Little Green Men:
A Novel


by
Joseph Sidari

Chapter 1

Kneeling beside his patient, Charlie tried to palpate the man’s neck in order to feel for a carotid pulse, but his hand refused. Apparently, it wanted no part of that plan. It jerked out at the wrist—once, twice, three times—flicking imaginary lint off the poor man’s collar. 

Not now.

He hated this—this loss of self-control. When he was at home, alone, it didn’t matter—his arms could do whatever they wanted. Shoo a phantom mosquito. Perform a windup and then pitch an imaginary curveball across home plate. And some of his best guitars riffs he had shredded when his upper extremities were on autopilot. But not in public. And not now, while he was working. That would be embarrassing. Or worse—dangerous.

The compulsion diminished after that third twitch, and Paramedic Charlie Rice willed his hand down to press against the man’s beefy neck, hoping to recognize his carotid pulse. He puffed out a frustrated breath, blowing away the last wisps of a foul smoke—a mixture of burnt skin and hair—that rose from his patient’s chest after he had defibrillated him. “Nothing yet,” he said, and resumed chest compressions on his patient, a bald man in his late fifties, maybe sixty. The guy was built like a fried pork chop, and probably had the cholesterol to match. He lay on the packed dirt in lime green shorts; a now-filthy white polo shirt had been sliced up the middle to expose an overgrown forest of chest hair.

“What’s wrong? Why haven’t you two saved him yet?” The man’s companion spoke; a woman with a vibrant mane of red hair that cascaded to her shoulders in ringlets. She fiddled with an emerald pendant on a gold chain that dangled from her neck, twirling it back and forth, until it came to settle between her breasts. She had painted on more make-up for today’s hike than most women apply for a night on the town, and in the heat, her mascara was becoming liquid. In designer jeans and a sparkling, low-cut top, she looked like she was dressed for a disco, not a mountain trail. “Do you two actually know what you are doing? Because it doesn’t seem—”

“Do we—?” said Charlie’s partner, Walter “Goose” Gustowski, as he leaned over his own prodigious belly and squeezed off two strong breaths with an ambu-bag. “Well if . . .”

Charlie continued counting his chest compressions as he pistoned up-and-down.

“You—” She strode over to Goose and tapped a bright pink manicured nail on his shoulder. “Chubby. You’re doing that all wrong. I watch all those doctor shows. On TV you would have saved this patient by now.”

“Chubby?”  Goose said. A mix of annoyance and disbelief had crept into his voice. “Who are you calling—?”

“And what’s that stink?’ She wrinkled her nose and made a gagging sound. “It’s bad enough you ruined a VERY expensive Lacoste shirt—which you will be paying for, I hope you know, but it smells like you are trying to barbecue my—”

 “Lady!” shouted Goose, red-faced. His shirt was drenched, the white material straining at the buttons as he continued to ventilate the man. “That smell is us trying to undo the damage from a lifetime of eating double cheeseburgers with extra-large fries. So can it; I can’t hear myself think—”

“Nobody talks that way to me—” she said.

“Well, maybe they should. Now shut your pie-hole,” interrupted Goose. “We know what we are doing. My boy here is trying to pump your father back to life. So if you—”

Beneath Charlie’s interlocked fingers and palms, the man’s chest rose-and-fell, rose-and-fell. Gravel dug deeper into his knees, through the fabric of his pants, with each compression.  Charlie kept his elbows locked, convincing his arms to stay with the regularly scheduled program, and counted aloud: “. . . eight, nine, ten, shock, him, next, time,” he inserted the command without changing his rate of compressions, and continued counting, “fifteen, sixteen, sev—”

“H-he’s n-not . . .” she stammered.

“Zip it!” Goose ordered.

She started to mouth something, but then must have thought better of it. She snapped her mouth shut and then strode away to sit on a rock, her chin in hand, sulking.

“Thank Christ; she might be easy on the eyes, but I thought she was going to give me a brain aneurysm if she kept squawking in my ear.” Goose turned back to Charlie.

Charlie continued compressions. You’re not gonna die. Not here. Not today.

