A Charmed Life
Chapter 42: Standby to Standby
Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider
10 July 1996 - Spokane International Airport, Spokane, Washington
The small regional jet touched down with the slightest squeak of tires, delivering Keiko Knox to her hometown with her new husband. Keiko walked hand-in-hand with Jeff across the tarmac of Spokane International; she spun his wedding band around his finger while they did, causing him to smile at her. Keiko exchanged extended hugs with her parents when they emerged from their gate.
“Hello, Mother, Father.”
“Keiko, Jeff,” Hiro said, overcome with emotion, “you have given me a gift beyond measure. I do not know how to thank you.”
“Have you called Japan yet, Father?”
Hiro nodded. “I called the night you met Isao and his family; eight at night here is noontime tomorrow there. I spoke to Ichiro for nearly three hours. I might need to take out a loan to pay for that phone bill.”
“The call? Did it go alright?”
“Your uncle cried as hard as I did, Keiko. I ... I have my family back, my brothers and my sister. All are still alive, all have children and grandchildren. You have cousins, Keiko, many cousins. Your mother and I will travel to Japan for the first time in three and a half decades and do so without any trepidation.”
“When will you be going?”
“Sometime in September or October. Jeff, you have been very quiet.”
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around this, Hiro. Not having all of my cousins around? I’m shuddering at the thought. I don’t know how you kept from calling your brother the second you hung up with us.”
“I almost did. I was able to wait an hour while Mayumi and I let our excitement ease slightly.”
“And what about you, Mayumi? Neither Ken nor Keiko have ever said anything about your family; is there any chance for a similar reunion with your brothers or sisters?”
Mayumi and Hiro shared a sorrowful glance. “No, Jeff. Of our two fathers, mine was the most ... vitriolic. I could never forgive what he said about Hiro, even after all this time. I was also an only child, unusual then but it did occur. I was never close to my cousins, so I have no burning need to contact them. Hiro’s brothers and sister, though reserved, welcomed me then; to reunite with them will be enough.”
“I’m sorry, Mayumi, I didn’t mean to tear open old wounds.”
“You did not, Jeff,” she assured him, placing her hand on his arm. “Even without your family or Hiro’s, you, Keiko and Hiro would be all the family I need now.”
I don’t know why I thought this would get easier with time, Jeff thought while he and Keiko approached Ken’s grave; she squeezed his hand in a vice-like grip as they walked closer and closer.
The flags he’d left for Ken were long gone, not that he expected them to be there after five years. In their place was a bronze VFW “U.S. Veteran” flag holder and a larger American flag atop it which moved gently in the breeze. Jeff paid for the flags for Ken’s grave every year; he paid to replace missing or damaged holders whenever necessary. He made sure both were standing straight.
Keiko wept softly while she whispered in Japanese to her brother’s grave. Jeff made the effort not to listen to what she was telling Ken as she crouched. His mind was a jumble as he stared at the headstone.
MAR 15 1968
FEB 28 1991
PH & OLC
The inscription didn’t scratch the surface of what Ken meant to his family, and to him. That he owed Ken everything was never more true than now; he glanced down at his left hand and the gold band on his ring finger. Keiko continued to talk to her brother while Jeff put a comforting hand on her left shoulder. Her left hand came up to cover his right while she talked. After a moment she stopped and smiled up at her husband. Jeff gathered her into a hug mirroring the one they’d shared here five years earlier.
“Are you ready to go?” she asked him after a few minutes. He nodded to her.
The cemetery’s groundskeeper did a double take when he noticed the wedding invitation and unopened beer bottle leaning against the stone hours later.
A piercing whistle cut through the air behind home plate as Keiko cheered another Tim Wakefield strikeout; Jeff smiled at his wife’s exuberance.
“This is a side of Keiko you don’t usually see,” Sean Brophy muttered to his friend.
“Not in public, anyway,” Jeff replied with a smile.
“TMI, buddy! TMI!”
“It’s not my fault if the magic’s gone between you and Beth.”
“You try having a one year-old with another on the way and then come talk to me. We’re both too exhausted for any ‘magic’ right now.”
“You know they know what causes that, right?”
“You know I’ve told you not to quit your night job, right?”
“I get to work days now, remember?”
“Yeah, about that...”
“Oh, you funny-funny, Boss Man.”
“Your bride’s not going to kick your posterior for that mocking Asian accent?”
“Yeah, but I like it rough.”
“Again with the TMI!”
“How’s life on the inside? You miss those car accidents on the highway at three a.m. in the middle of winter yet?”
“You mean instead of being snuggled up to my wife in our nice, warm bed? Yeah, lemme get back to you on that. I don’t miss ninety-five degree days in ambulances without working a/c, either. I’ll risk all those paper cuts in the office instead, thanks.”
“It’s going on a year since you left the road; how’s it going, seriously?”
“I think I’m finally in the groove with the admin stuff, kinda like when I started to really settle into EMS in general about six months after we started working together. It’s definitely different. You can’t just focus on the problem in front of you; you have to continue to think about the big picture all the time.”
