Blame It On The Bunny
By Audrey W.
“So you’re off for four days now, huh?” Roy asked, looking at his partner.
Johnny shut his locker and smiled. “Yep. Cap got a replacement lined up for me early this morning, so I don’t have to pull duty Saturday.”
“What are you gonna do with all that free time, Gage?” Chet asked.
Johnny shot the stocky fireman an annoyed glance. He had forgotten Chet was still in the room with them.
“Don’t worry about me, Chet. I’ll keep busy. It so happens I have plans.”
“Yeah, he’s going to be busy with a group of kids,” Roy said, grinning. “I’ll give him ‘til noon tomorrow. He’ll be wishing he was going to work the next day.”
“Oh I will not,” Johnny whined. A smile spread across his face. “I’m hoping Saturday will be a date with a certain chick from Friday’s outing.”
“Like who?” Chet wondered.
“Never mind. You already know more than you should.”
Roy shook his head at the two men. “So is this ‘date’ you’re hoping for gonna be a part of your Easter, too, or are you still gonna come by the house?”
“Hey, I’ll be there for Easter dinner,” Johnny assured. “I promised Joanne a month ago I’d be there. I’m not gonna back out.”
“You can bring your date if you want to.”
“Nah. . .it was pretty special for Joanne to refer to me as ‘family’ when she invited me. I’m not going to bring anyone else.” Johnny patted Roy on the right shoulder as he passed by, heading towards the door. “See ya Sunday, bro.”
Before Roy could reply, Johnny was out of the room. The older paramedic looked over at Chet.
“Go ahead. I know you’re dying to say something here.”
Chet shrugged. “I’m not sayin a word, Roy. ‘Cept, I’d be a little concerned having Gage as a branch in my family tree. Even if it is just a ‘replacement branch’.”
Roy rolled his eyes and closed his locker. Neither man would ever admit it, but time and time again, Johnny and Chet demonstrated during certain calls that they really respected one another. The trading barbs when everything was going smoothly had just gotten to be the normal thing. The shifts they didn’t do it, everyone else was thrown out of sync.
DeSoto smiled as he and Chet walked out to their cars. The curly-haired fireman was going on about the disadvantages of Johnny being referred to as part of Roy’s family. Roy’s thoughts were on how much his kids enjoyed his partner on visits. After getting to know Amanda Freeman better, Johnny had become more at ease with his kids as well. Maybe some day someone else would see that side of Gage.
Friday morning, Johnny was getting ready for his day in the hills. Bonnie Freeman had called him the Monday before to see if he would be willing to go on a road trip with her and a few friends. Although her husband was out of town again, there would be a couple of other fathers there, as well as a few of the moms she knew. The plan was to take seven kids to the foothills for a picnic and an opportunity to play in the outdoors, since the schools were closed for a three-day weekend due to the upcoming holiday. A pre-Easter egg hunt was one of the things planned. While inviting Gage, Bonnie was quick to add that a girlfriend of hers who was still unattached would be going along. “Could be interesting,” She had offered.
Though he wasn’t wild about blind dates, Johnny couldn’t say no. He had promised Amanda in February that he would stay in touch. This was one way to show he meant what he said. And the little girl didn’t have to know he was there to check out another girl closer to his own age. And, Johnny reasoned with himself, what better way for this chick to see him than with little kids. Women seemed to like that in a guy.
Dressed in his blue jeans and a white t-shirt with a yellow plaid shirt over it, Johnny packed up a few sodas and chips and headed down for the Land Rover. He had told Bonnie he would meet her at their house and follow behind in his Land Rover. Since the drive was going to be several miles outside of town, Johnny wanted the freedom to leave when he felt ready. Of course he hoped it would be with a certain lady he had been told about.
“Johnny’s here, Johnny’s here!” Amanda yelled, jumping up and down. “Oh boy! This is gonna be fun!” She turned to her mother, who was just coming into the livingroom. “Can I ride with Johnny? Huh? Can I?”
“Let him get in the house at least, Amanda.” Bonnie went to the front door to let the dark-haired man in.
“Hi! Glad you could make it.”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Johnny said as he stepped in. He looked over at Amanda and smiled. “You’re looking better than the last time I saw you, sweetheart.”
Amanda nodded, her smile beaming. “Yes, I am. Can I ride with you?”
