The Best of Intentions
copyright 2012, Enfleurage
Chapter 3: Chemistry
It was a science, no different than chemistry. It was just a matter of understanding the interaction of chemicals and knowing the appropriate catalyst. In this case he was using ingredients instead of chemicals and the catalyst was heat. He was sure that this combination of ingredients at a temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit would work. His mother swore by it and as he understood basic chemistry at an intuitive level, it was simply a matter of application.
The question was entirely innocuous, but they both knew better.
"I'm pretty sure this'll be the recipe that works, Cap."
Stanley nodded and returned his attention to the equipment manifest that he'd spread across his corner of the kitchen table.
"Pay attention here, Mike. You'll be dealing with this stuff one day soon."
Stoker hid his grimace as he mashed the potatoes by hand. The more he saw the actualities of a Captain's job, the less appealing it seemed.
Marco leaned in through the kitchen door. "Sorry, Cap. We definitely left it on scene. I looked for it during overhaul and clean up but it must have been buried under the debris."
Stanley sighed heavily and rested his jaw in his right palm, staring glumly at the manifest.
"Headquarters on your case?"
"That pencil pusher at HQ actually had the audacity to tell me that if we left one more porta power on scene, however valid the reason, the County was going to start taking it out of my paycheck."
"No way," Marco breathed. "We could head back there right now…"
"Appreciate that, Marco, but it won't be necessary." Stanley spared Marco a quick smile. "I told the supply guy that I'd be happy to have him ride along, have him help us dig it out from under the foundation that gave way. I'll let him know that my offer still stands."
Marco snickered and went back to cleaning and checking the equipment that they'd used at the Nursing School fire. Chet was supposed to be checking their air bottles and refilling those below full from the station air compressor.
And speaking of Chet…was that singing?
He turned and exchanged glances with Stanley who'd raised his head in disbelief.
Chet singing was only slightly better than Chet yammering, as he'd been doing since the Squad backed into the bay about twenty minutes earlier. From the hum of voices, it sounded as if Gage & DeSoto had lingered there, which was just asking for trouble since Chet was undoubtedly looking for something to distract him from his assigned tasks.
"Should auld acquaintance be forgot…"
"Kelly, check the calendar," Stanley said in a voice loud enough to be clearly heard in the bay. "It's brushfire season, not the holiday season."
"Sorry, Cap," Chet said, as he popped through the kitchen door. "I was just reminding Gage of those immortal words of wisdom from that great Irish poet, 'The best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry' and I got a little carried away."
Or perhaps carried awry, Stoker thought and smiled down at the potatoes.
Stanley leaned back in his chair and sighed. "Scottish poet. And it was schemes, not plans."
Chet scratched the back of his head and crinkled his nose. "You sure about that, Cap? Blood calls to blood, you know, and I recognize the ancestral genius of a fellow Irishman…"
"Robert Burns is the national poet of Scotland. And you were born in Chicago, not Ireland, which makes you an American with Irish ancestry, not an Irishman. Now knock off your poetry recitation and get busy. I want every air bottle on the Engine checked."
Kelly mumbled something that sounded like "Sasanach" as he shoved his hands into his trouser pockets and ambled back towards the Engine, in no apparent hurry. "That explains it, of course. Burns being a fellow Celt…."
"And don't forget to check the hydro test dates," Stanley called after Chet.
Gage pushed past Chet impatiently in the doorway, calling a distracted greeting to Captain Stanley before opening the oven for a sniff. He turned frowning toward the refrigerator and stuck his head almost completely inside. DeSoto wandered in and stood, looking somewhat hesitant, near the table.
"You got a minute, Cap?"
Stanley looked happy to have any reason to close the books on his paperwork. "Sure, Roy. Have a seat."
Roy nodded and after taking a seat, leaned forward and spoke softly enough that Stoker couldn't make out a single syllable. He could see Stanley looking thoughtful and then nodding pensively.
"Yeah, okay. Thanks for letting me know." He glanced at his wristwatch. "She should be home now. I'll give her a call."
He gathered all his paperwork and tucked in under his arm.
