Chapter 12: Holiday Mayhem

1705, December 24th.

Chet draped the final string of lights over the tree, and stepped back to inspect his work.

"Perfect," he proclaimed. "If I do say so myself. Which I do. Fire 'er up, Stoker."

Mike plugged the extension cord into the outlet in the day room, and the tree lit up in many colors. The rainbow of lights sparkled off the glass ornaments. The tinsel shimmered, and the star at the top of the tree glowed gently.

"Definitely perfect," Chet said again, reaching over his shoulder to pat himself on the back, merely because nobody else was.

"I still can't believe this tree has been sitting here for a week, and none of the other shifts had time to finish decorating it," Marco said.

"Well, we're here for forty-eight hours, or possibly the next hundred years, so we might as well be able to enjoy it," Johnny said.

"Nobody likes getting stuck on the holiday double shift," Cap said. "So let's just declare a moratorium on any more complaining, for the rest of the shift, all right? Just think—it'll be three years before we have to do this again."

"And just think," Chet said, "how many amazingly stupid seasonal accidents we'll get to see!" He rubbed his hands in glee.

Everyone stared at him.

"What?" Chet said. "It's true!"

"You don't have to sound so … excited about it," Mike said. "I'm all for the holiday spirit, but I don't think that really counts."

"Besides, Kelly," Roy added, "you don't even get to see most of them. They're mostly squad-only responses."

"True," Chet said, frowning. "But remember what C-shift had last year? That one with the guy who fell into his chimney when he was trying to install a Santa decoration? That was the whole station, plus the aerial ladder truck from 110's, too."

"That did sound pretty … extraordinary," Cap said. "They didn't know where he was, exactly, inside the chimney, so they couldn't just start cutting."

"I'm amazed the guy survived," Roy said. "I mean, that much time without being able to fully expand your chest cavity can suffocate you, even if you're breathing perfectly good air."

"And then there was the house fire that 36's had," Chet said, "where the homeowner started the fire by trying to brown the turkey's skin with a blow-torch."

"Now that," Marco said, "is just plain stupid. If the outside of your turkey isn't browned, there's no way the inside is cooked."

Johnny put his finger in the air, as if to make an important announcement. "It is true, though, that most of the holiday accidents will just be me and Roy. You know—someone's carving the bird, and cuts themselves. Or putting lights up, and they fall off their ladder. Though I guess that one's probably done for the season," he said, frowning.

"And don't forget all the domestic violence," Roy added. "'Tis the season."

"Enough!" Cap said. "I swear, you twits almost sound like you're hoping for these sorts of things."

"No, no no no," Chet protested. "It's just that … well, if we're stuck here—"

"Kelly!" Cap warned.

Chet sighed. "All right, no complaining, I know."

With complaining outlawed, and Cap's suggestion that people were being a tad morbid, it became quiet in the day room.

"Geez, guys. There has to be something to talk about," Cap said, some minutes of silence later.

Mike picked up the paperback he'd been reading earlier, and Johnny yanked the newspaper out from under the dog, who looked at him dolefully. Not that he had any other looks; it was just a particularly obvious one this time. Roy went back to his magazine, and—

BWAAAAAAMP, BWOOOM BWEEEEEEEP!

Everyone sighed in relief.

"Squad 51, 2946 East Ward Road, hand laceration, bleeding not controlled. 2-9-4-6 East Ward, cross street Hardesty, for a hand laceration, bleeding not controlled. 1714."

"See?" Johnny said to Chet on his way out to the squad.

Roy pulled the squad out of the bay, lights flashing and siren blaring. "Any bets on a turkey-carving accident?" Roy said.

"No bets here," Johnny replied. "Any bets on artery versus vein?"

"Nope," Roy replied. "Plenty of both in your hand."

"Here's the cross street," Johnny said. "Take a left."

The tires screeched as Roy took the corner a shade too fast.

Johnny gripped the handle over the window. "Why is it again that you always get to drive?"

