By Audrey W.
Johnny’s eyes fluttered open as the paramedic began to wake up. His eyes remained slits as the rising sun filtered through the trees.
He groaned when he tried to move his left leg. Having been still several hours, Johnny’s left knee had stiffened up on him. But on the bright side, the throbbing in his head had tapered off to a dull ache and the pain in his left side was only noticeable if he touched it. If he could just get to his feet, maybe he could make it to help. He propped himself up on his elbows and looked around. There was nothing in sight but trees, trees and more trees. And a slight hill behind him. Rolling over on his stomach, Johnny decided to try to crawl up the hill. Maybe there was a road at the top.
Bonnie held Amanda’s hand as the little girl once again showed the rangers and her mother where she had taken Johnny to see the flowers.
“And what way did the rabbit run off to?” One ranger asked.
Amanda folded her arms across her chest and looked up at the man. “The Easter Bunny. Not justa rabbit.”
The ranger smiled at Bonnie and winked. He looked back down at Amanda.
“Okay, what way did the _ Easter Bunny _ go? And what was Mr. Gage doing while you were watching the bunny?”
“The Easter Bunny ran that way,” she said, pointing. “And Johnny was looking at the flowers.”
“Did he see what way the bunny went?”
Amanda shook her head. “Uh uh. I told im and he said we couldn’t go look.”
“But you went anyway?”
“Yep. When he was talking about going back. I left.”
The ranger knelt down to be eye level with Amanda. “Okay, now this is very important. Did he follow behind you in the same direction?”
The little girl shrugged. “I dunno. I was gone.”
Bonnie watched as the man stood up and walked over to talk to three other rangers. This wasn’t looking to be promising. She felt a tug on her shirt. Looking down, the mother saw Amanda’s tear-filled eyes staring up at her.
“I lost Johnny, Mommy! I’m goin’ ta jail!”
“No, you’re not going to jail, Amanda,” Bonnie soothed, patting her daughter’s back. “And we’ll find Johnny. He has to be around here somewhere.”
“B. . .but. . .where?” The child wailed. “I. . .I. . .want. . . Johnny! I’m. . .sss. .. sorry. .. I . . .I . . .lost ‘im!” She said between sobs. “He. . .he’s. . . m. . .my. . . hero, Mommy! An he’s. . .he’s gone!”
Bonnie gave a weak smile as the ranger came back over. “She’s a bit upset.”
“Sorry. But we had to get her involved in this. She was the last one to see him ali . . .around.”
The mother nodded, mouthing a silent “Thank you” to the man for not finishing the word ‘alive’ in his sentence.
Roy met with the others for roll call in the apparatus bay at the station. No surprise, the captain’s briefing included the news about Johnny’s disappearance.
“. . .if there’s any news from headquarters, I’ll let you guys know,” Stanley explained. “So far, I’d say bet on the old saying, ‘no news is good news’. John is in elements he’s familiar with, so I’m willing to bet he’ll turn up fine.”
“What about the people he was with? The Freemans?” Roy asked.
Hank shrugged. “John’s the only one missing, that I know of. I haven’t been given details about how it happened. Just that he got separated.”
Roy nodded and chewed his bottom lip. There had to be an explanation as to why Johnny would go off by himself. And it wasn’t like he was a little kid and wouldn’t be able to retrace his steps if he did. Roy felt like a robot – he had been going through motions without really being aware of what he was doing since he first heard the news. Out of habit, he turned and slapped Gage’s fill-in for the day on the shoulder. It took him and the temporary partner by surprise. But Roy knew he was doing what he had to do - carry on with the job for the day the best he could. He forced himself to go on with the routine.
“You ready to check the supplies in the squad out, Daryl?”
“Yeah, sure.” Daryl Harding watched as Roy stepped over to the squad. He could tell Roy was still distracted. This was going to be a long shift if they didn’t get good news soon.
Danny became more anxious to find the fireman/paramedic when he heard on the car radio that a foot search was underway. Although the youths had taken Johnny a good distance from where they attacked him, the idea that he would be found eventually continued to nag at Danny. The more thought he gave it, the more he realized what he had to do. He already had a record in another state for possession of stolen property. If anyone found out he was in trouble again, Juvenile Hall would certainly be in his future.
Danny glanced at the clock. He had only been driving thirty minutes. It would be another thirty before he reached his destination. He hoped the fireman would be there waiting for him.
Becky Taylor was making herself a breakfast of eggs and toast, when the news report about the search for Johnny being underway came on television. She glanced around for her mother. Seeing no one else was nearby, the girl turned up the volume. Becky’s mouth dropped open in shock.
We attacked a fireman/paramedic? Oh great!
She stared at the television, unable to tune out what was being said.
They’re still looking in the wrong spot.
Becky thought back to the blood on the back of Johnny’s head. What if Danny had hurt the guy worse than they realized? He could be lying on the ground, dying, while everyone was looking in the area he should’ve been in. Becky eyed the telephone. She wanted to call the police, but then she would have to explain how she knew. But at the same time, she didn’t want to be responsible for a man’s death. A fireman’s death. Her uncle was Tom Wheeler, a firefighter/paramedic out of Station 110. For all she knew, her uncle was a friend with the man they had hurt.
After several minutes, the girl picked up the receiver and with shaky hands, dialed the number of another girl who had been along for the hike the day before.
“Yeah, it’s Becky.
“Did you hear? They haven’t found that guy yet.
“The one from yesterday. And he’s a firefighter/paramedic!
“You’ve got a car. . .should we go there and tell them what happened?
