Disclaimer: This story is for fun, not profit. I do not own the characters. Universal and Mark VII do. Please do not sue me.
Stoker Speaks Out
This may sound perverse, but every now and then I really enjoy a good brush fire.
All the other kinds of calls we get around here – structure fires, dumpster fires, MVAs, and all the random and strange calls we assist DeSoto and Gage on – my jobs there are pretty bland. Run the pumps, figure gpm's and psi's, all that jazz. Don't get me wrong – I love my job, and I don't regret becoming an engineer. But every now and then, I have the hankering to get up close and personal with The Beast.
And brush fires are the only chance I get at that any more. Unless I'm subbing for a fireman at another station, which, truth be told, I don't do all that much. I have it pretty good at 51s, and I know it. The guys on my shift know I'm just quiet, not unfriendly. I keep my distance, while still being a part of the team. They're okay with that. They don't try to draw me out of my shell, or anything like that. I like my shell – it's comfortable and safe.
At a brush fire, usually what happens is that the incident commander will assign our entire crew to attack one flank of the fire, or the head, or hit some spot fires. Sometimes I'm still with the truck, but sometimes we all get assigned to work on a firebreak or we all get sent out to man hoses. So, every now and again, I actually get to man an attack line – just like the good ol' days.
Again, at the risk of sounding strange – not that it would be the first time – every now and then I love to get close to the fire, feel the heat, feel the power of quenching the flames. I'm not even a true adrenaline junkie like some of the guys, but I don't think there's a fireman alive who wouldn't agree with me that it's a thrill and a half sometimes.
Of course, the flip side of the adventure and excitement coin is all the times that you're so scared you practically shit yourself. If you make it out alive, you sure have something to brag about to the girls later. Yeah, right. Not real motivating for a guy like me, if you catch my drift.
So when we got called in to relieve 127s at a brush fire on their edge of the county, the other guys were bummed – we were assigned to a digging crew, in front of the head of the fire. Digging down to mineral earth to stop the dragon in its tracks. If the wind cooperated.
When we got there, it was already clear that the wind hadn't cooperated. The prevailing wind had been from the northwest all day, but shifted so it was straight from the north by the time we got there. We got the call on the radio when we were about a mile out that we should meet up with Battalion 14 and man their attack lines with them.
Cap knew that would please me. He understands perfectly. He has even fewer opportunities than I do to really get into the action. We exchanged looks of restrained – 'cause hey, it's me – glee as Cap responded to the new instructions.
Chief McConnike assigned me and Cap to man a 1-1/2 off their pumper. Chet and Marco each got a 1-inch hose for spot fires. Johnny and Roy took over for 127's paramedics at the aid station right by our section of the fire. We'd all need our eyes washed out for sure – this fire was making nasty black smoke, and plenty of it.
It was a tricky patch of terrain. The head of the fire was rolling down a steep slope, which meant we'd have our backs towards downhill. Put that together with the pressure from a fire hose, the wind coming towards us, and the heat pressure from the fire – well, it was a recipe for someone to take a tumble. So I was glad to have Cap backing me up.
The area was covered with a combination of dry brush and grass, as well as some cacti. My personal least favorite variety, the Devil's Pincushion, a.k.a. the "horse-crippler," was all over the place. These nasty little plants look like an exploding firework, with three- or four-inch-long spikes coming out in all directions from a central hub. You don't want to step on these guys, regardless of whether you're a horse. They're only supposed to grow in Texas, but some idiot must've decided they'd look nice in his garden, 'cause now L.A. County has 'em.
Cap and I laid the inch-and-a-half, running it from a water thief fitting on the progressive hose lay that 127s had set up with Battalion 14. The two of us were to hit the head of the right flank of this section of the fire. 127s had almost had this section licked – the 'dozer crews had cut a beautiful containment line, which the fire's head had just about reached, when the wind changed.
A couple of the guys from 127s had a pretty close call when that happened. It's no fun to be working the flank of a brush fire when it suddenly becomes the rolling head of the fire. That's one of those "flip side" things. But thanks to the wonders of modern technology – radios, aerial water drops – they made it out alive and unharmed. But I'll bet they're changing their pants right about now.
