A Charmed Life
Chapter 52: Transitions, Part III
Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider
17 August 2000 - Winthrop Street, Medford, Massachusetts
I think I broke her, Jeff thought. It’s a good thing I’m the one driving.
Shawna’s mouth hung open while she stared out the windshield; Jeff wasn’t sure she would see a forty-car pile-up in front of them right now.
“When’s your last shift?” she gaped, looking at him.
“Two weeks, the thirty-first. Seamus and Sean want me to help get the Army on board with their vision starting next month.” She turned back to the windshield; at least this time he could see her blink. She turned and looked out the side window a few seconds later. “Shawna? Are you okay?”
“I suppose I thought when I heard you were coming back everything would go back to how it was before, before that call. I suppose that was wishful thinking.”
“‘If wishes and buts were candy and nuts... ‘ I wish we could go back, Shawna. I wish Lily were still alive; I wish Jasmine had never met that asshole.” Jeff sighed. “As the man once wrote: ‘all good things must come to an end.’”
She turned back to him again. “Well, you just remember what you gave up here when you’re banging your head against the wall out there.”
Jeff smiled at his wife while they stood in the Prescott Town Clerk’s office watching two more of their friends marry. Kathy Stein became Mrs. John Foster Jarrett in less than fifteen minutes in front of less than thirty people.
I’m glad they built another addition onto this place, Jeff thought. Twenty years ago they’d had to have had the ceremony outside in the hallway. The first addition to Prescott’s Town Hall had been built after the Second World War, consolidating the town’s administrative departments under one roof. The second, built ten years ago, allowed more room for expansion and for the renovation of the first addition. The original building now served as the lobby and town museum.
Applause brought Jeff back to the event. Kathy and Jack were sharing their first kiss as a married couple. People shook hands and slapped backs. They made their way out to the parking lot, and the clerk’s office got back to work.
“Congratulations, Doctor Stein,” Jeff offered while shaking the man’s hand.
“After almost thirty years, I think you can call me ‘Henry’ now, Jeff.”
“Thank you, sir. I’ll work on that.”
Henry Stein looked over at his daughter and her husband; they were laughing at something Tom Jarrett’s wife Lise just said. Henry smiled sadly. “I wish Rachel was here to see this day,” he sighed, speaking about his late wife.
“I’m sure she is, sir.”
Henry smiled at his daughter’s friend. “Thank you, Jeff. I’m glad you are back in Kathy’s life, all of you Thompkins kids. That you’re all still friends is pretty amazing.”
Jeff followed Henry’s gaze and saw their entire knot of friends from high school in the parking lot. “You just gave me an idea, sir... Henry.” Jeff button-holed Pauline and told her the idea; she agreed it was a good one and began spreading the word. Two minutes later Frank McGahn was snapping a picture of all of the Thompkins graduates.
“I can’t wait to see that photo,” Tony Rosado said.
“We’ll have to have make sure the photographer at the Cliffside gets a picture of all of us, not just the Thompkins crowd, before the reception ends,” Jeff replied. “Let’s head over there.”
Jeff got a grand send-off from Station Five’s firefighters Thursday. His favorite groups to work with had duty that day: Group Four during the day shift and Group Two at night. He enjoyed working with Groups One and Three alright, but he seemed to have a closer connection to the other two.
The day shift made dinner, while the night guys came in early and brought dessert; some of the off-duty guys came in, too. There wasn’t enough room around the regular dinner table, so they pulled a couple tables from the conference room. Deputy Giaconti convinced the new Group Four deputy chief, Phil Unger, that the world wouldn’t come to an end if they used the tables. The Deputy would make sure the tables were scrubbed clean before they were put back.
Nick DeCosta reveled in his role of storyteller at dinner. He described Jeff’s Medford exploits in overblown fashion. The people around the table had to be careful while eating or drinking during Nick’s stories; if not, they risked choking on their food or spraying drinks out their noses.
Jeff and Shawna ran a couple of calls with Group Four during the day, but had nothing with Group Two before the end of their shift. The off-going day shift was back in the morning, so they couldn’t hang around after dinner. Many of the off-duty guys hung out for a few hours. Group Two’s firefighters stayed up until eleven that night when the Brophy paramedics changed shifts. It was after 11:30 before Jeff got into his car; it took that long to say goodbye.
“You’d better keep in touch,” Shawna sniffed.
“I will, I promise. Who knows? Maybe I’ll suck at the new job and they’ll ship me back out here in a few weeks.”
