By:  Vanessa Sgroi



“She’s gone.”




“I’m sorry, but there was nothing more we could do for her.”


Dr. Joe Early’s words resonated in the woman’s ears as she stared at him in disbelief.  Something darker than grief shifted in her chocolate brown eyes as they filled with tears.


“May I see her?”


Early nodded in assent.  On the way to the treatment room to say a final goodbye to her grandmother, 18-year-old Cherry LeCroix spotted the two paramedics who had treated the ill woman.  Leaving the doctor’s side, she pasted a small smile on her face and approached them.


“Sirs?  I wanted to thank you for trying to save my grandmother,” the lie slid smoothly past her lips.  In truth, her palm itched to slap them both for allowing Granny Beulah to die while insisting to Cherry that the old woman would be all right.  Since the dark-haired one had done most of the talking, the exotic young lady from New Orleans decided he deserved most of the blame.  I know just how to pay you back.  Continuing with her act, Cherry enfolded each of the men in a quick hug and then proceeded to the treatment room with Dr. Early.  Johnny never felt the slight tug as she clipped off a tiny piece of his hair.




Later that night, Johnny sat at the table nursing a cup of coffee.  The rest of the crew lounged across the room watching a program on television, but Johnny just wasn’t in the mood.  He stared glumly at the deep brown liquid inside the cup.  His mind wandered back to the old lady they had lost that afternoon.  He had been so sure she was going to be all right.  Sadly, she had taken a turn for the worse in the ambulance on the way in and the doctors were unable to bring her back.  Johnny felt a hand on his shoulder.


“You okay, John?”


“Yeah, Cap.  I was just thinkin’ about that bad run we had earlier.  You know, it’s hard when we lose someone.  Doesn’t matter how old they are.”


“I know, pal.  We all feel the same.  But, you and Roy have it the hardest of any of us.  You did the best you could.”


Johnny sighed and ran his fingers through his tousled hair.


“Thanks, Cap.  I think I’m gonna turn in now.”


Weariness sat heavily upon the paramedic’s shoulders as he made his way to the dorm.  After arranging his turnout gear, he crawled beneath the covers and drifted off to sleep not long after his head touched the pillow.




Cherry’s supple, cocoa-colored hands cradled the small doll made from scraps of blue and tan material.  The purloined strands of hair were carefully placed on the head of the doll but its face remained blank.  I guess it’s time for me to have some fun, Mr. Paramedic.   With a satisfied smirk, Cherry picked up the white seagull feather and slowly began to rub it over the face of the doll.






Johnny was torn from a sound sleep by a violent sneeze.  It was followed in quick succession by another three.  Ouch!  Man, those actually hurt!   He rubbed his nose with the back of his hand.  Sure hope I’m not catchin’ a cold.




“Johnny, you okay over there?” whispered his concerned partner.


“Yeah.  Don’t know why I’m sneezing though.”


“Maybe you should take something.”


“I hear ya.  Sounds like a good idea.”


Johnny slid out of bed and into his turnouts and started out of the room.




“Now what?”


“Nothing.  I think I just stubbed my toe,” he grumbled.


Johnny limped into the kitchen, poured a glass of milk, and took a long drink nearly draining the glass.  He was about to search out some cold medicine when the strange tickle disappeared, as did the pain in his toe.  Huh.  That’s weird.


Deciding to forego the medicine now, Gage padded back to his bunk.  The soft snores from the rest of the crew eventually lulled him back to sleep and the remaining hours of the night were quiet.


The wake up tones summoned them from all from sleep the next morning.   The men scrambled for their lockers more than ready to see the end of the shift.   While Roy was outlining his plans for his two days off, Johnny reached into his locker for his shirt.  As he did so, he felt two sharp jabs in his arm.


“Ouch.  Hey!  Quit poking me, will ya!”


An indignant Johnny turned to glare at his partner.


“What the heck are you talking about?  I didn’t poke you!”


Johnny’s indignant expression turned to one of puzzlement.


“Oh.  Well, it felt like you did.  Maybe it was just a cramp or something.”


Roy gave his partner an odd look and went back to dressing.  Still contemplating Johnny’s actions, Roy left to go prepare breakfast.


Not long after the meal, the paramedics from B-shift arrived, leaving Roy and Johnny free to leave.




Johnny sighed deeply and went back to staring blankly at the inside of his locker.  His two days off had been plagued with odd bouts of vicious sneezing, mostly in the middle of the night, interrupting any chance of getting a solid night’s sleep.  It had been so bad that he now felt exhausted and out of sorts.  And, every once in awhile, he would swear someone was poking him—in the arm, in the shoulder, in the back.  Yet, he’d been alone each and every time.  That has to be my imagination.  It just has to be.  Can’t tell Roy either.  He’ll think I’m goofy.