There wasn't time to get into that old discussion again, as they pulled past the driveway of the address they'd been dispatched to. They pulled out all the equipment they would need for treating hemorrhaging, and strode up to the front door.

The door flew open. A woman in a reindeer sweater, fake antlers on her head, ushered them in.

"Quick," she said. "In the dining room. Oh my God, I had no idea there could even be so much blood!"

Their patient was lying on the floor, one leg elevated, the leg of his pants saturated with bright red blood. A towel wrapped around his thigh was also completely soaked. There was a good-sized puddle on the hardwood floor, as well. A carving knife lay guiltily on the floor a foot away from their patient.

"Okay, so it's not your hand that's cut, apparently," Johnny said, as he yanked open a large bandage and pressed it into the wound, hard. The man, looking pale and clammy, didn't reply, as he was breathing hard. Roy slipped an oxygen mask over his face, further decreasing the man's chance of explaining his accident.

"Hand? No," the woman said. "Hand? Oh—the person I talked to must have heard 'ham.' Howard was cutting the ham, and I don't know what happened, but the knife slipped and went right into his leg!"

"Yes, ma'am, I see that now," Johnny said, as he continued pressing the wad of bandages into the wound. "Roy, more!"

Roy had already anticipated the situation, and handed Johnny another thick rectangle of padding. Johnny pressed it on top of the first wad, and was relieved to see that it did not immediately become saturated. He held the pile of dressings on tightly, while Roy set up an IV pack while holding the handset of the biophone between his ear and his shoulder.

Johnny wrapped the huge wad of dressings with rolls of gauze, twisting and crossing over the dressing to make a pressure bandage. Once his hands were free, he got a set of vitals, writing them on a slip of paper so Roy could report them to Rampart.

"Rampart, bleeding is now controlled. Vitals are: pulse 130 and thready, BP 70/50, respirations 28 and shallow," Roy said, concluding his report to Dr. Early.

"Copy, 51. Start an IV, Ringers, wide open, and transport immediately."

Johnny rode in with the patient, who started to improve slightly with the high-flow oxygen, and with the IV fluids replacing some of his blood volume.

The patient pulled the non-rebreather mask away from his face with a bloody hand. "Almost … killed by … the ham. Unbe … fucking … lievably … stupid."

Johnny smiled, and replaced the mask. "Hey, nobody lyin' down back here has ever said 'Gosh, I'm really feeling proud of myself right now.' And I bet you'll be fine."

"Thanks," the guy said weakly.

Half an hour later, back at the station, things were still tensely silent when Roy and Johnny returned to the day room. Even Marco, who never lost his cool, was chopping something more vigorously than it probably needed, taking out his annoyance on part of the evening's dinner.

Mike slammed his paperback shut, insofar as it was possible to do so. He glared at the book, cursing its inadequacy as a noisemaker. "This is ridiculous," he said.

"I couldn't agree with you more, Stoker," Captain Stanley said. "Which is why we are now going to play poker. Unless you're in the kitchen, helping Marco, you're in the game."

"Aw, Cap!" Johnny whined.

Cap shot Johnny a look that could've fried an egg. Johnny sighed, and opened the cabinet under the television. He retrieved a deck of cards and the tray of poker chips, and sat down at the table. He was nothing if not a man who knew when he was beaten.

Cap started shuffling. "You know the rules, boys. No actual money changes hands, though if you're in the hole, you can place bets without monetary value. We get toned out, the hand is void."

"Thanks, Gage, for last time," Chet said. "Can't remember the last time I actually had to clean a toilet, what with all those IOUs."

"Yeah, ha ha," Johnny said. "You just wait."

Cap started dealing. "Five card draw, nothing wild."

"Vanilla …" Mike muttered under his breath.

"What was that, Stoker?" Cap asked.

"Nothing important," Mike said.

"Ante up, boys," Cap said.

Chips clattered into the center of the table. Everyone picked up their cards, and Johnny immediately scowled.

"Nice poker face, Junior," Roy said. Johnny practiced his poker face by ignoring his partner.

