Note: The paramedic program was started in the state of Arizona in 1974. For story purposes, I pushed it back to 1975.
A dry desert wash, with Saguaro Cactus nearby
By Audrey W.
Johnny and Roy had arrived at Skyharbor Airport in Phoenix Arizona, ready to attend a few meetings on the start of a Paramedic program. It was July 1974 and there were hopes the state would get a program approved by the beginning of 1975. Since Roy was one of the first to enter the program in Los Angeles County and Gage was his partner, the two paramedics were selected to be the ones to go. After two days of attending various conferences, the men had one more day in Phoenix on their own before they would be returning to Carson. Johnny had wanted to visit a cousin of his that lived in Carefree, but talking his partner into it wasn’t going to be an easy task.
“C’mon, Roy. Just for a few hours.”
“No. It’s too hot out there. I just want to relax in the air conditioning, read a good book, and when you get back later, go shopping for a couple of souvenirs for the kids. . .after it cools down a bit outside.”
“We can stop and get some on the way back here,” Johnny offered. “And the car has air conditioning.”
Roy looked at Gage and shook his head. “I don’t even know your cousin.”
“Well, not yet. But you will if you come along.”
Setting down the book he was reading, DeSoto gave his friend a puzzled look. “Why are you pressing so hard with this, anyway?”
“I don’t know,” Johnny shrugged. “I guess because it seems like you’ll get bored here just reading a book. And I’ll have the rental car. If you change your mind, you’re gonna be stuck here.”
“I won’t change my mind. It’s supposed to get to 110 degrees today. . .in the shade.”
“With a chance of rain,” Johnny added. “It should cool down sooner if it rains.”
“Yeah and that means humidity added to the 110 degrees. No thanks."
“Okay. If you’re sure.”
“I’m sure.” Roy picked up the book again and began reading.
Johnny grabbed the keys to the car and headed towards the door. He quickly glanced at his watch.
“I’ll see you later this evening, okay?”
“Sounds good. Just so we have enough time for me to get souvenirs tonight. I don’t want to have to buy them at the airport tomorrow.”
Johnny grinned. “Have no worries, partner. I’ll be back in time.”
Roy glanced up from the book. “Well? Are you leaving yet or what?”
Gage frowned. “Yeah, yeah. Geez, don’t push me out the door.”
The senior paramedic grinned at his retreating partner. “Have fun.”
Johnny waved over his right shoulder as he went out the door. He soon was on his way to the area where several houses scattered about and a few small businesses made up the town of Carefree.
After a few hours and one meal at his cousin’s house, Johnny was on his way back to Phoenix. It was only a forty-mile drive south of Carefree taking the nearby interstate into town. But Gage had left sooner than he planned and had some time to spare. It was only three o’clock and Roy wasn’t expecting him back for a few more hours. On his way out of the northern town, he stopped at a locally owned hamburger place to buy a large soft drink and a glass of water to take along with him on the road. As he got back into the rented car, Johnny looked around at the surrounding rolling hills and mountains, with the assorted desert vegetation on them. The draw was too much to resist. Johnny decided he was definitely taking a scenic route back into the city and putting his camera that was in the car to some good use.
The drive was relaxing to Johnny. He pulled off and stopped now and then on the side of the road to get out of the car and take the snapshots he wanted. Although it had gotten to be the 110 degrees the weatherman forecasted, Gage still enjoyed the desert, wiping at the sweat on his forehead from the humidity in the air. At each stop, he’d walk a short distance out to one of the many massive Saguaro cactuses that were scattered about in every direction he looked, being careful to keep an eye out for any sign of snakes.
In the hour he’d been on the road, Johnny didn’t notice a breeze had started. Hot air was hot air, be it still or not. But as he once again got out of the car at another stop, he noticed it had picked up considerably. Dirt could be seen spinning up into the air, high above the ground off in the distance.
Must be a dust devil one of the firemen were telling us about yesterday.
The dark-haired man remembered the description the fireman had used in explaining a dust devil.
It has the appearance of a small tornado, but starts from the ground up. Dust devils form quickly and at random out in the open desert. The air convection picks up dirt and debris as it travels across the ground, often reaching several hundred feet high into the sky. Smaller ones are harmless, but the larger ones can do some damage by lifting up large pieces of debris and dropping them suddenly or even blowing over a small structure.
Johnny watched with curiosity while the dust devil traveled across the desert. It wasn’t until it was too late that he noticed the sound of rustling in the brush near him. He turned his head just in time to see the beginning of dirt being swept up in a funnel and headed straight for him. No time to get out of the way, the paramedic turned his back to it and closed his eyes. He could feel the dirt pelt his lower arms and face. In a few seconds it had passed and Johnny could feel dirt in his hair and see where a fine layer of it was on his arms.
Man, they really do pop up out of nowhere.
As the wind picked up more, Gage decided it was time to head back to the car.
As Johnny drove farther down the empty road in the Sonoran Desert near New River Arizona, a gust of wind blew a huge cloud of dirt and dust across. It swallowed up the white rental car and visibility went to zero in an instant. As quick as it formed, the dirt cloud was gone. But the wind continued to blow as the small car traveled down the road. Johnny stepped hard on the gas pedal, hoping to get closer to civilization before more weather related phenomenon’s appeared or intensified. He had a gut feeling his desire to take a long detour off the beaten path was going to lead him to some trouble he hadn’t bargained for. Although he knew better than to drive over the speed limit on an unfamiliar road, in an unfamiliar car, Johnny’s sudden urge to get to a more traveled highway caused him to do just that. As he came around a wide swept uphill turn, he immediately saw something standing on the road. In fact, there were a bunch of somethings.
“Oh sh. . .” There wasn’t time to voice what was going through his mind.
