More creative writing! :D Very rough first draft.
"Hey Becca." Harry leans forward from his position behind the driver's seat and taps me on the shoulder. "Leave the scanner alone, right? We’re off duty now. I know it's new, but let's just get-"
I put my hand up. "Stop, I heard something..." Turn, turn-- a momentary flash of static. I breathe in and tweak it back to the left a hair, two hairs, and bingo. Voices.
"...leven eight oh, corner of Church and Fifth, eleven eight oh." The voice keeps repeating.
I nudge Chris, our former cop. He grunts. "What’s an 11-80?"
Chris answers in his low slow voice. "Accident. Bad." He pauses. "We on 4th. Check it?"
I nod, but it's a formality-- this is our job, after all. Chris turns right on Church and Harry mutters: "Supposed to be off in fifteen..."
Rachel, the youngest, shifts like she wants to say something, but doesn't. Her idealism and Harry's jaded experience have collided enough times already today.
The scanner adds new information: "Two vehicles, one dead." Chris's habitual frown deepens.
Ahead, I see smoke coming up from something on the side of the road. We're early-- traffic's hardly backed up at all. We get past them and see the wreck. It takes a moment to understand what happened, but then I see, and it doesn't look too bad: just an SUV that crunched into the front bumper of a sedan, looks like a fairly low-speed fender bender. Why did the scanner say there's one dead? We pile out.
Harry sighs. "Running a red. An old device." The two cars are straddling the intersection, hoods crushed into each other; the SUV seems to be the one that ran the light. Pedestrians are scattered around the area, looking more horrified than the accident seems to imply.
"He was just walking across," someone is muttering. The voice sounds like it's in shock. Harry goes to check the SUV, Rachel to the sedan, Chris to get the stretcher, and I look around for the voice. A woman on the corner is staring at the two cars. "He was just walking across," she says again, disbelieving.
"Ma'am?" I start towards her, and I hear another onlooker sobbing.
"Hey, Becca," Harry calls. He sounds like he's trying to keep from bringing something up. I turn to look at him, and that's when I realize the red fluid slowly leaking out from under the two cars might not be transmission fluid.
"He was just walking across!" Again, from behind me. There are more voices crying now. I run up next to Harry; the SUV driver is in shock, too, shaking slightly, no words. Harry points to between the two cars and I see a splash of something red dripping down the metal.
"There was a pedestrian when this guy-" he jerks his thumb at the SUV's catatonic driver "-ran the light." I can feel the blood vanish from my face. "Caught him between the two cars."
I drop to look under the two cars and am immediately glad I haven't had supper yet. The SUV must have knocked him down first, his head and upper torso got caught in the vise of the two cars. One arm is still hanging, trapped between the ruined headlights. I stumble back, and Chris comes up behind me, steadies me. I hear the sedan's driver and passenger yelling, screaming at the SUV driver, and someone throwing up. Rachel is losing her lunch somewhere on the other side of the wreck. A few of the more vulturine onlookers are creeping closer. I take a deep breath.
"All right, Rachel, back to the ambulance," I order. "Chris, keep these idiots back. Harry, make sure the others are all right." Everyone moves to obey. I know we can't do anything about the victim's body until the Coroner's Office gets out here. I realize, belatedly, that I didn't see where the cop was, and start turning around, looking. There it is, lights flashing, down at the intersection of Fifth and Poplar. The cop is standing behind me, shaking his head slowly. Young guy, fiercely clean-shaven, tall and thin. I walk up to him, read his vest, shake his hand. His eyes switch over to me and narrow. "Officer Mathews?" He nods crisply. "We haven't touched anything, just seen to the drivers and passengers."
"Good." He nods again. "The coroner's been notified; someone should be here in a few minutes. You were the first on the scene?"
"He'll want to talk to you too then. Stay here." He moves past me to the SUV driver, who looks like he almost wishes he'd been the pedestrian. Harry straightens up from the sedan's passenger side and waves me over.
"They all right?"
"I think they'll need more psychological help than medical," Harry murmurs. "Nothing more than bruises physically. And the other driver's fine... other than the manslaughter he's got waiting for him. They don't need us... and there's nothing we can do for him." I know who he means by 'him.'
I can tell Harry's hoping for me to say we should go now, leave everything to the police. Instead, I ask, "How's Rachel?"
