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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes

Ambulance Chaser
Greg Jacob

“So what’ve we got?”  Jim didn’t answer.  He had been a paramedic for nearly 23 years now, and this kid was so boot that he probably shouldn’t even be allowed to ride in the front seat yet.  Back in the day, you had to have at least 3 months on board and have been through a significant amount of hazing before you could even ask the senior man if you could sit up front. 

Things change, thought Jim, and not for the better.  But being the saltiest dog on the porch, the hospital liked for him to break in these pups on a regular basis.  The kid was looking at Jim now, realizing that enough time had elapsed since he asked the question to understand that it would not be answered.
            “DOA.”  Jim stated flatly.  “No need to rush.  We have to wait for CSU to finish up before we can go in.”
            The kid turned back and stared out the windshield.  He was stunned silent, having had his newbie enthusiasm forcibly stripped from him moments before.  The kid was surprised that his supervisor assigned him to Jim as a ride-a-long even though as a full blown paramedic he rated his own rig.  He now regretted not saying something about that, but what are you gonna do?
            “Look, man, there’s things you gotta understand.  DOA pickups are the worst part of the job.  There’s no one to save, no heroics.  We’re basically driving a garbage truck right now, you get me?  So don’t jump in my truck all hot to trot when all were doin’ is taking out the trash!”
            The kid stared thoughtfully as the ambulance tires swished down the rain-soaked streets, wondering how the families of the dead would feel about that assessment.  He wanted to tell Jim to shut the fuck up.  He hoped like all hell in 10 years he wasn’t so goddamn cynical.  Even if Jim wasn’t paramedic certified like he was, he still respected the old timer.  He was a fellow first responder.  Where the rubber met the road.  A badass.  That’s what the kid wanted more than anything was to be a badass and not some sterile, surgical rat like his father.  The kid wondered what happened to Jim to make him such a piece of shit.  Jesus, the kid thought, have some pride, you fat piece of shit and grow the fuck up or find another…
            The radio squelch interrupted the kid mid-thought, and he realized that Jim was still droning on.  “Y’see, man, there’s three types of DOA s:  Stiffs, Stinkers, and Poppers.”  Jim was completely confident in his role as Elder and Mentor, and he had enough sea stories to entertain this punk for weeks on end without ever repeating one.  He had felt bad about being snippy with the kid on his first day out, so he thought he’d lock him on a little. 
“Stiffs have had rigor set in, and depending on how they’re in situ, you may have trouble getting the gurney in the back of the truck.  If you lean on 'em hard enough, something will break!  Ha!”  Jim’s laugh was rough and explosive, causing the kid to jump. 
“A stinker’s been there awhile and already begun to decompose.  Gotta watch the extremities on those ‘cause they like to slough off from time to time.  Hell, one night we was baggin’ a guy up and when we lifted him me and Kelso was standing straight up, looking at each other holding his hands and feet like a pair of socks and gloves with the rest of him still lyin’ on the deck!”  Jim was really talking the kid up, wildly gesticulating and barely keeping hold of the wheel during his storytelling.
“Poppers are the worst of the bunch.  Been dead so long the gases created by the decomposition have filled the body cavity making the skin split and turn the DOA inside out.  Guys pop out the gut, women from their cootch.”  Jim took a beat to assess the impact of this overtly sexual reference and decided not to follow up as the kid seemed touchy, like a homo.  “Always carry Vicks Vapo-Rub and shove some up your nose.  Keep you from puking.”
The kid remained silent during his “lesson”.  He still questioned the wisdom of putting a new employee in the hands of such a wretched individual, but at least it helped pass the time as they thundered up the interstate.
The Holiday Inn was just off the exit, and Jim expertly glided the oversized ambulance through the maze of firetrucks, Stateies, County Mounties and marked units.  There were a few Ford Taurus sedans parked neatly in the handicapped spaces.  “Fucking Feds. ” Jim remarked.
“Be right back.”  Jim grunted as he heaved his mass over the side of the seat, sliding the rest of the way down until his Hi-Tecs hit the ground.  The kid watched Jim work the crowd like a politician doing the grip and grin with dozens of uniforms and plainclothes officers, then slip under the crime scene tape and walk into the motel room.
The door to the ambulance boomed open a few minutes later, snapping the kid out of his mental memorization of skull foramen as Jim hauled himself back inside. 
 “What’s up?” The kid ventured after a few seconds of scarce silence.
 “I forgot to tell you about another kind of DOA, man.”  Jim’s voice was hollow and thin.  All pretense was gone and he stared at the steering wheel, softly stroking the Eagle, Globe and Anchor tattoo on his forearm with a trembling hand.  Jim exhaled heavily and the distinct sour stench of vomit and Vicks Vapo Rub filled the air.  He said one word:

© Greg Jacob December 2007

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