“It’s okay,” Johnny assured the mother. “Sure, if your mom doesn’t mind.” He almost suggested they all go in one car, but if the chick he was told about turned out to be hot, he didn’t want any prior commitments.
“Mommy?” The little girl looked up at her mom with hopeful eyes.
“It’s fine with me. Well, I’ve just got to get the cooler in the car and we’ll be on our way.”
Johnny saw the container sitting near the front door. “I’ll get it.”
They made their way out to the cars. Once the cooler was in the back of the Freeman’s station wagon and Amanda was settled in the front seat of the Land Rover, the trio set out on their adventure.
It took Johnny and the Freemans well over an hour to get to their destination. Although he was anxious to meet everyone, Johnny was quiet at first, observing what the others were discussing before joining in. Once the other men who had been talked into taking their daughters on the outing found out what Johnny did for a living, they asked him questions about the paramedic program while the girls played.
The blind date hadn’t gone so well. Although Michelle was very attractive, she had turned out to be anything but Johnny’s type. She was an opera fan who hated sports and didn’t seem to be enjoying the outdoors at all. Once they had discovered there was nothing to talk to each other about, she and Johnny went their own ways. He did catch himself staring at her at times. With her long thin legs and skimpy blue shorts, she was nice to look at as long as he didn’t have to get to know her too well.
In the late afternoon, after Michelle had left, Bonnie apologized to Johnny for the terrible job of match making.
“Oh, hey, there’re plenty of other chicks around town. No problem,” Johnny said, grinning. “It’s been a lot of fun, anyway, with the kids here.”
“Good.” Bonnie looked around. “Speaking of kids, have you seen Amanda? I thought she was with the other little girls, but I don’t see her.”
“No. . .oh wait!” Johnny pointed. “There she is. Over by that tree.”
Bonnie turned around. Sure enough her daughter was standing alone near a tree. She sighed in relief. “I was beginning to get worried. I walked with Michelle to her car and forgot it doesn’t take Amanda long to get into trouble if she knows no one is watching her every move. She can be a little stinker at times.”
“Hey, Bonnie!” One of the other women called out.
She looked over towards the group. “What?”
“C’mere! We need to ask you about the pizza party you were planning for the kids next month!”
“Okay!” The mother excused herself from Johnny.
Amanda ran over to her hero as soon as her mom was involved in the discussion with the others.
Johnny felt a tug on the hem of his yellow shirt. Looking down, he saw Amanda staring up at him.
“What is it, sweetheart?”
“C’mere. I wanna show ya sompthun.”
Amanda shook her head and smiled. “You gotta come look.”
Johnny pretended to pout, then gave in. “Oh, okay. If I have to.”
Amanda took his hand and led him away from the area. Johnny pulled back, as they got farther away.
“Whoa! When did you come this far?”
“Awhile ago. . .when no one was payin attenchun.”
“When no one was. . .” Johnny repeated, trailing off. “But I didn’t see you leave to go anywhere.”
“You were looking at that lady in blue shorts.”
“Oh. . .uh. . .yeah, I guess I was.” The paramedic blushed slightly. “Well, are we almost to what you wanted to show me?”
“Uh huh. Almost,” Amanda answered, beaming.
As they began walking again, Johnny tried to sneak in a lecture. “You know, you shouldn’t just go off like that. Something could happen.”
“That’s what my mommy says.”
“You should listen to her.”
“There,” Amanda said, ignoring his words and pointing. “Aren’t they pretty?”
Johnny looked just slightly ahead of them. There were yellow and blue flowers scattered around the grassy area. He had to admit they were pretty. But he wished Amanda had a longer attention span and would stay on the subject of playing safe.
“Yes, sweetheart, they are.”
Suddenly Amanda was on to another interest.
“Oh look, Johnny! A bunny!”
Gage looked around, but didn’t see it. “Where?”
Once again the little girl pointed. “Over there! He ran off that way.”
“Well, if he ran off, I guess I missed him.”
“I bet it was the Easter Bunny!”
“Could be,” Johnny humored the girl.
“Can we go find him? Please?”
“No, we need to get back with the others.”
“But he’s the Easter Bunny! What if he’s lost? There won’t be a Easter,” Amanda said, her bottom lip quivering. “Can’t we just try?”
