A Charmed Life
Chapter 29: Agents of Change, Part II
Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider
22 February 1993 - Avocado Street, Springfield, Massachusetts
Jeff grabbed his coat and stethoscope after parking his truck at Connecticut River Valley Ambulance’s headquarters. For an industrial area, CRVA’s garage wasn’t in too bad of a spot. Nestled at the end of a dead-end street and up against the Connecticut River, it was easy to forget where you were. The road noise from nearby Interstate 91 was the only hint you might be near civilization.
Jeff inhaled a lungful of crisp winter air as he exited his truck. The air near CRVA’s garage was clean today, owing to the southwest wind coming up the river. The winter sun was trying its best to warm the air, but the mid-twenties temperature won that battle. The weak sun did, at least, keep the pavement clear. There would be no eating dinner along the riverfront as the crews liked to do in the summer, though.
He entered through the employee entrance and stepped into the crew room. He checked the ambulance assignments to make sure he and Gene were still in Ambulance Fifteen for their shift. Gene entered a minute later, and they traded their standard greetings and insults.
They heard yelling coming from the front office while they punched in. Whoever was doing the yelling was probably making the front office staff deaf; they walked towards the front of the building and heard a loud <crash> before they reached the office door.
They entered in time to see Dawn Ebersole stomping angrily away from the building. The front door flapped open in the breeze, its hydraulic closing arm hung from the frame, twisted and useless. Bill Harris, Stu Masterson and Connie Willis all scowled at the sight. Stu wore street clothes, Connie and Bill wore their uniforms. Bill waved everyone towards the crew room.
“People! May I have your attention, please?” Bill called to the other crews. They looked at him, curious. “Dawn Ebersole is no longer employed at Connecticut River Valley Ambulance. Please do not allow her access to company property or vehicles as of this date. If she does show up here please notify me, the on-duty supervisor or the local police as necessary.” Bill motioned the original group from the office out to the garage. At the back of Ambulance Fifteen, he explained in low tones to Gene and Jeff what happened.
“Guys, I rode third with Connie and Dawn today. Unlike the two of you, Dawn has not been making the progress we like to see in new employees over the five months she’s been here. In fact, based on the reports I’ve been getting from Stu and Connie she’s started to backslide. Watching her performance today, she appeared to me like a misplaced rookie. Her skills were marginal. Even worse, she showed little empathy for our patients.”
“Back here in my office we showed her the facts. We had stacks of signed preceptor reports, countersigned by her, detailing her initial progress and then her regression. I was prepared to offer her an extended probationary period until she started spewing invective.”
“Invective?” Gene asked before Jeff could.
“She called me an ‘effing dyke, ‘“ Connie said with anger clear in her voice. “We’ve been working together for five months, and she’s known that I’m gay, but she didn’t say a word about it until just now. She’d better not ever cross my path again.”
“Her shifts are going to be open for a while; our other trainees are already assigned to shifts. We don’t have anyone else in the pipeline at the moment and won’t get another surge of applications until the next batch of local EMT classes finish, based on past experience.”
They talked for a few more minutes until Stu said he needed to leave to get to his son’s basketball game.
“Connie, does she know where you live?” Jeff asked.
“I don’t believe so, no.”
“Just watch your surroundings back at the apartment. I wouldn’t put anything past her.”
“I’m glad you were home today. I don’t know what I would have done.”
“You would have called my Dad, eventually,” Jeff replied while the Valley Automotive flatbed pulled away with Connie’s car.
“Sure, an hour from now when I’d stopped freaking out. What did you say it might be?”
“Hopefully, just the transmission shift solenoids. Those are what control the flow of the transmission fluid and make the car shift. Dad’ll have it figured out pretty quick, and fixing it shouldn’t take more than a few hours if that’s what it is. Shouldn’t be too expensive in that case.”
“Well, with Steve not charging me much in rent, I’ve been able to build up my savings. As long as it’s not the actual transmission, I’ll be able to handle it.”
