Jacinta Ruthbridge had begun to loathe night shift. Chicago had once been a city that possessed a vibrant nightlife, now it shut down at dusk as people stayed locked up in their homes unless they absolutely needed to. All because of stories. It had been three years since the media started reporting an increase in violence, it didn’t take long for the cause to be attributed to make-believe monsters. As a paramedic she saw first-hand the real world implications of those stories.
The only reason she continued to endure the torture of twelve hours of brain-numbing boredom was to save up enough money to get out of Chicago; to escape the paranoia of a city gone mad.
Her five-foot-seven frame lounged on one of the station’s sofas, boots propped up on the far arm, watching the wall-mounted television across the room. She rolled her eyes at the infomercial on the screen trying to sell the latest must have beauty item. Looking at the large clock on the far wall caused Jacinta to groan as the clock-face confirmed her thoughts that the shift wasn't even half over.
Her disappointed tone caught the attention of the nearby collection of fire-fighters sitting behind her playing cards. The emblems on their work shirts designated them as belonging to either the station’s Engine or Truck Companies. The remaining members belonging to the station’s two fire fighting vehicles were scattered throughout the stationhouse occupying their time by sleeping, eating or working on their respective vehicles out in the apparatus bay.
Like her they had to endure a mind-numbing twelve-hour shift but unlike her they were making the most of it as the stack of poker chips sitting in the centre of the table testified.
They looked over to Jacinta, the only woman in the station, before their gaze finally fell on the only other paramedic on shift sitting at the end of the table with the smallest stack of chips. “Hey, rookie, I think your partner needs some attention,” one of the truck company members commented snidely while others laughed.
Face reddening as the other participants continued making jokes, Tobias McClaskey, Jacinta's partner, sunk in his chair and asked, “Sin, you alright?”
Jacinta stood up scowling before running a hand through her thick, brown, below shoulder-length hair. By the time she turned around, her expression had returned to normal. She hated the fact that Tobias had started addressing her by her nickname, something he must have picked up from the fire crews.
She nodded, acknowledging the question before heading towards the kitchenette at the rear of the break room. As she moved her body-hugging black uniform shirt and paramedic pants pulled against her hourglass figure. She had always known her curvy appearance was one of her more noticeable attributes, and while it had gained her a number of admirers, she considered it a hindrance to her duties. Approaching the fridge to remove bottle of cola, twisting the top off the bottle in the same movement as she nudged the door closed with her hip.
“Just wondering what I’m going to do for the next eight hours, there is nothing good on at the moment, so unless you had any objections, I was thinking of watching a movie,” she remarked before taking a sip from the bottle. Returning to the sofa, she casually picked up the DVD case of a soppy romantic comedy from the coffee table showing it to the card players. “What do you guys think of this one?” she asked grinning slightly, she had no real desire to watch it, but knew it would get a reaction.
To their credit, the grouped fire fighters started gagging, grasping at their throats as if choking; one even fell to the floor feigning death.
Jacinta laughed before placing the DVD back on the sofa, “A no would have been sufficient,” she commented while grinning, causing the others to laugh before they threw handfuls of chips in the centre and returning to their game.
Jacinta shrugged and returned to the sofa and trawled through the pile of magazines that littered the coffee table, sighing at the fact that she was the sole woman on the shift and all the magazines in front of her focused on sports, guns, cars, or large-breasted women in varying stages of undress. Rolling her eyes, Jacinta picked up the nearest magazine and flicked through its pages absently, wishing that there was at least one magazine where she was the target audience.
Before she could become engrossed in the small token articles that were spaced between heavily photo shopped bodies, the station alarm sounded, “Engine 26, Truck 7, Ambulance 45, Townhouse fire, 3627 North Magnolia Street,” came over the station’s intercom. The card players groaned at the untimely interruption before dropping their cards and standing. They stole a moment to look over each other’s hands, which increased the pitch of the groan.
Matthew Hutchinson, the Engine Crew Lieutenant, turned to the assortment of fire-fighters that had gathered in the break room in preparation to move out to the garage in their assembled teams. “Remember, everyone, Night Protocols are in effect, keep an eye out, that part of town is heavily populated.” They nodded grimly; they all knew what night protocols meant.
“Are we going to have any backup for this one?” Tobias asked, collecting a trauma kit from a nearby equipment locker and loading it into the back of the ambulance.
“What’s the matter, Probie, scared the bogeyman will come and get you?” one of the ladder crew commented dryly as Jacinta moved into the locker room to collect her equipment, excluding her from the rest of the conversation though judging by the noises coming from the break room, things were not going well for the candidate paramedic. Stopping to remove a hair tie from around her wrist, she returned her brown locks to their proper positon tied in a tight ponytail before opening her designated locker. Removing her black uniform jacket; slipping it on she reached once more into the locker, removing a black bulky equipment vest with reflective stripes located evenly across the garment. The reason for the bulk was due to the succession of reinforced ribbed panels on the front and back, and a thick, stiffened neck guard. She hated wearing it, it was uncomfortable and restrictive, not to mention unflattering, especially the way it constricted her large chest, though she was thankful that she wasn’t a firefighter who also had to wear the heavy response jacket over the top of it. “All this because of some sadistic freaks and supposed satanic ritualism,” she muttered to herself as she left the room.
Entering the garage, she approached the white Chicago Fire Department Ambulance parked alongside a pair of black-and-red fire engines, a short, general-purpose fire engine and a specialised long-bodied ladder truck. Climbing into the cabin she dropped her vest behind her seat and belted up. Looking over to her partner studying a clipboard, she asked, “You ready?”
Tobias nodded, slipping his seatbelt over his shoulder and securing it in place. Jacinta turned over the engine, activating the ambulance’s light bar as the vehicle pulled out of the garage following the two fire engines. The three vehicles raced down empty streets in convoy.
As the vehicles sped towards the fire that was gradually starting to poke through the cityscape, Jacinta looked over to Tobias sitting uncomfortably in his equipment vest. This wasn’t her normal partner, her usual partner, Zack, had developed food poisoning from a recent station chili cook-off and Tobias had been called up to take his place. “You haven’t done a night shift before, have you, kid?” she asked, merging onto the I-90 Interstate several miles faster than the posted speed limit, following the two fire engines in front of her. While Jacinta was the senior paramedic, making it actually Tobias’ job to drive the ambulance, it was one of the few luxuries thatJacinta had in her life working nights that she enjoyed; that, and the fact that she didn’t yet trust this rookie EMT to have the wheel.
“Nope, they don’t allow candidates to work nights until our second year anymore, well, not normally anyway. I asked the chief if I could ride with you as relief, hopefully get more experience,” he replied, pulling at the tabs on his shoulders, trying to get comfortable as each bump and turn caused the vest to shift uncomfortably.
Jacinta shook her head as she continued to drive; in her peripheral vision she could see Tobias staring at her, “Is there something you want?” she asked as the fire started to become more visible, intermittent flashes of blue signalled that the Police Response Unit was already on the scene. The appearance of the specialised taskforce caused Jacinta to roll her eyes, as the PRU was created as the direct result of the rash of recent night-time attacks and was regularly despatched to emergency call outs as part of the Night Protocols.
Her question seemed to startle the rookie before he took a breath to gather the courage to ask his question. “Um, I’ve been curious, some of the guys in the stationhouse told me stories about how you broke your nose, and some of them seemed pretty farfetched…” he trailed off when he noticed the scowl on Jacinta’s face as she stole a glance to a side mirror, immediately noticing the slight bump on the bridge of her nose. Meekly Tobias continued, “How did you get the bump?”
Her scowl deepened, the station complement knew better than to talk about a time when she was as much the naïve rookie as the one seated beside her; a fact she didn’t like to be reminded of.
“My face happened to coincide with the same time and space as some drunk’s left cross, I was lucky to survive my rookie mistake; you may not be,” she hissed, beginning to fume. “If you want to work nights again, don’t bring up rumours; there are no monsters, they simply don’t exist. All that does are nutjobs and psychos, and if you don’t have the balls to face the reality of the situation then you shouldn’t be at the station,” she snapped as the small convoy of vehicles came to a stop outside a row of white townhouses, one of which was well alight. She looked over to her partner to see him shrinking into his vest, his expression clearly showing that what she had said had upset him. “Now is not the time for that, Rookie! We have a job to do!” she said brusquely before grabbing the receiver of the vehicle’s two-way radio and spoke into it, “Ambulance 45 arrived on scene.” Once she received acknowledgement from dispatch she opened the driver’s door and slipped out of the vehicle, reaching behind her seat for her vest. Donning the cumbersome garment she closed the driver’s door with a thud and moved to the rear of the vehicle, noticing that Tobias was already there, opening it to retrieve a trauma kit while struggling to settle his own vest. “Final piece of advice, Rookie, don’t wear the vest when you’re in the rig, otherwise you’ll be fidgeting with it forever.”
Tobias cast his gaze downwards again and mumbled something akin to an apology. The Incident Commander approached the vehicle, fluorescent panels on his police vest reflecting the pulses of light from nearly a dozen different light bars. When he arrived he placed a hand against the open rear door of the ambulance while the fire crews went to work combating the blaze in front of them.
“We don’t have any casualties yet, it seems the fire started in an upstairs bedroom in that empty townhouse and spread from there; we’ve been lucky and it’s been contained to this building, but stand by unless the situation changes,” the commander reported before turning back to see the fire crew entering the building.
“Understood, sir, we’ll set up here,” Jacinta replied, looking over to Tobias and nodding towards the interior of the ambulance to start preparing a triage post. The Incident Commander looked over at the probationary EMT and shook his head in sympathy before heading towards his command vehicle to liaise back with the incident control centre. Rolling her eyes, the paramedic joined her colleague.
Jacinta took a moment to look out at the scene around her. Despite the fact that there was a townhouse on fire in a heavily populated area there were surprisingly few bystanders looking on; even people in the surrounding houses had resisted the lure of coming out to the street to look on, favouring to watch the spectacle through the safety of barred windows. Shrugging, the paramedic took a seat against the rear fender of the ambulance, awkwardly crossing her arms over her vest as she watched the fire crews go to work. As she sat, she did her best to ignore the movements of her partner as he pottered around in the back of the vehicle.
As the fire crews continued to battle the inferno, she caught movement out of the corner of her eye which caused Jacinta to look towards a gangway a short distance from the building. Something appeared to be shuffling away from the scene of the blaze. The light created by the burning building and the half dozen emergency vehicles allowed her to see that this figure was humanoid, and limping severely. Rising to her feet, the paramedic reached in and removed a trauma kit from a shelf in the ambulance and started towards the individual to investigate. “Rookie, hold the fort, I think I saw something,” she commanded, not waiting to see if the probationary EMT had heard her as she slipped the straps over her shoulder and headed off. Grapping her walkie talkie, she clipped it to her vest and pressed the button.
“2-4-9 to 4-5-7, leaving ambulance to investigate a possible casualty, 3-2-4 is still at the vehicle.”
“Confirmed, 2-4-9, stand by, uniforms are enroute to your location for backup,” the Incident Commander replied.
“4-5-7, backup really isn’t required, chances are there isn’t anything there,” she commented, rolling her eyes at the notion of an escort.
“Understood, 2-4-9, maintain radio contact and stay safe, 4-5-7 out.”
Walking away from the ambulance, Jacinta continued down the direction she was convinced her mystery person had gone, even if she wasn’t completely sure that there was anyone there. She looked down and noticed a faint trail of blood reflecting nearby emergency beacons. She removed her flashlight from its belt loop and began to pan the surrounding area following the blood trail. Unaware of the distance she had travelled, a faint murmuring caused the paramedic to look behind a dumpster at the rear of a nearby building to find a man slumped against it, his features highlighted by a single bank of security lights installed on the corner. One hand was trying hopelessly to stem the course of bleeding from a number of jagged tears, making it look as though some kind of wild animal had mauled him; the other was holding onto the wall behind him as if this act was the only thing keeping him on the planet. His dark clothing was torn in several places and soaked in blood from his various injuries. The `blood loss draining the colour from his complexion.
“Shit,” Jacinta muttered, dropping the trauma kit and her flashlight and slipping a pair of purple examination gloves from a pouch on her vest onto her delicate, slender hands and kneeling beside the man. “Sir? Can you hear me? Can you tell me what happened?”
