A Charmed Life
Chapter 31: Eastbound

Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider

19 July 1993 - West Ware Road, Enfield, Massachusetts

Gene Choamsky helped Jeff put the last box in the back of the pickup. The sound the truck’s tailgate made as it closed put the exclamation point on the fact Jeff was leaving; he was moving to Malden today. Jeff went back inside to make one last check of his room.

Marisa Knox tried to present a brave face while she watched Jeff and his friend pack his truck. The women he’d be moving in with called last week to tell him the bedroom at their condo was empty and ready for him. Marisa hadn’t been this emotional when he’d moved to Bilzarian’s two years earlier. Back then he’d moved ten minutes away; now he was going to be two hours away.

Jeff exited the house holding an object in a plain brown paper bag. The bag emitted soft <clinks> when he extended it to his friend.

“Thanks for your help, Gene.”

“Of course. I was kidding when I said I’d help you for the cost of a six-pack, you know? I’d have helped you out regardless and you barely had anything to load!”

“Think of it as my way of making up for the fact we still haven’t gone out and raised a glass to celebrate Jean being pregnant again. When is she due?”

“Christmas, or thereabouts. You keep in touch, Airborne.”

“I will,” Jeff promised his friend. They shook hands, which turned into a man-hug with plenty of back-slapping. He turned to his parents. He and his Dad shared a similar handshake and longer hug. His Mom almost crushed him when she hugged him. “Mom, it’s Malden, not the Moon!” he said in a whisper.

“It might as well be.”

“It’ll be different than here in the valley, but I’ll be okay. You have the address and phone number, right? I’ll call when I get out there later today. I’ve got to stop in the center and close my account at the credit union on my way out of town, so I’m gonna head up through Petersham and take Route 2 east.”

“You be careful.”

“Mom, I’m moving! It’s not like I’m jumping out of planes again!”

Marisa reached up and held his face in her hands. “Have you forgotten that you’re still my Little Boy?”

“No, Mom,” he sighed, properly chastised. “I’ll be careful. Make sure Kara and Stu have my new address and phone number when they get back from their vacation, okay?” Marisa hugged him and gave him one last sloppy kiss on the cheek. With a wave to everyone he climbed into his truck and left the house on West Ware Road.

The teller at Valley Credit Union was shocked to hear Jeff was leaving the area, but she closed his account with speed and efficiency borne of long practice. The manager came out of his office to shake Jeff’s hand after the teller handed him the cashier’s check he’d requested; he’d use the check to open his new accounts in Malden.

Jeff’s final stop in Enfield was Town Hall; the Enfield Police Department was headquartered in the basement there. His license to carry a concealed firearm burned with his truck, so he’d applied for a duplicate to be issued. The firearms licensing officer left a message at his house on Friday to say he could pick it up today. Jeff told the dispatcher behind the secure entrance why he was there and was told that an officer would be right out.

The heavy door creaked open five minutes later. “I didn’t ever think I’d see the day when you’d leave the valley permanently, Jeff,” the man said.

“The only constant is change, Jack; you know that.”

“All too true, sir, all too true. Well, here’s your duplicate license to carry. Don’t forget to send the police chief in Malden a registered letter telling him you’ve moved into his city; that’s a legal requirement in the Commonwealth.” Jack Dwadczik held a letter-sized manila envelope out to Jeff next. “Chief Brewer, Chief Ozelynk and I have each written a letter telling whomever that they should ignore any letter from Westover Regional EMS, if you think those letters might help. The originals are in there, along with five copies of each.”

Jeff was stunned. He knew, of course, how hard Jack and Chief Ozelynk campaigned for local services to ignore the WREMS letter; that campaign was not as successful as they’d hoped it would be. Even if Jeff was able to find an EMS job in the Springfield area, there were too many branches of the Ebersole family around; he’d never escape the allegations in the letter, even if they were false.

“Jack, I don’t know what to say.”

“The chiefs told me what WREMS did reminded them too much of the Red Scare days and the McCarthy Commission trials; all whispers and no real evidence to back up the claims that were levied against good people. They said to have anyone who’s on the fence call them and they’d speak to those people personally.”

“Thanks for all your help, Jack. I hate to think how things would have gone back in ‘83 if you hadn’t been there to encourage me.”

“You’d have been fine, Jeff; you had the drive all along. I just gave you a nudge here and there. Keep your eyes open out there inside Route 128; it’s a different world.”

“Roger that, Sarge.”

Jeff swung through the fast food burger joint in Greenwich center for lunch before continuing northeast on Route 34. He turned north on Route 32 towards its intersection with Route 2 in South Athol. He crested a large hill north of Petersham center, signaling his exit from the Swift River’s watershed.

“The only constant is change,” he repeated to himself.

Jeff pulled up to the address Charlie gave him three weeks earlier. Where he’d expected to see a townhouse condo development or a former apartment building gone condo, the building in front of him looked like a duplex. He’d have driven away if he hadn’t recognized Charlie’s car. Jeff parked his truck in the driveway before knocking on the front door.

“Hey, roomie!” exclaimed a smiling Charlie. She wrapped him in a welcoming hug. “Any problems finding the place?”

Finding it? No, your directions were great. It was getting here that was tough; there are too many cars out there!”

“Wait till you see what rush hour is like!” she laughed. “Come on in, I’ll give you the nickel tour!” Charlie explained the unit was considered a “condex,” that they owned half the building, half the yard and half of the responsibilities for both. “Luckily the folks next door are reasonable. The roof’s new, we split the landscaping company’s lawn care costs in the summer and their plowing in the winter; maintenance hasn’t been too much of an issue.”