Unable to stop before he’d be running into the animals, Johnny swerved to miss the six wild donkeys that were in the process of crossing the normally deserted road. The cup of soda that had been sitting on the floor in a holder between the driver’s and passenger sides, came loose and rolled, part of it getting caught under a portion of the brake pedal. The small car traveled off the road, taking out a couple of cholla cactuses as Johnny tried to bring it to a stop. Unfortunately, the firm bottom of the plastic soft drink cup prevented the pedal from going down far enough to do anything more than slow the car down slightly. By the time Johnny pulled on the emergency brake in an effort to stop, the vehicle ended up nose down in a deep dry wash, the front end resting on the bottom of the large ditch. Having forgotten to fasten the seatbelt the last time he got in, Johnny was lifted up off the seat on impact, striking his forehead at the top of the windshield. His abdomen hit against the steering wheel, knocking the wind out of him. Once everything had settled, the dark-haired man sat stunned, trying to catch his breath. Noticing the small circle of spider-webbed glass at the top of the windshield, Gage put his right hand to his head to check for blood. When he pulled it away, he saw a small amount of the crimson liquid compared to what he expected.
“Damn,” Johnny muttered as he looked out the windshield at the ground in front of him. After turning off the ignition, he slowly opened the driver’s side door and made an effort to climb out to survey the damage to the car. When he put weight on his right ankle, pain shot up through his leg.
Ah, crap. I must’ve sprained it.
Limping to the front of the vehicle, he leaned on the hood. Suddenly the blow to his stomach caught up to the man and he vomited near the front left corner of the car. When the retching stopped, Johnny stayed leaning on the hood and looked around. The vehicle’s front half was completely in the wash. At the top of the ditch, the back tires were off the ground slightly. There was no way he would be able to back it up and out. Nor could he go forward with it. The damage to the car itself looked minimal, with a dented bumper and broken headlight being the worst casualties. He frowned at the distant sounds of the donkeys as they traveled away from the area.
Now they leave.
Johnny slowly and gingerly limped up out of the wash and surveyed his surroundings. Since it was early afternoon, it was the hottest time of the day and he could already feel the heat radiating off the ground after standing out in the open just a few minutes. The hot breeze continued, and another dust devil could be seen traveling across the terrain in the distance. There was no sign of anything else but endless desert growth, hills and the road. Gage glanced back at the stuck car and sighed. How was he going to explain this to the rental company and to Roy? More importantly, how was he going to get back to tell anyone? It only took him a few seconds to remember no one had any idea exactly where he had gone. When Johnny left the motel room in Phoenix to visit his cousin in Carefree, he had never specified to Roy exactly when he would be back. And when he left his cousin’s house later, he had only mentioned going back to the motel. Now Roy would think he was with his cousin and his cousin would assume he was with Roy. And neither one had the phone number of the other. Johnny only hoped one or both of them would get a gut feeling to look for him. He swiped at a sensation of something on his forehead and frowned when he saw blood on the back of his hand. The bleeding of the injury at his hairline had increased. Things were going from bad to worse.
“Stupid donkeys.” Or jackasses - it fits ‘em well. Then again, who’s the bigger jackass? The mules or me? He had to admit, he was feeling pretty foolish at the moment.
Roy looked out the hotel room window, then glanced at his watch. It was just after four o’clock in the afternoon, and the blonde haired man was wishing he had taken Johnny up on the offer to go to Carefree with him. Roy hoped his partner would return earlier than originally planned so that he could go do his souvenir shopping sooner. Sighing, DeSoto let the drape he was holding fall closed. He sat down on the end of his bed and turned on the television. Once he found a show he was interested in, the man scooted back on the bed until he sitting against the headboard.
Maybe time’ll pass quickly and Johnny’ll be back soon with the car.
Gage had made his way back into the car, and sat with the motor and air conditioning running. He knew he couldn’t stay like that for too long. Although the car would be visible from the road, someone passing by and looking straight ahead could easily miss it. He needed to keep an eye out for help.
His thirst growing, Johnny looked for what he had left to drink. Much of the tipped over soda had leaked out of the covered cup and onto the floor, but the plastic cup of water was still intact in the other holder. Johnny picked it up and took a few gulps, being careful not to over do since he wasn’t sure how long he’d be stuck out in the desert.
The adrenaline the paramedic had experienced just after the accident was wearing off, and not only were his mid section and ankle hurting more, but he now could feel his head throbbing in pain. Gingerly touching his forehead along the hairline, Johnny could feel a lump around the cut. Images in front of him wavered, developing a warped appearance. He rubbed at his eyes, hoping it would help. But when he looked again, there was no change.
Oh man, what I wouldn’t give for a couple of aspirin right now.
He closed his eyes and leaned his head back, planning to just rest a few minutes. But when he tried to open his eyes again, they didn’t want to cooperate. His eyelids felt heavy. The throbbing in his head seemed to increase by the minute, and he could feel blood now trickling down the right side of his face. Not being able to think clearly at the moment, Johnny kept his eyes closed and allowed himself to give in to the drowsiness that was trying to claim him. He didn’t notice the winds around the area had picked up considerably in the past ten minutes.
A bored DeSoto once again found himself looking at his watch. It was five o’clock and still no sign of his partner. Although Johnny hadn’t specified a time when he would be back, Roy honestly expected him to only be gone a few hours. After all, it wasn’t like Gage was close to his cousin or, for that matter, that he even knew him very well. It seemed more like Johnny felt an obligation to get together while he was in the area.
Flipping through television channels again, Roy stopped on the local news when film footage showed a massive wall of dirt that reached miles above the ground was moving across parts of the southeast desert, headed for Phoenix. The winds had kicked up a major dust storm to precede the monsoon behind it. The news helicopter crew was being careful to stay well ahead of the wall of dirt, but they would have to land soon since conditions were expected to worsen. Mountains, farm fields and buildings were disappearing in the dirty air as the storm traveled along; on the ground, visibility was fast deteriorating.
