“Johnny! Telephone!” Marco Lopez called out into the apparatus bay of Station 51.
Paramedic John Gage rolled out from under the squad on a wheeled cart and remaining on his back, questioned, “Who is it?”
Gage was off the board, on his feet and trotting toward the dayroom in a matter of seconds. Also working on the squad, his partner Roy DeSoto shook his head at the younger man’s enthusiasm to answer a call just because it was from a female.
He doesn’t even know who it is yet. . .
Roy went back to tinkering with a loose spark plug in the truck’s engine, while Johnny disappeared into the other room.
“Hello?. . .hello?” Johnny held the phone receiver away from his ear and eyed Marco, who was preparing lunch at the counter near the sink. “Where’d she go?”
“How should I know? She was waiting when I hollered for you. I told her you were coming.”
Johnny put the receiver back to his ear. With the sound of a dial tone now on the line, he returned it to its cradle. “She hung up.”
“Maybe she just wanted to hear your voice. Maybe she’s a secret admirer.”
The paramedic looked down at the floor and chewed his lower lip a moment in thought, then returned his attention to Marco. “What’d she sound like?”
“Real soft spoken and sweet.”
“Ahhh man. . .”
“Nothin’. I just wish I knew who it was.” Suddenly he snapped his fingers. “Chet!”
Marco shook his head. “It didn’t sound like Chet. I don’t think he could ever do a voice like that.”
“But he could get someone else to do it,” Johnny said, as he pointed with his right index finger for emphasis.
Before Marco could comment, Gage was out of the room and on a mission.
Roy looked up in time to see his partner head for the back lot of the station where Mike Stoker and Chet Kelly were playing basket ball.
“Hey, what about the squad!”
“Be right there!” he called over his shoulder.
Roy once again found himself shaking his head.
“It wasn’t me,” Chet adamantly denied.
Johnny gave him a doubtful look, which prompted another response.
“It wasn’t, I swear. Besides, aren’t you jumping the gun a little? I mean, if she’s only called once. . .” He shrugged. “She might call back again. I mean, maybe she got interrupted or had to go somewhere.”
“You know, it isn’t often you’re right, Chester B.”
“Well, I hafta admit, it makes sense. And, yeah, I am jumping the gun, I guess.” Gage grinned as he turned to leave. “Thanks. I’ll just wait for her to call back.”
The two firemen watched as he headed toward the squad inside.
“So did you set him up?” Mike wondered.
Chet gave a mock hurt look at the engineer. “Man, a guy plays a few jokes on a co-worker. . .”
“So who was it?” Roy asked as Johnny returned to work on the squad.
“I don’ know. She hung up.”
“Well, maybe she’ll call back. Hopefully after we’re done.”
“Yeah, maybe.” The dark-haired paramedic lay on the rolling cart and slid underneath the red Dodge truck again. He picked up a wrench and paused as he thought more about the phone call.
Soft spoken and sweet. I hope she calls back soon. . .
After lunch and returning from a rescue, Johnny was once again summoned to the phone for a call from a girl. Only just as before, the phone was silent on the other end when he picked up the receiver.
“Did she sound soft spoken, Mike?”
“Uh huh. Real quiet and sweet. Very polite.”
“Man, this is gonna drive me nuts.”
Roy patted him on the shoulder. “I wouldn’t worry too much. When she’s ready, she’ll come forward.”
“You think so?”
“If she’s really interested in ya, sure. But if she doesn’t, you don’t wanna get mixed up with a girl who does this kind of stuff for her own entertainment anyway.”
Johnny replaced the receiver in its cradle and sighed. “I guess you’re right. But I’d still like to know who this chick is. Just to know, you know?”
Roy nodded. He had to admit to himself, he was a bit curious now as well.
“Squad 51, unknown type rescue, 2123 West Patterson Place, two one two three West Patterson Place, cross street Madison, time out 15:05.”
The two paramedics rushed to the squad and climbed in as Captain Hank Stanley acknowledged the call. He handed Roy the small slip of paper with the information on it. Roy in turn passed it on to Johnny before driving out of the station, lights and siren in use.
