This story is in the Johnny/Lorraine/Darlene series. While it's not necessary to read the other stories first, it might help. However the story stands on its own.
By Audrey W.
John Gage sat in his Land Rover in the lot behind Station 51, as he tried to think of a way to break his latest news to the others from A-shift. He was certain they wouldn’t let him off easy on this one. Not even his often helpful partner, Roy DeSoto.
“Man, what’m I gonna say?”
He ran a hand through his hair as he gave it more thought. There was only one way to say it.
“I’ll just give it to ‘um straight and ignore what ever comes after.”
With that decided, he opened the door and climbed out.
Man, I should be runnin’ in and patting everyone on the *back*! This is good—no, *great* news! ,he thought as he headed toward the building.
But when he opened the door to the locker room where Roy, Marco and Mike were getting changed into uniform, he found himself just going about business as usual. His news would have to wait.
Little did he know, he wasn’t the only one in a stew.
Chet Kelly glanced over his shoulder from where he stood at the sink in the kitchen area of the dayroom. He’d arrived at the station quite awhile before his shiftmates so as to avoid having to have any conversation with them in the locker room and was now wondering how easy continuing to avoid it was going to be once they caught up to him.
If they find out what happened, they’ll never let me live it down. . .especially Gage.
John Gage was going to have a field day with it, Chet was sure.
Two members from C-shift sat at the table talking, oblivious to his dilemma, when voices from a couple of Chet’s fellow crewmen could be heard as they approached the doorway.
Kelly didn’t turn around, but rather just scrubbed the dish in his hand with more intensity.
Marco and Mike had already gotten to the dayroom by the time Johnny was dressed in uniform. Roy had waited for his partner and now the two entered the room to join the others as they waited for roll call.
Johnny was still trying to think of a way to break his news, thus was too distracted to notice who was already at work in the kitchen area. He vaguely heard Roy call out, “Morning, Dwyer. . .Tolfer. . .Chet.”
The two men from C-shift responded, but Chet Kelly remained busy with his self-assigned chore his crew had no responsibility for.
Seated at the table with the others, Marco and Mike noticed Roy looking curiously at the apparently over enthused fireman.
“We can’t figure it out either.”
“Don’t look at us,” Dwyer remarked. “He just came in early and volunteered to clean up after us.”
That got Johnny’s attention. He looked up from where he’d plopped down on the couch.
The curly-haired fireman still didn’t respond, but rather kept his attention on the task at hand.
“Boy, he is really into getting those dishes clean,” Marco commented.
Johnny shook his head, as if to say ‘no he’s not’, and got to his feet. He walked over to the busy fireman and leaned against the counter, his arms folded across his chest. “Okay, spill it.”
Chet barely gave him a moments notice. “Do you mind? I’m kind of busy here.”
Johnny looked around at the others and rolled his eyes before directing his attention back to Kelly. “C’mon, Chester B... What’s up?”
If anything would get him to react, the use of the ‘B’ with his name should, Johnny figured.
It seemed to work.
Chet glanced at his crewmate, never taking a break from scrubbing the plate in his hands. “Nothing’s up. Can’t a guy just wash a few dishes?”
“Yeah, a ‘guy’ can. But it’s kinda fishy when said ‘guy’ will do anything to get out of it on his own shift, and all of a sudden, he’s doin’ it for someone else’s. ‘Sides, I believe that particular dish is beyond clean.”
Chet looked at the dish and frowned. Gage was right; he’d been washing the same plate almost since he started. But rather than say anything, he rinsed it and set in the strainer on the counter beside the sink before going on to the next. Johnny just looked on in wonder.
Before any more comments could be made, Captain Stanley peeked into the room. “Roll call! C’mon, let’s get this over with.”
Chet dropped his chore like a hot potato and nearly beat the others out the door as he dried his wet sudsy hands on a towel he picked up off the counter.
“Somethin’s up,” Johnny mumbled to his partner as they made their way out behind the engine crew. He certainly hoped so. Maybe it would make his news a little less the talk around the station. . .if he ever figured out how to break that to everyone.
Man, what ever’s up with Chet *better* be big!
Once roll call was over, Johnny and Roy inventoried the squad. Though the paramedics of C-shift had left it with everything supposedly in order, it was still necessary for the next pair on duty to document that the supplies were sufficient and equipment in good working order. It kept the system’s integrity intact.
Johnny was in the middle of going through the trauma box when he stopped and gazed past his partner in thought. Squatted down, his right elbow on his thigh and the heel of his hand supporting his chin, his mind filled with anything but what it was supposed to be on.
He still hadn’t figured out how he was he going to break his news. When? To who?
Well, Roy, of course. . .maybe.
And he still wondered what Chet was hiding. There had to be something he didn’t want them to know.
Roy looked up from where he was inventorying the drug box across from Johnny. After several seconds of watching Gage do absolutely nothing, include look at him, he spoke up.
