Warning: Hanky Alert! Involves the death of a main character.
What Are You Doing on New Year’s Eve?
By Lizabeth S. Tucker
Hank Stanley pulled his wife, Emily, into a tighter embrace as they danced slowly to the mellow tones of Frank Sinatra. The television, sound muted, showed the crowds in Times Square waiting for the ball to drop.
When the phone rang, it startled both of them. Emily’s first thought was for her children, having a sleepover at a friend’s house. Hank exchanged concerned looks with her as Emily ran to answer the phone.
“Hello? Yes, he’s here.” She held the receiver out to her husband. “Hank, it’s for you. It’s the Chief.”
The tall, lanky man took a deep breath before accepting the phone. Late night calls from the Battalion Chief were never good news. “Yes, sir? What? When? How bad is he? Yes, sir. I’ll be there in about…30 minutes. Thank you for calling.”
Emily saw her husband’s face change from loving husband to fire captain. “What is it?”
“One of my men has been hurt, working overtime at another station. He’s critical. I’m sorry, Em, but I need to go to Rampart.”
She covered her mouth with her hand, her eyes crinkled in sorrow. “Oh, Hank, I’m sorry. Who was it?”
“We should put the kids to bed,” Joanne murmured into her husband’s chest, too relaxed to move.
On the couch with his wife sprawled across him, Roy kissed the top of her head. “Yeah, later. I have better things to do right now.”
She twisted her head until she could look up into his face. “Oh, yeah? Like what?”
“Like this,” he replied, pulling her up until their lips could meet.
The kisses became more heated and Roy’s hand began inching its way under Joanne’s soft sweater when the phone rang. He groaned, sitting for moment before carefully reaching to the table beside him. “This had better be important,” he barked into the phone. “Oh, sorry, Cap. When? I’m on my way.”
Joanne felt his body tense and pushed herself upright. “Roy, what is it?”
“I’ve gotta go to the hospital, babe.” Roy explained why as he grabbed his jacket.
“Take care. Let me know if he…” Joanne laid her hand on her husband’s face.
“I will. Do you want me to carry the kids to their rooms?”
“No. You go. I’ll take care of them. Call me.”
Roy kissed his wife, giving her an extra hug before bounding out into the chilly night.
“Michael, will come over here and stop playing with that stereo?” Beth stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at her new husband.
“I’m trying to set a mood,” Mike replied, frustrated by the multifunctional machine. “Every time I try to play the record, the cassette player comes on. If I punch the cassette player’s button, the radio blares out. Man, I hate technology!”
“This from a man who has to keep track of hundreds of dials and gauges on his beloved engine?”
“Hey, that’s easy. It all makes sense.”
“Uh huh, sure it does. To you and your fellow engineer/specialists, a.k.a. nerds.”
Mike took exception to the term and lunged after his wife who took off towards the bedroom, laughing. The phone rang as Mike started after her. He cursed the interruption, but veered to the kitchen to grab the receiver. “Stoker residence.”
Beth came down the stairs at a run when she heard her husband cursing and slamming his fist into the kitchen wall. “Mike! Honey, what is it?”
“Oh, God, Beth, he’s dying.”
Marco poured the wine kept chilling in a bucket on the kitchen counter and carried the goblets out to where his fiancé waited. “It won’t be long now.”
“Until what? Midnight? Or our wedding,” Elena asked, taking the glass and giving Marco a gentle kiss in thanks.
“Both. But I was referring to midnight. I’m glad that we decided to celebrate alone. This is much more romantic.”
“It certainly is. The candles, the flowers, the lovely dinner you prepared, all the delights to seduce the senses. You are a hopeless romantic, darling.”
“Only with you,” Marco replied, moving closer. He removed the glass from her hand and placed it next to his on the end table. “Only for you.”
The phone’s shrill ring was jarring. Once Marco was done speaking with his Captain, any thought of romance was far from his head. And, if the worse happened, his decision would finally be made regarding his future in the fire department.
“I’m sorry. There’s nothing more we can do.” Dr. Brackett laid his hand on the shoulder of the grieving firefighter leaning against the waiting room wall. “It won’t be much longer.”
The other man nodded. “He isn’t in any…pain?”
“No, he’s heavily medicated but alert.”
“Can I…can I go inside, be with him? I don’t want him to be alone.”
“Of course. I really am sorry.”
“Yeah,” the firefighter said, “so am I.”
He pushed the door open and saw his friend, for that was always their real relationship, watching.
He moved to the bed and gripped the other man’s hand. “I’m here.”
“They told me. Hey, don’t. I’m not hurting. Brackett has me pumped full of joy juice.”
“Yeah. Damn. I never thought either of us would…die, ya know?”
The patient smiled. “We were gonna live forever, buggin’ the hell out of each other.”
The silence was comfortable, the two men, the two friends thinking of their years together. If one of them had to die, at least they were together.
“You’re my brother, you know that, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I’ve always known it. The feeling’s mutual.”
He could hear the increasing difficulty in breathing as the beleaguered body began to shut down. He wiped at the tears in his eyes.
A quick glance at the clock revealed that it was one minute until midnight. “It’s almost the new year.”
They stayed that way, hand in hand, as the injured man’s chest moved up and down in slower and slower motions. At last, with a smile and a gasp, it was over. His friend leaned down over the bed and cried.
“Johnny!” Roy came bursting into the room.
“It’s over. He’s gone.” The man wiped his hands over his face, trying to erase the tears shed. He walked over to the window and looked out onto the night. “Happy New Year.”
Roy looked down at the face of the dead man and marveled. “He looks…peaceful.”
“I think he was ready for it, Roy. I really think he was. I’m just not sure if I am.”
“C’mon, let’s let the nurses do their job.” Roy ushered the other man out into the lobby, seeing the arrival of the rest of Station 51’s crew.
“Ya know, Roy. I think I’m gonna try for captain with you.” Johnny Gage took a deep breath, looked back at where Chet Kelly lay surrounded by beautiful nurses and smiled. If only the Phantom could see that. Hell, maybe he can. Bye, buddy.
Note: Sorry, guys, but like many in the fandom, I’ve always assumed that Chet died before Roy and Johnny became captains. I didn’t really wonder how it happened as much as how much affect it would have on the men he worked with. This shows the beginning of the changes to come. In my universe, Roy was already planning to go for the captain’s exam, Marco was considering quitting to open a restaurant, and Cap was considering going for Battalion Chief. Soon, only Mike Stoker would remain at Station 51 and, with the arrival of their first baby, Mike will soon be the next to go for the white hat.
A big thank you to Audrey who was willing to give this story a home and who keeps the light burning in the stationhouse window!