Present to Past
By Audrey W.
John Gage threw open the side compartments of the squad as his partner Roy DeSoto rushed around to the passenger side to help gather the equipment they figured they’d need. The paramedics had just been escorted to the tarmac of an airfield located just off of West Carson Street, where an injury had occurred on the ground. The red lights from a nearby police car already at the scene flashed while the officers tried to convince bystanders to clear the area across the way so they could tape it off.
Visibly shaken, the security guard who’d had the paramedics follow him to the location from the main gate got out of his vehicle and ran over to the medics. “You aren’t gonna need all that,” he informed them.
He then anxiously glanced in the direction of the small twin-turbo prop engine planes lined up neatly in a row several yards away. There were three sitting alone, while the fourth had all the commotion around it. One man was turned away and bent over, his hands on his thighs with a small puddle at his feet. Another was pacing back and forth, his right hand repeatedly going to his face to wipe at his eyes. Two others stood looking at two men sitting on the ground, the victim clearly laid out on the tarmac in front of them. The policemen couldn’t get any to move away from the immediate area.
Johnny furrowed his brow as Roy stated, “We'll make that call.”
“It’s too late,” the guard explained, his eyes now moist with tears. “You aren’t gonna be able to do anything for Tim. It’s Jacob that needs help.” His voice cracked on the last few words.
As they trotted toward the planes, equipment in hands, Johnny asked, “What happened?”
“The guys’d just finished working on one of the engines of the plane and Jacob climbed in the cockpit and started it up. . .he thought the area was clear. But apparently Tim had bent down to pick up a stray ratchet. . .”
He stopped talking as they increased the pace.
Quiet sobs, along with the words ‘sorry, man’, could be heard as they approached. Johnny slowed, his mouth open in stunned shock when he saw exactly what had occurred.
The downed man lay on his back in a large pool of blood, his head nearly severed. One of the men on the ground beside him had tears streaming down his cheeks as he repeatedly apologized to the lifeless form, his own clothes very bloody. The other near him was trying to coax him away.
After a brief exchange with the officers, Johnny continued over to Jacob, who was beyond devastated. The other man got to his feet.
“He won’t let us cover Tim with a blanket.”
He then numbly backed off as the dark-haired paramedic gently placed a hand on Jacob’s shoulder after setting the equipment in his hands down away from the blood and body. He had to fight to keep control of his stomach; the sight was nauseating even despite all he’d seen thus far in his career as a rescue man and paramedic.
Gage glanced at his partner. Roy had kept his gaze locked on Tim.
DeSoto shifted his attention to the sound of his name.
“You wanna get Rampart on the horn?” Johnny wondered.
The older man nodded. “Yeah. . ..” He’d just realized he still had the biophone in his hand.
Johnny occasionally looked at Roy as he checked out Jacob, his concern for the other growing. Normally a steady man, especially on the job, his partner seemed to be ‘out of it’, just going through the motions on this call.
“I killed him,’ Jacob continued to cry out. “God, I killed him.”
“It was an accident,” one of the workers reminded him. Johnny did the same.
“He’s got a wife and kids. . .” he cried as one of the policemen finally covered Tim’s form with a blanket.
“It was an accident,” Johnny firmly stated.
An ambulance arrived on scene and the paramedics soon had Jacob lying on a stretcher in the back and ready to be transported to Rampart. He was likely going to need to be sedated for awhile.
“I’ll go in with him,” Johnny offered. But Roy shook his head.
“No, I will.”
“You sure you’re up to it?” He again eyed him carefully. “You don’t look so good, maybe I oughta ride in with both of you.”
“I’ll be all right.”
“Okay.” But he had his doubts, even as he closed the doors and gave them two slaps, a customary gesture to signal they were secure.
Johnny watched as the ambulance pulled away and a coroner arrived on the scene. He was glad they’d gotten Jacob away from the area so he wouldn’t have to go through anymore than he already had to for now.