The man before her mumbled incoherently while pawing at the massive open, bloody wound in his abdomen in a vain attempt to slow the course of bleeding. Opening the main compartment of the kit, Jacinta the largest dressing pad she could find to start stemming the course of bleeding, securing it in place the best she could before she shuffled through pockets and flaps looking for additional bandages and analgesics to start treating the man’s other injuries. Narrowing her gaze, she scrutinised the layout of the kit and was unfamiliar with the way it had been set out. Irritated at the layout she drew her penlight and checked the tag on the bag’s handle, “Who the hell is Rodriguez?” Cursing, she dropped her light and removed a Hudson mask from the resuscitation kit inside the bag and connecting it to the oxygen bottle in the base, she placed it over the man’s mouth and nose, turning the dial on the regulator once it was secure. “This is 2-4-9 to 3-2-4; I’ve found someone: male, mid-thirties, he looks like he’s been mauled by a bear or something, looks unrelated to the fire. Also where the hell is my ALS bag?”
There was a brief pause before Tobias replied, “Um, the stationhouse I think, ’cause I don’t see it in the vehicle.” Jacinta swore off channel as she attempted to do her best to apply pressure to her patient’s larger wounds.
“Then bring me a drug bag and the stretcher. I went down the gangway near the townhouse, beside a dumpster, I’m not sure how far down I’ve gone, but this guy doesn’t look in great shape so get the lead out.”
“I’m on my way, 3-2-4 out.”
Sighing, Jacinta pressed the talk button again on the two-way. “2-4-9 to 4-5-7, Commander, I’ve found a patient unrelated to the fire, male mid-thirties, multiple deep lacerations down the gangway alongside the townhouse row. Once 3-2-4 arrives at my location I will be extracting him back to the rig, he’ll need a pickup; it’s an urgent case.”
The radio crackled to life with the Incident Commander, “Understood, 2-4-9, assistance will be on site by the time you arrive, 4-5-7 out.”
“Rookies,” Jacinta muttered exasperatedly to herself as she wrapped another bandage around her patient’s torso to secure the dressing before picking up her penlight to inspect some of the smaller wounds now that she had more or less gotten the major bleeding under control. “What the hell did this to you?” she wondered as her patient faded in and out of consciousness. He would occasionally mutter incoherently in a language she couldn’t identify as she attempted to work on his wounds wishing she had more effective equipment to do her job.
Jacinta reached into the trauma bag and withdrew a smaller cannula kit and an IV line; rolling up her patient’s sleeve she attached the blue tourniquet from the kit just below his bicep. She then ran a swab across the inside of his forearm before priming the IV line from the 1000mL bag of saline and hung it from an anchor point on the dumpster. Placing the penlight between her teeth, she prepped the site before inserting the needle into a palpated vein. Holding the cannula in one hand, she paused when she noticed that the blood filling the cannula’s reservoir was not the normal dull red she expected from venous, deoxygenated blood, but a dark red more commonly seen with congealed blood.
Taking observations on her patient she looked over her shoulder and wondered where her partner was. Standing, she removed the penlight from her mouth and manipulated her two-way. “2-4-9 to 3-2-4, what’s your location?” her question was met with silence. “3-2-4 this is 2-4-9, radio check?” Again nothing, “2-4-9 to 4-5-7, radio check?”
“2-4-9, you’re coming through clear, are you receiving?” the Incident Commander replied. “Is there a problem?”
“4-5-7, all clear, but I can’t get in contact with 3-2-4, I haven’t seen him and this guy needs extraction.” Jacinta looked down at her patient and frowned as blood started to seep through the bandages.
“I see, 2-4-9, hold tight, I’ll sort something out.” She heard the commander attempt to page Tobias to the same result before she heard the faint click of the Commander switching to the local frequency instead of the dedicated EMS one. “4-5-7 to all personnel, be on the lookout for EMT McClaskey, he was last seen near Ambulance 45 heading towards the gangway alongside the townhouses. He’s not responding to comms so it’s possible he could have technical or other issues. Report back to central dispatch if you see him or the stretcher; as Paramedic Ruthbridge needs an extraction, 4-5-7 out.”
As the radio reported acknowledgements from the fire crews, Jacinta shook her head and returned to her patient.
“Damn it, Tobias, where the hell are you?” she asked, taking her patient’s observations again and recording them on a notepad from her pocket while she checked the cannula and the bandages to make sure they were still doing their job. A noise behind her brought her attention away from her patient. “Rookie, where the hell have you been, this guy needs to get out of here and why haven’t you been responding to my calls?” she demanded while placing a hand on the large abdominal bandage, checking to make sure that its integrity was intact before moving on to the oxygen tank to ensure that it was still supplying her patient. Her comment went unanswered.
A low guttural snarl behind her caused her to turn sharply; the light from the alley seemed to be absorbed by the night around her, but she was able to make out a faint silhouette. The figure was hulked over but it was obvious that it was easily taller than her by at least a foot; its long arms appeared to reach the ground unnaturally as it approached.
While Jacinta normally enjoyed the feeling of her heart racing when she responded to a call, her heart was racing now for a completely different reason. An unaccustomed chill ran down her spine as she backed away from the figure, putting herself between it and her patient, casting a quick glance around trying to assess the situation. Her training instructed her that if she was ever threatened, the trauma kit was a good improvised weapon; however, in this situation that was not an option as it was currently attached to her patient. Reaching for the belt loop she realised that she had dropped her flashlight when she arrived on scene.
“Shit,” she breathed, furiously looking around to see where it had rolled to as the figure drew closer.
In the back of her mind, she was cursing Tobias for not responding to her summons and probably getting lost, and that Zack would never have been so careless to get into a situation like this and that if she survived all this that she was going to punish Tobias severely.
Stealing a moment to look down she saw the light from her flashlight emanating from under the dumpster and slowly lowered herself to a crouch, keeping her gaze locked on the figure, blindly groping beneath her for the device. Once her fingers took purchase, she stood once more holding it like a baton.
The creature did not appear perturbed by this move, snarling mockingly as it continued to approach her; however, a crash nearby diverted both its attention and hers as a trashcan tipped over, spilling its contents across the gangway. A stray cat emerged from the wreckage mewing loudly as it pawed through the garbage looking for food completely ignorant of the situation occurring around it.
Shrugging, Jacinta turned back towards the figure fully expecting to be the next day’s front page article, picturing the headline as she did: Paramedic killed in bizarre satanic ritual attack defending patient because partner was too dumb to follow instructions… She stopped mid thought when she realised that the figure that had been stalking her was gone. Flicking on the flashlight she slowly panned it around her, making sure that the area was secure before turning back to check on her patient.
“You have got to be kidding me!” she cursed uncomprehendingly, looking down to find that her patient had also vanished. Looking around she saw the IV bag still hanging from the dumpster, the end of the line dragging through the pool of brownish-red blood that marked the spot where her patient had been slumped. The oxygen mask still attached to the O2 canister which continued to deliver oxygen despite the fact that there was no one receiving it. Shaking her head she bent down to shut off the regulator before noticing that the main section of the kit was in disarray, with a number of bandages and other supplies missing. Policing what remained of her equipment, she slung the trauma kit over her shoulder and reached for her two-way to inform the incident commander what had happened.
“1-1-7 to 2-4-9, Sin, get back here, we’ve found Tobias,” blared over her radio as she was about to press the mic. button. 1-1-7 was the call sign of Lieutenant Hutchinson, the engine crew’s team leader; normally he was calm and collected over the radio, but judging by his tone and complete disregard of communications protocols, something bad must have happened. Jacinta could feel the blood leaving her cheeks.
Taking a breath she pressed the button. “Understood, 1-1-7, what is your location, over?” she replied making sure that she hadn’t left anything behind before briskly heading towards the flashing emergency beacons, her recent encounter completely absent from her mind. She had to resist the urge to run as the weight of the equipment she was carrying threw off her centre of gravity forcing her to lean in the opposite direction as she walked to compensate.
“2-4-9, we’re just off the entrance to the gangway, there is a laneway about ten feet from the street, 4-5-7; we have a situation requiring your attention at my location, over.”
Jacinta did not like the direction the radio conversation was going and gradually turned down the volume on her two-way. She had a fair idea what was going on as she could see three members of the engine crew standing at the entrance to the laneway; one was shining a large handheld flashlight down the laneway while the other two were facing opposite directions as if they were waiting for her. When one noticed her approach he jogged towards her, holding his hands up for her to stop.
“Sean, what’s going on?” she asked, instinctively removing a fresh set of gloves from a pouch on her vest. When he didn’t immediately reply, she hardened her gaze. “Sean, where’s Tobias?”
Senior Firefighter Sean Watson looked away towards the laneway before meeting her gaze. He was one of the older firefighters attached to Engine 26, becoming a de-facto father-figure for most of the station. “When the Commander put the call out to look for him we all thought that he had just gotten lost. When Tony exited the townhouse to clean his visor and found your stretcher toppled over in the gangway, it wasn’t long after that that we found Tobias…” He looked over his shoulder to see another engine crew member, Tony Alveraz, sitting on the back step of Engine 26, with a blanket around his shoulders; his face pale looked as if he had seen something horrific.
Jacinta stepped around Sean and into the laneway, immediately noticing the fluorescent ‘Lieutenant Hutchinson’ nameplate on the back of the jacket of one of the engine crew who crouched over something being illuminated by another fire-fighter. It didn’t take Jacinta long to realise that he was crouched over Tobias; however, he didn’t appear to be treating any injuries the man might have suffered or talking to him, he just sat crouched beside him, laying between Jacinta and the lieutenant was an opened trauma kit, and a number of opened dressing packs lay scattered around the laneway. The engine lieutenant looked up when her shadow was cast over the scene and stood, blocking her field of vision. “Sin, there’s nothing you can do,” he muttered; the front of his jacket had patches of blood on it as he looked past her towards the laneway. Jacinta pushed past the lieutenant, only to stop cold in her tracks by what lay in front of her.
Tobias lay crumbled alongside the overturned stretcher. His skin had a pallor that nearly matched the bandage that was secured against his neck, offset only by the bloody smear that covered the right hand side of his head, turning his blonde hair an obscure red colour. The armoured vest, identical to the one she wore, was torn open, with reinforced panels splintered as if snapped under severe force. Beneath the vest was another blood-soaked bandage. Crouching beside the kid that moments before she had mocked for jumping at shadows, Jacinta placed two fingers against the inside of his right wrist, while staring at his face, the image of terror immortalised into lifeless eyes as she failed to feel his pulse.
“He was already dead by the time we found him,” Matthew remarked in a tone that suggested that he wasn’t speaking to Jacinta.
“Paramedic Ruthbridge, please take a step away from your partner, I’d like you to return to your vehicle, we need to debrief you,” the Incident Commander commented from behind her, placing a hand on her shoulder. Jacinta didn’t feel his hand as her vest was between them. Standing, she turned around to face the Incident Commander as a second ambulance, Ambulance 84, pulled up to the scene; a pair of police officers from the Response Unit had also arrived and started marking out the scene with yellow police tape. Jacinta nodded slowly before she moved away from the gangway and returned to the ambulance, dropping the trauma kit in the back and sitting on the step.
She hadn’t met Tobias before this evening as he had only been assigned to the stationhouse after the cook-off since passing candidate EMT status the month before and had only worked during the day shift, but she still felt bad for the way things turned out. She had spent the entire shift telling him off; her last thoughts before finding out what had happened related to how she was going to punish him for getting lost, and now he was dead. Placing her head in her hands she took a slow, deep breath and shuddered as the adrenaline from both her encounter and the current situation started to subside.
“It’s one of those nights, eh?” the Incident Commander commented. Jacinta hadn’t even registered his approach to her. Raising her head, she looked up at him, smiling weakly, her eyes clouded.
She nodded dumbly before reaching into the back of the ambulance for her water bottle and opening it, taking sips in between washing her hands. It took her a moment to realise that she was still wearing gloves. Shaking her head she removed the gloves and dropped them on the pavement.
The commander frowned, placing a hand against the open door beside her. “Are you okay?” he asked gently, trying to get Jacinta’s mind focused but unsure whether she had even heard him.
“He disappeared,” she muttered, catching the commander off guard; he returned her gaze with a confused expression. “My patient, he disappeared. While I was waiting for Tobi- EMT McClaskey to arrive with the stretcher, a large animal -- a dog or something -- probably the one that attacked him in the first place, started sniffing around the scene. I was distracted for like a second as I tried to scare it off but when I turned back to him, he had vanished.”
The Incident Commander frowned once more, “You said he wasn’t in a good state to begin with, and you have no idea where he could have gone, or if there was anyone else around who could have helped him?” Jacinta returned his expression before shaking her head. “Are you okay?” he asked again.
Jacinta looked up at the commander, now wearing a defeated expression. “It’s not every day that you lose both your patient and your partner within the space of an hour of each other, do you, so you tell me,” she remarked with an edge to her voice.
Ignoring the flippancy of the remark, the commander took a seat on the step beside her. “Things happen, things that we can’t control, tonight has been one of those times...” The sound of a vehicle approaching caused the two to look up, noticing a black-and-red SUV pull up to the scene, its light bar flashing periodically, a white number four decal on the driver’s door marking this vehicle as belonging to her Battalion Chief.
