The gang at Station 51 and Rampart belong to Mark VII Limited and Universal Television.
Thanks to Peggy and Susan for everything!
April 14, 2002
It happened very quickly, in two minutes that felt like an eternity for John Gage. The engine and squad had been called out to a possible gas leak, and though they all knew almost immediately that there was nothing there, they had to wait for the gas company to show up and confirm. While they waited, Johnny was elected to go across the street and pick up a half-gallon of milk for the station.
He walked in on the middle of a robbery.
Johnny had entered and gone straight to the back of the store, to the refrigerators. It wasn't until he'd gotten the milk and turned around to go back up front and pay that he saw the man in the ski mask with his arm around the neck of the young clerk.
And he had a gun.
John stopped in his tracks, stunned. The man was staring at Johnny with steely, determined dark eyes, while using his hand to cover the mouth of the terrified girl. The silence hung in the air for a long moment before the thief took the gun off the clerk's temple long enough to motion John forward with it.
The paramedic complied.
Still no one spoke, the only sound that of the girl emptying the contents of the register into a bag, and whimpering slightly into the man’s hand.
Should he say something? The thought had barely had a chance to form when the man suddenly let go of the girl, and pistol-whipped her on the side of the head before she had a chance to cry out. She fell hard, and Johnny instinctively took a step forward, freezing when the thief trained his gun on him. The man approached the paramedic, the muzzle of the gun pointed squarely at John’s head, then slowly circled him. Gage turned with him, the two men remaining eye-to-eye in some sort of bizarre, silent, standoff.
The masked man started to back away, toward the back of the store, never taking his eyes, or his gun, off Johnny. When he reached the door to what had to be the back room he pushed it open with a kick, paused, and finally spoke.
“I don’t think I like you,” he said simply. And then he pulled the trigger.
+ + + + +
The crew of 51s wasn’t exactly sure what they’d heard first. Was it the gunshot, or the sound of the front window of the store shattering? The men instinctively dropped to the ground, and the next sound was Mike on the radio reporting gunfire and a request for police assistance.
Suddenly, like a slap in the face, Roy realized he was looking at the store Johnny had entered not two minutes earlier. He jumped to his feet, only to be forcibly pulled down by his captain.
“Johnny’s in there!”
“I know, pal, but we have no idea what’s going on. We don’t move until the police get here. Understand?”
Roy made one more effort to pull away from Cap, but the man’s grip tightened, and DeSoto knew he had no choice but to wait.
+ + + + +
Was it the shot, or the shattering glass that made Johnny flinch? Whatever it was, it prompted the paramedic into action, and he ran around the counter to the girl. He idly noticed that his feet were wet. Somewhere along the line he’d dropped the carton of milk, and it had exploded on the floor, drenching his shoes.
The girl was unconscious, and bleeding. He wondered where Roy and the rest of the guys were, and why they hadn’t come running at the sound of the shot. Then he remembered the HT dangling from his wrist.
“Roy, this is Johnny,” he started, momentarily forgetting proper radio protocol. “I need you in here. I’ve got a girl down.”
+ + + + +
John hadn’t even gotten up as the victim had been loaded into the ambulance. He’d been the picture of professionalism and efficiency, caring for the girl and promising all of his friends that he was fine, hadn’t been hurt. He’d asked Roy to ride in the ambulance, and let Chet and Marco help lift the gurney into the truck. He’d remained on the ground, on one knee and sitting back on his heel, watching it all transpire.
The ambulance doors were slammed shut and the vehicle pulled away, and that was when he felt a slight trickle on the right side of his head. He reached up, and his fingers came away with blood on them. His blood.
That’s when the shaking started.
It was shock, he knew. A physical manifestation of the emotional trauma he’d just been through. He wasn’t really hurt. The grazing wound to the side of his head was tiny; completely unnoticeable in his mop of dark hair. But still he couldn’t stop shaking.
He wrapped his hands around his upraised leg, and rested his chin on his knee, and willed himself to get control.
“Close one, huh Johnny?” he heard Chet ask jovially. But he was in no mood to reply.
“Johnny?” he asked again, his tone switching to one of concern. John wasn’t even sure where he was, but then he felt the fireman’s hand on his shoulder from behind.
Chet pulled it off like Johnny was on fire. “Cap! Get over here!” he shouted. From teasing, to concern, to outright alarm in three seconds. But still, Gage found himself unable--or unwilling; he wasn’t sure which--to speak.
+ + + + +
“John? You okay, pal?” Cap was squatting down in front of his paramedic, but Johnny remained steadfastly curled up, his eyes downcast. Hank reached out and wrapped his hand around Johnny’s forearm, and that’s when he felt it, too. “Chet, get a blanket. Mike, call for another squad.” His voice was calm, belying the alarm that was rising in his gut.
