Page 40 Home Page 3+

                                                 HOME PAGE 3 – PLUS.                                                6-14-10

If you’ve read Home Page 1 you’ll know that I started publishing a new short story every Monday on this Web Site since 09 09 09.

Well, the short story that’s on this same page is number 40 and although back then I promised to keep publishing one every week I didn’t take an Xmas holiday in darkest Wales into account (no electricity no matter about access to the Internet!) nor did I allow for the World Cup coming up in June/July.

So, because I want to watch all of the games – there are going to be 64 of them – I hereby announce a hiatus and I’ll recommence publishing when it’s all over.

As for the long term – I have a vague goal of continuing to do so until 10 10 10 but that isn’t written in stone and, maybe, something will happen before then that will decide the issue for me/us one way or the other.

Roy Garde.

                                                             THE FIRE CHIEF.                                                              6-14-10

                                                                  Roy Garde

Twenty years in the Navy were enough for Jim Closen because THEY kept sending him to sea on Aircraft Carriers.

It was logical enough because he was, after all, a Chief Petty Officer (Spec. Air. Damage Control) and all aircraft carriers need several of them and they aren’t exactly thick on the ground but he was tired of having to take on enormous responsibilities over and over again and he couldn’t see an end to it as long as he stayed in the service. Because of that, he went through the procedure for retiring as soon as he had enough time in to qualify for his pension.

Another of his reasons for leaving was that he’d gotten over fond of the wonderful perks that CPOs without ships get ‘shore sides’ and so what irked him almost as much as the crushing responsibility that came with having to go to sea was being separated from those privileges for six months or more. If you combine those with the ones that he found for himself while on the generous liberty time that he got from his inconsequential pencil-pushing duties on Naval Bases the reason for his wanting to retire from the Navy becomes obvious.

When he was assigned to a ship’s crew he’d go ashore in whatever port they visited and he’d behave like all sailors do who still have money in their pockets and he’d spend time looking for a woman who’s appearance was half way decent but he knew well enough that his one or two times with her wouldn’t be nearly enough for him to train her to meet his special needs and so he’d resign himself to getting only immediate relief but he was never happy with having to make the compromise.

He was six feet three and two hundred pounds and he kept in shape not only because he had to in order to do his job properly but also because he knew that if he let a beer belly, or the like, develop it would inevitably slow down his active love life.

When the Navy found out that he wasn’t going to re-enlist they sent a stream of recruiters, including, finally, his then commanding officer, to try to get him to change his mind and they all offered him inducements. He remained adamant about leaving and he found out that it made it easier for the ones who’d never been to sea if he said that he felt ‘burnt out’ because that allowed them to write reports about how the Navy was lucky to have found out in time and would be better off with not having a potential time-bomb in its midst. However, what convinced the recruiters who were his peers was that even the promise of promotion to Master Chief didn’t dissuade him because every Chief in the Navy knows the value of it. It is the lower deck equivalent of a Lieut. Commander being offered the other half of his middle stripe.

However, he didn’t tell any of them that another, very valid, reason for his wanting to leave was that for ten of his twenty years in the service he’d had to ‘Yes-Sir’ lesser men on a regular basis and that that was quite enough for one lifetime, thank you.

When he was a civilian again he found an apartment in the town that was near his last base, so that he could keep on seeing his two girl friends in rotation, but he soon found out that everything else changes too when you are no longer a part of the big team and that you are only barely tolerated in the bars where the still-serving men hang out. He didn’t like that at all but when his two women made it obvious to him, separately, that while they were very open to marrying him his not being in the Navy took away the glamour from their present arrangement – not to mention their not being invited to the regular and wonderful parties in the CPO”s mess on the base any more – and they were becoming less than happy with the status quo. On hearing that he decided to get away from everything that was associated with the Navy and make a complete new start.

                                                *                                                                *

He went back to his home town, which was a small city in the North East, and he lived in his parents’ house for a few weeks.

Those two weeks were plenty of time for him to find out that he’d have no problem with finding agreeable companions there and so he looked around for a suitable apartment to rent.

