A Small Complication On The Road To Fame
By Audrey W.
The man carefully poured the clear liquid into a jar and placed it on the table in the room. He then picked up a small vial containing a chemical mixture he had made and poured some of it into the other jar. Picking up the container, he swished the liquid until it was mixed.
Melvin Meyers turned around and looked at the rat in a nearby cage. The small filtered mask he had over his nose and mouth to keep himself from breathing in too much of the fumes from the chemicals muffled his voice as he talked to his furry friend.
“Almost ready to see if it works this time, Bruce.” He had named the rat after one of his favorite super heroes, Batman aka Bruce Wayne.
Just as Melvin opened the cage door and reached for Bruce, he heard someone yelling in the main hallway of the apartment building. What now? I want to see if the stuff works!
“I’ll be right back, Bruce.”
Melvin shut the cage and turned off the light in the room. Pulling off the mask, he pushed aside a black curtain that hung in the doorway and headed for the livingroom to see what the commotion was outside his apartment in the hall. He neglected to notice that he hadn’t shut the cage properly and Bruce pushed it open with ease.
As Melvin reached out to put his hand on the doorknob, his front door was pushed open with such force, it hit him, knocking the man down and rendering him unconscious. He lay hidden behind the door, while the person who had flung it open called out, “There’s a fire in the building!” Rushed by the circumstances, they then carried on down the hallway, unaware of the unconscious man on the floor.
Eight months had passed since Johnny’s puzzling experience when he was found wandering down a street with a concussion and broken arm, his Land Rover parked at a nearby bar. Johnny couldn’t remember anything that happened that day once he got off shift. He never recalled Melvin kidnapping him and sprinkling him with a formula that caused him to shrink to the size of one inch. Nor did he remember the near miss with the cat, the mouse and getting injured inside of a flask. And since the person who had found him hadn’t been seen since he brought Johnny in, no one was able to get any answers.
Things had long since returned to normal and the dark-haired paramedic hadn’t disappeared on anyone again. Roy and Captain Stanley occasionally gave each other curious looks at times that indicated one or the other was tempted to discuss the mysterious experiences that involved Johnny. But as time went on, both men forgot about the subject and moved on.
Johnny was relieved to never see ‘Bob’ the male nurse again during any stays or stops at Rampart. Amy Carew, who was a nurse in Orthopedics that Johnny had thought he liked until he got to know her, was still waiting for Johnny to call her for a date. She was sure to remind him anytime she saw him. Johnny would smile, nod and give a basic “Okay”. That seemed to placate the nurse. As long as it kept her quiet and content, Johnny figured that problem was solved. Roy tried to convince him otherwise.
“You know, you really ought to be honest with Amy and tell her up front you’re not interested in her,” Roy said, as he drove to the station after they had taken a patient to Rampart.
Johnny turned slightly in his seat and splayed his hand on his chest. “Roy, I tried.” He saw his partner give him a doubtful look. “I did! Remember? I even turned her down for a date. She just won’t listen so I had to do it this way.”
“For eight months?”
“Now, you can’t blame all this on me. She’s the one who’s hanging on to me!”
Roy couldn’t argue the point. Amy was apparently willing to wait for however long it took. He backed the squad into the station and parked. As both paramedics started into the dayroom, the tones went off.
“Station 51, Engine 110, structure fire, 3124 West Palm Street, three one two four, West Palm Street, time out 10:24”
Johnny and Roy headed back for the squad, the engine crew close on their heels.
The fire involved a three-story apartment building. As the men pulled up to the scene, they saw a small amount of smoke coming from a window on the third floor.
Captain Stanley directed the engine crew to pull an inch and a half, then went over to a crowd of people gathered near the street.
“Does anyone know if the fire’s contained to that one part of the building?”
“Yeah,” a man answered. “We’re just lucky people on the third floor smelled smoke and let the rest of us know about it as they evacuated.”
“So all of the residents got out okay?”
Another man listening to the conversation stepped forward. “I don’t see the guy who lives in apartment number 212 out here.”
“Are you sure he was home?” the captain asked.
“Yeah,” the man nodded. “He was earlier and his car’s still in the lot.”
“Okay, I’ll have my men go in and look for him.” Hank said as he turned to head over towards the squad. He glanced back at the man, “Apartment 212, right?”
With Marco and Chet about to go into the building with a crew from 110’s that had just arrived, Captain Stanley trotted over to the two paramedics.
“John, Roy. . .we’ve got a man still inside. Apartment 212.”
“Okay, Cap,” Johnny said as he and Roy finished donning their turnouts and air tanks, their masks hanging loose.
The two paramedics hurried towards the building putting on their air masks and helmets in mid stride. They entered into the building and headed up the steps to the second floor.
“Here it is!” Johnny said, his mask muffling his voice. He looked inside the open doorway and saw the unconscious man on the floor. “There’s the victim,” he indicated with a wave of his left hand.
Roy helped Johnny get the man in a fireman’s carry and followed behind as Johnny got the man outside. Gage laid the man out on the ground near the squad, and pulled off his SCBA gear and turnout coat. Wiping sweat off his forehead with his left arm, he began to check the victim’s vital signs. The victim looked familiar to the paramedic.
Bob, the male nurse!
“Hey, Roy? That’s the nurse from Rampart!”
“Bob?” Roy asked as he shrugged off his air tank.
“I guess now you don’t have to wonder what ever became of him,” Roy said. He pulled out the biophone and drug box, and put them on the ground nearby. Setting up the biophone he contacted Rampart.
“Rampart, this is Squad 51, how do you read me?”
“We read you clear, 51,” came Brackett’s reply.
Johnny rattled off the pulse and reparations as he checked the pupils.
Melvin stirred as he began to come around. “Whe. . .where am I?” He asked as he batted Johnny’s penlight away and tried to sit up.
“Just take it easy,” Johnny said, gently pushing Melvin back down. Something else tugged at Johnny’s memory as he looked at the victim. . .he pictured seeing this man in an alley.
An alley? When was I ever in an alley?
Melvin recognized Johnny instantly. He could tell the paramedic recognized him as well. Melvin tried not to panic and hoped that John had never remembered what happened that time Melvin kidnapped him. He decided to play dumb for now.
“What happened?” Melvin asked, rubbing his eyes as he looked around. He tried to avoid looking directly at Johnny.
“You were unconscious on the floor in your apartment,” Roy explained. He looked at his partner who seemed to be off in another world. “Looks like you got hit in the head.” He indicated to Melvin, motioning towards a bump now forming on his forehead.
Roy studied Johnny a moment before continuing. “Maybe someone hit you with the door. . .it was open when we went in.”
“If I was unconscious, how’d I get out here?”
Johnny finally spoke. “We brought you out.” He shook his head at the man’s silly question.
Melvin looked around again, this time noticing the fire trucks.
Fire trucks? There’s a fire? Bruce!
“Is. . .is there a fire somewhere?”
“Yeah,” Johnny said, as he finished checking Melvin’s blood pressure. “On the third floor.” He looked over his shoulder at the building. “They should have it under control soon, if not all ready. Roy, his bp is 110/70.”
“Did you guys get Bruce out?”
“Bruce?” Roy asked as he and Johnny exchanged glances.
“Yeah, my uh. . .roommate,” Melvin eyed the two men, hoping they would now go back in and maybe in the effort of looking for a man, find the real Bruce, a white rat. He figured if he let on now that Bruce was a rat, no one would be willing to rescue the little creature.
Roy called in the bp reading while Johnny questioned Melvin.
“You sure he didn’t get out?”
Melvin nodded and mustered as sad of an expression as he could. “He wouldn’t have left me behind.”
“I’ll go look for him. Roy, you got this okay?”
Johnny stood up, grabbing his gear, and trotted over to the captain.
“Cap, we’ve got another victim in the building in that apartment. I’m gonna go in and get him.”
Johnny shrugged. “His roommate swears he’s gotta still be in there.”
“Okay, but be quick.” He looked up at the third floor where the smoke had first been. It had diminished markedly. “It looks like they have the fire under control, but I want you out of there ASAP.”
“Got it, Cap,” Johnny said as he put on his turnout coat. He slipped on his other gear and ran towards the building.
“Hello? Hey!” Johnny called out as he searched through the apartment livingroom. He had left the air mask off of his face since there was only a trace of smoke in the area, and it swung slightly as he moved about.
Getting no answer and not seeing anyone, Johnny continued into the next room.
“I sure hope John finds Bruce,” Melvin said, a worried tone in his voice.
“He will,” Roy assured. “You remember him from Rampart?”
“You called my partner by his name. . .you remember him from when he was a patient at Rampart? You’re Bob, right?”
“Oh right. . .yeah, that’s it. Right,” he sighed in relief. Apparently John hadn’t recalled the kidnapping. “But what if he doesn’t find a person? Will he save whatever he does find?”
“You know. . .say he found a. . .oh, a pet rat. Would he save it?”
“Did you just send Johnny in there after a pet rat?”
“Well, you guys wouldn’t have gone in if I told ya that, would ya?”
Roy shook his head in disbelief.
“Cap! Tell Johnny Bruce is a rat!”
Hank walked over closer to Roy. “Did you say a rat?”
“Yeah, a rat. Turns out the roommate is a rat. . .as in the four legged kind.”
“Bruce?” Johnny had searched through the bedroom. Not finding anyone, he went through a doorway that had a black curtain hanging in it. This next room was pitch dark. Johnny fumbled for a light switch. “Hey! Anybody in here?”