Shawna looked at him like he was crazy. “Right. When was the last time you sucked at anything?”
Jeff groaned when his alarm clock went off at 5:30 the next morning; five hours of sleep would have to do for today. He turned off the alarm before it woke Keiko. His workout clothes waited for him on the bathroom vanity. Jeff wiped the sleep from his eyes while he walked down the stairs and made sure the timer on the coffee maker was set.
Music from one of his heavier playlists wafted down from the speakers; the mostly hard rock songs were what fit his still-improving mood. Two hundred push-ups and sit-ups helped him wake up to start the main part of his workout; the rowing machine, stationary bike and treadmill exercises left him a dripping, sweaty mess. He was worn out but it was a good kind of tired. Jeff enjoyed a good workout.
The coffee maker clicked on when he stepped into the kitchen from the home gym. Jeff heard Keiko and the kids moving around upstairs, getting ready for their day. She had just left the master bathroom when they met in their bedroom. Keiko gave him a quick kiss before she got a whiff of him; her nose wrinkled and she pushed him into the bathroom.
Jeff showered and shaved. He’d wear a white uniform shirt in his new role; there should be no more danger of blood stains unless meetings grew contentious. He stared at his new shirt, trying to get used to the look of it. The Brophy patch he’d grown accustomed to was replaced by a new Devens Medical Defense patch; although it was the same shape as Brophy’s, the different look of it would surprise him for a while. His gold name tag, pinned above his right breast pocket, replaced the silver one he’d worn on last night’s uniform. The AAFEMS paramedic patch on his right shoulder was the only familiar item left.
The biggest difference was the new rank insignia pinned to his shirt’s collar points: the three small gold stars of an operations manager. Jeff would meet with Shirley’s fire chief at nine a.m. this morning, and then the leadership of the 308th Medical Brigade at one p.m. The brigade was the parent unit of all Army medical providers based at Fort Devens, from the doctors at Cutler Army Community Hospital to the field medics attached to the various units on-post. He wondered what the Army folks would think of the stars. Oh, well; they would have to deal with it.
Jeff put on the more familiar parts of his uniform: a white t-shirt and a pair of gray cargo pants. That’s what he’d worn since starting at Brophy in 1993. Now styled as “the Brophy Ambulance Group,” both the folks in Shirley and the original Malden division would wear similar uniforms with the division’s patch as the only difference. He left his white uniform shirt off in case he dribbled his breakfast down his chest; a t-shirt would be easier to change.
“Are you ready for your first day, Jeffrey?” Keiko asked while handing him his coffee in the kitchen.
“I hope to hell I know what I’m doing,” Jeff muttered as he sipped at the brew.
“I am sure you will do fine.”
“It’s going to be a lot different than riding around with Shawna.” He poured himself a bowl of cereal.
“You will adapt, Jeffrey,” Keiko assured him. “When do your MBA classes start at Fitchburg State again? Next Wednesday?”
He nodded while chewing on his breakfast. “Working and going to school again, what a great idea!”
“You have managed it before.”
“Without children, if you recall?”
Keiko dismissed his concern with a wave of her hand. “What time is your meeting in Shirley?”
“Nine. Sean’s gonna meet me there, then we have the meeting at Fort Devens at one.”
“He could have slept here last night, or joined us for breakfast.”
“Pam wasn’t feeling well last night and he didn’t want to leave Beth alone with the kids.”
“I forgot Aiko is in Italy this week.” The elder member of the Brophy household was visiting her newest great-granddaughter, Emily. She’d also gone to visit Jennifer and Tim.
“To join us for breakfast, Sean would need to leave Melrose at about six.” It was just after eight. Jeff could take back roads and still be at Shirley Fire Headquarters in twenty minutes; Sean’s drive would take about ninety minutes. Jeff already liked his new commute.
Jeff didn’t need a wardrobe change following breakfast; he put on his uniform shirt. He’d follow Keiko and the kids over to the daycare center for drop-off before driving across Shirley to the fire station. Sabrina wanted to ride in his new SUV but he had to remind her that he didn’t have her car seat; she pulled the puppy dog look and he relented, retrieved her car seat, and buckled her in. He drew the line at turning on the emergency lights and siren while they drove.
“What the hell is that thing in my driveway, Sean?” he’d asked his former partner last Wednesday.