Three people emerged from the SUV, the white-shirted battalion chief and two additional paramedics, who, judging by their dishevelled appearance, looked like they had just been woken up.
“We need to know the location of where you found your patient so that the CSU can mark it out as a potential crime scene. While you said that there isn’t any connection between him and the fire, it’s up to the investigators to make that determination,” the Commander remarked as the new paramedic crew removed equipment from the rear of the SUV.
Jacinta turned and pointed down the gangway. “That way, past a dumpster, under a security light; you shouldn’t be able to miss it, there is quite a bit of blood,” she replied before registering the presence of the new paramedics, realising they were there to replace her.
“What are they doing here?” she asked as the trio approached the ambulance. The chief wore a concerned expression before stopping a respectable distance away from the ambulance as the two replacement paramedics continued on, placing their kits in the rear of the vehicle beside Jacinta. The replacements looked at Jacinta with sympathetic gazes before moving away to give her space.
“Protocol, you know that, Miss Ruthbridge, you are on forty-eight hour stand-down until you are debriefed by someone from bereavement services,” the Incident Commander reported before standing to confer with the Battalion Chief. Jacinta looked around briefly; noticing that more police had entered the gangway.
A pair of police officers approached the ambulance, standing a short distance away. “Paramedic Ruthbridge, we need you to surrender your uniform and any equipment you used so we can use any DNA on them to identify just who your patient was as they may have something to do with the fire.”
Jacinta nodded absently before handing them the waste bag that contained all the equipment she had used to treat her now-missing patient. The officers smiled at her sympathetically before placing the waste bag within sealed paper bags to preserve any evidence.
“Why do you need my uniform?” she asked before standing and, catching her reflection in a metallic door panel, noticing the blood stains on her pants, vest and boots. “Ah, that’s why.”
She stood, holding her arms out at her sides as one of the officers took photos of her in her uniform to chronicle the location of the blood splatters. She then unclasped her utility vest, letting the officers remove it from her before they took additional photos of both the bloodstained vest and Jacinta in the rest of her uniform. Untying her boots she showed the soles to the officers who nodded that they too had to be collected before taking additional photos. Unclasping her equipment belt she dropped it in the back of the ambulance before unzipping her pants, and stepping out of them and handing them also to the officer who placed them in another brown bag. Standing in only her black uniform jacket and black lace boy leg panties, she placed her hands on her hips. “Is there anything else you need?” she asked, shivering slightly as a faint April breeze nipped at her bare legs.The two officers stood stunned for a moment; they weren’t expecting the curvaceous brunette to disrobe in the street.
“Um, no, we’re good here, but if we need anything we’ll be in touch,” one of the officers said before grabbing the arm of this colleague who was discombobulated by the sight of a half-naked paramedic.
Jacinta shook her head before sitting down again on the rear step of the ambulance, immediately regretting it as her bare skin came into contact with the cold steel grating causing her to shiver once more. Wrapping her arms around her chest in an attempt to warm herself she wondered if the officers were going to collect the stretcher which was still in the gangway or make the replacement paramedic crew retrieve it.
Looking up she saw the Battalion Chief approaching, holding a small duffel bag in one hand. As he got closer she could see that his expression was the same one everyone else who had approached her had. He handed her the bag and said, “That’s a spare uniform from the Truck, I doubt that it will fit, but it should keep you warm.” Jacinta stood and accepted the duffel, withdrawing the bulky over-trousers and putting them on. As the chief had said, the trousers were too big so she did her best to secure it using her thick equipment belt and braces. “Come on, I’ll take you back to your place.”
Jacinta nodded before collecting her clipboard from the front of the ambulance and re-joining the chief, the two of them walked back to his SUV. Opening the vehicle’s rear door, Jacinta put her gear in the back seat of the truck before climbing in the passenger seat.
The Chief took his position behind the wheel and started the engine once they had their seatbelts on and Jacinta seemed settled. Reversing, the Battalion Chief pulled away from the townhouse, which by now was just smouldering, and proceeded towards her apartment, driving down uncustomary empty streets. It was hard to remember that Chicago used to be a city with a thriving nightlife, when to all intents and purposes, the town appeared deserted.
The SUV pulled up to her apartment building and came to a stop. “I think the best thing for you right now is to get some sleep; someone from bereavement services will be in contact with you in the next couple of days, but until then you are off duty. Remember you’re not alone in this; we are a family, we’re with you all the way so if you need to talk to someone, do not hesitate to call. Don’t worry about your car, I’ll have someone drive it here at shift change, now get some sleep, you’ve had a rough day.”
Jacinta unbuckled her seatbelt and opened the door; collecting her gear from the back seat she returned to the still open passenger door and removed her keys from a zippered pocket in her tunic, detaching her car keys from the ring and handing them to the chief. “Thanks, Chief, I appreciate it,” she replied wearily before closing the door and standing on the kerb until the SUV pulled away. Turning, she entered her building and climbed the stairs to her apartment.
Shutting the door behind her, Jacinta rested her head against it for a moment as she dropped her bag. Closing her eyes she took a deep breath before locking the door. Moving further into her apartment she discarded her equipment belt on the arm of the couch and let the over-trousers slide to the floor. Stepping out of the heavy, bulky garment she walked to the bathroom, removing her uniform tunic mid-step and likewise dropping it to the floor, quickly followed by her figure-hugging undershirt. Entering the bathroom she unhooked her black bra and placed it on the edge of the basin before stepping out of her panties and removing her socks. Now standing naked in the bathroom, she turned the shower taps on. Resting her hands on the basin, she leaned into the mirror; her brown hollow eyes looking back at her as she waited for the temperature to reach a desired level.
As steam started to rise, she stepped into the shower, sighing appreciatively as the water hit her skin, relaxing tired muscles. Turning around under the water several times to allow the water to flow over her body, she faced the wall to allow the warmth to embrace her. Closing her eyes she immersed her head under the stream, allowing the water to cascade down her curves as she ran her hands through her brown tresses untangling knots with her fingers. She rested the back of her head against a tiled wall of the shower as the water directly streamed onto her chest. As the water coursed down her cheeks as she was alone with her thoughts; giving in to her exhaustion she slowly slid down the wall until she was sitting on the floor of the shower, her legs tucked up under her chin as she wrapped her arms around her knees and placed her head against them. The trickle quickly because a full torrent as the floodgates opened as she started crying, her body simply unable to hold back any further.
By the time that the hot water had started to cool Jacinta had exhausted what tears she had left to shed as well as any energy that she may have had following her shift. Standing slowly she snaked her hand up the wall and turned off the taps and reached for a towel and dried herself off. Grabbing another towel she wrapped it around her body and exited the bathroom. She walked to her bedroom almost entirely on instinct and fell onto her double bed, exhaustion finally taking her to a deep dreamless slumber.
In the two days following the incident, Jacinta accomplished very little; while it was common for her to be at home during the day as she worked almost exclusively nights, she simply did not possess any of the will or desire to do anything or to leave her apartment. As was normal for her, it was noon before she woke on the second day from a fitful sleep; once again she wasn’t feeling particularly refreshed by the experience. Looking down at her cell phone for the time, she noticed that she had received a number of messages from members of the stationhouse, mostly offering their condolences and offering a shoulder to cry on if she needed it. While she appreciated the concern her colleagues had for her she couldn’t bring herself to call them on their offers. She realised that as no one from bereavement services had contacted her, they hadn’t contacted her the previous day either, which meant that by union laws they would have to do so today, meaning that she would have to actually go out of the house. This filled her with a sudden sense of purpose, as only these headshrinkers could give her the clearance to return to work.
Standing, she stripped out of her nightie and, placing it in the hamper, walked over to her wardrobe naked; while she wasn’t an exhibitionist, she did possess pride in her appearance. Opening the doors she removed a clean blue-and-white striped thong and a matching bra from a drawer; this set was one of her favourites as it accentuated her better ‘assets’ and, considering the mood she had been in, it was the boost that she thought she needed.
Slipping on her underwear and adjusting herself, she stood in front of the full-door mirror; she placed her left hand on her hip, while her right hand fiddled with the bar piercing in her navel, giving herself the once-over as she did. She stroked her belly casually, and then grabbed a handful of olive-coloured flesh, to determine the full impact of all of those night shifts. She let out a sign of relief; nothing that a couple of extra laps around the block couldn't fix. “You’ve still got it, girl,” she murmured appreciatively before putting on a pair of denim boot-leg cut jeans and a grey off-the-shoulder style top. Stepping away from the wardrobe, she combed her nimble fingers through her hair before tying it up in a loose ponytail.
As she lowered her arms, her gaze fell on the ornate shaded angel tattoo on the inside of her right forearm, uncovered by the tops elbow-length sleeves. A pair of snakes encircled the tattoo’s curvaceous form. The angel’s outstretched wings wrapped around Jacinta’s wrist as the words ‘Nihil Nocet’ tattooed on either side of its crowned head.
Approaching the dresser Jacinta picked up a thick obsidian bangle, and rolled it around in her hand before sliding it over the fingers of her left hand while entering the living room.
Dropping onto the couch, she turned on the television as she picked up her sandals from their location under the coffee table and slipped them on, taking a moment to check the quality of the oldest tattoo she had, a series of three small coloured bubbles that resided on her right ankle. As she did so she made a mental note that she would need to buy new boots before she returned to work.
As she channel surfed to find something to serve as background noise as she decided what she was going to do, her left breast started vibrating rhythmically before her phone started playing ‘Kiss the Girl’ from The Little Mermaid. Fishing her phone out of her bra she looked down at a number she didn’t recognise, pausing for a moment she hit the call accept button, “Jacinta Ruthbridge speaking.”
“Hello, Jacinta, this is Sally Winters from Bereavement Services, how are you today…”
Jacinta found herself barely listening to the woman from bereavement services as she organised a meeting at the stationhouse later in the afternoon. While she was paying enough attention to comprehend what was being said, the almost-bolted-on sincerity that dripped from Sally’s words did as much to irritate as the intention to console her. Eventually Sally had acquired as much of the required information Jacinta was willing to reveal before ending the call. The paramedic rolled her eyes before stuffing her cell back into her bra and collected her handbag from its location hanging off the back of an armchair and her duty bag from the floor beside the front door; if she left now she might be able to get a coffee before her meeting.
She bent down and retrieved the discarded overtrousers from their position where she had left them and folded them before placing them in her duty bag; due to the reflective panels she didn’t have the facilities to clean them. She would return them when she returned to the stationhouse.
She looked out her apartment’s window, and noticed a pair of well-dressed men in suits giving her small blue sedan parked outside her building the once-over, one checking its details against information in a notebook before they approached the main door to her building. Sighing, she collected a light jacket from a hook on the back of the door before she picked up her house keys from the bowl near the door and headed down to find out what these people were after.
They managed to intercept her in the main lobby of the building, the taller of the two holding up his hand as he saw her approach, “Miss Ruthbridge, may we have a word with you?”
He stood about three inches taller than Jacinta and his broad shoulders managing to fit into a suit worth considerably more than a simple civil servant could afford, but he looked like he was poured into it, with short-cut black hair and eyes the colour of molten silver. A lopsided grin framed by an otherwise maintained five-day stubble. Jacinta raised an eyebrow as she looked at him closely and felt her cheeks redden slightly when she caught herself doing it.
Taking a breath to calm down, she tucked her handbag into her arm, before cautiously taking the final steps to join them in the lobby. “I really have to be somewhere else, and I doubt that I can help you.”
The two men withdrew badges and ID from their pockets, holding them out for inspection. “I’m Detective Henry Miller and this is Constable Xavier Prescott, from the Chicago Police Department, we’re working in a joint taskforce with the arson squad and the medical examiner, working as part of the investigation into the death of your partner, and any possible connection it may have with the Magnolia Street townhouse fire. We were hoping you could answer some questions for us.”
Jacinta shook her head dismissively before taking a step towards the door. “I’d like to help you, but I don’t know what information I can tell you, I was nowhere near Tobias when he died, and if I did I don’t have the time, I have an appointment I need to keep.” Privately she hated the idea of sitting with a grief counsellor simply so she could return to work, but she knew that if she missed the meeting that had been organised by the department’s bereavement services it could be days or even weeks before she could be cleared to work and she still had bills to pay if she was ever to escape the city.
“Miss Ruthbridge, I know that this may be hard, but I promise that it won’t take long, and that I will be as painless as possible,” Detective Miller remarked before smiling reassuringly; it was obvious that he had caught her checking him out.
Jacinta sighed dejectedly before taking a step to the left to allow them access to the staircase behind her. “Fine, let us get this over with.”
