THE PHANTOM AND THE PARSELMOUTH
*The events in this story follow those fictionalized in Dancing With The Devil. Dances With Rattlesnakes, No Easy Choice, Dancing With The Devil, and The Phantom And The Parselmouth, might be best enjoyed if read in sequential order. All the above stories can be found in Kenda’s Emergency Library.
Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a sucker for Gage's kid. Hard to believe, huh? Twenty five years ago no one would have imagined John Gage had enough common sense to raise a kid, let alone one as smart as Trevor. But, the Pigeon’s little Pigeon has kinda grown on the Phantom in the past couple weeks. My own boys are teenagers now, and I'd forgotten what it's like to have an eight year old around. Trevor Gage is everything an eight year old boy should be. Funny, energetic, curious, secure in his world as a direct result of his dad's love, and just gullible enough, and big hearted enough, to assure everyone Trevor is his father's son.
Denying that Gage was the Phantom's favorite target would not only be foolish on my part, but just plain stupid. Anyone who knows the Phantom, knows who his prime pigeon was during our working days at Station 51. Water bombs, flour bombs, itching powder, sugar cookies that were really made of wallpaper paste, jelly doughnuts with all the jelly siphoned out, prank phone calls to Johnny’s house at two in the morning - you name it, and I pulled it on John Gage. You'd think after a couple years of being the Phantom's victim the guy would have wised up to my ways, but he never did. Though in truth, I have suspected he might have played 'dumb' on purpose more than once, just so the Phantom could continue to bring us a few much needed laughs from time to time.
Roy's reunion picnic was winding down when Trevor climbed in my lap. I'd been teasing him most of the afternoon. You know, throwing him into the swimming pool, chasing him around the yard along with Stoker's grandchildren and Roy's granddaughters, swiping the basketball out of his hands before he had a chance to aim at the hoop Roy’s still got attached to the eaves above his garage, and just in general having a good time playing with the younger kids the way I used to play with Collin and Ryan when they were small. But, my oldest was driving now, and while he and his brother had attended Roy's picnic at my request, they had left in Collin's Mustang at four to meet some of their buddies at a movie.
“So, Little Pigeon, you having a good time here in California?”
“Yep. But Papa says we have to go home on Monday.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. The ‘papa’ thing cracked me up. Especially when associated with Gage.
so funny, Mr. Kelly?”
“Nothing, kid, nothing.”
The boy glared at me in the same way Johnny used to when he was suspicious I was up to something.
you making fun of Papa again?”
I well remembered how hard this kid could kick, so decided a, “No, not at all,” was the smartest answer to give him.
The sun was starting to set, and everyone was scattered. Some of the kids were on the swing set, others in the pool, and others in the sandbox. The adults were sprawled everywhere from deck, to swimming pool, to playing a cutthroat game of volleyball that John DeSoto had initiated. He was the captain of one team, while Gage headed up the other one.
Johnny’s left arm was still in a sling due to the gunshot would he’d suffered several weeks earlier thanks to Evan Crammer, but he wouldn’t allow that inconvenience to keep him outta the action. Dixie was on Gage's team, while Joanne played on her son's side. Roy hadn't wanted to play at all, but just like twenty five years ago, Johnny somehow convinced him to join in on the fun. Roy stood next to Johnny in the front row, which seemed pretty natural to tell you the truth. When they'd worked together they were tighter than most guys I've ever known. Even after they no longer saw one another at Station 51 each day they remained best friends. It wasn’t until Chris's accident that things changed between them, but that's another story. I could tell they'd come to terms with their past estrangement, and just by watching how they interacted at the picnic gave me a good indication that their friendship was once again intact with a promising future ahead of it.
Trevor cheered when his father spiked the ball over the net and Mike Morton missed volleying it back.
"Yea, Poppy, yea! That was awesome!"
Johnny gave Trevor a thumbs up, then cocked an amused eyebrow at me. I suppose he was as surprised as I was to discover I'd taken such a liking to his kid. But, I'll admit, it was hard not to like Trevor, and though I'll never tell Johnny this, he’s doing a helluva good job raising the boy.