Play commenced. Mike, Roy, and Chet each took two cards, and Cap and Johnny took three. Roy folded when it was his turn, but Johnny raised.

"Seriously, Gage?" Chet said. "Your mouth says 'raise,' but your face says 'fold.'"

"Well, Chet, your job is to decide which one to believe," Johnny said.

Just before Cap executed his plan to utter the word "call," the tones dropped.

BWAAAAAAMP, BWOOOM BWEEEEEEEP!

"NO!" Johnny shouted.

"Station 51, report of a smoke-filled residence from a possible oven fire, 3950 Hillcrest Lane, 3-9-5-0 Hillcrest Lane, cross street Meadow Court. Time out: 1822."

"It's not fair!" Johnny continued, as everyone dashed to the bay. "I was gonna win! I know I was gonna win!" he shouted out the passenger-side window of the squad.

"Rules are rules, Gage," Mike said, as he started up the diesel engine.

They arrived on scene to find smoke wafting—not pouring, luckily—out of many windows of a one-story house. The homeowners were outside.

Cap trotted over to them, just as they ran to meet him, sensing he was in charge.

"Is everyone out?" Cap asked.

"Yeah, I'm not even sure there's really a fire, but man, it's smoky!"

"All right," Cap said. "We'll figure out what's going on." He turned to the squad. "Roy, John—pack up and see if you can find the source. Chet, Marco, pull a line to the front door."

As his crew began following the orders they'd already anticipated, Cap reported in to dispatch.

"Engine 51 on the scene at a single-story wood-frame home, with light smoke conditions and no flames visible. No entrapment. No second alarm needed at this time."

Roy and Johnny went in through the front door, and headed to the back of the house, where the kitchen would normally be found in a house of that size. There wasn't any intense heat, so they both suspected there was something smoldering in the kitchen. Sure enough, black smoke billowed from the oven.

Roy pulled the oven open from one side as Johnny stood by with the extinguisher at the other side. No flames emerged, so Roy just grabbed the tray and started carrying it back out the way they came. Chet and Marco, who were standing by at the front door with an inch-and-a-half, made room for their exit.

Roy set the tray down on the sidewalk, and he and Johnny took their masks off to inspect it, along with Cap.

Cap shook his head, and signaled to Mike to shut the pump down. Chet and Marco pulled their line back to the engine, and stared at the smoldering heap as well. Mike took the engine out of pump gear, and joined his comrades at the sidewalk.

Chet rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Aren't you supposed to—"

"Yep," Cap said. "Definitely."

Everyone looked down at the turkey for another moment.

"All right," Cap said. "Let's ventilate this place, and go home. I'll talk to the homeowners."

"Try not to laugh too hard," Mike said.

"Who, me?" Cap said innocently. "Keeping a straight face in these situations is part of the Captain's test."

"Good to know," Mike said. He turned towards the engine, as he was having an increasingly difficult time keeping his laughter contained.

Chet took a huge electric fan inside the house to blow smoke out, and Marco followed him inside to open all the windows. Johnny and Roy returned their airpacks to the squad, and then went to the engine to help Mike pack up the hose. Everyone was glad not to be in charge at that moment—especially those whose poker faces were not up to snuff.

Hank Stanley steeled himself for his encounter by thinking of the day his childhood dog died, and thinking of the time he'd been yelled at, as a green engineer, for putting a dent in the engine by backing it into a utility pole.

"Captain, was that what was making the smoke? The turkey?" the young-looking husband asked. His wife was clinging to him, literally crying on his shoulder.

"I'm afraid so," Cap said gravely.

"But—but we followed all of my mother's instructions!" the man said.

"I think maybe she left out the part about taking the plastic wrapping off the bird before putting it in the oven," Cap said.

"Oh," the man said quietly, patting his wife's hand as her tears ramped up a notch.

"In any case," Cap continued, "we'll get the smoke out of the house, and then we'll be on our way."

"Thanks," the man said. "And, uh, sorry about all this. Sorry to drag you out on Christmas Eve."

"Don't worry about it," Cap said kindly. "That's what we're here for. I'm sorry your holiday dinner didn't go as planned."

