Well, work is good for keeping my mind off of everything except what’s going on right then and there, usually. It was actually a rather slow day, but it let me catch up on old times with Ray.
I’ve met some pretty interesting people in my line of business, but the people that always amazed me the most were my coworkers. I think no matter where I’ve worked, there’s always been a Cap, even if he wasn’t the Captain. I mean back home the ‘Cap’ of the 87th was actually one of the older firemen who never did settle down.
Usually this is considered a youngster’s profession, but there are some that never lose the drive or the nack. You get some who burn out within the first year, some after five, then there’s a gap where the lifers learn that this is just a fundamental part of who they are.
Me, I never wanted to be a fire fighter. I don’t like fire, never had, never will. My kick is rescue work: come in, get people where they need to be and ride off into the sunset. Ray’s like that too, you do the job, you move on.
Somewhere along the way, adrenalin gave way to duty, or the other way around, but in the end you realize– this is what you are.
Ray and I spent most of the night shift talking ‘Balmer’ at each other and comparing notes about what people find odd.
There were some phrases I never thought of, like the tendency to say things like:
“Hey Lady” - Greeting to a friend (female)
“Hey Hon,” - Greeting to a friend (male or female.) (Not as familiar)
“Can I help you, hon?” - Greeting to a customer (Stuffer Shack)
Then there’s the pronunciation of certain words:
Balmer - Baltimore
Amblance - Ambulance
Wuter - Water
and Police with a long “o”
I think Ray’s been here long enough that he’s picked up the local accent. Me, I spent enough time near the military, Aberdeen, Edgewood Arsenal area... to pick up the more clipped neutral accent they use, but I still use a slight drawl when I’m working on a patient. It usually makes them more comfortable.
By the time the shift was over, we’d pretty much caught up, but my anxiousness had returned. I still had the mystery of the tail and the three dead men on my mind, and I hadn’t been able to tell Ray about it.
Fin had told me to act naturally and that’s what I tried to do. Although what passes for natural for Ray and me might be considered a bit weird by most.
But I knew if someone was willing to follow me around the city, listening in to a conversation at a firehouse probably wouldn’t be all that difficult.
I got home around 6 am, as the sky was a light, dawn gray. I saw a few of the neighbors on their way to work and smiled at them, but there was no sign of Fin. Not that I really expected him. Fin is one of my ‘gray’ friends, someone who its better that you don’t ask about what they do, but that was what I needed right now.
If my suspicions were right, the boys had been working the gray-zones of the shadows for quite some time. Not that any of that mattered right now. All that mattered was unraveling the mysteries that seemed hell bent to catch me.
I got to the condo without incident. When I was inside and had locked everything down, I found a note from Fin. It had two words on it, hastily scribbled, but they set my heart on edge:
I looked around the condo and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, until I noticed that the 3x5s were gone. That set my even more on edge. I must have checked every window and every door to make sure they were locked before exhaustion finally took over and I sacked out on the couch.
I probably only got 3 hours of sleep when the alarm went off and it was time to get ready for work. I don’t think I could ever get used to this kind of life.
Getting used to night shift was never one of my strong suits, add only getting 3 hours sleep to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. I was awake and functional until about 11 when normal sleep needs tried to assert themselves. I ended up taking a nap, but I only got about a half an hour before we were up and rolling.
The big problem with this shift is the fact that the ideal times for the motorcycle are during rush hour, but then again, right now, I’m supposed to be training Ray on the differences so that we can split shifts.
He’ll probably get the day shift, having seniority. And I’ll be stuck with 5P to 5A. Sometimes I hate the man.
Early on we did get a motorcycle call and Ray rode with me, having one of the squad guys drive the Ambulance and meet us there. It was a drowning and someone was already giving him CPR when we arrived. I think it was really hard on Ray to sit there and watch me, but normally when there’s a motorcycle response, there’s only one medic and they have to keep things under control until the ambulance arrives.
I wonder if I’ll handle it as gracefully as he did when its my turn to observe and comment. Somehow, I doubt it.
Ray and I are both doers, I think that’s what attracted me to him in the first place. Watching and waiting is the surest way to drive us crazy. Which is exactly what all this intrigue and drama is doing to me.