Trevor turned sideways on my lap so he could carry on a conversation with me while keeping one eye on the volleyball game. Marco was sitting in the lawn chair next to me, both of us content to simply watch the activities surrounding us. It had been a fun day, but a long one. We'd just finished eating some of the leftovers Joanne had spread out on the picnic table, so between my full stomach and the warmth of the fading July sun, I was feeling comfortably mellow. Trevor cheered for Roy when he volleyed a ball back over the net at Mike Stoker, then cheered again when Johnny spiked it at Joanne. That action caused her to scream and duck, which in turn set off a round of good natured teasing aimed in the woman's direction.
Trevor looked from the game to me. "Hey, Mr. Kelley, did you know my papa is a Parselmouth?"
"I know your pops has a big mouth, but. . ."
The boy planted his fists on his skinny hips and gave me that Gage Glare again. "Mr. Kelly. . ."
"Okay, okay. I was only teasing. What's a Parselmouth? Is that some kind of Alaskan word? Something Eskimos call fire chiefs maybe?"
Trevor laughed at what he evidently took to be my ignorance.
"No. It's not an Alaskan word or an Eskimo word. It's from Harry Potter."
"Harry Potter." The boy's eyes grew wide. "Haven't you ever heard of Harry Potter?"
"Can't say I have."
"Chet, all the kids are reading Harry Potter now days," Marco said from my left.
I shrugged. "Guess my kids aren't because I've never heard of no Henry Gotter."
"Harry," Trevor corrected. "Harry Potter, Mr. Kelly."
I've never heard of him either. But
maybe my kids are too old for him, huh?"
"Mr. Kelly, no one is ever too old for Harry Potter. Poppy and I read him together all the time."
"Guess I'll have to take your word on that. That no one is too old for Harry Potter, I mean. After all, your pops is getting up there in years. Not as young as he used to be and all."
kid got me then when he shot me a skeptical look and asked, "Exactly how
old are you?”
Marco laughed while I responded with, "Not as young as I used to be either, Little Pigeon." I shifted the subject back to what had started this conversation to begin with.
"So you never did answer me. What's a Parselmouth?"
"That's a person who can talk to snakes."
I didn't even attempt to hide my skepticism. "Oh, really?"
"Yep. Harry Potter's a Parselmouth. It's a very magical skill that only a few people have. When Harry talks to snakes it sounds to him like he's speaking English, but everyone around him hears Parselmouth. The most important thing is that the snake hears Parselmouth, and then it does whatever Harry tells it to."
see. And just how did you come to the
conclusion that your pops is a Parselmouth?"
"He told me so."
he did, did he?"
"Yep. When we were reading that part in Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets. . .the part about Harry being a Parselmouth, Papa told me he was a Parselmouth, too. He said he could point one finger at the biggest, most poisonous, most meanest snake in the whole wide world and say, "Don't bite me," and it would just curl up like a scaredy cat little worm and cry for its mother."
told you that, huh?"
you believe him?"
"Of course. Papa doesn't lie."
don't you think he might stretch the truth every so often?"
"You mean like tease me about stuff? Exag. . .exag…”
"Exaggerate," Marco supplied.
Trevor nodded. "Exaggerate stuff? Is that what you mean?"
"That's what I mean."
"Mmmm. . .maybe. Papa teases sometimes."
"Well, kid, in that case allow me to fill you in on the time when being a so-called Parselmouth didn't do your pops a lick of good."
"Whatta ya' mean?"
"Your pops was snakebit."
"Was it a mean snake?"
I chuckled. "I have a feeling your papa thought so."
"Oh, yeah. Huge." I spread my arms wide, even though if the truth was told I never saw the stupid snake.
Marco rolled his eyes at me. He remembered that afternoon as well as I did. He knew I never saw the snake, but he kept his mouth shut and allowed my tale to continue.
"And poisonous?" Trevor asked in a voice that broadcast both excitement and fright. "Was it poisonous, Mr. Kelly?"
"You bet, kid. It was a rattlesnake."
"Wow! Those are poisonous. They can kill a guy even. We don't have 'em in Alaska, but they got 'em in Montana where my Grandpa Chad lives."
"Well, we have them in California, too. And yep, they're poisonous all right. That old snake sure made your pops one pretty sick paramedic for a day or two."
"Papa never told me about it. I wonder how come he didn't talk to that snake in Parselmouth?"
"Maybe he didn't have time," Marco offered. "Rattlers strike awful fast."