Roy and Johnny had learned from talking to members of the local fire department at the meetings concerning the paramedic program, that major dust storms were part of the monsoon season and the rainstorms often followed them, bringing wind, lightning and moisture. And since the desert ground couldn’t absorb the rainwater very well, normally dry washes would turn into rivers, streets often flooded in spots, and overall, storms caused a lot of standing water on the ground everywhere. Another worry was that sometimes monsoons had a way of circling around and hitting the same place twice before they were completely gone.
More news on the approaching storm drew the senior paramedic’s attention to the television again. The weatherman was talking about the storm behind the wall of dust. According to him, the exact path the remaining bad weather would take was unknown. For the moment he could only tell his audience that by looking at the radar, the local area was in for an evening of bad storms that would hit at random around the desert. That information was enough to tell Roy he didn’t want Johnny out driving in the stuff.
Roy got off the bed and hurried over to the window. Opening the drapes, he was amazed at how the weather had deteriorated in just over an hour. It was very windy there and small pieces of trash blew in the street and on the sidewalk below.
I hope you wait this weather out at your cousin’s place, Junior.
Johnny slowly opened his eyes, his left hand immediately going to his sore abdomen. His own groan brought the paramedic to a higher level of awareness. He looked around as he tried to figure out why he was sleeping in a car with the engine running. And whose car was it? The sudden throbbing in his head and the spider-webbed circle on the top part of the windshield was a quick reminder he had been in an accident.
The reason the car was running forgotten, Gage reached out with his right hand and turned off the ignition. He groaned again as he sat forward and placed his arms over the steering wheel, resting his head on his arms. The sudden pressure on his injury caused Johnny to lift his head quickly, the view out the windshield spinning in front of him. When it stopped, the reality of being stranded in the desert came rushing back.
Johnny glanced at his watch. It was five-thirty. The car was already getting hot with the air conditioning off and the doors shut, so Johnny rolled down a window to get some air. It was then he noticed the strength of the wind and that part of the images moving in front of him was because the car was being rocked slightly by the wind. It was coming from the direction of the left rear corner of the vehicle, so actual movement caused by the weather was minimal due to the angle. His biggest worry was if a large enough gust came along to lift up the raised end of the car and flip it over.
The paramedic reached down and lifted the cup of water, taking a few more gulps to relieve his parched throat. He set the cup back down on the floor as he opened the door. The wind grabbed the door handle from his grasp and blew it open all the way. Johnny climbed out and winced, not only from sudden weight being on his injured ankle, but also because of the fine dirt that was blowing in the air. Off in the distance he could see a brown tint to the sky towards the southeast.
I’ve got to get out of here. I need help.
Johnny started up out of the desert wash, blindly finding his way since he couldn’t keep his eyes open very well in the dirt filled air. As he hobbled to level ground, he spotted a truck going by on the nearby road. The dark-haired man waved his arms, ignoring any pain the movement caused to his sore body and despite the strong gusts of wind that were making it more difficult to stay upright..
The driver had more on his mind than looking at the scenery around him. His eyes focused on the road ahead due to the deteriorating visibility, he never saw the man waving for help.
Johnny sighed. It was going to get worse before it got better. The only good thing now was that the temperature outside was dropping quickly with the stormy weather. As tempting as it was to try to walk somewhere, Gage knew the wiser thing would be to stay with the car. It was more likely to be spotted than he would be out by himself, not to mention the fact that if he didn’t meet anyone for miles, he would probably be dead by the time he was found.
The paramedic got back to the car and eased himself inside. He sat sideways, his legs hanging out the open driver’s side door.
“Man, I don’t believe this,” Johnny said, rubbing his still aching head. Well, if nothing else good comes from this, it might show them how handy the paramedic program is because it’s not going to be long before I really need one. . .besides myself.
Roy couldn’t stand it any longer. He had checked out the window a few times since five o’clock and things had only gone from bad to worse. By five thirty, nearby buildings he could still see ten minutes before were now gone, hidden by the dust and dirt that was in the air. A slight rumble could be heard from the thunder that was fast approaching behind the dust storm.
“That’s it. I’ve got to know he’s not out in this,” Roy said to himself as he walked over to the dresser and pulled a phone directory out of a drawer. Opening it to the ‘T’s, he began to scan for the last name Johnny had mentioned. Taruntapan. . . “Taruntapan,” he said out loud as he scanned the column. “There can’t be more than one in here.”
When his finger landed on the name, there were two. Richard Taruntapan and Thomas Taruntapan. Johnny said his cousin’s name was ‘Rick’.
Roy picked up the receiver of the nearby phone and dialed for an outside line. Once he got a dial tone, he tried the first number. No answer. Figuring with such a different kind of a name that the second one listed had to be a relative, too, Roy gave it a try. Sure enough, it was Johnny’s uncle. DeSoto was informed that Rick was on his way over to their house in Wickenburg, but that he hadn’t indicated that John would be with him. Roy gave them the phone number to the hotel and asked to be notified when Rick arrived, with or without Gage. That done, the blonde paramedic couldn’t do anything more than wait for the moment and hope his partner showed up in one place or another soon. A sudden noise on the window caught Roy’s attention. When he glanced over he could see raindrops starting their assault on the glass.
Gage looked out the back window of the car as the vehicle started to rock more noticeably. Not sure what he was seeing was his imagination or real, the paramedic slowly got out of the car and held on to the open door and roof for support. It was even more difficult than before to open his eyes in the strong winds and dirty air, but what he managed to see approaching stunned the man. He had heard of what massive dust storms looked like, but had never actually been in one. A wall of dust and dirt was heading across the desert, swallowing up the sky, bushes and other scenery as it approached.
