Lizabeth S. Tucker
“Hey, Roy, look at this,” Johnny said, rattling the newspaper. “That new magic act is in town. You know, the Wedsworth-Townsend Act. You wanna go see ‘em on our next day off? It might be nice, you and me and Joanne and Audrey.”
Roy shrugged, setting down the dish of dog food for the station mascot, Henry. “Might be nice. I’ll have to check with Joanne. Are you sure Audrey will be available?”
“She should be. The botulism cases should be all cleared up at the hospital by now.”
Chet wandered over and peered over Johnny’s shoulder. “What are you up to, Gage?”
“Mind your own business, Kelly.” Johnny turned back to his partner. “I can get the tickets and have them waiting at the call window. If you call Jo today and I get in touch with Audrey, I can call for the tickets this afternoon.”
“Tickets to what, the cook’s tour of fast food restaurants?” Chet simply had to know what his pigeon was up to.
“No. If you must know, Roy and I are going to see…” Johnny’s explanation was cut off by the sounding of the tones. They were being called out to a brushfire.
When they returned, the men of Station 51 were tired, but keyed up. They decided to play some cards, dealer’s wild on the game. Johnny called Audrey as soon as Roy was done checking with Joanne.
“Well?” Roy asked.
“This nurse’s wild about the idea. Now all I have to do is call the theater for the tickets.”
“Call the newspapers! Gage got a woman to go out with him more than once!!” Chet crowed, earning a dirty look from Johnny.
“For your information, Mr. Publicity Hound, this is our fifth date.”
“Chet, leave John alone,” Cap ordered the feisty, obnoxious firefighter.
“It’d be a weird Wednesday indeed if Chet laid off Johnny,” Stoker muttered.
Johnny asked to use the Captain’s office to arrange for their tickets, receiving permission from his boss. He was gone about twenty minutes, returning with a frown on his face.
“What’s wrong?” Roy asked.
“We have a slight dilemma. The theater doesn’t have a will-call window. We have to pick up the tickets before seven this evening.” He looked at his partner. “Do you think Joanne could get them?”
Roy shook his head. “She doesn’t have the car. It’s in the shop.”
Johnny turned to Captain Stanley. “Cap, do you think we could…”
“Hang up right there, John. The theater is no where near your area. I can’t let you go in person to get the tickets,” Stanley said.
Johnny’s hopes for a pleasant evening with his partner and their dates crashed.
“However, I can have my wife get the tickets for you. She’s a volunteer at the theater.” Stanley smiled when Johnny whooped for joy.
“Johnny, we have a problem. The babysitter couldn’t make it. What are we going to do with the kids?” Roy was on the phone with his partner, just a couple of hours before Johnny was due at Roy’s house with his date.
“That’s rotten.” Johnny responded hotly.
“That’s show biz. Actually, Mary has some sort of virus and didn’t think it was safe for her to be with the kids for the night. Her medicine makes her woozy.”
“We have to find someone else and soon.” Johnny went quiet as he thought. “Maybe we could ask Sharon to baby-sit for us?”
“Sharon Walters, from the hospital? I thought you and she were fighting.”
“Well, yeah, but I’m willing to pull out the ol’ peace pipe for us to go out together. I was really looking forward to this.”
Roy smiled, aware that his partner couldn’t see him. “Sharon might not want to be saddled with the kids. With the holidays so close, they’ve been a handful.”
“Sharon can handle it,” Johnny said confidently. “She may look like a pushover, but she could be quite a fuzz lady if she has to be. I’ll call her and ask.”
“Okay, call me back as soon as you know.” Roy hung up and turned to where his wife was sitting at the kitchen table, flipping through a magazine.
“Well?” Joanne asked.
“He’s calling Sharon. He’ll get back to me as soon as he gets an answer.”
The DeSotos sat and discussed the new trainee at the store where Joanne worked part time. The women at the store were amused by the girl’s naivety and constantly teased her.
The phone rang. Roy reached for it and spoke. “Johnny? She will? Okay, if she can make it here that quickly, our dinner date will be back on. See you in a half hour.”
“I gather Johnny talked her into it?” Joanne asked, slipping her hand over her husband’s hand.
“Yep. She’s on her way. Johnny said Sharon and the kids will have fun watching some rock group called Musical Mania on the television.”
“Oh, that will be very helpful, Jennifer loves that group.”
“Who are the drivers going to be? Or are we going together?” Joanne asked.
“Since we’re still in the middle of school days and we have to be back home before 11 p.m., we’ll be taking separate cars, but we’ll both leave from here,” Roy replied.
