Was Mike dreaming? Or was there actually someone outside in dire need of assistance? The picture of a
distressed, screaming Hispanic woman in flamenco dress, arms outstretched as if pulled against her will, flew through
his mind, and he jerked awake.
He thought maybe his resident ghosts had something to do with it. He could see them in his mind's eye--they huddled
together, shaking their heads. Even the Missus was serious.
Then, like finding himself under a waterfall, the feeling of mortal dread he had had about Marco washed over him.
Whatever he'd sensed would happen, had just happened.
Whatever it was, he didn't like the feeling he had. He tried listening to the noises outside, but the air conditioning
was running. Would it never cut off? He had no choice but to put on his bathrobe and go outside.
He looked all around, but the neighborhood was quiet, except his neighbor's son who had to be at work at a donut
shop at 4 a.m. They waved to each other. Back inside, Mike decided to call Christine Coe--even if it was 3:30 a.m. He
caught a chill.
Okay, Betsy, you know what creeps me out about 3:30am, Mike thought.
Get moving, he heard within.
He called Christine, but got her answering machine.
He called Marco.
"Is Maria at home?" Mike asked.
"She should be," said Marco.
"Can you try calling her?"
Marco was silent a moment. "Considering how your gift has developed since the accident, I will take this seriously,"
he said. "I'll just go over there."
"No! Don't endanger yourself! Call first. Then call the cops if she doesn't answer. They should
be more than happy to check things out."
"Spoken like a true son-of-a-cop. I'll do that."
"You scared me there for a minute,"
"You're nowhere close to that other thing," said Marco. "Let me make this phone
Minutes turned to hours, and hours turned to days, thought Mike as he realized he could be in for a long night.
The Tanners looked pre-occupied, looking here, there, the floor, and elsewhere. Vicksa sat backwards on a barstool, like The
Thinker, looking at the floor. Mr. Tanner sat on another barstool, arms crossed, one hand massaging his chin.
He stared into the kitchen area at nothing in particular. The Missus was standing behind the bar, her hands behind
her back, gazing through the den to the sea.
"Okay, spill the beans. What happened, and where is she?"
They looked up, and were nearly corporal. Just as suddenly, they disappeared.
"Good help is so hard to find these days," he said, half upset that they had hidden their presence.
The phone rang. Marco--in a dither. He was screaming something in his native tongue.
Mike lowered his head, and covered his face with his free hand. "Marco! I can't understand you!" he said.
"She's gone!" Marco was finally able to say. "They found her door busted open! There were signs of struggle!
A week passed, with Marco taking vacation, then an alternate phone line was installed at Maria's family home. A
schedule of phone sitters--relatives and friends--was completed. They were instructed to notify police, then family
& friends, but to never call Marco's station directly. The chief himself would relay any messages--good or bad.
"Man, I know you're upset," Chet said to Marco in the locker room at Station 51. "But, hey, you've still got
to have my back when we're out there. Like in the Army, you know you've got family back home, but you've got to concentrate
on doing your job so you can get back home to them."
"Yeah, man, I know, I know," Marco said. "It'll be good to be back at work." He shut his locker door and
headed to the Dayroom with Chet.
"Don't forget your turnout," Chet reminded when they approached
the gear locker on the Apparatus Floor.
"Let me make sure I didn't," Marco said. Opening
both doors, he found the space under the "M. Lopez" vacant, and breathed a sigh of relief.
entering the Dayroom, they found the squad-less paramedics sitting at the table having coffee. Their turnout and helmets
were draped over two vacant chairs. As Chet and Marco sat down with their own morning caffeine fix, the familiar hum
of the Ford engine echoed through the station. A slamming of truck doors and...chuckling.
oughta be good," Johnny said to no one in particular, blowing on his coffee.
They heard the gear
locker doors open, then close, then the chuckling went toward the locker room.
"Well, that wasn't
very nice of them!" Chet complained.
"Ah, maybe they'll stop in after they've changed,"
said Roy. "C'mon, Johnny, we need to put our gear in the squad."
"Need to do our checks,
"Where's Stoker and Cap?" asked Marco.
More laughter from the
"C'mon, Marco, let's go do our checks."
Marco held back.
"Is the Phantom about to strike?"
Johnny, Roy, and Chet all three gave a genuinely surprised, "Huh?"
"Not unless you call him," said Chet.