Gage didn’t envy the ones who would be called on to deliver the news to Tim’s family. And he wondered if Jacob would ever get over the guilt.
When he arrived at Rampart, Johnny had to look for his partner. After several minutes, he found Roy sitting on a couch in the doctors’ lounge. His hands were empty, the biophone and drug box at his feet. He was staring blankly at the wall across the room.
The younger man quietly closed the door behind him, and stood in place a moment to see if his presence would be noticed. After several seconds had passed with no change, he asked in a gentle tone, “Hey. . . you okay?”
Roy shook his head slightly. “But I will be.” The hushed response was followed by a sniff.
Johnny walked over and sat down on the couch beside him. “Jacob’s gonna be on his way up to a room soon. Brackett says they’re gonna keep him for a coupla days and offer ‘um counseling for as long as he feels he needs it.”
“That’s good.” Roy lowered his gaze to the floor. “He’s gonna need all the support he can get.”
The dark-haired paramedic looked to the same area on the floor, not sure what else to say. He was saddened by the whole experience too, but there seemed to be something more there for his partner.
There’s only one way to find out. . .
“You wanna talk about it?”
Roy sat back and sighed. It was then Johnny noticed his eyes were slightly red-rimmed. He’d obviously shed a few tears.
Fidgeting with his hands, Roy began to explain. “It was quite a few years ago, when a buddy of mine was in Nam. We joined the Army at the same time, a few months out of high school, and hoped to be over there in the same unit. But it didn’t work out that way. Danny opted for aircraft maintenance and I ended up in a ground unit. We got sent to Nam a couple of months apart and never met up. I never saw him again.”
Johnny sat waiting for more, hoping the HT in his hands wouldn’t bring a call for them before Roy had a chance to get what he needed to out.
The older man cleared his throat and continued. “We weren’t even over there a year when I got the letter from my mom. Apparently Danny and a few others were at the end of a real long shift . . .they were working on a prop plane. An OV-1 Mohawk. It was the last thing he ever did. . .” He trailed off and shifted his gaze once again to the floor. “One of the guys working with him climbed into the cockpit to run an engine after they’d repaired it. As I understand it, Danny was picking up tools and somehow neither knew what the other was doing exactly. His crewmate started up the engine without realizing Danny was still in the path of the propeller. . .”
Roy stopped and swiped at a tear that had trickled onto his left cheek as he once again sniffed.
Gage kept his gaze on his partner. “That took you back. . .what happened out there.”
Roy nodded and wiped away another tear. “Yeah. . .yeah, it did,” he somberly admitted. He put his right thumb to the inner corner of his right eye, at the same time his right index finger to his left, to clear away the remaining tears. After several seconds, Roy took his hand away and looked at his good friend beside him. “I’ll be okay.”
“How come you volunteered to ride in with Jacob if it was gettin’ to ya?”
“Brooks. . .the guy who was in the cockpit that day Danny died. . .from what I hear, he’s never been the same. He’s still depressed . . .still struggling with what happened. You know, Viet Nam Vets don’t often get the help they need or deserve when they return. I wanted to let Jacob know if he needed a shoulder to lean on. . .he’d have it. I didn’t want a civilian Brooks.”
Roy got to his feet as Johnny took in what he’d said. He leaned over to pick up the boxes but, still seated, the younger man reached for the biophone first.
“I’ll help carry the load. Any load,” he said as he grabbed the handle.
Roy smiled. “Thanks.”
“Hey, what’re partners for?” He asked as he stood.
Partners and *friends*, Roy thought to himself. As they walked out of the room and toward the exit of the emergency ward, he looked upward and gave a brief solute to another friend; one he'd never forget and continue to miss.
This is dedicated to all those who’ve served in the armed forces, past and present. Thank you for your sacrifices. God Bless those who have passed on while on duty or after. No feedback is necessary, just be sure and thank any veterans you see today.