Roy DeSoto brought the squad to a stop in front of a small yellow house heavily trimmed in lights for the holiday, many also on two small pine trees in the yard and a fence that lined it. The odd thing was, none were lit. His partner John Gage scrambled out of the truck cab and quickly opened the compartments to the equipment as Roy joined him. The men wore their dark blue jackets over their light blue uniform shirts to ward off the chilly evening air.
“Must’ve forgot to turn the lights on,” Johnny commented as they started for the home.
“Or they’re tired of ‘em by now,” Roy suggested.
It was the evening of December 23rd and the men had run into more than their share of people during the past several hours who were just ready for Christmas to be over. Most had good reason, as their pre-holiday days had turned sour for one reason or another.
The paramedics continued up to the front porch where Roy rang the doorbell, while Johnny leaned to the right and tried to peer into a window through a partial opening of the drapes.
It didn’t take but a minute for the door to open, revealing a young woman dressed in bell bottoms and a brightly colored flower print shirt, a fretful expression on her face.
“You’re with the fire department?” she asked as she nervously glanced from one man to the other.
Both men nodded as Roy answered, “Yes, ma’am.”
“Oh good! Please, come in,” she said as she stepped back from the doorway. “She’s in the livingroom.”
“We had a call for a possible heart attack,” Johnny stated as they hurried behind her.
“That’s right. It’s my mom. . .her name’s Pearl.”
The three stepped into the livingroom where a gray-haired woman sat on a couch, her left hand clutching her chest.
Johnny set the biophne and oxygen canister down in front of the couch and immediately began to unwind the tubing from the mask when he noticed the victim was taking frequent shallow breaths.
“How’re ya feelin’, Pearl? Looks like you’re havin’ a little difficulty breathin’.”
“Uh. . .huh,” she nodded, her hand still clutched to her chest.
“Are you in a lot of pain?”
Again she nodded. “Some. Chest. . .hurts.”
“Let’s get you set here,” Johnny said as he placed the oxygen mask over her face and adjusted the flow. “Do you have a history of heart trouble, Pearl?”
“N. . .no.”
“On any medication?”
She shook her head slightly.
Having already taken her pulse, Roy checked her blood pressure as Johnny took her respirations before setting up the biophone. After jotting down some of the information in his tablet, he contacted the hospital.
“Rampart, this is Squad 51. How do you read me?”
“Go ahead, 51,” came Doctor Kel Brackett’s response. “Read you loud and clear.”
“Rampart, we have a female approximately sixty-eight-years-old. She’s complaining of chest pain and difficulty breathing. There’s no history of heart trouble and she’s not on any medication. We’ve currently got her on 4 liters of O2. Vital signs are pulse 110, respirations rapid and shallow, BP . . .”
“130/80,” Roy filled in as he undid the BP cuff.
“BP is 130/80,” Johnny filled in.
“Has she been feeling like this very long?” the senior paramedic wondered.
The daughter shook her head. “Just a little while. She was fine when I got here about an hour ago. Is she gonna be okay?”
“We’ll take good care of her.” He put the stethoscope ear pieces into his ears and reached to undo one of the buttons on the victim’s blouse. Pearl immediately pulled back a little in apprehension.
“It’s okay,” Roy assured. “I’m just gonna listen to your heart.”
“I’ll. . .undo the buttons. . .” she insisted.
Roy nodded and smiled inwardly. “Yes, ma’am.” But she still stiffened with discomfort when he placed the stethoscope on her chest underneath the material of her blouse.
Once he got word from Roy and relayed that Pearl’s heart sounded healthy, Johnny waited for the instructions from Brackett. When they were directed to bring her in just as a precaution, it didn’t surprise him. Other than seeming a little anxious, there wasn’t an indication of anything else being wrong.
“Can you tell us what you were doin’ when you started feelin’ this way?”
Pearl nodded, reached forward and held out a piece of paper that had been sitting on the coffee table. He took it from her and glanced over it. He looked to his partner as an approaching siren could be heard from outside. “Her electric bill,” he shrugged.
The daughter’s face registered realization. “Oh, I just brought her mail in for her when I got here. Mom, is your bill why you’re so upset?”
Though it wasn’t what he would consider high, Johnny figured an older person might. And it explained why the house was trimmed in Christmas lights that were not in use even with it being dark outside.
As they rode in the ambulance, Johnny talked with Pearl.
“Are ya feelin’ better?”
“A . . .little.”
“Good deal.” After a brief pause, he continued. “How long have ya had the house decorated in lights?”
