“Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it.” ~Ray Bradbury
Orange. Yellow. Red. Sometimes blue. White. Hot.
Fire. Roaring, spreading flames. The burning tongues eating wood, warping metal, shattering glass. Nature’s very own destructive beast – consuming everything it touches, marring and ruining and taking lives without hesitation or remorse, sucking everything into its orange-and-yellow mouth, even taking the very air from your lungs –
“Max.” Lieutenant Maxwell jerked from his thoughts and turned to the Captain.
“Lorcan,” he greeted, smiling. Captain Lorcan narrowed his green eyes on his teammate.
“Calm down. Focus on the moment.” He left after saying his piece and Max turned to watch the television.
Max’s fingers tapped on the armrest of his chair as he watched weather anchor Dani Mays go over this week’s forecast – dry again. Bone dry. Dry enough that just starting your car could send a spark onto the grass and –
A soft ‘a-hem’ jerked Max’s attention back to reality and to his Fire Chief sitting across from him. Despite the room being almost cold thanks to the high-powered air conditioner – the envy of everyone that had to go to their homes – there were still rivulets of sweat running down the Lieutenant’s face.
“You need to calm down, Max,” Chief Michael said gently. “You’re going to wear yourself out.”
“I know,” Max sighed. “It’s just been rough. A lot going on around here.”
“We know,” Michael grinned. “We’ve been going along right next to you through this. We’ve gone on a lot of calls this past week thanks to the dry season. That’s all the more reason to relax now that we’re not on a call.”
“Yeah!” Anita chimed in. “You know that could change at any moment, so you gotta enjoy it while it lasts!”
“That isn’t going to calm him down, dolt,” Kim lectured as he rolled his eyes and smacked the energetic blond upside her head. She pouted.
“Watch it, Kim, or I’ll have to make you,” she warned playfully.
“How?” I already beat you in basketball and arm wrestling and pool – what do you want to add? You have no skills!”
“Did you forget what I can do?” Anita asked devilishly as she reached into her always-there fanny pack. “Perhaps I should remind you what skills blew your pen up during class from the other side of the room.”
“No thank you,” Kim stated quickly. “Keep your nasty chemicals away from me!” He ran off with Anita chasing him gleefully.
“C’mon, Kim, it’s just nitrate! It’ll turn you silver for a minute!”
“That’s not all it would do! Stay away Sōutsu!”
“Lorcan, see about ordering a lock for the chemical room, one she can’t pick, will you?” Michael puffed in exasperation as the two loudly left the room.
“Aye, Chief,” Lorcan chuckled as he followed them.
“While I won’t agree with their methods, the newbies have the right idea,” Michael directed to Max. “Relax. Find something to take the edge off. You don’t have to stay in the station to do it, either – the police department’s next door. As long as you keep an ear out, you can spend some time with the other public servants. As long as it doesn’t prevent you from doing your job or them theirs. Get it?” Max nodded stiffly.
“Yeah. Relax. Don’t think about fires until I have to. Or potential fires. Or causes. Or theoretical. Or accidents. Or –”
“Relax,” Michael interrupted. “In another six hours you’ll be back at your house and can relax more, but you aren’t helping anyone by stressing out too much. Got it?”
“Got it.” Max smiled and Michael nodded in understanding before Lorcan strolled in, casually holding an irate raved and giddy blond under his broad shoulders like potato bags.
“And the next time you decide to get into the chemicals or the utility cabinets for anything other than resupplying, I’ll have both of you cleaning all six trucks and EMT vehicles, as well as the entire fire department building, for the next two weeks. Understood?” Max shuddered as the usually stoic man glared at the two rookies. It took a disaster to get that man angry, but he still never raised his voice – and that just made him scary.
“Yes, Captain,” the two troublemakers chorused weakly, but their side looks clearly showed their intents to keep at their rivalry. Lorcan sighed but didn’t otherwise show he noticed.
After a few minutes, everyone dispersed for their own things, with Michael and Lorcan both sending concerned looks at Max as he stayed seated in front of the news. He watched it for a while before he ran his hands through his brown hair in irritation. Hazel eyes glared at the floor as he mentally berated himself.
Here he was – a Lieutenant – acting like a rookie on his first big mission! Even the month – old newbies were handling the rise in fire cases better than he was! What was wrong with this picture!?
Max sighed and got up to look out the window overlooking the park.
It was empty – unsurprising in this crazy heat. Metal slides and plastic swings glinted in innocent malice under the 110-degree sun – easily burning unsuspecting derrieres with the heat-absorbing (and thus scalding) materials. Even the grass seemed to turn brown and die before his eyes under the intense sun. He turned his gaze farther on to the small buildings a fair distance away – far enough to not be too annoyed at the fairly-consistent sirens from the combined fire and police building, but close enough to be seen.
Sympathy welled in Max when he noticed a couple kids at the windows – it was too far to know for sure, but he was still certain that they had dejected looks as they gazed longingly at the too-hot playground. An idea wriggled in the back of his mind, just out of the Lieutenant’s grasp.
He idly wandered to the other room, where Kim and Anita were at war over the Foosball table, ruthlessly spinning pieces to block and score a point. He caught the Chief’s eye and slowly grinned as the idea bloomed and strode up to his friend to run it by him.
Permission granted, Max went to the police side, easily ignoring the friendly jokes of seeing a fireman in a policeman’s department and, was he lost?
A quick discussion with Chief Lorrie and snagging officers Riley and Jerry allowed him to start. As the two officers drove off, Max got his stuff together with Lorcan’s help. A few smacks on the head got Anita and Kim away from their impromptu wrestling match – apparently, they both cheated – and into Max’s scheme.
