The alarm on my phone startled me awake. Quitting time. After lying down at 5:30 in the morning, after 22 and a half hours of humping calls, I'd fallen into a deep sleep, bone tired, mentally ragged and physically used up. I came up scrambling to turn off the alarm, confused as to where I was, barely able to speak English.
I sat up and looked blearily around. Pete was rolling up his sleeping bag. "You may want to get your wits about you before you go into the garage."
"Hrmmgh?" I inquired.
"The Minute Man is here," he smirked. "At six fifty nine on the dot, like the one way piece of shit he is. And he's bitching about the state of the truck. I walked away because it was that or slap him."
I processed this, swung my feet over the side of the couch. And waited a moment for the fog to clear. I didn't want to talk to Adam Armstrong with anything less than a clear head. Or brass knuckles, but we couldn't do that kind of thing any more, even at FlatLine. He had the kind of voice that made everything he said sound like "please punch me in the face," and he was a Minute Man, a term applied to any EMT or medic who consistently punched in at the last minute. It's considered disrespectful, selfish, and basically a dick move. We're an emergency truck. We can't go home until we're relieved, and if a call comes in a seven fifty five, at the end of a twenty four hour shift in this busy, brutal, idealism-grinding hole of a city, if our relief isn't here, we own it, and we get out late. Part of being a decent member of the band of misfits is showing up fifteen minutes to half an hour early so your comrades don't get screwed. Armstrong never learned that.
"What's his issue?" I asked.
Pete shrugged. "He was bitching about some mess in the truck. I wasn't really listening. It was ready to do calls. I restocked it after that last run an hour ago. I'll be damned if I'm gonna sweep the floor after the day we had."
"You tell him that?"
"More or less. I unzipped my pants and told him to state his complaints, speaking clearly into the microphone."
"So long as you kept it classy." I groaned as I stood. Maybe half an hour's sleep hadn't made much of a dent in the fatigue of the day. The numb, cold feeling in my chest reasserted itself as my mind cleared. I had better things to worry about than Armstrong.
I pulled on my boots and clomped out to the garage. I saw Big Juan and gave him a smile and an handshake. He pulled me in for a one armed hug. "How's it going, Homes/"
"You know," I said, "if the city is gonna screw us, you'd think it would buy us dinner and give us a kiss first."
"Rough night, ‘mano?"
"Four calls after midnight."
He whistled. "Go home and get some sleep."
"On my list. Here," I unclipped the narcotics keys from my belt loop and held them out to him.
"I got Pete's already," he said.
I sighed. I had really hoped to avoid his partner.
I walked to the truck and stuck my head in the open side door. "Narc keys."
Adam Armstrong took the keys, then started his carefully rehearsed rant. "I already yelled at your partner," he said. "Now I'm gonna yell at you."
I sighed and braced myself.
"This truck is disgusting."
"We did seventeen calls yesterday," I said as calmly as I could. "Four after midnight. We got back at five thirty. We replaced the equipment. You're operational."
"It's a disgrace."
"You're a disgrace," I pointed out. "At least the truck has an excuse."
I heard laughter form the back of the ambulance. Looking around Armstrong's suety form, I saw the same new EMT who had been riding along yesterday. Great. Squabbling in front of the rookie. Way to set an example.
"There are electrode backings all over the floor, the trash barrel needs to be emptied, and the whole thing needs to be washed."
Really? He was worried about the peel-off backing from the electrodes? "Dude. We got raped all shift. I'm not sweeping a truck at five in the morning. This is Philips Mills. This truck gets hammered. Especially at night. It was trashed yesterday when I came in and the crew was unconscious. I managed not to be a dick about it"
"So do your job and check the truck and clean it," he said.
I saw red creeping into the edges of my vision.
"Do my job? Do you know what I did yesterday? First of all, I got here early, because I give a shit about the exhausted crew I'm relieving. Then, since I was coming in fresh, I cleaned and stocked the ambulance. And I ran around all day doing calls, more than you've ever done because I clear from the fucking hospital and don't sit all day milking my report and leave the other trucks to take up my slack."
I realized I was getting heated, and that never changes things for the better, just gets me in trouble. I tried to force own my anger. In many times and many places, smacking him for pushing my buttons would have been accepted, tacitly if not explicitly, but in this day and age it would mean at least a suspension, maybe loss of my job, maybe even charges. I swallowed and tried to focus, to be reasonable.
"I'll even hang out for half and hour and help you wash this beast. We fueled it. We restocked the supplies. If it had been bloody I'd have mopped it out. But there's no way on God's green Earth I'm going to sweep up the backings from the EKG stickies after twenty two hours of getting my ass handed to me."
"Well, then you better get used to being written up every week," he said, climbing out of the truck.
Something broke. A red mist filled my vision. Armstrong was stupid and lazy and full of himself and no medic with less than five years on the streets has any business barking at me like that, and it was the worst type of spoiled brat cowardice to threaten to run to management with a write up for something that petty. So he deserved some of my anger.
But he didn't really deserve all of it.
I grabbed the front of his shirt and slammed him back against the side of the ambulance. Every ounce of worry about Caruthers' clan and Sarah and fatigue of the long, thankless shift and every itch on every square inch of skin from twenty four hours in a sweaty uniform boiled over.
I saw his eyes widen as I leaned in close, forcing my words through clenched teeth. Only force of will kept me from trying to beat his nose out the back of his head.
"Listen to me, you one-way, seven-oh-one piece of shit. I was working bloody trauma before you learned not to piss your own pants, and I showed vast restrained by not choking you out five minutes ago, but if you ever," I shook him, just so he didn't miss my point. "Ever go and cry to mommy about me I will fucking end you."
I released him with a push, enjoying the dull thunk his head made against the side of the truck, spun on my heel and walked out.
The whole thing had been cathartic. I felt cleansed. Whole. Satisfied.
I was almost certainly screwed.
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