Expect the Unexpected

By JackeE!



Gray clouds had hung low over Los Angeles most of the week. Not clouds of smog, as was the norm, but clouds that threatened to bring some badly needed rain to the city and surrounding area. The summer had been dry, as summers in Southern California often are. That meant Station 51 had been busy throughout July, August, and into September.

As John Gage walked toward the nurses’ station in Rampart’s emergency room, he vowed to his partner that if he were called out to one more brush fire, it would be the one that pushed him over the edge and permanently damaged his sanity.

“As if your sanity wasn’t damaged long before I met you,” Roy muttered.

Johnny’s eyes slid to the man. He’d heard what Roy said, but in an effort not to allow the tradition of teasing barbs to die, he asked, “What’d you say?”

“I said, if the clouds stick around they just might bring some rain.”

“Oh,” Johnny acknowledged, in a way that let Roy know his partner had heard him correctly the first time. “That’s not what I thought you said, but if you say that’s what you said, then I know you wouldn’t lie to me.”

“Nope, I wouldn’t.”

Dixie looked up as the men came to stand at the end of her counter. “You wouldn’t what?”

“Lie to Johnny.” Roy passed the handie-talkie off to his partner so he could pour himself a cup of coffee.

Dixie smiled at whatever current nonsense was happening between the two men. “Of course you wouldn’t lie to Johnny.”

Johnny smoothly took the mug out of Roy’s hands, forcing the man to pour himself another cup.

“Don’t be too certain about that, Dix. OlRoy’s a sly one.”

“Glad you finally figured that out.” Roy took a sip of his coffee, then looked at Dixie. “I hope you brought an umbrella.”

“Am I going to need one?”

Looks that way.” Johnny fished in his shirt pocket and handed the nurse a supply list. “There’s even thunder rumbling out there.”

Dixie glanced at the clock. It was twelve-thirty. If nothing major happened in the ER between now and three o’clock, she’d be off duty in two and a half hours.

“No, I don’t have my umbrella with me. Do you think the rain will hold off until after three?”

“Dix, if I could predict that,” Johnny said, “I’d be a weatherman, not a paramedic.”

“Good point.”

“Very good point,” Roy agreed.

Johnny cocked an eyebrow at his partner. “What’s that supposed to mean?”


It sounded like it meant something.”

“Like what?”

“Like you’d be happy if I was a weatherman and not a paramedic, meaning we wouldn’t be partners.”

“Or it could mean that I’d be unhappy if you were a weatherman and not a paramedic, meaning we wouldn’t be partners.”

“Yeah…I guess. But you sounded too happy when you said it the first time.”

“Define, ‘too happy.’”

Too happy. You know. Like happy…only happier than normal happy.”

“Look, Johnny, I didn’t mean anything by it in the first place, so how about if we quit trying to define my state of mind…or yours either, which I have little doubt would take us the better part of the day, so given that, I think we should just--”

Dixie’s laughter interrupted Roy.

“What?” Johnny questioned.

The woman shook her head as the men put their coffee cups down before following her to the supply room.

“Nothing. It’s just that I can always count on you guys to brighten my day.”

“Listening to me and Roy argue brightens your day?”

“It sure does.” The woman fit a key into the lock on the door. She opened it and led the way inside the room that was lined with shelves filled with medical supplies. “Especially because I know neither of you means a word you say to the other.”

“We might,” Johnny argued.

The nurse exchanged a knowing smile with Roy. “I highly doubt it, Johnny, but you believe whatever you want to.”

“Okay, I will,” the paramedic said. “Which means this discussion isn’t over yet.”

“Oh, lucky me,” Roy droned.

The men waited while Dixie filled a small box for them she handed to Roy. She had Johnny check the supplies she’d provided against the list he’d given her. When both she and Johnny were satisfied everything was correct, Johnny signed the form attached to a clipboard Dixie handed him. The nurse hung the clipboard back on its peg and followed the men from the room. She locked the door, returning the key ring to a pocket of her uniform top.

A long rumble of thunder rattled the windows. Dixie looked up, as though she could see right through the ceiling and out the floors above her head to the sky.

“Sounds like I’ll be dodging rain drops tonight.”

Tonight?” Johnny questioned. “Do you have a date or something?”

Roy gave an internal groan as the trio walked toward the nurses’ station. For the past month, Johnny had been trying to determine if Kelly Brackett and Dixie McCall saw one another outside the hospital. There had been rumors circulating for a long time now in which the answer to that question was yes, while other rumors circulated in which the answer was no. Why Johnny was suddenly determined to find out, Roy didn’t know – that was just Johnny for you. In three days he might forget about the whole thing and move onto something else, but lately, Johnny had been preoccupied with determining whether or not Brackett and Dixie were an item.

“Or something,” was all Dixie said in reply to the man’s question.

“What’s ‘or something’…if you don’t mind me asking, that is.”

Dixie looked up at the dark haired paramedic. “Why are you so concerned, hose jockey? Trying to find out if I’m free for Saturday night?”

Johnny blushed. Normally he was open to any and all advances from a beautiful nurse, but considering he thought of this beautiful nurse as an older sister, it was impossible for him to imagine coming on to Dixie in an effort to garner a date with her. Nor did he want to imagine it.

“Uh…no. I mean…well, that would be nice, but…uh….no. I mean…it’s not that I wouldn’t like to, Dix, but…”

Dixie feigned innocence while Roy fought to keep from laughing.

“But what, Johnny?”

Well, you see, Dix…it’s….well, uh…” Johnny looked at Roy. “We gotta go.”

“What’s your hurry?”

Johnny’s eyes grew wide with emphasis. “We just need to go.”

“I don’t see why. We can shoot the bull with Dix a little longer.” Roy pointed to the handie talkie Johnny carried. “We’ll hear it if we get toned out.”

Roy, we need to go…now.”

Johnny grabbed his partner’s shirt and gave it a tug. “Come on.” The paramedic glanced at Dixie. “Be careful out there tonight, Dix…I mean…if you go somewhere. Not that it’s any of my business or anything where you’re going or who you’ll be with…if you’ll be with anyone, that is…just be careful ‘cause if it rains, you know how slick the roads can get so--”

“Yes, Johnny, I know how slick the roads can get. Thank you for reminding me.” Dixie winked at the man. “And for caring.”

Sure. You’re welcome.”

Roy gave Dixie a wave. “See ya’, Dix.”

The woman exchanged bemused smiles with Roy as she watched Johnny stride down the hall toward the exit doors.

“Bye, Roy.”

Roy didn’t catch up with his partner until he reached the squad. Johnny was already sitting on the passenger side. Roy slid the box of supplies toward the man, then climbed in behind the wheel.

“What was that all about?”

“What was what all about?”

“Why you were in such a hurry to get out of there?”

Roy, if Dix finds out I’m trying to see if she and Brackett are dating, she’ll kill me. And if Brackett finds out, he’ll more than kill me.”

Roy started the squad’s engine.  “What’s the big deal anyway?”

“The big deal is that some of the guys have a pool going, and I’ve got twenty bucks riding on the answer.”

“You’re right. If Dixie finds out about this she’ll kill you. If Brackett finds out, he’ll more than kill you.”

“Listen, I’m not the one who started the pool.”

Who did then?”

“Dwyer, Stillman, and some of the guys from 45’s and 8’s.
We were talking about it one night while we were bowling, and since no one really knows if Brackett and Dixie see one another or not, we started taking bets.”

Roy pulled the squad out of its parking space and headed for the road. “Which way did you bet?”

“I keep changing my bet.”


“I keep changing my bet. I’m drivin’ Dwyer nuts…or so he says.”

“I’m sure you are.”

“Well, it’s twenty bucks we’re talkin’ about here. That’s not exactly small change.”

“Not in John Gage’s world it’s not,” Roy acknowledged of the friend who was often so stingy with a dollar it was laughable.