Johnny shook his head. “Huh uh. The last thing we need to do is take off in search of a rabbit. It could be anywhere by now.”
“He’s not just a rabbit,” Amanda pouted, folding her arms across her chest. “He’s the Easter Bunny.”
Johnny squatted down to be eye level with the girl. “Look, Amanda, there’s no- -” He sighed. Telling the kid the truth and ruining her childhood holiday was not what Johnny wanted to do.
“No what, Johnny?”
Gage stood up and studied his watch. There was time left before they would have to be back, but he didn’t have any desire to chase after a rabbit. “There’s no time to go looking for him,” Johnny lied. He didn’t want to see the look of disappointment on Amanda’s face, so he shifted his gaze from his watch to the direction that they had come from. “The Easter Bunny’s been on his own for years and nothing’s happened yet. Don’t worry, he’ll be okay.” Gage put his hands on his hips. “Now, let’s head back and everything’ll be just fine.”
Getting no response, Johnny looked down where Amanda had been standing. She wasn’t there.
Oh shit. Well, she couldn’t have gotten very far that fast
The paramedic in him knew a kid could travel far in the time it would take to alert the others and bring them back to this spot. Johnny decided to follow his gut instinct and head in the direction Amanda said the bunny had gone.
“Amanda!” Johnny called out as he walked through the wooded area. “Amanda, answer me now!”
Gage remembered what Bonnie had said awhile back. Amanda could be a little stinker at times. Now was one of those times.
How could she get away so fast?
“Amanda! I mean it! Answer me!”
As Johnny walked on, calling out Amanda’s name, he glanced at his watch. It had already been thirty minutes since they were looking at the flowers. He realized now he’d done exactly what he told Amanda not to - go chasing after something with no idea exactly where it could be. And now he was in a position where the little girl could be just about anywhere. Johnny decided he would have to go get help.
Just as he began to head back, he heard a snap behind him, like a stick had been stepped on and broken.
“Amanda, is that you?” Johnny asked turning around. “C’mon sweetheart. We need to be getting . . . back.” Johnny was surprised to see six teens standing several feet from him. There didn’t appear to be any reason to be alarmed. Three boys about fifteen years old and three girls the same age, they looked to be three young couples enjoying the outdoors.
“Hi,” the dark haired paramedic greeted, nodding a hello as well.
One of the boys stepped forward. “Hi. We didn’t think we’d see anyone up here.”
“You aren’t the only ones,” Johnny admitted. He took a couple of steps closer to the youth. “I thought the sound of a twig snapping came from someone else.”
Gage gave the kid a hesitant look. “Uh. . .yeah. You’ve seen her?”
The youth shook his head. “We ain’t seen no one. We heard you calling out the name.”
“Oh, right,” Johnny snickered. “So you haven’t seen a little six-year-old girl at all? Brown, wavy hair. . .about shoulder length?”
Another of the boys was walking up to Johnny and the first boy.
“Where’re your friends at?”
Johnny switched his gaze from one to the other. “Excuse me?”
“The others you’re with. Or is it just you and the kid?”
“Danny!” The other boy scolded. He looked at Johnny and held out his hand. “I’m Keith. Sorry, he’s kinda nosy,” he added, indicating his friend with a gesture.
“That’s okay,” Johnny said, feeling more at ease. “They’re back quite a ways. Amanda ran off after the Eas. . .a rabbit . . . and I went to find her.”
“You took off by yourself?” Danny asked, surprised.
Once again, he was met with a glare from Keith.
Johnny got the feeling he was going to regret being so honest with these kids. He decided now would be a good time to throw in a little lie, just to be safe.
“Uh. . .no, I just got ahead of them.”
“I don’t think so,” Danny said, motioning for the others to come over. They had put fear in kids at school, when they had gotten them off by themselves. Now it was time for some fun with an adult to see if they could pull it off the same way. “You said ‘I went to find her’, not ‘we’.”
Johnny watched as the other teens trotted over. Instinct told him to run, but the thought the kids could know more about Amanda’s whereabouts than they first let on, kept him in place, wanting to find out more about these kids. He became very uneasy when the group formed a circle around him.