He met and dated a whole string of women before he found, and married, a good looking widow named Hilda who’d proved to be ready and willing to be trained in the fine arts that went on between the sheets whenever he was one of the two writhers in question and who had a nice house and although her two children had to be added to the mix they were old enough to not get underfoot, as it were.

Even in the few weeks that he was living in his parent’s house he couldn’t remain idle so after two days there he’d taken the first of a string of jobs in which he figured that, like in the Navy, his hard work and abilities and willingness would be recognized and would lead to his being given more responsibilities and let him work his way up to management level.

He was very wrong.

He found out at first hand that these days if a company hires you they want you to do what you were hired for and to do that and that alone for ever more. Personnel Departments are there to fill slots and they don’t want to be bothered with encouraging careers because that would, inevitably, mean the emptying of slots and that would look bad to their bosses because, “Hello, you filled that slot nicely just six months ago and now you’ve emptied it again! Why? – – – – – – – Oh, well, don’t do it again. We could have searched for an already qualified guy from outside to fill that upscale vacant slot. Try to remember in future that that is what we’re paid to do and that is how we show that we’re on the ball here. We are not guidance counselors.”

He soldiered on for several years – all of the other things that were in his life aided him in persevering – but he eventually got so disgusted with the shortsightedness and the outright stupidity that he found everywhere that he began to miss the fixed routines and the discipline of the Navy that had shielded him from random humiliations and had encouraged his abilities to come into play.

One day, someone told him that the local Fire Service Department needed a full time professional Assistant Fire Chief and so he applied for it.

 When the Fire Chief saw his qualifications – he’d brought with him no less than eight certificates of competency in different aspects of fire fighting – he hired him on the spot.

                                             *                                                                      *

He had no way of knowing it but he lucked into being put into the middle of a contentious dispute between the Fire Chief and the Mayor. They’d been at loggerheads for over a year by then and they’d gotten to the stage where whatever one of them suggested in the way of solving a problem the other one would reject it out of hand just out of bloody mindedness.

After he’d been in his new job for a month the Mayor took Jim to lunch and he inquired as to how things were going and then he got right down to his nefarious business by asking him if he thought that he could learn enough about the routines and the paperwork to be able to take over the top job in ten months time when the present Chief would have put in enough time to retire with a full pension.

Jim liked the Chief well enough but he liked even more the thought of having the title for himself so he assured the Mayor that ten months would be plenty of time for him to get to learn the ropes of the civilian equivalent of what he’d been doing for twenty years in the Navy – he thought it best to not add that the job called for only about fifty percent of his abilities.

 Jim and Hilda’s marriage faltered somewhat a few months after he got to be Chief. For a reason that she herself didn’t fully understand she became less and less enamored with doing the acrobatics that he demanded from the woman in his bed and, as was well known to both of them, without all-out enthusiasm on both sides the needed split-second co-ordinations falter and the whole house of cards comes tumbling down and because of that, more and more often, Jim had to settle for the mundane and he found it to be insupportable and so he knew that it was time for him to get back into the recruiting of talent business.

Word soon got around that the big, good looking new Fire Chief was willing to do house calls if a woman thought that perhaps the flue of the chimney in her living room needed checking out, and so, after that the emergency dispatcher started getting calls every day from women who wanted their names to put on his inspection roster. When he was handed a new request Jim would do some research on the caller, using the municipality’s computer records, and he’d ask for a copy of her driving license – for ‘official business’ purposes – to be able to check out her photo. He’d send an assistant to do a bona fide check of the homes of the ones who were over forty or unattractive.

He was well aware that the majority of the women who had passed his initial screening would prove to be unsuitable for consideration for training up to his exacting requirements so, to save his valuable time, he’d blatantly park his official SUV right outside the applicant’s home and then go in and interview her. His reasoning was: who was going to read anything untoward into the fact that the red, white and blue vehicle with big emergency flashers – plus a siren, on its roof and with the words, “FIRE CHIEF” writ large on the front and back and on both sides and with, “SMOKE DETECTORS CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE” stickers in the windows – was parked outside a home for a half-hour or so?