Not able to find the light switch, Johnny took a careful step forward. The handie talkie in his turnout pocket crackled as Captain Stanley’s voice came over the speaker.
“HT 51, Engine 51.”
Johnny began to pull the radio out of his pocket when he felt something brush up against his right ankle. Though he couldn’t see, he turned quickly to look. “Bruce? That you?” He knocked into something, a crashing noise following. He felt a sudden wetness soak into his uniform pants and skin as something shattered against his legs. Instinctively he reached in front of him, his hands meeting with a puddle on top of what felt like a table. Johnny pulled his hands back and wiped them on his turnout.
Oh man! What is this stuff?
Again, the handie talkie sounded. “HT 51. John, you okay?”
Johnny took the handie talkie out of his pocket and keyed the mic. “Yeah, Cap.”
“Okay, well, look pal, you’re searching for a rat.”
“That’s right. Just give it a quick once over and get out.”
“10-4.” Johnny went to put the radio back in his pocket, but with his hands slippery from the stuff on the table, he dropped it on the floor. He looked down at the darkness. “Damn it.”
Johnny took out his penlight and shown it on the floor so that he could see the HT. As he bent over to retrieve the handie talkie, a sudden wave of dizziness hit him. Straightening up, he began to feel weak and the SCBA gear took on a new heaviness. Johnny unfastened it and shrugged it off, letting it and his penlight fall to the floor.
Johnny side-stepped as another dizzy sensation overwhelmed him. Placing his hand on the table, he steadied himself. It was then he realized the liquid that had spilled was putting out some strong fumes. Unfortunately he realized it too late, as the paramedic found himself collapsing on the floor. Johnny laid on his back, a sensation of falling straight down coming over him. He turned over on his side, then got on his hands and knees and crawled, trying to find his way out of the dark room. He noticed his helmet was no longer on his head, but figured it must have fallen off when he hit the floor.
Being disoriented from the fumes and not having any idea what direction was in or out with everything being dark, Johnny continued crawling, until he found himself against a wall. Even as he moved on his hands and knees, he continued to feel the sensation of being pulled downward. The paramedic traveled along the wall until he suddenly fell through a gap. He grabbed on to a ledge to try and stop his fall. Johnny hung there for a few seconds, wishing Roy had come in with him. He felt his hands slide off and he fell through the air until he landed with a thud on a wooden surface, whacking his head upon landing. He was out instantly.
The rat sniffed at the tiny hole in the floorboard where the now one-inch Johnny had just fallen through. After a few seconds of being nosy, the animal scampered across the room and out of the door.
Hank Stanley looked at his watch.
John should’ve been back out by now.
He keyed the mic on the handy talky.
“HT 51, Engine 51. Everything okay?” No answer brought a frown to his face. “John? You okay?”
Chet and Marco had just come out of the building, the fire extinguished. The other engine company was still inside, making sure nothing started back up. As the two fire fighters approached their captain, they could see he was looking beyond them. Chet looked over his shoulder, then back at Hank.
“You guys see John anywhere in there? He was at apartment 212.”
Marco and Chet exchanged puzzled glances. “No,” they both answered.
Roy looked up, alarmed. “Cap, let me go in and look for him.”
“No, you’ve got a victim to take care of. Chet and Marco can go.”
Melvin nodded in agreement with the captain. “Yeah, let Marco and Chet go find him.”
Roy gave Melvin an annoyed glare. The guy was really starting to get on his nerves. He watched as the two crewmen trotted towards the front of the building again.
Marco and Chet entered the open-doored apartment, glancing around as they stepped inside the livingroom.
“Johnny?” Chet called out. “Hey, Gage!”
He looked over at Marco and shrugged, a worried expression on his face. “Maybe he’s in a room where he can’t hear us.”
“I hope so. Chet, I don’t like this. Johnny wouldn’t just go off and not tell Cap where he was.”
“I know, Marco. I know.”
They walked into the bedroom.
“Johnny!” Marco yelled.
Chet jumped, startled.
“Sorry,” Marco apologized.
“S’okay. Next time warn me. This is kind of weird.”
The two men saw the curtain in the doorway to the darkened room. Slowly pulling the curtain back, Chet peered inside.
“Gage? You in here?”
He felt along the wall for a light switch, finally finding one on the left side. When he flipped the switch up, he and Marco took in the sight. There was a tipped over container on the table, its contents already a dry stain. There was a shattered jar on the floor, Johnny’s air tank, helmet and oxygen mask on the middle of the floor, along with his radio. The whole room was only the size of a large walk-in closet.
“John!” Chet was very worried now, as was Marco. Where had the paramedic gone?
Marco picked up the handie talkie. “Engine 51, HT 51.”
“Go ahead, HT 51.”
“Cap, Johnny’s gone.”
Although the captain couldn’t see him, Marco nodded. “His air tank, helmet and mask are here, but he’s no where in sight.”
Roy and Melvin had both heard the transmission on the radio. The three men outside exchanged puzzled looks, unknowingly all thinking the same thing. In unison, the three questioned, “He’s gone?”
Melvin’s mind raced. Had his creation worked on a person? Was John small again? Melvin suddenly wished he was in his apartment. Had the other firemen found his invention? He hoped not. Dreams of being on the Mike Douglas Show suddenly came flooding back to him.
Roy noticed the vacant stare of his patient. “You okay?”
Startled that anyone noticed his reaction, Melvin quickly responded. “Yeah. . .yeah, I’m okay. I was just worried about your partner. Where do you suppose he could be?”
“I don’t know, but as soon as I get you to the hospital, I’m coming back to find out.”
“Hospital? I’m not going to any hospital,” Melvin shook his head.
No way, not now! Not only do I have to find out what happened to John, but they’ll know I’m not really named Bob and I wasn’t a nurse there.
“I’m fine. . .look I can move all my fingers and toes,” Melvin said, as he wiggled his feet and fingers. He noticed he was still wearing his shoes. “Well, you know what I mean.”
“You need to go!” Roy emphasized. “You have a head injury and were unconscious for a while.”
“Can you make me?”
“Then I’m not going.”
Roy sighed as he reported the development to Rampart. As he expected, Brackett stressed the patient be brought in for a skull series, but Melvin refused to budge on the issue. After having the patient sign the MICU form, Roy was ready to help look for his partner.
Melvin stood up and wavered slightly, thankful no one noticed. He carefully walked away from the squad, hoping it was his sight that was wavering and not his actual body swaying. Suddenly his vision narrowed to a pinpoint and the man felt himself falling to the ground. Now unconscious, Melvin would have no choice but to go to Rampart and Roy would have no choice but to take him, with Chet following behind in the squad.
Unbeknownst to the firemen, the one person who could provide an answer to Johnny’s strange vanishing act was now incapacitated.
The building had been searched thoroughly and still no sign of Johnny. Frustrated, Hank Stanley knew he would have to get his crew back to the station so that they’d be available as soon as Chet got back from Rampart with Roy. Finding John’s where abouts would have to be left up to the police. As they headed back in the engine, the firemen wondered about their shift mate.
“I don’t see how Johnny could just vanish into thin air,” Marco said as he shook his head.
“But he wasn’t anywhere in that building. And there was no other way out of that room, right?” Mike reminded. “He had to have left the apartment before you guys got there and wandered out somewhere.”
“But why?” Marco questioned. “Why would he do that? Cap, any ideas?”
Captain Stanley knew what idea he had, but he didn’t dare share it.
Keep your head on straight. You’re supposed to be the logical one here. John never shrank those other times and he couldn’t have done it now. It’s impossible.
Hank gave the best answer he could to Marco and still be honest. “I don’t know what to think, pal. Except that John, for whatever reason, wasn’t thinking clearly.”
“Does anyone else get a dejavu’ with this or is it just me?” Mike asked, his eyes still on the road.
“I do,” Marco admitted. “To about eight months ago.”
Stanley glanced at the other two, then back to the road in front of them. He knew they were right. But it still didn’t explain the paramedic’s disappearance because no one was able to explain it then either.
As Roy left the treatment room where he had dropped off Melvin, he met up with Dixie.
“You said that guy’s name was Melvin?” Roy inquired.
“Yeah. He used to work in the lab downstairs.”
Roy chewed his bottom lip in thought. “Johnny said his name was Bob. That he was the male nurse from here.”
“Nope,” Dixie shook her head. “His name is Melvin and he’s the one who brought Johnny in after he found him wandering near that bar months ago.”
“Sure,” Dixie answered casually. “ Maybe Johnny was getting the two confused. Remember, he had just gotten two concussions in less than a week,” she reminded Roy, as she stepped around to her desk. “No telling how it affected him then.”
Roy gave the suggestion some thought. It sounded logical. But there was one small problem.
“But he even said he was Bob when I talked to him about it today.”
“Maybe he was humoring you,” Dixie shrugged. “We’ll get an answer when he wakes up. For now, go see if they found that partner of yours. He can’t have gotten too far, right?”
Roy nodded slightly and glanced back at the treatment room where he had left Melvin. He wanted two things. To find Johnny and to get an answer as to why a man would use another name pretending to be something he wasn’t. He headed to the lounge to find Chet so they could take the squad back to the station.