“I’d ask who she is, but you’re married.”
Johnny snapped out of his thoughts. “Huh?”
“You have that look on your face you used to get when you had girl troubles. Only you’re married now. So what is it this time?”
He frowned at the insinuation he was that readable, then shrugged. “Nothin’. It’s nothin’.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” he laughed off. “Yeah, I’m sure. I’m sure.”
But Roy knew better. “Is it to do with Chet?”
“Oh, now there’s who ya need to be asking questions.” He closed the trauma box and stood up before placing it in one of the squad compartments. He then grabbed the biophone and pulled it out. “But good luck getting’ anything out of him.”
Roy just shook his head. He scanned over the contents of the drug box once more, then closed the box.
It was then he looked up again, only to see Johnny standing near the right front quarter panel of the squad, the biophone on the hood still closed. He was once again staring off into space rather than checking the calibration of the piece of equipment.
Roy got to his feet just as Johnny came out of what ever thoughts he’d been lost in.
Johnny narrowed his eyes in scrutiny. “Roy, don’tcha find it kinda strange Chet gets here waaay before us. . .I mean, that alone wouldn’t be so weird. . .but on toppa that, he voluntarily washes the dishes that aren’t even ours to wash.”
“He’s really got you, doesn’t he?”
“Well, yeah. . .I mean, no. . .I . . .look,” he said as he held up a hand in front of him. “He hasn’t got me with anything, I’m just sayin’, it’s not normal, Roy. I mean, he’s gonna be cleanin’ the latrine next because he volunteered for that too, after he finishes the dishes. Who in their right mind volunteers to clean the latrine? Would you?” But before Roy could answer, he supplied for him, “No, of course not.”
“You know what I think?”
Johnny sighed. “What?”
“That this is one big plan of his to get you to do just what you’re doing now; thinking about it all. And if you just let it go, everything’ll go back to normal.”
“Maybe,” he hesitantly agreed. “You really think so?”
Roy opened the biophone. “I’m almost sure of it. But there’s only one way to find out, right?”
Johnny gave him a brief look, then nodded. Maybe he was right. In any event, it was time to do the calibration test.
“Rampart, Squad 51, how do you read me?”
When Dixie McCall’s voice came back over the radio to confirm the communication was solid, Johnny smiled.
Of course! Dixie!
She always had good advice and she was certainly trustworthy. She wouldn’t be able to help where Chet was concerned, but she sure could with his own situation. Only now he had a new problem: how to get Roy to agree to go to Rampart for no reason what-so-ever. And even more difficult, get him to not hang around Dixie as well.
Hank Stanley eyed the closed door to his office. He wondered if it would be better to leave it open.
Probably so. . .
He got up from his chair and took a step in that direction, then stopped.
Maybe not. . .
He wasn’t sure what to do. During roll call, he was able to hide it from his men that something was bothering him. Just sticking to business with no extra chit chat had taken care of that. But now he wasn’t sure if a closed door would make them wonder if something was wrong, or if an open door, where perhaps one or more of his crew could catch him more involved in thought than actual work, would do it.
He sat back down and sighed as he leaned forward, his elbows on the desk. He still couldn’t believe what he’d done.
What was I thinking?
Maybe that was it. He hadn’t been.
Chet stopped wiping the mirror in the latrine and slowly lowered the cloth rag in his hand as he eyed his own reflection.
To him, it was the image of a man doomed. Doomed to ridicule and . . .
He groaned at the thoughts.
“I’ve gotta fix this. . .I’ve gotta. . .there has to be a way outta this.”
The mirror cleaning momentarily forgotten, he sat on the bench in front of Gage and DeSoto’s lockers in thought.
With the hose rack chore done, Mike and Marco were at the table in the dayroom, each with a cup of coffee in front of them. Johnny and Roy walked in, in search of some brew at the younger paramedic’s urging.
“Man, am I ready for a ‘good’ cup of coffee,” Johnny stated as he went over to the stove.
First he poured a cup and handed it to Roy, then got one for himself. He sipped at the hot drink and grimaced. “Ugh!”
Gage looked at Roy. “What? Whataya mean, ‘what’? This coffee tastes terrible!”
Roy shrugged. “It tastes all right to me.”
“How can you say that? This is the worst coffee I’ve ever had.”
Mike and Marco each peered into their cups in puzzlement. What were they missing? It had seemed fine to them.
“Maybe it’s the cup.”
“Roy. . .”
But the conversation was interrupted when the captain walked in with a cup in his right hand.
“There any of the coffee I made left?”
Marco and Mike waited anxiously for Johnny to announce it was horrible tasting now.
“Uh. . .yeah, Cap. There. . .uh. . .is.” It was Gage’s turn to shrug at his partner. Surely Roy didn’t expect him to tell the captain he made terrible coffee.