"Uh, I guess-"
"Go check on Rachel. We'll have to bag the body once the coroner's had a look, so settle yourself down."
Harry doesn't complain; he knows I'm right. Chris is helping Officer Mathews with caution tape, so I follow Harry back to the ambulance and wait for the coroner. There's nothing else we can do for now.
Two weeks later, it's evening, and our shift has just begun. Nothing happened since that horrific accident. Rachel's been much quieter since then, and oddly, so has Harry-- I'd half-expected him to throw the ugliness in her face, but he hasn't. Chris hasn't talked about it, either-- but then he doesn't talk much.
The scanner brought us to a few accidents where we were needed, but no more fatalities. We don't go out but twice a week anyway. There was one big wreck out on 77, and something nasty involving a police car and several dead out in the east, but nothing else. Chris called it the 'calm before the storm.' I called it a good two weeks.
We're on Trade when I decide to fiddle with the scanner again. None of the listed channels are bringing in anything interesting, so I play around until I heard voices.
"That same frequency as last time?" Chris's voice is like a groan.
"Yeah, I think it might be."
"Took us to a bad scene last time. Takin' us to a bad scene tonight." Chris shakes his head, slowly.
I raise one eyebrow. "You don't say." Chris is a good driver, good muscle; could probably be EMT-P if he wanted, but he's content to stay a Basic and just offer what background help he can. But sometimes he gets fidgety about odd things. "Well, if there's a bad accident, there's a bad accident, regardless of what channel we're-"
"Ten five six Alfa. Officer Gabe on scene. Ten five six Alfa."
Harry and I stare at Chris, waiting. He mutters something deep in his throat.
"What?" Harry demands. "Speak up, man!"
" Attempted suicide. S'all it means."
"Where?" Rachel asks, suddenly looking up from her phone. "He didn't say..."
"Hold on a second," I say, waving her back to her seat. "It'll say."
"530 Trade Street. Ten five six Alfa. Officer Gabe on scene. 530 Trade Street..."
"Is that the Marriot?" Harry's eyebrows are drawn together in thought. "Trade Street?"
I run through my mental map. "No, I think it's the bank. Marriot's 100 or something."
"What street are we on?" Rachel peers out the window, suddenly much more interested. "Are we going the right way?"
"Be there in another minute," Chris answers. Rachel settles back down.
Less than a minute later we're in front of the bank. It's been cold the past few nights, and not many people are out. In fact there's no one here.
"Where's 'Officer Gabe'?" Harry asks aloud. "Where's the attempted suicide?"
"Don't see nobody." Chris pulls us up to the curb and parks. "Nobody waitin' for the bus neither."
"I'll check." I get out and walk toward the dark building. There's little recessed lights here and there, illuminating low concrete posts and immaculate bushes, but I don't see anyone. I pull my coat tighter and call. "Hello?" No answer. I'm about to turn back when I notice a black something stretched along the retaining wall, in the shadows. It moves slightly. I hurry over and find a man in a long woolen coat, face buried in the corner of the wall and the ground. I roll him over onto his back and he's not breathing-- no wait, he is, just extremely slowly. I sniff and immediately recoil: he reeks of liquor.
"Is he dead?" I look back over my shoulder and there's Rachel, rubbing her hands together and staring.
"I don't think so. Drunk, though. And maybe something else. Get Harry." She nods and runs back to the ambulance. I look in a couple of pockets and pretty quickly find what I suspected: an empty pill bottle. Valium, Xanax... something of that sort. Harry gets back with the stretcher and we load him up. Rachel stands nearby and fidgets.
"Do you know this guy?" I ask, curious about her odd behavior.
"Not very well." I motion for her to give us more information, and she goes on. "Well, I've talked to him before. I think he's homeless or something. He usually hangs around this bus stop, or the next one down." She shrugs. "Nothing important."
"Ah. Get the door, will you?"
Harry and I slide him into the back and I get in. Chris is about to move out when a passing police car stops, across the road, and the window rolls down. "What's this about?"
I lean across Chris. "We've got what looks like deliberate overdose. Taking him to E.R."
"Anything I can do?"
I give an exaggerated shrug. "Don't think so, Officer...?"
"Mathews." He sticks his head out the window and stares at me, eyes narrowing. "Rebecca Litford?" His tone is suddenly accusatory.
