Absolving Blue, On Call, Book Four
For long-time Durango Fire Department EMT, Ava ‘Blue’ Navarro, her teammates at Station 3 represent a family more loyal than her own.
However, when patients start dying on her watch, she draws the attention of local law enforcement. In particular the smooth-talking detective she’s successfully evaded for years, fearing he might stir up her quiet existence.
Detective Tony Ramirez considers himself a likable guy, which is why the perpetual cold shoulder from the athletic blonde first responder is confusing.
Now he finds himself in charge of a murder investigation that threatens to shake his world both personally and professionally. A situation that won’t earn him any brownie points.
When medical examiner, Calder Stonewall, is called in to assist, it only seems to throw more suspicion Blue’s way, and Tony has to pull out all the stops to prove her innocence while securing her heart.
“Two or three eggs?”
Sumo is manning the stove in the fire station’s large kitchen when I walk in from the women’s locker room.
I haphazardly tie my towel-dried, shoulder-length hair back with an elastic before sitting down at the large dining table taking up half our common room. Cheddar and Cap are already digging into their breakfast.
We got back to the firehouse a little while ago, after an early morning garage fire on the north side of town. It was relatively easily put out, but the terrified family would have to find another place to stay. Two of the kids and the dad had suffered some smoke inhalation and we transported them to Mercy to get checked out. They were lucky. If Dad hadn’t suffered insomnia and been awake, they might not have been so lucky. None of the three smoke alarms had gone off in the house. Turns out the batteries had been removed and never replaced. One of those things too easily put off, until it’s too late.
“Here you go.” Sumo slides a plate in front of me.
As expected, the eggs are perfectly poached and covered with Hollandaise and slivers of smoked salmon. This is the reason Sumo and Evan do most of the cooking at the firehouse. They make everything taste great. The rest of us can manage scrambled or over hard without messing it up too badly, but those two guys know what they’re doing in the kitchen.
I’ll stick to cleaning. I’m good at that. Each crew is responsible for keeping the firehouse clean during their shift. It’s our second home, we spend at least as much time here as at our own places.
“Any rumblings yet?” Cap asks Cheddar, whose wife, Tahlula, is about to pop with their second.
“We’ve had a few false alarms, but she’s got a few weeks to go yet.”
“Hanna was early, though,” Sumo points out, taking a seat beside me, his own breakfast piled high on his plate.
“Yeah, but Tahlula’s been taking it easy the past month or so. Ma’s been around, helping with Hanna.”
Conversation goes on around me as I quietly enjoy my eggs Benny. At some point Hog and Roadkill join us, and as always the atmosphere inside the firehouse reminds me why I love this job so much. It’s family. The guys are my brothers and although they can be pains in my ass, I never doubt when it comes down to it, each and every one of them would have my back. As I have theirs.
There’s teasing—a lot of it—and even the occasional fight, but loyalty and genuine caring always wins.
My crew has taught me everything there is to know about how families should work.
“I’ll clean,” I announce, getting up to collect the dishes.
“I’ll give you a hand.”
Just as Hog shoves his chair back, the alarm goes off.
Police are already on scene when we get there.
A man is pinned in the wreckage of his ancient Lincoln Town Car wrapped around a tree on the wrong side of Roosa Avenue. At first glance it looks like the single vehicle accident it was reported to be, but as it turns out someone did a number on him. Most of the damage is to the front end, which wrapped around the trunk of the tree on the river’s edge. On closer inspection, though, it’s evident there was impact at the rear driver’s side.
Three patrol cars are blocking off the entire intersection of Roosa and West 9th, and officers are diverting traffic away from the scene.
“Can you get in the back seat, Blue?” Cap asks when we approach the vehicle. It’s clear we’ll need the Jaws of Life to extract what looks to be an older man from the car; the entire front end is crumpled up like a ball of tinfoil.
I’m not big—five two on a good hair day—which comes in handy in cases like these where we have limited room to work. Cap wrenches the rear door open and I slip inside, climbing in between the seats to get to my patient. I feel for a pulse immediately. It’s there, surprisingly strong.
“Sir? Can you talk to me, sir?”
A deep moan is my response, but I’ll take it.
