"Well, if I'm cooking the turkey then you turkeys can bring the pie. That's what I think!"
"I could bring a store-bought pie," Joe Early volunteered. "If doctors could cook I wouldn't have gone through med school on peanut butter sandwiches."
"Store bought will be fine," Dixie McCall agreed graciously. Kelly Brackett, though, took exception to the slur.
"I can cook! I could bake a pie if I wanted to!"
"Have you ever tried before?" Joe asked.
"Well . . . no. But it can't be any harder than open heart surgery, and I've done that once or twice."
"So you're going to bake a pie?" Mike Morton persisted.
Kel hesitated, then took the plunge. "Yeah! Sure. I'll bake a pie!"
"Well," Mike said, "if he's bringing a pie, I'll bring a stomach pump."
"Hey! Thanks a lot, pal! I'll remember that when it's time to make out the duty rosters."
John Gage and Roy DeSoto were hanging back from the nurses' station, listening to Dixie and the doctors friendly bickering and staying out of the line of fire. Roy had their drug box under his arm and Johnny was carrying a requisition sheet. Dixie saw them and gave them a smile and nod. At that the doctors turned and then moved apart, making room for the two paramedics.
"So," Johnny said, "sounds like you guys have some big plans for the holiday tomorrow."
"We do," Joe agreed. "Dixie has graciously invited us to join her for dinner."
"Just be glad I like you guys," Dixie said, scanning the requisition form. "I don't cook for just anybody, you know."
"So," Kel rubbed his hands together, "I know Roy's probably got a big family dinner to go to. What about you, John? What are your plans?"
Before Johnny could answer Dixie came over and interrupted them. "John Gage! What on earth is 'Chet saline'?"
"Oh, that." Johnny leaned both elbows on the counter and gave her a broad, cheesy grin. "Half-normal."
"So you're saying Chet is half normal?" Mike asked, amused. "That's Chet Kelly, isn't it? Why do you say he's half normal?"
Roy answered. "Johnny's being nice on account of it's a holiday tomorrow."
Dixie came back with the supplies they needed and helped Roy pack them into the drug box. "So what are you doing, Johnny?"
The phone rang and she stopped to answer it, then handed it off to Johnny. "It's your captain."
Johnny listened, then took his lucky green pen and his notebook out and wrote several things down. "Okay, Cap. Sure, we'll be glad to. Okay then, bye. Captain Hammer," he told Roy unnecessarily when he'd hung up. "He wants us to stop by the store and pick up a few things for dinner tonight."
Roy signed the drug sheet and picked up the box. "Well, we'd better go then."
Calling goodbyes to Dixie and the doctors the two young paramedics turned and left.
When they were in the squad on the way to the grocery store Roy brought up the subject of Thanksgiving again. "So what are your plans, Junior? You never did answer them."
"Oh," Johnny shifted uncomfortably, keeping his voice light. "I don't really have any plans," he admitted with a careless shrug. This was the first year he had known Roy and he didn't want his partner to think that he was hinting to be asked over to dinner. In truth, the thought of spending the holiday with the DeSotos was highly appealing, but the last thing Johnny wanted was a pity invitation.
Roy glanced away from the road for a second to look over at him, blond brows drawn together. "You don't have any plans? Not any at all?"
"Nah." Johnny shrugged again. "I don't have any family in the area since my aunt moved back to Montana, so I pretty much just hang out by myself. It's okay. I'll just sit around the house and watch football and parades on TV, you know?"
Roy pulled the squad up in front of the store, parking right outside the doors in case they got a call while they were inside. He turned off the motor and turned in his seat to look his partner full in the face. "So you're just going to spend Thanksgiving alone? In your apartment? All by yourself?"
Roy gazed at him with longing and open envy in his blue eyes. "Can I come spend the holiday at your house?"
Johnny blinked in shock. "What?"
"Sorry," Roy said. "Forget it. I couldn't anyway. But, gosh it sure sounds nice and peaceful!"
"I can't believe you!" Johnny snorted. "You have a beautiful wife and two great kids and you're telling me you don't want to spend Thanksgiving with them?"
"Oh, no! No! I'd love to spend Thanksgiving with them! It'd be great! Hey, you could come over to our house and we could all have a big dinner and watch TV and drink beer and eat pie. Just the five of us -- oh, but the kids couldn't have any beer, of course." Roy sighed. "That'd be great!"
"But . . . ?"
Roy looked down at the steering wheel sadly and said, in the sort of voice normally reserved for announcing terminal illnesses and stock market crashes:
"My in-laws are coming."
When they had finished in the grocery store and were once more on their way to the station Johnny picked up the conversation where they'd left off. "So your in-laws are coming, huh? Just Joanne's parents?"
"Her whole family! There's millions of them!"
"Yeah, well, about that. Roughly millions. And they all hate me. Did I mention they all hate me?"
"I can't imagine that they all hate you," Johnny said. Actually, he found it hard to imagine anyone hating Roy.
"Well, they do. Most of them do, anyway. Joanne's family, Junior, what you gotta understand is, Joanne's family are a lot, well, a lot different from me. They're well off, you know? Old money, power, social position. And I'm just the poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks who stole their little girl away. When Mother Davis was planning on her sons-in-law she wanted doctors or lawyers or politicians. Rich, influential men with power and prestige. Instead she got me, a simple fireman."
"Who's independently poor," Johnny grinned sympathetically.
"Well, look," Johnny said, fishing for a bright side, "I know it's gonna be a difficult day, but think how happy it'll make Joanne to have her family around for the holiday."
"Happy? She's going nuts! She doesn't want them here any more than I do!"
"Well then, if you don't want them around, why did you invite them to dinner?"
"Who invited them?" Roy backed the squad into the station and parked it. "Come with me and I'll show you something."
The two men jumped down. Roy pulled out the sack of groceries and Johnny followed him as he took it in and deposited it on the kitchen table, then continued out the back door into the parking lot. Roy went to his car and took a fancy, square white envelope from underneath the passenger side sun visor. "We got this in the mail two weeks ago."
Johnny opened it and took out a heavy, engraved invitation. It read: "You are cordially invited to join the Davis family for Thanksgiving dinner at the home of Joanne and Roy DeSoto in Carson, California. Dress will be formal. Please RSVP."
Johnny looked up, disbelieving. "They sent you an invitation to dinner at your own house?"
"Read the note," Roy told him.
Johnny unfolded the note that had been tucked into the card.
"My Dearest Daughter,
I could not bear the shame of our relatives knowing that your husband is unable to support you adequately for you to entertain properly, so I have taken it upon myself to procure and mail invitations. Please do not feel the need to thank me. It is a mother's duty to stand by her daughter, even when said daughter has been headstrong and has fallen into poverty as a result of her unwise choices.
Incidentally, I do have the names of several dependable divorce lawyers, should you decide that you are in need of one.
Until Thanksgiving, a bien tot.
Your loving Mother."
"She sent you this?" Johnny exploded, incensed. "You should have . . . punched her or something! You should have at least cancelled the big family dinner! If they're gonna treat you like that, then make them go eat somewhere else! I don't know why you agreed to it in the first place."
"Agreed to it? This is how we found out about it! And we couldn't cancel it. We don't know who she invited."
"Well, then," Johnny thought about it. "Well, then, here's what you do. Lock up the house and come over to my place, all four of you. Just don't be there when they show up, that's all."