“Thanksgiving,” came the reply from behind the oxygen mask. “I didn’t want them. . .haven’t decorated since. . .my husband passed on. . .a few years ago. But my son insisted. . . when he was over for dinner.”
“I’m sure he meant well.”
She nodded. “But it costs. . .so much.”
“Well, Christmas is almost here. Maybe if ya just keep ‘em off except for Christmas Eve, it won’t be so bad.”
“I just hope he agrees. . . to take them all down. . .when it’s over.”
He didn’t want to believe it, but it appeared they’d found yet another person who was already looking beyond Christmas.
“How’s your evening been?” Johnny asked as he joined Dixie McCall and Roy at the desk near the base station at Rampart.
The head nurse glanced at a clock on the wall. “How much time have ya got?”
“That bad, huh?”
Roy took a sip of coffee from a styrofoam cup he was holding as Dixie explained.
“Let’s just say I think I’ll be glad when the holidays are over.”
The dark-haired paramedic pulled back in surprise. “Dix, you don’t mean that!”
She noticed the look of disappointment on his face. It reminded her of a kid who had just been told there was no Santa Claus. The nurse gave a wry grin. “Okay, maybe I exaggerated a little.”
Johnny sighed in relief. “Well, that’s good to hear, because if you were even wanting Christmas to be over with, I’d . . .well, I don’t know what I’d do. But it sure helps to find someone who’s still in the holiday spirit.”
“For the most part we’ve run into people who are about ready to take down their decorations a couple of days early,” Roy explained. “It’s beginning to seem like an epidemic.”
“Ah. . .kinda puts a damper on your own holiday spirits, huh?”
Johnny gave one firm nod. “It sure doesn’t help.”
“Well, hang in there. I’m sure you’ll meet the person who turns the theme around sooner or later.”
“We can hope.” Roy finished his coffee and tossed the cup into a nearby trashcan. He then picked up the supplies he’d gotten refilled and stepped back from the counter. “Well, see you later, Dix. C’mon, Junior.”
Johnny quickly looked from Dixie to his partner as Roy started down the corridor. “Hey, wait! I didn’t get a cup of coffee!”
“I’m sure there’s some at the station,” Roy called over his shoulder.
The younger man eyed their friend, his brows knit in mock disgust. “Do you believe him?” He stepped away with a sigh, resigned to waiting for his brew. “See ya, Dix.”
As they headed back to the station, Johnny looked out the passenger window at the various decorative lights on some of the store fronts they passed.
“I wonder if there’ll ever be a day when no one decorates for Christmas anymore.”
Roy quickly glanced at him, then looked ahead as he responded. “I don’t think so. Some people may complain about it now and then, but I don’t see anyone being happy without the lights and stuff. It just wouldn’t be Christmas.”
“I suppose you’re right. I know when I get my own place, it’s gonna be blinding, it’ll have so many lights. And I’ll do it just so all the scrooges have to either get in the holiday spirit or move.”
“Careful. You may find yourself like Pearl. Dealing with an electric bill you can’t afford.”
Johnny shook his head and grinned. “Nah. By then I’ll be rich.” When he noticed a look of doubt on Roy’s face, he elaborated. “One day one of my ideas is gonna pay off. I’m sure of it.”
The look of doubt remained. Not in that one of Gage’s ‘get rich quick’ schemes wouldn’t eventually work out someday, but rather that the frugal paramedic would be so willing to part with his dollars.
When they arrived at their destination, Johnny climbed out of the squad and quickly walked around the front end where he met up with his partner.
“I smell coffee,” he stated as he hurried past in hopes his senses were correct. Roy followed behind, figuring a second cup didn’t sound too bad.
Johnny held up the now tepid pot of brew, a look of disappointment on his face. “Ah maaan. It’s already cold.”
“Of course it is,” Chet Kelly remarked. He’d just gotten up from his seat at the table, and stepped over next to Gage where he set his empty cup in the sink nearby. “Marco made it about forty-five minutes ago.”
“Well, how come it still smells so much like coffee in here?”
Marco looked over from his seat on the couch. “I made it too strong. I wouldn’t heat it up again if I were you. It’ll just be even stronger.”
Johnny looked at Roy, who was peering across his arm and into the pot. “‘I’m sure there’s some at the station’,” he mocked, repeating what his partner had said earlier. “If you’d just given me a coupla extra minutes.”
Roy shrugged. “Make some more. . .I’ll even help ya.”