Minutes later, Max was cranking the wrench at the enthusiastic cheers behind him. Once done, it was time to wait.
Slowly, kids and parents filtered onto the grass. Shifting eyes and fidgeting bodies gave off a nervous energy that was almost off-putting, but Max didn’t blame them.
He’d be nervous too if a couple officers almost demanded him to go somewhere.
“Thank you all for coming on such short notice,” Max said when it seemed no more were immediately coming after a few minutes. He knew that would change.
“What’s going on?” A braver father asked cautiously. Max grinned.
“Kim, cool ‘em off.” With that, the young Asian released the clamp, allowing gallons of water to fly into the air –
And fall over the crowd.
Surprised shrieks were almost immediately drowned out by joyous shouts, and the tense crowd quickly dissolved into playing and games under the almost-cold water. Parents laughed as the man-made rain relieved their heated skin. Children squealed excitedly as the impromptu shower revitalized their heat-induced exhaustion.
In minutes, several more kids and adults trickled into the playground’s yard and basked in the cooling water. An ice cream stand arrived after a bit, summoned by an anonymous call that a crowd was waiting for cooling refreshments. Soon, a crowd surrounded the cart nearly as big as the one directly under the fire hose’s spray.
A light tugging drew Max’s attention down.
“Are you the one that made it rain?” a young boy, about two or three years old, asked. A younger girl clung to him and looked up at the Lieutenant in wonder. Max grinned and crouched, mussing the boy’s hair and lightly poking the girl’s nose.
“Not quite, kiddo,” he said and pointed to Kim from behind the truck, Anita calling to him to change the spray’s direction to get as many people as possible.
“I told those two to make it rain,” Max finished, almost laughing when the kids’ eyes widened.
“Can we t’ank ‘em?” the girl warbled. Max laughed.
“Sure, beautiful,” he agreed, catching the eye of an older woman who was watching them with a fond smile. Assuming she was their mom, Max gestured behind the giant red truck as the kids ran as fast as their little legs could go to thank the ‘cool rain people’. She wandered a short distance to keep them in sight as Max joined them.
“Is it hard t’ make it rain?” the boy was asking. Kim laughed.
“It’s only hard to tell it where to rain,” he said brightly. “But I train hard every day to make sure I’m strong enough to do it.”
“Wow,” the kids chorused. Anita, bright grin on her face, hopped off the truck to crouch next to them.
“Yeah, we train every day so we can make it rain on fires and put them out. We’re so strong, the rain has to listen to us.” The kids’ eyes widened even more, making even their mom laugh lightly from where she stood a few feet away. Max’s eyes glinted with an idea and he whispered to their mom. On her nod, Max approached the kids.
“You guys want to help them know where to make it rain?” he asked conspiratorially. The kids were so excited they could only gasp and nod.
“Okay, then,” he grinned. “We gotta get you on the special seat.” The kids shrieked in surprise as he picked them both up and set them on either shoulder and instructed them to hold on tight. Tiny fingers wrapped around both his shirt and hair as he climbed up the truck’s side and set them on the top. He watched them carefully as they ran around, gleefully pointing anywhere they wanted to make it rain. Anita took her place behind Kim, helping him control the powerful stream as they followed the children’s every direction. He calmly poked at them when they got too close to an edge to get them away, and casually caught them when they stumbled.
A large spot of blue caught Max’s eye, and he turned to see several cops standing off to the side, smiling happily at the group before them, though a few were giving smirks their way. Max felt his mouth stretch into a sly grin and whispered into the little boy’s ear.
Kim’s eyes flashed in glee and Anita crowed in joy as the cops’ yells of shock and surprise echoed at suddenly being doused in a strong downpour of cool water. The kids and Max laughed happily as they yelled playfully for them to stop.
Their eyes widened, however, at the rest of the police squad coming out with six large coolers filled with brightly colored, sloshing toys.
Max jumped off the truck with shrieking kids in tow as Lorcan pulled up in his truck, an equal amount of water balloons in his trunk, saying the Chief thought they’d need backup. They quickly spread the coolers around the edge of the field.
“Free for all!” Those words triggered the ones who noticed first, primarily the policemen and firemen, to throw their ammo. The joyous shouts of surprise were soon roars of challenge as everyone grabbed a couple balloons and the war began.
Laughing, cheering, shrieking, and playful taunts echoed as people pelted each other with the explosive toys. Max laughed to the point of gasping as he hit red-head police officer Charlotte and she gave him a look of huge disbelief. The laughter turned into mock terror when her shocked look turned into one of retribution and she suddenly pulled out a water pistol from her holster.
An hour and a half and two water balloon fights and one water gun war later, an alarm echoed across the park.
“Suit up!” Lorcan yelled. Max dropped his bright green water gun and sprinted to the firetruck, easily going through the motions of putting on his uniform as the cops helped get the parents and children away from the red engine. They climbed into the truck, hose easily tucked back into place, just as Michael pulled up in the second fire engine.
“Fire on 63rd avenue,” he yelled out to Max as Lorcan climbed into his passenger seat. “Head around south to avoid the traffic!” A chorus of ‘Aye’ sounded, and soon both engines were gone, peeling out of the grounds and towards downtown, alarms blaring. Max looked in the mirror in time to see a bunch of people waving behind them, a sea of cops giving salutes or throwing their fists in the air in support, before they turned the corner. Max smiled.
Never has he been so relaxed and never has he felt so ready for the next mission.