"Only In The Movies"
It was an absolutely beautiful, balmy, early summer evening in Southern California…if you weren't a fireman fighting a Santa Ana windblown maelstrom, that is…
Captain Hank Stanley's A-shift finally returned to L.A. County Fire Department Station 51, following six full hours of backbreaking brushfire battling.
The six slow-moving firemen took turns scouring the soot and sweat from their blackened bodies.
"Lights out in two!" the terribly tired Captain warned his 'washed up' crew, as they came straggling into the Station's dorm in their t-shirts and boxers.
The fatigued firefighters set their bunker pants and boots up beside their bunks, before collapsing—gratefully—onto their mattresses.
No one noticed when the lights went out, because the exhausted men were asleep the moment their heads hit their pillows.
The fatigued firemen stayed right where they laid...for all of fifteen minutes.
Then the claxons sounded.
Stanley and his crew threw their covers off and began climbing out of their comfortable beds and into the cold bottom half's of their bunkers.
"Man down...unknown type rescue...213 East Morrow Drive...Ambulance responding...Two-One-Three East Morrow Drive...Time out...23:02"
The guys shrugged their suspenders into place and filed out of the dorm.
The tired firefighters trotted across the garage and scrambled up into their trucks, still sliding jackets and helmets on.
"Station 51. KMG-365," Hank Stanley acknowledged the dispatcher. The Captain passed his paramedics a copy of the call slip, before crossing the bay and climbing up into the Engine.
DeSoto turned the little piece of paper over to his partner.
Gage recorded the call and clipped the slip to the dash. "Hang a right."
Moments later, both trucks pulled right out onto the street in front of the Station, lights flashing and sirens blaring.
213 East Morrow Drive turned out to be an enormous mansion with a tiled roof and gables, surrounded by an ancient cottonwood grove. The hedges lining the circular drive were untrimmed, and the large lawns lacked a manicured look, as well.
The two trucks pulled right up in front of the place.
Their drivers cut the sirens, and their occupants piled out.
The paramedics grabbed some equipment from the Squad's side compartments and then joined their fellow firefighters at the mansion's front door.
Their Captain pressed the doorbuzzer.
An eerie 'gong' sound filled the air.
The men exchanged amused glances and waited patiently on the moonlit porch for someone to appear.
When nobody did, Stanley exhaled an impatient gasp and hit the 'gong' again.
Which resulted in several snorts of suppressed laughter.
Hank gave up on the 'gong' and began banging a big, brass doorknocker.
'C'mon...c'mon...' Paramedic John Gage silently urged. 'These equipment cases ain't getting any lighter...' The fireman finally set his heavy burdens down and took a step or two back, to stare up at the big, ugly abode. "Yah know...I saw a house just like this on the Late-Late Show the other night."
"Yeah. Me, too!" Firefighter Chet Kelly quietly confessed, as his feet shifted uncomfortably beneath him. "It was in one of those horror flics."
"Right!" Gage agreed. "The butler kept a beautiful blonde heiress chained up in the dungeon! The place was loaded with secret passages and—"
"—And that's the only place you're ever going to find a house like that," his partner, Roy DeSoto, suddenly interrupted. "In the movies!"
Gage stared at DeSoto for a few seconds and then sadly shook his head. "No imagination!"
"Kelly! Lopez! Grab some flashlights and check the back of the house!" their Commander bugled, as he became bored with his banging. "Before we go barging in," he told his engineer, Mike Stoker, "I'd better call dispatch and make sure we've got the right address..." He slipped a handy-talky from his right coat pocket and thumbed the call button. "L.A., this is County 51..."
"Go ahead, 51..."
"L.A., request address check on our last call, logged at 23:02..."
"Standby, 51...51, the call reads: Man down...unknown type rescue... 213 East Morrow Drive."
"Roger that, L.A.," the Captain acknowledged. "51 clear." Stanley stared up at the house number—213—for a few seconds and then turned back to Stoker. "Mike, you sure this is East Morrow Drive?"
"Well, if it's not," his engineer came back, "someone's been playing games with the street signs."
"Man!" Kelly breathlessly exclaimed upon his return. "It's even creepier out back!"
His Captain rolled his eyes and questioned the third member of his engine crew. "No answer?"
Marco Lopez shook his helmeted head.
"Well, we can't stand out here all night!" the Captain finally determined and turned the doorknob. Hank smiled, as tumblers 'click'ed and the heavy portal swung open.
There would be no need for the forcible-entry tools.
"Fire Department!" Stanley shouted, as he stepped into the dimly lit entryway. "Anybody home?"
The paramedics picked their equipment back up and then they, and the others, followed their fearless leader inside.