When they pulled up to the address, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. It was a typical neighborhood with kids playing in various yards, a few squeals sounding from little girls as they were chased by a young boy. No one was even outside to show them the way to the victim.
But the paramedics had been on enough calls to know that appearances could often be deceiving. That someone could be in serious trouble inside the home, and no one on the outside aware of it.
They scrambled from their squad and hurried to the compartments on the passenger side to get the basic equipment they might need. The men then trotted up the sidewalk to the front door and knocked.
Hank Stanley was walking out of the dayroom when the telephone rang. He took a step back and lifted the receiver.
“Station 51, Captain Stanley speaking.”
A childlike voice questioned, “Is John Gage there?”
He opened his mouth to respond, but stopped when he heard an indecipherable conversation in the background and the line clicked, a dial tone replacing the voices. Hank looked at the receiver in his hand in puzzlement a moment, then with a shrug, hung it up.
“Guess she changed her mind.”
After a short time, the front door to the house opened and a brown haired woman wearing a flower-print apron over a white blouse and light blue polyester pants greeted the two paramedics.
“If this is for a donation, I don’t have any change on me right now.”
Roy exchanged a glance with his partner, then explained, “Ma’am, we were dispatched here for an unknown type rescue.”
“Someone called the fire department and requested a squad,” he finished. Johnny nodded in support.
The woman looked from one man to the other. “Who would do that?”
“Is there anyone else in the house who might’ve?” Johnny asked.
“No, just my daughter and her. . .” With a sudden realization, she responded, “Oh dear.”
“Where is your daughter?” Roy asked.
“She’s upstairs in her room, but she doesn’t have a phone in there. I s’pose she could have used the one in our bedroom. . .” She took a step back and hollered, “Sarah! Sarah, come down here now!” She then looked at the paramedics again. “I’m so sorry if she did this.”
“It’s okay,” Roy assured. “But if that’s the case, she’ll need to be told that we can’t afford to be sent out on false responses. Someone could really need us right now.”
The mother nodded and watched as her brown-haired little girl came running down the stairs and toward her.
“Sarah, did you call the fire department?”
“Uh. . .” The seven-year-old girl had stopped in view of the men and nervously glanced at them, before returning her gaze to her mom, her shoulder-length hair falling forward slightly. “I . . .I didn’t mean to. . .”
“How can you accidentally call a number? You aren’t even supposed to be on the phone to begin with.”
“I’m sorry, Mommy. It. . .uh. . .” she glanced over her shoulder, then once again looked forward. “It was a dare. I had to.”
Her mom’s eyes grew wide. “A dare? Okay, Sarah Lynn Peabody, who put you up to it? Was it that Cathy girl?” She brought her attention to Johnny and Roy. “That kid is nothing but trouble. Always dragging the other little girls into something.” Then to Sarah, she stated, “That’s it. I don’t want you to play with her anymore.”
“No,” she shook her head. “No ‘buts’. You stay away from her. I’m sure your father will agree with me.”
Sarah looked downcast as she then listened to Roy explain why the phone call was such a bad idea. When he was finished, she glanced curiously at Johnny before turning to leave.
“It’s not my fault,” she mumbled to herself as she went up the stairs. “I’m not the one who wanted to play the game.”
“I’m so sorry,” the mother apologized once again.
“Hopefully she won’t do it again now that she knows how important our job is,” Roy said, Johnny agreeing.
They headed for the squad, unaware that the situation was anything but fixed.
“You know, some things never change,” Johnny stated as Roy drove back to the station.
“As in. . .?”
“Kids like Sarah.”
When Roy just gave him a quick glance, he elaborated. “Well, used to be kids would pull the fire alarm at school on a dare. Now they’re calling us on one. Seems like it’s always the fire department.”
“That’s because they’re afraid to make a false report with the police. I’m sure they’re worried about what’ll happen when they get caught. But most seem to know we tend to just give lectures.”