As if thought conjured, Roy ambled into the room.


“Hey, partner.”


“Hi, Roy.”


“You’re here early.  For a change,” Roy smiled as he said this to let Johnny know he was only teasing.


Not up to his usual snappy comeback, Johnny muttered a quick “yeah” and scooted out of the room.




With a small smile, Cherry thought back over the last three days and the fun she’d had tormenting the dark-haired man.  Granny Beulah, I’m paying him back for you.  I just wish I was as powerful a priestess as you were.  Cherry picked up the doll and slowly wrapped a rubber band around its head.  There!  Let him deal with a headache all day, too.  She pulled her feather and her pin from her secret box, just to have them handy.




Cherry LeCroix’s unsuspecting target grabbed some coffee and leaned against the counter.  He winced as he felt a full-fledged headache blossom.  Oh, great.  Just what I need.


Captain Stanley called to assemble for roll call.  The men scrambled for their places and the long shift began.


Almost immediately, the squad was called out on its first run the first of several non-critical calls in a row.  Only two of the four calls required transport to Rampart as a precaution.  By the time the two paramedics managed to get all the way back to the station, it was lunchtime.


“Geez, I’m starved.”  Roy opened his door and quickly exited the squad.  The magical aroma of Mike’s barbecued beef wafted from the kitchen and caused his stomach to growl in anticipation.  Roy was surprised when his partner didn’t immediately agree follow him.  He glanced back through the window.


“Hey, Johnny, you comin’?”


Johnny sat rubbing his temples wishing this headache would ease up.  The aspirin he’d taken earlier had had no effect whatsoever.


“Yeah, I’m coming.”


Johnny left the squad and followed Roy into the kitchen making a beeline for the refrigerator.


Chet was just setting buns and chips out on the table to accompany the vegetable tray already residing there.  He glanced up at the paramedics’ entrance.


“It’s about time you guys got back.   Hey, Gage, just how many nurses did you try to pick up this time.  Good thing it’s Mike’s turn to cook or we’d be waiting forever for lunch.”


Marco turned from the cupboards, his arms loaded with plates and utensils.


“Man, Chet.  Give ‘em a break.  You heard how many times they were called out.”




Johnny was caught by surprise at the ferocity of the sneeze and barely managed to turn his head.  Unfortunately, Chet happened to be standing right there and caught the brunt of the sneeze.


“Eeew!  Gage!  That’s gross.” Chet hollered.


“Oh, stow it, Kelly.  I didn’t do it on purpose.”


“Still that’s  . . .”


Captain Stanley walked into the room at that moment stifling the rest of Chet’s complaint.  He had heard the bickering but purposely chose to ignore it since his presence alone put a stop to it.


“Lunch ready, Mike?”


“Yeah, Cap, it is.”


“Good.  I suggest we all sit down and eat while we have the chance.”


The crew sat down and dug into the awaiting food with gusto.  As firemen, they were accustomed to eating quickly never knowing when the tones would sound.


Johnny was halfway through his meal when he felt the tingle again in his nose.  Uh oh.  He brought his hand up to cover his nose.




The dark-haired paramedic couldn’t quite suppress a moan at the pain this sneeze caused.  He grabbed a napkin to wipe his hand and was shocked to see blood.  Johnny reached up again and felt wetness on his upper lip.  The men at the table looked on in concern.


“Johnny?  What’s going on?”  Roy jumped up from his chair and moved to his partner’s side.


“Uh.  Nuthin.  Just a nosebleed.”


The senior paramedic grabbed a clean napkin from the table and held it to Johnny’s nose.


“Here.  Tilt your head back.”


Roy held pressure for a minute or two and then checked to see if the bleeding had stopped.  He was relieved to see that it had.


“All right, Junior.  It stopped.  How do you feel?”


“Okay.  I think it was just from the sneeze.  Thanks, Pally.”


Slightly embarrassed over all the fuss, Gage stood up from the table.

“Umm, I’m gonna go get cleaned up.”


Once in the bathroom, Johnny briskly washed his face and hands removing the blood residue.  He was drying his hands with a paper towel when the tones sounded.


“Station 45, Station 51, structure fire, Frontier Office Complex, 31200 Rossiter, cross street Simmons.  That’s 3-1-2-0-0 Rossiter, cross street Simmons.  Time out 12:21.


“Station 51, KMG365.”  Captain Stanley’s baritone voice rang out as he acknowledged the call.  He directed the slip of paper through the squad window and raced for his own seat in the engine.




