Taking A Bite Out Of The Holiday
By Audrey W.
July 1, 1973
The crew of A-shift filed into the dayroom after returning from a call to a structure fire. Luckily everyone at the scene had gotten out of the small pawnshop before the fire department arrived. That made the job just a matter of putting out the flames without having to take the added risk of entering into the building. It also gave them two extra hands to fight the fire since the paramedics didn’t have any victims to treat.
Johnny pulled a chair over near the television and turned on the set. Chet and Marco each grabbed a chair to join the paramedic. Captain Stanley grabbed a glass of water and headed for his office.Roy and Mike were in the process of getting drinks when a visitor walked in the room.
All eyes flew to the female voice at the doorway.
“Nita!” Marco was on his feet in no time, wondering what brought his younger sister to the station. “What are you doing here?”
“I was shopping in the area and thought I’d stop in. Have you asked them yet?”
Johnny and Chet exchanged glances, then were right behind Marco, the television forgotten.
“Ask us what?” Johnny questioned, his eyes locked on Nita.
“Yeah, Marco. What are you supposed to ask us?” Chet wondered out loud, as he stepped in front of Gage.
“The Fourth of July,” Nita answered. “We’re having a get-together at our Aunt Lolita’s house and Marco was supposed to invite all of you.”
“Oo-oh,” Johnny’s voice rose an octave. “No, he didn’t say anything.”
“I was going to. I just didn’t get around to it, yet,” Lopez defended. “We’ve been busy, you know. . .fighting fires.”
“Why don’t you have a seat at the table, Nita,” Chet offered, pushing his chair across the floor for the woman to sit in.
Noticing Kelly’s actions, Marco shook his head slightly. The game was starting again. It was only a matter of time before Johnny made his move.
“Well, only for a few minutes. I really have to get going.” Marco’s sister smiled as Chet stood near the chair. “Thank you.”
Just as expected, Gage entered the picture next. Not wanting to be outdone by Chet, Johnny offered Nita a drink. She cordially accepted a glass of water.
As Johnny handed the glass of water to Nita, Marco eyed him suspiciously. Not thrilled with the attention Gage and Kelly always gave his sister when she stopped by the station, he had been reluctant to invite the two men. But Nita had put him on the spot. Resigned to the task, Marco explained the holiday plans.
“Aunt Lolita has a house up in the foothills and she wants to have a cookout. You know, do some hamburgers on the grill, and just have a day of everyone celebrating together.”
“She considers you guys as extended family,” Nita added, cutting in. “Since Marco spends so much time with you on duty and she knows fire fighters take care of each other like family.”
“Yeah?” Johnny sat on the edge of the table. “Sounds like it’ll be fun! I’ll be there.”
Not wanting Gage to have any advantage over him, Chet quickly chimed in, “I’ve got no plans. I’ll go.”
The dark-haired paramedic glared at the stocky fireman. Yeah, I know why you’re so anxious to go, Chester B. . . .
At the same time, Chet was thinking about Johnny’s eagerness. Oh, yeah, I know why you really want to go. . .
Both men’s thoughts came to one conclusion . . . Nita!
Mike and Roy noticed the expressions on Gage’s and Kelly’s faces, and knew what was going on. Every time Nita came to the station, it was always the same story. Those two vying for her attention. No one could blame them. She was a beautiful twenty-one-year-old woman, with shoulder length silky black hair and a build like a model. But, nonetheless, the competition between Johnny and Chet made for some amusement for DeSoto and Stoker. Marco rolled his eyes at the two men.
“How about you, Roy?”
The blonde paramedic changed his attention from his partner to Marco. “I’ll have to check with Joanne, but I think it’ll work out.”
“Count me in,” Mike offered.
Lopez clapped his hands together. “Great! Now all I have to do is check with Cap.”
Nita finished her glass of water, then started to push her chair from the table when Johnny and Chet both reached to pull it out for her. The two men stopped and scowled at each other while Marco’s sister got her own chair back far enough to where she could stand up.
“Well, I’ve got to be going. I guess I’ll see you guys on July Fourth.”
“That’s right,” Gage and Kelly answered in unison. The two men once again glared at each other as Marco walked out with his sister, once again shaking his head slightly at the antics of Gage and Kelly.
“What are you doin’, Chet?” Johnny asked. “You’re gonna make us look like fools.”
“Me? What about you?”
As the argument continued, Roy looked beside him at Mike.
“It’s gonna be interesting, huh?”
“You mean with the two Romeos?”
“Could be the most fun I’ve had on the Fourth of July in awhile,” Mike admitted.
Roy sighed. “I just wonder if ‘fun’ is the right word.”
July 4, 1973
The DeSotos were the last to arrive at Lolita Lopez’s house. Having two young children to get moving added an extra challenge to the outing. After a relaxing drive down the miles of secluded paved road that was lined by pine trees, Joanne looked in awe at the large house that sat alone on several acres of land. The only other house in sight was quite a ways in the distance farther down the road.
“Oh, this is wonderful, Roy! I’ll bet it’s great at night . . .quiet, and she can probably see the stars better with no city lights.”
Roy nodded in agreement. “Marco said his aunt plans on raising horses. But she just had the house built and there’s a lot more work to do before she can have the animals on her property.”
“Where are we going to do the fireworks at?”
“There’s a cement pad way out in the back yard that’s going to be a storage shed eventually. Marco said we can set off the fountains and other fireworks out there. That way there’s no fire danger. And the kids can do sparklers on the patio.”
“Oh boy!” Chris squealed, overhearing the discussion.
“Just remember, that’s not until it starts getting dark, Chris,” Roy reminded. “It’s not even lunch time yet, so it’ll be awhile.”
“Okay,” the young boy pouted.
As they walked around to the back yard, the kids took off running in the grass. Roy laughed out loud. “Now there’s a sight I had a feeling we’d see.”
“What?” Joanne looked around, wondering what she wasn’t noticing.
“Johnny and Chet. They’re both hanging around Marco’s sister.”
Joanne saw the two men sitting on the covered patio, their chairs on either side of Nita Lopez. The young woman didn’t seem to mind the attention, but Jo figured it could be that she was just being polite.
“She looks like she’s enjoying the company.”
“Yeah, but look at Marco,” Roy pointed to Lopez, who was trying to talk to Hank and Mike, but his head kept turning towards the threesome. “He’s not enjoying it.”
“I see what you mean. Well, he is her older brother after all. I’m sure Chris will be the same way with Jennifer.”
The paramedic shot a look at his wife. “Never mind Chris. I’ll be keeping an eye on the guys with her.”
Joanne giggled. “I’ve got no doubt you will, dear. None at all.”
“Roy!” Marco waved as he noticed the couple approaching. “Glad you could make it!”
DeSoto headed towards the men talking as Joanne walked in the direction of Nita. Maybe she could rescue the young woman from the admirers.
Nita stood up, excusing herself as she left to greet Roy’s wife. The two men frowned.
“You know, Chet, maybe we aren’t each other’s worst enemy after all.”
“Well, we’re still sitting here with an empty chair between us. Joanne, on the other hand, is over there having a conversation with Nita.”
The stocky fireman slowly nodded. “You know, you’ve got a point, Gage.”
“Shall we?” Johnny asked, gesturing towards the group of men standing out in the yard talking.
“Sure. Why not? There’s always later for. . .”
“For what?” Johnny asked as he stood up.
