t.
“Anyway I told him that fire engines had to be washed just right and that the hose had to be loaded a special way, and that’s when he told me he knew all about that and proceeded to tell me how they had to be loaded. I mean Frank has a mean stutter and it takes him four times longer to explain things than a normal person but it was clear he knew how to do it.
“On my first shift back we had back to back fires and the engine was covered with layers and layers of mud and muck, and so were the hoses. Our last fire before we were stood down for clean up was at an apartment building across the street from the training center where Frank was staying and when we finally got it out I talked my Captain into letting Frank come to the station and help us wash the engine. He got a chance that day to show everyone what he could do. Wasn’t a man in the station that wasn’t checking out his work as he was loading the hoses back on but he showed them he knew what he was doing.”
“Do you have any idea where he learned all that stuff?”
“He had to have learned it here; Julie told us that he rolled on all the fires with the fire department here. She said they didn’t let him fight the fires but that he helped them get their air tanks on and make sure their straps were untwisted. From what he showed us in LA he must have helped with clean up. And from what I could tell he helped them a lot.”
“What about the other time he was at the station?” the man questioning Chet was writing in a notebook as he listened.
“That was the morning they left to come back here,” Chet remembered that day and the last time he saw his friend alive. Moisture started to collect in his eyes as he remembered his captain presenting him the plaque to award him for his bravery in rescuing people from the apartment fire. Cap had told him that it had been an honor to work with him. Chet silently thanked the power above that they had been given the chance to tell him that.
“He and Julie stopped by on their way out to say good-bye to everyone.”
“He didn’t work with the equipment that time?”
“NO,” Chet’s emotions were starting to squeak through. “We got a late call that morning, a house fire and we didn’t get back to the station until after shift change. The next shift had been there for over an hour and took over as soon as the trucks were back.”
“So to your knowledge the next shift didn’t let him work with the equipment?”
Chet shook his head. “NO, not Hookraider’s crew. They didn’t, well let’s just say they aren’t as impressed with Frank as the rest of us. Hook, Captain Hookraider, tried to keep them in line but they never got past Frank’s stutter.”
The man questioning Chet let the silence linger for a moment after he finished writing. He then looked at Chet and then turned to some earlier pages in his book to read for a moment.
“The night of the fire where he was killed,” the man started talking once again with his eyes locked on Chet’s, “Mr. Dillon had responded to an earlier alarm at the same house where a minor fire in an electrical box was believed to be put out. After the fire department left Mr. Dillon continued to hang around. The local police officer finally coaxed him into the patrol car and tried to take him home but Mr. Dillon insisted on staying where he could see the house until the family replaced the smoke detector that had been declared defective.
“According to the police officer in question this was the second time he had done this since returning from his training program in California so while they waited and watched from the police car across the street from the house in question, the police officer asked him why he was keeping watch.”
The man paused and toyed with his pen for a moment before proceeding. “The police officer also talked about Mr. Dillon’s profound stutter but he said that Mr. Dillon told him about a friend back in Los Angeles named Chet who told him that sometimes a fire can still burn in the insulation inside the walls and ceilings, and that it would just smoke until the fire got enough air to start really burning and then it would spread fast. He told the officer how the firemen in Los Angeles would pull the ceilings down to make sure there was no fire in the walls before they left the place where the fire was. This fire department doesn’t do that so Mr. Dillon was insisting on watching until a new smoke detector was in place to warn the family if a fire were to start again. According to the police officer no sooner had he explained his reasons for staying to him when they saw a flash of fire from an attic window and Frank Dillon ran to the house to wake everyone up and get them all out.”
Before this investigator was finished Chet’s face was as pale as a ghost his breathing faster than it should be and his memory all too clear.
“The day I took him to the tryouts,,, he asked me why we pulled the ceilings down. I answered him, just like I’ve done every time anyone ever asks that question.”
The tears that had been building started to drain down Chet’s face. “I, I didn’t mean for him to, I’m the reason he’s dead.”
Unable to do anything else Chet buried his face in his hands. It wasn’t long before he heard the other chair scrape across the floor and then felt a strong hand on his shoulder.
“I don’t think there is a fire fighter anywhere that wouldn’t have answered that question, or anyone else that knew the answer to the question. As much as you might be right, that the answer indirectly led to this man’s death, I hope that you can find comfort in the fact that it also saved the lives of two families.”
“Two?” Chet turned a surprised look at the person who had been questioning him.
“Yeah. I told you that he had done this before. Just six days before he waited all night keeping watch on another house until the home owner went out the next morning and bought a new smoke detector. When the new detector sounded off as soon as they put the batteries in it Mr. Dillon asked to look through the hatch to the attic and pulled out a couple of hands full of smoldering insulation. The home owner was a bit miffed at the mess that he made but once it was explained that where ever there’s smoke there’s fire he realized how much he owed Mr. Dillon.
It took Chet a moment to gain some composure. “So you know for sure that he didn’t start the fire then?”
“Yeah, there’s no question about how the fire started.”
“Is there still a grand jury this afternoon?”
“Yeah, yeah there is. There are a few things that still need to be brought out in open court.”
“I’ll be there.”
“We’ll probably call on you to testify.” There was silence for a moment and then the man placed his notebook in his pocket. “I’ll let myself out.”
The man moved toward the door but stopped and turned around. “I guess that boy wasn’t as dumb as everyone thought he was.”
Continued in Part 2
Posted to Site 5/15/17
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