Arrival at the scene revealed a sizable fire engulfing most of the first and part of the second floors of an old office building.  The third floor had not yet succumbed to the flames.  Many of the dazed office workers were milling around outside the structure.  A few were in tears.


Stanley and the crew had just exited their vehicles when Station 45 pulled up.  Hank quickly began issuing orders.


“Marco, Chet.  Get an inch and a half and get started on the front of that building.  Johnny and Roy, let’s get these people back and make sure no one’s injured.”


Hank approached some of the office workers.


“Does anyone know if there’s anyone else in the building?”


Silence and blank stares greeted him.  Suddenly, a man from the back of the group spoke up.


“Hey, I think Martin might still be in there.”


“Who, sir?  And, where would he be?”


“Martin Little.  He’s an attorney.  He has an office on the third floor.”


Stanley looked at his two paramedics who were standing poised for action.


“Guys, a quick in and out to see if you can find him.”


“Gotcha, Cap,” responded Roy, “in and out.”


The paramedics donned their gear and entered the building.  They swiftly moved through the fiery lobby and began to ascend the stairs.  As they made their way closer to the third floor, the smoke lessened somewhat.  Roy and Johnny finally reached the top panting slightly behind their masks from the exertion.


“Roy, I’ll go this way,” Johnny yelled, pointing to his right.


The blond man nodded and headed in the opposite direction.


It didn’t take long for the two paramedics to investigate the small offices located on the third floor.  Not finding the man they were seeking, the two rescuers met back at the top of the stairs both shaking their heads no.


Roy started down first with his partner following a few steps behind him.  They had just passed the second floor landing and had one flight to go when Johnny felt a sharp jab in his chest.  It was just painful enough to stop him in his tracks for a second.  The pain was gone as quickly as it appeared so he moved to continue on his way.  The dark-haired young paramedic had barely taken a step, however, when his nose suddenly tingled and he was gripped by a tremendous sneeze.




Thrown off balance, Gage tripped and began to fall.  His attempt to grab the railing failed, and he gasped when he felt his head hit the bannister sending his helmet flying.  Johnny’s vision grayed as he started to tumble.


Roy was almost at the bottom of the stairs when a noise from behind him grabbed his attention.  He turned just in time to see his friend’s head impact.




Roy was able to reach his partner before he tumbled all the way to the bottom.  The senior paramedic grabbed Johnny and hoisted him over his shoulders in a classic hold.  The fire was fast approaching, and they had to get out of the building now.  Dodging around a tongue of fire threatening to cut off their escape, Roy hurriedly jogged out of the building.


Once outside, he placed his unconscious partner on the ground.  He removed his own gear first and then removed Johnny’s.


“I need help over here!  Johnny, can you hear me?”


Roy heard people running in his direction and looked up to see Paramedics Jack Casey and Bryan Matthews from 45s.


“Get the equipment for me.”


Matthews jogged off to fulfill the request as Casey knelt next to Johnny.


“DeSoto, what happened?”


“He tripped and hit his head.  Johnny?  C’mon, wake up now.”


As if on cue, Gage’s eyelids fluttered and he groaned.

“Wha’ happened?”


“You tell me?”


Johnny’s brow furrowed in concentration.


“Um . . . uh . . . don’t know.  My head hurts.”


“Do you know what day it is?”


“Tu . . . Tuesday.  Wait . . . fire,” Johnny groaned again as his head throbbed, “someone missing.  Roy, did we get ‘im?”


“Nah, there was no one there.  Now just take it easy.  Does anything else hurt besides that hard head of yours?”


Matthews returned with the biophone and trauma box setting them down near DeSoto.  Hank Stanley approached having heard one of his men was down.


“Wrist.  Right wrist.”


Roy asked Matthews to contact Rampart as he assessed the extent of Gage’s injuries.  He was concerned to see blood under his partner’s nose again.


“Suppose it’s not good that I see two of you, huh, Roy?”


“Yep, Junior, I’d say so.  Besides one of me is all you can handle.”


The blond-haired paramedic efficiently followed Brackett’s instructions, splinting the wrist and starting an IV.


“All right, my friend, let’s get you to Rampart.”


“Roy?  How is he?” Hank questioned softly.


“He should be okay, Cap.  I’ll let you know.”




Brackett directed the gurney carrying Gage into Treatment Room 3.  Roy followed giving a quick update on his partner’s condition.  He helped the ambulance attendants transfer Johnny to the exam table.  As the attendants were leaving, Dixie entered the room.


“So, Gage, I understand you fell down some steps.”

“Umm, that’s what Roy tells me.”


“You don’t remember?”