“Dad and I thought you’d like that,” Sean chuckled from his office in Malden. “Did we forget to tell you that the DMD Operations Manager position came with a take-home vehicle? You’ve got that empty bay in your garage. Just plug the shore line into a twenty-amp circuit and you’re all set; the shelves for the equipment are heated. If you need a circuit wired up, we’ll pay for it.” Sean knew full well that Jeff had twenty-amp circuits in the garage to handle his large air compressor; there were plenty of empty outlets he could use.
“And why, exactly, would I need a fully-marked Expedition?”
“Because, if you’ll remember, we’re still hiring your staff which includes the supervisors, so you’re it for now. They’ll eventually have their own vehicle, but you’re the one who ‑ after you get your feet under you ‑ will be the one driving around, glad-handing the fire chiefs in the area and handling the issues that come up. It’s a moving billboard for our new division, too.”
Jeff shook his head at the memory while putting Sabrina’s seat back in Keiko’s Suburban outside Big Steps.
“Mornin’,” someone said from behind him. Jeff unfolded himself from the back seat and discovered Shirley’s fire chief standing next to the family transporter. “You Jeff Knox?”
“That I am, Chief. How are you this morning?”
“Paul Turner,” the man replied while they shook hands. “I’m doing pretty well, thanks. You installing car seats in random people’s cars?”
“No, this is my wife’s car. Our kids go to Big Steps while she’s teaching English at the high school there.”
“She’s a teacher?”
Jeff was about to nod but called to the person approaching. “Hey, Keiko, are you a teacher?”
Keiko smirked at him while the fire chief turned. “Mr. Turner? Excuse me, Chief Turner?”
“Good morning, Mrs. Knox. Chris giving you any trouble?”
“Certainly not. Your son Christopher has been a perfect gentleman, Chief.”
“I hope he’s finally wised up. So, you’re married to this guy?” Paul Turner asked, hooking a thumb over his shoulder at Jeff.
“Yes. It has only been six years since we started dating but he finally seems to be learning his place.”
“Hey...” Jeff protested.
Keiko stepped around Paul and kissed her husband on the cheek. “I must get to work, Jeffrey. I love you. Hurry, or you will be late for your meeting.” She patted him on the backside and walked around her car while he stood, pole-axed, on the sidewalk.
Paul laughed silently behind the hand over his mouth. Jeff continued to stand at the curb in disbelief, blinking; he turned in time to see Keiko drive away.
“She got you pretty good.”
“Just when I let myself think she’s terminally straight-laced, she reminds me she’s got a mischievous streak a mile wide.”
“How often is that?”
“At least once a week. Your son is a junior this year?” Keiko taught junior year English.
“Yes. My daughter’s in Eighth Grade, as well. Do you need coffee? We have time to hit the shop down the street before we meet your boss at the station, or you can take your chances with the stuff there.”
“I’ve still got half a cupful in the car, but don’t let that stop you from getting some. And don’t let Sean pull the ‘I’m his boss’ card on you; his father is my boss, the one who signs the checks.”
“Delusions of grandeur?” Paul asked, wondering what he was possibly getting the town into.
“No, Chief, sorry; that’s a running joke between Sean and I. On the org-chart I do report to him. He is my boss as the general manager of Brophy Ambulance Group. In full disclosure he’s also one of my best friends so we tend to rag on each other quite a bit, but there’s no doubt he’s in charge; he and his father run an ambulance business. Please let us give you our pitch before you judge the company on the words of someone who has barely even started his first day in his new role.”
“No worries, Jeff,” Paul assured him. “Not to judge, but you do look a bit younger than most ops managers I’ve met.”
“At thirty-one I suppose I am,” Jeff admitted. “Seamus and Sean trust me and they’re confident I can do the job, though.”
“We should get to the station,” Paul said while checking his watch.
Jeff nodded and followed him over to their parked SUVs. Jeff recognized Sean’s car at the fire department lot; he made the introductions.
“Any trouble getting here, Mr. Brophy?”
“Call me Sean, Chief. No, once I was able to get on Route 2 West there were no issues; 128 in the morning always sucks, no matter which way you’re heading. Jeff and I are good friends; he lives in Lancaster so I’m familiar with the area.”
“He’s already told me that you’re not the boss of him.”
Sean’s eyes narrowed. “He’s already fired, too.”
“That was quick...” Jeff muttered. “Can I go back to Medford now?”
“Yeah,” Sean said sarcastically, “like you’re off the hook that easily. You’ve gotta get this division up and running before I’ll fire you, actually.”
“Dammit!” he said with exaggerated disgust. “See, Chief? Slave labor at its finest!”