“So the professor has a plan, huh?” Joanne moved to behind her husband, wrapping her arms around him.
Roy grinned, turning to hug his wife. “Always. I definitely don’t want to be infected with the Gage syndrome of winging it.”
“Now, Roy. Let’s be honest. If Johnny wasn’t the way he was, you’d miss him. You’d be holding a séance or something to find him.”
“Well, something like that.” She kissed Roy and they both lost their train of thought.
The screams of their children, watching the television, interrupted them.
“Hey, they shouldn’t boot him off!” Chris shouted.
“What a rip-off!” yelled Jennifer.
“Sounds like you’d better audit what the kids are watching.” Joanne, with a lingering kiss, pushed her husband towards the living room.
Johnny was watching his date fiddling with his radio dial. “What frequency are you trying to find?”
Audrey sighed. “There’s this new singer who I love and I was hoping to catch his new song. You have a lot of static on your radio, Johnny.”
“It’s the old engine, the spark plugs make it snap. I need to have the timing fixed, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.”
“Look out for that alley cat!” Audrey held on as Johnny veered around the stray. “Oh, I forgot to tell you, we got a postcard from an old friend of yours at the hospital.”
“Oh, yeah, who?” Johnny glanced at his watch.
“Blast! I can’t remember his name, he was an English visitor to your station.”
“Yeah, I know who you mean. What’d he have to say?”
“I don’t really know. A couple of the nurses on pediatrics grabbed the card and haven’t given it back yet. Ness did say to tell you that he said hi to the guys at the station.”
“Is Ness still going out with Mike?”
“Don’t you know?” Audrey was amazed, well aware that men were the biggest gossips and loved to talk about their love lives.
“You know Mike. You’re lucky to get two words out of him during a shift.”
“That’s not what Ness says,” Audrey replied, smiling.
Johnny’s glance turned into a stare. “Now just what does that smile mean?”
“Well, let’s just say that Michael Stoker can do a lot of talking with more than simple words.”
“I don’t wanna know,” Johnny moaned.
They fell into a comfortable silence, the only noise the sound of the tires on the pavement and the far away noise of the freeway traffic. Johnny was taking the back roads to his partner’s house, avoiding the evening rush hour traffic.
“So what else is going on at work?” Johnny asked.
“Well, we had this lady in, a real heavyweight in the animal business, I think she works for Marlin Perkins.”
“What was her problem?”
“Snakebite. Seems she was trying for the promotion opening at the San Diego Zoo, but she was so excited by the interview, she got insomnia the night before and wasn’t paying attention by the time she had to handle the critters.”
“She gonna be okay?”
“Yeah, luckily they had antivenom on site.”
“Here we are,” Johnny said, pulling into Roy’s driveway. Ever the gentleman, he walked around the Rover and opened the door for his date. She smiled up at him as he wrapped his arm around her waist.
“Is this the house you bought from under Roy?” she murmured, having heard all about that incident.
“No, Roy got this house from the money his aunt left him when she died. After paying the inheritance tax, he had enough left over to put a down payment on this house.”
The front door opened, revealing a lovely Joanne DeSoto dressed to perfection in a tiny burgundy top and silky black pants. “Wow,” Johnny said, groaning when Audrey pinched his waist.
“Johnny, thank you. That was a lovely compliment,” Joanne laughed, waving the couple in.
Johnny, playing it to the hilt, pressed his hand to his side. “I need a paramedic. Roy, help!”
“John Gage, you have zero fat for me to pinch so I doubt if you’re hurt at all! It’s very annoying to those of us who have extra flesh on the waist.”
Johnny could read the promise of later retaliation in Audrey’s eyes and in her body language, understanding that he would have quite a night ahead of him. He grinned in anticipation.
“Is Sharon here?” Audrey asked Joanne.
“Yes, thank heavens.”
Sharon came down the stairs, followed closely by Jennifer and Christopher DeSoto who, upon seeing their Uncle Johnny, ran to his side. The two children chattered at the interested man while Joanne and Roy got ready to leave. Roy helped his wife into her coat, then rescued his partner.
“Okay, guys, Johnny has to leave. You can tell him all about the computer error in your grades later, okay?” Roy kissed the kids, then dragged his partner away from them. He knew Johnny wouldn’t be able to tell the kids no. Their uncle was a sucker of the first order. He also knew that Johnny would brave a raging inferno without gear to save his kids.
