This story is a sequel to With Friends Like These. . .. You don't have to read it first, but it'll help.
Note: the Muppets don't belong to me, I just borrowed them, no copyright infringement is intended.
By Audrey W.
John Gage hurried across the apparatus bay toward the locker room of Station 51. He was in plenty of time for roll call, it was still nearly ten minutes away. But all his shiftmates’ vehicles were in the parking lot behind the station, and he was anxious to tell any of them about his incredible date the night before.
He gave a quick wave to Marco Lopez, who was on his way to the dayroom on the opposite side of the building.
“Tell the guys I’ll be right there!” Johnny called out. That is if they weren’t still in the locker room. He hoped at least one would be, especially his partner and often confidant, Roy DeSoto.
Gage pushed open the swinging door and frowned in disappointment when he saw that no one else was in the room after all; his boasting would have to wait. He then hurried to his locker, stepping over the bench in front of it on his way. He quickly pulled open the cabinet and startled when he was greeted by a. . .
“Mr. Gage, Mr. Gage! Six minutes till curtain time, Mr. Gage!”
. . .muppet?
The little guy with a red moppet on his head and round-black-framed glasses stared back at Johnny, waiting for the paramedic to speak.
But the dark-haired man stood with his mouth open, his right hand motionless on the top button of his yellow plaid shirt. He glanced back at the door he’d just come through, then at the interior of his locker again.
After multiple visits from various muppets over time to both his apartment and Rampart General Hospital, he’d come to the conclusion that they’d probably pop up here and there at anytime. But he’d never really given much thought that one would someday be at the station!
“Wha. . .? Who. . .? . . .Wha. . .?”
“Are you okay, Mr. Gage? Is that part of your act?”
He sat down on the bench, dumbfounded. “Act? What act?”
“The act for the show, Mr. Gage. All our guests have a solo act. . .sorta.”
“Wait, wait,” he said as he held up a hand. “Show?” Johnny shook his head. “I’m not gonna do a show.” He screwed up his face. “Who are you anyway?”
“Yes, Sir, Scooter. You only have a few minutes now. You ready, Mr. Gage?”
“I told ya, I’m not doin’ a show. Whatever show it is I’m supposedly doin’. . .which I’m not.”
There. He’d made his point. At least he hoped he had. At the moment, even he wasn’t sure exactly what he’d said.
“I’ve got roll call. . .” Johnny looked at his watch. “. . .soon!”
Already he was down to five minutes. Johnny shot to his feet and unbuttoned his shirt. He pulled it off and tossed it into the locker as he grabbed one of his clean blue uniform shirts from a hanger. He glanced inside his locker while he slipped it on over his white undershirt. Scooter was peering out from under the yellow plaid material.
Johnny sighed and reached in to pull the shirt off the little guy.
“That’s okay. It happens.” He stepped forward and sat on the front edge of the locker. “So what’re you gonna do for an act?”
“I’m not doin’ an act. I told ya, I’m not doin’ a show.”
“Can you sing?”
“Uh. . .soorta,” he hesitantly admitted.
“Well, sure I can dance, but not ‘dance dance’, if you know what I mean.”
“Can you tell jokes?”
Johnny again sat on the bench, this time to get eye level with his visitor. “Look, I’ve got work ta do. I’ve got a job right here.” He glanced around, reminding himself of the reality he was still in the locker room.
Still in the locker room. . .Oh man! What if someone else walks in *now*?
Which brought another thought to mind. Were there more muppets hanging around behind closed doors?
“Where’re the others?” Johnny said in a panic as he shot to his feet and started opening other locker doors, one after another.
“It’s just me right now. I always check on the guest before we start.”
Johnny came back to his own locker from where he’d stopped at Marco’s a row over. He could handle one. He’d just have to tell Scooter firmly. . .apparently firmer. . . that he wasn’t interested and to leave. As soon as he was ready to ‘leave’ himself. That way he wouldn’t hurt the little guy’s feelings.
In the meantime. . .he still had to get ready.
“Do you mind?” Johnny asked, indicating he needed to change from his jeans to his uniform pants.
“Certainly not, Mr. Gage.” Scooter turned his back toward him while Johnny continued to get dressed for duty.
“By the way, you don’t hafta call me ‘Mr. Gage’,” he said as he fastened his belt. “Just call me ‘John’. Okay, you can turn around now.”
Scooter did and watched from the locker as Johnny put on his shoes. The paramedic then glanced at his watch. It was only a couple of minutes before 8:00. . .roll call time.
“I really gotta go, and so do you,” Gage said as he stood up. He then headed for the door.
“I wouldn’t open that if I were you.”
He turned and eyed Scooter suspiciously. “Why not?”
“You aren’t on yet. You’ll be in front of an audience with nothing to do.”
“You mean where there’s s’posed ta be an engine___ and a squad___an apparatus bay___is a stage with an audience in front of it?”
Scooter nodded. “That’s right, Mr. Gage. John, Sir.”
“But that’s impossible! We’re supposed ta have roll call out there. Like, now!”
Suddenly he heard the sound of female voices singing “Ring, ring. . .why don’t you give us a call. . .ring ring, greatest sound of them all. . .”
Three over-sized glazed cinnamon rolls appeared in a line from the dorm entrance. They were dancing on legs, had eyes, mouths and the voices were coming from them!
“Not that kind of roll call!”
Next a dancing rolling pin came in through the doorway, up on one of its ends, rocking back and forth to the same tune.
Johnny ran a hand through his hair and sighed. How was he ever going to get the point across? They had to get out of there.
But as quick as the ‘roll’ ladies had appeared, they were gone after they rolled back in the other direction.
That was it. He was going to make his escape as quick as he could and join the others on his crew in what he was sure would be a normal apparatus bay in the station; trucks and all.