“Not in anyone’s world,” Johnny countered. “So if I’m gonna shell out twenty bucks, I wanna make sure I get it back, and then some.”

How much could you stand to win?”

Don’t know. It depends on which side I take, the ‘yes Dixie and Brackett are dating’ side, or the ‘no Dixie and Brackett aren’t dating’ side. Either way, if I end up on the winning side, I should gain at least eighty dollars. Maybe more. I’m not sure how many guys Charlie has involved now.” Johnny looked at his friend. “Wanna get in on it?”

“Are you nuts? Do you know what Brackett will do if he finds out about this? Not to mention what Dixie will have to say.”

“I know. That’s why I have to be careful going about this.”

“Going about it?”

“Yeah. See, if I can figure out if they’re dating or not, then I’ll know which side to stick with, and then I’ll win for sure.”

Roy pulled the squad onto the thoroughfare and headed for Station 51. “Don’t be too sure about that.”

Whatta ya’ mean?”

“It sounds to me the only sure fire thing about this bet is that you’re going to lose.”

“Lose? But I just told you that if I figure out if Dixie and Brackett are seeing one another or not, then I’ll know what side to take. And if I take the right side, then I’ll win more than the twenty bucks I put in.”

“Which won’t do you any good after Dixie is done hanging you by your toes, and Brackett is done removing all your internal organs with a dull scalpel.”

Johnny grimaced. “You’ve been watching too many of those horror flicks Chet likes.”

“No, I haven’t been. I’m just good at predicting what’s gonna happen if you insist on sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong.”

“I’m not sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong.”

Roy allowed his silence to speak for him.

“Okay, okay. Maybe I am. But I wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for the bet.”

“Then forget the bet.”

“I can’t.”

Why not?”

‘Cause Charlie won’t give me my twenty dollars back.”


Roy, if I invest twenty bucks in something, I want some kinda return.”

“Partner, the only return I think you’re gonna get is trouble where this bet is concerned.”

Johnny couldn’t think of anything to say in response, and more than that, he hated it when there was the possibility Roy was right.

By the time Roy was backing the squad into Station 51, the subject of whether or not Kelly Brackett and Dixie McCall were dating had been dropped.




Dixie hurried out to her car after finally getting off-duty at four o’clock.  The rain was coming down at a steady pace now, and the nurse wanted to stay as dry as possible.  The emergency room had gotten busy that afternoon due to traffic accidents caused by slick, wet pavement.  That, in turn, had delayed Dixie’s departure by an hour.


You’d think people had never driven in the rain before. Dixie saw Squad 51 following an ambulance toward the ER doors.  Poor Johnny and Roy.  This is their third trip here since they picked up supplies.  Last time I saw Johnny he was soaking wet.  I bet he’ll be glad to have a hot supper tonight.  I hope for his sake it’s not his turn to cook.  He probably wants something more than hotdogs and potato chips right about now.


As she got into the vehicle and turned on the ignition, Kel Brackett came over with an open umbrella in his left hand sheltering him from the wetness. Dixie rolled down her window part way to talk to her colleague.

“I thought you could use this,” Brackett said, closing the umbrella and handing it to her after shaking it off briefly.

Kel, you’re going to get soaked yourself.”

“It’s not like I’m going to melt, Dix. Besides, it’s my idea you do this in the first place, so I’ve got to do what I can to keep my head nurse dry.”

“You’re right. You do owe me,” the nurse said wryly as she set the umbrella on the passenger seat. Returning her eyes to the doctor, she shook her head. “Go back inside. You’re getting wetter by the minute, not to mention the rain is dripping into my car.”

Brackett grinned and nodded. “Drive carefully.”

“I always do.”

With her window closed again, Dixie sat a minute as she watched Doctor Brackett trot between other cars in the lot towards the building. With the windshield wipers going at full speed, she put the car into drive and slowly pulled forward out of the parking space and in the direction of the exit.

I hope Ol’ Bill has coffee brewing when I get there. I’m sure going to need a cup by then.



Dixie get off okay?” Joe Early wondered as a wet Kel Brackett came into the lounge.

“Yes, she’s on her way now. I wish the rain had held off longer, but Mother Nature does what she wants when she wants.”

“Sounds like a certain nurse we both know.”

“You don’t agree with this, do you?”

Early pushed his chair back from the table and stood up, taking his coffee cup to the sink.


“I think it could have waited until tomorrow when the weather might be better--”

“Or maybe not, Joe. Time is of the essence in this case.”

“Either way, Dix is a big girl,” Doctor Early conceded. “She’s going to do what she wants to.”

Brackett chewed his lower lip, ignoring the other doctor’s departure from the room. He hoped he hadn’t made Dixie feel like she had to go on this errand.


Johnny Gage stood near the rear of the apparatus bay watching the drops of rain hit the ground and splash up again. Roy stepped up beside him and looked at the view his partner was locked on.

“Jennifer calls them ballerinas.”


“The rain drops. When they hit like that, she says they look like ballerinas. Joanne taught her that to help her get over being afraid of heavy rains.”

Gage watched closely as the drops splashed at a rapid pace. “Whatever works, I guess.”

So what’s on your mind?”


“You’re standing in the bay watching rain fall. You could be in watching TV, or better yet, changing into a dry uniform. So, what’s on your mind?”

You think Dix knows something’s up? Like the bet? I mean not that she’d know it was a bet, or even that it involved her. . .but you think she knows something’s up somewhere? I mean, was I very obvious?”

“Yeah, but I doubt she figured you were any different from norm. . .from your usual self.”

Johnny glared at Roy over the way the man hadn’t finished the word ‘normal’. “Oh, ha ha. Very funny.”

I hope if she and Brackett do have a date, they stay home. I wouldn’t be out in this stuff if I didn’t have to be.”

Johnny returned his gaze to the rain. “No kiddin’. Me either.” After a moment of silence, a smile crept across his face. “Joanne’s right. They do kinda look like ballerinas.”



"Okay, Bill, you just need to sign this last form and you'll be all set." Dixie leaned over and pointed out where the man needed to place his signature.

"I don't know, Dixie." The elderly man turned his chubby face to take in his living room. "I know you all mean well, but... well, leaving here after all these years... it's just not easy to do."

The nurse smiled warmly and placed a tender hand on top of the old, weathered one. "I know, Bill, but we've been over this before." She squeezed his hand. "We worry about you, you know... all of us."

Bill chuckled. "Doctor Brackett sent you out here, didn't he?"

Dixie folded her arms and sat back, her expression one of mock sternness. "Nobody sends me anywhere. You ought to know that by now."

Bill laughed lightly. "Oh, don't I know it."

"I came because I wanted to," Dixie continued in a softer voice. "And because I really believe this place will be wonderful."

Bill shook his head. "But, Dixie... a home? You really think I need a home?"

"It's not what you think," she explained patiently, even though she, Kelly Brackett, and Joe Early had all had this discussion with Bill before. "It not a nursing home. It's called assisted living, and it's just a place where there'll be staff nearby in case... I said 'in case,' you might need them. But you'll have your own apartment, and there'll be lots of people there. You'll make all kinds of friends."

Bill remained silent; his face pensive. Dixie let him think for a while. She knew this was a hard choice for the old man to make. To give up even a little of his independence was a huge concession, but his health had deteriorated enough that it wasn't safe for him to be alone anymore. He'd already been brought into Rampart twice in the last month. Once because he'd gotten sick and had no one around to get his medicine for him. He'd come in with a high fever and on the verge of pneumonia. The second time had been because he'd slipped on some grease he'd spilled on his kitchen floor. That had prompted Kel to look into alternative living arrangements for their old friend.

It hadn't been easy. Most places were conventional nursing homes, and no one felt Bill was at that point. In-home aides were almost as expensive, and Bill had balked at the thought of a stranger sharing his home with him.