Johnny could see various desert growths disappear behind the dust as it made its way towards him. Mountains in the distance were totally gone from view. As the road disappeared, he quickly got back into the car and tried to shut the door. The resistance caused by the high wind was strong, but Johnny managed to yank it shut, pain once again emanating from his abdomen from the effort. He closed his eyes and panted, trying to breathe through the hurt. Opening his eyes and glancing up at the windshield and other windows when he heard the roar of the wind, Gage could see nothing but thick brown dust through the glass in any direction. The paramedic so wanted to rest his weary body. The latest adrenaline rush had exhausted him, but he knew he had to try to stay alert, as he worried about what might come next.
The rain had been pouring down in Phoenix for over forty minutes with very little let up. It was already six-thirty and there still was no word from or about Johnny. Roy was getting more and more restless. He had watched periodic news briefs on the flooding of streets in the area. Footage of a couple having to be rescued from their car in deep water gave him an uneasy feeling. If it was that bad in the city, how was it in outlying areas?
Johnny’s cousin should have made it to his father’s house by now. I hope he’s okay.
The blonde paramedic thought about calling Gage’s uncle again, but decided to give it a little more time.
Loud cracks of thunder could be heard as the lightning hit close by. Roy decided he had to get out of the room and talk to someone . . .anyone . . .to see how these storms usually went. He paused as he thought about the phone call he was waiting for. Should he wait awhile longer? Since he had the phone number to call Rick and Thomas Taruntapan if he didn’t hear from them soon anyway, Roy figured he’d be okay leaving the room for a short time. He went out the door and headed for the elevator. Once inside, the paramedic sighed. He had a feeling it was going to be a long evening. He watched the various levels he was on light up as the elevator traveled down. Just as the number indicating the third floor went out, there was a muffled rumbling sound from the thunder outside and the interior went dark. The elevator stopped before it reached the second floor.
“You gotta be kidding me,” Roy said, peering up in the darkness, unable to believe his luck. The emergency lighting came on after a few seconds; now able to see, he picked up the phone receiver and notified the front desk of his situation.
I’m sure glad Chet’s not here with us. He’d never let this go. I better make an agreement with Johnny, that what ever happens to us here is between us and that’s it. No one else at the station has to know. But first I have to find Johnny. Maybe he’ll be in the lobby with a smirk on his face when they get me out of here.
As hard as he tried to stay awake and alert, Johnny was losing the battle. He listened to the wind blowing and felt the car shifting position somewhat in the strong gusts. The man knew it was vital he stay awake in the adverse situation he was in. But with the effects of his injuries catching up to him, he felt weaker as time went on and soon the paramedic’s eyes slid shut.
After thirty minutes of being unconscious, Johnny slowly came to again. He could feel a cool wetness on his feet. He opened his weary eyes and looked at the yet unfocussed floor of the car. He could make out ripples in the . . .
The entire floor of the car was covered over by water. Wincing as he sat up straighter, Johnny glanced at the windshield, and at the other windows of the car.
Drops pelted the glass relentlessly and dribbled down to the body of the car. Johnny regained his senses enough to remember one thing. He was in a car that was stuck in a desert wash. Since it was pouring rain outside, that meant he’d better get out of the vehicle before the wash became a full-fledged river.
Gage opened the door, already feeling pressure against the object from the water around it.
How deep is it?
Alarm set in as he realized the car was slowly moving from its position and would soon be carried farther down the wash by the current that was quickly growing in strength. Not sure of how deep the wash was in other spots, he did the only thing he could. Johnny stepped out of his shelter of the vehicle, and into the rising water. It was only above his knees thus far, but with the current getting stronger and him being in a weakened condition, the paramedic was knocked down.
The unexpected sudden fall caused Gage to take in a mouth full of water. He quickly spat it out and struggled to get to his feet. The current was already too strong for him to regain his balance enough to stand. Johnny did whatever it took, ignoring any pain the movement caused, to get himself out of the flooding wash. A final lunge near the side of the ditch and he was clear of the wet assault except both feet remained near the water.
Johnny continued to get soaked in the pouring rain as he lay on his stomach, panting from the exertion of his escape from the wash. His eyes shut tight from pain, he didn’t see the streaks of lightning in the sky. But the loud claps of thunder told him he was out in the middle of a very violent storm. With the car being flooded, there was nowhere for him to seek shelter. All he could do was hope he lucked out in the bad situation. The ground was soaked, and he could feel the water flowing freely around him.
After a brief period of lying still to regain some strength, the hapless paramedic stared in amazement at the change in the desert floor. The ground was endless water, with a current carrying it continuously in one direction. It was shallow . . .only a couple of inches deep. . .but the effect was as if the entire area had become one massive river, the deep parts being in the washes. Johnny gritted his teeth and with all the strength he could muster, pushed himself up to a crawling position. He scrambled away from the rising water behind him. When he turned to look back, the car was literally being carried down the wash by the powerful currents.
The paramedic figured his only chance of getting out of the mess he was in, was if a passerby on the road were to see him. But he’d have to get himself closer for that to happen. What the man didn’t remember was that washes crossed over parts of the road he had driven on. It also was true for parts of the road he had yet to see. With the water running deep across in places, no one could travel on the road for awhile even if they wanted to.
Roy breathed a sigh of relief as the electricity came back on before the fire department had to rescue him from the elevator. He watched as the number one on the floor indicator lit up and waited for the doors to open. Once they did, the lobby was a welcome sight. Roy noticed a fire engine just pulling up in front of the building. A hotel employee was walking out to them. As Roy made his way to the front desk, he kept his attention on the fire truck. A nagging feeling told him he might want to talk to them about his missing partner. He diverted his path to go outside instead of to the desk. As Roy came out the door, one of the firemen recognized him from the meetings.
