Pairing: non, gen, friendship fic
Words: 30,300+ Complete, betaed by ldyanne
Summary: A call that turned out not to be a call after all, but someone still needed help.
Spoilers: Set just after first season.
Disclaimer: Emergency! is owned by Universal, MCA and its affiliates. This story is parody and for entertainment purposes only.
Notes: We saw on many episodes that Johnny Gage really didn't like guns. I thought it might be fun to figure out why.
Acknowledgments: This never would have been finished without my beta ldyanne, who's has to endure grammar tenses, rewrites, major delays and "what if" questions from me. Thank you, babe!
"Squad 51. Possible heart attack victim. 317 Ninth Lane. Three one seven Ninth. Cross street Concord. Time out 05:48."
Ninth Lane was not the kind of street anyone should be walking around on at this hour, John Gage mused. He eyed the squad's side mirror at the abandoned cars that dotted the streets, at stores with yellowing signs of "For Rent" on their windows.
"Maybe the other side," Roy DeSoto muttered next to him as he turned the squad around the corner again. "You sure it was Concord on—" Roy gave him a glance and a corner of his mouth quirked at John's scowl. "Yeah, of course you're sure," he mumbled.
John only grunted. He stared at the call sheet their captain had scribbled out, neat despite the haste it was written with. Roy always complained John's handwriting looked like Dr. Brackett wrote it. Not that Roy's was any better. Sometimes, neither one of them could read it.
"Did we check that corner—never mind," John clamped his mouth shut at Roy's slanted look. Right. Roy did the driving and he did the pointing. That's how it was.
John squinted through the passenger side window. He avoided looking at his watch though. Roy was already checking his every minute. The silence in the squad was suffocating as they both scanned the streets.
"You should have at least let me take a drumstick with me," John grumbled half-heartedly as he slumped back into his seat. He was tempted to get out and sprint alongside the squad. He might stand a better chance of finding 317.
Playing along, Roy scoffed. "You'll get sick again," Roy murmured in that practical way he gets. He leaned into the steering as he looked up through the windshield. His brow knitted as he tried to spot 317. "Remember what happened last time?"
John's lips twitched. Get one little virus from one little monkey and every sniffle gets him a threat of a 10-8 to Rampart these days. Still, this was better than gnashing his teeth each time Roy drove around the corner for 317 again.
His finger went up to count. "First of all, you can't get sick from Mike Stoker's chicken. It's Mike Stoker's chicken. And second, I'm sure I got sick last time on something else."
"It was chicken. You got sick on the chicken." Roy pursed his lips and turned into the alley in-between Ninth and Eighth, careful to avoid the dumpsters that lined the vacant row.
John blinked, momentarily distracted from his survey of rundown buildings, his hand was left in mid-air. "It was? I did? On Mike's chicken?"
"One in the morning last month after that darn cat in the drainpipe; you and Chet said you were still hungry and had the whole thing in the fridge. You two were miserable throughout the rest of the shift. Cap was going to call a Code I. Don't you remember?"
No, but Roy obviously did. His partner conveniently remembers a whole bunch of information sometimes. John folded his arms across his chest and watched as Roy turned another corner. Again.
"Huh," John grunted, his head cocked. He looked back at Roy.
"Well," John fumbled, "that was because it…it was one. I was going to eat it for breakfast today."
Roy did a double take and glanced over at John, turned to the front, then looked at John again. He sighed and turned back to face forward with a shake of his head and a mutter.
John's mouth crooked to the side but it soon flattened when he gave in to checking the time.
"Roy, it's been six minutes," John murmured. His stomach clenched. He cupped a hand over his eyes and stared hard through the windshield. The numbers went by without success: 312, 314, 316.
Roy wasn't put off by the change of subject. "I know." His mouth pressed into a grim line. "I'm just not seeing it. Do you see anything on your side?"
"Nothing. Just lots. Roy. Possible cardiac…at six minutes?"
"I know," Roy just repeated and the hands curled around the steering wheel tightened.
John dropped his hand and wished he had never checked the time. He clamped a hand over his left knee when it started to bounce.
The squad slowed to park behind a Buick in the ugliest green color John's ever seen.
"Why are we stopping here?" John leaned forward and peered up through the windshield at the stucco-faced building. "This is 316."
"There's no 317, just that crummy car that looks like a rusted frog," Roy grumbled as he grabbed the radio handset. He peered into the vehicle from the driver's side though, just in case. "LA, this is Squad 51. Can we get a repeat of the address?"
Three chimes and dispatch replied.
"317 Ninth Lane. Three one seven. Cross street…"
John heaved a sigh and craned to study the building again that took up the city block. No one was screaming or crying for help. No smoke or gas either. He scrunched up his nose and took a deep breath. Nothing.
"You thinking false alarm?" It wouldn't be the first time they were called out due to some dumb dare.
"Or a hysterical caller," Roy murmued. "LA, this is 51. We cannot find 317. Has the victim called again?"
John and Roy exchanged a frown.
"Maybe 316?" John suggested although at—John stole a peek at his wristwatch again—eight minutes, he'd really hoped it was only a stupid prank call. He didn't care if it meant they had wasted eight minutes looking for it. Let it be just a dumb prank call.
Roy nodded. "Worth checking out. Might as well since we're already here." He thumbed the switch on the radio again. "LA, this is Squad 51. We are going to check out 316."
"Squad 51," acknowledged the dispatcher.
John hopped out of his side of the cab, a hand tightening the chin strap to keep his helmet in place. He was already going for the drug box and biophone and slipping the citation book into his back pocket. "Yeah," he grunted. It didn't matter if it was 316 or 317. Someone called for help.
"I got the O2," Roy offered. He grabbed the frame that housed the green tank and trotted down the block to the front steps. "Hold on. I'm going to look for the building manager," Roy called out over his shoulder.
"Yeah. Wait here just in case."
"Right," John muttered. He kept his eyes on Roy's back as his partner bounded up the steps into the building. His fingers drummed the drug box handle, ready to grab it the moment Roy hollered. He was tempted to follow but someone needed to be ready if they needed to go elsewhere.
The stammer made the demand incoherent. John frowned to himself and twisted around but he reared back into the squad almost immediately with a yelp, his hands up.
John wasn't sure if he was more afraid of the gun pointed at him or how the gun shook.
Dirty, stringy brown hair nearly covered the huge blue eyes staring at him. The slouched posture made the man look hunchbacked but John knew he could meet the guy eye to eye (not that he would want to though). John swallowed as he stared at the trembling gun muzzle. Oh man…
"It's okay. I'm here to help. You the one who called us?" John tried in the steadiest voice he could muster. He wondered absently if the guy was hiding in the space between the dumpsters before. Hidden under the shadow of the building, the guy didn't look to be any more than a few years younger than him. Maybe. The lines around his eyes and mouth added decades to the pallor. Or maybe it was the gun.
"S-shut up. N-not another word." The firearm punctuated the command. It wavered to the side. "Th-hat it?"
John carefully tilted his head back to where the revolver was gesturing. He swallowed as he sighted the drug and code boxes inside the compartments.
"Well?" The demand made the gun go up higher. "Is that it?"
"You told me not to say anything!" John blurted out even while his head was ranting stupid, stupid, stupid.
"Listen, funny man. Is that where the stuff is or not?"
"Stuff?" John lowered his voice. Geez, the guy was barely standing on his feet. John kept his words slow and clear, just like they taught him to keep a victim calm. John doubted Rampart's training ever took this into consideration though. "What stuff are you talking about?"
"The drugs!" The firearm was unsteady, too unsteady for John to even consider getting it from the guy. "Y-you guys carry drugs for people in pain, right?"
"Is someone in pain?" John tried again. He kept his eyes on the pistol. "Listen, I'm a paramedic, maybe I can help."
"That some kind of a doctor?" The gun steadied. "You don't look like a doctor."
Encouraged, John offered a smile. "Sort of, I can get in contact with a doctor over at a hosp—"
The gun jerked. "No hospitals!"
"All right! All right! No hospitals! Watch where you point that thing!" John gulped as the gun stilled, aimed for his chest now. John kept his hands up and wished he had an inch-and-a-half right this minute; nothing like a good blast of water at 800 PSI to solve any problems.
"Are those where the drugs are, or not?" Stammer gone, the voice grew harder, higher, more desperate and the hair in the back of John's neck rose.
"Take them out, right now! Hurry it up. No funny business! I have a gun and I'll shoot. I swear it. I-I'll shoot!"
"I'm a fireman, not a cop," John muttered as he turned his body slowly around to reach behind him.
"Shut up! I told you to shut up!" The voice was shrill. "Take that one out! Put that box on the ground and open it!"
John set the IV box on the pavement and slowly undid the latch. He flipped the top open and straightened up.
"What is this?" The kid crouched to the box and wrapped a fist around one of the packaged pouches. "Is this some kind of joke?"
"That's saline," John explained, slowly because the gun was shaky again as the boy tore open the pouch with his teeth. The saline splattered to the floor like one of Chet's water balloons.
"It's just water! Where's the stuff? The drugs? I know you got them! Get that other box out!"
John swallowed but he twisted around and took out the drug box with one hand, his back pressed against the squad.
"Listen," John began. "This box has some heavy stuff. You need a doctor to—"
"Shut up! Hurry up! Faster! No more tricks!"
"Take it easy! No one's going to hurt you—"
"I said shut up! Shut u—"
John never knew if it was because the gun was faulty, the mugger was or it was just a run of bad luck.
John felt a line of heat that sliced his upper left forearm. It was a hot bite that sent him slamming back into the squad and he sagged against the shelves in the compartments.
It was easy to find the wound even in the dark. John gritted his teeth as his right hand clamped over a deep, burning gash on his left bicep, just below where his sleeve ends.
"Ouch," John ground out. He looked down at himself. Not a lot of blood. A graze, he decided but it hurt a lot more than a graze.
"S-see what you made me do?" The boy sounded close to tears.
"What I made you do?" John gaped at the guy. He bit his lower lip. "Listen, just…argh…take the box and go. Okay? I don't want any trouble. Don't make this any worse for yourself than it already is."
The guy looked like he didn't know where to point the gun anymore. He stared at his own hand like he'd never seen it before. "I-I…" he stammered. The boy gulped and the gun went back up to John's chest again. "Those drugs…you know how to use them?"