“Keep goin’, you sweaty bastard. Maybe we should’ve pulled out that automatic chest-pumper you were so excited to try,” said Goose. “ ‘Cause if you don’t get a pulse soon and I have to take over compressions, there’ll be two MIs to deal with.”

“The—cardio—plunger?” Charlie spoke in rhythm, referring to a new device to assist paramedics with CPR, and continued counting his chest compressions. His short-sleeved, white shirt clung to his thin frame. Although tonight the White Mountains of New Hampshire would cool down to good sleepin’ weather, the noon sun in this last week of August was just as egg-frying miserable as it had been when he was living in New York City. Jogging the half mile of trail that was too narrow for their four-wheel drive rig, and toting their rescue gear, too, meant he had worked up a good sweat before he had even started CPR. “You—hate—that—thing, twenty-nine, thirty. Okay.” He arched his back to work out some of the fatigue. “You want me to get it?”

“Naw. Forget about that piece of shit.” Goose fiddled with the defibrillator lying next to the patient. The machine made a high-pitched whine as it charged up. “Ready? Charged—300 joules.”

The sun beat down on Charlie’s freckled neck with a purpose—as if it knew he never tanned—always burned—and it had a grudge against him. An untamed mop of black hair was sweat-plastered to his scalp. “Clear,” he said as he lifted his hands off the chest.

“Shock.” Goose pressed the button and then squinted at the screen on the defibrillator and waited. He smacked the defibrillator’s screen as if it were to blame. “Still no pulse. We’ll have to zap him again. I hope this lady likes her man Cajun crispy. Shock.” He jabbed the button again.

The body convulsed on the packed dirt trail. It was as if a giant puppeteer had abruptly picked up his marionette by the strings and then dropped it just as suddenly.

The flat line on the monitor shot up for one spike and fell just as quickly.

“Wait,” said Goose.

Charlie wrinkled his nose as the man’s chest hair shriveled and blackened.

The flat line returned. “Naw—nothin’,” said Goose. “Shit-on-toast. How come all these bald guys have such hairy chests.” Goose looked over at Charlie. “You should’ve shaved him.”

            “Look who’s calling the kettle bald?” Charlie checked the defibrillator pads on the man’s mat of white chest hair. He had applied a first set of pads and then ripped them off to epilate two spots on his chest. The second set was still in good contact. “The pads are fine.  360 joules this time,” ordered Charlie. “Clear.” He looked upward towards the sun and closed his eyes so the whole world became red through his eyelids and pressed the button.

            “Shock,” said Goose.

The life-size puppet jerked once again. An acrid smoke rose in front of Charlie as he lifted his hands from the man’s chest. He waved the puff of smoke from his face and probed his neck to check for a carotid pulse. A soft thrum passed under his fingers.

            “Got it!” Goose shouted. “The monitor shows sinus rhythm. You feel anything?”

Charlie nodded and then undraped the stethoscope from around his neck. He pressed it to the left side of the man’s chest and then the right, and listened. “Heartbeat’s weak but it’s there. And good breath sounds bilaterally. He’s alive.”

            “He is?” The woman who now sported large black raccoon eyes stirred from her waiting position on an outcropping of trailside granite.

            “Fuckin-A right! And what did you expect? This isn’t TV—we are the real deal. The Gilmont Fire Department doesn’t send the B-team to care for her fallen tourists, even if they are too fat and old to be hikin’ this far up Gunstock,” Goose said. “They send out the A-team.” He flexed his biceps and struck a pose.

            “The A-Team? Someone might think you looked like Mr. T,” Charlie added, “if he were pudgy and white and had a soul patch instead of a Mohawk. Although if you’d asked me, I’d have said you looked more like Ernie from Sesame Street.”

Goose was unfazed by the comment. “Then that makes you Bert, junior,” Goose said, stroking his chin. “But skinnier and with worse hair.”

            “Well, I suppose some thanks are in order for saving Harold,” the raccoon-eyed woman said.

            The two men looked at her, waiting.

            She brushed at some gravel that clung to the seat of her expensive jeans.

            Goose snorted and put on a tough ghetto accident. “I pity the fool who has a heart attack when I am off duty.” He pumped a fist to his chest, and did not crack a smile.