Trevor nodded. "Or maybe he didn't know Parselmouth then."
"Maybe not," Marco agreed.
"Or maybe the snake didn't care what he said," I contributed. "You know, your pops always did a lot of yackin,' and most of us ignored about half of what he said on any given day, so maybe the snake tuned him out, too."
"Chet..." Marco scolded, though why I had no idea. I was telling the truth in this case. Twenty-five years ago Gage could yack on a mile a minute. I noticed he was a little quieter now, not a lot, mind you, but a little. But during the days we worked together out of 51's, a guy learned to ignore Gage's rants in an effort to protect his sanity. That's why I think Roy's a saint. How a quiet guy like him, and a yappy guy like Gage, ever survived one another in the confines of that squad is beyond me.
Regardless of all that, I heeded Marco's warning. After all, it wasn't like I wanted to give Trevor the impression Johnny hadn't been a good friend, or hadn't been well liked by the guys who worked with him, because either of those things was far from the truth.
"It doesn't make any difference why the snake bit your pops, Trevor. What matters is it did."
"And then Uncle Roy took care of him, huh? Just like he did when Papa was hit by that car."
"Well. . .no. Not exactly. Your pops started out taking care of himself, then when he couldn't any longer it was up to me."
"To you? But you weren't a paramedic."
I remembered how scared I was that afternoon we were rushing Johnny to Rampart on Engine 51, and could only say, "No, Trev, I wasn't. But at that moment no one was asking for my credentials, and even though I wanted to be anywhere but on top of that fire engine, your pops needed me."
Trevor leaned forward, hanging on my every word now. I thought back over two decades, and could recall that afternoon as clearly as if the events had occurred two hours earlier, not twenty-six years ago.
"The odd. . .odds good, Chet. They're in. . .in my favor for a. . .for a change."
Between the roar of the engine, the wail of the siren, the fact that we were out in the open with the wind whipping around us, and the weakness of his voice, I could barely understand Johnny.
"Johnny, don't talk. Just stay still. Rest. We'll be there in a few minutes."
He gave me a small, lopsided smile. Small and lopsided because the venom was causing numbness around his mouth. Or so I'd heard him tell Doctor Brackett over the handie talkie.
Johnny's head flopped to the hoses as though his neck no longer had the strength to support it. I continued to use the aspirator against his right calf in an attempt to extract what venom I could.
"For. . .forty thousand people. . .people bitten a year by rat. . rattlers an' only. . .only fifteen die, Chet. Only. . .only fif. . fifteen."
I did my best to smile. "Guess those are good odds."
Of course, I had no idea then if he knew what he was talking about or just rambling, like Gage was sometimes prone to do. Hours later I found out his statistics were right on the money believe it or not. I'm glad I didn't bet him anything on it.
"Well, you're not gonna be one of those fifteen," I assured him.
Brackett's voice came over the handie talkie wanting an update on Johnny's vitals. Problem was, Johnny was the only one capable of giving the doc that information, and one look at him told me he was in no shape to comply with Brackett's request.
I placed my fingers on the pulse at his left wrist, looked at the second hand on my watch, and counted. That much I could do. I picked up the handie talkie and relayed the information to Brackett.
"Huh. . .Rampart, this is Chet Kelly." I figured Brackett knew I wasn't Johnny, but I wasn't sure if he'd recognize my voice. "Johnny's pulse is 100. I can't. . .I don't know what other information I can give you."
Though Doctor Brackett could hear us, we couldn’t hear him. His words were spoken to Sam Lanier, a fire department dispatcher, who in turn relayed Brackett’s message.
"Is the victim conscious, 51?" Sam asked on behalf of Doc Brackett.
I looked down at Gage. His eyes were at half-mast, the lids appearing too heavy for him to keep open all the way. I could tell his awareness level had greatly decreased.
"Semi-conscious, Rampart. And he's sweating heavily." I bent forward, taking a closer look at Johnny. There was a lot of spit building up around the outside of his mouth. "Huh. . .Rampart, he. . .he's. . ." I tried to think of a word that sounded a little more professional than 'spit.' After all, this was Kelly Brackett I was talking to. "He's salivating, Doc." There, thought of it.
I felt Johnny's hand on my arm. His grip was weak and his fingers trembled. He was trying to tell me something, but when he opened his mouth all that came out was more saliva. I grabbed a towel from the trauma box. I wiped Johnny's mouth, then bent to listen.