“Well, if we do it together, maybe it’ll be okay.
“Right. See you in a few minutes.”
Becky hung the receiver up on the cradle of the phone and turned off the burner on the stove. She ignored the toast when it popped up. Dashing up the steps to her room, the girl got dressed in a hurry and took the stairs two at a time on the way back down. This could get her in deep trouble, but it didn’t matter for the moment. The guy wasn’t going to be found if they didn’t intervene.
The men who had been at the outing the day before came back up to the area to help with the ground search. Although they had only met Johnny the day before, they figured with more people looking, the odds of finding the paramedic in a timely matter were better. The three men joined in the search that was already underway when they got there.
Bonnie held Amanda on her lap. They had gone back to the car to wait for word on Johnny. The little girl was sound asleep again, holding the special little pink bear close.
If she only understood what is really going on here. But I guess it’s better for now that she doesn’t.
The mother hugged her daughter tighter, wishing there was a quick, easy fix for this disaster. If something happened to Johnny, how would she and Amanda deal with it? Easter would never be the same and more than likely, Amanda would not be too fond of the Easter Bunny anymore. Of course, that was the least of her worries at the moment. Bonnie just hoped Gage would show up unharmed for his own sake.
Johnny made it to the halfway point on the slope. He stopped to rest and catch his breath. It had been a strenuous climb. He had to drag his left leg at times. Though he hoped it was only a pulled muscle, Johnny couldn’t be sure exactly what he had done to his leg. After several minutes, the paramedic started on his climb again.
Danny came to a stop at the place where he had dropped off the fireman the evening before. There was no sign of the man.
“I wonder where he went?” The youth voiced out loud, looking around. He suddenly caught a slight movement of some brush within the trees ahead. “Maybe. . .”
Danny slowly crept over. Peering closer, he saw a brown rabbit take off at full speed, obviously spooked by his being there.
Just a rabbit.
As he turned to walk another direction, the sound of someone groaning caught his attention. Danny ran the short distance through the wooded area. In a few minutes, he met up with a sight he couldn’t believe. The fireman was trying to climb up a hillside on his stomach. He was about one-third of the way down. If Danny played his cards right, this would be a good opportunity to build the man’s trust that he was only trying to help him. Whether or not the man would remember him from the day before was an unknown at this point. He had seemed dazed enough at the time the youths had dropped him off. Danny hoped the fireman’s memory of the incident would be sketchy.
The young man sighed and then grinned as he made his way down to Johnny.
“Hey, there! Ya look like you could use some help!”
Gage lifted his head and looked up at the sound of the voice.
Finally! Someone found me!
“Yeah! I. . . I could!”
Danny was beside the paramedic. He squatted down.
“If I help ya to your feet, can ya get up?”
“I think so.”
“Okay, good.” He doesn’t have a clue who I am.
The youth grabbed a hold of Johnny’s left arm and lifted it slightly. He got down underneath it and slowly helped the fireman get to his feet. Danny stood with Johnny leaning on his right shoulder for support. As they started up the hill, Johnny couldn’t shake the feeling he had seen this kid before.
Nah. . .couldn’t be. They say everyone has a twin somewhere . . .maybe it’s true in this case.
As they reached the top, Danny paused, giving Johnny a chance to recuperate from the strain of going up the hill. Johnny tried to slow his own breathing down. Between the pain in his leg, the dull ache in his head and the effort to breath after the climb, he was feeling weak and light headed. Johnny swayed slightly. In just a few minutes he felt more stable.
“Okay, I’m okay. Let’s go.”
Danny nodded and they started on their way to the car. When the two men came out in the clearing and Johnny saw the back of the car, a memory of the day before flashed in his mind. The image was hazy, like the car had been overlapped. But this looked like the car that had left him behind. Johnny’s pause halted Danny as well.
“What’s wrong?” Danny asked, stepping away from Johnny and trying to play innocent.
Johnny was filtering through the things that were coming back to him. Seeing the familiar car triggered a flood of memories from the day before. He could see Danny’s sneering face looking down at him, just before the youth had turned and walked away. But didn’t Amanda play into this somehow? Other kids in the car. . .
“Whe. . .where are your friends?” Johnny asked.
Johnny stopped in mid sentence. The words were familiar, but they hadn’t come out of his mouth the first time. He recalled being asked the same thing. And then. . .
Surrounded by kids. A sharp pain in the back of his head. Double images of faces in a car.
Gage realized too late he had already let on too much that he remembered.
“Look, man, I didn’t want to have to do this,” Danny explained. “But I do. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? What do you have to do?”
“Get in the car.”
Johnny shook his head. “No way. You’re a kid, for God sake! Man, don’t do something stupid.”
Without warning, Danny rushed the paramedic, sending both of them to the ground. As they struggled in a tangled heap, the only sound was grunts from efforts of each to over power the other. Johnny normally would have been the stronger of the two, but Danny had the upper hand being healthier at the moment. As he pinned Gage down, he grabbed him by the hair and slammed the back of his head on the ground a couple of times. Johnny saw white flashes from the pain that shot through his head. He fought to stay conscious, but with his vision fading to a pinpoint, he knew he was slipping toward unconsciousness. Johnny tried one last time to buck the youth off of his chest. One more blow to the back of his head and the paramedic was unconscious.
As the fireman’s body relaxed, Danny got up and looked down at the man. Johnny was out cold. Now the youth just had to think of a way to finish him off and make it look like an accident from being outdoors. He rolled the fireman over to see where he had hit his head. The older wound was bleeding again.
This could happen in a fall. . .