            “And I’m sorry about—” the woman said.

            “Oh, that’s alright.” Charlie said, interrupting her. “In a stressful situation people—”

            “—about how I look.” She straightened her top and dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. “I must look like I’m the sick one. Do you have a mirror—in your truck? So I could . . .” she gestured to her painted-but-now-blotchy face.

            “Uh, no,” Charlie said, running a hand to sweep back the hair that had flipped in front of his eyes. “Sorry, we don’t carry mirrors. Just lifesaving medical equipment.” His right hand twitched once, twice. He made a move to dry it on his pant leg and hoped that might diffuse some of its nervous energy and walked over to the woman. The muscles in his right arm began to vibrate against his control. He knew it was only a matter of time.

“Oh,” she said, disappointment in her voice. “What a shame.”

“And you’ll have to excuse my partner’s rough language earlier,” he said ignoring his slight twitch. “He’s a good paramedic—”

            “That’s alright. At first, I was appalled by his, uh—” she tilted her head in Goose’s direction as she tried to wipe the dark circles from around her eyes, but just seemed to be making them bigger—“behavior. Then I remembered something.”

 The tension in Charlie’s arms continued to build; he tried to ignore it by focusing on something else. The woman’s face. Her eyes. Her eyelashes that were so unnaturally black and now dripping with liquid goo. But his thumb and forefinger were on a mission. They pinched together, as if he was gripping a guitar pick. They strummed the side seam of his trousers. “Oh?” Charlie said. “What was that?”

“You see,” she whispered conspiratorially, “One of my sources told me—”

“Sources?” interrupted Charlie.

“Yes, sources,” she replied. “I am a journalist, and Harold, over there, is my cameraman. We’re working on a story, you know. Although I suppose after this little stunt he pulled—”

“I don’t know if I’d call having a heart attack a ‘little stunt.’ I’m sure it wasn’t—” said Charlie.

“—I’ll probably have to take my own video. Anyway, I heard that there was a paramedic up here who was a little . . . uh . . . different. The word is—” she dropped her voice to a whisper— “he has Tourette’s Syndrome. You know, those are the people who swear and jerk about and can’t control themselves.”

“Well, not all of those people do . . .” His voice trailed off. His arm relaxed. He hoped the spell had passed—but he knew it had not. It was just biding its time.

“Ah, wait a minute.” She walked over to the rock where she had been sitting and fished through her clutch. She produced a tube and twisted it open, and applied a fresh coat of lipstick. “There—that’s better, I’m sure. Where was I? Oh, yes. After hearing his offensive language . . .” She nodded at me as if they were sharing a juicy bit of gossip. “I knew he must be the one. At first, I was worried—” she gave a dry chuckle— “and my company would have sued the state of New Hampshire for millions if my photographer had died because of him.” She poked her thumb at Goose.

Gustowski had dropped the machismo act by now and was taking a blood pressure on their patient.

“But he did okay, I guess. And so did you.”

            “Thanks,” Charlie said quietly. His hand was moving again, strumming another imaginary chord against his leg with the invisible pick.

She had now found a brush in her clutch and was running it through her hair. She did not seem to notice his arm motion. “You know they can’t help themselves, those poor souls; I suppose I should pity him. Am I right—” she lowered her voice, to make sure Gustowski could not overhear her—“about the paramedic with Tourette’s?”

“Yup,” He said, lowering his voice so it was even quieter than hers. He cleared his throat softly, twice in a row and then thrummed twice more against the imaginary Gibson that looked to everyone else like his pant leg. The big finish was coming. He knew it. “This is the crew where they put that poor fellow—”

Charlie’s right arm did what it had to do. It made an abrupt 360 degree swivel, like the rotating propeller of an airplane.

She jumped back from him. “What the—?”

“—with Tourette’s,” he finished.

As his compulsion to swing his arm lessened, he continued the movement bringing the right palm together with the left, hands now together as if in prayer. All the nervous energy had now dissipated. He bowed to the woman. “W-we are m-most—” he stumbled over the words before smoothing out his delivery— “honored to have been able to help you today.” He looked up at her after the bow, hands still clasped.