The man sighed. "Yeah, well, maybe I'll have a grain of common sense next time."

Fifteen minutes later, the hose was repacked, and the ventilation was as good as it was going to get. The squad pulled away first, followed by the engine, and the men were back at the station in under ten minutes.

"I was seriously gonna win," Johnny said, as everyone paraded back into the kitchen. He flipped his cards over, waving them in the air for anyone who cared to see them. "Look—three aces! Three of a kind! I definitely woulda won that hand if we hadn't gotten toned out." He threw his cards on the table in disgust.

"Well, you win some, and …" Chet feigned a thoughtful look. "No, I take that back."

Johnny scowled mightily. "You're pushin' it, Kelly. Really, really pushin' it."

Stoker sat at the table, shuffling the cards. "So, Gage, should I deal you in, or not?"

Johnny plopped down into a chair so hard it creaked. "I guess so. There's nothing else to do."

Cap raised his eyebrows. "I could always come up with something else, if a friendly card game is such a hardship."

Johnny wisely kept his mouth shut, as Mike began dealing. "Seven card stud, high/low, follow the queen," Mike said.

"What?" Roy said. "Was that English? It sounded like English, but it didn't make any sense."

"The first up-turned card following any up queen is wild," Chet explained. "Highest hand and lowest hand split the pot—so really, he's taking pity on Gage."

"Chet," Cap said, eyebrows looking extremely disapproving, "we're here for thirty-six more hours. I'd prefer that there not be any fatalities, so enough with the digs already."

"Don't get too invested, hombres, because the posole is gonna be done by the end of this hand," Marco said from the stove. "And if someone folds, they can slice some radishes."

Stoker dealt everyone two down cards and one up card. The only sound in the room was the quiet bubbling of Marco's hominy soup.

"Roy, you start the betting—you've got the lowest card showing," Mike said.

"Okay," Roy said. "I bet—"

BWAAAAAAMP, BWOOOM BWEEEEEEEP!

"Station 51, respond to an unknown type incident at 1888 Euclid Street, 1-8-8-8 Euclid, cross street Caldwell. Neighbor reports a flash and a loud sound, and nobody answers at the door. Time out: 1948."

"Forced poker night obviously isn't meant to be," Mike said, dropping the deck on the table.

The crew members on both apparatus were uncharacteristically quiet on their way to the address, which was only three minutes from the station. An electrical tang hung in the uncharacteristically humid air. Mike started hooking the engine up to the hydrant, which was conveniently located right in front of the house.

Cap was once again descended upon by a civilian.

"Oh, thank goodness you're here!" the woman cried.

"What happened?" Cap asked.

"Well, I was at my kitchen window, and I could see Fred doing something next door, near his Christmas tree. Then there was a loud bang, and everything went dark in the house, and now he's not answering the door! And I know he's not gone, because he's supposed to be having all the neighbors over at eight thirty for drinks!"

"Marco, Chet, get in that front door, pronto," Cap ordered. "Roy, John, get what you'll need for a possible electrocution victim."

Everyone scurried to his task. Cap reported in to dispatch. Marco and Chet's job was done in an instant—the front door was unlocked. No smoke came out when they opened the door, but they went back to the engine and picked up fire extinguishers suitable for an electrical fire, and followed Roy and Johnny into the dark house, with Cap close on their heels.

"Fire department!" Roy called, as he and Johnny entered. "Anyone here?"

The men shone their flashlights around the living room, until Chet called out, "Here! By the bay window!"

There was man lying prone on the floor, next to an overturned chair. Nobody touched him, as the smell of scorched flesh suggested an electrocution. A gentle rise and fall of the upper body showed he was still breathing. His right hand was clenched around a blackened tree-top star. The insulation on its wire was melted away.

"Cap, did you find the fuse box?" Johnny called.

"Affirmative," Cap called from the other room. "You're clear—I pulled the whole-house fuse. Man, he really messed around with his fuse box. I'm surprised the whole place didn't go up."

