By Audrey W.
Johnny walked into the dayroom, and plopped into a chair, his head resting in his hands.
“You know, you’ve seemed a little off all morning. What’s the matter?” Roy asked. “Besides the fact Cap made you do latrine duty for being late.”
“I found out yesterday that my apartment complex is going to be converted into condos. I either have to agree to buy my apartment, or move.”
“Wow,” Roy leaned back against his chair. “I heard some of the apartment buildings were going that route. What are you gonna do?”
Johnny looked at Roy, a sullen expression on his face. “I don’t know,” he shrugged. “ I guess I’ll have to find another apartment. I don’t want to buy that place.”
“Well, if you need somewhere to stay, you’re welcome at our house. I’m sure Joanne wouldn’t mind.”
“You trying to get your chance to get even with me?” Johnny asked. He remembered the time when Roy stayed at his apartment, sleeping on a new armchair bed he had gotten. Between Johnny’s wild neighbors, the chair bed being uncomfortable for Roy, and Roy’s weird snacking habits, the two had barely survived it together.
“What? Oh, I get it. You mean for that time I stayed at your place?” Roy shook his head. “Nah. Water under the bridge as far as I’m concerned. If you end up needing a place to stay, I’m offering.”
“Thanks, partner,” Johnny grinned. “I think I’m gonna look for a new apartment tomorrow. Hopefully I can find one not too far from here, but not too close either. And not too expensive,” he snorted.
“Yeah, well, with all that…good luck.”
The tones went off interrupting the conversation.
“Squad 51, possible heart attack, 2106 Merris Street, Two one zero six Merris Street, cross street Willow Lane, time out 11:18”
Roy hurried out to the podium as Johnny ran into the apparatus bay and around the back of the squad. Grabbing the handle, he opened the door and jumped in.
“Squad 51, 10-4,” Roy was answering into the mic as he wrote the address down. He quickly got into the squad and pulled out into the street.
The run turned out to be anything but routine for a heart attack. After two tries to get the fifty-five year old man’s heart re-started using the defibrillator, Johnny and Roy met with success.
Now they had him in the care of Doctor Brackett in treatment room three at Rampart.
Johnny waited at the desk with Dixie, while Roy finished giving Brackett all the information he needed.
“Hey, Dix,” Johnny began, leaning forward on the desk. “You familiar with this new trend of apartments being turned into condos and sold?”
“Hmm?” Dixie looked up from her paper work. “Oh yeah. They were talking about it at the apartments where I live, but decided to leave it as it is.”
Johnny straightened up in surprise. “Really? Well…what would you do if they did convert to that?”
“I’d move,” Dixie answered firmly. “I like my apartment, but I wouldn’t want to buy it. If I’m gonna buy anything, it’s going to be a house that stands by itself.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“I feel sorry for the ones who can’t afford to move. It really puts a burden on them if they have to and they didn’t plan on it.”
“True. Well, my apartment is headed in that direction, but I’m going out looking for a new one tomorrow.”
“Any ideas where?”
“Nah,” Johnny shook his head. “Not yet. Hopefully I can find one not too far from the station, but not too close either. And not too expensive.”
“Well, with those requirements…good luck,” Dixie grinned.
Roy stepped up to the desk in time to hear Dixie’s last comment.
“I see you’ve heard about Johnny’s newest dilemma,” Roy remarked, smiling.
Johnny gave his partner a disapproving look. “Very funny. I guess you two are on the same wave length, huh?”
“Now, Johnny, we have your best interests in mind, you know,” Dixie assured.
“Yeah, junior,” Roy slapped his hand on Johnny’s back. “We just don’t want you expecting too much from a new place.”
“Who’s got a new place?” Doctor Early asked, approaching the three at the desk.
“Oh, my partner here is looking for a new apartment. But he wants a certain thing. You know, not too close to work, but not too far a--”
“You ready to head back, Roy?” Johnny interrupted, raising his right eyebrow. “I got the supplies.”
“Sure,” Roy grinned. “See ya, Dix…Doctor Early.”
“Yeah, see ya,” Johnny added. “I’ll let you all know how it goes.”
“And hey, Johnny,” Early called out. “Let me know if you need any suggestions for apartments to rent!”
Johnny nodded and waved as he and Roy turned the corner, heading for the exit.
Once they were back at the station, Johnny and Roy went into the dayroom where the other guys were relaxing after spending all morning at a fire. Marco sat at the table, his head resting on his folded arms, and Mike and Chet sat on the couch, reading the daily newspaper.
“Hey, haven’t seen you guys since roll call,” Johnny remarked.
“How’d it go?” Roy asked.
Marco lifted his head up off his arms to answer. “Don’t ask. Just be glad you weren’t on this one.”
“Yeah,” Chet added. “It was a bad one. Just an old warehouse, but it was totally engulfed when we got there. This is one time I wish engine 36 could’ve covered their own area instead of being out on another run.”
“Yeah, but they ended up there later anyway.” Mike reminded the guys.
“Sounds like quite a fire,” Roy said. “Anyone get hurt?”
“No, that was the good thing,” Marco sat up and leaned against the back of his chair. “It was an empty building and as far as they know there was just one vagrant living there. He got out before it went totally up in flames.”
“That’s lucky,” Johnny nodded in agreement. He became distracted when he noticed Mike had the Want Ads section of the paper. “Hey, Mike, does that paper have the real-estate section in it too?”
“Um…yeah…why? You gonna buy land?”
“No…my apartment is going condo so it’s either buy it or move. I’ll have to move.”
“You know, I’ve heard about that,” Chet said. “A lot of places are doing that now.”
“That’s what I said,” Roy chimed in. “Kind of sad. It forces a lot of people out of their homes.”
“I just hope I can find a good place to move to.”
Johnny walked over to Mike, squatting down to read the ads on the back of the paper.
Mike set the paper down on his lap. Pulling the ads section apart, he handed Johnny the real-estate section. “Here. Be my guest.”
“Thanks,” Johnny grinned, standing up and taking the newspaper from Mike’s hand. He walked over to the table, sitting down and thumbing through the pages for the ‘Apartments for Rent’ section. “Ah…here we are.”
The tones went off calling the squad and engine out on another call.
“Oh man,” Johnny moaned, getting up from the table and running to the apparatus bay with the others.
The following morning the guys were off shift. Having already changed into their civilian clothes, Johnny and Roy walked out to their vehicles.
“I can’t believe we had fourteen runs this shift,” Johnny commented. “Man, I’m tired.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. I’m glad the kids are in school so I can take a nap.”
“Yeah…well…I wish I could, but I’ve got four apartments to look at today.”
“You found that many? That’s great! But you better be careful…don’t want you falling asleep somewhere between locations.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” Johnny chuckled. “I’m anxious to go check ‘em out, so I’ll be okay. Just don’t try to call me tonight to see how I did. I plan on being in bed early.”
Roy nodded and waved. Getting into his car, he watched Johnny climb into his Land Rover. He’s gotta be beat…how does he keep on going?
It was one-o-clock in the afternoon and Johnny was still on his apartment-hunting venture. Feeling tired from the shift he had pulled, Johnny sighed as he followed the apartment manager up the outdoor flight of cement steps to the second level.
“You work nearby?” the woman asked, glancing over at Johnny.
“Uh...about five miles away. I’m a firefighter-paramedic for Los Angeles County.”
“Oh, I see,” the woman said, impressed. She was a motherly type…plump, with gray hair pulled up in bun and in her mid-fifties. She smiled as she complimented the young man. “Well, I must say I’ve got a lot of respect for you firemen. I know you probably don’t hear it enough, so I’ll tell you…we do appreciate you boys putting your lives on the line out there when you’re on duty. And I certainly will consider myself lucky to have someone like you around here if you decide you like the place.”
“Thank you,” Johnny blushed. “It’s always nice to hear that.”
“Well, I mean it.”
They walked down a long concrete porch that ran the entire way around the front of the building. The apartments had outside entrances that were off of the porch. Coming to a door with the number 12B on it, the woman stopped. She pulled out a key chain with several keys on it. Sorting through, she found the one she needed. Opening the door, she stepped back, motioning for Johnny to step inside first.
Walking in, Johnny stopped in the foyer looking around at the immediate area . A small kitchen was off to the left. It had a harvest gold refrigerator, stove and dishwasher. The floor was a white/gold/beige linoleum. Not bad…I don’t need a big kitchen.
Next he stepped in to the combination livingroom/diningroom. The place had a wall-to-wall gold shag carpet. Seeing a square hallway off to the right, Johnny walked over and peeked into the rooms off the hall. One was a large bathroom with a bathtub/shower combination. The other room was a large bedroom. The gold shag carpet was in place in every room except the bathroom and kitchen.
Johnny went back into the living room and over to a glass door opposite the entrance. He looked out to a large concrete balcony, then opened the doors and stepped to the wrought- iron railing. Shouts from people obviously having a good time could be heard from below. The landlady and Johnny peered over the railing and down on the swimming pool below. There were a few women in the pool and some sunning themselves on a large public patio. Several chaise lounges littered the area around the pool. A clubhouse was nearby.