He grinned in smug satisfaction as he walked determinedly to the door that led directly to the bay. He almost pushed it open when a wave of self doubt washed over him.
What if I’m wrong and there *is* a stage and an audience out there? With chickens and cows___an sheep, and who knows *what* else?”
He slowly stepped back from the door and looked at Scooter.
“If you’re right, Cap’s really not gonna like this.”
“I don’t mind at all.”
The male voice didn’t sound like Hank Stanley. Johnny quickly turned his head in the direction it came from and stared in wonder at an over-sized bottle cap near the dorm entrance. It was almost as high as his waist and it had a face!
“I . . .uh. . .” A talking cap? Why not? “I was referring to another cap. . .a person. . .” he hesitantly offered.
“Oh.” The bottle cap rolled back in the direction of the dorm, where the rolls had also returned.
“What’s next?” he asked Scooter. “A mop and bucket gonna waltz in here and do a song and dance?”
The little red-head appeared to be let down. “That was going to be our number for the finale. You don’t like it?”
“It doesn’t matter if I like it or not. I can’t be a part of your show and that’s that. I have lives to save. People to rescue. Guys who are dependent on me ta be by their side—”
“You’d better line up beside us for roll call or you’ll need to be saved.”
Johnny spun around in surprise. “Roy! Wha. . .how. . .” He eyed the door behind Roy that had just closed.
“Are you okay?” DeSoto wondered. “You don’t look so hot.”
“Yeah. . .yeah, I’m okay.” He nodded his head toward the door. “You didn’t see anything. . .different. . .in the bay?”
Well, that was a relief. If Roy didn’t see anything unusual, that meant Scooter had been wrong after all.
His gaze shot to his locker. But the moppet muppet with round glasses was gone.
“They’ve done it again,” he mumbled in a whimper.
Baffled by his partner’s bizarre behavior, Roy rolled his eyes and shook his head.
“The day I understand you is the day I’ve lost my mind.”
Johnny scowled at the teasing remark, but the scowl faded. Until he recalled what made him appear off his rocker to begin with. With another glance over his shoulder as he followed Roy out the door, he thought to himself, And I thought the kittens a few years ago were screwin up my life. . .
When Johnny joined the others in line for roll call, he couldn’t help but look around and take in the familiar surroundings of the apparatus bay from in front of the engine and squad. It was past the show time start Scooter hand mentioned. What had happened to the ‘set’? Would they have a show, what ever it was, without him?
“Something bothering you, John?” Hank asked.
“Uh, no, Cap.”
“Then can I have your undivided attention until I’m done with roll call?”
But though he appeared to be more attentive, inside his mind he was anything but that. What ‘game’ was Scooter playing? Or were they both victims of a joke by someone else? He also wondered where the little guy was now and if he’d pop up somewhere else.
Johnny was so hung up on the muppets that he’d forgotten all about his date from the night before.
“You’re still distracted,” Roy said to his partner.
The two were inventorying the squad, a normal routine at the start of a new shift. Roy had gone through the drug box and calibrated the biophone while Johnny seemed to be taking beyond a reasonable time to check the supplies in the trauma box.
Gage didn’t know how he would ever explain his morning to Roy. Fact was, he couldn’t. Who in their right mind would believe him?
That’s it. . .I’m losin’ my mind. . .
Roy squatted down in front of him, the trauma box now between them. Johnny closed it since he’d just completed verifying they had everything they’d need.
“You forget to eat your Wheaties or what?” Roy asked.
Johnny grabbed the handle and stood up to put the box back in its place in the squad compartment.
“Man, can’t a guy take his time to make sure he gets it right?”
Roy stood up. “Sure. But there’s taking your time and then there’s really taking your time.”
Johnny rolled his eyes.
“Well, I’m not gonna take my time gettin’ a cup of coffee. You with me?”
Roy gave a nod and the two headed off for the dayroom.
A cup of coffee and a rescue later, Johnny and Roy found themselves back at the station. The engine crew had already returned from the same rescue. They were seated in the dayroom facing a chalk board, as Captain Stanley prepared to go over some information on a new training exercise the department was implementing.
Johnny followed Roy into the room, then quickly did an about face when he decided he’d better go empty his bladder first.
“I’ll be right back.”
“Okay, but make it fast,” Hank directed. “I want to go over this as soon as possible while I’ve got all of you here.”
“I’ll be back so fast, you’ll hardly notice I was gone,” he said as he headed out the doorway.
That response elicited a couple of eye rolls from the others and a doubtful look from the captain.
When he’d made it to behind the squad where he could see the locker room door, Johnny abruptly stopped.
He was going back in there alone. What if Scooter was there again? Or the singing rolls, or the cap. . .he couldn’t afford the delay. But what could he do until he was in the room anyway? He had to go to the bathroom. There was no delaying that.
The dark-haired paramedic shrugged with a wan smile on his face, then continued on.
I just won’t even go *near* my locker.
Though Johnny had hoped that staying clear of his locker would be enough of a solution to keep the unusual visitors away, those hopes were dashed when a familiar muppet came out of the bathroom as he went to go in.
“Hey, John! Long time no see!”
Not long enough, Johnny thought to himself. He watched Fozzie Bear saunter past him, then peered inside the bathroom when he suddenly wondered, Why in the world would a muppet be in *there*?
In fact he was so thrown off by the situation, that he forgot he did need to be in there at the moment.
A few steps away, the bear turned to face him. “Wanna hear my new joke?”
Maybe he could reason with the bear! Explain why it wasn’t a good idea that he and the other muppets show up at the station. After all, Fozzie seemed kind of ‘normal’. . .