"Yes..." I feel tension growing in my stomach. "Why?"
He doesn't answer, but purses his lips, thinking. After a moment he pulls his head back in and drives away.
"Was that the same guy from the other accident?" Harry asks, as soon as Mathews is gone. "That one with the pedestrian?"
"Oh God," Rachel mutters.
Harry spares a sympathetic glance back before continuing. "What does he care who you are?"
"No idea," I lie. "Chris, let's go."
But I do have an idea why he's curious. We were the first on scene two weeks ago, and we were the first on scene tonight. And Mathews is wondering how we managed that.
I'm wondering too.
It's a month before anything happens with the scanner again. A few times I started messing with it, but Chris and Harry both seemed really uncomfortable, so I let it be. Tonight I'm feeling contrary so I ignore their warning looks and tune in the mystery channel.
"There IS something weird about that channel," Harry mutters. "Who is Officer Gabe, anyway?"
We'd tried to track that down, but no one knew who it might be. It's a big city, and there's lots of cops. But none of them seemed to be named Gabe.
"Maybe he's an alien," I suggest. "It's at least as plausible as Rachel's CIA satellite theory."
"Hey now." Rachel doesn't look up from her phone, but she points a warning finger at me. "The CIA has satellites that can read LICENSE PLATES. You're probably tuned into a special frequency. They'll be after your scanner any day now, just you wait and see."
"Sure, sure. I say aliens."
"Santa Claus," Harry suggests.
I stare at him. "How is Gabe short for Santa Claus?"
Harry sighs in mock annoyance. "Becca, what will we do with you. You don't make up a code name that's SHORT for your real name. You make up a code name that's totally unrelated to your real name. The very fact that Gabe is completely unlike Santa Claus proves my point. Game, set, match."
"But Santa's not real." I mime smashing his theory with a large hammer. "Minor detail there."
"Eleven eight one, Brevard and Ninth."
Chris groans and we all sit up straight.
"What does that mean?"
"Minor injuries." Chris pulls off the road and into a parking lot.
I stare at him. "Chris, what are you doing?"
"I ain't goin'." He refuses to look at me.
"What do you mean, you're not going? I don't think we have a choice, Chris."
"I ain't goin'. Somethin' ain't natural 'bout that channel." He shakes his head fiercely. "Ain't goin."
"Eleven eight one, Brevard and Ninth."
Harry leans forward. "The last one wasn't bad at all."
"'cept no cop was there. Ain't natural." He's still shaking his head.
"Maybe one was there and couldn't stay. He got called away so he broadcast what he saw in hopes that someone else would take care of it. And we did!"
"I could have your career for this, Chris," I say quietly. "You know I could."
"An' I know you won't."
"Eleven eight one, Brevard and Ninth."
"We both know you won't." He does look at me now. "Maybe get a different driver. But you won't take my career."
"I'll have to report you if she doesn't, Chris," Harry warns. "This is crazy, man! You can't do this!"
"You back him up, Rachel?"
"I guess I will... if I have to," Rachel says awkwardly. "But I don't want to! Just take us there, Chris. I'm sure it'll be fine."
"Eleven eight oh, Brevard and Ninth."
Silence in the ambulance for a moment. "Hey, that's different!" Rachel exclaims.
"What does it mean now?"
"Major injuries." Chris' iron determination looks weaker now.
"It's getting worse?" Rachel demands. "And you're refusing to go because you thought the drunk guy was weird?"
"Chris, this isn't right, and you know it," Harry snaps. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
I'm fed up with him. "Drive the damn ambulance, Chris. That's your JOB."
"Eleven eight oh, Brevard and Ninth. Eleven four one."
"What's that?" Rachel again. "Is it getting even worse?"
Chris groans and puts his head in his hands. "Ambulance needed..."
"And that's us." I unbuckle my seatbelt. "Chris, get out of the driver's seat NOW."
Chris reluctantly puts the ambulance back into gear. "Ain't natural, ain't natural..." he mutters as he pulls onto the road.
I settle back and resist the urge to argue further. He's doing his job, so I won't push him.