“Fine,” he commented as he dumped the old coffee down the drain. “You know what we need?”
“What?” Captain Stanley asked as he entered the room.
“And you’re just the man who can do somethin’ about it, Cap.”
“I repeat, what?” He stood waiting as he glanced at the others, hoping for an answer from anyone, even his normally quiet engineer, Mike Stoker.
“A coffee maker.”
“I thought we already had one,” Chet joked as he looked across to Marco.
“If you look at it that way, we’ve got six of ‘um.”
Johnny shook his head at the captain’s remark. “No, I mean a real coffee maker.”
“We’re not real?”
“Roy! You know what I mean. One of those ones that has a hot plate built in that keeps the coffee warm for awhile. The one Joe DiMaggio’s doin’ the commercials for now. I mean, if ya can’t trust Joe DiMaggio, who can ya?”
“I don’t know if I’d trust us to turn it off if we suddenly got a run,” Captain Stanley stated. “It’d be pretty embarrassing if we burned the building down. Not to mention, inconvenient.”
Roy took the pot out of Johnny’s hand. “Here, I’ll make the coffee.”
But as he was reaching for the can of grounds in the cupboard, the klaxons sounded and the squad was sent on a run for a man down.
Johnny groaned and followed behind his partner with a trot. Chet stood holding the pot that Roy had handed off to him.
“I’d offer to make coffee, but it’d probably be cold by the time you got back anyway!” he called out to them. He then looked at the doubtful faces of Mike and Marco. “Hey, I’m known to do John a favor now and then. . . once in awhile. . .okay, seldom,” he conceded when their expressions didn’t change.
“Oh please hurry!” A white-haired woman wearing an emerald green furry robe hollered from her porch. The paramedics quickly grabbed their supplies from the squad compartments and trotted up the sidewalk lined with shiny silver garland that was strung along evenly spaced wooden stakes in the yellowed grass.
“What happened?” Johnny asked as they immediately followed the woman inside the home.
“It’s my husband Floyd,” she explained, her voice filled with worry. “He went to get Snowball. . .that’s our cat. . .away from the ornaments at the bottom of our tree. . .she took off and when he went to run after her, his foot got caught up in a loop from the string of lights she’d pulled off a lower branch.. . .”
“He didn’t realize it in time,” the woman continued as they entered the livingroom from the kitchen, “and. . .well. . .there you have it. . .”
There in the middle of the floor was a very tall plump downed Christmas tree with two bare feet sticking out from under it near the bottom. The lights were no longer lit, and glass from broken ornaments littered the floor around it.
“I pulled the plug out of the socket right away.”
The paramedics exchanged a quick glance, then hurried over to the tree and victim.
“Floyd, can you hear me?” Johnny questioned.
“Yeah,” came a semi-muffled answer. “Just get. . . this . . .thing. . .off!”
“Okay, we’re gonna lift it now. Just hold on.”
“What else. . .would I . . .do?”
Once again they glanced at one another and Roy shrugged. “He’s got a point. On the count of three,” he stated as they got positioned at each side of the tree.
Very shortly, Floyd was freed and a very discombobulated tree stood upright in the room.
“Are you hurt anywhere?” Roy questioned as they knelt beside him.
“If a . . .tree fell. . .on ya. . .how would. . .you be?”
Johnny made a sour face. Here was going to be another person ready for Christmas to hurry and be over with. But he couldn’t say he’d blame the man if so.
“Oh, it feels. . .good to be able to. . .breathe again,” Floyd said with relief in his voice.
They checked him over for any obvious injuries. Aside from a few scratches on the back of his hands and neck that they’d spotted at first glance, and a couple of minor cuts from the broken ornaments, he appeared to be fine. His back was sore from the branches that had been sticking him, but with the pressure off, it wasn’t near as bad anymore. He’d still need to be examined at Rampart to be sure his back was really okay.
“I didn’t even want a damn tree, you know? But our kids insisted we have the biggest one. . . they could find.” He glanced at the stretcher being brought in by the ambulance attendants.
“Hey, how much is all this gonna cost me anyway?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Johnny reassured.
Suddenly everyone’s attention shot to the cat as she ran back into the room from a tiled hallway floor. Once on the carpet, the white feline let out a moan that almost sounded like ‘momma’ before she began to heave, her body rocking forward slightly with each one. She extended her neck, her mouth open as what was trying to come up made its way out and onto the gold shag rug. A mixture of cat slime and red ribbon sat clumped in the one spot.
“Oh dear, it looks like she’s been eating the wrong things again,” the woman stated.
