By Audrey W.
“He’s making a list and checking it twice,” Chet Kelly remarked as he came into the dayroom at Station 51.
John Gage looked up from his paper on the table, a puzzled expression on his face. “Huh?”
“The uh. . .” his partner Roy DeSoto indicated the top of his head.
“Oh.” He removed the red Santa hat with white furry trim and placed it on the table in front of his paper. “Very funny, Chet.”
“So what are you doing?” the curly-haired fireman wondered.
Johnny paused a moment, then tried not to look at what he knew would be a gloating Chet Kelly as he answered, “Alright. I made a list . . .you know, of people I need to buy for. An’ I’m goin’ over it.”
Chet was speechless for a brief moment, surprised at his own correct statement. “Am I on it?” he wondered as he peered at the paper.
Johnny snatched it up and folded it in half. “Never mind.”
The men had drawn names for a gift exchange earlier in the day and no one knew who got whose.
“Well, just in case I am, I’m in the market for a trip to Tahiti. Or maybe--”
“Or maybe Roy got your name,” Johnny interrupted. He hoped that would stop the often annoying shiftmate. He folded the paper up a few more times, then stuffed it in his shirt pocket. “You’ll never know, Chester B. Nosey . . .not until Christmas, anyway.”
The fireman looked at Roy. “I don’t know how you ride around with him all day.”
“Sometimes neither do I.”
“Hey!” Johnny said as he furrowed his brow in annoyance.
The conversation was then interrupted by their captain, Hank Stanley.
“John, Roy. . .I was wondering if I could ask you two a favor.”
“Sure,” Roy shrugged. His partner simply nodded in agreement as they waited for what the favor would be.
“Great. It’s a tree.”
“A tree?” Johnny wondered.
Hank nodded. “Uh. . .yeah. A Christmas tree. For the station.”
Chet, Roy and Johnny all looked at the six foot tall, but skimpy Christmas tree that was in the corner of the room with lights, ornaments and tinsel on it. They then brought their attention back to the captain, puzzled expressions on their faces.
“We have a tree.”
“Yes, John, we do. But ya have to admit, it resembles the Charlie Brown Christmas tree at best.”
They waited for more, not sure what he was after.
“The Marines are sending some men up on the 23rd to give out some of the Toys for Tots stuff we’ve collected here and Headquarters arranged for a group of the kids to come in for a tour at the same time. The chief wants us to be sure we have the biggest and best looking tree possible, and he thought the station’s own crews handling the task would keep us all in the holiday spirit.”
“How’re we gonna carry it back on the squad?” Roy asked. “I mean, what if we get a call while the tree’s still on it?”
“I just need you guys to find it. But someone’ll pick it up tomorrow and bring it over. B-shift gets the fun job of transferring the decorations and adding more if necessary. So if you think about it--”
“We have the easiest part of the job,” Gage finished, with a nod.
“When do you want us to go?”
Hank looked at his watch before answering Roy’s question. “Let’s see, it’s about an hour till dinner. So after we eat?” He raised his eyebrows.
“If Roy can stand to ride around with me some more.”
Hank looked from Johnny to Roy. He figured he’d missed out on a conversation that would likely be dismissed by the two sooner or later. They always seemed to work things out.
Chet picked up the Santa hat and placed it on Gage’s head. “You’d better wear this a little more. Maybe it’ll get you jolly like ol’ Saint Nick.”
“Shouldn’t that be ‘ho ho’?”
“Man, do we hafta wait till after dinner to go?”
Hank and Roy grinned. Though the captain had only been a part of the crew for just under two years, the others had been together longer, and Chet and Johnny’s teasing remarks with each other were a staple of the station. It seemed to be the easiest way the two had found to get along.
“This looks like a good place. They’ve still got quite a few to pick from.”
On his partner’s suggestion, Roy pulled the squad into a small make-shift parking area beside a corner lot that was enclosed with a six foot high chain link fence. A line of live trees were visible through the fencing, the area illuminated by the street lights above. He and Johnny climbed out of the truck, noting it wasn’t very busy at the moment with only a couple of other cars parked nearby. Christmas music played loudly from a radio within the business.
Wearing their blue jackets with their uniforms to ward off the chilly forty degree temperature, the two wandered just inside the enclosed area, where they expected to be greeted by the owner.