“So, can you tell us what happened up until your partner’s death?” Detective Miller asked, sitting on a recliner next to the sofa she was sitting on. Constable Prescott stood nearby.
Jacinta sat back on the sofa, her long legs crossed at the knee, her gaze never leaving the men opposite. “After we arrived on scene, I thought I saw someone injured moving away from the fire so I radioed it in and went to have a look. Initially I didn’t think there was anything until I found this guy propped up behind a dumpster, he was in bad shape so I attempted to stabilise him and called for Tobias to bring up the stretcher; I also informed the site commander of my discovery. After a while I became concerned that Tobias hadn’t turned up yet, I mean, I hadn’t gone that far from the ambulance, and tried to raise him on the radio with no luck. The Commander then also tried to contact him before putting an alert out to look for him. Somehow my patient disappeared it wasn’t until I was returning to the ambulance that he was found. By the time I reached where the engine crew had found him, he was already dead. I suspect either the crew on Ambulance 84 transported the body to the morgue or the M.E. did.” She paused for a moment thinking about what she had said as her words sank in; she had managed to sum up everything in a little over three minutes of talking.
Detective Miller looked over to the constable who had been taking down her statement before looking back at the brunette. “Why did you turn down a patrol to join you in looking for your mystery patient?”
Jacinta paused for a moment, thinking over the question, realising that the detective knew a lot more about the case than he had let on, as she had made no mention of turning down the escort. “Because I wasn’t even sure that I had seen someone; that and I believe these Night Protocols are a knee-jerk response to a bunch of nutjobs and psychopaths running rampant, though maybe because I wasn’t thinking that there would be something lurking in the shadows that was going to kill my partner,” she replied, her expression clearly showing that she was not impressed with the question. “The engine crew had already tried patching him up before I arrived, so I couldn’t see much; they have been treating me like a little sister over it and won’t tell me anything.”
Detective Miller looked squarely at Jacinta. “The preliminary cause of death is a series of deep lacerations not dissimilar to an animal attack; despite the vest he was wearing he appeared to have been mauled quite severely. You were pretty lucky there,” he commented gauging the paramedic’s reaction.
Her eyes widened slightly as things started lining up. “My patient was also mauled; I thought he had been attacked by a bear or something, then this thing came sniffing around my patient but I managed to scare it off…” she trailed off. “It must have been the same creature. It killed Tobias and was probably coming back to finish off its first victim and probably would have killed me as well,” she said softly before placing a hand over her mouth. “Oh god,” she murmured realising just how lucky she had been.
Detective Miller expression changed, showing a hint of surprise by her comment. “Tell me more about this creature you saw, did you get a good look at it?” Jacinta shook her head; no matter how much she tried she couldn’t conjure up the image of her mystery beast. All she managed to recall was that it was big, covered in hair and appeared to be hulked over. As Constable Prescott took down notes, Detective Miller rested his hands in his lap. “What can you tell us about your patient?”
Jacinta looked at the detective with a curious expression, raising an eyebrow at the comment. “I thought you were here investigating the death of Tobias, what does my missing patient have to do with it?”
Sitting back in the chair the detective smiled before resting his chin on the palm of his hand. “Just covering our bases, the two incidents may be related.”
She paused for a moment, still not convinced by the answer he had given her, before resting her arm on the back of the sofa. “There was nothing really remarkable, it was dark and I couldn’t clearly make out his details and when I did his primary assessment I was kinda focused on his wounds not his looks. All I can tell you is that he was about five-nine, Caucasian, rather slim build, but muscled with dark hair.His major injuries were five deep jagged lacerations that ran across his abdomen from left to right, and he had a number of smaller wounds situated across his body. If a normal person had his kind of wounds there would have been no way for him to survive without immediate surgical treatment, but I take it that no one like that has been admitted to hospital?”
Detective Miller shook his head. “No, there hasn’t been, but in the past, most people who have sustained these type injuries rarely turn up in emergency. I have one other question; is there anything interesting that you remember about him, anything out of the ordinary?”
Jacinta’s gaze hardened. She wasn’t sure what this man was asking for; sure, there were a few things about the man she had treated that seemed odd, but then her training had told her that while everyone was built the same way, that not everything looked the same. “When I inserted the cannula to start giving him fluids, I noticed that his blood seemed a little strange, it almost looked like it was already coagulated while in his veins, but that could have just been the lighting. Aside from that everything else could be attributed to his injuries; he had lost a lot of blood,” she stopped before shifting uncomfortably in her seat, her gaze catching the clock on the wall. “I don’t think I can help you any further; as I said, I didn’t see much and I was focused on treating my patient.”
Detective Miller paused for a moment, appearing as though he was attempting to phrase a question before stopping, smiling instead. “No, I guess you’re right, thank you for your help, Miss Ruthbridge.” He removed his business card from his pocket and leant forward handing it to her. “If you think of anything else, please give me a call.” It appeared as if he wanted to say more, but at the last minute didn’t. Standing instead, he turned to his partner and nodded, indicating that was time for them to leave, then, turning back to Jacinta, he softened his tone, “Good day, Miss Ruthbridge, thank you for your help, don’t forget to call me if there is anything else.”
Jacinta’s eyes widened and she felt her cheeks redden before she stood to see the two officers out of her apartment. Retrieving her handbag, she waited until the officers had left the building before she too left, locking the door behind her. Heading quickly down the stairs, she took them two at a time before exiting the building, walking briskly towards her car.
Getting into the driver’s seat she looked at her watch as she turned on the engine and groaned as she realised that she was going to be late. As she drove, she kept returning to the questions that the detective had asked; he had seemed more interested in her missing patient then he was of what had happened to Tobias. The questions he asked just didn’t seem to make any sense to her. “Surely he can’t be inferring that I treated one of those monsters everyone is talking about?” She shook her head in disbelief. While there were parts of that night she couldn’t immediately explain, she wasn’t about to speculate or believe that the person she treated wasn’t even human; she convinced herself that she was far too intelligent to believe in such fairy tales.
Pulling up to the stationhouse, Jacinta parked in an empty spot at the rear of the building, shutting off the engine before taking a deep breath to compose herself. While she felt fine about dealing with the counsellor, she also didn’t want to appear too eager to return to work.
Opening the door she collected her purse from her handbag and her duty bag from the rear of the car and walked up towards the entrance to the stationhouse. When she entered the garage she stopped as she could see Ambulance 45 parked in its designated bay alongside the General Purpose Engine being restocked by the day shift. The Ladder Truck sat out of its bay in the car park having its hoses inspected. Approaching the ambulances open rear doors she placed a hand on its cool surface, “Knock, knock.”
Paramedic Joseph Kingsley looked up from his task of restocking a storage bin with bandages to see his night counterpart and smiled. “Sin, are you a sight for sore eyes, how are you feeling?”
She shrugged. “Alive, I guess, I’m about to go see the grievance counsellor to see when I can start working again, ’cause I feel bad getting paid to just sit around my apartment.” Smiling, she ran a hand over the steel casing of the rear door affectionately, “How’s the shift been?”
Joseph smiled before shoving the rest of the bandages into the bin and climbed out of the vehicle. “Can’t complain, the new stretcher is being a pain, but what can we do? 45’s normal stretcher’s still impounded until they collect any forensic evidence from it, but the CSU guys say that it will be returned by the weekend.” He stopped and placed a hand on Jacinta’s shoulder. “It’s good to see you back.”
She smiled once again, before stepping away from the ambulance and towards the double doors that served as the entrance to the stationhouse proper. “Thanks, Joe, but technically I’m not back yet, I have a meeting with a headshrinker, but when I’m done and you’re off shift, drinks, right?”
“I’ll have to see what Carly says, but sure, I can’t see that being a problem.”
Stepping inside the building, Jacinta was confronted by a short dumpy woman wearing an ill-fitting suit and a nauseating smile.
“Miss Ruthbridge, I’m Sally Winters, we spoke on the phone; if you would please follow me we can get started.”
Jacinta shrugged slightly before smiling tightly, otherwise keeping her expression as neutral as possible. “Right.”
The pair walked towards one of the many empty offices that lined the administrative section of the stationhouse, Sally attempting to make small talk with the paramedic. However, Jacinta wasn’t in the mood for pleasantries.
Opening the door to an office, Sally gestured for Jacinta to enter, closing the door behind her and moving to the far side of the desk and taking a seat. Jacinta sat on the only other seat, resting her hands in her lap; even if her outward appearance displayed confidence, she was still racking her brain to try and decipher just what the detective had meant with his questions.
Sally opened a notebook in front of her along with a manila folder, and looked squarely at the paramedic. “So, how are you feeling?”
Jacinta sat up straight in the chair and smiled confidently, “Pretty fine actually. I didn’t know Tobias that well as I had never worked with him before, I guess he wasn’t around long enough for me to get to know him that well.”
Sally nodded, scribbling some notes into the notebook, before she continued to ask questions to which Jacinta answered as honestly and briefly as possible.
Emerging from the office after what felt like an eternity, Jacinta took a deep breath before heading towards the locker room to drop off the overtrousers in her bag. The grievance counsellor had been happy with the answers she had given and cleared her to return to work, giving her the rest of the day off to prepare for the coming night shift. Entering the locker room, she noticed that she hadn’t seen any of the members of the day shift, passing it off as the crews being out on calls. Dropping the overtrousers in a basket she approached her locker and smiled when she saw wedged into the door a small handwritten card that read, “Welcome back”. Collecting the card she placed it in her pocket before opening the locker to collect items that she had left there from her last shift, putting them into her duty bag before slipping it over her shoulder.
Closing the locker she turned and headed towards the break room, stopping there to pour a glass of water before she returned to her apartment.
“So? What was the verdict?” called a voice from the couch in front of the television as soon as she entered the break room.
Jacinta stopped to face the source of the voice, smiling when Joe’s cheesy grin smiled back at her. “I return to work tomorrow, apparently there isn’t enough time between now and tonight’s shift to inform my replacement that they won’t be required.”
Joe’s grin grew even larger as he stood and approached her, lifting the petite paramedic off the ground to deliver a celebratory bear-hug. Jacinta squealed slightly before enjoying the intent of the gesture. When she was finally returned to the ground she looked up at her taller colleague, still smiling. “Thanks, Joe, I appreciate it.” Taking a step away from her day-shift counterpart she turned back towards him. “We still on for drinks tonight?”
The day shift paramedic shook his head. “We couldn’t get a sitter so I have been elected to watch the girls tonight while Carly goes and sees that new chick flick with her girlfriends. Sorry, Sin, but next time I’ll buy you a round.”
“You’re too good to that woman, Joe,” Jacinta remarked as the general purpose fire engine pulled into the garage. She briefly looked up at the truck as it came to a stop and the crew disembarked. Her attention was immediately drawn to one particular fire-fighter who was smaller than the rest of the crew. Once they removed their bulky gear and helmet, Jacinta realised that this person was in fact a woman. This new woman was a few inches shorter than Jacinta with a thin, athletic body and shoulder-length, dark red hair held in check by a tight braid. Jacinta eyed off this new woman and her bronzed skin as she climbed over the engine. ‘I don’t know what guys see in those model types; all that and no boobs, hardly seems worth it,’ she thought before turning back towards the other paramedic.
“So, Joe, who’s the model on the engine?” she asked as the engine crew started looking over the vehicle, checking the equipment for wear.
Joe turned towards the direction his opposite number was facing, “Hmm? Oh her, yeah, she’s the new member of the Engine Crew, part of the city’s changed policy regarding female fire-fighters apparently. I think her name’s Victoria Something-or-other, she’s been here for about a day and a half. She seems to be fitting in pretty well.”
Jacinta raised an eyebrow as the newcomer laughed with her colleagues. “I can see that, she seems very friendly.”
She shifted her gaze off this new woman and turned back to her colleague and gave him a brief hug before heading to the doors of the garage. “Now I’m going to hold you to that drink, so don’t think you can weasel out of it.” Joe simply laughed as she exited the building.
Entering the garage, Jacinta headed towards her car, her path taking her alongside the newly arrived fire engine; as she walked, she ran the tips of her fingers along the metal side of the vehicle. Her proximity to the vehicle drew the crew’s attention.
“Lookin’ good, Sin,” remarked one crew member admiringly as they unloaded equipment from a locker; another member of the crew whistled, others are made lewder comments or begged her to return to the day shift, all the while laughing and welcoming the paramedic back to the station. Jacinta found herself smiling tightly at the attention before stopping next to the vehicle’s cab.
“Afternoon, boys,” she commented while laughing, placing a hand on her hip as she made eye contact with the female newcomer. Smiling broadly, Jacinta walked over to her. “Hi there, I’m Jacinta, nice to have another girl in the station to offset all of this misappropriated testosterone.”