If John weren't too busy trying not to throw up, he would roll his eyes. "Look, if you're trying to get help for someone, we—I can help you, but you gotta…" John breathed out sharply between his teeth. Graze or not, it was really starting to burn all the way down to his fingers. "You gotta put that gun down."
The boy bit his lower lip. The gun he held dipped.
The faraway call, down at 316, sent the gun back up again.
"Who's that?" the guy hissed. His eyes flitted from John to where the shout came from.
"My partner," John said and immediately he regretted it when the gun swung towards that direction.
"Your partner? Is he like you? A para…a para whatever?"
John pretended to scoff. "Him? No. He's…he's just a fireman to help me carry all this."
"A fireman?" the guy repeated. He screwed up his face and eyed Roy's direction.
John gave a shaky laugh. His arm throbbed and he was forced to let go so he could wave towards the drug and IV boxes. "Do you see what I've got to carry?"
"Johnny?" A little sharper now, Roy could be heard walking down the steps faster. John was about to turn around, shout to Roy to stay back when suddenly he felt the tip of the gun digging into his ribs.
The guy stood up his full length and his fingers dug into his good arm. His voice no longer stuttered and breathed hot on his ear.
"Pick up that box."
"You're too late, fireman."
Roy furrowed his brow. He stood back, grateful the chipped painted door stood between him and Mr. Dunning, the building…manager. Dunning scratched his balding head. Yellowish teeth flashed into something like a smile through the crack behind the chained door.
"You're looking for 317?" Dunning laughed, sounding like he was sawing wood. "Old 317 was a dump. Burnt down to nothing months ago. You coming to put that fire out, you're too late, fireman."
Roy was rewarded with more sawing wood and a sour whiff of whatever it was that gave Dunning such good humor this late hour.
"We…ah…we were called in. Someone here may possibly be having heart problems," Roy tried again. Dunning was finding everything he said funny.
"Not surprised. This place got everything else." Dunning laughed until he sounded like he was out of breath and the old man clung to the edge of his door, hacking. Roy took a discrete step back and wondered if perhaps Dunning needed a paramedic.
A few more tries only made Dunning laugh harder before Roy thanked him and went back down the stairs with his O2 tank. He stopped at the foot of the stairs, made a mental note to ask Cap to put 316 Ninth on the top of the safety inspection list and headed straight for the door.
Johnny will not be happy to hear this, Roy thought as he yawned behind a fist. With his luck, he'll hear about the fried chicken again all the way back to the station. And while normally, John sticking his head in the fridge was none of his business, helping John hold his head up while he retched into the toilet all night wasn't something he wanted to experience again either. And when his fever shot up, Roy was that close to running his partner down to Rampart himself—
Still inside the building, Roy froze, his hand holding the door open. It was a sound he heard enough times in the service to know, even when it was faint, that it wasn't good.
Roy pressed his back to the wall, slid into a crouch and pulled the O2 away from the door. When it didn't happen again, he opened the door a crack and checked outside.
The squad could be seen further down the block but he couldn't see anyone on the street.
"Johnny?" Roy called out. He tensed, his head lower but there was no answering pop. Roy breathed out slowly and with his right foot, nudged the door wider.
There was a faint hush of traffic in the distance, the hollow sound a wind makes blowing between buildings.
But nothing else. Not even a puzzled, "Roy?"
Something cold prickled up his arms and Roy gave the street only another check before he threw the door wide open and stood at the top of the steps that led him to 316.
"Johnny?" Roy felt like he was shouting down into a hole. His voice echoed and someone in 316 opened a window and yelled something derogatory back down at him. Roy absently waved an apology over his shoulder as he eyed the squad in the distance. Roy gripped the cage that housed the O2 tighter and jogged towards the red vehicle.
The closer he was, the faster his legs pumped and even though in reality, it took mere seconds, it felt like hours later when he reached the squad.
It was empty.
"Johnny?" Roy checked his side of the squad. He could feel a painful thumping against his ribs when he looked at the other side.
Pristine, as if set on the ground as a road marker, was a helmet. Squad 51's lettering glowed white in the dim.
Roy stopped short of picking it up. He stared at the helmet, his Adam's apple working when he realized there was a burst IV bag lying on the pavement. The IV box was left on the ground by the drying spot.
The doors to the compartments were opened and the empty spot where the drug box should be was unmistakable.
Roy spun around to study his surroundings once more. Did John find their heart attack victim? No, John knew better than to run off without his biophone or the defibrillator. Or his partner. He stared hard at the buildings behind him, the lots of burnt-out shells of brick and mortar. He strained to hear any sounds of distress but other than the backfire of a muffler faraway, there was nothing.
The helmet's brim scraped when Roy picked the headgear up. He held it with both hands and stared at the empty spot in the compartment, at the smudge of dirt John missed when he cleaned—
Roy squinted and took another look inside the compartment. The helmet dropped from nerveless fingers.
A bullet hole.
Roy skidded on the spent IV bag as he wrenched open the passenger door and scrambled into the cab. His hands shook as he fumbled for the radio handset.
"LA, this is squad 51…"
Hank woke up briefly to take the call from dispatch at 05:48. It was automatic, sleepwalking as the tones warbled out and got him out of bed, to the radio, the job slip already scribbled before the address completely registered. He did wake up further when he witnessed DeSoto with a hand curled firmly around the back of Gage's collar, like a cat carrying a kitten by the scuff of its neck, dragging the younger man out of the kitchen. Whatever Gage was saying—his mouth was full—was aborted at the call. Gage swallowed, gave DeSoto a burp that earned him a dirty look from his partner, and dove into the shotgun seat, all-business. Whatever those two were arguing about was shelved and would wait until after the run. That's just how they were. Hank stared at the back of the departing squad, slapped the garage door shut and shuffled back to bed, chuckling under his breath. He went back to sleep immediately. Because that's how a fireman's life was.
Primed to wake up at an alarm's notice, Hank jerked awake again at a sound he wasn't sure about. In the dark, his face buried in his pillow, Hank frowned to himself when he realized it wasn't the dispatcher, but his phone.
"It's probably for Gage," Kelly mumbled from beds away. He growled into his pillow. "When he gets back, I'm gonna kill him."
"Shut up," Lopez yawned. Almost immediately, a snore followed.
Hank sighed and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. If it was one of Gage's girlfriends, he was going to make the kid do hose and ladder drills in full gear (well, maybe not in this heat) all afternoon later. Then latrine duty for the month.
His hand blindly groped around for the phone and he pulled it to his ear.
"Station 51," Hank yawned, his eyes still closed. He was too tired to sound disapproving to the caller.
Hank's eyes flew open.
"Geez," Kelly muttered under his breath behind Hank.
Hank silently agreed as the engine rolled past one decrepit building after another. He didn't look at their numbers. There was no need. Stoker was driving towards the red and blue lights of the police cars collected at one end of the empty street ahead.
People's heads were poking out of windows of buildings Hank would have condemned long ago. Some sat on their sills, fanning themselves with whatever they had convenient, looking down at the business below. Others leaned out of the front doors, wrapped tightly in their bathrobes, gawping at the scene like it was the late, late show.
"Where's the fire?" someone shouted above in one of the buildings they drove past. Hank scowled through his window at the scattered cackling he heard in response.
"Isn't it past their bedtime?" Kelly grumbled under his breath behind Hank, but Hank ignored him because he found what he was looking for.
"Mike," Hank nodded to the flares that dotted entry to the street. Stoker silently nudged the steering, their Big Red lumbering towards their squad huddled by the curb in the middle of the street, surrounded by people Hank didn't recognize.
DeSoto was seated on the hood of one patrol car immediately behind the cones, his head nodding almost too slowly to Officer Vince Howard. Hank could see there was a helmet on his lap, but there was already one on his head. Hank's throat tightened at the sight of DeSoto's hand loosely resting on top of the gear. The paramedic only looked up once: when an officer tried to tell Stoker they couldn't stop here because the area was a crime scene.
We should have rolled out with them, Hank thought as he climbed down the Crown, fully aware of his men joining behind him.
"It's okay," Vince called out to the officer at the barricade. "That's his station."
Hank nodded curtly at the offered apology as he steered straight for his teammate.
"You okay?" Hank asked as soon he was within hearing distance. DeSoto looked up, a little dazed as if he'd forgotten he'd called his captain right after calling the dispatcher.
"Cap." DeSoto sagged. He held up a helmet, both fists clutching it like a flailing two-inch. "Johnny's gone."
The ground rocked under his feet and he heard Lopez behind him mutter a prayer in Spanish.
"John's dead?" Hank managed out.
DeSoto's face contorted from horror to chagrin.
"No, no, no, he's…" DeSoto glanced over to the squad parked down the street. He swallowed. "He's alive. He's…" DeSoto clutched the helmet tighter. "He's alive, Cap."
Hank hated how it sounded like DeSoto was trying to convince himself and not everyone else.
Kelly exhaled loudly behind Hank. "But you just said—"
"Missing," Vince interrupted. He clapped a hand on DeSoto's shoulder. "What he's trying to say is that Gage is missing." The officer nodded towards the squad, surrounded by men who Hank assumed were detectives. They were staring into the compartments for some reason. And the sight of someone else besides his men touching his machines sharpened Hank's voice.
"Missing? What the hell happened?"
DeSoto flinched. He dropped his head and his palms brushed the top of the helmet as if wiping it clean of soot.
Hank took a calming breath. He tried to think of it like a fire. Yelling only served to ratchet up everyone's nerves, thinking gets cloudy, lives could get lost.
"Roy?" Hank took the helmet away from DeSoto. The younger man blinked. His hands flexed in the empty air before he met Hank's eyes.
"We were going on that cardiac call." DeSoto nodded towards an old, broad building that stood dark in the distance. "But there wasn't a 317. We looked."
Vince sighed. He tipped his helmet back with his pen. "Whoever called knew that. I remember that place. Station 18 responded to that last year. Couldn't save it."
"So someone called it in on purpose?" Hank growled.
DeSoto's head shot up. "Someone wanted us out here?"
"Maybe not you specifically," Vince pointed out, "just any paramedic. You guys were just the ones lucky enough to get the call."
"Some luck," Kelly muttered under his breath.
DeSoto was staring at the squad as people had their arms deep in the compartments. He grimaced as boxes were pulled out and left on the ground, metal was cut. It sounded to Hank like they were pulling the squad apart.
"Evidence," Vince explained when he noticed Hank's attention.
"That bullet could—"
"Bullet?" Hank exploded. His head whipped towards Roy. "Are you all right?" he demanded when he realized DeSoto had never answered the first time.