Johnny moaned and opened his eyes to slits as he began to come around. Where was he? What had happened? He blinked, hoping to be able to see, but everything remained pitch dark. Thoughts raced through Johnny’s muddled brain as he tried to move from his current position on his right side. The slightest motion sent a sharp pain through his head and the rest of his body protested as well. Johnny hurt everywhere, especially on the side he was laying on.
“Oh man,” he groaned. Lying still, the paramedic panted, trying to breath through the pain. He’d give it time to see if anyone would come looking for him. If they didn’t soon, then he would try to find help.
Not realizing it, Johnny passed out again as he waited.
Roy and Chet entered the dayroom where the others were already sitting at the table. They frowned as it was obvious Johnny hadn’t been found.
“Where’s Cap?” Roy asked, glancing around.
“In his office calling for a replacement to ride with you,” Mike explained.
Roy didn’t know what to say. He knew Johnny had to be somewhere close to that apartment building. A man couldn’t just disappear. Of course, he had to remind himself, his partner had managed to disappear at least once. It had been eight months since then, but if it could happen then, it could very well happen now. Roy thought about that time again, when Johnny finally was found after 24 hours of being AWOL. He was soaking wet and the only water nearby was an average mud puddle. No one had ever been able to explain it and although Roy had talked his captain into thinking Johnny had possibly shrunk, the theory wasn’t brought up around anyone else. Roy shoved those thoughts out of his head. The last thing Captain Stanley needed now was to hear him make that suggestion again. Coming out of his thoughts, Roy tried another approach.
“Did you guys ask everyone in the crowd at that apartment building if they’d seen Johnny anywhere in the vicinity?”
“We didn’t have time, Roy,” Marco answered glumly. “Cap had to get us back here to be available. But the police were going to.”
“Maybe someone saw him walk out, then. And they’ll know what direction he took off in.”
“Hey, I’ve got an idea!” Chet said, his eyes widening.
Roy was afraid to ask, but what did he have to lose?
Chet pulled out a chair and sat as he began his theory.
“Well, we all know Gage has done this before. Maybe even twice.”
The guys all nodded and waited for the rest.
“Okay. Suppose he has a split personality that only comes out once in awhile. Like Joanne what’s-her-name in The Three faces of Eve. You know . . .the actress who’s married to Paul Newman. And say it’s not a fireman . . .I mean it could be a little kid for all we know. You gotta admit, Gage isn’t always all there.”
The four men listening groaned and rolled their eyes.
“Chet, I thought you were gonna have a real idea,” Marco grumbled.
“You got a better theory?”
“No, but that? Gee whiz.”
“Okay. You guys don’t like my split personality theory. How about he fell through a trap door?”
“In an apartment building?” Mike asked incredulously. “All he’d fall into is the apartment below.”
Roy shook his head. His shrinking theory wasn’t sounding so bad after all. He decided to see if the captain had gotten him a replacement yet.
Roy ran into Captain Stanley coming out of his office.
“Roy! Just who I wanted to see,” Captain Stanley tried to sound upbeat.
“Did you get a replacement for Johnny?”
“Yes, I did,” he said, as he leaned against the wall by the map. “Bradley from station 8.”
Roy nodded. “He’s a good paramedic.” An awkward moment passed as Roy tried to think of how he was going to discuss the rest of the situation.
“You want to know what’s been found so far?” Hank asked, sensing his older paramedic was uncomfortable.
“Yeah, you hear anything new?”
“Vince called and said they can’t find John anywhere. No one saw a person of his description leave the building.” The captain stood straight again, as he relayed the new developments to Roy. “They’ve gone over the apartment with a fine-tooth comb, so to speak. Nothin’. Oh, nothin’ except a white rat named Bruce, that is.”
“Of course. So what happens now?”
“They treat it as a crime scene. No one other than the police goes in that apartment until they’re sure there’s no evidence to be found.”
“Melvin isn’t gonna like that once he finds out.”
“Melvin? Who the hell is Melvin?”
“The guy we rescued out of there,” Roy explained, his hands on his hips. “The one who owns Bruce.”
“I thought his name was Bob?”
“So did we. Dixie said his name is Melvin and he used to work downstairs in the lab at Rampart. And get this . . .he’s also the one who found Johnny wandering down the street injured months ago. It was right after that he left his job.”
Captain Stanley thought about the new information. “Could any of this mean anything? After all, the guy was out cold, or at least outside when John disappeared.”
“I don’t know, Cap. But Melvin has a few questions he needs to answer when he wakes up.”
“I imagine the police will want to talk to him. Hopefully he’ll have answers. . ..” The captain sounded doubtful.
Roy met eyes with Hank. He knew what his captain was saying. With a head injury and loss of consciousness, it was possible Melvin wouldn’t remember anything, and if he did, he could always pretend not to. And no one would be the wiser.
Johnny rolled over on his back, opening his eyes as the pain shot through his head and body. He couldn’t tell how long he’d been out, but it was still dark where he was. The paramedic got himself into a sitting position. Leaning on his left hand, his arm stiffened for support. He prayed he wouldn’t lose the battle with his stomach as a queasy feeling came over him. Johnny swore to himself as his stomach heaved and he threw up.
Where am I? Where’s everyone else?
Slowly getting to his feet, Johnny stumbled, placing a hand on the side of what ever he was in for stability. He leaned against what felt like a wall, and took a few shallow breaths. It was going to take some time, but he had to get help.
Feeling his way around, Johnny surmised he was in a hole of some sort. Reaching up he couldn’t feel the top ledge with his fingertips.
How am I going to get out?
Johnny had an idea. He slowly took off his turnout coat and wrapped it up in a ball. He placed it on the floor and stepped on it. Suddenly he felt himself sway, as another wave of dizziness struck. He felt for the wall to hold him up, but lost his grip and tumbled back to the floor. Johnny winced at the pain the fall caused to course through his already sore body. Biting his lower lip, he forced himself to get back up, the effort once again made him lose his stomach.
Once his stomach settled again, the paramedic was determined to get out. Johnny stepped up on the piled jacket once more and stretched for the top of the hole. It was still out of reach.
Damn, how deep is this thing?
Johnny got off his coat and felt around the walls again for a sign of anything to help him get out. His arm bumped against something sticking down that made a slight creaking noise. Stopping his movement, he felt the object with his hands. It felt like it was a wood beam hanging down at an angle. Johnny pulled on it, testing its strength. Next he hung on it, to see if it would hold his weight. It didn’t break. This was it . . .the way out. He was going to have to ignore all the pain and climb up the board to safety.
Little did Johnny know he was only an inch tall and stuck in a two-inch deep hole. The beam was merely a splinter of wood from a broken floorboard.
Roy’s partner, Jason Bradley, had arrived at the station and the squad was put back into service. Having a lot still on his mind, Roy wandered off by himself into the dorm room and sat on his bed.
I need to talk to that Melvin guy as soon as I can. I wonder if Dix could let me know how he’s doing? She’s always been good about it.
Roy got up off his bed and headed for the desk near the entrance to the locker room. He sat down in the chair and picked up the telephone receiver. Resting his chin on the back of his hand, he paused as he thought about his lost partner again.
A guy goes into a building on a simple rescue and just disappears. He leaves his safety equipment behind and all radio contact with him indicated things were fine. Johnny, what in the hell happened to you?
The sound of a recorded voice saying, “Please hang up and try again”, then the steady sound of beeping from the receiver brought Roy out of his thoughts. He pressed the button on the base of the phone to reset the dial tone and called Rampart.
Johnny had been slowly pulling himself up out of the hole, using the wooden beam he had found. Straddling it with his legs and biting his lower lip to help bear the pain, he inched his way up, using his arms to pull himself towards the top. He could feel the ledge now and was about to get off the beam, when a light came on, illuminating the room. He shut his eyes to the sudden brightness, and lost his balance at the surprise of the new development. The paramedic felt himself fall back down in the hole, as he grabbed at the beam to stop his fall all the way to the bottom. The strategy worked and Johnny hung on, his arms wrapped around the beam while his legs dangled.
Voices could be heard from above.
“They want us to check this room out thoroughly again, but I don’t see why. I mean, it’s so small, there can’t be much to look for that no one hasn’t already.”
“Should we just have a smoke and tell them we turned the room upside down and didn’t find anything?”
“Sounds good to me.”
Johnny’s hopes of getting help were renewed. Someone’s here!
“Help! Hey, help! I’m down here!” Johnny called out, wondering what kind of room he had been in if it had a hole this size.
Maybe we were fighting a fire and the floor gave out. But why would whoever it is be ready to take time out to smoke of all things?
Gage wondered why the men weren’t responding to his yells for help. If he could hear them, shouldn’t they be able to hear him?
Johnny used all the energy he could to swing his legs up on the beam. He knew he needed to get to the top of the hole again so whoever was in the room could see him. It was a slower process than the first time. Every muscle that had ached before was every bit as sore now. Even more so, due to the climbing, hanging and pulling he had just done. As he reached the top, the lights went out again, and the room was consumed with darkness.
“No! Wait! I need help!” Johnny yelled. He fought off another wave of dizziness, grabbing on tighter to the beam in order to prevent himself from falling off again. His stomach reeled and he held his head over the empty space below, retching.
When the latest bout was over, Johnny maneuvered to the surface of the room and collapsed on the floor. He lay on his side and panted, the exertion of the climb up taking its toll. He fought to stay conscious, resolving to find anyone he could to get him medical help. As he rested his weary body and mind, the paramedic once again passed out.