It was actually Craig Brice who had come up with the answer. All the paramedics knew Bill and worried about him. When Brice found out what was going on, he showed up at Rampart his next shift with a colorful brochure about a new kind of home for seniors. He said his great aunt had moved into one and was extremely happy with it. It seemed perfect, but convincing Bill was another matter. It had taken weeks to get him to agree, and even then, he had moments of indecision. Like tonight.

The arrangements were made, and all that was left was to get Bill to sign the contracts. The administrator had called earlier in the day and told Kel there was a waiting list to get in, therefore they needed Bill's paperwork as soon as possible. It had seemed like an easy matter for Dixie to swing by Bill's on her way home from work, but he'd decided to be stubborn, so the nurse had already been here longer than she'd planned on.

She glanced out the living room window. It was dark now, and still raining hard. She didn't relish the thought of driving in this weather. She turned back to Bill.

"It's really a great place, Bill. I'm sure you'll love it there."

The old man chewed on his lower lip thoughtfully, then a smile broke out on his ruddy face.

"You know what we need with this rain, Dixie? A nice cup of hot cocoa." He stood up and started toward the kitchen. "You just wait and see. It'll make you all nice and warm and toasty inside."

Dixie watched him disappear, then let her head fall into her hands. She blew out a frustrated breath. It looked like she was never going to get out of here.




“Those ballerinas look like they’re really dancing now.”

Johnny watched the raindrops splashing in wild abandon on the driveway, as Roy backed the squad into the station.

“Hey, Roy, if you think about it, it’s almost like Doctor Brackett and Dixie are doing a dance, too. You know, the way they sometimes seem like they’re so close and then the next time, everything’s sorta cool between them. Yeah, it’s like they’re dancing around each other.”

So busy with his theorizing, Johnny didn’t notice Roy roll his eyes in frustration. Turning off the engine, the senior paramedic paused for a moment, and then took a deep breath.

“You know, Johnny, I don’t have anything against Dixie or Doctor Brackett, but it wouldn’t hurt my feelings one bit if I didn’t hear their names again for the rest of the shift.”

With that, Roy climbed out of the squad; his focus now intent on the tantalizing smells emanating from the kitchen. Had he glanced back, he might’ve laughed at the round-eyed look of surprise on his partner’s face. As it was, he had already disappeared into the dayroom when Johnny exited the squad. The younger man moved to the switch on the wall, watching dully as the garage door closed.

“Wonder what his problem is . . .”


Spending the evening with Bill had not been Dixie’s original intention, but in the end, she was glad she stayed. One cup of cocoa turned into two, and still the pair continued to chat amiably. Bill even insisted Dixie stay for dinner. That was an invitation the nurse found she couldn’t refuse, especially since Bill had made a pot of chili earlier in the afternoon.  The chili had been simmering on the stove when Dixie arrived, filling the house with tantalizing aromas.


After the meal, Dixie tried several times to leave, but each time Bill interrupted her attempts by starting a new topic of conversation. Dixie knew that the man was just lonely. He was the kind of person who needed the company of others, and tonight was the desired confirmation that his friends were doing the right thing. The assisted living center would keep Bill involved with other people, and the nurse knew it wouldn’t be long before he’d won over a whole new group of friends.

The hour was late when Dixie finally got up to leave. The sound of thunder reverberated through the sky as she stepped onto the porch, but the nurse was relieved to see that the rain had stopped. Although the streetlights barely dispelled the darkness, an occasional flash of lightening illuminated the night sky.

Dixie, there’s another storm moving in. I hope you’ll be able to make it home before it gets any worse.”

“I’ll be fine.  I promised Doctor Brackett that I’d drop these papers off at the Center tonight, so I need to stop there first.”

“But it’s too late for that now. Oh, my, I’ve kept you here much too late, making you listen to an old man’s rambling. You’re probably tired after your long day at the hospital.”

“Now that’ll be enough of that! I enjoyed my visit, and besides, you make a mean pot of chili.”


Bill’s laugh lightened their mood, if only a little.

“Really, Bill, I do need to drop these papers off so we can get you on the waiting list, and from there it’s not too much farther to my apartment.”

“There’s a shortcut you could take back into the city. It’s something of a rural road, but it will bring you to the main highway close to the Center you’re talking about. It’ll save you several miles, if you’re interested.”

“Sure, I’m interested.”

It took only a few moments for Bill to describe the route, and after repeating it back, Dixie felt comfortable she knew the way. With a wave of her hand, she stepped off the porch and hurried to her car. Once inside, she quickly started the engine and backed out of the driveway. Looking towards the house, Dixie could see Bill’s silhouette accented by the light spilling from the living room and through the open front door. For the first time, she felt certain that they were doing the right thing. Of all people, Bill deserved to be happy.

Several miles down the road, Dixie recognized the turnoff to Bill’s shortcut. Pulling over to the side of the road, she hesitated briefly, uncertain about the change of course. Should she travel this rural route or simply stay on the well-marked street? The regular way would make for a longer drive, but one that she was familiar with. After all, from how Bill described it, his shortcut wound up into the hills before dropping back down to meet up with a main road.

Still, she reasoned that the route was a safe one; after all, Bill had assured her there were homes scattered along it. As long as she followed his instructions, Dixie felt certain she’d end up on the main thoroughfare, and quite honestly, she was anxious to get her errand completed so she could get home before it started raining again. With forced confidence, the tired nurse put her car into drive and continued on her way, her fingers tapping on the steering wheel. The radio droned on in the background; the announcer’s voice relaying the news and reciting current weather information

Mesmerized by the sound of the radio, the darkness, and her own fatigue, Dixie was several miles down the wrong road before she realized her mistake.

“Darn it. Now I’ve got to backtrack. I knew I should’ve stayed on the main route. At this rate, I’ll never get these papers delivered for Kel. Oh, well, at least it’s not raining anymore.”

With a sigh, Dixie pulled over and in a series of forwards and reverses, soon had her car headed back in the direction she’d just come from.  She resisted the urge to drive the posted speed limit.  The pavement was slick from all the rain they’d had, and for a tired driver on an unfamiliar road, that could spell disaster. For the first time, Dix realized just how isolated an area she was in, and wondered what would happen to someone lost out in this remote neighborhood. Realizing that she needed to get off this deserted road and back on course, Dixie chastised herself for her inattention, then concentrated on locating the correct turn that would get her on the road leading to the assisted living center.

Intent on her driving, Dixie was startled by a sudden flash that lit the sky, and she blinked repeatedly at the unexpected glare. When she was finally able to focus again, the change from glaring white to pitch black was dramatic. Rubbing a hand across her eyes, Dixie struggled to make out the road before her, but suddenly, another light pierced the darkness. There was no time to escape the headlights coming straight towards her. Dixie’s scream went unheard as metal struck metal, then all was silent.



The lightning bolted across the evening sky, illuminating the clouds that hid within the darkness. The clouds swirled angrily, threatening another onslaught of rain. The wind howled with enough force to rattle the big bay door, adding the perfect touch to the all-too predictable B movie that was playing on the TV.

The paramedics had been busy since getting supplies from Dixie.  Slick roadways and heavy rain meant numerous weather-related traffic accidents.  Roy and Johnny were in the ER five times since twelve-thirty.  Now that he was finally wearing a dry uniform, Johnny hoped there wouldn’t be a sixth time before this shift ended.

John Gage looked around the room, noting the concentration Chet bestowed on the television set. Captain Stanley looked as if he could fall asleep at any moment as he slumped further down into his chair, and Mike was glancing between the TV and the sports page he held in his hands. Roy had no interest in the movie as he stood at the sink washing the dinner dishes, but Marco stole a glance at the show now and then as he put away the leftovers from his well-cooked meal.

A game of cards began at the kitchen table after the movie. Hank had just said he’d skip the game in favor of going to bed, when the tones sounded.  Chairs were pushed back and left askew as the crew rushed to their vehicles.

"Station 51, respond with police to the 1700 block of Lancaster Road. Motorist reports a two vehicle MVA. 1-7-0-0 Lancaster Road. Ambulance is responding. Time-out, 21:30."