“Now, remember, we want the full--“
Johnny’s words were cut short as two loud consecutive pop sounds filled the air. Screams intermixed with the second. Almost simultaneously, the slender paramedic was thrown backwards to the ground, the HT in his hand dropped to the pavement. He briefly saw white flashes of stars when the back of his head connected with the hard surface as well. Two young men in black ski masks rushed past and nearly knocked Roy over too when one bumped roughly against his right side. The stranger hurried on behind his friend.
Gage remained down, stunned.
Roy started toward his partner. “Johnny!”
“Over here! He’s been shot!”
Roy turned and after just a hint of hesitation, took off in a run toward the sound of distress.
At the same time, Johnny scrambled to his feet with the aid of adrenaline. The effort left him somewhat breathless. He ignored the searing pain in his left shoulder and shook off the wooziness in his head. Someone needed help and that overrode everything else.
Roy was already on his way back toward the squad by the time Gage was standing. He paused for a few seconds when he got to his partner.
“I’m. . . all right,” Johnny assured.
There wasn’t time to discuss the meaning of ‘all right’ at the moment, so the two had to leave it at that.
With his left arm crooked and motionless against his body, Johnny darted inside the gated area while Roy rushed to the squad. Gage quickly made his way past the very frightened and upset adults and children gathered near the victim who was laid out on the ground.
After calling the incident in to Dispatch over the radio, Roy grabbed the drug and trauma boxes, along with the biophone, from the compartments on the passenger side of the truck. With the biophone held against his side by his right arm, he carried the other two items in his hands as he hurried to join his partner. He directed a few people who’d come running after hearing shots fired to stay where they were and out of the tree shop.
Johnny looked across to a middle-aged man kneeling on the ground beside the victim. The paramedic had told the others to stand back to give them room, then had awkwardly knelt down himself with only one arm in use for balance. He’d nearly toppled over when a brief wave a dizziness washed over him.
“What’s his name?”
“Glenn,” a youth about fourteen years old answered while he stepped away from the small group. His voice cracked as he broke into tears, crying out, “Please, ya gotta help ‘im! He’s my dad!”
“He’s the owner,” another person quickly put in.
“We’ll do everything. . . we can for ‘im,” Johnny assured, wiping beads of moisture off his brow with his right forearm. He returned his full attention to the downed man. He could still feel the intense burning pain in his own shoulder, but knew right now Glenn needed medical help from he and Roy.
The boy’s dad weakly gripped Gage’s left wrist with a bloody hand, staining the sleeve of his jacket. “H. . .hurts. . .bad. . .”
“I know. . .I know it does.”
Did he ever. When Glenn grabbed Johnny’s wounded arm, the paramedic had felt a jolt of pain in his shoulder from the slight motion that about took him out and forced a gasp.
After a few needed seconds to recover and gather his wits, Johnny continued. “Just take it easy, Glenn. My partner’s calling. . . for an ambulance now. We’ll have ya fixed up and ready. . .ready to go to the hospital in no time.”
He watched as the frightened man released his hold, then glanced up as Roy approached.
“He’s got a bullet wound in the right anterior chest . . . I don’ know if there’s an exit. Respirations are shallow, he’s gonna need oxygen. . .”
Johnny was glad a wooziness from the quick movement of his head subsided by the time he’d finished his explanation.
Roy could tell Johnny wasn’t in any shape to carry equipment. Nor did he feel he could leave. This man needed them to start on him right away. They weren’t supposed to ‘employ’ civilians, but he had no choice. He locked gazes with the man who was still squatted down near them.
“We’ve got an oxygen tank and some yellow safety blankets in compartments on the right side of our squad. I need to you get those for us.”
“Sure!” he took off in a run.
Roy had set the boxes down nearby. He eyed Johnny as he opened one and reached inside. Though he wasn’t aware that Gage had hit his head, Roy’d noticed the injury to his shoulder earlier and couldn’t wait to get back to see how he was fairing. He’d almost expected to find Johnny laid out on the ground as well. To find the younger man still attentive over the other victim had brought some relief, though not much.
Johnny wasn’t bleeding out quickly, so at least it was likely the axillary artery or other major blood vessels hadn’t been hit. But the slowly growing blood stain on the front of Gage’s jacket and the already uncharacteristically paleness of his skin meant the injury was bad enough.
. Roy looked up at the other adults. “My partner’s been shot. I’m gonna need help from a couple of you in turning this man so I can see if the bullet went all the way through.”