He did his recruiting in the city’s time so he didn’t have the luxury of being able to spend a lot of it courting every applicant so he was grateful when one of them proved willing to show him her recalcitrant flue at once and agree to let him take immediate action to treat it. Besides his immediate, on the spot, gratification her complacency also allowed him to check its owner for potential and for suitability for consideration for further training as an apprentice Fire Assistant.

However, while such willingness was quite common, none of the ones who aided his search in that agreeable way proved out.

Many of the other applicants wanted to play Little Missy Two Shoes with him so, after a minute or two, he’d get up and leave and sometimes they’d realize where they’d gone wrong and they’d come running after him and then they’d say something straight to the point, like, “Oh, Mister Chief! Wait. Please come back inside for a moment because I just remembered that there’s a balky flue in my bedroom that I’d really like you to check out. Please?” When that happened he knew that once inside there’d be no more false coyness and he’d be able to get in quickly and, if the cause was hopeless as usual, get out almost as quickly and then, once back in his SUV, check off another name on his list of hopefuls.

It took months before he found a non-balky flue owner who was worthy of consideration for being put on a long-term training course.

Her name was Penny Harris and she improved markedly with his every visit – he parked well away from her house and walked a couple of blocks when he went to her place to give her all of the subsequent training sessions – and, on his third visit when they’d finished training and were recovering on her bed, she told him that she was married and he said, “That’s all right, lil’ darling. So am I.” but his glibness was cut off abruptly when she went on to say that her husband worked in a highly specialized branch in the construction industry and that that meant that he often came home at odd hours because he didn’t get paid by the hour, like everybody else, but for a fixed fee and so when each phase of his sub-contract got finished he could, and did, pack up his tools and quit for the day no matter what time it was.

If she’d told him that on his first or second visit he would have said, “Well, thank you Ma’am, and goodbye now. Take care and remember that many forest fires are caused by carelessness.” or some such, but not only was she really good-looking she was also an eager and talented pupil and she’d done so well in the initial training exercises that he’d been poised to tell her that she was soon going to be promoted to Acting Junior Fireman if she continued making the same amount of progress each time.

Because of that he felt true dismay and the way that his shoulders slumped on hearing her news gave her some dismay of her own.

She knew that she’d been doing well and she wanted the training sessions to go on for ever so she said, “Aw, come on, big fella, you can find a way around that can’t you? For you it’s just a little brush fire, right?”

He had to explain to her that there was a great deal at stake – being the City’s Fire Chief meant that if he got caught in adultery the local papers would have a field day and it would certainly mean his job – and he told her that he was really sorry but he’d not be coming back to work on improving her fire fighting abilities unless and until he’d succeeded in coming up with a fool proof solution to the hair raising problem that she’d just revealed to him.

She protested some more as he was getting dressed and she asked why couldn’t they continue with the training in the back of his truck or in a motel or out in the woods and he answered that they needed a soft platform like a bed to deal with the fast approaching finer points of the course and that a motel was hardly good for a long term solution because of the expense and because of ‘prying eyes’ and gossiping desk clerks and maids and cleaners and – a bunch of other potentially damaging informers.

He’d meant what he’d said and she saw that that was true so she had to think that she’d never be put through her paces by him again but one day, a month or so later, he paid a bona fide official visit to the city’s biggest shopping Mall – for a routine check of its water pressure and to see that all of the emergency exits were clear, and, etc. – and when he was leaving he saw that its huge parking lot stretched clear over to the back of Penny’s house. His curiosity got him to drive all the way over there to check it out close-up.

He found that her main bedroom, which was where her flue inspections and all of her training and examinations had taken place, had its own balcony that reached out and it came to within a few feet of the parking lot’s fence.

He saw at once that even a big man like him would find little difficulty with stepping off the balcony and onto the top of the fence and then onto the roof of an SUV if it had been parked just so – an SUV like his for instance – and then he could move down onto its hood and then, via the bumper, get to the ground. Furthermore, if that same big man took the precaution of first attaching some hardly noticeable air-cord wires to the top of the fence, to be sure that it could take his weight, then that method of egress would be almost as easy as going down the stairs and out the front door in the regular way. Besides being much more convenient under certain circumstances.