She looked at him warily out of the corner of her eye, apparently not sure what to do. “Yeah, right,” she said after the pause. She made an attempt at a half-bow, herself, and then hurried away from him and over to her prone—but now moving—co-worker.

 

 

“So whatever brought you to the lovely, little village of Gilmont, anyway, partner?” asked Goose, after they had transported their patient to White Mountain Regional Hospital.  “Do you like being in a place with more cows than people?” He handed the paperwork for their patient to the unit secretary at the front desk of the ER and shot her a sly wink.

She ignored him.

Shaking his head at Goose, Charlie led the way out of the emergency room reception area toward the ambulance bay.

“And don’t give me a wise-ass response like ‘Interstate 93’,” added Goose, “or I’ll pop you one.”

The ER doors zipped closed behind them and the blast furnace outside made him forget how cool the hospital’s air-conditioning was just moments before.

            “Well . . .” He climbed up into the driver’s side of the ambulance and slammed the door behind him.

Goose rode shotgun. Charlie turned the key in the ignition, and the radio kicked on along with the engine. The B-52s were singing about Planet Claire.

Goose flicked the radio off. “I can’t stand that new wave shit; any song written after 1979 makes my hemorrhoids burn.” He looked back to Charlie. “And the word ‘well’ is not an answer to my question; why’d you come to Middle-of Nowhere, New Hampshire, City Boy?”

“Oh, I don’t know. The lake. The mountains. The fresh air—” He drove their rig out of the parking lot of White Mountain General Hospital, signaling as he turned onto Main Street.

“Cut the department of tourism crap,” said Goose. “Why would you move from the city that never sleeps to this town that’s always asleep?”

Charlie had found Main Street in Gilmont a quaint and refreshing change from New York City. It was small town peace and quiet—Norman Rockwell could have painted it fifty years ago and he would still be able to recognize it today. Gaslights that worked, and were not covered with graffiti, lined the sidewalks. A red-and-white striped pole guarded the front of the barbershop. Next door, the local watering hole was Paddy’s, proudly written in an ornate curly-q script across the frosted glass window. Next to that was Antoine’s, the five-and-dime—complete with soda fountain and penny candy that actually cost a penny. And after that Ye Olde Craft and Hobbeye Shoppe. And on and on, up and down Main Street. The people of Gilmont knew about big-box department stores, fast food chains down in Concord or Manchester—they just chose to ignore them and support their friends and neighbors.

            “You live here,” Charlie said.

            “I was born here. I’ll die here. Four generations of Gustowskis have lived here. If I left, my family would excommunicate me. Now what’s your excuse?”

“Let’s just say there was a situation I wanted to get away from. Some people I wanted to avoid . . .”

            “Was it the mob?” Goose asked, stroking his soul patch. “Did you bone the wife of a Mafia Don? Or maybe you knocked up his daughter? Now that would be—”

            “Do you always have to talk like a sailor on shore leave?” Charlie locked eyes with his partner, and then returned his attention to the road.

They drove out of the short section of stores that lined Main Street and the route became residential. Ranches and colonials breasted the road. The homes were close enough to each other so that one could hear his neighbor’s phone ring, but not close enough to hear what he was saying. 

“Especially in front of a patient’s friends and family? You know, it’s not very professional.”

“What do you mean? Oh,” said Goose, catching on. “Back on the mountain. You must hang out with some sissy sailors if you thought that was swearing. I kept it to a PG-13 level, or at most an R-rating because there was a lady present.”

    “You said, ‘Shut your pie hole’ to that woman. And would you say ‘fuckin-A in front of your mother?” asked Charlie.

 “Who do you think I learnt it from?” asked Goose, shaking his head. “Gimme a break. That’s just me. I’m full of ‘colorful phrases.’ If I tried to keep it in, I’d bust. So sue me—”

 “That’s what she was going to do if her friend didn’t make it. She interpreted your ‘colorful phrases’ to mean you were an ignorant clod who barely passed some ambulance driver course on the back of a comic book.”

 “At least she gave me credit for passing,” said Goose, chuckling.