“No.” The voice was soft, practically a whisper. “I’m okay, Cap. Just a little shook up.” For good measure Johnny lifted his head and looked at his boss. “Just give me a minute, okay?” He pulled his foot out from underneath himself, and sat squarely on the ground. When he felt the rough plastic of the blanket on his shoulders, he gratefully took the edges and pulled it around himself protectively. “I just need a minute.”
“Are you sure, John? Are you sure you’re not hurt?”
Gage shook his head. “I’m okay. Give me a couple of minutes, then I’ll be okay and I’ll go pick up Roy.” He looked earnestly into the skeptical eyes of his captain and repeated the request. “Just two minutes.” Then he pulled his knees up closer to his body, and huddled under the bright yellow blanket.
Captain Stanley stood, scratching his chin.
“What’s the matter with him?” Chet asked in a too-loud whisper.
“You heard the man,” Hank answered. “He walked into the middle of a robbery and he’s a little shaken up.”
“A little?” Kelly asked incredulously. “Cap, he’s shaking like a leaf.”
“I know,” the captain sighed. “I know.” He looked down on his shivering paramedic and decided, instructing Chet and Marco to pack up the squad’s gear before kneeling down in front of Johnny again.
“John?” he ventured. “Doesn’t look like you’re in any shape to drive right now, so I’m gonna have Chet drive you over to Rampart, okay, pal?”
“I said I’m okay, Cap,” came John’s quiet, plaintive reply.
“You don’t look okay to me. Come on, let’s get you in the squad.” Hank stood, placed one of his long arms around Johnny’s shoulders, and helped the paramedic to his feet.
Johnny didn’t object.
+ + + + +
He couldn’t stop shaking. Deep breaths didn’t work. Eyes open didn’t work. Eyes closed really didn’t work--all he saw then was the menacing eyes of the man with the gun.
Chet was being quiet for once, but even the silence inside the squad was unnerving. It had been so quiet inside that store. So quiet until the man had spoken. So quiet until the sound of the shot had shattered everything. John shivered violently at the memory, and tentatively reached up and touched the spot on his head, studying the small smear of blood that came away on his index finger.
“You okay, Gage?” Chet asked.
Johnny quickly wiped the blood on the thigh of his pants, almost guiltily. He pulled the blanket tighter around himself, and turned his head to stare out the side window.
He didn’t reply, because he didn’t know the answer.
+ + + + +
“We’re here. Let’s go inside.” Chet looked at his friend, unsure what else to do or say, and hoping Johnny would cut him a break.
“You go get Roy. I’ll wait here.”
Guess not. “Come on, Johnny, go inside,” he urged, a little too beseechingly.
Gage shook his head. “I’m okay here.”
Kelly figured he should probably tread lightly right now, but that didn’t seem to be working, so he tried another approach. “Bull,” he said simply. “Look at yourself. You’re shaking like you just spent two hours in a freezing lake, not two minutes in the middle of a holdup.” He made sure to keep his tone matter-of-fact. He was just calling it like he saw it.
Johnny’s eyes flared with anger, but only for a fleeting second. “Go get Roy,” he finally said with a tired sigh.
Chet shook his head. “Yeah, okay. I’ll get Roy.”
+ + + + +
Johnny had rested his head wearily against the back of the cab by the time they came. Chet had gotten Roy, all right. And Brackett, and Dixie, and for all John knew or cared, the rest of the emergency room staff. He should have figured it, but hadn’t bothered to think it through.
The door opened, and Gage shifted his weight slightly to his left to keep from leaning out.
“Let’s get you inside,” Dr. Brackett said kindly.
John sighed. “I just want to go back to the station,” he explained.
“And you can. Right after you come inside.”
The paramedic knew he didn’t have the wherewithal to put up a decent fight, so he slowly climbed out.
+ + + + +
Gage curled his long fingers around the hot mug of coffee, and shivered. The uncontrollable shakes had finally diminished, but he still felt odd, out-of-sorts. He’d balked at the idea of going to a treatment room, so he was in the doctor’s lounge.
He’d begged for a couple of minutes to pull himself together, and there must have been something in his voice that made them know he was serious. So they’d sat him on the sofa, Dixie had wrapped a real blanket around his shoulders, Roy had placed the coffee in his hand, and they’d left, reluctantly.
He figured he had two minutes before someone came back, unable to heed his desire to be left alone. It had taken only two minutes for him to look death squarely in the eye and survive, would he be able to get over it in the same expanse of time?
He reached up to his head again. The bleeding had stopped, and he could feel the dried blood in his hair.
“I don’t think I like you,” he’d said. Why? Why had he said that? Why had he fired? Had he tried to shoot him, and missed, or tried to miss him, and gotten too close? Was the guy trying to kill him, or just scare him?