“Where’s Chet?” Hank asked as he filled his cup.
“Still cleaning the latrine,” Marco provided before taking another unsure glance at his coffee.
“The latrine? Why?”
“He volunteered and you told him to go ahead.”
The captain looked to Mike. “I did?”
This time four men had confused expressions on their faces as they traded glances with one another. Hank Stanley was too young to be getting senile.
“Yes, at roll call.”
“Oh__ You’re right, I guess I did, at that.” He forced a snicker, hoping they’d just laugh at his slip-up too. But it was definitely time to leave the room before anymore could be said. As he headed for the door, he took a sip of his brew. “Good coffee, huh?”
Johnny scowled at the retreating senior officer’s remark, while Roy looked pleased.
But the younger paramedic wasn’t going to give up. This was his 'ticket' to pay a visit to Dixie. He took another sip and shook his head with a sour face.
“I tell ya, there’s somethin’ wrong with this coffee.”
“Apparently only for--”
“Hey!” Johnny yelled out as he snapped his fingers, interrupting Roy. He set his cup down on the table. “I’ve got an idea!”
Roy looked worried. “What?”
“Let’s go to Rampart. They always have good coffee.”
“All the way to Rampart?” Marco wondered.
“Sure,” Johnny beamed. “Sure. It’s not that far away.”
“Why don’t you just ma--”
But the look he got from the paramedic had Mike drop his suggestion.
Roy gave it thought. He’d probably never hear the end of it if he didn’t agree. “Okay.”
Gage was past him and out the door in no time. Roy just shook his head and followed after setting his nearly full cup on the table as well.
Mike peered into his drink again.
“I never thought I’d see the day Cap’s coffee sent any of us to the hospital.”
Hank couldn’t believe he was so preoccupied with his own predicament earlier that he’d forgotten about Chet’s volunteered chore. He leaned back in his chair and recalled two little words. Words that were going to force him to muster more courage for the next two weeks than he’d ever need in facing any type of disaster they’d responded to on duty in weeks. . .perhaps months. The two words that if he’d just held in, he wouldn’t be in the fix he was in now.
He moaned and leaned forward, elbows on the desk, his forehead resting against the palms of his hands.
Chet slowly got to his feet and made his way out of the latrine and into the apparatus bay, his cleaning supplies in hand. He was done with his chore, especially since it really didn’t need that much cleaning in the first place.
It was then he saw that the squad was gone.
Was I *that* out of it? I didn’t even hear the tones go off!
Gosh, his problem hadn’t even come to its full potential yet and he was already in sad shape.
He opened the supply closet door to put the stuff away. Suddenly the fireman found himself wishing he could hide in there himself and shut the door. Until things blew over in say. . .oh. . .
A year or two?
If they ever did.
“Well, what brings you two over our way?” Dixie questioned with a warm smile. The head nurse had been quite surprised to see the paramedics from 51 show up at Rampart.
“I’m still trying to figure it out myself,” Roy admitted.
Johnny scoffed at his remark. “Actually we’re here to get some coffee.”
“You ran out of it at the station?”
“No, it just didn’t taste very good.” He looked at Roy beside him. “At all.”
“So he says,” Roy shrugged, ignoring his partner’s effort to convince him. “Seemed the same as always to me.”
“Well, there’s a fresh pot in the doctors’ lounge. Help yourselves.”
“Thanks.” Roy started off in the direction of the lounge but suddenly stopped when Johnny didn’t follow. He turned around. “Aren’t you coming? This was your idea.”
“Uhm. . .” He couldn’t think of an excuse not to. “Sure. Sure, I’m comin’. Of course.” He snorted a laugh. “Why wouldn’t I?” With what seemed a forced smile to Dixie, he joined his partner.
Dixie watched curiously as the two left. She had a feeling John Gage had an agenda other than getting a fresh cup of coffee.
Just a few minutes and a couple of sips of coffee into their visit, Johnny got up off the dark leather couch in the lounge. He walked across the room to a sink, where he placed his partially full cup.
“I’ll be right back, man.”
Roy watched as he headed for door.
“Where are you going?”
“The bathroom. You know how it is with coffee. Goes right through ya.”
“You haven’t even had a half a cup!”
“At home I did. Before I left for the station, I had some at home. Just wait here, I’ll be right back.”
Roy just shook his head as the younger man left. He then got off the couch and turned on the TV that was just left of the doorway. A morning news show was on, with a discussion between the two anchors as to which brand of coffee tasted the best. He sat back down and took another sip of his drink.
Maybe it was because of Johnny going on about the subject, or maybe it was the topic on TV. But whatever the reason, it really did seem to taste better than the stuff back at the station.
The captain came out of his office to an empty space where the squad normally would be parked. A sudden panic shot through him. . .had he been so lost in thought that he hadn’t even heard his own paramedic crew called out on a rescue? What kind of captain could miss that? He never let a personal problem affect him like that before.
