A Charmed Life
Chapter 34: Reactions

Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider

25 January 1994 - Crystal Street, Malden, Massachusetts

Oh, for love of...

Jeff saw the other person’s mouth set into a smirk when he stepped in front of Jeff. For his part the attacker thought this ambush strategy was a pretty good one; it was successful for him every time he’d tried it. He stepped towards Jeff with the knife extended.

An assailant holding a knife within twenty-one feet is considered an immediate life threat for police officers; that assailant could close with and kill the officer before a duty weapon could be drawn and fired. Great care is taken to teach recruits never to allow such an assailant that close to them. Anyone advancing on them with a knife runs the risk of an officer reacting with deadly force. Such force, especially if the assailant ignores commands to stop, is justified.

Jeff was just inside that twenty-one foot zone and closing. His momentum would carry him into the assailant before he could stop; he’d be on his heels and on the defensive. He was unarmed, like all of the other victims. The man had always walked away with all of his victim’s belongings or cash.

Until today.

The assailant’s first hint that his choice of tactics might be flawed was when Jeff’s eyes narrowed, rather than widening in fear. The next and more concerning hint was the snarl Jeff’s mouth curled into. Standard infantry tactics when being ambushed called for immediately assaulting through the ambush itself. The instructors at Fort Benning had taught Jeff well.

Jeff let out a war cry and accelerated. The attacker was startled, causing him to begin to back-pedal. Jeff closed with the assailant in two strides. His left hand knocked the knife away. He put all of his weight behind a devastating right cross and crashed into his attacker; his attacker landed on the track unconscious. Jeff kept his feet and began scanning the area for other threats.

A Malden police officer came charging out of the shadows, his weapon drawn. Jeff could see a motionless cruiser just behind his car; its emergency lights were flashing and the driver’s door was wide open. A second cruiser, approaching from the opposite end of the access road, slid to a stop; that officer dismounted and began running over as well. Jeff’s hands went up right away.

“Turn around!” the officer barked; Jeff complied without hesitation. “Hands behind your head!” Done. “On your knees!” Jeff knelt. He heard the officer’s weapon slide back into his holster; a strong hand grabbed his interlaced fingers before the first handcuff fastened around his left wrist. His hands were then placed in the small of his back while the second cuff was secured around his right.

“Scott, he has a knife,” Jeff said.

The officer paused in his actions before Jeff heard, “Watch that other guy, Eric. There’s a knife in his right hand.” The officer pulled the hood of Jeff’s sweatshirt off his head; he searched it before he came into view. “Who the hell... ?” the officer started to ask. “Jeff?”

“Hi, Scott.” The first officer was Scott Nyquist, someone he’d seen on a number of the ambulance calls he’d handled in Malden. Jeff turned his head to look at the other officer. “Hey, Eric.” The same was true of Eric Ryerson.

“Jeff, are you okay? I saw that guy pull out the knife right before you ran into him.”

“I’m okay, Scott, thanks.”

“What happened?”

“Scott, can we move over there, out of hearing distance of that other guy, before I answer any questions?”

“Scott, this guy’s unconscious,” Eric reported. “I’m gonna call for an ambulance.” Scott nodded.

“Let me help you up and take the cuffs off, Jeff,” Scott said. He helped Jeff to his feet. He led Jeff back down the track and started asking questions in a quiet voice. Jeff described what he’d seen and how he’d reacted. “You’ll have to sign a statement. Can you come down to the station tonight?”

“Yeah. Can I head over there to give it now? I’m sweating and I’m gonna start getting cold at this temperature.”

“Sure. You’ll have to wait in the lobby until either Eric or I get there, though; one of us has to go to the hospital with that other guy.”

“Good morning, Mr. Brophy,” Jeff said after he knocked on the man’s door.

“Hey, Jeff. I hear you had quite the evening last night.”

Jeff sighed. “Yes, sir. May I ask you which law firm you use? I think I might find myself in need of representation soon.”

“Is that guy suing you already?”

“No, but as the Boy Scouts tell us, ‘Be Prepared, ‘ sir.”

Seamus nodded, jotting something on a Post-It note. “If he can’t help you, Norm will point you in the right direction.”

“Thank you, sir. I’ll get out of your hair.”

“You’d have to be in it first, Jeff. I’ve always got time for the people who work for me, especially someone who’s a great asset to this company. How’s your new partner working out?”

“Great kid, sir. He’ll go as far as he wants to, especially now that he’s taken a deep breath and allowed himself to settle in. I think he’s also got his eye on one of the ER nurses at Malden.”

“Your friend Charlie?”

“No, sir. Charlie’s already in a relationship. It’s a newer hire there, Beth. Nice girl.”