Cap took off the hose clamp to charge our line. We headed up the slope, towards our target.
"Helluva place to be working," commented Cap, as we puffed our way up the incline. "If we weren't so close to that ranch on the next hillside, we would probably just let this part go."
"Yep." Cap knew not to expect much more of a reply from me.
We started hitting the flames with the fog. Slowly, surely, we were gaining on the head of the fire, hoping to meet the crew working the other flank halfway around the perimeter and put this beast down. The wind, though it had shifted suddenly just before we arrived, had calmed considerably in the last few minutes. Both the captain and I knew not to get cocky, though.
After half an hour, we'd just about gotten to the end of the reach of our line. It was time to close it down and add a new section to the end of the main line, and work off of there.
"Okay, Stoker, let's do it," announced Cap. I didn't have to ask him what he meant; I knew the drill just fine after ten years in the department. I shut off the nozzle, and clamped off the hose again. The two of us trotted back to the engine to grab a 200-foot section of inch-and-a-half to add to the main line on our flank.
I was watching my feet carefully to avoid the horse-cripplers that were sprinkled over the area. But Cap wasn't – or maybe he stepped in a hole, or tripped on a rock. Who knows. In any case, he skidded down the dusty slope, slamming into me and taking me down with him. I reflexively put my hands out in front of me to break my fall. Damned reflexes. Something snapped in my left arm, and my right hand found purchase on a – yep – horse crippler.
"Mike? You all right?" Cap appeared unscathed.
"No, goddammit, I am not all right. Fuck!" The sudden pain made me uncharacteristically verbose.
I couldn't really decide which hurt more – my right hand, impaled by the cactus, through the glove and all, or my left arm, twisted underneath me, where something really wasn't right down by my wrist, and maybe somewhere else, too. Six or eight three-inch spines went all the way through my glove from the palm side, emerging from the back of the glove.
I decided that if I didn't actually look at my right hand, the left arm hurt worse. I couldn't even get up off the ground – no hands to push myself up with. I also didn't really want to stay where I was – downhill and downwind of a brush fire is not a place to lounge around, no matter how comfy you are. Which I wasn't.
Cap took one look at my impaled hand. He grabbed his HT. "Battalion 14, this is HT 51; we are coming in to the aid station with a Code I; be aware that the eastern flank is now unmanned." He turned back to me. "Geez, Stoker, ow! Sorry, I took you right down. Man, that looks painful."
"Yeah, and my left arm's broken, too, I think," I added. I was starting to feel nauseous. Me and blood don't agree with each other. Or maybe it was the pain. I dunno.
"All right, we've gotta get you outta here," said Cap, eyeing the fire. "Um, what happens if you pick your hand up?" he asked, pointing to the cactus.
I didn't really want to try that, but also didn't really want to lie in the path of a brush fire all afternoon either, so I lifted my right hand carefully. Disgustingly, but I suppose luckily, the spines lifted easily off the cactus, and stayed in my hand. Lovely.
"Uh, that's good, I guess," said Cap. "Anything else hurt on that side?"
"Dunno." I couldn't even shake my head.
"All right. Sorry, pal, this is gonna hurt, but we gotta get out of here," warned Cap, as he hauled me to my feet by my right elbow.
I yelled loudly, and felt even more like I was gonna puke. I wobbled heavily as Cap held me up by the lapels of my turnout coat for a moment. "Can you walk?" he asked.
I nodded, not trusting myself to open my mouth. I wanted to cradle my impaled right hand and carry it like a baby, but I couldn't seem to get my left arm to do anything. So, I just let Cap partly lead and partly drag me over to the aid station. I noticed he was limping – perhaps he was not completely unscathed. He limped me over to the running board of the squad – the closest place to sit – as Gage and DeSoto snapped into action.
"Mike, Cap? What happened?" Johnny asked.
"I'm fine," Cap lied, "but Mike here sounds like his left arm may be broken, and his right hand, well, you can see it there."
"Oh, man," said Johnny, "bad luck, Stoker. Horse crippler, huh? Roy, grab the biophone, will ya?"
"Sure thing, Junior," replied Roy.
