I didn’t know what to say. Every word that crept to the edge of my tongue felt lacking and hollow, so I opted in favor of lingering reticence instead. The unforgiving heft of disappointment blanketed both me and Dylan with an insufferable suffocation. He rested on his knees, an unamused audience of crickets bewailed and looked through the humid night air at the both of us. The city seemed so cruel and punitive in those first few moments of realization.
Dylan eventually broke gaze with the cracked pavement beneath him and shot a sorrowful gape in my direction, I returned in kind. He recovered himself and stood to his feet before making his way back to the ambulance. The driver side door whined through rusted lament as it opened. After plopping into the seat and slamming the heavy door shut, silence reclaimed us both. After several prolonged moments of shared contemplation Dylan spoke, “Matty…”
“Yeah, buddy…” I said just above a whisper.
“We lost him. He’s gone… he’s definitely gone.” I didn’t acknowledge him verbally; the deflate of my shoulders spoke louder than I could.
Before I tell you of our grievous loss, I have to start from the beginning; it was a warm August night just after 6 p.m., Dylan and I had logged on for the shift ahead and confirmed with dispatch that our roving sector for the evening was to be the downtown core. By that stage in my career, I’d been a working paramedic for almost twelve years, I was no stranger to the downtown, nor was Dylan. He was a skilled medic and someone I enjoyed working with whenever fate would allow it. My regular partner was out with a cold, and Dylan’s partner was on vacation, so the two of us were matched up for a tour. A tour being a set of days or nights, typically four on followed by four off. Dylan and I were assigned to the night truck, or as we dubbed it, The Vampire Bus, 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. the next morning were the hours of our scheduled penance.
The first thing we did was give the old girl a bath, washing the exterior of the ambulance is part of a medic’s regular responsibilities, but it was not uncommon for this chore to fall to neglect — sometimes you’re just too busy bouncing from call to call that washing the rig just doesn’t happen.
We shared some jokes and the occasional cheeky splash from the hose toward one another, but before long, the hijinks had to come to an end — we were getting toned out for a trip.
The first call of the night was to a low-class hotel for a couple of ladies that had consumed marijuana for the first time and were now complaining of feeling… “different.” Yep, those were our call notes, two fully trained paramedics responding to two college aged kids who were smoking pot for the first time.
When we arrived at the inner-city chateau, we were greeted by what ended up being the night manager. He said that he called 9-1-1 at the behest of two of his guests. He appeared nervous and displeased by the unfolding ordeal. I took it as this was a guy who took a job thinking it was going to be a somewhat laid-back gig where he could collect minimum wage for minimum effort, but the two young ladies in room 302 put a damper on that now fleeting desire.
He gave us a room key and sent us down the hall toward the elevators. The whole place smelled like a 1970’s ashtray. The walls were a stained off-white, while the matted carpet boasted timeworn swirls of varying shades of brown and the occasional fleck of red, not what you would call, chic décor.
We made it to the third floor, which relieved the both of us considering the elevator’s last service date was smudged out and illegible. I swear, on our struggled ascent, I could hear fibers of metal cable coming apart from itself as we were hoisted from lobby to room floor. The ding of an elevator never sounded so good.
That’s one thing you don’t learn in medic school — just how many sketchy elevators you’re likely to encounter over the span of a career, I’ll say this… far too many.
We approached room 302 and then staged on either side of the doorframe, a tactic born from experience — you never really know what’s on the other side of the door, and in some cases (as I learned in the infancy of my career) standing directly in front of a door can lead to disastrous results; like when a two-hundred-and-fifty-pound cocaine addict burst through a bedroom door in a desperate attempt at fleeing from the police. He crashed through like the Kool-aid guy, and I went splat against an opposing wall, splayed out in full rookie glory.
Dylan knocked while announcing, “Paramedic’s, did someone call for help?” There was a brief moment of immovable silence, but this was broken by a muffled voice calling out from behind the door.
“Yes… are you really paramedical people? There’s some really weird stuff happening in this hotel. Hold your badge up to the peephole!” Dylan and I locked incredulous eyes before replying.
“Miss, we are the paramedics… we don’t have badges. We’re not the cops, they don’t issue us that sort of stuff. All we get is back pain and a shitty pension” Dylan answered. I smiled. We could hear frantic whispers crawling out from beneath the door, the girls were trying to decide who should open the door. Before they came to a conclusion, I swiped the magnetic lock with the key card given to us by the disgruntled manager, and let us in.