I’ve been turned into a witness to the action, a bystander... an investigator after the fact. I need to be in the middle of it, not on the sidelines, not trailing it by days, weeks... months. Its been almost three months since the boys disappeared– hell, its been three days since I was followed and not knowing why is driving me up a wall.
I did manage to get some sleep between calls, but by the time I got home, I was beat. Of course, you know that means Fin had to be waiting for me.
Fin was not looking too happy when he followed me into the condo.
“You didn’t see anything,” he told me, right off the bat. “There were no bodies at the morgue, you just forget it.”
I stared at him for a minute and then shook my head. “Nah-uh” I told him shaking my head. “This is not the sort of thing I can just forget.”
Fin looked at me hard, I could see the worry in his eyes. “Girl, ya aren’t ready for this. You gotta let it drop. You don’t they’ll take you out, and your partner.”
I was beginning to feel the ramrod shoved down my spine as I started to object, but the last comment made me stop. Endangering Ray over something like this was enough to give me pause.
Fin nodded. “I ain’t kidding ya on this one Jess. Its serious and you gotta just act normally. Next Tuesday, you go back the morgue, you make it a routine, every Tuesday– you go there looking for your brothers.”
I was stunned. One of the things I always loved about Fin was the fact that he didn’t pull that macho bullshit about ‘Me Tarzan, you Jane.” He trusted me to handle my end on anything, from working on our bikes to moving through the back streets.
“That serious?” I finally managed to ask.
He nodded, his eyes suddenly looking very old and very tired. “You be careful,” he urged finally and turned to leave.
“Fin– there’s still the question of the boys,” I finally asked.
He looked at me and sighed. “If I thought I could get you to listen, I’d tell you to leave that one too.” He studied me for a minute then pursed his lips and shook his head. “Jess, they aren’t saints, never were– they are some of the best, but even they got bowled over... “
My eyes widened slightly, it was the first time anyone had talked to me about them in that tone.
“I have no idea what they were working on, but it was serious. Serious enough to make them pull up stakes and get the hell out. Nobody’s heard from them, not anybody. But you keep looking, cause no one else is.”
I tried to ask him more, but he was already out the door.
Suddenly the place looked very small and very unsecured.
Sometimes it feels like you’re just spinning your wheels.
I mean, I know more about the boys and what they were doing here, but it doesn’t really help me. According to Fin, something ‘bowled them over'. And as for the men and the morgue that I ‘didn’t see’-- seems I’ve managed to find a lot more trouble than I bargained for.
I came here looking for answers and so far I’ve gotten nothing but more questions, more confusion and a lot more to worry about. I’m good at worrying.
Fin’s description of the situation seemed to echo in my head as did his warnings. I’ve really begun to wonder what I’m doing here– and why. I looked up at the portrait of the four of us and remembered why: the boys.
They’re all that really matter to me– the boys and getting the job done. Not much of a life I guess, but it’s the one I’ve chosen.
The day seemed pretty routine, but there were too many times where I could have sworn I was being watched– studied even. It made me nervous, but I couldn’t even talk to Ray about that, Fin had made that much clear. I had to pretend everything was normal; pretend that the hairs on the back of my neck weren’t standing up; pretend that my heart didn’t start racing every time I saw a cigarette flare in the shadows; pretend I didn’t notice the same pair of headlights behind the ambulance on at least four calls.
The night was a busy one, thank god for small favors. For the most part I was on call or cleaning up after a call most of the night, but once, when Ray and I lifted the Gurney into the ‘truck’-- I swear I saw the car again.
By the time I got home I was about ready to crawl up in a small fetal ball and wish it would all go away. I thought I’d had enough but it seemed someone didn’t think so. As I parked my bike, I saw the car again.
I forced myself to unstrap my kit from the back of the bike and sling my helmet through the handle like I always do. I could feel my hands shaking as I told myself. ‘Sheep... sheep... don’t see anything, don’t do anything... just keep moving like the rest of the flock. Say hi to Mrs. MacAdders, grab the morning paper... routine... routine... sheep.’
Its hard to pretend you don’t notice, especially when they’ve stopped being subtle. This worries me even more, but if I did know something, if I hadn’t ‘not seen’ those three in the morgue; this is when I’d crack. I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re counting on.