“Huh uh.  I remember goin’ into the building to look for some guy.  After that nothin’.”


Johnny flinched slightly when light flashed in his eyes.


“Do you know if you hit your nose at all?”


“No.  Why?”


“There’s blood on your upper lip.”


“Oh.  That must be from that sneeze,” Johnny stopped with a confused look on his face, “but I thought I washed that off earlier.”


Not understanding what his patient was referring to, the doctor looked to Roy for enlightenment.


“Right before we got toned out, Johnny sneezed really hard and his nose started to bleed.  It didn’t last long, and he did clean up before we headed out.”


“Hmmm, Looks like it might have happened again.  Dix, let’s get x-ray in here.  We need a complete skull series and plates of that right wrist.”


Brackett carefully examined the young man’s nose.


“Well, I think a broken blood vessel caused the nosebleed, but we’ll know more after the



Suddenly, Johnny’s whole body jerked and he let out a gasp.


“Johnny?  What’s wrong?”




“Johnny.”  Brackett’s stern voice held a warning.


Embarrassed, Johnny finally mumbled, “It’s nothing.  It just felt like somebody poked me real hard in the left side.  It’s gone now.”


Concerned, the doctor carefully palpated the area, watching Gage’s face for any kind of reaction.  There was none.


The x-ray technician entered the room.  Kel outlined his instructions which now included a chest x-ray as well.

The three exited the room as Johnny drowsily closed his eyes.




A short while later the door to the treatment room opened readmitting the doctor.


“Well, Johnny, I have good news.  There’s no sign of skull fracture and your wrist is just badly sprained, not broken.  And, your chest x-ray was completely clean.”


“So I can go?”  The dark-haired man knew he had no chance, but it was worth a try.


“No.  You’re our guest for the night.  You still have quite a concussion.”


“But, Doc . . .”


Brackett’s look put a stop to further protests.


Gage sighed in defeat.


“I’ll have Dix make the arrangements.”


The young paramedic watched Brackett leave the room, passing Roy in the doorway.  His partner wore a relieved smile.


“Hey, buddy, I hear you’re gonna be okay.”


“You know it, Pally.  Wish I didn’t have to stay though.”


“Well, can’t help you there.  Look, I gotta get back to work.  I’ll pick you up in the morning when they spring you, okay?”


“Sounds good.  Hey . . . Roy?  Thanks, man.”


“Sure thing, Junior.  Now you just take it easy.  Don’t flirt with too many of the nurses, ya hear?”


Johnny just flashed him a grin as he exited.




Cherry sighed in severe disappointment as she looked at the items arrayed before her.  Her amusing foray into fulfilling revenge was being cut short.  Granny Beulah had sent her a message from the beyond telling her to stop what she was doing.  Granny didn’t blame those paramedics and was demanding that Cherry not blame them either.  The young woman was mad but knew better than to risk Granny’s fury.  In one final act of defiance, Cherry had jabbed the pin in the doll’s side once more.  She then placed the doll along with the pin, feather, and rubber band into a small cardboard box.  With an immature huff, she added a note, taped the box shut, and wrote “Paramedic Gage, Fire Station 51” on the top in black marker.  Her cab was waiting to take her to the airport, but Miss LeCroix had one stop to make first.




The next morning Roy entered his partner’s room to find Johnny nearly bouncing off the walls in his eagerness to leave the hospital.


“Hi, Roy.  Didja bring my clothes?  Man, I can’t wait to get outta here!”


“Yeah, Johnny, of course I brought your clothes.  Here.”


Gage gratefully grabbed the bag and pulled out the articles of clothing.  Luckily, Roy had picked up clothes that were easy to slip into and Johnny only needed help tying his shoes.


“There.  Now, all you have to wait for is your discharge papers and you’re out of here.  Oh.  While we’re waiting, I brought this for you.  It was delivered to the station last night.”


Roy thrust the box into Johnny’s hands.


With his good hand, Gage tore away the cellophane tape holding the box closed.  Lifting the flaps, he gazed in bewilderment at the contents.  Johnny reached in and pulled out the item on top.  It was a note that read “Paid in Full”.  Puzzled, the young man extracted the rest of the items from the box, the last one being a fabric doll.


“Hey, Roy, what do you make of this?”  Johnny held out the note and pointed to the stuff lying on the bed.


“Huh, I don’t know, partner.  That’s kinda weird.”


Johnny couldn’t suppress a slight shudder when he again inspected the items.  Shrugging off his uneasiness, he dropped the items back in the box and pushed it aside.


Seconds later, Dixie entered the room carrying his much coveted discharge papers.  In the commotion, the box with its mysterious contents lay forgotten.



** THE END **


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