A woman holding a toddler girl quickly put her down. “I’ll do it.” Another cried out, “Oh my God, he’s bleeding!”
Since she was behind Johnny; that answered yet another unspoken question for Roy.
Until now, none of the witnesses had noticed the hole in or blood seeping through the cloth on the back of Gage’s dark blue jacket, where the bullet had come through his shoulder. All their attention had been on Glenn. So Roy had been left to wonder if his partner had a bullet lodged in him.
The younger man took a glance at his own injury. “I think. . .it’s just a flesh wound,” he gritted out. In the shoulder, not likely, but the claim was an effort to shove his own worries away as well. Without waiting for a response from his partner, he placed his right hand on Glenn’s wrist to get a pulse count. Roy motioned for his newly acquired assistants to come forward.
Immediately after Gage was finished, Roy had two people in position to help him turn Glenn very carefully, just enough to check for the exit wound.
“Pulse is 130. .” Johnny informed.
As soon as he saw there was no exit wound and had Glenn back in place, Roy applied a pressure bandage , then looked toward the open gate. The people he’d asked to stay put had gathered nearby to see anyway. All he wanted to see was another paramedic team arriving to help. Gage needed attention as soon as possible, ‘flesh wound’ or not, and he couldn’t do a damn thing until he took care of the first victim.
Johnny pressed the tips of his right index finger and thumb against the inner corners of his eyes, his face cast down a moment.
Roy immediately began to wonder if his partner may have hit his head when he fell and that he’d missed seeing that in the commotion. He suspected when the time was right, Johnny would volunteer that information. But if he didn’t, Roy would be sure to ask.
Johnny contacted Rampart on the biophone, doing everything one handed.
The oxygen and the two blankets wrapped in clear plastic covers had been delivered and Roy had sent that man for a backboard next.
As he got the mask in place and adjusted the air flow, sirens could be heard from down the street. He hoped it was the other squad and ambulance.
Soaked in sweat, Johnny had a fixed grimace on his face as he waited for the doctor’s instructions.
After Brackett gave them directives, Roy took the receiver from Johnny and informed the doctor they had another patient.
“Victim two has a gunshot wound to the shoulder, there is an exit. I haven’t been able to get vitals yet, Rampart.”
“51, why not?”
Roy looked at his partner in concern as he informed, “Rampart, victim two is Johnny.”
The pause on the other end of the line was enough to indicate they were as shocked as Johnny and Roy were with the turn of events.
Dixie looked at Kel Brackett in alarm. It was a jolt to hear the unexpected news. The two were puzzled as to how this situation could have developed, but the details would have to wait. First and foremost, the important thing was getting both Gage and the other victim to Rampart as soon as possible.
“10-4, 51. Relay the information as soon as you can get it. Make sure he keeps movement of that arm to a minimum and immobilize it as soon as possible if you haven’t already.”
The doctor eyed the head nurse and the right corner of his mouth twitched, “That explains why he sounded like he did over the line. Let’s just hope he didn’t make his own situation worse by working on the patient.”
From where they were, that’s about all they could do.
The sirens had stopped in the parking lot of the tree shop and a familiar policeman was now with the paramedics, along with two ambulance attendants and a stretcher. Roy’d filled Officer Vince Howard in briefly as he worked to start the requested IV on Glenn. The policeman radioed for a second ambulance since Roy hadn’t had a chance to.
Johnny was feeling worse by the minute. All his attention previously on their patient helped to keep his symptoms at bay somewhat. But now that he didn’t have anything else to focus on, he noticed the still searing pain even more and the forty-degree weather suddenly seemed much colder. He hadn’t even noticed until now that he was shivering and a throbbing headache had begun to surface.
Soon another siren stopped just outside the shop, and the rotating lights of another squad flashed red through the fence and trees. Two paramedics rushed into the enclosed area. Roy had just moved on to his partner.
“We got caught up in traffic,” one explained, “We were out of our territory, coming off a false alarm for 36’s area.”
It was bad enough they didn’t have enough units yet to cover the county. But to have them sent out . . .way out. . .on false alarms only made matters worse.
After a brief rundown from Roy on where they stood with Glenn, one of the new arrivals took over there so that Roy could continue to assist with his partner, with both the bullet wound and an admitted mild concussion.
Johnny squinted at Roy, his eyes filled with pain. “Guess we won’t be ridin’ together. . .afterall.” He cracked a very small crooked smile that quickly faded.