Johnny screwed up his face in disgust as Snowball once again heaved repeatedly, her mouth locked open. She’d already moved over a few inches from the other mess she’d made. By the time she got done with her misery, there were four separate piles all in different spots.
“Remind me never to get a cat,” Gage commented out of the side of his mouth to his partner. As he glanced at the once-downed tree, he added, “And to think twice about havin’ kids.”
Both were just glad they didn’t have to worry about cleaning up the kitty puke. That problem fell solely in the hands of the owners. Or owner, as the other was certainly not in any position to take care of it just yet.
“In two,” Dixie directed as Floyd was wheeled down the corridor. She held open the door while Roy and one of the ambulance attendants pushed the stretcher carrying the victim inside. She let the door close behind them, then saw the other half of the paramedic team come around the corner.
As he approached she offered, “We’ve got a fresh pot of coffee at the desk if you want a cup.”
“Thanks anyway, but I think I lost my desire after waiting this long. I’m more in the mood for hot chocolate right now.”
“Sorry, haven’t got any of that.”
“My luck we won’t at the station either.”
“Don’t sound so sad. You and Roy can pick some up on the way back to the station, can’t you?”
“Sure. But I’m not down about the hot chocolate, or lack there of. If you can believe it, the guy we just brought in?”
She nodded and waited for him to explain.
“Well, he’s another one of those who just wants Christmas to be over. . .now anyway. This keeps up, and there won’t be anybody left who wants to celebrate it on December 25th.”
She smiled at his exaggeration. “Just don’t let it take your enjoyment away.”
“I’m tryin’. We’ve got it off this year and I’m gonna enjoy it to the fullest if it kills me.”
As he checked for Roy to emerge from the treatment room, Johnny saw Erma, Floyd’s wife, come down the corridor. Her eyes scanned the doors on either side, the woman apparently not exactly sure where she should be. Johnny gave a crooked grin and slight wave to Dixie, then headed over to Erma to help her out.
Roy and Johnny were halfway to the station and about to pull into the parking lot of store where they could get some cocoa mix, when a call came over the radio. The station was dispatched to a motor vehicle accident a few miles from the station.
The senior paramedic flicked on the lights and siren while Johnny acknowledged the call. As he returned the mic to its holder, he sighed.
“I don’t think I’m meant to drink anything anymore tonight.”
Roy just smiled slightly and kept his eyes on the street ahead. He couldn’t disagree right now.
By the time the paramedics got to the scene, the engine crew had arrived about a minute before them. Captain Stanley directed his crew as Roy and Johnny trotted over to him once Roy brought the squad to a stop just behind the wrecked cars. Engine 51 was adjacent to the vehicles in the inside east bound lane since they’d come from the other direction.
“Chet, have the driver turn off the ignition in the station wagon. Marco, hose down the fluid on the pavement around the vehicles.”
It was a three car accident involving a sports car, the station wagon and 1956 four-door Studebaker that had been in showroom condition prior to the wreck. The station wagon sustained the most damage, having connected with both of the other vehicles. Now they blocked two west bound lanes of an intersection, with the sports car‘s front bumper smashed into the driver’s side fender of the wagon and the Studebaker’s driver side up against the passenger side. Fluid was leaking from the radiator of the sports car. An officer was placing flares on the ground a safe distance from the collision to warn other drivers of the lane closures and any westbound traffic was being routed to the right, into a parking lot where they could drive through to an alternative street. The outside lane heading east remained open.
Reflections from the rotating lights on the rescue vehicles and patrol cars flashed across the business and shop fronts nearby. The effect added to the twinkling Christmas lights and decorations that trimmed some of the buildings’ roofs, windows and entrances. Several people stood on the sidewalk as they watched in curiosity and concern.
The driver of the old car was out and yelling obscenities at the two people in the sports car while an officer tried to get him to calm down and step away.
“Roy, why don’t you go ahead and check on those two,” Hank directed as he motioned toward the smaller car. “John, you see about the others. Chet can help if you need it.”
While Roy trotted off to check on the people in the sports car, Johnny headed to the other victims, stopping first at the irate man as Chet ran past with a, “We’re gonna need the crowbar to get the driver out! Her door’s smashed in along the hinges!” he finished over his shoulder.
“How’s she doin’?”
The fireman stopped momentarily and turned around. “She says she’s okay. But she hit her head on the doorframe.”
“All right, I’ll be right there.” Gage then addressed the other victim. “Are you hurt anywhere, sir?”
