This is an amateur, non-commercial story, which is not produced, approved of, or in any way sponsored by the holders of the trademarks/copyrights from which this work is derived, nor is it intended to infringe on the rights of these holders. And so it goes.
The morning spring breeze was cool and crisp against Mike Stoker's face as he stood outside Station 51 and hoisted the flags up the pole. He squinted up into the sky as he worked, noting with satisfaction that the forecast appeared accurate for a change--sunny with a slight cloud cover. A beautiful California day lay on the horizon, which warmed his heart. He hated driving the engine through storms--it was almost as bad as smog.
The engineer was tying off the rope when he heard a car pulling into the driveway. Turning, Stoker found himself confronted with a battered Volkswagen bug festooned with flowers, peace signs and rust spots. The car puttered to a stop and two people got out: a man and a woman, at a guess in their late fifties, dressed in faded jeans and tie-dye shirts. The male, who was bald and bearded up front, but blessed with a long gray ponytail in back, walked up to Stoker with an easy grin. "Hey, man."
Stoker nodded politely. "Hello."
The woman, whose hair was about as gray and as long in back as her partner's, gave the fireman a bright smile. "Is this Station 51?"
"Yes, it is. Can I help you?"
"Yeah, man," the male said. "We're lookin' for Craig Brice, and the guy we talked to on the phone said he was here today. Is he around, man?"
Brice? What on earth would these two aging hippies want with the most uptight, straight-laced paramedic in Los Angeles? Stoker curbed his curiosity for the moment. "He is working here today, but he's out on a call. He should be back shortly, Mister…?"
"Oh yeah, sorry, man," the fellow said amiably as he offered his hand. "I'm Jonathan Brice. This is Martha. We're Craig's old man and woman."
"But you can call us Harmony and Sunshine," the woman added. She held out a Tupperware container. "Would you like a brownie?"
All eyes were on the Brices as Stoker ushered them into the day room. Lopez paused in his lunchtime preparations; Kelly froze in the middle of polishing a nozzle with Henry's ears, and Cap looked up from his paperwork to regard the newcomers with blatant curiosity. Their eyebrows rose even higher when Stoker introduced the couple to his coworkers.
Ever gracious, Captain Stanley rose to his feet and offered his hand. "Mr. And Mrs. Brice, I'm Captain Hank Stanley. Pleased to meet you both."
"Likewise, man," said Harmony. "But I'm not a Mister. I'm a Reverend."
"Oh, really?" Cap managed to say.
"Yeah," Harmony said. "I was ordained in the Lutheran Church, but now I belong to the Universal Order of Peace. It's really cosmic when we worship, man."
"I…wouldn't doubt it. Well, I'm sure Brice will be pleased to see you when he and Gage get back."
Sunshine frowned slightly. "They aren't off doing anything dangerous, are they? I worry so much about Craig; he's in such a dangerous profession…"
Cap smiled. "Not to worry, Mrs. Brice. According to the call, they were heading out to check on an elderly woman who'd fallen in her house." He motioned to the dining table. "Please, feel free to have a seat. Can we get you anything?"
"I could use a glass of water, actually," Harmony said. He headed over to the sink.
Sunshine walked over to the couch, beaming brightly upon sight of Henry. "What a lovely dog!" she exclaimed, coming over to scratch and pat the quickly-besotted pooch. "He's such a good dog, aren't you, sweetheart? Are you hungry, sweetheart?" She opened her Tupperware container and offered it to the firemen. "I'm sorry, where are my manners? Would anyone like a brownie?"
The men of 51 replied "No!" in instant unison, their eyes wide with horror.
"I'm sorry, ma'am," Cap said a second later. "We're not permitted to accept food from outside parties. LACoFD policy, I'm afraid. But we appreciate the offer."
"Oh, well," she said, a bit hurt. "I understand."
"Your loss," Harmony said from the sink, where he was pouring his third glass of water. His gaze fell upon a pile of cookbooks lying haphazardly on the counter; he set the glass down and began stacking them neatly against the wall. "Sunshine makes the best brownies, man."
"I have a secret recipe," she said proudly. "Special seasonings." She looked over at her husband and frowned. "Harmony, honey, I think it's time you had a brownie, actually."
"Far out!" He hurried over to grab one out of the container, then returned to his glass of water.
Sunshine leaned over toward Chet. "He's a wonderful man," she whispered, "but every so often he starts getting obsessed with putting things in alphabetical order, and if I don't get a few brownies down him he becomes impossible."
"Really?" Chet said, nodding solemnly. "So, tell me about this secret recipe…"
Meanwhile, Harmony had stopped organizing the cookbooks and was watching Lopez intently. "Hey man," he said breathlessly, "are those hamburgers?"