“Hang in there, we’ll get you out as soon as we can. Anything hurt?”
I grab the collar from Sumo when he sticks the top half of his body into the car. I notice blood is flowing from a sizable laceration on his forehead when I swiftly stabilize the man’s neck.
“Legs are pinned,” I tell Sumo. “I can’t see any other bleeding than from the head. Hand me the Lifepak?”
There isn’t a whole lot I can do other than stabilize him as best I can and monitor his vitals, which is what we have the Lifepak for.
“Sir? Can you talk?” I try again.
“A…Arthur William…Brownslee. December twenty…one, nine…nineteen forty-one.”
“Nice to meet you, Arthur.”
I do the math in my head, while I hook him up best as I can to the Lifepak. The poor guy is seventy-eight years old. Before I can ask him anything, he’s already talking.
“D…diabetes, high b…blood pressure, COPD. Can’t…can’t feel my legs. Hands tingling.”
I throw a quick glance at Sumo who heard and is already pulling out of the vehicle, going for the backboard. His symptoms imply a spinal injury and I’m grateful I was able to get the brace on him right away.
“Are you a doctor, Arthur? You sound like you know what you’re talking about.” I do my best to distract him from the loud noise of the Jaws of Life Hog is wielding outside.
“Army m…medic, Vietnam.”
“Thank you for your service, Arthur. Bear with us; we’ll have you on your way to the hospital soon. Is there anyone we can call?”
“My s…son. Phone is in my pants pocket.”
“I’ll grab it once we have you out of here,” I assure him. Sumo returns and hands me a sheet. “I’m going to cover you up for a minute, Arthur, okay? Just so you don’t get any more glass on you.”
I get a nod from Hog and quickly toss the sheet over both the man and myself. I grab hold of his hand as we wait for my crew to free him from the wreckage.
“Are you still with me?” I ask, when we roll Arthur to the rig. His eyes are closed and it looks like shock is setting in. His legs below the knees, where they were trapped, are a mess and I’m worried about his blood loss.
“Yes.” His lips barely move, but his response is clear. Looks like Arthur is not ready to give up yet.
Sumo and I are working to get him stabilized for transportation when Detective Tony Ramirez sticks his head in the doors.
“Is he talking?”
“Patient’s name is Arthur William Brownslee, seventy-eight years old. We didn’t get much further than that.” I hand him the phone I fished out of the man’s pocket. “That’s his phone. His son needs to be notified.”
If I’m abrupt, it’s because the detective makes me uncomfortable. He’s been with the Durango PD for years and as such we often show up to the same scenes, but every time he turns those chocolate eyes on me it makes me want to duck and hide. Maybe it has something to do with the fact he was a cop in Denver before he came here, although I don’t seem to have the same reaction to the new chief of police who also hails from there.
I grew up in Denver, but was in a hurry to leave the moment I turned eighteen. I went to Telluride first. Got a job on the ski hill, and a second one in a hotel in town, before I managed to save up enough money to go to college in Grand Junction. After graduating I landed in Durango and haven’t looked back since.
I love it here. Love the mountains, love the town, which has enough of a tight community feel left despite the large numbers of tourists visiting year-round. I’ve found my niche—my purpose—with the Durango Fire Department, and have an awesome group of friends. My chosen family.
“I’ll catch up with you at the hospital,” Ramirez says, interrupting my thoughts. I make the mistake of looking up to find his eyes on me, and I quickly glance back at my patient.
He knocks twice on the doors before he disappears from sight.
“One of these days I wanna know why Detective Valentino scares the crap out of you when nothing else does.”
“Shut the fuck up, Sumo. Why don’t you start driving?”
Even with his eyes closed, our patient rattles out a chuckle.
“You tell him, missy.”
I should’ve let the department’s newest detective, Lissie Bucco, take the call, but I was being a gentleman.
Okay, that’s a lie. I was hoping to get in her good graces because so far—since she was introduced yesterday—she’s only given me the cold shoulder. Fuck if I can figure out why.
So I took the call, only to be frozen out by the only other woman in Durango I can’t charm with my smile: Blue Navarro. She’s another enigma. The woman has never liked me, not since day one. It annoys me. I’m a likable guy. Most of the time anyway, unless you break the law, then I’m all business.
