A Day Off Part 3

Story by Digitaltf on SoFurry

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Another segment to the Keeper saga with your friends Jim, Chet, Julie, and Zack!

"Richard Leslie Mitchell, what ARE you doing up there?!? Get down from there right now!" I heard from behind me. I knew the voice could only be one person, and then I saw Paul come around the front end of the Case.

"Honey, it's alright, Jim's here with 'em, so just let him be!" Paul called back and smiled at me. "How's things going? Looks like you have a right big shindig going on here!" he chuckled.

"Well, it just grew and grew. You two have lunch yet?" I asked Paul as Mary Jean came around the front of the Case as well.

"He shouldn't be up there! Especially with those wild animals!" she was whining, then she saw me and did her best "I wasn't just saying that" smile.

"Hush up, honey. He's fine and still has all his fingers so that counts for something. Just be glad he's not into those damned videogames like his brother." Paul smiled. "Got any brats left?"

I nodded, and Julie called over. "Any good brats left there, Ace?"

"Coming right up!" the beefy fireman called out.

Mary Jean spoke up next. "Got any bottled water?"

I handed her a bottled water, and Paul a Coke before he even asked. Ace handed Paul his bratwurst and he started loading it up with onions and some mustard, as I figured he would.

"Dear..." Mary Jean said in an annoyed voice. "You know onions give you gas!"

Paul rolled his eyes as it was loud enough for most anyone to hear unless they were by the bandorgan, then seeing me smile he got hold of himself and smiled kindly back to her. "Well, you're the only one gonna smell it going home, so why should I worry?"

Mary Jean got a truly disgusted look at that and Ace was grinning from ear to ear as he minded the grill. "You mean your SON isn't going to come home with us? You're going to leave him here to get killed by those BEASTS?"

Paul thumb-pointed to me as he swallowed his mouthful of bratwurst. "Jim here plays with them all the time, and he's still got all his fingers and toes. Ritchie would do better hanging around him than Dave Perkin's kid. Don't think Jim here's ever been in the hospital or broken anything, have you Jim?"

. I thought for a bit. "He's right, on,brly been a visitor in hospitals, and I might have messed up my left ankle real bad, but that was an accident anyone would have done. Never had anything in a cast, though, he's right about that." I smiled politely and Mary Jean just scowled.

Paul got a hotdog from Ace and started fixing it up as Mary Jean started winding up for a rant. Paul handed it to her, confusing her for a bit. "What's this?"

"Lunch, honey. Now be a good girl and stuff it in your whine-hole before these kind folks want to duct-tape your mouth shut." Paul smiled and now Mary Jean scowled at him, but clearly hunger and husband intimidation won out over complaining as she consumed her food.

"Thanks for the food, Jim, and see you when you rumble back past our place." Paul raised his bratwurst as he led Mary Jean back south towards the main business district.

After they disappeared, Julie commented to me while Ritchie was over with Zack and the mini-Pull, "They're certainly an interesting couple."

I chuckled. "He married Mary Jean right out of high school... they really do love each other on some level. Mary Jean just loves shopping and complaining a bit more than she should, that's all."

Ritchie came bopping over. "Dad said I can stay with you until you go home, Mr. Peters. I think mom was kinda upset with him. She said "we'll talk about it later". Guess that means she's gonna yell at him again when they get home, or maybe in the truck."

I chuckled. "Yeah, your dad said it was alright that you hang out with us for a little longer. Did your mom give you a jacket, though? It's gonna get colder when it's closer to sunset."

Ritchie shook his head. "Should I go ask her for it?"

I shook my head. "No, that's alright so long as you don't catch cold."

With all the water we'd used up coming into town and had been using having the engine just ticking over running the alternator for the bandorgan, I'd used up the water in the main tank and was pumping from the wagon tank into the main tank with the hose running alongside, occasionally feeding water directly into the boiler. Lew saw it and came up. "Need more water?" he asked.

I shrugged. "Just a standard garden hose will do, Lew. Just need to top off these wagon tanks is all. Got enough to keep going here for a good while but not enough to make it back home before getting into trouble."