Danny had an idea. He bent down and put his arms around Johnny’s chest. Clasping his hands together, he started to drag the paramedic towards the woods again. The weight of the body was more than Danny had anticipated. Struggling, the adrenaline was wearing off. The youth let go of Johnny and stood back.
Danny realized he had acted on pure impulse since the day before and now he was in a mess. Was there a way to fix things or was he going to have to follow through? He sat down next to Johnny and tried to figure out what to do next.
Christy pulled her car off to the side of the road. She and Becky were at the location where the search for the paramedic was going on. But neither had worked up the nerve to tell anyone what had happened.
“What if they arrest us?” Christy asked, her voice filled with fear. “Oh, Becky, what are we gonna do? We can’t tell them about yesterday.”
Becky wiped away the tears in her own eyes. “We have to. My uncle’s talked a lot about how close firemen are because of their job. I have to do it for him and that guy.”
“But what’s gonna happen to us?” Christy was now crying, too. “And what about Keith, Mark and Twila? What’s gonna happen with them? They’re gonna be mad at us! I wish we’d never met Danny. He’s nothing but a trouble maker.”
Becky reached over and turned off the ignition. She swallowed hard. Fighting back more tears, she opened the passenger door. “Let’s just get it over with. I don’t care what happens to us anymore.” Once out of the car, she bent down and leaned inside. “That guy might have a wife and kids, Christy.”
Christy nodded. “Okay.” She broke into sobs as the two girls approached an officer standing near a car.
Danny got back on his feet and once again had a hold of Johnny under the arms. He had made up his mind. There was only one way out of the mess and that was to get rid of the one person who would turn him in. He never imagined the others who were involved would have the guts to speak out. He tried to ignore the shakiness this task was causing him. But Danny couldn’t deny he was nervous as hell – nervous because he had never killed anyone before.
Johnny began to come around again. His eyes opened to slits and he tried to look up at the person who had a hold around his chest. It was no use. His vision was nothing but a blur. He felt both nauseated and drowsy and the pain in his head was unbearable. He made an effort to reach up to the person who had him, but his right arm didn’t cooperate. It flopped back down uselessly.
The youth let go of his victim and let the man land unabated on the ground. Johnny then rolled on his side, more from reflex than a concentrated effort. Danny was angry. He just wanted this man gone.
There’s a tire iron in the trunk.
Shoving away the thoughts he was about to make a bad situation worse, Danny ran to his car to retrieve the item out of the trunk of his car. Johnny lay on the ground where the boy had left him, unaware of anything but the fact he was drifting back to unconsciousness.
As Danny opened the trunk, he heard a noise behind him. The youth quickly turned around to see four law enforcement officials watching him.
“What are you looking for, son?” One officer asked.
“N. ..n . .nothing. I. . .uh. . .I. . .” He looked over where he had left the fireman. He was hidden by a couple of bushes near the edge of the woods. They can’t see him. “I. . .I’m okay. I. . .uh. . . was just looking for my canteen.”
A ranger stepped closer. “Are you Danny Tidwell?”
“How did you know m. . .?” Danny then saw the two girls standing farther down the road near a ranger’s jeep.
“Where’s Mr. Gage?” The ranger asked.
The youth didn’t know what to do. It was over. He was going to be sent to Juvenile Hall for sure. He wanted to run, but knew it was useless. The girls had turned him in.
How could they? Don’t they know it’ll count against them, too?
Danny couldn’t believe they had betrayed him. He looked at the men in front of him, then pointed towards the trees. Three of the men ran over, the other staying to keep an eye on the boy.
As the three men stepped into the wooded area, they immediately spotted Johnny still on his side on the ground. One man hurried over and squatted down beside the paramedic. He could see blood on the back of Gage’s head. Johnny’s eyes were closed and he was once again unconscious.
The ranger looked up at the other two as they approached. “Glenn, go radio for a helicopter and paramedics. It looks like he might have a serious head injury.”
Glenn nodded and ran towards the clearing and the road.
The other ranger knelt down. “Amazing what kind of trouble young kids can get themselves into.”
“Yeah, it is. Until they realize they’re not invincible. If this guy doesn’t make it, that kid threw his own life away for \\$25 and a cheap thrill.”
Roy and Daryl Harding were returning to the station after responding to a call on a dog bite. The victim was treated at the scene with an antiseptic and advised to see her own doctor as soon as possible.
“You want to stop and get the groceries for lunch later?”
Daryl glanced over at Roy when he didn’t get a reply. The blonde paramedic was looking straight ahead, his mind elsewhere.
“You know, it’s a good thing the dog stuck around,” Daryl commented, trying once again to get DeSoto’s attention. “I’d hate to think that lady would have to go through a series of rabies shots.”
Once again no reply.
He must really be worried about Gage.
Both men’s thoughts were interrupted by a call over the radio. They were being sent just outside of Carson to meet up with Copter 10 for a mountain rescue of an injured man. Roy’s stomach knotted up. Gut feeling told him it was Johnny. And if it was serious enough they needed to take a helicopter there instead of driving, he knew it had to be bad.
Bonnie hugged Amanda and cried when she was told by one of the rangers who was with them that the paramedic was found alive. The feeling of relief was overwhelming.
“See, Mommy? I told you Johnny would come back. He’s a hero.”
“Well, young lady, we have a lot to talk about. This isn’t over yet.” Bonnie noticed when she had made the comment that the ranger seemed to have a look of added concern on his face. “What is it?”
The man motioned for the mother to come over to him. As she approached holding Amanda’s hand, he sent the little girl over to get a soda from his partner.