“Hurt? Hurt?” He shook his head. “I wish I was. I’d rather it be me than my car,” he moaned. “That stupid guy had to run a red light and push her right into me!” He rubbed at his forehead. “I’ve got a headache, but it ain’t from the accident. Idiot!” he hollered as he once again looked at the car with the driver that caused the accident.
“You sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. Take care of her.”
“Okay, but if you start hurtin’ anywhere or feelin’ kinda different at all, be sure and let us know.”
“Okay, okay,” he snapped, sounding more aggravated at the attention than he intended. He softened his tone. “Sure.”
Johnny quickly stepped over to where Chet had just gotten the door open. He examined the woman inside thoroughly for any injuries aside from where she hit her head. Once he was sure she was okay to move, Johnny and Chet carefully helped her out. The paramedic had already given her vital signs to Captain Stanley, who was manning the biophone beside both vehicles with injured victims.
A policeman handed Johnny a blanket to drape over the woman’s shoulders. They then guided the victim over to where the captain had laid out a yellow blanket on the ground beside the squad before going to assist Roy. Johnny eased her down to a sitting position as he directed to Chet, “Go ahead and help Roy and Cap. I’ve got ‘er.”
“Yeah,” Johnny said with a nod. After handing him the few supplies they’d gotten from the drug and trauma boxes, Chet trotted off. The paramedic squatted down to the side of the woman to tend to a small cut on her left temple. Though it wasn’t a serious injury, he guessed she was going to need at least a couple of stitches.
“This is sure gonna mess up the holiday,” she sighed, eyeing her car as he worked to clean up the wound better.
“Well, from what I’ve seen lately, you won’t be alone there.”
The paramedic tore open a sterilized bandage and placed it over the cut. Just then a pickup truck traveling in the one open east bound lane made a quick swerve toward the accident and came to a sudden stop in a lined median. A man climbed out in a hurry and ran several steps to Johnny and his patient, a worried expression on his face.
“Sandy?! Oh my God, it is you! What happened?”
“Billy? Billy what’re you doing here?”
Johnny held the bandage in place and he reached for a roll of gauze as the conversation continued.
“I took the kids out for a hamburger and we were going to a movie at the Bijou. With you being at your mother’s all day, they were antsy.” He glanced at the wrecked cars. “What happened?”
“I got hit!”
“Are you okay?” He looked at Johnny. “Is she okay?”
“Other than maybe needing a coupla stitches, she’s fine. She was very lucky.” He glanced at the vehicles and making the assumption this was the victim’s husband she’d mentioned earlier, stated, “But your car wasn’t as fortunate. It’s gonna hafta be towed.”
The man eyed the wrecked cars, then glanced over his shoulder. He motioned for the two young children in his truck cab to get out. A ten and six year old bundled in jackets emerged and ran forward.
“Well, you just take it easy, honey,” the husband soothed. “We’ll get the stuff in the car moved to the truck. Boys, go see what you can grab.”
Before Johnny had a chance to tell them they’d have to wait, the two youngsters ran for the station wagon.
“Hey!” he called out as he started to get up from his squatted position, a couple of his fingers holding the not completely wrapped gauze in place on Sandy’s head. Johnny was not prepared for what would happen next.
Sandy didn’t know what to do. She knew by ‘stuff’, her husband meant a few basic belongings that were always in the car. But he wasn’t aware that she and her mother had gone ahead and finished their Christmas shopping and that several of the kids’ presents were in the car. . .unwrapped and sticking up out of department store bags.
All she could think about was stopping the boys. . .and fast.
Billy watched in astonishment as his wife suddenly sprang to her feet with lightning speed. He’d never seen her move so fast in all the years he’d known her. In one quick motion she unintentionally shoved John Gage hard as she darted toward the boys.
The paramedic’s backside was slammed against the squad, his head connecting with the surface. Billy rushed forward as he watched the dazed man slide down to the ground.
Johnny couldn’t believe the almost superhuman strength that knocked him off balance and threw him hard against the squad. He’d never have guessed Sandy had it in her. He felt his head slam against something and a sudden burst of white stars flashed in his vision. He immediately blacked out, but regained consciousness as he slid down the side of the squad.
Instinct was to stop himself from going all the way to the ground. Suddenly unaware of anything going on around him, Johnny kept his eyes down as he watched the pavement rush up at him.
As he and Chet helped load the driver of the sports car into the ambulance, Captain Stanley looked in the direction of the squad at the sound of a ‘thwack’. At that same moment came a yell from one of the policemen near it, “Hey, you’ve got a man down here!”