Victoria laughed at the comment before climbing off the vehicle. “Victoria Matthews, it’s a pleasure to meet you. So you’re the famous Jacinta I’ve been hearing so much about?” she smiled warmly offering her hand before discreetly giving Jacinta the once over.
The paramedic felt her cheeks redden, catching herself smiling, “All good I hope.”
Victoria tilted her head slightly, “For the most part,” she grinned. “Though did you really strip to your skivvies in the middle of the street while on scene?”
Jacinta choked on air slightly before shooting daggers at the fire crew who seemed to find the exchange quite entertaining. “It was only my boots and pants as the boys in blue needed them for evidence, and I couldn’t have been bothered going down to the station with them to collect them.”
Victoria seemed disappointed before she turned to her teammates, “You told me she stripped down to her bra-n-panties.”
The crew laughed at her comment before Victoria shrugged before turning back to face Jacinta who laughed nervously. “Sorry for disappointing you, I guess,” she commented, feeling uneasy about the grin on Victoria’s face.
“It’s alright, just wish I was there,” the fire-fighter paused, her expression changing, “I am sorry about what happened to your partner.”
Jacinta smiled hollowly, before looking past Victoria to the other fire-fighters, wondering what else was said about that night. “Thank you. But to be completely honest, I didn’t know him very well, and I’m getting rather tired of everyone being so sorry for my apparent loss.”
Shrugging, Victoria said, “I can understand how after a while it can seem a little stale and hollow, but the sentiment still stands.”
Jacinta nodded in understanding. “The grief counsellor said the same thing when she cleared me to return to work, still doesn’t mean that I want to hear it.”
The fire-fighter grinned, “So when are you back? I have to say that having another girl around will greatly help holding these boys in check.”
Jacinta found herself returning the fire-fighter’s grin. “I come back tomorrow night; as for being the only girl around this place, somehow, I think I can relate to that.”
Victoria laughed, “I suppose you do.” She paused as if picking the right words, “Say, you are literally the first girl I’ve run into since being posted to this station, would you be interested in getting a drink some time? Being around all this testosterone can’t be good for my health.”
The paramedic thought the invitation over for a second before nodding. “That sounds like an excellent idea; after all, we girls have to look out for each other,” she commented before removing her cell phone from its place in her bra, checking for any notifications before handing it to Victoria to get her number.
“Excellent; give me a call some time and we can figure out what to do,” Victoria smiled before handing back Jacinta’s phone. Looking over her shoulder to the other engine crew members before taking a step closer to the paramedic and lowering her voice, “You may not have known him, and the last words you have said to him may have been in anger, but that doesn’t change the fact that his life was taken from him before its time and you were close when it happened.”
Jacinta’s expression hardened as she looked at the shorter woman in front of her, scrutinising what she had just said.
“Candidate! Get your butt back over here; you still have a truck to clean,” shouted a member of the engine crew, causing the two women to turn back towards the engine crew.
“I guess that is my cue to leave, I must say it has been a pleasure gaining your acquaintance, I can see us having a lot of fun together,” Victoria remarked before winking and returning to the truck, leaving Jacinta speechless near the door. “By the way, nice ink, I especially like the back one. One day I’ll have to show you mine.”
Raising an eyebrow in surprise, Jacinta caught her reflection in a nearby polished steel panel, and the red and black tattoo of the crest of the Chicago Fire Department, sitting proudly on her right shoulder blade, clearly visible above the neckline of her top. Smiling again she nodded before making her goodbyes and returning to the parking lot.
Looking at her watch, Jacinta climbed into her car and started the engine. She rested her arms against the steering wheel as she idled in the car park, thinking about what had just transpired. Fishing her cell out of her bra, she opened her address book, scrolling down to find the new entry. She raised an eyebrow when she read Victoria xox listed in her contacts. Shaking her head slightly, Jacinta looked back over to the stationhouse as the engine crew continued to prepare their vehicle for another call out as she determined her next destination. Her stomach started rumbling as she sat, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten today. “Well that decides that one,” she commented. Pulling out of the car park and turning left onto the street, she drove towards the nearby shopping district heading directly for a specific establishment.
Nosing into a parking spot a short distance from a small old-looking standalone white brick sandwich shop nestled amongst empty plots of land and modern terraced boutiques. Luna’s was her favourite eating place in the city, not only for their award-winning food, but because the owner shared her sentiments about the madness that was plaguing the city. Collecting her handbag from the passenger seat she entered Luna’s. As was normal for the lunchtime rush, the shop was full of customers; however, she was still able to find a spot at the counter.
As she slid onto the stool, a waitress approached her, smiling while she opened her receipt book to take down her order. “Welcome to Luna’s, what can I get you?” the waitress asked, removing a pencil from behind her ear.
Without checking the menu in front of her, Jacinta looked at the waitress and smiled, “Corned beef on rye and a cola.”
The waitress smiled in return as she called out the order, before moving to a new customer. Jacinta leant forward against the counter, resting her forearms on its polished wood surface as she waited. While the lunch rush was in full swing, she didn’t have to wait long before she was enjoying the shop’s signature dish. Taking her time on the meal, she quickly found herself staring at an empty plate in short order; smiling in satisfaction at the meal, Jacinta paid her bill and exited the building, squeezing between customers who were quick to fill the space she had left at the counter.
Stepping out onto the sidewalk, Jacinta removed a pair of sunglasses from her handbag as the afternoon sun was shining directly into her eyes. Squinting slightly as her eyes adjusted to the sudden change in tint she turned and headed towards her car, passing a pair of haggard-looking homeless men heading in the opposite direction. Walking between the two while heading in the direction of her car, Jacinta couldn’t help but notice the wet-dog smell that seemed to waft off them like a cloud; releasing a breath once she was passed, the paramedic stopped when she realised that the two people where hissing at her. She turned slightly on her heel, looking back over her shoulder towards the pair, who had also stopped walking and were now facing her.
“Be careful whose side you choose, it’s a shame that such a pretty face has to belong to a fang-banger. Don’t think for a second though that that pretty face is going to save you when the darkness falls,” ranted the larger of the two men while his smaller, mangier companion simply snarled at her while standing further away.
Jacinta grabbed the strap of her handbag tightly, and took a step backwards; “What did you call me?” she asked, frowning, wondering why she was the focus of their attention.
“Don’t pretend like you’re not one of them, we can smell their taint all over you, there is little you can do to hide the filth of your actions from us,” the larger man continued, his gravelly voiced joining the growls of his companion.
Jacinta’s frown deepened further as the two homeless men took a half-step towards her, she instinctively took a step back towards her car.
“It seems you’ve gotten me confused with someone else, so I will wish you both good day.” She was getting concerned for her safety as the two continued to snarl and bark at her. She was, however, thankful that they were on a public street as passers-by were starting to gather, drawn by the curious exchange taking place. Jacinta moved quickly towards her waiting vehicle, reaching into her purse for her keys and looking over her shoulder occasionally to see if the two men were following her.
“You can deny your sins all you wish; however, when the darkness falls, the truth will come out, and those who throw their lot behind the dark ones will share their fate,” the smaller man chimed in as Jacinta neared her car, unlocking it when she approached.
Jacinta shook her head as she opened the car door, glancing backward at the two men who were standing nearby. “Well, this has been fun, but I don’t think I can help you,” she commented before getting into her car, closing and locking the door behind her. She took a moment to watch the two men for a moment as they became bored with shouting abuse at her and moved on down the street before turning over the engine. She idled for a moment as her mind processed what had just happened. ‘I guess today just is the day of weird shit happening then, isn’t it,’ she thought before pulling out from the curb, heading down the road back home.
Pulling into an empty spot in front of her apartment building she entered the lobby and collected her mail from her letterbox while making small talk with an old lady who also lived in the building and who was waiting for the courtesy bus to take her to bingo. Jacinta politely declined the ever-present offer to join her and climbed the stairs to her apartment, glancing at the mail as she did, revealing it to be mostly bills, junk mail and professional journals. Entering her apartment, Jacinta found herself physically and mentally drained, the events of the day finally reaching their limit; while she was more than used to dealing with people with altered mental states, her run in with the two homeless men seemed to knock her about, especially following the rest of the day she had had. Dropping her handbag and keys on the table near the door along with the mail she had collected, her mind kept replaying what had happened; the questions the police had asked, Victoria and the exchange with the vagrants ran rampant through her mind. Placing the tips of her fingers against her temples, Jacinta started rubbing her ring and index fingers in a circular pattern in an attempt to stave off the impending migraine she knew would be surfacing.
Shaking her head, Jacinta suppressed a yawn. “Why can’t this day be over?” she asked, removing her cell from her bra to check its charge setting, cursing the fact that the device seemed unable to hold a decent charge since its update. Turning her cell off silent, Jacinta moved to her bedroom and inserted it into its docking station while she thought of what she was going to do with what was left of the day. As she sat on the edge of her bed, watching the tiny battery indicator on her cell creep closer to fully charged, her head felt heavier than it actually was. Leaning towards the head of the bed, she quickly found herself falling into a deep slumber.
She was standing alone in a room; the only light seemed to come from a single pane of glass on the far wall. While it was not sufficient for her to see clearly, it was sufficient to allow her to make out the contours of the room. The room was sparsely furnished, with only a simple bed and a small metal table. Looking around, she could see that one of the two chairs had been knocked to one side. The longer she stood in the room she found it easier for her make out details. At this point, she realised that she was not alone as lying on the bed was a semi-clad supine form. Taking a step towards the person lying on the bed, Jacinta felt her heart race as she reached them. Looking up she caught her reflection in a broken mirror opposite her, revealing that she was dressed in her uniform with a blue trauma-pack over one shoulder, both of which were patterned in splashes of blood. Turning back to the form on the bed, she realised that it was a woman; her slender frame was bereft of any noticeable curves and was draped only in the torn remnants of a white sheet. Jacinta found herself smiling as she took in the sight before her. Placing the trauma bag on the ground beside the bed she stood over the woman, her eyes darting across her visible flesh documenting the myriad wounds that befell her. Jacinta was now close enough to make out the woman’s final facial expression; her face still bore the terrified betrayal, her mouth still partly opened in the scream that never manifested, the sight which tantalized the paramedic’s senses as the fresh coppery scent of blood slowly teased its way to her nose.
Jacinta leant closer for a better assessment of the woman’s injuries. Jagged scratch marks cut across her chest and abdomen in random patterns, though most of these were superficial in nature and most likely done by a recent overzealous lover. Jacinta’s attention was immediately drawn to the large thick laceration that ran across the woman’s throat from ear to ear. Dropping to a crouch at the woman’s head Jacinta reached for her trauma bag almost by instinct. Looking down at the open bag before her, Jacinta’s attention was immediately drawn to her hands. Not only was she not wearing gloves, but they were covered to mid forearm in thick red blood. Jacinta could feel her heart beating rapidly against her ribcage as she stared, entranced at the blood as it trickled down her arms. Turning back to the woman that lay before her Jacinta was becoming increasingly aware that she wasn’t the responder to this emergency, she was the cause of it; the incisions and marks were too precise, too clinical, too predatory.
She reached out towards the body that lay before her; just as her index finger made contact with the form, a melodic tone filled the room.
A rapid thumping forced Jacinta’s eye’s open. Sitting up suddenly she looked around blindly, falling out of bed in the process. Placing a steadying hand on the floor, Jacinta looked up at the green LED alarm clock that sat on her side table, her vision immediately focusing on the 20:43 that pierced the otherwise dark room. Shaking her head she looked around to realise that she was in her bedroom and the bed before her was empty. Taking a series of deep breaths she realised that the thumping she could hear was in fact her heart racing. “The hell was that?” she breathed, sitting with her back resting against the side of the bed, trying to calm down as her mind tried to process what had just happened.
At that moment she could hear another sound; it took a second for her to register that it was her cell phone ringing. She reached up to the docking station that sat next to her alarm clock and retrieved the device with a shaking hand and brought the phone to her ear. “Hmm?” she murmured slightly.
“Miss Ruthbridge? It’s Detective Miller from the Chicago Police Department; I hope I haven’t caught you at a bad time.”
Jacinta mumbled something incompressible before running a hand over her face, “Sorry, yes, Detective, what can I do for you?” she commented, standing up and walking into the living room, turning on the lights as she did so.
“Miss Ruthbridge, I need you to come down to the Ogden Street Police Station, we think we’ve located the animal that attacked your partner; however, we still need you to identify it,” the detective replied, occasional sirens would echo from his end of the conversation, drowning out his words.
Shaking her head, Jacinta moved to a mirror to check her outfit, noticing that it was obvious that she had slept in it before returning to her bedroom and opened the wardrobe to change her top. “When would you like me to be there?”