Roy sighed. "Thanks, Junior. I appreciate the offer and I wish we could. I'm afraid it's too late for that now, though. Joanne's been cooking for days. Besides, if I know her family they'll already have started showing up by the time I get home from work in the morning."
"So I guess all you can do is hang in there and hope for the best." Johnny slapped his partner on the shoulder, trying to be upbeat. "Maybe it'll turn out a lot better than you expect."
"Yeah, maybe." Roy brightened. "After all, we do still have the whole night on duty. Maybe I'll get blown up or fall off a building or something and get out of it."
Johnny glared at him. "That is not my idea of a 'best case scenario'! You know what you need? You need an ally. I'm gonna come to dinner at your house tomorrow!"
"Really?" Roy tossed the envelope back in his car, locked the car and walked back to the station with Johnny. "You'd do that? You don't have to. I mean, and, if you did, you wouldn't have to stay if you didn't want to."
They went in the back door as Johnny said firmly, "Roy, I'm coming to dinner at your house tomorrow and that's all there is to it. I won't take no for an answer!"
Chet Kelly, setting the table for dinner, looked up in surprise. "Geez, Gage! Get a little bit pushy why don't you?"
They were coming back to the station after a late run when Johnny brought up the subject of Roy's in-laws again.
"So who all do you think is gonna be at your house tomorrow? Give me a run down so I have an idea of what to expect."
"Well," Roy drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and considered. "Jo's parents will be there and her sister and brother-in-law and their three kids. You aren't gonna believe my brother-in-law, Johnny. Richard Misner -- you might have heard his name. He's Mother Davis' idea of a perfect son-in-law. He's a lawyer with political ideas. Running for alderman or something right now. The thing is, he looks just like a Ken doll. Exactly! I always have to remind myself to call him Richard instead of Ken, and I wonder all the time, if you pulled his head off would it be hollow? Would he have a stumpy neck with a little knob on it?" He glanced over and caught Johnny giving him a look that he couldn't quite decipher. He shifted uncomfortably. "Chris is always pulling the heads off the baby's Ken dolls. I don't think it means anything, though."
"Heck, no," Johnny agreed. "That's what Ken dolls are for! Well, at least until you're old enough to play with firecrackers. Who else?"
"Uh, Aunt Edna and Uncle Harry. They're about four hundred years old. They've been married a couple of hundred years and they hate each other. They spend all their time sitting in different rooms. Edna sits where she can see Harry in the next room and glare at him and Harry sits facing away so he can ignore her and they tell everyone who'll listen how much they wish the other one was dead."
"Charming. Who else?"
"Mother Davis' cousin Weird Earl usually puts in an appearance. Plus, probably, a couple more of Jo's aunts and uncles and some of her cousins and a bunch of kids that I can never keep straight."
Johnny whistled. "That's quite a crowd!
"Yeah," Roy said bleakly, "I know. So, are you gonna just come home with me after shift then?"
"Not right then," Johnny said, and laughed when his partner's face fell even more. "Relax! I won't be long. I just gotta pick up a couple things first."
They arrived at the station and got out of the squad. As they headed for the kitchen Johnny put a friendly hand on Roy's shoulder. "Just don't worry! It's gonna be fine. It doesn't matter if the whole world is against you as long as you have a partner around to watch your back!"
When Johnny arrived at his partner's house he was surprised to have to park four doors down. Vehicles already crowding the street included a sporty little roadster, a new Cadillac with signs on the side urging people to "Vote Misner!" and an ancient Volkswagen Beetle that Johnny was betting belonged to Weird Earl, mostly because it had several thousand pistachio shells stuck to it.
He walked to the door carrying a case of beer and a nice bouquet of flowers that he'd picked illegally in a small park near his apartment. The roar of voices met him halfway down the walk and as he rang the bell four or five kids ran around from the back yard, the first two shrieking in mock terror and the ones chasing them whooping like Hollywood Indians.
Roy answered the door already looking haggard and frantic. His blond hair was standing up straight on one side and his shirt was rumpled. His baby daughter was clinging to his neck and his toddler son Christopher was attached to his left leg. They looked like a group of refugees, clinging together as they fled from some horrific natural disaster. Roy looked past Johnny into the yard and stepped out onto the porch to holler.
"Hey! Back yard! We talked about this! You stay in the back yard, away from the street! Now go!"
The kids stopped to whine.
"It wasn't our fault," one of the 'Indians' protested. "The pilgrims ran this way and we were just chasing them . . . 'cause . . . we were gonna tell 'em not to go in the street!"
"They were gonna scalp us!" one of the pilgrims objected, "and cook us for Thanksgiving dinner!"
Roy looked at Johnny, a Lakota Sioux, with his face flooding with embarrassment. "John, I --"
Johnny grinned and called out, "tell you what! You kids get back in the back yard where you belong and later I'll come teach you about real Indians."
One of the boys peered at him with a seven-year-old's natural suspicion. "You know about Indians?"
"Know about 'em? I'll have you know I happen to be a gen-yoo-wine Indian!"
"Well, if you're a Indian, why don't you have long braids and feathers?"
"I do have feathers! And as for long braids, well, you know, I did have some, but then one time I was fighting a fire and they burned clear off!"
The kid's eyes grew round. "Really?"
Johnny gave him his best innocent look. "Have I ever lied to you?"
"So you're gonna come play with us?" the kid persisted.
"In a little bit. I gotta say hello to the grownups first."
"You kids get back in the back yard now and behave yourselves," Roy told them. They went reluctantly and Roy ushered Johnny inside.
A man with the tines of a fork protruding from his nose like half a mustache wandered by. The baby screamed and buried her face in her father's neck. Roy patted her back gently. "I know, sweetheart. I know. He scares me too."
"Weird Earl?" Johnny guessed.
"How'd you know?"
"Well, the fork up his nose was a clue. It was a definite clue."
Roy led the way through a crowd of strangers in his small dining room. Halfway through the room he passed a window that looked out over the side yard and stopped, staring out in horror. Johnny followed his gaze. There were more kids out there. One of them was a boy about nine who was trying to climb a tree. Another boy was hanging from his belt and had managed to pull his pants clear down around his ankles.
"Oh, man!" Roy said, "I don't believe this! I got naked kids in my yard!"
Johnny just grinned and shook his head. "Go on, man. Go take care of it. I'll go say hi to Jo and then I'll come find you."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. Now go!"
Roy went and Johnny turned to fight his way through the throng and find Joanne.
The crowd at Roy's house had divided itself according to age and gender. The dining room was Girl Central. Johnny edged carefully past a massive elderly woman who was glaring through into the living room and chewing on her lower lip with her dentures, occasionally edging them clear out of her mouth to do it. She was wearing a bright flowered dress and baggy stockings. At least Johnny hoped they were stockings. This, he decided, had to be Aunt Edna. He followed her gaze and sure enough there was a skinny little old man with a bald head and a wattle like a turkey resolutely glaring the other direction.
A stout woman in a red silk dress had claimed the head of the table and sat in Roy's chair like a queen on an inferior thrown. She had a face like a dyspeptic pitbull and was glaring at Johnny like he was a small, mangy dog that had wandered in. "Do I know you?" she demanded, the tone of her voice making it clear that she found it highly unlikely that she did.
He stopped, plunked the beer down on the table in front of her and offered her his hand, which she did not take. "I don't think I've had the pleasure," he said politely. "John Gage. I'm Roy's partner."
Her mouth twisted like she'd bitten into something sour. "Another public servant. Oh, goody. Now there are two of them in the house."