“Steve knew you needed to get your feet back under you over the past two and a half months; don’t sweat it. Let’s get back inside if we’re going to keep chatting. It’s too cold out here to be standing around this parking lot.”
Connie noticed the message light blinking on the answering machine when they entered the kitchen from the back deck. She pressed the button and the messages began to play.
“Connie, Jeff, it’s Bill Harris. Call CRVA when you get this message. <BEEP>”
“Connie. Jeff. It’s Stu Masterson and it’s about 10:30 on Wednesday morning. Call the office as soon as you get this. <BEEP>”
“Guys, it’s Bill again. It’s real important that you call in as soon as you get this message. <BEEP>”
“<End of messages.>”
“We were only outside for thirty minutes. I wonder what’s so important?” Connie asked as she dialed CRVA’s number. “Hey, Paul, it’s Connie Willis. We ... Wow, whatever it is, I’m being transferred to Bill Harris already ... Hey, Bill, it’s Connie. Yeah, he’s here with me, why?” Jeff saw Connie’s face fall when she received the answer to her question. “No...” she wailed. “Oh, no! Okay. We’ll be there. Bye, Bill.”
“What’s the matter?”
“Jeff, they coded Mr. Noke this morning,” she replied while a tear tracked down her face. “There’s a preliminary meeting about him at CRVA at two p.m.”
The two roommates didn’t get much accomplished around the apartment before they left for the meeting. A somber Connie and Jeff joined a silent crowd in the crew room at CRVA later that afternoon. There were no arrangements announced by the Noke family yet, but the company came up with a plan to honor Mr. Noke once they were.
“Hey, Jeff, Paul in dispatch got a message for you from your Dad,” Neil Fournier informed him before he and Connie left an hour later.
“Thanks, Neil,” he replied as he read the note he’d been handed. “Connie, your car’s ready. We’ll stop at my Dad’s garage on the way back to the apartment.”
“Seems like you were right again, that it wasn’t as bad as I thought.”
“Hold off on your exuberance until he hands you the bill.”
“You’re a real wet blanket, you know?”
“I do what I can.”
Thirty minutes later Joe Knox handed Connie an invoice for her car’s repair.
“Mr. Knox, you only charged me for parts. What about the time you spent working on the car? Your labor costs?”
“Joseph spent barely half an hour working on your car.” Joseph was Jerry Gulbicki’s son; a skilled mechanic, he was enhancing Valley Automotive’s already stellar reputation. “And you’re what ... less than three months out from that fire? It’s our way of helping you out a bit more.”
“Okay, okay,” Connie relented. “But full price next time! You can’t keep the lights on here if you keep giving away your time!”
“With Jeff out of the house we’re still saving money on food, so I don’t have to work as hard here.” Jeff gave his father the finger. “Your mother would wash your mouth out with soap if she saw that.”
“For what? I didn’t say anything.”
“Go on, git. Some of us have work to do.”
Jeff followed Connie back to Bilzarian’s. There were no troubles with the car that he saw on the way; she reported none after they’d parked their cars.
“Hey, did you check the mail before we left?” she asked him.
“No, I thought you did,” he answered before they walked to the street. There was a mail slot in the door to the front staircase. The lights from the Common and the businesses lit the center of town while the daytime faded to night. They collected their mail and headed up the stairs after securing the front door. Jeff pulled the shades over the kitchen windows before turning on the lights there.
“It’s been about a month since you told me you felt that you were being watched. Why are you still pulling the shades and curtains before you turn on the lights?”
“Part of it’s habit now I suppose, Connie. Part of it’s not wanting to give the enemy a chance to study our movements.”
“Sounds pretty paranoid, I know, but...”
Connie laughed at him and he began to make dinner, one of his specialties: spaghetti carbonara. “I don’t know how you can eat this stuff and keep your girlish figure,” she said while he plated the cheesy bacon and pea-laced pasta thirty minutes later.
“I’ll run an extra mile tomorrow,” he quipped as he sat.
Before they could taste a single forkful of the meal, there was a muffled <bang> from the back of the building.