“Look,” Johnny said, holding up his hands. “I don’t want any trouble.” He tried to keep an ear out for movement behind him, as his eyes flicked between the kids in front of him, and those off to either side. “If you’ve seen Amanda, tell me. If not, I’d appreciate being left to go on so I can find her.”
“You afraid of us?” Danny asked, a grin spreading across his face. He winked at someone behind Johnny. “We’re just out for a hike. That’s all.”
At the sound of steps getting closer behind him, Johnny spun around and saw one of the girls had indeed moved in to decrease the distance between herself and him. Before he could get out any words to the girl, he heard a whooshing sound in the air near his left ear. At the same time, he felt a hard blow to the back of his head. Darkness consumed him as he fell hard on the gravel surface of the ground.
Amanda had already made her way back to the rest of the group. She sat quietly on a large rock, hugging the pink bear Johnny had given her at Valentine’s Day. The girl listened as her mother talked to another of the grownups.
“I can’t fathom Johnny just going off on a hike and not telling anyone,” Bonnie explained. “He’s smarter than that. Just being in the line of work he’s in is reason to believe he wouldn’t do the disappearing act.”
Tom Bramble, a father of one of the other girls, looked at his watch. “Yeah, but he knows we want to leave here by 6 o’clock, right?”
“Well, it’s 6:20 now. Being the responsible guy you know he is, if he’s not back by 6:30, I think we’d better get some help.”
Bonnie stared at Tom a few seconds. She wasn’t sure what to say. She couldn’t imagine Johnny getting in any kind of trouble. Not without some help. Slowly, the mother turned to face her nearby daughter. She had already asked the child several times if she knew where Johnny had gone, and each time, Amanda had answered with a firm “No.”
Bonnie stepped over and kneeled down in front of her daughter.
“Amanda, honey, I need you to tell me the absolute truth. You understand?”
The little girl nodded. “Yes.”
“Okay,” Bonnie paused a minute, hoping to get a helpful answer this time. Gut feeling told her Amanda knew more than she was letting on. “First of all, you aren’t going to get in trouble for anything. But I need to know if you have any idea why Johnny might have gone off from here.”
Amanda chewed her lower lip. She knew her mom would be angry if she found out Amanda ran off after the Easter Bunny and left Johnny alone. Now Johnny was probably lost and it was her fault. Afraid of getting in trouble, despite her mom’s promise, Amanda elected to stick to her story. After all, nothing bad could happen to heroes. And that’s what Johnny was. She reasoned he would come back safe and happy, just like the heroes in her storybooks.
“No, Mommy. I don’t.”
Bonnie sighed and stood up. Something didn’t feel right at all. She looked down in time to see her daughter hug the toy bear tighter.
The teens stood rooted in shock. Two girls began crying, while Keith finally found his voice.
“What in the hell did you do that for?” He yelled at Danny.
Danny dropped the thick limb that he had used on Johnny. He reached over and lifted the wallet out of the paramedic’s back pocket. Opening it up, he was surprised to see the Firefighter/Paramedic badge. Quickly recovering from the unexpected discovery, Danny pulled out a twenty and a five and closed the wallet before the others could see anything.
“Not much in here.”
“Answer me, Danny! Why did you do that? We were just gonna make him nervous.”
“Don’t get so worried, Keith. He’s okay.”
Keith looked at the blood on the back of Johnny’s head. The man didn’t look okay.
“Danny, he’s bleedin’! He’s not okay!”
Danny kicked the unconscious man in the ribs. A slight groan emitted from the paramedics slightly parted lips.
“See? He’s just out for awhile. He’ll be okay.” The teen said. “This was kinda fun. You see how nervous we made him? Feels good to have that much power over a grownup, don’t it?”
“My parents find out about this and I’ll never see the outside of the house again,” Keith whined. “That’s if any of us ever get out of jail when we’re sent there. How could you do something so stupid?”
“It wasn’t stupid! And all we have to do is make sure no one finds out.”
“What are we gonna do with him?” The third boy, Mark, asked.
Danny thought a moment, then a grin spread across his face.
“His friends will be looking for him around here, right?”
“Right,” Keith answered, not sure he wanted to hear the rest. The others kept silent, but nodded.
“We take him away from here and drop him off somewhere else.”
Mark shook his head. “Danny, I’m not sure that’s a good idea. That’s kidnapping. We’re gonna be in enough trouble as it is.”