“You guys should take your act on the road,” Paul laughed. “I suppose you already have, now that I think about it. Come on in and I’ll give you fellas a tour before we get to your presentation.”
The Shirley fire chief sat impassively while Sean and Jeff laid out DMD’s proposal. When they were finished with their presentation, Paul Turner asked thoughtful, appropriate questions as someone who’d been appointed to safeguard a whole town; Sean and Jeff, in contrast to their comedy routine in the parking lot, were polished and professional while they answered his questions. At the end of the question and answer period, Paul sat silently for three or four minutes, considering what he’d heard. Sean and Jeff waited him out.
“Mr. Brophy, Mr. Knox, thank you very much for that presentation. It was well put together, to the point, and surprisingly balanced.”
“We’re not perfect, Chief,” Jeff replied. “We know that. From my own experiences working with Brophy’s municipal contacts, I know there will be times when we don’t agree on things. In the end though, we’re all here for the same reason and we’ll work things out. This division will be as committed to quality as the original Brophy division.”
“I’m already getting that sense. Gentlemen, I will be recommending that the Town Manager sign the partnership and billing agreement with your agency when I speak with him this afternoon.” Sean and Jeff looked relieved. Shirley was the last of the area towns they were meeting with; all of the others had committed to signing on. The three men stood and exchanged congratulatory handshakes. “If you gents have the time, I can give you a tour of our town and we can check out the site where your headquarters is going.”
“Sounds good, Chief,” Jeff replied. “We just need to be over at the base at one.”
The tour of the town and industrial park didn’t take long. Paul brought them to a small restaurant on Main Street for lunch. While they were waiting for their food Jeff’s cell phone rang; he recognized the number and stepped outside to answer.
“Hey, Annie! How’s it going?”
“I’m calling to bitch about our furnace before I explode.”
“What’s the matter?”
“Dad turned on the furnace yesterday, to test it before the winter starts up here...”
“Which is tomorrow, right?”
“Stifle, you. So the furnace’s burner managed to blow itself out, took out the blower motor and spread soot across the restaurant. We’re looking at spending three-quarters of the cost of repairing the furnace on cleaning the place before we even get to fixing the furnace itself! Thirteen grand! I don’t know where we’re going to get that kind of money!”
“It’ll work out, Annie. I know it.”
“And how do you know that?”
Annie snorted. “Right. Look, I just needed to vent to someone and I knew you’d listen. I need to get back over there and help Dad clean what we can.”
“Can you save some money by cleaning the place yourself?”
“Not enough. It’d take us a month to clean the place well enough for the Board of Health to let us re-open and we can’t be closed that long.” Annie sighed. “Look, I gotta go.”
“Keep your chin up, Annie.”
Jeff heard the line go dead. He thought for a second before selecting a contact from his phone. “Hey,” he said to the person on the other end when they answered, “I need some help.”
Captain Moira French stepped through her boss’s door. “Mr. Brophy and Mr. Knox to see you, sir.”
“Gentlemen, Curtis Lawton,” the colonel offered along with his hand.
“Sean Brophy, Colonel, general manager for the Brophy Ambulance Group. With me is Jeff Knox, he’s the operations manager for our new Devens Medical Defense division based in Shirley.”
“‘Devens Medical Defense?’ A commercial ambulance service competing with the local towns’ services?”
“No, Colonel,” Jeff corrected, “a paramedic-level service which will use non-transport vehicles to assist local departments.”
“I’m not sure if I understand the difference, honestly.” He turned to another soldier standing just behind him. “My command sergeant major, Thomas Hackleberry.” More handshakes were exchanged. “I’ve asked Captain French to remain with us; your letter indicated your new division may yield benefits for our medics and she’s their commanding officer.”
“By all means, Colonel.”
“I’ve also asked First Sergeant Jenkins to join us, sir,” CPT French added. “He should be here shortly.”
“Very good, Captain. Would you gentlemen care to sit while we wait?”
Colonel Lawton quizzed Sean on Brophy’s history and the difference between levels of ambulance services while they awaited the first sergeant. Five minutes later a compact man with graying hair that contrasted against his dark skin knocked on the open door and entered. The colonel returned his salute and offered him a chair.
“First Sergeant, these gentlemen are Sean Brophy and Jeff Knox; they represent an ambulance service just starting up off-post. They have a proposal which they say may be of benefit to the medics in your company and we would like your take on it. Speak up when you have questions, no need to ask permission first.”
Colonel Lawton turned back to the two civilians. “Gentlemen, the floor is yours.”