A continuation of Recoveries... a KnightWATCH Story; may also be the core for a sequel
| "Okay, Connie, spill the beans."
"Spill the beans? I don't have any beans to spill, Joel. Not unless you count the refried beans in that combo platter I had for lunch. Something tells me you'd rather I didn't spill those."
"Then the talk I've been hearing, there's nothing to it?"
"Talk about you and a certain physical therapist at Carrolton. There's absolutely no truth to that at all?"
"Where," Connie laughed, "do you get these delusions, Joel?"
"I have my sources, Mac. And they tell me that you and a certain physical therapist are becoming an 'item,' as they say. That you and he are making eyes at each other. They've even told me that when he's around, you become some-what distracted while helping David with his physical therapy."
"Now look, bub, I'm not -"
"AND, according to my sources," Joel said, cutting her off, "this physical therapist has even asked you to the movies." Connie's face blushed beet red, and she didn't try to answer, rebut or otherwise respond. "Well?"
"Did you accept his offer?"
"Not that it's any of your business, mister nosey, but no."
"So, you turned him down? Why?"
"I didn't say I turned him down. If you have to know... I said I'd take a rain check. Look, I'm still not ready, Joel. Part of me... part of me refuses to give up hope for David."
"Why? Connie, are you sure that's -"
"Healthy? Hell no, Joel, I know it's not healthy at all. But 'healthy' and 'love' don't always coincide."
"They have for me, Connie."
"Braggart." Connie emphasized her point by reaching across the cab of the ambulance and mussing Joel's hair.
"Hey! I worked hard to get my hair to look just right."
"Yeah," Connie snorted. "How long did that take? A whopping five minutes?"
"Now look, I always put a concerted effort into looking good." Joel put his comb back in his pocket. "I'll have you know it wasn't five minutes... it was seven." Connie's laughter could be heard a block away. "Mac, it's good to hear you laugh like that again. I think you've turned a corner."
"I've turned several, Joel. The fact that I'm sitting in an ambulance at 23rd and Dinwiddie on a Tuesday afternoon is proof enough of that."
"You think there are more corners to turn?"
"Definitely. You brought up one of them. Hell, I know David is seriously attracted to someone else."
"And one of your future corners, I take it, is letting go of him in terms of romance and/or relationships?"
"I'm not convinced she's attracted to him in the same way he's attracted to her."
"Rebounds rarely work, Connie. Don't plan on catching him on one. Be his friend, not his lover. Besides, you didn't give the brush-off to his physical therapist... what's his name?"
"Barry. Barry Polczinski. David sometimes calls him 'Barry the Bastard' because he pushes David so hard."
"Wait, I've met him. Big, burly guy. Looks like he could play offensive line in the NFL. He struck me as a pretty decent guy."
"And when did YOU meet him, bub?"
"It was several months ago. Amanda and I stopped by to see David about a week after he was moved out of ICU. Anyway, he seemed like a nice guy. And you must have seen something you liked. After all," Joel teased, "you did take a rain check instead of giving him a flat-out 'no.' Now don't tell me that you didn't find him at least a little bit interesting."
"Yeah, he's interesting, all right. And he can be a real bastard when he wants a patient to do something. The thing is, even when he's acting mean, you can tell he's doing it because he cares, that he wants to help. Plus, he just has this..."
"Has what, Connie? Just what," Joel asked with a pronounced leer in his voice, "does this guy have that keeps you from shooting him down?"
"Get your mind out of the gutter, boy! If you must know -"
"Oh, I must, I must!"
"That does it! I'm never renting 'Blazing Saddles' during our shift again! Anyway, Barry just has this... big 'teddy bear' quality about him. You just want to cuddle up with him."
"Then why don't -" Alert tones sounded from the radio at the same time Joel and Connie's pagers started beeping. Joel was putting the ambulance in gear as the dispatcher's voice came over the speaker.
