A Charmed Life
Chapter 33: Actions
Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider
18 October 1993 - Malden, Massachusetts
Jeff was reading a book in the condo’s living room before his shift when the phone rang; he’d be working a three p.m. to seven a.m. shift in two hours. He glanced at the Caller ID box next to the phone. “Harry, is that you?” he asked.
“Hey, Jeff. You’ve got Caller ID, don’t you?“
“Sure do, buddy. I know you didn’t call to chat at one hundred fifty dollars a billable hour, so what’s up?”
“What, I can’t call to say hi?“
“‘Hi, Harry.’ Now, I say again: what’s up?”
“Okay, okay. I think I know what your answer to this will be but, as your attorney, I am required to present this offer to you... “
“Get to the point, Counselor.”
“Hey, that was pretty good; you sounded just like some judges I know... “
“You’re charging me by the syllable, aren’t you?”
“Geez, a guy can’t have a sense of humor... ? Anyway, WREMS has made another offer to settle out of court.“
“Great, I’m sure it will be as insulting as their last one. Okay, let’s hear it.”
“Five hundred thousand and a bilateral non-disclosure agreement.”
Jeff closed his eyes and took some slow, deep breaths. “Harry, when I say this, please understand that I am not angry at you; I am not going to kill the messenger.”
“I’m a big boy, Jeff. Let me have it.“
“Here goes. You go back to those assholes in Westfield, and you tell them that their offer is even more insulting than the one they made back in August; what I really want you to say is that they can shove their offer up their collective asses like a rolled-paper enema. I know that’s not polite language, so I’ll let you clean up the wording of my refusal. My counter offer is this: ten million. And that’s ten million NET, Harry, not gross; they’re gonna pay the taxes and court costs.” Jeff heard Harry inhale sharply.
“Harry, those bastards tried to take my livelihood away. Fifty thousand is two year’s salary at a good-paying company, like where I am now. Five hundred thousand might cover my potential salary over the length of a twenty year career, but not the defamation of character I endured; nor does this offer come close to covering the pain and suffering caused when I had to move away from family and friends involuntarily due to the actions of their company.”
“I fully understand that their former general manager was at the heart of what happened, but he’s disappeared so they’re left holding the bag. They hired him to represent them at one time, and he acted in their name. Someone’s hide is getting nailed to the wall and theirs is the one currently in my sights.”
“This is a bit of a gamble, Jeff. I’ll present this to them, you know that, but they’re already on shaky ground financially.”
“Other than seeing you get something out of this I don’t care, Harry. They think they can throw some money at me and make me go away. If they don’t realize the story of what that numbnuts tried that day isn’t already out there, then they’re too stupid to stay in business. Better that they fold now so that any good folks still working there can find decent jobs. I’ll go as low as four million net, Harry, so that you get an even million.”
“Remind me never to piss you off.“
“Go big or go home, Harry. In all seriousness it’s good to talk to you but, I’m working at three, so I do have to go.”
“No worries, Jeff. I’ll keep you in the loop on this. Talk to you later.“
“Bye, Harry.” Jeff shook his head while he hung up. He walked upstairs to get ready for work.
A month later Jeff and Aaron were given a present - a new EMT to train; the newbie was named Sean McNeil. Sean was a twenty-two year-old man who was clearly not from New England.
“How far south of the Mason-Dixon line are y’all from?” Jeff asked.
“Clinton, North Carolina, sir.”
“Hey, I’ve been there! I was stationed at Fort Bragg back in the late ‘80s. And don’t call me ‘sir, ‘ Sean; I was a sergeant! I worked for a living! How’d you wind up here among all us Yankees?”
“I just finished my business degree at Duke. I’ve always been interested in EMS, so I also picked up my EMT down in Carolina. I want to get into the business world, but I think I’d like to be in the EMS part of it. It took me all summer to get everything accepted by Massachusetts; I got everything finalized last week. I wanted to move out of Carolina and I picked the Boston area.”
“Where are you living?”
“Up in Melrose.”
“Did they give you the grand tour during your orientation day?”
“No, I filled out all my paperwork but then I had to scoot; the gas company had to check the fitting on my stove that day.”
“Well then let’s get that done. Come on.”
Jeff showed him the layout of the base and walked him through the office area. Knowing Mr. Brophy would want to meet a new employee, Jeff knocked on the open door to his office.
Seamus looked up. “Hey, Jeff. Who do you have with you?”
“Mr. Brophy, this is Sean McNeil; he’s starting today. Sean, this is Mr. Seamus Brophy, president and owner of Brophy EMS.”
“Welcome, Sean,” Mr. Brophy said, extending his hand.
“Thank you, sir. Glad to be here.”
The portable on Jeff’s belt crackled with the sound of dispatch hailing his ambulance. “Sorry, sir. We have to go.”
“I’ll see you boys later.”
“He seems pretty down-to-earth,” Sean commented as they walked back to the garage and Ambulance Twenty-two.
“He knows everyone’s name here; he’ll even remember your kids’ names if you have them. I’ve been here three months and I already don’t want to leave. Most of us here feel that way.”
“Hey, Tim,” Jeff replied to Malden Catholic’s track coach, Tim O’Halloran, while he tied the laces on his running shoes. “You guys using the track?” Jeff asked, surprised. It was the first week of December; the light was fading in the late afternoon.
“No, I’m just getting some running of my own in. I like to run on the track once in a while, not on the road; you can kinda zone out, ya know?”
