It's dark, it's winter in Kodiak and I've just changed my tire, again.
"Hey," a burly figure emerges from the dark, "the watch captain sent me out to ride with you." He notices the tire iron in my hand. "I'll just check the lug nuts before we go."
Oh joy, I get the newbie. He's 6'2" of rolly polly interference. I toss the iron in the back of the truck. "Get in."
"Can I drive?"
Oh hell no. I give him the stinkeye and after a minute he shrugs and climbs onto the passenger's seat. As I engage the gears he leans over and flips on the emergency lights.
"Really?" I swivel around to give him my full attention, "would you like to run the siren?"
He reaches for the controls and I bat his hand.
When I'm satisfied that he'll sit with his hands in his lap, I ease onto the road and head for the harbor.
Bubba is quiet for 2.4 seconds then static crackles over the radio and he jumps. "Jesus, what's that?"
"Static," I mumble, "just adjust the squelch."
"Squelch? Where do I find squelch?"
Guess he can't see the little knob on the radio. "Have you looked in the glove box?" I bite my tongue as he rummages behind the vehicle registration and emergency flares. Huh, we'll maybe tonight isn't a waste after all. I take a right and veer toward the air station.
"Not here," he says, "now what?"
"Well," I say struggling not to laugh as I park in front of the hanger, "pilots usually keep an emergency stash, why don't you run in and get a tube?"
"Okay." He jumps from the cab like a kid on Christmas morning and I wonder if I should warn him not to push buttons or flip switches. In minutes he's back and flapping his arms. "They had no idea what I was talking about."
He's so frustrated, I start to giggle, but to my surprise he joins in and then says. "I know, right, how stupid can they be?"
Oh God, my insides are quivering and I'm going straight to Hell. How did this kid get through boot camp? I wipe my face, and when he's fastened his seatbelt, I head for the docks.
The radio erupts in static and Bubba turns down the volume. "This is just wrong," he says, "what if there's an emergency, what if there's a fire, what if ..."
"Relax," I tell him, "there are three ships in port and one of them will have a spare tube of squelch. I park in front of the Storis and watch as he strides up the gangway. When he disappears below decks, the watchman trots down to meet me.
"Hey Boats," he says when I lower the window, "what's up with Doofus?"
I fill him in and when he stops laughing his eyes are shining. "Want me to call the Morgenthau and the Citrus and give them a heads up."
"Oh," I grin at him, "excellent idea."
The remainder of the shift flashes past as we toy with Bubba. When I get back to my quarters I have a stitch in my side and my jaws ache from grinning. Tomorrow I'll tell him the truth.
Of course I will.
But now it's a new shift, I've signed in and I'm reaching for the keys when Bubba's voice drifts from the squad room. "This isn't a job for girls, why can't I ride with someone else?"
Smoke furls about my ears and when I flare my nostrils they fill with brimestone. I march out to the truck and call a friend at the pharmacy for a favor. This time I'm not messing around.
All too soon Bubba opens the passenger door and climbs inside. "So," he says, "I talked to a radioman and there's no such thing as a tube of squelch."
My left eye twitches and when I can unclench my jaw I turn on him. "Radiomen," I spit, "do not need tubes of squelch, they repair radios. We are an emergency response team. We do not have time to play around."
Wide eyes lock with mine. "Understood?"
He swallows. "Understood."
"Good, now we're headed to the infirmary, Chief Sal had a physical today and he left a tube of squelch at the front desk. Ready?"
"Okay," he says leaning back in his seat, "now we're getting somewhere."
Ten minutes later Bubba is back and in the truck shaking his head. "This won't work," he says brandishing the tube, "this is just the base."
He has no idea he holds a tube of hand cream with a bogus label. "Don't worry," I say, perking up, "we have lots of time to find a jar of active ingredient."