“What’s wrong?” Bonnie asked. “You said they found Johnny alive, right?”
“Yes, they did. But he’s not okay.” The man sighed. “I didn’t want to say anything in front of your daughter. But Mr. Gage was unconscious with a head injury. They’ve requested a helicopter and paramedics to treat him and get him to the hospital.”
Bonnie’s hand flew up to her mouth. “Oh no. It’s that bad?”
“I don’t think they know for sure. But no one wants to take a chance with a head injury.” He forced a grin. “I hate to sound like a cliché’, but better safe than sorry. Just keep in mind, it’s more precaution than anything else.”
Somehow Bonnie didn’t believe him. A helicopter medivac wasn’t done as a precaution. She desperately wished she had found a way to call Johnny’s co-workers at the station. Now they were going to be in for one hell of a shock.
Roy watched out one of the windows of the helicopter as they flew over the foothills. It wasn’t as far as he had expected, but farther away from Rampart General Hospital than he wanted to be with an injured person. As they landed in a clearing, Daryl and Roy gathered their equipment and placed it in a stokes to have it ready. Once they were on the ground, the door was opened and the two men got out. The helicopter had to land closer to the main road, so Glenn was there to greet the paramedics and escort them to the victim. He helped the two men lift out the full stokes. “Anything I can carry to ease your load there?” He reached out to take the trauma box from Daryl.
He’s over this way,” Glenn said, motioning for the men to follow.
“Any idea who this guy is?” Roy asked. He braced himself for the answer, not sure he wanted to hear it.
“Yeah, it’s a paramedic that’s been missing since yesterday – John Gage. You know him?”
Roy didn’t hear anything beyond the name Gage. Daryl waited for DeSoto’s response to the question. When it didn’t come, he figured Roy had too much on his mind. Harding answered for the blonde paramedic.
“It’s his regular partner. I’m filling in for him today.”
“You gotta be kidding me?” Glenn was sincerely surprised. What were the odds these guys would know John Gage that well?
Daryl shook his head. “What happened to him?”
“Well, according to two teen girls who came to us, he was attacked by a kid they know. Gage took a good hit to the head, then they dumped him up here last night. Apparently the kid came back this morning to finish the job.”
Roy was now listening as they came up on the vehicles belonging to the rangers and a sheriff. He could see a young man sitting in the back of the sheriff’s car; two girls were standing near another vehicle. Their red-rimmed eyes watched as Roy and Daryl approached.
“Gage is over by those trees,” the ranger pointed.
The two paramedics stepped up their pace to a trot. They hurried over to their friend.
Roy and Daryl set down the stokes with the equipment. DeSoto squatted down beside Johnny. The younger man was still lying on his side.
“We haven’t moved him at all,” a ranger was explaining. “He started to come to a couple of times, but just couldn’t seem to manage.”
Daryl was already putting a c-collar on the injured paramedic, while Roy examined the wound on Johnny’s head, and applied sterile gauze to it after he gently cleaned it. He could see a few scratches and bruises on the man’s face as well. He reached for the backboard nearby and set it to where they could easily roll Johnny back on to it.
“His pulse is bounding,” Daryl said, letting go of Gage’s wrist.
“Let’s get him on the board,” Roy suggested.
Once Johnny was set, the two paramedics continued to get the vitals. Roy pulled out his penlight and checked Johnny’s pupils.
“Pupils are dilated.”
While Daryl set up the biophone to contact Rampart, Johnny once again started to come around. He faught to open his eyes, but they didn't want to cooperate. Squinting, Gage looked up at the images over him. Nothing would come into focus. He grimaced at the pain the headache was causing.
“I can’t get Rampart on the biophone,” Daryl said in frustration. “I’m gonna get on the radio in the sheriff’s car and contact them that way. We can relay.”
Roy nodded and kept his attention on his regular partner. As he felt for other injuries, he tried to talk to Gage.
“Johnny? Can you hear me?” Roy asked. He noticed the younger man’s left knee was swollen. As he waited for a reply, he quickly took out his knife and cut open Johnny’s left pant leg.
“Uh. . .uh huh. . .I. . .ah. . .” Gage began to close his eyes again.
“Johnny, stay with me here! C’mon.”
Roy was now placing a splint on the left knee.
“R. . .oy?”
“Yeah, it’s me,” He forced a smile. He hoped Johnny would notice it. But behind the smile was fear and worry. Gage’s speech was somewhat slurred and he didn’t seem to be looking at anything in particular. Those two things led the older paramedic to believe there was something seriously wrong. “Can you see okay?”
“Huuuh. . .uh. . .uh. . . blur. . . Sick.”
Roy knew that indication all too well. He quickly motioned for Glenn to help him lean Johnny to the side. The younger man heaved and vomited. Roy looked over at the ranger.
“Can you help me move him away from the mess?”
“Sure. Throwing up like that ‘s not a good sign, is it?” Glenn more stated than asked.
“No, it’s a sign of a concus--”
“Roy, I’ve got Rampart on the landline,” Daryl’s voice interrupted on the HT. Roy listened as Harding read off the instructions. He gave the other man an update on Johnny’s latest status as he followed through on the treatment. Then Roy held the IV bag in his teeth as he and Glenn lifted and carried Johnny to the awaiting stokes. Roy noticed Johnny was unconscious again.
Dammit, you’d better get through this and be okay.
The two paramedics watched their charge as they were flown to Rampart. Daryl was keeping a close eye on Johnny’s vital signs while Roy talked to Brackett on the biophone. When Johnny’s eyes opened to slits again, the biophone receiver was dropped and DeSoto was at his side.