“Hey! How do you guys like our wet weather?” The man yelled from inside the truck.
Roy stood under the awning of the entryway and waved. “I think I’ll plan my next visit here in November when your monsoons are gone,” he hollered back.
A couple of firemen laughed at the comment.
“You guys been busy?”
One of the men nodded. “Mostly stranded motorists. They try to drive through the water on the streets, not knowing how deep it is, and they tend to get stuck.”
The vision of Johnny stuck in deep water came to Roy’s mind. “Hey. . .uh. . .my partner went up to Carefree to visit a relative. It’s been hours now, and I haven’t heard a word from him. Last I knew, Johnny’s cousin was on his way to Wickenburg to see his dad; as far as his dad knew, Johnny wasn’t coming with Rick. He’s supposed to call me when his son gets there, but I haven’t even heard from either of them.”
“You think your partner may have run into trouble?”
Roy paused before answering. Johnny was intelligent and responsible. He wouldn’t try anything foolish in bad weather. But there had to be a reason why he wasn’t back yet or hadn’t called. Maybe he was sitting at a flooded section of road, waiting for the rain to stop and water to recede so he could safely drive across . . .or maybe it caught him by surprise.
Roy looked at the men waiting for his response. “Yeah, I think he may have.”
“We’ll contact the sheriff’s department for that area and put out a watch for him. You’ll just need to give us a description of your partner and the vehicle he’s driving, along with a possible route he may have taken.”
The blonde paramedic gave the third request thought. “How many ways are there from Carefree to here?”
“Directly? One. . .the interstate. But if he took a scenic route. . .well, there are a few.”
Roy nodded solemnly. “He could’ve taken a scenic route. He had his camera with him and loves the outdoors.”
“Chances are he’s probably stuck waiting for a wash to clear then.”
Roy gave the information to the men. After they called it in on the Sheriff Department’s radio frequency, Roy thanked the men and headed back inside. He could only hope this was all for not. He checked the front desk for possible telephone messages. There was one from Thomas Taruntapan that he had just missed. Roy hurried to the elevator, anxious to call the man back. When the doors opened, DeSoto shook his head.
Oh no. . .I’m not chancing that again.
He quickly trotted towards the door leading to the stairs.
Despite his thoughts of getting closer to the road, Johnny hadn’t moved since getting clear of the wash. His abdomen was hurting more and his head was once again throbbing. He had hoped the pain from the other two would make his ankle seem not so bad, but the ache from there was enough to remind him he wouldn’t be stable on his feet. Reminding himself he still had to make his way to the road, the paramedic struggled to get to his feet. Barely able to stay upright, he was bent over slightly as he hobbled for a couple of yards before collapsing into the desert mud and water. He landed with a small splash. The rain soaked man lifted his head and looked up at his surroundings. He tried to get on his hands and knees again, but his energy spent, Johnny collapsed on the ground. He rolled over onto his back and closed his eyes, giving into the darkness that was beckoning him.
The slowing down of the raindrops went unnoticed by the unconscious man, as did the lighter sky off to the southeast.
Roy took the last flight of steps two at a time. When he finally reached the seventh floor, he opened the door to exit the stairwell. The blonde paramedic hurried to the room he and Johnny were staying in, keeping hope that Gage’s uncle had good news. As he picked up the telephone receiver, a realization came to Roy. Johnny’s uncle had called. If he was at his uncle’s house, Johnny would’ve called Roy himself.
The enthusiasm quickly died and DeSoto dialed the number, already sure of what he was going to hear.
Dan and Renee’ Martin were parked on a section of the desert road Johnny had taken. They had been waiting for the rain to let up so the water that now ran across the road would recede. Fifteen minutes after the rain had stopped, the water level had decreased noticeably. Dan Martin drove their station wagon through carefully, while Renee’ watched out the passenger window, looking at the rain soaked desert.
The young couple lived in a small town called Circle City, that consisted of ten houses and a gas station. The back road they were on was the shortest route from New River to their home, rather than taking the interstate into the city and backtracking on another rural route.
Dan looked up out of the top of the windshield at the sky. It was seven-fifteen and he could see more storm clouds coming from the southeast. They needed to get off this road before more rain hit.
“Stop!” Renee’ called out. “There’s a body!”
Dan hit the brakes. “No way.”
“Yes, there is, Danny. Over there!”
The husband leaned forward and peered past his wife. She was right. There was a man’s body lying on the ground. He got out of the car and ran over to it. Dan hesitantly squatted down, examining the condition of the body. The victim was soaked and muddy, with a cut and bruises on his forehead near it. More importantly, the person was still alive. Danny looked around, wondering why the man was out in the middle of nowhere. Although the water had carried it to a different spot, he could see part of the white rental car showing from one of the washes in the distance.
This guy must’ve got caught in the storm.
Dan stood and turned to face his wife who was still in the car.
“Renee’, fold down the back seat, then help me get him in there.”
She started to open her door, then stopped, partially out. “We’re gonna take a dead body in the car? Danny, do we have to?”
The man shook his head. “He’s not dead. But he’s hurt, so we’ll have to get him to a hospital.”
Renee’ didn’t like the idea of a stranger being in the car with them. “Why don’t we just call the police?”
“With what? If we pass a cop along the way, we’ll flag him down.”
She nodded and did as her husband asked. When Renee’ got over to Johnny, she made a disgusted face.
“Yuck! He’s a mess!”
Danny grinned at his wife’s reaction. It was just what he’d expect from her. She wasn’t the outdoors and grimy type.
“Just grab his feet and I’ll get this end. We’d better hurry . . .looks like more rain is coming.”