“I guess so. Well, like you said, maybe she won’t do it again. If we’re lucky she’ll spread the word.”
Roy shook his head. “Don’t bet on it. Besides with Halloween coming up, I’d expect a prank call or two on that night.”
Johnny nodded. “Right again.” After a brief pause he added, “I just hope I didn’t miss any important phone calls while we were out.”
“Important?” Roy asked with doubt in his voice.
“Okay, anymore from miss sweet and soft spoken.”
The senior paramedic rolled his eyes. Yep, some things never change. . .
Sarah sat on her bedroom floor, her face in a pout. The door was closed to prevent her mother from surprising her with an unexpected visit.
“Some best friend. You got me in trouble.”
She tensed slightly when she heard the sound of footsteps behind her on the wooden floor. She didn’t look over her shoulder, but rather waited for some kind of retaliation from the accused. When none came after a brief time, she slowly turned too see why there was complete silence. The unreadable expression on her playmate’s face left her uneasy. She nervously swallowed and in a shaky voice, hoped to erase her outburst.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. Please forgive me. I’m really sorry.”
“Hey, hey ,hey,” Johnny said as he walked into the dayroom. “Any calls?” he asked.
Marco, Mike and Chet shook their heads.
“But we’ve been busy,” Chet added.
Roy had already gone into the room and was seated on the couch as Johnny opened the refrigerator to get the carton of milk out.
“Shootin’ hoops while we’re out saving America,” Gage teased.
“Or handling pranks,” Roy corrected.
His partner frowned at his admission, but before the others could comment on either statement, the captain came into the room and interrupted the conversation.
“Hey, John, you had a phone call while you were out.”
Johnny eyed Roy with a knowing expression, then brought his attention back to Hank. “Oh, yeah? Was it a girl by chance?”
The captain nodded. “A young one at that. But I couldn’t take a message; couldn’t even tell her you weren’t here before she hung up.”
“How young would you say she is?”
“If I had to guess, I’d say about ten at the most.”
Everyone’s mouths dropped open, and Johnny nearly dropped the milk.
“That’s what I said.”
Chet grinned as he pushed his chair away from the table, stood up and stepped over to Johnny all in one smooth motion. “Gettin’ ‘em kind of young, huh, Gage?”
The dark-haired paramedic screwed up his face. “Oh, c’mon, Chet. I’m not datin’ ten-year-olds. It’s probably a candy striper from Rampart that sounds younger than she is, though she would be young if she’s a candy striper. You know how some chicks have that baby voice thing goin’.”
“You better hope it’s that. Or some kid’s mom may be coming to see you soon,” Mike stated.
Johnny had brushed past Chet and set the milk on the counter. He turned to face the engineer. “I can’t believe you guys.”
“Some little girl probably has a crush on you and looked up the number to the station,” Marco offered.
Johnny and Roy exchanged a glance when they both had the same thought.
“But I never saw her before,” the younger man responded without his partner having said a word.
“No, but her mom seemed to think it was her friend. . .Cathy.”
Johnny shook his head. “I don’ know, Roy.”
“Do you guys know who it might be?” Hank prodded.
The two then explained the call they’d just been on, adding that they had most likely gotten the problem straightened out.
Late in the evening, the paramedics were returning from a house fire they’d responded on with Engine 51. There was one victim that they had to treat for slight smoke inhalation and take to Rampart as a precaution. But the engine crew was still at the scene to make sure hot spots didn’t flare up, thus Johnny and Roy would arrive back at the station first.
Just as Roy turned onto East 223rd Street, where Station 51 was located, dispatch came over the radio.
“Squad 51, unknown type rescue, 2123 West Patterson Place, two one two three West Patterson Place, cross street Madison, time out 19:38.”
The two looked at one another, and Johnny lifted the mic from its holder as Roy turned to go in the opposite direction they’d been headed.
“Squad 51, 10-4.”
He returned the mic to its spot as Roy flicked on the lights and siren.
“Well, I guess that speech you gave didn’t do any good after all.”
“Looks that way, doesn’t it?”