“Wait!” Jeff barked when Connie moved towards the door to the back deck. He darted into his bedroom and returned with the same shotgun and .45 he’d defended himself with almost a year earlier. “The hair on the back of my neck’s been standing up since we came home. Kill the lights.”
Connie didn’t question him and did as he asked. With the lights off Jeff peeked out a window over the driveway to the back parking lot. He waved Connie into the living room area and turned off those lights. He picked up the cordless phone.
“Enfield 9-1-1, this call is being recorded. What is your emergency?”
“Mrs. Summersworth? It’s Jeff Knox at Bilzarian’s again.”
“Jeff? More trouble at your place?”
“Yes, ma’am. 223 Main Street, Bilzarian’s parking lot for two cars on fire.”
“My car?” Connie cried. She tried to push past Jeff but he forced her to the same window he’d looked out. He also blocked her path to the back door.
“Don’t go out there, Connie. I don’t like this.”
“Jeff? Are you still there?”
“I’m here, Mrs. Summersworth. I was trying to keep my roommate from going out to our back deck. Something’s wrong with this whole situation; it’s got me on edge.”
“They refill propane tanks at Bilzarian’s. Where are you parked in relation to their storage tank?”
“Opposite side of the lot, ma’am; our vehicles are well away from the propane. The vehicles on fire are an ‘83 Chevy K-10 pickup and an ‘83 Chevy Chevette hatchback. There’s a hydrant just down the street, in front of 219 Main.” Jeff heard the first fire engine pull down the driveway; he heard their radio call over the phone also. “The fire department’s here, Mrs. Summersworth, so I’ll let you go. Ask the officers responding to check the door off the loading dock again, please?”
“Will do, Jeff. Call back if you need something.” Jeff hung up.
Now Connie questioned him. “Jeff, what’s going on? Why won’t you let me out there?”
“Do you remember the car fire they had off Division Street in Springfield right after I started at CRVA last year?” he asked in a hushed voice.
“Vaguely, why?” she replied in the same quiet voice.
“A former boyfriend set his ex-girlfriend’s car on fire, then stabbed her when she came out of her apartment to look. The lights on the deck are out. There’s someone waiting for us outside, Connie, I can feel it.”
“Okay, you’re weirding me out now. Why didn’t you say something earlier?”
“I wasn’t really kidding earlier when you asked me why I always pull the shades after dark. I had a vague feeling, but I wasn’t sure. Now, I don’t want whoever is out there to know where we are, what we’re doing or that we’re armed.”
“You really think there’s somebody waiting for us out there?” Jeff could hear the fear creeping into Connie’s voice.
“I wasn’t sure until our cars caught fire, but now? Absolutely! Anyone coming in here uninvited is getting a load of double-aught buck right in the chest followed by a slug. If anything happens, I want you in your room with the deadbolt locked.” Jeff had installed a lock for Connie when she moved in, though she’d never used it. Now, Connie curled herself into a ball on the floor outside her room while Jeff stood guard over her.
After five minutes Jeff heard yelling on the back deck. Male voices were barking commands over and over for about thirty seconds, then silence. A minute later there was a soft knock on the back door.
“Jeff, it’s Jack,” a welcome voice called. The lights on the deck were still out, even though the switch for them was on; Jack lit his face with his flashlight so Jeff could see it was him.
Jeff unlocked and opened the door. “We have to stop meeting like this,” he said.
“Yeah, when you invite me over why are there always intruders and firearms involved?” Jack asked, pointing to the shotgun Jeff held at a low-ready position and the .45 in his waistband.
“Where’s that dyke bitch, Jeff?” a loud, coarse voice shouted. “I’m gonna kill her! I’m the one who’s interested in you! I’m the one who’s interested in men!“ Jeff pointed his flashlight in the direction the voice came from. It exposed the snarling face of a woman he’d hoped he’d never see again. An aluminum softball bat lay next to her.
“Dawn Ebersole,” he sighed.
“You know who this woman is?”
“Dawn Ebersole. She used to work for the same ambulance company in Springfield that Connie and I do. She was fired about two months ago.”
