This was so not happening!
This was just too bad to be true. No way. John Gage closed his eyes decidedly and started to slowly count to ten trying to calm himself down a bit. Then he peeled one eye open to see if this nightmare had vanished. It hadn’t.
“Damn it,” it escaped his lips before he could stop himself.
Why me? Why did it always have to be me?
What went wrong in his life that he kept getting into these situations?
I mean, I did run like the devil, didn’t I? And I did shoot, like I actually knew how to do it. Man, I could even feel the cold steel of the squad’s compartment doors when I thought I was finally safe, Johnny thought. And now?
Now he was tied down on a cold table of some kind. He was wet, freezing and downright miserable.
Whatever happened since he had started the shift this morning… awww boy, he didn’t really want to think about the details so much.
* * *
“There’s nothing better in the world than a good cup of fresh hot coffee.”
“Have to agree with you there, Johnny,” Roy said taking a sip of the dark liquid he could save for himself before his partner took what was left. Roy always loved the first cup of coffee in the morning the most. Somehow that first cup usually had the greatest effect to his system and he could practically feel the caffeine working its way through his body waking him up sip by sip.
“If ya love it that much you could at least have made a new pot, because there’s nothing left now, Gage,” Chet said showing his empty mug to the paramedics.
Johnny couldn’t help himself but giggle at the Irishman’s bad mood.
“It’s not funny, ya know,” Chet fumed.
“Oh Chet, don’t be grumpy I already had it refilled. All you have to do is press the button and in a few minutes you’ll have your coffee, alright?”
Chet looked at the machine which indeed had already been readied for a fresh pot of the beloved coffee. He only had to rinse out the jug and start the machine.
“Okay, spill it, what’s in the coffee?”
“Why?” Johnny asked innocently.
“You never make a fresh pot if you’ve already got your cup filled. So what did you put in it? Chili?”
“No! There’s nothing in it. I just wanted to be nice, Chet. You always become unbearable when you don’t get your coffee so I decided to avert our fate. I can be nice, if I want to.”
Roy had a hard time holding back a laugh. Both firemen would easily risk their lives for each other but when it came down to a simple cup of coffee they just couldn’t trust each other.
“There’s nothing in it, Chet,” Roy finally said to end the debate. “I saw him refill it, okay? Just make the stupid coffee so you can get some, too. Okay?”
“Yeah, like that’s gonna happen. Every time I have to wait for the machine to brew the coffee we get toned out before it’s even half through.”
Fate had it with Chet Kelly that morning. The moment Chet pressed the power button on the coffee machine the klaxons sounded and Station 51 was called to a rescue.
Those who dare to challenge destiny shall be punished without hesitation.
* * *
Later that morning, after two minor calls, Squad 51 was called to a boy trapped. The second the squad came to a halt Johnny jumped out and got the required equipment out of the compartments. Packed with everything needed he followed Roy to the victim when Officer Vince Howard came out of the building.
“What have we got, Vince?” Roy asked without stopping.
“Well, you’re going to like this one”, he said with a smile signalling the paramedics to follow him into the backyard.
“Little John Bellard is up there…” He pointed to a tree house about 15 feet above the ground that didn’t seem too stable.
“Little John?” Roy asked with a grin.
“Fits, doesn’t it? He didn’t want to play with his baby sister and decided it was a good idea to get rid of the ladder. He also cut himself on the arm when doing so.”
“Yeah, perfectly fits,” Roy agreed. Johnny decided not to deepen the topic.
Vince picked up some rope indicating that this was the ladder he was talking about, when ‘Little John’ appeared above them.
“Are you going to stand around down there any longer or are you going to finally help me? I’m bleeding here.” He held his arm out of the tree house to show his wound.
From where he was standing Johnny thought it didn’t look too bad. The kid would survive. “Where are his parents?” Roy wanted to know. He was missing the usual concerned mother with a situation like this.
“Not at home. The neighbour called when John started calling for help because he couldn’t get back down.”
“Okay, this won’t be a problem until we get him down. But we need to get a hold of them to get parental consent or we can’t treat him.”
“Already at it,” Vince said.
“Good, I’ll call the engine crew. I guess, we’ll need a ladder to get him down.”
“Alright, Roy,” Johnny answered. “I’m gonna get a rope ready. Maybe I can get up there and take a look at his arm.”
Ten minutes later Johnny was up the tree talking with the boy from John to John.
He had bandaged the boy’s arm as good as possible and was now trying to convince the kid that he was who he was…
“No my name really is John, too. I’m not trying to fool you.”
“Than show me your ID,” the boy demanded. Johnny closed his eyes for a moment wishing himself back to that sacred cup of coffee he had had a few hours before.
“You see that?” Johnny asked pointing at his badge. “It says J. Gage, see? The J. stands for John. You believe me now?”
“No”, the boy answered without hesitation fumbling with the rope Johnny had taken up the tree to get down with later.
“There are a lot of names with a J at the beginning. I think you look more like a James or Jules maybe.”
“Jules? Oh come on…”
“Hey, Johnny, what’s going on up there?” Johnny looked out of the small opening of the tree house he had made himself comfortable in for the time being.
“Everything’s fine. What’s the ETA of the engine?” he wanted to know.
“They should be here any minute. Why did you throw down the rope?”
“What? I didn’t I…” He was looking for the rope he had secured on a branch but it was gone. The boy looked at him with a satisfied grin.
“Oh,” was all Johnny could muster. What a dumb kid.
“Cap, we’ll need the ladder from the engine,” Roy explained when Captain Stanley finally arrived in the backyard.
“Sure, Roy. Anything else?”
“No, Cap. I think this isn’t going to take long.”
“Oh, my god, Johnny, what happened? Are you all right? Did you get hurt?”
That had to be his counterparts mother, Johnny thought. He was about to climb down when he had heard the shrill voice of Mrs. Bellard – Johnny Junior’s mom. The gene pool explained a lot.
“Mom, everything is all right. You don’t need to worry,” John-boy explained, embarrassed.
“Take a look around, young man. These are firemen. Nothing’s right when Mrs. Jones had to call the fire department. What happened anyway? Does your arm hurt? Oh my poor baby,” Mrs. Bellard said, embracing her boy.
“The ladder fell down and I was stuck in the tree house,” he claimed playing innocent. “And Mr. Gage here helped me back down.”
“Yeah, Jules…” Johnny murmured not believing what a show the boy was putting on.
“You know, mom, it’s funny. His name is Johnny, too,” Little John said enthusiastically.
“Suddenly…,” Johnny whispered sarcastically.
“Oh really?” Mrs. Bellard said looking at Johnny. Her concerned features turned into pure delight. “Well if that isn’t just cute,” she decided touching the paramedics face.
Johnny shot Roy a desperate look, begging him for assistance.
“Your son seems to be unharmed, Mrs. Bellard. The cut on his arm is minor and we cleaned the wound but you probably should contact your house physician.”
“Thank you so much, young men”, the woman said leading her son into the house leaving the men alone in her backyard.
“That was…” Johnny was at a loss of words for the kid, the mother and the whole rescue.
“…different,” Roy offered. He too found this was a rather strange kind of a rescue. Some people really were scary in a bizarre way.
* * *
The latrine. It had to be latrine duty. He should have known that a shift with latrine duty was doomed anyway. So here he was mopping the floor trying to get it over with before lunch. And he just couldn’t get that stupid kid out of my head. Jules…
Did he look like his name was Jules? No, he didn’t think so. There were better names with J. Joe, okay. Jack, alright. Joseph, maybe… but Jules? What did he do to deserve that?
“Hey Jules, want to grab a bite? Marco’s chilli is ready,” Roy called from a safe distance in the dorm. He made a fast retreat knowing better than to tempt his partner to throw the wet cloth at him.
“Very amusing, Roy. Hilarious! Yeah really, for a second I thought I had to laugh about it,” Johnny called after his suddenly comedian partner.
He put the mop aside and made his way to the kitchen. Maybe some food would lighten up his mood. If Chet found out about his nickname he would never live it down. Chet would find out about it eventually, so Johny figured he could at least face it with a full stomach.
“That looks great, Marco,” the captain complimented taking a spoonful of the chilli.
The instant the spoon made contact with his lips the klaxons sounded yet again sending the station out to another rescue.
“You have got to be kidding me.” One spoon? Sometimes life just sucked.
Station 51. Station 110. Respond to structure fire. 6760 South Hadersroad. 6-7-6-0 South Hadersroad. Time out, 1312.
A collective moan finished lunch at Station 51 as everybody headed to the vehicles. Captain Stanley responded to L.A. with his usual “KMG 365” and handed Roy a note with the address.
Starting the motor Roy glanced to his partner.
“Man, I’m hungry,” Johnny whined.
“Me too, partner. Me too.” With that they left the station, the chilli and their good mood behind.
* * *
“Roy, John, get your SCBA’s. I need you to go in. There’s a mother and child on the third floor.” The unfinished – well, the untouched – food was forgotten. Johnny took a look at the four-story building in front of him. Looking at the unstable construction he was sure it was a collapse just waiting to happen.
“Okay, Cap,” both paramedics replied as they headed back to the squad to put on the air-tanks.
“This is gonna be bad, Roy,” Johnny said as he secured the tank and tested the air flow. “We have ten minutes at the most before that building becomes a big coffin.”
“Just be careful, Johnny,” Roy suggested with a concerned look.
The way that house looked, he wouldn't want to put a foot in there even without all the fire that was eating through it now. Johnny was right. They had to hurry if they wanted to get the woman and her child out of there alive.