Though they didn’t like the idea of another prank call, they also didn’t want to arrive at a disaster.
The telephone in the dayroom of Station 51 rang excessively with no one there to answer it.
Finally the caller gave up. She’d gotten the information she was after. John Gage wasn’t readily available. And there was a good chance he was on his way to her location.
Neighbors watched curiously from their porches and lawns when the red emergency lights flashed in the dark, the siren drawing their attention as well.
Johnny quickly glanced around at their audience as he climbed out of the squad, then hurried to open the side compartments. With their dark blue jackets on to ward off the evening chill, he and Roy got out the equipment they once again anticipated using if the call was for a real emergency. The two men trotted up to the Peabody home and knocked on the front door.
It wasn’t long before the door opened, revealing a very disappointed mother. “Oh no. . .she did it again?”
“Apparently,” Roy stated.
“Oh, I’m so sorry she got you all the way out here for nothing. I’ll have her father talk to her again just as soon as he gets back. Daniel went to help out a friend of his. Robert’s car broke down on the 405 of all places.”
“As long as we’re here anyway, do you mind if we see Sarah again?” When the mother started to protest, Johnny put up his free hand to quiet her. “Just on the slight chance,” he said with a very small gap between his left thumb and index finger, “something is wrong and none of us are aware of it. She may have been wary of telling you.”
“I don’t know if it’s such a good idea. It may only encourage her to do this again. But if you insist.” She stepped inside and motioned for them to join her in the livingroom. The mother then called for her daughter. “Sarah!”
As the little girl came down the stairs, Johnny caught a movement out of the corner of his eye to the right where an open doorway led to the next room.
He quickly turned his head to look at the empty space. Johnny stared a moment, wondering if there was another child in the family that could be making the calls. When he came out of his thoughts, the others were already in the thick of the conversation.
“No, Mommy, I didn’t do it this time! I swear!”
“Well, if you didn’t, then who did?”
Sarah eyed Johnny a moment, before responding to her mom’s question. “I dunno.”
“Oh, come on. You’ve got to do better than that, young lady. Maybe you’ll have time to think on it while you’re grounded after school tomorrow.”
“I didn’t do it!” Sarah protested again. “I didn’t!”
“I’ve heard enough,” her mom firmly stated. “Now go in the kitchen and sit at the table. You can wait there until your father gets home.”
The child nervously eyed the doorway leading to the other room. “I can’t.”
“Sarah, you’re really testing my patience here,” her mother firmly stated.
“Maybe your other kid called this time,” Johnny offered. He noticed the puzzled expression on his partner’s face and shrugged, but missed the angry glare Sarah threw his way.
The mother shook her head. “We don’t have another child.” She then addressed Sarah again. “Now, go sit at the table. I’ll be in there shortly.”
The little girl stomped past the paramedics, her pouty gaze on the floor. Gage watched Sarah slow as she approached the kitchen. She glanced over her shoulder at the adults as she nervously bit her lower lip. Johnny thought for sure she was about to call a truce with her mom. But the child looked forward again and disappeared around the corner inside the doorway.
“You mentioned a girl’s name last time,” Roy commented. “A Cathy?”
Mrs. Peabody nodded, confirming the name. “Cathy Hinson. They live down the street.”
“Do you think she called this time and gave your address to the fire department?”
“I’d almost bet on it. She’s certainly capable of such a thing.” She sighed. “I’ve been upstairs in the spare bedroom sewing on a dress I’m making, so I’ve been right across the hall from Sarah’s room. And she’s been in there since dinner. I heard her talking like she was playing with her dolls. You know. . .Barbies. . .So it was sure a surprise to see you here again. But if she did the first call on a dare and now someone else did it, Cathy would be the first likely culprit. I’ll have to call her mother and see if she can get any answers since Sarah obviously isn’t going to fess up.”
With that settled, there was nothing more to add. Johnny and Roy once again headed for the squad with hopes the pranksters were done with the calls.
“What made you think they had another kid?” Roy questioned his partner as they stepped off the front porch.