Johnny stared at the gorgeous women down below in bikinis and one-piece swimsuits. Wow. I like the view!
“One hundred and eighty-five a month, right?” Johnny asked.
“Does that include utilities?”
“Uh huh,” the landlady nodded.
“Hundred dollar deposit?”
“I’ll take it.”
The woman smiled at Johnny. She figured the pool was the deciding factor. She was yet to meet a young single guy, responsible or somewhat wild, that didn’t let the pool and the pretty gals influence him somehow.
The men of A-Shift lined up for roll call the following morning.
“I take it the apartment hunting went well?” Roy asked, noticing his partner’s happy disposition. “Or did you meet someone while you were looking?”
“Roy…I found the perfect apartment. It’s even better than the one I have now.”
Overhearing the conversation, Chet couldn’t resist jumping in. “He must’ve seen a cute chick there. With Gage that’s all it takes.”
“No, it’s a great apartment,” Johnny scowled at Chet. He leaned in close to Roy, whispering so the others wouldn’t hear. “But Chet’s right. I did see a cute chick there. Lots of cute chicks. In bikinis. At the pool. Get my drift?”
Roy snickered, shaking his head. He had to give Johnny credit. With all his dating woes, Johnny remained persistent with the women.
After roll call and chores, the men gathered in the dayroom for a review of various fire and rescue procedures. Captain Stanley stood in front, drawing brief diagrams on the chalkboard as he spoke. By luck, no calls came in for the station to respond to. Forty-five minutes later, the meeting was over and the men were free till they were toned out.
The chairs were moved back over to the table, where most of the crew sat down with a cup of coffee in front of them. Chet plopped down on the couch by Henry.
“Man, I can’t believe we haven’t gotten any rescues yet,” Johnny remarked, leaning back in his chair. “Last shift was non-stop and this one just won’t start.”
“Yeah,” Roy nodded. “Reminds me of that time you had insomnia, except then we weren’t getting any calls at night instead.”
“I didn’t have insomnia, Roy,” Johnny explained with annoyance. “I just couldn’t sleep much.”
Roy stared at his partner a minute, not sure if he should say anything. He rolled his eyes, opting to drop the subject.
“Hey, Johnny, so when do you move?” Marco asked.
“Oh…well…the new apartment is ready and I guess the sooner I get out of my old one, the better. I’m not on a lease or anything.” He put his hands together on the table and glanced around the room, grinning. “I guess when ever I can rope anyone into helping me move.”
“You had to ask, Marco,” Chet mumbled from the couch.
“I can help ya,” Roy offered. “I just have to have a few days notice to let Joanne know so she doesn’t expect me to be around the house.”
“Yeah and I can help, too, Johnny,” Marco added. “It’s just me I have to answer to and I don’t have any big plans coming up.”
“Count me in,” Mike said. “I should be able to help almost any time.”
Chet sighed. Not wanting to look like a heel, he decided he had better give in. “I guess you can put my name on your list of helpers. Just name the day and time.”
“Great! I’ll let you guys know. Thanks.”
Chet sighed, holding up his left hand and flashing the okay signal to Johnny.
The tones then sounded, bringing everyone to their feet.
Station 51, Engine 36, Station 8, structure fire, 1811 Seawell Drive, one eight one one Seawell Drive, time out 10:32.
“Sounds like a big one.”
Roy nodded, agreeing with Marco. “I guess this’ll make up for the easy morning.”
The day had only gotten busier after the first call out to the warehouse fire. The engine and squad were kept on runs with brief breaks in between. Now late evening finally brought relief from the tough schedule the crew had been on. After stealing time for showers and a real meal, the weary men decided to get some sleep. Johnny got in his bed, pulling the covers up.
“Hey, Roy,” Johnny whispered.
“If the others can do it, how about I rent a moving truck for the first two-day break we get? That would be three shifts from now. Everyone would have time to make arrangements.”
“Sounds good to me,” Roy stifled a yawn. “We’ll talk to the guys about it when we’re getting off shift, okay? Now, get some sleep while you can. The way this day turned out, we may not get much rest tonight.”
“Yeah, you’re right there.”
“Gage, would you go to sleep?” Chet yelled from across the room. “Some of us are tired.”
Johnny looked over towards Chet frowning. Fluffing up his pillow, he lay down, resting his head on the pillow, his left arm over his eyes. Johnny was asleep in minutes.
Johnny drove the moving truck into his apartment complex parking lot. It was Thursday morning and the guys had agreed to help him move since they all had the next day to relax before going back on shift. Climbing out of the truck, Johnny waved to one of his neighbors.
“Hey, Mr. Russell! How are you doin’?”
“Oh not too good,” the man replied, walking over to Johnny. “So you found a place to move to?” He gestured towards the truck.
“Yeah…I lucked out and found a better place than this. You moving or are you gonna buy your place?”
The man sighed. “We haven’t found a place yet. With my wife having gotten injured on the job and not being able to work and then us having two kids…well... we can’t afford more than the \$150 a month we pay for our apartment here. It’s been kind of hard living in a one-bedroom apartment, but we’ve had to.”
Johnny shook his head. “Man, that’s rough. Well, I hope you find something soon.”
Roy pulled up in the parking lot, Chet right behind him. Getting out of their cars, they both walked over to the moving truck where Johnny leaned against the passenger side door.
“Hey Roy…Chet. Appreciate you guys comin’ to help.”
Mr Russell hadn’t left yet, so Johnny introduced the man. “Oh…uh, this is Mr. Russell, a neighbor of mine. This is my partner Roy Desoto and one of the other firemen, Chet Kelly.”
“Gentlemen,” the man held out his hand. “The name’s Clark…Clark Russell.”
Roy reached out and shook Clark’s hand. He felt the man’s hand trembling and took notice of his pale complexion and tired eyes.
“Hi,” Roy said. “Nice to meet you.”
“Same here,” Clark tucked his hands in his pockets. “Well, I see you guys have your work cut out for you. I’d better let you get started.” He stepped back and turned to leave.
“Okay. Good luck!” Johnny called out as the man started up the wooden steps.
Clark Russell waved in acknowledgment, then continued up the steps. Once he got to the porch outside his apartment, he leaned on the railing watching Johnny and the others below. Two more cars pulled in and the men who got out went over to the moving truck. Figuring he should go about his business, Clark went into his apartment. Closing the door behind him, he hit the livingroom wall with his fist in frustration. “Damn landlords! How am I gonna keep a roof over our heads?”
“You know him very well?” Roy asked his partner, gesturing up towards where Clark Russell had gone inside.
“Hmm? Oh, you mean Mr Russell? Not really. I just know they’ve had their share of problems making ends meet,” Johnny explained. “He’s been kind of stressed out lately. And now with this latest thing, I think it’s getting to him. He has a wife and two kids in that one small apartment. They can’t afford much else.”
“Makes you appreciate having a house, huh, Roy?” Mike commented.
“Yeah,” Roy nodded slightly. “Yeah, it sure does.” He looked back up to where the man had gone inside. He sure seems upset. I wonder if Johnny’s picked up on just how worn the guy looks? But I guess he knows him better than I do. Maybe he just has that look. Roy opted to just let his thoughts slide. If there was a problem, Johnny would know.
Getting some of the larger furniture down the steps and into the moving truck was done with minimal problems using a hand truck. Now Johnny and Roy struggled with a large oak dresser as Mike and Chet were near the moving truck, putting some of the smaller items inside. Marco was coming down behind Johnny and Roy, carrying a box of junk Johnny had thrown together in haste.
“Roy, don’t push…I’ll fall backwards!”
“Well, don’t stop now! I’m ready to lose my hold on this thing. This dresser’s heavier than the other furniture!”
“Just hold on a sec, Roy. Let me go down a couple of steps to get a better angle on it. Keep a hold of those handles on the hand truck and the dresser won’t go anywhere.”
Yeah…easier said than done, Junior “Just hurry!”
Although it was strapped to the hand truck, the weight of the dresser was more than Roy had bargained for. Marco set down the box, helping Roy to hang on to the piece of furniture. “Wonder how long Johnny would be in Rampart if we lost a hold of this thing.”
Even though it was a horrible thought, Roy gave a strained chuckle at Marco’s comment. “Let’s hope we don’t find out.”
Before long, everything was loaded into the truck and the men were ready to go.
“Hey, Johnny,” Marco called out. “I saw your vacuum still sitting in a closet. You want me to go get it?”
“Nah. I left it there so I’ll have it to clean the apartment tomorrow.”
“Oh that’s right.”
“Uh…Gage,” Chet said, smirking. “Why don’t you come over and clean my place when you’re done. We can consider it payback for today,” he joked.
“Oh very funny, Chet. Let’s just get this over with.”
“Hey, I at least get to look at the chicks by the pool,” Chet called out as Johnny got into the truck.
The men each got into their own cars, with Johnny driving the moving truck. They had agreed that once everything was moved into the new apartment, Johnny would spring for pizza and beer. After eating, everyone would go his own way, except Roy was going to stick around to help Johnny with turning in the moving truck.