“Alright, I’m ready.” Johnny checked his equipment one last time.
“Me too, let’s go.”
The heat of the flames hit them with unexpected force. There was no time to adjust as the two had to find their way to the stairs fast. Time was the one thing they definitely were running out of.
“There,” Roy pointed to their right and started towards the stairs.
The third floor was already involved in flames and the smoke made it hard for the paramedics to see anything at all.
“Roy,” Gage was holding Roy back. “I’ll take the right side and you check the left, okay?”
“Okay,” was all his partner said before he took off.
On Johnny’s side the flames seemed to be even stronger. The fire started somewhere around here, he was sure about that. He checked the first three doors finding the flats empty. Two more to go, he thought as he marked the door with an X. The smoke was getting thicker with the minute. He had to hurry. If there was anyone up here he held little hope that person had a chance to survive.
Still engrossed in the thought he opened the next door. He could see something. Someone. Legs. Someone was lying on the floor next to a bed, face down. Johnny rushed to the downed victim and knelt down next to the unconscious form. But it wasn’t the mother nor was it a child. Johnny found it an awkward position the man was lying in. Something was really wrong about the whole picture.
When he tried to turn the victim, Johnny stopped and stared at a pool of blood. The face and chest of the man Johnny held in his arms were covered in blood. The tiny hole close to the man’s heart made it needless to search for a pulse. This guy was long gone and there was nothing Johnny could do now.
“Johnny, I found ‘em,” a muffled voice crawled into the paramedics head bringing him back to reality. Suddenly he panicked. He needed to get out of here. Right now! Johnny jumped to his feet.
With one last look at the hole that without doubt ended the stranger’s life, he left the apartment yelling for his partner.
“Rampart, this is Squad 51, how do you read?” A nervous tremor had claimed Johnny’s body. He was in full paramedic-mode doing everything on remote. But his mind was somewhere else.
Just as he had left the building with a child in his arms, all hell had broken loose. With a loud growl part of the ceiling gave way triggering a chain reaction. Seconds after the fourth floor collapsed, the third followed and with it its dark secret. Johnny wondered if they would find the man in the debris. If they found him would there be enough left of him to find out if the hole in his chest was caused by a bullet?
Suddenly the whole situation made sense. What if that man had been shot? And what if it wasn’t a coincidence that he was left dead in a burning building?
“51, we read you loud and clear,” the static voice of Dixie McCall came through the biophone. A deep breath brought the young paramedic back to the task at hand. There were victims to take care of first. Then he could rack his brain figuring out what to do next.
“Rampart, we have two victims. First victim is female, age about six….”
* * *
“You okay, Johnny? You seemed distracted at the scene. Is something wrong?” Roy asked concerned when he joined his partner at Rampart hospital.
“Actually there is,” Johnny said in a serious tone. “You know, when we were in that building I saw something.”
“I figured that. The way you ran out of that building I sure could see you were desperate,” Roy said as he picked up a cup to pour himself some coffee.
“Well, I think we better not talk about it right here, Roy. You never know who’s eavesdropping.”
Roy raised an eyebrow. “Since when are you so suspicious about someone eavesdropping around you?”
“Never mind,” the troubled paramedic said. He simply waved a hand at Roy and left to find the squad.
“Oh hi, Dix,” Roy said as Rampart's head nurse entered the room.
“Hey, Roy, what’s up with Johnny? He seems a little off.”
“I don’t know, Dix. I guess I better go figure it out,” he decided handing Dixie the steaming cup.
“You’re welcome,” the fair haired paramedic said but was already out the door.
Roy left through the emergency entrance and found his partner in front of the squad. He was leaning with his elbows on the truck’s hood, burying his face in his hands.
You sure look exhausted, Junior, he thought. But it wasn’t the collapse of the building that bothered his younger partner. The way he took off with the child in his arms it looked like Johnny was running for his life. Whatever happened in that third floor only minutes ago was more than a close call. Johnny was the living definition of a close call.
A light headache was beginning to throb right behind Johnny's eyes. Again dozens of questions hammered through his head. Was it really a bullet wound he had seen or did his imagination betray him? The truth already dawned on him. The young fireman was never meant to find the dead body in the first place. Whoever killed that misfortunate soul hadn’t left the building because it caught fire at the worst possible moment. That was too much of a coincidence. No, whoever aimed the gun at that poor man left because he hoped that the blaze he set would destroy all evidence of the murder.
“Oh man,” Johnny breathed as the fog in his head finally cleared. When he turned his head he looked right into the concerned eyes of his senior partner.
“Roy, I think I’m in trouble.”
* * *
He thought he must have been in some state of shock. He had seen his fair share of dead people.
I mean, I see really bad injuries every day and deal with them without too much trouble, Johnny thought. It’s all part of the job. But he didn’t think he had seen too many murdered people so far. Hell, Johnny’d never seen someone shot dead like that before, that’s for sure. If he had, he would at least remember to get rid of the pictures that keept giving him a headache.
What does a human being have to do to deserve being shot?
There’s nothing in the world that would justify this. Nothing would make him angry enough to shoot someone unless he absolutely had to.
Right… what if he had to? What if that dead guy is the real bastard?
No, self defence doesn’t include burning down a building with innocents, right?
Aw God, this whole thing was driving Johnny nuts.
“Mr. Gage?” he looked up to see who was calling his name. Officer Jane Russel again. I think I had it with female officers, Johnny thought annoyed. They’re bossy. All of them. He was willing to wait for the day when he finally got to meet a nice one.
“The search team will start as soon as possible, but I doubt we’ll find anything. If you had told us right away…”
“I know,” Johnny said as calm as he could muster. He felt the tremor return.
“Well, if you did know why didn’t you open your mouth right away?”
“Because I had a victim to take care of first? Because I had to comprehend what I had just seen? Because somehow I like my life without police officers asking question after question without ever even thinking how I might feel. Okay? Can I go now?”
This was getting old fast. Johnny was ready to lose it. It was bad enough that he had to leave in the middle of the shift leaving Cap with a rather bad explanation. Roy felt it necessary he told the police what secret he had uncovered in the no longer existent third floor of 6760 South Hadersroad. And for once Johnny listened to his partner. Roy would take care of the rest.
“Mr. Gage, we would like to ask you some last questions and if you like you can go back to work after that,” a much more friendly voice stated. Detective Underwood was the last one of the five policemen Johnny had to speak with during the last three hours and the detective was by far the only one he had talked to with free will.
“Yeah, okay,” the paramedic said exhausted. “What else do you need to know?”
“Did you talk about this with anyone else except the men from your station?” he wanted to know.
“I only told my partner and the captain… no one else, why?”
“Well, if what you told us is the truth there is a good chance that the murderer wants to be on the save side. That means that he would want no witnesses. After all he tried to burn all evidence.”
Was he evidence?
And in that moment it became clear to him. He should have never opened his mouth. To no one and the least of all to Roy.
Now they would try and find the dead body he had left behind. And when they did, the murderer would know that someone knew his secret. Johnny needed to warn Roy!
* * *
Dave Westwoods knew he just had gotten into a heck of a lot of trouble when he saw the same firefighter leave the police station he had noticed at the fire a few hours ago. First he screwed up on an assignment and now this. He really didn’t need any more attention than he already had.
He needed to find out what the skinny guy had told the police. He needed to know exactly what that damn fireboy knew and who else he told. Hell, this was getting out of hand.
But for now he was going to observe skinny-boy and decide later what needed to be done. So far no one could connect him to Sam Nicholsen nor the bullet in his heart, he hoped.
* * *
“So what now?”
“I don’t know, Roy. I guess we just go back to normal,” Johnny said sitting in the captain’s office after he had returned to work after yet another hour of interrogation.
“Back to normal? Johnny, this is serious, I don’t think you should…”
“Look, Roy,” Johnny interrupted his partner midsentence. “I know this is serious. Man, I’m freaked out about it but there’s nothing I can do, okay? You told me I should go to the police so I did. They told me I could return to work until further notice. So I did.”
“He is right, Roy,” Captain Stanley interrupted. “If the police cleared him it should be safe. We shouldn’t overreact. When they find a body in the debris they will call us sooner or later anyway.”
Roy couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to it. He didn’t want to wait for the police to do something. If Johnny had startled up an assassin he was in immediate danger regardless if or when a body was found. He was deeply concerned for his friend.
“Well I want both of you to be more careful on our rescues. If – and I clearly want it to be an if not a when – someone is coming after you, Johnny, we need you to take cover as soon as possible. But I’ll let the police be the judge of that for now. Just watch out for anything unusual.”
“Maybe you should ask for police protection,” Roy suggested.
“Right. There is no case and no reason anyone would want to kill me for finding
a corpse, Roy. I won’t get any protection unless there is good reason for it.”
This was all wrong. Roy’s feeling told him that if someone could possibly need police protection it had to be his partner.
“I’m more concerned you may become a target as well,” Johnny expressed his own concern.
“Nothing happened yet, guys. I’m sure everything will dissolve into thin air.”
Johnny hoped so.
When the tones went off, the discussion was ended abruptly. The engine crew came running from the kitchen leaving the station after only a few seconds.
Westwoods was hiding behind Roy’s car outside of the station. Nevertheless he could hear quite a bit of the talking inside though he could not understand much. So he took the chance when the engine left to hurry inside the engine bay. He leaned flat against the wall listening to the two firefighters still talking.