“I do. Plus I can get interval workouts in. I’m glad the snow’s gone; running on the treadmill in my basement’s not quite the same.”
“No, sir, it is not.”
Jeff planned to run a punishing six miles of quarter-mile sprints alternating with a quarter-mile of jogging. Tim waved goodbye after Jeff started his third mile. Jeff was exhausted, though he also felt better, after he’d completed his run. He walked back to his car to cool off before driving back to the condo.
“What? They’re splitting up the band?”
“‘Fraid so, Jeff,” Aaron said the next day; Sean had the day off. “With Frank leaving for Somerville Fire they need someone to work with Carlie; she’ll need more work than Sean.”
“Who’s going to be working with Sean, then?”
“You are, Slick.”
“Me? They’re gonna let me work without a net? I’ve only been here five months!”
“Yes, but you’ve got a year and a half of working EMT experience plus the time you were an NCO in the Army. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, you’re decisive, you’ve got great skills and you’re great with the patients. You’re ready.”
Jeff broke the news to Sean when they both reported for their next shift three days later. “Ready to ride, Sean?”
“What about Aaron?”
“You’re off your third-ride time, remember? It’s just you and me in the Twenty-two bus from here on out, kid. You ready?”
Sean looked uncertain. “I don’t know...”
“Aaron and I told Marty you were ready last week. You’ll be fine.” Marty was Marty Friedman, the training coordinator for Brophy. “Come on, we’ve got to get the coffee order and get over to Malden Hospital for our first call.”
Sean was quiet when they went to get the coffee for the office staff; he was just as quiet on the ride over to Malden Hospital for their first call of the day. He was more animated with their patient while they returned her to one of their contracted nursing homes in neighboring Medford.
“You better now?” Jeff asked after they’d cleared the call.
“I guess. What if I mess up, Jeff?”
“You will.” Sean looked at Jeff sharply when he said that. Jeff shrugged. “We all did when we started, Sean. You’re going to make mistakes, that’s part of being human. Are you going to make the same mistake more than once? That’s the real question, Sean.”
“I try not to do that.”
“There you go then. This job is tough on people; you may have already seen some of that, maybe not. You’ve got to be able to have fun while we do this. Don’t let it eat you up.”
“Have you seen lot of that since you started?”
“I hear about it. People stick with this about a year then get out, or they’re in it forever from what I’m starting to notice. I also hear that this job can be like carpal tunnel syndrome - repetitive strain; police work, firefighting and emergency nursing are the same way.”
“How have you dealt with it?”
“Mainly by working out. I hang out with my friends who would understand, friends I’ve made here or the other place I’ve worked. You’ve met Charlie at the Malden ER? She and I went to the same high school; she graduated the year after I did. We’re pretty comfortable with each other, and we can relate somewhat to the stresses the other experiences.”
“You’re making me nervous now. How do I know I’ll be able to handle it?”
“We need to be somewhat nervous; we have to stay vigilant, to watch out for ourselves and our coworkers. And how did I know I’d make it through Basic Training? Through Airborne School? Panama? I shared experiences with people I knew. Losing my best friend during the Gulf War hit me pretty hard, but I got through it because I was able to talk to people who understood my pain; I spent a week with Ken’s family and had friends in Enfield who could relate, fellow combat vets. I think people who do this job need to talk about what we see; the stoic act is bullshit in my opinion.”
Sean looked thoughtful while they drove down Route 60.
Just after New Year’s Day 1994 Jeff and Sean were working together as they had been for the past month. Towards the end of their Tuesday double, a seven a.m. to eleven p.m. shift, they were given one last call.
“Ambulance Twenty-two, the Malden Center MBTA Orange Line station, Commercial Street side, for the man down.”
“Twenty-two, we have the Center T station on the Commercial Street side,” Sean answered.
“Gee, the T station at 9:45 at night. I wonder what the problem is?” Jeff asked.
“I haven’t been doing this very long, but I’m guessing he’s out of alcohol.”
“Listen, pal, there’s room for only one cynical, sarcastic bastard in this truck and I have seniority,” Jeff laughed. Sean chuckled along with him. The weather on this night was no joke, however: below freezing with a fifteen mile-an-hour north wind; it was the kind of weather that could suck the heat out of you in a hurry.
Sean parked their ambulance behind the two police cruisers - one fom Malden, one from the MBTA - and the Malden Engine. The MBTA police officer met them and guided them to the elevator; it was normally restricted, but they didn’t have to worry about passengers at this hour. They emerged onto the platform and approached the knot of first responders.
Scott Nyquist, the Malden police officer, saw Jeff approaching and said, “It’s George.” “George” was George Adler, a member of the small homeless population in Malden, a “frequent flyer” and an angry drunk; George was in his late 30s. From twenty feet away Jeff could smell the booze and piss George was covered in.
Jeff positioned the stretcher next to George with Sean’s help; George made a fuss when they lifted him onto it, but settled down when they bundled him up against the cold. Jeff tried to ask him some questions, but George ignored him. Jeff then tried to help George out of his coat, which was wet, once they were in the ambulance. George became agitated and pulled violently away.
“Okay, George, relax,” Jeff said in a soothing voice. Sean was in the driver’s seat waiting for him to give the sign he was ready to go, or needed help. “Relax. I’ll need some information first - just the basic facts. Can you show me where it hurts?” Jeff asked, quoting Pink Floyd.
George did something unexpected when he heard that: he smiled. He sang back in a clear voice that hinted at the power behind it.