It was then he noticed his youngest paramedic wasn’t one of the people left standing.
John! What in the hell happened?
They quickly got the victim in. “C’mon,” he directed Chet. The two raced to the aid of Gage. As he hurried over, the captain brought his HT up to his mouth. “LA, this is Engine 51. We have a code I at our location. Repeat, we have a code I. Request another ambulance and squad at our location.”
After receiving an affirmative on the ambulance and word that all paramedic units were tied up at other locations, he returned the radio to his turnout coat pocket as he continued on.
Roy had just set up an IV on the passenger of the sports car and was about to lift her out with Marco’s help when they heard the sound and yell as well. Both looked over in surprise and concern. Roy’s first thought was to run to his partner’s aid. But reality was, the victims in his charge took priority. Luckily, neither had life-threatening injuries, thus could wait on being transported if Johnny needed to be treated by him until other paramedics arrived.
Considering Gage was literally down, Roy surmised the latter was likely.
He and Marco worked carefully but quickly to get their patient out and situated on another stretcher waiting nearby.
His left shoulder against the squad and both hands on the pavement, Johnny held himself up as best he could. Dazed from the blow to his head, he didn’t even notice hands reaching for him as he slunk closer to the ground.
“What happened?” Hank asked when he saw Gage. He glanced at each of the worried faces and made his way to the downed man as the others stepped back to give him full access.
Too upset to trust herself to explain things clearly, Sandy let her husband do the talking.
“My wife accidentally shoved him into the side of the truck and he hit his head on it. She was just trying to stop our boys from seeing their Christmas presents in the car.”
Hank half listened as he looked at Johnny with deep concern. The paramedic was still trying to push himself to a sitting position, seemingly unaware that anyone from his crew was beside him.
“Did he lose consciousness at all?”
Billy shrugged. “Maybe. . .I don’t know, it all happened so fast!”
With that, the captain addressed his crewman. “You okay, pal?”
When no verbal response came, he motioned for Chet to step over. “Help me ease him onto his back.”
The two gently laid him out on the yellow blanket close by. Johnny groaned and opened his eyes to squints. He blinked hard and his clouded gaze shifted from one face to another as those around him peered down in worry. Still there was no verbal response or obvious sign of recognition.
“John!” Hank called out, not sure what the delay of either implied.
“I. . .’mm . . .okay. . .uh. . .” He winced as he rested his eyes on the face closest to him.
“Cap,” Stanley filled in for him.
The senior officer shot his gaze to an equally concerned Chet. “Go get Roy!”
Chet gave a nod and took off at a sprint.
“Hang in there, John,” Hank soothed. “Help’s on the way.”
Though his facial expression was one of puzzlement, the dark-haired paramedic nodded slightly.
Roy and Marco had just gotten the second victim situated in the ambulance on a bench beside her boyfriend when Chet approached.
“Roy, Johnny’s hurt!”
“How bad is it?” Roy wondered.
“I don’t know. But he didn’t seem to remember who Cap was.”
“Marco, stay with these two,” Roy directed as he quickly stepped away. “And yell if you need me for anything!” he called over his shoulder.
The Hispanic fireman climbed up into the ambulance while Roy and Chet continued on toward the wrecked cars where the biophone, drug and trauma boxes still sat on the ground. Chet explained as much as he could about what had happened to Gage.
Sandy leaned over so that her face would be easier for Johnny to view from his supine position on the blanket.
“I’m really sorry about this,” she said, her voice a quiver.
Still looking bewildered, he reassured, “S’okay.” He glanced around, noting the red flashes of light reflecting on the various surrounding figures. His brows furrowed.
Suddenly a familiar red-orange box was set down close by and someone kneeled beside him as the captain got out of the way.
“Well, from what I’ve been told, that’s an improvement already.”
“Wha. . .?”
“You know who I am,” Roy offered. He quickly looked for any sign of fluid in his partner’s ears and placed his hand underneath his head, where he found a bump from the impact.
Johnny didn’t know what to say to Roy’s comment. His mind still muddled, he wasn’t sure what made DeSoto think he wouldn’t know who he was. He winced and tried to move his head to the side when a bright light shone in his left eye. But one of Roy’s hands was firmly holding his head still as he also held Johnny’s eyelid up with a thumb. The younger man lethargically brought his hand up to push the offending light away, but it shifted to the other eye, then was gone.