A telephone rang. “I’ll get it,” the now familiar voice of John Gage called out as he made his way from the dorm to the kitchen. He didn’t notice the stranger in the station close by.
“Station 51. Fireman Gage speaking… oh hi officer, did you find anything out?... Oh… Yeah okay. I think I can stand the Squad down until they find a replacement…. Alright, I’m waiting.” The enthusiasm in Johnny’s voice diminished with every word. It didn’t take a genius to know he was talking to the police and that they obviously had something they wanted to talk more about to him.
“Roy?” Gage ran back to the dorm where he had helped his partner to get on with the chores.
“Roy, they’ve found the body. I was right. He got shot in the heart,” Johnny explained with a shaky voice. “What am I supposed to do now?” he asked desperate. How did he get himself into this mess?
“Calm down, Johnny. What did they say?”
“I…. I was told to wait for a patrol car to pick me up. We have to stand down the squad.”
“Alright, I make the call. I think you could use some coffee right now. Come on.”
“Cap’s gonna kill me for this!”
* * *
Westwooods’ day kept getting better and better. He couldn’t even get rid of a body any more. Where were the good old days when nobody asked questions?
At least he knew for sure now. Fireboy knew.
He decided to stick around a bit longer. Maybe when the police came to get Gage he would find out how much the police had found out. If he was lucky just this one time he had a good chance there was no connection between him and the body.
But when the car finally arrived he was disappointed to see Gage leave without much of a talk.
* * *
It was the second time that day that John Gage left the police station. This time it was dark and he was exhausted, drained and longed for his bed. What an awful day it had been.
Nevertheless he was off the hook.
Yes, they had found a body in the debris of the building from the fire. No, he could not be identified. Yes, he probably died because someone shot him the chest. No, they did not have a suspect or any leads in the case. Johnny could go home. He simply had the bad luck to find the dead guy, no need to worry. Johnny was relieved. It could have been worse.
Now all he wanted to do was go home and get some much needed sleep. The shift was over for him anyway.
With his car still at the station he decided to walk the short distance. Maybe the others were still awake and he could give Roy the good news. Even the police said his partner worried too much.
There was barely a soul out on the streets. Johnny took a look at his watch surprised that it was almost midnight. In a small uncomfortable room stuck with at least two officers, time had been playing tricks with him.
At the end of the street a man was standing under a street light reading some kind of magazine.
Standing around and reading papers in the middle of the night? That was odd, Johnny reckoned.
When he passed the stranger the guy looked up for a moment locking eyes with him. He looked at Johnny with some sort of recognition. The paramedic resisted the urge to look away immediately. The whole situation seemed strange. The cold stare bore right through Johnny and he then looked away uncomfortably, continuing his way.
“Gotcha,” Dave mumbled after another minute waiting to put some distance between himself and his prey. When Johnny was out of sight he threw the magazine in the next garbage can and followed the unaware fireman. Hunting season had just begun.
* * *
Johnny couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was following him. Maybe it was the sixth sense or he was really beginning to go nuts. Well, after a day like this he was more than ready to hit the sack. You’re really getting paranoid here, Gage, he told himself. You’re not in a gangster movie or anything? Murderers nowadays run away as far as they can and hide. They don’t go after innocent people just because of a corpse.
And what harm could he do? None.
Johnny was working himself up over this. There was not a good enough reason to be concerned and yet the little voice in his head screamed that he knew too much.
“Don’t be a baby, Gage,” he whispered. This whole thing is ridiculous. I should be at the station with the guys to do my job instead of wandering around in L.A. County in the middle of the night. What could possibly happen? I think I should stay away from horror movies for some time.
What was that?
A noise startled the young man absorbed in thought. He stopped to listen to the night. Nothing.
Yes, you’re definitely becoming paranoid here.
It was only a mile or two before he was at the station. No need to get jumpy now.
There it was again. This time he definitely had heard something. Steps maybe? He wasn’t sure.
As Johnny turned around abruptly he could have sworn that someone stepped out of the street light just in time to avoid being seen.
He turned to continue his way quickening his pace.
Maybe I am getting paranoid here. And maybe this is just a persecution complex fully developing. But I’m getting the hell out of here right now.
Damn, he was discovered. That was the price of wearing these great looking, really expensive leather shoes with a handworked bottom instead of quiet sports shoes. He had tiptoed his subject of obsession like a weasel for quite some time without being heard, but now that fireboy became a little antsy he had to make a decision. Gage knew who he was, that was for sure. He saw it in the way Gage had looked at him when he had left the police station. Eyes could speak more volumes than words. John Gage knew what he had done. That meant Gage had to be treated like a possible witness.
Sure he was doing the most reasonable thing in his position; he dropped the act and started to follow the figure in front of him. It was now or never.
Johnny nearly had a heart attack when he turned his head to see if his imaginative persecutor was still there and could be seen. Not too far behind him was a dark figure catching up to him with every step. Johnny took off running for dear life.
There was nothing he hated more than to be right when he actually wanted to be wrong. His sixth sense hadn’t deceived him after all. The little voice in his head had spoken the truth all along.
Again he turned his head to see if his follower was still there.
He was coming closer and it seemed that Johnny – as athletic as he was – couldn’t possibly outrun him.
His last minute on earth replayed before his eyes. The other guy would finally catch up, kill him on the spot and John Gage was history.
“No!” he screamed recognizing that running wasn’t the answer. Suddenly he stopped and turned around. The stranger was only a few feet away from him.
There was no way he could escape a confrontation so he decided that he wanted to set the rules for the where and when. He settled for facing his destiny right here and right now.
Dave was stunned to see Gage stop without premonition. That man sure was crazy.
But before he could stop himself he realized that he couldn’t avoid colliding with Gage. The fireman had stopped too suddenly.
Dammit, he didn’t even have the time to pull out a gun before it was too late. He ran right into Gage surprised by the force he hit the ground almost in a flash. His counterpart had been prepared and knocked Dave down but not without losing his balance as well.
Dave struggled to finally get his hands on the gun in his belt when a fist connected with his chin. All of a sudden he saw stars everywhere.
Johnny had put all his force into the collision hoping to knock down his follower. When he too fell down he hit the other guy right in the face. He attempted to get to his feet but was held back. A hand had a death grip on his ankle sending him down again. Luckily he fell hard on the legs of his pursuer. The grip on his ankle loosened with a cry of pain. Again Johnny tried to get up. Touching around the legs of the downed man Johnny felt something odd. There was something hidden underneath the trouser leg. He pushed it up a bit and uncovered a gun. For a moment he was undetermined if he should take the gun. But just as he wanted to let go he looked back at Dave to see the other man grab another gun.
Instinctively Johnny extracted the gun he had just discovered before his enemy could pull away his leg. Johnny kicked the gunman in the side to buy himself some time.
In the same movement he took off running.
I don’t believe this, Johnny thought. What the heck just happened? Who was that guy?
His stalker was only a good 30 meters behind him barely afoot aiming his gun at the breathless paramedic.
A bullet hit the curb stone Johnny had passed only an instant ago. What the… ?
This was getting way too close!
He tried to find what cover he could as bullets literally kicked around him.
A chip of stone scratched his face above the chin when a projectile hit the wall right next to him.
There’s not enough cover, Johnny thought to himself going through his possibilities. He didn’t see any.
There was no way out. He would die on this very street with a bullet in his head.
So much for getting old and fat.
Time for Plan B, he thought. I didn’t even have a plan A…
At this moment Johnny remembered the cold steel in his hand.
No. I can’t.
He was fighting to bring himself to release the gun. He wasn’t really going to shoot the guy but maybe teach him some respect.
His hand cramped around the weapon fully loading it.
It was the right time to wake up now! Oh boy…
Johnny took a deep breath steeling himself.
You can do it, Johnboy. No need to get nervous now. It’s not like you would hit him anyway.
As another bullet hit pretty close Johnny startled and pulled the trigger.
He never imagined the first time he would have to do just that, he’d aim at another person.
But it worked. He completely missed his target as intended. His foe had to take cover now as well. Johnny was back in the game. For a split second he actually enjoyed it.
The adrenalin rushing through his veins took a toll on him and Johnny got to know the James Bond in Mr. Gage. It was about time he took matters into his own hands.
Shooting around him like he was in a western movie, the young paramedic ran like hell.
He only had to run a couple of blocks without getting killed. So he stopped shooting hoping to save some bullets. Maybe he needed them later. He was so close. Just one more block.
Ahead of him he could already see the open doors of Station 51. The engine seemed to be out on a call but the squad stood in its accustomed place.
* * *
This was too much of a coincidence for one day. After the first shock of being shot at Johnny finally realized that he had the murderer close at his heels; the one police were so sure of didn’t even care Johnny was.
Well, he did.
And I thought I was paranoid.
Jeez… how did I get into this mess? He was starting to feel like he was in one of those Hitchcock-movies where the innocent but good looking guy comes under fire through no fault of his own.
Yeah, the song of John Gage’s life.
Finally he reached the station and hid behind the squad. The cold steel of the compartment doors were somewhat refreshing after the hasty flight. Johnny tilted his head resting it on the squad and tried desperately to catch his breath. He had to calm down or he would give away his position.
What now? I need to call the cops or something.
“Gage, I know you’re in there,” a loud voice echoed through the engine bay.