For a bear that wears a hat, can talk and tells really bad jokes. Then again maybe not.
“What did the momma bear say to the cub?” Fozzie continued.
Well, what could it hurt if he played along for just one zinger?
“I don’ know. What did the momma bear say to the cub?”
"Don't walk on your baaaare feet."
There was a quick drum beat with the sound of symbols that followed the line.
“Okay, okay, I’ve got one more.”
Fozzie paused a moment, his fixed gaze fixed on Gage. He then started laughing. “Ha ha, that’s a good one. But back to mine.”
Johnny glanced at his watch. Captain Stanley had said to make it fast. This wasn’t going very well.
“What did the dog get when he graduated college?”
“What,” Johnny deadpanned, ready for the joke to already be over.
In walked the familiar Labrador dog with a graduation cap on its head, diploma in its mouth.
“You using that poor dog again?”
“It’s winter. He’s doing whatever it takes to keep busy inside until the weather improves.”
Winter. . .in LA? Whatever. . .but. . .
“Since it’s ‘winter’, then why aren’t you hibernating instead of hangin’ out here?”
He found himself regretting the question when he saw a hurt look on Fozzie’s face.
“Not that I’d want ya to hibernate,” he quickly added.
“Oh good, ‘cause I can’t afford to take time off. I’m beeaarly making it as it is.”
“On second thought. . .”
Before he had a chance to have that thought, the two were interrupted by another familiar voice.
“No. Oh! Miss Piggy!” Fozzie corrected.
“Not if you’re in my shoes.”
Fozzie looked down at the paramedic’s feet. “I don’t think both of us could fit.”
“Joooohhnneee!” Miss Piggy called out as she approached from the dorm.
Well, he may have momentarily forgotten he came into the locker room to use the bathroom in the first place, but he was definitely using it now! To hide!
“Cover for me,” Johnny loudly whispered to Fozzie then quickly ducked inside and shut the door to the small room with just one toilet in it.
Hank Stanley took in the bored faces of his crew, then glanced at his watch. Gage was taking long enough. The captain looked at his remaining paramedic.
“Roy. . .”
“I’ll get him,” DeSoto said as he got to his feet.
He watched as Roy disappeared from view out the door, then glanced at the others.
“Mike, why don’t you make some coffee. I have a feeling we’re going to be at this awhile.”
The engineer gave a nod and got up from his seat. Marco and Chet followed behind to get cups ready.
Miss Piggy looked around the locker room in confusion as soon as she’d entered.
“Where is he? I know I heard his voice.”
Fozzie looked around as well. “Where’s who?”
The pig pulled her lower lip in and glared, indicating she wasn’t happy with the response. Nor was she buying it. That’s all she needed to do.
“Oh him. . .”
Johnny leaned with his ear against the door. He gave a crooked grin and unseen nod of approval when Fozzie played dumb as to who Miss Piggy was looking for.
He furrowed his brows at the moment of silence that came next.
How come Piggy’s not saying anything? He wondered.
When he heard the bear’s acknowledgment follow, he frowned. His cover was crumbling. Fast.
Man, that pig has influence!
Then again, Fozzie wasn’t exactly the smartest . . .or toughest. . .bear in the woods.
Johnny listened for more, with hopes that Fozzie would hold his ground.
When Roy saw that Johnny wasn’t even on his way back toward the dayroom yet, he wondered what could be keeping his partner. It sure didn’t take this long to empty a bladder.
Gage knew the captain and others were waiting on him. It didn’t make sense for him to purposely delay things with no good reason.
Roy walked past the rear of the squad as he made his way toward the locker room.
“Yes, him,” Miss Piggy emphasized. “Spill it, unless you want to find yourself sprawled on the floor. . .if you know what I mean,” she said with her snout nearly touching Fozzie’s nose.
He couldn’t hide the look of dread on his face. He didn’t want to give John’s hiding place away, but he sure had no desire to become a rug!
“He. . .he went. . . that way,” he stammered, pointing toward the apparatus bay.
Miss Piggy backed away, then took off in the direction the bear had indicated.
“No, no, no,” Johnny whispered. “Man, he told ‘er where I am. . .”
He glanced around the very small room in an effort to find a hiding place. However, unless he could make himself fit completely behind the base of a commode, there was no place to hide.
He braced himself for what he thought was inevitable.
Roy had just passed the back of the engine, when he noticed something shiny just outside the door that led to the dorm room. Distracted from his mission for a moment, he changed direction and headed for the item.
Soon after Roy had turned his back on the locker room door, it opened and Miss Piggy came charging out. She caught sight of the blue uniform out of the corner of her eye. Her gaze shot in that direction. When she saw that it wasn’t Johnny, she quickly headed for the other side of the bay.
Johnny heard a double knock on the bathroom door, followed by “Knock, knock.”
It sounded like Fozzie. But maybe it was a trick to get him to confirm his whereabouts. Still, he felt compelled to answer with a question.
Johnny pulled back, his face screwed up.
He shrugged. “Ucan who?”
“You can come out now, the coast is clear.”
The paramedic rolled his eyes, then opened the door. He peered out.
“Where’s Miss Piggy?” He again whispered.
Fozzie pointed at the doorway she’d gone out through.
“You sent her on a cold trail?” Johnny asked as he came the rest of the way out.
“I sure did.”
“That was brilliant,” he said as he gave Fozzie a pat on the shoulder. “Man, I thought . . .” Johnny trailed off and shrugged. “Thanks,” he said with a smile. He didn’t want to let the bear know he’d had doubt in him.
Roy picked up the shiny object from the floor and turned it over a few times in his hand. It was an over-sized fake plastic diamond, shaped like a tear drop. He glanced around as he wondered where it could have come from. It wasn’t there earlier in the day.