“Equal and reactive,” Roy stated to the captain. He then brought his attention back to his partner. “Can you tell me your name?”
“John. . .Gage.”
Roy sighed and exchanged a glance with Captain Stanley. There was obviously still a slight problem.
Johnny once again watched the red flashes from the lights while the assessment of his condition continued.
“Are those the. . . Christmas lights. . . on my house doin’ that?”
The blond paramedic found himself baffled for a few seconds until he recalled a conversation they’d had earlier in the evening. He shook his head.
“No, you don’t have a house.”
Another befuddled look on Johnny’s face elicited a further explanation.
“You live in an apartment. Those are emergency lights. We’re at the scene of an accident.”
“Oh. . .” He still didn’t quite understand, as he was sure he’d told Roy that his house was decorated in multitude of lights. But he was in no mood to argue about it right now. His head hurt too much.
Chet escorted Sandy to the ambulance with the other victims while Roy worked on Johnny. Since she was still doing okay, she insisted on going over to it under her own power. And she was more than willing to go once she had her husband’s word that he wouldn’t let the boys see their Christmas gifts.
The ambulance left the scene and headed for Rampart General Hospital once it was cleared by Doctor Early to transport without a paramedic. With the unusual circumstances that transpired and the fact no other paramedic units were immediately available, it was determined better for the other victims if they just got to the hospital sooner rather than later. That was good news for Roy. The fact he’d be able to keep a close eye on his obviously confused partner until the younger man was in good hands at the hospital was a relief.
A second ambulance arrived by the time Johnny was set to go. Roy walked alongside the stretcher while Hank followed beside him.
“Marco’s gonna drive the squad in. I’ll call headquarters to get a replacement for John. Hopefully we’ll have one by the time you and Marco get back to the station.”
When they stopped at the back of the ambulance, the captain reached down and patted Gage’s shoulder.
“Take it easy.”
Still wondering what happened to his house, Gage gave a distracted nod, followed by a wince.
“Hang in there,” Roy said when he noticed the pain filled reaction.
“Man, I wish someone. . . would turn off. . . the lights. They’re makin’ me. . . dizzy.”
As Roy assisted in lifting the stretcher, he mumbled under his breath, “I don’t think it’s the lights. . .”
With Johnny soon situated, he climbed up inside and took the drug box and biophone from Chet. Roy secured them on the floor near his feet and sat on the bench to the side. An ambulance attendant was already seated farther in.
Hank closed one door, then grabbed the other. With another concerned glance at his downed man, he sighed.
“Seems like the holidays offer a new challenge for us each year. But I’d never have expected something like this.”
Roy looked down at his partner.
“I don’t think he did either, Cap.”
The senior officer nodded slightly and closed the other door. Once it was secure, he gave it two slaps and watched as the ambulance pulled away.
He placed a hand on Chet’s shoulder. “C’mon, pal. Let’s help Mike get the hose wrapped up so we can get outta here.”
Johnny groaned as a wave of nausea washed over him. He felt bad enough as it was. He now had a splitting headache. The dark-haired paramedic looked up at his partner. Roy was eyeing him, a look of worry on his face.
Gage swallowed convulsively a few times in hopes of keeping his stomach contents down. So far it was working.
Roy glanced out the window, then at his watch. They were almost to Rampart. He wanted to ask Johnny more questions to see if he was regaining some of his senses. But the ill expression on the younger man’s face was enough to tell him right now the less said the better. Instead he just kept his undivided attention on him. Roy was prepared to move quickly if Johnny were to get sick at his stomach.
Roy saw Dixie come out of Treatment Room Two and look in their direction as Johnny was brought down the corridor. She pointed to her right. “Put him in four. Joe’s in there waiting.” Johnny lifted one hand to give a slight wave; she smiled in return. “I didn’t expect to be seeing you like this tonight.”
She followed them in although another nurse was already in place to assist the doctor. Johnny was quickly transferred to the exam table by Roy and the ambulance attendant who’d brought the stretcher in.
“He’s not as disoriented now,” Roy informed Doctor Early. “Everything else looked good just before we got here too. He’s been feeling nauseated, but hasn’t gotten sick.”
“Okay, thanks, Roy.”
As the doctor continued with his own evaluation, Dixie commented to Roy, “I guess Johnny’s Christmas got ruined after all.”
“Right now I think he’s just disappointed he doesn’t own a house.”
She eyed him with a puzzled look on her face.
“It’s a long story.”
The head nurse just nodded. She knew sooner or later she’d be enlightened on the subject.