“He ask her out yet?”

“No, sir. They’re both dancing around each other like skittish fawns. It’d be comical if it wasn’t so adorable.”

“What about you, Jeff?”

“No rush, sir; I’m only twenty-four. Choose in haste and you’ll repent in leisure.”

“I think I’m going to ask Beth out today,” Sean announced two weeks later.

“It’s about time. You guys have been dancing around each other long enough.” Sean blew him a raspberry. “If it will help any, offer her a dinner hosted by mutual friends before you do a solo date; ease into things if you need to. Otherwise, you could keep that offer in your back pocket for after you two get to know each other on your own.”

“Yeah, but who’s gonna help out like that?”

“I’ve been known to cook a meal or two. Charlie will you help out, too.”

“I’ve gotta hear a ‘yes’ from her first.”

“Like that’s gonna be a problem.” Jeff wasn’t about to wait for Fate to get its act together; he drove straight to Malden ER.

“What are you doing?” Sean asked in a near panic.

“Improving response time. Get in there and ask that little girl for a date.”

“Oh, shit. Shit, that coffee just turned to lead in my stomach.”

“You want me to grab a barf bag from the back?”

“I might need it.”

“Your red hair goes well with the shade of green you’re turning. The freckles clash a little, though.”

“You’re not helping.”

“Sure I am; you’re being too serious. It’s like you’ve never asked a girl out before.” Sean turned a greenish-red. “Wait, you haven’t have you?”

“No. I was a real bookworm in school; college wasn’t much different.”

“Then there’s no time like the present. Let’s go, youngster.” Jeff exited the ambulance.

“Shit,” Sean said to himself before opening his door.

A condemned man took his final walk with more enthusiasm than Sean while they approached the doors to the ER. “Show a little life, buddy,” Jeff admonished him. “You’re about to get yourself a date.” Sean shot him a look.

Jeff entered the ER and approached the nurses’ desk. He leaned against it and began chatting up the assembled staff; the ladies were soon in stitches. He glanced back at Sean. The younger man looked like he was standing on the edge of a cliff, about to fall over. Jeff raised his eyebrow at Sylvia who held up five fingers, indicating Beth was in Room Five.

Jeff pushed off the counter, circled behind Sean and gave him a firm shove in that direction. Sean gave Jeff a look which promised retribution as he stumbled towards Room Five. Jeff just motioned for him to get moving. Sean peeked around the door frame to see Beth checking the equipment and stock levels in that room. He knocked and caught her attention.

“Sean!” she exclaimed with a bright smile.

Sean wasn’t sure whether that made him more or less nervous. “Hi, Beth.” She walked closer; he could smell the faint fragrance of her shampoo. He swallowed and summoned all of his courage. “I was wondering if you’d like to go out with me some time?”

Her smile grew wider. “Yes!”

“Really? That’s great! Um, there’s a little Irish pub up in Wakefield we could go to? It’s a really nice place and the food’s terrific.”

“That sounds good to me. When would you like to go out? I’m off tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow works for me, too. Would you like to meet there at seven?”

“So? How’d it go, Romeo?” Jeff asked Sean three days later, during their next shift together.

“Really well. We even went out again last night. She’s terrific.”

“Good for you, buddy. See? It wasn’t that hard was it?”

“No,” he admitted, “it really wasn’t. Makes me wonder what life would have been like growing up if I’d taken that risk a time or two.”

Jeff wondered what his own life would have been like if he hadn’t those same risks.

“I can’t believe the nerve of that guy!”

“To be fair, he was doing his job.”

“Wait, you’re defending the defense attorney?

“The guy wasn’t a dick to me. He seemed to be genuinely apologetic for calling me an ‘ambulance driver;’ after I corrected him he didn’t use the term again. He even apologized again after his client was led away in handcuffs. The kid looked like he isn’t much older than we are; this has to be his first job out of law school.”


“Sean, a good defense attorney is the reason I’m here and not doing a long stretch in Leavenworth.”


“Someone tried to frame me for a robbery at Fort Bragg when I was stationed there in 1988; my defense attorney got the charges dismissed and kept my record clean. The person who tried to frame me is at Leavenworth, not me. The asshole who tried to rob me last month was found guilty and will likely spend the next several years as a guest of the Commonwealth.”

Jeff smiled when he stepped out of the condo in early March. Winter had departed Eastern Massachusetts early this year; temperatures were in the mid-forties already, the snow was almost all gone and the sun was shining while he drove the three minutes to Brophy EMS’s headquarters. It was going to be a good day.

Jeff walked into the headquarters building and punched in. He waved to the folks in the communications center through the room’s large window. He was chatting with his old partner Aaron Steele when the on-duty shift supervisor, Lon Ferullo, poked his head into the break room.