"Ten minutes," Stoker called after him as he left the kitchen. Then he turned expectantly towards DeSoto with raised eyebrows.
"We ran into Cap's wife on our last call," Gage said as he poured himself a glass of milk. "Bystander, not the person who needed help."
"Friend of the patient," DeSoto corrected, sagging back into the chair.
"Everything go okay?" Stoker asked as he stirred the vegetables. Frozen succotash mix, cooked with a little water over heat was supposed to be hard to mess up but somehow they'd managed it a few times.
"MI at Rampart," Gage said.
"Cardiac Care Unit," Roy added.
His tone said 'doesn't look good.'
Stoker sighed. "Crap."
That news was bad enough on its own but the cases where they knew the victim or knew someone who knew the victim were worse by a factor of ten, maybe more. And since Cap's wife was a friend of the victim's, she'd be upset and who knew what that would do for Cap's mood the rest of the shift. A shift they weren't even halfway through.
Nice job, Mike, he thought. Very compassionate. He hit the potatoes a little harder than necessary when he mixed in the butter.
And okay, so it turned out that this wasn't the recipe that worked. It wasn't the one that tasted like the meatloaf he recalled liking so much, but no one complained, not aloud anyway. The mashed potatoes were popular, the succotash was not mushy or overcooked and since there were no leftovers, he considered the meal a qualified success. He was beginning to wonder about Platonic ideals and whether they applied to meal planning.
Cap was heads down focused on his dinner, his usual quiet self during any meal, but smiled and leaned back in his chair when he'd finished. And if his "Great dinner, Mike," sounded a little less enthusiastic than usual, well, he couldn't really be sure whether it was the mediocre meatloaf or an upset wife that was to blame.
Gage had dishes and Roy helped, which was fairly normal for the two of them.
Slopping soapy water as he scrubbed at the pot in which Mike had boiled the potatoes, Gage seemed to have a sudden thought and twisted his head to the right. "Hey, Roy, did you remember to call Joanne?"
Roy hesitated as he dried the vegetables pot and surprisingly glanced at Cap, who'd hauled out his paperwork again and sat at the kitchen table, head bowed, as he read some report. On the other side of the table, Mike doodled in the margin of the newspaper and pretended to be studying the crossword puzzle that someone had started and then abandoned half-done. At least whoever had done so had used a pencil so he could correct the errors he saw. He erased 'later' and penciled in 'adieu' for 9 down: parting word.
"Yeah," Roy said and rubbed a bit harder at the pot, frowning as he picked with a thumbnail at a small bit of lima bean that hadn't come away in the washing. "Yeah, I called her before dinner."
A loud splash as Gage dunked the big pot back into the soapy water.
Roy's mouth twitched and he shot another glance at Cap before shrugging. "I passed on the message and said maybe tonight wasn't the best time to call."
"Uh-huh." And then Gage looked up and made a face as if he'd just heard Roy's reply. "Yeah, okay." He began rinsing the pan. "You're probably right about that." And then Gage frowned and glanced at Cap too. "Bad timing, I guess. I should probably wait too."
Mike jiggled the pencil between his fingers and scowled at the puzzle. 12 Across: Not Gregarious. Seven characters.
"You know you could talk to Mike," Roy suggested in a quiet tone that probably would not have been overheard had he not spoken during a rare moment of silence as the television station switched from a commercial back to the program. Even Chet and Marco looked up and a flicker of eyes across the table indicated that maybe Cap wasn't as engrossed in his report as Mike had thought.
He was aware of Gage and DeSoto looking in his direction and he couldn't really pretend he hadn't heard. After all, it wasn't eavesdropping if everyone had heard Roy.
"Talk to me about what?"
Gage shifted his weight onto his right leg and twisted the dishrag until he'd wrung it dry. Then he turned around and leaned back against the sink and his face contorted into a parade of expressions.
Stoker sat back in his seat, content to watch the always amusing visual display of John Gage working through his thoughts and was almost disappointed when Roy snapped the towel and hit Gage in the left arm.