He could always go ask the engine crew members where John and Roy had gone. Except that would really give away the fact he was not his usual self.
Surely he would’ve heard the Klaxon if it’d gone off. It was automatic for any of the crew to be ready to react before they even knew who the call was for. Well, if he hadn’t missed it, perhaps they’d gone on a supply run to Rampart.
Feeling better after having reasoned the situation out, he relaxed some, but not completely; after all, he still had his problem to face.
Chet had gone into the dayroom to get a cup of coffee but both Marco and Mike had warned him it might not be a good idea. When he asked where Johnny and Roy had gone, he got the explanation of that being why he probably didn’t want a cup of coffee.
The fireman decided not to dig into it any further. He had enough on his mind. Instead, he turned on the TV and pulled a chair away from the table to sit and quietly watch TV. At least that way no one would ask him any questions. He hoped.
Johnny seemed to be taking a long time in the bathroom. Or he’d gotten distracted along the way. Roy figured the latter was most likely. He was just about to get up to go in search of him when the door opened and the missing paramedic peeked inside.
“Are you ready to go?”
Roy looked down at his cup. “I’m not done with my coffee.”
The door opened the rest of the way up and Gage burst inside. “Ah, c’mon, Roy. Surely you’ve had enough by now.”
He took the cup from his baffled partner’s right hand as the latter just sat there staring at his now empty hand, still in the position it was while holding the handle.
“Now wait a minute. You’re the one who wanted to come here in the first place. For coffee. . .which you haven’t even drank much of. . .and now you’re ready to leave?”
Johnny shrugged. “Well, sure. I’ve had enough. C’mon.” He motioned for Roy to follow him out the doorway.
The senior paramedic did, but not just because Gage wanted him to. He wanted some answers. And soon.
As they passed by the desk where Dixie was, near the base station, the paramedics gave her a “See ya later” and “Bye, Dix.” Roy didn’t catch the brief winks traded by Johnny and the head nurse.
Before Squad 51 made it back to the station, Engine 51 was sent out on a response for a dumpster fire. Chet beat the three other crew members to the big rig. Marco was surprised by his enthusiasm for such a routine call.
“What?” Kelly asked, when he noticed Marco staring at him as Mike drove the engine into the street.
“I’m just wondering.”
“What kind of prank you set up in the locker room that you wanna be gone before John and Roy get back.”
“I didn’t set up any prank.”
“Okay, what kind of prank ‘the Phantom’ set up.”
Chet opened his mouth to protest again, but decided he was better off just leaving well enough alone. If he said anymore, he was liable to say too much.
As they climbed into the squad, Roy eyed his now seemingly extra happy non-distracted partner. It was a total change from the person he’d arrived with. Johnny had mostly remained quiet, apparently still lost in thought, on the way over to Rampart.
Why the sudden change now would be anyone’s guess. But there had to be something going on with him besides Chet; something besides coffee. And something that he apparently resolved, or at least got a boost regarding, inside the building.
A short distance from the hospital, Roy decided to try for what he thought might be the most obvious explanation.
“I can’t believe I’m asking this, but. . .are you and Lorraine having problems?”
Alarm registered on Johnny’s face. He hadn’t expected those words at all.
“I can’t believe it either. No. No, of course not. What made ya ask that?”
Gage’s eyebrows raised in question.
“You have to admit, you’re acting kind of strange. Even for you.” Roy ignored the now sour expression on his partner’s face. “First, you couldn’t wait to get to Rampart. Then you didn’t drink much of the coffee we supposedly went there for, which was your idea to begin with. You spent a long enough time away from the lounge. Add to that the fact you couldn’t wait to leave Rampart when you got back to the lounge.” Roy glanced at him. “It’s obvious you wanted to go there for something other than coffee. And all I can come up with is. . .well. . . “ This was going to be harder to say than he thought, and he hoped he was wrong. But there was only one way to find out. “Who was it for?”
Johnny’s mouth dropped open. Roy had figured it out, only he hadn’t figured it out quite right. How could he explain his actions without giving the whole thing away? But he had to say something. He could tell by the look on Roy’s face, his silence was really starting to worry him.
“It. . .okay, you’re right. But it’s not what ya think. . .I think.”
Roy furrowed his brow. “Care to elaborate?”
The advice Dixie had given him was out the window; at least where it concerned Roy. He was going to have to break the news now in order to explain everything.
So much for plan ‘A’.
“Look,” Johnny began, turning in his seat to face his partner. “It wasn’t exactly a ‘who’ I went to Rampart for. Not in the way it might seem, anyway. I wanted to talk to Dixie is all. Alone. When I said I was goin’ to the bathroom, I was actually going back to see her.”
“So it is something to do with Lorraine and you needed a woman’s point of view. . .”