“Nothin’” Chet was on his feet and walking away. Gage followed.
“Chet, if you think you’re gonna get anywhere with Nita,” Johnny said in a hushed tone, “you’re dreamin’.”
“I’m dreaming? You’re the one holding my progress up.”
The dark-haired paramedic stopped, his mouth hanging open, as Kelly continued on towards the other men. Johnny glanced over his shoulder at Nita. She was still involved in a conversation with Joanne, and Eleanor Stanley had joined them. He returned his gaze to the guys.
No way she would go for anyone like Chet. No way.
The day went smoothly, with the children playing together and the adults having discussions on everything from work to the latest blockbuster movies to hit the theaters. After having burgers for lunch and allowing the food to settle in their stomachs, the men and younger boys decided to play a game of flag football in the huge back yard. The little girls at the gathering were busy playing their own games, while the women relaxed on the patio.
Nita couldn’t help but chance a few glances at Johnny. Out of all the single guys on A-shift, he was the one she was most attracted to. The only problem with him was that he was never without Chet when she was around.
Nita’s attention was suddenly drawn to her aunt at the cooler on the patio.
“Oh dear,” Lolita was saying. “We’re getting low on beverages. I guess I didn’t buy enough.”
“Do you want Roy and I to go get more for you?” Joanne offered.
“Or Hank and I can,” Eleanor Stanley spoke up.
“You’re guests,” Nita reminded them. “I’ll go.” She looked out at the guys in the yard. This could be her chance to get Gage alone since Chet was way out in the field with her cousins Pepi and Juan; hopefully they were somewhat out of earshot. “Hey, one of you guys want to go with me to get more drinks? We’re getting low.”
“Sure!” Johnny shouted, immediately jumping on the opportunity before anyone else could reply. He gave a wave to the others as he trotted towards the house. Marco shook his head.
Just what I needed. . . Gage going off with my sister. At least it’s just to get more drinks.
Nita and Johnny pulled up at a small convenience store fifteen miles from Lolita’s house. As they got out of the car, Nita smiled at her passenger. They had finally gotten a chance to talk without any interruptions. The only downside was that they discovered they didn’t have enough in common. Johnny loved to bowl; Nita hated it. The paramedic was into photography; Marco’s sister couldn’t care less about taking pictures of anything. She was more into dance clubs and the beach. The one thing they did have in common was that they both enjoyed the outdoors.
Once inside the store, the two gathered up several six packs of canned pop and headed for the register. Johnny made sure to grab a few of six packs of beer as well.
“I appreciate the help, Johnny,” Nita said as she paid the cashier.
“Sure, no problem.” Gage was relieved he wasn’t the one paying for the drinks. He picked up the majority of the six packs and carried them out to the car.
On the way back, Nita and Johnny talked more about the outlook for them as far as dating. When they couldn’t come up with enough places to go together to cover more than three dates at the most, the two decided they would just go out on occasion as friends and leave it at that.
Nita glanced at the dark-haired man and smiled. “You want to take a short walk before we go back? I know a really nice place . . .I’ve been going there quite a bit since Aunt Lolita started building her house up this way.”
“Is it very far from here?”
“No, in fact we’ll be going right by it anyway. It’s about seven miles before you get to her house,” the young woman explained. “It used to be a park, but I guess being so far up here, not enough people used it and they closed it down years ago. The only sign I’ve seen to remind me that’s what it was is the parking area and a few pieces of broken up picnic tables here and there. Aunt Lolita said it’s been about fifteen years since its been used.”
“So you’re game for it?” Nita asked, somewhat surprised.
“Sure,” Johnny shrugged. “Why not? But just for a short time, or the guys’ll have my head for bailing out of the game for so long.”
“Right! We won’t stay long.” The young woman smiled.
After driving a short distance more, she turned right onto a dirt road. A couple of miles down the road and around a bend, there was an open graveled area that used to serve as a parking lot. As expected, they were the only vehicle in sight.
Once out of the parked car, Johnny walked beside Nita as they made their way down an old path, weeds and grass grown over much of it. They both had to duck a few times as they walked through a wooded section. As the path narrowed, Johnny took the lead, glancing over his shoulder as they talked.
“I haven’t gone this way before,” Nita commented. “There’s another path farther over I always take.”
“New scenery for both of us then,” Johnny grinned. He looked around at the green field that the wooded area had opened up to. “It’s really neat here. I see why you like it.”
When he didn’t get an answer, Johnny turned around. Marco’s sister was staring at him.
“What is it?”
“You must have a lot of girlfriends.”
What brought this up? “I have a . . .a few,” Gage answered awkwardly. “I do alright. What. . .what makes you say that?”
“You’re cute,” Nita blushed when she saw a surprised expression come over the paramedic’s face. “It’s too bad we don’t have more in common.”
Gage turned on his heel at the comment, walking forward again. The man grinned sheepishly at Nita’s comment. Shouldn’t these be my lines? he wondered.
“Maybe we can--” Johnny heard a crack and felt the ground go out from under him as he found himself suddenly free-falling.
Nita stood rooted to the ground as the man who had just been in front of her disappeared into a hole. Neither one of them had noticed the rotted and warped boards that had been lying in their path. The tall grass and weeds that had grown around the wood provided a camouflage. Those boards were now gone, except for a few broken pieces near the opening.
“Johnny!” Nita screamed. She quickly kneeled on the edge of the hole and peered in.
The drop was a quick, but long one. Gage had no time to register exactly what was going on until he reached the bottom. He started to land on his feet, but the slippery mud at the bottom caused him to lose his balance as one foot started to touch the ground; the paramedic fell onto this right hip and forearm with a thud. Rain that had fallen the night before and leaked in had made for a damp floor to the hole. Johnny didn’t notice the black spider that had come down with him, its web that was attached to the underside of the wood coming apart as the boards broke.
The paramedic started to shift his position in the wet muck, slowly and carefully bringing himself to a sitting position. The movement startled the spider that had landed near his right hand. Feeling threatened by the current upset to its habitat, the critter charged the offending object nearby, biting Johnny ‘s right hand between the index and middle finger. Normally the paramedic might have felt the spider crawl partially on his hand, but at the moment, he had bigger problems stealing his attention. Chunks of loose dirt and a few small pieces of wood continued to rain on him from above. Looking up, he could see Nita peering over the edge.
“Nita, get back!”
“Are you okay?”
“Yes!” He hoped he was right. “Just get away from the edge! It’s not stable!”
She gasped and started to bring her hands up off the end of the broken boards she had been resting on, when the portion supporting her let go, causing Nita to tumble into the four foot diameter hole head first.
Johnny barely had time to react. Suddenly more loose dirt was raining down, but he still tried to scramble to his feet to catch the falling woman. Unable to move quick enough, he was knocked onto his back, as Nita fell onto him, her left knee striking him on the left side, just barely catching his rib cage. The splintered piece of board that had given way from her weight followed, hitting the paramedic on the left shoulder. The wind knocked out of him, Gage lay on his back, stunned.
Nita landed partially on Johnny, her right arm taking the brunt of the blow to the ground underneath her.
“Ah. . ow!”
“Nita . . . are you. . . okay?” Johnny asked, trying to catch his breath as he struggled to get to a sitting position. He ignored the pain in his hip the movement caused.
“I think I broke my arm,” she groaned between clenched teeth.