Officer Conley is waving me over, just as the ambulance takes off, sirens and lights running. I jog over to where he’s leaning over the wreck.
“What’ve you got?”
“Looks like black or navy paint.”
I notice the smudges he’s pointing out on the fender. “Get the car tarped before it gets hauled onto the flatbed. Get the crime techs on it. Any witnesses?”
“VanDyken’s on it.” He indicates the freakishly tall officer who was hired on last month.
We’ve worked with holes in our police force for the past five years, courtesy of department cuts. Since we got our new chief of police—my buddy, Joe Benedetti—two years ago, those holes are slowly getting plugged. Our workload is much more manageable now.
“Good. I’m heading over to the hospital to see what I can get from the victim. Call if you need me.”
With one last look at the wrecked Lincoln Town Car, I move toward my department-issued Explorer parked across the road.
I drive into the ambulance bay just in time to see Sumo and Blue rush their patient through the sliding doors. Pulling off to the side, I park the SUV in the spot for emergency vehicles and rush after them.
“Well, what do you know? Tony Ramirez? What brings you in?”
“Hey, Jen. I’ve gotta—”
“I’ve been meaning to ask you—”
“Oh.” Her face, two seconds ago still smiling brightly, drops and the hand she was holding onto my arm with falls away.
I feel bad. Jen is often at The Irish, a downtown pub where all first responders like to hang out. She’s also a nurse at Mercy, and I’ve tried to avoid her wherever I see her. She’s nice enough but seems a little too eager.
Jen used to have a thing for my partner, Keith Blackfoot. When he found his wife, Autumn, she tried her luck on Joe Benedetti, but he only had eyes for Ollie. I have a suspicion she may have had her eye on Evan Biel as well, a firefighter on Blue’s crew who got married earlier this year. Lately I seem to have become a focus of her interest.
She’s not my type. Not that I actually have a clue what my type would be, but I do know she’s not it.
“Look. I just need to catch up with my victim.”
I throw her an apologetic grin before taking off down the hallway, ignoring her eyes I can feel following me.
They must’ve wheeled him right into a treatment room because I can’t see them anywhere when I get to the ER. I snag the first nurse I see.
“Excuse me…” I check her name tag. “…Melanie.” I smile my best smile and pull out my badge. “DFPD just brought in the victim of a hit-and-run. Could you direct me to—”
“You know better than that, Detective Ramirez. They’re working on him. You’ll have to wait.”
The waiting room is crowded and noisy, and I’m not about to sit and wait for a chance to talk to him.
“Could I leave you my card? Even just an update with the extent of his injuries would be helpful.” I dig in my pocket and encounter the victim’s phone Blue handed me. Right, call the son.
The nurse doesn’t look thrilled, but takes the card anyway. “We’re quite busy today,” she says primly.
“I can see that. I really appreciate this, Melanie.”
Unable to find a quiet place to give Mr. Brownslee’s son a call, I end up back outside in the ambulance bay and find what I think is the right number in the cell phone’s sparse contacts.
I’m still speaking with the son when I notice Blue and Sumo coming down the hall with the empty gurney, so I quickly promise to wait here for him before ending the call.
“How is he?” I ask when they walk outside.
“I’ll get started on the rig,” Sumo says, taking the gurney and leaving Blue to answer me.
Given the dirty look she throws her partner, she’s not thrilled. The woman seriously messes with my confidence. Yet when she turns those baby blues on me, I’m sucked right in.
“Mr. Brownslee?” I prompt, mostly to remind myself to stay on task.
“They’re prepping him for surgery. His legs are in bad shape, but his vitals are strong.”
“That’s good. Did he mention anything about the accident?”
“Just in the ambulance: he thinks he remembers a dark four-door sedan hitting him. He wasn’t sure of the make, he just saw a flash of it in his peripheral vision.”
“By the time we got here he was unconscious.”
To be honest, I’m not sure what I’d hoped to gain by coming here. There were enough witnesses on the scene who’d been able to provide better information—more reliable—than the victim, and yet here I am.
“Right, well. I should get going.” Blue starts moving to the ambulance and before I can stop the impulse, I reach out and stop her by the arm.
“Have dinner with me?”