Johnny and Roy approached their patient. He was face down on the floor, and one arm lay at an angle that indicated it was broken. He had vomited on the floor, and his open mouth remained in the unsavory puddle.

"Okay," Roy said, "we've gotta roll him so we can control his airway. Chet, you take his head; Marco, you stabilize that fractured arm. We roll on Chet's count."

"Roll on three," Chet said. "One, two, three."

In one coordinated movement, the four men rolled the victim to his back. Johnny started getting vitals, while Roy cleaned out his mouth and put an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose. In the background, Cap started setting up the biophone. He relayed the information John and Roy began calling out.

"Pulse 74 and irregular, Roy. Respirations 10 and labored—better get some lung sounds, because I bet he aspirated."

"On it," Roy said. "Right pupil blown, Johnny. Lemme get him on the monitor and then I'll get some lung sounds."

"BP 100/68," Johnny reported.

As Roy applied the electrodes, a wiggly line appeared on the scope. Every third heartbeat or so, the regularity of the pattern was interrupted by an arrhythmia.

"Rampart says send them a strip," Cap reported.

Roy plugged the monitor into the biophone, and motioned to Cap to hand him the receiver of the biophone.

"Rampart, this is lead two," Roy said.

Johnny prepared an IV pack, assuming that Rampart would order it, and got out the most likely drugs they'd be asked to administer as well. Roy clamped the biophone receiver between his neck and shoulder as he started applying a cervical collar to stabilize the man's neck, in case it had been injured in the fall.

"51, start an IV, D5W, TKO for now. Transport with spinal precautions, and keep him on the monitor. Advise us of any changes in frequency or type of arrhythmia en route," Dr. Early said. Roy was startled to hear his voice; for some reason he'd been assuming he'd hear Dr. Morton or another resident, since usually the most senior physicians were off for the holidays.

"Copy that, Rampart; D5W TKO, spinal precautions, monitor and advise en route," Roy repeated.

Johnny started the IV that would allow instant access for any potential urgently-needed drugs, while Roy splinted the opposite arm. As they completed these tasks, their patient began to stir.

"Sir? Try not to move," Roy said, as the patient started to try to lift his head.

"Wha …" the man started, but broke out in a coughing fit. He tried to push the oxygen mask away from his face, but Johnny gently restrained him.

"Sir, you need to try not to move," Johnny said. "You had a bad fall, and we think you got an electrical shock as well."

"Arm …"

"Your arm is broken," Johnny said. "We're taking you to the hospital, so just try to relax and not move around. Do you remember what happened?"

The man blinked twice, and seemed to suddenly take in what was going on around him. His eyes widened as they stared at Cap's striped helmet.

"Fire?"

"No," Johnny reassured him, "there wasn't a fire. Sounds like you fried your fuse box pretty bad, though."

"Ohhh, shit," the man groaned. "Stupid." He burst into another coughing fit.

Johnny looked up at Cap.

"It looked like did some creative and ill-advised electrical work at the fuse box," Cap said.

"Ah," Johnny said dryly.

The wail of the Mayfair ambulance's siren grew louder, and the flashing red lights illuminated the ornamented tree in the bay window. At the same time, the green line on the heart monitor waggled irregularly, three times in succession, and the patient gasped.

"What was that?" he asked.

"You're having some irregular heartbeats," Johnny told him, as Roy got back on the phone to Rampart.

Roy had a quick conversation with Rampart, relaying the patient's return to consciousness and the successive arrhythmias. Johnny pushed the IV lidocaine, and then set up the drip, as Dr. Early ordered. They loaded their backboarded patient onto the gurney.

"Cap, can someone get the squad to Rampart?" Johnny said, looking over Roy's shoulder at the monitor readout. He didn't want to say anything in front of the patient, but there was every indication that they might need two sets of hands during this transport.

"Sure—Chet, you're on it," Cap said. "We're just gonna lock out this fuse box until it gets taken care of. See you back at the barn."

During the ride to Rampart, the patient stabilized and became increasingly alert.

"I can't believe how stupid that was," he said.