After I finished my ‘getting off work ritual.’ I went home to the boys condo and locked the door behind me. Sleep was a long time in coming and I still have one more work day this week. I don’t think I’m going to make it.
When I finally woke up and got myself moving I had just enough time to grab a bagel from the diner and go to work. I didn’t see any sign of the car, but I wasn’t looking too hard. I didn’t want to see it, didn’t want to think about the fact that I was being followed, that my life and Ray’s were in danger because something very hinky was going on.
I got to the diner, kit and helmet slung over my back and was about to sit down at the counter when the waitress looked at me and smiled.
“You’re late Jess,” she said. It was a half-statement, half-chide.
I nodded and looked at my watch. “I’ll just have...”
“A bagel,” she told me before I could finish. “I know... “ she added with a wink as she produced a brown bag. “Don’t eat too quickly, its bad for your digestion.
I smiled and went to the cashier, who promptly waved me off. “Settle your bill when you aren’t running late for work Jess,” he chuckled.
I was smiling when I reached my bike. At least some things were working out. As I strapped my kit back down on the back of my bike, I realized why the car wasn’t in sight.
They’d bugged the bike. I dated a guy who was a ‘spook’ once. He used to show me all the ‘latest and greatest’ in espionage equipment, and I recognized it as an offshoot of a tracking/listening combo device. A very nice, very expensive, very paranoia inducing piece of hardware has shown up on my bike and I can’t get rid of it without arousing suspicion.
They keep this up, they aren’t going to have to do anything to me, I’ll do it all by myself. I slipped the brown bag from the diner between the kit and the straps and put on my helmet.
I could see the reflection of the car as I adjusted the straps and again had to force myself to pretend not to notice. I’m really hoping they give up soon, before I lose it, or the local gang decides to start playing with them. On second thought, that might not be too bad.
The one good thing about Mondays is I can sleep in. Usually that is. I got home around 6am, sleep time for us ghouls and children of the night. I even managed to get an hour of sleep before the phone rang.
It was Lt. Saunders from the Star calling. They’d found something. I could tell by the tone of his voice it wasn’t nice, or pretty, but I knew it was at least something. He asked me to come down to the station and ask for Sgt. Andrews, the chief investigator on my brothers' case.
I forced myself to take a quick shower and to eat something before heading out. Without enough sleep, I was just asking for trouble, no point in making it worse.
I headed to Lone Star with my invisible mini entourage.
Sgt. Andrews was congenial enough, your average, overworked investigator with way too many unsolved cases haunting him. Another reason I like my job. All the questions that can be answered are answered at the scene. Keep them alive, get them to the hospital, do as much as you can, then move on.
There’s no need to find out why he had a heart attack, why he was shot. Those were just facts you faced and dealt with. You find the background of the person’s health ant the current situation. You look for things like what happened, what medicines is the patient taking, do they have any pre-existing conditions, a history of problems, but that’s about as deep as your investigation gets. There isn’t any real time for the where’s and when’s.
A man has a heart attack, you treat him. Some one gets shot, you turn the investigation over to the Star, while you assess how bad it is and treat it accordingly. You get your case to the hospital, report their condition and its no longer your case.
He smiled and sighed. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you,” he said. I could tell he meant it, but I also knew that if something hadn’t happened, he probably wouldn’t have been able to make the time for another month, if at all.
I nodded, but by then, I just wanted to know what this was all about.
One thing about Sgt. Andrews, he’s good at reading people. He nodded and got down to business.
“We found your brother Matthew’s car.” He shook his head as I sat up hopefully. “Somebody dumped a can of diesel in it and torched it.”
I could tell from his tone of voice that there was more, and I knew all too well that I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to know, and yet I had to know. I took a deep breath and looked at him.
I closed my eyes as he said. “I need you to come down to the morgue with me.”
I think I surprised him when I just looked at him and nodded. Something had told me it was going to end this way.
“We don’t have much to work on, and its not very pretty,” he said gently, I think he was trying to prepare me for it.
Burn victims are never pretty, and I told him as much. His eyes widened slightly and then he re-scanned his notes and nodded.
“That’s right... you’re a medic...”