“Hey, can you stay with us this time?”
A groan was the only reply. Roy could see pain etched on the younger man’s face.
“Johnny, do you remember what happened to you?”
This time, Roy noticed Gage tried to move his right arm, but was having difficulty. He reached over and placed two of his fingers on Johnny’s right palm. “Can you squeeze my fingers?”
It looked like Johnny was trying, but couldn’t get his hand to do what he wanted. Roy grabbed the biophone and relayed the information to Brackett.
“Going by this latest development and the other symptoms you described, it sounds like he might have a subdural hematoma, Roy,” Brackett explained. “We’ll be set up to do an Echoencephalogram as soon as he gets here.”
“Okay, ETA is five minutes.”
“10-4, 51. We’ll be waiting.”
Roy hung up the biophone and sighed. He couldn’t believe this was happening. This was supposed to be a fun, relaxing weekend for Johnny. And what about Easter? How could they possibly celebrate the holiday now? He knew he was going to have to, at least for Chris and Jennifer.
“Roy, he’s passed out again.”
Daryl’s voice brought the older paramedic out of his thoughts. Roy looked at the unconscious figure in the stokes. He wished now he could’ve said something to the kid who did this to his friend.
Mark answered the knock at the front door, only to be greeted by a police officer. He hadn’t heard any news in the morning, so he had no idea what was going on. When he was informed he was needed at the police station for questioning, the youth yelled for his mother to come to the door. A lengthy explanation left the mother in tears as she and her son followed the police car down to the station. Once they got there, Mark saw Twila and Keith there as well. His shoulders slumped. Someone had betrayed and ratted on them. He only hoped the one who did it was in as much trouble as him.
If they don’t put me away, I’ll be grounded forever, anyway.
The kids were informed if they cooperated in the details of what Danny Tidwell did, they would be better off. That said, the police got more information than they needed to build a case against the youth.
When the helicopter landed at Rampart, Johnny was whisked to a treatment room and then to surgery soon afterwards. Brackett had found evidence of what he suspected. Further examination of the paramedic revealed a large bruise on his side where Danny had kicked him. Luckily there was no serious injury from the blow. The swollen left knee looked to be caused by a moderate sprain.
“Are you gonna have to open up his skull?” Roy had asked as Johnny was readied to go up to the OR.
“I think we can get the blood drained out without going to that extreme.” Kel pointed to the back of his own head for illustration purposes. “We’ll drill a small burr hole back here to get inside. It’s less risky and the recovery is quicker.”
Roy had only nodded in response. He was now back on duty at the station and waiting for word on Gage.
Bonnie dropped Amanda off at a friend’s house and went on to Rampart to check on Johnny. The little girl had wanted to go along, but her mother knew Amanda wouldn’t be allowed anywhere in the hospital but the waiting room, anyway. She also thought it best if the little girl not know Johnny’s condition, until Bonnie knew exactly what it was herself.
As she entered into the Emergency area, Bonnie looked for a familiar face. By luck, she saw Dixie coming down the corridor from another room.
Dixie looked over. Even from a distance she could see how exhausted Bonnie Freeman looked. Roy had filled Dixie in on where Johnny was when he got attacked and why he was in the hills to begin with.
She must be sick with worry.
The head nurse smiled as she walked towards the mother.
“How are you doing? Holding up okay?”
Bonnie shook her head. “No, I don’t think I am. This has been a nightmare.” She sighed. “And I have to be honest with myself and accept the fact my daughter set off this whole disaster.”
“Roy told me some of what happened. But he didn’t know how it all came about.” Dixie motioned towards the direction of the cafeteria. “You want to join me for a cup of coffee? You look like you could use someone to talk to.”
“Yes, that would be great. I do need to talk to someone. My husband’s. . .” She stopped in mid sentence; she could tell by Dixie’s expression, the nurse already knew what she was going to say. “Honestly, he’s a devoted husband. He just goes out of town a lot. But he provides for us.”
Dixie thought back to Valentine’s Day, when the two Freeman gals had been seriously injured in an automobile accident. Mr. Freeman had elected to stay out of town on business despite the fact his family could have used his emotional support.
“Sure,” The nurse smiled. “Let’s go.”
Bonnie put her hand on Dixie’s arm to stop her.
“Wait. I really came here to find out how John Gage is doing. Do you know?”
“Yes.” Dixie tried to think of a way to soften the news. If she was going to be honest with the woman, there wasn’t one. “Doctor Early and Doctor Brackett are up in the OR with him now. He has a subdural hematoma, which is a collection of blood between the walls of the skull and the brain. It’s causing pressure on his brain and they’re going to have to drain to off.”
Bonnie suddenly turned pale. “Drain it off? He’s having brain surgery?” This latest news had the woman ready to fall over.
Dixie could see the effect the news had on the woman. She quickly gave some reassurance.
“They just have to drill a small hole to access it. Don’t worry. He’s in good hands.”
“Once they get it drained, he’s out of danger?”
The nurse sighed. These questions were better off not answered now.
“He’ll have to be watched carefully for awhile, to make sure there isn’t a recurrence, but he should be okay.”
Bonnie let out a deep breath. At least the doctors knew what they were dealing with. She wiped away the tears that had pooled in her eyes.
“Thanks for being upfront with me. I needed to know. I think I could use the talk now,” the mother said in a hoarse whisper.
Dixie put her arm around the woman and took her to the cafeteria.