"Tell him. . .tell Brack. . .Brackett. . .blurry vision. . .yellow. Every. . .everything. . .kinda yellow."
I didn't know what that meant, though later Doc Brackett would tell me a severe bite by a rattler often caused the victim's vision to obscure in such a way that everything appeared yellow in color.
"An'. . .weak. Real. . weak. . .Chet. Tell 'im. . .weak an’. . .an’ dizzy."
"I will," I assured as I tried to keep my voice from shaking. I relayed the information to Brackett. The only response I got from Sam was, “What’s your ETA now, 51?” which indicated to me Brackett knew Johnny was going downhill fast.
I had just set the handie talkie by my thigh when Johnny started to puke. I was sure he was gonna die on me right then and there. I had the good sense to turn him on his side, which meant I got most of the crud across my pants. Though I gave Gage hell about that a couple days later, right then I barely noticed.
Even when Johnny's stomach quit barfing up his half digested lunch, he kept on retching. As if that wasn't enough for me to handle, his entire body started quaking, as though he was caught in the grip of one mother of a giant muscle spasm.
I scrambled over the hoses and pounded on the back window. Cap turned around.
"Cap, tell Mike to lay on the gas! Johnny's gonna die on us if we don’t get there soon!"
Looking back on it I suppose I was being a little over dramatic. Maybe even a lot over dramatic. But I'm not a doctor, or a paramedic, and I was scared shitless. All I kept picturing in my mind was Big Red pulling up to Rampart's emergency room doors and Roy standing there waiting for us. The last thing I wanted to do was hand Johnny's dead body down to his best friend.
I noticed a slight increase in the engine's speed as I crawled back to Johnny, though not nearly enough to satisfy me. But, in Mike's defense, he was driving as fast as he possibly could while still getting us to Rampart without tossing me and Johnny outta the back, or having a head-on collision with some jerk not paying attention to the siren or air horn, or the fact that a fire truck was barreling at him doing fifty miles an hour.
Johnny’s calf was really starting to swell now, and red spots began to dot his skin from knee to the top of his boot. Roy told me later the right medical term for these spots is petechial hemorrhages, and that it meant what we already knew - Johnny had sustained a bite that packed a helluva punch. Of course, leave it to Gage to be one of the few guys who sustains a bite from an adult snake and gets the full blow of the poison. Most grown rattlers have the ability to block the flow of their venom, and often do when biting something they recognize isn’t a part of their normal diet. So, whether the snake mistook Johnny’s leg for something that was usually on his lunch menu, or whether he was just pissed at being disturbed by the car, Hector’s bulldozer, and then Johnny and Roy, I really don’t know. All I know is I was never so thankful to see a hospital as I was that afternoon.
I clung to the railing that surrounded the hose bed with one hand, and hung onto Johnny with the other as Mike wheeled Big Red into Rampart’s drive. A couple long blasts of the air horn let them know we were coming. I didn’t figure that was necessary though. A guy didn’t have to be Einstein to know Brackett, Dixie, and Roy were waiting for us to show up.
Dixie and two orderlies met us at the doors with a gurney. Cap climbed up the back of the engine and helped me hand Johnny to the orderlies and Mike. Johnny was always a skinny guy, but still it was a bitch lifting his limp weight and passing him head down over the railing while being careful of the IV in his left arm.
As soon as Johnny was settled I scrambled to the ground. I held the bag of Ringers in the air as we hurried down the corridor to a treatment room. I briefly wondered where Roy was, but found out soon enough. He was standing in the treatment room with Brackett looking more worried than I’d ever seen. When we moved Johnny off the gurney Roy was right there. Even though we didn’t need his help, Roy placed one hand beneath Johnny’s thighs and the other beneath his shoulders. He was in an awkward position since he had to lean over the gurney as we shifted Johnny to the exam table, but Roy pulled it off without dropping his partner, or ramming the edge of the gurney into a place no guy wants anything rammed. But that’s Roy for you. The guy was smooth. Still is. The calm in the face of any storm, though I could tell the calm was an act that day. He kept biting his lower lip and looking like he wanted to help, while at the same time looking like he didn’t have a clue as to what help to offer considering the number of competent medical personnel in the room.