"Knight 53, Knight five-three, Knight 21, Knight, two-one. Summit Hill Fire requesting mutual aid for an airplane crash. Current location is just south of Summit Hill Air Park. Time out: sixteen-twenty-three."
"Knight 53," Connie said into the microphone, "responding to Summit Hill Air Park from 23rd and Dinwiddie. Joel, isn't -"
"I know what you're thinking. A lot of planes fly in and out of there. Don't buy yourself trouble."
"Here you are, David."
"What's it look like, future cowboy?"
"God love ya, Annabelle, you never give up. When you bring me magazines, half of them are things like 'American Quarter Horse' or catalogs for horse-riding gear. What makes you so certain that I'm going to ride a horse?"
"One, it's actually good physical therapy."
"Wait," a new voice said from the doorway. "Riding a horse is physical therapy?"
"So Annabelle claims, Mel. What brings you up here?"
"Well, I'm here to check up on you, lazy butt. I also brought you some new reading material. Be a good boy and read it all, and you just might get a reward."
"Can you believe her, Annabelle? Treating me like I'm some little kid? For heaven's sake!"
"Heaven's got nothing to do with it, future cowboy," Annabelle replied. "Melinda, you've only known this bum for a short while. How did you figure out the proper way to treat him so quickly?"
"I just look at it as a case of 'boys and their toys,' ma'am. Treat him like he's got that mindset, and it's easy."
"Now wait a cotton-picking -" David's protest was cut off when Annabelle put a hand on his mouth.
"Melinda," Annabelle replied, "cut out the 'ma'am' stuff. You know my name is Annabelle. And no, David, we're not plotting. Not yet, anyway." The two women looked at each other and started giggling.
"Now what is this about horseback riding as physical therapy?"
"Do you ride, Melinda?"
"It's been a long time, ma'am... excuse me, Annabelle. And I was so sore afterwards that I needed the physical therapy. Or, at least a good massage."
"Then you weren't riding enough, Melinda. Maybe you can join our future cowboy here for a few rides when the time comes."
"You're actually serious about this," Melinda asked, shaking her head and softly chuckling. "How do you use horseback riding as physical therapy?"
"It has to do with the way a horse's body moves when walking," Annabelle replied. "For each step a horse takes, its body makes at least a hundred different movements, and the rider has to adjust to each movement..."
David tuned out the lecture; he'd heard it before and wasn't interested in a repeat performance. Looking across the room at his television, David was about to flip the channel away from Oprah Winfrey when a "news bulletin" slide suddenly appeared on the screen. It was immediately replaced by a somber-faced black man behind an anchor desk.
"Hey, guys, hold up here. Something's on the TV." David turned up the volume so all three could hear the anchorman start his report.
"... has just learned of a helicopter crash approximately three miles south of Summit Hill Air Park. Details are still sketchy at this time, though Summit Hill police say the crash did not occur in a developed area. We have a mobile news unit en route to the scene. Stay tuned to Action 10 News for further updates. We now return you to The Oprah Winfrey Show."
"Oh... my... God..."
"David?" Melinda put her hand on his. "David, what's wrong?"
At the scene, Connie, Joel and a Summit Hill firefighter were treating one of the crash victims. Knight 21's crew, Bob Kerwin and Ron Jacobs, was treating a second victim a few yards away. An engine/rescue company from the Summit Hill Fire Department was standing around the wrecked helicopter; one of their firefighter-paramedics had just crawled back from his perch part way inside the wreckage. Joel looked up just in time to see one of the firefighters throw a hand tool to the ground. After catching Joel's eye, the firefighter-paramedic shook his head from side to side.
"Connie... it's over up at the aircraft."
Connie looked over to see a firefighter moving a large tarp through a hole in the windshield. She shook her head. "Joel," she said with a heavy sigh, "Tell dispatch. Ask them how far out Sky Two is, and see if Sky One or one of StarMed's aircraft is also coming in. Make sure it's not public."
Joel walked several steps away and pressed the transmit button on his shoulder-mounted microphone. "Knight 53 to Dispatch on Tac Three."