“Yeah,” I told him, forcing my tone to remain even.
I’d like to say it was a good visit, but it wasn’t. The only good thing was I was pretty sure the guy they’d found in Matt’s care wasn’t anybody I knew. The build was wrong and his dental work had been done in plastic and polly synth. Our dentist still preferred porcelain and silver.
I know the Sgt. was surprised. Not only did I know my way around the morgue, I knew the doc and I knew what to look for. I shrugged.
“I figured this would be one of the places I’d need to check for my brothers. Here and the hospitals.”
He smiled and nodded. “You ever need a job...” he offered, looking as tired as he felt.
I shook my head. “No thanks,” I answered with a smile. “I like my work, its straight forward and you don’t have to worry about stepping into the middle of something.”
Like me with my tail and all the intrigue that seemed to be attacked to me. “I’ll take a simple 5 car pile up, thanks.”
It took a while to get it out of my system, so I hung out at the clinic for a few hours before I finally fell asleep at the nurse’s station.
Well, I know Fin told me to make it my routine to go to the morgue today, but I was there yesterday, and the only JD had been the guy from Matt’s car.
Mario made me promise to take the day off. I planned on it too, really, but sitting around the condo, knowing I was being watched, tested– judged. I couldn’t just sit there and do nothing, besides, there were lots of hospitals to check.
I almost made it out of the building when he cornered me.
“Jess... do you even know the meaning of ‘taking the day off?’”
I smiled at him. “I think it usually involves me, a hospital and a lot of sedatives...”
At least I made him smile. I know me too well: I can’t relax as long as there is something I can do about a situation, and that’s what the John Doe check is about. I’m doing something. I’m in there and I’m looking. If I stopped, it would be like giving up.
I think he understands, but I can see that he’s worried to. Hell, I’m worried. Its been almost four weeks since I arrived and I’ve already been in the hospital once, been shot at, trailed, investigated tormented by my own guilt and in general not had a good time of it. And I’ve promised myself that I was going to give it a year.
I don’t think I can get myself into too much more trouble, but I’m sure I’ll manage to find a way.
I’m just too persistent not to and my luck’s been leaning towards trouble ever since I decided to come here.
Today got off to a weird start. I figured on helping out at the clinic and hopefully keeping my mind off of things.
The street seemed almost dead when I walked from the condo to the clinic. Nobody was in sight, when I got to the clinic, I got the real surprise. The waiting room was empty and when the doctor came out to see who was next– it definitely wasn’t Trina.
I looked at him in surprise and he asked if he could help me. I shook my head, and then apologized.
“I’m Jess,” I finally managed to tell him. “I sometimes help out here and... to be honest you took me by surprise.
He smiled and nodded. “Trina took the day off and asked me to fill in.”
I nodded again, knowing just how slow on the uptake I must have seemed to this guy, Doc Rivers. “Looks like you got a slow day,” I said, unsure if he wanted me to stick around or not. Unsure if I wanted to stick around or not.
He chuckled. “Seems they either knew that she wasn’t going to be in today, or when they come in and find me here– they mutter something about coming back tomorrow and leave.”
“Kinda hard being the new kid on the block,” I agreed.
“Yeah, but I guess I have to start somewhere,” he answered.
“Usually,” I answered with a smile. I think I like this Doc, but right now, I need to do something, and sitting around a clinic with no patients isn’t what I had in mind.
He gave me an apologetic smile. “Not what you were looking for either?”
“Sorry,” I told him. “Maybe I’ll go rock climbing or something. Who knows, maybe I’ll add some excitement to your day too.”
He looked at me a minute and then smiled when he realized I was joking about getting hurt. “Just be careful.”
I nodded and headed out, but when I got outside there was a car waiting for me. I tensed slightly and started to back away before Trina’s head poked out of the window.
“Come on Jess,” she called. “Dad’s making us take the day off... he’s already packed a picnic.”
Being given the choice of nothing to do but brood, or eat some of Mario’s cooking and get away from it all for a while– I got in the car.
He took us to a park and a combination of the food, the scenery and the company really helped with my outlook on life and my current situation. Trust Mario to know exactly what to do. He joked about having to look out for his daughters.
Like I said... its good to have family.