“What’s that back there?” Jeff asked, pointing out the kitchen window.

“That’s the ‘back yard.’ Didn’t your folks have one in Enfield?”

“‘One of these days, Alice! One of these days!’”

Charlie laughed. “Seriously, that’s Malden Catholic. Friday nights get a little loud in the fall when they have games, but it’s not too bad.”

“Looks like a nice track. Until I learn the area, it might be better to run there. I’ll have to head over and talk to someone about using it.”

“Here’s a key for you. Keep your truck locked now that you’re out here; this isn’t Enfield. The cul-de-sac is pretty quiet, but we’re also off a route to an industrial area, so it’s not like we’re hidden either.”

“What about the doors? Do you open them to get a cross-breeze? I would imagine that they stay locked when they’re closed?”

“They do, yes. The trees around us help keep the house cool in the summer, except for the really hot days when there’s no breeze. We have central air, but we don’t like to use it much, so the windows are open when we’re home.”

“Speaking of that, when do you work next?”

“Not until Wednesday, two days from now. Em’s job is more of a traditional office-type job; her hours are usually nine to five.”

“You work in Boston, Emilie said?”

“Not yet; I work in the ER at the hospital here in Malden, though I want to apply to Mass General in Boston when I finish my BSN.”

“Then you’re the person I should ask about what ambulance services are around? I wouldn’t know where to start.”

“You should apply to Brophy.”

“‘Brophy?’ What’s that?”

“Brophy EMS. They’re a family-owned and run ambulance service, and their crews are the best - super-friendly and smart. They’re based in the industrial park just down the street; you should check them out!”

“I will. I’ll go over there tomorrow and pick up an application while I’m out running errands.”

“Sounds good to me. Now, let’s get your truck unloaded.”

They accomplished that task in under an hour; Jeff didn’t have any large items he was moving. He’d picked up a new bedspread and sheets for his room’s twin bed; he’d also brought a few items to keep the room from feeling like a monk’s cell. Charlie reiterated the fact that this was their house now that he was there, not “Charlie and Emilie’s.” Jeff kept his feelings to himself, that he was a guest; he’d do his best not to overstay his welcome.

The woman behind the desk looked up when Jeff entered the school office the next day. She smiled. “Good morning! How may I help you?”

“Good morning, ma’am. My name is Jeff Knox, and I just moved to the area yesterday. I was wondering if I might speak to someone about using your track when it’s not booked?”

“Well our athletic director’s on his summer break, but the principal is here today. Would you like to speak to him?”

“If he’s not busy, ma’am?” She shook her head and led him down the hall to the principal’s office, knocking on the doorframe.

A wiry older gentleman looked up from the box he was unpacking; he reminded Jeff of a younger Captain Noke. “Hi, June. Who do you have there?”

“This is Mr. Knox, Mr. Bixby. He just moved to our area yesterday and would like permission to use our track when it’s not in use.”

“Sure, June. Come on in, Mr. Knox, and have a seat. I’m John Bixby.” Jeff took the offered chair after shaking the man’s hand and thanking June. “June said you’d like to use our track?”

“Yes, sir, when it’s not being used. I don’t know the area yet since I just moved here yesterday; I’m used to running five to six miles a day and I need to get my running in before I get out of the habit. I’m also used to running in places a little less urban so I’ll need to ease into that.”

“Your request is a bit unusual, Mr. Knox, in that people usually just use it without asking for permission.”

“It seemed a bit rude for me to come over uninvited, even if I could just hop the fence where I’ll be living and be on the track. I used to use the track at the school where Mom teaches, but she’s been there since I was three and everyone knows me; when I enrolled there it was even less of an issue. Mom doesn’t teach here nor am I a student.”

“All the same I appreciate your manners. You seem a little big for a runner, if you’ll pardon me?”

“I suppose I am, sir. I run for cardiovascular endurance, not to race. I was a three-sport athlete in high school and did four years in the Army after that, but cross country wasn’t one of my sports.”

“Are you planning on using your G.I. Bill benefits to get your degree?”

“I already have my Bachelors, sir, in history; I might go back for my Masters someday. Paramedic school seems more likely at this point, however.”

“Impressive. In any event, yes, you have the school’s permission to use the track when it’s not in use. If I know June she’s typing a letter to that effect for me to sign; the police shouldn’t hassle you too much, but the letter might help should you run into problems.”

Jeff picked up an application at Brophy EMS headquarters after his stop at the school. There was a Brophy ambulance parked out front of the main office door when he arrived. If the name wasn’t enough to tell him the Brophy family name was Irish in origin, the woven Celtic-style Star-of-Life on the side of the ambulance would have been.

The receptionist was more than happy to give him an application; she told him applications took three to four days to review before the applicant would be called for an interview. Jeff thanked her and headed back outside. He met the two men who made up the crew for the ambulance parked outside; they’d all been exiting at the same time. They waved him through first and they struck up a conversation with him.

“Picking up an application?”

“Yeah, just moved out here.”

“I’m Aaron Steele. Where’d you come from?”

“Jeff Knox. Enfield, it’s a small town near Springfield.”

“Robin Fiske. Sounds like kind of a big change for you.”

“I’m sure it will be. I worked in Springfield for my last ambulance company, but we’ll see.”

“How long have you been an EMT?”

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