The two policemen came out of the apartment building and walked over to their superior on the scene. Leaning against a patrol car, one man gave a report.
“We looked everywhere in that apartment and there’s just no sign of the guy and no sign of a struggle, other than the broken glass.”
The other nodded in agreement. “That’s right. And it didn’t look like anyone fought or anything. More like a jar got knocked off the table. If there had been a struggle, the table should’ve been moved to an angle or tipped over. ” The man scratched his head. “That broken jar could’ve happened from someone just bumping into the table, or even the rat might’ve knocked it down.”
The officer in charge acknowledged the information. Giving it thought, he determined the next step. “I guess we put out an APB on this fireman and start looking at other apartments and surrounding buildings.”
“Okay, got it.”
The two officers waited for directions on which place to search next. Until the resident of the apartment was cleared by the doctor to be interviewed, that’s all they could do.
It was late evening now and Johnny had been missing for hours. Bradley looked up from reading the paper on the couch in the dayroom as Roy entered. He noted the older paramedic’s defeated appearance with his slumped shoulders as he walked in. Although he had been told some of the details, Jason Bradley wanted to know exactly what had happened to Gage. Roy looked in need of unloading, and with the others out on a run, he figured this was his chance to find out.
“Where’d you get off to?” Jason asked, setting the newspaper aside.
Roy kept his attention on getting a glass of milk as he answered. “I decided to call Rampart and see how the victim Johnny and I had earlier today was doing.”
“He’s still out of it. I guess he’s only mumbled a few unintelligible things . . .something about Batman,” Roy grinned. “That guy is a few cards short of a full deck when he’s awake. I can only imagine how he is now.”
“Well, I’m sure he’ll be fine in a few days.”
“Yeah. I know. But Johnny may not have a few days.”
“Roy, just what happened to Gage?” Jason asked as he got up and walked over to Roy. “And what does this guy getting better have to do with it?”
Roy took a sip of milk. “Probably nothing to do with it, he was outside.” He paused, eyeing Bradley. “The guys didn’t fill you in on more? I figured they would.”
The paramedic shook his head. “Just told me Gage wasn’t able to finish out his shift.”
“Johnny went into this guy’s apartment to look for his roommate, which turned out to be a . . .an animal, and never came out again. He disappeared.”
“A guy can’t just disappear.”
“No, you wouldn’t think so,” Roy agreed. “But this is my partner we’re talking about. Nothin’ surprises me anymore.”
“Any ideas?” Bradley asked, leaning against the counter, his arms folded across his chest.
Roy finished drinking the milk and set the glass on the counter. He thought again about the idea of Johnny shrinking. The visions of being under observation by a psychiatrist made Roy keep his idea to himself, at least until he could talk to Captain Stanley again.
Johnny winced as he once again came around. The throbbing in his head was intense. Ignoring the pain in the rest of his body, he got on his hands and knees. Taking a few shallow breaths, he started crawling forward. His knees hurt from pressure against the wooden floor. The movement of crawling made him all too aware of a sharp pain in his right side. Resting on his knees, Johnny lightly palpated his ribs. The pain his own touch caused confirmed one thing. . .he probably had a few cracked ribs.
Crawling ahead again, Johnny bumped against a pole of some sort. Grabbing on to it, he pulled himself to his feet. The pole must’ve actually been a pillar as wide as it felt. He couldn’t even begin to get his arms even half way around it.
A pillar? Maybe I’m in an auditorium. But those guys said the room was small.
Baffled, Johnny rested against the surface. He knew he needed to carry on to get help. He just wished help would find him soon instead.
Melvin stirred as Doctor Brackett hung the medical chart on the end of the bed. Kel walked up towards the other end of the bed, as he hoped the patient was coming around.
“Melvin. Mr. Meyers, can you hear me at all?” Brackett waited for a response.
Melvin lolled his head side to side, then slowly opened his eyes. He looked around blearily. “Mmmmm?”
“Can you keep your eyes open, Mr. Meyers?”
Melvin nodded yes, as his eyes closed again and he was out.
Brackett turned to the nurse in the room. “I want him checked on at regular intervals. Any change and you have me paged.”
The nurse nodded. “Yes, Doctor. We’ll take good care of him.”
Roy and Bradley came in through the emergency doors with their patient. They had been called out on an unknown rescue, which turned out to be a young girl who had fallen down a flight of steps.
The two paramedics went into the treatment room with her and helped transfer her onto the table.
“How’re her vitals now?” Doctor Early asked as he began to examine the girl.
Roy began to give a run down, while Bradley excused himself and went into the corridor. Wandering over to Dixie’s desk, he started to name off needed supplies.
“Is that all of them?” Dixie asked, as she turned to the supply cabinet.
Bradley looked over his list carefully. “Yup.”
Doctor Brackett approached the desk, a concerned look on his face.
“Hey, Doc,” Jason greeted. “Any word yet on Gage and Desoto’s patient from that fire earlier today?”
“Well, forgive me, but I have to ask. Why does that concern you?” Kel asked the paramedic.
He was about to get his answer when Roy stepped out of the treatment room. He immediately hurried over to talk to Brackett.
“Has Melvin Meyers woken up yet?” Roy asked.
Brackett looked at Bradley, then to DeSoto. “He came around briefly, then was out again.”
“What’s wrong with him, Doc?” Roy questioned. “Is this from the hit with the door?”
Kel shook his head. “I don’t think so. I think he had a problem already developing and it so happens it occurred now. I’m waiting on more test results now.” He gave an apologetic look to Roy. “I know you’re anxious to talk to the guy, but right now I can’t tell you how soon that’ll be. Any sign of Johnny yet?”
“No, but hopefully there’ll be some word on him before morning.”
A call came over the HT, sending the two paramedics out on another run. Bradley acknowledged, then gathered the supplies off the counter Dixie had set out.
“See you later,” Roy said as he stepped away from Brackett.
“Roy, I’ll get a hold of you as soon as I have any news on Mr. Meyers,” the doctor offered.
“Thanks! Can’t ask for more than that.” A despondent Roy followed behind his current partner to the exit doors.
The fumes from the chemicals Melvin used had been rapidly dissipating since the liquids were spilled and dried up. But for a person as small as Johnny, the slightest amount was of significance. He had been affected by the initial exposure from the non-diluted chemical that got on his hands and the mixture that had spilled onto his legs and the floor. Breathing them in throughout the day had only made his condition worsen . . .it was a lingering problem in the room that he wasn’t aware of.
The tiny dark-haired paramedic stumbled as he tripped over something. Falling forward, he put out his hands to brace himself on landing. Johnny felt his left index finger pop as he hit the floor. He closed his eyes against the burning sensation that traveled through his hand.
Oh man, what now?
“R . . .roy? Anybody . . . he . . .help!”
Johnny waited for a response. When none came, he carefully got to his feet. Cradling his left hand against his body, he continued on his journey, stopping at intervals, as a dizzy spell would come over him, the pain in his head throbbing.
Brackett looked over the test results that came back on Melvin Meyers. Consulting Doctor Early, he discussed the information.
“The test shows some kind of chemical present. But I’m not sure how he’d get it . . .my theory is he inhaled small amounts of it over a period of time and it finally caught up with him.”
“Any idea what kind of chemical it is, Kel?”
“No, the lab doesn’t recognize it. I’m guessing it’s something he may have concocted himself.”
“He was mixing chemicals and breathing in the fumes?” Early thought about it. “So, we could be looking at brain damage here.”
“Yeah, and we have to hope if this is the case, none of the firemen or paramedics were exposed or they’re likely to suffer some kind of symptoms as well. The good thing is, unless they had prolonged exposure, the effects should be very minor.” Brackett leaned against the desk in his office. “Another concern, though, is that if it took awhile for Mr. Meyer’s to show symptoms, it’s possible symptoms won’t show up immediately in any others exposed.”
Early nodded. “Do you know who might’ve been in contact with anything?”
“I know how to find out for sure. . . Roy’ll know.” Brackett picked up the telephone receiver and had a call put through to the station. Not getting an answer, he hung up.
“They must be out on another call,” he said as he looked at his watch. “We’re off duty in a few minutes, so I’ll just try to get a hold of him tomorrow. In the meantime, we’ll put word out what to watch for in case anyone is brought in overnight. Let’s also let the police know what we suspect and see if they can bring any samples from Mr. Meyer’s apartment in by morning.”
“Did Johnny go in there right before he disappeared?”
“I’m not sure exactly where he was. But he did go in to look around,” Brackett saw the expression of concern on Joe’s face. “Yeah, you don’t have to say it. We need to find our wayward paramedic soon.”
Johnny once again leaned against a ‘pillar’ as he rested. If the room had been lit, he would’ve seen the pillar was actually a chair leg. Still unaware that he had become smaller, Johnny tried to figure out why no one had come back to look for him.
Forcing a swallow with his dry mouth, Johnny wished he could at least find a source of water. He held his right hand to his head, as the throbbing ache continued. It seemed to be getting worse as time went on. Johnny had a feeling he needed to get away from where he currently was, and fast. Although there was no odor and his mind was fuzzy at best, instinct told him his problems could be in part from something in the air.
A renewed sense of urgency carried the determined paramedic on his way, albeit unsteady.