The woman squatted down and grabbed Johnny’s ankles, quickly letting go when he gasped. She could tell by the difference in size of them, that one ankle was injured. Renee’ moved up, grabbing the man’s legs at the knees, letting his lower legs dangle. Dan had a hold of Johnny under the arms, and together they carried him towards the car. Gage groaned and opened his eyes slightly, then once again closed them.
“Hang in there, buddy. We’ll get you some help.”
Once they got Johnny situated in the back of the car, covering him with a blanket to keep the soaked man warm, the couple was again on their way. Seven more miles on the road and they’d meet another long stretch of road that would eventually get them to the outskirts of Phoenix.
A deputy was out patrolling streets in the Carefree area. Although there wasn’t a missing person report filed yet, he had been given word to be on the lookout for the white rental car and John Gage in case he happened to see either during his patrol. Another deputy was checking out a few of the outlying roads in the area.
A news helicopter flew over the Phoenix and outlying areas while the storms were in a lull. The crew would hover now and then to film rescues of stranded motorists in progress. After thirty minutes they decided to head farther out.
Roy had spoken to Johnny’s uncle and got the word he had expected. Rick arrived at his dad’s house without Johnny. It had taken him longer than usual to get there due to the weather. What Roy didn’t expect to hear was that Johnny left to return to the hotel at three o’clock. It was now seven-forty.
He glanced at the window. The rain had stopped awhile ago, but now the sky was getting dark again due to both the time of day and the fact another storm system was heading in. Suddenly soft drops began to hit the window as the wind once again picked up.
Roy turned on the television to see if there was news about the weather yet to come. His mouth opened in shock when film footage from a news helicopter showed what looked like the rental car . . .dirty and damaged, stuck out in a muddy wash in the desert. Roy got closer to the screen. As the camera focused in on the car more, Roy could tell by a special sticker the rental company had on the trunk that it was indeed the car that Johnny was driving. What disturbed him now was that it was being referred to as an ‘abandoned vehicle’.
“Abandoned? It can’t be. Where did he go?”
Roy went to the phone to call the sheriff’s office. Something was definitely seriously wrong.
Danny stopped the car two miles from the end of the road they were on. Although the water had cleared off, this particular section went into a large dip created by yet another wash going across it. A mound of dirt covered the entire width of the road from where water with a strong current had carried it onto the road during the storm. It was too much mud for the station wagon to drive over without damaging the underside.
“What’ll we do, Danny?”
Renee’s husband shrugged. “Clear it, I guess. I’ll have to try.”
“There’s too much.”
Raindrops began to slowly hit the windshield, picking up in frequency and intensity as yet another storm came through the area.
Dan looked over the seat at Johnny. Their passenger was still unconscious. They needed to get him to a hospital as soon as possible. The man didn’t know what the exact injuries were, but he figured it had to be serious.
With night arriving and another storm beginning, the helicopters once again had to land and stay out of the air for safety. In the rush to get back to their home airfield, the news helicopter didn’t fly over any more area around the abandoned car.
Roy was frustrated. There was nothing more he could do but wait for word from the sheriff. And he knew from experience that the fire department wouldn’t be involved until someone was sure there was need of a rescue. Which brought another thought to Roy’s mind. The paramedic program wasn’t in use in Arizona yet. What if Johnny was seriously injured and in need of immediate medical care? And what if he wasn’t found until it was too late?
Wait . . .I can start calling hospitals. Maybe the car was abandoned because someone found Johnny and took him to medical help.
DeSoto picked up the phone book again, and began the search.
Renee’ climbed over the back of the seat when Johnny began to stir. Night had fallen and now flashes of lightning lit up the car as rain once again poured down.
“He okay?” Danny asked.
“I don’t know. I wish we knew what we were doing.”
“Well, he’s better off in here than out in the rain.”
Renee’ nodded in agreement, then turned her attention back to their passenger as he continued to stir.
First Johnny was aware of voices . . .a man and a woman were talking. A car motor idling. He could feel something covering him . . .a blanket? His abdomen still hurt like hell, but the throbbing in his head had eased considerably.
Johnny opened his eyes, only to see darkness. Sudden flashes of light from outside lit up the interior and Johnny could tell he was inside a car. He started to try to sit up, wincing as the pain increased in his abdomen, and carried through to the rest of his sore body. He felt like he had gone twelve rounds with Mohamed Ali.
“It’s okay. Lay down,” Renee’ said as she placed her hands on Johnny’s shoulders.
Johnny complied. “Where . . .where am I?” He croaked.
“You’re in a car with my husband, Danny, and me. I’m Renee’. We were taking you to a hospital in Phoenix, but the weather’s holding us up.”
Gage barely managed to swallow, his throat parched. “I . . I think. . .maybe. . .bleeding . . .internally.”
“You are?” Danny exchanged a worried glance with his wife.
“Not sure. . .”
Renee’ took a cup of cola that her husband handed over to her. Danny had been drinking it, but considering how raspy Johnny’s voice was, they doubted the injured man would care. He obviously was extremely thirsty.
The woman helped Johnny to prop himself up slightly, then helped him to get the straw in his mouth. As expected, Johnny was grateful to just get a drink period.
“Thanks,” the paramedic said as the cup was moved away. He allowed Renee to help him lay back down.
“You’re ankle felt swollen when we picked you up,” the woman explained. “And you must’ve hit your head. It’s cut and bruised.”
Johnny lifted his right hand and felt the lump near his hairline. “I had . . .an accident.”
“We saw a portion of your car,” Danny interjected. “It was pretty far off the road, down in a wash.”
“I swerved . . . donkeys.”
Renee’ sighed. “Those things can be a problem. Danny’s brother hit one with his pickup truck, but in that case the poor donkey didn’t fare so well. It didn’t make it.”