“It was that bitch in there who got me fired! I’m gonna kill her! Come out here, bitch! I’m going to give you what you’ve got coming to you!”
“Pete, did we Mirandize her?” Jack asked one of the officers holding her down.
“Sure did, Sarge. As soon as we took her down.”
“Spontaneous utterance, then. You two get her out of here.” The two other officers wrestled the small, angry woman down the stairs.
“Can I come in, Jeff?” Jeff opened the screen door and his old friend stepped in. Jeff turned the kitchen lights on. Connie was no longer there; the door to her room was closed.
Jeff ran through the sequence of the day’s events for Jack. Jack asked him a few questions for clarification, then asked if he’d sign a statement; Jeff quickly agreed. Then Jeff asked about a restraining order against Dawn.
“And I’m sure Steve Bilzarian will ask for at least a criminal trespass warning against her as well, Jack.”
“He’s got it as soon as he asks. It’s a good thing that your vehicles were parked across the lot from that propane tank. I hate to think what could have happened if the fire had been next to it; an explosion from a tank that size could have leveled the whole business district.”
“Do you need to speak to Connie?”
“I do, yes.” Jeff knocked on her door, but there was no answer. A sheet of paper with a signed statement slid its way out from under the door. “This is good enough for tonight, Jeff. I’ll be in touch if we need more. It’s clear to me that woman intended to ambush you and your roommate tonight; there are signs that she forced the door downstairs. She unscrewed the light bulbs over the deck, and she was lying in wait for the two of you. I think you threw off her plans when you used the front door. She lit your cars on fire and planned to attack when you came out to the fire. I’m glad you had a hunch on this, I’d rather not investigate a double homicide, especially the deaths of people I know.”
Jeff shook his head. “Unreal. Alright, thanks, Jack. Keep in touch. You think she’ll be locked up for a while?”
“No bail is a guarantee on this, and so’s your request for an emergency restraining order; you’ll have to go to court in Northampton to have that extended past forty-eight hours. She’s gonna buy a thirty-day evaluation committal at Bridgewater at least.” Bridgewater State Hospital is where the Commonwealth sends defendants who need mental health evaluations prior to trial. “Odds are you’ll never have to see her again, if you’re lucky.”
Jeff thanked Jack and showed him out the back door. The deck would remain off-limits until the police processed the crime scene, possibly into tomorrow morning, so Connie and Jeff would have to enter and exit via the front stairs. After locking up, Jeff made another attempt to talk with Connie to no avail. He’d have to borrow a car from his Dad to get to work tomorrow; a phone call to his parents’ house confirmed there were a couple at his father’s garage he could borrow. Joe would pick Jeff up an hour before his scheduled shift to allow for travel time back to the garage.
Jeff unloaded the shotgun. He put it and the ammo back into the gun safe. The loaded .45 went under his pillow.
The next morning Connie’s door was still closed. There’d been no phone calls from CRVA looking for her after six a.m., so Jeff guessed she’d called out for her shift the night before. Jeff dressed and walked down to the Valley Credit Union where he did his banking. The manager assured him he could get a cashier’s check for a new vehicle whenever he needed it; the manager also told him he’d deliver it personally anywhere in the valley to facilitate the process. There was plenty of money in his account to cover a new vehicle.
Jeff walked back to Bilzarian’s to talk with Steve. The spot where he and Connie had parked was blackened but, since the lot was cinders and not pavement, repair costs would be minimal. Left unsaid was the concern Steve might have over the second violent incident in two years.
Jeff returned to the apartment to find Connie’s door still closed. He sighed and went about preparing for his shift. He prepared his uniform, packed a dinner, then ate his lunch; after lunch he shaved, showered and changed. He awaited his father on the loading dock.
Arriving at CRVA Jeff learned he was correct about that morning; Connie called out for her scheduled shift the night before, citing the need to secure another vehicle. Jeff’s shift with Gene was unremarkable: all transfers and no responses.