“Sorta. . .” Johnny let out a sigh. “I wanted some advice, but not about Lorraine. And I wanted to see Dix’s reaction.”
“You lost me.”
The younger paramedic shifted in his seat. “Okay, remember when we were puttin’ that crib together before Em was born and you asked if we’d space all the cribs apart? Like me an’ Lorraine were gonna end up with a buncha crib-aged kids at once?”
This time Roy’s mouth dropped open and his gaze briefly shot back to Johnny in shock.
“That’s not it,” Gage quickly cleared up.
Roy frowned. Now he was really confused.
Though it was a rather small dumpster fire, one that would easily be handled, Hank was glad to have something to take his mind off his problem completely. But the break was short-lived when the flames were extinguished within minutes.
As the crew headed back to the station after making sure the fire wouldn’t flare up again, the captain debated about opening up to Mike Stoker. After all, Mike was married. Surely he’d understand. And he might have some good advice.
However, with Marco and Chet both within earshot, the notion quickly died.
Maybe I can snag Roy when we get back to the station.
Chet watched the scenery along the way. There was a grocery store, a Laundromat. . .a pet store. They turned a corner and he saw a movie theater…a restaurant. As they came to the next corner, his stomach knotted up. There it was. The place that started it all. . . right there in broad daylight.
He glanced at Marco. Luckily the other fireman was too busy looking the other way, thus didn’t pay any attention to him.
Chet leaned back in the seat, his right hand still on his sour stomach.
“One,” Johnny firmly clarified to his partner. “I’m gonna need help puttin’ together one more crib. Just one.”
Now that he’d taken his news down from multiples to a single, the baby-already-on-the-way-again news shouldn’t sound too shocking.
But Roy was still surprised.
“Lorraine’s pregnant? Emily’s not even seven months old yet.”
“You don’t hafta tell me that.”
“Well, when did you find out? How far along is she?”
“Yesterday. The doctor thinks she’s about sixteen weeks. Man, Roy, she didn’t even have any of the usual symptoms ‘till just over a week ago.”
“Sixteen weeks. . .” Roy shook his head. “You sure didn’t waste any time. What happened to spacing your kids out?”
“It’s not like we tried for another baby,” Johnny said, his right hand splayed on his chest as he faced the older paramedic. “We weren’t tryin’. But when Emily got the commercial gig, we kinda . . .you know. . .celebrated. Sorta. And I guess looking back now, before we could’ve said. . .well. . . ‘baby’. . .we were expecting one.”
Roy took a quick glance at him from the driver’s seat of the squad. “How come you didn’t say something when you first came in today? Don’t tell me you’re unhappy about it.”
“No, no. ‘Course not. We’re both thrilled. Excited, happy. I didn’t say anything because I can only imagine what the guys are gonna say, with Em still a baby and another one on the way. They won’t let this one go.”
“I don’t know. . .” Roy pondered. “I’d think they’d be happy for you, too.”
“Oh, they will be. They will. I know that. But that doesn’t mean I won’t hear the comments like, ‘Gee, Gage, you a family of rabbits?’ or ‘You couldn’t even wait till your kid was out of diapers?’” He shook his head. “Man, I can hear it now.”
“Well, congratulations from me. You sure it’s just one again this time?”
Johnny frowned. After worrying about twins with his wife’s first pregnancy, he didn’t appreciate the subject being brought up again. Except the smile on Roy’s face told him his friend was just having a little fun at his expense. He gave a weak grin as he turned to face forward. “One heart beat,” he assured. “The doc only heard one heart beat.”
Now that Roy knew, he just had to tell the others. He’d use Dixie’s advice for that when it came time.
Hank looked at the clock on the office wall. They’d only been back for ten minutes, having arrived after the paramedics. He’d almost called Roy into the room soon after, but there seemed to be something going on between he and John, and the captain preferred to catch the senior paramedic when he was alone; or at least not in the middle of a conversation with his partner.
John would grill Roy on why he was suddenly called into the captain’s office and Hank sure didn’t need anyone else knowing. Especially someone who he considered a newlywed. No way would his youngest crew member understand.
Chet sat on the couch in the dayroom, his gaze fixed on the pay phone across the room. Should he make a call to set things straight? Was that the right thing to do? Or would that only make things worse? What if he couldn’t get the right words out and reinforced the whole problem instead?
After the ride back to the station, he almost felt like going to the dorm room and crawling into bed.
Roy sat on the edge of his bed in the dorm room across from John on his. He watched as the younger man pulled a notepad and green pen from his shirt pocket.
“Now, remember, Roy. Not a word about what I told ya to anyone. Not a word.”
“How long do you plan to keep it a secret?”
“I don’ know.”
“Well, when you figure it out, let me know. I wanna make sure I’m around to see the reactions.”
“I thought you said they’d all be happy for me.”
“I did. And I have no doubt they will. But the initial looks on their faces when you deliver the news could be priceless.”