He stuffed it in his right pant pocket, then headed back for the locker room.
“That room sure gets smaller when you’re stuck inside of it,” Johnny said as he eyed his hiding spot. When he turned to look at Fozzie again, he startled. It wasn’t Fozzie at all. It was Roy standing in the room, just inside the doorway.
His partner had uncanny timing.
Johnny’s eyes darted in search of his previous guest, his best effort to look for him without being too obvious. Where had the bear gone? Had Roy seen him?
“Is that where you’ve been?” Roy asked as he walked over to the bathroom. He swung the door in both directions. “What happened? Did it jam?”
“Uh. . .” Well, it was the easiest explanation. “Uh. . .yeah. . .yeah, it did. It jammed on me. I was amazed I was even able to get out at all.”
It was obvious he hadn’t seen Fozzie. Johnny was glad of that, but he sure was baffled as to how the muppets could come and go so fast. He still had to wonder where they did go when they weren’t with him.
“Seems to be working okay now,” Roy said as he closed the door, then opened it again.
Johnny forced a grin. “Yeah, it sure does. Must’ve been a fluke, huh?”
Roy glanced briefly at the now open door. He then shifted his attention to Johnny. “So are you done in here?”
“Yeah, I’m done, I’m done,” he nodded.
“Good. Let’s get back. Cap’s getting a little impatient with the delay.”
Roy started to lead the way when he stopped and looked at Gage.
“Who were you talking to just now, by the way?”
Roy nodded. “When I first came in the room. You were talking, but you didn’t know I was there yet.”
“Oh, that. I was just talkin’ to myself. You know, ventin’.”
Johnny figured it must’ve sounded reasonable enough, because Roy had taken it and was on the move again. But before they could get out of the locker room, Johnny felt the urge from his bladder again. With his muppet visitors no longer a distraction, his need to go to the bathroom had returned.
“Wait, I gotta go.”
“Go? Where now?” Roy wondered.
As Johnny hurried to the room with the toilet and closed the door, Roy sighed and shook his head. In the time he’d been stuck in that little room, couldn’t his partner at least have taken care of his business?
Miss Piggy took a quick peek in the doorway of the dayroom. She couldn’t see all the men, but nothing indicated her favorite paramedic was in there. She’d check the back parking lot next. If he wasn’t there, she’d just have to chalk one up for Fozzie and Johnny, and try another time.
Johnny glanced around their entire walk back to the dayroom. He had no idea where Fozzie or Miss Piggy were, including if they were even still in the station anywhere.
Roy noticed his partner looking as if he’d lost something. It was a stretch, but the only thing he could think of at the moment. He reached in his pant pocket and held out the clear plastic jewel.
Johnny’s eyes grew wide. It looked like something he’d seen on a necklace Miss Piggy wore one time.
“Where’d you get this?” he asked.
“On the floor by the dorm entrance. Don’t tell me this is what you’re looking for. . .”
“Uh. . .as a matter of fact, I am. It is. I am looking for it,” he finally cleared up in one sentence. “It’s a good luck charm my mother gave me years ago, handed down from generation to generation.”
“Whataya think we were__rich?” Johnny asked as he took it from Roy’s hand.
Again the dark-blond paramedic had to shake his head. Gage sure was acting strange. Even for him.
“Where’ve you been?” Captain Stanley asked as his paramedics returned to the room.
Chet glanced over his shoulder from his chair that faced the blackboard, his coffee cup in hand. He so wanted to come up with a wise-crack comment. But in a rare occasion for him, he could only draw a blank on the situation.
“Johnny said the bathroom door jammed.”
“You were stuck in there all this time?” Hank wondered.
“Sorta. ..” It wasn’t exactly untrue.
Now Chet was ready to burst as several things ran through his mind to say. Only he knew better than to say any one of them at the moment. If he started anything that delayed them further, Captain Stanley sure wouldn't be very thrilled with him.
Roy and Johnny's explanation seemed a bit of an odd situation to the captain, but he supposed it was certainly possible. . . although a stretch. What were the odds? However, it was easier to shrug it off than think more about it. He clapped his hands together. “Well since we’re all here now, let’s get started, shall we?”
As Johnny and Roy headed for the coffee cups and brew before taking their seats, a clearing of the throat sound stopped them both in mid-step and they turned to face their superior officer.
“How about we get through this, then you two have something to drink.”
Roy frowned at Johnny, who gave an innocent, ‘I didn’t do anything’ look before following him to their seats.
Johnny half heard what Captain Stanley was saying during his briefing. But his mind was still on the muppets.
What show was Scooter talkin’ about? Was Fozzie on it? Are they gonna come back and tell me I’m still on it? Did they reschedule it?
He rubbed the plastic ‘gem’ in his pant pocket with two fingers.
Where’d Piggy get off to? Is she gonna come back for this?
He took a quick glance at Roy, who seemed to be listening intently to the captain.
Man, that was close. He almost saw both Fozzie *and* Miss Piggy!
He didn’t know if it would be better if Roy met the odd characters or not.
Probably not yet. . .
“And that, gentlemen, concludes the information.”
Johnny wondered what and how much he’d missed. He didn’t dare ask, or he’d give his lack of attention away. He’d have to think of a way to find out from Roy without letting on that he’d let his mind wander.
“Now you can have your coffee,” Hank added, his gaze on the two paramedics.
Johnny got to his feet. “Good deal!”
He and Roy wasted no time getting themselves each a cup of the dark brew, while Chet followed behind with a gleam in his eyes.
“Don't say it, Chet.”
“Aww, c'mon. Just one?”
“One? Whataya mean just one? How many do ya have?”
The mustached fireman smiled sheepishly.
