For Thomas Harris
Get me a gun
Go back into my room
I’m gonna get me a gun
One with a barrel or two
You know I’m better off dead than
Singing these suicide blues.
—Cross Canadian Ragweed
APRIL 10, 2009
It’s always darkest before the dawn.
This elderly chestnut occurred to Rob Martin as the ambulance he drove rolled slowly along Upper Marlborough Street toward home base, which was Firehouse 3. It seemed to him that whoever thought that one up really got hold of something, because it was darker than a woodchuck’s asshole this morning, and dawn wasn’t far away.
Not that this daybreak would be up to much even when it finally got rolling; call it dawn with a hangover. The fog was heavy and smelled of the nearby not-so-great Great Lake. A fine cold drizzle had begun to fall through it, just to add to the fun. Rob clicked the wiper control from intermittent to slow. Not far up ahead, two unmistakable yellow arches rose from the murk.
“The Golden Tits of America!” Jason Rapsis cried from the shotgun seat. Rob had worked with any number of paramedics over his fifteen years as an EMT, and Jace Rapsis was the best: easygoing when nothing was happening, unflappable and sharply focused when everything was happening at once. “We shall be fed! God bless capitalism! Pull in, pull in!”
“Are you sure?” Rob asked. “After the object lesson we just had in what that shit can do?”
The run from which they were now returning had been to one of the McMansions in Sugar Heights, where a man named Harvey Galen had called 911 complaining of terrible chest pains. They had found him lying on the sofa in what rich folks no doubt called “the great room,” a beached whale of a man in blue silk pajamas. His wife was hovering over him, convinced he was going to punch out at any second.
“Mickey D’s, Mickey D’s!” Jason chanted. He was bouncing up and down in his seat. The gravely competent professional who had taken Mr. Galen’s vitals (Rob right beside him, holding the First In Bag with its airway management gear and cardiac meds) had disappeared. With his blond hair flopping in his eyes, Jason looked like an overgrown kid of fourteen. “Pull in, I say!”
Rob pulled in. He could get behind a sausage biscuit himself, and maybe one of those hash brown thingies that looked like a baked buffalo tongue.
There was a short line of cars at the drive-thru. Rob snuggled up at the end of it.
“Besides, it’s not like the guy had a for-real heart attack,” Jason said. “Just OD’d on Mexican. Refused a lift to the hospital, didn’t he?”
He had. After a few hearty belches and one trombone blast from his nether regions that had his social X-ray of a wife booking for the kitchen, Mr. Galen sat up, said he was feeling much better, and told them that no, he didn’t think he needed to be transported to Kiner Memorial. Rob and Jason didn’t think so, either, after listening to a recitation of what Galen had put away at Tijuana Rose the night before. His pulse was strong, and although his blood pressure was on the iffy side, it probably had been for years, and was currently stable. The automatic external defibrillator never came out of its canvas sack.
“I want two Egg McMuffins and two hash browns,” Jason announced. “Black coffee. On second thought, make that three hash browns.”
Rob was still thinking about Galen. “It was indigestion this time, but it’ll be the real thing soon enough. Thunderclap infarction. What do you think he went? Three hundred? Three fifty?”
“Three twenty-five at least,” Jason said, “and stop trying to spoil my breakfast.”
Rob waved his arm at the Golden Arches rising through the lake-effect fog. “This place and all the other greasepits like it are half of what’s wrong with America. As a medical person, I’m sure you know that. What you just ordered? That’s nine hundred calories on the hoof, bro. Add sausage to the Egg McMuffdivers and you’re riding right around thirteen hundred.”
“What are you having, Doctor Health?”
“Sausage biscuit. Maybe two.”
Jason clapped him on the shoulder. “My man!”
The line moved forward. They were two cars from the window when the radio beneath the in-dash computer blared. Dispatchers were usually cool, calm, and collected, but this one sounded like a radio shock jock after too many Red Bulls. “All ambulances and fire apparatus, we have an MCI! I repeat, MCI! This is a high-priority call for all ambulances and fire apparatus!”
MCI, short for mass casualty incident. Rob and Jason stared at each other. Plane crash, train crash, explosion, or act of terrorism. It almost had to be one of the four.