“Johnny, stop messin’ around and let’s go before we miss the opening of the show. Are you fools still taking separate cars?” Joanne and Audrey had already discussed this subject and had decided that they should all go together in the Rover.
“Uh, I guess not?” Johnny replied, not entirely clueless.
Joanne smiled, patting Johnny on the cheek as she led the way to the car. She and Audrey decided to sit together in the back while Roy and Johnny sat in front. The girls could discuss Audrey’s newest hobby gardening.
“So how is it going?” Joanne asked.
“You mean how green was my thumb? After all the hard hours, I have three different types of weeds and one pitiful tomato plant with no tomatoes to show for my work,” Audrey replied with a laugh.
“I’m so sorry.”
“Hey, Roy, have you thought about that part-time business lately?” Johnny asked, not interested in gardening or plants.
“The office cleaning business? I think we could call it the Floor Brigade. I mean, it might be propinquity, but another cleaner is up for sale. I’ve had this one checked out and it’s a good deal. It also has some improvements on it.”
“Improvements?” Roy was becoming nervous, knowing his partner’s track record. “What kind of improvements?”
“Well, this guy does all sort of inventions and he made this combination vacuum and cleaning machine, all in one.”
“Uh huh. You know, Johnny, I don’t think I really want to get into that line of work. From what I’ve seen and heard, it’s a lot of manual labor and time. I really don’t want to be away from Jo and the kids that much, you know?”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. That’s okay, we’ll find something else.” He drove the Rover into the theater’s parking lot. “Okay, ladies, we’re here. Let’s go see the magicians. After we can go get something to eat, okay?”
The two couples walked out of the theater with smiles.
“That was a great show,” Johnny commented.
Audrey agreed. “I loved when they made the screenwriter disappear for making that horrible movie. He kept screaming ‘I’ll fix it’ over and over again.”
“You know that I heard he’s going with that sexpot singer,” Joanne said, sharing the latest entertainment gossip.
“Sexpot singer?” Roy eyed his wife.
“Well, she’s falling out of her outfits, seems to think she’s Marilyn Monroe,” Joanne explained.
“Yeah, well, I have a nagging suspicion that they aren’t real,” Audrey observed.
“No, you don’t say.” With that, the two women began discussing things that neither Roy nor Johnny cared to know about. They fell back a few steps from the women.
“Hey, did you hear about Harbor General?” Johnny asked his partner.
“What?” Roy replied.
“They had the type of communication gaffe that we had with Rampart. Seems it was a big surprise to some hospital in Nevada when they started receiving communications from a Los Angeles rescue squad. They thought it was a joke and were threatening them with all sorts of police action. And you know who was on the radio? Brice!”
Roy laughed. “What did he do?”
“Told them that they were interfering in a rescue and to get off the radio.”
“I’m sure they were really impressed with that.”
“Oh, yeah. He supposedly recited the FCC rules to them about interference in emergency communications. Went over really well,” Johnny chuckled. “Wish I could’ve seen their faces.”
“Are you boys ready to go eat?” Joanne called back.
Johnny grinned, patting his stomach. “You have to ask? Where do you want to go, ladies?”
“Why don’t we go to Daisy’s pick of the week?” Audrey asked, referring to a food critic in the local paper. “This restaurant isn’t that far from where you guys work in Carson. They serve basic Italian homemade food. It’s supposed to be wonderful.”
“Sounds good. What do you think, Roy?” Joanne turned to her husband.
“Works for me.”
They found the Rover and climbed inside, this time with Johnny and Audrey in the front seat and Roy and Joanne in the back. They discussed the magic act as they drove to the restaurant, guided by Audrey. The magician’s quicker than the eye maneuvers fascinated Johnny and he wondered aloud if he could learn how to do the slight of hand tricks.
Their conversation was wide-ranging, from the possibility of foreign trade with VietNam since the war was over to camera bug John Gage’s latest photographs. Finally they arrived at the restaurant only to discover that there was live musical entertainment and dancing. Joanne and Audrey were overjoyed, Roy and Johnny were reluctant.
The group was called the Firehouse Four, in honor of the fact that two of the group members were firefighters, one for Los Angeles County and one for Pasadena. Their music was a mixture of 70s soft rock and big band standards and brought a smile to the faces of the women. Their waitress explained the details of the night’s specials and they gave their order before joining the parade of dancers on the floor.
Back at work the next shift, Roy and Johnny were regaling the others of the bash and their excellent, as well as inexpensive, meal. Captain Stanley knew his wife Emily would love a night of dinner and dancing. He got the name and address of the restaurant from the paramedics.