Johnny gave a discouraged look, then smiled wanly and he sighed. Truth was, Roy was probably right.
Roy watched as the younger man then started to write on the note pad.
The captain peeked out of his office doorway. He wondered what his two paramedics were up to, where they’d gone; mostly if they were still together at the moment. If ever there was a time he wanted Chet Kelly to be annoying and distracting Gage, it was now.
He headed for the dayroom to see if they were in there.
Chet had no sooner made his decision to use the phone, when it rang before he could pick the receiver up. All of a sudden his stomach knotted again.
What if it’s for me? I was wrong, he thought himself. I’m *not* ready.
Hank Stanley had just come into the room and saw his crewman by the ringing phone.
“Aren’t you going to answer it?”
Chet looked at the new arrival, a lost expression on his face. “What?”
“The phone.” But the lack of reaction from the other made it obvious he wasn’t. “Never mind.” The captain took care of the matter. “Station 51, Captain Stanley speaking.”
“Well, hello,” he greeted cheerfully.
“No, no, we’re not busy.
He glanced at the still pre-occupied fireman nearby and then turned his back to him, his head bowed forward slightly in an effort for privacy.
“Where’s it at?
“Oh. Well, sure. I can do that.
“I can’t wait either.
“I will. I love you, too.
Hank returned the receiver to its cradle, then stayed with his back to Kelly a moment.
I can’t wait either? Did I really just say that?
On top of that, he now had this added on little problem he agreed to. Things were only getting worse. But he sure didn’t want it to show outwardly.
“Well, I’ll see you later,” he told Chet as he quickly retreated from the room.
Kelly was still yet to fully recover from his self-induced scare. He nodded in response to the man that was already gone.
Johnny held up his list of about ten items.
“All that?” Roy asked. “What’re you doing, throwing a party?”
Johnny shook his head. “No, only three of these things are for Dix’s idea. The rest are baby names I just thought of while I was writin’.”
Roy rolled his eyes, recalling the last time Lorraine was pregnant and the list of baby names Johnny carried around.
Here we go again, he thought as he got up and headed for the door that lead to the apparatus bay.
Hank was just about to go into his office when he saw Roy come around the front of the engine from the dorm room. There was no sign of Gage. Now was his chance.
“Roy, could I see you in my office?”
The paramedic wondered what he could possibly be called in for. He hadn’t done anything to make himself stand out recently. Suddenly he recalled he and Johnny talking about the baby when the engine crew had returned. Though he didn’t recall them using the word ‘baby’ or ‘pregnant’, he had to wonder if maybe they hadn’t raised some suspicion and his ability to keep the secret was about to be tested. Well, postponing his response would only increase the suspicion if that was it.
Hank stood aside and motioned for Roy to go in first. He then closed the door behind them.
Marco and Mike walked into the dayroom next and glanced curiously at their seemingly distracted shiftmate. Chet was still a few feet from the phone, his eyes locked on it.
“Are you waiting for a call?” Marco asked.
When he didn’t get a reply, both he and Mike exchanged a shrug before taking seats at the table where a checkers game had been left at one end.
“You wanna be red or black?” Mike asked.
Both again looked at Chet, who had finally turned to face them.
“What’s the matter, Chet? Did Johnny find your prank and vow to get revenge?”
“Marco, I told you I didn’t set a prank.”
“Well, you almost look like you’ve seen a ghost. And *that* can’t be it.”
“Yeah,” Mike agreed.
Little did they know in a sense he had. A ‘ghost of a situation’ that had come around for a second time at the station.
But Chet wasn’t about to let on about anything. He’d heard the remark and his only response was, “Can’t a guy meditate around here without the peanut gallery jumping in?”
“Meditate?” Marco asked.
“On your feet?” Mike added.
Chet shrugged. “So I’m tryin’ something new.”
He returned to the couch and plopped down, then picked up a section of the daily newspaper someone else had left earlier. Marco and Mike went on with their game, their little bit of fun with Chet having ended.
“Have a seat,” Hank directed as he took one at his desk.
“If it’s all right with you, I’d rather stand.”
He shrugged. “That’s fine.”
Roy waited and noticed his captain seemed to be uneasy. Normally he’d have gotten right to the point, but he appeared to be searching his mind for the words to get them started.
“Is this about Johnny?”
Hank looked at him in surprise. Where that came from he didn’t know. Unless Gage had done something he wasn’t aware of yet. He made a mental note to dig further into that later.
“Uh, no. . .no. No. It’s about. . .well, you’re married.”
Roy nodded. It hadn’t been a question, but the nod was more to prod him on before the situation got even more confusing.
“Have you ever found yourself agreeing to something for Joanne that you really didn’t want to get into?”
Again a nod, but this time with a smile. “Two simple words usually do it.”
“Yes, Dear,” the two said in unison.