Brackett examined Johnny, then ordered a skin test. I was expecting Johnny to be pumped full of antivenin at that point, but Brackett explained they had to do the skin test first to determine whether or not Gage was allergic to the antivenin. He said the antivenin could kill Johnny if that was the case, which I thought sounded like a shitty Catch-22 situation considering Johnny could just as easily die if he wasn’t given the antivenin.
Roy was pretty unnerved at this point ‘cause he mumbled, “Twenty minutes,” when Doc Brackett told us that’s how long it would be before we knew if Johnny would have some kinda freaky reaction to the antivenin. Dixie did the best thing she could then. She got Roy outta that treatment room. In some ways I was surprised that Roy was willing to go with her, but on some ways I wasn’t. Roy’s not a rule breaker by nature, and it’s rare that he ever raises a stink about anything, so if Dixie was encouraging him to leave for a few minutes then he’d do so whether he wanted to or not. I figured Brackett would chase me out next, but he didn’t. Maybe he knew that, for Johnny’s sake, one of his friends needed to be there. Not that Johnny was aware of what was going on in the room, but that didn’t make much difference to me. Brackett didn’t say I had to leave, so I didn’t.
While we waited I asked the doc a buncha questions I was sorry for asking as soon as he started answering them.
if he’s not allergic to the antivenin the worst will be over in a little while,
When Brackett didn’t give me an immediate response I questioned, “Doc? The worst will be over, right?”
“I hope so, Chet.”
“You hope so? What’s that mean?”
“It means other problems can occur.”
“Kidney failure. Congestive heart failure. Pulmonary edema - fluid build up in the lungs that is. A sudden drop in blood pressure that could prove fatal.”
“But I thought now that he was here, and once the antivenin is started, that he’ll be okay.”
“We’ll be monitoring him closely for all the complications I mentioned, Chet, and then some. And you’re correct in part. Once the antivenin is started Johnny’s chances of coming through this incident unscathed are good. Very good.”
Brackett moved down to study Johnny’s leg again. The area surrounding the bite was red and angry looking. I could easily imagine how warm it was to Brackett’s touch. The swelling between Gage’s knee and ankle made it look like a mad scientist had inserted an air compressor hose into his leg and started pumping. . .and still was.
“I’d grade this bite a three at the very least.”
“And that means?”
“On a scale of one to four it means Johnny got a hefty dose of venom, that’s what it means.”
“So all the things you talked about before. . .kidney failure, heart failure, fluid in his
lungs. . .they’re more of a possibility for Johnny ‘cause of the grade of the bite?”
“They are,” Brackett nodded. He patted my shoulder as he walked over to the medicine cabinet. “But I’ll do everything in my power to prevent any of them from happening.”
I looked back down at Johnny. He was unconscious, though still sweating heavily. Carol was placing ice packs against his leg, and Brackett was starting another IV that he told me was meant to keep Johnny’s blood pressure stable.
“I’m going to start him on an antibiotic, too,” Brackett said. “Any bite by an animal or reptile carries with it a high risk of infection.”
Roy and Dixie slipped back in the room a few minutes later. I gotta admit, every one of us broke into a smile when Brackett announced twenty minutes had passed with no indication that Johnny was allergic to the antivenin. He ordered Carol to start Johnny on the antivenin by IV. I was feeling kinda giddy, so in attempt to hide just how relieved I was I told everyone I was going to let Cap, Marco, and Mike know that Johnny was gonna be okay. I conveniently ‘forgot’ the complications Brackett mentioned that could arise, but then the doctor didn’t remind me of them either, so maybe he was feeling kinda giddy himself. Okay, okay, Brackett and ‘giddy’ don’t exactly go together, so let me rephrase that. I think Doc Brackett was relieved to just have Johnny cross this one bridge. I suppose he figured they’d deal with the next bridge when and if they came upon it.
I found the guys in the cafeteria. I gave them the good news, which caused Marco and Mike to smile, and Cap to bow his head for just a second while massaging his fingers against his temples. It was always difficult for him to see any of his men injured. I knew this snake bite incident had scared the hell out of him just as much as it had the rest of us.
We hung around a while longer, but when no one came with any further news Cap decided it was time to head back to the station.