“Okay, hold on.” Gage turned towards the left and pushed up with one arm bracing him. But he couldn’t get fully upright until Nita moved off of him, and, in turn, he wasn’t going to be able to help her until then. “Listen, can you. . .” He panted, still feeling winded. “Can you slide over?”
“Yeah,” Marco’s sister said as she looked curiously at her companion. It was then it dawned on her she had landed on him. “Oh! I’m sorry, Johnny! Are you okay?”
“Never mind . . . me,” the paramedic said, as he slowly recovered from the blow to his midsection. “Your arm . . . might be broke. I need to look at it, . . . but I can’t until I can sit up.”
“But if I’m hurt,” Nita grimaced as she slowly moved off of Johnny’s hip and legs, being careful not to move her injured arm. “You must be, too.”
Gage didn’t want his current problems to overshadow the young woman’s. His right hip was throbbing, his right elbow was skinned up, his left shoulder had a dull ache where the piece of board had hit it, and he had a feeling Nita may have inadvertently cracked his ribs. “Let’s worry about you first.”
Nita had made her way off of the paramedic and sat beside his muddy legs. Johnny slowly moved until he was on his hands and knees. He crawled over and kneeled to the side of the young woman.
“How come you’re moving so slow if you’re okay?” The dark-haired woman asked hesitantly.
“I’m a mess,” Johnny said holding out his arms to show his mud-covered shirt and jeans. “It feels awkward.” He forced a grin, then frowned as he looked at her already bruised limb. “Your right arm, huh?”
She cringed, as he reached forward and touched it.
“It’s okay. I’ll be gentle.” Neither one of them noticed the two tiny puncture marks on Johnny’s hand with the dirt that now helped to cover the bite.
Nita couldn’t help but get tears in her eyes even though Johnny did just as he said he would. . . gently felt her arm, concern on his face. The fact was, her arm hurt and as much as she tried to play tough, the pain was too much.
“Yeah, I’d say it’s probably fractured.” When he didn’t get a comment, Johnny looked up to see Marco’s sister on the brink of crying. “Here, this’ll help.” He started to unbutton his shirt and take it off.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m gonna make a sling for you.”
Nita shook her head. “Huh uh. You . . .you need your shirt.”
Johnny sighed, pulling his shirt back on. “Okay, then let me help you slide your arm inside your shirt so it stays immobile.”
Nita nodded. She grinned at Johnny’s awkwardness at loosening a few of the buttons on her shirt. As much as her brother referred to Gage as ‘girl crazy’, she always got the impression there was more to the paramedic than that. She grimaced as Johnny carefully slid her right arm into the opening of her shirt, keeping it bent.
“There,” Johnny said, sitting back. “Try not to move it at all. You hurt anywhere else?”
“Me? What about you?” She asked. Looking in his brown eyes, something didn’t seem quite right. Gage had a look of pain in them. She also took note of how every time he moved, he either bit on his lower lip or gritted his teeth. “Are you sure you’re okay? You don’t look so good.”
“Yeah,” the dark-haired man answered. “Just bruised a bit. I wonder how we’re gonna get outta here, though,” he said, as he looked up at the opening fifteen feet above them. He brought his gaze back to Nita. “Who all knows this area is your favorite place to go walking?”
The woman gave an apologetic look. “You.”
An overwhelming feeling of dread came over Johnny. More than likely, they were going to spend the rest of July Fourth right where they were.
The party atmosphere continued at the Lopez house. The women were looking at pictures Lolita had taken on a recent trip to Florida, while the men still played flag football with the boys. The little girls were busy playing Barbies inside the house. Although he was enjoying the game, Chet couldn’t help but look at his watch. Gage and Nita would be back anytime, and he still needed to think of a way to get her attention.
“You got a hot date later or something, Chet?” Mike asked as he wandered up to the fireman between plays.
Kelly gave the engineer a disgusted look. “No, I don’t have a hot date. Well, not yet, anyway.”
Chet nodded. “If Gage hasn’t already ruined it for me.”
“You two are playing with fire, you know. Marco’s pretty protective of Nita. She may be an adult, but I’ll bet he sees her as just his little sister.”
“Stoker, it’s not me he has to worry about. Gage is the - - ” His words were cut off, as the football came flying directly at him. A crowd of bodies coming at him after he caught it had the stocky fireman running, his girl problems forgotten for the moment.
Mike sighed, shaking his head. Cupping his hands over his mouth his shouted, “Chet, you’re going the wrong way!”
Hank Stanley trotted over to Stoker. “The twit. I was all set to block for him, but forget it if he’s not even going to the right end zone.”
“Cap, he’s a good candidate for the Twilight Zone. He and Gage.”
They both looked over toward the field of play at the sound of a distressed yell for help. Chet was now running the other way, waving wildly for his teammates to get back in the game.
“The twit can really run,” Stanley said, surprised.
“Maybe Marco figured out just how much he likes Nita.”
The two men snickered as they ran over to help their teammate.
Nita eyed Johnny as he placed his left hand on the side of the hole and gingerly stood up, trying not to jostle his sore ribs. The shoring inside the hole managed to keep the sides stable despite its worn condition. Cracks between the wood planks revealed moist dirt. Johnny slowly limped, keeping weight off his right leg as he moved along the sides.
“Johnny? What happened to your leg?”
The paramedic sighed. “I hit my right hip when I fell. It’s just sore.”
“It’s not broke?”
He shook his head, a slight grin on his face at the young woman’s concern. “Nah, I wouldn’t be up like this period, if it was.” He gave a long look at Nita before continuing. “I’m okay, so don’t worry. I’ll let you know if you need to.”
Nita gave a wan smile. Somehow she got the feeling from Johnny that, in the long run, everything was going to be okay.
Roy took a break from the football game and walked over towards his wife on the patio.
“Any more cold soft drinks for a star receiver?” He asked, grinning.
“You don’t think much of yourself, do you?” Joanne teased back. She pointed at the cooler near the back door. “There were a couple, but the new batch hasn’t arrived yet.”
“Johnny and Nita aren’t back yet?” Roy glanced at his watch. He wasn’t sure exactly when they had left, but it seemed to be quite a while ago.
“Nope. And before you say anything more, I’m sure everything is fine. They’re probably in no hurry to get back.”
Roy grinned. Joanne was right. He made his way over to the cooler and took out the next to last can of pop that was left.
But, they’d better get back soon. I hope they knew the drinks were this low.
While Nita and Johnny sat on the mud floor, he thought about climbing up the shoring of the hole. His feet and hands could fit between some of the cracks. But Gage knew with his sore hip and ribs, he’d never make it. And if any of the siding broke, it could do a lot more harm than good.
“At least we didn’t get hurt too bad,” Nita said, breaking the silence.
Johnny gave a slight grin. “Guess there are a few things to be thankful for, huh?”
“Yeah.” Nita bit her lower lip as she shifted her position on the ground again. She looked at the opening above them. “A few.”
“We’ll get out of here,” Johnny assured. “Once we don’t show up at your aunt’s house, they’ll realize something’s wrong and come looking.”
“But you’re forgetting. . .we drove off the main road and parked, so they can’t see the car if they just drive by. . .” Nita trailed off, now chastising herself for talking Johnny into this venture.
Gage didn’t want Marco’s sister to get scared, so he tried to remain upbeat. “It’ll be okay. C’mon. Let’s get out of this mud.”
