Bright Lights and Cold Steel

As promised, I’ve been developing some short stories based on Twenty-Five at the Lip, my EMS novel. After sitting down and giving some thought to what I’d like to see in a short story, as well as my natural fascination with historical fiction, I’ve come up with the first of these. I’m aiming for somewhere between 8K and 10K words, or about the length of a couple of chapters in one of my other books. What I’ve come up with I think you’ll like as well. So here’s the first thousand words, give or take.

Bright Lights and Cold Steel is about Richard Henry and John Davis, the company’s owner and CEO, back in 1982 when they were still known as Pocasset Ambulance. There will also be some other faces you recognize along the way, as well as some new ones who will most likely make their way into other short stories, or even future novels if they pan out.

Bright Lights and Cold Steel

IMG_3223“Ain’t that a shame?” Richard Henry muttered to himself turning the wheel past the old church on Bedard Street. The Cadillac’s serpentine belt was squeaking and the owner-operator, John Davis, snoozing beside him snorted awake.

“Hmm? What?” John asked. Richard pointed his thumb at the remnants of the church Our Lady of Perpetual Mercy that had caught fire the week before. The diocese had been refurbishing the structure when a fire broke out. The high winds had kicked the fire into high gear and the Borden City Fire Department had called all hands as well as mutual aid from Segregansett and Ocean Grove. Richard had been manning the wheel of the Cadillac that day and John had called all five of Pocassett Ambulance’s units to the scene to stand by.

At twenty-seven Richard knew that this would be one of the biggest fires he’d ever respond to, but he felt a sense of loss at not being on the line when Ocean Grove’s mutual aid arrived to cover the rear of the block from the exposure of the expanding fire. Several tenement houses had caught across the street and Ocean Grove’s two engines and the ladder truck were kept busy protecting the neighboring structures from the raging fire.

“The church,” Richard said. “All those homes.”

John brushed off the remnants of the blueberry muffin he’d ben eating that morning from his khaki uniform shirt. The black tie and pants had earned more than a few comments about whether or not Pocassett Ambulance was actually working emergency medical treatment and transport in Borden City, or if they were planning on invading Poland. John Davis had ignored the comments, having received a compliment about the uniforms from a hospital administrator at Borden City General Hospital. They were looked on more favorably than the white shirt and cranberry colored pants of TranStar Ambulance on the North End.

“What do you care? You’re not even Catholic,” John muttered, pulling the brim of his cap back down over his eyes.

“Well it’s a place of worship for people. It’s where they get peace, you know?”

John pushed the cap up onto the top of his head and stretched his back. He reached into his shirt pocket and retrieved a pack of Camel cigarettes. He tapped the bottom of the soft pack on the dash of the ambulance under the foam dice that hang from the rear view.

“Take it from me,” John said. “I’m scared to death of the nuns. They used to whack our knuckles with rulers in school, and they had these clackers they’d use when we weren’t paying attention. The sound still scares the shit out of me.” He lit a cigarette and offered the pack to Richard who shook his head.

“Got my own,” he said reaching into the center console beside the run clipboard. The pack of Marlboro was fresh and he opened it, tearing the foil away with his teeth.

“Suit yourself,” John said.

“Unfiltered Camel is just a little too much for me,” Richard said.

“That’s because your balls haven’t dropped yet,” John said. “You’re still playing cowboys and indians with the Marlboro Man.”

Richard popped in the dash cigarette lighter while he pulled a cigarette out of the pack with his teeth. John rolled his window down and hung his arm out, the cigarette blazing in the air as they cruised north, making the morning trek to Marchand’s Bakery for coffee and donuts. The South End was considered Pocassett territory, but it wasn’t uncommon for TranStar to be called down to the end of the city when a patron would call their service rather than Pocassett. P came before T in the Yellow Pages, but John reminded his crews that customer service was everything and that every time they were rude to a patient or their family they lost business to TranStar.

The company had started out with two units back in 1973, and Richard was one of the first people brought in to start the business with John. They started out with a van that had to be kickstarted, and another Cadillac that had drifted into the river when it was put in neutral instead of park. Another five units had been brought in since then, including the Cadillac they were riding in that morning. Like the price of gas, the rates for service increasing each year. Now they were up to $20 for service and $1.50 a mile, not including treatment. John had started off humble enough, but since gaining some notoriety in the community and the favor of the fire department chief and the city commission, the status had gone to his head a little. Richard was the only one he’d work with, which Richard wasn’t always terribly thrilled about. Their shifts were twenty-four hours long and after six PM they went back to headquarters where they could eat dinner and watch television on the black and white set complete with rabbit ears and tin foil.