Danny and Renee’ once again looked at one another, their faces visible in the flashes of lightning. Both had the same thought. . .what if this man didn’t survive his encounter with the donkeys? They needed to know exactly how bad their passenger was injured. Danny turned on the interior lights, causing Johnny to squint in the sudden brightness.
“Sorry, but my wife needs to see how you’re really doing.”
“S’okay.” The paramedic quietly replied.
Johnny winced when the woman touched the injury on his head and when she gently took off his shoe and sock to get a better look at his ankle.
“You’ve got a lot of swelling and bruising.”
Johnny nodded slightly. “I think. . .it’s sprained.” He gritted his teeth when she carefully pulled his damp shirt out of his jeans and lifted it to his chest.
Renee’ gasped. “Oh my God! The bruise on your stomach is huge!”
Gage had figured as much. “Help. . .help me up.”
“Up? You think you should get up?”
“I’m. . .a paramedic. I. . .”
“A paramedic?” Danny asked. He had no idea what the man was referring to.
“Rescue . . .and medical.”
Renee’ wasn’t sure what she should do. But the man had said he wanted up and he seemed to know what he was doing. She helped him up enough to lean against the back of the front seat.
Johnny fought to stay conscious as the pain intensified once again with his movement. He knew he was losing the battle when the interior of the station wagon faded
to a pinpoint. Renee’s voice faded in the distance and everything went dark.
Roy was disappointed when he didn’t have any luck with his calls to the various hospitals in the area. After being put on hold each time, his hope building, he’d be let down when he got a “No” for an answer to his question of there being a ‘John Doe’ or a ‘John Gage’ brought in lately. All the blonde paramedic could figure was that either the car was stolen from Johnny somewhere along the way; or somehow Gage got the car off the road and must’ve gone for help on foot. But it just didn’t sound like Johnny to let either happen if he could help it. And wandering off in the desert wasn’t something his partner would do.
I don’t care if we’re stuck out here another week, Junior. Just be alive somewhere. If I just would’ve gone with him in the first place. . .
“Danny!” Renee’ yelled, as Johnny slumped against her. “He’s out again!”
“Yeah, and I don’t think he let on exactly how bad he felt, either.” He turned off the interior lights and put the car in reverse.
“What are you doing?”
“Going back to get help any where we can.”
“But the washes will be flooding across the road again! We won’t be able to get across.”
“I’m going for it, Renee’. This guy’s life may depend on it.” Danny turned the car around and headed back towards the town of New River.
The sheriff stopped at the flooded section of road. The latest report was that an abandoned car in the area was identified as belonging to the missing paramedic, but the weather had prevented anyone from being able to search near it. The officer shined a spotlight from where he was stopped, but the only thing he could see was desert shrubbery.
Suddenly small bright dots appeared in the distance and grew larger. The source of the lights began honking its horn. The sheriff quickly dimmed his spotlight and waited for the vehicle to stop on the other side of the deep water that was still flowing with a strong current.
Danny brought the station wagon to a stop. He got out of the vehicle and stood in the headlight beams, the rain now just a sprinkle.
“We got an injured guy in the car. I tried to go to Phoenix out the other way, but there was too much dirt in the road. He’s in bad shape.”
The sheriff looked at the water shimmering in the lights. “I don’t think you can get across the water, but since the rain’s let up, it should go down before too long. You think twenty minutes is soon enough?”
Danny sighed. “I’m not sure. I’m no doctor, but I guess we don’t have a choice. The guy’s a paramedic. . .said he might be bleeding internally.”
The sheriff nodded. “He’s been reported as missing by his partner. Any idea what happened?”
“Yeah, he said he swerved to miss some donkeys and had an accident. He’s got a nasty bruise on his belly. Also head and ankle injuries. But the belly seems to be the worst.”
“I’ll call for an ambulance to meet us as soon as they can. He’ll need it.” The sheriff turned to his car.
Danny peeked his head inside a window to see how Johnny was doing. His wife shook her head.
“No change. He’s still out.”
The telephone ringing jarred Roy out of his thoughts. He rushed over and anxiously picked up the receiver.
“Yes, this is he.
“He was? When?
“I’m on my way. Thanks.”
Roy hung up and grabbed the keys to the room. He took a long look at the phone.
I should call Rick and his dad . . . I’ll do it from the hospital, when I know how Johnny is.
The paramedic stuffed the piece of paper he had written their numbers on in his pocket and started out the door. He stopped halfway down the hall.
“Ah, hell, someone at the front desk can call a cab for me.”
He continued on, taking the stairs. The bad weather had cleared out of the area, but being stuck in an elevator once was enough for Roy. He wasn’t taking any chances.
The stretcher carrying Johnny was lifted out of the ambulance and wheeled into the hospital. The attendants helped doctors to transfer the limp paramedic to the exam table, then left. The wet and muddy dark-haired man managed to open his eyes enough to peer up at his surroundings. Bright lights and the familiar hospital smell made him think of Rampart.
“He’s showing signs of consciousness now. Check his pupils.”
Gage resisted the urge to bat the offending pen light away, then listened as his vitals were called out. One of the doctors was asking him a question, and Johnny thought he had answered it, but wasn’t sure the words came out right. The pain in his abdomen was so intense, he just wanted to pass out. With that thought, Johnny felt himself fade gratefully into unconsciousness.
Roy got out of the taxicab in front of the Emergency entrance of the hospital. After paying the driver, he hurried inside and searched for anyone who might have information on his friend. DeSoto stepped up to the admissions desk.
“I’m looking for a man who was recently brought in here. . .John Gage.”
The young woman looked through her paper work. “I don’t have him here. You sure you have the right hospital?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” Roy said, shifting on his feet. He turned around and looked own the corridor to the emergency rooms.