“Never mind.” Gage traded a wry grin with Roy. “Just start with the best and work your way down.”
He'd already heard enough bad jokes for the day, what were a few more?
Johnny had tried a few times to come up with a way to ask Roy what he’d missed at the meeting without it being obvious. More like asking for a clarification of the information than anything.
But each time he opened his mouth to start, he closed it, sure his approach would give him away.
Finally they were back at Rampart after taking a victim in. Johnny waited at the desk near the base station where Dixie McCall was working on the latest nurses’ schedule, while Roy went in with the patient.
“So, how’re things goin’ here?” Gage asked. He glanced around a bit, wondering if he’d catch a glimpse of a muppet, since they hadn’t reworked the show issue yet. . .maybe. Of course, he’d probably need to be alone again to see them. If he stayed where he was, he shouldn’t have to worry.
“Oh, just the routine stuff,” Dixie said as she jotted down a couple of items on the paperwork in front of her. She glanced up at him. “You know, a steady flow of patients, nothing really major.”
“That’s good. That’s really good.”
“Yeah,” she agreed, her attention back on the schedule. “How’re things at the station?”
When no answer came, the head nurse looked up at him again. “That bad, huh?”
“Uh. . .I’d just say___ different,” Johnny explained. “Yeah, different pretty much describes it.”
“Is that a good thing?”
He hesitated, then gave a sort of doubtful look while at the same time slightly nodding. “Uh. . .yeeeaah. . .”
When he turned and saw Roy start out of the treatment room, he quickly went into his strategy to find out what he’d missed at the briefing.
“Cap held a really interestin’ meeting.”
“Oh? What about?”
Roy reached the desk just as Dixie finished her question.
“Well, I don’t wanna do all the talkin’ for us. Let Roy here tell ya about it.” Johnny folded his arms across his chest and waited for his partner to jump in on the conversation.
“What am I talking about?” Roy wondered, looking from Johnny to Dixie and back to Johnny.
“The briefing Cap had. You know on the new training exercise. Dix wants to know what he had to say.”
“Well, I don--” she began, but Gage quickly cut her off.
“Just the highlights.”
Roy shrugged. “You can tell her.”
“No, really, I’ve done enough talkin’.”
“How about I go turn in this nurses’ schedule I just finished,” Dixie said as she folded the few sheets of paper in half. “And that way neither one of you has to tell me,” she finished with a smile.
The two paramedics watched her leave from behind the desk, Johnny with his mouth open in silent protest. Now he’d never know what he missed unless he came right out and asked. The paramedic sighed.
“Roy, I couldn’t tell Dix. I missed more than half of what Cap said because my mind was on somethin’ else.”
Like muppets, Johnny thought to himself.
“I was hoping you could fill me in,” Roy admitted. “My mind wandered, too.”
That was something Johnny never expected to hear.
“Roy, how could we zone out on somethin’ as important as training for our job?”
“I don’t know. But we’d better not get too caught up on that or we’re liable to miss out on something else important. We’ll just have to shrug it off as another ‘fluke’ and get the information from the other guys.”
He figured they’d get the information before long. All they’d have to do was get the rest of the crew involved on a discussion about it.
As they headed for the exit Johnny asked, “So what was your mind on?”
“You and your odd behavior, though now that I really think about it, I’m not really so sure if it’s all that much different than how you normally are. What about yours?”
Johnny kept a scowl on his face as he replied, “Me an’ my odd behavior, pretty much, though I wish I could say you weren’t right about the rest.”
Roy gave him a double take, then smiled and shook his head slightly as they went outside and toward the squad.
As soon as Roy had backed the squad into the apparatus bay at the station and brought it to a stop, the paramedics climbed out and went in search of their crewmates to see what information they could get out of them.
Very shortly they both were proud of themselves that the plan worked and they were soon filled in, no one ever having guessed they had missed half of what had been said earlier.
Johnny only wished his muppet visits could be handled so easily.
For the next hour and a half at the station, Johnny just about mirrored Roy’s every move. Whether it was to sit at the table in the dayroom, shoot a few rounds of basket ball in the rear lot or to tinker around with the squad, he made sure he was right at his partner’s side. It was only when he ran into the back of Roy when the older man stopped in mid-stride to look at what seemed to be a dent on the front of the squad’s bumper, that Roy decided to finally make a comment.
“What is it with you, anyway? You haven’t left my side since we’ve been back from Rampart.”
“I’m always at your side,” Johnny shrugged. “We’re partners.”
“Yeah, but even sometimes I have to track you down.”
“That’s right. An’ I’ve decided no more of that. From here on out no more havin’ to look for me.”
Roy peered closer at the ‘dent’. Johnny followed suit. The former glanced over his shoulder.
“I think I like it better the old way.”
Johnny pulled back and frowned. He just wanted to avoid being alone because so far it had kept him from having another run-in with the muppets. If only he could tell Roy.
In the meantime, Roy had checked out the supposed bumper damage and shook his head. “It’s not dented. It’s just the way the light was hitting it.”
“Good, ‘cause I’d hate ta havfta explain--”
Gage was cut off by the klaxons. They were being sent out on a run for a man trapped in an elevator. But halfway to their destination, the call was cancelled.
“Must’ve got the thing moving again.”
“Or he climbed out through the roof,” Roy suggested.
He turned the squad around at the next intersection and headed back to the station.
When they arrived, Chet hollered from the dayroom doorway, “Hey, John! You’ve got a phone call!”
Johnny scrambled out of the parked squad and hurried around the front end, past his partner, who had just gotten out himself.
“What happened to partners being side-by-side?” Roy called out.
Chet had already gone back into the room, so Johnny trotted in to where Chet was holding the telephone receiver.
“Who is it?”