Also, he said to himself, it would be easy to reduce the chances of getting caught by someone who didn’t understand the fine ramifications of the liaison between pupil and master – when they’re involved in carrying out certain, possibly life-saving, training exercises – by employing the age old method of firemen everywhere who, to save valuable seconds when the warning bell sounds, drape their overalls over a chair with the legs already pushed down into their boots so that they only have to step into them and pull them up and on and be ready to go. He also decided that he should practice putting the rest of his clothes into a box, which could be thrown from the balcony in an emergency and be retrieved a few minutes later.

    He considered the cons of strategically parking his vehicle there often but then he dealt with that effectively by deciding to work out a plan that would justify the need for regular Fire Hazard Prevention Seminars for Mall personnel which would please the council and reassure the general public that at least one branch of its highly paid civil servants was on top of its job and was working industriously on their behalf.

    That left only the problem of not getting surprised by someone who came home from work unexpectedly while he and Penny were training and his solution to that called for installing a compression switch under the front door Welcome Mat and then running wires to connect it into the already installed burglar alarm system so that it would trigger a hidden buzzer that he’d put under the bed where their maneuvers were carried out. He knew that he’d also have to install a cut-out switch so that the whole thing could be disarmed outside of classroom hours.

 He bought the needed equipment and it took a lot of work to get it all done but he did it in the interest of keeping a tight and seaworthy ship.

 When everything had been tested he, to Penny’s delight, could again regularly – and now securely – carry out the special lead-up procedures that were necessary every time before reaming out her flue and thus be sure that it wouldn’t get clogged again for a day or two.

                                                   *                                                                   *

 Several months before she’d applied to get a visit from the Fire Chief to check out her equipment Penny had had a burglar alarm system installed in her home and the electrician who’d done the work was a guy named Glen who had easily succumbed to her charms.

She’d been feeling particularly horny one morning when Glen was doing the work – that was nothing unusual for her because her husband’s libido was far too easily satisfied in that he only needed her once a week and that was only for maybe three minutes tops – and so she’d put her assets on display for him by ‘forgetting’ to pull the blinds and curtains in her bedroom even though she was well aware that he was going to use a ladder to get onto her balcony to install the window pane protection system that morning. He got to see all that she had and he’d nearly fallen off the balcony but when he’d steadied he took advantage of his ‘good luck’ by looking long enough, and hard enough, to commit her beauty to his memory bank and then he happened to look at her face and was astonished, and very pleased, to see that far from being horrified or even annoyed at being spied on it was obvious that she was liking it and when she smiled at him that was highly encouraging but when she moved her hips to afford him a better view of happy valley he climbed down his ladder in record time and then he ran around to the front door and then through her living room and up the stairs to her bedroom where he found her slightly apprehensive but still naked and with the bed clothing still wantonly cast aside.

He’d been divorced for more than two years and he was badly in need of an outlet so he applied himself to their relationship with fervor and they got on well until she inadvertently told him about her husband’s erratic hours.

He was a very sensitive person and knowing that he was taking a huge risk made him hopelessly fearful and that, in turn, immediately affected his ability to perform which made him useless for her needs. After several more visits with the same negative result each time she told him that he was to stop coming around.

His highly appreciated adventure lasted only about one week after he’d finished installing her alarm system and he found it difficult to get any sleep from then on because his memory of her wonderful body was ever present and so, in the dark of night in his bed, he worked on many plans to get to be with her again regularly without risk but every morning, in the light of day, he knew that none of them would work because she called the shots and she had told him that it was over between them and even if he could muster the wherewithall to give her what she needed, which was doubtful as he well knew, it was very likely that she’d already written him off as a bed-partner and might well be caustic and dismissive and, it pained him to admit, rightly so.

In spite of that logic he stayed obsessed with her and he wondered if meeting her ‘by chance’ in the street might get her to forgive and forget and so he took to parking in the road just down from her place to eat his lunchtime sandwich, He figured that if he saw her going for a walk he could arrange to cross paths with her and maybe that would lead to an invitation to go to a motel, or some such. His longings intensified as time went by and so whenever he wasn’t doing installations, and was waiting to be given another trouble shooting job over his cell phone, he’d drive to the same place and just sit and hope.