Chet did his share of lady watching, while the others helped Johnny put the furniture in place and put his dishes away in his new apartment.
Johnny stepped out on the balcony where Chet was leaning on the railing. “Don’t strain yourself there, Chester B.”
“Yeah, Chet,” Marco chimed in, standing in the doorway. “We know it’s a tough job, but you think you can pull yourself away to do some real work?”
“I am doing real work. I’m counting how many chicks Gage is gonna strike out with in his first week here.”
“Chet!” Johnny shot the fireman a glare.
“Okay…okay. I’ll help with the other stuff. Gee wiz. Try to do a friend a favor,” Chet mumbled to himself, as he went into the kitchen.
Four hours later, Johnny was ready to turn in the truck. Roy followed behind Johnny and once the truck was signed in, drove him back to his old apartment to get his Land Rover. Johnny opened the door of the car to get out, stopping half way to standing as Roy spoke out.
“You gonna want some more help tomorrow?”
“Nah. Not since we got all the stuff moved. I’m just gonna need to clean the place up tomorrow and turn in the key. It’ll be easy.”
“Okay, if you’re sure. But I know Joanne wouldn’t mind under the circumstances.”
“Thanks, Roy. But I can do it. Go have a day off with your family tomorrow and tell Joanne thanks for lending you out today,” Johnny snickered.
“Okay,” Roy nodded.
Johnny stepped away from the car as he closed the door. Roy put the car into gear and pulled away, waving as he left.
Well, I guess I’ll drive back over to the other place to sleep, then clean this place up in the morning.
Getting into his Rover and driving off, Johnny didn’t notice the man sitting on the steps smoking a cigarette. The man threw down the cigarette as he watched the truck pull out. He scowled as Johnny left the parking lot. No way was he going to let this happen. Not to anyone else. Even if some people had found a better place to live, it wasn’t fair to the ones who couldn’t afford it.
Johnny arrived at his old apartment at 10:00 in the morning. His usual parking spot was taken so he pulled into a space farther away. He carried a paper bag of cleaning supplies up to his apartment, placing them on the kitchen counter once he was inside.
Where to start, he thought as he placed his hands on his hips, looking around. Guess it would make sense to start in the back and work my way forward. Shouldn’t be too bad. I’ve kept the place pretty clean anyway.
Johnny picked up the bag of cleaning supplies, taking them to the bathroom. He set them on a counter by the sink. Picking up a can of cleanser and a sponge, he went to work on the tub.
Clark Russell had a few errands to run for his wife. He paused as he walked past Johnny’s old apartment. Although he didn’t know the paramedic well, just knowing there was someone like that living close by had been a help. Now with Johnny gone, who knew what kind of neighbor they would get. And even that was only until they were forced out when the deadline for purchasing came.
Clark swore under his breath. Maybe if they had all banded together and refused to go along with the change, things would be different. But it was too late for that now. Besides Johnny, a few others had already begun to move out. And John Gage was already moved out completely. Gone. Clark took one more look at the empty apartment’s front door. Damn it.
As he walked to the parking lot, Clark noticed another car already parked in Johnny’s spot. Boy, no one wastes any time around here.
Getting into his own car, he pulled out of the lot. He never noticed the Land Rover parked a few spaces over.
Busy cleaning in the back part of his apartment, Johnny was oblivious to everything. Taking a break, he grabbed a soda he had brought with him and stepped out onto the porch in front. He could see Mr. Russell pulling out of the parking lot.
Poor guy. I sure hope he can find another place to move to. Maybe next shift I’ll ask around and see if anyone has any ideas.
Johnny leaned on the railing watching a few other residents come and go through the parking lot. Finishing his soda with one last swig, he turned around and went back inside.
Three hours later, Johnny emerged from his apartment for the last time. He stared back into the place that had been home to him for four years now, since moving out of his aunt’s house. I’m gonna miss the place. Sighing, he closed and locked the door. Picking up his vacuum in one hand and the bag of left over supplies in the other, Johnny headed down to his Land Rover. He put the items in the back, and then closed it.
Now to turn in this key and head over to my new home.
Johnny walked over to the manager’s office. Opening the door, he smiled at the couple inside. Frank and Louise Vickory had been very friendly and helpful to him since the time he first moved in. Both were in there mid fifties and were like a mother and father to many of the single tenants. They were always there when someone needed a sounding board, and many times to offer advice from their years of experience in dealing with various things life threw at them.
“Well, Johnny, how are you?” Louise asked. “You all set up in your new home?”
“Yeah, pretty much. I just got the apartment all cleaned up and wanted to turn in my key.”
“Boy, you’re really on the ball aren’t ya, son,” Frank commented. “This sure worked out fast for you.”
“Well, I was lucky I found a decent place to move to. Thanks for everything you did, though. It’s been a good four years.”
“You’re welcome,” Louise smiled.
Johnny held out the key. “Here ya go. If you see anything I missed just call me. You can reach me at the station if you need to.”
“Well,” Johnny said, reaching out to shake Frank Vickory’s hand, “good luck with the transition.”
“Thanks, John,” he smiled as he gave Johnny a firm handshake. “I hated to see you move. You were one of our best tenants, but…well…it’s better for us this way. I’m glad you understand.”
Johnny nodded. “Yeah I do…I do.”
Clark Russell sat in his car on the side of the street, eyes closed and his head tilted back. He had been fighting a massive headache for the past thirty minutes. He opened his eyes, looking over at the apartment complex. “Damn landlords are gonna cause me and my family to lose what we have,” he grumbled. “I’ll show ‘em…I’ll let ‘em see what it’s like to lose what you’ve got…what’s important to you.”
Clark started the engine, pulling out into the street. As he drove into the parking lot where the owner’s apartment and the office were, he gunned the engine, going full steam towards the big glass window in the front of the office.
The noise of a revving car engine could be heard in the office.
“Oh, I’ll bet it’s those darn punk kids again. They’re always racing through the parking lot.” Stepping over to the window, Louise began to pull back the draperies when all hell broke loose.
The din of the shattering glass, splitting wood, and crunching metal filled the room as the Ford Thunderbird burst through the front of the building, dragging Louise beneath it. Pieces of the ceramic tile windowsill, paneling and drywall sailed through the air as the car sped across the room. It slammed into the desk Frank Vickory had been seated behind.
Caught by surprise, Johnny and Frank barely had time to react. Johnny turned away from the onslaught of shattered glass that flew his way, while Frank dove for cover on the floor.
The flying debris came fast, large pieces of splintered paneling and chunks of drywall knocked the hapless paramedic off his feet. Johnny never knew what hit him as a thick chunk of the ceramic tile caught him on the left temple as he fell to the floor, the force of the blow knocking him unconscious instantly.
Johnny landed in a heap on his stomach, blood trickling down the side of the his face as the debris continued to rain down on him.
Shutting off the engine, Clark undid his seatbelt. He got out of his car, shaking. The air was filled with a fine dust as the debris settled. He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. Seeing blood when he pulled it away, Clark realized he hadn’t come out of this unscathed. He climbed over the debris to look around the desk for the Vickorys. He spotted the woman partially trapped beneath the car. Nauseated, Clark slowly looked around for the woman’s husband. He glimpsed a lower leg and a head sticking through the debris on the right side of the room. The unconscious man’s face was turned towards the car.
“Oh no,” Clark Russell recognized Johnny instantly. What were you doing here? I thought you had moved out. He could see small nicks on Johnny’s face and hand from where pieces of glass had randomly pelted him.
Clark looked around in a panic as he came to his senses. He glanced between Louise Vickory and Johnny.
Oh my God…what have I done? Where’s Frank?
The sound of voices forced the shocked man to slowly turn around. Three people stood inside the building by the back of the car. He could see more people peering inside to see what had happened.
“I…I didn’t mean to. I…I lost control…of…of…my car,” he broke into sobs, collapsing into the arms of a man who had come up beside him.
If they find out I did this deliberately, I’ll go to jail for murder. What about Judy and the kids?
“Hey, we’ve called for the police and fire department,” the bystander soothed. “Just come outside and sit down. You’re hurt. C’mon.”
Helping Clark back across the room, he motioned for others to step aside as he led Clark out.
“Oh my God!” a woman screamed as she saw Louise Vickory on the floor.
Another person grabbed her arm, grimacing and pulled her away. “Don’t look. Everyone, just get away till the police arrive.”
“Is anyone inside there alive?” someone asked.
The man who had gotten Clark out of the building shrugged.
“It didn’t look like it. Hard to tell. I think we’d better wait till the police get here and let them check. It’s pretty gruesome in there.”
He looked back over to Clark, who was sitting on the ground, hands covering his face.
That poor man. His life will never be the same.
Johnny moaned, the fingers on his right hand moving slightly. The onlooker’s voices floated senselessly over him as he slid back into oblivion.
Within minutes, four police units were on the scene. While two police officers moved everyone back from the building, Officers Vince Howard and Chris Torrelson stepped inside the damaged office. By the description they had gotten from some of the bystanders, they knew that at least one person was dead. Vince draped a blanket from his squad car over Mrs. Vickory.