When the football game ended, the tired players headed for the covered patio to rest. Chris DeSoto went into the house with Marco’s two young cousins to play with their electric racecar set.
Marco opened the cooler on the patio to get each of his guests a cold drink.
“Uh oh. No more beer and only one can of pop left. I thought Nita and Johnny were getting more?”
Chet stared at the nearly empty container, thoughts of Gage and Nita running through his mind.
“They were,” Lolita answered, as she came outside from the kitchen, a tray large of drinking glasses in her hands. “But they’re not back yet, so I poured you boys some Kool-Aid.” She motioned with her head towards the door behind her. “Why don’t you get the other glasses off the counter, Marco, and help pass them out.”
Kool-Aid? Marco thought. The guys will never let me live this one down. Thanks a lot, Nita.
He closed the cooler and patted Chet on the left shoulder. “C’mon, you can help.”
Kelly nodded and followed Lopez into the house, his mind still on the missing couple.
Gage pulled one over on me, that sneaky . . .
“Hey, Marco,” Chet began casually, “I’ll bet your sister won’t be back in time for the fireworks.” He paused a few seconds, hoping his next words would hit like a ton of bricks. “I bet she’ll have fireworks of her own, if you get my meaning.”
“No, I don’t,” Marco said as he picked up two full glasses.
“Didn’t you see the way Gage was eyeing Nita before they left? And any time she comes to the station, he’s anxious to wait on her, hand and foot.”
“Chet, you both act like that when my sister is at the station.”
“Yeah, maybe so, but both of us aren’t MIA with her now.”
Marco gave his friend’s words thought, then shook his head. “No way. Johnny wouldn’t make a play for my sister.”
The stocky fireman let out an exasperated sigh as he followed Lopez out of the door, the last two drinks in his hands. “Are you blind?”
The words came out louder than he had planned. Suddenly all eyes fell on Chet and the fireman grinned sheepishly, shrugging. “Uh. . .we were just having a discussion.” He handed a glass of Kool-Aid to Mike and quickly took a sip from his own drink. With everyone’s attention back on the small talk they were having before, Chet sidled up to Lopez near the edge of the patio.
“I tell ya, Marco. You gotta keep an eye on Gage around your sister.”
The Hispanic man glanced at Kelly out of the corner of his eye. Chet was just trying to instigate trouble for Johnny. That’s all it was. Still. . .if that was the case, where were he and Nita?
The two trapped victims sat against a wall of the hole on a small board. Gage had managed to pile a few of the broken boards that had fallen in with him in a stack and made a base for one larger piece to rest on. It served the purpose of keeping their bottoms out of the mud.
Any other time, Johnny wouldn’t have minded the close proximity to a pretty woman. He had to admit, he would have been thrilled. But the fact that they were still stuck in a deep hole made it more of a headache than anything else. He wondered how he was going to explain it to Marco. If he had been thinking clearly, he would have told Nita to just go on to her aunt’s house. But instead he let her talk him into the little adventure and now they were in a jam. Johnny decided no matter what it took, he would make sure Marco’s sister got out of the bad situation in no worse shape than she was already in.
“My left knee is starting to hurt more.”
“More?” She never said it hurt to begin with. “How long has it been hurting?”
Nita shrugged slightly, wincing at the pain that shot through her broken arm. “Uh. . .since we first fell,” she replied quietly.
“Here, let me take a look.”
The woman sat still as Johnny squatted in front of her and cut her pant leg with a pocketknife. He carefully examined her knee.
“It’s got a large bruise. Can you move it?”
“Yes,” she answered as she slowly lifted her left leg and flexed it.
“Good. I think it’ll be okay.” He suddenly shook his right hand.
“I don’t know. My hand feels kind of numb.”
“You mean it just started?”
Johnny was looking at his right hand. “Yeah, kind of. But I don’t know why.” He looked closer, as he thought it looked inflamed near his index finger. Dirt still covered part of the paramedic’s hand, which obscured the cause of the discomfort. Johnny spit on his left index finger and wiped off some of the dirt. Two small reddish marks became clearer within the inflamed area and he could see there was some swelling. “Uh oh.”
“What is it?”
“Something must’ve bit me.”
Nita’s eyes grew wide. “When? What do you think it was?”
“I’m not sure when. Either while we were walking or in here. . .”
The young woman looked around nervously, wondering what might still be lurking nearby.
“It looks like an insect bite of some kind,” Johnny said as he slowly maneuvered back on to the board to sit.
Nita looked at Gage beside her. If the bite was having an affect on him, it must mean the insect had some kind of venom. She wondered if Johnny was thinking the same thing.
“Johnny. . .you think it was poisonous?”
The dark-haired man sighed, as he examined the bite some more. “I hope not.” He looked up at the opening of the hole. Now would be a good time for someone to find us.
As time passed with no sign of Johnny and Nita, everyone started to get concerned. The two had been gone for over two hours.
“Maybe they had car trouble,” Marco’s aunt Lolita surmised. “And they’re stranded at the service station near the market until it gets fixed.”
“I don’t know,” Marco responded. “Nita’s car isn’t even a year old yet. And she’s never had a problem with it before.”
“I’m sure they would’ve called if that was the case,” Hank added.
After listening to the suggestions, Joanne got her husband’s attention with a nudge in his side. “Honey, do you think they got into an accident?”
Roy gave her a look that told her the same thought was on his mind. “I hope not.”
“I keep tryin’ to tell ya, Marco,” Chet said, “Gage has a thing for your sister, man. He’s about . . .”
The stocky fireman stopped in mid sentence when he noticed Roy giving him a warning look.
“Uh, he’s about one of the nicest guys I know.”
Ignoring Kelly’s babbling, Lopez’s concern for his sister was growing by the minute. Neither Nita, nor Johnny, was the type to purposely stay away and not say anything on their whereabouts. On the other hand, both being responsible adults meant that the odds of them getting into trouble were low.
“Let’s give them a little more time. Maybe they’re almost here now.”
Johnny leaned his head against the weathered wooden shoring, his right arm propped up on a bent knee and his eyes closed. His arm and shoulder were starting to ache, as was his right hand. Perspiration beaded up on his forehead and body, causing his clothes to stick to his skin. Gage absently pulled his shirt away from his chest and back, hoping to allow for more air to circulate. He then swiped at the sweat on his face, wiping it off with his left forearm.
Nita had been watching her friend with concern. In the past hour he had really started to show signs that something was seriously wrong.
“Johnny? Is there anything I can do?”
The paramedic opened his eyes and shook his head. “I think I’m gonna have to ride this thing out till someone finds us.” He noticed it took more effort to get the words out through the pain. “You doin’ okay?”
“I’m hanging in there. How bad off do you think you’re going to get?”
“I don’t know,” Gage said, once again wiping off more sweat. He felt his back and stomach muscles start to tighten. “I have a feeling. . .we’ll find out soon enough.”
It wasn’t very long before Johnny could tell the bite he had received was probably from a Black Widow spider. As part of his paramedic training, Johnny had studied the effects of Black Widow bites, so he knew what the common symptoms were. Ironically, now he was the victim and help was nowhere in sight.
The dark haired man was sweating profusely. The pain that had been in his arm and shoulder was now localized in his lower back and abdomen. He also felt nauseated. Johnny held his left hand on his stomach, wishing he had a bed or something soft to lie down on. It wouldn’t take the pain away, but it might help to make it more bearable. A groan from the man got Nita at his side quickly.