“Right. Dad says I’m getting close to being ready to leave the nest.”
“Running a new division on your own, or making decisions on your own in general?”
“Decisions in general. I’ve got an idea for a new division for Brophy, but it’s only a vague concept right now.”
“Which is... ?”
“Not ready for prime-time. Sorry, bud. When I flesh out my idea a bit more I know I’ll want your help but I’m not quite to that point yet.”
“It’s okay,” Jeff sniffed while he pretended to wipe tears from his eyes. “You don’t trust me. It’s fine.”
“I trust you’ll eventually stop with the jokes?”
“Your forms are continuing to improve, Jeffrey. Your flexibility has improved since last year and that is helping your karate performance.”
“Thanks. It feels more fluid, more natural, now. When I was in paramedic school there was a point when my IV starts began to feel the same way; one of my instructors told me it was my muscle memory catching up. I’m guessing the forms have taken this long to feel natural because my flexibility has been changing to this point. Now that my muscles are used to being this flexible they’ve finally become used to the motions.”
“Whatever the explanation, your skills are also improving. I estimate you will attain your black belt in another year or two. Your previous work in high school allowed you to progress rapidly through the lower belts to your current blue in only two years.”
“I’m guessing it’s time to test those skills this morning?”
“Yes, let us get our protective gear on.”
“I’ve only been a paramedic for eight months. You’re putting someone newer with me today?”
“Todd made it through his orientation period without a problem,” Lon Ferullo said. “He’s a little raw when it comes to his on-scene savvy; he’s got plenty of EMS experience time-wise, but I wonder how many calls he’s gotten in the small town he’s coming from. That being said his skills are right on the money and he seems like he’ll fit in well here. As for you, Jeff, I don’t think there’s been a new hire who’s shown us as quickly as you have how much of a leader he is. Your partners over the last three years can’t say enough good things about you, and that’s not even counting Sean Brophy or Mr. Brophy himself.”
“Alright, Lon, stop buttering me up or Keiko’s gonna get jealous. Where is this guy?”
“He’s out back already, checking out Twenty-seven.”
“Let’s go meet this wunderkind, then.”
Todd Riikonen, originally from rural North Dakota, was a student at Northeastern University who’d decided to stay in the Boston area after graduation. He’d put himself through paramedic school while working a full-time office job; he’d discovered he liked EMS more than his degree field and quit the office career.
Todd was personable and friendly; it didn’t take him long to be a favorite of staff at regular Brophy facilities. What Jeff saw of Todd’s skills bore out Lon’s assertion that his were good and he made his patients feel at ease. Still, there was a vague air of naïvité about him that put Jeff constantly on-guard.
One night in early August Jeff and Todd were covering Melrose because the paramedic truck normally assigned to that city was doing a call. They pulled up to a coffee shop down the street from the fire station.
“Do you want a coffee, Todd?”
“No, I’m good, thanks.”
Jeff began to slide out of the driver’s seat. “Paramedic Twenty-Seven?” the radio crackled.
“I guess I don’t want one, either,” Jeff muttered while he slid back in and picked up the mic. “Twenty-seven?”
“Twenty-seven, in Melrose, one sixty-three Essex Street. One-six-three Essex Street, second floor, for the domestic, unknown injuries. P-Twenty-seven?”
“Twenty-seven has one-six-three Essex, Melrose.”
“Twenty-seven, Melrose PD not on-scene at this time. Stage.”
“Twenty-seven copies: stage for police.”
Paramedic Twenty-seven made the five minute response to the area of the call. Jeff shut off the emergency lights and pulled to the curb a block away, out of sight of the address. Two minutes passed before a man walked towards them on the sidewalk.
“We’ve got someone walking up to us and we don’t know if the scene is safe. This guy could be involved or he could be out for a stroll, we don’t know.”
The man picked up his pace towards the ambulance; Jeff was relieved that the man kept his hands in view, but his senses were still heightened. The man stepped up to the passenger’s side window, which Todd rolled down.
“You guys need to get in there! I think he might kill them this time!”
“Who, sir?” Jeff asked.
“Steven, the guy in the upstairs apartment. He’s an angry drunk and takes it out on his kid and old lady a lot of the time.”
“One-sixty-three Essex Street, second floor. You gotta stop him! The kid sounds hurt!”
“Sir, we can’t go in there until we know the cops are there and have things under control. We can’t help anyone if we become this guy’s target, too.”
“Jeff, come on!” Todd protested. “We gotta go in there!”
“You have pepper spray?” he asked his partner. “What about a baton? A firearm? No, you don’t because the state prohibits EMS from carrying any of those. What do we always say at the beginning of every training scenario? ‘Scene safety!’”
“No buts! I wanna go home to my wife tonight. There’s nothing about this job worth our lives, Todd.” Jeff picked up the microphone to check on the status of Melrose Police. While he looked out the driver’s window to check behind the truck, Todd slipped out of the passenger’s side without a sound; he pulled open the side door of the ambulance, grabbed their large jump kit and ran down the street.