Chris looked hard at Vince. “You okay?”
“Yeah. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to scenes like this.”
Another officer stepped inside, stopping Vince and Chris on their search for victims. “We’ve called for Homicide and the Coroner. They said to be careful not to disturb anything if you can help it.”
“Okay. We’ll be careful,” Vince assured.
The officer saw the blanket over the body. “The man said there were only two people in here when he climbed out of his car. I hope he was right.”
Vince sighed as he watched the young officer walk outside, shaking his head.
Carefully stepping over and around the splintered wood fragments and the chunks of plaster on the floor, the officers searched for other victims. Glass crunched beneath their feet as they walked over to the desk. Except for the sounds of the two officers stepping on debris, the room was eerily silent.
The front bumper of the car rested on the edge of the desk, the tires up off of the floor. Chris heard a gasping sound as he neared the desk. Hurrying to the other side, he saw a man lying on the floor between the desk and the wall. He had come within five inches of being crushed.
“Vince, he’s alive!”
Vince was beside Chris in an instant. “Don’t move him. Stay with him and I’ll see what the ETA on the paramedics is.”
The crowd murmured as Station 45 and Engine 36 arrived at the scene. The men from 45’s got out of their trucks, hurrying over to where two police officers stood guarding the building, keeping onlookers at a safe distance.
“God, will you look at that,” Ken Dawson, a firefighter-paramedic from Station 45, said as he stared at the wreckage.
The entire car was inside the building. The remains of dark yellow draperies hung across the back of it. The office window and half of the left front wall was destroyed. The door hung awkwardly on its hinges, leaving it tilted and virtually useless. The wall on the right side of the window had been heavily damaged as well, a fourth of it now missing. The easiest access into the building looked to be the left side, between the car and the doorway.
Dawson’s partner, David Swick, gave a low whistle. “I hope no one was inside at the time.”
The two paramedics quickly ran over to where a policeman was waving to get their attention. Coming up to the officer’s side, they saw there was a man sitting in the squad car, blood running down his chin from a cut on his lip.
“Okay, let’s have a look at that, sir” Swick said, leaning into the car.
Having heard the approaching sirens, Vince looked out through the destroyed wall. He could see the squad and engine at a distance in the parking lot. Before Vince could get out of the building, something to his left caught his attention.
Vince could see the trapped man beneath the rubble on the other side of the car. Squinting, he recognized the battered face of John Gage.
Oh my God. John?
After notifying one of the officers there was a victim in the building, Vince walked around to the back end of the car. The space between what was left of the wall and the car was narrower here, but turning sideways he managed to squeeze through.
His left foot slipped as he stepped on the edge of a fragment of baseboard trim. Vince gingerly picked his way through the chunks of drywall and wood to get to Johnny.
Vince squatted down beside Johnny’s head. He hesitantly put his fingers on Johnny’s neck checking for a pulse.
Thank God. You’re alive.
“Hey!” Vince called as he quickly stood up and made his way over to the side of the wrecked car. “Hey, Mark!”
One of the officers just outside the building turned around to look at Vince.
“Tell the paramedics we have another victim in here!”
The officer waved and trotted out of sight.
Vince carefully hurried back over to where Johnny lay, still unconscious. Putting on a pair of leather gloves he had in his back pocket, Vince began to brush the glass and smaller pieces of plaster and wood debris off Johnny. Briefly glancing over the man for obvious injuries, Vince could see a glass shard protruding from the side of Johnny’s left calf. The piece looked to be three inches wide and four inches long, depending on how deeply it had gone into his leg.
Good thing you’re out, buddy.
“Hey! You have victims in here?” Ken Dawson called out, as he and David Swick approached the interior of the damaged building.
“Yeah! Back here!” Chris answered. Standing up he waved to the paramedics.
“I’ve got one over here, too!” Vince yelled. “Can you get on your HT and call for a couple of other men? He’s buried under this stuff!”
“Sure!” David called out. Keying the mic. “Engine 45, HT 45. Captain, we have two injured men inside. One is trapped under debris. Can you send in some extra crew for assistance? And have them bring two stokes, each with O2, and a backboard.”
“10-4, HT 45. Coming your way.”
David set the drug box by Frank Vickory’s head as he knelt beside the injured man. Checking the vitals, he looked up at Chris.
“Do you know exactly what happened to him? Did the car actually hit him?”
“No, he hasn’t said. He’s been asking me to get his wife…to leave him and find his wife.”
After finishing with the vitals, David Swick looked back over his shoulder at the yellow blanket on the floor near the back of the car, then at Chris again.
Chris nodded, mouthing, “That’s her.”
Swick frowned. “Sir, we’ll see what we can do for your wife, but first we need to get you taken care of.”
David examined the overall condition of Frank Vickory’s body. Seeing the man wince when he touched his left side, David began asking questions trying to figure out just where and how bad Frank was injured.
On Vince’s direction, Ken Dawson had made his way around the back of the car. He set the biophone and trauma box down on the trunk, then carefully maneuvered himself into the right side of the room. Grabbing the equipment again, he hurried over to where Vince knelt.
“What’ve ya got, Vin…,” Ken trailed off as he saw the victim.
“Oh shit. Not Gage.”
Four firefighters entered the building, two on the left side of the car and two on the right. Being careful of the assorted plaster, wood and glass on the floor, the two from Engine 36 hurried over towards Chris, carrying their loaded stokes between them.
The other two firemen also lugged a stokes loaded with extra equipment. They trudged through the shattered room, slowly making their way to where Ken and Vince were digging Johnny out.
“He’s been unconscious since I found him,” Vince explained to Ken. “I noticed the glass in his leg, but I didn’t touch it.”
Dawson leaned over and examined Johnny’s lower left leg.
“Hard to tell how deep it goes. It looks pretty nasty, though.”
After setting up the biophone, Dawson called in to Rampart. The other firemen helped Vince get the rest of the debris off Johnny.
“He’s lucky none of this stuff was too heavy or he would’ve been crushed,” one fireman remarked.
“Yeah,” Vince nodded. “You know, sometimes I gotta believe in guardian angels. There’re just too many times when the what ifs are down right scary and it’s only a miracle that injuries aren’t worse.”
Outside, Captain Bruce Lloyd from Station 45 waited for more news from his men. They had informed him that one of the victims was John Gage from Station 51.
The police put up yellow crime scene tape closed off the parking area in front of the office.
Captain Loyd approached one of the officers who stood near a patrol car. “I’m assuming they don’t want us to move that car, even to make it easier to get a victim out. I know they need to investigate this thing.”
“Right, sir. It’s important the scene stay pretty much untouched. It looks like an accident, but you never know with these things.”
“Not exactly. A lot of people heard the noise, but nobody actually saw the car go in. No one is even sure where the car was when it all started.”
“You would think someone would’ve seen something. This is an apartment complex, after all.”
“Yeah, you’d think so. It’s a slim chance, but it happened when no one was outside,” the officer studied the captain. “I understand one of the injured men in there is a fireman. Talk about odds, huh?”
“Yeah,” Loyd sighed. “Talk about odds.” As soon as we’re done here, I’d better call Hank Stanley and fill him in.
Clark Russell sat in the back of a police car. He had been treated briefly, mostly cleaning up the cut on his lip and checking for trauma to his abdomen. He didn’t appear to have any serious injuries, but would be taken to Rampart General to be checked over thoroughly. Clark’s wife, and his young son and daughter had seen the commotion outside and had made their way down to find out what had happened. Now they stood outside the police car. Clark felt a twinge in his chest as he watched the tears streaming down his wife’s face. She knows I’m going to jail and it’s killing her. It’s just gonna be her and the kids from now on. Why did I do this? What was I thinking? Clark set his jaw and stared stonily at the front seat of the squad car. He couldn’t bear to look at his family and the hurt he caused any longer.
After taking the necessary precautions, David Swick and the other firemen got Frank into a stokes and carried him closer to the gaping hole in the wall and David’s partner. After relaying Frank’s vitals and injuries to Ken, who in turn relayed them to Rampart via the biophone, Swick waited for instructions from the hospital.
Swick turned his head, glancing at the blanket covering Mrs. Vickory. Shuddering, he thought about how much worse this scenario could’ve been. Both Gage and Mr. Vickory could’ve very easily been killed if they hadn’t been exactly where they were when this happened.
“Oh my God. Louise,” Frank Vickory cried out, catching the paramedic’s attention.
Following the man’s field of vision, David saw the lady’s shoe lying on the floor under the car.
“That’s my wife’s,” Frank explained, becoming distraught. “Where is she? Where’s my Louise?”
“Just take it easy,” David tried to sooth the man. “Your wife--”
“She’s dead, isn’t she?” Frank cried.
“There wasn’t anything we could do for her. I’m sorry.”
“David,” Dawson hollered after getting off the biophone. “Brackett said to start an IV of Ringer’s Lactate, and 5 milligrams MS IV...keep him on 6 liters of O2. Repeat vitals in 5 minutes and watch for respiratory depression.”
David began treating Frank, trying not to be affected by the upset man.