Shortly after Brackett and Early left, Roy and Bradley came in with another victim, this one being from a car accident. Afterwards they once again stopped at the desk to get more supplies. Betty was working the overnight shift and it was then that the paramedics were informed that Brackett suspected Melvin Meyers may have been mixing chemicals and was exposed to them. Not aware that Johnny could have suffered the same thing, Betty let it slip that brain damage hadn’t been ruled out.
Roy was silent on the way back to the station. Bradley knew what he was thinking. If Melvin Meyers had been mixing chemicals in that apartment, like they suspected, and Johnny left his air tank and mask on the floor, it was likely he had breathed in whatever was in that room. And since he had disappeared after going into the apartment, more than likely Gage wouldn’t know what was wrong with him if he was exhibiting symptoms.
Bradley glanced over at DeSoto. The worry was etched on his face.
Now back at the station, Roy got out of the squad. He was disappointed the engine was still out on a call. Bradley headed for the latrine while Roy went into the dayroom. He was tired as hell, but knew sleep wasn’t going to come easy anyway. Not now that he found out Johnny could be in danger. He still wanted to get into that apartment. It was going to take some fancy talking, a little begging, but he hoped he could convince Captain Stanley it was high priority in finding Johnny.
Early morning, Melvin slowly began to wake up. He groaned. His head felt like it would explode.
Opening his eyes slightly, he saw the blurry image of white and flesh above him.
Oh no! I’m dead! It’s an angel!
He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to look again, this time opening his eyes wider. The clearer, but still hazy image of a nurse appeared.
“Well, hello, Mr. Meyers. How are you feeling?”
Melvin groaned again. His head ached like it never had before.
“M. . .my. . .he. ..head . . .hurts.”
“We’ll get you something for that after a doctor has a chance to examine you.”
“Now. . .please.”
“Sorry, Mr. Meyers. Doctors’ orders. They need to see you before anymore medication can be given. It may hide your symptoms otherwise.”
Melvin nodded and closed his eyes again.
“Now, don’t go out on us,” the nurse said as she pressed a call button. Another nurse quickly opened the door and peeked inside.
“You need something, Cathy?”
“Yes, call down and tell Doctor Wilson that Melvin Meyers is waking up. He’s covering for Brackett so he’ll want to see the patient as soon as he can, I’m sure.”
“Got it.” The door closed behind the nurse.
Cathy looked down at Melvin, whose eyes were now open again. “Hang in there. It won’t be long.”
Melvin calmly nodded. He had suddenly remembered he was near-sighted anyway. Without his glasses, of course the nurse would appear blurry.
Johnny slipped through a slit between the edge of a curtain and doorframe. When he reached the other side, the vision in front of him was staggering. The furniture was that of a giant. There was a huge bed, dresser, nightstand and exercise bike. He sidestepped in wonder and shock, his dry mouth wide open, his eyes squinting in the new light from the morning sun shining in a window. Then an all too familiar throbbing in his head returned with a vengeance, causing Johnny to close his eyes to ward off the pain.
I can’t believe this. . .it has to be an hallucination!
Suddenly memories of times before came flooding back to the paramedic. The huge hail stones, the ant lion pit, nearly drowning in a mud puddle, the mouse, a giant cat and Melvin in the alley. . .he had squirted Johnny with something before. . .and Johnny had shrunk.
The realization that it had happened again, in addition to the effects of the fumes he had been breathing in, and his injuries, sent Johnny stepping back until he met with the wall. Johnny felt himself sway as another dizzy spell washed over him. The massive bedroom furniture faded in and out of focus. His mind whirling, he tried to think of what he should do. If he was really that small, the chances of being found were slim to none. No one would be looking for a tiny person. The familiar pain in his ribs and finger, not to mention the fact he was already dehydrated and getting worse, were reminders to Johnny that he had better find a way to get help and do it soon. He spotted a pair of giant tennis shoes against the wall about seven inches from where he was now. It would take him awhile to get to them, but he had an idea and the shoes would play a big part.
With determination once again set in, Johnny weakly headed for the footwear as he followed along the wall. After a few steps, his vision narrowed to a pinpoint and he lost his battle with consciousness, collapsing on the floor where he sank down among the threads of the green long-shag carpet.
“Lookin’ good,” Doctor Wilson said as he hung the updated chart at the foot of Melvin’s bed. He smiled at the nurse who had recently given Melvin some pain medication in his IV, then glanced back at the patient. “All your vitals are normal. How’s your headache now?”
Doctor Wilson had agreed to take care of Kel Brackett’s patient until the doctor returned in the morning. Brackett and Early had informed him of their concerns. So far, it looked like Melvin was going to emerge with little permanent damage.
“It’s clearing. I. . .I’m okay.”
“I’d like to ask you a few questions,” the doctor said, smiling.
“Can you tell me your name?”
Melvin paused. “Mr. Meyers,” he replied quietly.
“That’s part of it. . .okay, day?”
“Um. . .not sure.”
“Can you remember what happened?”
Melvin tried to recall the events that brought him to Rampart. He remembered two firemen over him. . .one had dark hair, a familiar face.
“They uh. . .both brought me in?”
“Usually that’s standard pactice.”
“One had dark hair?”
Wilson looked to the nurse for confirmation. At her nod, he answered. “Yes.”
Maybe it was John. But didn’t someone there say he was gone? Maybe that part was a dream . . .
“Yes, Mr. Meyers. . .”
Melvin was afraid with Johnny seeing him, the fireman might’ve remembered more about what had happened months ago when he was kidnapped. The best defense he had now was to pretend to not remember who he was. Maybe they’d let him off on sympathy, if nothing else.
“I. . .I don’t remember anything. I don’t know who I am.” He closely watched the doctor’s reaction.
“But you just said your name was ‘Mr. Meyers.’ That was the right answer.”
Melvin mustered as many tears as he could in his eyes. “I was. . .was just repeating what you’d called me. I don’t know who I am.”
The doctor and nurse frowned, while Melvin smiled inwardly. They were buying his act.
The rest of the night had been quiet for A-shift at Station 51. When the engine had returned, Roy tried to approach the captain about his idea as to Johnny’s whereabouts, but the words just wouldn’t come. He kept picturing Hank’s expression last time he had to suggest Johnny might be smaller than they were used to seeing him.
Now with morning and the end of a shift fast approaching, Roy decided he would talk to Captain Stanley as soon as the next shift took over.
The two policemen walked out of Rampart and got into their car. Looking back at the hospital, one man shook his head.
“I haveta’ wonder if Mr. Meyers really has amnesia.”
“No matter. He wasn’t inside the building when it happened anyway.”
The driver nodded, and turned the key in the ignition. “And he has plenty of witnesses who do remember that.”
“You what?” Stanley asked, a familiar feeling coming over him. “Roy, you led me on this idea once. . .much to my doubt it was true, let me remind you. . .no. . .it just doesn’t happen.”
“Cap, I agree. It doesn’t happen, but just think about it. . .suppose it did. Suppose Johnny, by some wild chance, got into something in that apartment that. . .” Roy stopped, lowering his eyes to the floor. “Never mind. It does sound crazy now that I say it.”
Still, I can’t shake this hunch. . .
Roy looked back up to the captain’s face. “Can we just go into that apartment and look around?”
“We did look around the apartment. Twice. And the cops did. . .twice, as I understand it.”
“Yeah but, Cap,” Roy protested, “they weren’t looking for a small. . .I. . .look, I can’t help it. I just think we need to go take another shot at it.”
Hank sighed. “I’ll see what the police say. But this doesn’t mean I buy it.”
Roy nodded. “Right.”
“Okay. . .because I don’t.”
Hank watched Roy as he left the office.
“I really don’t believe it,” he said, in an effort to convince himself.
Kel Brackett sat at his desk and listened as Doctor Wilson updated him on Melvin Meyers. He twitched his mouth and rubbed his chin as he gave the new development thought.
“He has no idea who he is?”
“That’s what he claims,” Wilson explained. “He said he only knew his name since we used it when we talked to him.”
“The x-rays didn’t show that serious of a head injury. So it must be related to the chemical. If he’s telling the truth.”
“You think he’s faking?”
“I’m not sure.” Brackett picked up a paper mask that the police had found in Melvin’s apartment. “But if he used this type of protection from the fumes, it’s possible he breathed some in, and if they were strong enough. . .well, we don’t know exactly what the stuff was.” He shook his head. “And I get a feeling Mr. Meyers isn’t going to remember much about what he was making, either.”
“Should we both go talk to him? He’s been on medication, but may be able to answer some questions.”
“Yeah. Let me try to call John Gage’s partner before he leaves the station. Then we’ll go up.”
Captain Stanley was heading to the parking lot when Roy rushed out of the dorm.
Hank turned and stopped. “What is it?”
“I just got a phone call from Brackett,” Roy explained, somewhat breathless. “They found evidence of an unknown chemical in Melvin’s system, and it looks likely he was mixing the stuff.”
“How is he?”
Roy frowned. “He says he doesn’t remember who he is.”
The captain’s expression turned to concern. “And he’s the one who might know what happened to John.”
“I thought you didn’t believe it?”
“I don’t. . .but I don’t have any better ideas.” He motioned for Roy to follow him towards the parking lot.
“Where’re we going?”
“To Rampart. Maybe we can get some answers.”
Roy followed, a grin spreading across his face.
He’ll never admit it, but he believes it more now.