They left the last of residential Gilmont behind and headed down the two-lane country road back into farm country. White clapboard farmhouses and faded red barns, complete with the aforementioned cows, lay interspersed between Gilmont Center and the Mountain. They were following up on a tip about a hiker who may or may not have sprained an ankle at one of the campgrounds atop Gunstock.

 “And that comment about the guy being her father? That was low,” said Charlie.

 “I call ’em as I see ‘em. He did have 20 years on her if it was a day. And you never know about some of these mountain folks. He could have been her father, her husband—maybe both. That’s the way some of ‘em prefer it—keep it all in the family.” Goose raised an eyebrow. “Which reminds of this joke. These three mountain men go into Paddy’s, and . . .”

 “Well it was neither. She’s a reporter; he’s her photographer. They were working—”

“A working girl? I should have known from her outfit—” said Goose, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.

“Goose, I am trying to be serious.” He checked the rear view mirror for traffic and stamped on the brake. The ambulance jerked to a halt. “I’m new here, and I don’t want anyone calling in a complaint about us the first week I am here. Just try to keep the four letter words to a minimum—”

“H-o-l-e,” Goose spelled. ”So ‘hole’ is out, since it has four letters. But ‘fuckin-A’ is okay? Seven letters. Or I should avoid seven letter words, too. You got a lot of rules, partner; I want to make sure I don’t offend you.”

Charlie threw up his hands. No vehicles were travelling in either direction and he resumed driving. “They are both okay, but only after we drop the patient off at the hospital.”

“Or if the patient’s out like a light. No one else around?” Goose added, “I could teach a Boy Scout like you words you never imagined.”

“Worse than ‘shit-on-toast’?” asked Charlie.

“Language that would make a Hell’s Angels’ biker blush,” said Goose, stroking his soul patch again.

 “I accept your gracious offer.”

“Jesus H. Christ!” said Goose, craning his neck to look up and around the sun visor of the rig.

 “Oh, I’ve heard that one before—” Charlie admitted.

 “No joke, Charlie. Look up there.” He gestured toward the mountain up ahead of them. There was a sleek, black aircraft trailing smoke and a lick of flames.

Charlie cocked his head and caught sight of it just before it passed over the far side of the mountain. “I’ve never seen any plane like that before,” he said. “It’s all wing and no tail. Kind of like a flying—”

“It’s headed toward the Devil’s Elbow,” said Goose.

 “Where?”

 “Steepest part of Gunstock,” said Goose. “I guarantee we get at least one skier to rescue this winter who hikes up there with his Telemark skis and can’t get himself out. Impassable even with a 4x4 after the first October snow. But I know an old camp road that can get us almost to the top this time of year.”

“But what type of plane was it? It didn’t look commercial or private—”

“Must be military,” Goose said. “Or something else. But no bases nearby. Closest one was Pease—and it closed down in the early ‘90s.”

“Pease?” asked Charlie.

“Pease Air Force Base; down in Portsmouth. The way it was dropping, I don’t think it could even make it over to land at the airstrip over in Laconia. Quick, turn here.”

Charlie jerked the wheel to the right and skidded up a dirt road as an explosion up ahead splintered the timber. Goose picked up the radio, which crackled and then cleared as he pushed the mic. “Gustowski to Gilmont Base. We need to take a pass on that hiker with the twisted ankle. Just sighted a—” he hesitated but a second— “a plane going down up on Gunstock. It’s goin’ down hard. Send another rig or two, a pumper if you can, but I doubt that it’ll make it up the ol’ road on the backside. Anything you can spare. Send ‘em up to the Devil’s Elbow. Should notify White Mountain General, too—just so they can be prepared. From the sound of it, it’s not going to be pretty up there.”

A broken and distorted “Roger, we’ll try  . . . soon as . . . Goose” was barely audible though the speaker.

“Shitty service up here—always is. But it sounds like they’ll be coming up behind us—way behind us. What luck,” Goose snorted. “We get to be the first guests to the party.”

 


Have you ever skied Gunstock Mountain (the setting for my unpublished novel, Little Green Men)?
Or visited the beautiful village of Gilford, NH?



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                                                                                      The Lakes Region of NH 


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