“There’s got to be something I can do, Johnny.”
“Ther. . .there’s not.” He gritted his teeth as the pain in his back and abdomen intensified. Breathing was becoming more difficult, but he figured that was more due to the pain, than anything else. “I. . .help me. . .lie down.” Gage took several short breaths as he tried to scoot off the board.
“In the dirt?”
“Don’t . . .care.”
Nita used her good arm to help Johnny ease himself onto the dirt floor. She could feel his clothing was damp from the excessive perspiration. As the dark-haired man lay on his side, he pulled his knees up towards his mid section.
“Ni. . .Nita. Be. . .care. . .ful.”
“In case. . .the spider’s. . .in here.”
Johnny closed his eyes tight. The cramps had continued to intensify as the minutes went by. The soles of his feet were starting to hurt, though not near as bad as his abdomen . . . yet. With his left hand still against his stomach he could tell that the muscles in his mid-section were becoming rigid. The effects of the poison from the bite were almost in full-force now, and there wasn’t going to be any relief soon. The paramedic knew that his current discomfort could last anywhere from twelve to forty-eight hours. Dying wasn’t a fear, as people seldom died from Black Widow spider bites. But it was going to be a long night if no one found them before morning.
Nita sat back and looked warily at the ground around them. Where had the spider gone? Or had it bit him before they fell in? She hoped it was the latter, so neither had to worry about it anymore. But it wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye out as long as she could see. Which brought another thought to the woman’s mind.
What if they don’t find us before dark? We’ve got no way to see anything down here.
“I don’t see any sign of them, Marco said as Captain Stanley drove down the road. Hank glanced in his rearview mirror as Roy’s car caught up to them.
The men had driven to the convenience store Johnny and Nita had gone to. The clerk at the counter remembered selling the two friends drinks. But it had been three hours since they left. The men stopped at the service station nearby afterwards, wondering if Lolita might have been right about the car breaking down and them getting stranded. But the employees at the station hadn’t seen any vehicles or people fitting the descriptions. Other than going into town, there wasn’t much of anywhere else to check. So the men had headed back, hoping they might have missed something along the way.
Marco watched off to the side of the road, looking again for signs of an accident. Roy pulled over several times so that he and Chet could get out and walk down the small banks on the sides looking for tracks of any kind in the ditches.
As they neared the old park, Hank pulled over.
“You think they might be here?”
“I don’t know, Cap. There’s nothing to it anymore. The place is an old park that hasn’t been used in years.”
Marco looked at the captain’s window as Roy pulled his station wagon up alongside. Chet rolled his window down, as Hank did the same.
“What’s up?” Chet asked.
“We’re gonna drive into this old park,” Stanley explained. “Marco says it hasn’t been used in years, but it can’t hurt to look.”
“Sounds good,” Roy said as he put the station wagon in reverse. Once behind the captain’s car, he followed them down the dirt road leading to the park.
Gage took shallow breaths, which was about all he could do with the excruciating pain he was now in. He was still on the ground, hardly even aware of the muddy streaks that were on the right side of his face and arms. The man continued to feel extremely nauseated, but was relieved that so far he hadn’t vomited. In the close quarters with Nita, that was the last thing he wanted. Somewhere along the way, he had developed a throbbing headache, though with all he was going through, the paramedic couldn’t remember when. It was like it wasn’t there at all, then suddenly was.
The light in the hole was fading as the sun moved farther to the west. Johnny could make out Nita’s scared expression through his squinted eyes. Thoughts of her broken arm went through his mind. He wanted to get up and see how she was fairing, but as soon as he tried to sit up, the pain in his lower abdomen and back brought the dark-haired man right back to the ground.
“Nita.” It was barely a whisper.
Marco’s sister leaned closer to Johnny. “I’m right here,” she assured, reaching out and holding his left hand.
“Are. . .you . . .how’s your. . . arm?” He gasped.
The young woman gazed at Johnny in admiration. The guy was going through hell and he still had the presence of mind to worry about her.
“I haven’t moved it at all, just like you said.”
Johnny nodded slightly, his eyes once again shut tight in pain. “Good.”
Nita looked in surprise as his left hand started to go into a slight spasm in hers. She then noticed his entire body was doing the same.
“Johnny, what’s going on?” She cried out, almost in a panic. “You’re shaking. . .”
“Tre. . .trem. . .mors.” He bit his lower lip, steeling himself against the agony he was feeling.
Marco’s sister was horrified. Johnny kept telling her he was going to be okay. But it didn’t seem like he was. In fact, the young woman was afraid she was going to sit and watch him die right in front of her. Not knowing what else to do, she let go of his hand and stood up, yelling for help.
“There it is.” Marco said, as Nita’s car came into view. “What is Nita doing here? If Johnny talked her into this. . .” he trailed off.
“First let’s find them,” Hank reminded. “Then we’ll worry about blame.”
Marco silently agreed, but images of Gage flirting with his sister had him anxious to get answers. Maybe Chet was right.
Roy parked his station wagon beside the captain’s car. The men got out and surveyed the immediate area. Nita’s car was empty, except for the beverages they had purchased, and there was no clue as to what way the two missing individuals may have gone.
“Well,” Stanley began, “how about Marco and I go that way,” he pointed towards the path Nita usually took, “and you two take that direction.” Hank indicated another hint of a path that was on the right side of the one Johnny and Nita had opted for. “Then we can work our way towards the middle.”
“Middle of what?” Roy asked. “Cap, there’s so much ground to cover. They could be anywhere.”
Hank pointed in the two directions. “We cover those two ways that look like they used to be trails. Then cut across after awhile until we meet up on this middle one. We’ll take it from there if no one’s seen them yet.”
The others agreed and headed in their assigned areas. Unfortunately, the paths they chose were taking them all away from where their friends were trapped and in need of immediate help.
Nita slouched against the wall of the hole when her attempt to get someone’s attention to their plight proved futile.
God, what did I get us into? She wiped tears off her cheeks with her left hand. Kicking herself for suggesting that she and Johnny go off in an area that wasn’t very familiar to her, Nita kneeled down beside him again. When she glanced at his closed eyes, she could see that his lids were slightly swollen. She gently patted his left arm, trying to offer whatever comfort she could.
“You know what? I think Marco and Roy will find us soon.” Nita’s voice cracked with emotion; she paused to regain her composure. “If I know my brother and your partner, they aren’t going to leave any stone unturned until they find us.” Her eyes filled with tears again as she watched Gage struggle to talk.
Johnny’s reply was a raspy whisper. “I . . .think. . .you’re right.” He had gone through periods of either having an excessively dry mouth, or not being able to swallow often enough due to excess saliva. The man found himself wishing for unconsciousness, although he knew that would be an even worse sign.
“You’d better hang in there for me,” Nita said firmly, forcing a brave front. Crying wasn’t going to help either of them.
As Johnny went through another muscle spasm, Nita turned her face away. She couldn’t stand to see him suffer. She once again berated herself for getting him into the situation he was in.
After twenty minutes of walking and calling out for Nita and Johnny, Roy stopped, looking in the direction of the middle of the park.
“What? You hear something?” Chet asked, coming up alongside him.
“No, I was just thinking.” He glanced at Kelly. “Whenever you have to search for something and then finally find it, what’s the first thing you say?”