Roy and Daryl had been out on a few more runs during the day. They had tried to find out more on Johnny’s status while they were at Rampart between calls, but no one who knew anything was available to talk to. Dixie wasn’t at her usual spot at the desk. With Brackett and Early taking care of Gage, Dixie was busy assisting the other doctors that had been called in to cover the ER. Everything was strictly business, with no one able to give the paramedics any information that didn’t pertain to the patients at hand.
Late in the afternoon, Roy was about to call the hospital when he saw two teenage girls walk into the dayroom. They were the girls from earlier in the morning. The other men noticed the girls and gave curious glances at one another, wondering who the kids were.
“Can we help you?” Captain Stanley asked.
“Um. . .we came to apologize,” Becky said, her voice barely audible.
“For. . .?”
“Cap, these are the girls who told the rangers where Johnny was,” Roy explained. He turned his attention to the two young females. “I don’t know what you expect us to say. If you’re expecting an ‘it’s okay, don’t worry about it’, that’s not what you’re gonna get. It’s not okay. What your friend did was beyond cruel. I’m not sure what part you all played in it, but you must have been involved enough that you could’ve stopped it before it got as far as it did.”
“Roy, give them a chance to explain,” Hank said. He understood the anger Roy felt, but these girls had saved John from being hurt further.
“How did you find out where he worked?” Roy asked.
Becky looked around uncomfortably at the men in the dayroom. Maybe they had made a mistake to try to make amends. But she didn’t have anything to lose.
“My. . .my uncle is Tom Wheeler. He’s a fire fighter/paramedic.” She wiped at a tear that ran down her cheek. “I didn’t know ‘til I saw the news this morning that Mr. Gage was with the fire department. Danny looked in his wallet, but he never told anyone. We didn’t mean for your friend to get hurt.”
Christy nodded in agreement. “It was just a game. No one was gonna hurt anyone.”
“Then why did you?” Roy asked.
The other men sat open-mouthed at the exchanges. The revelation that Tom Wheeler’s niece was involved had them all in a state of disbelief.
“It’s a game we play at school,” Becky explained. “Danny leads us to the whichever kid he wants us to pick on and we form a circle around them to try to make them nervous. Just to see what it takes to do it. We decided to try it with a grown-up.”
Roy and the others shook their heads.
“So what does it prove?” Mike asked “What’s the point?”
Both girls shrugged. They didn’t have an answer. They had followed Danny blindly, not giving thought to the why of it.
“Is Mr. Gage okay now?” Christy asked in a small voice.
“Is he okay?” Roy was angry. “How in the hell--”
“DeSoto!” Hank interrupted.
“Cap, I’m sorry, but kids or not, what kind of question is that? Their friend hits Johnny in the head hard enough to knock him senseless, if not all the way out. They put Johnny in a car and drive him away from where people expect to find him. Then they dump him out of the car and leave him alone in the outdoors! And no one comes forward until the next day? There’s something seriously wrong there.” He looked the two girls directly in the eyes. “I hope you kids aren’t an example of what youths today are turning into. I have two young kids myself who are still considerate of other people. I’ll be damned if I’ll let them turn out like this.”
Becky and Christy were at a loss for words. They had expected the firemen to be more understanding. Maybe they were the ones who did need to take a better look at themselves. The two young females left the building after another sorry from each. When they got into Christy’s car, both girls broke down into sobs. Between the legal problems and the rude awakening that they weren’t going to be forgiven so easily, they had a long, difficult road ahead of them.
A very groggy John Gage opened his eyes. For the first time in awhile, he could see clearer images. The dark-haired man turned his head slightly and looked around.
Recovery room. . .how did I. . .?
Johnny couldn’t remember anything about getting to Rampart. Nor could he recall being taken to the OR.
He closed his eyes again and started to drift back to sleep, when he was disturbed by the voice of a woman.
“Hey, I saw those brown eyes of yours open up. Let’s see how you’re doing.”
Gage peered at the nurse leaning over him. It was Samantha, a fairly new face at Rampart. Next, Brackett and Early came into view.
The paramedic just wanted to rest. But he knew the doctors needed to check on his progress.
Whatever I’m progressing from. . .
Samantha wrapped a BP cuff on Johnny’s arm. He felt the squeeze as the cuff was inflated. When the pressure released, he turned his head, to see her writing down the numbers.
He wondered if he ‘passed’, but didn’t have the energy to ask.
Next she held his wrist to check his pulse.
“How’re you feeling, Johnny?” Brackett asked, stepping forward.
“Tired,” Gage mumbled. That was about all he could think of to say.
“Can you make a fist with your right hand?”
Johnny couldn’t begin to guess why anyone would ask him that. But he complied. Joe Early and Kel Brackett grinned.
“How’s your vision?”
Now Early was asking him questions.
“I can see you,” Gage groggily answered.
Joe patted Johnny’s right shoulder.
“We’ll let you get a bit more rest before we move you out of here. But it’s looking good.”
“ Good,” the younger man replied. “So. . .I can close my eyes?”
It wasn’t long before Johnny was asleep again.
Late in the night, Squad 51 had a call for a heart attack victim. After bringing the man in to Rampart, Roy and Daryl slipped up to ICU to see how Gage was faring. With Brackett and Early both off duty, the paramedics couldn’t get in to see him, since it wasn’t visiting hours. But the nurses on duty assured the two men that Johnny was doing very well. Just sleeping.
When they got back into the squad, Roy leaned back and sighed.
“You okay?” Daryl asked.