"When I got to the squad, no one was here." DeSoto stared at the helmet Hank still held. His throat worked. "And…there…there was already a bullet hole within the compartment."
"There wasn't any blood found," Vince said and he made it sound like that was supposed to be a good thing. Hank tried to feel like it was. "That could have just been a warning shot. Make John move, leave." He tilted back his helmet and glanced behind him at the squad again.
"Two of your boxes are missing," Vince noted.
"The drug box and the IV box," DeSoto reiterated dully. His eyes widened and he looked up. "So this…it was about the drug box?"
"You think it's just a robbery?" Hank asked. He now found himself holding the helmet tightly to his chest. "They were trying to rob the squad?"
"Or," a deep voice interrupted. "Maybe there was no robber." A large barrel-chested man in a dark, rumpled suit approached. He scratched the end of his pen on his head of thinning blonde hair.
Narrowed green eyes studied DeSoto in a way that made Hank's insides boil. "From what I hear, what's in that drug box of yours…could make a pretty penny on the street. Your buddy could have run off to make a fast buck."
Hank didn't need to turn around to know how DeSoto would react.
"He wouldn't do that!" DeSoto bumped against Hank's back. Behind him, his men were saying the same, also surging forward. It felt like he was shoring up against a flashflood.
Hank raised a hand, both to halt the protests behind him and the accusations in front of him. "I can assure you, Detective…"
A meaty hand extended. "Richards."
Hank didn't take it. "Detective Richards, I can vouch for my men, especially John Gage. He's not in this job for a fast buck."
The narrow eyes gentled and a smile curved thinly, changing the detective's face to something more pleasant.
"Yeah," Richards murmured. "You don't go through that many weeks of training to rip off a box of drugs." He crooked a smile. "My baby brother is in Squad 137."
"Then why—" DeSoto exploded.
"Because someone was going to ask that question sooner or later, Roy," Hank interrupted as it dawned on him. He gave DeSoto the helmet back so the paramedic could have something physical to do with his hands before he did something they'll both regret. "Isn't that right, Detective Richards?"
Richards only confirmed it with a curt nod. He looked down at his notepad. "We found this nearby." He lifted up a plastic bag with a note inside. "Can you identify it?"
DeSoto took it and stared at it hard like it was a map. He gulped and passed it to Hank.
"It's from the citation book," DeSoto croaked. "My partner usually carries it."
Sure enough, the crumpled white form was from a citation book. Hank rubbed a thumb lightly across the baggie that held the paper. He frowned at the smudged scrawl. The letters ran together and it took a few squints before the lettering made sense. Sort of.
"'Frog 1G9'?" Hank read. He checked with DeSoto but the other shook his head.
"I can't even tell if it's Johnny's handwriting," DeSoto said. His eyes tracked the note as Richards reclaimed it.
"Found three of these on the street," Richards explained as he pocketed it. "I was hoping it was some firemen's code."
"No." Hank shook his head. "Sorry."
"Yeah, well…" Richards sighed. "We didn't find any blood, minimum signs of a struggle so hopefully it means your man had the sense not to put up much of a fight with his attacker, otherwise…"
"Otherwise?" DeSoto repeated, his voice rising.
Richards glanced at DeSoto then moved his gaze over to Hank before it swung to the squad.
"Why don't you come with me and see if there's anything else missing, Roy?" Vince suddenly suggested.
"Otherwise what?" DeSoto pressed, ignoring the tug on his elbow by Lopez.
"Come on, Roy," Lopez insisted. He threw an arm across DeSoto's shoulders. "Let's check the squad." He managed to steer DeSoto away. Vince followed behind but not before giving Hank a look over his shoulder.
Richards sighed and wrote something in his notepad.
"Otherwise what, Cap?" Kelly spoke up from behind Hank.
Hank pushed back the lump in his throat. "Chet, why don't we search the area and see what we can find?" He hoped he wouldn't find anything. What a thing to pray for but he really hoped to God he wouldn't find anything. Not Johnny. Not like that.
The detective gave Hank a nod, an unreadable dark expression on his face before he excused himself to rejoin the swarm around the squad.
This wasn't a fire, but Lord, the same twisting feeling he gets whenever he sends his men into the devil's mouth was the same.
"Cap?" Kelly was like Boots with a shoe. He just wouldn't let it go. "Otherwise what?"
"Come on," Stoker unexpectedly said. "Let's head up Eighth." He didn't look at Hank as he led Kelly back to Big Red to get some flashlights, but Hank could tell from the stiff shoulders across the turnout coat that Mike Stoker was thinking the same thing.
Please God, don't let us find anything.
It sure was dark in here.
At least it was a big car. Buick maybe? Bigger trunk space.
Not that it was anything to cheer about.
John grimaced as the car bounced again. Lord, he hates bad drivers! It felt like it was only a little bump but in here, in the trunk, with his legs and arms folded in front of him like a mummy, it felt more like it ran over a sinkhole.
A bunch of little bumps. Felt like train tracks this time.
Ow ow ow ow ow.
John fumbled around for his citation book again. Elbows and knees bumped and scraped as he wiggled to get what he needed. He scribbled out the words again, wishing for the umpteenth time that he had seen the entire license plate before the kid shoved him in here. He rolled up a sheet in his fist and hoped it was legible. Hoped it made sense. Hoped someone would find it. Preferably Roy.
Bigger bump. This one so hard John hit the top of the trunk hood with the side of his head. Light came back but from behind his eyes. John clamped both hands over his pounding ear.
"Hey!" John hollered and as hard as he could, kicked the backseat repeatedly from the inside with both his feet. "At least respect the speed limit!"
Real dumb, John thought after a moment. Kid has a gun, nervous as heck and now probably peeved at John for all his yelling. John's mouth twisted. And before he could tell himself what a dumb idea it was again, he kicked once more before he shoved the rolled up citation out the rusty hole he made bigger with a piece of metal he found stuck in the bottom of the trunk. He had found it when it scratched him on his back.
Great, he's probably gonna need a tetanus shot after this.
His citation book was halfway used up and the pen he carried with it was no longer working right. The sheets were starting to get wet as John sweated. He couldn't tell how long he’d been in here, but it was heating up. His shirt and his undershirt were half-soaked and bunching up on his back.
There was nothing in the trunk save the metal shard that was embedded in the grimy rug on the trunk bottom. John couldn't tell for sure, but it felt like it was part of a screw. Definitely not strong enough or big enough to be any good to him.
John thought furiously for something, anything and for a brief second, felt irritated to discover that every idea he could come up with would require the assistance of one of the guys at 51. When did that happen? When did John Gage suddenly need someone else to help him? He’d grown too dependent on them.
But boy, he wouldn't mind seeing any of them right now. Even Chet.
The car felt like it was going over gravel, the back wheels skidding and jittering. Occasionally, the muffler coughed and the back bounced in return. John gritted his teeth and covered as much of his head as he could. He felt like he was in a cement tumbler. His arm burned and was most likely bleeding again and his knees felt scoured, skinned despite his trousers. What a time not to be wearing his turnout gear.
When the ride smoothed out, John fumbled out the citation pad, tried to write 'Frog 1G9' again but it felt like he'd written 'Foop 1O8' instead. Damn it. He crumpled it up into a twisted knot of paper anyway and poked it out the hole but just as the paper was pushed out…
The car stopped.
The hole he made let in a weak beam of daylight. Dawn was creeping up from somewhere. The light blinked when a shadow crossed it. He could hear voices, yelling and the thump of car doors slamming before a shadow blocked the hole completely.
Hurriedly, John crammed his citation book up against the side of the trunk just as the hood lifted. He squinted up at the bulky shadow that stood in front of the sun.
Another face, a meaner one with a scar up his left cheek that gave him a permanent side sneer, glowered down at him. The kid, the one who put him in the trunk, was hunched behind the giant.
John didn't bother to try for a smile. All he could manage was a stare. A few minutes passed as blue eyes considered John and then—oh great—another gun was pulled out and aimed at his head.
Roy found himself holding onto his partner's helmet again and fighting the urge to scowl or throw up. He couldn't tell which urge was stronger.
I shouldn't have left him alone, he thought as he rotated the headgear around in his hands. He sat on the hood of Vince's patrol car, his mind reeling, far too fast for him to nail anything down as the next course of action. There was a bitter taste in his mouth. His hand ached from the memory of how heavy the O2 tank was. He flicked a glance to the people on the street. As a fireman, Roy was used to rubberneckers milling about and gaping. Today though, he felt the urge to shout at them, scatter them away from the scene. What was the matter with him? His jaw worked as he could hear snatches of his captain's conversation with HQ on the HT. Roy diverted his attention to the squad instead.
Bullet slug retrieved, the vehicle was left alone now although there was still a policeman standing guard. The trauma box, the defibrillator, even the biophone were all over the ground.
"What a mess," Chet muttered from behind. He tipped the brim of his hat back with a knuckle. "They say when we can go back in there?"
"Not yet," Roy murmured. He stared at the passenger side door. It felt odd not to be sitting in there, inside the confines of the squad, bumping elbows with Johnny as they kidded and talked. What were they talking about before? It already felt like a long time ago. He was supposed to ask him about dinner tonight when their shift ends because Joanne wanted him to meet Li—Joanne. He should call her. She would want to know. Should he also call John's—
"He's all right."
Roy lifted his heavy head towards Chet. The fireman scratched his mustache with a thumb.
"He's probably walking back over here as we speak." Chet clapped his shoulder. "Guy got the drugs he wanted, ditched Gage at the side of the road. You know how Johnny yaps. That would have turned the guy off."
Roy tried for a smile. He failed. He turned back to the helmet on his lap and swallowed.
"Left him alone by the squad," Roy rasped. "I grabbed the O2 and left my partner there. Alone." Something bubbled up his throat. "And for what? There was no victim here…no heart attack…no 317…" Roy sat up. Chet's mustache had a decided downward tilt. He rounded back his shoulders. He gave Chet a smile he didn't feel.
"You're right…Johnny's okay."
Chet slapped him on the shoulder again but it barely registered on Roy.
The irregular stacks of half-crushed cars stood high above him. They reminded him of the surfaces on Castle Cliffs he and Roy had tackled last month. John didn't stop to compare the crumpled layers of colored metal to the oddly shaped rock formations on Castle Cliffs though. He couldn't. Not with two guns poking him on his back.