I always wondered why Gage put up with that nickname. Hafta ask him sometime.
Gage scrunched up his face in that boyish expression that means he's trying to figure something out. "I dunno, Mike, do you think you can get that right hand outta the sleeve, there, or should I just cut off that coat?"
Despite my pain, I practically laughed out loud. Much though I relished the thought of John Gage slicing my clothing off, this was not exactly what I had in mind. Instead, I replied, a bit shakily, "I'll try."
He looked askance at me, but started undoing the buckles on my turnout coat. "All right, let's see what happens." Once he'd gently loosened the Velcro cuff, I tried inching my hand up the sleeve. I got about an eighth of the way up when the spines snagged on the lining of the coat.
"Uh, snagged. Not working," I admitted.
Roy took my pulse and counted respirations, and started calling in on the biophone, as Johnny rummaged in his kit for heavy shears.
"Rampart, we have a code I at a brush fire. Male, 29 years old, probable broken left wrist. His right hand and glove are impaled through-and-through by multiple cactus spines. No other apparent injuries. Pulse 100, respirations 24, stand by for BP."
I had my reputation as the quiet one to uphold, so I gritted my teeth as every bite the shears took out of the coat jostled the cactus spines or the broken ends of bones. From wrist to shoulder to lapel, up the right side, then the left, and I was free. Well, free except for the glove nailed to my right hand by cactus spines.
The corpse of my coat looked pathetic lying on the ground. It was a good coat – served me well for many years – but its time had come. Now I'd have to break in a stiff new coat, like a probie in his first week out of the academy.
Johnny had the BP cuff ready. "Sorry, man, it's gonna hurt no matter which side I pick, ain't it." It wasn't a question.
"This one hurts less," I said, holding out my right arm. "But looks pretty gross."
He wrapped the cuff gently around my right arm, pumped it up, and let the air out in a gentle hiss. "125 over 75, Roy," he said.
Roy relayed the new but uninteresting information to Rampart base.
"10-4, 51, immobilize the wrist and transport. Do not attempt to remove the glove or cactus spines; we'll deal with the hand here."
Roy grabbed the splint box and passed it over to Johnny.
"All right, Mike, you heard the man. Let's get that wrist splinted up and get you to Rampart. Can you move your arm at the elbow so it's level with the ground, like this?" He demonstrated.
I tried – I really did. But for some reason my shoulder wasn't working at all. "Uh, I think maybe something's wrong with my shoulder, too. Funny, it doesn't hurt much."
Gage frowned. He placed one hand on the back of my shoulder, and another on the front, and pressed together gently, as if making a shoulder sandwich.
"Oooo-kay, NOW it hurts," I gasped. Shit. All of a sudden, the pain just tripled. Quintupled. Hot knives lanced their way from my shoulder to my wrist and neck.
"Mike, I think you dislocated your shoulder, too," Johnny informed me. I believed him. I wanted to curl up in a ball, which the two paramedics sometimes called "going fetal," but I couldn't.
Roy got back on the biophone. "Rampart, County 51, our victim appears to also have a dislocated left shoulder, and is having significant pain after palpation of this injury."
"51, does the collarbone appear to be fractured?"
Through the pain I could tell Johnny was gently running my collarbone, feeling for fractures. "That hurt at all, Mike?"
I shook my head. Mistake. Just don't move, Mikey.
"That's negative, Rampart," Roy responded after Johnny shook his head as well.
"10-4, 51. Start an IV, D5W to keep open, administer ten milligrams MS IV, immobilize the shoulder and wrist, and transport."
"10-4, Rampart. Will re-establish contact, with an ETA, when we're in transit."
"Aaah, crap," I uttered. I knew that all meant that not only would I have to go in to the hospital, but I'd have to go in an ambulance, and not just ride in to Rampart in the squad.
Roy was getting out the drug box and what I recognized as an IV pack. Meanwhile, Cap checked in with the base station on his HT. "Base Station, this is HT 51; respond an ambulance to our location for a code I. Paramedics are on scene."
Squelch. "10-4, 51, ambulance is on its way."
"So I guess you got all that, huh, Mike?" Johnny asked me.