Mr. Noke’s wake would be the following evening in Springfield; the funeral would be Friday morning. Gene, Stu and Jeff planned to wear the uniforms from their respective armed services to both; CRVA staff who weren’t veterans would wear their work uniforms with ties, work jackets and white gloves.
When Jeff returned home at midnight Connie’s door was open, but her belongings were gone; there was an envelope with his name on it on the coffee table in the living room. With it were her apartment and room keys. The envelope held a thank you card with a note written on the inside.
I’m sorry to do this to you, Jeff, but I have to go. 1993 is shaping up to be a horrific year for me and I need to start over somewhere else. I’m leaving the state. I’m hoping that I can start over in another place; trying to start over here hasn’t been good for me. I don’t know if I can ever forget the hateful words that woman said last night or the hateful words my own family said five years ago. Her words cut through the brave front I put on after she was fired that day; that’s all it ever was - a front. Her words then as well as last night scared me in reality; they’ll haunt me for years, that I know.
I’ll always remember, though, how you made me laugh the first day we met, how you were my friend regardless of who I was, how you took me in without hesitation or how you were ready to protect me last night. I know you would have given your life to keep me safe; please don’t ever think that I’m not grateful for that.
Please thank everyone at CRVA, Mr. Bilzarian and, most importantly, your family for their kindness through the years; please also tell them I’m sorry I slipped away like a thief in the night. If I ever have children, I hope they grow up to be as fiercely loyal to their friends as you are. If our paths ever cross again, please don’t hate me too much.
Auf Wiedersehen, my friend,
Jeff stared blankly at the card in his hands. He didn’t hate many people and Connie Willis would never be on that list. Dawn Ebersole, however, was now firmly on that list along with Connie’s family; he’d better never run into either because the results wouldn’t be pretty. Connie included a cashier’s check for fifteen hundred dollars made out to Steve Bilzarian with the card; the check was to make up for the rent she felt she owed him. Jeff knew Steve wouldn’t take it, but that he would donate it to an appropriate charity in Connie’s name.
“Vaya con Dios, mi amiga...” Jeff whispered.
“She’s gone?” Stu asked the next evening. Jeff nodded and handed over a copy of the card. Stu and Gene reread it over and over while they waited in line at Mr. Noke’s wake. They stood between the veterans and CRVA staff, since they were both. Jeff indicated they should pass the copy down the line of CRVA employees when they tried to hand it back; he’d already given Bill Harris a copy. “Where is she?”
“In the wind, Stu, in the wind. She didn’t say where she was headed in the note, Enfield PD tells me her license plate is listed as ‘cancelled, plate not returned, ‘ and there’s no other vehicle listed in her name in the Registry database. My guess is she hopped a bus or train going somewhere. We won’t have any way to track her unless she gets in legal trouble.”
“Man, now I really hate that crazy bitch,” Stu said, meaning Dawn. “She’s the one who torched your cars? And she was waiting outside your apartment with a bat the other night?”
“Yep. She was arraigned today and shipped off to Bridgewater State for ‘evaluation.’ It won’t take them the whole thirty days to figure out she’s nuts. It’s my guess she’s a lock for ‘not guilty by reason of insanity.’ She’ll be at Bridgewater for a long time.”
The following Monday morning there was another company-wide meeting in the crew room at CRVA. Bill Harris once again spoke to the assembled staff.
“As you all know, CRVA is a privately-owned business; Mr. Dupuis has owned this company for the past fifteen years. Many of you have been here since he bought it; a few of you were here even before that. However, there are no Dupuis children to continue family ownership. Mr. Dupuis has agreed to sell CRVA to Westover Regional EMS; over the next three months, the two companies’ operations will be merged. The name of the combined company will be Westover Regional EMS.”
There was stunned silence. In contrast to the name, Westover Regional was based nowhere near the Air Force Base; in fact it was based out of Westfield, Massachusetts, on the opposite side of Springfield and the Connecticut River from the base. WREMS didn’t have a very good reputation for taking care of its employees, where CRVA tried to as much as possible.