"All right, all right," John grumbled when one muzzle prodded him on the back of his neck to raise his hands higher. His drug and IV boxes rattled in the kid's fists behind him, reminding him that he needed to pay attention and stop drifting. He squinted at the sun beating down on him as he was nudged through one turn after the other. His shoulders ached, his shirts stuck to his back and his hair was plastered to his skull. And—as a final insult but he wasn't sure if it was funny or not—John was now also hungry.
The random pillars of metal opened up and they approached what looked like a tiny structure of corrugated metal piled precariously like a house of cards. The rusty sign, nailed lopsided on top, read 'Carson's Salvage' with the E too washed out that the sign read 'Carson's Salvago'. The place looked like something John would have written a citation for—maybe six—and he couldn't help but note the random violations as he walked past. Acetone wasn't stacked upright, too close to a heating source, they didn't—
"In there." One gun jabbed on his arm, deliberately at the graze.
John clenched his jaw. "Nice place," he bit out. "Yours?"
A fist cuffed the back of his head.
"Just wondering!" John grumbled and he cupped the back of his own head. At least it wasn't hard enough to give him a concussion.
"Well, don't," the older man growled. Whereas the kid was tentative when he tugged John out of the trunk of the car, this guy seemed to relish kicking at John's heels, tripping him, using the gun like a yoke.
"Doug—" the kid began.
John frowned. The kid stammered, the equipment rattled again. In the bright glare of day, the boy no longer looked scary, gun or not. Where he was scrawny, Doug towered over him in bulk and height. The only thing they both seemed to have in common were their eyes and the same light brown hair coloring. Now the kid just looked like a kid; a really freaked out kid.
Doug shoved harder at his back with the wordless demand to walk faster.
"Listen. You got the drug box. You could just—" John's knees buckled when something exploded just behind his right ear. He dropped and his forehead touched the ground as he doubled over.
"One more word, pal and you'll be needing those drugs, too," Doug snarled.
"Maybe we shouldn't…I mean, he said he was the only one who knows how to use what's in these things," the kid stuttered. "He may be the only one who can help Jak—"
Beyond the blood roaring in his ears, John could hear the kid cry out as 'Doug' told him to shut up with a meaty smack to his face. What a rotten thing to do, John thought dimly as he flexed his jaw, relieved it didn't feel like it was broken.
A hard metal rod dug deep into the meaty part of his right calf. John tilted his head up and glared at the white twist of the man's face.
"Get up now," Doug said coldly, "or I'll give you a reason why you can't."
John bit back what he wanted to say and levered up to his feet, managing to stagger back only a step when the ground tilted. Hands up again, John steered for the shack—it didn't look stable enough to be called a structure—and skidded to a halt at the sight of the cot at the back of the room, between the file cabinets and short ice box with no door, a creaking fan blowing hot air across the supine figure.
Doug curled a hand around John’s good arm, the gun pressing into his ribs.
"Now you gonna fix our brother with those drugs, paramedic."
DeSoto stared at the tape recorder like it was a rattler.
"We got this from dispatch," Richards explained as he settled into a chair. He raised an eyebrow at the faces pressed onto the glass window of Hank's door but said nothing. Hank drummed his fingers on his desk as he studied the boxy device.
DeSoto barely glanced at it. "We should be out there looking for him."
Hank swallowed back a sigh. He's heard it all before. Not just from the paramedic, but from the rest of his men since HQ told them to wait in the station. They stayed as long as they could, stayed until the sun rose and a gray sky turned to a cloudless blue. They found nothing—dead or alive. Hank tried to convince his men this was good news, but as the engine rolled back into 51 even Hank couldn't help think of dire predictions.
Fire and emergencies cared nothing about a man down. While Desoto stayed until detectives cleared the squad, a burning traffic accident had sent Engine 51 and Squad 99 to Citrus. There was something wrong with watching DeSoto in his side mirror, standing alone by his squad as they pulled away. When they reunited at the station house, DeSoto looked ready to murder when he was ordered to wait for a relief partner to cover the remaining hours of the shift. Hank felt sorry for whoever HQ was going to send. He would be coming into a cool reception.
The detective tapped the tip of his pen to his lower lip. "We've searched everything within a one mile radius. Nothing. No drug box, no paramedic, no bod—" Richards thankfully didn't finish what he was going to say. "Look, what we have going are these slips of paper and this 911 call."
"'Frog 1G9'?" Hank repeated by heart because after countless times of reading the same scrawl on each crumpled page over and over, he's memorized it. "Any ideas at all, Roy?"
DeSoto shook his head. He stood by the door, arms folded across his chest, looking oddly like Gage, ready to bolt out to the squad at the first bell. Hank wondered if the older paramedic realized he was doing it.
"Then why don't we listen to the 911 call and see if it'll help?" Richards suggested and Hank had to admit, the detective was patient even when everyone around him wasn’t.
The tape recorder cackled and beeped as the LA dispatcher took the next call.
"911…what is your emergency?"
The silence thundered with gasps and coughs before a gravelly voice came on. "I think I'm having…having a heart attack."
"Is there anyone with you, sir?"
Hank grimaced as the caller coughed. He certainly sounded convincing. The supposed victim wheezed as if out of breath.
The call stuttered on tape. "…I'm all alone. I need…I need help. My chest hurts. Send one of them firemen paramedics here. Send them quick."
"Calm down, sir. Where are you located?"
"317 Ninth Lane. H-hurry."
Hank blinked when the detective jammed his thumb on the 'Stop' button. He looked up at DeSoto, who shook his head.
"Tape's too garbled to tell. But it doesn't sound like anyone Johnny and I know," DeSoto said. He pressed a finger to his temple. He stared at the tape recorder as his finger massaged small circles over his right eye. "It sounded like he was certain about the address."
"And he asked specifically for a paramedic. Not an ambulance," Richards added. His face darkened, his brow furrowed. "Not easy to access an ambulance without being in it first."
"So it was deliberate." DeSoto took a deep breath. "Someone called, knowing we’d come to help and they…" DeSoto slapped a hand on his thigh. "As if we didn't have enough to worry about with fires. Now we're targets of every…" DeSoto sucked in his breath.
"What does this mean for my partner?"
Richards rapped his pen on the tape recorder. "We got the original recording to our labs. Maybe—"
"Maybe?" Hank scowled.
The detective sighed as he rose to feet and retrieved the tape recorder. "There's not much to go on and it's been five hours since…" Richards met DeSoto's wide gaze then averted his gaze to Hank.
"We're doing everything we can," Richards promised.
"Find him," Hank said, his eyes steady on Richards. His gut churned like it just had Chet's firemen stew again. "All we ask is that you find our man."
The detective looked like he wanted to say something more but he just nodded with a wan smile and left. The men by the door scattered as soon as it opened.
Hank leaned into his chair and wondered when did fire become the least of their problems.
"I never should have left him, Cap."
Hank lifted his gaze. "Roy…" but DeSoto was already gone. He stared at the empty doorway, Lopez standing in the middle of the garage. His arm was mid-air, left hanging after he had called after DeSoto and was ignored.
Kelly tentatively poked his head into his office. "So what we gonna do now, Cap?"
Hank thrummed fingers lightly over his aching brow and suddenly felt really old.
Then the tones warbled out. Structure fire on Wolcott. Dammit.
Crouched by the unconscious man's head, John rolled back the man's sleeves to get a pulse and froze at the old needle marks and collapsed veins on the paper dry skin.
"What's he using?" John asked sharply as he held the thin, bruised arm with both hands. Geez…
"It doesn't matter," Doug snapped and gave John another push. "Help him!"
"It matters because anything I give him could kill him!" John ground out as he slipped two fingers on the carotid. He couldn't get a decent reading from the upper extremities.
The body shuddered and bloodshot blue eyes cracked open. "H-heroin," he wheezed. "B…but I…" A tremor rippled through the body and John could have sworn the beat under his fingers skipped. "I quit…tried…"
Cold tickled down his back as John slipped his stethoscope on. He stopped and bit back a curse.
"W-what?" The teen, crouched on the other side of the cot, leaned over anxiously.
"My pressure cuff," John muttered. He gazed up at a pair of wide eyes. Same color as his patient, but paler with fear not pain.
"I need his blood pressure but the cuff is in the other box…back with my squad," John explained. He yelped when Doug roughly tugged his collar from behind.
"He don't need his blood pressure taken. You're not a doctor. He just needs drugs." The snarl by his left ear reeked of sour bourbon and just bad breath.
John grimaced and he yanked free, dropping back down on his knees by his patient. "Listen, I can't give him anything without knowing if it's safe or not! Anything I got might interact badly and—hey, don't mess with that!" John slapped away Doug's hands from the drug box. "You can't just fool around with that stuff!" John kept his fingers on the erratic beat even as he tried to meet Doug's face, then the kid's. "He needs a hospital."
If anything, Doug looked like he was considering taking the IV box and beating John to the ground with it.
"D-doug," the teen whimpered. "What if he's right?"
Doug rapped his head with the heel of the hand holding the gun.
"Shut up," Doug muttered. He smacked his lips together over and over as he paced a short line besides the cot. Abruptly, he spun on his heels.
"Where you going?" The teen sprang to his feet.
"Need to think," Doug grumbled as he reached the door.
Doug suddenly twisted around and strode back to John before he could react. John grunted when Doug dug the tip of his gun into his ribs.
"You stay right here," Doug snarled into his ear. The gun poked deeper and John gritted his teeth at the bruising pressure. "I see you step out of here, I'll shoot both your kneecaps off. You got me?" When John didn't answer, Doug curled fingers right over his graze. "You got me?"
"Yeah," John snapped as he wrenched away from the larger man. "I got you!"
Doug grunted. He appeared more amused than annoyed at John's struggle. He flicked a glare at the boy across from John. "Watch him. Yell if he tries something. Use that damn gun I gave you." He didn't give them another glance as he stormed out.
John gritted his teeth as he probed the cut on his arm. Thankfully, it wasn't too deep but ouch! He avoided touching the area directly. The edges looked red, but luckily there was only minor bleeding. Clots were already trying to form to seal the wound. He'd probably still need a tetanus shot though. Man, this was nothing like the movies!
John lifted his head. The youth bit his lower lip. He didn't look as threatening as he did before.
"I remember seeing some bandages in your stuff. Do you need to use them?"
With a smile he normally used with victims coming to inside the ambulance, John tried to imagine it was another accident victim he was trying to calm on the way to Rampart.