Johnny turned at the new voice and found himself looking at a taller, older version of Joanne. This could only be Eileen, which made the bulldog lady Mother Davis.
"Hi, Johnny," she said. "I've heard a lot about you. It's nice to finally meet you."
"Same here," he told her, shaking her hand. "Is Jo around?"
"Sure, come on. She's in the kitchen. I'll see you to the door, but I don't dare go in. I'm afraid she's been hitting the cooking sherry and she's getting these silly ideas about us knowing how to cook and clean and things."
Johnny reclaimed the beer, then stopped. "You want one of these?" he offered Mother Davis, just to make her scowl at him. She scowled at him and he grinned and followed Eileen to the kitchen door, edged past her and went inside. As he passed her he got the oddest feeling that he was being scrutinized. He glanced back over his shoulder in time to see her make eye contact with Joanne and hold up both hands, the left with the ring finger folded down under her thumb and the right with all fingers extended.
Jo was alone in the kitchen surrounded by pots and pans, mostly filled with vegetables in various stages of preparation. She was mashing potatoes in a huge pot just then with milk, butter, salt and pepper and a bottle of cooking sherry sitting within easy reach. She saw Johnny and her eyes lit up.
"Johnny! Sweetie! I'm so glad you came! Roy told me you said he needed an ally, and you're right. He really does!"
"Well, that's what partners are for, you know." Johnny set the beer down on the counter and offered her the flowers. "Here, I stole these just for you!"
"Oh, thank you! They're lovely!" She smiled. "Can you put them in a vase for me? Top shelf in that center cabinet."
Johnny fetched a vase and nodded his head back towards the doorway as he filled it and put the flowers in. "So, um, what was that --" he set the vase down and imitated Eileen's hand gestures, "about back there?"
Jo grinned impishly. "She was checking out your butt. You got an eight point five."
"Oh," he considered, "is that good?"
"Yeah, it's great. Even Richard only gets a seven. Nobody but Sean Connery has ever gotten a ten."
"Yeah?" Johnny thought about it for a second. "So, um, what's Roy get?"
Joanne mashed viciously. "Eileen isn't allowed to check out Roy's butt! If I catch her checking out Roy's butt I'll punch her lights out!"
"Ah. Sisterly love," Johnny grinned.
Jo grinned back. "I'd tell you to put your beer in the fridge, but I'm afraid it's full of pies and salads and things. It was sweet of you to bring it. I didn't buy any because I knew my mother would find something vile to say about Roy being low class or something if she saw we had it, but I expect he could probably use a beer about now."
"Yeah, I'll take him one in a minute. Would you like one?"
"Oh, no thanks. I've been hitting the cooking sherry." She stopped mashing potatoes long enough to take a swig from the sherry bottle. Johnny looked around at the various dishes she was preparing.
"Um, what are you putting sherry in, anyway?"
"Mmmmme!" she declared cheerfully. "I learned a long time ago that my family is easier to deal with if I'm lightly sedated. So is this really weird for you Johnny? Being around all these strange people, I mean?"
"Aw, heck no," he told her. "I grew up on a ranch on a reservation. We always had big crowds around for holidays and feasts and such. It was great being a kid because there were never enough adults willing to keep an eye on you, so you could get away with murder."
Together Johnny and Jo turned to look out the window over the sink, into the DeSotos' roomy back yard. Roy was standing in the middle of a crowd of kids, his own still clinging to him. He was holding a football and apparently explaining something.
"Yeah," Jo said, "I think that's kind of what we have going on here. The kids love Roy. He's the only adult male in the family who treats them like people. They've been here since he got home, though, and I think they're beginning to wear him down."
"So, who are all those kids anyway?"
"Heck, I don't know! I'm not even sure they're all ours. To be honest, I'm not even sure they're all human. You know my two and the three little boys who look like young Ken dolls are my sister's kids. Don't they look sweet?"
Jo turned to look directly at Johnny, her smile frozen. "They're not. Don't ever turn your back on more than one of them at a time and don't turn your back on the little one at all."
Outside the window Roy unwittingly illustrated his wife's point when he turned his back on the little one to say something to one of the other boys and took a football to the back of the head.
"Man," Johnny said, "he's really out of his depth with all these people isn't he?"
"Oh, Johnny! He's drowning! You know he was an only child? And after his dad died it was just him and his mom."
"He's mentioned that," Johnny told her. "He was pretty young then, wasn't he?" Roy didn't talk much about his childhood and Johnny had long suspected that there were layers to the story that he didn't know. Being Johnny, he wanted to.
"He was eight when his dad was hurt. It was a construction accident. Totally the company's fault. They'd been cutting corners on safety and equipment maintenance. He lingered in pain for about ten months, just long enough for the medical bills and funeral expenses to wipe out the family savings, and then he died. The company wasn't carrying insurance and basically didn't want to be bothered with a widow trying to raise a little boy. It took more than a decade for her to get any kind of a settlement out of them, and then it was only a fraction of what it should have been."
"So when Roy says he was a poor boy from the wrong side of the tracks he's not exaggerating."
Joanne's eyes had grown moist, her expression soft with remembered sympathy. "Oh, Johnny! They were so poor! I remember times he'd come to school with nothing in his lunch box but a boiled potato or a windfall apple. And he never complained. I never heard him complain."
"No, he wouldn't," Johnny agreed softly, looking out the window to where his best friend was mediating a disagreement between two five-year-olds. Johnny's own throat was suddenly constricted and he cleared it self-consciously. "We take care of him now, though," he told Jo gently.
"Yeah, we do." She dried her eyes on a corner of her apron. "Sorry! Damn cooking sherry!"
Johnny popped the top on a can of beer, poured a few drops into the mashed potatoes and took a drink. "Damn cooking beer!" he agreed.
They grinned at one another.
"Look," Johnny said, "is there anything I can do to help you before I go rescue Roy?"
"No. But thank you. Just take care of my guy for me, Johnny. I appreciate that more than you know."
Since there was no room in the refrigerator, Johnny took the beer with him as he went off after his partner. He had to pass through the living room to get to the French door that led to the back deck, and this was Guy Territory. Johnny was halfway across the room when he felt a malevolent gaze, like heat in the middle of his back. He turned and found himself the recipient of Uncle Harry's glare.
"You one o' them par'medics?" the old man demanded in a high, tremulous voice.
"Yes, sir." Johnny offered him his hand, which the old man didn't take. "I'm Roy's partner, John Gage."
"I don't 'prove of par'medics!" Uncle Harry informed him.
"Uh, no? Well, um, why not, if you don't mind my asking."
Uncle Harry drew his head down between his stooped shoulders like a turtle and peered querulously at Johnny. "Some day that old bat in there is gonna go," he said, "and I don't want no smart alackey fireman coming 'round and bringin' her back!"
"You know, I'd never considered that point of view before. It was nice meeting you. You have a nice day." Johnny turned resolutely away and walked into the end of the sofa. "Sorry about that," he said to the massive man who was sitting there, apparently watching football on TV. The man looked around suspiciously, checking the corners of the room as if he thought he were being spied on. He glanced fearfully into the dining room. Johnny followed the look. Mother Davis sat there with her back to the door. The big man relaxed and motioned Johnny to come closer. Johnny edged over.
"Are you a fireman?" the man asked in a whisper.
"Yes sir! I'm --"
"Yes sir," Johnny whispered obligingly. "I'm John Gage, Roy's partner."