“Yeah, not for awhile anyway.”
But Roy hoped things wouldn’t be permanently changed. More than ever, he wished the two could’ve been climbing back in the squad together and heading off to the station. He knew very well that depending on the damage inside, a gunshot wound to the shoulder could end a career such as theirs. Especially if it got infected, which could cause complications.
Paramedic Gary Caldwell assisted the ambulance attendants in placing Glenn on the stretcher from their vehicle. The other ambulance for Johnny was in route.
In the meantime, Gage’s jacket and light blue shirt had been removed. As they’d wrapped the shoulder to secure the pressure bandages in place after his arm had been immobilized, Roy noted the fact the bullet hadn’t gone straight through his partner. Rather the exit wound was slightly left of the entry in the front. Something had offset its course a bit.
After the IV directed was set, Roy contacted Rampart one more time.
“Go ahead, 51,” came Doctor Brackett’s response.
“Rampart, be advised we’ve got both victims ready to transport. ETA will be approximately ten minutes for victim one.” He looked in the direction of the lot when another vehicle using a siren arrived just after the one carrying Glenn had left. “About twelve for victim two.”
“10-4, 51. We’re standing by.”
Roy placed the transmitter back in its place and closed up the biophone.
He glanced around. Vince was still gathering information from the witnesses, another officer had arrived to help investigate. He then looked down at his partner after getting to his feet.
Gage’s eyes were closed, his jaw set tight, as he lay with his upper body slightly raised by the angled stretcher to elevate the wound above his heart. A yellow safety blanket covered him up to the chin, but Roy could tell he was still shivering.
When did it become so dangerous to pick out a Christmas tree? he thought to himself.
As they hurried from the enclosure, he once again noticed the music playing on the radio. Until now, it’d just become background noise, barely noticeable with everything going on.
‘. . .a Merry Christmas. We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. . .’
Well, the chance at a Merry Christmas was pretty much gone, but there was still hope for a Happy New Year. If he’d at least have his partner on the mend or back on duty with him before long.
Roy watched the ambulance leave the scene with lights and siren in use. Parker followed immediately behind in Squad 18. In a rare situation, Johnny would need to be transported without a paramedic inside with him. But the doctor had approved it due to the apparent non-life threatening injury and the fact another paramedic would be available very quickly if needed.
DeSoto couldn’t wait to be on his way as well, but first he’d need to give his full account of what happened to the police.
Vince Howard wrote down the information in a small tablet from his shirt pocket. The other officer was examining the spot where Johnny had fallen. The HT was still on the ground, its case cracked from the hard impact.
“And you said they had ski masks on?”
“Right. Black ski masks.”
“Did they say anything? Either one of them?”
Roy shook his head. “No, they just ran off.”
He wished he could offer more information, but it happened so fast, most of it was a blur.
Glenn was removed from the ambulance and immediately whisked inside Rampart and down the corridor to a treatment room. As soon as his ambulance arrived, Johnny was taken to another treatment room just as quickly. He wisely kept his eyes closed as he was rushed along on the stretcher.
Johnny opened his eyes to slits as he was carefully lifted and shifted over to an exam table.
Once Hal had hung his patient's IV bag on the pole close by, he proceeded to fill the physician in on Johnny's condition.
Doctor Morton leaned over Gage and listened.
Johnny had only dealt with Mike Morton periodically. But he knew the young doctor didn’t seem to have a very well developed bedside manner yet. The wounded paramedic only hoped the holiday spirit had improved that a little.
“What’ve you gotten yourself into now?” The doctor wondered, a tinge of irritation to his voice.
Well, so much for that improvement he’d hoped for. Morton had been very involved in a case where Johnny was one of a few who’d become seriously ill from a virus passed on by a woman’s pet monkey. The paramedic had allowed it to climb onto his arm and shoulder while at her home when she initially became ill, thus how he’d contracted the virus as well. Morton made sure to remind him more than once since then that if he’d been cautious in the first place, he wouldn’t have gotten sick, too.
Gage wanted to snap back, but right now he was in no condition. Luckily that wouldn’t matter.
What a relief it was to hear Doctor Joe Early’s voice and see his face come into view as well. He’d apparently just come into the room.
He addressed the dark-haired paramedic, his tone purposely light. “I heard you ran into a little trouble.”
Johnny forced a wan grin. “You could say that. . .” A pained expression then returned to his face.