Lew nodded. "Ok, we'll roll out a garden hose for you. It's kinda fun having kids milling about. Just lucky we've not had a call out, given how some people are when the weather is good."

"Have any calls about us coming into town?" I inquired out of curiosity.

"Yeah... we had a call from someone out your way saying there was a lot of smoke coming from your place. I didn't bother to call ya because ya mentioned bringing iron into town, so I figured it'd be your steamer. Then of course Chief Becker got a few calls when you were up top of Main there with your whistle. Someone thought a train must have wrecked downtown, and then at noon people thought something weird was going on. He had seen you rumble into town so he knew what the whistling was himself, but couldn't just say that to people calling in." Lew chuckled at that last part.

"Yeah, I know. And he probably was a little perturbed about it all, wasn't he?" I asked.

Lew shrugged. "Not particularly. Guess he's having one of his better days. Oh well, all the better for us!"

I laughed and smiled broadly, shrugging as I did so. Chief Becker had been with the fire department for only a few years, ever since the death of our previous fire chief, Emil Waterson. He'd been with the fire department for years and years, and his brother Amos still was on the city council now and again. But Becker was a whole different sort altogether. Having come from some city in Mississippi, he didn't really get how things worked around here for the old-timers and tended to get his undies bunched more often than not about the relatively-minor breaches in protocol that... well, at least from my perspective, seemed to function better around here than how strict adherence to the codes and policies would work. But... since he wasn't on duty, and wasn't down here griping about everything, I guess it was all cool. Either that or he didn't want to lock horns with the fellow who owned all them dangerous predator-type creatures and even brought some to town.

"He been irritating you again over stuff, Lew?" I ventured, knowing full well what the answer was likely to be.

Lew laughed. "You have no idea, Jim! You'd think he was related to that fellow you've got over there at the zoo! At least from what I hear from Victor after Lodge meetings."

I'd forgotten that Lew and Vic knew each other for quite some time, and also didn't really think that Vic would gripe to others about Director Benin in any meaningful way, but... it all figured. "Well... we all have our crosses to bear, y'know," I offered consolingly.

* * * * *

The sun was setting, the food was mostly gone, and though downtown was still rather busy the crowds were thinning out. Zack checked the tank on the mini-Pull, which was getting low on fuel, so I gave him some money out of the change box to head a couple blocks further north to the closer of the three gas stations to fill it up so we could make it back home.

"Seems like you've had a rather good day, Chet?" I asked, finding him snoozing on a side bench in the fire station.

"Was fun, Jim. I've always said you know how to show folks a good time!" he chuckled without even opening his eyes. "S'pose it's time to get heading out, huh?"

I nodded as he opened his eyes. "Yeppers.... got kitties to feed, and gotta get this stuff tucked back under lock and key. Mind if I keep your trailer for a day or so? I don't really feel like unloading the 105 tonight... unless you're feeling enthusiastic."

Chet just push-waved at me. "Keep it for as long as you like. I trust ya. Besides, the ATVs are up at the cabin so I don't need it for nuthin' at the moment. That and I owe you those tube rollers back, unless they've fucked those up. I'd hate to have to replace any of those for ya!"

I laughed "Well, ya never know when you'll need a tool so that's why I grabbed things when I could, and was fortunate enough to have the money at any time to bother to."

Chet horsed himself to his feet and we started back towards the Case just as Zack came putting back up with the mini-Pull. "Filled it up, Mr. Peters! Here's your change..." He proffered a couple dollar bills and some coins in his hand. I shook my head. "Just keep it Zack, you helped out a lot today."

Zack smiled and tucked it back into his pocket. "Thanks!"

"Where's my pay?" Chet inquired teasingly.

"Fired for sleeping on the job!" I winked at him.

Chet laughed as did I. "Well, that beats getting fired for DOING your job... we'll see just what comes of that mess, won't we Jim?" Chet quipped back and winked.

"What's this? Someone getting canned?" Lew asked, coming around the corner of the firehouse.

Chet thumb-pointed to me. "Director Benin's out hunting Jim here and lookin' to get him fired." I nodded a bit more solemnly than I realized.