Johnny shrugged. “I thought I saw someone else near the kitchen. Guess I was seein’ things,” he explained with a grin.
“Must’ve been. I didn’t see anyone else.”
“Maybe I need to get my eyes checked.”
“Or your head examined,” Roy kidded, eliciting a sour expression and an eye roll in return.
They returned the equipment to the compartments in the squad and climbed into the cab of the truck. Roy pulled away from the curb with only a couple of neighbors remaining outside in hopes of figuring out why the paramedics were there.
Johnny and Roy hadn’t noticed they were also being watched from a window downstairs at the Peabody house.
“I didn’t see any prior calls for that street listed anywhere,” Johnny said as he closed the logbook. With the engine crew still out, he and Roy decided to go to the captain’s office where the book for recording responses for the squad was kept. “None for anyone named Hinson either.” He sat back in the wooden office chair and sighed. “I don’t think this Cathy kid is anyone we’ve run into before.”
“Maybe not,” Roy agreed. “I guess it’s just a coincidence you have a mysterious young caller--”
“A mysterious caller with a young sounding voice,” Johnny corrected.
“Okay, but then to get prank responses on top of that?”
He looked up at his partner standing nearby. “Well, now think about it, Roy. These prank calls come through dispatch. Not directly to the station. So we’re getting them randomly. It’s a good chance we aren’t the only ones.”
“But judging by Luanne Peabody’s reactions, we’re the only ones going to their address.”
“By coincidence,” Johnny reminded.
“All I know is that if tonight is any indication of how things are gonna go on Halloween, it’s gonna be a looong night.”
“You’ve got that right.” But Gage’s mind was already more focused on his mystery caller as he tried to think of any recent encounters he’d had with females that sounded youngish.
Sarah sat at the square wooden kitchen table, her mother across from her. She stared at a cupboard door underneath the sink a few feet from the table while she was lectured about the importance of honesty and respect toward others.
With the incessant sound of a dripping faucet getting on her nerves, Luanne pushed back her chair and got to her feet.
“Oh, good grief. I wish your father would just fix this thing so it wouldn’t tend to drip so easily.”
Sarah tensed as her mother stepped over to the sink. She glanced nervously at her mom’s back, then down at the cupboard door again. The little girl wished she could will her mom back over to the table.
Luanne pushed hard on the faucet knobs and stood back with her hands on her hips when the water stopped dripping. She turned and faced her relieved daughter.
“There. That’s better. Now, where were we?”
Sarah shrugged as she fought to keep her full attention on her mom. The game was progressing and she feared what would happen if she gave away the secret only she could know.
“So, anymore calls from your little girlfriend?” Chet wondered. He and the rest of the engine crew had just returned from the house fire and gone into the dayroom where Johnny and Roy were playing a game of chess.
Gage looked at his opponent.
“Did you hear somethin’?”
Roy grinned knowingly. “No, can’t say I did.”
“Keep trying to ignore the problem, John. But like it or not, you’ve got a young one on your hands.”
“Young sounding, Chet. Young sounding.”
“Ah ha. So you are listening.”
Johnny looked up at him. “How can I help it? You won’t let up.”
“Well, I would. But this is just too good to drop; a ten-year-old girl chasing after John Gage.”
“Chet, in Johnny’s defense, Cap did say she sounded ten,” Marco reminded.
“Did she call again?” Captain Stanley asked as he entered, catching the tail end of the conversation. “Who’d it turn out to be?”
Johnny put off taking his turn in the game and sighed. Who ever was calling for him was sure causing him enough trouble by not getting a hold of him.
“No one called. We’re just discussin’ the one you answered earlier.”
“Ah, I see.” After a brief pause, he stated, “So no more false alarms either, I take it.”
Roy looked over to him while Johnny studied the chess board for his next move. “Actually, there was one. To the same address as before. But we don’t know for sure who called it in. The little girl who did it the first time denied it and her mother pretty much could back her up. So we’re back at square one on that. All we can do for now is hope it doesn’t happen again.”