While Morton checked the patient’s pupil reaction, Early carefully removed the somewhat bloodied bandages. However he left the arm immobilized further down. He noticed Johnny’s damp skin and sweat-soaked hair as Mike rattled off, “Pupils are equal and reactive.”
“I’m gonna see if Roy’s here yet,” Hal remarked from where he stood a few feet away from the table.
Joe nodded as he continued with his patient.
As Early asked the injured paramedic a few questions to determine his level of alertness, Hal took one more look at Gage before heading for the door.
Johnny turned his head to the side. “Doc. . .how bad?”
“Well, Roy was right. You’ve got a mild concussion. I’ll order a skull series from X-ray. As far as your shoulder, I don’t know, Johnny. I’m going to have to get pictures of that too to be sure exactly how much damage we’re dealing with.” He looked to Morton. “Mike--”
“I’m on it.”
He was already on his way toward the yellow phone across the room on the wall.
Once Roy had told the officers all he knew of the incident, he was on his way to Rampart. He’d been anxious to find out how Glenn and Johnny were doing. Johnny would probably have to face questioning soon if he was up to it. They’d want to hear from him before he’d have a chance to forget any details. That was if he could remember them all in the first place.
As he drove toward the hospital, Roy was so focused on getting there, he barely took notice of the Christmas decorations on the buildings and light posts. It was only when a traffic light turned from green to red that he even gave Christmas another thought.
Thanks to those punks, quite a few Christmases were likely ruined. Including. . .
Cap. He’s gonna feel responsible since he sent us out to begin with. I wonder if he knows yet?
Maybe he could find out if Captain Stanley was notified yet after he got to Rampart.
With the necessary blood tests ordered by Doctor Early, Johnny lay in the treatment room, waiting for the results of those tests. X-ray had just left after they’d complied with the doctor’s requests.
Covered to the neck with a white sheet, he ran his thoughts over what had taken place at the tree shop. He still couldn’t believe he’d been shot.
The dark-haired paramedic had a strong dislike of guns to begin with. He recalled a time when he and Roy had helped a female detective capture a thief at Rampart and he’d had to hold a gun on the guy for a brief time. The piece of metal had felt uncomfortable in his hands and he was relieved when she’d taken it back.
As Roy was headed into Rampart’s emergency corridor, Gary and Hal were on their way out. They’d gotten another run as soon as they made themselves available.
“Glenn’s up in surgery,” Gary filled in as they passed by. “Johnny’s in Three.”
They hurried on and Roy set his path for Treatment Room Three to finally see just exactly how his partner was doing.
With Glenn moved from the ER and her assistance no longer needed with him, Dixie had gone to check on one of her favorite paramedics. She opened the door slightly and peeked in. She then pushed it farther and stepped inside.
“You know, if you wanted to crash our potluck Christmas dinner, you could’ve just stopped by between runs. You didn’t have to go to all this trouble,” she teased as she walked over to Johnny. The playful remark was a cover for her deep concern.
Morton looked up from where he stood on the other side of the exam table and smiled, while Johnny turned his head to the side and cracked a slight crooked grin. The paramedic then grew serious, his brows furrowed.
“He’s in surgery.”
“Man. . .the poor guy was jus’ tryin’ to run a business for Christmas. . .”
She smiled down at him. It didn’t surprise her John Gage was thinking more about the victim than himself. He and his partner Roy always had their priorities with the victims they encountered first.
“What about you? How’re you doing?”
“I’ve been better.”
“And he’s certainly been worse,” Morton added.
Both Dixie and Johnny knew he meant well. But his comment sure lacked any compassion the other doctors usually demonstrated.
Suddenly the door opened and Roy walked in, a concerned look on his face. The first person he eyed was Dixie.
“How is he? I saw Gary and Hal on their way out on another run. They didn’t have time to say much.”
“We’ll know more once Joe gets back with the x-rays,” Morton told him.
“Glenn’s in surgery,” Johnny informed him.
He hoped Johnny wouldn’t be going up there next.
Soon Doctor Early returned with a large yellow envelope in his right hand. He eyed the concerned individuals looking back at him.
“It’s not all bad news,” He assured as he walked over to the screen for displaying x-ray film. “Your skull series came back normal, for one.” The doctor then reached inside the envelope and stuck two pictures up in place. He flicked on the light and stepped back to reveal what else he’d seen.