Jeff was stunned. He froze for a split-second before he tore open his door. He ran around the truck and closed all the doors Todd left wide open; by that time Todd was long gone. Jeff jumped back into the driver’s seat, hit the lights and dropped the transmission back into drive.
“Twenty-seven! Urgent traffic!” The truck shot from the curb when he stomped on the gas.
“Clear the air! All units, clear the air! Answering Paramedic Twenty-seven.”
“Step up Melrose Police if they’re not on arrival. My partner just jumped out of the truck and ran to the incident address! Start the on-duty supervisor!” The truck fishtailed around the corner.
“X-ray One responding.” The on-duty supervisor began responding before being hailed by dispatch.
“Paramedic Fourteen responding from Wakefield ER.” Fourteen was the normal Melrose truck; they were coming from the hospital they’d taken their patient to.
“Shit!” There were no police cars visible on-scene, no sign of Todd. Jeff slid the six-ton ambulance to a stop in front of the building. He armed the kill switch and bailed out. He stormed up the stairs, taking them two at a time. Todd hit the floor of the apartment unconscious as Jeff reached the landing on the second floor. Blood poured from his nose and mouth. A large, hulking man stood over him.
“Member down! Member down! Twenty-seven needs assistance! One sixty-three Essex!”
“All units in the area of one-six-three Essex Street in Melrose! Twenty-seven needs assistance! Melrose and State Police to be notified! One-six-three Essex Street, second floor in Melrose. Twenty-seven needs assistance!”
The man’s attention shifted to Jeff, drawn by the radio noise. Steven snarled and moved towards him; he stepped over Todd, fists clenching. Jeff closed the gap, ducking under a huge right. He struck the man in the gut; it was like punching a tree. Jeff saw stars when the man’s backhanded swipe connected on his right cheek.
Jeff staggered but didn’t go down. He turned back to Steven. Jeff punched him three times in the right bicep. Steven’s left jab struck him in the ear, making it ring. Jeff backed away. Steven’s right arm hung uselessly, but it wouldn’t be like that for long. Jeff needed to end this.
Steven bellowed and charged at him. He swung his left fist at Jeff again. Jeff blocked it, twisted and smashed his forearm down on Steven’s. A loud <snap> echoed through the apartment when Steven’s arm broke near the elbow, the bones pushing through the skin. He screamed while Jeff kicked at his right knee, hobbling him. Jeff swept Steven’s legs and he crashed to the ground. Jeff pounced and smashed him in the jaw with a forearm. Steven fell to the floor unconscious.
Jeff looked around the apartment. A woman in her thirties lay in a heap near the couch; her face was bloody and her left eye was swollen shut. A pre-teen boy’s head poked around a door frame; the boy stepped into view holding an arm which was clearly broken.
“Miss? Can you walk? We’ve gotta get out of here.” She nodded, beckoning the boy to her. Jeff checked his partner; Todd was still unconscious with a broken nose and split lips. Jeff hoisted him over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry and turned back to the woman and boy. “Ready?”
Jeff squeezed carefully through the door and made his way down the stairs. A mob wearing mix of navy, French blue and dark green uniforms piled through the door to the stairs and froze when they caught sight of the four descending them. Officers and paramedics behind them tried to force their way in.
“I need a C-spine setup and a stretcher!” Jeff barked and the crowd parted. The crew from Paramedic Fourteen scrambled to get the stretcher and backboard ready. Jeff laid Todd down and gave Fourteen a report; another paramedic truck cared for the woman and her son. He watched as Fourteen and Twenty-two threaded their way though the sea of cruisers, ambulances and fire trucks with their patients.
“How’d he look like he was doing?” Sean Brophy asked.
“Todd? He looked like he was doing okay for someone with a smashed nose and broken jaw. Physically, at least. He wouldn’t look at me at first; he’s mad at himself over what he did, embarrassed.”
“Well ... it was kinda stupid...”
“You’re right, Sean, but I can also see why he did it. I didn’t wait for the police either, if you remember?”
“You went in after your partner. You had to go in; he didn’t. You remember what you taught me when we started working together, right?” Jeff nodded while Sean repeated the lesson. “‘It’s you, your partner, then everybody else.’ And you’d do it again.”
“In a heartbeat.”
“There you go. Even still the company will make sure he’s taken care of; morally what’s the right answer for the choice he had to make? Keiko must have had some choice words for you when she saw your face that night?”
Jeff rolled his eyes. “After a long pause she asked me how I’d forgotten the lesson on ducking. She cleaned my clock that day! Honestly, that sparring session helped me keep my head clear when he connected.”
“It’s a lovely shade of blackish-purple your face is sporting. Any word from the DA’s office?”
“I heard this morning: no charges. The ADA handling the case told his boss he felt I was acting in defense of Todd, which I was, and the DA agreed immediately. If I could have just grabbed Todd and gotten out of there, I would have, but that guy wouldn’t have given us that chance; he’d have killed us both.”
“The city manager wants us, meaning Brophy management, in his office tomorrow. It doesn’t sound like it’ll be a friendly meeting to me; Dad isn’t getting that vibe but I’m insisting on corporate counsel being there. I’d like you to come also.”