"Station 51, KMG-365."

Here’s six, Johnny thought in reference to the number of MVA’s he’d been called to since early afternoon.

The engine followed the squad from the bay and nearly out of the city. When they reached their destination, the headlights from each emergency vehicle shone clearly on the reason they'd been summoned.

Two autos in the middle of a lonely road, both crashed together head on. A red pickup truck sat crumpled into a white Ford sedan with steam rising from its hood.

As the men exited their vehicles, the wind picked up and a low rumble of distant thunder sounded.  The air smelled of rain, night crawlers, and damp earth.

Roy took off towards the truck since it was closest to him, while Johnny ran to the demolished sedan. Captain Stanley assessed the mess before him. He called dispatch and requested two tow trucks before jogging to Roy.

Roy shook his head as he saw Hank approach, taking brisk steps to meet his captain halfway.

"He's dead. Strong smell of alcohol, too."

Hank shook his head in a cross of anger and disgust. "Well, let's go see if John needs any help," he replied while grabbing his HT from his coat pocket. "
L.A., we have one victim code F. Respond coroner to our location."

"10-4, 51."

As the captain and Roy hurried to the other car, Johnny was circling it, looking through the shattered glass with the aid of a flashlight. Chet and Marco were searching the immediate area outside of the vehicle.

"What've you got, John?" Hank asked.

"I think it's empty," the paramedic replied as he began yanking on the driver's side door. Using all his might, it finally groaned in protest and opened.  “I wanna check behind and under the seats.”

Hank nodded.  They’d been at the scene of more than one accident where a vehicle appeared to be empty, but upon further searching the men would find a petite woman, a slightly-built teenager, or a young child, nearly hidden within the wreckage beneath damaged seats or a crumpled dashboard.

Roy walked to the other side of the car, opening the passenger side door with considerably less effort than Johnny had been forced to use. He watched as Johnny shone his flashlight around the car’s interior.  John bent low and searched the floor beneath the dashboard, then the floor between the front and back seats.  Because the windows were intact, albeit just barely in some cases, and because the doors had been shut, Roy didn’t see how someone could have been thrown from the vehicle.

Johnny grabbed hold of the steering wheel as he straightened, then pulled back, looking at his hand.

"I've got blood here, Roy."

Roy ran his hand across the passenger side seat as Johnny did the same on the driver's side. Both raised their hands to one another, exposing more blood.

"He must've gotten out through this side of the car,"
Roy stated as he looked over the hood of the car at his captain. Hank nodded.

"Hey! There's blood over here on the ground," Mike called, using a flashlight to look at the drips on the pavement below him.

Captain Stanley walked briskly toward the man who'd found the accident.  He'd been leaning against his station wagon, unable to leave the scene since the wreck was blocking his way home.

"Sir? Are you the one who called this in?"

"Yes...yes, I am," the man answered, extending a hand towards Hank, who shook it. "My name’s Joe Rakes. I was coming home from a double shift and damned near ran into this mess myself. I turned around, went to the convenience store back a ways, and used the pay phone to call you guys."

"We appreciate that," Hank said. "Could anyone have stopped here while you were gone calling this in? Maybe picked up one of the accident victims?"

I doubt it. There isn’t but three or four more houses now until you turn off onto Highway 12.  The road’s usually desolate this time of night.  That’s why I like to travel it. After I’ve worked a double shift all I wanna do is get home. Don’t wanna deal with stop signs at every corner, or get caught in traffic.  I can shave about twenty minutes off my drive if I use this as a short-cut to the highway.”

Hank nodded, thinking about how much he hated getting caught in rush hour traffic when he went off-shift at eight o’clock in the morning. “Listen, did you happen to see anyone wandering around out here?"

"Nope. Not when I first came upon the accident, nor when I got back after reporting it.  Sorry."

"Thanks, Mr. Rakes.  I hate to delay you further, but you’ll need to stick around in order to give your statement to the police. A squad should be here in a few minutes."

“Okay.” The lean man with the weary eyes pointed to the cars. “Can’t go anywhere as it is until those are outta my way.”

“I’ve called for tow trucks.  They should be here soon as well.”

Joe pulled his jacket collar up around his neck to ward off the damp chill. “I’ll be in my car, if that’s okay. I called my wife after I called you guys. She knows I’m gonna be late.  Maybe I can get some sleep while I wait.”

“Might as well,” Hank agreed, knowing the police would wake the man up when they were ready to speak with him.

The captain turned away as Joe climbed into his car. He jogged to where his men were gathered around the white sedan.

"Gentlemen, listen up," Captain Stanley began, "we've got a victim wandering around somewhere who's obviously been injured. Get a flashlight if you don’t already have one and let's find him!"

"Her, Cap," Chet announced, picking something up from the side of the road. He showed everyone the purse he'd found. He unzipped the purse and pulled out a wallet, announcing the name on the driver’s license he retrieved. "
Dixie Mc...oh my god, it’s Dixie!"

"What?" Johnny and Roy asked simultaneously. 

“It’s Dixie.”  Chet held up the wallet so the driver’s license was visible behind the protective plastic holder it was encased within.  Johnny shone his flashlight on it so he, Roy, and Hank could confirm for themselves what Chet had just stated.

Johnny shifted the beam of his light to the car’s interior again.  He hadn’t paid any attention to personal affects in the vehicle earlier, other than to vaguely note an umbrella and a legal-sized white envelope that appeared to be stuffed with papers.  Johnny grabbed the envelope and umbrella, backed out of the car, and reached a hand toward Chet.

“Give me Dixie’s purse.  I’ll put this stuff in the squad for safe keeping.”

Hank didn’t object to Johnny’s actions.  It was the type of thing one friend would do for another, and better that Dixie’s purse was with someone she trusted, as opposed to being put in the vehicle and towed with the car to the impound lot until a member of her family could claim the items.

"Okay, let's get those flashlights and start looking around.” The captain pointed. “That trail of blood is heading down this hillside." 

Another gust of wind blew as Hank finished his sentence. He hoped this new storm that was moving in would hold off until after they’d found the injured nurse.  He called dispatch once more, letting them know of this latest situation. He heard a siren in the distance, and watched as a squad car rounded a bend in the road. 

“Go ahead,” Hank instructed his crew. “Start your search. I’ll stay here long enough to talk to the officer, then join you.”

Roy and Johnny moved out quickly, worried about
Dixie’s health and safety. The fact that the nurse had wandered off indicated she wasn’t thinking coherently.  Added to that was the blood loss; meaning Dixie’s injuries could be life threatening.

The men of Station 51 spread out, so that when they started sidestepping down the slick hill they were yards apart from one another in an effort to search the biggest amount of territory they could cover.   Two fat raindrops smacked against the lip of Johnny’s helmet, then bounced off.  Two more thick drops plunked against the sleeves of his turnout coat.  Like his captain, the paramedic hoped the rain didn’t start in earnest again, since that would only hamper their hunt.

Dixie?" Different voices called out, hoping for an answer from the missing woman.

Dixie! Dix?”


Soon the search was spread out for over a quarter of a mile, and Hank Stanley requested that dispatch call another unit in to help.

Johnny stopped suddenly at a thick of shrubs, his eyes focusing on where he held the flashlight beam. "
Roy! There's blood here!" He smeared it with his thumb, holding the leaf carefully. "It's fresh! She should be close by."

Roy hurried over to his partner, being careful not to tumble down the hill. The wild grass was long, thick, and easily tangled in the men’s boots.  Beneath the grass was uneven sod and rocks. 

“We'd better find her soon. With all this blood she's losing …"

“Yeah,” Johnny acknowledged of his partner’s uncompleted sentence.  Roy didn’t have to complete it for Johnny to know what he meant.

The men broke of their conservation when they heard it. Someone was moaning.

