Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Price of Heroism

A couple days after I got out of the hospital, after generous amounts of Ma’s special chicken soup with bones ground up in the broth, and enough cayenne to make a normal cry, I felt about like myself. The claw scars on my belly, arm, and face were still visible, but not quite as Halloween scary-looking. It was time for me to get back to work.
Jack and I rode in to work together in his stalwartly dependable Toyota Matrix.  My old Jeep CJ 7 had 20 years on his car, and while it kept chugging along for the most part, I had to admit, Jack’s car was a lot more comfortable. One of the advantages of Jack living with me, and with his furry alarm clock of a cat, was that we BOTH made it to work on time every night. That is, when I made it to work.
Between stakeouts, and other crime fighting, Protectors training, and recovering from periodic injuries, I’d used up all my sick time, all my vacation time, and then some. If Jack and I didn’t have the best survival statistics of any ambulance team in town, I’d have been fired ages ago.
“You’re fired,” the boss said as we walked past his desk.
I looked at him, claw marks still raw on my face. “I was in the hospital.”
“I don’t care. If you can’t show up to work, I can’t afford to keep paying you.”
“I’m hourly. If I don’t show up, you don’t pay me.”
He shifted the toothpick in his mouth to the other side. “I can’t keep shifts covered if you don’t show up half the time. This isn’t a part time job, girl. If you’re going to spend all your time chasing criminals, get the Protectors to pay you.”
The Protectors don’t pay part-timers like me. You have to become a full team member to get a salary.
He was serious. I was really fired. My savings were gone. I had a place to live, but …
Jack said, “If you fire Dee, you’re going to have to fire me, too. I won’t work with anyone else.”
My hero. Have I mentioned lately how awesome Jack is?
The boss wrinkled his nose and nodded. “I expected that. Fine, you’re fired too. I’ve already hired a replacement team. Get your stuff and get out. I’ll mail you your last checks.”
He turned his back on us.
Jack walked in to the locker room, and started clearing out his stuff.
“Wait, Jack.” I put a hand on his arm. “It doesn’t make any sense for us both to be out of work. The boss would give you back your job, if you asked.”
Jack shrugged. “Don’t worry about it, Dee. We’ll land on our feet. I’d rather work somewhere else with you.” Jack’s an optimist, but that’s a bit like saying water is wet. Jack makes Polyanna seem like a depressive.
“Both of us out of work at once, though. How are we going to live?” I tend to see things a little less positively.
“Free rent helps, and Brad’s got a good job, still. He’ll be okay with keeping us going for a few weeks until we find something. He owes me.”
True. Brad was on his way to a drunk and disorderly charge, with no place to live and a broken heart, when Jack offered to let Brad live with him. He didn’t know Brad. He just knew he needed a place to stay. That’s my Jack.
When Jack’s apartment building burned down, Brad, Jack, and Jack’s cat, Cam, and dog, Rocky, all moved in with me and Ma in our little two-bedroom apartment. When my friend, Vlad, the multi-millionaire, decided to leave town, he gave us his mansion, rent free. And his chief of security, Floyd Donovan, salary pre-paid.
So, we had a place to live, and a protector, whether we needed one or not, but little things like food and gas might be a bit hard to come by with no jobs, not to mention the hefty hospital bills I'd just racked up.
Plus, I really like my job. Sure, I feel like I’m helping out with the Protectors, taking some really bad people off the streets, but as a paramedic, I save lives directly. I see people who would die or be crippled for life every single day, and I know they’re better off because I was there to help them. Jack gets us there first, and covers for me. Jack and I save lives together. That’s what we do.
Jack suggested we use our unexpected day off to go listen to some of SXSW, the big music festival going on in Austin. Counting Crows was in town. Jack and I don’t always agree on music, (he likes that dub step stuff that makes my ears ache) but we both like Counting Crows.
I mentally calculated the nearly zero level of my bank account, and wondered if I could afford to go to a “free” concert where I’d have to pay to park, eat, etc.
We opted to go home first and break the news to Ma.
Brad and Donovan were both at the kitchen table, with Ma piling roast beef with potatoes and carrots on a plate for him.
Jack and I grabbed plates and joined in. With our reversed night shift schedules, we were more in the mindset of bacon and eggs, but Ma’s roast fills the house with a scent that would make vegetarians rethink their choices.
“What are you two doing home?” Ma asked.
I stuffed my face with roast to try for extra time. I really didn’t want to tell Ma that Jack and I were both suddenly unemployed.
Jack bailed me out. “We got fired, maam.”
Ma blinked. “Both of you?”
I swallowed roast. “Just me, at first, but Jack stuck up for me. Then the boss fired him, too.”
“Oh, dear.” Ma sat down and drank some tea. I expected a lecture. I got absolute silence from everyone at the table.
Something was off. “What did I miss?”
Brad, the four hundred pound, six-four giant steel-worker with super strength and invulnerability at the level of a Protector, twisted a paper towel in his hand until it shredded. “I got laid off today. The plant’s closing down.”
My stomach lurched a little. Jack and I were counting on Brad to help us get through the lean time. “Are you saying that no one in the whole house has a job now? We have no income at all?”
“I still have a job,” Donovan pointed out. “I could help out some.”
I cringed. “You’re supposed to be working for me. It doesn’t seem right for you to give us money.”
Donovan shrugged. “Mr. Tchovsky pays me well, and I don’t have a family to support. I can help out.”
I saved Donovan’s life once. He seemed to feel like he owed me for that. But he didn’t owe me anything. Not really. He was already essentially working for me for free. “Donovan, I …” My phone rang, interrupting. It was Liberty’s number.
“This is Dee,” I said, grateful for the interruption of what looked to be a very uncomfortable conversation.
“Liberty. I’m sorry to interrupt you at work, but we’ve already got injuries, and it’s probably going to get worse. We need you.”
“No work to interrupt anymore.” She gave me a location. “I’ll be there.”

D Dragon