Danny looked at the others. They seemed to be unsure of anything at the moment.
“You want to get caught or not?” Danny asked. He saw the wary expressions on the others’ faces. “Hey, c’mon! It’s not kidnapping. We’re just gonna move the guy to a place where they won’t look for him.”
One of the girls spoke out. “How are we gonna move him?”
“Carry him!” Danny replied simply. “Keith and I can get on either side of him and Mark can hold his legs off the ground.” He pulled his car keys out of his front pocket and tossed them to the girl. “You can unlock the car when we get to it and open the back door.”
Keith couldn’t believe what they were doing. This was not at all what he thought would happen.
“Carry him two miles to the car?” Keith asked in disbelief. “Then what?”
“We take him for a drive and drop him off a few miles from here. He’ll still be in the area. Someone will find him . . .someday. Just not very soon.”
The others gave Danny’s plan thought. It would buy them time to build an alibi together. No one considered at the moment what could happen if the man wasn’t found soon enough.
It was settled. The six kids carried out their plan. As the boys lifted Johnny, the unconscious man’s head and arms hung loosely, the front of him still facing the ground. One of the girls scuffed the dirt where Johnny had been lying. She was sure to cover the various marks on the ground that were evidence a person once was prone there.
Two girls walked ahead, making sure that they held small bush branches and such out of the way for the boys and their load. The other girl kept a look out, occasionally glancing around for signs of people anywhere behind them.
Once the kids got to Danny’s Chevy Malibu, Becky unlocked one of the back doors and opened it, as Danny had instructed. The three boys maneuvered the still unconscious man into the back seat and propped him up against the other door. Mark, Keith and one of the girls climbed in the back with Johnny, the girl having to sit on Mark’s lap. The other two girls got in front with Danny.
“Don’t worry about a thing,” Danny assured the others. “Once he wakes up and sees he’s on his own again, he’ll be fine. Just kind of lonely,” the boy snickered. He kept the knowledge they had just attacked a fireman to himself.
“He’s waking up!” Becky exclaimed when she looked from her seat on Mark’s lap, towards Johnny. The dark haired man was moving his head. A low moan confirmed he was becoming more aware.
“Of course he’s waking up,” Danny commented. “I told you guys he’d be okay.” The boy felt relief that the man was indeed showing signs of consciousness. He had been careful not to let on to the others that he was having doubts their victim was going to be fine. Now those doubts started to fade.
Johnny could feel the motion of the car as they traveled farther up into the hills. Music from a radio station filtered into his brain, as he began to come to a closer level of alertness. Voices. . .talking about . . .him? Johnny’s eyes fluttered open and he tried to focus on his surroundings. The lighting in the car was dim and his vision was doubled. He blinked a few times, trying to bring images together. No luck. Johnny gave up. He rested his aching head to the side and watched the awkward images of the others in the car with disinterest.
On a couple of corners, Johnny felt like he was going to lose his stomach. The nausea was building. He couldn’t remember ever getting car sick before. He closed his eyes and tried to will the feeling away. Johnny hoped they would get to where they were going before he couldn’t keep his stomach down anymore.
The teens had been driving for twenty minutes. Listening to the radio, the time on the road had gone by fast.
“We’ll drop him off over there,” Danny said, pointing to a road that looked more like a trail and went off the main paved one. “I’ll drive a ways down that way and we’ll turn him loose.”
The kids looked out and saw the road Danny was referring to. As they turned off of the main highway, Johnny could tell they were on a dirt road. The car bumped non-stop on the gravel. He was losing his battle with the nausea.
Suddenly the car stopped. Johnny was bewildered. If the teens had noticed the lack of alertness and the puzzlement on their victim’s face, they might have guessed something was off. But in the haste to rid themselves of a burden, they didn’t pay attention. Danny got out and opened Johnny’s door.
“Here’s where you get out, man.”
Johnny didn’t resist, but rather tried to help to get himself out, albeit unsteady. As he stepped out of the car, Gage fell to the ground. The world seemed to have a tilted feeling to it. He finally lost the battle with the nausea. Leaning to his side, Johnny vomited as his stomach retched. Danny observed the paramedic for a minute with a look of disgust on his face. He then got back in the car and pulled away without saying a word. Johnny glanced up from his position on the ground and saw the overlapping double image of the car disappear in the distance.