The tones went off and the men made the transition from joking conversation to serious firefighters. A structure fire at a day school was a serious event. As they rushed to the site of the fire, they all said prayers in their own way that there were no injuries, no one to rescue, that all the children and their caretakers got out safely.
The building was engulfed in flames. Hoses were laid across the pavement, criss-crossing from fire hydrants to the engines and into the hands of serious minded smoke eaters. Station 8, first on the scene, determined that everyone was out of the building. Now the job was to fight the fire.
Johnny and Roy suited up, joining Marco and Chet in pulling hose into the building. It took hours before the fire was under control. The flames ate at the kid stuff in the building, plastics and foam, some made before fire retardant materials became law.
Chet and Johnny were seated on the bumper of the engine, pouring water over their heated faces. Two small boys came up to them, shyly prodding each other.
“Can we help you boys?” Chet asked, his voice rough from the smoke ingested despite the SCBAs.
“I wanna be a fireman when I grow up.”
“You do, huh? What’s your name?”
“My name’s Mike and his is Petey.” The boy had red hair and a wealth of freckles across his face. His friend was golden brown, with a shock of raven black hair falling into his face.
“Well, Mike, that’s a great thing to be.” Chet nudged the man next to him. “Isn’t it, Johnny?”
“Yep, that it is. But you know what you have to do to be a fireman?” Johnny said with a faint smile.
The boys shook their heads.
“You have to be good and work at your lessons in school.”
“Schoolwork? Yuck!” Petey made his feelings on that subject clear.
“Well, there are lots of jobs in the fire department. Which one do you think you want?”
Mike patted the engine. “I wanna drive this.”
Petey shook his head. “Not me.”
Johnny, somewhat revived by the breather and the conversation with the children, asked what job interested Petey the most. He was pleasantly surprised by the answer.
“I wanna be a para…paramedkit.”
“A paramedic? You know what a paramedic does?”
“Uh huh, my mom told me. And they came and fixed my baby sister when she fell off the swings. They do magic things, like a doctor.”
While Chet explained how much schooling was necessary to be an engineer, Johnny asked if Petey would like to see the squad. He took the boy over to where his partner was getting some supplies out to patch up minor injuries sustained by the firefighters.
“Hey, Roy! We have a future paramedic here. Petey, this is my partner, Roy. We’re both paramedics. I’m going to show him what we have in the squad.”
“Sounds great. How do you do, Petey. If you’ll excuse me, I have some more work to do.” Roy leaned to his partner and whispered. “That’s different, a kid wanting to be a paramedic. How’dya manage that?”
Johnny grinned. “It’s how you play the game. Not to mention that he saw some of us in operation.”
Petey watched and listened as Johnny opened and closed compartments, explaining what all the equipment was and what it was for. Petey was as quiet as the proverbial mouse, his eyes wide with wonder.
“Still interested?” Johnny asked.
“Great. If you want to know anything else, you can have your mother or father bring you to Station 51 and we’ll be glad to talk to you. Okay?”
Petey nodded his head vigorously. “Can I bring my sister?”
Johnny ruffled the boy’s hair. “Of course you can. You know where our station is?”
Petey nodded again.
“Good. Now, I have to go back-up my partner, so you need to go back over there with your teachers so you don’t get hurt accidently. Let me walk you through these vehicles.”
Johnny gently laid his hand on Petey’s shoulder, noticing how the boy straightened his posture and began grinning ear to ear at his new friend coming with him to where his teacher stood waiting with a stern look on her face.
“Honestly, Petey Marshall, what did I tell you about bothering these men? Do I have to call 905-Wild and have the loose animal cage sent out here for you?”
“And where is your partner in crime?”
Johnny gave her his best lop-sided smile. “If you mean Mike, he’s with a friend of mine over by the engine. Chet will bring him back in a few minutes. They’re discussing the engine.”
“I’m so sorry. They darted off before I could catch them. I hope they weren’t a bother.”
“No way, Miss…”
“Mrs. Williams, they’re fine. But they should be more careful about darting between the engines. If one of our drivers had to move his vehicle, they might not see them.” Johnny aimed this comment at the boys and girls surrounding their teacher. “Understand?”
They all chorused their agreement. Johnny quietly explained to the teacher how to make arrangements for a tour of the station and gave her the number for the public relations office. Then he waved his hand at the children and scooted back to where Roy was hard at work.