"It's fine," John told him quietly. "It isn't too deep. Won't even scar."
"Oh, t-that's good." The boy looked about ready to cry again.
"What's your name?"
"Huh?" The kid started. "Me?"
John nodded, keeping the smile on his face. The guy was what? John had originally thought twenties, but now he was thinking seventeen? Eighteen? "Well yeah. I know this is Jake." John indicated to the cot. Jake had lapsed into unconsciousness again. Not good. "And Mr. Personality who just left," John said in a dry tone, "was Doug."
There was a tentative quirk of the mouth at the mention of Doug. "Stevie. Stevie Car—" Stevie's eyes widened and his mouth snapped shut.
"All right, Stevie," John murmured. Good ole Doug probably warned him against names. "I'm John Gage. Okay?" He took a deep breath. Here goes nothing...
"Listen," John tried, his voice lowering to a steady lull. He tried to sound sure, tried to sound like his partner. "Heroin's heavy stuff. I'm not a doctor but I’ve seen enough to know we can't just mess around here. Your brother here needs more than drugs. He needs a hospital."
Stevie ducked his head. He absently stroked Jake's shoulder.
"Jake said no hospitals," Stevie whispered. "They gonna put him away again once they find out who he is."
John's brows knitted. "Who he is?"
Wordlessly, Stevie tugged down Jake's collar to show a tiny eagle tattoo just under the clavicle. John's eyebrows rose and he gave a low whistle.
"Marine," Stevie corrected him, a hint of pride in his voice. He eyed the door and fidgeted. "Doug said it was a waste of time. Jake didn’t listen to him. Signed up anyway."
John set the stethoscope's bell under Jake's shirt. "Vietnam?" he murmured as he listened.
"It messed him up," the younger man sighed.
John grimaced. "Sorry."
"Jake's a hero though," Stevie added fiercely.
John glanced up briefly from his concentration to the stethoscope. "I'm sure he is," John murmured. Stevie gave him a watery smile.
The ragged breathing had given John a funny feeling in his stomach before. Now listening more closely, John could hear the tiny bubbling crackling in his ears. His jaw set but he relaxed his expression as soon as he was aware of it. Rales. Damn.
"What is it?"
John inwardly winced. Stevie caught his look anyway. "Stevie," John said carefully. He made sure he used the kid's name. "How long has your brother been sick?"
Stevie ducked his head. Limp hair swept forward, concealing his eyes, but John caught him gnawing his lower lip.
"He was trying to quit," Stevie fumbled, "Jake didn't do drugs before, you know? But then he got back and…" Stevie sniffed. "But he was doing better with us. Doug said so. Theys got something different when we couldn't buy what Jake needed anymore. Jake said it helped."
"Stevie," John repeated, his stomach growing heavy with dread. "What did your brother get him?"
John already knew the answer the moment Stevie swung his eyes over to his drug box. Still, the word made his insides clenched.
Nurse McCall—Dix if she likes you—nodded patiently as Bellingham described the rescue, leaning on her station while waiting for his partner to be stitched up by Morton. He was loud, probably for her new assistant Nancy's benefit. His hands, all covered in soot, reeked of smoke, oil and…tacos?
No wonder he was called 'the Animal'. Whew.
"…and it just jumped right on top of Doro and it's yowling and Doro's yelling 'Get it off me! Get this hairball off me!' Meanwhile, my so-called unconscious smoke victim comes to and starts whacking my partner with her hat for manhandling her ca—Hey, DeSoto. Any news on Gage?"
Dix's head shot up sharply at the mumbled "No" as Roy approached her station. The burly paramedic gave Roy a thump to the back that had Roy stagger a step forward.
"That's rough, man," Bellingham said, his mouth twisted. Just then, his radio snapped into life from LA. "He's okay. Probably hitchhiking back to us as we speak." He lifted his handie-talkie to his mouth. "Squad 39," he confirmed. He gave Roy a shrug and a sheepish grin. "Listen, we gotta go, but you know everyone at the station's pulling for your partner, right?"
Dix studied Roy's profile. Her heart sank. Joe had told her what had happened when she reported to duty this morning.
"Not a word?" Dix coaxed Roy to stop looking at the stretchers that rolled by. He stared at them with a bit of fear.
"Nothing." Roy swiveled around and he lifted the radio he held as if he wanted to use it as a hammer on her counter. Thankfully, he remembered, giving her a guilty half-grimace, before lowering his arm. He set his arms straight down on the surface, bracing himself.
"I'm supposed to replace the boxes and wait for Johnny's…relief," Roy bit out the last part as he handed his list to Nancy behind her. Nancy shot her a nervous look before she started grabbing everything on the list.
Dix winced. Now she got why Roy looked like he was ready to tear some limbs apart. It was unsettling to see Roy DeSoto this way. Last time he acted like this was when poor Nurse Shelley had foolishly refused to let him follow in with Johnny's stretcher a few months back. His voice, hoarse from the Brea wildfires, was still loud enough for Kel and her to hear him three rooms down. Petite and green Nurse Shelley transferred to Geriatrics pretty much after that. Johnny took her out to dinner after his discharge. As an apology by proxy, he had claimed with a toothy grin.
Dix's eyes pricked at the corners. Oh, Johnny.
Whoever the poor sap was coming to meet Roy was doomed to be like Shelley. Dix doubted dinner with John Gage was going to cut it once Roy DeSoto let the guy have it.
"Listen, the police are looking into it, right?" Dix soothed.
"Yeah." Roy's head bowed low to her counter. The corner of his mouth quirked but flattened quickly after. "Detective Crockett heard and volunteered to help Richards."
"There. See? Johnny's going to be okay. You got all these people out there, Roy."
"I shouldn't have left him," Roy muttered, his head shaking. "Not there. Ninth's not exactly Rodeo Drive but I just left him there."
The drug box Nancy was filling rattled in her grip. Dix shot her a look, her eyes narrowed. Nancy hurriedly turned back around to face the cabinets.
"Joanne's besides herself," Roy went on. "We don't know what we're gonna tell the kids."
"What's to tell?" Dix returned. She rested a hand over one of his fists. "Roy, we haven't heard anything yet. Don't count Johnny out. Look at all the crazy rescues he came out of before."
Roy chuckled weakly to himself. "Some of that were pretty crazy, huh? I always thought he was—" Roy stopped. Something on his face twisted. "Is." Roy screwed up his face. He jerked his fist out from under Dix's hand without warning.
Before Dix could say anything more, Kel was coming out of Exam Two with their regular elderly walk-in, Harold Dempsey, under his companionable arm.
"Thanks, doc," Harold rasped. He coughed wetly behind a fist. "I be sure to finish the whole thing this time," the hunched man wheezed as he nodded to Dix, as politely as if he was tipping a hat to her. "Miss Dix."
"Try to stay away, Harold," Dix chided him as Harold shuffled past. Harold nodded, rasped out a promise as he shambled towards the exit.
"Roy," Kel greeted. He slipped his hands deep into his pockets. "Any news on Jo—" Kel's mouth snapped shut when Dix shook her head behind Roy.
"Dix," Kel cleared his throat. "Can you let Judy know Harold was here again? I tried to get him to stay and wait for her, but he insisted on leaving."
"Harold's a regular," Dix explained when Roy looked towards the direction Harold left. "But can't get him to wait for Judy from Social to help him." She darted a glance to Kel. "Bronchi again?"
Kel looked like he still wanted to ask Roy about John, but at Dix's question, he sighed. "If he doesn't finish that batch of antibiotics, it'll be pneumonia." He ran a hand through his dark hair. "I don't understand why he won't just finish the full prescription. If he did, it wouldn't keep coming back."
"Maybe Harold's lonely? He could be faking it. So he could keep visiting us," Nancy volunteered from the cabinets. Dix resisted rolling her eyes at the higher twitter in Nancy's voice and the eye flutter. Good grief. She shot Kel a warning to be nice.
Kel never saw it but apparently he remembered what Dix constantly warned him about. He shook his head. "No, you can't fake coughing like that. Even without a ste—Roy?"
Talking about Harold had pulled Dix's attention away so it came as a surprise when Roy abruptly straightened up away from her counter. He never turned from the direction where Harold left, but his entire posture was charged as if his radio had burst into life. But it never even crackled.
"Roy?" Dix prodded carefully.
"Uh, is the drug box ready?" Roy said, almost absently.
Nancy's brow furrowed. "Just about. I need to go downstairs and get—"
"No, that's all right." Roy took the box from Nancy. He gave Dix a weird little smile. "Can you tell…whoever they're sending over here…uh…I have to go—"
"Go?" Kel echoed. "Roy, what are you talking about? Wait—"
"I'll be right back," Roy said hurriedly. He hugged the drug box to his side and before Dix could ask, Roy was trotting down the hallway, nearly colliding with Mike Morton. Mike made a little arm flail as he did a two-step to avoid Roy. There was a hasty apology tossed over Roy's shoulder. And then he was gone.
"One more step to the right and I'd need X-rays," Mike grumbled as he joined them. He tossed a glower down the direction Roy disappeared off to, but his glare was tempered by a worried, "He heard anything new about Gage?"
Dix shared a helpless shrug with Kel.
The bag shook slightly in Stevie's grip.
"A little higher," John murmured as he moved the bell just under Jake's heart. He checked the lines that dangled from the saline. He wiped his arm across his brow. The fan oscillating behind him did nothing more than provide an annoying clacking sound that hung in the growing heat. Moving it closer didn't seem to help his patient.
John eyed the green speckled copper pipe that bordered the walls of the shack above them. "Say, that pipe up there. You think you can tie this tubing through the hole and hang the bag off that?" It would give the kid something to do. John's skin itched under Stevie's scrutiny and even though he tried to not react, John worried something would give him away. Roy always said he had a lousy poker face.
John watched Stevie thread the saline bag with the extra IV tubing. As Stevie strained to reach above him, John unpinned the caduceus button he got when he graduated from training. Where to put it? John hastily shoved it under the cot before Stevie turned around. He gave the kid a brief smile he hoped looked reassuring.
"This gonna help Jake?" Stevie asked. He fingered the tubing used to hang the saline. He didn't touch the one snaking down Jake's arm.
"Your brother's dehydrated," John said. He folded his stethoscope and hung it around his neck. There was no point listening to the crackling in the lungs again. He made a mental note of the respirations and pulse, but without several BP readings to compare…
John covered his frustration by turning back to Stevie. "He needs a little liquid right now. You said he’s been throwing up?" At the slow nod, John continued. "Probably why he was so tired and having those headaches you were telling me about. This will be a little boost."