As Joe Early checked over the injured paramedic, he questioned, “Do you remember what happened?”
Johnny gave a slight nod and answered quietly, “I met up with a mom. . .who could put . . .Superman to shame. . .for strength.” He winced and brought a hand up to his head. “Doc, I’ve got a killer of a headache. Can’t I have somethin’ for it yet?”
“Almost. Just a couple more questions.”
“I’ll tell ya anything. . . ya wanna know.”
That brought a smile to the doctor’s face. He’d still ask the few questions he felt necessary, but judging by Gage’s demeanor, things were definitely looking up.
By late morning the following day, Johnny was feeling much better. Grateful he’d gotten medication for his headache which allowed for ample rest, and that he’d managed to keep his queasy stomach in place while regaining his senses, the paramedic now just waited for word on his release.
But when the door to his room opened, it wasn’t who he’d expected to see. Sandy and her husband Billy entered, both looking apologetic at the sight of him still in a hospital bed.
Johnny smiled. “Hey, how’re you doin’?”
“I’m fine. They released me shortly after I got here.” There was a very brief pause, then Sandy quickly blurted out, “I’m so sorry about yesterday.”
“She really is. She’s done nothing but repeat that every time she’s thought about it.”
“Aw, it’s okay. It was an accident. These things are part of our job, happens all the time,” he added with a wave-off of his hand.
“Well, actually. . . no. . . but we have our share of close calls. Just forget about it. I‘m doin’ great.” When he saw doubt register on her face, he reassured, “Really.” He left off the fact he still had an intermittent headache.
“We wanted to bring you something, Miss McCall suggested this.” Billy stepped over and held out a small paper bag. Johnny took it from him and peeked inside. A wide grin spread across his face.
Leave it to Dix. . .
There, inside, was a small tin can of cocoa.
He looked up at them, the smile still in place. “Hey, thanks, man.”
“You’re welcome. It’s the least we could do. Well, I guess we inadvertently got you Christmas off from work too, huh?”
Johnny figured they’d been feeling miserable enough and he was certain they’d joined the ‘can’t wait for Christmas to be over’ club. There was no sense in making them feel any worse by letting on that he already had the time off. “Yeah. . .yeah, that’s one thing. You did me a favor there.”
Once ‘Merry Christmases’ were exchanged, and the couple was gone, Johnny looked inside the bag again.
There’s only one problem. It doesn’t do me much good while I’m stuck in here . . .
When Johnny was released later in the day, Roy drove him home to his house where he and Joanne would be able to keep an eye out for any lingering symptoms from the concussion. Johnny would’ve been kept an extra night if he hadn’t had a place to go where he wouldn’t be alone. He’d been invited over for Christmas Day a few weeks earlier anyway, so it worked out well.
Chet and Marco took his Land Rover to his apartment complex so he wouldn’t have to worry about getting behind the wheel for a couple of days. Chet made sure the others noticed he was driving it, so that when he claimed to do Gage favors now and then, he could point this one out.
A little less than halfway to their destination after stopping to pick up a few gifts and an extra change of clothes at Johnny’s apartment, Roy glanced at his partner, who’d been fairly quiet since they began their journey.
“You haven’t said anything about it, but I’d guess you’re going to join in with the ‘can’t wait for Christmas to be over’ crowd now.”
Johnny looked at him, eyes and mouth open wide. “Are you kiddin’ me?”
“Is that a yes or a no?”
“A no of course. Definitely a no.”
“But you ended up in the hospital. With a major headache, I might add.”
“That’s right, I did . . . I did end up there. But you’ve gotta keep in mind, Roy. Everything that went kinda bad was while we were on duty. People unhappy about Christmas; me gettin’ a concussion. So do I want Christmas over with? No way, man! Why would I? We’ve got it off! In fact, right now if I had it my way, Christmas would last a month!”
Roy just grinned and shook his head. Being that his grade-school aged son and daughter were out of school for two weeks on Christmas break, he knew he’d be joining the ‘can’t wait for Christmas to be over’ crowd if Johnny got his wish. Luckily, that was one thing not even Dixie McCall could help his partner with. Although the concussion would likely get him a couple of extra days off.
“Well, I guess it’s safe to say Merry Christmas then.”
Johnny gave a lopsided grin. “Merry Christmas.” He looked down at the small paper bag on his lap. He was going to get his hot chocolate, and spend Christmas Eve and Day with the DeSoto family in their house that was amply decorated for the holidays. It didn’t get any merrier than that.
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