“You were fortunate, Johnny.” He pointed at the acromion in Johnny’s shoulder. “There’s a line here where the bullet actually grazed the tip of the bone on the underside. It’s right above the humorus. Just a fraction of an inch more to the right, and the damage would’ve been much more severe. Most likely the bone would’ve shattered and you’d have fragments embedded in the tissue.”
“What about the bad news?” Roy asked.
“There is some muscle damage where the bullet tore through. It’ll heal on its own, but it’s going to take some time.”
He then addressed his patient across the room. “At least you won’t be looking at any surgery.”
“How long?” Johnny wondered. “To heal, I mean?”
“I’d say at least two months for everything to heal completely. There’ll be some physical therapy required later during that time as well; to get full motion of your shoulder again.”
Johnny frowned. He didn’t like the time frame at all.
“Is there a chance it would be quicker?” Roy questioned.
“There’s always that possibility, especially as healthy as Johnny is. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Gage tried to imagine two months out of the station. He’d miss the guys immensely.
The guys. . .oh no!
Of all the things to be concerned with, for what ever reason the first that entered his mind was he still had to get Chet’s Christmas present since he had in fact drawn the fireman’s name.
When he mentioned it to Roy, the senior paramedic figured it was probably the concussion having an affect on his partner’s thought process. That was the only reason he could come up with for Chet to be first and foremost on Johnny’s mind.
It wasn’t long before Johnny was settled in a room and asleep after receiving some much needed pain medication, along with antibiotics to ward off infection. He’d need to be woken up periodically for a brief check due to the concussion, but for the most part, his body needed rest to recover from the sudden trauma.
Hank Stanley stopped by Rampart on his way home from the station. He’d felt partly responsible for his youngest member’s ordeal even though he’d never expected buying a Christmas tree to become more dangerous of an assignment than most things they faced on the job.
“He’s on the second floor in room two twenty-six,” Dixie directed.
The captain thanked her, wished her a Merry Christmas and headed for the elevator.
Hank knocked lightly on the door to Johnny’s room, then peeked inside. After being welcomed in by his youngest crew member, who was resting in a semi-upright position, he entered and took a seat in a chair not far from the bed.
Johnny sported fresh bandaging on his left shoulder, an IV line still in his forearm for the purpose of administering the antibiotics and pain medication as needed. It had only been an hour since Doctors Early and Brackett had both come by to check up on him and make sure there was no sign of infection starting; Brackett more so just to get a chance to see him. So far Johnny was lucky.
“How’re you feeling, pal?”
“Sore. Just sore, Cap. An' tired.”
“That’s good.” He glanced at Johnny’s shoulder and shook his head. “I’m sure sorry I got you guys into this.”
The paramedic had been waiting for the remark. He was certain that the captain would blame himself.
“You didn’t. I’m the one that picked the place. Roy was just following my directions, Cap.”
“Maybe so, but still, if I hadn’t sent you guys out for a tree. . .the chief wanted me to pass along his regrets, too. He'll be by to see you later.”
The Chief? Johnny had forgotten he’d been involved as well.
While Hank was still there, a detective that was put on the robbery case stopped in to question Johnny. Doctor Early had approved the visit.
However, Johnny wasn’t of anymore help than Roy was. Two guys in black ski masks was all he could remember. He wasn’t even sure which knocked him down, the gunshot or one of the fleeing suspects.
It was doubtful they’d be able to catch the culprits, as no one in the immediate area outside the shop that night even saw the robbers. They were gone that fast.
“They probably pulled off their disguises and blended in somewhere,” the detective surmised.
It was after his comment of -- “It’s a good thing you and your partner showed up when you did. You may’ve saved a few lives by disrupting the robbery. And from what I hear, the owner of the shop could’ve died if you hadn’t been right there to give him aid” – that both Johnny and Hank remembered the saying that what seems all bad on the surface isn’t always so.
Roy stopped by later in the day. Johnny was once again by himself. He told his visitor about the captain and detective, and what was said.
“It’s a shame we couldn’ta gotten there before anyone was shot,” Johnny commented. “How’s Glenn gonna sell his trees from here?”
“Well, actually, I don’t think he’s going to have to worry about that,” Roy said with a smile.
Johnny furrowed his brow. “Whataya mean?”
“Word got through the stations pretty quick about what happened. To him and you.”