Why had they left him there? How did he know those people? And more importantly at the moment, where was he?
Tom Bramble and a few others at the picnic had attempted a brief search for Johnny while they waited for help to arrive. As they feared, it proved to be useless.
It was 7:15, and Bonnie found herself staring at her daughter, while Park Rangers tried to get any kind of hint from the little girl as to where Johnny might have gone. Bonnie told them upon their arrival that she still had a gut feeling Amanda had something to do with the disappearance of the paramedic, although unintentional.
After listening to more, “No sirs” than she could stand, Bonnie walked over and picked her daughter up, carrying her away from the rangers. Seeing the surprised expressions of the men as she did so, the mother explained, “We’ll be right back. And with answers, I hope.”
The rangers nodded and waited, as Bonnie talked to her daughter once again, a good distance away from everyone.
Bonnie sat Amanda down on a tree stump. “Amanda Freeman, I want you to tell me right now why Johnny would have left this area without telling anyone. And where he went. It’s getting dark, he’s not anywhere in sight and he may not make it back on his own.”
“But Johnny’s a hero. Heroes always come back.”
The mother sighed. “Not always. He may have gotten hurt and can’t walk back here. . .or he may not know his way back in the dark.”
The little girl’s eyes teared. “You mean. . .Johnny’s . . .lost?” She asked in a tiny voice.
Finally maybe a break through to an understanding. “Yes, he could very well be. Now,” Bonnie paused again, giving Amanda time to think about what danger Johnny could be in. “Amanda, tell me. . .do you know where Johnny went?”
Amanda stared at her mother. She wanted to do the right thing. But the thought of getting in trouble lingered. Then again, her hero could need rescuing.
“Yes, I took him to see some flowers.”
Bonnie sat back on her heels and sighed in relief. Now maybe they would get somewhere.
Johnny remained sitting on the ground and placed his hands on his head, trying to alleviate the pain that was making his head feel like it would explode. He hoped whoever the people were who dropped him off would come back to get him. The sun was nearly set and dusk was setting in. Soon it would be dark and the paramedic didn’t have any desire to spend the night in the great outdoors with a splitting headache.
Another wave of nausea had Johnny leaning to the side and vomiting again. When the latest bout ended, he scooted away from the mess. Gage peered around at his surroundings, the images of trees overlapping somewhat. Once again, he blinked hard, to try to clear his vision. This time, when he opened his eyes, the trees looked normal.
Johnny looked first down the dirt road and then to the woods behind him. There was no one else anywhere in sight. How was he going to get home? He rubbed the back of his head, trying to find the source of his pain. His right hand met with a bump and a sticky, damp spot. What had happened? Johnny couldn’t recall hitting his head. His left ribs were sore, too, though the pain above his shoulders made the hurting in his side seem not so bad.
The paramedic sighed. It was dark out now and his surroundings were already difficult to make out. A brief flash of a little girl’s face in his memory brought alarm to Johnny.
He remembered he was with Amanda Freeman and the little girl had gone off after the Easter Bunny. Where was she now? Logic told him she would probably be in the woods. But hadn’t he just been left here alone? Johnny was confused. Not able to think clearly, the man struggled to get to his feet. He winced as his sore head and body reacted to the motion. Staggering slightly, Johnny headed towards the wooded area nearby. He had to find Amanda before something happened to her.
“Here,” Amanda said, pointing. “The flowers were here.”
It had taken the rangers awhile to get the little girl to show them exactly where she had taken Johnny to see the flowers. With it being dark, a large hand held spotlight was all they had at the moment to see the surrounding area. There was no sign of the dark-haired man anywhere.
“Are you sure this is the place?” Bonnie asked her daughter. “Maybe being dark now, you made a mistake.”
“No, Mommy. This is it.”
The rangers looked at Bonnie and shook their heads.
“It’s gonna be like looking for a needle in a haystack,” one ranger explained. “We’ll go back and radio for a helicopter to search over the area with a spot light. If he isn’t found by morning, we’ll set out on a foot search.”
Bonnie silently nodded. She grabbed her daughter’s hand and headed back.
“Mommy, where’s Johnny?”
“That’s the problem. We don’t know.”