Johnny walked forward a few steps, intent on finding the source of the noise, but his mind lost that train of thought as his feet flew out from underneath him.

Roy could do nothing other than watch as his friend tumbled down the unseen drop-off.

"Johnny! Johnny!"


Johnny tumbled in full rotations down the steep, wet slope.  He bounced over rocks and shrubbery like a child’s discarded toy, and when he finally came to a halt it was because a boulder four feet tall by five feet wide was in his path.  The paramedic’s breath was knocked out of him in a powerful, “Ug!” as his right side impacted the immovable object.

Johnny lay there momentarily stunned.  He’d lost his flashlight in the fall, but still had his helmet on, which was bound to make Cap happy. 

Good thing I tightened the chin-strap. Cap would have my ass if I’d lost my helmet and than smacked my head against this rock.

It was then that Johnny looked at the ‘rock.’

Make that ‘this boulder.’ No wonder I feel like a mule’s kicked me.

Johnny winced as he pushed himself to his knees.  He grabbed his side with his left hand and held it there.  He took deep, shaky breaths, not so much because of the pain, but because of the adrenaline rush that was borne from the surprise of tumbling down the hill more times than he could count, and then stopping so quickly and forcefully.

Gage, you idiot.  The first thing you learn at the academy is the rescuer should never become the guy needing rescued. A lot of good you’re doing Dixie now.

Johnny didn’t cut himself any slack. He continued to silently berate himself as he stood on wobbly legs.  There was a part of Johnny that was willing to acknowledge it wasn’t his fault he’d tumbled down a drop-off that had been hidden by darkness and long grass, yet there was the part of him that was all too aware his misstep meant people were now looking for him, rather than concentrating on finding Dixie. That was further emphasized by Hank’s voice calling, “John!  John!”

“Over…” Johnny stopped and took a deep breath. He winced once more, but this time when he attempted to respond to his captain his voice came out louder than a weak croak.

“Over here, Cap!”

A flashlight beam swept the area, then landed on the paramedic.

“You okay?”

“Yeah...yeah, I’m fine!”

“You sure?”


Johnny moved toward the beam.  It was a struggle to climb the steep hill, especially as the rain began to intensify.  The soles of Johnny’s boots kept slipping out from under him.  When he tried to take his left hand off his side in order to gain better balance, a dull throb urged him to replace the pressure.

The paramedic followed the flashlight beam as he ascended the hill.  When he got close enough to his captain, Hank reached out a hand.  Johnny grasped the hand and let Hank pull him up onto more solid, level ground. 

Johnny gasped for breath, the exertion from both his fall and climb making him feel like he’d just run three miles at an all-out sprint. 

“Dix…Dixie?” the paramedic questioned as he dropped his hand from his side and stood straight.

Roy found her.  I sent Chet to get the equipment Roy needed while the rest of us looked for you.”

“Sorry about this, Cap. I…one minute I was on solid ground, and the next minute I wasn’t.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s dark, it’s raining, and this hillside is slick as ice.” Hank traveled the flashlight beam over Johnny’s body. “You’re sure you’re all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. My right side’s a little sore, but I’m okay.”


“No…below my ribcage.  Feels like it’s bruised.  Like I said, I’m fine.”

“I’m sure you are, but when you get to Rampart have someone check you out, okay?”

“Okay,” Johnny agreed as he started walking.  “Where’s Roy?”

“Follow me.”

Johnny trudged along beside his captain, silently cursing the way the grass tangled around their boots and pant legs. Without it to hamper them, they could have walked twice as fast.

“And John?” Hank smiled into the darkness.


“Glad to see you kept your helmet on this time, pal.”

Johnny chuckled briefly, “Yeah, me too, Cap,” then sobered as they approached the hubbub surrounding Dixie.

Roy glanced up briefly as Johnny knelt beside him.  “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Johnny assured. He couldn’t hide the wince that involuntarily crossed his features as he got on his knees to aid Roy. 

“You sure?”

“Just a little sore. How’s Dixie?”

Johnny looked down to see that Roy had a pressure bandage on the upper part of their patient’s forehead, and had a C-collar in place. Dixie’s eyes were closed, though every so often she’d give a soft moan.

“She’s got a deep gash just under her hairline, and a gash in her right arm, along with multiple cuts and bruises.   Brackett just ordered an IV of Ringers.”

Johnny reached for the IV setup while Roy bandaged Dixie’s bleeding right arm.  Sirens pierced the air, signaling the arrival of the ambulance.  Johnny glanced up to see Marco descending the hillside with a backboard.  The other firefighters – Chet, Mike, and Captain Stanley, in addition to three of the men who were now there from Station 45, stood over Johnny, Roy, and Dixie in an effort to shield them from the rain.

Johnny shifted his attention to his partner once again. “Does Brackett know?”

“That it’s Dixie?”


“I told him.”

Johnny nodded.   He could imagine the feeling in the ER right now, as Dixie’s colleagues anxiously awaited her arrival.  There was nothing they could do but worry until then.

When Dixie moaned again and opened her eyes, Johnny bent close to her. 


The woman didn’t answer, but instead, her eyes lethargically traveled the limited area she could view, since the C-collar prevented the nurse from moving her neck.

Dixie?” Johnny questioned louder, and with more authority in his voice.  “Dix?”


Dixie, do you know who I am?”

The nurse’s eyes flicked over the man’s face, but she didn’t seem to be able to focus on his features. Wha…what?”

Dixie, who am I?”

“I…who…where...where am I?”

“You were in an accident, Dix, but you’re gonna be fine. Roy and I are giving you our VIP treatment.”


Johnny could tell that the question in Dixie’s voice wasn’t because she was looking for Roy, but because she had no idea who the man was.

Johnny asked another series of questions.

Dixie, what day is it?”

“Day?” the nurse’s voice parroted weakly.

“Dix, where were you coming from?”


Johnny exchanged concerned glances with Roy, before looking back down at their patient.  Dixie, can you tell me your name?”

“Na…name?  My…my name?”

“Yeah. What’s your name?”

“I…I don’t….what did you…did you call me?”

The woman’s brow furrowed.  Johnny could tell she was on the verge of getting upset over her inability to answer his questions.

“Never mind, Dix,” he soothed.  “It’s not important right now.”

The woman searched Johnny’s face a moment, but when she still wasn’t able to determine whom this young man was, she closed her eyes in an effort to escape her headache, and her confusion.

“Let’s get her in that ambulance,” Roy said. He picked up the bio-phone and gave Doctor Brackett an updated set of vitals, then added, “Patient is not oriented to her surroundings. We’re getting ready to transport now, Rampart.”

“10-4, 51. Get...get her in here as soon as you can.”

“10-4, Rampart.”

The paramedics log-rolled Dixie onto the backboard and secured her in place with the safety straps.  Johnny stifled a cry as he lifted his portion of the backboard from the ground. The pain took him by surprise, but when he evaluated it, he decided it didn’t feel any worse than a deep bruise, which was nothing he hadn’t lived through many times in his life.

Had a lot more bruises the time I wiped out on my bike racing Tom Chandler down Lindberg hill when I was twelve.

“Let me take your spot, Gage.” Chet slipped in beside Johnny. “You can help Roy with the equipment.”

At first, Johnny wondered if he’d made some facial expression that indicated lifting the backboard had caused him pain, but when Chet didn’t say anything else, or even spare Johnny a glance, the paramedic was assured that wasn’t the case. Everyone knew how touchy Doctor Brackett was concerning the medical equipment the paramedics used. All of it was expensive, and Brackett never replaced anything without putting a hapless paramedic through a Spanish inquisition before signing the necessary supply forms.  Obviously, Chet didn’t want to risk facing Brackett if some piece of equipment was accidentally dropped and took the kind of tumble Johnny had.

Six men carried the backboard up the hill, followed by Roy and Johnny with the equipment.  Roy reached the ambulance first, so he climbed in after their patient.  Johnny handed the man the bio-phone and drug box.