Glen was in his usual observation post one day when he saw the Fire Chief pull up outside her apartment in his colorfully emblazoned SUV. He had to leave a half hour later to go on a service call and because the Fire Chief hadn’t come down by then poor Glen had to accept, with genuine dismay, that he’d been usurped and that he had very little hope of ever again being invited up to – uh – inspect her wiring and to check her outlets and to put some of her inputs to the test.

Unless that is, it crossed his mind as he was pulling away, unless the Chief got caught by her husband!

That night, when he’d poured himself a beer at home, he took a time out to make a decision.

He knew that the Fire Chief was married because he often saw photos of him and his wife in the local press when they were attending one function or another. He also knew that the Fire Chief and the Police Chief were close – they always are, it stands to reason – so he decided against making a phone call to tell Penny’s husband who it was who was making him wear horns because they might well combine forces, and technical equipment, to somehow trace the call back to him.

Besides that, he wasn’t that kind of a guy so he gave up all claims on Penny but he did so very reluctantly because he was sorely stricken with her and he kept up his vigil across from her house out of what can only be called masochism.

One day, because he was in his usual position, he noticed that the Fire Chief no longer used his SUV and that he came to the house on foot everyday. Then there came a hiatus for a week or so and after a few days into that Glen’s hopes rose again and he began to stay alert again to the possibility of ‘accidentally’ meeting up with the lovely Penny on the street and, hopefully, inveigle her into going to a motel with him.

It didn’t happen and then, around a week later, he was dismayed to see the Fire Chief turn up on foot again and go inside and then, after a few minutes, he came out and set to work putting a compression switch under the front door mat and then he drilled a hole in the hidden side of the door jamb, down low, and he ran wires from the compression switch through the hole and then, presumably, to the Alarm Operating Key Station that he, Glen, had installed in the hallway months before.

The whole operation puzzled him no end because he couldn’t see how an early warning system would help the Chief because even though it would warn him that someone was coming into the house he’d still be trapped inside it and what difference would it make if the husband caught him, buck naked, in the middle of doing a fire drill with his wife or coming down the stairs with only his pants on and pretending that he’d lost his memory and didn’t know why he was carrying out a Routine Fire Inspection in this particular house at that particular time?

  Glen gave up and, feeling bitter from knowing what was happening at that moment, or would happen in the next few minutes, in the big bedroom he drove off to try to clear his mind by doing some hard physical work.

About a month after resignedly giving up all claims to the lovely Penny, Glen had to go to the City’s big shopping  Mall to buy some fittings at the Home Supply store and as he was walking back to his truck he saw the Fire Chief’s SUV parked, very inconveniently he thought, way away from the entrance to the Mall and so he, filled with curiosity, walked over there to check it out.

When he came up to it he saw that it was situated directly behind, and up close, to Penny’s house and he immediately realized that it could be used as an emergency exit by stepping off her balcony and onto it’s cab roof and then down to the tarmac.

He felt heartsick for not having had the sense to think of that himself especially seeing that his own truck was the right size for it too.

It hurt him to look up at the balcony knowing what was going on in the room beyond it so he didn’t hang around and he couldn’t keep from dragging his feet as he walked back to his own truck because he couldn’t help but compare the Chief’s present situation with his own. The Chief was wallowing in clover whereas he had to go to a nasty, complicated job that couldn’t be put off any longer and it was up in the overhead of a filthy, fume-filled, smelly factory.

When he got to his truck he looked back to snarl at his usurper and the strumpet again and it was then that the signs on the SUV registered with him properly for the first time.

He could read one of them from where he was standing – “SMOKE DETECTORS CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE.”

Seeing that message infuriated him for a reason that he didn’t want to analyze and so he turned away and climbed into his truck, intending to go and tackle the disagreeable job as a form of therapy, but then a thought came to him that helped lessen his anguish considerably.

 He tore a flap from a cardboard box and then he searched for a felt-tipped pen in the piles of junk that was on the passenger seat and he wrote out a new sign in big letters.

He then got out of the truck and walked back to the SUV and he used black insulating tape to stick the sign to the door on the driver’s side.