Mike opened the passenger side of Engine 51, hardly believing that he was holding his own white-faced skunk helmet, and
staged his gear. Across the cab from him was black engineer Toby Reynolds, with whom he'd swapped so many shifts after
Brin had been Dropped and in Rampart. Toby had been at the track that day, and said something had looked weird about
Mike's regular crew in the jump seats had swapped shifts; he'd be working with a couple of substitutes. Albertson
and Richardson were his paramedics. Allie and Ritchie, as they called themselves, along with Toby would be supportive
of his first day back to work in eons. He didn't know about the other two.
He received a very warm welcome from everyone at coffee. After he had sat down at the table with his mug, Albertson
walked up behind him, put his left hand on Mike's left shoulder, and gently smacking his upper right arm, said, "Welcome
back, Cap! Glad to see you're still with us!"
"Thanks, man," he said, the affirmation running deep. However, he was grateful that the conversation went elsewhere.
Mike unconsciously put his left hand on Brin's ring he wore under his uniform shirt as he contemplated the differences
with which he was being faced. The station and the engine were the same, but his buddies were gone. Now he had
a whole new set of parameters.
After roll call and morning equipment checks, the squad was called out to a "woman down."
When the paramedics returned to quarters an hour later, they were dour.
"Bad, huh?" Toby asked.
"Yeah," they said, nodding.
"What was it?" Mike asked.
The paramedics looked at each other and shook their heads. "We'll tell you at the end of the shift," said Albertson.
Woman down. Paramedics looking dour. Him a widower.
Mike nodded. "Okay. Just don't forget," he said.
When everyone had taken to sitting in the open apparatus floor door, Mike realized only too late that working out of
51 may be more of a challenge than he previously thought. He didn't know why, but he had completely forgotten about
the track announcer at the scene of his wife's murder down the street.
He excused himself, and with fist to mouth, went to the dorm. Sitting on his bunk, he looked over at the one he
used to use. His emotions were a mess. What was he doing here?
Your job as engineer was wrapped up in my memory, he heard Brin say within. I know you think we're
crazy to get you promoted, but you needed a job that would force you to think of others instead of concentrating on your pain.
Think about it. Mentally put yourself behind the wheel, and see how you feel.
He did so, and what she'd said was true--in his mind, he saw their whole relationship sitting on the wheel. So
many deaths had to be died; so many farewells had to be said.
But look at the seed germinating under the dirt, CAPTAIN Stoker, she said. Whatever
happened to your dream of becoming a battalion chief?
Another aspect of their life he was really missing right now--her support.
Mike got up and went to the locker room. The scent of aftershave hung in the air. The lockers on the front
row belonged to others now, and it felt almost wrong. The affirmation he received this morning was pushed out by lonliness.
Many memories from many years of working together. From Johnny's pinning up the photo of the woman to whom he actually
got engaged; to Johnny and Roy not speaking over something stupid; to Chet spacing his uniform shirts just so before inspection; to
relating Brin's "poetry" to Hank. Maybe he should write a book.
An hour later, as he sat on the bench behind the station staring off into space, they were called to a traffic accident.
When they arrived on-scene, they found two cars after a near head-on collision in the intersection. The
right front of a compact car was crushed by a large four-door sedan. A man in the small car was screaming, "HELP
VIVIAN! SOMEONE PLEASE HELP VIVIAN!"
They found a bride-in-gown under the dashboard.
Mike worked on opening the driver's side door of the sedan with a crowbar. The female driver was slumped over the
wheel. Albertson couldn't get the passenger door open.
When Mike finally got the door open, he asked the woman if she was okay. When she sat up, she was obviously very
drunk. She smiled at Mike. "Well, hello officer," she said with slurred speech.
"Are you hurt anywhere?" he asked.
"Why, no, officer. I'm feeling just fine."
I bet you are, he thought. She must've tied on the entire whiskey warehouse.
Mike relinquished his position to the paramedic. Ritchie jogged over to his captain and took him
to the middle of the scene, away from the victims.
"The woman in that car's dead," he said, pointing to the other car. "We'll transport the man. He's got leg
injuries and he's real upset. They just got married a couple of hours ago."
Mike felt sick as he looked over at the drunk woman. "She's going to have a lot to answer for in the morning."
She was being led to a patrol car by sheriff's deputy Vince. Then Ritchie's statement hit Mike. "Are you wanting
me to say something to him?" he said as he snapped his head back around.
Ritchie looked startled. "Not unless you want to."
When they returned to quarters, they saw something on the ground in front of the office door. They approached the
picnic basket with caution, then heard a baby's cooing.
The proverbial note was attached: Please take care of LaKesha. I cannot keep her. Thanks.
Have everybody who touches her wear gloves, Mike heard within. Brin's ring was burning. He relayed
LaKesha--who couldn't have been more than a month old--ended up in Mike's arms. Enjoy this while you can.
Pretend she's our daughter, Brin said in his heart. The paramedics took the baby girl to Rampart to receive a medical
check-up before being handed over to the social workers.
Everybody shed a few tears over the incident. Toby was particularly disturbed.
As everyone retired to bed around 11 p.m., Mike found himself hoping for a quiet night. Ha,
he heard within. Brin's ring went cold.
At 2 a.m., the alarm went off. Full first alarm house fire. Since 51 was first on-scene, Mike ran around
the house, doing his size-up. Something distracted him at the side of the house.
"MOVE, MIKE!" shouted Brin's voice as if she were physically present. Unseen hands pushed him down.
Now that's the kind of help I can use! he thought as a rain of debris fell around him.
Something hit not only his back but the back of his helmet as well.
"CAP! ARE YOU OKAY?" Allie and Ritchie yelled as they ran for him. They pushed the debris off his back,
and ran him back to the squad's bumper.
"Warm welcome for your first night back on the job, huh?" quipped Allie as he checked Mike's pupils. Equal and
Ritchie pulled the back of Mike's t-shirt up to inspect his back. Abrasions. Nothing serious.
"A little too warm, if you ask me," Mike said.
Captain Craig Brice ran around the corner of the squad. "They've got ammunition stored in that house!" he exclaimed.
No sooner were the words out when said ammunition started firing off like the Fourth of July. The quartet
dove for cover behind the squad.
"Where's my helmet and coat!" Mike yelled. Allie reached around and retrieved them for him.
Total chaos had broken out. Explosions of all sizes shook the ground. The squad was taking damage--they could
hear debris breaking some of the running lights on the cab. One thing was certain: they couldn't shoot back.
"What'd you do to my squad?" the relief paramedic exlaimed to Allie when they had returned.
"Shoot-out at the OK Corral," he said as he got out.
A blear-eyed Mike came around the front of the squad. "If you think that's bad, you should've seen engine 16."
Captain Hammer came out of the Dayroom. "What the. . .?" he said when he saw the engine. "Looks like a bloody
When they finally got to go home, the paramedics caught Mike at his car. He was driving the corvette.
"You said you wanted to know about that run yesterday morning," said Allie.
"Yeah," Mike said, putting his hands on his hips. Yesterday morning felt like a hundred years ago.
The paramedics shifted on their feet and looked at each other.
"It was after a wedding," Ritchie started, looking down as he shifted on his feet.
"They were all eating dinner," said Allie, looking at the freeway.
"The bride apparently didn't know she had an allergy. . ." said Ritchie, looking at his partner.
"And had an anaphalactic reaction to something in the food. She was DOA at Rampart. There was nothing they
could do," Allie finished as he shrugged. They were both looking at him now.
Mike put his fist to his mouth. "Thanks for waiting," he said, turning away.
Next stop--jeweler's shop.