Here’s the prologue to my new novel, Diamond in the Rough:
The woman wanted me to read her dead sonâ€™s manuscript. She found me as I played with my young daughter in a park near my home. (I had not returned her emails). The woman said her son had worked with me as an EMT on the streets of Hartford nearly a decade before and had held me in high regard. (Ah, flatteryâ€”it weakened my resolve to offer a firm but polite no). As I pushed my daughter on the swings, she begged me as a parent to consider her grief. Her sonâ€™s life had gone for naught and the hard lessons he learned would not be shared unless I could help her gain a publisher for his earnest tale. Yes, she was shedding tears as she spoke. My daughter came to a stop on the swing. Daddy, why did you stop pushing me? Daddy, why is she crying?
I did not recall the womanâ€™s sonâ€™s name, but when she handed me a faded Polaroid of him in uniform, I recognized him. He had worked for us for several years. During that time, I perhaps worked with him only a time or two and had no memory of our shifts together. Like many others in our business, he had moved on and had not been heard from since. According to his mother, he was living in New Jersey and working as a repo man (he was out of EMS altogether then) when he came upon a wreck on a country road. A yellowed newspaper article she put in my hand said he had dragged a young woman out of a burning car. A high-voltage wire fell on him after he had secured her safety. There was no mention in the article of his previous EMS career or of any special ceremony other than that his family had a private service for him. Here in Hartford, I had heard nothing of his death. He had just been one of many faces to move through the EMS business. She handed me the manuscript and, in a new fit of sobbing, begged me to read it. My daughter asked again why the woman was crying. I had no choice but to assent. The relieved woman gave me a heartfelt hug, blessed me and told me I would not regret it.
I felt bound and a little curious to at least read the first page, and perhaps skim through the rest to see if he mentioned me (he didnâ€™t). Still, I must tell you, I was captivated from the first sentence. There certainly was more to this young man than met the eye. I must caution, though, that at the same time I was drawn into his story, I was also repelled by the crimes and behavior he described. I have always held up our profession as an example of people at their finest, and here was one of our own admitting to serious misdeeds. While I was unaware of any of these events taking place, I found his account of EMS in Hartford in those days largely accurate, and the events, sadly, not beyond the realm of possibility.*
In the end I felt his story, rather than being hidden in a drawer, deserved public scrutiny. And while I in no way condone any of his crimes, it is better for us to hear his story and understand the demons that drove him. Perhaps we can then strive to be better people ourselves for having visited the darker places of his psyche. And maybe we can all find it in our hearts to show mercy to his frail soul. EMS is strong in our communities and will survive any doubt this book might raise about the general responderâ€™s decency.
Other than a few changes to protect the confidentiality of real people and patients, a few spelling corrections, and deletion of numerous gratuitous sex scenes, here is the tear-stained manuscript his dear mother entrusted to me.
Peter Canning, Paramedic
* Fortunately today, the hiring process and mandatory background checks have gone a long way to promoting fewer opportunities for weaker individuals to gain employment in EMS.
I know what I did was wrong. I just want people to understand I didnâ€™t set out to become a thief. I was only looking for love.
It was a fact. I was no Tobey Maguire. I stood five-seven, one hundred and twenty pounds. I had a shaved head, bad teeth, bony arms, and was so skinny people made TB and tapeworm cracks about me. I was twenty-three, living in a boarding house, working as a maintenance man for a cab company and doing my best not to get my ass kicked. I had a flaming skeleton devil head tattoo on my right arm that I had gotten to make myself look tougher, but people even made fun of my tat. I had wanted a menacing specter, but they said my devil looked more like a goofball than one of Satanâ€™s crew. Sadly, it was true, and once you are branded with indelible ink, it doesnâ€™t come off easy.
I cleaned the offices and garage at Yellow Cab, washed, vacuumed and changed the oil on the rides, and when one wasnâ€™t signed out to a regular driver, the owner let me work the streets. I worked mainly at night, and split everything I took in with my boss. It wasnâ€™t the best deal, but it helped pay off the money I owed for burning down my neighborâ€™s garage. They were never able to prove I had done it deliberatelyâ€”they thought I had done it in retaliation for my belief that he had poisoned my dogâ€”but since I agreed to pay the bastard back, they decided that was punishment enough, and it kept my adult record clean, my juvenile stupidities already purged on my eighteenth birthday.
I liked driving, working the Hartford streets, both the customer contact and the knowledge of the roads, which came in handy for my later employ. If people wanted to talk, I was more than happy to converse with them. If, which was most often, they wanted me to just to drive, I easily assumed the role of the invisible man.
To read the rest of Chapter One and Diamond in the Rough, buy it today:
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