Maybe they’re set up more like Rampart and someone down there’ll know.
The blonde paramedic headed in that direction, stopping at another desk.
“Excuse me, but do you keep information on emergency patients brought in?”
The nurse at the desk looked up at him. “Yes, can I help you?”
“I’m looking for John Gage. He should’ve been brought in a short time ago.”
Roy nodded, as he tried to take a glance at the papers on her desk.
The woman looked over the information she’d been given in the past hour. There had been three new patients brought in.
“Are you family?”
“Kind of. We’re partners in the fire department and we’re here together on business from Los Angeles.”
“Okay, here’s what I have on Mr. Gage. He’s just been taken to surgery.”
Roy was stunned. “Surgery?”
“Yes, this says there was concern about possible internal bleeding into his abdomen. He also suffered a concussion and a severe sprain of the right ankle. If you want to sit in the waiting area, I can let you know when I hear anything else on him.”
Roy glanced at the cushioned chairs in the waiting area at the end of the corridor. At least they looked comfortable.
“Sure, thanks.” He walked away, first finding a phone where he could call Johnny’s relatives. Once that was taken care of, Roy took a seat and began the long wait for word on his partner.
Roy felt like he had been waiting all night, although he knew it hadn’t been that long.
The nurse had kept her promise and filled him in on Johnny’s condition as soon as she had gotten word. Gage had suffered an extremely small tear in his liver that was aggravated every time the injured man moved. The doctors were able to repair the damage and stop the bleeding. Johnny was in recovery, and would be moved to a room once they were certain he was stable.
As Roy headed for the cafeteria to get some coffee, he heard someone else asking about the dark-haired paramedic. DeSoto went back to find out who they were.
“Excuse me. . .but do you know Johnny?”
The young couple gave Roy curious looks.
“John Gage,” Roy said. “I heard you ask about the paramedic that was brought in.”
“Oh. . . yeah, we found him out in the desert,” Danny explained. “We wanted to make sure he made it. Seems like a nice person.”
“He is. And thanks.” Roy held out his right hand. “I’m Roy DeSoto, Johnny’s partner in the fire department.”
“Hi,” Dan shook the man’s hand. “Glad to meet you. I’m Danny Martin and this is my wife, Renee’.” He motioned towards the young woman beside him. “So you’re a paramedic, too?”
“Exactly what is that? All your partner could say was ‘rescue and medical’.”
Roy smiled. “You two have time for a cup of coffee? I’m buying. I’ll tell you all about the paramedics and you can fill me in about what happened to Johnny.”
Danny nodded, and took his wife’s hand in his. “Sounds like a good deal. Lead the way.”
Roy walked into the hospital room. It had been two days since Johnny’s accident and the younger paramedic had been out if it every time Roy had visited. The Martins had explained to Roy what had happened to Johnny based on what he’d told them. Although Roy still wasn’t sure why Gage was on that road to begin with, he could pretty much guess. Camera and scenery.
Roy wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but he was going to have to return to Los Angeles without his partner. What made it easier was the fact that Johnny was going to stay with his cousin Rick as soon as he was well enough to be released from the hospital. Gage’s cousin also would take him to the airport when he was cleared to return to California.
As DeSoto came near, Johnny turned to face him. The elevated head of the bed propped up Gage. His eyes were droopy from the medication he was on, but a lot of the tubing that had been in him the past couple of days was gone. There was a bandage on his forehead, bruises showing from underneath and his ankle still had an ice pack on it.
“Hey, Junior, you’re looking better today.”
“What day is it?” Johnny asked groggily.
“We’re supposed to be home. Sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it. I got a hold of Cap, and he got the replacements for us to stay on a bit longer. And hey. . .it gave me a chance to get souvenirs for the kids.”
“Oh yeah. Roy, I’m really sorry.”
“It’s okay. But what made you drive so far out of the way?”
“Scenery. I got some great shots of the desert.” Johnny frowned. “Guess it doesn’t matter now, anyway. They’re ruined, huh?”
“Yeah. But there’s always another time. With a tour guide.” Roy added with a grin. “I had a feeling it was the scenery that lured you off the beaten path. The Martins told me the rest. You remember them?”
“Yeah. They were in here earlier while Rick was visiting. A nice couple. I really owe ‘em.”
“I got a phone number from them. I think we should have someone from our fire department contact them later. Give them some recognition.”
“Sounds good.” Johnny winced as he shifted position. “What did the car rental place say?”
“We were covered by insurance, remember? It’s all taken care of.”
“Okay. That’s good. So, you have to go back before me?”
“Yeah. Tomorrow. Don’t worry. I’ll have Chet in line and calmed down by the time you get back.”
Johnny grinned lazily. “Good, 'cause right now I'm not in the mood for a wound-up Chet Kelly.”
“No, I don't imagine you are.” Roy could see Johnny was about to drift back off to sleep, so decided to cut his visit short. “Listen, I'll leave now so you can get some rest. I'll stop by tomorrow morning before I head to the airport.”
“Okay. Thanks for coming by.”
As Roy turned to head for the door Johnny called, “Hey, Roy?”
The blonde man turned to face his partner. “Yeah?”
“When you go the airport tomorrow, stick to the main highway. Take it from me, Arizona detours are a hazard to a guy's health.”
Roy chuckled. “Okay, Junior, I'll take it from you. After all, I guess you know better than anyone else.”
“No kidding, partner,” Johnny mumbled as his eyes slid closed. “No kidding.”
My thanks to Kenda for the beta read, the encouragement and the help with the wording for the ending. I really appreciate it! Also thanks to Jane for beta reading and for the encouragement. <G> And thanks to Peggy for answering a few medical questions. Any medical errors are mine only. The painting at the beginning of the story is by my sister Susan Tsoupakis.
A dust storm in the Arizona desert.