ൽ, Dispatch copies you on Tac Three. Go ahead."
"Status of SkyKnight 2, please."
"Sky Two currently showing seven minutes to your location, 53. Do you have a patient update?"
"Dispatch, is this a scrambled frequency?"
"Uh, negative, 53, only the 800-megahertz system is scrambled."
"Copy, 53 switching to 800 system. Bring Sky Two over to 800 also." Joel reached to the main radio unit on his belt and switched channels. ൽ to dispatch on 800."
ൽ, dispatch copies you on 800 system."
"Knight 53 to SkyKnight 2, do you copy?"
"Knight 53, this is Emily H. on Sky Two. We read you loud and clear on the 800 frequency. Why did you want to talk on this channel, 53?"
"I didn't want this going out on a channel the scanner squirrels can pick up, Emily. The aircraft involved is StarMed 3; we have one confirmed fatality and two critical patients. Dispatch, is there a second aircraft inbound to this scene?"
"Affirmative, 53. StarMed 1 is about five minutes behind Sky Two; we'll relay your latest update to them."
"Sky Two medic copies all as well." Emily Hargraves' comment on the radio was more a heavy sigh than spoken words. "Switching back to Tac Three for medical report."
Joel switched the channel on his radio again as he turned back to where his partner and a firefighter were treating their patient. Before he could take a step, Joel was face-to-face with the firefighter-paramedic who had crawled into the wreckage to treat the pilot. Seeing the tears in the man's eyes, Joel placed a hand on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry," the firefighter half-spoke, half-sobbed. "There wasn't anything I could do; she was already gone." Joel pulled him into a hug.
"You did what you could, man. Sometimes we can't do anything. May God have mercy on her soul," Joel half-whispered, as though saying a short prayer. "God have mercy on us all."
"David, I'm familiar with Summit Hill Air Park." Melinda was sitting next to David's bed, holding his right hand as she tried to keep him calm. Annabelle Hollis was next to Melinda.
"Yes, StarMed 3 is based there," Melinda said, then rushed on. "So are several other helicopters, and it's a popular place for transient aircraft to stop for fuel. Don't start leaping to conclusions about who crashed, okay?"
"She's right, honey," Annabelle said as she stood up. "Look, I have to get going so I can beat the traffic out of town." She kissed David on the forehead. "You be good now, and do what the folks here tell you."
"Yes, Mom," David sarcastically groaned.
"Now cut that out," Annabelle chuckled, giving his face a playful slap. "I'll stop by later this week. Are you still on a morning therapy schedule?"
"So far... but I wouldn't put it past 'Barry the Bastard' to change that," David grumbled. "Shoot, he might change things on me just to see my reaction."
"Well, kiddo, you let us know if anything does change. And remember... it only takes me a few minutes to saddle up a horse. That goes for you too, Melinda. Tootles!" Annabelle left to good-byes from both David and Melinda.
"Okay, mister," Melinda said, turning to face David. "Why don't you like horses?"
"Because they're big, some of them are mean, and they can stomp you without realizing it," David growled. "The last time I tried to ride one, I kept falling off. I was healthy then; imagine what I'd do in my current condition!"
"Yeah, them coin-operated ponies at Wal~Mart can be dangerous."
"Wal~Mart? Why, I ought to -"
"Ought to what, bub?"
David didn't reply; he simply looked into Melinda's eyes for several long seconds, his mouth slowly curving into a mischievous grin.
"David, I see that gleam in your eyes; don't get any -" Melinda's comment was cut off when a bed pillow suddenly covered her mouth. "Good shot, mister," she said as the pillow dropped into her lap. Trying to feign anger, she continued. "You only get one freebie. And beware... I have access to sharp pokey things like IV catheters."
"Has anyone ever told you that you fight dirty?"
"Oh, yeah," she replied. "Most of them are the Saturday night regulars on the booze-binge circuit. I think you've brought a few of them in yourself."