Roy nodded. “A bunch of us are going to take turns running the shop for him the next two days. You know, anyone who isn’t on duty. Hal and Gary talked to his wife when they saw her here last night and asked if it was possible. I’d say it would be an understatement to say she was happy about it.”
“That’s really far out, man. I wish I could help.”
“Just get better, partner.” He patted Gage’s covered legs as he stood and repeated, “Just get better.”
It was three days after the shooting and Johnny was still at Rampart. Though he was doing well and there was still no sign of infection in his wounds, he’d need to stay at least a few more days.
Dixie made sure he got to participate in giving out gifts to the youngsters in the pediatrics ward. She’d taken him in a wheel chair, certain the kids would enjoy spending time with a fireman, as well as ‘Santa’.
He’d missed the Marines and children at the station. But Roy had paid him another visit to fill him in on the success of the event. He also had good news about Glenn’s Christmas trees. Every single one had sold by the night of the twenty-third.
Glenn was doing better, but was still in ICU, so they couldn’t tell him the news themselves. But they figured his wife would likely inform him anyway. The main thing was, the whole situation was improving.
“Well, I’d better get back down to my temporary partner,” Roy said.
“Okay, man. I’ll see ya tomorrow, right?”
“Once the kids are busy playing with their new toys, I’ll be over with Chet.”
“Go ahead, open it. . .”
Chet Kelly eyed Gage warily. “Are you sure you really drew my name?”
“Of course I’m sure.”
The curly-haired fireman shifted his gaze to the small flat wrapped package in his hands. With a shrug he tore around the tape on one end and ripped the paper off. He removed the lid of the plain white box that had been covered.
“A post card of Tahiti?”
“That’s right,” Johnny said with a lopsided grin. He looked at Roy, who also had a smile on his face.
“How’d you get a postcard from Tahiti?”
“I have connections.”
Chet took it out and flipped it over to read the back. “Having a nice time. Wish you were here. Love Harriet and Ted.”
He looked at both paramedics with questioning eyes.
“My parents went on vacation there a few years ago,” Roy offered.
“Well, what’m I supposed to do with it?”
“Turn it back over, Chet.”
The firemen reluctantly did as directed by Gage.
“Just look at the picture, then close your eyes and imagine yourself on that white sandy beach with the grass hut as your temporary home in paradise.” His voice was softened for effect. “Not a care or worry with you on the island, just the sound of the ocean as you lounge around and sip Piña Coladas while girls in bikinis fan you with huge palm leaves.”
Chet peered closer at the picture. “I don’t see any girls.”
“Make ‘um up. Look, you said you wanted a trip to Tahiti . This is the next best thing ta bein’ there. And the only kinda ‘Tahiti’ I could afford.”
Chet rolled his eyes and again looked at Roy.
“How do you ride around with this guy all the time?”
Johnny just wondered who’d drawn his name and where the heck his present was. Little did he know that less than an hour later, the rest of the crew and some of the hospital staff would be gathered in his room for a small Christmas celebration and he’d get more than the one gift he’d expected.
December 14th, the following year
Roy and Mike headed for the dayroom after getting ready for another twenty-four hours on duty. The two wondered where everyone else was as the station seemed awfully quiet for shift change.
As they walked into the room, they saw exactly why. All of C-shift and the remainder of their crew were all watching John Gage at work in the far corner of the room opposite the kitchen, a Santa hat on his head. He was in the process of decorating a very full, green and perfectly shaped tree with ornaments, a couple of strings of lights already in place on it. A couple of small boxes of tinsel were on the floor near his feet.
Roy looked at the amused faces of the observers.
Captain Stanley was the first to speak. “John took it upon himself to get the station a tree.”
“One that he knows’ll stick around until Christmas,” Marco added.
“It’s fake,” Chet said with a shake of his head. “Artificial. Can you believe that?”
Johnny stepped back, his hands on his hips as he eyed his work so far with pride. “That’s right. This year I’m not takin’ any chances on us needin’ a better tree for the marines and Toys for Tots kids. Not__a__chance.”
Roy just smiled, then went over to help with the tinsel. Anything that kept them from risking a repeat of the year before was fine with him.
My thanks to my husband (also known as my technical advisor <G>) for his patience with my repeated questions. Research helped too. And thanks to Ross for some advice on corrections and her recent encouragement with this story after it sat incomplete, with Johnny wounded and at Rampart, since December 2008. Any mistakes belong to me and me alone. :o)
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