Chet shrugged. “Don’t ask me, ask her,” he said as he handed the receiver to Gage.
When he was greeted with a ‘What do you mean who? Have you forgotten me already?’ his memory was completely jogged.
“Oh, Monica! Of course!”
His incredible date from the night before. How could he have forgotten about her too? Those muppets had really thrown him off his game.
But before he could say anymore, he heard a ‘click’ and then a long continuous ‘zzzzzzz’ on the other end of the line. Again Johnny found himself frowning.
“Man!” He slammed the receiver back on its cradle.
“Who was it?” Roy asked as he came in.
“Monica,” Chet supplied.
Johnny didn’t pay attention to either shiftmate. He just knew he’d better make it up to Monica and soon.
Like right now. . .
He would have to sweet talk her, but he sure didn’t want the guys to hear what he was going to say. He immediately headed for the doorway.
“Where you going now?” Chet wondered.
“To call Monica.”
As the mustached fireman started to follow, Johnny turned and added, “In___private.”
He kept his gaze locked on Chet until the latter gave in and waved him on.
Gage then left the room and headed for the dorm, where he could be on the phone without an audience.
Roy just shook his head. They’d gone from being stuck together like glue to being apart like magnets with identical magnetic fields; all in a matter of maybe ten to twelve minutes.
Johnny hadn’t forgotten about his strange visitors. So as he entered the dorm, he slowly glanced around, the door still held open by his right hand. When he didn’t see anything or anyone, he let the door close and tip toed toward the phone on the desk next to the captain’s bed.
Gage startled and turned around to see Fozzie and his dog standing between the two rows of beds. His gaze darted around as he looked to see who else might’ve popped in unexpectedly. So far it was just the two.
“How do you guys do it?” The paramedic whispered loudly.
“That depends on what ‘it’ is.”
“Know when I’m alone.”
“Oh, that.” He pointed at the dog. “He’s my psychic.”
When Johnny didn’t respond, just stared at the pair, Fozzie clarified, “Don’t ya get it? Psychic, sidekick. . .”
“Yeah I get it. Ha ha.”
The hurt look on the bear’s face once again had Johnny wishing he’d been less rude. Now he didn’t just have to make up to Monica, but Fozzie and his Lab as well.
“Okay, it was kinda clever. In a Fozzie sorta way.”
“Is that good?”
Johnny nodded, a crooked grin on his face. “Yeah, that’s good.”
It was amazing to him how much a muppet’s expression could seem to change to reflect moods when they didn’t really change all that much. It was nothing short of incredible.
“Look, I gotta make a phone call. I really don’t have time to talk right now.”
“Then why make a phone call?”
“If you don’t have time to talk, why make a phone call? Won’tcha have to talk?”
Johnny’s face registered understanding. “Oh. No. No, I don’t mean no time on the phone. I mean with you so I can talk on the phone.”
“Oh. Well, we’ll just wait right here then,” the bear said as he motioned for the Lab to follow him to Chet’s bed, which was nearby.”
Johnny glanced at the entrance, then the muppet and his buddy.
They turned around. “We are.”
“Uh. . .no. . .I don’t mean wait as in you weren’t gonna wait. I meant ‘wait’ as in hold on a second.. . .you can wait by my bed. . .the last one on the right. My right.”
He figured at least that way they’d have a chance to go where ever they disappeared to if someone else walked in.
“How long do you think John’ll be on the phone before he gets Monica to forgive him?”
Roy looked at Chet, who was seated across the table from him and shrugged. “Depends on how many times he has to call her I guess. You know, if she hangs up on him again.”
He took a sip of coffee and glanced at the doorway. He had a feeling his partner wouldn’t be coming through it soon. If Monica was anything like his wife when she got upset with him, it was going to take an awful lot of sweet talking before things were smoothed over.
Marco leaned back in his chair and shook his head. “I don’t envy Johnny.”
“I don’t get how a guy can forget who he went out with the night before,” Mike commented. He had just poured himself a cup of coffee and was on his way from the stove to the table.
“Well, Johnny’s been a little. . .off. . .today,” Roy explained, ‘off’ being the best way to describe Gage. “You know, not quite himself.”
“And that’s a problem?” Chet asked, his voice laced with sarcasm.
Roy rolled his eyes, a playful smirk on his face. Leave it to Chet. . .
Johnny glanced over his shoulder at the visitors heading in the opposite direction as he walked to the captain’s desk, which was just to the left of the doorway that led to the locker room.
When he looked forward again as he neared the desk, he again startled. There was Scooter, seated with his legs hanging over the front edge of the desk.
“Mr. Gage, John, Sir, I really need you to decide on an act. I was able to get a replacement for you for today’s show, but guests don’t grow on trees you know.”
“Are you sure about that?”
From what he’d seen, Johnny figured a lot of their guests probably could grow on trees, like talking apples or oranges. Nothing was impossible when it came to his muppet friends. He’d especially learn that when he found out who his replacement was.
“Just outta curiosity, who’d you get to take my place, anyway?”
Johnny’s eyes opened wide in shocked surprise.
“You got Raquel Welch? The Raquel Welch?”
“What other one is there?”
Well, Gage could only think of one that mattered to him. So the Raquel Welch had gone along with the idea. . .
“Who else has done your show?”
“Lots of people,” Scooter said with a shrug.
“Like who though?”
“Well, let’s see. There was John Wayne.”
Johnny almost missed the chair as he numbly took a seat at the desk, his gaze locked on nothing in particular.
John Wayne being involved was as amazing to him as Raquel Welch. A legendary actor like Mr. Wayne and an incredible. . .
. . .sex symbol and actress like Ms. Welch not only knew the muppets as well, but actually went along with their requests to do a show.
A show. . .