There was a brief pause as it sounded like the detective was talking to somebody else. “We will be at the station in ten minutes, if you could meet us there it would be ideal.”
Pulling on a simple print t-shirt, Jacinta collected a jacket from its place draped over a chair. “I’m on my way,” she remarked before the detective said his goodbye and ended the call. Moving to her door, Jacinta picked up her keys and handbag from their place beside the door and left her apartment. As she descended the stairs to the main entrance she did so alone, as her fellow residents had long since bolted their doors and settled down for the night. Rolling her eyes, Jacinta unlocked the main door and exited the building, locking the door behind her before moving to her car.
When she arrived at the station a familiar figure was standing in the lobby waiting for her. Jacinta felt her cheeks redden slightly as she caught herself checking out the detective in front of her. Detective Miller was still wearing the same suit he had worn when he had interviewed her, but his jacket was missing; sitting on the admission desk was a ballistic vest that no doubt belonged to him, from this distance she could clearly see muscle tone through the tailored shirt he was wearing.
“Miss Ruthbridge, I do hope I didn’t wake you,” the detective commented taking a step towards her, his expression appearing to reflect concern at the statement.
Jacinta shook her head as she clutched her handbag tightly in one hand, before suppressing a yawn, “No, it’s alright, I usually work nights, and I’ve been finding it hard to get to sleep since the incident, I guess I’m too used to being awake overnight.” Walking up to the detective the paramedic shrugged, “You said you found my mystery attacker.”
Henry nodded before collecting his ballistic vest and gesturing down a corridor towards the morgue, “Yes please, come with me,” he commented before he started walking.
“I take that it didn’t go down without a fight?” Jacinta asked as they walked, curious as to why they were here instead of a veterinary clinic.
Henry shook his head. “This wasn’t exactly a situation for animal control, Miss Ruthbridge,” he remarked before nodding to the armed officer dressed in body armour that stood guard outside the double doors to the morgue. The guard eyed Jacinta over wearily before running an access card over a reader. Lights on the lock changed from red to green and beeped before the lock disengaged. The guard then pushed the door closest to him open, admitting the two into the morgue.
“I don’t remember morgues being so secure,” Jacinta remarked off-handily as Henry led her to the only occupied examination table. Harsh fluorescent examination lights above it illuminated the large black body bag situated on its metal surface.
Henry turned to acknowledge a shorter suited gentleman who was standing nearby, his lab coat denoting his position within the station as its forensic technician. The detective turned back to Jacinta and smiled slightly before moving to stand beside the table, putting on a pair of blue examination gloves in the process. “These are bizarre times that we live in, Miss Ruthbridge,” he paused before placing a hand on the zipper attached to the bag. “Are you ready?”
Jacinta nodded; crossing her arms over her chest she felt a sudden chill but didn’t say anything.
The detective took hold of the zipper and pulled it slowly down the length of the bag exposing the body inside.
Jacinta took one look at the contents of the body bag before looking squarely at the detective, “This is some kind of joke, right?”
Looking back at the body, Jacinta immediately noticed its size as its feet hung over the edge of the examination table making it clearly over six foot tall, with a clearly bulked-up frame covered from head to toe in thick coarse matted black hair. Its head was angular, almost canine in structure with sharp fangs pointing out from a short snout, yet it managed to retain noticeable human characteristics. A pair of jagged scars ran down the right side of its face.
Its torso was criss-crossed with scars and other wounds and had clearly defined muscles visible even under the thick hair; a series of small fresh puckered wounds on its upper chest clearly identified what had taken the creature down. Its long arms, now free of the confines of the body bag, slumped off the sides of the table, both ending in elongated paw-like hands with noticeable fingers, each tipped with a long claw that cut bloody marks in the tiled floor as they scrapped across it.
Its legs, with heavily muscled thighs, lay at an awkward angle as if its pelvis was unsuited to lying flat, almost akin to the position of a dog's hind legs. By contrast, its lower legs and feet were clearly designed for standing upright.
The detective looked up at Jacinta, seeing her expression as he shone an articulated observation light into the face of the creature that lay presented before her, opening its eyes for her to see. Instead of the expected animal eyes, the eyes that vacantly stared out at the room were soft, blue, human.
Henry looked at the paramedic over the corpse between them. “I wish I could tell you that this is all an elaborate ruse, Miss Ruthbridge, and that humans are still the apex predator in Chicago, but unfortunately that it simply isn’t the case.”
Jacinta looked up at the detective, her expression hardening slightly. “How are you sure this creature attacked my partner?”
He met her gaze. “Following our conversation this morning we put the word out to see if we could find any trace of a creature matching the description you gave me. After a thorough search of the area including nearby parkland, we located our friend here skulking around back alleys. After a brief engagement we were able to pacify it.” Henry moved around the examination table and placed a supporting hand on Jacinta’s shoulder, “Now, this may be difficult, but are you able to identify this creature as the one that you saw in the laneway?”
Jacinta took a deep breath as she scrutinised the form that lay before her, trying to picture it standing over her growling while she stood between it and her patient; unfortunately, a lot of her attention was taken by her proximity to the detective. Jacinta wrapped an arm across her chest while placing the opposite hand against the side of her face, resting her index finger against her nose. Looking over to Henry she shrugged, “I suppose, I mean, it could be. But as I told you this morning I didn’t get a real good look at it considering how dark it was. Like I said before, I really wish I could be more helpful.”
Henry smiled at the paramedic before taking a step closer to her. “It is alright, Miss Ruthbridge, you have already assisted us greatly in our investigation, and I thank you for it.” He gestured to the forensic technician who approached carrying a pair of evidence bags. The larger of the two containing what appeared to be a bloodstained paramedic uniform. “We have been able to collect hair and tissue samples from both EMT McClaskey’s uniform, and his wounds, and with luck we will be able to match them to this guy here.”
Jacinta took a step towards the technician and collected the larger bag from his hands, scrutinising its contents as if not convinced of its authenticity. She read the name tape sewn into the collar of the shirt, shaking her head as she confirmed that it actually belonged to Tobias. Making out the word McClaskey clearly printed on the white reflective band, Jacinta looked over at Henry who was in the process of re-zipping the body bag with the assistance of the forensic technician; raising an eyebrow at the care they were taking in returning this... animal to its plastic cocoon.
“Is there anything else you need me to do?” she asked once they were finished.
Henry looked up from the body and took a step towards her, gently taking the evidence bag from her. “Not at this point, Miss Ruthbridge, but if there is I still have your number, thank you again for your assistance.”
The paramedic took a step back, before nodding. “You’re welcome,” she muttered vacantly as Henry turned her towards the door and started to escort her out of the morgue.
“I know this is a lot to process, but are you alright, Miss Ruthbridge?” Henry asked as the pair walked back along the empty corridor towards the main entrance.
Jacinta didn’t answer immediately but nodded, “I will be fine, but I have to say this day has not disappointed in its share of crazy.”
Henry laughed as the two climbed a short staircase leading back to the lobby. “You’ll have to tell me about it some time.”
Jacinta smiled as the pair stepped foot in the still deserted admission area. “If that’s to happen, Detective Miller, you’ll have to stop addressing me as Miss Ruthbridge; my name is Jacinta.”
The detective smiled before opening the front door to the police station for her. “I will have to keep that in mind, Miss Ruthbridge.” Pausing for a moment as if thinking of a question she walked in front of him to exit the building.
As she crossed the plaza towards her car, she looked over her shoulder as she reached the sidewalk and noticed that the detective was still standing at the door; it took her a moment to realise that he was staring at her backside as she walked and felt her cheeks warm slightly. Smiling nervously, she stopped and turned around. This appeared to startle the detective, as he quickly changed the focus of his attention. “If you are going to call me again, just remember, I work nights, and tomorrow night, I’m back on shift.”
Henry nodded slightly before raising the ring and index fingers of his right hand in mock scout salute. “Understood, I will make sure to keep my enquiries to the daylight hours.”
Jacinta caught herself smiling as she fished her keys out of her handbag and approached her car to return to her apartment while Henry walked back inside the station.
A lone figure stood on the side of the road, facing a modest red brick house with foreclosure signs posted on the front lawn. They removed a crumpled piece of paper from a pocket in their jacket and checked the scribbled words against the house’s address; confident they had reached the right location, they approached the building and opened the already unlocked front door.
The air inside the foreclosed house was dank and stale, a pile of decaying, unopened letters and catalogues pointing out that the house’s original occupants had been evicted some time in the past year. The figure walked through the building before a new smell appeared; unlike the stale atmosphere the fresh smell of copper marked that they were in the right area.
Looking around a room that once served as a master bedroom, the figure could make out a noticeable dark smear on the otherwise cream carpet leading to an occupied chair. Despite the darkness, the figure bowed respectfully.
“I take it by your presence that you have been successful?” remarked the building’s other occupant.
“I have been, I’ve made contact with the woman you spoke of, Master. I apologise for the delay; my cover has certain restrictions that I have to operate under. It will not happen again,” the newcomer replied, returning to a standing position and clasping their hands behind their back.
“For your sake, my child, I pray that you don’t as I have no tolerance for excuses. Now have you gathered the information I sent you to retrieve about her or not?” the seated figure stated, resting their hands in their lap.
“I have, Master, and I have confirmed the information you supplied as well,” the figure commented, averting their gaze in preparation for punishment as their seated companion stood and stiffly stepped towards them.
Instead of striking their informant, the newly standing form placed a hand against their companion’s face.
“In that case, I must meet this girl myself, for I believe that the two of us will have a lot to discuss.”
The newcomer nodded slowly. “As you wish, Master,” they remarked savouring the brief moment of compassion before the two left the building.
The following morning, Jacinta was surprised to find out that she was rather rested when she woke up. Thankful at the fact that the dreams had not returned after she had been to the morgue. Though that did not prevent her from feeling flat at what she had to do before she got to work. She had already left the apartment and bought a new pair of cargo work trousers and a new pair of boots to replace the pair that had been collected by the police and was in the process of breaking them in while she moved around her apartment trying to busy herself. Every time she crossed the living room, her gaze fell on the unfolded suit bag sitting on the sofa. She looked down at her cell that was still in her hand, the text message she received from her Battalion Chief when she woke up still on the screen [Jacinta, the funeral for EMT McClaskey has been arranged for tomorrow, I’ll have more details for you when you get in, but the family have asked for you to attend.].
After she had received the message she had removed the suit bag from her closet, but otherwise felt no desire to do anything with it. Inside the still closed bag was the black, single-breasted jacket and trousers that comprised of her formal dress uniform.
Jacinta had been surprised that the police had released Tobias’s body after only two days, but dismissed it when she realised that they had located the animal that had ultimately killed him. She felt a chill run down her spine when she realised that she nearly shared his fate before purging the idea from her mind.
“Why am I specifically invited?” she repeatedly asked herself, pacing the apartment. “I didn’t even know the kid, he was just a replacement.” Her questions were only met with silence. Initially she had planned on respectfully declining the invitation, but she could not bring herself to make the call. Sighing, she looked down at her cell to check the time, and sighed again at the fact that there wasn’t any further stalling and she had to get ready for her shift. Stepping towards the suit bag, Jacinta opened it to reveal her pressed uniform, complete with silver buttons and medal bar still attached from the last time that she had worn it.
Shaking her head she placed the bag back onto the sofa and proceeded to strip out of her cream tank top and patterned skirt and moved into her bedroom to change into her duty uniform.
Emerging moments later, Jacinta looked over to the now open suit bag sitting on the sofa and shook her head before leaving her apartment, quickly descending the stairs and out to her car.
As she left her apartment building, the sun had started to make its passage beyond the horizon; this transition from daylight to dusk was already making an impact on the cityscape. Jacinta noticed fewer vehicles on the road as she drove towards the stationhouse and the ever-present trace of humanity seemed to dry up to a trickle as she passed rapidly closing shopfronts.Despite her encounter at the morgue, she still could not fathom how the people of Chicago could drastically change their habits simply due to random attacks from wild animals and nutjobs being overhyped by the media.
By the time she had reached the stationhouse’s parking lot and pulled into an empty spot, it was well and truly night. Overhead, street lamps flickered on but otherwise the outside of the stationhouse was silent. Taking a breath to prepare herself for the coming shift, Jacinta removed her duty bag from the backseat and walked into the garage.
Sitting in its bay was Ambulance 45, its rear doors closed. Parked alongside it was the station’s general purpose fire engine. Entering the garage, she made note that the ladder truck was absent, most likely out on call. Approaching the interior doors to the stationhouse proper, she laced her fingers around the metal handle, taking a moment to savour its cool surface, before pulling the door open and stepping inside the building.