Once Johnny was completely uncovered, Ken Dawson could determine the extent of his injuries. He put a c-collar on Johnny as a precaution, then secured the glass shard in place with gauze. Dawson cut open Johnny’s brown shirt to check his upper body for injuries. Other than bruises from flying debris, he found no major injuries to Johnny’s torso. Johnny moaned weakly as the men turned him onto his back. Dawson palpated Johnny’s chest, eliciting another low groan.
“Well, he must be feeling pain from somewhere and that’s a good sign,” Dawson explained to the other men.
Soon Frank Vickory was carried out of the small office and into the parking lot. Two news crews were on the scene and immediately ran over to film the victim. Chris Torrelson and David Swick tried to shield Mr. Vickory from the cameras as much as they could. The men quickly carried Frank to the waiting ambulance, Swick climbing inside with him.
After starting the ordered IV’s on Johnny, Dawson waved Vince and the other two firemen over. Together, the four men slid Johnny onto the backboard, secured him with the straps, then lifted him into the stokes.
Vince and Dawson carried Johnny out, while the other two firemen brought the equipment.
Impatient news crews rushed over to get pictures of the injured fireman being carried out. Captain Loyd and an officer were over to the reporters in an instant, stepping between them and the men bringing out John Gage.
“Not now,” Loyd firmly stated. “You all can get your stories later. These men need to get the victim to a hospital. Please clear the way.” He shook his head at the reluctance of the reporters to let the men pass by.
Dawson climbed into the ambulance with Johnny. Vince shut the doors, giving them the customary two slaps. The ambulance with Frank Vickory was already pulling out, Johnny’s ambulance following close behind. Loyd had told one of his firemen to follow behind both ambulances in the squad.
With both surviving victims out of the building, Engine 36 was no longer needed on the scene. Receiving another call, they pulled out of the parking lot, lights and siren going.
Captain Loyd sighed, turning to face the office. He watched the homicide detectives and coroner go in and out of the damaged building. Everyone knew one body remained inside the structure. But his crew’s job was done. They had saved who they could, and as hard as it was, would have to get past the fact that one didn’t make it. That she had been beyond saving. He reluctantly keyed the microphone and made Engine 45 available.
Johnny’s eyes fluttered open as Dawson contacted Brackett to give an update on the way to Rampart.
“Hey, you’re with me after all,” Ken said, grinning.
Johnny blinked hard, as the man above him was doubled. “T…two.”
“What? Oh…you mean you’re seeing two of me?”
“Yeah,” Johnny replied lethargically. He closed his eyes.
What happened? Where am I?
“Hey, don’t go out again on me.” Ken forced a cheery voice. “Can you answer some questions for me?”
“Yeah,” Johnny answered, his eyes still closed.
“Uh…Mon…Monday…?” Johnny opened his eyes as he waited for the next question. He had a feeling he already missed one.
“Do you know what happened?”
After a brief pause, in a barely audible voice, Johnny replied, “No.”
Dawson watched Johnny as they sped along in the ambulance.
“Hey, Johnny, you still with me?”
“Hu…? wha…?” Johnny groaned, his eyes still shut.
“Okay, you’re gonna see a bright light in your eyes. But I need to check them.”
Dawson held each of Johnny’s eyes open as he checked the pupils. “Looking better, but still kind of sluggish.”
Johnny opened his eyes on his own, bringing the man above him into focus. “Daw…Dawson?”
“Hey! Yeah, it’s me, Johnny. You just couldn’t stand to see me sit around the station, huh?” Ken joked. “How ya feelin’?”
Johnny started to lift the oxygen mask off his face. Dawson grabbed Johnny’s hand, shaking his head. “Leave that where it is.”
“I hurt. M…my head…leg...” trailing off, Johnny groaned. “Sick…”
Once again Dawson was on the biophone giving Brackett an update on Johnny’s condition. He pulled the receiver away from his face. “You feel sick to your stomach?”
Ken dropped the biophone, pulled the oxygen mask off Johnny, and immediately began to unstrap Johnny and the backboard from the gurney. “Get the suction!” He called to the ambulance attendant.
Johnny began to vomit before Dawson had him turned. “Get that thing in his mouth now!”
The attendant frantically stuck the suction catheter in Johnny’s mouth, as Dawson continued to turn him. Johnny choked when he aspirated some of the vomit.
Having Johnny turned now, Ken Dawson sighed with relief that it wasn’t all bad news. The attendant had suctioned out Johnny’s mouth and now he was wiping what had gotten on Johnny’s cheek and chin. He then wiped off some of what had gotten on the backboard under Johnny’s neck.
The ambulance was pulling into Rampart emergency entrance and Dawson felt drained. Thank God we’re here.
Swick and Dawson decided to make themselves available from Rampart so they could wait for word on Johnny and Frank Vickory.
The two men sat at the table in the staff lounge, coffee cups untouched in front of them.
“You try calling Roy?”
Swick shook his head. “I think we better wait till we know what to tell him. Heck, he’s on shift tomorrow. He’ll need his sleep later tonight.”
“True. Not much he could do but sit around and worry about his partner anyway.”
“Yeah. And Captain Stanley could call Roy if he deems it necessary,” Swick said, pondering a thought. “Hey, did Gage remember anything on the way in?”
“Nope. When I brought him into the ER, he did tell Brackett he knows he moved. But John has no idea about anything else.”
“It’s probably temporary.”
“Yeah, but the detectives aren’t gonna like it,” Dawson remarked. “Not unless Mr. Vickory can shed some light on things.”
“They’ll get over it. I’m sure they know to expect things like this. That, and I bet Brackett won’t let ‘em near Johnny for a while. Or Frank Vickory, for that matter,” Swick sighed. “That man’s been through a lot.”
“Yeah. Did Mr. Vickory say anything about his wife?” Dawson asked.
Swick looked down at his coffee cup, running his fingers on the handle before answering. “Yes,” he swallowed hard, trying to clear the lump that he now felt in his throat. “He knows. He doesn’t know how bad it was, but he knows she’s gone.”
Doctor Brackett opened the door, stepping in. “Oh, good. You guys are still here.”
“How’s Gage doing?” Swick asked, concern on his face.
“Well, he’s doing okay. Aside from the nicks on his face, there are numerous superficial lacerations on the back of his head…also some on his arms. But most of the wounds are slight and should heal with no scarring. He was lucky. He’s got a moderate concussion, and a few broken ribs. We stitched up the cut on his temple. That glass shard appears to be in deep, and we’re waiting for x-rays to see how far it extends. We may have to take him to surgery to remove it. You did great not to knock it out when you turned him.” Brackett paused, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “Johnny’ll be sore for quite a while, but really he was very fortunate, considering. I’m wondering how he’ll do emotionally. From what you described, Ken, it was gruesome. I’m wondering if Johnny saw anything that may haunt him later.”
“Yeah, that’s gonna be the tough part.”
“Well, look, the reason I wanted to see you two is that I was wondering if you knew much about the man who was driving the car. You checked him out, right?”
“Yeah,” Swick answered. “He cut his bottom lip…bit it, I’d say. Had some bruising around the stomach area probably from a seatbelt. His abdomen was soft, and non-tender, his vitals were stable. Why? Didn’t they bring him in to be checked more?”
Brackett eyed the men carefully. “The man died from a massive heart attack on the way in. We tried to bring him back, but he was too far gone.”
Both men sat back in their chairs, stunned.
Dawson was the first to speak. “And the situation just gets worse. Unbelievable.”
“Shit! There was no sign of anything like that,” Swick replied, his right hand tightly grasping the coffee cup in front of him and slamming it on the table. “He had no symptoms at all. Shit,” he repeated, rubbing his forehead. “I think he had a wife and two kids, too. Ah man, after all this today…Louise Vickory, Gage, Frank Vickory and now this man…I’m gonna call my wife right now and tell her I love her.”
Swick got up, walking past Brackett. “Excuse me.”
“He okay?” Brackett asked Dawson, as the door closed behind his partner.
“Yeah, he’ll be alright. It’s just that when things like this happen so unexpectedly, it makes you cherish your own family more. It’s been a rough afternoon, though. I don’t think he feels responsible for what happened to Clark Russell. He can’t. He had no idea the guy’s heart was gonna go like that.” Dawson snapped his fingers.
“Neither did the police bringing him in,” Brackett explained. “They apparently didn’t even realize it had happened until they got here and tried to get him out of the squad car.”
Dawson sighed, staring at the coffee cup in front of him. Can things get any worse?
A call came across the HT in Dawson’s hand. “Squad 45, woman trapped, 908 Hillen Street, nine zero eight Hillen Street, time out 19:11.”
“Squad 45, 10-4”, Dawson replied into the radio, getting up and heading for the door. “Well, they’re playing our song, Doc. Keep us posted about Johnny, okay, especially if you have to take him to surgery.”
Roy walked up to Dixie’s desk at 6:00 Friday morning. Dixie was filling out paper work and had just set down a cup of coffee.
“Hey, Dix,” Roy said solemnly.
“Well, hey yourself, Roy,” Dixie purposely tried to keep a bright tone in her voice. “You get up to see Johnny yet?”