“Where did they do their shows?”
He couldn’t wait for this answer.
“In the muppet theater.”
“Ahh. . .” Johnny nodded. “Of course.”
He had to admit he was a little disappointed. Who would’ve expected a logical answer?
Chet glanced at his watch. “Gage sure is taking a long time.”
Roy nodded in agreement. “That means she’s probably willing to listen to him explain, which means she should forgive him.”
“Which means we won’t have a mopey Johnny to put up with the rest of the shift.”
“Which means we won’t have an irritated Roy because of a mopey Johnny,” Mike added to Marco’s comment, a grin flashed in DeSoto’s direction.
“Which means we should have a happy crew and a happy crew is a productive crew.”
They all turned to see Captain Stanley standing in the doorway. He came the rest of the way in, a tablet of paper in hand.
“I need each of you to make some suggestions and write them down.”
“Suggestions for what?” Roy asked.
“For the Firemen’s Valentine Ball in February and the Spring Olympics we have. Headquarters wants each shift from each and every station to have some input so no one complains this year that something wasn’t done right.”
Chet slunk slightly in his chair. He wondered how many besides him had sent a note to Headquarters stating the last Ball could have been better.
“When John gets back from where ever he is, not being mopey, have him put in his two cents worth as well.”
Two ‘rights’ and two ‘yes, Sirs’ sounded in unison. As the captain walked out after getting a cup of coffee, Roy pulled a pen out of his pocket and wrote down the words ‘suggestions for ball’ at the top of a paper. He looked at the others and waited for the first one to speak up.
Well, the information Johnny received from Scooter sure had changed his opinion of things. If John Wayne and Raquel Welch. . .and who knew who else. . .could do the show, then why not him?
“Okay,” Johnny stated.
“You’ll do it?”
He gave one firm nod. “I’ll do it.”
“Oh boy! Now__what will you do?”
“Well, I play the guitar sorta. . .a little. I’ve been practicin’, anyway.”
“Really? I play the guitar, too!”
“Maybe we can do somethin’ together.”
“This is great!” Fozzie exclaimed as he made his way to the others. His yellow Labrador had mysteriously disappeared already. “Now that you’re gonna be part of the show, I’ve got another one for ya.”
“Another. . .?”
Fozzie ignored Johnny’s lack of enthusiasm and proceeded.
“Did you hear about the hairdresser?”
“No, but I have a feelin’ I’m about to.”
“She kept changing her locks.” He nudged the sour faced paramedic with his left paw. “Get it?”
“Yeah, I get it. I get it.” He cracked a delayed crooked grin. “Actually that’s pretty darn good. Now I’ve got one for you.”
Unlike Gage, he actually was enthused.
“Why do firemen wear suspenders?”
“I don’t know. Why do firemen where suspenders, John?”
“To hold up their pants, of course.”
Fozzie didn’t react, but rather just stared at Johnny.
“Uh. . .I’ll. . .I’ll work on it.”
“Yeah,” Fozzie said with a nod. “You need to, John.”
“Did I just hear right?”
The three males’ gazes shot in the direction of Miss Piggy’s voice as she approached from the other end of the room. Gage resisted the urge to flee, it was too late to hide anyway.
“That Jooohnnyyy’s going to do the show?”
Both Scooter and Fozzie gave the paramedic hurt looks.
“I thought you wanted to do the show.”
“I do, Fozzie.”
“Then why did you say ‘unfortunately’?”
“I’m glad to be doing the show, it’s unfortunate Piggy heard about it.”
Scooter and Fozzie snickered while in a flash, Miss Piggy was nose to nose with Gage. “Watch it, Honey. And that’s Miss Piggy.”
Johnny pulled back and put up both hands in defense. “Easy, easy. . .I was jus’ havin’ fun.”
The pig backed off as well.
“So, are we going to do an act together, too? Hmmmmm”
“Well, I don’ kno--”
“Pleeeeeeaaaaase, Johnny?” She batted her lashes as she lay her head against his chest and eyed the dark-haired man.
“You can be my boyfriend in ‘Pigs in Space’.”
“Or,” Fozzie suggested, “You could play yourself in ‘Veterinarian Hospital’ with Doctor Bob!”
A resounding “No!” immediately sounded from both Johnny and Miss Piggy at the same time. The latter because she didn’t want Nurse Janice, another often assistant of Doctor Bob’s, competing for the paramedic’s affections. The former because he still had the vivid memory of the first time he’d run into the muppets at Rampart. To say it had been a frustrating experience was an understatement. He still recalled how the doctor who was a dog made as bad of jokes as Fozzie, even at the patient’s expense. Also how Janice and Piggy battled for his attention. Nope, he wasn’t quite ready for that.
Then suddenly it dawned on him. As he’d been leaving the treatment room that day, he thought he’d heard an announcer say something like, “And so ends another episode of Veterinarians Hospital” and to tune in the next week. Had he already been on this show and not told? He eyed his friends suspiciously.
Fozzie looked just as suspiciously at him. “What?”
Gage pondered the situation. Did it really matter now? Did he really want to know? With a shake of his head, he simply said, “Nothin’. It’s nothin’.”
“So you’ll do ‘Pigs in Space, Jooohnyy?” Piggy asked.
“I’m not so sure that’ll work. I’m not a--”
Suddenly he found himself looking at a firm glare from the starlet. A very threatening glare.
“Sure. . .I. . .uh . . .I could try my hand at acting,” he said as he nodded along with the other two guys. “I could play a pig. . .in space.” In truth he had his doubts, but now wasn’t the time to argue.
Next thing he knew she was laying a huge kiss on his lips, nearly causing him to fall out of the chair before she released. When he’d recovered, Johnny wiped his lips, then reached for something in his pocket.