"Glad to meet you!" the man whispered back. "I'm Sam Davis, Jo's father. Roy's a good man. I'm glad one of my daughters found herself a husband with a brain and a backbone! But don't tell Mother I said that or she'll make my life hell." He considered his own statement. "More hell," he amended. He motioned to the coffee table and Johnny sat on it and leaned close so that the two men could talk without the women in the next room overhearing them.
"We came out on the train," Sam Davis said. "Have you ever ridden a train?"
"Once or twice," Johnny told him.
"Did you like it?"
"Yeah it was great."
"It is great, isn't it? I love trains. They're my favorite thing! But Mother was with me." He scowled down at his shoes. "I have railroad stock and Mother has Ideas about how a major shareholder should comport himself aboard a train."
"Oh," Johnny nodded. "Didn't let you have any fun, did she?"
"Made me stay in the compartment. I had to wear a tie. She wouldn't let me go up and talk to the engineer, or play cards with the conductors, or ride on the platform behind the caboose and wave at people. What's the point of riding a train if you can't wave at people?"
"Yeah, that's a real bummer," Johnny agreed.
"I bet being a fireman is fun!"
"It can be."
"Did you ever go up in one of those big boxes at the top of the long things? You know what I mean?"
"A snorkel?" Johnny grinned. "Sure. All the time. Roy too."
"You know what? You'd oughta come visit us at the station. We'd be glad to show you around. We don't have a ladder truck, but we do have a pretty nice engine and the squad that Roy and I drive is state of the art."
"Gosh! I'd sure like that. I don't think I can, though. Mother'd never let me go."
"Don't tell her. Tell her you ran into an old friend and you're going to his club for lunch. Tell her it's no women allowed."
"You know . . . that just might work! Yeah. It just might! I'll try it. If I manage to shake her, do I just show up?"
"Sure. We'll be there unless we're out on a run. Then you could wait for us. We don't work tomorrow, but we'll be there the day after."
Johnny offered Sam a handshake and a beer, both of which he accepted, and went on out into the yard to rescue his partner from the horde of children.
Roy looked like he was about ready to drop. Johnny set the beer down on the picnic table and grinned at his friend, surrounded by about fifteen little kids all clamoring for his attention. He was still being shadowed by Christopher and carrying the baby. She was getting cranky, pushing her chubby little fists at all these strange children who were getting too close to her daddy. Johnny put his fists on his hips, leaned back and raised his voice.
"So you guys want to learn about real Indians?"
The kids turned at the sound of his voice and rushed towards him in a body, carrying Roy along with them. Johnny waved his hands at them to calm down and they quieted reluctantly. Roy dropped onto the picnic bench, pulled Chris up beside him and settled the baby in his lap. Johnny popped open a beer for him and turned back to their miniature audience.
"Okay," he said, "I gotta run and get something out of my car." Knowing there were going to be children present he had come prepared. Johnny considered it a tribal duty to educate folks about his people every chance he got. "You just sit here quietly for a minute and wait and I'll be right back."
Leaving them fidgeting and Roy looking nervous (he wonders if I'm gonna make a break for it, because that's what he'd like to do, Johnny realized) he trotted down to his Land Rover and returned with a heavy pressboard box. He set it on the picnic table, opened it and took out his ceremonial headdress. It was a basic feathered bonnet with twenty-eight feathers lining the headband, two more dangling down to the right of his face and another dangling on the left. He and his father had done the beadwork by hand and it was a nice piece. He put it on and looked around to find fifteen children and one firefighter/paramedic staring at him in rapt amazement.
"See," he said. "I told you I had feathers."
"That looks . . . wow!" Roy was having trouble articulating his thoughts. He was a quiet, introspective man by nature and words did not always come easily to him. "I forget, sometimes, that you come from a culture that's so different from my own."
"It's not that different," Johnny told him kindly, "but we do have our own rituals and traditions and we still follow them. And, like the white man's traditions, they change and evolve as the world around us changes. For example, where once we'd feast and then go out and hunt buffalo, now we feast and then go inside and watch football."
Roy grinned at the humor as one of the older kids chimed in. "What'd you get all them feathers for? Did you have to kill lots of cowboys? Or pilgrims?"
"Well, you know," Johnny said, "they tend to frown on that sort of thing anymore. So no, I didn't kill any cowboys or pilgrims."
"So they just gave 'em to you?"
"They did not! There are lots of different tribes, you see -- over five hundred in the United States -- and all the different tribes and the smaller groups within the tribes have their own customs. Not all Indians are the same and some tribes do wear headdresses that are simply fancy hats. My tribe, though, still awards feathers -- we call it 'counting coup' -- for achievements. Like this one," he pointed out one of his feathers, "was for winning a track meet in high school. This one was for graduating high school and this one was for graduating the fire academy." He touched the lone feather dangling down the left side of his bonnet, the one that was closest to his heart in fact. "This one was for getting my paramedic pin."
Roy grinned at him. "That's really something, Junior."
Johnny grinned back, understanding that Roy was heartened to realize that they shared the same values. "I keep trying to talk them into a coup for not killing Chet, but so far they're not going for it."
"Have you introduced them to him?"
"Well, no. Maybe I should."
Johnny motioned to the kids to stand up. "Come form a circle and I'll teach you a gen-yoo-wine Indian dance," he said. The kids ran to form a circle but Roy hung back, glancing over to the deck where several of the adults had come out to watch. "Get in the circle, Roy," Johnny told him sternly.
"Oh, but I --"
"Get. In the circle!"
Roy (and Chris and the baby) got in the circle and Johnny showed them all the steps to a simple circle dance.
"Is this the sun dance?" Roy asked. "I thought you danced that at the summer solstice."
It was Johnny's turn to be surprised. "You know about that?"
"Yeah, well," Roy shrugged, "I was curious, you know, so I read up a little on it is all."
"He read up on it," Johnny said to the children, still keeping up the steps and the rhythm. "He works every shift with me and instead of just asking he read up on it!" In truth he was touched that his partner had cared enough to research his people's traditions, but giving Roy grief about it was both easier and more fun than admitting how he really felt. "To answer your question, though, no. The sun dance is our most well known dance, but there are hundreds. My people dance to celebrate all different kinds of ceremonies and for almost every occasion. This is a 'circle dance' and it's meant to bless the home and drive off evil spirits."
From the deck behind them there was a disdainful sniff. They turned to look as Mother Davis drew herself up like a storm wind. "If you're going to hop around out here in the yard like heathens and embarrass yourselves in front of the entire neighborhood, I for one am not going to stand here and watch!" Turning with regal disdain she disappeared into the house and slammed the door behind her.
Roy turned back to Johnny, his face alight. "It works!"
Later, when the dancing had broken up, Johnny and Roy headed back for the house. Johnny was stopped on the deck by a man who looked amazingly like a life-sized Ken doll.
"Hey! Hi! Nice to meet you! I don't think I quite caught who you are. Are we related?" He grabbed Johnny's hand and pumped it with unnecessary energy.
"Only through the brotherhood of firefighters. I'm Johnny Gage, Roy's partner. Nice to meet you." Johnny pulled his hand back and shook it to restore the circulation in his fingers.
"Oh. I see. Yeah. Good guy, Roy. A bit problematic."
"Well, you know he's a vet, right? And that's a real hot-button topic right now. The whole Vietnam thing is still very controversial. People are either gung-ho pro-military or dead set against it, so if it comes up in a campaign you never know if you're going to alienate more people than you impress. Of course now he's right in the middle of this whole paramedic business, and that's really popular with the voters so I can like him again, I just have to be careful to keep my distance in case the whole vet thing pops up."