Like he could hide out anywhere else, genius! There was a dead silence. Both of them were waiting for the other to make a wrong move. The weapon in Johnny’s hand was trembling with the anguish vibrating his whole body. He could hear the other come closer. His shoes made an unmistakeable noise that burned itself deep into the paramedic’s brain with every step he made. The guy was opposite to Johnny also hiding behind the squad. He was so close.
And he kept coming closer. Johnny had to move now. Closest to him was the kitchen door. As quiet as he could he sneaked into the kitchen making his way to the door. Just a few more feet. He reached to the doorknob and turned it.
“Drop it.” Johnny flinched when the calm voice reached his ears. He could almost feel the gun pointing at his head right now. Slowly – very slowly – he turned around facing him for the first time.
“Drop it now or I will shoot you!” Like he hadn’t tried that before.
It was the guy from the street light Johnny had seen right after he had left the police station. He couldn’t recall if he had ever seen that man before that.
The stranger looked at the gun in Johnny’s hand. It had to be empty already but Johnny wasn’t certain about it. Nevertheless, he was certain about the fact that even if there was a bullet left the other guy most likely was the better shot and he’d probably be dead before he hit the ground.
“I guess the guys from the squad are sleeping, huh? Well, if you don’t want them dead, too, I’d suggest you drop the gun and give up. No one will ever know we were here at all.”
* * *
What went wrong in his life that he kept getting into these situations?
I mean, I did run like the devil, didn’t I? And I did shoot, like I actually knew how to do it. Man, I could even feel the cold steel of the squad’s compartment doors when I thought I was finally safe, Johnny thought. And now?
Now he was tied down on a cold table of some kind. He was wet, freezing and downright miserable.
Johnny found himself in some sort of repository. There was only a small lamp spending light that revealed boxes and cases as far as the eye could see.
He hadn’t a clue why he was soaked to the skin though. The guy had knocked him out cold in front of his car.
Right now Johnny had a headache from hell and the shivering didn’t help either. But there was a light at the end of this very dark tunnel. He was still alive, wasn’t he? He didn’t know why though.
“Uh, finally decided to join us, huh?
Mr. bad guy appeared to Johnny’s left looking down at him.
“What do you want?” There was no point in trying to talk himself out of it.
“What?” Johnny shot back confused. What information could he possibly possess that was worth re-enacting a scene from Hitchcock’s ‘North by Northwest’? He really had nothing in common with Cary Grant.
“Who else knows?”
“What... Look, I have no idea what you’re talkin’ about.”
“Playing ignorant won’t help, fireboy,” he said a bit more upset.
“It’s the truth. I have no idea who you are and what you want from me. And where are we anyway? Just let me go and I swear I’ll forget that this night ever happened.”
“6760 South Hadersroad, third floor. Ring a bell?”
It was not only one bell but a whole cacophony going off in Johnny’s head. Of course! He knew it had to be him.
“I see… you remember,” he said.
“Listen, I only did my job back there, nothing else.”
“Whom did you tell?”
“Tell what?” I croaked frantically.
“Don’t play dumb with me, boy!” he yelled giving Johnny a warning blow in the abdomen.
A sharp pain shot through his body as he was panting for air.
“You know exactly what I’m talking about. The guy,” he explained. Johnny knew that guy was about to go off but there was no way he would betray his friends for this.
“The dead guy,” he added.
Wrong answer. Something hard connected with his head making his world spin for a moment. The headache reached a new level.
“I said no games!”
“But I’m telling the truth,” Johnny heard himself say with a weak voice. Man, his head hurt.
“Maybe you’ll talk when I put a knife in your partner,” he said with a devilish grin.
Again Johnny could see him strike out to hit the paramedic in the head when the world went black before he could feel any pain.
* * *
When Roy passed the squad that morning to get his first cup of coffee for the day, he thought something was different. He couldn’t pinpoint what exactly had changed during the night but he was sure that there was something. Maybe when the engine had been toned out, he thought. There was nothing obvious that caught his eye. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was missing something.
The prospect of fresh hot coffee momentarily forgotten, he walked back to the vehicle taking a closer look. He discovered a tiny scratch on the driver’s side right below door handle. He could have sworn that it hadn’t been there the previous night. Curiously he looked at the rest of the truck searching for details he would not see from a distance. There it was. Blood. Just a smear that was barely visible on the shiny red paint. But it was without doubt blood. He was sure of that. Roy had seen enough blood in his life to distinguish it from similar colored matter.
But the important question was why there was blood on the squad if it hadn’t been moved the whole night? He thought hard about the last rescues but there was none explaining this. They had had only minor calls and no victim had any contact with the squad at all.
“Hey, Roy, what’s going on?” paramedic Tom Dwyer asked when he came up behind Roy.
“I don’t know,” Roy answered honestly. “But I found a scratch on the squad and a trace of blood. Any idea where it could possibly have come from?” he wondered.
Dwyer shook his head no. “Do you think there was someone here in the night?”
“Maybe. But it could also have happened on a rescue without us recognizing it,” suggested Roy.
“Yeah you’re right,” Dwyer said continuing on his way into the dayroom.
Roy took a last look at the small amount of blood on one of the compartment doors when he was interrupted.
“Hey, Roy,” Marco called from outside. “Did Johnny come in last night to get his car?”
“Not that I know of,” Roy replied.
“Well, his car’s gone.”
“Cap, he said he would wake me or leave a note if he was getting his car. Otherwise he said he’d take a cab.”
Captain Stanley frowned at the information. He knew his youngest crewmember sometimes tended to be somewhat childish but nevertheless was as reliable as every other man of Station 51’s A shift.
“Did you try to call him at home? He probably forgot or it was too late.”
“I tried to reach him three times but no one answered the phone,” explained the senior paramedic.
“I’ll call the police station to find out if they know something. The shift is over in an hour, then we can go to his apartment and find out if he’s home,” the captain suggested.
* * *
“Aww…” My head. Wha… Where? And why...?
What’s going on?
Johnny felt his arms and legs tied down somehow. He was lying flat on a hard cold ground, shivering.
How did he…? In a rush it all came back. The fire, the dead body, talking to the police and the strange guy.
The murderer. It was him, that was for sure, Johnny thought.
“Johnny?” a faint voice somewhere in the room said. It sounded like…
No, don’t get carried away here, Johnny. You’re hallucinating. The blow to my head was harder than I thought. Man, it hurts.
“Hey, Johnny, you okay?” Again the voice whispered. The dark haired paramedic finally brought himself to peel open his eyes to say good bye to the noises in his head that were playing cruel games with him.
It wasn’t night anymore. Sunrays bore through wood panels, lighting up the barn or where ever he was. Warily he turned his head to see whom the voice really belonged to.
“Oh God, Roy.”
“Hi, Johnny,” Roy grinned, at least glad to see he was alive. He was tied to a chair not too far from me.
“How did he…?”
“I was at your place,” Roy interrupted. “Looking for ya. When I didn’t find you I wanted to report you missing but on my way this crazy guy drove me off the road.”
“Are you all right?” Johnny wanted to know suddenly worried about the wellbeing of his best friend.
“Yeah I’m fine. What about you? You have blood on you forehead.”
“Headache,” Johnny admitted. “Do you know where we are, Roy? Where is he?”
“I don’t know. I woke up on this chair. All I remember is your car in my back mirror and than there’s nothing.”
“Yeah, he got my car when we were at the station,” Johnny remembered.
“You were at the station?”
“Yes. A really dumb idea. I could have gotten you killed, Roy. He was following me after I left the police station and then we had a fight and I just thought I would be safe when I made it to the station. But when I finally did, he threatened to hurt you.” He inhaled sharply when a pain cursed through his leg. A numb throb in his right knee joined his growing headache.
“You sure you’re okay?” his partner asked concerned.
“No, Roy, I’m not sure. But there’s nothing you can do, okay?” All of a sudden his world started to spin. He pressed his eyes shut to overcome the growing nausea.
“Listen, Roy,” the younger man said, sounding more exhausted than before. “I didn’t mean that. Sorry. I think I got a moderate headache and it’s freezing in here.”
“That’s okay, Junior. Take it easy.”
Easier said than done. He didn’t really feel so cold before but now that his senses woke up a bit he felt how exerted his muscles felt.
Except the bump Roy knew his head had to have from the blow of something incredibly hard, he felt fine. He could deal with a bad headache like the next guy.
When he first came to he was shocked to sit right next to his missing partner. His heart made a jump when his eyes connected with the limp body of his colleague. The somewhat irregular movement of Johnny’s chest assured him that there was still life in his friend’s body. A bad looking gash on the right side of his forehead had already stopped bleeding a while ago and Roy guessed that was the reason his junior partner was still out of it for a while.
“We need to find a way out of this, Roy. When he comes back we’re in big trouble. He thinks I know something but I swear I don’t.” Johnny was starting to become agitated. He couldn’t take many more sessions with that mad man. And now that he also had captured Roy he feared not only for his own but also for the life of his friend.
“Calm down, Johnny. We’re gonna get out of this!”
“Now if that isn’t heart-warming.”
Johnny stared at Roy, panic evident in his glance. He was terrified what was about to come next.
“No, no, don’t let me interrupt.”
For the first time Johnny got a good look at his kidnapper. The last time he had seen him the light was too dark to make out details. He wanted to look away, no longer see the stranger. He didn’t want to know what he looked like and give away the little hope he had to be released. Now it was too late.
“Now, fireboy,” the dark haired man said looking at Johnny. “Are we ready to continue where we left off?”
No, definitely not, Johnny wanted to scream. He was about to panic.
“What do you want from us?” Roy asked. “We never did anything to you.”