“See you at Rampart,” Johnny said. His eyes fell to Dixie for a moment.  She appeared to now be unconscious. “Take good care of our patient. This one’s special.”

“I know,” Roy acknowledged. “Don’t worry, I will.”

Johnny put the trauma box in its compartment, then climbed in the squad.  He took off his helmet and laid it next to Dixie’s personal affects.  Johnny briefly wondered what the nurse had been doing on this lonely road on such a stormy night.  Before his mind cast about for answers, the ambulance siren sounded, its red light flashed, and it pulled away from the scene.  Johnny started the squad and followed the vehicle, flipping on his own lights and siren.

By Johnny’s watch, it took them twenty-five minutes to reach Rampart.  Had the roads been dry, they could have made better time, but between the rain and the slick pavement, it was dangerous to push their speed too high.

Dixie had already been whisked to a trauma room when Johnny exited the squad.  He took his turnout coat off and left it in the truck, then reached across the seat and picked up his handie-talkie, the umbrella, envelope, and Dixie’s purse.  He grimaced a little when he made the reach, but when he straightened, the pain was gone.

Johnny didn’t have to ask anyone where Dixie was.  He saw the worried look on Joe Early’s face as the doctor pushed open the door to Trauma Room 2.

Johnny entered the room to see Brackett, Early, Roy, and Carol in attendance.  He put the items he carried on a chair in the far corner, then remained there so he was out of the way. Roy was giving Doctor Brackett an update on Dixie’s vitals, and with both Early and Carol in the room, Johnny’s assistance wasn’t needed.

Twenty minutes passed in which the doctors assessed Dixie’s condition.  Brackett ordered a full skull series, neck, spine, and chest X-rays.   

“Order a unit of blood, Carol,” the doctor instructed as well.  “She’s lost a lot as a result of this head wound.  It didn’t help any that she was wandering around for God knows how long.”

Johnny bristled a little at that remark.  He wasn’t sure if Brackett was trying to place blame at the feet of the firefighters who were searching for the nurse, or if it was just a comment made in general regarding the circumstances of the accident, and wasn’t meant to be taken as more than that.  Roy seemed to take it in stride, so maybe Johnny was being too sensitive as a result of whom their patient was.  You always wanted to give any patient the best care possible, but when that patient was a friend…well, like Johnny had teased Dixie at the scene – VIP treatment.

Each time Brackett or Early tried to get a response from Dixie, her reaction was exactly what Johnny had received – disoriented, confused, and she wasn’t able to give her name, say where she was, or identify the doctors she’d worked with for so many years.  Johnny and Roy exchanged glances. Dixie’s lack of coherency was not a good sign.

When the X-ray technician arrived with the portable unit, everyone exited the room.  Brackett caught Johnny’s deep wince when the paramedic bent to pick up the items he’d placed on the chair. 

“Johnny? Are you okay?”

Johnny had unconsciously placed his left hand against his right side again. 

“I’m okay. Just kinda sore.”

“Kind of sore in what way?” the doctor asked as the group exited into the hallway.  Doctor Early was paged to pick up a phone call before anything else could be said.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes, Kel. I want to look at those X-rays with you.”

“Okay, Joe.”

Carol headed toward the nurses’ station after saying, “Call me as soon as you need me again, Doctor Brackett.”  Carol was in charge of the evening shift. Since she wasn’t able to do anything for Dixie at the moment, she knew the woman would expect her to keep the ER running smoothly.

“Thanks, Carol,” Brackett said, appreciating how concerned his staff was for their injured colleague – not that he expected anything less.  He was concerned, too…very concerned, and he had a difficult time hiding that when he faced Johnny and Roy again.

“Like I was saying, Johnny, kind of sore in what way?”

“It’s nothing. I took a tumble down the hill when we were looking for Dix.”

The doctor reached out a hand and palpated Johnny’s right side. The paramedic took a sharp breath.

“Tenderness there?”

“A little. But it’s just bruised.”

“Come on, let’s go across the hall.”

Because Johnny promised Captain Stanley he’d have his side looked at, he didn’t protest as Brackett led him and Roy to Trauma Room 4.  He knew this examination wasn’t necessary though, and felt the physician’s time could be better spent attending to Dixie.  But as long as the X-rays were being taken, there wasn’t anything Brackett could do for her, so Johnny supposed tending to him would keep the doctor’s mind from Dixie.

“Take your shirt off and climb on the table.”

Before doing as Brackett requested, Johnny handed the doctor the items he was carrying.

“Here. These are Dixie’s.  Chet found her purse on the side of the road, and I found the umbrella and that envelope in her car.”

The doctor took the things Johnny held out to him.  He put Dixie’s purse and his umbrella on the stainless steel ledge of the drug cabinet, then slipped the papers from the envelope. He unfolded them and stared at Bill’s signature on the bottom of the three-part form.  When a heavy silence lingered in the room, Johnny glanced at Roy, who gave a slight shrug of his shoulders.

“I should have never suggested she go,” Brackett muttered.

When the physician didn’t say anything else, Johnny ventured, “Doc?”

Brackett looked up at the men.  “Old Bill.”

“What about him?” Roy asked.

“We’ve been trying for a while now to talk him into moving to that assisted living center Craig Brice told us about. Bill finally agreed to it.  There’s a waiting list to get in, so the director called me this morning and said we should get Bill on it as soon as possible.  Dixie agreed to go to Bill’s house after work to have him sign these forms. Then she was going to drop them off at the Center before heading home.”

Brackett slipped the forms back in the envelope and turned to place it on top of Dixie’s purse.  Had his back not been to Johnny, Brackett would have seen the paramedic stepping up behind him.  When the doctor turned around, Johnny was a foot away from him and still had his shirt on, rather than being seated on the table with it off.

Johnny glared at the physician.  “How could you?”


“How could you send Dixie to Bill’s on a night like this?  You knew how many times we were in here today because of accidents caused by the weather!”

“Look, Johnny, Dixie wanted Bill to sign those forms as much as I did.  I didn’t send her anywhere. She went of her own accord.”

“That’s not what you just said. You just said, ‘I should have never suggested she go.’”

“That’s what I said, yes.  But--”

“But what?”

Because Brackett had no defense, and because he felt guilty enough as it was, he resorted to pulling rank as his temper got the best of him.

“What gives you the right to question me, Gage?”

“What gave you the right to send her to Bill’s, Doctor?” Johnny countered.

“Johnny,” Roy said as he stepped in-between the two men. If he didn’t put an end to this now, Johnny could find himself in hot water with Brackett.  The doctor wasn’t technically their supervisor, but Brackett could log a complaint of insubordination against Johnny with fire department headquarters if he felt it was warranted. “Johnny, calm down.  It’s late, we’re all tired, and we’re all worried about Dixie.  Let Doctor Brackett take a look at you, and then we’ll head back to the station.”

John Gage and Kelly Brackett stood staring at one another through narrowed eyes.  Both of them silently acknowledged that what Roy said was true – they were tired and worried about Dixie.  Those factors meant things were said in anger that shouldn’t have been, but neither man was ready to admit that…or apologize for it.  As an observer, Roy perceived what he could only identify as an air of jealousy between Brackett and Johnny.  If Roy had to put it into words, he’d say a protective kid brother was letting his big sister’s boyfriend know that he’d crossed the line.  It sounded ridiculous, yet given Johnny’s recent obsession with discovering whether or not Brackett and Dixie dated, then what Roy was sensing was a strong possibility.

Brackett finally broke eye contact with Johnny.  He and John Gage were tenacious, and both of them had a temper, so Brackett knew one of them had to be willing to give in first.  In this case, the Hippocratic oath meant he had to be the one to say “uncle” – figuratively speaking. 

The doctor kept his voice even and devoid of anger when he said, “Johnny, take your shirt off, please, and get on the tab--”

Before Brackett could finish his sentence, Carol pushed the door open. 

Dixie’s seizing!”