"Whatcha gonna do?" Lew asked me with concern painted across his face. I shrugged. "Don't rightly know, but we'll see how things play out. He's not got me bagged yet, and you know I'm not quite the type to just knuckle under even if he did."

Lew grinned broadly. "Sounds about right for what I've known of you. If it's anything, you know you've got friends out and about that'd help you." I smiled and wordlessly clapped Lew on the back.

Back up on the Case I put a bit more coal on the fire than I needed and started filling the boiler a bit more than before for the trip back up the hill. Much like coming down, the same issues are encountered going UP steeper hills, though the issues aren't quite as concerning since it'd be the far end of the flue tubes that would be exposed if too low of water was carried in the boiler heading upgrade.

The bandorgan was re-wrapped, the grill and coolers in place, and once again everything was hooked up to the mini-Pull for its trip back to the farm. "Mind if we just drop off the curb here? This rig is a little challenging to back up." I hollered down to Lew.

"Go right ahead. You ready to pull out now?" he inquired.

I shook my head as I took down two red-globe lanterns that typically hung on either side of the engine's canopy. "Not quite yet. Gotta set the taillamps!" I called back as I set about lighting the lanterns and hanging the first on a hook under the cage-wagon, and then set about tying the other one to the last of the "train" following the mini-pull. Adjusting the wicks multiple times so that they didn't soot up I finally got them where I wanted them and grabbed one of the folding chairs to climb up and light the headlamp on the engine.

"You and your old toys, Jim." Chet laughed. "Why am I not surprised everything works on this thing rather than being for decoration?"

I laughed "Cuz you've come to know me so well over the years?" I inquired in reply.

"Do you think that'll be enough light, Jim? I mean... they're not very bright..." Julie inquired with some concern.

"Between the lamps and the moonlight, we should be fine. It won't really get dark until we're almost home." I responded and shut the headlamp door, returning the folding chair to its place against the firehouse. "You ready to go, hon?" she nodded her reply.

I walked along the cage wagon checking the tanks and scritching at Jasmine as she rubbed along the bars. "You three are probably ready to go, too, ain'tcha?" I asked, just out of habit, and got a chuff and a couple grunts in response.

"Hang on Jim," Lew said. "DOUG!" he called out and Doug came around the end of one of the trucks. "You rang?" he inquired sarcastically.

"Mind pulling out 38 to block the road a moment and have someone up at the stoplight to block traffic so Jim here can swing out onto the road?" he asked.

"Sure thing, boss!" Doug answered and Ace started pacing south towards the stoplight before being asked, having been within earshot of the conversation. "There ya go, Jim! All ready. You take care, now, ok? And thanks for a fun day." He reached up to shake my hand, which I gladly did.

"Thank you, too, Lew. We'll see you around." I commented, then loosed the brakes on the wagon before climbing back up to the engine's deck. "Everyone set?" I asked, seeing Chet back on the mini-Pull, Zack, Ritchie, and Julie in their places. All nodded in response so I set the gear to forward, shoved the clutch lever in, and with two toots of the Nathan we started off, easily moving over the short amount of sidewalk and grass between the parking lot and the road, dropping easily over the curb while I cranked the steering wheel hard right then more and more to the left to swing the whole mess out onto the road and regain the proper traffic lane before reaching the traffic light.

Ace waved to us as he let the oncoming traffic finally move and, looking behind, I saw Doug backing the fire engine back into the stall clearing the block from behind. "You take care, now, and thanks for the fun!" Ace hollered up, and I nodded reply as two toots of the mill whistle signaled us starting up from the light turning green again.

The ride back home was generally uneventful, as Zack had manged to pretty well master the steering gear from driving the mini-Pull around all day, I wearily tended to the fire while Julie and Ritchie were chattering about who-knows-what from the seat of the wagon. Soon enough we were across from Paul's house and I coasted the engine to a stop, giving a short blast on the Nathan as signal.