We arrive via Ninth, and Rachel gasps. The corner of Ninth and Brevard has a low curb and a telephone pole just inches from the road. The combination has made for more than one accident in the past, although this one looks worse than most. The old gray Ranger has been torn almost in half; the front right wheel is lying flat on the sidewalk, attached by only a few skeletal shreds of metal, and the engine is on fire. Multiple fluids are leaking out from under the car. The engine compartment has folded up and over so it neatly seals the driver in.
Mercifully there appears to be only a driver. Chris swings us over the curb into a nearby parking lot and I'm out before the ambulance stops moving.
There's a small crowd this time. Though the Ranger is only blocking one lane of Brevard, curious onlookers have stopped traffic a dozen cars back. Two people are hauling on the driver door, but one glance tells me we'll need a spreader to get in. "Chris, Jaws of life. Harry, make double sure no one else is in the car. And get me a fire extinguisher."
"I'm on it." Rachel rushes back to the ambulance for the extinguisher. I'm trying to get people back from the door so Chris can get in when there's a stomach-churning whoosh. The driver's half-conscious moans turn to screams and flames shoot up from the engine. The gas just caught fire. We stumble back helplessly.
Then Rachel is here and she shoves the extinguisher into my hands. I blast everywhere and the fire flickers and recedes, but one glance at the driver tells me he must have been doused with oil or gas. His clothes are in tatters and his skin is blackened, already looking detached from what's underneath. A horrible smell of roasted meat.
Chris is here with the Jaws now, and we get them into place as fast as we can. A few seconds and the door is bent out so far it just swings open on its own, and then Harry's got the stretcher ready. Ironically the seatbelt held against the crash and the fire, and Chris has to cut through it before we move the driver out.
I look back at the little crowd and see flashing red lights a little ways down Brevard. Another ambulance is on its way. And there, sure enough, like clockwork-- flashing blue lights and what looks like Officer Mathews' profile in the driver's seat.
We get the victim back to the ambulance and inside. Mathews doesn't appear interested in the crash or the crowd, he just wants to talk to me. "Rebecca Litford." Not a question this time.
"I'm a little busy, officer," I snap. "Rachel, get out." She's only an EMT-B, no help here, and she scrambles down.
"You like being busy, don't you," he says loudly. "Like it enough to set up your own disasters that need you to fix them. Pretty convenient you getting here first."
"Listen, you can throw accusations around later. Come to the hospital if you want to continue this discussion." I know I'm giving Mathews a perfect excuse to make trouble for me, by snapping at him, but I don't care. "Chris, we're ready. Rachel, get the door." Rachel slams the back door and runs around to the passenger seat, Chris puts us in gear, and we're off.
Mathews doesn't move, just watches us as we drive off down Brevard.
"That the special channel?"
"I don't think she's changed it in the past three weeks, Chris."
"Yeah, that's the special channel, Chris," I say. "Nothing on it right now."
"Just makin' sure. Don't wanna miss another accident."
"Well, I don't want to, either," I say. Two weeks ago I would have added, "like we did when you wouldn't go, Chris," but he's beat himself up over his own mistake far more than any of us could.
We ride along in silence for a few minutes. Chris keeps cutting his eyes over to the scanner, waiting for it to come to life. Harry fidgets.
"I wish the damn thing would just say something!" he explodes finally. "We've been out driving way more than usual, and way later. I care about helping people too," he preempts Chris' glare, "but I've got other things to do too. It's almost midnight, Chris!"
I don't say anything, but I'm on Chris' side. If he hadn't balked last time, we almost certainly would have made it in time to save the man-- well, we did save him, but he'll never fully recover from those burns. If he hadn't balked we would have made it. But if I had been firmer, or just taken the driver's seat faster, instead of trying to reason with him... It was my responsibility too.
Rachel started making discontented noises two weeks ago, and last week she started riding with a different ambulance. The hole left by her absence is unexpected large for someone who spent so much time hunched over her phone.
It's a relief when the scanner finally comes to life. "Amherst Place. Eleven eight oh. Officer Gabe on scene."
"Gabe again!" Harry says. "Maybe we'll see him this time."
Chris doesn't say anything, but he floors the gas and switches on the siren and lights.
"You know where Amherst is?" I ask. Chris nods grimly. I don't know myself, but I trust Chris.
Five minutes later we're on Amherst.
"So where's this accident?" Harry asks. I look ahead and behind, and Amherst is only a few hundred yards-- no one else is on it but us.