Johnny just stood there, speechless in the face of this kind of thinking. Richard, though, was far from speechless.
"I sure do wish that we were related, though! A real Indian, wow! You know, my opponent has some wetback cousins and a spic brother-in-law, so he's always playing that whole 'tolerance and racial diversity' card. Makes me sick! I could sure shut him up if I had an Indian in-law! Say! Are you single? One of my sisters isn't married yet. What ward are you in?"
Johnny considered the question. "Well," he said, rubbing his jaw, "that pretty much depends on what I'm in for. Usually it's intensive care, but I have been in the burn ward once or twice. Once I wound up in pediatrics -- now that was just weird! It's not true that I've been in psychiatric, though. You can't believe anything Chet Kelly tells you." He started to walk away, then turned back as if having second thoughts. He threw an arm around Richard's shoulders and squeezed hard. "Well, there was that one time, but it was a mistake!" He thumped the man hard on the chest and walked away, leaving him standing there with his mouth open.
He found his partner in the living room playing horsie with the smallest children while Mother Davis sat just inside the dining room doorway and glared at him disapprovingly. Johnny sat down cross-legged near him and spoke quietly.
"You know how you wondered about Ken -- I mean Richard? If his head would be hollow? Well, it would be."
Roy grinned at him. "Did he try to set you up with his sister?"
"Yeah." Johnny thought about it. "Have you met her? What's she like?"
"Nice lady. Real nice. I don't think she'd go for you, though."
Johnny glared at him, insulted. "Why not?"
"Well, she's a lesbian."
"Poor Richard doesn't know what to make of her," Roy continued. "He can't decide if he should disown her to satisfy the religious right or hold her up as an example of his open-mindedness to impress the liberal left."
A boy in his late teens had been watching them from across the room. Now he sauntered over casually, face set in a sneer that was probably intended to suggest intellectual sophistication but that failed miserably. He edged around Johnny, stepping on Roy's hand in the process, and took a seat on a footstool.
"I'm surprised to see an Indian celebrating Thanksgiving," he said. "though I suppose it's natural for the downtrodden masses to try to ingratiate themselves by adopting the customs and historical fantasies of their oppressors."
"He's downtrodden?" Roy asked quietly, sucking on his bruised knuckles while the child on his back bounced up and down impatiently and chanted giddy up.
"I don't think we've been introduced," Johnny said, not offering his hand.
"Oh," Roy sat up slowly, letting the child slide off his back, and made introductions. "Johnny, this is Benjamin Misner, Richard's brother. Benjamin, this is my partner, John Gage."
Johnny nodded politely but still made no move to shake hands. There was a certain condescending air about the young man that rubbed him the wrong way. And he was a young man, Johnny realized, probably no more than two or three years younger than the fireman was himself.
"Are you really supposed to be an Indian?" Benjamin asked.
Roy winced at the question and the tone and Johnny wished his partner would stop feeling responsible for other people's actions.
"Well, yeah, I'm supposed to be. I'm a Lakota Sioux. Uh, what are you supposed to be?"
"I'm a freshman at USC -- double majoring in ethics and poly-sci. That's, uh, political science."
"Yeah, I guessed."
While they were talking one of the little girls climbed up on a chair and found a carved wooden box sitting on a shelf. She took it down and dumped a pile of military medals out on the floor. "What are these? They're pretty. Can I play with them?"
Roy opened his mouth to answer but before he could say anything Benjamin chimed in snidely. "Those are what they give out to people for being especially good baby burners."
Johnny glanced swiftly at his partner. He had known that Roy was a Vietnam veteran -- it was where he got his first training as a medic -- but the blond paramedic never spoke of it, even to his best friend. Now the blood drained from his face and he looked as if he'd been kicked in the stomach. Johnny scooped the medals up and returned them to the box first, addressing the child.
"Those aren't toys, honey. Let's leave them be, okay?" He set the box back on the shelf then picked Benjamin up bodily and slung him over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. "You know what, Benji? I think it's time for you to go play outside with the other little kids."
They were halfway across the deck outside before Benjamin found his voice to protest. "Hey! Put me down! You can't do this! Put me down! I demand that you put me down right now! . . . . oof!"
Johnny dropped him but pinned him to the ground with a foot in the middle of his back. He looked around the yard, cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, "where'd my tribe go?" In a matter of seconds they were surrounded by young children. Johnny motioned to them to gather around and lowered his voice conspiratorially.
"I caught this paleface sneaking around our camp spying on us! Howsabout we show him what we do to spies? Mmm?"
All of them agreed eagerly except for one little girl of about seven who raised her hand like she was in class and asked, "what do we do to spies?"
"Well, I'm glad you asked that!" Johnny grinned at her. "Run and get me two glasses of water and the roll of duct tape from the garage and I'll show you."
Five minutes later he stuck the last strip of tape in place, circled his arm around Benjamin's throat and leaned in close so he could speak without the shrieking children overhearing him. "Okay, now I've fixed it so that you can get loose any time you want to. But I think you're not gonna want to for a while. You know why?"
Benjamin shook his head. He was, by now, slightly pale himself. Though he wouldn't have admitted it, he was more than a little bit shaken by the ease with which the lanky fireman had tossed him around.
"This is why. Because if you stay out here and keep the kids entertained until dinner's ready, I won't beat the snot out of you for what you just said to my best friend in there. That's why." Johnny gave the younger man a slap on the shoulder that only seemed friendly and abandoned him to the tender mercies of the younger generation.
Johnny found Roy in the kitchen carving the ham. Though his hands were steady his face was still pale. Roy DeSoto had the trait of burying his emotions at times of adversity and throwing himself into the task at hand. It was one of the things that made him such a skilled paramedic but Johnny wondered sometimes if it was a strength or a weakness.
"You okay?" he asked quietly.
Roy nodded without answering. Joanne turned from the stove. "Did you kill Benjamin?"
"It's okay," Roy said, his soft voice very quiet. "It isn't important."
"It's not okay!" Joanne said. "It is important!"
"Uh, Jo?" Johnny asked hesitantly. "Just wondering -- did you mean to be mashing carrots?"
She gave him a dirty look. "They're sweet potatoes, and yes." She set the pan down and sighed. "I forgot about them! I boiled them yesterday and then forgot to do anything with them! I figure if I mash them they'll heat faster. I'm going to put them in a skillet and get them hot, then top them with butter and brown sugar and junk and stick them under the broiler for a few minutes."
"It'll be okay honey," Roy told her gently. Her distress steadied him. It was a part of the secret of their strength as a couple.
Johnny had stopped on his way through the crowded living room to pick up the wooden box and he set it down on the table now. "I brought this in here for safe keeping." Without asking permission he opened it and began setting the medals in order. "Four purple hearts?" he asked in dismay. "Four?!?"
Roy shrugged. "It's not a big deal. My CO, he liked to give medals. Looked good for him, having a lot of medals in the company."
"Uh huh." Johnny shot him a slantwise look. "You do realize that I can tell when you're lying through your teeth?" He turned his attention back to the box. "The DSC. I recognize this one. That's right under the Medal of Honor, isn't it? Someday you're going to tell me what you got this for."
"You think?" Roy was smiling slightly at his partner's self-assurance.
"Yeah, I think. What are these others?"