The physician ran from the room without thinking to instruct Johnny to stay put until someone was free to look at him.  When Johnny and Roy got into the hallway, they saw Doctor Early running into Trauma Room 2.  They waited a few minutes in order to get word on Dixie, but before anyone came out, Johnny’s handie talkie sounded.

“Squad 51, possible heart attack at 665 Ventura.  6-6-5 Ventura.  Time out, 0:53.”

Johnny put the speaker to his mouth and pressed the ‘talk’ button.  “Squad 51, 10-4.”

The men hurried from the ER. They never returned to Rampart that night.  The call of a possible heart attack turned out to be an elderly widow who lived alone, and was frightened when a loud ruckus came from under her bedroom window.  Johnny discovered two metal garbage cans on their sides, with trash strewn across the driveway.  He used a broom he found hanging in the woman’s carport to sweep up as much of the mess as he could and push it all back into the cans. In the meantime, Roy assured their patient that the clatter she’d heard was likely caused by a couple of rowdy dogs, took her vital signs, and gave her a clean bill of health. 

“Your vital signs are strong, ma’am, but if you want to be transported to Rampart Hospital, I’ll call for an ambulance.”

“Oh, I don’t need to go to the hospital,” the petite, white haired lady assured from her perch on her living room sofa.  “I never thought I was having a heart attack, young man, I was just scared. It was that fellow on the other end of the phone who kept asking me if I was having a heart attack.  I finally told him yes, so someone would come and look around the outside of my house.”

“I see,” Roy said, as he packed up his equipment and stood. “Well, everything’s fine out there.  But if you start to feel ill, call us again.”

“I already told you, I’m not ill.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

And you’re sure there’s no one out there?”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m sure. My partner used a flashlight and looked all around the house. He’s certain it was just dogs.”

“Well…that McHenry family on the next block does let their dogs run free sometimes.”

“See there,”
Roy said with a smile as he headed for the front door, “nothing to worry about.”

“I guess not. Thank you for coming.”

No problem.”
Roy indicated to the door with a small jerk of his head. “Make sure you lock this when I leave.”

“Oh, don’t you worry. I will.”

Roy heard the heavy wooden door shut firmly behind him, and then heard the dead bolt click into place. He met Johnny by the squad. Roy put their equipment away and joined his partner in the cab. Had the hour not been so late, Roy would have suggested they head back to Rampart and get an update on Dixie, but it was now two in the morning, and they were closer to the station then they were to the hospital.

Roy was backing the squad into the engine bay when he remembered Brackett hadn’t looked at Johnny’s side. He applied the brakes and put the vehicle in drive.

 “Where you goin’?” an exhausted Johnny questioned.

“Back to Rampart. You never had your side looked at.”

“I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?”

Johnny straightened, pulled his shirt from the waistband of his pants, lifted it, and studied his right side.  He twisted his torso so Roy could see. “Look. Not even a bruise.”

“I thought you said there was.”

“That’s because it felt like there was, but evidently not.  Come on, back the squad in and call Rampart before we turn in.  I wanna know how Dixie’s doing.”

“Why don’t you call Rampart?”

“ ‘Cause I don’t wanna talk to Brackett.”

“Why? Because you’re afraid he’ll chew your butt for what you said to him.”

“No, ‘cause I’m still pissed at him for sending Dixie out to Bill’s on a night like this.”

“Johnny, I think Doctor Brackett was telling you the truth when he said Dixie wanted to go to Bill’s.”

Johnny climbed out of the squad, being careful not to slam the door in consideration of the sleeping engine crew.  “I don’t care what you think.  I know what I think, and until we know if Dixie is gonna pull through, that’s all that counts.”

Roy shook his head at Johnny’s stubbornness, but that bullheadedness didn’t come as a surprise. He’d encountered it before where John Gage was concerned.

The paramedics walked into the dayroom. Roy used the wall phone to place the call to Rampart.  He talked to Carol, who told him Dixie was stable and had been sent to Intensive Care for observation. 

“Has she regained consciousness…become any more aware than she was when Johnny and I brought her in?”

“Not yet, Roy.”

“Okay…well, thanks.  I’ll call again before we go off-shift.”

“You do that.  It’ll mean a lot to Dixie when she finds out how many people are concerned about her.”

“Yeah, I’m sure it will,” Roy agreed.

When the man hung up the phone, he filled Johnny in on what Carol had said.  Johnny didn’t like the fact that Dixie hadn’t regained consciousness, but at least she was in stable condition. 

The paramedics headed for the dorm.  If Roy hadn’t been ahead of Johnny, he might have seen the man grasp his side and walk with a slight limp, as though he had the kind of painful stitch a person gets from running on a full stomach.


The engine crew was toned out at 5:45. Johnny lay in his bunk, wide awake as Marco, Chet, Cap and Mike pulled on their bunker pants, grabbed their jackets and hurried to the bay. Cap thoughtfully hit the lights on his way out, but Johnny didn't think that would do much to help him sleep.

Roy turned over in his bunk and Johnny glanced at his partner. Long developed habits allowed them all to wake to the tones, but quickly go back to sleep if the call wasn't for them. Sure enough, in a few moments, Johnny could hear Roy's rhythmic breathing.

He sighed, then instantly regretted it at the twinge in his side. He held his breath for a moment, then let it out slowly when the pain subsided. A quick palpation didn't produce any tenderness, so Johnny dismissed it. He's already convinced himself that his difficulties sleeping didn't stem from his aches and pains.

The rain had continued off and on through the night, with occasional rumbles of distant thunder, and it only reminded him of
Dixie. Worry for his friend was a far more likely reason for his insomnia than a little bump to his side. Johnny couldn't rid his mind of the image of her blood in the car and on the bushes; of her lying unconscious on the ground, of how disoriented she was when they loaded her in the ambulance, and how pale she looked in the emergency room when Brackett examined her.

Brackett! What the hell was he thinking? Aren't doctors supposed to be super smart? Well, I may be only a hose jockey, but I damn sure know better than to send a woman out on a night like last night. Those papers could easily have waited for dryer roads and better light.

Johnny almost sighed again, but caught himself before he did.
Roy was probably right. He probably had been a little out of line with the doctor. Maybe. A little. But it had been so tough to see Dixie lying there, and then to find out she didn't need to be. That the head of the ER didn't have enough sense to tell her to wait...

Johnny ran a hand through his hair and sat up slowly. There was no sense lying here nursing a grudge for something that had already happened. He wasn't going to get anymore sleep, so he decided to get up and start some coffee in case the rest of the guys got back before the shift ended. He stepped into his boots, stood and pulled up his pants, feeling only a slight tug at his side.

Satisfied that he was indeed, only bruised, the paramedic shuffled off toward the dayroom. With any luck, there'd be a donut there he could scrounge.


Kelly Brackett sat in his office, one hand supporting his head, the other tapping a pen nervously on the desktop. He'd spent the night in ICU checking on Dixie until Joe had finally chased him out, telling him he was driving the staff up there crazy. Kel felt his mouth twitch at the corners. Only Joe Early could get away with saying that to him and actually expect results. Anyone else Kel would have either ignored, or told to go to hell.

Brackett had been in his office for the last hour and a half. He'd drunk more coffee than he should have, and was trying to ignore the beginnings of a headache. None of that mattered. Nothing mattered now except
Dixie's health.

Damn! Why did I let her go? Why didn't I tell her to wait? Gage was right. I knew how bad the roads were. Why didn't I make her wait?

Unable to sit any longer, the doctor got up and walked to the window that overlooked the parking lot. The sun was just coming up, shining pink and purple through the clouds. It wasn't raining at the moment, but it looked like the storm wasn't quite through drenching the
L.A. area. One dark corner of Kel’s brain wondered if Dixie would ever see another sunrise, but he squashed that thought as soon as it appeared. The doctor in him was practical enough to know that all the tests had come back negative. Dixie's X-rays showed no skull fractures. Though she hadn't awakened completely, he knew her unresponsiveness and disorientation were resulting from a concussion, and thankfully, nothing worse. There was nothing to indicate Dixie wouldn't wake up soon with a whopper of a headache, and wondering what had happened to her.