"Yep," I replied tersely, having learned my lesson about nodding or shaking my head.
"I'm gonna place the IV in your cactus arm, not your busted one, okay pal? And then when the pain medication comes on board, you'll feel a whole lot better, and we'll splint you up."
"'kay." He started looking for a good vein in my right arm.
"I'll tell ya somethin', Mike; I don't think I've ever seen someone dislocate his shoulder and not know it right away," said Johnny, as he started searching for a vein. "Geez, Stoker, where do you keep your veins? Inside your bones? Roy, take a look at this, will ya?" he complained.
Roy looked at my arm, and said wryly, "I guess we can't ask you to make a tight fist, can we?"
"Ha, ha." Two syllables from between clenched teeth – not bad.
"Here, Johnny, try this one." Roy marked a vein with his pen, holding the IV bag in his teeth.
"Oh yeah, I see it now. If you can see it, you can stick it, right Roy?" He turned to me. "Dixie's Rule One for starting an IV on the first try."
Cap spoke up from his place on the ground near the bumper. "Wow, you guys are really reassuring." I noticed he hadn't gotten up since we arrived. Also not so reassuring. Bet he busted something too, and just isn't saying. Typical.
I felt the cold of the alcohol wipe – refreshing in this heat. And then the sharp pinch of the IV needle.
"Hah, first try, even on ol' spaghetti veins here." He pulled the needle out of the IV catheter, and taped the whole mess down. "Okay, Mike, meet your new friend, morphine sulfate. Mike: MS. MS: Mike."
"Pleased to meet you," I said. As he slowly injected the drug through the IV injection port, I stopped caring how my shoulder and wrist felt; didn't mind looking at my spine-impaled hand and glove. It was kind of interesting, actually. "Ya know, I don't think I actually need to go in to Rampart. You can just tape this shoulder up, or something, right? Hey Gage, check this out – how 'bout if I just pull these spines out – I'll bet I can get 'em with my teeth—"
"Whoa, there, Mike." Johnny put a restraining hand on my right forearm. "There's a reason why they wanna take those out at Rampart – sterile conditions and all, ya know?"
I grinned hugely at him. "Okay, Johnny, whatever you say." Darn, but he looked cute with that smudge of soot on his forehead. I thought I'd just lay back and do whatever he said.
"Attaboy, Mike." Johnny started rolling up a blanket from the squad's supplies. I watched the ripple of his forearm muscles, fascinated by his long, deceptively delicate-looking fingers as they taped the blanket into a cylinder.
"Wow," I said aloud.
"Yeah, that stuff knocks ya for a loop, don't it," replied Gage, obviously – and fortunately – misunderstanding. "All right, let's get that shoulder splinted, then we'll take care of the wrist. Hey Roy," he continued, turning to his partner, who was reloading all their junk into the squad, "gimme a hand here, will ya?"
"Uh-oh, is this gonna hurt? Or bleed, or anything? 'Cause I'm not so good with this stuff, guys, really. One time when I was a kid? I had to get stitches in my knee, and I'll tell ya, I barfed all over the place! My brother thought it was really hilarious—OOOOWWWW! Quit it, DeSoto!"
"Sorry, Mike; just gotta get this roll under your arm, here," Roy said soothingly. "John, I think this shirt is gonna have to come off to do this right. Kinda tight on the shoulder here."
Oooh, is he gonna take his shirt off? That'll be nice. I always liked—huh? Scissors? Oh, my shirt. Well, shoot.
"Waita second! C'mon, man, you already cut up my coat, do ya gotta cut up my shirt too? I mean, I've got a lot of these, and they're really boring shirts, but c'mon, can't you just undo the buttons? That's what they're for, man. Don't they teach you anything in—"
"All right, all right! Settle down, Mike." Was Gage laughing at me? He was! "Have it your way, chatterbox. It'll be a little tricky to get the IV bag through the sleeve, but we'll manage. Now hold still!"
I tried, I really tried. I thought I could take it, but he was getting so close to me, and unbuttoning my shirt, so I just leaned forwards, just a teensy bit. Just a teensy bit too much, apparently, as I nearly toppled right onto him. He caught me, though – I knew he would.