“Before I forget, I think I’ve got something of yours.”
“You mean besides my heart?”
He gave a lopsided grin. “Uh. . ..yeah. Sure.” He held out the plastic jewel in his open palm.
“That’s where it went! I’ve been looking all over for it!”
She took it from his hand as Johnny told her, “You could’ve gotten a new one just about anywhere.”
“I’ll have you know this has been handed down from generation to generation.”
“What do you think we were, rich?”
Johnny grinned in amusement at the familiar exchange. He then watched as she walked away, toward the locker room.
“I’m gonna regret agreeing to do ‘Pigs in Space’, aren’t I?”
“Not as much as you would’ve turning it down,” Fozzie said. Scooter vehemently agreed.
Johnny had to admit they were right about that.
Finally Gage returned to the dayroom, whistling an upbeat tune.
Roy took in his happy demeanor. “I guess this means things went well with Monica. . .”
The younger man’s whistling and walking stopped abruptly.
“Monica! Oh man, I forgot!”
He spun around and ran out the doorway.
Chet’s lower jaw was slack as he glanced at his watch, then shifted his gaze to Roy, Marco and Mike doing the same simultaneously.
Roy put up his hands, as if in self defense. “I’m not even gonna ask him,” the senior paramedic answered to their unspoken question.
When Johnny came back not long after he’d taken off in a rush, his coworkers observed him and waited as the seemingly alright paramedic joined them at the table, a cup of coffee in his hand.
Gage let out an audible sigh as he sat down. After a sip of coffee he asked, “So what’s with the list in fronta ya?”
Roy glanced down at the few things he’d gotten from the others. “Cap wants us to give suggestions for the next Firemen’s Ball and Spring Olympics.” He scrutinized his partner briefly before asking, “So how did it go with Monica? Did you remember to call her this time?”
Johnny nodded and took another sip of coffee. “I sure did.”
They waited for more, but instead Johnny reached for the list.
“Let’s see what ya got so far.”
Chet couldn’t take it anymore. “So?”
“So what?” Gage asked, purposely making him work for information.
“So how’d it go with Monica? We wanna know, right guys?” He glanced at the others, then returned his attention to Johnny.
“She’s not interested in going out again.”
As soon as he gave the answer, Gage was back to studying the short list. He screwed up his face at the fifth item.
“C’mon Baby Light My Fire playing as couples arrive at the ball?” He looked up at Roy with question in his eyes.
Roy pointed to Chet, who defended, “C’mon, it’d be fun.”
Johnny shook his head while Roy continued to watch him in wonder.
“So, you’re okay with it being over with Monica?”
“Sure,” he shrugged. When he saw a look of doubt on his shiftmates’ faces, he added, “Monica doesn’t make or break me. There’s lots more to life than a pretty girl, for pete’s sake.”
Chet waited a few seconds, then pushed back his chair and stood. He made his way around to the other side of the table and peered closely at the back of Johnny’s neck.
“What’re you doin?” the dark-haired paramedic questioned, annoyed.
“Looking for an alien implant or something. You’re not the John Gage we know.”
“Get outta here,” Gage said as he turned and playfully pushed the mustached fireman away.
“I once said you were from another planet,” Roy put in. “This confirms it.”
“Man, can’t a guy have a change in attitude?”
“Yeah, but--” Chet cut off his own words and gave in with a sigh as he again took a seat.
Johnny noticed he was still being scrutinized by the others.
“Guys, she’s just one chic.”
They weren’t completely sold on the change in attitude story, but the men let it drop and got back to the task of writing down ideas for the events. They figured Johnny would be back to his old self once this phase, what ever it was, passed. Eventually, they’d find out they were right.
Johnny had gotten the muppets to agree to meeting him at his apartment during the week after they’d first appeared at the station. He made sure they only showed up when he was off duty. It had given him time to practice on the guitar with Scooter, and allowed him to be at ease and his old self at the station.
When the day for show time arrived, he mysteriously found himself in what was a back-stage area. It was there he met even more muppets and had to rehearse with many of them. Later in the day, Scooter came into Johnny’s dressing room with the familiar, “Mister Gage, Mister Gage, five minutes till curtain time, Mister Gage.”
From that they went on to their guitar duo, brief comedy skits and other short musical numbers by assorted groups of talking animals, objects and foods. Some were muppets he’d known for awhile, such as Gonzo, Beaker, Animal. . . another was a jar of mayonnaise about four feet tall, who was introduced in the act as ‘the town mayo’.
Johnny had worked on his jokes. When he finally got to do a stand-up routine with Fozzie, he asked, “Hey, did you hear the one about the outfielder who handed out blankets to all his teammates?”
“No, what about the outfielder who handed out blankets to all his teammates, John?”
“He wanted to make sure all the bases were covered.”
Fozzie just covered his face with his paw and shook his head with a grown. Both he and Johnny were oblivious to a pair of old men up in a balcony in the audience, who were making heckling remarks about the stand-up jokes, as well as during other parts of the show.
After about a half an hour, the production was done. Johnny looked at the many muppets gathered around him after the finale and with a lopsided grin said, “Man, that was a lot of fun! You guys are incredible, man, incredible! Ya know, we should all go bowlin’ together sometime . . .here that is,” he quickly clarified.
“That’s right up our alley!”
Johnny snorted a laugh when he saw the response came from a bowling ball and pin.
Of course, what else would I expect?
He kept a lopsided smirk on his face as he reflected back on the whole experience. The only thing that could’ve made it better was if John Wayne or Raquel Welch had made an appearance with him. But for now he was just glad he’d finally agreed to do the show with his remarkable friends.
Now if I could *just* tell the guys about it. . .
Maybe some day he’d find a way.
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