Roy lifted his shoulders dismissively. "Those two are RSV medals, issued by the Republic of South Vietnam. That one is a service medal -- pretty much everyone who was over there has one of those -- and the other is a medical services medal. That's a combat medic badge, oh, and that lapel pin is a ruptured duck. Don't ask me why they call it that. It's just an honorable discharge medal. So, uh, what did you do with Benjamin?"
"Oh, I gave him to the kids to play with. They're introducing him to Indian water torture."
"I thought it was Chinese water torture."
"No, this is Indian water torture. It's better." Johnny stuck a thumb in his chest and said proudly, "me and my cousins invented it." He nudged Roy and his partner followed him over to the window and looked out.
Benjamin was duct taped to a tree in the middle of the back yard. All but one of the kids were dancing around him, combining the circle dance Johnny had taught them earlier with classic Hollywood Indian style dancing and strange steps of their own invention. The last kid, Eileen and Richard's youngest son, was kneeling on the ground in front of the captive pouring water back and forth between the glasses and chanting, "listen to that water running! Boy! Doesn't it make you have to go to the bathroom?"
Johnny looked over at his partner. Roy's face was a study in bemusement. He didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He slapped a palm to his face. "Johnny, you can't, I mean, you can't, you just, you can't be tying people up in my back yard. It's . . . it's illegal or something . . . ."
Johnny clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Relax! It's okay! He's not really tied up. I fixed it so he can get loose and he knows he can get loose. He's agreed to stay out there and amuse the kids until dinner time."
"How'd you manage that?"
"I threatened to toss him in here with Jo and her potato masher."
Roy gave up, gave in and giggled, then he sobered, bit his lip and looked at Johnny. "Hey, thanks."
Johnny grinned and slapped his shoulder. "I got your back!"
When all the food was ready there was still one more obstacle to overcome. Even with both leaves in and extra chairs crammed into place, the DeSotos' dinner table would only hold ten people. The picnic table would seat another eight, but that meant that five or six adults and all the children were going to be finding seats wherever they could and holding their plates on their laps. Mother Davis was volubly dismayed about this, and further upset when Joanne informed her that Roy was sitting at the head of the table and Johnny was going to be at his right hand.
"Surely your father should be at the head of the table. As for Roy and his little friend, they're public servants, Joanne." She snorted. "Surely they're used to making do!"
Joanne was little -- much smaller than her mother -- and normally she was polite and easy-going like her husband. In this instance, however, she'd been working over a hot stove for nearly a week, she'd polished off half a bottle of sherry and she'd listened to more than her fill of slights aimed at her husband. She went literally toe-to-toe with her mother and it was clear from the start that she wasn't backing down.
"This is Roy's house," she informed her mother firmly. "In Roy's house Roy sits at the head of his table. If you don't like it, feel free to go eat somewhere else."
Roy, ever the peacemaker, stepped forward, "Jo --"
Johnny grabbed his arm and dragged him back. "Man, just stay out of it."
"Trust me on this, Roy. Look, you're not used to big family dinners so just take my word for it. A thing like this isn't complete without at least one big knockdown, drag-out fight. If you're lucky it'll be a guy fight that can go outside. That way nothing gets broken. A guy-girl fight is the worst, because then other people almost always get dragged in the middle of it. The girl's guy feels like he needs to protect her from the other guy, and then the other guy's girl feels like her guy's getting ganged up on and before you know it you've got seven or eight people rolling around the middle of the living room breaking the furniture and scaring the kids. Now what you've got here is a chick fight. They're not usually too violent, but you never -- and I mean it, Roy! -- never want to interfere. Especially when your chick is winning, and she is."
Joanne and her mother had closed to close quarters and were hissing at one another viciously. Mother Davis broke away first and stormed off towards the bathroom sobbing. Eileen rolled her eyes and went after her. Jo stood straight and proud for a minute, chin thrust out defiantly, then her shoulders started shaking and she drew in a long, quavering breath.
"Okay, now," Johnny said, pushing Roy towards her.
He went and enfolded her in his arms and she cried on his shoulder, mumbling, " . . . come in my house and treat me like that . . . bein' mean to you . . . won't stand for it . . . not a little kid anymore . . . ."
"There, there," he said, "I know. It's all right. I know. There, there!"
When they gathered, finally, around the table (and the picnic table and the coffee table in the living room and out on the steps of the deck) it was obvious that Joanne had outdone herself. She had cooked two huge turkeys, a ham and every side dish that she could think of. Roy sat in his accustomed place at the head of the table with Johnny in the guest of honor's position to his right. In a conciliatory gesture, Joanne had given up her seat at the other end of the table to her father, who sat with her mother to his right, and she had taken the chair across from Johnny. Eileen and Richard, Aunt Edna and Uncle Harry and a man that Johnny hadn't met yet took the other five seats.
Sam Davis said grace at his wife and daughters' urging. "Thank you, Lord, for all the blessings you have bestowed upon us. Thank you for this feast, for our health and the chance to be together. Thank you for blessing us with two lovely daughters and five lovely grandchildren --"
"You might thank God that at least one of your daughters found a decent husband," Mother Davis hissed nastily, just loud enough to be heard.
"-- and that one of my daughters found a decent husband," Sam concluded obediently, ducking his head behind his folded hands to give Roy, at the opposite end of the table, a sly wink. "Amen." Mother Davis didn't seem to notice, though Johnny did, that her husband hadn't thanked God for her.
Everyone dutifully echoed the 'amen' and then Roy stood to carve the turkey. Johnny was watching him critically, offering unasked for advice, when a little kid pulled at his sleeve.
"Hey, Indian Johnny guy? Hey! You didn't tie that guy up very good!"
Johnny turned to the kid, rested his fist on his leg and said, "I didn't? Why? Did he get away?"
"No, but he told us he could if he wanted to so we went and got the duct tape and made sure he couldn't."
Johnny glanced around and realized that Benjamin was nowhere in sight. "Oops!" Jumping up he ran out to the back yard.
The funny thing was that there were eight or ten people eating on the deck and none of them were paying the slightest attention to Benjamin, tightly wrapped to the tree with duct tape and squirming miserably. All of the kids had deserted him except for his littlest nephew, who was still kneeling in front of him pouring water back and forth between the glasses and chanting, "listen to that water running! Doesn't it make you have to go to the bathroom?"
Benjamin couldn't answer, as his mouth was duct-taped shut, but from his body language it was pretty obvious that it did. Johnny grabbed the glasses.
"Hey, time to stop now and go get some dinner."
The little boy peered up at him seriously. "I can't stop. I didn't make him pee his pants yet."
"Yeah, well, you can do that some other time." Geez, Johnny thought. This kid's gonna grow up to be an interrogator for the CIA! The little boy reluctantly went to dinner and Johnny took out his pocketknife and circled behind Benjamin. "You told them you could get loose!" he said in disbelief. "Just how stupid are you anyway?" Two quick slices freed the younger man and he jumped up, still covered in duct tape, and ran for the bathroom.
Johnny went back inside and reclaimed his seat. The turkey had been carved in his absence and the people at the table were passing the food around, heaping their plates. Being an old hand at the big family dinner thing, Johnny dived right in. As he was starting to eat he glanced over at his friend.
One of the little boys had brought Roy a broken toy car to fix and he was fiddling with it, his own plate sitting empty and forgotten in front of him. Joanne noticed this the same time Johnny did and she lifted it and filled it with the best slices of meat on the platters and huge helpings of everything in sight. He glanced up as she set it down.