"Ah, Roy, can you hold our friend up, there, so I can finish this without getting crushed?"
"Gotcha, Mike," said Roy. Darn – not so interesting having his hand on my bare chest. Oh well. I watched in fascination as Gage placed the rolled blanket under my elbow, and wrapped a stretchy bandage around my upper arm and chest, deftly avoiding wrapping Roy up into the bundle.
Deee-licious. What was that aftershave? As far as I was concerned, they oughta just call it Sex in a Bottle. Yum. I leaned forward again, a tiny bit, and inhaled. Surreptitiously, I thought. 'Cause after all, a guy's gotta breathe, right? Right?
I must've actually moaned out loud a bit – oops – 'cause Gage just said, "I know, buddy, it smarts, but I'm almost done."
But Roy looked at me weirdly.
"Whaaaat?" I drawled accusingly at him. "Can't a guy just—"
Roy interrupted me. "Hey Johnny, lemme finish up with Mike's wrist here; I think you oughta take a look at Cap. I think he did something to his leg, and isn't bothering to mention it."
"Huh?" Gage looked up from his task. "Oh, okay. You sure you got Mike, here?"
"Yeah, I think I can get this situation under control," Roy said blandly. "You go look after Cap." He shooed Johnny away with his free hand. Party pooper.
The ambulance pulled up on the fire road just behind us. I could see its flashy light thingies through the smoke. The two guys in the tacky white outfits brought their stretcher down the hill carefully, as Roy finished, boringly, with my wrist. I wasn't watching him, though – it was much more interesting to see what Johnny was doing. Man moves like a cat – no, a mountain lion. That's it – puma. Oops, Mikey, no staring. Aw, poor Cap – looks like maybe he sprained his ankle. Thought so. Ha ha, he just gets his boot taken off by those hands – I got my shirt taken off. Nyah, nyah.
"Hey, eyes front, soldier," Roy chided. "Need you to help me out, here. Let's get you on this gurney. Just slide down off the running board, good, just like that." He and the two tacky guys helped me onto the gurney, which was arranged so I could sit up.
"Hey, guys, didja see this?" I waved my cactus hand at the Mayfair attendants. "Neat, huh? It's horse crippler spines, heh heh. I landed right on it. Cap knocked me down; it was his fault. That's him down there—" I waved the spiny hand at Cap'n Stanley. "And my good friend John had to cut my coat off, with scissors!" I chuckled. "Not my shirt, though. No, sir, that came off the regular way, nice and easy. No problemo. Oh – and didn't anyone tell you you shouldn't wear white to a brush fire? It's just gonna get all—"
"Stoker!" Roy got my attention.
"Hey, Roy, what's up?"
"Mike, I never thought in a million years I'd ever have to say this to you, but SHUT UP!"
"Rampart, County 51, how do you read?"
Good ol' Roy, riding in with me. So where's Cap and Gage?
"We read you loud and clear. Go ahead, 51."
"Rampart, we are in transit; ETA twenty minutes. The victim's shoulder and wrist are splinted, and his pain has responded to the MS. Vitals appear stable: pulse is 70 and strong, BP 120/70, respirations 12 and regular."
"10-4, 51. Advise us of any change en route."
"Rampart, I have one more advisement. A second code I is en route in the squad, with an apparent sprained ankle; ETA about 25 minutes."
"We copy, 51. Rampart out."
I realized it was my turn to talk, finally. "Hey Roy, you shoulda seen the look on Cap's face after he knocked me down, and saw my hand stuck on the cactus! It was priceless! Priceless! I thought he was gonna have kittens, or maybe puppies! And then, when he got me back to the aid station? Well, I knew I was in good hands. The best hands."
I sighed dreamily. "Yeah, he's got great hands. Efficient, but gentle, yet strong, at the same time. What a combination! Don'tcha think, Roy?"
DeSoto was looking at me with an amused expression. Why was everyone suddenly laughing at me? A guy gets hurt, and people think it's funny? Sheesh.
"Well, Mike, I have to admit," he began, "all I've ever really noticed is that Gage's hands are good at their job. And that's it." He raised his eyebrows at me – laughing at me again? – and went on. "And, I'm starting to realize why you hardly ever say anything, Mike."