“Maybe the Easter Bunny is keeping him.”
Bonnie stopped and looked down at Amanda. “The Easter Bunny?”
Amanda shrugged. “M. ..may. . .be.”
“Wait. What’s the Easter Bunny got to do with this?”
“Weeeelllll, I saw him an’ Johnny didn’t. An’ he said we couldn’t go find him an’ I really wanted to, so I tried an’ Johnny didn’t see me. I didn’t find the bunny so I came back here an’ Johnny didn’t.”
A whole new light came on the subject. Johnny had apparently gone to find Amanda when she went in search of the Easter Bunny. But where was he now?
Johnny leaned against a tree trunk. He hadn’t been walking long, but the concentration it took for him to keep his balance, was taking its toll on his already throbbing head. The dark-haired man felt like he was walking on a Tilt-A-Whirl ride. He looked around at the dark outlines of other trees and bushes that surrounded him. There was no way he was going to find. . .
Who am I looking for again?
Johnny slid down the trunk and sat on the ground, his back still against the tree. He drew up his knees and rested his right arm on them. His chin on his arm, Johnny sat and stared at a large rock nearby. Confusion taking over again, the paramedic couldn’t remember why he was out by himself in the woods nor who he was supposed to be looking for. He had no idea what way he should be walking to get help, nor how far he needed to go. The night air was getting chilly and Johnny gave an involuntary shiver. He rolled down the sleeves of his shirt. It was going to be a long night.
After a few minutes of rest, Johnny used the tree as a brace and got to his feet again. He staggered slightly as he made his way through the woods. With the darkness around him and the confusion his mind was in, Gage didn’t notice the ground changed to a slope near his feet. The sudden switch came as a surprise, sending the man tumbling down a gravelly hill. When he came to a stop on his back at the bottom, Johnny rolled over onto his belly. He started to push up on his hands and knees, but stopped when a sharp pain lanced through his left leg.
Damn it. Now what?
He lay back down on his stomach, then turned onto his right side. Johnny wondered what he was going to do next . . . and what in the heck he was doing out in the woods at night to begin with.
At 9:00, the sheriffs’ helicopter was making its second pass over the area, the searchlight scanning across the terrain. Nothing looked to be out of the ordinary. But with the thickness of the trees in some areas, it was going to be nearly impossible to spot a person from above, if they happened to be seeking shelter for the night amongst those trees.
Bonnie watched the helicopter from her car. Everyone else from the picnic had left and it was just she and Amanda now. She glanced in the back seat where Amanda was sleeping, and sighed. The little girl only half way understood the trouble she may have gotten Johnny into. Bonnie hoped he would be okay, and hoped she'd gotten across to Amanda the dangers of running from adults when the search for Johnny had escalated to the point that the Sheriff’s Department had been called in.
One of the rangers approached the car. “They’ve done as thorough of a search as they can do tonight.”
Bonnie looked at the man and nodded, disappointment on her face.
“We’ll pick up the search on the ground from here tomorrow,” the ranger continued to explain. “We’d like you to stay in a motel close to this area. . .our department will pay for it. But we’ll need your daughter to show us exactly where she went earlier today when she chased after the rabbit. It might lead us to Mr. Gage.”
“Yeah. . .sure. We can do that.”
“Good. We’ll give you an escort to a decent motel and help you get settled since it’s this late. And don’t worry. . .there’s gonna be two of us staying up here in case Mr. Gage happens to show up needing help.”
Bonnie nodded. It wasn’t completely comforting to know the latter. It would be better if they’d continue to search. But every little bit helped. And a few of her friends at the picnic had promised to come back up in the morning. Just knowing that helped to ease some of the stress. Bonnie decided to let Amanda sleep in the back seat of her car while she followed one of the rangers to a motel.
As he opened his eyes, Johnny thought he heard the faint sound of helicopter off in the distance. He had fallen asleep for a brief time. Now waking up, he lifted his head and looked around. It wasn’t a dream. . .he really was outside. But where was he? Memories of a car driving off flashed through his mind. And flowers in a field.
Had the car driven off with the girl? Johnny slowly sat up, his left leg protesting the movement. His head throbbed. He had to get help. Carefully easing himself over to a large bush, Johnny reached up for a branch on it and used it to pull himself up, hobbling on his sore leg. He felt wobbly and light-headed. With no idea what direction to go in, the paramedic slowly limped along the bottom of the hill, hoping by luck he would find the road again.