. .Cap,” I broached as we walked toward
the ER exit. “I know Roy will wanna
stay for a few more minutes. The squad
will be out of service anyway until you get a replacement for Johnny. Do you. . .is it okay if I stay, too?”
“And just what exactly am I supposed to do for man-power if we get called to a fire?”
“We won’t,” I assured. By the look on Cap’s face I could tell how stupid he found that remark to be. “Well, yeah, we might. But me and Roy won’t stay long, I promise. Just a couple more minutes.”
Cap shot me a glance that was a cross between exasperation and amusement. Just as the doors slid open he nodded.
“Okay, but only a couple of minutes, Kelly. Then you and Roy get back to the station.”
Marco handed me the keys to the squad. He shook his head. “Your cover’s blown, amigo.”
“Something tells me that you and Johnny are better friends than either of you wants to admit.”
I grabbed the keys from Marco while shaking my head.
“No, that’s not it. Roy’s just pretty shook up. He probably shouldn’t be driving right now.”
“Yeah, right, Chet.”
My, “Really! It’s the truth,” was lost on the guys as they walked out of Rampart. I sighed, wondering how long I’d be teased about this, and how much I’d have to pay Marco and Mike to keep their mouths shut around Gage.
My worries over those things left me when I entered the treatment room. Someone had removed Johnny’s uniform and dressed him in a hospital gown. A sheet covered him to the waist, but I could clearly see the outline of the ice packs against his injured leg. He wasn’t unconscious any longer, and it was all Dixie and Roy could do to keep him from puking everywhere but in the stainless steel basin Dixie was holding to his mouth. I really felt sorry for the guy. He looked like shit. Pale, sweaty, shaky, and you could tell his leg was killing him because every time he turned to vomit he groaned at the movement it forced him to make.
I stayed outta the way. There wasn’t much I could do, and Gage had already puked on me once. Dixie wasn’t so lucky. . .about being able to stay outta the way I mean. She got it all over the front of her uniform, and then for good measure, Johnny got her again across her shoes. How Roy managed to stay clean through this little journey into Vomitsville I don’t know. Like I said, the guy was smooth.
Carol and another nurse entered the room. Their presence meant Roy and me were only in the way, so I held up the keys to the squad and pointed to the door. Quietly I said, “Cap wants us back at the station in a few minutes.”
Roy nodded. Johnny was on his back once again on the exam table, his stomach appearing to have settled down for the moment. Roy placed a hand on his partner’s shoulder and bent over. He said something into Johnny’s ear I couldn’t catch, but I did see Johnny’s eyes open a fraction. We all chuckled at his mumbled words.
“Did I. . .did I jus’. . .jus’ slay a dragon or what?”
“Yeah, Johnny,” Roy agreed. “Something like that.”
“Thought. . .thought so. Damn thing. . .damn thing bites hard.”
“Yeah,” Roy agreed again. “But you’re gonna be fine.”
“Don’t. . .don’t feel fine.”
“I know. But you’ll feel better in a little while. Just behave yourself and do what Dixie tells you to.”
Right about then Johnny shot from the table and puked again which I think Roy took to be an “Okay,” because he headed for the door.
I followed Roy out to the squad. He didn’t ask me for the keys, and I didn’t offer them. He climbed in the passenger side while I got behind the wheel. He was real quiet the entire drive to the station. Just kept staring out the window.
As I backed the squad into the engine bay I said, “Johnny’s gonna be fine.”
Roy nodded. I didn’t mention any of the complications Brackett said could arise. I figured Roy already knew about them, and if he didn’t. . .well, ignorance is bliss as they say.
I had just shut off the squad when Roy finally spoke.
“It was close, Chet. It was so damn close.”
And the response Roy got from the guy who had been there from the moment Johnny’s voice came over the engine’s radio announcing he’d been bitten by a rattlesnake?
“Tell me about it, Roy.” I leaned my head back against the seat and closed my eyes. “Tell me about it.”
I’d just finished telling that snakebite story to Trevor Gage when the volleyball game ended. The so-called athletes gathered around the cooler Joanne had setting next to the house, pawing through the ice looking for the drink of his or her choice. One by one Cap, Mike, Roy, and Johnny made their way to where Marco and me were sitting. They flopped into empty lawn chairs, sweat running down their faces and hair going in five different directions because of the breeze, activity, and perspiration.