"Sure are," Lopez nodded. "Cooked with my special seasonings."
"Far out." He leaned over conspiratorially. "If you're running out, man, we got plenty in the trunk…"
Lopez smiled and shook his head. "We'll manage."
"Harmony," called his wife sharply; he flinched a bit and retreated from the counter, glass in hand. "We're strict vegetarians," she informed the firemen a bit too loudly. "Meat is murder, don't you know."
"Especially when Gage does the cooking," Kelly remarked from the couch.
"Ah." Just then Cap's ears picked up the unmistakable sound of the squad backing up into the garage. "Well, Reverend and Mrs. Brice, I think your son's here at last."
Kelly sat back against the sofa, his eyes gleaming with anticipation. This was going to be great.
"I don't care," Gage said with a rising agitation in his voice. "I don't want you messing around with the drug box, Brice."
"Gage, it only makes sense to have things in a logical order," Brice declared as he got out of the squad. "In the event of a crisis, don't you want to know where everything is, just in case you don't have the luxury of turning to look inside the box for it?"
"Yes, I do. That's why you're not messing with the drug box. Roy and I have everything where we want it." Gage slammed the driver's door shut. "You and Bellingham can do whatever you want at 16. But so long as you're here while Roy's on vacation, you leave things alone."
"Gage, you're not being reasonable about this," Brice persisted, following Gage through the garage and into the day room. "I think you ought to reconsider the illogical way you've got everything oh my God." Brice's eyes widened and the color drained from his face as he recognized the two aging hippies who were approaching him with open arms.
"Craig!" Sunshine cried, hugging him for dear life. "Oh, you look so good!"
"Hey, man, how ya doin'?" asked Harmony.
Gage regarded the reunion with stunned astonishment. "Mom? Dad?" he echoed dumbly.
"John, let me introduce you," Cap said, coming up to join the party. "This is Sunshine and Harmony Brice. Mr. and Mrs. Brice, this is John Gage."
"Pleased," Gage said, still trying to make heads-or-tails over this new development.
"Hey, man," Harmony said, shaking the paramedic's hand with a surprisingly strong grip. The hippie regarded Gage carefully. "You're an Indian, aren't you, man?"
"Uh, yeah," Gage nodded uncertainly.
"Far out." Harmony shot a fist into the air. "I really dig the red man's plight, y'know? Losing your land and getting stuck on reservations? Oppression from The Man. Bummer."
Gage opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again, thought things over, and finally just said, "Thanks."
"No problem, man."
"Mom, what are you and Dad doing here?" Brice asked, fighting to keep the panic out of his voice. "You didn't call to warn…I mean, let me know you'd be coming."
"Oh, we gave up the phone," Sunshine informed him. "The commune decided it was contributing to the depersonalization of society, so we pulled it out of the wall and tossed it in the rubbish heap."
"Besides," Harmony grinned, "we weren't paying the bill, so The Man disconnected us."
"But how do you get in touch with people?" Brice asked, his voice rising. "You're going to cut yourself off from the rest of the world!"
"Now, Craig, just relax," his mother said soothingly. "You get upset so easily. Here, have a brownie." The men of 51 froze, uncertain as to how to warn Brice of his immediate peril, but Kelly saved the day with a rousing whistled rendition of "Jailhouse Rock". When Brice glanced over at the fireman, Kelly made the universal "toke" hand signal.
"Maybe later, Mom," he said as he handed the brownie back; Cap and the others breathed a sigh of relief. "Uhh…so…how long will you be here in LA?"
"Oh, not too long," Sunshine assured him. "We're heading up to the Dead concert in San Luis Obispo tomorrow night. But we haven't seen you in so long, we just had to try and look you up. Have you been eating, dear? You look so thin…Harmony, maybe we should leave some brownies with him. They'd help fatten him up a bit."
"Well, while we're on the subject of food," Cap said with blatant enthusiasm, "we're ready to sit down for lunch. Craig, perhaps your parents would like to join us?"
"Uhh, I don't know, sir, they might have to be leaving if they're going to make it to the concert…"
"Nah, man, we got plenty of time, see?" Harmony handed his son a piece of paper. "Got the whole itinerary here, down to the last second."
"We don't want to be a bother," Sunshine said to Cap.
"No bother at all," Cap assured her. "Please join us. We'd be honored." He pulled a chair out for the woman, who accepted it with a warm smile. Harmony oddly enough chose a seat some distance from his wife, leaving Brice no choice but to sit beside his mother. She reached over and patted him affectionately on the knee.