"This is the Fire Department!" Stanley called out again. "Anybody home?"
Still no answer.
In fact, except for the loud ticking of a clock in the entrance hall, the whole house was filled with an eerie silence.
The paramedics sighed and set their heavy cases down again.
Stanley turned to his men. "All right, Roy. You and Marco check upstairs! Mike and I will cover this floor. Gage, Kelly, you two get the basement! Move out!"
"Why do we always get the basement?" Gage grumbled, just beneath his breath.
"What are we looking for?" Kelly nervously inquired of his search partner.
"Beats me!" Gage teased. "It's an unknown type rescue..."
"How about the basement door—for starters!" their impatient Captain prodded.
The two foot-dragging firefighters fled the entrance hall.
Gage and Kelly managed to make their way into the kitchen.
John jerked a door open—a broom closet.
Chet pulled another portal open—a pantry.
Gage latched onto a third door's knob and pulled. Its un-oiled hinges creaked, eerily. He smiled, triumphantly and motioned his search-mate over.
Kelly flicked his flashlight on and shone it down a very steep set of basement stairs.
"If there's a beautiful blonde heiress down there," Gage began, "I get to rescue her!"
"That's not a dungeon!" Kelly reminded him.
John stared sadly at Chet, and slowly shook his head. "No imagination..."
"Oh-oh no," Kelly corrected his colleague. "I've got an imagination, all right! That's why I'm gonna let you go first. That way, if there's a tall dude down there—with a long, black cloak and a wolf's-head cane," he paused to tap Gage on the chest, "you get to rescue him!"
John jerked the creaky portal fully open. "Na-ah-ah. After you..." he insisted with a wave of his arm. Upon seeing his companion's mustached mouth opening in protest, he quickly added, "I went first the last time..."
"All right," Kelly reluctantly conceded. "But I should probably warn you. You'd better be ready to get the hell out a' my way! Because, if I see even so much as a mouse, I'm gonna go screaming into the night! And I'll be plowing through anything—or anybody—that gets in my path!" Chet gave his chuckling chum an annoyed glare. Then he drew in a deep breath and begrudgingly began descending the basement stairs
The two men made it down about halfway, and then stopped, hearing their Captain calling for them.
The duo gladly retreated and went racing back to the entrance hall.
"Yeah, Cap?" the panting pair simultaneously exclaimed, as they came skidding to a stop in front of Stanley.
"Upstairs!" their Captain ordered and passed the new arrivals the medical equipment. "First room on the right!"
Gage grabbed the cases he was handed and took the stairs, two steps at a time.
Kelly latched onto the oxygen tank and the remaining case, and followed his friend up the stairs.
The case-carriers entered the first doorway on the right.
Judging by all the books it contained, the dimly lit room was a library.
There was an elderly lady lying, motionless, on an ornate, Oriental rug—which covered about a third of the room's hardwood floor.
John's partner was kneeling beside the non-moving woman, performing his initial patient survey.
"Heart?" Gage wondered, dropping his gear and himself down next to DeSoto.
Roy replied with a quick shrug of his shoulders. "She's got a goose-egg the size of my fist," he announced and began opening and emptying equipment cases. "Apparently, she fell and hit the back of her head. Probably, on the edge of that thing," he added, motioning to the large oak desk resting on the floor in front of one the room's wall-to-wall bookcases.
John tossed his helmet up onto the desk and donned his stethoscope.
His partner finished his preliminary exam and began reaching for their Bio-phone. "Let's get her patched in. The docs might be able to determine what caused the fall..."
Gage nodded and grabbed their cardiac monitor.
Their Captain poked his head into the room. "Ambulance is here," he announced. "You guys got everything you need from the Squad?"
Gage gave him a nod and then frowned, as a sternal rub and a dose of smelling salts produced no results in their patient. "Cap? Can you check the medicine chests and nightstands for any prescription meds? Oh, and try to find her purse, too. There may not be any pills in it, but her wallet might contain some helpful medical information."
"You bet! Chet, you get the bedrooms!" their Commander relegated. "Marco, you get the bathrooms! Mike and I'll handle the purse detail."
As the firemen exited, the ambulance attendants entered, towing a gurney.
Kelly was the first man back. He returned from the bedrooms empty-handed.
Lopez followed a couple of minutes later, with his helmet full of pill bottles he had pulled from medicine chests.
Gage dumped two thirds of the helmet's contents into an 'urp' sack, and then placed the paper bag on their patient's stretcher.
"According to her driver's license," Stanley stated, as he and Stoker re-entered the room, "she's Mrs. Margaret Bentley. No medical info and no 'scrip's," he added, sounding almost apologetic.