Ritchie jumped up at the sound of the whistle and looked around "Home already?!?" he asked and we all laughed. Through the dimming light I heard the screen door smack shut and saw Paul and Mary Jane wandering up. I could faintly hear "Well, I HOPE he still has all his fingers left!" wafting through the cooling evening breeze as Paul turned to his wife, likely with a "STFU, woman" expression on his face.

"Didja enjoy your day, Ritchie?" Paul asked as they stepped up to the wagon.

"YOU BET! It was the most fun I've had in, like, FOREVER!" Ritchie was nearly bouncing as he answered. I just chuckled and the others smiled.

"Well, then thank Mr. Peters nicely and maybe he'll let you visit again sometime!" Paul grinned widely. "Paul! You know..." Mary Jean then looked at me, apparently realizing she wasn't in her house at the moment, "... we'll talk about that inside." Her expression was clearly one of disgruntlement and Paul merely rolled his eyes, knowing she couldn't see his expression.

"Thanks Mr. Peters!" Ritchie said cheerily as he climbed down from the wagon seat. "You're welcome, Ritchie. You can maybe visit with your dad sometime when he's out to check on the hogs." I replies, which brought a deeper scowl from Mary Jean. Paul just laughed. "See you around, Jim." he replied cheerily as he picked up his youngest and they started heading back to the house, likely with Mary Jean nattering to him the whole way as we started once again trundling along the road.

I let Chet pass us and head up the drive before us as I stopped to grab the mail while I was down at that end of the world. He knew where to park the trailer until we got there, since we weren't going to be unloading anything tonight apart from the Cats. After the brief postal interlude we, too, were trundling up the drive as it'd gotten darker and the partial moon was hidden by occasional clouds, adding yet another level of chill to the brisk evening. The rosy glow of the headlamp and the bobbing of the taillamp on the "train" were pleasant in the evening gloom.

"Sure feels spooky out tonight, Jim." Julie commented. "I... can't help but think of our recent ghostly encounter." I smiled back at Julie, just as Zack commented. "There's no such thing as ghosts." That prompted us both to laugh and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of something - two small lights reflecting back just at the edge of the woods a little ahead of where we were, and one could barely make out a white-furred form there, walking towards the drive.

"Julie... look" I said and nodded off towards my side, at which she leaned over to look. "Jim! It.... can't be! That's impossible!"

"What?" Zack said and moved over towards my position to look... "What's the big deal about that? It's a white dog, so what?" he inquired as we got a bit closer, enough to see indeed it was a white dog. But, no sooner than he'd finished his sentence the form disappeared. Not turned and moved off into the woods, but just vanished.

I smiled, so Zack turned to look at Julie, who was visibly concerned. "That WAS just a dog.... right?" Now it was Zack's turn to look confused as I laughed heartily, which compelled Julie to smile a bit. "Zack," I said, "that might have been just a dog, or it might have been a ghost from my past protecting me. As you've been finding out recently, there's a lot more to this world than most people learn, and there's still some things things that even I can't explain - no one can."

Zack kept a perplexed and contemplative look all the way through the short amount of woods before we rolled into the clearing where the house and buildings stood. "I gotta go pee!" Julie said and jumped down from the wagon while everything was still in motion, running up to the house as I laughed. "I guess that's her welcome-home ritual now." I had to chuckle and Zack looked confused. "She lives here with you?" he asked and I nodded, pointing to the Volkswagen parked a little off to the side.

"Oh... doesn't that make things kinda weird, seeing each other all day long at work and all night long at home?" he asked. I shrugged a bit. "Never really thought about it," I commented as I swung the Case alongside the old chicken coops, heading the wagon nearer the door to the machine shed. "I don't really see that much of her at work, apart from when I'm in my office with Cleo, and she ducks in for some time with her and the cubs, or when she has to give me a paper about something or another. At home here... it's dinner, cat-stuff, and sleeping so... it's not too terribly different than it was before we got together, apart from sleeping and eating together now." I kinda went through it in my mind as I absently swung the equipment around to unload the cats, passing Chet the keys so he could unlock both the machine shed and the scalehouse to put everything under roof for the night.