"Uh, have I been, like, talking a lot? Too much?" I nearly stabbed myself in the face, trying to cover up my mouth with the one hand that I could still move.
"Skirtin' the edge, Mike, skirtin' the edge." Roy shook his head.
I managed to shut up for a few minutes. But I had a burning question that just had to come out. And I knew, just knew, that good ol' Roy would know the answer. And if he played dumb, or really didn't get it, but I thought he probably actually did, well, I could just say "never mind" or something like that.
"Hey Roy? Do you think that the guys, you know, know?"
He looked at me all serious-like. "No, I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who's figured out you're gay, Mike."
"Aw, did ya hafta actually say it?" I scowled at him.
"Yeah, Mike, I did – to show you I'm okay with it."
Well, that was unexpected. Waaaiit a second. "Uh, Roy, you're not – I mean, that's your wife, and your kids, right? I mean, they look just like you – the kids, that is, not the wife – and Joanne seems—"
"No, I'm not passing, Mike – Joanne is really my wife, and the kids are really my kids. Scout's honor," he said seriously, holding up three fingers.
"But how did you know?" I asked plaintively. "No, I don't mean how did you know they're your kids, I mean, I know how that works, for Pete's sake, but how could you tell about me? I thought I was being sooooooo careful. I hardly ever say anything, unless I'm high like right now – lemme tell ya, man, I am like reealllly up there like a kite – and I go out with girls and stuff, and I don't ogle – well, at least not very much, but sometimes I can't help it, so where'd I go wrong?"
He frowned. "I don't really think you went wrong, Mike. Only thing I can think, is that one of my cousins, who was also my good friend when I was a kid, is gay, so maybe that helped me figure you out. I dunno."
I pondered that. "So how long have you known?" I had to ask.
"Oh, I wondered the first year our shift was together, was pretty sure after that, but I'll tell you, Mr. Motormouth, I wasn't totally sure till today. Pal, that MS totally wiped your inhibitions, didn't it?"
"Yeah, I think maybe I oughta just try not to say anything at all till this shit wears off, 'cause boy, once I get talking, I'm just not shuttin' up, am I. In fact – hey, wait a second – you're not gonna tell, are you?" I asked in horror.
Now he laughed for real. "No, Mike, I'm not gonna 'tell.' But I'm a little concerned that you might, by accident. I mean, Gage is pretty oblivious to about ninety percent of what goes on around him, fortunately for you just now, but maybe I'll just arrange to keep the two of you separated for a while, avert some potential disasters that way.
"And one more thing, Mike. Hey, are you listening? You probably know this already, but I gotta tell you, you're barking up the wrong tree with Johnny, man," he added solemnly.
I sighed heavily. "Yeah, I know Roy, but it doesn't hurt to look, does it?"
"Mike, there's looking, and then there's looking. And just now? I hate to tell you this, but you were definitely looking."
"Yeah, I figured. Broke my number-one deal with myself, there: no looking. But how are you gonna keep him away from me? I mean, he's bringing Cap in, and he'll probably wanna check on me and all that, so how do you keep him out when I'm all doped up? Cause I'll tell ya, I'm not gonna tell him to leave. Uh-uh. No, siree. He can cut my clothes off any time, and I won't try to stop him. So how—"
Roy rolled his eyes at me. "Mike, put a cork in it, all right? This is the kind of time for a little white lie. If I just fib a little, and tell him that you're so freaked out by the cactus spines that you're gonna puke and you don't want any of the guys to see, he can't argue with that, can he?"
That Roy, he's just so smart and reasonable, I had to agree with him. "Well, that's fair. It's true, too – not really even a fib. 'Cause damn, look how gross this is! How are they gonna fix this up, anyhow? No, on second thought, I don't actually want to know. I'll just close my eyes, and think pleasant thoughts – but not TOO pleasant – and just not look at what's going on, and that'll be fine, right? Even if it bleeds, Roy. 'Cause man, if it bleeds, then I'm really—"
Roy waggled a large roll of adhesive tape near my mouth. "Am I gonna have to use this?" he asked, jokingly.
"Shutting up. Shutting up."