Riding the storm - By Julie Miller



Paramedic Nate Kellison scrubbed the sleep from his eyes and blinked at the clock on the bedside table into focus: 10:00 a.m.

“Yeah?” he snapped into the phone.

It was an amazingly civil response, considering he’d just gotten home late from a thirty-six hour sleepless shift with the Courage Bay, California, Fire Department an hour ago. A shift where he’d worked several car wrecks and a house fire. A shift where he’d helped save a handful of lives—people whose names and faces blurred in his sleepy memory except for one little girl. Her features had been serene and unblemished, even as he’d unbuckled her dead body from the car seat and tried to resuscitate her. That tiny face was etched as clearly as a photograph in his mind, and Nate knew it would stay there forever.

“Dan Egan here.”

Nate sat up, springing to attention. Troubling thoughts were instantly pushed aside as he answered the call to action as surely as he did every time the alarm sounded. “Chief. What’s up?”

“I know you had a rough shift and should be asleep.” Chief Egan’s gruff concern put Nate on alert.

Caution dampened the adrenaline sparking through each nerve ending. Surely his boss hadn’t wakened him to offer condolences or counseling. The department had a counselor on hand for that kind of stuff. And Nate had his family to turn to if the emotional baggage got too heavy to deal with.

Or rather, he used to have a family to turn to.

Grandpa Nate had been gone for years now. And his older brother and sister, Kell and Jackie, had moved on to families of their own. Nate glanced around the small bunkhouse turned studio-style apartment. Hell. This wasn’t even a home for him anymore. It was just a place to sleep between his shifts with the fire department and work on the ranch.

“I’m okay, Chief.” Nate scratched at the dark, stubbly growth of beard on his jaw, and tried not to feel anything as he asked the next question. “You’re not calling to tell me the mother in that crash didn’t make it through the night, are you?”

“No. She’s still in stable condition at the hospital. They’ve located the father and he’s with her right now. Last I heard, the chaplain’s there, too.” Last he heard. Nate almost smiled at that one. Dan Egan had probably just gotten off the phone with the hospital. The man was nothing if not thorough.

“So why’d you call me in the middle of my beauty sleep?”

The chief laughed. But when he spoke, his words were deadly serious. “I just got a call from an old buddy of mine in my hometown of Turning Point, Texas.” Nate knew the chief was a transplanted Texan. “We used to work together at the fire department there. He was a mentor of mine—about five years older than me. He taught me the ropes about fighting fires and public safety. His name’s Mitch Kannon.”

“Sounds like a good man.”

“The best.”

Sensing the urgency in Dan’s voice, Nate flipped back the sheet and swung his legs over the side of the bed. The shiny scars from reconstructive knee surgery after he’d shattered his right leg eight years ago gleamed against his tanned skin. “So what does Mitch Kannon want from us?”

He could imagine Chief Egan’s grin. “You’re reading my mind, Kellison.”

“That’s why they pay me the big bucks.”

“Your best talent is your reliability. I know I can count on you, no matter what situation I throw you into. And I’ve got a doozy for you this time.”

Nate was wide awake now. “So what do you want to throw me into?”

“Mitch has a hurricane headed his way. He’s looking for medically-trained volunteers and supplies to man an emergency station for Corpus Christi residents being evacuated to Turning Point.”

Nate remembered seeing reports on the national news of the tropical storm forming out in the Atlantic and picking up strength as it headed into the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico. “Hurricane Damon, right? Don’t they have disaster procedures in place?”

“They do. But Mitch is in a tight spot. The town’s only doctor had a heart attack a couple of weeks ago and is recuperating at a hospital up in Houston. He had one licensed EMT, but she just got married and moved to North Dakota to be with her husband. All he has is a group of volunteers—some with basic medical and emergency training, some not. He’s got plenty of stubborn Texas horse sense, but even that won’t get him