“You’re right. You didn’t do anything to me… yet. But as I already told your friend here, you guys know too much. I know he told you, but I need to know who else is involved.”
“Involved in what?” Roy had to fight not to yell angrily.
“Stop playing stupid with me. Enough of that already. You tell me exactly whom you told about the dead guy and who is on to me!”
“The man in that burning building?”
“Yes, the man in that burning building!” Roy had to watch his language as the guy was starting to get seriously angry with them.
“There’s nothing to tell,” Johnny said. “I saw a dead man while I was doing my job.” His anger surfaced for a moment as he yelled the last words at his opponent and he took a deep breath before he continued, calmer now.
“Then I was telling the police what I had discovered and that’s it. Nothing more. They don’t even have a lead as to who could have killed that poor guy. If you had just left the country no one would have ever found out.”
Why did he just say that?
“I’m sorry, Roy,” Johnny whispered as he realized that he had just signed their death certificates.
How could he get so carried away? If this guy believed just one word that had just left his lips they were dead meat for certain. If there weren’t any witnesses before that he had to get rid of, there certainly were two now.
“Listen, why don’t you just let us go? I swear we won’t tell anyone. Just let us go,” Johnny begged, desperate.
“Good try, fireboy.”
Then he just turned and left.
Dave was walking in circles outside of the storehouse.
He had screwed up again. Big time. He had acted way to premature assuming Gage knew who he was. How did that happen anyway?
He practically had asked for trouble. So now it was time to do something about that. But first he had to know one more thing.
“They are certainly already searching for you, right?”
“Of course,” Roy answered as calm as ever.
“Thought so.” Dave turned to the younger paramedic he had strapped down on an old work table.
“What exactly did you tell the police?” he wanted to know.
Johnny couldn’t help but roll his eyes.
“What’s your name?” he answered with a question no one had expected.
“What? You’re in no position to
ask question, okay? So…”
”I have to call you something, right,” the tied up paramedic interrupted bravely. “Calling you ‘bad guy’ is giving me a headache, ya know.”
“Dave.” Did he just say his name? Dave was stunned. He didn’t intend to reveal his name but was impressed by the younger man. He really had nerve.
“Okay, Dave,” Johnny addressed the man who just became a someone to him. “I’m really sorry that we’re causing you so much trouble but you have to understand that we mean no harm. Do you understand? My colleague and I don’t pose a threat, not at all.”
It all came so natural, Johnny found. It was like calming a patient but he wasn’t sure if it would work with this man who happened to have killed a human being.
Again there was a moment of silence. A moment his headache chose to increase from a constant throb to a painful stinging behind his eyes. And he felt so damn cold.
* * *
“Hi Joanne,” Captain Stanley greeted Roy’s wife as he recognized the voice on the phone. “No, didn’t he… they what? Yeah, I’ll call and see if they know where he is… okay. Don’t worry, Joanne, it’ll work out fine.”
An aggravating feeling had settled in his stomach by the time he hung up the receiver. Roy wasn’t home yet. And worse, his car was found in the ditch not far from Johnny’s apartment. Something was going on and his gut feeling told Stanley that it had something to do with the fateful rescue in the burning building where his youngest crew member found the corpse that was the reason for the fire in the first place.
First Johnny had vanished without notice and now Roy?
He again took the receiver in his hand and started to dial the number of Rampart.
* * *
“Where is he now?” Johnny wondered; his eyes closed.
“I don’t care as long as he stays there,” his partner answered somewhat out of breath.
Johnny turned his head. “What are you doing over there?”
“As a matter of fact I’m trying to get out of here,” he stated. Roy’s right wrist was almost free from the sloppy tie. He needed just one more minute before… Hah, he was free.
That wasn’t so hard, Roy thought, as he freed his left hand.
When he heard a noise from the door he stopped and returned to his original position, the moment of surprise probably would be of the essence.
Dave stepped into the room wearing a frown. He went straight to the table Johnny was laying on, circling it.
“If it wasn’t for you none of this would have ever happened,” he said in a low voice filled with hatred.
“Why did you have to go into that damn building? It was none of you business.” His voice grew louder as he glared at the cause of his misery.
“I was doing my job,” Johnny whispered.
“Shut up!” Dave yelled never losing contact with his victim’s eyes. It was time.
He pulled out a gun. It was the one Johnny had snatched away from him when they were fighting.
“You know,” he started with a grin. “No one has ever had the guts to shoot at me!” He laughed at the thought. Most people that had a reason to shoot him were stone dead before they had the chance to. But Gage here had worked up the courage to fight him, get his weapon and shoot him. No one had ever dared to do any of that.
“There’s only one bullet left in here,” Dave finally continued his monologue. He showed Johnny the gun before he fully loaded it for the last shot he would fire with it. After that he had to get rid of the weapon and out of the county.
“This actually is the weapon I used to kill Sam Nicholsen.”
The dark haired paramedic was breathing hard. His pulse raced with fear. He tried to get free from the restraints but it was no use. He couldn’t get away or run like the last time. His many lives eventually had run out.
It all seemed to happen in a torturing slow motion. Dave – the bad guy who now had a name and was no longer just a bad guy but a person, a human being – raised the gun. Slowly, very damn slowly it came to rest at a direct firing line aimed at John Gage’s head. Blood was pumping through his veins violently keeping up a crazy adrenaline rush. It made the whole situation even more unbearable. His tense body registered every second in horrid detail. Why could he not just get it over with? Why suffer if there was no way he’d get out of this alive after all?
In one last desperate attempt, the fireman closed his eyes, wanting to wake up… or die.
* * *
“Yeah, they found Roy’s car. Now he’s gone, too.”
Chet was sitting with the rest of the men of Station 51’s A-shift, telling them what he knew from Cap.
“Do they have a lead what might have happened?” Marco wanted to know.
Chet shook his head no. Not only did the police have no clue at all as to what could possibly have happened to their shift mates. They also did very little to find out. There was a team investigating on Roy’s car. Officer Jane Russel would call them the minute she knew something new. But neither Chet nor the rest of the crew wanted to leave it at that.
Since A shift had gone off duty that very morning they were all waiting on word from Roy and what he had found out about Johnny. No one had expected this, though.
“We have to find them. This is serious, guys. I can feel it.”
They decided to spread out to look for Johnny’s car. It was the only thing they could search for so far. so far. And it was better to look for a possibly non-relevant car than to twiddle thumbs.
* * *
The unexpected blow caught Dave off guard. The shot he had just fired didn’t find its original target.
Nevertheless it hit something further down.
Before he could even register what just happened another blow to his head sent him down on the ground unconscious.
Roy hadn’t expected his fist to be so powerful. His kidnapper was so absorbed in the death game he played with Johnny; he didn’t even see it coming.
It took Roy only moments to free his feet from the rope. Dave didn’t recognize that one hostage was now free as he hadn’t seen a thing.
The second he was finally free Roy automatically clenched his fists, prepared to beat dear Dave to unconsciousness if he had to.
The first blow had connected with the man’s chin just in time. Roy couldn’t prevent the gun from shooting but he eventually changed the course of the deadly bullet meant for Johnny’s forehead.
The second blow was even more powerful so this crazy psychopath kissed the dust.
Man, this was feeling really good, Roy thought. Well, the guy deserved it, he assured himself.
The next moment Roy finally came to his senses when he remembered hearing the shot he wanted to prevent.
His hurting fist completely forgotten, he rushed to his partner's side.
There was a small pool of blood already forming under Johnny's midsection and it grew with every passing second. He drew a ragged breath.
"Oh my God, Johnny," he gasped inspecting the wound. The younger man's face was contorted with pain. He drew in each breath with great difficulty.
"Roy," Johnny breathed through the stabbing pain in his chest.
"Take it easy, Johnny. Everything will be all right now, okay? I'm gonna get you out of here in no time," Roy promised, frantically trying to free his friend from his restraints. His fingers trembled and he just couldn’t seem to get the darn rope lose.
"Roy," Johnny said again with a little more strength in his voice this time. His partner stopped for a second, looking down at his injured friend. For the first time since he had found his best friend again, he could get a good look at his face. Dry blood had mixed with cold sweat sticking to his face.
"'s okay, Roy. Calm down." He took in a sharp breath before he continued. "Cool down before... you lose it." A crooked grin appeared for an instant.
Roy answered with a smile. He was okay now. His hands were still trembling but he could cope now.
Johnny looked at his friend, satisfied. "Now take me to the hospital... okay?"
* * *
Johnny got weaker with every passing second. Roy had fixed a provisory bandage with a cloth he’d found, pressing it on the wound on Johnny’s abdomen. At least he had found an exit wound.
"Aww Roy... it... hurts," Johnny hissed weakly. He wanted Roy to leave it and just let him sleep for a while but his friend had turned against him. He wouldn't magically take the pain away but inflict more by lifting him off the table he had been laying on for so long.
Roy felt the weak shivering form of Johnny in his arms. He had to get him out of here right now. Wherever here was.
Dave was still unconscious but no one knew for certain how long it would stay that way.
When the paramedics finally stepped out of their temporary prison, a salty breeze greeted them. Inside the building Roy would have never guessed where he actually was.
The harbour? Man, that was quite a bit away from Rampart, Roy decided thinking if the next emergency room was Rampart’s, while he was searching the area for any kind of help.
No soul was to be seen. It was just the two firemen.
"Roy?" Johnny pointed to the left. "Isn't that my car?" he asked.