Kelly sat on the opposite site of Sunshine. "Dig in," he urged her. "Just don't wave your fingers in front of Gage. He might think they're edible."
"Oh hush," Gage snorted as he lunged for a patty.
"Just a moment." Sunshine reached under her tie-dye shirt and pulled out a crystal pendant in the shape of a pyramid. As the firefighters watched, she slowly waved the pyramid over her plate, then returned it to its resting place. The hippie looked up at the others and smiled. "I like to maximize the energy potential of my meal so that it brings the most benefit to my body. I learned about it a few months back from Doctor Heinrich Gleissen. It really works!" She looked over at her husband. "Harmony?"
"Nah," he waved her off. "I'm cool with this. Great stuff, man!" he said to Marco, who was sitting beside him. Lopez smiled weakly and concentrated on chewing.
"So tell me," Cap said as the meal progressed. "How do you keep your commune operational? Do you grow crops?" The instant the words left his mouth, he realized the idiocy of the question, but it was too late to do anything but look embarrassed.
Harmony chuckled. "Yeah, man. You could say that." He glanced around to make sure no one was looking, then accidentally dropped a hamburger patty into his lap.
"We have a small farm that provides us with the basics," Sunshine explained quickly, silencing her husband with a look. "And we raise money in various ways. For example, I sell my brownies at concerts."
"We take the ingredients with us and borrow a place to bake," Harmony added. "We make a ton of cash, then give the money to Charity."
"That's very nice of you," Cap nodded. "Any special organizations? Greenpeace?"
Harmony blinked, confused. "Charity's the commune bookkeeper, man," he said.
"So, Craig," Harmony said as she cut a tomato slice in two. "We haven't heard from you in so long. Is there anything special going on in your life?"
Brice blinked. "Special? Not really. I mean, I'm the chairman of the paramedic advisory committee..." There was a sudden motion from where his father was sitting; Brice could have sworn the old man had dropped something into his lap, but he couldn't be sure. "Beyond that, Mom…"
"That isn't what I mean, dear." She glanced up at him through her glasses. "Are you seeing any nice girls right now?"
Brice suddenly felt seven pairs of eyes bearing down on him. "Uh, no," he stammered. "Not at the moment."
"Any nice guys?" his father piped up.
"DAD!" Brice almost screamed, his cheeks fiery red.
"Just asking, man," the elder Brice said with a shrug.
"It's all right, Craig," said Sunshine. "I was just wondering when I'd see some grandchildren, that's all."
"Ah, er…" Brice felt his throat thickening. "I've been busy, Mom."
"I worry, that's all, dear. I don't like the thought of you being all alone in this big city. All the negative karma can sap your virility without any protection, and you're exposed to so much in this job. And besides, your father and I aren't getting any younger, you know."
"Yeah," Harmony agreed from across the table. "Hey, Sunshine, what about Naomi? That new girl? Maybe we could bring her up next trip and introduce them!"
"Dear," Sunshine said in a tone of soft warning. "Don't you remember? She came to the commune with her close friend Consuela?"
"Consuela?" Harmony pondered the name for a minute, then nodded. "Oh, yeah. Okay. Never mind." He leaned back and patted his tummy. "Hey, that meal was far out, guys. Thanks for putting out all the veggies. You guys mind if I smoke?"
"Uhhh…if you wouldn't mind doing it outside," Cap said quickly.
"No problem, man. Be right back." Walking slightly hunched over, Harmony hurried toward the back of the firehouse. Gage watched him leave and leaned over to Lopez.
"He got a problem?" he whispered. "That walk…?"
" Nah, I wouldn't worry," Lopez assured his co-worker. "He's just got four hamburger patties stashed in his jeans, that's all."
Harmony returned a few minutes later ("Left my pipe in the car, man") and joined Gage and Stoker in cleaning up; Lopez and Kelly sat down with Sunshine, comparing recipes and scribbling some of her better ones down for future reference. Cap stood nearby, observing the scene with quiet amusement until he realized someone was missing.
He found Brice out back; the paramedic was sitting against the hood of his VW, studying something in his wallet. "Everything all right, Brice?" he asked as he approached.
Brice hesitated a minute, then let his shoulders droop as he offered the wallet to Cap. It was open to a picture of a man and woman; the couple stared into the camera with intense, almost humorless expressions. "Your parents, I take it?" Cap said, handing the wallet back.
The paramedic nodded and studied the picture. "They were brilliant people, Captain Stanley. My mother earned her doctorate at Stanford; she worked for a time at Xerox PARC, specializing in lasers. My father…my father was highly regarded in the California Lutheran synod. They were published in respected journals. I took this picture just before I left for college. I came home for Christmas and…"
"What happened?" Cap asked gently.