A short time later, Johnny once again found himself uselessly sitting on the ground. He had stopped to rest when the world seemed to be spinning around him. As it slowly settled, the paramedic had taken a couple of involuntary unsteady steps to the side and lost his balance, his sore leg collapsing out from under him.
Damn it! How am I gonna get anywhere like this?
He laid back and looked up at the sky. This wasn’t fair. He had a feeling his little friend needed him and he couldn’t do anything about it with the situation he was in. Johnny forgot about his own pains, as he thought about getting to his feet again. He gritted his teeth and got on his hands and knees. He bit his lower lip when the pain in his left leg intensified as he tried to get back on his feet. Johnny had just about made it when he became dizzy again and dropped to the ground. Rolling over on his side, he closed his eyes. Although he intended to stay alert, the fatigue won over and before he realized it, Johnny was asleep under the stars.
Bonnie couldn’t sleep at all. Worried about what harm her daughter’s actions may have caused Johnny, she laid in bed staring at the moonlight shining in on one of the walls. Since it was after midnight, it was now the day before Easter. If they hadn’t invited Johnny to come along on the outing, he would’ve been safe and sound at home getting rested up to start another shift at work. . .
Bonnie didn’t have a phone number for any of Johnny’s friends. No one ever imagined she would need one. But she did know the number to the station. They would be on duty by 8:00 in the morning. If she was near a phone, she’d have to be sure and call them then.
At 5:30 in the morning, Roy’s alarm clock went off. As the blonde paramedic slowly woke up, the sound of the radio filtered into his mind.
“John R. Gage, a firefighter/ paramedic with Los Angeles County, remains missing in the foothills at this hour. A ground search will be underway in about an hour.”
Roy sat straight up in bed. “Did they say Johnny’s missing?”
“Huh?” Joanne turned over, her eyes barely open. “What?”
“The radio.” Roy threw back the covers and was swinging his legs over the side of the bed. “I think the news guy said ‘John R. Gage was still missing.’ Did you hear it?”
“Huh uh. There’ll be another news update in a half hour. Why don’t you listen to it then?”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’m gonna get in the shower. Keep the radio on, okay?”
“Sure,” Joanne replied, yawning. She watched as Roy walked across the room.
He must’ve been dreaming.
Once her husband was out of the room, she fell asleep, the radio a distant sound in her mind.
Twenty minutes later, Roy came out of the bathroom and sat on the bed. He smiled at his sleeping wife.
Good thing I’m the one getting up for work.
He waited for the next news report to come on. Sure enough, the newscaster said John R. Gage, a fire fighter/paramedic with Los Angeles County, was missing in the hills outside of the city. Johnny hadn’t been seen since Friday afternoon.
What in the world happened? I thought he was with the Freemans? How could Johnny vanish on an outing with a family?
Roy reached over to gently shake his wife. He paused, then decided to let her sleep. There was nothing either of them could do right now anyway. He had to be on his way to work in an hour and a half. This was going to be a hard duty to pull with the knowledge of his partner missing. Maybe they would be called to help. At this point Roy had no idea how far from the city Johnny was when he disappeared.
Across town, Danny lay in his bed asleep. Suddenly his radio alarm clock sounded, waking the youth up. Swearing at himself for forgetting to leave the thing off on a Saturday, he reached over to turn it off when the mention of the lost paramedic caught his attention. The youth quickly turned up the volume and listened with interest.
They didn’t find him yet! I wonder if he’s still where we left him?
Danny felt a sudden urge to head back up to where they dropped Johnny off. He had to see for himself how the man was doing. The thought of the paramedic being alive and able to tell someone what happened sent a new fear through the youth. Danny figured he’d better finish the guy off, or he and the others would be in deep trouble. This time he would leave his friends out of it. No witnesses meant no one could panic and turn him in.
The youth got out of bed and quickly threw on a gray t-shirt and jeans. Slipping on his tennis shoes, he grabbed his car keys and ran down the steps in the house. Danny hurried out the back door before anyone in his family had a chance to see that he was even out of bed. He pulled his Chevy Malibu out of the driveway and headed towards the foothills.