"Yes, Johnny. Yes it is. Now let's get outta here!"
Roy had positioned his injured partner in the passenger’s seat while he was driving the car. Johnny's beloved Rover was making strange noises. Must be from the accident, Roy thought. He didn't want to know what his car had to look like when Johnny’s was barely functioning and eventually would likely end up as garbage.
The bleeding still hadn't stopped and crimson colour leaked through Johnny's shirt again. The dark haired man was barely awake, staring at an imaginative thing somewhere in front of them. He was already white as a sheet, fine drops of sweat on his forehead. For a moment Roy wished he hadn’t wiped off the blood.
He is becoming shocky, Roy decided as he glanced at his quiet friend. He needed an IV, a blanket and medical care - none of which he could give right now. All Roy could do was drive as fast as humanly possible.
It felt like forever before he could see the emergency entrance of Rampart.
He didn't take the time to park in the right place. Roy simply stopped the car right in front of the emergency entrance, rushing out of the car the next second to get Johnny.
The limp form of the injured paramedic nearly fell out of the car had Roy not caught him in time. Their arrival had already been noticed by emergency staff and a nurse helped Roy to carry Johnny inside.
Dr. Early joined the three in Treatment 3 immediately.
"God, Roy, what happened?" the doctor asked when he recognized his patient and the blond paramedic."He was shot," Roy answered in as calm a voice as he could muster. "About twenty minutes ago. I couldn't do anything but put some pressure on the wound," he explained defeated. "He lost a lot of blood..."
The doctor set to work immediately. "Carol, can you get Dr. Brackett and Dixie. We're gonna need help."
* * *
"Roy, what are you doing here?" a surprised Dixie McCall wanted to know when she entered the treatment room only a minute after she was called for. Then her eyes wandered to the patient whose bare chest was badly bruised and covered in blood. "Johnny? Oh my God..."
"Dixie, will you get Roy into another treatment room? I think he has to be checked over as well. See if Mike is available." Dr. Early continued with his examination, a frown never leaving his face.
"Come on, Roy," Dixie said guiding him to the door.
"Wait. Dr. Early?"
All eyes turned to Roy for a moment.
"I think he has a head injury, too. He seemed pretty off before.... this happened." With that he left to go see Morton.
He had to call Joanne, too. And the guys. Rampart’s head nurse easily could read Roy's mind right now. He was worried. Roy DeSoto was very, very worried and he had a rather good reason.
"You just sit down and take a decent breath of air, Roy. I will take care of the rest, okay? I'll call Joanne and your crew if you want me to," she offered.
Suddenly all the adrenaline was gone and Roy was grateful to be already sitting. He couldn't trust his knees to hold him up just now.
How did all this happen? And why did Johnny always have to be the one fighting for his life? That partner of his really had to work hard for his nine lives.
"Thanks, Dixie," was all he said. He wanted to be alone for a few minutes to pull himself together. This wasn't over just yet.
"All right, Roy. I'll go, see how Johnny is."
* * *
When Dave Westwoods finally came to, his worst nightmare had come true. His hostages were both gone. Dazed, he got to his feet. Were Gage lay just some time ago only a puddle of already drying blood was left. Now he knew at least that the bullet had hit something. But that wasn’t enough. Not by far. He needed both. Dead.
He ran out of the building looking for Gage’s car. It was gone. “Damn.”
Calm down, he admonished himself.
He had to get them. And best before they could talk to anyone.
Man, how could he let that happen in the first place? He should have killed Gage right away. No questions asked.
Okay. First he had to put some distance between him and everything that happened the past day. Then it was time to research.
* * *
"Oh no..." Roy was at a loss of words. He hadn't counted on this to happen. "Are you sure?... yeah... when will he be here?... okay. Yeah, I tell'em... thanks."
"What was that about, Roy?" Chet was curious what the police had found, but out of the bits he caught it was nothing good.
"He what? But you said he was unconscious when you left." Chet's eyes were wide in astonishment.
"Obviously not for long," the Cap said matter of fact. "But when he's on the run... I mean..."
"There's an officer coming over who will guard Johnny's room." The thinking machine behind Roy's forehead was working furiously.
"He's not done yet," he stated.
"Oh Roy, don't work yourself up on this too much..." Chet said before he was interrupted.
"No, that guy went after Johnny once and didn’t really have a good reason. Hell, he drove me off the road to pressure Johnny. He was hoping he would finally tell him and if you ask me, this madman has no clue as to what he had wanted from Johnny in the first place. But I'll swear the first chance he gets he'll come back for revenge or something. This guy literally went berserk!"
Just then Dixie entered the lounge. The remainder of Station 51’s A shift was assembled around the table just as she had expected. When she stepped in the room all heads turned to her.
“How’s Johnny?” Chet was the first one to ask the question that was burning on each man’s lips.
“He’s in surgery now. Joe thinks the bullet might have nicked a kidney. But he’s confident. Other than that Johnny was pretty lucky. He’s got a moderate concussion and some bad bruises on his knee and shoulder.”
A relieved sigh was heard from everyone.
“But, Roy, I was wondering… did Johnny get wet sometime? His body temperature was a bit low. We had to take some precautions.”
“Not that I know of,” Roy answered truthfully trying to remember if he was missing something.
“Wait…” Chet said. “Wasn’t it raining early this morning? I mean when the engine came back from the call it was raining, wasn’t it?” The others shook heads.
“And that was the time he went missing, right?”
It made sense.
Roy couldn’t believe he had been caught only hours ago. It was already close to midnight but still. All of this had happened in less than 24 hours. Since the fateful fire barely two days went by.
“When can we see Johnny?” he wanted to know.
“Let’s wait till he’s out of surgery, Roy. Then I’ll see what I can do, okay?”
* * *
Dave knew he had to be careful if he wanted this to work out this time.
As he had suspected DeSoto had brought Gage to Rampart. He figured it was the hospital both paramedics brought all their victims to so it was only logical they’d come here, too.
He was pretending to study a patient’s chart while he observed the situation. No one would recognize him in the ICU so he snuck in, pretending to be a new intern. Luckily the bruise from the blow DeSoto had landed on his chin wasn’t too obvious and he could cover most of it with some make-up.
So far he knew that both DeSoto and Gage were still alive. He had hoped otherwise. But he had to strike with precision this time. He had to take out Gage secretly and get DeSoto before he found out anything.
The policemen in front of Gage’s room didn’t make that any easier. But there was no time. He had to act soon before anyone found out that he was no intern.
It had been a good two hours since the officer had positioned himself on a chair. He sure looked tired.
“Nurse?” Dave said to the young woman beside him. She looked at him questioning.
“That poor police officer sure looks like he could use a hot cup of coffee. Would you be so kind?” he asked while he already poured a cup full of the hot liquid.
She gave him a kind look. “That is very nice of you.”
The cup slipped out of his hand. “Oh no. What a mess,” he said perfectly acting up.
“Wait I’ll help you clean that up, okay? Just get another cup. It’ll be fine,” the nurse said picking up the pieces.
Dave poured another coffee, secretly adding a liquid to it.
“Let me take care of that,” he offered. “You just take the poor guy a well-deserved coffee.”
* * *
Roy finally was on his way back to Rampart. After a long night of waiting for word on Johnny he finally could go home after seeing his partner for a short minute. He seemed okay. Exhausted, injured, but okay enough.
Still he didn’t sleep too well, dreams of the last days hunting him.
A police car was now observing his house which gave Roy and his family a feeling of security.
It had to go this far for the police to admit that Johnny wasn’t paranoid. They were lucky; it wasn’t too late for this realization.
Still in thought, Roy parked his wife’s car in the visitors’ area. His car was still in police custody and, as he had feared, a total loss.
But it could have been worse, Roy reminded himself. They both, Johnny and him, could have been dead right now. Their bodies still not found. He shuddered at the thought.
He had to see Johnny; again witness with his own eyes that his friend wasn’t dead.
With that he quickened his pace.
* * *
Yes, it worked. His brilliant mind was back.
The purge would work any second, he was sure. And then the way to Gage was free.
There. The man wound his arms around his rebelling stomach.
Dave kept pretending to be busy and not noticing anything. He went through charts without reading a word. He wouldn’t understand them anyway.
“Look, I think the officer is not feeling so good,” the ever-present ICU nurse stated. Dave looked up.
“Oh yeah, I think you’re right. Maybe you could give him a hand. I’ll stay here and keep an eye on everything,” he offered kindly.
The nurse thought about it for a second. But another look at the pained officer convinced her. The poor guy looked like he was about to puke or something much worse…
Not a minute later the policeman, too, was convinced that he needed to go to a restroom. He felt horrible all of a sudden.
He didn’t want to leave his place but what else could he do right now? Explode?
As the cramps got worse he jumped to his feet and raced to the restroom.
“That was easy,” Dave whispered to no one in particular as he left his place at the nurses’ station in ICU.
The next moment he entered the Room where John Gage lay sleeping.
The man’s face was bruised and an unfamiliar wave of shame rushed through Dave. He knew the badly bruised features were his doing. He had caused the damage in Gage’s face. Not that he had truly deserved any of this. He was just a poor guy who happened to see the wrong thing at the wrong time because he did his job.
Westwoods understood that tragic part of the story now. He had killed so many people with cold heart and it never really bothered him. Not even now. But this guy… he was tough and he had an iron will to live.
Hell, he had escaped Dave twice! Gage really had earned some respect.