"He'll get better with this then?" Stevie reached out to the line but snatched his hand back before he touched it.
John studied the teen. The gun Stevie had was tucked into his jeans' waistband but he didn't dare try to grab it. John took a deep breath. "Now Stevie," he said in as serious of a voice as he could muster, "I'm not going to lie to you. Your brother is sick. Real sick. Sounds to me like he's been sick for a long time." John opened his hands towards Stevie. "He needs a hospital. There are experts there, better medicines than what I have, machines to take a better look inside. Even to at least get his blood pressure so we have an idea what's going on."
The door behind him kicked opened. From Stevie's guilty start, John knew who it was before he turned around.
"Here." Something was slapped hard against his shoulder, rocking him forward a bit. "That what you need to get his blood pressure, fireman?"
John blinked in surprise at the inflatable cuff in Doug's grip. He lifted his eyes up to the large man towering over him with a disgruntled expression. The scar on the side of his face was white against his flushed composure.
"That's Jake's old stuff. He was a medic," Stevie explained as John took the cuff.
"Shuddup," Doug snarled. "Don't go making friendly with him." His eyes narrowed at the IV bag. "And why the hell you go letting him stick needles into our brother?"
John scowled even as he examined the cuff. The manometer and bulb looked intact. The cuff, in fact, was well kept if not streaked with dust.
"He said Jake was dehy…real dry from all that sick. He said it would hel—"
"How's water gonna help him?"
"But he said—"
"He ain't no doctor! Don't go listening to him like he is!"
As Stevie was stammering to Doug, John ignored them both as he wrapped the cuff around Jake's upper arm. His jaw was set as he readjusted the stethoscope and began pumping the bulb. He could feel Stevie's anxious stare on his bowed head and it was definitely impossible to ignore Doug's knee digging against his side.
The soft hiss in the valve signaled the return of the artery's blood flow. John kept his eyes on the gauge. He fought to not react when the numbers started to level off.
"Well?" Doug toed the drug box closer to John. "You got your numbers. Now you give our brother what he needs."
John bit back a growl. One set of numbers. He didn't know if the saline helped at all. "I need another reading in a few minutes to compare. I—hey!" John yelped as something swiped him behind the ear, like a grizzly just swatted him. Stevie's face, heck, everything dimmed for a blink. John grabbed the back of his head. He twisted around to glower at Doug and wished he hadn't when he found a gun muzzle pressed against his cheek. He froze.
"We already got what we need, fireman," Doug hissed. John could feel his eye twitch under the heated breath. "Don't think of yourself as so indispensable that I won't want to use this." The gun dug deeper until John was forced to tilt his head back.
"Doug," Stevie whined from behind him.
"Shut up! You should have just shot him and grab the stuff like I told you!"
John grunted. It felt like Doug bore all his weight on the gun. "You can't want your little brother to—"
A large hand grabbed him by the throat. The rest of John's words sputtered to a halt.
"Doug," Stevie was nearly as shrill as Big Red's sirens. "What are you doing?"
John could swear he could see himself in Doug's glare. "You do what I say, fireman." Fingers tightened just under John's Adam's apple. John coughed. "I've shot people for a lot less."
It was hard to breathe with his head arched back (although it could be the gun or the giant paw wrapped around his larynx). The cot railing dug into his spine and his hip burned where it was jammed up against its legs. John gripped the side of the cot to prevent himself from falling back into Jake.
"I need another reading," John bit out although it sounded more like "Eagle seeding" to his ears. The eye the gun was pressed under watered. "I try to give him anything right now," John went on hoarsely, "Anything. And he could go into shock, cardiac arrest, a whole number of things. If that happens, nothing in my drug box is gonna save him!"
"Doug," Stevie pleaded, "I don't want Jake to die."
There was a flicker in Doug's eyes. The iron grip around his throat eased and the gun tip didn't burn as deeply into his cheek. John exhaled a shuddering breath.
"That's why you did all this, right?" John said carefully, softly even though inside, he really wanted to throw up. "You can't bring him to a hospital but you want to help him."
"He's my little brother," Doug grumbled as if he wasn't happy to admit it. "We're all we got left."
John nodded. "Yeah. He's family. You want to save him. I get that. I do. I'd wanna do everything I can to help him but we gotta do this carefully. All right? I need to know as much as I can, get as much background info before I can treat him."
The gun slipped off his cheek. John wanted to sag but instead, he tightened his grip on the cot to keep upright.
"Doug." The whisper behind John was startling. He whipped around and gaped at Jake. Sliver of blue considered John before moving up to Doug.
"You're awake!" Stevie curled both hands around the closest wrist. He sniffled loudly and beamed at John. "You were right! That stuff's making him better, Doug!"
John felt Doug take a step back. The oldest brother stood there, at the foot of the cot, staring at Jake. John slipped a finger over the carotid. He swallowed to himself at the thready pulse.
"Let me talk to him," Jake murmured. Blood beaded on his gray, cracked lips. Glazed eyes turned to John and a cold trickle went down John's back.
"I know better than these two," Jake continued, his eyes languidly shifting to Stevie now, "what my symptoms are. He's right. Gotta…gotta be sure."
John could hear Doug's breathing evening out. He grunted and snapped his fingers at Stevie.
"We'll be outside." Doug stomped out. The sheet metal door rattled and the whole shack trembled when the door shut.
Stevie crouched, still looking at his brother. He bit his lower lip.
"It'll just be a couple of minutes," John told the teen.
Jake smiled wearily at the kid. "Go on. Let the fireman do what he needs to."
"He's…he's a paramedic," Stevie offered, his tone hopeful. "That's better, right?" John lowered his eyes and tugged at his stethoscope to get another BP. His gut twisted at Stevie's question.
The hand shook violently, but Jake managed to give his little brother's hand a squeeze.
"You did good," Jake assured him in a wispy, airless voice. "Don’t let Doug get to you, kiddo."
Stevie sniffed loudly again before he straightened and left the shack. He closed the door a bit more carefully behind him though.
John sat back on his heels and studied Jake. His patient returned his gaze unblinking. Jake looked small and wasted in the narrow cot.
"You lost, fireman?"
Roy grimaced at the spittle that flew with each syllable. He resisted the urge to take a step back.
"Mr. Dunning," Roy greeted wanly at the gray eye squinting at him under a bushy white eyebrow. "I'm Fireman Roy DeSoto. Do you remember me? I was just here last night."
The door stayed open only the crack its chain allowed. Dunning hiccupped. His face looked odd with the spots of alcohol induced flush against the pasty complexion.
"I 'member you," Dunning grunted. He didn't open the door wider though; his narrow, hawk-like face filled the crack in the door. The chain rattled as he squinted up at Roy.
"Thought you left already. Told ya there was no 317."
Roy was beginning to wonder if the heat was getting to him. Showing up here was probably not the wisest thing he ever did. If Cap knew he was here…He rubbed the back of his neck.
"Listen, I just want to talk—"
"Talk?" Dunning made a sound that was a cross between a wheeze and a laugh. Roy's gut twisted. That was the sound on the 911 call. Whatever misgivings he had before evaporated.
"You made that 911 call last night, didn't you?" Roy blurted out. He shoved his boot into the crack when Dunning's eyes widened and the opening shrank.
"Please," Roy pleaded. He nudged his foot deeper into the crack. The wood creaked as Dunning tried to slam the door.
"Don't know what you're talkin' about," Dunning rasped. "Get a'ay from my door."
"Look, last night," Roy hurriedly said, "someone took my partner. He's been missing after we came here. I'm just trying to find him." He placed both hands flat on the painted wood when the door moved. "Please."
The door stilled. A bloodshot eye went up and down on him.
"I didn't do anything to your partner."
Roy forced himself to smile, his face straining from the effort. "Of course not." He lowered his voice. "But you made the call that brought us here. The police have a recording of it. I heard it. That was you, wasn't it?"
The door strained against his boot. "You told the police about me?"
Roy hesitated. "No." He swallowed. "No, I didn't tell anyone." In the back of his mind, Roy realized maybe he should have.
Dunning studied him for a long moment. His mouth wrinkled and pursed.
"Your partner's missing?"
"Please," Roy whispered. He took a steadying breath before he could continue. "We found a bullet hole, no blood. I…I'm pretty sure whoever took him only wanted the drugs. If they just let him go, I'm sure we can figure something out." When Dunning didn't respond, Roy pushed at the door again.
"Mr. Dunning…I only want my partner back."
There was a long, drawn out breath that sounded like the arid Santa Ana winds cutting through trees. There was a quiet rattle and the chain dropped. Roy hovered by the door, his insides churning.
"Come on in," Dunning sighed. The crack widened, revealing the slouched building manager in his rumpled service shirt. The room reeked of spilt beer and dust. "Let's see if we can't find your partner, okay?"
At that, Roy set his mouth and strode right in.
"Huh?" Maybe ole Doug hit him harder than he thought. John blinked at Jake, the bulb to his pressure cuff forgotten in his hand.
"Thought you wanted to take another BP," Jake reminded him mildly. "Before Doug comes back in here."
John winced. Oh, right. He checked over his shoulder. "Yeah, hold on." He slipped the hearing bell back inside the cuff. After a few squeezes of the valve, John studied the gauge.
"Not good?" Jake guessed when John took another reading.
"Try to rest," John muttered. The shack shuddered noisily around them from the fan to the deep whooshing of the BP cuff. He squeezed the bulb to get another reading. "Now, what are you sorry about?" John asked as he mentally calculated the two numbers. He bit back a groan at what he came up with.
"I told them how to get the morphine." Jake dropped his head deeper into the stack of thin, stained pillows tucked under him. "I figured Stevie would just grab it and go. I didn't think Doug would give him a gun and…" Jake shrugged one shoulder then grimaced.
"Hurt?" John guessed. He pulled the stethoscope out from under the cuff and listened to Jake's lungs again.
"Rales?" Jake wheezed.
"No talking," John shushed him, partially to hear, mostly because he didn't know what to say at this point. He closed his eyes briefly at the hollow sound thrumming through the instrument.
"We really need to get you to a hospital." John offered the stethoscope to Jake for a listen, but strangely, Jake refused. Jake wore a strange, sad kind of smile that made John feel funny inside. It was like the ex-Marine knew something he didn't.