“No,” Roy shook his head. “Cap called me last night but it was too late to do anything by then. I figured I’d stop by on the way to the station. That way I can let the others know how Johnny’s doing.” Roy paused a minute. “How…how is he doing?”
“Other than being sore and exhausted, I’d say pretty good, considering. He has a moderate concussion, so the nurses had to wake him up every hour…you know the routine.”
Roy nodded. “Can I see him? What room is he in?”
“Sure! He’s in room 321. Just be prepared. Johnny looks a lot worse than he actually is. Keep in mind most of the nicks and lacerations are just superficial.”
Roy gave Dixie a puzzled look. What am I about to see? What else happened to Johnny that I don’t know about? He hesitated, then stepped away from the desk and walked towards the elevator.
Roy opened the door and cautiously stepped into Johnny’s room. A light over the empty bed beside Johnny’s was on, casting a dim glow over the injured man.
Roy winced as he took in the small lacerations on Johnny’s face. It looked like someone had thrown a handful of glass chips, each piece nicking him at random. A square bandage covered Johnny’s left temple. Bruising could be seen spreading from beneath it.
Johnny’s left arm was wrapped in bandages; the blanket on the bed covered the rest of him.
Stepping closer to the bed Roy quietly spoke, “If this is being lucky, I’d hate to see the unfortunate ones.”
A nurse walked into the room, stopping just inside the door when she saw Roy.
“It’s almost time to wake him up again, anyway, if you want to talk to him now.”
“Hmm?” Roy hadn’t heard the nurse come in. Turning around, he shook his head. “No, that’s okay. Let him sleep till you have to wake him up. I’ve got to get to work soon anyway.”
“If you’re certain.”
Roy nodded. “I just needed to make sure he was really still alive after what I heard happened.”
“It’s a shame they’ll never know why it happened…if it was an accident or intentional. The driver of the car was the only one who had that answer.”
Roy looked at the nurse in surprise. “Had an answer? The driver died?”
“Yeah. Had a heart attack on his way here. Left a family behind, they say.” The nurse shook her head sadly. “Tragic.”
Family man at Johnny’s old apartment. Roy got an uneasy feeling. “Do you know the guy’s name?”
“Uh…Russell…maybe Clyde Russell?”
“That’s it! Clark Russell. You kno…knew him?”
“Nah,” Roy answered, a hollow feeling growing inside. “Just someone I met in passing.” He thought back to the man and how Clark seemed upset...had acted strange to him. If I had said something to Johnny…made him think more about it… this may not have happened. Should I tell the police Mr. Russell seemed upset that day we were there? Does his family really need to hear that?
Roy chewed his lower lip. He left as the nurse was about to wake up Johnny. Roy had too much to think about right now. He’d check back on Johnny later.
Chet and Marco were discussing the newscast they had seen the night before when Roy walked into the locker room at the station.
“That car went all the way into the building,” Chet’s eyes were wide with astonishment. “Did you see the hole in the wall that it left?”
“They said that a lady died,” Marco solemnly remarked. “Roy, did you see the news last night?”
“No,” Roy shook his head. “But Cap called me to tell me about the accident.” If it was an accident.
“Cap called you?” Marco asked, his eyebrow raised.
“Yeah, Marco. That happened at Johnny’s old apartment building,” Roy bit the inside of his lower lip. “Johnny was inside that building at the time.”
“I knew it looked familiar!” Chet exclaimed. “Is Johnny okay?”
“Yeah. No life-threatening injuries. There was a close call with a shard of glass in his leg, but luckily it wasn’t in as deep as they feared. A moderate concussion and he’s gonna be sore. I saw Brackett on my way out of Rampart and he said Johnny had a few broken ribs, too, but that he’ll be fine.”
“Wow!” Since he knew Johnny was not in serious danger, Chet figured it was okay to get his usual jabs in. “Well, at least it’s his head and not a vital organ.”
Marco frowned at the firefighter. “Chet, one day Johnny is gonna get you back good and I just hope I’m there to see it.”
Captain Stanley gave the crew an update on Johnny during roll call. He also told the men about the outcome for the other three people involved.
“Does Johnny know what happened to them?” Chet asked, concerned.
Roy looked over at Chet, briefly smiling.
As much as he picks on Johnny, Chet sure worries enough about him.
“Not yet, “ the Captain was answering Chet’s question. “He apparently hasn’t been alert enough to know what’s happened to himself, let alone someone else.”
“Brackett said Johnny doesn’t remember anything beyond the fact that he moved and we helped him,” Roy added.
“Is it from the concussion?”
“Could be, Chet,” Roy explained. “It could be that Johnny doesn’t want to remember.”
Roy and his temporary partner, Bob Mason, began inspecting the equipment in the squad after roll call. Roy looked up as Captain Stanley walked by.
“Cap, can I talk to you?”
“Sure, Roy. You want to now?”
“Come on in the office.”
“I’ll be right back, Bob.”
Roy followed behind his captain.
Closing the door behind them Captain Stanley motioned to a chair. “Have a seat. What is it you wanted to talk to me about?”
Roy sat in a chair, leaning forward, while Captain Stanley sat behind his desk.
“It’s about the guy who drove his car into that building.” Biting his lower lip, Roy continued. “We saw him the day before this happened when we were helping Johnny move. The man seemed kind of worn out and upset. When I shook his hand, I could tell he was trembling.”
Stanley nodded as he listened with interest.
“I should have pointed it out to Johnny and maybe had him talk to the guy. I just had a feeling. But I know the authorities don’t know if this incident was an accident or deliberate.” Roy paused. “Cap, I think it was deliberate. I wanna’ tell the police what I saw. But with the guy dead, does it really matter now? What will it do to his family to know if they don’t already?”
“Well, it’s a tough call. I don’t know, pal. I guess give them the facts and let the process take its course.”
“That’s what I thought. But his wi--”
**“Squad 51, man down, 1611 Bryant Street, One Six One One Bryant Street, time out 8:35”**
“Well, thanks, Cap. I’ll see what I can do.”
Johnny slowly opened his eyes, bringing his surroundings into focus. Glancing down at the foot of the bed, he could see Doctor Brackett talking quietly to a nurse. Johnny brought his hand up to rub his eyes, catching their attention.
“Well, good afternoon, Johnny,” Brackett said, stepping over to the side of the bed. “How’re you feeling?”
“Well, that’s not surprising.”
Brackett began checking Johnny’s vitals signs.
“Doc, what happened?”
“You were in a building when a car decided to go through the wall,” Brackett eyed Johnny carefully, looking for a reaction. “You got hit with and buried under some of the debris.” He picked up the clipboard at the foot of the bed, writing down Johnny’s vitals. “Do you remember anything from it?”
Johnny slowly shook his head, wincing.
“Your head hurting again?”
“Mmmhmm,” Johnny closed his eyes. “Everything hurts, Doc.”
“I’ll have the nurse give you something for the pain. It certainly won’t harm you to get more rest. We kept you awake most of the night, I’d say.”
“Did anyone else get hurt?” Johnny asked weakly, barely opening his eyes.
Brackett paused, then nodded. “But we’ll discuss that later. You need to get more rest first.”
“Johnny, it’s not…look, it won’t help you to know more about them.”
Frowning, Brackett put his hands in his pockets. “Two people, one other injured.”
“Did I know them?”
“I don’t know.”
Johnny closed his eyes again.
Maybe I don’t want to know.
Johnny had only been alone for a few minutes when a nurse came in with a syringe. He watched the young woman as she put the contents of the syringe in the portal of his IV.
The nurse smiled at Johnny, pulling the blanket on the bed up higher around his chest.
“Service with a smile, huh?” His voice was quiet.
“We try, Johnny. You should be feeling the pain medication real soon. Doctor Brackett wants us to leave you alone for awhile so you can get some real rest.”
The nurse patted Johnny’s arm. “If you need anything, just press the call button.”
The sound of a roaring engine assaulted his ears. He looked across the room, to the yellow curtains where a woman stood by a window. Her right arm slowly drew open the curtains when suddenly a horrible racket filled the room. The woman was gone from sight, replaced by the body of a car. A man’s yell could be heard in the distance.
Johnny bolted to an upright position. He was trembling, breathing hard, and saturated with sweat. Johnny’s sore ribs protested at the movement. The sudden motion of sitting up made the room spin around him. Closing his eyes to stop the movement of the room, Johnny saw the image of Louise Vickory’s upper body being hit by the front bumper of the car. Before he could reach for the call button, Johnny was vomiting over the side of the bed.
Johnny brought his right arm up to his chest to embrace his sore ribcage as he panted.
“Hey, Junior,” Roy greeted, stepping into Johnny’s room. It was late evening and this was the first chance Roy had gotten to see his friend between runs.
Roy pulled over a chair near the bed, sitting down. He eyed his partner carefully. Brackett had told him about Johnny’s episode earlier in the day and that the bad dreams had continued to occur. Roy wondered just how many more of the dreams Johnny had since the first one.
“You doing okay?”
“I suppose you’ve heard. No rest for the haunted.”