Nonetheless, he had to kill him. It was Dave or Gage. If the paramedic lived he would eventually bring Dave behind bars. He was a murderer for heaven’s sake!
So his only chance to get out of this was to get rid of Gage in a nice quite way and go after DeSoto next. He had to do this in only a few hours so he could leave the country before he was found. Half the country probably had his description by now.
* * *
When the elevator doors closed right in front of Roy he decided to take the steps. He couldn’t make himself just stand around waiting for the doors to finally open again.
* * *
“So we meet again,” he said in a quit voice. Gage looked like death warmed over. Again this stinging sensation made Dave’s heart ache for this guy. He wished his death was one without pain but he couldn’t guarantee that either. If Gage would just sleep through it he would never know what hit him.
Dave took a cloth out of his pocket in which he had wrapped a vial and a syringe.
He filled the syringe with the liquid. It took him only seconds to do so. He had done this before and knew what was about to happen.
Finally he fixed the IV inserting the needle with an experienced handle. Slowly he pushed the syringe administering the liquid that would take John Gage’s life.
His gaze wandered to the sleeping form of the paramedic.
Oh no. Not now.
Mesmerized, Dave stopped what he was doing and stared at the fluttering eyelids of the still figure before him. And then the deep brown eyes of the injured fireman stared back at him. At first he seemed irritated but then there was recognition. He knew exactly who was standing in front of him.
After that panic flashed through his gaze as he realized what was happening.
“No,” he croaked weakly trying to escape this menace. He was winding in his bed, ignoring the pain that made itself present immediately in his stomach.
Frantically, Johnny searched for something… a way out. Just then he discovered the syringe still embedded in his IV-line. And he freaked out, ripping the IV from his arm.
His survival instinct set in right then, blanking out the pain. The panicked man lashed out at the other man.
Dave was surprised by the unexpected attack. Even though Gage was no match to him in his current condition, he still astonished him. But now he just had to shut him up till the drug kicked in.
Johnny knew he had to get away from this man. He had tried to kill him before and even though he had no clue what was going on, his mind was clear enough to scream at him that he had to escape.
Driven by adrenaline, he swung his legs from the bed. But as soon as they touched the ground and he put his weight on them, they gave way.
The next moment he lay on the floor. And if that wasn’t enough, the guy was over him right away, covering his mouth so he couldn’t call for help.
Johnny felt his strength fade.
* * *
Roy felt ridiculous worrying like he did. There was no reason to be so concerned. Man, there was even an officer watching over Johnny. The fair-haired man turned the corner.
Well, where exactly was the policeman? The chair outside Johnny’s room was empty.
Something was wrong! His feeling hadn’t betrayed him all along. Roy ran the rest of the distance and burst into the room. Johnny lay on the floor, someone on top of him. And he knew exactly who that someone was.
Roy jumped at the guy, ripping him off Johnny, who by now was struggling to breathe. Right behind Roy the sick officer returned to his place just in time to help the paramedic fight with the guy. Together they pushed him to the ground harshly, next to Johnny.
Dave felt the coldness of the cuffs that closed around his wrists. It was over, finally. He found that thought relieving somehow. He knew it had to end one way or the other eventually. But for Gage… he wasn’t finished with him yet.
“Johnny, are you okay?” Roy checked his friend for new injuries.
“IV…” Johnny croaked fighting to stay conscious.
“What’s with the IV?” Roy wanted to know as he checked his friend’s arm. He found it bleeding from the ripped IV needle.
“No… I… IV…line..,” Johnny managed, weakly pointing to his bed with his other hand.
Roy followed it with his eyes. There was something odd about the IV he could tell.
He found a half full syringe still sticking in the line.
“What is that?” he asked angrily, addressing Dave who still lay on the ground watching the scene. He made no effort to answer.
“What the hell is that stuff you gave him?” he yelled. No reaction.
“Search him,” Roy demanded. “Look if you can find a vial or something. We need to know what he gave Johnny. And get some help. Now!”
The policeman did as he was asked and searched his captive.
“Johnny, do you know what he gave you?”
The downed paramedic could barely register what his partner wanted. The words took forever to make any sense. But when they did, he shook his had no.
“Okay, Johnny. Take it easy. How do you feel?”
Fighting hard to stay awake the dark-haired paramedic tried to inventory his condition.
“Ti…,” he struggled to get the words out. “Tired… har… hard da breathe… an…blurr vish… on.”
Roy barely understood the slurred speech of his friend. But he could tell that his pulse was speeding and Johnny’s breathing was becoming more and more laboured by the minute.
“Here it is. I got it,” the officer declared, handing Roy the vial.
“Methyprylon,” Roy read aloud.
“Roy…” Johnny’s hand weakly gripped his friends arm. Roy focused his attention on his friend again. Where in hell were the doctors when you needed them? This was a damn hospital wasn’t it?
“Sick,” he heard Johnny whisper.
“All right, I’m gonna help you, junior. Just take it easy.” He turned Johnny over. He heaved several times but didn’t vomit.
“Roy? What in hell happened here?” Dr. Brackett had just arrived in the room taking in the bizarre scene.
“He was poisoned, half a syringe with Methyprylon.”
“That’s a tranquillizer, Roy.”
“Yeah, doc. Johnny’s already complaining about nausea, difficulty breathing, blurred and increasing tiredness.”
“Okay, you,” Brackett addressed the officer, “get that guy outta here. Roy, lets get him back on the gurney.”
* * *
Johnny closed his eyes. He had fought long enough to stay awake. He could no longer keep his heavy eyelids open. He just wanted to sleep. A few hours of rest would surely do the trick and he’d be back to his feet in no time. In his foggy mind he didn’t understand what the fuss was all about anyway. He felt so weak. Why couldn’t they just leave him alone?
“Johnny, don’t you go out on me now,” Roy said. His partner’s head had just connected with the pillow of the gurney. “Johnny! Johnny!”
Nothing. The paramedic was out cold.
“His blood pressure is awfully weak,” Brackett stated with a frown. His patient’s skin was pale and cold. Johnny was clearly slipping into shock.
“He needs gastric lavage right away,” Dr. Brackett explained. “After that we’ll need to monitor him closely. We have to take every precaution.”
* * *
The atmosphere in the waiting area was tense. Chet couldn’t believe they were sitting here, worrying about Johnny, again. It hasn’t been half a day since he had been brought here. All of the assembled men had just recovered from the first shock, hearing that Johnny had been shot.
Chet had waited with Roy until Johnny was brought into ICU early that very morning. How could it be that he was sitting here again? This just wasn’t fair.
His favourite pigeon was barely out of the woods that morning. Now he was fighting for his life, again.
Roy’s words came back to his mind.
“I knew he wasn’t finished,” Roy had said, defeated. “If I had been there just a minute earlier….” It had taken them some time to calm down the shaken paramedic. He was on a guilt trip, again. Again – that word made Chet go crazy. Everything seemed to repeat itself in some kind of way. But therefore Johnny had to get through this, again!
“He was overdosed with methyprylon,” Roy had explained to them. “That is a tranquillizer that isn’t even legally available in the US because of its side effects.” Chet remembered how the last words had echoed in his mind. What side effects, he had asked.
“In Johnny’s case it was a severe reaction because it was administered intravenously. The drug causes severe drowsiness, disorientation, blurred vision, a very low blood pressure and other symptoms,” he had told them as calm as he could under the circumstances. Chet could only imagine how much worse Roy felt, knowing how the drug worked and what it caused.
“He went into shock.” That at least was bad, everyone of the crew knew. Shock was already on the threshold of death.
“How did that creep get in there in the first place?” Cap wondered. He couldn’t figure out how someone could walk into ICU without a problem and nearly kill a patient.
He didn’t want to think of any other option.
Roy relayed the events to his co-workers. Dave Westwoods sure knew how to get rid of people. And he might have gotten rid of one more, he thought depressed.
He had helped to set up his best friend to get his stomach irrigated to get as much of the drug out of his system as possible. After that Brackett ordered hemodialysis, because most of the drug was in his blood system already.
* * *
Johnny had been comatose for over an hour without much change. He was beginning to spike a fever and cramping slightly but that was only the beginning of a slow recovery.
Dixie stood next to her favourite paramedic. He looked so fragile, she thought. She missed his agile behaviour. The unmoving and pale figure in the bed was everything but lively. It made her heart ache.
She could only hope that Johnny wasn’t feeling the pain. The doctors could not give him anymore as another precaution.
She had volunteered to look after Johnny even though her shift had ended two hours ago. This young man wasn’t here on his free will so she decided she’d stay to keep him company.
Truth be told, Dixie knew she would worry her head of at home. This way at least she could do something useful.
“How is he?” the soft voice of Joe Early reached Dixie’s ears.
“The fever’s worse. He’s cramping…”
“How’s his breathing?” the doctor wanted to know. He too was concerned for the cursed paramedic.
“Good, I guess, considering the circumstances.” Dixie brushed away a streak of dark hair sticking to the feverish skin of Johnny’s forehead. His blushed cheeks made a strange contrast to his otherwise pale complexion.
Dixie felt her eyes fill with tears. He was fighting so hard.
Joe took a look at the patient’s charts. The whole staff at Rampart knew what had happened. They all had heard of the accident-prone John Gage at one time or another, but no one deserved something like this.
“You know, Dix, if Johnny hadn’t pulled the IV when he did…”
“I know, Joe,” she interrupted sadly. “Half the syringe was almost too much already.”
She slid a thermometer into Johnny’s mouth and began to take a new set of vitals.