Chet shrugged. “Here it is; I found it?”
Roy grinned. “That, too. But everyone always says, ‘it was in the last place I looked’.”
“Yeah, but that’s usually followed by, ‘but then why would I keep looking if I found it? So of course it was.’”
“I just have a feeling we’re in the wrong place.”
“And we should be. . .?”
“Call it a hunch, Chet, but I think we need to head in towards the middle trail.”
The stocky fireman held out his arms in surrender. “Whatever you say, pal. I just hope we find ‘em soon.”
Johnny groaned at the fierce cramps in his back and abdomen. He didn’t think the pain could get any worse than it was earlier, but it had. He still was dealing with a severe headache, nausea and other aches, but they seemed minute compared to the pain in his lower midsection. He could barely manage to open his swollen eyelids, but with what little he did, the man could see Marco’s sister was sitting close by in the dimming light. She was cradling her arm that was inside her shirt.
“Yu. . .you’re . . .o . .okay?”
“Yes. I think I’ve been going on adrenaline all afternoon, though. It’s starting to catch up.” Nita sighed. “I don’t know how much longer I can hang in there, Johnny.”
That wasn’t what he wanted to hear. But it stood to reason. Johnny weakly reached out with his left hand and placed it on her left calf. “S’okay.”
The muscle spasms were constant now, but they surged in intensity, causing the dark-haired man to grimace while he waited for the most recent one to pass. He sucked in air between his gritted teeth, praying that by some fluke, the agony would taper off soon.
Roy cupped his hands around his mouth. “Johnny! Nita!” Chet followed suit, neither drawing a response. The two men frowned.
“I hope we find ‘em before the sun sets,” Chet commented.
“I know.” The blonde paramedic glanced around, spotting pieces of old broken picnic tables. “I wonder how long this place has been deserted?”
“Marco said years.”
“Looks like it. You know, I half expected to see an old wooden outhouse somewhere. But I imagine it was taken down and the hole filled in a long time ago.”
“If they did it right,” Kelly agreed. “Why, you need one?”
“No,” Roy shook his head. Only Chet. . . He pressed on, once again calling out for the lost friends as they walked forward. “Johnny! Nita!”
“I don’t think. . .”
“Shhhhh!” DeSoto put his hand up. “I think I heard something.”
“Was it them?” Chet whispered.
“Johnny!” Roy tried again, ignoring the question.
Both men exchanged glances when they heard the muffled voice of a female coming from nearby.
“Keep talking!” Chet shouted. He and DeSoto stood motionless as they listened for the sound. They were rewarded by Nita calling out for help.
Following the sound of her voice, the two men came upon a large round hole in the ground. Roy held Chet back with his arm as he stepped closer to the opening, edging up carefully.
“Roy!” The young woman called out. “Thank God! You’ve gotta get us out of here!”
Us? If Johnny’s down there, why isn’t he responding?
DeSoto and Kelly locked eyes a few seconds, both with the same thoughts. What had happened to Gage? Roy turned his attention back to the hole.
“Are you both okay?”
“No!” Nita looked over at the dark-haired man near her. His face was covered in perspiration, a continued expression of pain on his face visible in the shadows. “Johnny thinks he got bit by a Black Widow spider! He’s in bad shape!”
Roy was on his knees near the opening in seconds. He caught a glimpse of Nita and could tell her right arm was inside her shirt.
“Are you okay?”
The young woman nodded. “I broke my arm, but Johnny took care of it as much as he could.”
Roy pulled his keys out of his pocket. Before he could even say anything, Chet took them and started to head toward the parking area. The blonde paramedic watched the retreating man. I hope he sees Cap and Marco along the way. Roy carefully peered into the hole again and sighed. He hated that he was right there with the two injured friends below, but he couldn’t get to either of them to help.
As Chet ran down the hint of a trail, he saw Captain Stanley and Marco approaching from the right. The fireman stopped and waved his arms. The other two men picked up their pace and trotted over to Chet.
“What is it, Kelly?” Hank asked as he and Marco reached the path.
“We found Nita and Johnny. . .” Chet began, winded from running. “They’re down. . . in a hole. . .Nita’s got a broken arm and. . .and Gage has a spider bite.”
Marco glanced in the direction Chet had come from, alarmed. “How far away is this hole and can we get them out?”
Chet shook his head. “I’m gonna call the fire department and an ambulance. Roy’s with them now. . .it’s about one and a half miles that way,” he said, pointing.
Marco took off at a fast jog as Stanley went with Kelly to the vehicles.
“I’ve got a large flashlight in my car,” Hank said, looking up at the fading daylight. “We may need it.”
When the men reached the parking area, they split up, each going to the respective cars. After getting what he needed, Stanley walked over to Chet, who already had the engine started.
“Tell Mike to help keep the kids entertained with the fireworks like we planned. No sense in any of them knowing what’s going on here and getting scared. And let Marco’s family know we’ve got a handle on the situation.”
Kelly nodded. “Right, Cap.”
The captain slapped the roof of the car. “Drive safely, pal. One rescue is enough.”
Once again the fireman nodded, then backed out and drove off.
Hank Stanley sighed, as he flipped the flashlight in his hands. And here I was thinking a fire was about the only thing that could go wrong today. I hope John’s not in too bad of shape. The man started towards the middle trail, knowing that either way, it was going to be a long night.
Despite the intense pain he was in, Johnny tried to force himself to a sitting position when he heard Roy’s voice above. Nita saw Gage struggling in the dimness to get up and scooted over to him.
“Don’t, Johnny,” she soothed, patting his left arm. “It’ll be okay.”
“Got. . .gotta get. . .out.” He said, still on his side. The man was too exhausted and in too much agony to sit up.
DeSoto moved back from the opening of the hole when some of the dirt had started to fall in. He thought about the monkey virus that had nearly taken his Johnny’s life not too long before.
If he survived that, only to be taken out by a damned spider. . .
Chet drove Roy’s station wagon out of the old park. When he reached the highway, the fireman turned right and headed for Lolita’s house. He suddenly wished that every vehicle came equipped with a telephone as a standard feature.
It sure would come in handy at times like these.
As he traveled along the road, the Chet’s thoughts went back to Nita and Johnny. He figured he should be mad at Gage for getting the young woman into the situation they were in. . .he was sure it had to be Johnny’s idea to stop there. . .but under the circumstances, he couldn’t feel anything but concern for the paramedic. Not having seen exactly what the ‘bad shape’ Nita referred to was, the fireman’s imagination ran rampant as to what it could be.
Just let him be okay. . .please.
Marco came up beside Roy as he looked at the gaping hole nearby.
“Is Nita okay?”
Roy opened his mouth to respond, but Marco’s sister beat him to it.
“Marco! I’m fine! Johnny took care of me!”
Her pain filled voice told the Hispanic fireman otherwise. He glanced at Roy in question.
“Her arm’s probably broken.”
“What about Johnny? Chet said he had a spider bite. . .is it serious?”
“They think it was a Black Widow.” The blonde man stared at the opening of the hole. He could only guess by Nita’s descriptions and Johnny’s weak replies what kind of condition his partner was in. “He’s. . .uh. . .I don’t know, Marco. I think he’ll be okay, but I just don’t know.”
The fireman nodded in understanding. Suddenly any ill feelings he had earlier towards Johnny faded. “Can we get down to them?”
“I’ve thought about it, but the hole’s pretty deep. If I could hang on the edge and drop. . .”