Richard pulled up alongside the curb outside Marchand’s Bakery, a pair a police cruisers in front. Marchand’s was something of a local hangout for the police, and John was trying to make ways with another city department, though it was known that the police favored TranStar as one of the sergeant’s daughters was a dispatcher for them.

John and Richard climbed out of the Cadillac, the two officers glancing up at them and nodding politely.

“How you doin’, boys?” John asked offering his glad-handed shake to both of them. He handed them each a business card, while Richard leaned on the hood of the Cadillac. He dragged on his cigarette watching his boss, a man just one year his senior, trying to make ways with the police. “Buy you a coffee? What are you drinking?”

“All set, John,” the first officer said. They both raised paper cups showing their need for caffeine had been met. He smiled at them awkwardly, and turned to his partner.

“Cream, no sugar,” Richard said, the cigarette clenched in his teeth. John pointed his finger at Richard like a gun and winked.

“You got it, Marlboro Man.”

Richard put his free hand into his pocket and flicked his cigarette with the other. The two officers looked at him unbelievingly, before nodding to him with a bit more regard.

“How ya doin’, Rich?” the first officer asked. He had a mustache and his cap was on slightly crooked, contrasting the straight angles of his cruiser and the light bar. His name was Charlie Souza. His New England accent shone through and he stretched as he placed the paper cup on the roof of the squad car.

“Ah, ya know,” Richard answered. The officers nodded again.

“Did you go in at the church fire last week?” the second officer asked. The second officer’s name was Billy Donnelly, and Richard had gone to school with him, graduating with the class of 1973. “The Grove was there.”

“Yea, nah,” Richard answered shaking his head. “I was there, but here,” he said pointing to the Cadillac he was leaning against.

“George musta been pissed you weren’t there,” Souza remarked.

“Nah, Captain Peirce understands that work comes first,” Richard answered. “He told me he had plenty of guys on scene, he wanted me where I was incase one of them had to get taken out on the stretcher.”

“Makes sense,” Donnelly said. “You want somebody you know working on your guys if they go down.”

“Ther’ll be other fires,” Souza said. “You’ll get in the next one. I’ll tell you know thing though,” he said candidly. “You’re the only guy from Pocassett who touches me if I need a ride in the meat wagon.”

Donnelly chuckled and nodded. “Same here,” he said.

“Why the fuck are you still working for that whacker?” Souza asked.

“He pays,” Richard said shrugging. “There’s a loyalty thing there too.”

“He ain’t gonna be loyal to you if the chips are down,” Donnelly said. “Take the civil service exam. Go fire, or shit, come work for us. Any one of us would vouch for you, and you know half the guys on fire would too.”

Richard nodded, dragging thoughtfully on his cigarette. He liked volunteering, and didn’t want to make that a paying job that he might start to dislike. Besides that, his father had something of a reputation in union circles, having driven a coal truck through a picket line twenty years before.

“Hey how’s your sister?” Officer Donnelly asked.

“Doin’ good,” Richard said. “Just had her second boy. Little Scotty.”

“Scott Henry,” Officer Souza remarked. Richard shook his head.

“Scott Carter,” Richard corrected. “She got married last year.”

“Ah shucks,” Donnelly said. “You tell her I said hello if she wants to trade up.”

Richard laughed, nodding politely. Cynthia had married an engineer. He was good to her, really good considering what he’d taken on. He brought in money too, buying them a nice house in Portsmouth.

“Trade up to what?” Souza scoffed. “Your Irish ass?”

“Cynthia’ and Rich are Irish too, ain’t you?” Donnelly asked.

“Hard not to be around here,” Richard said. Inside the Cadillac the radio squawked, the sound causing Officers Donnelly and Souza to check their own cruisers to make sure it wasn’t theirs…

Bright Lights and Cold Steel Copyright © 2015 by James Windale

Cover art Copyright © 2015 by James Windale

James Windale is the author of Twenty-Five at the Lip and Tuesday’s Gone. Both Titles are available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle and all Kindle-enabled devices. Click the images below to redirected to the Amazon sites.

IMG_2067 Official Tuesday's Gone Kindle Cover


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