“So, anyway, the stewardess turned her nose up at Gage’s smooth moves, not impressed by the so-called charm of the boy wonder here.” Chet was leaning against the engine, entertaining Marco and Stoker with the results of the latest double date of the Terrible Two.
Shaking his head, Roy continued working under the hood of the squad. Captain Stanley came up along side him and peered in, watching the paramedic’s deft hands deal with minor matters in the engine.
“How are you and Johnny coming with the repair of the old engine crammed in the back of the station?” Stanley asked.
“It’s coming along. The union wants us to loan it to them for the next election, kinda showing how equipment has changed over the years. I told them it would have to pass the inspection first, to make certain that it is street worthy again.”
“Hey, Roy, wanna go make a run to Rampart for supplies?” Johnny said, his golden brown eyes pleading for escape from a mischievous Kelly.
“Uh, sure, Johnny. Let me finish up here and we can go.” Roy hid his smile until he was back under the hood.
The drive to the hospital was pleasant, Johnny and Roy chitchatting about whatever came to mind. Johnny, relieved at being away from his nemesis, wasn’t inclined to a rant. One subject in particular interested them. A conversation with Dr. Mike Morton discussed the indirect method of taking blood pressure through devices on the fingers rather than wrapping around the upper arm. The only problem with it was when it exceeded pressure 165. The device would go haywire. The two paramedics discussed possible solutions but failed to come up with an idea.
“Roy, look out!” Johnny called, clutching the dashboard. A car heading toward them was weaving about the road, causing other drivers to swerve and brake to avoid a collision. Roy, caught between the oncoming car and a trucker about to jackknife, uttered a silent prayer and stood on the brakes of the squad, spinning the wheel. They were sliding sideways. Johnny hung onto the dash and the squad door, doing some praying of his own. The screeching of the tires and the blast of horns were overwhelming. When he saw the semi heading towards them through his passenger window, he reached for his partner.
The crash was horrific, the change from 40 miles per hour, even if done sideways, to zero was more than either man could prepare themselves for. Johnny heard the crunch of metal, felt the spray of safety glass from the front and side window, then there was nothing. He was the lighter-than-air man, flying backward to smack into the passenger door.
“Johnny! Can you hear me? John, dammit, answer me!”
Johnny felt no need to open his eyes nor respond to the somewhat familiar voice, calling from so very far away. When a hand rubbed roughly on his chest, he knew it was going to be one of those days and groaned. He feebly protested, trying to bat at his tormentor. Someone grabbed his hands, pushing them back down.
“Gage, stay still. Do you understand? Don’t move!”
There was another annoying voice. Desperate, Johnny tried to call for Roy, but couldn’t seem to utter a sound. He swallowed noisily, attempting it again. “R-roy?”
“DeSoto’s fine. You need to stay still, Gage. We need to get you out of here, but it will take a simple adjustment of your position to do so. It might be painful.”
Painful was an understatement. Johnny recognized fellow paramedic Craig Brice’s voice two seconds before he screamed in agony. The world turned blindingly white. Whatever Brice was saying to him faded into unintelligible noise. Johnny found his hand gripped by someone and squeezed, desperately trying to hold back further screams. If only he could pass out.
“You back with us, Gage?”
“Johnny? C’mon, buddy, answer me.”
Johnny panted like a dog, becoming calm enough to take inventory of his injuries. He also recognized the voice who was accompanying Brice’s analytical tones. It was his partner. “Roy? You…okay?”
“Yeah, thanks to you, buddy. Do you remember what happened, what you did?”
Johnny searched his foggy memory for answers. “Uh, yeah. Accident…idiot driving crazy…truck jackknifed…hit us?”
“Yep, that about says it. Of course, you forgot a few things. Like saving my life.” Roy said softly. “We’ll talk about it later.”
He stared up, but only saw Brice leaning over him. Puzzled, his face scrunched in painful thought, he tried to find his partner. “Where…where are you?”
“Your partner is right beside you,” Brice took Johnny’s right arm, preparing to set up an IV.
Johnny was about to roll over to look, but Brice caught him before he could do so. “Don’t move.”
The dark haired paramedic winced as he was strapped into the stretcher. “What’s the bottom line here?”
“With you or Roy?”
“Roy.” Johnny was finding it harder to speak, the pain radiating throughout his body, but he wanted to know his friend’s injuries.
“Broken and badly bruised arm, some cuts. All in all, not bad.”
Brice’s analysis helped calm Johnny as he realized Roy really was fine. “Okay…great. What about…me?”