“Well, Brackett filled me in on some of it. I know it’s not easy for you. We see enough carnage in our line of work, but it’s not the same as being there when it happens.”
“No, it’s not. Every time I close my eyes now I see two things over and over. I see a car lunging into the room, and I see Louise Vickory being hit.” Johnny paused, looking away from Roy. “Mrs. Vickory was a nice lady. I…she and her husband were good to me. Good landlords, you know?”
Johnny looked back at Roy. “How is Mr. Vickory doing? Do you know?”
“He’s doing okay. I understand his two kids have been spending a lot of time here, so he’s had the support he needs”
“Good. That’s great.”
Roy was anxious to get back to his partner’s well being. “Did Brackett recommend a therapist for the problem you’re having?”
“He mentioned it. I’m considering,” Johnny yawned. “But I want to give it a day or two. Maybe I can get through it on my own.”
“Well, there’s no shame in needing help once in awhile.”
Johnny didn’t say anything in return. He just looked up at the television screen in the corner of the room, where the show ‘Cannon’ was now on.
Feeling the topic had come to an end, Roy tried another approach.
“I was struggling with knowing Clark Russell had seemed upset the day before all this happened. I wasn’t sure that I should tell the police anything since the guy died anyway. I thought about how Joanne and the kids would feel if it was me who drove my car through a wall and hurt or killed people. And it seemed that maybe it would be better if Clark’s family never knew more than what they had to. You know…let their last memories be of a more responsible man.”
“I should’ve paid more attention to the guy,” Johnny said solemnly. “But I guess I was too wrapped up in moving.”
“I was there, too, Johnny. Either one of us could have said something.”
Johnny nodded, shifting in his bed. “So, did you tell the cops?”
“I called to talk to one of the detectives, but it didn’t matter. They already had their answer. He couldn’t give me details, except to say it was to do with the skid marks at the scene…or the lack of.”
“So you were spared the guilt.”
Roy was surprised by Johnny’s comment.
“Johnny, are you feeling guilty for what happened?”
“No, not guilt,” Johnny sighed running his hand through his hair, wincing as he touched a sore spot. “I don’t know what it is. Maybe…let down? Empty? Useless?”
“Well, if I can think of anything that will help, you can bet I’ll let ya know.”
Bob peeked inside the doorway.
“Roy, we got a run.”
“Okay,” Roy said, turning towards Bob. Standing up, he glanced back at Johnny. “Take it easy, Junior.”
“Hey,” Johnny splayed his hands over the blanket covering him. “What else am I gonna do?”
Roy snickered as he walked out the door.
The next two days Johnny found himself having fewer dreams about the car crashing through the building and hitting Louise Vickory.
Although he occasionally would wake up from one of the dreams, he decided to still hold off on seeing a therapist.
Roy and Captain Stanley had each been by once to check on Johnny. Chet talked the other guys from A-shift into waiting until Johnny was out of the hospital to visit him. Chet had plans for a ‘Welcome Home’ party for Johnny at the new apartment. The guys once again accused Chet of hiding his feelings of friendship for Johnny the past few years, but Chet was quick to defend himself.
“No, no. That’s not it,” Chet desperately explained to everyone at roll call. “It’s just that…you know, he’s had a hard time of it and all with Mrs. Vickory being killed. Johnny needs…well, he just needs a little party thrown by his friends to get his mind off things.”
“I think it’s a good idea,” Mike chimed in. “Especially since Johnny hasn’t even been able to live there yet. It’ll make it more official.”
Marco agreed to go with Chet to sweet talk Johnny’s new landlady into letting them in his apartment to decorate with a banner. Chet had to reassure everyone several times over that there would be no water bombs planted above doorways or in cupboards. To Chet, the better surprise was to catch Johnny totally off guard with the welcome. He knew Johnny would never expect it from him.
On Monday, Ken Dawson and David Swick stopped by to talk to Johnny and see how he was doing. Johnny’s face was still peppered with the nicks from the glass, but they didn’t stand out as much since his coloring was better. The bruise on his left temple was two-tone purple and black
Swick soon excused himself to go down the hallway to visit Frank Vickory. Johnny watched as the man left his room.
Turning his attention back to Dawson, Johnny asked, “How is David handling all this now? I heard he was having a hard time the first night.”
“He’s okay,” Ken explained. “He just needed a day off after a rough afternoon and evening. Now he just wants Frank Vickory to know he isn’t forgotten.”
“I can relate to that. I feel that way with some of the victims who are kind of special.”
“The way I see it,” Ken shrugged, “it can’t be bad for David or Frank to talk things out together. Now,” he began, “how about you? We know physically you’re doing better. How are you otherwise, Johnny?”
“Now you sound like Roy,” Johnny snorted. “I’m getting there. Still a few lingering nightmares, but they’re tapering off.”
“Getting any help for that?”
Johnny eyed Dawson warily. “You sure you aren’t Roy in disguise?” he snickered.
Ken laughed as he got up out of the chair.
“I have to be going, but I’m glad to see you’re doing this well.”
“Thanks. And thanks for getting me out of that place.”
“Sure thing, Johnny. I’m just glad you were lucky that day. You know someone was looking out for you.”
“They sure were. No doubt. I wish…” Johnny paused, feeling a tightness in his throat. “I wish Louise Vickory had someone looking out for her that day.”
Dawson nodded. No words were needed to convey he agreed.
Monday evening Johnny found himself with a nurse helping him from the bathroom back to his bed. Although Johnny was doing better, he still had a tendency for dizzy spells at times. He had tried to walk across the room by himself pushing his IV on the pole and keeping weight off his injured leg. But halfway across, he had to grab onto the other bed to steady himself as the room spun. Once the spinning had slowed, he was able to get to the call button on the spare bed and summon the help of a nurse.
Easing Johnny onto his bed, the nurse helped him get situated. Once the nurse was gone, Johnny tried to get some rest. Fifteen minutes after falling asleep, he was once again woken up by the vision of the Ford Thunderbird shattering the window and hitting Louise.
Tuesday, Roy came into Johnny’s room, a big grin on his face.
Johnny was sitting up in bed eating his lunch. He glanced at Roy. “What’d you do? Win big in a card game?”
Roy pulled over the guest chair, and sat down.
“I think we found a way to get you and the others through this.”
Johnny put down his fork. “Well, c’mon. Tell me.”
“Okay,” Roy clasped his hands together and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “Cap and I have been talking with other firemen, cops and medical staff here…also with Frank Vickory…”
“Go on,” Johnny prodded.
“Well, we all…they all…want to do some things to help out Clark Russell’s widow and kids. I wanted to help Frank, too, but he insisted his wife would want the Russells to be taken care of.”
Johnny nodded, trying to be patient while Roy continued.
“Apparently Clark Russell had cancelled his life insurance. So his wife has been left with nothing. She and the kids are gonna have a rough time without help. So we decided to have a few carwashes and donate all the money we make to her. A few of the guys suggested the fire department and police department hold raffles, and maybe some kind of county event…put a couple of trucks on display, maybe a squad and an ambulance. Then we could have a booth or something set up for donations.”
Johnny scooted up some in his bed. “You know, those are pretty good ideas. I forgot about her and the kids.”
“Yeah, well, there’s more. Some of the firemen want to take turns on days off to do stuff with the Russell kids. You know, like take them to an amusement park, shopping, camping…that kind of stuff. Their mom is all for it. I think she needs a break.”
“Yeah,” Johnny grinned. “Those kids are quite a pair. I only saw them a few times, but every time I did, they were running or jumping or talking non-stop. Uh…hey…I’m not sure I’ll be up to all this for awhile…”
“Don’t worry. Everyone understands. We just think the sooner we get started the better.”
“David Swick told me yesterday that Mr. Vickory is selling the apartment complex. I guess he’s moving to San Francisco with one of his kids.”
“Frank Vickory wants to talk to you, Johnny. But Brackett doesn’t think it’s a good idea yet. Not while you’re still having nightmares.”
“Why didn’t anyone ask me?” Johnny splayed his fingers across his chest. “I’ll talk to him. Roy, this is me…Johnny. I’m okay.”
Roy grinned. “I guess sometimes we forget people know themselves better than anyone else does.”
Thursday, Johnny talked Doctor Brackett into letting him go to Frank Vickory’s room. Captain Stanley had stopped by to check on his paramedic’s progress and volunteered to be Johnny’s chaperone.
Arriving at the door to Frank’s room, Captain Stanley let John wheel himself in while he held the door open.
“I’ll be right out here waiting, pal. Just let me know when you’re ready to go back to your room.”
Hank Stanley let the door close behind Johnny.
Johnny hadn’t seen Frank Vickory since right before the accident. Now that he was looking at the man again, he could feel his stomach knot up. Johnny knew he needed to have this conversation for closure on what happened and he had a gut feeling Frank knew it, too.
“How are you doing?” Johnny asked, feeling somewhat awkward.
“I’m good. I get released tomorrow and should be cleared to go to San Francisco.”
“Great! I heard you were moving in with one of your kids.”
“Yes. I need to get away,” Frank explained. “My son who lives here will handle the real-estate transaction for me on the apartment building. But we don’t have any buyers yet.”