"Oh, thanks honey."
Reaching out, she brushed the loose hair from his forehead and smiled at him with such tenderness that Johnny knew she was remembering a little boy with nothing in his lunchbox but a boiled potato. She glanced over at Johnny and their eyes met in a moment of complete understanding.
Joanne sniffled. "Damn cooking sherry!"
Johnny swiped the back of his hand under his nose. "Damn cooking beer," he agreed with a faint grin.
Roy looked up, his gaze traveling from one to the other in bewilderment. "Huh?"
Johnny reached over and took the toy car away from him. "Where are your manners, man? Didn't anyone ever tell you not to bring your toys to the dinner table? Your food's getting cold." Roy had all but fixed the car. Johnny quickly finished snapping it back together and handed it to the waiting child. "Next time, just bring it to me," he told him. "I'm better at this sort of thing than he is."
When dinner was over Roy and Johnny helped Jo stack plates in the sink to soak and put away leftovers, then headed into the living room for the final ritual of the day -- napping in front of the TV while pretending to watch football. They had no sooner entered the room than Roy was accosted by Weird Earl.
"Where's your aquarium, man?"
"I don't have an aquarium."
"Okay, fine, fine," he talked too fast, waving his hands around, "fishbowl, then. Where do you keep the fish at?"
"I donít have any fish."
Earl looked at Roy in disbelief. "You don't have any fish?"
He threw his hands in the air and shook his head in dismay. "Man! I was gonna show everybody how I can swallow live goldfish! You don't have any fish? Now what am I gonna do?"
Still muttering to himself he wandered off. Roy turned to Johnny, his expression dazed.
"He wanted to know where my pets were . . . so he could eat 'em?"
Johnny threw an arm around his friend's shoulders. "I'm thinking this would be why they call him Weird Earl."
"You know, you just may have something there."
The people began to drift away. Johnny was expecting someone to load Uncle Harry and Aunt Edna up in a car and take them back to some home somewhere but they surprised him. Uncle Harry pulled on a pair of ancient goggles and some old-fashioned driving gloves. Aunt Edna pinned a scarf over her hair and the two of them climbed into the sporty little roadster Johnny had noticed and sped away.
The man Johnny hadn't recognized at the dinner table was the most polite of them all. He made it a point to thank Roy for his hospitality and compliment Joanne on her cooking. It was only after he was gone that they realized that no one knew who he was.
When there were only ten or fifteen people left, including children, a young girl of about twelve came over and shyly began asking Roy and Johnny questions about their work. "Could a girl be a paramedic?" she asked.
"Well," Roy told her, "there aren't any female paramedics right now, but I don't see any reason why there couldn't be by the time you're old enough. Is it something you think you'd like to do?"
"It sounds interesting. I'd like to be able to help people like that. How do you know what to do for them, though?"
"Well," Johnny took up the question, "we've both had quite a bit of intensive medical training to learn the different procedures, and some of the treatments are pretty standard. We aren't in it alone, though. Whenever we need help we contact our base at Rampart General Hospital and one of the doctors in the emergency department tells us every step of the way."
"Are they good doctors?"
"Sure," Roy answered her. "They're the best. Kelly Brackett, he's the head of emergency medicine, is one of the top emergency doctors in the country, and Joe Early is one of the best neurologists anywhere around."
Mother Davis, sitting behind him, sniffed loudly. "You shouldn't lie to the child!"
Startled, the two paramedics turned to face her. Aside from the fact that Roy was scrupulously honest, neither of them could imagine what part of what he'd said she thought was a lie.
"Dr. Kelly Brackett," she informed them archly, "is world famous for his work in emergency medicine and in cardiology in particular. I had the honor of hearing him speak at a fundraiser in Massachusetts two years ago. A brilliant man with a lovely, rich and distinctive speaking voice. Oh, I am aware that he is the nominal head of this program you are so proud of, but I can't imagine that a man of his eminence would be concerned with the day to day workings of a pair of simple firefighters."
Johnny took a deep breath, opened his mouth and raised a finger, ready to launch into full tirade mode, but before he could speak they were interrupted by a domestic crisis. It was, in fact, a small female crisis, with long tangled blonde hair and tears on her face. She was about four years old and she walked into the room sobbing piteously and clutching a baby doll. She walked up to Roy without preamble, buried her face in his shirt and cried on him. He cuddled her in his arms.
"Hey, Lindsey! What is it, honey? Tell me what's wrong and maybe we can fix it."
Without raising her head or lessening her tears she held up the doll. It was in sad shape. One arm had been pulled out, the head was twisted at an unnatural angle, her right eye was stuck closed and she was covered with red finger paint.
"Bobby killed my baby," Lindsey sobbed.
"Aw. Bobby's a meanie. It's okay, though. She's not dead. Let me see her and we'll see if we can't make her better."
Several of the other children had trailed after Lindsey and now a boy of about eight leaned over the arm of the sofa, kicked his heels and said, "hey, Uncle Roy! Are you gonna paramedic the doll?"
"Yeah!" Roy seized on the idea. "That's what we'll do, Lindsey. Okay? We'll paramedic your dolly. I've even got my partner here to help. Okay?"
Lindsey backed off a little so she could look up at him with big, trusting dark eyes. She rubbed her hand across her nose and nodded tearfully.
"I thought you said you called a doctor when you were paramedicking," one of the boys objected. "I thought you said you called a doctor and they told you what to do."
Roy's eyes met Johnny's, suddenly mischievous. "You know he's right!"
"Yeah, he's right," Johnny agreed cautiously, not sure where Roy was going with this.
"And when he's right he's right. Do me a favor, Junior? Grab the phone? The one from the kitchen -- it's got a speaker on it."
Johnny brought the phone in from the kitchen. The cord wouldn't reach the couch so they gathered around it, sitting cross-legged on the floor in the middle of a mob of children with Mother Davis glaring disapprovingly at them like a big red vulture. Johnny watched Roy. About halfway through he realized what number he was dialing and started to giggle.
"Now that was a pie, if I do say so myself," Kelly Brackett observed.
"It was a pie," Mike Morton agreed. "It was definitely a pie!"
"Don't anybody bother to mention the turkey I slaved over all morning," Dixie said without rancor.
"It was a wonderful turkey," Joe Early assured her. "But that pie was really something else. Incidentally," he turned to Kel, "did you realize that the bakery put a sticker on the bottom of the pie pan?"
Brackett froze. "Bakery? Sticker?"
Joe lifted the pie plate up so that they could all see the bottom. "Bakery. Sticker," he smirked.
Mike snorted and Dixie leaned over and gave Kel a long, level look, like a cat.
"I coulda baked a pie if I'd wanted to," Brackett said.
They were still laughing when the phone rang. Dixie answered and a familiar if slightly giddy voice said, "Rampart, this is rescue fifty-one. Do you read me?"
She considered for a second, then pushed the button that turned on the speaker on her own phone. The three doctors were watching her. She gave them an amused look and said, "go ahead fifty-one."
"Rampart," Roy DeSoto said, "We have a baby doll that's suffering from an attack of Bobby. Her left arm is completely separated, her head is on crooked and facing backwards, her right eye is glued shut and she is covered with red finger paint. Her mommy, Lindsey, is very worried about her. Do you think we can save this patient?"
Dixie and the doctors looked at one another, laughing but not out loud. Kel Brackett shook his head and scooted over closer to the phone.