“You were extraordinarily lucky, Gage. You have glass imbedded in your forehead and chin from hitting the windshield. There are some cuts from the same glass as well as from the passenger window. Your ankle is broken. There appears to be blunt trauma to your chest and you have dislocated your hip. That is what is causing the pain you are experiencing.” Brice read off Gage’s injuries as if he were reading a shopping list.
“Man, that’s gonna…hurt when they put it…back,” Johnny commented, his breathing beginning to level out. “Any other people injured?”
“Surprisingly enough, they are all minor. Bob’s got ‘em in control.” Roy replied.
A familiar face moved into Johnny’s line of sight. “Chet?”
“Thought I’d see if you were gonna live. Although you might not once you see yourself on tee vee tonight.”
Chet pointed to the side where reporters were filming everything in sight. “Must be a slow news day. You’ve been on camera at least five times. They picked up the accident on the public communications channel. You’re a star, Gage!” Chet kept up his banter until Johnny was loaded into the ambulance, having successfully distracted the paramedic during the move from the smashed squad to the ambulance.
“Thanks, Chet,” Roy murmured, climbing painfully into the ambulance, his arm strapped to his chest.
“DeSoto? What do you think you’re doing?”
“Going with my partner. You have a problem with that?”
“You were involved in the accident and should be on a stretcher as well. Another ambulance has been called…”
“I’m not going in another ambulance. I’m going in this one. I’ll be okay, Craig.”
“I’m not certain whether to buy or not to buy that story.” Brice tried again, but after all this time, he was well aware that the two partners would not be separated. He watched DeSoto make himself right at home on the rear jump seat and sighed.
Roy stayed near his partner, wincing at every moan elicited by the bumps in the road and the groans when the ambulance had to turn corners. He tried to distract his partner by taking up the conversation begun in the stationhouse. “Who was Chet’s date?”
“Huh?” Johnny peered up at Roy, then smiled. “Oh, yeah. Remember that time we had to rescue the girl on the balance beam? The one who almost got paralyzed?”
“Don’t tell me he’s dating her? She’s under age!”
“Nah, even Chet wouldn’t jeopardize his job and his life by involvement with jail bait. He’s dating her coach’s sister. She’s a real looker, Roy. Way above and beyond…nearly…Chet’s level of normal date.” Johnny hissed as the ambulance made a sudden swerve and shifted the injured man on the stretcher.
“He said you were shot down, what about Chet?”
“I don’t know. She seemed to be grateful that the evening was ending, but that might’ve been ‘cause of my date. Man, Tyla was really snippy. She was putting everything down, wouldn’t eat hardly anything on her plate. Seems she was on the great crash diet for her job. Stews have to be skinny, ya know?”
“We’re almost at Rampart, Gage, DeSoto,” Brice interjected.
“Thanks, Craig.” Roy laid his free hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “I probably won’t see you for a while. You hang in there, okay?”
Johnny nodded, dreading the movement and the agony to come of resetting his hip. “Hey, Roy?”
“Tell Jen we’ll have to finish the Monopoly game after I get better. We’re the tycoons, holding Boardwalk and Park Place, so we should be able to beat the pants off of you and Chris.”
“Sure ya will, hotshot.”
The ambulance backed up into the covered emergency entrance. The attendants opened the doors and lifted out the stretcher. The movement made sweat break out on Johnny’s face, his teeth clenched tightly. As much as he hated to admit it, the hurting paramedic wished Chet Kelly, the nuisance, was there to take his mind off his agony. When the wheels dropped, he choked back a scream. His world narrowed and he no longer heard anything except the pounding of his heart and his raspy breathing. What he had wished for, prayed for finally happened. He passed out.
Roy was helped onto a gurney, his eyes never leaving his partner’s unconscious body. He barely acknowledged the presence of Dixie McCall, head nurse, as she directed Johnny’s gurney into Treatment Four and Roy to Treatment Three. Brice followed alongside Johnny, the IV held in his hand.
Dr. Joe Early was waiting for Roy and helped him scoot from the gurney to the examining table. “Roy, what happened?”
“An accident. Some idiot was weaving all over the road and caused a semi to jackknife. We all tried to occupy the same space on the road at the same time. The truck hit the passenger side of the squad, where Johnny was sitting.” Roy’s reply was terse, his teeth clenched. “There was more traffic than usual due to the game.”
“Where is he now?” Early asked.
“He’s in four with Kel and Mike,” Dixie replied. “Kel called for the orthopedic surgeon, but he’s not available as yet.”