“What did you agree to?” Roy wondered.
Hank nodded this time. “Yesterday my wife reminded me one of her friends had recently left for a month long cruise with her husband and that she’d be without a bridge partner. Before I could even think the words ‘don’t ask me’, she did and I heard my voice saying, ‘yes, dear’. And now I’m stuck with the Ladies of Carson Bridge Club twice a week for the next four weeks.”
“Yeah, tell me about it,” Hank said when he noticed the expression. “And to top that off, she just called and asked me to pick up some strawberry tarts on my way home tomorrow morning. . .food for the game she’s hosting tomorrow night.” He wore a pained look on his face as he groaned, “Listening to all the ladies’ latest gossip while I eat strawberry tarts. It doesn’t get any worse than this.”
“I can’t say I envy you.”
“I don’t suppose you’d have any advice on how to get out of it. . .would you? Does Joanne play bridge?” he added as an afterthought.
Roy shook his head to the second subject. “She hates bridge. If I got her stuck in a regular set of games, I’d be sleeping on the couch for awhile.” He chewed his lower lip in thought on the first idea. He hated to deliver the news, but truth was, “No, Cap, I’d say you’re stuck. If you back out now, she’s gonna be reminded of it twice a week for the next four weeks. You’ll never hear the end of it.”
Hank leaned back in his chair with a frown. Roy was right. He was in it for the duration.
Johnny was just about to go in search of his partner when the klaxons sounded, sending the station out for a ‘child trapped’ call. He folded up the list he’d written as he got to his feet, then shoved it in his shirt pocket. Gage trotted around the front of the engine after coming from the dorm room and climbed in the passenger side of the squad to join his partner in the cab.
Roy brought the squad to a stop in front of a brick one-story house; Mike parked the engine close behind. A blonde woman in her mid thirties stood in front of the home, her arms folded across her chest. A little girl about six years old stood beside her, her head downward as the woman talked to her.
“Ma’am, you called about a child being trapped?” Hank asked as he and four of his men approached. Mike Stoker stayed with the engine.
“That’s right. My son, Michael. My older boy is with him now. He’s not hurt, but he’s certainly gotten into a predicament.”
“Where are they?” Roy wondered.
She motioned for them to go with her inside the home. They followed, taking a glance at one another as they wondered what could be up. The woman didn’t seem very upset, odd since this was about a child in peril.
The little girl followed close behind her mother, a faint smirk on her face.
“Well now, you look like you’re takin’ this in stride,” Johnny said to the child when he noticed.
She looked up at him, a definite pout now on her face.
“I guess she’s not,” he mumbled to Roy out of the corner of his mouth.
“You’ve heard of a doggy door?” the mom asked.
The five men nodded.
“Well, apparently my daughter here decided to talk her younger brother into making it a ‘kid door’. Only thing is, he’s a little too big to go all the way through.”
She pointed toward the back door as they came into the kitchen from the dining area.
The men’s gazes locked on the head and shoulders of a brown-haired boy sticking out of a rather small rectangle hole in the bottom of the door. He wasn’t crying, but he didn’t look too pleased. His older brother, who was about ten, was seated on the floor near his head sorting through baseball trading cards.
“I tried ta pull ‘um into the house,” the little girl assured. “I thought he could fit, jus’ like me.”
Johnny and Roy both noticed a slight grin return to her face, then quickly disappear. Somehow they got the feeling she’d gotten him stuck on purpose. After all, she was thin, he was obviously chubby, his belly not able to clear what his shoulders could and he’d filled the hole completely up. Even as a child, she had to know he wouldn’t be able to clear the same sized hole as her.
“I told mom ta call you guys,” the card-sorter said proudly. “That way if he gets hurt, dad can’t blame us.”
“There’s one we haven’t heard before,” the captain mumbled to his crew.
“Well, whata we do, Cap?” Chet asked. “The kid looks like he’s wedged in there pretty good.”
Johnny noticed tears starting to pool in Michael’s eyes, the realization it might not be an easy fix apparently sinking in. He squatted down beside the upset boy. “Just take it easy, Michael. We’ll have you outta there in no time. My partner and I ‘uv been through something like this before.”
“Y. . .you have?” he sniffled.
“Cool,” his brother added.
In the meantime, Marco asked the captain, “What do we do?”
“We could cut the hole a little bigger.”
“Oh, please don’t do that,” the mom pleaded. “It’s a new door. We just got a few days ago.”
While Johnny continued to assure the boy, Roy stepped over to the captain.
“In that call Johnny and I had with a lady who was stuck in her doggy door, we just worked her the rest of the way through. I pulled while Johnny pushed.”
“But I’m wondering if we can get him through,” the captain stated. “Without some form of injury anyway.”
“Maybe we should work him back out the way he went in. It’s gotta be easier,” Johnny suggested.