"Thanks, Cap!" Roy acknowledged, as he accepted the purse that was passed to him. DeSoto snatched up several cases and followed the attendants as they towed the packaged patient from the room.
"I wonder where Mister Bentley is?" Marco queried, and stood there, staring glumly down at the remaining plastic pill bottles still in his helmet—Mr. Arthur Bentley's prescription meds.
"Yeah," Chet chimed in. "Someone had to call this in."
"Chet's right, Cap," Mike Stoker concurred. "This is just too weird! The rescue doesn't even match the call!"
"It's the full moon," John jokingly determined, trying his level best to sound solemn and sinister. But a broad grin betrayed him. He picked up the remainder of their paramedic gear and went snickering out into the hall.
Stanley and his Engine crew exchanged amused glances. "C'mon!" Hank urged. "There's a bed back at the Station, with my name on it!"
Lopez pulled Mr. Bentley's prescriptions from his helmet and set them down on the desk. Then he exhaled a resigned sigh and followed his fellow firefighters from the library.
John finished stowing their gear. He closed the side compartments on the Squad and stepped up to the driver's door. "Doggone it!" he exclaimed and slammed his open palm into the side of the truck.
Hank Stanley, who was halfway into his seat, heard the paramedic's angry expletive, and winced. "What no-ow?"
"Ah, Cap..." Gage regrettably replied, " I forgot my helmet...again."
"That's the third time this month, John!" his irritated Captain realized. "Why can't you just leave it fastened to your head?"
"It gets in the way of the phone and my stethosco—"
"—Never mind!" his Captain quickly cut in. "Just go get it! We'll wait for you. Kelly, go with him!"
"Ahhh, Cap. Do I have to?" Chet whined.
"Move it, you two! Or do you want to find out what the penalty is for making your Captain lose his sleep?" Hank threatened, seeing Kelly dragging his feet.
Chet picked up his pace.
In fact, the two helmet retrievers went trotting back up to the mansion's front door, and quickly disappeared inside.
Stoker turned to Stanley, looking curious. "What is the penalty?"
"I don't know," his Captain confessed. "But I assure you, it wouldn't be pleasant! I can get awfully cranky when I'm sleep-deprived!"
Mike and Marco grinned.
Kelly halted in the entrance hall. "I'm waitin' right here! And hurry it up, will yah! This place gives me the willies!"
"I'm hurryin'! I'm hurryin'!" John assured his creeped out companion, and took the stairs two steps at a time.
Gage reached the dimly lit library and glanced around. He spotted his helmet, setting on the edge of the desk, and smiled. As he crossed over and reached out to pick it up, he happened to glance down.
There, on the hardwood floor behind the desk, was a strange, curved scratch mark. The mark had been carved into the polished varnished floorboards by something heavy. 'Something heavy...like a bookshelf!'
He stepped up to the bookshelf that was directly behind the scratch mark. 'I'll bet there's a 'secret passage' behind this thing!' the paramedic mused, and began a careful examination of the object, pulling and pounding and probing for some sort of 'secret' lever or button…or something!
'Nothing!' he silently surmised and his shoulders slumped. He stooped to examine the funny, curved scratch mark again. Something heavy had been sliding over those floorboards, all right—and recently, too. "It's got to move!" he realized aloud.
He straightened stiffly back up, and that's when he saw that several books had been removed from one of the shelves. He reached for one of the remaining books and found that it wouldn't move. Upon closer inspection, he discovered that it wasn't a 'book', at all, but a solid block of wood with a book's title painted on it! "The Mystery on Dobbin's Moor," he read aloud and gave the block of wood a jerk.
The bookcase moved, startling him. John jumped back and stared, in wide-eyed wonder, as the entire shelf swung slowly out into the room, revealing a passageway in the wall behind it! "Only in the movies, huh..." he stated rather smugly. "I knew it! I knew it!" He stepped up and poked his head into the passageway.
It led to a descending stairs.
Gage stiffened suddenly and blinked his wide eyes in the dim light. There, at the bottom of the stairway, he could barely make out the motionless outline of a man. The explorer immediately kicked back into the paramedic mode. "HEY, CHET! GET UP HERE! HURRY!" John snatched his helmet up, and then stepped into the passageway.
The bookcase's—er, 'secret' passageway's opening mechanism reached the end of its guide rail and the object stopped moving—but only for a moment.
Because the 'stopper' on the end of the guide rail was broken, the opening mechanism left the track and a powerful spring slammed the bookcase back against the wall with a terrific force!
Gage heard the spring 'snap'. Then, something struck him in the back of the head.
There was an explosion of light.
John, and his retrieved helmet, went tumbling down the hidden staircase.