As she stood in the doorway she took in the break room before her, noticing that it was mostly empty save for a handful of fire fighters watching a replay of the day’s NFC football game in Washington. As she approached the sofa, watching the game unfold, she couldn’t help but remember that that was another thing that Chicago had lost because of these random attacks; all professional sport in the entire state was either played during the day, or played elsewhere as people, particularly from interstate, simply refused to attend the venues.
“How’s the game going?” she asked suddenly before dropping her duty bag on the ground and sitting on the arm of the sofa.
“We’re down by three, but this referees biased as all hell,” remarked one of the fire fighters absently as the other two leant forward, engrossed in the game and occasionally shouting abuse at the screen with every negative call.
Jacinta shook her head only partially paying attention to the game before the door behind her opened, causing the paramedic to turn to identify the newcomer.
“Zack,” she exclaimed, sliding off the arm of the sofa to approach the new arrival.
Paramedic Zachary Thompson stood in the door leading out to the apparatus bay, his duty bag casually slung over one shoulder, equipment belt hung over the other, both hands rested on his hips as he acknowledged the woman standing in the middle of the break room.
He smiled before discarding his gear and entering the room. “This is a good sight, the Sin back in her natural habitat,” he commented before opening his arms to envelop the slightly shorter paramedic. “How are you doing?”
Jacinta lost herself in the embrace of the man who had had her back for the last eight years, feeling the stubble on his chin brush against the crown of her head. “I’m okay,” she commented softly before pulling back. “Why did you stay away? I didn’t get a call or anything.”
Zack’s smile vanished as he placed his hands on her shoulders, his blue eyes looked straight into hers, regret plainly etched on his chiselled features. “Simply because I didn’t know what to say.”
Jacinta frowned. “I understand, but I would have liked you to have come round.”
Her partner nodded, “I know,” he looked around the break area before returning his gaze to Jacinta. “Where’s the day crew?”
Jacinta shrugged before walking away from the rear door. “I haven’t seen them yet, but considering that the rig is in the yard, they can’t be that far away.”
Zack grinned, looking past his partner to a doorway beyond the break room leading to the administration offices of the stationhouse. “Speaking of the devil,” he commented before picking up his gear, Jacinta looked over her shoulder towards the interior doorway, smiling at what she saw.
“I was wondering where you guys had wandered off to,” she remarked before stepping towards her morning-shift counterparts.
“It’s good to see you in uniform again, Sin,” Joe remarked, stepping into the room. He looked over to Zack standing behind her and nodded, “Staying away from the chilli this time?”
“Only if you make it, I don’t think my colon could survive another bout of that,” Zack replied, causing the two to laugh before clapping each other on the back.
As the two men chatted Jacinta looked over to Joe’s partner who had also joined them in the break room. “So, Andrew, how’s the shift been?”
Andrew Foster was the junior paramedic at the station, especially when compared to veterans like Zack, Joe, or even Jacinta, though that didn’t stop his enthusiasm.
“It’s been alright, we had a couple of call outs during the day, nothing really exciting to be honest, it’s been the word that shall not be spoken for a couple of hours now,” Andrew remarked before stifling a yawn.
Jacinta smiled at his comment about not mentioning the word quiet for fear of jinxing the shift before sitting on a corner of a nearby table. “Well at least your shift is over, and not a moment too soon by the look of it.”
Andrew laughed before running a hand over his face. “Not all of us are nocturnal like you are, Jacinta; some of us need to sleep. You do actually sleep, right?”
She shrugged, trying to purge the memory of her recent restless nights. “I do sleep, it just happens to be when you day-walkers are out running around.” She paused before looking over to Joe, then back to Andrew, “Say, have either of you seen the Chief? I got a text from him saying that he needed to talk to me when I got in.”
“The last time I saw him he was in his office, and I’m pretty sure that he still is,” Joe remarked in between trading stories with Zack.
Jacinta looked over to Zack and shrugged. “Are you able to do the checklist on your own? I kinda need to do this before the Chief gets angsty.”
Her partner nodded before taking a step towards her. “You want me to come with you?” Jacinta shook her head.
“I’ve got this, just some housekeeping I need to do, I’ll be out as soon as I’m done,” she replied before collecting her duty bag and walking towards the interior corridor.
As she walked away towards the administration section, she could hear Zack talking to the other paramedics about the routine shift-change checklist that had to be conducted as they moved outside.
Jacinta entered the suite of offices that comprised the western wing of the stationhouse, approaching a large office with the window shutters drawn. Straightening her uniform, she took a step towards the glass-panelled door, knocking twice before mentally preparing herself. The office’s sole occupant looked up from his desk to see who was at the door before motioning for the paramedic to enter.
“You wanted to see me, Chief?” she asked meekly.
Chief Steven Taylor stood up from his desk and gestured her to a seat opposite. “Yes, Jacinta, take a seat, we have some details we need to discuss, but firstly welcome back, I have read the report that Miss Winters compiled about your session, and while she is convinced that you are fit for duty, she is concerned that you seem to be separating yourself too much from the situation. I know that we all have different ways of coping with situations like this, and considering the crazy state the city is becoming, God knows that we have all had our share of stuff to deal with, but I just want you to know what you have no doubt heard from everyone else here; that you’re not alone.”
Jacinta sat up straight in the chair, resting her hands in her lap. “Thank you, Chief, I appreciate it.”
The chief nodded slightly before his expression hardened. “Now, I would reprimand you for breaking protocol and wandering off on your own, an activity that I wouldn’t have expected from one of my senior paramedics; however, I also believe that you have already learned your lesson. Now it is self-evident to say just how dangerous your actions were, and while I know how you feel about the Night Protocols, they are protocols, and they will be followed, am I clear?”
Jacinta keep her expression neutral, she knew this was coming. “Crystal, Chief.”
The Station Chief nodded, “I know you are coming off of your rotation, and the union would have my head if I tried to change that, so for the next four rotations starting Monday, you are on stores on top of your regular duties. We are short staffed as it is and I can’t afford to take you off the road, but be clear, Jacinta, I will not hesitate to find someone if I have to, I don’t want you to end up with a file at headquarters, just be thankful that we have been able to keep things in house this time.” Jacinta blinked at the statement, knowing that despite the circumstances, the Chief was going easy on her.
“I am also still waiting on your incident report for the evening in question, I know you have already been spoken to by the police in regards to this, but we need to have our own paper trail so I want to see that report on my desk by the end of the shift.” He then stood and removed a piece of paper from a pile on his desk, “Now for the other matter at hand, EMT McClaskey’s funeral. The boy’s parents have organised a low-key ceremony at St Mark’s Church for him starting at noon; while we offered the standard treatment, they have politely declined so there will be no official procession. That being said Ambulance 45 will be detached from service and will escort the hearse from the church to the cemetery. While not being an official ceremony, there will be a small honour guard comprised mostly of members of his graduating class who will also serve as pallbearers.”
Jacinta nodded, relaxing slightly in the chair. “With respect, Chief, why have I been requested to attend? I did not know him that well to begin with; to be personally invited by the kid’s parents seems a little…odd to me?”
Steven handed her the piece of paper he was holding. “That is a letter that McClaskey’s mother had written to me following her son’s death. I won’t go into the details, but they requested his partner attend so that they, and by extension, you, can get some closure about the whole thing. You will not be a part of the honour guard; you are there at the request of the parents. The details for the funeral are listed in the letter, but I think that it would be a good idea for you to attend this one.”
She skimmed over the note before looking back up at Steven. “I take it this is one of those things where the only correct answer is yes?” Steven nodded. “in that case, Chief, I will go at the request of the kid’s parents.”
The Chief smiled before returning to his desk. “Excellent to hear; I believe that you have a shift to be on, so I will not take any more of your time.” Jacinta stood slowly from the chair and exited once she was certain he was finished.
Jacinta slowly walked down the corridor towards the locker room to drop off her duty bag, the letter the chief had given her held tightly in one hand. While she had skimmed over the letter’s contents, she was not entirely sure if she wanted to read what it contained. Entering the locker room, she approached her designated locker and opened it, checking its contents before placing her bag inside.
“Evening,” a voice remarked, causing Jacinta to turn around slightly towards its source. As she turned she immediately saw Victoria standing at the mouth of a row of lockers behind her. The firefighter was only wearing her black uniform trousers and a damp towel over one shoulder. Her dark red hair hung in clumps, reaching to mid chest and covering her small breasts.
“Good evening,” Jacinta replied. Closing her locker to properly face the fire fighter, immediately noticing the beads of water clinging to the muscle definition on Victoria’s arms and abdomen. “How’s the water?”
Victoria smiled before removing the towel and rubbed it against her still wet hair. “Amazing, where it not for the actual working part I probably wouldn’t have gotten out.”
Jacinta chuckled. “I have often thought that as well,” she gestured towards Victoria’s half-dressed state. “Don’t let me stop you.”
The fire fighters grin widened before placing her hands on her hips. “I was hoping you’d say that,” she commented before picking up another towel and started rubbing it over her chest and arms. Occasionally she would look over to see if the paramedic was still watching.
“Did you work morning today?” Jacinta asked, still leaning against her locker as Victoria shook her head before tossing both towels into a hamper that sat at the end of the row of lockers.
“I switched with Tony Alveraz, so I’m working Engine tonight.” She replied before turning towards a pile of clothes on a nearby bench, showing her equally toned back to Jacinta.
Jacinta immediately noticed an ornate tattoo that sat between the probationary fire fighter’s shoulder blades that extended down to a pair of wings that ran down her back, ending above her pelvis. “Impressive ink you have there,” she commented trying to make out the words that ran along the base of her shoulder blades.
Victoria picked up a black sports bra and slipped it on before looking over her shoulder, immediately recognising the squinted expression. “Thanks; it reads: Mača Božiji, it’s my family motto, it’s Bosnian, which translates loosely as Sword of God. It’s been the family credo for centuries.”
Jacinta made an impressed sound before nodding. “Have you got any others?”
The firefighter nodded, “Yeah, a couple but you’re going to have to buy me a drink first to see them,” she grinned before eyeing off the paramedic who leant against the locker in front of her. “I noticed that you had more than just the killer CFD logo on your shoulder.”
Jacinta nodded. “I have two more besides that one.”
This seemed to pique Victoria’s attention, “I kinda saw the one on your arm, but I didn’t get a good look at it.”
Jacinta smiled before she started rolling up the right sleeve of her tunic to just below her elbow, exposing the angel.
Victoria took Jacinta’s hand in hers to allow her a better view of the design. “The ink work is exquisite, what about the other one.”
Quickly relinquishing her hand from Victoria’s grasp, “It’s on my ankle, and it’d take too long to get my boot off to show you, but I can do one better,” Jacinta remarked before fishing her cell phone out of her pocket before presenting a photo of her ankle tattoo to the fire-fighter.
“That is an interesting combination, I bet they all have stories behind them,” Victoria remarked before Jacinta returned her phone back to her pocket as Victoria picked up a tight grey singlet from the clothes pile and slipped it over her head. She turned back to the paramedic who was in the process of rolling her tunic sleeve back into place. “Nihil Nocet, now that’s ironic.”
“I don’t think I follow,” Jacinta replied before leaning against her locker.
Victoria grinned as she started braiding her hair to keep it out of her way. “Nihil Nocet loosely means ‘Do no harm’ in Latin if memory serves, and you got it as a tattoo, surely that would have hurt a little bit.”
Grabbing her right forearm, she remembered the days she spent getting it done, especially the pain she experienced. Chuckling slightly she shrugged, “Yeah, I suppose it did, though I have never actually made that connection before now,” The two women laughed.
“So, was your family originally associated with the church?” Jacinta asked when the two finally stopped laughing.
The fire fighter smiled before nodding, “We were Templar.” This caused Jacinta to whistle slightly in surprise.
“Very impressive,” she commented while Victoria continued dressing. “How long has your family been in America?”
Victoria collected her uniform tunic from its position on the bench and stepped towards Jacinta. “I’m first-generation American on my father’s side, I think seventeenth on my mother’s; I was born and bred in Chicago.” She smiled before walking out of the locker with Jacinta, slipping the tunic over her shoulders, but leaving the garment open. “What about you, what brings you to the Windy City?”
“I’m originally from Fort Wayne, I moved here about nine years ago to go to the Academy and have stayed ever since.”
As the two entered the break room, Victoria looked over to Jacinta before moving to the sofa as a cluster of fire fighters, along with Zack, had started playing cards as was their custom. “What brought you here though? ‘Cause Indiana has a pretty good paramedicine program in itself.”
Jacinta joined her on the sofa. “It does, but I pretty much wanted to get out on my own. Fort Wayne is okay, but I didn’t see myself spending the rest of my life there. If I had gone to Indianapolis, it would have been too close for me, with too much temptation to run home when things got too difficult, while here, crossing state lines if things get hard has a way of putting things into perspective.”