With minimal damage to the third floor, and only in two apartments, residents in Melvin’s building had been allowed to go back inside their apartments a few hours after the fire was out. Only a few residents from the third floor and those on the second floor who lived below them, were forced to find another place to stay. An older woman to whom Melvin had given a key to his apartment in case of an emergency peered down the hallway from her doorway.
Inside apartment 212, Johnny lay in a deep state of unconsciousness where he had toppled to the floor. All the pain he had been feeling from his injuries no longer registered in his idle mind.
A key turned in the lock of the apartment door and in walked the neighbor lady. Ignoring the yellow crime scene tape in front of the door, she ducked under and stepped inside. Looking around at the livingroom, the woman shook her head.
What a mess.
She continued into the bedroom, where the place was equally messy. The woman put her hands on her hips and shook her head again. Going back into the livingroom, she opened a closet and pulled out a canister vacuum cleaner. Parking it near the couch, she began to pick a few items up off the floor here and there.
“I’ll have this cleaned up for Mr. Meyers before he gets home from the hospital. It’ll be a nice surprise.” She glanced back at the yellow tape in the doorway and walked over to it, closing the door.
“My, my he sure needs to learn to pick up after himself. I’ll just get it straightened and vacuumed, then leave.”
Roy and Captain Stanley entered Rampart Hospital through the emergency doors. Not seeing Brackett anywhere in the corridor, Roy walked over to Dixie’s desk.
“Hi, Roy!” Dixie gave a forced smile. “Any word on Johnny yet?”
“No, but hopefully he’ll be found today.” Roy looked around. “Is. . .um. . .is Brackett handy?”
Dixie shook her head. “He’s in room four with a patient the guys from 36 just brought in. I have a feeling he’ll be awhile.”
“Can you tell us what room Melvin Meyers is in? We’d like to talk to him.”
“Sure, but he’s on medication, so he may not be very alert.”
“We’ll take our chances,” Hank said stepping forward.
“Thanks, Dix,” Roy said. He and the captain headed for the elevator.
Melvin eyed the men carefully as they walked in the doorway. He recognized them instantly. Not wanting to give anything away, he kept quiet as they approached his bed.
“Hi,” Roy said, nodding in acknowledgement. “We heard you’d finally woken up. How’re ya feelin’?”
“Not too well,” Melvin replied weakly.
“You remember us?” Stanley asked, somewhat surprised.
“I remember you were standing over me.” He looked at Roy. “Two firemen were helping me.”
“Is that all you remember?” Roy asked.
“Yeah. . .” Melvin paused. Something was up. . .had John told them already? “Wha. . .where’s the other guy?”
“You mean the other fireman?” the captain asked.
Melvin nodded, as he gave an apprehensive look at Roy, then at Stanley.
“Well, we were hoping maybe you could tell us. Seems he went into your apartment to look for a rat and that’s the last we’ve seen of him.”
Roy watched for a reaction to Hank’s words. It was total surprise. If Melvin recalled anything, he was certainly a good actor.
“You mean he’s missing?”
“Yep. So, can you help us?”
A rush of thoughts were running through Melvin’s mind…had Johnny shrunk? Was he still in the apartment? Had John told them about his previous experiences and was this a set up? He would have to find a way to get released from the hospital soon and see what was up. He kept his face expressionless as he gave his answer.
“No, I’m sorry. . .all I remember is two firemen helping me. I don’t even know why.”
Roy and Hank stood outside of Melvin’s room. “Think he’s hiding something, Roy?”
“Hard to say. . .you?”
“I want to talk to Brackett. If what they think is true, no matter where John is, he’s likely to have taken in some of that same chemical.”
Roy glanced back at the door to Melvin’s room as they walked down the hall.
I hope you slip up soon, if you’re lying.
The woman in Melvin’s apartment vacuumed the livingroom carpet thoroughly, taking off the wand and using the hose to suck up dirt along the bottom edges of the walls. It was taking her longer to be so detailed, but she wanted to get the place as clean as possible. Turning off the vacuum, she sighed. Her next project was the bedroom. There was more straightening to do in there first, but she hoped to be done within an hour.
Still unconscious and unaware of the danger awaiting him, Johnny laid motionless, unseen in the deep threads of the carpet.
Melvin lay in the bed, thinking more about what the two visitors had said. John had vanished in his apartment. Could it really be the new formula he was making worked on a person? On poor, unsuspecting John, again? He hadn’t had a chance to try the latest combination of chemicals out on anything to know how well they worked. . .or for how long.
I wonder if it’s possible. . .? Nah. . .surely he wouldn’t have gotten into the stuff while he was searching for Bruce. But if the room was still dark. . .and it spilled on him. . .
A smile spread across Melvin’s face.
I’ll be famous after all!
He closed his eyes, giving in to the drowsiness of the medication. Dreams of walking across the stage on the Mike Douglas show played over and over in his mind.
After talking to Brackett and finding out no one else had been affected by the chemicals in the apartment, and that to the best of his knowledge Melvin was telling the truth about his memory loss, Roy and Captain Stanley headed for the apartment building. It took some fancy talking on Hank’s part, but he was finally able to convince Melvin’s landlady that they should be let into apartment 212.
As the three approached the door, they could hear the faint hum of a vacuum cleaner coming from inside.
“That’s odd,” the lady said. “No one’s supposed to be in there.”
Roy and Hank looked at each other, neither wanting to admit what they were thinking. But they both wanted the door opened as soon as possible. Roy looked at the keys in the woman’s hands.
“Can you open the door now so we can get in?” He asked, a tinge of impatience in his voice.
“Oh, certainly. I’m sorry.” She smiled. “I was just trying to figure out--”
“Ma’am,” Hank interrupted when she still hadn’t unlocked the door. “We’re kind of in a hurry.”
“I’m talking too much, I know,” she said as she slipped the key in the hole.
The door now open, the three ducked under the yellow tape. Roy and the captain hurried to the room where the sound of the appliance was coming from. Both stopped in their tracks when they saw the carpet had been vacuumed completely except for a small area near the nightstand. They glanced behind them at the newly vacuumed livingroom. Roy felt his stomach knot.
We’re too late. Unless . . .
“Stop!” Roy shouted, surprising even himself at the urgency in his voice.
The startled woman with the vacuum dropped the hose, the end of it firmly attaching itself to the floor next to the nightstand. The landlady was puzzled as she watched Captain Stanley run over and shut off the noisy appliance. A hushed silence fell on the room.
Roy wandered over near Hank.
“Cap, I. . .well, we’re probably. . .I mean. . .”
“Don’t say it, Roy. Just do what you have to do.”
Roy nodded solemnly, as he opened the canister vacuum to retrieve the bag. The two women watched as the paramedic dumped the contents on the floor.
“I just cleaned that!” The one lady protested.
Hank held up his hand to silence her. “Ma’am, we’ll clean it up.”
“Well, what’s he looking for?”
Not wanting to answer, the captain escorted the ladies out of the room, leading them to the couch. “You two just wait here, and we’ll be done in a minute.” He smiled reassuringly. The ladies nodded hesitantly. Not sure of anything that was going on, they sat in silence while Hank went back into the bedroom.
“Well?” Stanley asked as he watched Roy spread out the assorted dirt and lint, sifting through it.
“I don’t see him.”
Hank was surprised at the relief he felt.
I must be losing my mind. If headquarters gets word of this, I’ll never make chief . . .looking for one of my paramedics in a vacuum cleaner bag. Geesh!
“You know, he could’ve gotten out of this apartment.” He reminded Roy.
“Yeah. But can we look around?”
“Sure. . .why not?” I can’t believe I agreed to any of this.
“Oh and Cap--”
“I know. . .be careful where I step.”
As they walked into the closet with the curtain door, they stepped past a pair of shoes that were up against the bedroom wall. Little did they know that underneath one of the shoes was the prize they were looking for. The woman who had cleaned the apartment had set the shoes aside to sweep where they had been. She forgot to return them to their rightful place when she moved the vacuum to another spot.
Johnny moaned, moving his head slightly. He could hear voices, but they sounded muffled.
“R. . .Roy? Cap?” He rasped. He tried to move, but something was pinning him down. It was hard to breath with the pressure pushing him into the carpet. Struggling, Johnny finally maneuvered onto his side. His energy spent, the dark-haired paramedic once again passed out.
The two men stood outside the apartment in the hallway. Both ladies already gone, they pondered what to do next.
“What do you think the cops will say once they find out we crossed their crime scene tape?” Roy asked.
Captain Stanley snorted. “I’d say once they see how well that lady cleaned up the place before we even got here, it won’t matter. Anything that might’ve been a clue is gone now.”
Roy stared at the closed door, the tape still in front of it. “I was so sure he was in there.”
“He has to be somewhere.” Stanley motioned towards the stairwell with his head. “C’mon. Let’s go. We’ll find him.”
Roy nodded and followed.
It had been awhile since he passed out, but Johnny slowly regained consciousness. The heat between the rubber sole of the shoe and the carpet threads was suffocating. Using all of the energy he could muster, Johnny slid himself out from underneath, rolling on to his back. He sucked in the cleaner air, trying not to over do so as not to hyperventilate. Blinking his eyes, Johnny looked around to familiarize himself with what was going on and why he was in the situation he was in.
The humongous furniture wavered in and out of focus. Johnny closed his eyes and shook his head. . .an act he immediately regretted. His head throbbed with every move. Opening his eyes again, he stared at the giant objects around him.