“Hey, Jeff, just the guy I’m looking for!”

“Wasn’t there, Lon. Didn’t do it.”

“Very funny, wise guy. There’s someone out in the front office asking for you.”

“Probably a process server,” he muttered to Aaron while he rose from his chair.

“That paternity suit finally going to trial?”

“Yeah, your wife lied to me; she told me she’d let you think the kid was yours.”

“That’s cold, buddy. Cold, cold, cold,” Aaron laughed as Jeff exited with Lon.

“Tough room,” Lon commented while they made their way to the lobby.

“Have you seen Aaron’s wife? ¡Ai, caramba! Holy hotness, Batman!”

The two were laughing when they stepped into the reception area. There was a clean-shaven man, dressed simply in a plaid flannel shirt and jeans, standing there. He looked vaguely familiar to Jeff.


“Hi, Jeff.”

“George!” Jeff stepped over and embraced the man whose name used to make crews cringe. “You look great, George! How have you been?”

“It’s been an interesting month, that’s for sure. Those first few days after you dropped me off at the hospital were the worst. I shook so hard while I was drying out I thought the fillings would fly out of my teeth.”

“When did you get out of your treatment program?”

“I finished the in-patient portion last week; I’m in the residential portion of the program now. You know their halfway house near the hospital, I’d imagine?”

“Vaguely. The folks that are there rarely call us, so we don’t go there much. Is that where you’ll be for a while?”

“For at least six months. It’s close enough that I can walk to my new job at the hospital.”

“What will you be doing there?”


“Weren’t you a stockbroker or something before?”

George nodded sadly. “That was my old life, Jeff. It’d be easy to say that job is what started me down my path of destruction, but it was mostly me. The job certainly didn’t help any. No, I lost my job, my wife and seven years to the bottle; I need to start slowly. Housekeeping will be a good job.”

“I’m sure you’ll do great. Have you been by the ER since you got out, or now that you’ll be working there?”

“No. I need to go by and thank them for giving me that one last chance, but I’ll be working the floors for now; I asked if I could not be assigned to the ER, given my history.”

“Has it been as hard as you thought?”

George snorted. “Do you know how many package stores are around here? How big’s that one in Wellington Circle over in Medford?”

“Did you walk here? Across the city?”

“It’s a nice day,” George shrugged.

Jeff looked at Lon, who nodded. “Come on,” Jeff said to George. “We’ll give you a ride over to the hospital, save you some shoe leather.”

George accepted the offer. They passed Seamus Brophy’s office while they walked towards the garage. George stopped, introduced himself and explained who he was; he thanked Mr. Brophy for the care the crews always tried to give him, even when he wasn’t willing to accept it. He named Jeff specifically as his savior which Jeff downplayed. He and Sean drove him back to the west side of the city. George was as nervous to enter the Emergency Room as Sean was before asking Beth out.

“Come on, George. They’ll be glad to see you; we rarely see the success stories.”

“I haven’t succeeded yet, Jeff,” George pointed out.

“Yes, you have; you just said ‘yet.’ You’re already thinking positive. Come on.”

George trailed Sean and Jeff as they entered. The two EMTs greeted the staff on-duty, many of whom George felt he still owed apologies. When Jeff introduced the person standing behind him, you’d have thought he’d just introduced the President. All of the nurses who’d had George as a patient came around the desk to give him a hug. They complimented him on his appearance and congratulated him on his new job; they asked when he’d be starting and were disappointed when they learned he wouldn’t be assigned to the ER.

Jeff turned to Charlie after she’d greeted George. “Is it in your trunk still?” he asked in a whisper.

“Yeah, do you have your set of my keys on you?”

“Yeah, I’ll go grab it.” Jeff darted out to Charlie’s car, retrieved an item from the trunk and darted back to the ER. He hid the item in the break room.

“George, come into the break room for a second,” Charlie said, waving George over. “We’ve got a little something for you,” she said before producing the guitar case from behind her.

George looked at the case in awe. He’d been dreaming of holding a guitar again since his conversation with Jeff in the back of the ambulance. He walked over to the table where the case lay. He unsnapped the latches with Charlie’s encouragement; he lifted the six-string acoustic guitar out of the lined enclosure with reverence. He sat and strummed it, checking its tuning. The full, resonant sound it produced buoyed his soul. He looked over at Jeff who smiled.

An inspiration struck George. “Comfortably Numb” sounded better on an electric guitar, but there was a song from that same album that was made for an acoustic. George began to play the opening part to that song. Jeff and Charlie knew the song right away; even without the bass riff, it was immediately recognizable from the first chord.

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