In the DeSoto living room Johnny was watching Mother Davis when Kelly Brackett's rich, lovely and distinctive speaking voice came from the phone.
"Fifty-one, is the doll still in danger from Bobby?"
Mother Davis looked like she'd been swallowing live goldfish, or possibly trout.
"Negative," Roy said. "Bobby has been removed by his parents and the scene is secure."
"Okay, excellent. Now, are you getting any vital signs?"
Johnny leaned over the phone. "Negative! We are getting no vitals!"
"Don't worry, fifty-one." It was Joe Early speaking now. "In this case, that's a good thing."
"It's good not to be getting vitals?"
"Indeed. We'd have been very worried about you if you were!"
"Fifty-one," Brackett came back, "the first thing I want you to do is try to settle your head on straight."
"The doll's head," Kel corrected himself. "I've given up on ever getting your head on straight, Gage."
"Oh, ha ha! Very funny."
Roy pushed the doll's head down onto her body. "Rampart, procedure is complete. The dolly's head is on straight, but still backwards."
"Okay, now turn the head slowly in a clockwise direction until it is facing forward."
Johnny leaned over and turned the doll's head forward. "Okay, Rampart. It's done."
"Excellent! Fifty-one, do you have the detached limb?"
"Affirmative," Roy told him.
"Is it a simple or a compound detachment?"
"Is it still in one piece or is it broken?"
"Oh! Uh, it's a simple detachment."
"Okay, good. That's not too serious. How does the arm attach to the body?"
"The arm has a knob with a groove around it that fits into a hole in the shoulder."
"I see. Give me a minute to confer with my colleagues here."
There was a sound of mumbling in the background and then Brackett returned. "Fifty-one, you're going to need a forced-air thermalizing unit."
The two paramedics gave each other a blank look. "Uh, I don't think we have one of those, doc."
Joe Early chimed in. "Roy, I imagine Joanne probably has one." He waited a couple of beats. "Something that puts out a lot of hot air," he hinted.
Roy glanced over at Johnny.
"Don't say it, man," Johnny warned.
Suddenly Roy's face cleared. He made a fist, stuck out his index finger like a gun and pointed it at his head, making circles with his finger.
"You're crazy. I know this." Then Johnny got it. "Oh!"
He jumped up and went to the bathroom, returning with Jo's hairdryer.
"Okay, Rampart," Roy reported, "we have the forced-air, uh, thermalizing unit."
"Good. Use it to warm up the opening around the hole in the shoulder. When the plastic, I mean skin, has begun to soften up you should be able to work the knob back into place."
"Ten-four, Rampart," Roy said. He moved away from the phone and fired up the hairdryer. Johnny picked the phone up.
"Doc? While we're, uh, thermalizing the patient, perhaps you'd like to say hello to Roy's mother-in-law. This is Mrs. Davis. She heard you speak at a fundraiser a couple of years ago and was very impressed."
Mother Davis stared at Johnny, horrified, then took the phone gingerly as if it were a live snake.
"Hello?" Brackett said politely.
"Oh, um, hello Doctor Brackett."
"We were at a fundraiser together?"
"Uh, yes. In Boston. Two years ago in the spring."
"Of course. I remember that! Raising money for the new pediatric critical care wing at Boston General if I recall correctly. That should be nearing completion soon."
"Er, yes. I believe it is." She was floundering for something to say. "It is an honor to speak with you, Doctor."
"And my pleasure to speak with you," he replied smoothly. "I guess I don't have to tell you how much we think of that son-in-law of yours."
"Oh, uh, er, really?"
"You bet! Roy's a fine young man and one of my best paramedics. When I'm bragging about how well the program works I always use him and Gage as examples."
Roy turned off the hair dryer and pushed the doll's arm back into place. "Thanks, doc," he said, blushing furiously.
"Hey, it's true! Just don't let it go to your head, hose jockey!"
Johnny took the phone back and Mother Davis got up and left the room, her back very straight. "Doc," Johnny said, "thermalization procedure is complete. Arm is re-attached."
"Good. Now, you should be able to remove the finger paint with soap and water. Do we know what the eye is stuck shut with?"
Roy turned to Lindsey. "Do you know what Bobby put in the dolly's eye, honey?"
She nodded, rubbing her own eyes.
"Can you tell me?"
She shook her head.
"Is it something here in the house?" Nod. "Can you go get it and show me?"
She trotted away and returned with a small tube.
"It's super glue, doc," Roy said.
"Okay, then. Once you've got the finger paint washed off, apply acetone to the eye to dissolve the glue and the dolly should be as good as new."
"One thing fifty-one," Joe Early spoke up. "You might make sure that the dolly's mom and the other kids all understand that acetone doesn't work on people's eyes and they should never, ever put glue in them."
"Don't worry, doc," Roy said fervently. "I'm gonna make sure they get that point."
"All right then. Bandage the dolly as you see fit and be prepared to give us a full report when you work again."
"Ten-four, Rampart. This is rescue fifty-one out."
Approaching the nurses' station with drug box and requisition form, Roy and Johnny once more found the three doctors lingering there talking to Dixie.
"So," Roy said, "how was the pie?"
"We're not going to talk about the pie," Brackett said firmly.
"Oh, let's talk about the pie," Dixie purred.
Johnny grinned. "Inedible?"
"Oh, no!" Joe told them. "It was delicious."
"Well, then . . . ?"
"Look! I could have baked a pie if I'd wanted to."
"You could have admitted that you bought it," Dixie said.
Kel sighed. "I could have thought to take that stupid sticker off the bottom of the pan and you'd have never known." He turned to the paramedics and changed the subject. "So, how's our patient doing?"
"Oh, just fine," Roy said. "Good as new."
"Yeah," Johnny chimed in. "Roy put her arm in a sling and put an eye patch on her and then he gave all the kids a stern lecture about playing with superglue."
"I don't know where they got that," Roy said. "I really don't keep things like that lying around where kids can find them."
"Probably Weird Earl," Johnny suggested. "I bet he carries it around in his pockets. He seems the type."
"You may be right! Did you see his car, with all the pistachio shells on it?"
"Yeah! What was with that?"
Roy shrugged. "Beats me. Thank God I didn't have any goldfish!"
"Sounds like you fellows had quite a holiday," Mike Morton said.
Roy raised his eyebrows and blew out a breath. "You wouldn't believe it!"
Johnny shrugged nonchalantly. "Pretty typical big family dinner if you ask me."
"Typical? Weird Earl?"
"Every big family has a Weird Earl, Roy."
"And Ken -- I mean Richard? And Edna and Harry? And the big fight that Joanne had with her mom? And the part where you duct taped Benjamin to the tree?"
"Sure! It's just not a holiday if nobody gets duct taped to a tree!"
Roy sighed and shook his head. "Well, at least it was really nice after they all left and it was just you and me and Jo and the kids sitting around eating leftovers and watching football. I don't think I ever ate so much in my life!"
"Me either! I can't believe that there were leftovers, though, considering the crowd you had."
"There are still leftovers! Did you finish what we sent home with you? Are you ready for more?"
The Rampart staffers laughed at them. "Well," Kel said, "it sounds like they had a good holiday in the long run."
"Yeah," Roy agreed. "And, you know, I never thought I'd say this, but looking back I'm glad my in-laws came for dinner."
Johnny stared at him like he'd grown horns. "Are you nuts?!? I thought you hated having them around!"
"I do. And now I'm that much more thankful for all the times that they're not."
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Thanksgiving Stories Stories by E!lf