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The Golden Horn

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                  Page Seven

"Wait right here.." And Gail swept out
of the sunny Victorian parlor into the
den Cap could just barely see. She returned with
a box that seemed to be stuffed with
shredded white tissue paper.  Gail took the
picture of Cap's first official inspection from
his hand and replaced it with her gift.

"What's this?"

Gail's face grinned. "Open it and see.
This is part two to go along with your
debut captain's photo."

Hank swallowed and opened the box.

The white delicate tissue paper fell
away to reveal an old fireman's dress
hat. It had a charred brown edged hole crowning
where its headpiece frame cloth had
been burned away and the metal worked
captain's rank front emblem was still
holding its shape where the stretched cloth
used to be.

Captain Stanley gasped when he realized
what it was.. "He saved this?"

"Of course he did. It was the first time a
junior man ever held him accountable for
questionable behavior and Melton always
said that it was an extremely valuable lesson
he learned that day." her voice adopted a
McConike sounding timbre. "Never wound
a newbie in an inspection line no matter
how tempting a joke might be. Or it'll come
back to bite you.." she concluded. "He saved
that as a reminder of you. Your revenge taken
by burning this had a profound effect on Melton.
He never tired of watching your career grow or
watching you develop the skills and integrity
that a true captain of the line only rarely gains.
He was so proud of you, Hank."

Cap's eyes filled likewise and he gently touched
an ashen edge of the hole in McConike's old
cap's hat. "I never knew.."

"And I never knew how dedicated you were
to him, until the day you had that courier
come to my house with his white helmet for the
funeral with a letter from both you and Ben.
I was deeply touched to learn that both of you
were adamantly refusing the department's move
to promote one of you to the Chief's spot,
in his honor.."

"It's the least we could have done. The way
they fill a gap's sometimes heartlessly swift."

"Well, that helmet's back in service now.
I called Ben Stone myself and asked him to accept
the post. He's been training for it all this
week while you were still in the hospital. I--I hope
I made the right decision in my recommendation
to the Department heads. I know how much you
would miss your men if I had urged you to take it.
You would have done it in a heartbeat out of loyalty
to me and Melton, without regard for your own
wants and desires."

"Gail.. That's not true.."

"In a pig's eye, Hank. Look, you're not even meeting
ME in the eye so I know you're lying.." she smirked.
"I've had the time I needed, Hank. It's ok for someone
else to carry on the job Melton loved so much. I'm
ready to see the Chief's spot pass on to the next man
believe me. I wouldn't have sent the helmet back
if I hadn't thought so."

"You sure you didn't do that out of some quirky
loyalty you might have to all of us captains
that Chief McConike has trained?"

"Well, maybe just a little.." Gail admitted at last,
smoothing down her paisley china blue apron.

Hank smiled, gently putting away the ancient
hat back into its box along with the photo Gail
had given him. "Then loyalty must be an infection
that knows no bounds for we are both afflicted with
it most grieviously. And for that matter, so was Melton.
For it is because of him that we're both now sitting
here talking about the future."

"A future that I thought I would never be able
to face. Yet,  now I am.." Gail said, her face
dawning with sudden comprehension.

"I'm very glad to hear that. To a degree that
you couldn't even possibly imagine."
Cap replied softly. He slowly caressed the
hat box under his hand, marveling in the soothing
feel its surface had on his skin and his soul.


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The sun was so far set that Mike Stoker had
already taken in the station flags. Cap
had not moved from his space at the kitchen

In front of him was a bolt of white cotton cloth,
fabric glue and a stretching frame.

Roy, Johnny, Chet, Marco and Mike all watched
with fascination as Cap completed his restoration
of the famous burned McConike hat. No one was
brave enough to ask how Cap had come by it again
after so many years. But finally, Chet came
out with it.

"So why'd ya do it?"

The room fell silent, even the sounds of four pairs
of lungs suddenly stopping their breathing in shock
at Kelly's bold bravado.

"Huh?" Hank grunted as he carefully painted gold
leafing over the captain's rank crest on the newly
restored hat's metal working, distracted. Then
the question finally sank in. "Oh,.. uh, well. Let
me set this brush down first. Let's see. The reason
why.. Hmmmmm."