Victoria smiled, leaning back on the sofa and resting her arms on the back of the lounge. “Sounds like a good situation for you; at least you didn’t get stuck in Chicago because you were following some guy.”
The paramedic choked on air at Victoria’s comment, momentarily coughing before regaining her breath, “God no,” she murmured coarsely. “There would be nothing that any guy could do to make me cross state lines like some lovesick puppy, I would like to think I had a little more integrity than that.”
“That’s what I wanted to hear, girlfriend, I didn’t expect you to be like that anyway,” Victoria remarked while smiling in a way that made Jacinta feel self-conscious.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but, Sin, I was going to get dinner, so, you coming?” Zack asked, leaning over the sofa between them, removing the keys from his pocket and dangling them in front of Jacinta’s face who snatched them out of his grasp before standing.
“Of course I am, because there is no way I am going to let you drive my ambulance,” she remarked before turning to Victoria, “I’ll be back momentarily.”
The fire fighter smirked before standing. “See you soon, I’m sure I can find something here to entertain me,” she remarked before walking over to the card game and taking Zack’s empty seat. “Okay, boys, what’s the ante?”
Jacinta turned back to Zack who was already walking towards the garage carrying two reinforced equipment vests before she followed him towards the waiting ambulance.
“How did your meeting with the Chief go?” Zack asked as the ambulance pulled out of the stationhouse.
“Got reamed as expected, but I dunno, I think the Chief is going soft in his old age, I’ve got dumped with stores duty for four rotations as my punishment,” she replied before crossing an intersection, taking their tried and tested short cut to one of the few places that was still open at night.
“Well it could have been a lot worse, but that wasn’t it, was it?” Zack asked before placing his clipboard beside his seat. Jacinta reached into her breast pocket and removed a folded-over piece of paper and handed it to him.
“He also handed me a letter from the kid’s parents, I haven’t read it, but apparently they have also invited me to his funeral.”
Zack raised an eyebrow at her last statement before taking the piece of paper and opening it to read its contents, “What are you going to do?”
Stopping at a red light, Jacinta looked over to her partner. “The Chief has strongly suggested that I attend the funeral, in that tone that suggested that if I don’t go, I better look into additional lines of employment, so I guess I’m going.”
Zack smiled slightly before handing her back the piece of paper. “I know you don’t need reminding, but I am here if you need me.”
She smiled before she continued driving. “I know, Zack, and yours is the only sympathy that doesn’t seem bolted on. But can we please talk about something else? For the last three days all anyone wants to talk to me about is the probie who got killed.”
Zack paused for a moment before looking back over to his partner. “You and Victoria seem to be getting along pretty well,” he commented as Jacinta drove down abandoned streets.
Jacinta looked over to her partner as she turned onto a main road, giving him a curious expression. “I just happen to think that it is good to have another girl in the stationhouse; if anything, it might offset some of that misappropriated testosterone.”
Zack laughed before retrieving his clipboard from beside his seat and started studying it as the ambulance neared its destination. “Well you’re definitely being a lot friendlier than you’ve been to some of the other probies that have come through.”
Jacinta shot her partner an icy glare before coming to a stop outside an all-night burger joint. “That was uncalled for, and besides, what did I just say,” she commented slumping her shoulders. “And for your information, I happen to know what it is like to be the new girl in a place full of guys, I’m just being nice.”
Her partner held up his hands in surrender. “I honestly did not intend for that to come out like that, Sin, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest that…”
Jacinta shook her head before Zack opened his door. “No, there is no need to apologise, you are right, I have been an Ice Queen towards the probies that have come through, and I need to address that, hopefully starting with Victoria.”
Zack smiled as he unbuckled his seatbelt and hopped out of the vehicle. “So you’re getting the usual? Burger and fries, patty burnt to an inch of its life and a soda?”
She nodded, before removing her wallet from her pants and handing him a couple of notes. “I like to keep things simple.”
Zack laughed, before stepping away from the truck, leaving Jacinta seated in the driver’s seat, “I shall be back shortly.”
Jacinta picked up the vehicle’s two-way and depressed the mic. button, “Ambulance 45 to Main, we are off station and have stopped for meal break on West Chicago Avenue, over.” Once she received the response from the dispatcher, she returned the device back to its cradle and reclined the driver’s seat back slightly and waited for Zack to return. As the ambulance sat parked outside the establishment a pair of police cruisers pulled into the parking lot signalling the primary reason why the place remained open.
By the time Zack had returned Jacinta had started drumming her fingers against the steering wheel in a nonsensical pattern while humming to herself; Zack knocked against the passenger door’s window once. Jacinta looked over towards him before unlocking his door from the control panel mounted in the centre column. Opening the door, Zack handed her two white paper bags before climbing into the vehicle carrying a drink tray. “Dinner’s served,” he commented before placing the drink tray on the dashboard to settle himself in his seat. “Your change is in the bag.”
Jacinta smiled before opening the bags to determine hers, handing the other to her partner once she identified it. She opened the bag and removed the waxpaper-wrapped burger and she started eating. While she did this, Zack sat back in his seat while he ate, occasionally taking sips from his soda.
Jacinta was roughly halfway through the burger when she stopped and placed it carefully back into the bag, her olive complexion going a slight shade of green. “Sin, you okay?” Zack asked as she unbuckled her seatbelt and opened the door. She didn’t comment as she exited the ambulance and walked towards the back. Zack could hear her bootsteps against the pavement stopping at the rear corner of the ambulance before the sound of her throwing up. Hopping out of the ambulance, Zack moved towards the back of the truck, where he found Jacinta doubled over gasping, holding onto the side of the ambulance as if it was the only thing keeping her standing; at her feet was a pool of vomit. By the time he reached her, she was coughing but had stopped vomiting. Zack repeated his question before helping her to the rear fender.
Jacinta nodded weakly before resting her elbows on her knees, taking a series of deep breaths. “What the hell was that?” she croaked.
Zack raised his eyebrow again at the question before moving back to the cab to collect a bottle of water and handed it to her. “That was exactly what you ordered.”
Taking the water bottle, Jacinta took a series of small sips to rinse out her mouth. “That was messed up, I haven’t changed my order in eight years, this is the first time that it’s caused this reaction.” She took another sip of water before pouring some of it into her hand and then over her face. She looked up to Zack and smiled weakly, “You can laugh now.”
Her partner shook his head before holding out his hand towards her. “I could but then it wouldn’t be funny, for all we know you could be pregnant…” he stopped when she glared at him.
“Zack, we both know there is no way I could be pregnant, because that would actually require me to bother with anyone to assist me with the physical prerequisites and it’s been a lot longer than nine months since that’s happened.”
Zack was about to reply when she held up a hand to silence him when she heard the sound of the fire department dispatcher calling for them. Taking hold of Zack’s hand, she pulled herself up and the two rushed to the front of the vehicle, Jacinta reaching into the cab to retrieve the two-way’s microphone while she opened the driver’s door. “Ambulance 45 receiving Main, over.”
“Ambulance 45, we have a call at 2005 West Ohio Street, of a male aged fifty-six, reporting chest pain and shortness of breath with pain radiating down left-hand side, which has not been relieved by medication. There is currently no additional information as the patient did not remain on the line, we are attempting call back we’ll advise if new information becomes available.”
Turning over the engine, Jacinta looked over to Zack who flicked the switches on the dashboard for the vehicle’s light bar and sirens after accessing the case information from the mounted computer screen. “Understood, Main, Ambulance 45 responding, ETA five minutes.”
Pulling away from the burger joint, the ambulance sped off towards the call, lights and sirens blaring as they moved down otherwise empty streets.
“How are you feeling?” Zack asked while studying the case sheet that had been transmitted to the vehicle from the central dispatcher.
Jacinta cocked her head slightly before turning a corner, crossing onto the opposite side of the road in the process. “Better now, though I think I might have to hold off doing that again, which is a shame cause Vinnie’s make the best burgers in town.”
Zack laughed at the statement before scrolling through the report, he looked over to his partner. “They haven’t given us much to work with on this one.” Jacinta simply shrugged. Zack’s expression became serious. “Sorry about the pregnancy comment, I’m probably the last person you want to hear that from considering…”
Jacinta looked pained as she continued to drive, “We are not bringing that piece of ancient history, can we just drop it?”
Zack knew better than to continue the conversation and simply nodded, returning to study the display in front of him. “Still no new info from the dispatcher.”
“We’ve gone in on less,” Jacinta remarked before pulling up to a building the matched the address. “This is where the call came from,” Turning off the engine she kept the light bar flashing. Unbuckling her seatbelt Jacinta took a breath to refocus and slid out of the driver’s seat, reaching behind it to collect her new equipment vest and slipping it on.
“Well, doesn’t this look inviting?” Zack commented, noticing the foreclosed signage that dotted the lawn and the absence of any internal light from the front windows before exiting the vehicle and joining her at the rear doors as Jacinta opened them to collect their equipment.
Jacinta shook her head before removing her Advanced Life Support Bag from the rear of the vehicle, and handing Zack the defibrillator. “Let’s get inside, I don’t suppose exercising caution wouldn’t be a bad idea,” she commented dryly before slinging the bag over her shoulder and looping the receiver on her portable radio over its designated hook on her vest. Zack nodded before closing and locking the rear doors and approaching the building.
The two approached the front door carefully; Zack knocked three times against the door frame. “Hello? Chicago Fire Department Paramedics. Is there anyone in need of assistance?” His call went unanswered, so he repeated his question to the same result. His knocking caused the door to move slightly, highlighting that it was unlocked. Zack cast a concerned gaze over to Jacinta who simply shrugged before wrapping her hand around the door handle and pushing the door open.
“Chicago Fire Department Paramedics, the door was open, we are here reporting an emergency call made from this location, if you are requiring assistance, please make a noise,” she called out before drawing her flashlight from the loop on her belt and started panning it around the house’s front room; Zack drew his flashlight as well and started doing the same. Jacinta repeated her statement before moving onto the next room content that the front room was empty, panning her flashlight around another empty room.
“I don’t like this, I’ve got this nagging feeling that we shouldn’t be here,” Zack commented as the pair moved deeper into the house.
Jacinta had to admit that she felt the same as the two opened doors along a main hallway, shining their flashlights into empty rooms before moving on down the corridor.
“There are just a few more rooms to check, though I am beginning to think that this call out is either a hoax, or someone has given the dispatcher wrong information,” she commented before moving further along the hallway as Zack walked into a room to inspect a walk-in wardrobe whose door was slightly ajar.
“To be honest, I hope it’s a hoax,” Zack called. “Dammit.”
“Is there a problem?” she called, looking over her shoulder to see Zack’s flashlight fade out as he returned to the hallway; she stopped and turned around, shining her own flashlight towards him.
Zack looked at his flashlight, pushed the power button and hit it a couple of times, before looking over to his partner and shrugging, “The batteries are dead.”
Jacinta rolled her eyes. “When did you last replace them?” she asked before she continued panning the rooms on the bottom floor in search of their mystery patient.
Zack paused for a moment to think before rushing after her as her flashlight was the only source of illumination in the otherwise empty house, “I don’t actually remember.”
Shaking her head, Jacinta continued her search. “I take it we need to have that talk about proper equipment maintenance again,” she commented from the other room.
Zack laughed slightly before joining her. “You know, there are times when I forget that I am the Paramedic-in-Charge of this station,” he commented jokingly.
“Well there should be spare batteries in the truck, I’ll do a quick sweep of the second floor and if I don’t find anything, I’m calling it,” she remarked before stopping to face him, shining her flashlight towards him.
Her partner nodded before turning towards the door. “I’ll be right back, if you need me I’ve got my radio.”
Jacinta rolled her eyes again before she approached a central staircase and moved to the upper level; in the back of her mind, the similarity between this situation and her last shift was not lost to her. Shaking her head to purge those thoughts she continued to pan her flashlight around what would have been the master bedroom; as the beam of light made its way across the room it reflected off of a small metal table situated in one corner of the room.
As she continued to search for her mystery patient, a chill ran down her spine as it slowly dawned on her that this room was familiar to her.
“Hello? Chicago Fire Department Paramedics, there was an emergency call made at this location, if you need any assistance, please make a sound, anything.” Again her call was met with silence. “’Cause hoax calls are all we need at night,” she commented dryly, shaking her head. The paramedic reached for her radio to let Zack know that the place was empty when she heard footsteps behind her. “So, did you find the batteries? The place is empty, it appears the call was a hoax, there’s no one here,” she commented turning around, dropping her flashlight as soon as she made eye contact with the originator of the footsteps.
“I would not be so quick to make that statement,” remarked a male figure that stood before her.