"I don't know, Harry." I'm surprised too. The channel's never steered us wrong.
We see another car coming in, off Lillington, and Chris slows. Suddenly I realize what's about to happen. It's going too fast on the curve, there's a squeal of tires, and it slides right across our lane and rams into a tree off the road. It all happens in less than a second, from the first flash of the headlights to the horrifyingly final crunch. Chris slams on his breaks.
"That the accident."
"But... we heard about it already." Harry's voice is a whisper. I can't speak, only stare in shock.
"Get out." Chris reaches over me and opens my door, gives me a push.
I numbly climb out, trying to process what I just heard and saw. My brain protests weakly, then the accident in front of me gradually takes over. Training and habit reassert themselves. Dimly I know this was impossible, and I'll be concerned about it later.
I approach the wrecked car. There's glass and plastic and blood covering the ground. Front passenger went through the windshield, hit the tree, landed on the grass. Driver moaning audibly. Harry goes to check the passenger and Chris goes to check the driver and I go to the middle door, wondering why no one else is here, wondering where Mathews is. I open the door and thank God there's no kids in here, just empty seats, airbag stink, rusty sweet smell of blood.
"Where's my wife?" Chris is murmuring something and the driver's fighting him. "WHERE'S MY WIFE?" Oh God. Dear God.
"Didn't make it." The words are so quiet and sudden I worry I said them myself without even realizing it, but no, Harry came up behind me and he's whispering, looking away from Chris. I knew it already. I think we all did. It wasn't a near thing, we didn't almost make it in time-- she was dead the moment she went through that glass. We were here BEFORE the crash and we still couldn't help.
The driver's by his wife's body and he's not screaming words any more. Just screams, sobs, gasps, pleading to anyone and no one. Chris isn't doing anything, just standing there, waiting.
I figure we need to take the driver to the ER, he doesn't look that good himself. But he doesn't care right now.
I go with Harry to get the stretcher. We get back to the driver and his wife's body and he's quiet now, staring at nothing. He starts to fall down but Chris is ready for that and catches him, puts him on the stretcher. When we stand up I notice a policeman, other side of the wreck, and I'm not surprised. But it isn't Mathews.
"Lucky you were here, ma'am," he tells me. I nod, still numb. Chris and Harry are carrying the driver to the ambulance.
"Rebecca Litford," someone says. Oh. It's me.
He's nodding. "The one that got accused a few weeks back."
"So the passenger's dead? I'll call the coroner's. You need to take the driver back?"
"Better. Yeah. Yeah, we'll take him."
"Want me to put out the word for another ambulance?"
I shrug. "I can call another one."
He's snapping his fingers at me, I realize suddenly. "Ms. Litford? You all right?"
I shake my head. "Need to go. Goodbye, Officer..."
"Michael. Fine with Mike though."
A random part of my brain squeezes through my mental blankness and takes my mouth over. "You know Officer Gabe?"
"Sure, I know Gabe. I'm his superior officer."
"Tell him hi for us, I think," my mouth says.
"Will do, Ms. Litford."
Harry and Chris are finished getting the driver ready. I can already hear another ambulance's sirens on the way, so we can leave now. I climb slowly into my seat and Chris pulls out.
"What the hell was that." Harry's voice doesn't even sound like it's asking a question.
"Whatever it was, I want out. Get rid of that scanner, Becca."
I reach out for it, but I can't bring myself to turn it off. "This is something special, Harry. This is something-- I don't know what."
"It's possessed. Or something out of science fiction. Get rid of it either way." I've rarely heard Harry use this voice-- it brooks no argument. I reach for the scanner again.
Chris puts his huge hand over it. "Ain't evil. Don't cut it off."
"You damn fool! I'll smash it myself!" Harry is suddenly trying to scramble into the front and get at the scanner. I'm talking wildly, arguing, warning, pleading, saying I don't know what. Suddenly we all freeze-- a voice is coming in again.
"Corner of Caswell and Providence. Eleven eight oh. Four dead. Corner of Caswell and Providence."
I turn and look out my window. We're in the intersection, just crossing Providence. And the road we're driving on...
"We on Caswell," Chris whispers.
I hear a noise from my right, a blast of failing brakes and then a blaring horn. A garbage collection truck with no brakes. I turn to the window