The pain in his side and finger returned, reminding him that he had been through quite an ordeal. He couldn’t recall any of it, but judging by how he felt, it must have been a doozy. As a sudden wave of nausea hit, Johnny turned onto his left side and vomited. He pushed himself back from the mess and glanced once more at his surroundings.
The large object in front of him swam in and out of focus. To Johnny, it was at least the size of a double-decked bus. He could see something trailing down off of it. Squinting, the image became clearer.
A shoe? Shoes. . .shoe laces. . .ropes. . .ropes to climb up or down.
Johnny struggled to his feet and walked unsteadily over to the shoe. As he reached it, he fell against the side and clutched the lace. Not wanting to waste any time, Johnny started to climb the shoe using the lace as a rope. Once he got to the top, he could pull it out, hole by hole, and use it as a rope if he needed it to get out of where ever he was. As it was, the going was slow. With one bad finger, and as weak and sore as he felt, Johnny couldn’t climb as easily as he normally would.
Roy tossed and turned as he tried to get some sleep. He couldn’t shake the feeling he and Hank had missed something. Finally giving up on sleep for the moment, he laid on his back and stared at the ceiling.
He ran his mind over what they had done. Nothing jumped out at him as anything unusual. Roy’s eyelids grew heavy and he slipped into a deep sleep without even realizing it.
Johnny was near the top of the shoe. With one final pull, he got himself near the top lace hole. Getting up on his hands and knees, he began to work the lace out of the hole. The lack of food and water caught up to him and Johnny lost his grip with his good hand as a dizzy spell once again washed over him. He toppled off of the shoe, landing on the carpet below. Johnny groaned as pain ricocheted through his body.
I’m never gonna make it out of here.
Johnny lay still for a few minutes as he tried to gather his senses. He couldn’t give up. But when he looked in the direction of the livingroom, the distance to the next room was greater than the length of a football field. The paramedic moaned as he turned on his side.
Melvin watched as Brackett looked over the latest vitals written on the chart at the foot of the bed. After taking a long rest with assorted dreams of being on the television talk show circuit, Melvin was anxious to find his ticket to fame.
“How does it look, Doctor?” Melvin asked.
“Your vitals are good. . .but I’m still concerned about the memory loss.”
“What if I remember everything?”
Brackett quickly looked up from the chart in his hands to the patient.
“You aren’t going to tell me you suddenly have your memory back, are you?”
Realizing the mess he’d gotten himself into, Melvin decided to go another direction.
“No. As a matter of fact I’m not,” he replied indignantly. “But I’m not going to stay here any longer than I have to.”
Kel gave a long look to his patient. He hung the chart on the foot of the bed and folded his arms across his chest. “Mr. Meyers, you need to stay here under observation until we’re sure everything’s okay. And you can’t just go walking out on the street not even knowing who you are.”
“Well, one thing I do remember is that you can’t make me stay if I want to leave.”
“No, but I’d strongly urge you against it. You’ve just woken up from a drug-induced sleep. You’re certainly not one hundred percent yourself yet.”
Melvin gave the matter thought. The doctor was right and he knew it. But his chance at finding John before anyone else was slipping away the longer he was in the hospital. Priority came first.
“I want my clothes. I’m getting out of this place.”
“Now, look,” Brackett began, annoyed, “you need to stay here where someone can keep an eye on you.”
“No. I need to get out of here. Let me have my wallet and my clothes.”
“Mr. Meyers. . .” the doctor sighed. “Normally I can’t force a patient to stay. But you have a memory loss. So you aren’t considered able to decide these things for yourself.”
“You gotta be kiddin’?”
Brackett shook his head. Some days . . . “No, I’m not.”
Melvin frowned. “Okay. You win. But I’m not happy.”
“Well, making you happy isn’t my job. Getting you well is.”
Meyers watched as the doctor walked out of the room, the nurse following behind him. Now alone in the room, he looked around. The closet was on the left side next to the bathroom. Melvin got an idea.
Not having the energy to get up, or even the presence of mind to know why he was down, Johnny remained on the floor. He was starving, dehydrated, hurting, and worn out. He decided there was nothing left to do but wait for someone to come find him, no matter who it was. Johnny hoped whoever lived in the place would come home.
After waking up from a long nap, Roy was sitting in the livingroom watching a game show. He still was thinking about his lost partner when Joanne walked into the room.
“Roy, would you mind running to the store to get us more milk?”
Roy looked up from watching the television screen. A little distraction wouldn’t hurt, even if it were real simple.
“Not at all. Let me get my shoes on.”
He got up and walked over to the front door where he had left his tennis shoes. Sitting down in a nearby chair, he began to put them on. As Roy was tying the second shoe he suddenly realized what they had missed at the apartment.
Hurriedly tying his shoe, Roy grabbed his keys and ran out the door.
The nurse opened the door to Melvin’s room and could see his shape under the covers. Following instructions from Doctor Brackett, she walked over to the bed to wake the patient up for a regular check. As she got closer, she could see there was no head. . .quickly pulling back the covers, the nurse revealed a line of pillows off of both beds in the room. She reached for the call button to notify Brackett Melvin was AWOL.
Melvin rode along in the taxi, watching the scenery go by. His escape from Rampart had been easier than he thought. No one noticed the small-framed man as he had carefully walked down the hallway and into the stairwell. He was unsteady, and the blood dripped from where his IV was, but all in all it had gone smoothly.
Now he was on his way to find his ticket to fame. John Gage was going to be on The Mike Douglas Show as a little guy whether he wanted to or not. Melvin wasn’t going to lose his chance again. If John was tiny, he would put the paramedic in a glass jar and keep him til he could get them booked on the show.
Melvin was excited as the taxi neared the area where his apartment was.
Roy drove above the speed limit trying to get to the apartment as soon as possible. He prayed no cops would stop him. By luck he didn’t pass by any.
He was almost to the apartment building when he heard sirens. Pulling over to the side of the road, he let the fire truck pass him. It was then he noticed the smoke rising up into the sky.
Parking across the street from the apartment building, Roy got out of his car and looked in disbelief. The building was on fire again. Only this time it was bad. Thoughts running through his mind, one word came out of his mouth.
At that instant another voice was heard saying almost the same thing. “John!”
Roy turned to see Melvin standing beside him looking up at the building.
The blonde paramedic was curious as to how and why Melvin Meyers was out of the hospital and why he was here now. But finding his partner, who he believed to be in the building, was more of a priority. Roy ran over to the captain from Station 110.
“DeSoto! What are you doing here?” A concerned look came over the captain’s face. “Don’t tell me you live in these apartments.”
“No. . .no, I’m looking for a friend. . .uh, John Gage.”
“I haven’t seen him. But the evacuees are over there across the street.” He pointed to a cluster of people standing in a parking lot, staring up at the blaze on the third and second floors.
“Did anyone get taken to the hospital?”
“No. We got everyone out.”
“Thanks,” Roy said as he turned to check out the crowd. He glanced at Melvin as he walked by.
“John’s not there.”
“Where?” Roy wondered.
“In the crowd. He’s not there.”
Roy turned around and looked at the flaming building.
No time to waste, he grabbed Melvin by the arm and pulled him to the captain.
“Cap, Johnny’s in that building.”
The captain shook his head. “We got everyone out, DeSoto.”
Roy glared at Melvin. “Now’s your chance to speak out. If you can remember, that is.”
“Yeah, sure.” Meyers said nervously shifting on his feet. “He’s in my apartment . . .number 212.”
“You certain of this?”
Melvin and Roy both nodded. The captain called over two of the paramedics on the scene and filled them in. As they put on their air masks, Roy tried to think of a way to explain the condition they may find Johnny in.
“When you go in, look for. . . he could be. . .” Roy couldn’t get the words to come out. “Just look closely at the floor. . .anything blue, pick it up.”
The men exchanged puzzled glances. Not sure what to make of Roy’s instructions, they ran into the building in search of Gage.
Johnny had smelled the smoke when the fire first spread. He tried calling out for help, but his dry, raspy throat would barely make a sound. Still not sure as to where he was and why, the young paramedic allowed himself to drift into unconsciousness.
Thompson and Larson, the two paramedics sent in to the building, made their way to Melvin’s apartment. They paused a moment when they saw the yellow tape across the doorway.
“No wonder we didn’t check this place. . .I never expected anyone to be in here!”
“Why would Gage be in there?” Thompson wondered.
Larson shrugged. “We’ll find out more about that after we get him out.”
Thompson motioned for Larson to step back, as he kicked in the door. They ducked under the tape and hurried into the apartment, their eyes scanning the area as they moved through. When they entered into the bedroom, they could see Johnny on the floor through the smoke filled haze. He was lying on his back, his eyes closed.
“Holy shit!” Thompson’s muffled voice sounded. “John!”
Both men rushed to the injured man’s side. When they got close they could see his swollen finger and assorted scratches and bruises on his body. Larson placed his fingertips on Johnny’s neck to check for a carotid. The pulse was rapid and weak. Thompson noted that the unconscious paramedic was barely breathing.
“We gotta get him out of here now! We’ll have to do a grab and go!”
Larson nodded and got at Johnny’s feet while Thompson gingerly sat him up, and put his arms under Johnny’s. The two men stood and quickly carried their charge out of the smoke filled room.
The men continued down the stairs and towards the front door of the building. Larson looked behind his partner, where the fire was now spreading near the top of the stairs. The building was going to be a total loss, but at least now they knew they had gotten everyone out.