Pulse is better; blood pressure still the same,” she summed up while writing down the numbers.
“His temperature is up to 103,” she told Dr. Early.
“I’ll send a nurse to bring a new cooling blanket,” he said as he left the room.
* * *
Waiting was the worst part. Roy would never get used to it. He knew it could be up to ten hours before the effects of methyprylon would subside and he could take a relieved breath.
His heart still ached so bad from the moment Johnny had closed his eyes. He had so desperately clung to his friend; he feared his partner would die the moment he let go of him.
But if Roy had taken the elevator instead of the stairs he might have been a bit faster. No, he told himself. Westwood had been in that room for some time already. The few seconds wouldn’t have made that much of a difference. Ten minutes, on the other hand, would have saved Johnny from this.
Don’t you dare die on us, Johnny; he admonished his junior partner in his thoughts. Don’t you dare die!
* * *
The beeping sound of the dialysis machine made her jump. The nurse was shocked for a second, but realized it was only a sign that the apparatus was finished. She couldn’t believe that it had already been five hours. Dixie unhooked Johnny from the machine removing the cannula from his left arm. Now it was on him to pull through this. Doctors Brackett and Early had done everything possible to help his body fight the huge amount of the tranquillizer.
Again she started to take the young man’s vitals. He was still unconscious. Even though this wasn’t unusual for an overdose it concerned her.
Methodically she shook down the thermometer before slipping it into Johnny’s mouth. He usually would protest now.
The quietness in the room was beginning to get to Dixie. Gage had to come to very soon or…
Or what?, she asked herself. She wouldn’t slap him or try to shake him awake. No, she would sit by his bed like she had done the past hours, crying secretly.
God, why couldn’t his temperature at least go down a bit? 105 was way too high, even for this.
She would talk to Kel next time he came to check. Johnny was injured beforehand. There was a good chance that his injuries were adding more complications to this.
“Oh, Johnny, you never do things the easy way, now do you?”
* * *
“I want to be honest with you, Roy. It doesn’t look much better. His breathing is steady and we’re monitoring him closely but his temperature is still rising. We think he got himself an infection and are giving him antibiotics but we have to be careful with medication right now.”
“Did the dialysis help?”
“Not as much as I had hoped but his blood tests came back a lot better. If we can break the fever he should come through this okay.”
“Can I see him?” Roy wanted to know.
“Well, I think Dixie could use a break. She was with him the last five and a half hours, never leaving his side.”
“I never expected any less of her,” Roy said. He had wondered where Dixie had been, but so far he wasn’t allowed to see Johnny.
“Come on, I’ll take you up,” the doctor offered.
“Tell Johnny we’re pulling for him, will ya?” Chet asked anxious.
“Come on, guys. I think we could all use something to eat right now. I’ll by you lunch.” Captain Stanley didn’t need to say this twice. Nobody was hungry but they understood the gesture. It had been a long five hours since they arrived at Rampart.
Roy had called each of them personally to tell what had happened. He hadn’t asked them to come but the bonding between the crew demanded it. They don’t leave their people behind and they don’t leave them alone to die.
And what use was it to be sitting at home alone? Their wives were understanding, sure, but it wasn’t the same camaraderie. It was just natural that each member of A-shift would rather spend their day off in the waiting room at Rampart waiting for some news than being somewhere else.
* * *
Roy slowly opened the door, afraid of what he was about to see.
Dixie’s back was turned to him. Johnny was deathly still. He felt the need to go and check for his pulse to be sure there was still some life in his tortured body.
“Hey, Dix,” he said softly, closing the door behind him.
“Not so much. His cramps are not as bad as before, though.”
“He’ll pull through this,” Roy assured not at all convinced by his own words.
“It’s been so long, Roy. He should be better by now.”
He stepped closer to the bed. Johnny was covered in sweat, his pale skin flushed by the heat radiating through his body.
Roy touched his partners head. He feels so hot, he confirmed.
“He looks so vulnerable,” Dixie said.
“Yeah.” Roy was surprised how weak his voice sounded.
It hurt to see his partner this way. It was one thing to bring him in with a hole in is stomach, but this…
“I’ll take over for a while, Dixie. You look like you could use a break.”
Without a word Dixie got up. She felt so drained.
Roy saw her look. He completely understood what she felt, that it was killing her.
Without another word he approached her and embraced the nurse that had become a good friend years ago.
A sob escaped her lips followed by even more uncontrolled sobs when she finally gave in and cried on Roy’s shoulder.
* * *
“Come on, Johnny. You have slept long enough now. It’s time to wake up.”
Roy willed his friend’s eyes to open. Nothing.
“Alright, you can sleep all you want, okay? Just open your eyes for a minute, will ya?”
Roy was becoming frustrated.
It was time for another round of vitals anyway. He took Johnny’s arm, feeling for a pulse. It was becoming steadier each time he checked. The shallow breathing had been steady all the time. They had expected worse. Even his blood pressure had started to finally rise in the last hour.
Only the fever was persistent. Nervously Roy handled the thermometer.
He looked at the number where the glycerine had stopped. 104,5. Finally!
“Took you long enough, junior,” Roy said to the still unconscious man.
“Now you only have to wake up. You know, the nurses can’t wait to hear your story.”
This was becoming depressing. But at least the fever finally broke.
“How is he?” Dixie had just entered the room. She had updated the guys and, in vain of course, tried to send them home.
She looked better, Roy decided. There was new hope in her eyes.
“The fever finally broke. I’ts down to 104,5 now.”
“That is good,” she agreed.
Still, his head felt very warm when her fingers stroked over his cheek.
“Did you see that?”
“What?” Dixie wanted to know.
“Do it again.”
She ran her fingers over his cheek again. This time she saw it, too.
“Wake up, sleepyhead!”
Indeed, Johnny’s eyes fluttered.
“Come on, you can do it,” Roy encouraged his partner.
It worked. Johnny’s eyes opened.
His pupils were unfocused and told of confusion but they were open. That was enough to start with.
“Welcome back,” Dixie greeted the dark haired paramedic.
“Yeah, welcome back, partner.”
Johnny’s eyes searched the room anxiously. They could tell he was confused and only semi-conscious due to his still high body temperature.
“Roy?” he whispered barely audible.
“I’m right here, junior. It’s okay. You’re going to be fine.”
He seemed to relax a bit, already drifting back to sleep.
Dixie took the time to call for Dr. Brackett.
* * *
“I ahh… I wanted to…. I’m really bad at this.”
Roy knew he blushed right now. He felt awkward, not finding the right words.
“Yes, you are,” Johnny said weakly, a smile lighting his face.
Roy had to grin. His partner knew exactly what he was trying to say. But he let Roy stew in his own juice a little more.
Johnny was a lot better. After the fever diminished, his vitals had improved. The young man was still weak and had some recovery ahead but so far he was over the hump.
“You really had us scared, ya know.”
“No need to be sorry, it wasn’t your fault.”
“I know. Still, if I had done something different… maybe I should have shot him when I had the chance.”
“Why not? I mean, it would have saved us all a lot of trouble.”
“Maybe so. But you could never live with yourself.” Roy knew he was right. Johnny could never kill anyone on intent. But even more he couldn’t live with it.
“So, where are the guys?”
“They were here late last night. Guess you don’t remember, huh? We’ve all been here the whole time.”
“Oh they didn’t have to.”
“Hey, Johnny,” Dixie poked her head through the door.
“Hi, Dix!” He flashed her one of his famous crooked grins she had missed so much the last days.
John Gage was back.
Roy offered the nurse his chair. She took it thankfully.
“How’re you feeling?”
“A lot better,” Johnny answered truthfully. He couldn’t remember much more than a fevered dream, voices and something about a needle sticking in his IV-line. All was only a blur.
The important thing was: it was over now.
He wasn’t going to leave the hospital as soon as he liked though.
And he needed to talk. With Roy, with Dix, his co-workers… even the police. None of them knew the whole story he had gone through.
“I’m gonna get some coffee,” Roy told before he left. He knew Dixie needed a few minutes alone with Johnny. She had gone through a lot watching over his partner for so long. She had barely slept the past hours and actually needed a bed just as bad as Roy did.
“You really had us scared,” Dixie said, her voice sober and serious.
“Yeah, Roy already said so.”
“I mean it, Johnny… if you ever pull something like that again…” She couldn’t finish. Her eyes again filling with tears as the emotions caught up with her.
“I don’t know if I could handle…,” she croaked, a small sob escaping her lips. She wanted to be strong for Johnny but now that she saw him awake with her own eyes the nurse fought to control herself. Relief, sorrow, concern washed over her all at the same time.
Johnny sat up. He’d never seen his favourite nurse like that. It dawned on him just how much he had scared her. Roy had told him that she never left his side and he was thankful for that. He had never been alone after the attack. The attack he also remembered only very little about. He may have been unconscious but his mind had registered, he had known that someone always was with him. Johnny looked at Dixie. She tried desperately to get her emotions under control.
“Com’ere, Dix.” She leaned forward as he pulled her into a hug, his grip still weak.
“I’m okay, Dix,” he whispered into her ear.
He meant it.
Author’s note: I did it. How cool is that, huh? Thank you so much, Audrey, for helping me with this. If it wasn’t for you I would have never done this in the first place. You did a great job putting up with my English! I loved working with you.
Well, for all the medical and geographical stuff: I’m no doctor and I live nowhere near the continent so be kind with the details. This is only for fun. Hope you enjoyed.
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