"No hospitals," Jake rasped. "Nothing there my brothers can't do here." The pale face twisted. "I go in, they're not letting me out again. Too messed up."
John made a noise through his teeth. "I can't do anything for you here."
"You can give my brothers the morphine."
"That won't help you." John opened the drug box and fisted one of the vials. "This," John shook it at Jake, "is just substituting one thing for another."
Unmoved, Jake stared at John's fist. "You don't give that to them, my brothers won't let you go."
John swallowed. He lowered the vial from Jake's sight. "Who says they will even if I do?"
"I say so." Jake gestured weakly towards himself. "Doug will do it if I ask."
"I won't though." John's chin stuck out. "I won't give them the morphine."
"I tried, you know," Jake murmured, more to himself than John. "The VA, the clinics, but the heroin was the only thing that helped quiet things in my head. Then one day, the money ran out. The morphine helped, when there was nothing else." Jake offered him a broken sort of laugh. "My brother. Doug? He tried, you know? He don't look it, but he really does care about me and Stevie."
"I can't give you the morphine," John said bluntly. He gestured towards the IV line, at the cuff still around Jake's arm. "Your vitals…" John breathed out sharply through his teeth. "Even if the morphine could help, and it won't," John added, "I can't give it to you. It could kill you."
There was a serene curve to Jake's bleeding mouth when he sighed, "Maybe. Maybe not."
"Stevie said you were a medic. Surely you know that—" John stopped. The air deflated prematurely in the valve. His eyes widened.
"You do know that," John whispered. He could feel his mouth drop open as he gaped at Jake.
The former Marine's eyes were hooded, his face blotchy and gray.
"I'm tired," Jake rasped. His eyes slid shut then opened with some effort. "I can't lick this. The stuff in my head, the itch under my skin. Won't let me lick this. And I can't keep having my brothers try to find ways to help me lick this. I'm done."
"No." John shook his head. He leaned forward and peered at Jake. "Now you listen. We can get you to a hospital. Rampart. It's a good hospital, we can help you there." John's mind spun as he thought of what else he could say. He thought of the jumper last year. Roy had talked to the guy for hours until his voice gave out but John's memory failed him on what Roy had said. At the time, he was a little too busy holding onto Roy's lifebelt because the reckless fool was one big toe away from plunging ten stories down.
"What about your brothers?" John added desperately. His mouth soured when Jake shook his head. "How you think Stevie would feel if you just up and quit?"
John could see Jake hesitating at that. His heart sank when his patient shook his head again.
"Doug," John grated out, "was the one who gave your little brother a gun." John raised his arm and tugged up his sleeve edge to reveal the thin gash that was looking redder and more swollen by the minute.
Jake stared at John's arm, his glassy eyes wider and riveted to the wound. His thin mouth parted, but no sound came out.
"Listen," John leaned forward, his voice urgent. "Stevie? He's just a kid. And he's scared and I know he's your brother, but Doug? He's not really helping you here. And when you're gone, how do you know he's gonna be helping your little brother? What if your brother just gives Stevie another gun?" John's hand shook as he squeezed his stethoscope.
"I know it's rough. You saw a lot of bad things but it doesn't have to be that way forever." Come on, Gage. Think. Think!
Jake waved weakly at the vial John had left by his hip. John pressed it into his palm and helped Jake raise it up to eyelevel.
"You see?" John stressed. He shook the loose fist he supported. "This stuff in the bottle? It's not going to help you. It's not going to help Stevie."
The ex-Marine closed his eyes. His shoulders sagged and he shrank into the cot.
"We could call for a hospital," John murmured, "I won't say anything to the police about your brothers. We'll get you the help you need."
The fist John held tightened around the vial.
"It doesn't have to be this way," John whispered, letting go. He watched Jake open his palm to stare blearily at the bottle. Blue-tipped fingers trembled as they closed around the morphine again.
"Get my brothers in here," Jake whispered. He smiled weakly at John. "Let me talk to them."
John gave Jake a pat on the shoulder before rising to his feet. He tentatively pushed the corrugated door, letting the bottom edge scrape noisily on the ground to alert the two outside.
"Your brother wants to talk to—"
The twisted scowl that appeared the moment the door opened caused John to rear back. Before John could take another step, a beefy arm shot through the door and grabbed a fistful of his shirt. Doug entered the shack, Stevie one step behind and John found himself trying to walk backwards until they stopped by the cot.
John gave Doug a glower that faded when he saw Stevie peering around the broad man.
"Jake?" Stevie found just enough courage to veer around Doug and rejoin Jake's side.
"H-hey." Jake smiled up at the younger man as Stevie tentatively brushed sweaty bangs away from his forehead.
"What we gotta do to help?" Stevie said real low.
Jake studied Stevie for a moment. His eyes slid over to John, held them a beat before moving them to Doug.
"Well?" Doug asked gruffly. He still had John's shirt twisted in his grip, tightening it around John like a noose.
Come on, John urged silently. He watched Jake take Stevie's hand, turned it palm up…
And dropped the vial in Stevie's hand.
"Get the bottles that look like this in his box," Jake whispered.
"No!" John wrenched free from Doug, who was too startled by John's sudden outburst to react. John practically threw himself bodily towards the cot, one hand capturing Stevie's hand before the teen could move.
"Don't do this!" John pleaded to Jake, but Jake looked away.
"Don't listen to him," John said to Stevie now. John's grip was firm over the boy's wrist. "The morphine won't help him!"
"I-it helped before." Stevie gave Jake an uneasy look. He tugged at his arm John captured. "Jake?"
Jake had his eyes closed, like he was sleeping, but he heaved a sigh at Stevie's tremulous voice.
"He's lying," Jake whispered.
"No!" John yanked hard at Stevie. The boy yelped. Doug recovered and wrapped his arms around John's shoulders from behind. John suddenly found himself hauled up, his feet dangling.
"Shut up," Doug growled. He grunted when John shoved an elbow back. A swat from his hand sent John reeling and his head rocked forward.
John strained against Doug pulling him back.
"I won't help you put that in him," John declared. He grimaced when Doug's grip wrapped tighter around him.
Stevie hesitated over the drug box, his cupped hands filled with vials. He looked over to his brother.
Jake gave the teen a weak smile. "I'll show you. Don't worry, Stevie—"
"Don't worry?" John cried. "Your brother is trying to kill himself! The morphine's just going to make things wor—" John yelped when Doug bodily slammed him to the wall besides the cot. The hard tip of Doug's gun dug into the base of his neck.
"Doug!" Stevie squeaked. The bottles in his hold rattled.
"What are you trying to pull, fireman?" Doug hissed. "Our brother needs your drugs, he's getting them."
"Your brother…" John bit out with effort because his cheek and eye were squashed into the rippled metal. The shack shuddered under his jaw. "Don't listen to him. In his condition, with those vitals, morphine is going to make things worse!" John gritted his teeth and positioned his hands between the metal sheet and his chest. He tried to push back but Doug's elbow was jabbing the small of his back.
"Listen to me!" John directed it to Stevie instead. "Your brother told me he was tired; said he had enough! He knows what the morphine will do to him with the way his lungs and blood pressure is. He…He wants to di—Ouch!"
The sun-heated metal surface bowed then popped back into shape when Doug slapped his hand over the top of his head, grabbed a fist of hair and drew back John's head before smacking it hard into the wall. The corrugated material made an odd gong sound that rippled up the walls.
"Jake?" Stevie whispered. He held the bottles to his chest, his eyes huge. "J-jake? W-what's he saying…is that true?"
"Course it isn't," Doug spoke up as he dragged John away from the wall. He looked unperturbed even though John was twisting, struggling in his grip: an arm wrapped around his throat, just two squeezes away from being a chokehold.
"Jake's our brother. Carsons don't quit even when everyone around us expects us to." Doug rubbed his gun's muzzle point against John's ribs. John froze at the tiny clicking sound. He wasn't sure what that was, but it couldn't be good.
"Bet that morphine would look pretty good to you if I put a hole in your gut, fireman," Doug whispered in his ear.
"Doug," Jake rasped. "Don't kill him. Just…keep him away until Stevie's finished."
"Fine," Doug grunted. He backtracked to the door, easily dragging John with him.
"Don't do this! You can't put this on Stevie," John shouted. He threw both hands up around the muscular arm and tugged, but it felt like even the crowbar in his squad wouldn't have been able to pry him free.
"At least get him out of this oven," John kept trying. "This heat? Keep the IVs on him." He dug his heels in. Doug snarled and a fist grazed the side of John's head. His ears rung. Someone was shouting. Doug's arm around his throat eased. John wrenched free. He ignored the roar behind him as he stumbled back to the cot. He gripped Stevie by the shoulders.
The teen started and gaped at John.
"Don't do this. Don't let your brother do this! That stuff will kill him. You won't be saving him," John rattled as fast as he could. Stevie didn't look convinced. In fact, the kid just looked scared. John grabbed his stethoscope and slapped it to Stevie's chest.
"Take my stethoscope at least. Listen to his heart. Every few minutes. If it starts to sound different, a lot faster and quieter than yours, call 911, get him help."
"Leave him alone," Doug growled. He grabbed the back of John's shirt. John shook him off, bumping into Stevie. Little glass vials tumbled out of Stevie's arms and rolled like scared mice under their feet.
It only enraged Doug more.
A hand clawed his throat, just above his Adam's apple. John felt himself flailing, choking as he was hauled to his feet to meet Doug's bloodshot eyes.
"Doug," Stevie whined.
John pawed at the thick arm stretched out in front of him. He coughed.
"Doug," Jake whispered. "Don't."
The iron vise around his throat eased a fraction. Doug sucked in his breath. There was a rumble deep in his throat and he twisted around, yanking John to him. John threw Stevie a look, but his insides knotted when Stevie only stared back with huge eyes.
Doug never slowed down; he kicked the door open and John's hip stopped it from closing on him. He had to run—stumble—after Doug, through the mazes of stacked wreckage until they stopped in front of the car John was in before.
A gun jabbed him on his temple. "Get in." Doug yanked the trunk lid open and John recoiled at the waves of heat that escaped.
Dread lumped in his throat like ice. "Wait. You can't—"
"Lost your hearing, fireman? I said get in."
John gestured towards the sky and the sun slowly climbing to its zenith. "Are you nuts? That thing's going to be an oven in about an hour!"
Doug gave the car a passing glance. "Don't worry. It's under some shade," he grunted, nodding to the stacks around him. He herded John to the trunk with his gun.