"Oww!" Gage turned and glared at his partner. "I'm gettin' to it! Jeez, give me a chance."
Roy sighed heavily and then picked up the big potato pot to begin drying it.
"There's a girl," he said, with a jerk of his head towards Gage, "and she's got him twisted about having a…"
"It's not about the girl, Roy," Gage insisted. "But you know, she kind of had a point about the… you know… plan." Warming to his subject, Gage leaned back against the sink again and faced Stoker. "So I was thinking about guys I knew who had a plan, who'd figured out what they wanted, you know, had an objective and got it, or were working their way toward it."
Mike stretched his legs out but continued to play with the pencil, because it gave him something to do while he tried to figure out exactly where Gage was going with this, and because it was kind of fun. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Stanley turn a little in his seat, so he could divide his attention between the report he was supposedly reading and his paramedic team to his left.
"So, you know I've wanted to be a firefighter since about forever and then when Roy talked me into the Paramedic thing…"
"I didn't talk you into," Roy objected. "You came to the information session of your own volition…"
"Yeah, me and about zero other guys," Gage said with an exaggerated eye roll. "As I was saying…"
He paused and shot his partner a look. Roy bowed and his sweeping hand gesture clearly indicated that Gage should continue.
"So after Roy talked me into the Paramedic thing, I knew that's what I wanted to do but it wasn't as if I knew that ahead of time. It just came along at the right time, you know?"
He paused again and since he was so clearly expecting some kind of acknowledgement, Stoker nodded.
"So, what I was wondering, was how you knew?"
Stoker blinked. He thought over the question again but still didn't really understand what Gage was asking him. He slid his gaze over to Stanley whose expression clearly said 'I don't know what the hell he's talking about either.'
"How did I know what?" he said.
"How you knew you wanted to be an Engineer?" Gage said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "You know, before you became one, or before you took the Engineer's exam. You must have had a plan or something, right?"
Stoker blinked. Gage wanted career counseling? From him?
"You know, Cap's probably the guy you want to talk to if you're looking for career advice."
"Well…" Gage hesitated, shifted his weight a little. "I was going to, but…"
Shit, Stoker realized. That's what Gage meant earlier about 'bad timing.'
"I'm not really looking for career counseling, you know. Just wondering how it was that you knew that being an Engineer was what you wanted to do."
And now Cap's eyes were glittering with amusement. He probably thought this was good practice, since of course in his mind, it was only a matter of time before Mike Stoker was a Captain one day and would need to provide some kind of guidance to his own men. Great. Thanks a lot, Cap.
The truth - 'I just did' - was just going to frustrate Gage so Stoker thought about it, thought hard about what it had been like to be a lineman at Station 29, with an Engine, Truck and Squad, hauling hose where and when his Captain told him, eating smoke, ventilating roofs, and getting up close and personal with the heat of a fire and going home with steam burns and blisters.
What he remembered most clearly was that he wanted to fight fires smarter. He'd decided that any firefighter could be the guy on the hose and sure, some had an instinct for it, almost a communion with fire itself and it was as if those guys could predict its behavior and move to counteract it in some kind of weird ballet, but he didn't have that instinct. What he did have was the brains to outthink it. Plus being a lineman just didn't give you the perspective to watch the total fire response, watch how the Incident Commander deployed the responding companies and be a conscious part of that response. And of course, there was the equipment; both the responsibility for making sure everything was working and the responsibility for making sure the crew had what it needed when it needed it.
"You know," he said finally, "it was probably not a lot different from why you decided to be a paramedic. I liked firefighting, but I wanted to do something more, so I watched what our Engineers at 29s did. It looked interesting and I wanted to learn more about it so they showed me."
There was silence then, as if Gage was waiting for him to say something more, give him a roadmap to coming up with a plan for his own life.
"And of course, he gets to drive the Engine," Chet said.
There was that, Mike acknowledged, with a shrug.
"Yeah, that too."
A/N: Sasanach is the Irish variant of Scottish word 'Sassenach,' a not always friendly word for 'Englishman ' and since Henry Stanley is very English name, that was a bit of a diss from Chet to his Captain.