Mission accomplished, if it was the latter.
He closed his eyes and concentrated on taking deep, calm breaths. He needed to at least appear back to normal when that door opened again. He leaned forward with his forearms on his knees, holding the stoneware mug loosely between his hands, breathing in and out slowly.
It started to work, but then the unexpected sound of that gunshot reverberated in his ears again, shattering the calm. It was immediately matched by the sound of the coffee cup shattering on the floor. He’d dropped it.
+ + + + +
They all heard the noise from within the lounge. None of them, not Dix, not Chet, not Roy, not Brackett, had ventured away from that door after granting Johnny’s wish for a couple of minutes alone.
“I’ve never seen him so shaken up before,” Kel had said. “What the heck happened?”
Roy had shrugged. “He walked in on a robbery. But I don’t know exactly what happened in there. He didn’t say anything except that he was fine.”
“Obviously he’s not,” Dixie had said. And that’s why, when they heard the crash of something breaking in the lounge, she decided to take action. She looked at the men around her, dared them to stop her with nothing more than a look, and went inside.
There was coffee all over the floor, and the mug was in a hundred pieces. Johnny was looking at it, and it took him a good five seconds to look up and acknowledge her presence in the room.
“Did you burn yourself?” she asked, figuring that ‘are you okay?’ was a stupid question.
Johnny picked up one foot, then the other. “Nah,” he answered quietly before lifting his legs up onto the couch and out of the mess. He leaned his head back on the sofa.
Dixie got some towels from under the sink, knelt down next to Johnny, and started to clean up. “You ready to tell someone what happened?” she asked simply.
Johnny shrugged. “Walked in on a holdup.”
“That much I know. What happened to throw you for a loop like this?”
“How’s the girl?” Johnny asked, avoiding the subject.
“She’s fine. A concussion and a few stitches. She’ll go home tomorrow. There wasn’t anything you could have done to protect her, if that’s what’s bothering you.”
Gage shook his head. “I know that. That’s not it.”
Dixie got up and retrieved the dustpan and broom for the broken mug before she asked her next question. “So what is it?”
Johnny just shrugged again.
“Look, Johnny,” the nurse started, “there are three men on the other side of the door just dying to get in here and find out what’s going on with you. One of them is this close,” she held two fingers so close together that they were almost touching, “to calling the psychiatry department, or at least getting you a sedative and a room.” She stood up to sit next to her friend on the sofa. “So why don’t you get it off your chest. You’ll have to eventually, and better to a friend than some shrink.”
John couldn’t help but grin slightly at her use of the derogatory slang. He shifted uncomfortably, took a deep breath, and decided she was right.
“He tried to kill me, I think.”
“He looked me right in the eye, pointed the gun at me, and said, ‘I don’t think I like you.’ Just like that: ‘I don’t think I like you,’ the paramedic repeated plainly. “And then pulled the trigger.”
He’d started to reflexively go for the wound on his head during the retelling, but stopped himself before he touched it. Nevertheless, Dixie saw the motion, and felt the side of the paramedic’s head herself, causing him to flinch, but he didn’t pull away. She felt it immediately, and used both hands to urgently push John’s hair out of the way to get a good look at it. Her motions calmed considerably as soon as she saw how minor it was, and she soon was smoothing the man’s hair back down.
“I’m so sorry, Johnny,” she said earnestly. “And I’m so glad he was a bad shot!”
The way she’d said that struck Johnny as funny, and he started to laugh a little bit. “Yeah,” he agreed, “me, too.”
+ + + + +
“You sure you’re okay to drive home?” Roy asked for the eighth time.
Johnny finished buttoning his shirt and closed his locker. After telling Dixie what had happened in the store he’d told the others, consented to a quick checkup from Brackett, gave a statement to the police, and was finally allowed to leave--provided, the doctor had insisted, he go home and not back to work, and make an appointment to talk to someone about what had happened.
Though feeling a lot better, Gage knew he was in no shape to work, and had acquiesced immediately. He had orders to go home and rest, and a sedative in his pocket in case he needed it.
“Yeah, Roy, I’m sure. I’m okay now.”
DeSoto nodded. “I shoulda noticed you were upset at the scene.”
John smiled at this friend’s apology. “I wasn’t--not while you were there, anyway.”
“You really scared Chet.”
Johnny chuckled. “I bet I did.” He sat on the bench in front of the lockers. “Don’t know what got into me.”
Roy sat down next to him, and they were quiet for a long moment. “I do,” he finally admitted in a hoarse whisper.
Johnny nodded. They got scared all the time, on the job, though they never showed it; never admitted it. And most of the time they were able to push it back, deny it, forget it. But not this time. This time, thanks to two minutes in a convenience store, it had come pouring out of him, and John had been powerless to stop it.
But only for a little while.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “I do, too.”