Our entry was met with paralyzed glares of fear and THC induced trepidation. Dylan seemed unphased by this and pulled the chair from the small hotel room table and in one fluid motion, spun it around while placing himself into it. Poetry of motion by the veteran care giver.
“Ladies… my name is, Matthew. This is Dylan, we’re paramedics… what can we do for you this evening.” No sooner after finishing my sentence, one of the girls left their rigid stance in the corner of the room, and bound toward Dylan. Before any of us had time to react, she enveloped him via a grateful hug.
“Oh my God, thank you so much. I love you. You’re the absolute best,” followed by a staccato of “thank you(s)”.
Now peering past the shoulder of a trembling college student, Dylan’s strangled voice returned, “You’re… welcome. Can you… let go of me now, please?” She did.
Both girls went on to explain that they had gotten a hotel for the night as they didn’t want their parents to be privy to their extracurricular inhalation activities. As it would turn out, neither girl had ever smoked marijuana before, in fact, neither of these young ladies had ever done anything before! They had been best friends, sorry, besties, since grade school, and both had recently graduated from high-school, yet were due to start at separate universities come fall. This was their one last rebellious slumber party before moving onto adulthood.
Shortly after smoking the weed that they had bought from one of the cities less than desirable human beings, they began to feel, as they put it, “weird,” and “strange, paranoid,” even.
“Paranoid?” Dylan queried. The girls nodded their heads slowly in unison. “Yeah, that’s completely normal. Give it a couple hours and you’ll be fuckin hungry — you don’t need an ambulance; you need room service!” Dylan now stood to his feet and both he and I noted a wave of relief befall the girls. We signed off on them, meaning no transport, and made our way for the door.
“Oh! Ladies, one more thing…” Dylan shouted, halting in place before leaving the room. “Doritos… make sure you get some Cool Ranch Doritos!” And with that, we closed the door and chuckled our way back to the ambulance.
When we got outside, we watched a supervisor’s SUV response vehicle roll up beside our parked ambulance. It was shift supervisor Todd Winslow. He was a good guy, but not a favorite supervisor of anybody’s. He was a top-notch micromanager and had a knack for making simplistic things intensely more complicated, anything from paperwork to boot polishing through to parking an ambulance. He must have seen that we were on a call in his area and decided to come check up on us.
As we neared, the driver-side window slid down, glissading electronically.
“Hello, boys. How was the call to service?” Todd inquired. Here’s the thing about Todd’s voice, it’s a mezzo at best, but it held within it hints of Gilbert Gottfried and Paul Reubens, better known as, Pee-Wee Herman.
“Yeah… good, Todd. How’s that supervisor life?” I asked.
“I’m only one mortal man, but I think I’m holding it all together… wouldn’t you say?”
“Oh yes, wonderfully. What can we do for ya?” Dylan responded.
“Well, on your way back to station, keep an eye out for a raccoon…” Todd remarked while casting subtle perturbed gestures to the ether.
“A raccoon?” I asked with rising inflection.
“Yeah… seems we got a raccoon problem by the station. They’re getting into the trash bins behind the station, and when the bay doors are left open, one of em got in and shit on the bay floor… but not before making off with my lunch!” Todd explained.
I suddenly had images of a raccoon sprinting away from station with Todd’s famously repulsive egg-salad sandwich in hand, a swell of laughter began to percolate, but I managed to keep it caged.
“A raccoon stole your lunch, Todd?” Dylan stammered.
“And shit on the floor!” With that, Dylan and I lost all composure and began laughing helplessly while Todd looked on with increasing vexation.
“Look here, this is not funny. For one, it’s a health code violation, for two, I hate raccoons!! Little varmint kleptomaniacs get into everything — EVERYTHING!” Todd’s composure was also now noticeably absent, but for deeply contrasting reasons to that of our own. Dylan and I were helpless in our laughter. “God damn it, Echo-One! Just keep a bloody eye out, will ya?” The use of our callsign relayed his true annoyance, and with that Todd drove away. Dylan gave an exaggerated facsimile to that of a military salute to Todd as he was peeling away in a sort of acknowledgment, this did not help with cessation of guffaw.
We were eventually able to collect ourselves and return to service. We attended a few more calls before stopping at a twenty-four-hour coffee shop close to our station. We got our respective elixirs of wakefulness and began making our way back to base.