"Shade? Even if it was night, with this heat—"
"I said get in!"
John swallowed, as he looked almost cross-eyed at the gun shoved to his cheek. He raised his hands as he slowly walked backwards to the green car until the back of his knees hit its bumper.
"Look," John said shakily. "You could tie me up, leave me by the car, all right? If you lock me in there…"
"My brother said not to kill you, but he never said anything about not hurting you," Doug interrupted. His face went expressionless, his eyes empty and that made John more nervous than watching that scar of his twist into a scowl. "Once Stevie's done with our brother, we'll let you go. Maybe on the PCH. You could hitchhike back."
John spared a look over his shoulder at the shallow compartment. He swallowed. "You put me in there, I might not come out."
"Well, that would be too bad now, wouldn't it?"
John's head whipped forward. Doug's eyes went flat.
"Get in. Now."
A little old lady, hunched under the shade of her umbrella, pushed her shopping cart in front of his squad. She peered into his windshield and gave him an odd look but the heat deterred her curiosity. Her cart hopped as it went up the curb, scratching the squad's bumper as it rolled by. She shambled up the sidewalk, hip rubbing against the hood of his vehicle; cart clawing loudly enough bystanders grimaced, her umbrella waving above her. Roy ignored her. He sat in the squad, his jaw set as he studied the fenced gates and the rusty sign across from him. Watching. Waiting.
The place on Grove screamed violations. Its sign was three gusts of wind short of falling and the gate was discolored with enough rust to probably give someone distemper from just touching it alone. Carson Salvage was scrawled across in a sign that was badly soldered; streaked red and green from the rare rain the area ever endured and simple neglect. And there was no one walking in and out of it. No cars came up to the gates. This was it. It has to be.
Roy gripped the steering wheel with both hands. He glanced over to his partner's helmet, left on the passenger's side of the dashboard. It never occurred to him to put it elsewhere. It belonged there, right next to him, damn it.
"So what now?" Roy asked it.
The helmet didn't answer.
Roy flinched and forced his scrutiny back to the front once more.
Good boys, Mr. Dunning had told Roy when he held up an old, water-stained photo with gnarled hands. He didn't offer Roy anything to drink nor did he offer a seat. The wizened building manager went right on explaining why he agreed to call in the emergency. Jake Carson and Trip Dunning were childhood friends, Dunning had explained. The two knew each other since middle school; they played together, went with their dates to the prom together and then went off to Saigon together.
Only Jake came back.
Good boys, Mr. Dunning had insisted as he pawed the photos in a smelly and dented cigar box to pull out the black and white photograph of the three Carson brothers to show Roy. Douglas, Dunning relented later, was a two-bit hoodlum suddenly back home to take care of two kids when their parents died in a fire. Dunning had looked over at that piece of news to glower at Roy. The firemen couldn't reach them on the top floor of their house. The boys' father had dropped them out of a bedroom window into a waiting neighbors' makeshift net; just before the roof collapsed over the parents. All was left was Jake and Stevie. And Douglas: fresh out of Folsom and suddenly guardian to a teenager and a kid who wouldn't speak for three months.
Jake held them together, got Stevie talking again and cajoled Douglas to partner up with their dying uncle to run the salvage yard business while he finished high school. He was going to be a doctor. Trip was going to be an engineer.
Then President Johnson pulled out Jake and Trip's numbers and they boarded a plane to Asia.
Roy pinched a spot at the bridge of his nose and sighed. This was the only Carson Salvage Detective Crockett found based on what Dunning knew. Of course, Roy hung up on the detective as soon as he had written down the address, not giving him the chance to offer another address. Roy suspected Crockett wasn't going to be too happy to know he was here, Richards as well. Heck, Cap was probably right now devising ladder and hose exercises for him to run barefoot.
But his partner was there. Roy was sure of it.
The steering wheel squeaked as Roy's hands tightened around it.
The radio mouthpiece rattled when Roy grabbed it. He depressed the speaker, opened his mouth but nothing would come out. What could he say? What could he possibly say to convince LA to let him go in there and get Johnny back? He hung it back by the radio again and sighed.
"Just what do you think you're doing?"
Roy jumped in his seat. He twisted to his right and almost immediately sagged back into the bucket seat. Vince Howard glared at him through the open window, his helmet tilted back, his dark hands on the door.
"Hi," Roy managed to get out. At least it wasn't the captain.
Vince's eyes narrowed.
"Hi? Is that all you have to say for yourself? Crockett was right: you are foolish enough to come down here on your own."
Then again, Cap might have been a better alternative to the fuming face leaning closer. A few more inches and Vince was going to find himself inside the squad.
"…and with your fire truck, too! Don't you boys watch television? At least choose something less conspicuous than a shiny, red fire truck parked across the street! What were you going to do if the guy who took Gage was in there? What if he came after you? Shoot him down with your hose?"
"Actually," Roy stammered, "the squads don't carry water tanks to feed our…" He trailed off at the glare. Vince didn't seem to care.
"Roy," Vince said slowly, "What the heck are you doing here?"
"The voice in the 911 call," Roy plowed through because it looked like Vince was going to reach in and haul him out through the passenger window. "When I was in Rampart, it hit me that it sounded pretty close to the building manager of 316 so I went over and…" Roy hesitated.
Vince straightened away from the window and folded his arms across his chest. With the uniform, it made a formidable look.
"And what?" Vince asked archly, "You decided to head over there. Alone. And ask the guy where Gage was?"
Roy swallowed. "Uh…Yes?"
Vince rolled his eyes. He nudged back the brim of his helmet as he muttered. Roy gulped when he thought he heard Vince debating arresting him.
"DeSoto, I always thought you and your partner were crazy for all those risks you two take, but this…Of all the…unbelievable." Vince threw up his hands.
Roy leaned over John's side of the seat. "He told me it was never meant to be anything more than a robbery. The person who did this…Vince, he's just a kid. They never wanted to hurt anybody."
Oops. Roy took a deep breath. "There's…there's three of them. Brothers. I—"
"Damn it, Roy!" Vince exploded. He gave the salvage yard a dark look before abruptly twisting around.
"What are you doing?" Roy exclaimed. He lunged forward and snagged the closest sleeve he could reach through the window.
"Calling for backup," Vince muttered. "Get Richards and Crockett here. They went to follow a lead in La Jolla."
"Vince, that's too far away. We can't wait for them to get here and if they start shooting…" Roy twisted the sleeve he held tighter.
"Vince, Johnny's in there."
The officer stilled. He looked at Roy then at the salvage yard. He sighed.
"We can't just barge in there demanding your partner back either," Vince pointed out. "Roy—"
There was a snap and sizzle of static from the radio.
"Squad 18. Possible cardiac in 41-17 Grove Lane. Carson's Salvage. Cross streets Grove and Dame."
Roy jerked her gaze to across the street. He stared at the sign before lunging for his radio.
"LA," Roy said to the mouthpiece he clutched to him. "Squad 51 is five minutes away. Will respond."
There was only a brief pause, but Roy had the cold fear in his gut that said maybe LA might disagree. He was far from where he should be, far from Rampart and Harbor as well.
"Squad 51," LA acknowledged.
Roy pressed the mouthpiece to his forehead and exhaled. He returned it to its cradle and slid over to get out of the squad.
"Roy," Vince couldn't keep quiet anymore as he tracked Roy trotting over to the side to get the newly replenished supplies. "What are you doing?"
Roy stiffened his spine and looked Vince squarely in the eye. He very deliberately put on his helmet and grabbed the drug box. "Getting my partner back."
The air tasted funny. John knew air could change from clean and crisp like water to thick and bitter with smoke. But right now, it tasted smokeless but just as airless.
Get in. Get out. Shoot, why couldn't that Doug make up his mind?
John lost track of the count he started as soon as the trunk lid slammed down over him. Doug appeared unimpressed when John tried one last time to plea with him to call for an ambulance for Jake. John babbled the symptoms they needed to look out for even as Doug shoved him head first into the shadowy space. The trunk seemed to have shrunk since John was last in there. His shoulders rubbed against the clumpy carpet and the inside of the dented lid when he curled to his side to face the opening for fresh air.
Well, not really fresh air but the warm trickle of air, even though it felt moist and stale as an exhale, was the best John could get. He had also kicked out the taillight by his feet as soon as he thought he heard Doug leave, heard the lamp fall out on the other side but all it gave him was the occasional lukewarm breeze lapping sluggishly at his exposed ankles.
Slow breaths, John told himself. Nice and even, just until Roy gets here because of course Roy was gonna get here. Roy was going to pull him out of here, lecture John about trunks and heat (although, Roy, it wasn't his fault) and then hustle him into the squad. Man, he sure missed his squad. He sure wished he finished that glass of ice water left perspiring on the kitchen table when the tones rang. John bit his lower lip. He fought to keep his breathing steady but something was sitting on his chest, growing heavier and heavier.
John's fingers curled as the band around his chest tightened. He was startled to feel paper crinkling in his fists. What the—oh yeah. John drew up the citation sheets he had clawed out of the book he hid in the trunk. He needed to get them out. He saw the sheets with his smudged handwriting. Fuzzily, John thought it should bother him that he couldn't remember when he had written 'Frog 1G9' on them or what the heck that meant.
Didn't matter. A tiny voice inside him told him to get them through the tiny hole by his face and to keep breathing.
The paper was rolled up into a wrinkly twig. John kept missing the hole, like how he would constantly miss the thread through the needle's eyehole so he barely got any of his buttons patched so Roy used to take them and his wife Joanna sewed them back on. Roy always claimed he grabbed John's shirts by mistake but John knew enough to send Joanna a big box of her favorite chocolates every other month. Hopefully, Joanna could sew back on his paramedic pins he had torn off to slip under Jake's blankets. No, pins don't need sewing, they—
John's legs kicked the back of the trunk in a twitch he couldn't control, but it at least jarred his memory. Oh. John squinted blearily at the paper in his hands. His hands shook as he tried to thread the paper twist through the hole. He panicked briefly when it stuck and there was a brief flash of fear that it was blocking out his air. Focus, Gage, focus.
It took a few tries but John was able to push the note out and his insides unclenched when the opening cleared and the odd tasting air sluggishly blew at his face again.
John rested against the sticky trunk wall and breathed out slowly. He could feel tremors going up and down his back and his leg twitched again. Spasm, John thought absently. Next would be cramps. Rigidity. Vomiting.
No, not good at all.