“Dix, can you go find out how he is?” Roy asked, wincing as Early probed his bruised arm for all the possible fractures.
“Of course, Roy.” Dixie instructed Nurse Fellows to assist Early and slipped out the treatment room door.
“How did you get this?” Early asked, referring to the broken arm as well as the marks.
“Slammed into the door of the squad.” Roy laid his head back, blowing out his breath in a long sigh. “If it wasn’t for Johnny, I would probably be dead.”
“What did he do?”
“He grabbed for me, took hold of my belt and held on for dear life. I’m telling you, doc, the force of the accident threw the door open on my side. I was halfway out the door when he stopped me.”
Dixie came back in during Roy’s explanation. “He’s looking good, there doesn’t seem to be any complications from the hip displacement and ankle fracture. They’ll know for certain after X-rays and reduction. I’m afraid that, even if Johnny avoids traction, you and he will be the unlikely heirs of some intensive physical therapy.”
“How did John keep from flying out with you?” Early asked, puzzled.
“That’s how he got the injuries. When the semi hit us and we started to fly out of the vehicle, Johnny jammed his leg under the dashboard. He really had it stuck in there so when we were moving so fast, it twisted and yanked it right out of place.” Roy wiped his face and idly watched his hand tremble. “I don’t ever want to hear him scream like that again.”
“I heard the radio broadcast. Brice mentioned blunt trauma to the chest?”
“He hit the steering wheel.”
“Doctor Kiley to Treatment Four, Doctor Kiley to Treatment Four.”
“Is Kiley the ortho?” Roy asked, hearing the page.
“Yes. He’s the best, Roy. Johnny’s in good hands. He’s been pretty busy with football injuries.” Dixie helped Roy out of his shirt, cutting the sleeve on his broken right arm. “We’ll send the x-ray technician in as soon as he’s done with Johnny, okay?”
“Well, it’s that time of year.” Roy closed his eyes against the bright light overhead.
“We’ll send the x-ray technician in as soon as he’s done with Johnny, okay?”
Early stopped at the doorway. “I never got a complete answer. How did you get that?”
“It wasn’t a fair fight. I tried to grab the steering wheel myself, but I was going too fast and missed. I caught it on the doorjamb.”
“At least you’re both alive, my friend,” Early said, noticing Roy’s exhaustion and seeming depression.
“Yeah, I guess.”
Brice stuck his head around Early. “DeSoto, I’ll advise Captain Stanley of your and Gage’s conditions.”
“Thanks, Craig,” Roy said with a wry smile. “Are you sure that’s in your rules of order? Shouldn’t the doctor do that after the exam?”
“Roy,” Dixie said warningly.
“Sorry, Craig. I’m feeling a little testy.”
“And worried about your partner. I understand.” Brice fiddled with his HT strap. “I would feel the same way if something happened to Bellingham. Well, I had better get back before Captain Hook comes looking for me.”
“Hook? He’s your captain?” This news distracted the other paramedic.
“Excuse me, gentlemen.” Dr. Early moved past Brice. “I’ll see you later, Roy.”
“So, how come Hook is with you?”
“Captain Morgan is back in class. They lost his accreditation due to some computer terror or virus or whatever they call it now.”
“Wow. How long will you be stuck with Hook?”
“For a couple of months, but I won’t have to worry about that. I leave tomorrow for a vacation.”
Brice’s partner, Bob Bellingham, appeared over his partner’s shoulder. “Yep, it’ll be ‘welcome to Santa Rosa County’ for us on Monday. We’re going fishing. Johnny said you and he had some fun there.”
Roy smiled. “Oh, definitely fun.”
“Take care, DeSoto.”
“Bye, Roy. C’mon, Craig, we have some paper work to finish and some loose ends to tie up before we can leave.”
Roy sat in the waiting room, his arm safely in a cast. He flipped through long out of date magazines, reading how an ounce of prevention could stop almost any ill. He found a couple of recipes to try on days he was assigned cooking detail.
“Roy, you should go home. Or at least call Joanne.” Dixie crouched down beside the worried man.
“I will. As soon as I hear about Johnny. Any word?”
Dr. Kiley is still doing the reduction. After that’s done, there’ll be more x-rays. Johnny’s looking at a month or two of recuperation before he can return to work.”
“As long as he can return.”
“He will. Of course,” Dixie laughed, “he and Chet Kelly might be caught up in an insanity epidemic if the calls I’ve been fielding from that firefighter are any indication.”