"I don't know. They claim they went to a party and tried some marijuana on a dare. Maybe someone slipped them something. Does it matter? They got 'turned on', and everything changed." He looked up from his reverie with a sardonic smile. "I came home to discover they were selling all their possessions off so that they could start a commune. They were kind enough to leave me mine."
"They seem to be very nice."
Brice nodded. "I know."
"And they seem to be happy with this way of life."
"I know, but…" Brice looked over at Cap. "But this is wrong, Captain Stanley! They get stoned all the time, they're selling marijuana at these concerts, they dress like transients…it's so…so…"
"Embarrassing?" Cap offered.
Brice nodded. "Embarrassing."
Cap chuckled. "I'll let you in on a secret, Brice. That's what parents do to their children. Embarrass the daylights out of 'em." He leaned back on the VW and looked up at the sky. "I remember the day I got a medal for saving a family from a four-alarmer. After the ceremony, my mother hung onto me for dear life, crying her eyes out and calling me 'her baby', and my father insisted on telling everyone that he was a chip off the old block, and so on…"
Brice almost smiled. "If you don't mind my asking, sir, what did you do?"
Cap shrugged. "What could I do? They were my parents." He looked over at the younger man. "Like your mother said, they aren't going to be around forever. And no matter how much they've changed, no matter what they've done, no matter how badly they embarrass you, they are still your parents. I'd say you'd better appreciate 'em while they're still around."
"Thank you, sir," Brice said after a moment. "I think you're right." He smiled and shook his head. "I can't believe my father was dropping burgers into his lap like that, then coming out here to eat them."
"Oh, that's nothing," Cap assured him. "Your mother was doing the same thing, only she was better at it."
"Do you need any cash?" Brice asked his parents as they prepared to leave. "Let me check the engine and make sure you've got enough oil…"
"We're fine, sweetheart," Sunshine assured him. "Your father never lets the tank get under one-third. And he checked the oil at the last gas station."
"Can never be too sure, man," Harmony grinned.
"I'm…sorry we couldn't spend more time together," Brice said slowly.
"I am too," Sunshine said. "I know it's hard on you, Craig, having to deal with us. But we do love you, and we worry about you. Oh, that reminds me…Harmony, honey, would you get that package out of the back seat?"
"Sure thing, Sunshine." He rummaged around and retrieved a small cardboard box. Brice took the gift and opened it to find a crystal pyramid a little larger than his hand. "Mom?"
"I worry, dear." Sunshine took the pyramid from him and lifted it into the sunlight. "Leave it in a windowsill during the day, and place it under your bed at night. It'll absorb the positive cosmic energies and transmit them into your aura while you sleep." She leaned closer and added conspiratorially, "It will also do wonders for your sexual energies--your father hasn't been this frisky since…"
She blushed slightly as she returned the pyramid to him, closing his hands around it. "Now you find yourself a special girl to share that with, all right? And you be sure and write and let us know how you're doing. We worry about you, Craig."
"I will, Mom. Be careful."
"Oh, we will. Harmony, time for another brownie!" He nodded eagerly and grabbed the Tupperware container from her.
"You're not letting him drive stoned, Mom?"
She shrugged. "He's a much better driver this way. Calmer, too. You remember that trip to Washington when you were ten?" Brice was about to reply when Gage came running up to the van.
"Hey, I was wondering if you'd like to get a picture taken before you go!" he said breathlessly, holding up his camera. "Whattya say?"
Brice opened his mouth to speak, then paused and smiled slightly. "I'd appreciate that, Gage."
"That's very kind of you, Mr. Gage," Sunshine agreed. She positioned herself on her son's right, Harmony on his left. Gage grinned and raised the camera into position, then fired off four shots.
"I'll get these developed and send them over to your son," Gage promised. "Nice meeting you both." He shook first Sunshine's hand, then Harmony's, enduring the "power to the people" fist that the hippie offered. "Take care, now."
Sunshine watched him go, then turned to her son. "At least I know you're working with good people. That makes it a bit easier." She rose on tiptoe and kissed her son on the cheek. "Take care, Craig."
"Be careful, Mom…Dad." He stepped back as they got in the car, and waved as they rolled out of the driveway and pulled into the street. As the battered van drove off, he continued to wave until it was almost out of sight. He turned to head back inside only to find Gage standing there, grinning.
"There they go," Gage said casually.
"Nice people, Brice."
"Thank you, Gage."
"Twenty bucks and these pictures never go beyond you and me."
"Deal, so long as I get the negatives."