Chet looked at the half kid sticking inside. “Do we go around to the outside or just open the door here?”
“Around,” Hank said firmly. Good grief, what were his men thinking at times?
Johnny was on his feet again and noticed the little girl change another grin to a frown when her mom shot a glance her way.
“Michelle, you’re going to have a lot of explaining to do for your dad when he gets home.”
“Yes, Mommy. I’m sorry.”
Roy and Chet were already on their way out of the house. When they came around to the back of the home they saw the edge of a red and black striped shirt, and blue denim pants with red tennis shoes at the hems sticking out of the hole.
“Okay, we’re here!” Roy called out to the others inside.
Johnny once again squatted down by the young victim. “Michael, we’re gonna ease you out real slow. I’m gonna put a little pressure on your shoulders and they’re gonna pull you from the other side.”
They carefully worked their plan and in less than five minutes, they had him out of the hole. The others then joined Roy and Chet outside, where the paramedics checked him over for any sign of injury that might’ve been missed.
“He looks to be okay, just a slight crease on his belly from being in there as tight as he was,” Roy informed the mother. “I think he’ll be fine.”
“Oh, thank you. Thank you all so much. I’m sorry you had to come out for this.”
“It’s no problem,” the captain assured. “That’s what we’re here for.”
“I told ya so,” her older boy reminded.
Johnny and a couple of others nodded in agreement.
The woman turned her attention to Michelle. “You, young lady, had better quit getting your brother into trouble with your tricks. Now, go let the dog out of your bedroom.”
As the little girl ran off toward her room, her mom addressed the men. “Seems every time I turn around, before I can say ‘Jack Robinson’, she’s pulling another prank on him.”
As they headed back to the station, Roy glanced at Johnny in the passenger seat of the squad.
“Those two younger kids were only about a year apart in age.”
“Did you get the feeling you were looking at your future? You know, the daughter being older and all?”
Johnny turned his head to give him a displeased look. “I hope not.”
But he had to admit, it had crossed his mind that he might want to keep a close eye on his kids once the youngest was at a vulnerable age for pranks.
When they got back to the station, Johnny noticed Roy give the captain a sympathetic glance as the senior officer made his way to his office and closed the door.
“What’s wrong with Cap?” He asked as he came around the front of the squad.
“Uh. . .nothing. Why?”
“He just shut the door to his office. It’s not all that often he does that, unless he’s got somethin’ on his mind or one of us is in there with him. And you looked like you might know what’s up.”
There were times Roy didn’t like having an easily readable face, and this was sure one of those. He figured he’d better say something.
“It’s nothing, really. Just . . .well, remember when we had that couple here that wouldn’t leave us alone. . .the um. . .”
“Yeah, the Merkles.”
“They’re coming back?” He looked at the closed door to the office. “Does he know something we don’t? Or I don’t, at least. . .” he added, his gaze now on Roy.
“No, no, they’re not coming back. But remember how we left it up to Cap to get ‘em to leave? We figured it’d be a good test to see how he’d be as a chief? And we decided he’d never make it?”
“Something just reinforced that.”
Johnny watched as he walked away and into the dayroom. He waited a moment, a baffled expression on his face, before following behind with, “Wait a minute, ya can’t just leave me with that!”
Marco and Mike had returned to their checker game and Chet had gone back to staring at the phone from his seat on the couch. No one noticed when Roy came in.
The senior paramedic glanced at the engine crew members, then opened the refrigerator to get the milk. It was then he noticed something.
“Chet, don’t you have lunch duty today?”
“Roy,” Johnny began as he entered the room. But he quickly shut up when he noticed all but the captain were there. His further grilling of his partner would need to wait.
Chet kept his eyes focused on the phone as he distractedly answered Roy’s question. “Yeah.”
Roy turned around to face him, the milk carton in hand. “What’re we having? There’s not much food in the fridge.”
Chet’s mouth dropped open and he jerked his head in Roy’s direction as he shot up off the couch. “I forgot!” His mind had been so set on his problem, that now he’d added another one. He didn’t have a plan for their noon meal that was not all that far away. He hadn’t even thought to check what was, or in this case wasn’t, already at the station to work with.
“We can go pick somethin’ up for ya,” Johnny offered to the now silent fireman. “Can’t we, Roy?”
His partner sensed another round of questioning if they did. Suddenly he wished he hadn’t even said as much as he did earlier. But Gage had brought up the subject of the captain’s mood so unexpectedly, he hadn’t had time to think of a better response.
Hank sat in his office trying to convince himself that two nights a week for the next month with a group of talkative ladies playing bridge wasn’t so bad. Things could be worse.
He tried to think of what might be worse, as far as what he could be stuck with on his time off. It was difficult to come up with anything. He sure wished Joanne Desoto liked bridge. But he didn’t want to get Roy into trouble.
The thought reminded him that there was another member of his crew he needed to speak with while they had some down time.