A cool summer breeze wafted through the apparatus floor as Mike, Marco, and Chet polished the engine. Out of the
corner of his eye, Mike saw a car pull up in front of the station. When he stopped polishing to take another look, Marco
and Chet followed suit.
A petite woman with dark hair and hour-glass figure got out of a jade green corvette.
"Man, would you look at that chick!" said Chet quietly.
Marco checked his hair in the engine's chrome.
Mike knew that something different was happening to him. His very soul had been tugged by her presence,
and he wanted nothing more than to touch her face and hair, and gaze into her eyes. Whoever this woman was walking up
the driveway, she was an arsonist who had set fire to his heart and sent a firestorm through his veins.
"Hi, y'all," she said. "I'm looking for Hank Stanley."
"Where's she from?" Marco whispered.
The light from the back bay doorway caught her eyes, accenting their brilliant sapphire blue color. Drop-dead
beautiful. Mike had to sit down on the running board.
"CAP!" the three called without taking their eyes off of her.
The squad was out on a run. Cap walked out of the kitchen and held his arms out.
"Sabrina!" he exclaimed.
"Uncle Hank!" she cried. The two embraced where the squad usually sat.
"You didn't tell us you had a neice!" said the other three.
"You never asked!" said Cap as he hugged her.
They heard the beep of a car horn; the squad was backing in. Roy had barely stopped the vehicle when Johnny lept
from the passenger side.
"Sabrina! You're here!" he exclaimed. He and Sabrina embraced.
"Now, how do you two know each other?" asked Marco.
"She's my horse's jockey," said Johnny.
Mike, Chet, and Marco stared at Gage.
"Didn't I tell you?" said Johnny. "I bought a racehorse!" He and Sabrina still had an arm around each other.
"You . . .bought. . . a racehorse," said Chet, hands in his pockets, rocking back and forth on his feet. "A filly
or a colt?"
Johnny could tell Chet was fishing for something with which to needle him.
"A filly named Nellie Belle Starr," said Johnny.
"Well," said Chet, "The only way she'd dump you is if you tried to ride her yourself."
Mike couldn't believe the jealousy he felt seeing Sabrina's arm around Johnny's waist, and his arm around her shoulder.
Part of him wanted to keep watching; another wanted to look away; yet another wanted to get into Gage's face.
"Is there something between you two that we don't know about?" asked Marco.
"She hasn't been introduced, either," said Mike.
"Huh?" said both Johnny and Sabrina. They realized they hadn't released each other, and unlocked.
Cap walked over to Sabrina and put his arm around her. "Gentlemen," he started, "Meet my neice from Kentucky, Sabrina."
Cap then introduced each firefighter in turn. When they came to Mike, she shook his hand longer than the others, and
quietly admired his blue eyes.
Brin then turned her attention to the engine.
"Ward LaFrance P80 Ambassador," Brin stated.
"Can we elope?" Mike said under his breath.
"Excuse me?" said Sabrina, turning to him.
"Would you like a Coke?"
"Oh, no, thanks. I'm fine," she said, grinning.
"You know about fire trucks?" Mike stammered.
"I grew up crawling on fire trucks like other kids crawl on playgrounds. My daddy's a volunteer fire chief," Brin
"And her mom's a dispatcher for the city police; her sister's a dispatcher for the county sheriff; and her brother's a
Kentucky State Trooper," Cap added.
Mike knew if he opened his mouth nothing but gibberish would come out. He turned to Gage and leaned over to ask the
question, "What are the track's dark days, again?"
"Monday and Tuesday," Gage whispered back. Johnny then looked at Brin, then at Mike, and a huge smile broke over
his face. "Whoo, Mike, 'ol boy," he whispered, thrusting his left elbow at the engineer. Cap was leaned over on
his forearms on the hood of the squad, smirking.
Mike stood with his back to the others, with Brin between him and the engine. His colleagues took the hint and
went to the kitchen. Now if he could just remember what day it was.
When he wasn't working, Mike would meet Brin in the track restaurant when she was finished with her races. If he
was on duty, she'd stop by the station on her way home to her uncle's. Cap and the others thought it cute how Mike would
bend over at the waist to get on her level. He was a full foot taller than she.
Mike and Sabrina were in love and they knew it. She conceded that, although Gage had invited her to ride his filly,
ever since Cap had shown her Mike's photo, she knew in her heart she needed to meet him. He was humbled.
In the meantime, Nellie--or "Li'l Lady" as Johnny called her--was burning up the track, setting records in some cases. The
filly loved being a racehorse and it showed. Gage was one proud papa. His red and gold silks were in the
winner's circle more than he had ever dared to imagine.
Li'l Lady would run for Brin and no one else. The jockey carried a crop, but never used it
on her. The filly and her regular rider had a bond that was uncommon. Brin would think, and the filly would carry
out the command.
As for having moved her tack from Kentucky to California--much to the chagrin of her Bluegrass State fans--Brin didn't
think she could have life any better. Gage's short and rotund trainer, Jules Sawyer--a former jockey
herself--had extended a contract to Brin that would give her first choosing of mounts from Sawyer's stable.
Brin knew she'd found her dream man in Mike--and he confirmed it by proposing; and now she believed that she had a Triple
Crown contender in Nellie.
Perhaps life was too good.
Soon after Brin accepted Mike's proposal of marriage, she found herself in a deadly situation in a race. Jockey
George Welles cut in too closely in front of Brin's mount; the two horses clipped heels, Brin's horse lost his footing; and she
was bounced around the pack like a loose football.
Mike was present, and nearly fainted at the sight. He was almost sure he was going to be alone again. She
couldn't have survived. When he and his crewmates from 51 arrived on the scene, Johnny and Roy immediately went to work.
Not that they could do all that much without their equipment, but they had discovered her face practically buried in the track
sand, and cleared her airway as best as they could.
Brin's left foot was at an incorrect angle, as was her left hand. Johnny and Roy determined that she was comatose.
She very likely had internal injuries. Where were the track paramedics?
Squad 51 drove up with a "Mayfair" ambulance not far behind. Albertson and Richardson disembarked from the squad.
After doing their assessment, Albertson carelessly commented, "Jesus, this is bad."
Cap sat Mike down on the turf, the latter unable to hold back his emotions any longer. The love of his life was
slipping away from him. Please don't leave me, Brin! he willed. Please don't leave me!
"Oh, the pain of being in love," Cap commented later at Rampart.
Johnny found Albertson after Brin was admitted. "What kind of comment was that?" he asked. "Don't you know
she and Stoker are engaged?"
Albertson paled. "I think I need to apologize to someone." The paramedic found the engineer at the end of
the ICU hallway, looking out the window, and apologized.
"That's okay," Mike managed to say through his tears. "I needed to know."
Brin was comatose for two weeks. Dr. Brackett allowed Mike five minutes twice a day with her when she was in the
ICU. When she was moved to a room, he was permitted to stay with her.
Li'l Lady, on the other hand, was not a happy camper. She stood with her tail to her stall door at the track, and
tried biting anyone who came close to her. Jules had to take two grooms into the stall with her to help keep the filly
under control while they moved her to another location to clean her stall.
Johnny suggested they give the racer a hiatus on the farm. He knew she wouldn't run for anyone but Brin.
Trying to find another jockey was futile. They just had to roll with the punches.
Down the Triple Crown trail. . .