Thank God Desoto showed up when he did.
Roy felt both disbelief and relief when he saw the two paramedics carry out his full-sized partner. Johnny was still in his uniform, although it looked like it had seen better days. Actually both Johnny and his clothes looked rough.
Melvin followed behind Roy as he trotted to where Johnny was being laid out on the ground. Their helmets and masks now off, Larson set up the oxygen for Johnny while Thompson contacted Rampart.
“Rampart, this is squad 8. How do you read?”
“We read you clear,” came Brackett’s reply.
“Rampart we have a male, 25 years of age, he’s unconscious and suffering from smoke inhalation,” Thomson watched as his partner palpated Johnny’s ribs. Getting an indication there was an injury, he continued. “Victim also has possible fractured ribs on the right side and an apparent broken left index finger. There’s also a knot on the back of his head. Pupils are sluggish, pulse is rapid and weak, blood pressure is 100/70. We have him on six liters of O-2.”
Larson grabbed a small amount of skin on Johnny’s arm and pinched it. When he let it go, the skin slowly fell back into place.
“Add dehydrated to the list,” he told Thompson.
Roy watched the paramedics work on Johnny. It was reminder of how it felt to be on the other end of the call.
Melvin stood back in awe at the work the men were doing. He was astounded at the firemen still fighting the blaze, the selflessness Larson and Thompson showed running into a burning building in search of Johnny and the care they were now giving . . .the same kind of care John and Roy had started to give him. Suddenly Batmobiles and secret caves seemed not be so special anymore. Melvin saw a new kind of hero in action and they were all wearing turnout gear. And in the middle of the commotion was the hero who had talked bank robbers into giving themselves up eight months before. Now in a soiled blue uniform, battered from an ordeal Melvin had likely brought about. . .once again. How could he ever make it up to John? A fulfilling feeling washed over him as he realized what he was going to do. He would try to become a firefighter himself. After all, he could still seek his fame on the Mike Douglas Show. The formula had to have worked, that was the only explanation for John being in his apartment. Melvin looked at the burning building. It would take him a while, but he would have to make a new batch of formula since the stuff in there had either been spilled or burned up.
Melvin stood lost in his own thoughts as Roy walked to the ambulance. DeSoto watched as the stretcher with Johnny was brought over to the back. As it was lifted, Johnny’s brown eyes opened slightly.
“Hang in there,” Roy said, as he patted Johnny’s right shoulder.
Johnny gave a weak nod and closed his eyes again. Once the patient was situated in the ambulance, the doors were shut and the sirens filled the air before fading in the distance.
Roy walked over to where Melvin still stood.
“So, were you released or did you just walk out of Rampart?”
Melvin averted his eyes. “I. . .I snuck out.”
“You want a ride back?”
The chemist sighed. “Yeah. . .I do. Guess I have some explainin’ to do.”
“I’d say so.”
The two men went over to Roy’s car and got inside. Roy was glad to be getting the patient back to where he belonged, but also was hoping he would get some answers before they got to Rampart.
Two days later, Johnny was still at Rampart Hospital. He was doing much better, although his recollection of the ordeal was sketchy at best. Once more, he wasn’t able to recall actual events. What was real and what may have been imagined were meshed together in memory.
As he peeked in the doorway, Roy expected to find a bored friend in need of a visitor. Instead he found Johnny in the company of someone famliar.
“Roy!” Johnny said, his voice still raspy from the smoke and the dryness he’d suffered. “Come on in.”
Roy opened the door the rest of the way and walked towards the bed. “How’re ya feelin’?”
“Better. Much better.” The younger paramedic glanced at his current visitor and back to Roy. “You remember Amy, don’t you? “
“Oh yeah, hey,” Roy grinned, as he noticed Amy was holding Johnny’s right hand open. “Good to see you again.”
Amy let go of Johnny’s hand and stood up. “Well, I guess I’d better go. See you later, Johnny,” she said as she started for the doorway.
Johnny looked at Roy and shrugged. Turning his attention back to Amy, he watched as she disappeared from view. “Bye!”
“Kind of rude, wouldn’t you say?” Roy asked.
“Nah. . .she’s just not happy you tried to get me to dump her.”
“I tried--” Roy couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Johnny, you’ve been stringing her along for eight months now. I was trying to get you to do the right thing by her.” He paused, giving it more thought. “Who told her, anyway?”
“I must’ve. . .but I think I was pretty out of it when I did, because I don’t really remember it.”
“Uh huh. I seem to recall someone else who tried that approach to hide something.”
Johnny splayed his hand across his chest. “Roy! I’m not hiding anything. Honest!”
“Never mind. But I thought you didn’t like her. . .how come the sudden change?’
Johnny nodded his head. “He told me we inspired him to want to become a firefighter. Now if you ask me, the guy’s too skinny for the job--” He paused when he saw Roy raise his eyebrows in question. “Look, I’m skinny, but I’m tough. . .Melvin’s just skinny, period. He’d be better off as a dispatcher. Anyway, I figure since I first met the guy, I’ve had two major blank outs in my life and have been hospitalized both times.”
“So, a palm reader can come in pretty handy,” Johnny snorted at his own joke. “With Melvin in the fire department, no telling what might happen if we meet into each other. This way I’ll have an idea if danger is looming in my future and I can keep my distance.”
Roy shook his head. Although his partner did have a point . . .Johnny and Melvin together was a scary thought. But to rely on an orthopedic palm reader? He decided the conversation was best ended.
“I better get home to Jo and the kids.” Roy started to turn away.
The older paramedic looked back at his friend.
“Um. . .did. . .I mean. . .do you believe people can be shrunk?”
Roy wasn’t sure what to say. He had gone on that theory to find his partner, and there was certainly no logical explanation as to why Johnny was in the apartment building a day and a half after he disappeared. His injuries were consistent with a fall of some sort, but there wasn’t anything in the apartment for a man to fall from. Roy cleared his throat.
“I’d like to see it before I believe it.”
“Yeah. . .” Johnny said quietly, disappointment in his voice. “Me, too, I guess.”
An awkward moment passed as neither man knew what to say next. Finally Roy broke the silence.
“Get some rest, partner. You sound terrible.”
Johnny nodded and Roy walked out into the hall. He stood just beyond the doorway to Johnny’s room, giving the younger man’s question thought. At the same time, Johnny was giving his own question consideration.
Weeks later, things had once again returned to normal around the station. It was early one afternoon, and Johnny tried to find something on television to pass the time between calls. As he flipped through channels, Chet and Marco pulled over a couple of chairs from the table.
“Whoa! Wait. . .Gage, go back to that last channel,” Chet said, sitting forward in his chair. He watched as Johnny complied. “Oh good! It’s the Mike Douglas Show.”
“Hey, John. Isn’t that your buddy Melvin on there?” Marco asked as he pointed at the screen.
“He’s not my--” Johnny stopped in mid sentence, his mouth open in surprise.
“So, you say this stuff really shrinks people, Mr. Meyers?” Mike Douglas was asking.
“That’s right. And it only takes a small amount absorbed in the skin.“
“Okay. Well, after a word from our sponsor, we’ll be back with our firefighter trainee/chemist to see just how well this really works.”
Johnny absently pulled over a chair and sat down without taking his eyes off the screen, his mouth still open. Chet glanced over at him and grinned.
“Ah, c’mon, John. Don’t tell me you believe in that stuff.”
“Huh? No. . .no,” Johnny shook his head. “I can’t believe he got on the Mike Douglas Show.”
Captain Stanley, Mike, and Roy wandered over and stood behind the others as the commercials ended.
“Welcome back to the show. We’re here with Melvin Meyers who claims he has a secret formula that can shrink people. And I guess if it works, they’ll have to rename the show because I’ll be too small to host it anymore.”
The captain and Roy exchanged nervous glances, while Johnny’s right leg took on a nervous bounce. The others were too absorbed in the moment to notice.
“Well, here goes nothing,” Mike Douglas said as he held up his arms and allowed Melvin to spray him with formula.
Johnny, Roy and Hank held their breath waiting for something to happen. When nothing did, the feelings were a mixture of disappointment and relief.
“Ah man,” Chet whined. “What a joke.”
“As you can see, I’m still here with Mr. Meyers. Let’s go to another commercial break and we’ll be right back.”
As the camera panned back, Mike Douglas suddenly disappeared off the screen.
“Di. . .did you see that?” Johnny exclaimed. “He disappeared!”
“Uh. . .it could’ve been a trick,” Captain Stanley explained. “You know they can do amazing stuff with cameras.”
“I don’t know, Cap,” Chet said as he shook his head. “It looked pretty real to me.”
The men continued to stare at the television screen as an announcement came on saying the remainder of the show was cancelled due to technical difficulties. Six men exchanged wondrous glances as each one thought about what he really believed, no one daring to make a comment.
Chet slowly stood up and walked towards the doorway to the apparatus bay. “Well, I think I’ll clean the latrine.”
“Here, I’ll help,” Marco said, getting up.
“The engine needs polishing,” Mike added, also leaving the room.
The three left in the room continued to look at each other and back to the screen. Finally Johnny stood up and shrugged. Turning the channel he said, “Well, there’s always the Merv Griffin Show.”
My thanks to Kenda for the beta read and the kick-start for an ending!
*Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin don’t belong to me anymore then the E! guys do, but hopefully if they saw they were in an E! fic, they would find it flattering.