"Oh, boy," David mused. "One of them always sticks in my mind. A sad case, really. An old vet named Arthur Cannondale. He was a Marine in Vietnam, says his wife divorced him during his second tour of duty over there. After that he started drinking..."
"And he never stopped, did he?"
"Unfortunately, yes... hang on, they're starting the five o'clock news."
"Wait, it's already five o'clock?"
"Shhh." David turned up the television volume.
"... our lead story at this hour, tragedy in Summit Hill. We take you now to Action 10 News reporter Anita Martinez live at the scene. Anita?" The picture changed to a middle-aged Latino woman standing next to a police car, microphone in hand.
"Thank you, Glenn. Details are still sketchy at this hour, but Summit Hill police say a helicopter with three people on board crashed at approximately 4:15 this afternoon. Authorities aren't releasing any information regarding injuries or fatalities, but we have seen two life flight helicopters fly into and out of the crash scene, which is roughly a mile behind our location. Authorities aren't letting us get any closer. The few roads leading into the crash site need to be kept clear for emergency vehicles. From south of Summit Hill Air Park, this is Anita Martinez for Action 10 News."
"Anita, this is Glenn Rhoden in the news center. We're getting unconfirmed reports there has been at least one fatality. Have officials on the scene said anything to either confirm or deny this?"
"No, Glenn. Officials at the scene will only confirm that it was a helicopter that crashed; they've refused to make any comment about the people on board. It should be noted a life flight helicopter, StarMed 3, is based at nearby Summit Hill Air Park, but officials will not comment if that is the aircraft that crashed this afternoon, Glenn."
"Thank you, Anita. Action 10 News reporter Anita Martinez, reporting live from Summit Hill.
"In other news today, state legislators are debating an increase in the food sales tax. Action 10 News reporter Scott Braeden has the details."
"David, talk to me. What's wrong?"
"Someone... a real close friend... works on StarMed 3. Her name is Christi Pendwalton. We've been... very close over the years." Closer than I want to admit here and now, David told himself. Especially that night seven years ago. "She's the person who got me to channel my energies into EMS work."
"David, don't jump to conclusions. Even if it was StarMed 3 that crashed, she may not have been aboard. Don't buy yourself problems, okay, bub?" Melinda gave his hand a squeeze, and David tightened his hold.
"We now return," the news anchor blared from the television, "to Anita Martinez in Summit Hill. Anita, I understand the police have issued a statement?"
"Yes, Glenn. Paul Van Hoeck, the deputy chief of the Summit Hill police, read a statement to the news media here at the crash scene. He did confirm that StarMed 3 was the aircraft involved in the crash. However, when asked about the status and identity of the crew members, he refused to comment. Back to you, Glenn."
"Thank you, Anita. And that wraps up the news for this half hour. Stay tuned for 'The CBS Evening News,' followed by Action 10 News at six. I'm Glenn Rhoden, thanks for watching."
"David, I'm sorry, but I have to go. My shift starts in 30 minutes, and I need to finish getting ready."
"I understand, Mel." David gave her hand another affectionate squeeze. "Come see me when you get the odd chance, okay? I can use the company. In the meantime, you take care of yourself." An awkward silence drifted over them as Melinda sat beside David's bed, a look of indecision written on her face.
"Mel, relax... you don't have to kiss me yet." David said it with a smile, but both of them could feel a small undercurrent of truth in his words.
Melinda smiled a shy, demure smile and left. Once in the elevator, she hugged herself. "No... I'm not ready yet."
Back in his room, David flipped through the TV. channels and found nothing to capture his attention. Then he picked up the phone and dialed. "Hello, Father Grozny? It's David Longfellow... yes, I'm doing a little better. Father, can I ask a favor? I know it's short notice, but could you drop by my room at the rehab unit this evening?"
In the ER, Stephanie Berglund took one look at Melinda's face and pulled her into the staff lounge. "Okay, Mel, what did he say that's got you so upset?"
"Don't bullshit me, hon. I can tell something happened to upset you. Do I need to have another talk with him?"