“Yeah, I am. I just. . .” Roy swallowed hard. “I shouldn’t admit this, but I’d like to get my own hands on that Danny kid and. . .” He shook his head and turned the key in the ignition. “Never mind. We aren’t supposed to think that way.”
“But we’re only human,” Daryl reminded. “Just as long as we don’t act on those feelings, I think it’s okay.” He was trying his best to help Roy deal with the emotions.
Roy glanced over quickly, then turned his attention to the front of the squad. “I guess that’s what separates us from the ones who do this sort of thing. We know better.”
The following afternoon, Roy found himself back at Rampart. When he got up to ICU, he saw Bonnie and Amanda sitting in the waiting area.
“Any word on Johnny?” Roy asked.
Bonnie nodded. “They let me in to see him for a short time. He’s just still real groggy.”
Roy looked at Amanda. “And what strings did you pull to get up here?”
“The nurse my mommy knows said I could come.”
“It pays to have connections here, huh?” Roy said smiling.
“How is your holiday going?” Bonnie wondered.
“Okay. We went to church, then the kids got their treats when we got back home. Joanne’s fixing an early dinner now. . .the one Johnny was going to come to. You?”
“Amanda got her treats from the Easter Bunny. That’s about it.”
“Yeah and I don’ want ‘em.”
Roy looked at the girl in surprise. “No?”
Bonnie cleared her throat to get Roy’s attention. When she had it, she gave a wan smile. “She’s. . . uh. . .angry at the Easter Bunny for what happened. Since he was the reason she ran off. . .” Bonnie shrugged. “I’d rather have her blame him than . . . well. . . you know. I’m just not sure which is the best way to go. For now, anyway.”
“I know.” Roy sat down in a chair beside Amanda. “So what do you have in your hands?”
“A toy chicky for Johnny. When you squeeze it, it chirps. Want to see?”
Amanda demonstrated the toy for the paramedic.
Bonnie watched, while she tried to think of a way to tell Roy what she was thinking. There was only one way to do it – blurt it out.
“I think we’d better separate ourselves from Johnny. Amanda and I should go our own way and let him do his thing.”
Roy and Amanda both looked at the mother, shocked expressions on their faces.
“Why?” Roy wondered.
“You know. . .”
“Yeah, I think I do. And, trust me, Johnny’s not going to blame you. This was not yours or Amanda’s fault.” He paused a minute to let the words sink in. “He really had a ball on Halloween, taking the kids around. And Johnny talked for a week about Valentine’s Day. He won’t want to lose contact.”
“Go see him,” Bonnie motioned towards the doorway of the waiting room. “We’re here talking and you need to visit your partner.”
“I will. But stay in touch. Don’t let those kids ruin the good friendship you and Amanda have with Johnny.”
Bonnie watched as Roy left the room. When he was gone, she looked down to see a little face staring up at her.
“Mommy, can’t we still be friends with Johnny?” Amanda’s eyes watered. “Please? Pleeeeeaaase?” The little girl begged.
“Sure. Hey, let’s go get us something to eat.” She reached out and took her daughter’s hand.
Roy sat in Johnny’s room and watched his friend sleep. He thought back over the time from when he’d gotten the call for the mountain rescue, to where they were now. At least they had gotten this far. It could’ve been a lot worse. After thirty minutes, Roy decided he should get back home to his family. When he stood up to leave, a nurse came in and handed him the chick Amanda had showed him.
“The little girl wanted me to ask you to give this to Mr. Gage.”
Roy took the toy bird from her hand. He set it on the bed against one of the railings so it wouldn’t fall through.
“Happy Easter, Johnny.”
A week later Johnny was doing much better. He was sitting up in bed, his left knee propped up on a pillow with an ice pack on it. Gage had been able to recall some of what had happened to him, although a lot of it was lost. Roy had been in to see him a few times, but the two men hadn’t taken the time to talk much about what had gone on. Neither one was sure they wanted to.
“So how long ‘til Brackett springs you loose?” Roy asked, handing Johnny a glass of water he’d asked for.
Johnny took a sip of the cool liquid. “He wants me to stay in here at least two more days. If all goes well without a sign of a recurrence, I should be home after that. But I have to come back periodically for scans.” Gage shifted position. “Man, I can’t wait to be in my own apartment.”
“Oh, c’mon,” DeSoto teased. “Don’t tell me you’ve run out of nurse to flirt with.”
“Hey. . .I don’t flirt with them all.”
Roy laughed. “You know, it would actually be great to see you do that.” He stared at Gage a few seconds, amazed his partner had improved this much so soon. “I’m just glad you’re doing so well.”
“I have two good doctors to thank for that. And a couple of paramedics who didn’t do too bad, either.”
“Oh, thanks. Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
Johnny snorted. He then grew serious. “You and Daryl saved my life. Thanks.”
“No, Brackett and Early did. Really.”
“Yeah, or those girls who Dixie told me turned in their friend.” Johnny paused a few seconds. “What’s gonna happen to the kids, anyway? You hear anything yet? No one seems to want to fill me in.”
“The one who actually assaulted you is in Juvenille Hall. The others are on probation until a hearing takes place. But I think that’s all they’ll get.”
“That’s good. They really don’t deserve to get much more than that. It was the one kid who did it, right?”
“For the most part.” Roy wasn’t about to get into how he felt about the others’ involvement. Johnny had enough to deal with. “Has Bonnie Freeman been in to see you lately?” DeSoto wondered.
“No, but she called earlier.”
“How’s Amanda holding up? Did her mom say?”
“Well, she’s doing okay, I suppose. She’s mad at the Easter Bunny. I guess you probably know that.”