It was well into the dead of night now; humidity had settled in so Dylan and I were driving with the windows down. It was always a gamble on whether or not you’d be assigned to an ambulance with working A/C, and that night we drew the short straw, as it were, and were saddled with a sweatbox.
Dylan was taking a sip of his burnt coffee when he stated, “Man, I can’t believe that Todd is so butt-hurt over raccoons!”
“I know. I mean, I agree, they suck, but it’s not like…” I paused my sentence.
“It’s not like what? Matty… it’s not like what?” Dylan asked inquisitively and with bent brow.
“Dude, slow down for a second… slow it down, slow it down…” I said, never removing my eyes from the road just ahead. The brakes squawked into the air as the ambulance came to a stop.
“What is it? What are you looking at?”
“Dude, do you see that bush by the fire hydrant, just to the left?” I motioned with my pointer finger. Dylan’s head turned and scanned where I had mentioned.
“I see it, yeah. What am I looking for exactly?” Without answering him, I slowly reached down for the moveable spot light on my side of the ambulance before raising it to outside my window. I pressed the button with the purposeful movements of a sniper readying a shot. A beam of God cast forth and brought daylight to the otherwise blackened side-street we were on.
Dylan kept scanning intently just as I was. Thing is, at that point and time, I was the only one with knowledge of what it was we were trying to find. You see, while driving along moments prior, just out of the corner of my eyes, I caught sight of something and instantly knew of what it was — a raccoon — the fabled foe of our dear Todd Winslow, supervisor extraordinaire.
“There! Right there, left of the hydrant, in the bush with the plastic bag dancing off it…” I swiveled the beam toward my orated coordinates. And when it arrived, both Dylan and I saw it, the beady glint of raccoon eyes!
“Holy shit! I think he’s holding a sandwich!” Dylan said gleefully. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Dylan asked.
“Yeah… let’s take a picture and show Todd!” Dylan slowly pivoted his head to look at me, I could feel his glare, so I turned to see what he was going to say. His face was contorted by disbelief. “What?” I asked.
“Yeah… like, take a picture and show Todd, you laugh, I laugh… Todd… does Todd things…”
“I was thinking more like catch it and put it in the back of his SUV so that it’s in there the next time he gets in it to drive…?” This was followed by a momentary pause.
“Yeah… no, I like that much better. Let’s do that!” A rambunctious tone carried my reply.
“Okay, you keep the light on it, I’ll sneak up and grab it, then we’ll take it back to base (which was just around the corner from where we were), and then we’ll huck it into the back of the SUV!” The plan of action sounded masterful to me, so much so that my smile and nod mimicked that of even the most sinister of comic book villain.
With methodical movements, Dylan unclasped his seatbelt and opened the driver side door, engaging in a molasses waltz of noise mitigation. He had managed to open the aging door with minimal rusted creak. He was now on the outside, semi-crouched and seemingly moving with the wind, one meticulous step after the other. At that moment, the raccoon seemed blissfully unaware of Dylan’s approach. Everything was going according to plan. For a moment, I really felt as though we were going to pull this off.
“Mr. Heneghan, or should I say, Mr. Laughy pants, Echo-One?!” Todd’s distinct timber hurled in through my open window. I had been so fixated on Dylan and his near perfect proximity to the raccoon, that I had failed to hear Todd’s SUV approaching from behind. “What are you two knuckleheads doing anyway?” He asked.
With childlike disappointment, I answered, “Trying to catch a raccoon. It was over there,” at the end of my sad reply, I turned to where Dylan and the menacing sandwich thief had last been observed. I witnessed Dylan fall to his knees in a near crumple of agony. Todd’s voice and the enthusiasm in which he chose to use it was loud enough to overtake our idling ambulance engine and bestow fright to the raccoon, it was now gone. Fleeing through the shrubs in a sprint of passionate escape.
“Oh…? Well, Dylan’s expression says he got away. Better luck next time, boys. Who’s laughing now, eh?” Todd boasted while slowly beginning to drive away.
“You have no idea, Todd… no idea.”
And that, is the night that Dylan and I were snake bitten by defeat. An elusive sandwich thief now roamed free and uncontested, reveling in the understanding that he had thwarted our juvenile plans.
Truly, a defeat like no other.
Todd continued to bring those repugnant egg-salad sandwiches to work, even insisting upon microwaving them prior to consuming them in the station breakroom. For the rest of my days as a medic, whenever Dylan and I would pass one another on the road or in the hallways of a hospital, our eyes would meet and convey a shared understanding of regret. The one the got away.