"Oh, God, no! He didn't really say anything, certainly not anything to try to upset me. Actually, he made a little joke... that ended up having some truth in it."
"And that joke was?"
"That I didn't have to kiss him yet."
"Okay. Why does that have you on the verge of tears?"
"Because... because before I left, I couldn't decide if I should kiss him or not! I think..."
"Yes, Mel?" Stephanie was smiling, her hope for where this conversation was going very clear in her voice. "You think what?"
"I think I'm becoming attracted to him! We've gotten to be friends over the last few weeks, Steph, you know that. But it's starting to feel stronger now -" Melinda was caught by surprise in Stephanie's bear hug.
"Oh, Melinda, I'm so proud of you! You're starting to let yourself see the possibilities!"
"I'm not proud, Steph. I'm scared! I'm not supposed to have feelings for him! Hell, getting involved with him could get me fired!"
"Oh, pooh on that! Yes, he WAS your patient. For maybe one hour in a trauma room. But he's not your patient anymore. And he's not under the care of the trauma service, either. So, unless you've joined the rehab center staff, you're not breaking any rules by being involved with him. AND, young lady, finding yourself attracted to someone is NOT the same as being involved with them!"
"Okay, okay, I'm not involved with him yet," Melinda ruefully chuckled. "Leave it to you to find all the technicalities. But... I don't think I'm ready, Steph. I'm certainly not ready to love him."
Please note - the following section in red may be altered/deleted to match other parts of "Recoveries... a KnightWATCH Story"
"If it's meant to happen, Mel, it will. I already know you're not ready. The proof is on your necklace." Steph placed a finger between Melinda's breasts, tapping the engagement ring from Jeremy.
"I know, Steph. I've tried, but I can't let go of him. I've even been to his grave a few times, intending to leave it there. But I still can't do it yet. I even took David there last month."
"What? Whatever possessed you to do that?"
"I was driving David around so he could get some fresh air and see something besides his room. We started talking about ourselves, and before I knew it we were at the cemetery. So I took him to the grave site, and told him some of what happened."
"What did he do?"
"He didn't say anything... just took one of my hands in both of his. We looked at each other for a few minutes. Then I knelt down beside David and asked him to take the necklace off for me. He refused."
"Why did I ask David to do that? Because I felt everything that was going on that day meant I had to."
"Why did David refuse?"
"He said it was something I had to do myself."
"He's right, Mel, and you know it. You have to be the one to let go. No one can do that for you. When the time is right... you WILL let go. Now, take a few minutes to get yourself together, then come out to the nurses station for changeover. It won't take long; I think there's only three patients in the ER right now. See you in a bit."
Melinda walked over to a sink outside the lounge's bathroom. After several minutes drying her eyes and blowing her nose, she looked into the mirror. Still thinking of Jeremy, she saw the dour look on her face, and how even her smile slumped into a frown.
Then she thought of David, remembering him telling her several times to "turn that frown upside-down". Before she realized it, the face in the mirror was animated, its smile bright. It was a face she almost didn't recognize. "I'm not ready yet," she told the face in the mirror. Her left hand fingered the engagement ring hanging under her scrub shirt. "No, not yet... but I'm edging closer."
After Melinda walked out, Karl Marx exited the bathroom. He had taken advantage of his pit stop to eavesdrop on the two nurses. He washed his hands, then smacked them together as an evil leer spread across his face. "All right, you little bitch... I've got you just where I want you."
"... where do you want us?" Knight 53 had just called clear of the crash site. Connie and Joel were both depressed by the death of the StarMed 3 pilot. Their patient, the flight paramedic, had been flown out first on SkyKnight Two. They then assisted Knight 21 with their patient, the flight nurse, and helped clean up the mess made in treating both patients.
"Knight 53, per on-duty supervisor, return to The Castle. Repeat, be en route to headquarters."
"Knight 53 copies." Joel tried to put the microphone away, but missed its holder. It took him several more tries to get it hooked in. "Damn, I can't even do that right. Lord, get me off the street, and now!"