"Cap.." Gage complained.

"Oh, ok. ok. This is how it was. Well, you know
how you and Kelly got into that game one year with the
waterbombs in the whole Phantom fiasco?"

"Yeah.." Kelly said, swallowing nervously at
finally being on the verge of getting the answer
every man in the department wanted to know about
Hank Stanley.

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"Well, the Chief and I got into it in the same
way.. Only we used firecrackers instead of water.."

Roy started to snicker.. "Y-You planted a firecracker
in his hat?"

Cap grinned guiltily, blowing softly on his careful
painting, so the 24 carat gold guilding would dry
with a rich shine. "Yeah, won that oneupmanship
AND the running bet that HQ heads had riding on us.
Believe me, it was worth every hour I spent cleaning
the latrine with a toothbrush."

"So that's why you never give yourself that chore
to do. You hate it so much because it reminds
you of this burned hat.." Kelly said, putting two
and two together.

"Not anymore. In fact, as soon as I get my arm
healed and get back on the duty rosters, I'll pull
the can detail first day, like it SHOULD rotate
through. There'll be no more of my pulling rank
around here inside the station. Things are gonna
be fair and square from now on."

"Hey hey hey..." John and the guys celebrated.

"Does that mean when I pull a prank on Gage in
the future, that you won't be threatening me
with a hose tower detail?"

"That standing order penalty doesn't count, Kelly.
The tower's outside the station. I said I'd be
fair about what goes on in HERE."

"Oh.." said the gang, severely disappointed.

Upon hearing that, Chet, Roy and Johnny fell
into age old grimaces of frustration, in three
familiar poses of see no, hear no, speak no

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Cap never saw their dismay. He was too
busy repairing the symbol that used to be
a source of pain that was now his
ultimate destiny.

The next day, a tall figure in a dress suit
fireman's outfit left his car inside the rural
Burbank cemetery whose address a new widow
had shared with him. It was approaching sunset.

Cap Stanley walked respectfully to a recently groomed
grave and his understanding eyes fell on the name
carved there on the rosy marble. He traced
the name's lettering with a finger from his good hand
and briefly rested on the still sun warmed stone,
relishing the heat radiating there. "Chief.. I'm sorry I
wasn't there when you were laid to rest here that day.
But I sure know that you were there for me that afternoon
in the quarry. I can never repay the debt I owe
you for making me fight to live."

He sighed and smiled and then he said.
"I hope this makes up for it at least a little bit."

Cap brought out the chief's old cap's hat, now
appearing like new, untarnished and crisp.
::It's been restored with the love only two firefighters
can share.:: Stanley wondered as he held it close.

Hank hung it on the flower holder attached to the
stone marker and touched it one final time. As an
afterthought, Cap left behind another gift for the
man still looming so large in his life; his own
double bugle dress rank pin of captain.

The dimming sun glinted once on the insignia
and it sparkled like the purest gold into
his eyes as his fingers set it on the top of
McConike's snow white and black dress hat.
"Here's to that big alarm call in the sky, Chief.
Hope you're there commanding the scene first
at every one of them. And if you meet up with
any other of the boys who didn't make it,
tell them I'm thinking of them, too.....
This is Station 51, KMG 365. Over and out."

Hank Stanley began to smile as he
made his way back to his car in the
newly gathering, tender summer night.

Something deep inside of him that
had been coiled tightly for so long,
unraveled. Hank's relief was so profound,
that it drew healing tears to his eyes
that ran unchecked, down his cheeks.

Cap's heart, was now finally, at peace.

Hank Stanley drove back to his station
to a future that he now knew with absolute
certainty as still belonging to him in every
sense of the word.


Behind, in the darkness, a wrinkle
on the hat Cap had repaired, smoothed
itself out in the moonlit wind, until it was
inspection perfect, as if by an invisible
hand from Chief Melton McConike.

As if in agreement, a distant L.A. county
siren answering a tones out call, wove
through the peacefully sleeping cemetery,
like a lullaby.


       FIN- The Golden Horn
       Season One, Episode Six

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