"You can just lay up the train and the trailer in the scalehouse, Chet. I'll tend to that all later. You'll be able to see where the mini-Pull was parked by the wheel-depressions in the machine shed here, or you can leave it all in the scalehouse if you want to get going." I called out to him.

"I'll just park it in there, as Brit'ny's bound to yowl at me some for being gone all day." he chuckled. "Though nowhere near as much as your friend and his missus down the road there." We all had a good laugh at that.

"No worries, and thanks for your help, Chet. I'll see you at work."

"Hell, Jim... was fun! Besides, beats listening to Brit'ny gripe about all I should do to fix up the cabin and whine about the lack of indoor plumbing up there!" He winked and waved as he set about quickly unlocking things. I chocked the Case just as Julie came through the slightly-opened door to the machine shed. "Got the leashes, hon?" she asked.

"On the seat where they've been most of the day, I'd figure." I replied as I gave her a hug. "Did you have fun today?"

Her face scrunched a bit. "I... it was something different. And a lot of it was fun. I.... I don't really know, though. Especially considering...." she nodded back in the direction of the farm drive and I smiled. "That'll be alright, Julie... you'll see."

Zack was reasonably oblivious to the whole conversation as he was looking at and tending to the fire on the engine, putting in practice on what I'd shown him earlier throughout the day. "Don't put in much. We can let the fire die out as there's still plenty of steam to get her back into her shed." I called out.

"Ok, Mr. Peters." Zack replied and tucked the coal shovel aside after shutting the firedoor again.

Larry and Terry were roaring out, as were the three cats in the wagon, greeting each other once again. I had to laugh as we started leading them back to their enclosures. "Ready for dinner, or just asking how their day's gone?" I inquired, knowing the likelihood of any meaningful response. Jasmine, Hercules and Xena all placidly returned to their cage as well as they'd left, just as I'd expected. "Mind getting them their chow, hon?" I asked Julie. "I've got to put the old girl to bed, and then we can have a bite to eat ourselves."

"You know I don't really like chicken juice dripping down my arm...." Julie frowned a bit, then smiled and hugged me. "But I'll do it for you, and them." She nearly bounced off through the passages and I had to chuckle.

Back out through the shed to the wagon, I set the brake and pulled the pin. "Ready to finish up, Zack?" I asked. He nodded and two toots signaled our movement as we started forwards. I checked the fire to see that indeed it was nearly out, and the pressure was sinking. I let the pump shove a bit more water into the boiler as we moved, which dropped the pressure a lot more, but made sure there wouldn't be any issues overnight as we backed towards the Quonset, the light over the door already on and illuminating the short patch of pavement in front of the locked doors.

"Want me to unlock it for you, Mr. Peters?" Zack asked, knowing there wasn't any real need for him to steer at the moment as we backed straight towards the shed.

"Naw, I'll let her sit and drain out tonight. Fire's out so with everything hot it should let all the plates dry out fairly quickly if I drop the hand-holes as well. It'll save me trouble for laying her up for the winter." I pondered. "Or...." I closed the overflow to the pump and let it start putting more and more water into the boiler, speeding the decline in pressure and, subsequently, engine speed. "... I might run her in the Thanksgiving Day parade this year since I've acquired some help." I winked at him and I'm sure he inwardly groaned a little at the thought of running the engine yet another day.

"It'll be alright as we'd end up at the Zoo anyway." I said, at which Zack seemed to brighten some.

That Place 8: Heaven

Sunshine. Warm sunshine. Bright sunshine. I stirred a bit as I felt the warmth of a sunbeam upon me. Then my brain started thinking... why am I feeling the warmth of a sunbeam? I wriggled a bit and felt soft cushion beneath me and behind my...

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That Place 7: Leaving Together

That day started like every other, but I knew it wasn't going to go that way. How little did I know it wasn't going to go that way. The lights came on, Tom tromped around booting dogs out into the outdoor runs, and that's when it happened. The pitt...

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That Place 6: Mates for Life

The next couple days were sort of a blur. Somehow I was back in my run before daylight, as was Max and Vicky. Max's gate was locked back up and it was as if nothing had ever happened the night before. Well... sort of. His tooth was fixed and he was...

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