“Chet has been calling to check on…”
“…his pigeon,” Roy finished, shaking his head.
Brackett and another man in doctor garb came walking to the waiting room. “Figured you’d be here.”
Roy got to his feet. “How is he?”
“This is Dr. Kiley, he did the reduction on Johnny,” Brackett introduced the swarthy, grinning man. "Bill is pure magic when it comes to this type of work."
“I’ve heard quite a bit about you, Mr. DeSoto. Mr. Gage is, how shall I say it, talkative while under the anesthesia.”
“Uh, that’s…nice?” Roy wasn’t certain if that was true or not. “How’s Johnny?”
“I’m a little confused about the family ties, or lack of them, in regards to discussing a patient’s medical situation, but Kel assures me that you are, in effect, Gage’s brother.”
“You could say that. I’m listed as Johnny’s next of kin on his paperwork.”
“Well, once we got inside, we found the breakdown of his hip and ankle to be remarkably clean. Minor damage to the soft tissues, no damage to the sciatic nerve, although how he managed that I’ll never understand.”
Roy broke out in a wide grin. “That’s Johnny for you. Always doing the unusual and the impossible.”
“Bottom line? He should be fine if he follows the rules and sticks with his therapy.”
“That’s great! Thanks, Dr. Kiley,” Roy exclaimed, pumping the doctor’s hand.
“You and the rest of the firehouse quintet can visit Johnny tomorrow. During visitor’s hours,” Dixie pointed to the exit. “Now it’s time for you to go home.”
“Hey, Gage! Whatcha looking at?” Chet moved around to look at the television, leaning his rear on Johnny’s hospital bed. He whistled at the image of the boat cruising the sunny Caribbean waters around the Bahama islands.
“It’s a travel show.” Johnny shrugged. “It’s all that was on besides church services.”
“Why are you in isolation?” Marco Lopez asked, following his friend into the room.
“It’s not isolation. Not exactly. But being in the limelight from the television coverage and a certain paramedic’s story about my ‘saving his life’ has reporters snooping about, wanting to talk to me. Sheesh, they’re a pain!”
Roy shrugged, smiling sheepishly. “Hey, it was true. You did save my life.”
Johnny frowned at him. “I was just trying to keep us together.”
“Well, now that we’re settled that, onward and upward. When are you being sprung?” Chet tried to reach for the television remote, but Johnny held it out of reach.
“Right now, Kiley is saying another week, then they’ll try me out on crutches. If everything goes well and I can manage to walk without a limp, they’ll release me to work in about a month.”
“Or two,” Roy added.
“Wanna bet?” Johnny asked roguishly. “Hey, where’re Cap and Mike?”
“Our hypocondricap is bugging Early about some mysterious aches and pains,” Chet said, laughing. He tried to slip his hand around Gage to grab the remote, but once again he was foiled.
“Chet, get off my bed. And what about Mike?”
“Ah, Mike.” Marco stared at the floor while Roy and Chet found something else to look at, all of them avoiding Johnny’s puzzled gaze.
“Yeah, Mike. Mike Stoker. Our engineer. Mr. Talkative. Where is he?” Johnny could smell a story.
“Well, there was an accident,” Marco started.
“Our accident, actually,” Roy offered.
“That’s right,” Marco continued. “And we were called out to it. Found you guys, you know.”
“Yeah, I’m well aware of that. It’s why
Chet was holding hands with me.” Johnny had figured out who helped him at the
Chet growled. “I wasn’t holding hands with you! Do you want to hear this story or what? Well, shut up then. When the wreckers started pulling the cars apart, it ignited some spilled fuel.”
“Why wasn’t it washed down first?”
“The wreckers were in a hurry and wouldn’t wait for it.”
“Was Mike hurt?”
“No.” Marco finally sighed. “But Big Red was.”
“Not exactly hurt, but kinda scorched.” Chet interjected, moving more of his body onto Johnny’s bed, forcing the paramedic to scoot over or have the fire fighter lay on him.
“Man, he musta been frantic.” Johnny knew the special relationship between Mike and his engine.
“He was up all night long, cleaning the rig and touching up the paint job. He wouldn’t let us call Charley.” Marco shook his head again, constantly amazed at the engineer. “He was sound asleep when we got ready to drive over here to see you. B shift is gonna let him stay until noon, then they’ll kick him out to go home. He might come over later this afternoon and see you.”
The four men turned their attention to the television, Johnny and Chet fighting over the remote while Marco and Roy watched. Life was back to normal, or as normal as it ever got for the men of Station 51.
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