“I’ll hold your arms,” Lopez suggested. He wanted to get someone. . .anyone . . . down to his sister and Gage as soon as possible.
As tempted as he was, Roy shook his head. “We’d better wait. I don’t want to make a bad situation worse.”
“You’re right.” Marco leaned towards the hole. “Nita, we’ll have you and Johnny out as soon as we can!”
“I know. . .just. . .Marco, I’m worried about him! He’s in a lot of pain!”
“Nita, it’ll be okay!”
“Wonder what in the heck this hole is for, anyway?” Roy remarked. “I can’t see any use for it being here.”
“It’s got to be where the old outhouse used to be.”
DeSoto looked at Marco, not sure what to say. The blank expression on his face said enough.
“The lilac bushes,” Lopez explained, motioning with his right hand. “There’re always lilac bushes near an outhouse . . . they’re used to hide the odor that tends to drift from it.”
Both men suddenly felt disgusted when it dawned on them what Nita and Johnny had fallen into.
“On the bright side, if there is one,” Marco began, “is that it’s been so long since this place was a park, that all the waste should have been absorbed into the ground by now.”
“I don’t think that’s gonna help Johnny feel any less humiliated when he finds out.”
Marco and Roy watched as Captain Stanley approached with the flashlight in hand.
“How are they?”
“Not sure, Cap,” Roy said. “Nita seems to be fairing okay.”
The captain frowned. “People don’t usually die from Black Widow spider bites, do they?”
“It depends on a lot of factors, but no, not usually. Johnny’s got good health and young age in his favor. I just don’t know what else may be wrong with him, if anything.” Roy sighed. “At least we know he’s not allergic to the spider venom, or else. . .” he trailed off.
“I hear ya, pal,” Hank said.
All three men realized how much worse the situation could’ve been.
By the time the fire department and ambulance arrived, the clouds in the sky were red and orange from the colorful sunset. Chet lead the way, as the firemen and paramedics from station 110 carried two stokes, each with some equipment in them. The ambulance attendants waited with their vehicle in the lot.
“How long have Gage and Marco’s sister been trapped?” Wheeler asked.
Kelly looked over his shoulder and shrugged. “I don’t know. They were over two hours late getting back to Marco’s aunt’s house when we started looking for ‘em.”
“Two hours? You guys waited two hours?”
“Well, this is Gage. . .and a woman. . .you know. . .”
Wheeler shook his head. “Yeah, but it’s Marco’s sister. Roy should’ve known better.”
“I think he did. But he didn’t wanna sound like an old mother hen worrying. And Marco didn’t wanna be accused of being overprotective by Nita. I guess she hates him watching over her.”
“Well, I’d say if it’s been hours since Gage got bit and it’s a Black Widow, the guy’s in a lot of pain.”
Kelly looked at the ground ahead. Why hadn’t they all just admitted, adults or not, they were worried about the Nita and Johnny? He wasn’t sure he wanted an answer to his next question, but it was time to ask.
“What exactly does a Black Widow bite cause?”
After Tom Wheeler got through explaining the resulting symptoms of the venom, Chet cringed. Excruciating pain like appendicitis? Muscle spasms? I hope it’s not that bad.
The off-duty crew of A-shift stood back, anxiously watching the men from Station 110 do their work. Paramedic Cliff Benton set up the biophone while Wheeler climbed down a ladder into the hole. Hank stepped over to the captain from 110.
“How about Roy goes down and helps Tom out? He could probably use the extra hands.” He glanced over at the worried senior paramedic. “And DeSoto could sure stand to see his partner right now.”
Captain Decker studied the concerned faces of the men standing around. “You got it, Hank. Thanks.”
Stanley walked over to Roy. “You’re gonna go down and assist Wheeler, okay?”
The gratitude on the blonde man’s face was obvious. “Sure, Cap. Thanks.”
Although he was worried, Roy felt a little relief as he climbed down the ladder to his partner. At least he would be able to see for himself how Johnny was fairing.
While Tom untied the equipment that was sent down on a rope, Roy kneeled by Johnny, setting down a large flashlight he had brought in with him near them. Gage had turned onto his back and the senior paramedic could see he was a mess. He had swipes of mud on his cheeks, chin and forehead, especially on the right side and was drenched from sweating. His hair was wet from sweat, and caked with mud. Johnny groaned as he peered out of swollen eyes at Roy.
“Hey. . .man. . .it . . . hurts.”
“I know. Hang in there, Junior.” Roy felt the words were futile. Gage had been ‘hanging in there’, thanks to him and the others. The senior paramedic berated himself for not following his instincts when Johnny and Nita were late, and searching for them sooner. “Wheeler should be able to give you something for the pain. It doesn’t look like you have a head injury that would prevent it.”
The younger man shook his head slightly. “Huh uh.”
DeSoto looked over at Tom. “His eyelids are swollen, breathing is labored, abdomen is rigid. He’s having muscle spasms, too.”
The paramedic from 110 tossed Roy the BP cuff, as he wrote the other information down. He relayed it to his partner above, requesting he be notified of the course of action recommended by Rampart ASAP.
Turning his attention back to Nita, Wheeler finished splinting her arm, then waited as a rope was lowered down with a belt. “Are you hurt anywhere else but your arm and knee?”
Nita shook her head. “Johnny broke my fall, so it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been.”
“Broke your fall?” He glanced at Gage, then at his patient again. “How?”
“I think he tried to catch me, but I landed on him. He said he was okay, but he was limping. . .said his right hip was just sore.”
“Okay, thanks. I’ll take a look at it.” Leave it to Gage to try to downplay his injury. Wheeler hoped that it wasn’t too much of an act on Johnny’s part. It was bad enough he had the spider bite to contend with. Tom carefully got Marco’s sister situated to be pulled up. “My partner Cliff’ll take care of you up top. And don’t worry about John. We’ll get him set.”
Nita nodded, then looked over at Roy, a sorrowful expression on her face. “I’m sorry.”
DeSoto didn’t know what else to do but reply quietly, “It’ll be okay,” and give a wan smile.
Once the young woman was out, Wheeler crouched near Gage. He had received the necessary information from above and was setting up to start an IV.
“His blood pressure’s high,” Roy offered.
“Gage, can you hear me?”
“I. . .I’m. . .not. . .deaf,” Johnny gritted out.
Both paramedics grinned slightly. A sense of humor was a good sign.
“Once I get you situated with an IV and all, you should feel a little better.” Wheeler prepared to insert the IV, while Roy wiped down an area on Johnny’s left forearm.
“You. . .you aren’t. . .gonna get. . .us on. . .news. . .are ya?”
Despite the grim circumstances, Tom had to snicker. Gage never had completely gotten over him stealing all the publicity on rescues for awhile. “Nah,” he replied as he set the drip for the IV. “The chance at fame is over. A new ‘kid’ on the block came along and grabbed my spotlight away. Craig Brice is his name. Ever run across him yet?” The paramedic asked, as he cleaned off the bite marks and the scrapes on Gage’s right arm with an antiseptic
Johnny shook his head slightly. The two men watched him with renewed concern, as once again the muscle spasms that had been plaguing him increased in intensity. As the episode tapered off, Wheeler continued, trying to keep Gage’s mind off of the seriousness of the situation he was in.
“You’ll know Brice when you do run into him.”
Roy was curious. “Is that good or bad?”