"How stupid what was?" Johnny asked.

"I … uh … well, I kept blowing fuses when I plugged in more lights for the tree. So I … uh, fiddled with the fuse box."

"Do you remember what happened?" Johnny asked, all the while wanting to scream "you stupid idiot!" but somehow managing to refrain from actually doing so.

"Sort of," the patient said. "I was standing on a chair, putting the star on top of the tree. That's the last thing I remember."

"Well," Johnny said, "you've got yourself quite a knock on the noggin, and it looks pretty likely that you got an electrical shock as well. I wonder if maybe you got shocked, and that made you fall off the chair."

"Could be," the patient said. "But I don't really remember. And geez, my arm smarts like a sonofagun. I don't suppose there's anything you can give me for that?"

Johnny shook his head. "Sorry, pal; not when you just got knocked out, and not with these irregular heartbeats you're having. But we'll be at Rampart in just a couple of minutes."

The man yelled as the ambulance hit a bump.

"Sorry about that," Johnny said.

Roy adjusted the drip on the IV, and got another set of vitals. A few silent minutes later, the ambulance backed towards the entrance of the ER, and Johnny and Roy wheeled their patient into the ER.

"Treatment two," the nurse said.

Johnny and Roy conveyed their patient to the room, and left him with their best wishes.

"Sorry to drag you out on Christmas Eve," the patient said.

"No problem, we're on duty anyhow," Johnny said. "Take care, okay?"

"No more amateur electrical work. I promise," the patient said.

Johnny shot him a quick thumbs up, and he and Roy left the ER. They got to the exit just as Chet pulled up with the squad.

"All right, Gage," Roy said. "Say it. I know you want to."

"What a stupid, moronic, boneheaded idiot!" Johnny shouted. A couple walking across the parking lot stopped briefly, stared, and looked away quickly when Johnny met their gaze.

"Feel better?" Roy said.

"Yep."

"Come on, guys," Chet said. "I don't have all night."

"Sure you do," Johnny said, squeezing into the middle seat. "What else do you hafta do tonight besides drive us around?"

"Well I'm starving, for one thing," Chet said. "Let's get back to the station before the rest of the guys eat all the food."

~!~!~!~

Marco's posole was delicious—a rich stew of hominy, in a tomato base, with meat and vegetables on the side for people to mix in. He had also prepared the traditional toppings of cilantro and thinly sliced radishes, which made the dish look festive and seasonal. The men ate with gusto, and speed, never knowing when the tones might drop and interrupt their meal.

"Marco, this is terrific," Roy said, serving himself up a second bowl of the stew.

"Thanks," Marco replied. "My mother always makes this on Christmas Eve."

"I've never had this before, but it's great," Mike said.

While they were eating, the station's doorbell rang. Johnny perked up instantly.

"Cookies!" he blurted, as he ran to the front door.

"Or, someone having a heart attack, maybe," Mike said, recalling an unfortunate incident in the station.

"That's our Stoker," Chet commented. "Always thinking on the dark side."

But Johnny returned with a box of baked goods. "I love grateful citizens," he said, biting the head off a gingerbread man. "They're my favorite."

By the time the meal was over and the kitchen was clean, and everyone had had coffee and cookies, it was nearly lights out.

"Well, I'm just gonna turn in," Cap said.

One by one, the rest of the men retired to the dorm as well. Soon, not a creature was stirring, except Henry the dog, who just didn't seem to be able to get comfortable, which might have had something to do with the quantity of cookies he had eaten.

The tones sounded, and everyone automatically found their boots with their feet, and hauled their suspenders up over their shoulders by the time the klaxons had stopped. No dispatch information followed.

"What the …" Chet said. "Was that the wakeup tones?"

"I don't believe it," Cap said. "We just had an entire night without a single call. Now, when was the last time that happened?"

Nobody could come up with an answer to that question.

"Well, Merry Christmas to us!" Marco said.

"And cookies for breakfast!" Johnny said, starting towards the kitchen.

The End (of this chapter. Series TBC).