"I think that's exactly what's in store for us, Joel."
"Connie, if they offer us a debriefing -"
"We're both taking it, Joel. We both need it. Plus, I learned my lesson when David was hurt. I'm not gonna go through something like that alone again." The remainder of the drive back was spent in silence. After parking their ambulance, Connie and Joel walked to the supervisor's office.
"Connie, Joel, please come in." Supervisor Jim Perry directed them to chairs in front of his desk. Ron Jacobs and Bob Kerwin from Knight 21 joined them a few minutes later. "Okay, gang. I've been talking with StarMed and Summit Hill Fire. They're coordinating Critical Incident Stress Debriefings. Should any of you feel the need, you're more than welcome. In fact, they want you four to come, as well as the crew on SkyKnight Two." Jim paused then continued, "I'm also supposed to tell all of you 'Thanks for trying your best'." Again, he paused for a brief second. "I can't force any of you to participate in the debriefings, but I think it would be in your best interests."
"Jim," Joel said, "I'd appreciate any info you can get on CISD. Connie and I have already decided to take advantage of it. Hell, I'm half lost right now, I couldn't even -"
"Wait," Ron Jacobs interrupted. "They want all four of us and SkyKnight Two? Why? How many of their people didn't make it?"
Jim Perry tried to answer, but found he had to take several deep breaths first. "None of them survived. Sky Two flew the paramedic to University; she died in the OR. StarMed flew the nurse to University as well; he was pronounced on arrival.
"StarMed is standing down all operations and getting their people together. As soon as they tell me about CISD meetings and times, I'll let you know. I've already arranged for a new crew to take over on Sky Two." Jim took another deep breath before going on.
"All of you have two hours or less left in your shifts, so clean up the rigs and park 'em. We've got enough units on duty to cover, and I can jump on a truck if need be. I'll make sure you all get paid for the whole shift."
Jim stood up and walked around his desk. "If any of you want to talk at some point, I'm on duty all night." Within a few minutes, all five people were exchanging handshakes and the occasional hug.
"Everybody, Listen up," Joel said as the group broke apart. "If any of you are interested, after we take care of the trucks, it's pizza, beer and memories at my place. Don't worry, Amanda will understand."
"Want me to bring the beer, Joel?" Bob Kerwin asked. Everyone chuckled; they knew Bob was a devout Baptist who never touched alcohol. "Seriously, Joel, it won't cause problems us showing up on short notice?"
"Trust me," Joel answered, "Amanda won't mind. I just have to give her a little warning. I'll be out to help you guys with the trucks as soon as I give her a call." As the other three left for the ambulance bay, Joel picked up a phone on Jim's desk.
"Hey Jim," Joel said, listening to the ringing at the other end, "here's my address and phone." He wrote a short note. "Can you see to it that the folks on Sky Two know about the gathering at my place?"
"Count on it, Joel."
"Thanks... hello, Amanda? Listen, I know it's short notice, but we're having company tonight... yeah, it's about the crash. Connie's coming over, and possibly the crews from Knight 21 or Sky Two. I'm not really sure how many folks are coming... How long? We've still got to clean up the trucks, and I'm gonna pick up some pizzas on the way home. Can you do me a favor? Pick up some two-liters of root beer and coke? Thanks, hon. Love you!!!" As Joel hung up the phone, three $20 bills plopped down next to his hand.
"The pizza's on me," Jim said as Joel looked questioningly at the money. "You had a good idea there. Root beer?"
"I promised these folks beer. I never said what kind," Joel replied. He then added, "I think alcohol would probably be a mistake tonight."
"Good thinking. Hoist a glass or two for me, okay?"
"Thanks, Jim. I'll pay you back -"
"You'll pay me back by grieving in a healthy way, Joel. Don't worry about the money. Now, get your truck cleaned up and go pick up your pizzas."
"Yes, sir!" Joel snapped a salute, which Jim returned with a smile.