My latest work in progress is an anthology of stories dedicated to the bravery of men and woman worldwide. ALL those that silently and without fanfare hold down the Front Lines. ALL the front lines. On the streets of any town, anywhere, you’ll find them, The Policeman, Paramedics, Firefighters, Nurses and Doctors and all their support personnel. Those on the battle-fronts in foreign lands, and those on the battle-fronts of streets peopled with others that have slipped through the cracks and crevices of the world we now live in. The many brave souls that endure the lasting, life changing flashbacks, and battle each and every day with the nightmare that is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
These are their stories.
Front-Line Heroes … An Anthology of short stories.
Suzanne Burke 2017.
Chad moved gingerly, his bruised ego competing with his other more visible bruises for distinction.
He’d once believed he could hold his liquor better than most guys his age, but his heaving stomach rapidly turned that hopeful little daydream into a blatant lie.
He made his way to the bathroom, pleased with himself for a moment as he looked around his small apartment, and found contentment by the order he found there.
He avoided the mirror this morning. His hands were too shaky to risk a shave.
The shower revived him to a reasonable degree. Orange juice and strong coffee took care of the rest.
He flicked a look at his phone, checked a couple of missed calls, but nothing urgent needed his attention for now.
Today was already planned, based on an assumption that the few drinks with the guys and girls from his future work place couldn’t possibly result in feeling less than the six-feet-four, well-muscled and lean persona that belonged utterly to Chad Williams. Ego is such an inconvenient thing. The thought made him smile for a moment.
He shook his head to clear it a little: he’d need to get moving if he wanted to see and map out the sections of the city that would most likely need his attention two nights from now.
He glanced across at the uniform and jacket that hung on the hook outside his wardrobe. The jacket, large and in screaming yellow with Paramedic emblazoned across it to identify him to anyone that needed to know why he was wherever they ended up.
He’d not so long ago worn a different uniform in a very different theater of combat.
“Old habits die hard, that’s how it goes down. I need to take the pulse of my new terrain, do you get that?”
He’d spoken those words to the paramedic he’d be riding with in just a few short days.
“Yeah … Oh yeah, I get it.” Katrina Georgiou gave him a brief smile. “But …” She stopped to better form the question, “I’m gonna be ridin’ with you, Chad. I need to know what you’re bringin’ with you from your past, into my current equation. Do you get that?”
“So … why did I choose to leave? Is that what you need to know?” He asked, with a mask rapidly descending over a face once young, but rapidly ageing.
“Yeah … that’ll about cover it.” she’d said.
Chad had considered his response for a few long moments. His face reflected sadness accompanied by a firm resolve. “When you do your job … you do it for strangers, and the chances of you being called to attend someone you know and care deeply about are minuscule at best. Would that be an accurate assessment?”
She nodded her head, “If you mean family, I’ve only ever heard about that happening, maybe twice or three-times in my twenty-three-years on the job. But, I guess there are many different layers of caring … aren’t there?” She questioned gently and then continued, “Go on.”
“The people that I saw, the dead and the dying, the ones I could help and the ones it was too late to offer anything but a prayer for, … a thankful prayer that death had been mercifully fast to take them. They weren’t nameless strangers. I ate with those men and women; I played cards and shot the breeze about baseball, and basketball and whatever other damned sport you care to name. I laughed with them and occasionally at them … and then far too often … I watched them bleed.
“So, here I am. These folks we’ll try and help, these folks will be strangers. Strangers I can tend to, to the best of my ability, and when they have been handed over to the hospital I can walk away without the need to hear the ones that care, the ones remaining, cry out their despair.” He looked into her face and saw the beginnings of understanding reflecting back at him from her kind eyes.
She touched his arm, “You’ll do me just fine.” She stood then and offered her hand, “Welcome to your new battle station, Chad.”
He shook the hand that she offered and left her.
He had uncharted terrain to explore. He’d grown up in this city, but he knew her pulse had changed.
He was almost done … only a couple of the dockyard places remained to be looked at more fully.
The pulse of the city had slowly revealed itself to him, making itself known to his hyper-alert senses. He recognized the heartbeat of this city he’d been born in … and over the course of three long days and nights he began to recognize the areas that could explode with testosterone-fueled rage, or the rage of futility … for he knew too well, that rage had its own unique pulse.