“Depends. I’ll let you guys meet him sometime and decide for yourselves.”
DeSoto couldn’t tell if Wheeler was being nice to this Craig Brice guy or being ornery to he and Johnny. The man wasn’t known for being the greatest with sincerity. He decided to let it go. They’d find out someday, he was sure.
The two paramedics continued to work on Johnny, assessing any injuries he might have acquired before or after the spider bite.
“Ribs hurt?” Tom asked, palpating Gage’s sides.
“Not . . .too bad.” The grimace that resulted told the paramedic from 110 that the patient’s left side was more tender than he was admitting.
“How about your legs? Marco’s sister said you were limping.”
“Right. . .hip. Every. . .thing hurts.” The dark haired man winced, as yet another spasm started. DeSoto’s worry for his partner’s condition grew. He decided whether the younger man liked it or not, he was going to act more like what Johnny referred to as the ‘mother hen’ type from here on out. It sure beat this.
Roy and Wheeler quickly worked together to get Gage ready to be moved. Before long, they had the man into a stokes that had been set down at an angle to fit in the hole and pulled up to safety.
Both victims were carried out to the waiting ambulance, the other men following behind and to the side. With the sky now dark, the flashing lights cast an eerie red glow on the trees that were near the parking lot.
“Cap, tell Joanne I went in with Johnny. Marco’s going, too. Here’re the keys to my car.”
The captain took the keys, then handed them to Chet. He patted Roy on the shoulder. “Call us at Marco’s aunt’s house later and let us know how they are.”
Marco was already in the front of the ambulance waiting when Roy climbed into the squad with Cliff Benton. Stanley and Kelly watched as the emergency vehicles pulled away.
“I hope Gage is gonna be okay,” Chet said.
Hank nodded in agreement. Like Roy had earlier, he thought back to the monkey virus that had nearly taken the paramedic away. “So do I, Kelly. So do I.”
Johnny was quickly whisked down the corridor and into a treatment room at Rampart. Doctor Brackett examined the paramedic thoroughly for any hidden injuries. He suspected a possible cracked rib or two, but would need x-ray to confirm it for him. The doctor also ordered an x-ray for Johnny’s right hip to make sure it was just a deep bruise and nothing more serious.
“Dix, let’s get the medications started. Muscle relaxants and an anti-hypertension drug to get his blood pressure down.”
The nurse nodded and walked over to the cabinet nearby.
As a groggy John Gage tried to open his swollen eyelids, Brackett reassured his patient. “Hang in there, Johnny. We’re gonna give you some muscle relaxants to help stop the spasms. Since your symptoms and the mark on your hand point to a Black Widow spider bite, we’ll start the antivenin process soon.”
“ ‘Kay.” The paramedic didn’t care what they did. Just knowing he was at Rampart was a relief in itself. When he turned his head and saw Dixie on the other side of him handing something across to Brackett, he tried to ask if she knew how Nita was. In his current medicated state, he had to work at getting the question out.
“Dix. . . Nita . . .all right?”
“She’ll be fine. She’s more worried about you.” As Dixie glanced behind her to Roy, she added, “You gave your partner quite a scare, too.” The nurse began to wipe some of the dirt and mud off Gage’s face with a warm, damp cloth. “Just rest and let the medication do its job. It’ll make them both happier, I’m sure.” She winked at Roy.
Johnny nodded weakly, as the medication began to take effect. He closed his eyes, grateful for the mental oblivion he was fading into.
July 9th, 1973
He was still feeling tired and not quite himself yet, but Johnny was glad to be home. He never was too fond of hospital stays, although the attention it brought from the nurses was a plus. Three of them had given him a nice send off the day before, when Captain Stanley came to pick him up. Roy had wanted to give his partner a ride home, but a previous commitment of a family reunion prevented it.
Marco’s sister had been in to visit Johnny while he was still at Rampart. The young woman apologized for ruining their July Fourth celebration, but Gage couldn’t let her take all the blame since he was a willing participant. Once having settled that, the two decided they’d try to go out on a few dates; that maybe they had more in common than they realized. Nita agreed to give bowling a try, if Johnny would go to a few disco places with her after they both had healed. He made sure the deal included the agreement he could just listen to the music and didn’t have to dance. While the two were talking, Chet came to visit and right away wanted to wait on the woman. Gage then realized how obvious he and Chet must’ve been at the station when Marco’s sister stopped in. He understood why Marco got irritated with them.
Dressed in sweat pants and a white t-shirt, Johnny limped into his livingroom. As he looked around the room with the morning light shining in, he thought about the days ahead. He had already been told he was going to have to pull light duty at Head Quarters while his cracked ribs healed and the effects of the Black Widow Spider bite faded. It was going to be a long five weeks at the very least. Right at the moment, a cup of coffee and the morning newspaper sounded good. He slowly made his way over to the front door. Roy and Chet showed up as Johnny opened it to get the paper.
“Hey, we were just in the neighborhood and--”
“Decided to stop by,” Johnny finished for Kelly. “C’mon in.” He took the paper from Chet.
“We’ve only got a few minutes. But we wanted to make sure you were all right,” Roy commented as he stepped into the apartment.
“I’m doin’ okay. I slept better last night.”
“Good.” He handed Johnny a stack of photos. “Joanne took these of the kids and the fireworks. She thought you might enjoy them.”
“Tell her thanks.” The younger man set the newspaper on the couch, keeping the pictures in his grasp.
“Hey, Gage. Anyone ever tell you what you fell into?”
Johnny sighed. He knew it would only been a matter of time before Chet found out. “Yes, Chet, they sure did.”
Roy saw what was coming and decided it was time to leave. “We’ve got to be at the station in about fifteen minutes, so I guess we’d better go. C’mon, Chet,” the blonde paramedic started to usher the man out.
Kelly shook his head, addressing Gage. “Man, you really got yourself in a heap of shi--”
“Chet!” Johnny warned. “Don’t say it.”
The stocky fireman grinned, now peering around Roy, as the blonde man helped him closer to the door. Chet missed his pigeon and the opportunity to have a little fun was too easy. “No offense, Johnny, but only you would take a girl to a dump on your first date.”
“Roy,” Gage pleaded. “Will you get him to shut up?”
“Chet. . .” DeSoto warned.
Johnny started to close the door behind his departing guests when Chet shouted out one more sarcastic remark. “And I thought taking a girl to a hole in the wall place was bad!”
Gage was grateful the door was about shut as he heard Roy’s, then Chet’s voice.
“Chet, that’s enough.”
“What? Roy, he’s fine! He’s fair game--”
Now once again in the quiet of his apartment, Johnny made his way over to a window and watched as Roy and Chet walked to their vehicles. Kelly’s arms were still flailing while he went on and on talking. A crooked grin spread across Gage’s face. He looked down at the photos in his hands, shuffling through them briefly.
He may have missed the celebration and fireworks the other night, but it didn’t matter. The same as it hadn’t mattered to Nita, Marco or Roy. More important than anything, they all had learned the importance of family, friendship and looking out for one another even more so than before. As Gage watched Kelly pull out of the parking lot behind Roy, he gave a small salute to the phantom. Life wouldn’t be the same without the humbling experiences he provided. But Johnny also could smile because he had one up on the phantom.
Thanks to Kenda for the bets read! Any medical errors are mine. Also thanks to Jane for the encouragement. :o)