In-between pants for breath the guys were laughing and teasing one another about the three games that had just been played. Johnny’s team had come away the victors, though according to Cap it was a questionable victory at best considering the invisible out-of-bounds line seemed to shrink or expand at Johnny’s convenience.
It was good to be sitting in a circle with the entire Station 51 A-shift again. Though Roy has hosted a reunion picnic every summer for the past twelve years, this was the first one Johnny attended, meaning he’d been absent far too long. I think everyone else felt the same way. I know Roy did.
Trevor climbed from my lap to his father’s.
“Papa, you told me you were a Parselmouth.”
Trevor’s scolding caught Gage off-guard.
“A Parselmouth. Like Harry Potter. You said you could talk to snakes. You said you could tell a snake, “Don’t bite me,” and it would leave you alone. But Mr. Kelly says you got bitten by a rattlesnake one time and that it made you really sick. So sick you puked all over him, and on Dixie, too.”
“Guess that must have happened before I was a Parselmouth, Trev.”
“I guess. ‘Cause if it happened now you’d just tell that snake to go away, right?”
By the looks on Cap’s and Mike’s faces I could tell they didn’t have a clue as to what a Parselmouth was. But the little smile Roy was wearing indicated that he’d been introduced to Harry Potter at some point by his granddaughter Libby, or that Trevor had already filled him in on Gage’s skills as a ‘Parselmouth.’
if a snake slithered into Uncle Roy’s backyard right now you’d keep it from
biting me by talking to it in Parselmouth?”
Johnny patted the boy’s leg in a gesture that spoke of fatherly reassurance. “Don’t you worry, Trev. If a snake slithered into Uncle Roy’s backyard I’d keep it from biting you.”
cocked an eyebrow. “By talking to it real pretty in Parselmouth, Gage?”
“Shut up, Chet.”
The guys laughed at how little had changed between me and Johnny in the past twenty-five years. To tell you the truth, neither Gage nor I would want it any other way.
Trevor, has your pops ever told you he can talk in Monkeymouth?”
“Monkeymouth? What’s that?”
I stood and scooped the boy off Johnny’s lap, once again settling him on my own.
“Well, kid, I think it’s time you heard the story about the monkey virus.”
“Yep. It made your pops real sick.”
“Did he puke?”
“Oh geez, did he ever, among other things. And none of them very pleasant.”
Gage’s, “Chet, shut up,” be it spoken in English, Parselmouth, or Monkeymouth, didn’t faze me. Or at least it didn’t faze me until Johnny shot from his chair, transferred Trevor from my lap to Roy’s, then with just the use of his right arm wrestled me into the swimming pool.
By the time the wrestling match came to an end we’d both taken a couple long dunks. We climbed up on the deck, water dripping from our soggy clothes and Johnny’s sling. I held my hand out to my former station mate. He shot me a look that said, “What are you up to now, Kelly?” but finally shook it when I indicated the gesture was made in nothing other than friendship.
“Welcome back to L.A., Johnny. It’s good to have you home.”
Johnny smiled. “Thanks, Chet. It’s good to be here.”
And that’s when I did it. I couldn’t help myself. I gave him one hard shove that knocked him right back into the water.
As everyone laughed, and Johnny came up sputtering while at the same time struggling to keep his language clean because of the children, I simply raised my fists in victory and declared, “The Phantom has returned!”
Yep, folks, the Phantom has returned, and so has his favorite pigeon. Or maybe I should say ‘favorite Parselmouth.’ Regardless of which term you use, it spells John Gage. Pigeon or Parselmouth, Fire Chief or father, it makes no difference what changes the years have brought, the Phantom still thinks of the guy as a good friend. But don’t tell Gage I said that. Or that I was worried about him that time the rattler bit him. It’ll ruin our relationship. And believe me, The Phantom and The Parselmouth like their relationship just the way it is.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
*This story was inspired by a challenge posted to the All Emergency Fan Fic Mailing List that asked the writer to expand on the aired episode Snakebite. If you’d like to subscribe to the All E! Fic Mailing List, click on my Links page and go to the heading, Subscriptions.
*Thanks to Debbie for her beta reading skills, and thanks to Audrey who inadvertently gave me some information about rattlesnakes that ended up being used in this piece. It pays to have a friend who lives where rattlesnakes occasionally slither across her backyard.