Fear signaled a different beat again, the fear pulse came with a residual echo, as if hopelessness had its own sounding chamber.
The visual images of fear burned themselves into his core memory … .
He would save them for later.
Partly satisfied that his recon had given him at least some parameters to work with, he crawled into bed and finally slept. The sunrise heralded the beginning of his new tomorrow.
He watched it rise, and spent the day quietly; his shift began at 2100 hrs … 9.00 pm he corrected inside his military trained head … . He wanted to be, needed to be … must be, on premium, optimal, alert.
He was a little tense on the drive in, and pulled over and breathed through it before he continued.
Katrina Georgiou, acknowledged him briefly “We already have a call out, Chad. I’ll fill you in once we get underway.”
Chad climbed up into the ambulance and seated himself in the shotgun position beside her.
“Ready to rock n’ roll?” She asked.
“Let’s do it.”
She nodded and drove out.
She pulled expertly into the heavy traffic of a Friday night in this city, and hit the siren. She grunted in satisfaction as cars began to pull over to let the ambulance through.
“Okay, Chad, here’s where we’re at. We have a Police officer down. Multiple shots fired, officers responding report that our patient is on the pavement at the entrance to the old art-gallery off George and Park. No movement detected.”
“We first in?”
“Looks that way.”
“Understood” … “ETA?”
Katrina pulled the ambulance expertly into the boundary already set up by the responding officers. It was bordered shoulder-to-shoulder with a blue breathing wall of police.
The officer on the sidewalk was around fifteen-yards from the edge of the police presence.
Katrina spoke up, “We need to get to the casualty.”
The officer in charge nodded his head. “I understand that. He’s my man, but we still have a shooter somewhere in that alley. The rear access is covered, so our shooter could be more than a little desperate right around now.”
The body on the sidewalk moved slightly, an arm suddenly extended to drape itself across the side of the man currently facing them.
Chad looked at the blood rapidly pooling on the sidewalk.
“Oh fuck … he’s gut shot.” he said half to himself. “We don’t have time for this, guys. He could bleed out pretty quickly.” He looked at Katrina and she gave him the yes nod he’d hoped for.
The cop in charge looked at them hard for just a moment “God bless you both.” He turned to his men. “Let’s do this … Jesus … okay, move … on my signal” He gave it, and put both he and another two officers in the direct line-of-fire to escort the paramedics the short distance to the fallen man in blue.
No shots came at them, and Katrina and Chad set to work.
They were both on autopilot now … focused only on what they needed to do to give this one the very best chance of surviving.
“We’ll need the gurney to move him.” Katrina spoke softly.
“It’ll take too long, Katrina. I’ll carry him, if you go ahead of me and hold the drip feed lines. Yeah?”
She agreed and they prepared him hurriedly for the necessary dash to the ambulance. Both of them focused only on what was ahead and not what could well be waiting to kill them all from behind.
The cops closed ranks and provided them a brief shield, falling back into line with a rapid but pleased glance from the others still waiting to be ordered to move in.
Katrina climbed in to the driver’s seat once they had their patient secured, and Chad sat alongside the unconscious man and willed him to hold on.
The sound of a second shot startled them both, and not waiting to hear more, Katrina revved the vehicle, set the sirens screaming … and got them all the hell out of Dodge.
The casualty made it the hospital and was still alive when he was handed across to the ready and prepared E.R staff.
Chad joined Katrina outside and was grateful when she offered him one of her cigarettes.
“That was quite a christening.” Katrina said as she lit up his Marlboro.
He looked down at his hands, relieved and a little surprised to find that they were steady.
“It was the same, wasn’t it … that Pulse beat you were talking about?” She asked suddenly.
He was surprised … then felt suddenly guilty at feeling that way. “Uh-huh … yeah, yeah … it was.”
She reached for his arm and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“You do know that those boys in blue will be buying you beers for a long while to come … If you let them that is. Will you let them in close enough to allow that, will you let them be grateful, Chad?”
Chad checked his pulse rate, and then gave her a weary smile.
“I have no choice. Do I? Can we check on him before end of shift?”
“Welcome back to the land of the still living, Chad.”
Chad just nodded his head.
Ready or not … He had finally come home.