The sound of rain made the doctor lean closer to the window. He realized it was coming down again, promising another wet day. He sighed and jammed his hands into the pockets of his lab coat, wondering when he might be able to show his face up in ICU again without Joe getting on his case.

The phone rang on Kel’s desk and he hurried to answer it. The voice on the other end gave him the news he'd been waiting all night to hear. A smile broke out on the man’s face as he thanked the nurse and hung up.  Doctor Brackett’s smile was still there when he breezed out of his office and headed toward the elevator.


Johnny took the last drink of his third cup of coffee and glanced at the clock. It was still a few minutes before shift change, and the engine hadn't come back yet. Roy had risen with the wake up tones and come out to join Johnny for coffee. Roy drove the younger man nuts when he insisted on filling his cup and having a few sips of the hot liquid before he felt he was awake enough to call Rampart.

Johnny’s fingers drummed anxiously on the table as
Roy talked to Carol for what seemed like forever, but finally a smile broke out on the older paramedic's face. Johnny leaned forward and felt his own mouth lift into a tentative grin, hoping Roy's expression meant good news.

"Well?" he asked, when
Roy hung up the phone.

Roy's smile broadened. "Looks like she's gonna be okay," he reported happily. "She woke up this morning and knew who she was and where she was. She's a little foggy on the accident, but that's understandable."

Johnny let his grin spread across his face as he sat back in his chair. "All right. That's great news. That's really great."

"Carol says Brackett's with her now."
Roy reached for his coffee again and took a quick drink. "In fact, she says he's been like a bear all night, and Early had to chase him away before he drove everybody crazy."

Johnny gave a derisive snort, which earned him a ‘look’ from his partner.

"Okay, okay, I'll back off. But I still say it was really stupid of him to send her out to Bill's."

Roy hedged, "but that's something that’s between Dixie and Doctor Brackett, don't you think?"

Johnny just shrugged, then glanced up as he heard voices in the bay that told him B shift was arriving.

"You gonna go see her this morning?" Johnny asked
Roy as he stood up, ready to go change.

"Joanne'll want to see her too, so I think I'll go home and eat first. That way we can go together after the kids are off to school."

"That's probably a good idea," Johnny agreed. "That way it'll space out her visitors."

The paramedics greeted Dwyer and Anderson at their lockers. The B shift paramedics hadn't heard about
Dixie, so Johnny and Roy filled them in as they changed into their street clothes. Eight o'clock found Roy headed home, and Johnny going the other way in his Rover, headed to Rampart to visit Dixie.


Kel Brackett loosened the BP cuff from Dixie’s arm and smiled. “Well, I’d say you’ve just taken your first step on the road to recovery. Your pupils are a little sluggish, but that’s not surprising. BP and pulse rate are in a normal range.” He wrote down a few notes on Dixie’s chart, then glanced up at the nurse. “Is the medication helping the headache?”

Dixie nodded slightly. “It’s starting to go away,” she said quietly. She then studied his face. “You haven’t answered my question yet. Was anyone else in the accident?”

Brackett frowned, furrowing his brow. He didn’t want his friend and colleague to have to deal with the aftermath of the accident yet. Although it clearly wasn’t her fault, Kelly was sure
Dixie would take some blame for what happened. He remembered the accident he’d had when the driver of the other car was killed. No matter who told him not to blame himself, it was difficult not to.


. .Dix. . .” There was no avoiding the answer. He could tell by her expression that she wasn’t going to let him off the hook. At least not before the medication took hold enough to knock her out. “It wasn’t your fault. You were hit by a drunk driver.”

“Is he all right?”

The doctor hesitated a moment before shaking his head.  “He was dead before the fire department arrived.”

He watched as tears welled up in the eyes of the normally strong-willed nurse, and then trickled down her cheeks. 

“It wasn’t your fault,” Brackett reiterated while plucking a Kleenex from the box on the nightstand and handing it to Dixie. “If anyone else is to blame, it’s me. You should’ve never been out on the road last night.”

“He’s right, you know.”

Brackett turned quickly to see John Gage standing in the room, the door closing behind him. The doctor wasn’t certain if Johnny’s comment of, “He’s right, you know,” meant that the paramedic was saying Brackett was at fault, or if Johnny was simply reassuring
Dixie that she had nothing to do with the other driver’s death. Whatever further opinions Johnny had, he kept to himself for the time being.

Dixie looked past the doctor to her newest visitor. Her eyes were feeling droopy as the pain medication took hold, but she wanted to thank one of the men who had saved her life.  Kel had told Dixie that it was Johnny and Roy who had found her after she’d wandered away from the accident scene, and that they were the paramedics who’d treated her and brought her to Rampart.

“Johnny,” the nurse whispered as she tried to force a smile. The news she’d just been given made smiling difficult, and she used the Kleenex to dab at her tears. Given her injury and current frame of mind,
Dixie didn’t pick up on the uneasy feeling between the two men.

Johnny stepped past Brackett without so much as a nod in greeting. He still wasn’t happy with the idea that
Dixie was sent on an errand in foul weather, but the paramedic knew it would only upset Dixie if he and Brackett exchanged heated words on the subject. For the moment, it was time to be thankful the nurse would be okay.

“How’re you feelin’, Dix? You’re looking better.”

Dixie blinked hard, trying to keep her mind and vision focused. “Thanks. . .you and Roy. . .thanks.” She weakly reached out with her hand. Johnny gently took it in his.

“Hey, it got us out of the station for awhile. You know how we are . .we love the outdoors,” Johnny smiled. “Besides, there were a lot of guys other than just me and Roy looking for you. You’re a popular lady, you know.”

Dixie nodded as she felt her eyelids close. The paramedic tenderly placed her hand on the bed, then turned to face the doctor.  Johnny’s smile faded, but he kept his anger in check.

“It’s good to see she’s doing so well already.”

“Yes, it is,” Brackett agreed, folding his arms across his chest. He tucked her chart up under one arm. “Listen, about last night. . .”

 “Never mind,” Johnny said, despite a tone of voice that told Brackett the paramedic had yet to ‘forgive and forget’.  Johnny appeared to be putting his concerns for
Dixie’s well being ahead of his temper.  “Things...things were tense. We were both under a lot of pressure.”

Brackett nodded. “Yes, we were.”  The doctor decided it was best to change the subject for both of their sakes…as well as for the slumbering Dixie’s.  Kelly knew, given his and Gage’s short fuses, that if the wrong thing was said, they could easily wake the woman.  Having her rest interrupted by two stubborn males butting heads was the last thing the injured nurse needed.

“How’s the side?”

“Not even a bruise.”

Hmmm.”  Brackett nodded. “Good.” The physician’s mind was half on his question, and half on the patient in the bed.  It had been a long night, and the doctor was as exhausted as Johnny appeared to be.  “Well, I guess you got lucky. But if it gives you any problems, be sure and get in here.”

I will.” Johnny glanced over at the sleeping nurse, then spoke to Brackett, keeping the conversation strictly business. “I’m gonna head out.
Roy’ll be here in a bit with Joanne. Maybe Dix’ll be awake by then.”

Brackett unfolded his arms and opened the chart again. “Okay, Johnny. Get some rest. You look tired.”

The only answer Johnny gave the man was a clipped, “Yeah,” leaving Brackett once again certain that ‘forgiving and forgetting’ on Johnny’s part was going to take a while.

As he turned to leave, Johnny felt a twinge in his right side again that he discounted as quickly as the twinge came and went.

It can’t be anything serious, or I wouldn’t still be standing by now.

Stepping into the hallway, the exhausted paramedic slowly made his way to the elevator. He couldn’t wait to get home.


Part 2