Johnny sighed. “She says if he hadn’t been at the picnic, she would’ve never run off. And then, of course, I wouldn’t have gone looking for her. And she’s probably right. The bunny sounds like a good one to blame all this on.” Johnny thought more about it. “I don’t like the idea of her being mad at the Easter Bunny, but if it keeps her from blaming herself. . .”
“Maybe if we can convince her it wasn’t the Easter Bunny, but just a rabbit.”
“I don’t know, Roy. That kid can be stubborn.” He picked up the toy chick Amanda had given him and absently played with it in his hands. “She really seems to believe it was the Easter Bunny that day.”
“I know. She said that when I saw them on Easter Sunday. But we’ve got pictures of the Chris and Jennifer sitting on an Easter Bunny’s lap at the mall. Maybe if we show her those, she’ll see the bunny is big. . .not a little rabbit like in the wild.”
“Hmmm maybe. I’ll see what her mom says.” Johnny set the toy chick back down on the bed. “But there’s gotta be a way to fix this for the poor kid.”
“You know, it’s a shame you missed Easter.”
“Yeah, but there’s always next year for me. Only thing is, I missed the dinner at your house,” Johnny said, frowning.
“We’ll have another special one soon. By the way, how did your blind date at the picnic go?”
Johnny gave Roy a lost look. “I don’t know. I can’t remember. Guess it couldn’t have been too good, huh?” He grinned.
Roy shook his head. His partner’s love life was something else at times. It looked like things were going back to normal
Roy pulled up in front of the Freeman’s house. He got out of the station wagon and waited patiently for his two passengers to get themselves out. Johnny was the first to emerge, limping slightly once he was on his feet. The other passenger was another story. The two paramedics had to pull the man in the big bunny suit out of the open back door.
Once all three were standing on the sidewalk, they headed up to the door, Gage still using crutches for support. Johnny looked at the bunny and frowned.
“Can’t you kind of hop up to the front door for effect?”
“Hop? You’re lucky I’m even in this suit.”
Roy grinned at the muffled comment. He couldn’t believe Johnny had talked Hank Stanley into dressing up like an Easter Bunny to begin with. Now Gage was pushing his luck.
“Cap,” Johnny whispered between clenched teeth, “Amanda might be watching out a window.”
Without a word, the captain alternated hops and steps the rest of the way up to the door.
When Roy went to knock, Johnny grabbed his arm.
“Wait! Cap, where’s your basket of goodies?”
“Oh, c’mon. . .”
Gage looked at Roy. “Could you go. . .you know . . .”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll get it.”
Johnny smiled as Roy walked back towards the car.
Once everything was set, Roy knocked on the door.
When Amanda answered the door, her mouth dropped open in shock. She was speechless.
“Hi, sweetheart,” Johnny said. “We brought you a visitor.”
Amanda turned towards the livingroom. “Mommy! There’s a big bunny here!”
When she turned her attention back to three visitors at the door, Hank handed her the basket. The little girl’s eyes were wide with excitement.
“A real Easter Bunny! Wow!”
“Yep,” Johnny said, smiling. “So you see, that wasn’t the real Easter Bunny up at the picnic that day. It was just a plain ol’ rabbit.”
“Oh, I know,” Amanda replied. “My daddy told me.”
If Johnny could’ve seen the expression on Hank Stanley’s face at that moment, he would’ve been running, sore leg or not.
“Uh. . .he did?”
Johnny was surprised. “He. . .uh. . .he didn’t have to show you any proof?”
“Nope. He jus’ told me. I believed him.” Amanda shrugged.
Johnny was inadvertently getting a lesson about kids and how easily they sometimes could adapt.
“Gage,” came a muffled voice from inside the bunny suit.
At that moment, the dark-haired paramedic was thankful he couldn’t see the captain’s face. What he imagined was scary enough.
After a short visit with Amanda and her mom, the threesome were back in the station wagon and on their way again. Hank Stanley pulled off the bunny head and wiped away the sweat on his forehead.
“I don’t think she even believed I was the real Easter Bunny.”
“A six-year-old is pretty smart,” Roy commented. “So she probably knew you were a guy in a costume, but I think it still meant a lot to her. She seemed excited.”
Hank looked forward at Gage. “John, remind me to ask you ‘why’ next time you want to know if I’ve got plans on a day off. And to think, I didn’t even need to do this. The kid just needed to be told about the Easter Bunny.” He shook his head. “I’ll remember this when the latrine needs cleaning and you’re back on duty.”
Johnny splayed his right hand on his chest. He quickly recalled what Amanda had been saying days earlier, hoping it would work for him. “Cap, it’s not my fault. The way I see it,” Johnny began, “if that rabbit hadn’t of been where we were, Amanda wouldn’t have thought he was the Easter Bunny. I wouldn’t have gotten hurt trying to go after her when she chased him. She wouldn’t have been mad at the Easter Bunny for me getting hurt and you wouldn’t be in that suit right now.” Johnny looked over his shoulder. “Blame it on the bunny, Cap. He started this whole ball rolling.”
The captain sat back in his seat. As crazy as it sounded, John had a point.
But bunnies don’t know how to clean a latrine. . .John does.
He smiled at the younger man. Johnny may have survived an incredible ordeal, but he wasn’t going to escape the harmless, yet effective, revenge of the six-foot two-inch stand in Easter Bunny.
Thank you Kenda and Jane for the beta reads! You two are great! And thank you, Becca, for the medical help on some of this. Any medical or other errors are mine and mine alone.