“I’m sure it won’t take long.”
An uncomfortable silence fell between the two men. Johnny looked down at his hands in his lap, absently picking at one of the scabs on his forearm. He glanced back up at Frank.
“I’m sorry for what happened. I…I wish I could’ve done something.”
“John, it wasn’t your fault. There was nothing you could’ve done before or after it happened. Louise knows it, too.”
Johnny gave the man a curious look.
“I know my wife. She didn’t leave this world without looking over us first. I have to believe she was there until we were carried out. She was my angel…my best friend,” Frank paused, wiping away tears in his eyes. “John, it’s okay. She’s in a good place now.”
“I just keep thinking that if I’d only paid more attention to Clar…” Johnny trailed off, not sure he should say the name.
“Clark Russell?” Frank scratched his head. “You can say it. I don’t hate him. I’m angry at what he did. But really I’m just sorry we pushed him to where he felt like there was nowhere to turn. And I worry now for his family since he died.”
“Well, I knew he was having problems and was upset,” Johnny explained. “I should’ve talked to him.”
“Maybe it would’ve helped him, maybe not. But don’t kick yourself for it,” Frank sighed. “Hell, you could’ve been killed, too.”
“You know, I deal with this kind of stuff every time I’m on the job. I consider myself strong when it comes to handling a crisis. But, this time…”Johnny shook his head. “This time I was a part of it and it’s been hard. I don’t know if I can let the what ifs go as easily. Your wife was a good woman, and I can’t…I just can’t accept that she had to go that way.”
Frank picked up a glass of water off the table by his bed, taking a sip. Setting it back down, he looked Johnny directly in the eyes.
“I’m sure you’ve said this to enough people, but I’m gonna say it to you. It was not your fault,” Frank said in a firm, unwavering voice. “You were in the wrong place at the wrong time and that’s unfortunate. And I’m sorry you saw what horror you did. But remember my wife for the good times. She had a full and happy life. That’s what’s gonna keep me going.”
Johnny nodded. “Did you have her funeral yet?”
“No. We’re going to have it in a few days in San Francisco, where she’ll be buried. We have plots up there and she’ll be close to me where I can visit her grave.”
“I’d like to go, but I don’t see Brackett letting me travel that far so soon,” Johnny said, disappointed. “Maybe I can send some flowers to the funeral home. Would that be alright?”
“That would be fine. I’ll give you the address and phone number to the place before I leave here.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it.”
Frank decided to get off the topic, trying to help Johnny out. “So, when do you get to go back to your new apartment?”
“Oh, day after tomorrow if all goes well…maybe Sunday. I can’t wait, though. I’m tired of the scenery here.” Johnny thought about the bathing suit clad women at his new apartment complex. Man, am I tired of the scenery here.
Frank laughed. “I know what you mean. A week in one room is more than enough for me. I think I know every inch of these walls.”
“Yeah,” Johnny snorted. “Me too. I’ve been in this place a few times and as nice as they are here, it’s just not like being home in your own bed.”
Doctor Brackett peeked in the doorway. “Johnny, I think it’s time to get back to your room now.”
“Sure, Doc.” Johnny looked at Frank Vickory. “Thanks. It’s kind of strange, but I do feel better. Maybe it’s knowing you’re okay.”
Frank nodded. “Good. Louise wouldn’t want it any other way. Take care of yourself.”
Captain Stanley came into the room, and pushed Johnny out.
Johnny was released from Rampart on Sunday. The welcome home party Chet had planned was a big success and caught Johnny totally off guard. The crew of A-Shift had their forty-eight hours off that weekend, making Sunday a perfect day for a get-together. Some of the firemen from other stations were able to attend as well.
Captain Stanley had picked Johnny up at Rampart and kept quiet that anything special was going on. Once Johnny opened his front door, everyone in the apartment greeted him and Hank. A big red and white banner with the words “Welcome Home, Johnny” on it was hung across the livingroom, near the ceiling.
Johnny felt somewhat awkward, as the nicks on his face and arms were still evident. But he reminded himself that the marks would be gone soon enough. Right now was a time to appreciate being alive and having friends that wanted to share in that celebration.
Six weeks after the party, the plans to help Judy Russell and her children were under full swing. Johnny had been cleared to return to work and he was able to help out with some of the fund raising. Captain Stanley appointed Johnny the money collector at each of the events to make it easier on him. .
A few firemen from the other stations had taken their turn at spending an afternoon or a day with the Russell children, as did the guys on A-shift at Station 51. The men would take the kids fishing, to movies, to amusement parks and the zoo.
It was the beginning of another shift and Johnny and Roy were in the apparatus bay at the station, checking the equipment on the squad. Roy took in Johnny’s demeanor, trying to see how far he had come emotionally. Although the nightmares about the accident had stopped occurring, Johnny never had told anyone exactly how he felt. To the casual observer, he appeared to be okay. But Roy had a feeling otherwise.
Roy decided it was time to see how much Johnny had put behind him.
“Hey, when are you gonna take Judy Russell’s kids out for a day?”
“Ah, Roy. I’m not that good with kids,” Johnny complained, putting the trauma box back in the compartment. “Can I just give someone else money to take the kids out for a day?”
“You’ll do fine,” Roy assured his partner. He closed up the drug box, latching it. Standing up, he lifted the box into the squad. “You don’t even have to take ‘em anywhere fancy. Just go to a park or something. Give it a try.”
“Look…Roy…” Johnny paused, looking at the floor. Glancing back up at his partner, he gave in to defeat. “Okay…But just this once. I tell you, I’m not good at this kid stuff.”
“Yes you are. I’ve seen you with kids and you make them feel at ease.”
“That’s different. They’re usually hurt or scared and they need someone.”
“And what makes you think these kids aren’t?” Roy asked.
Johnny stared hard at Roy. He diverted his eyes to the floor, and scratched his head.
“Yeah…yeah, you’re right. I’ll try it soon.”
Roy watched as Johnny walked around the squad and into the dayroom.
I wonder if Johnny is afraid to be with the Russell kids because of what they or he might say?
Six days after his conversation with Roy, Johnny volunteered to have the Russell kids on his next day off. The following day after the visit, Johnny returned to work wondering if anyone was going to question him on how he was feeling.
Johnny strolled across the apparatus bay in the station, heading to the locker room. Roy caught up to him just as Johnny reached the door.
“Well, how did your day with the Russell kids go?” Roy asked.
“Oh…it went okay.” Johnny gave it more thought. “Actually it went pretty well. You know, those kids are kind of cute, once you get to know them.”
Johnny opened the door, walking into the locker room. Roy was right behind him. Stepping up to their lockers, the two men began to change into their uniforms.
“They’re smart, too,” Roy added. “Joanne and I were impressed when we met them a couple of weeks ago.”
Roy pulled his blue shirt off the hanger.
“Did the kids say anything about the accident?”
Shrugging, Johnny answered, “The boy just asked if I was really the guy who got hurt by his dad.”
“What did you tell him?”
“The truth,” Johnny answered simply. “That I was one of the guys who got hurt, but that it was over with and not to worry about it anymore. I told him that an angel named Louise said it was all gonna be okay, his dad was happy now and to remember the good times he had with his dad.”
Roy could see Johnny’s eyes tear.
“Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to put you through this yet, Johnny.”
“Oh yes it was,” Johnny said with conviction. “Roy, the same as I needed to talk to Frank Vickory that one day, these kids needed to talk to me.”
Johnny grinned, his eyes clearing. “You want to hear the funny part?”
“I took the kids down to the pool at the my apartment, right?”
Roy nodded, motioning for Johnny to continue.
“Well, ever since I’ve been out of the hospital and well enough to get down to the pool, I’ve been trying to get a date with this one chick…Monica…and she wouldn’t have anything to do with me. I bring these kids with me and boom there she is…Monica is hanging out with us and it’s Johnny this and Johnny that. I found out she digs guys with kids, especially ones who’ll spend time with someone else’s.”
“So you got a date with her using the kids?”
Johnny looked over at Roy with surprise. “Roy! I like women as much as the next guy, but even I wouldn’t do that. Now, you’re missing the point here. The truth is, I couldn’t wait for her to leave us alone. I didn’t get rude or anything.” Johnny snorted. “Heck, I may want to date her later. But I didn’t want the time with the Russell kids intruded on.”
“Sounds like you may be changing your priorities.”
“Nah. Just taking a break while I heal. And helping two kids in the meantime. But you know what?”
“Kids are a lot simpler to figure out than women are.”
“Go on believing that, partner…then tell me that later when you’re a dad.
Johnny placed a hand against his chest. “Me? A dad?” Johnny laughed. “Yeah, right. You’re nuts if you think I’m ever gonna give up the single life.”
Roy decided not to argue with his partner as the two men headed toward the kitchen. He had a feeling the day would come when Johnny was, in fact, a dad. And a darn good one at that. But, for now, as the two of them headed towards the coffee pot and the start of a new shift, Roy allowed Johnny his fantasies.
A very BIG thank you to Kenda and Pat for the beta reads! I appreciate the help!