He looked down to see Johnny move a knight, then quickly made his move, which was a checkmate. The younger man’s mouth dropped open at the trap he’d gotten himself in, causing him to lose the game.
What he didn’t know was that it wasn’t the only game he was in.
It was a few minutes after 10:00 pm and the Peabody household was in darkness, the family having turned in for the night. Unable to sleep, Sarah lay in bed and stared at a stream of moonlight that shone across her room and onto the door. Her hands trembled slightly and she could feel her heartbeat grow faster as she waited for the arrival of her playmate.
The little girl’s voice was a whisper as she chanted to herself, “There’s nothin’ ta be afraid of, there’s nothin’ ta be afraid of. . .”
Downstairs, the cupboard door underneath the sink slowly opened.
The crew of A-shift turned in early in hopes of getting some sound sleep. Although not at the scene of the house fire as long as the engine crew, the exertion from the rescue caught up with the paramedics. Both they and the others were nearly exhausted.
The sudden ringing of the telephone on the captain's desk jarred the firemen awake. Accustomed to sleeping lightly, the rude jangling woke them easily.
“Who’s calling at this hour of the night?” Marco wondered.
Not fully alert, Captain Stanley got out of bed and clumsily reached for the offending object.
“Station 51, Captain Stanley speaking.”
“Yes, he is.”
He’d wanted to ask the caller if she shouldn’t be in bed herself. But at the moment, just getting the interruption over with, and he and his men back to sleep, was his main concern.
“I knew it was gonna be for him,” Chet stated.
The dark-haired paramedic quickly pushed back his covers and swung his legs over the side of his bed. He immediately got to his feet and, clad only in blue boxer shorts and a white t-shirt, scrambled toward the end of the dorm where his call was waiting.
Marco watched the younger crew member hurry past, then commented to Mike in the bed next to his, “He doesn’t move that fast when we get a run.”
Mike just rubbed at his eyes and lay down, hoping to get back to sleep soon.
Captain Stanley handed the receiver to Johnny. “Make it short.”
“Right, Cap. Is it. . .?” His questioning eyes got a nod.
Johnny’s face lit up and he brought the receiver up from where he’d held it off to the side.
“Uh. . .this is John Gage.”
All he heard was the eerie hushed giggle of a child. It was followed by a click and dial tone. Johnny stared at the item still in his hand, a bewildered expression on his face.
“Lemme guess,” the captain said wryly. “She hung up.”
Johnny turned his head to see Hank Stanley watching from his bed beside the desk. The paramedic nodded as he returned the receiver to its cradle.
“It’s gotta be a kid. But I have no idea who it could be.”
“Probably some admirer you unintentionally picked up along the way. At least being a kid, this isn’t likely to escalate into anything beyond a few crank calls.”
“But how do I get her to stop?”
The captain shrugged. “I guess next time she calls, who ever answers bs’s the kid a little. We can give her a good enough scare so she won’t do it anymore.”
“Easy. Tell her we’ve got calls being traced and the police are gonna be at her door talking to her parents if she doesn’t knock it off.”
Johnny gave the situation thought. Why me?
Suddenly Chet’s voice broke the silence. “Can we get back to sleep now?”
“Sure, Chet,” Johnny responded. “Wouldn’t wanna rob ya of your beauty sleep.” He turned and headed for his bed while the captain glanced at the telephone again before lying down and turning onto his side with his back toward the desk.
After returning to his bed, Gage pulled the covers up and stared at the ceiling.
“You may as well not lose sleep over it,” Roy commented. “You aren’t gonna get it solved tonight anyway.”
His partner glanced over at him. “Yeah, I know. But it’s gonna drive me nuts. I mean, why would a little girl wanna call me?”
“Hey, cut the chatter. We’re tryin’ to sleep over here!” came Chet’s voice.
Johnny frowned, while Roy replied to him with a grin, “It’s that charm you’re always claiming to have. Guess it’s not limited to the older girls.”
With that, he laid his head on the pillow and closed his eyes while Johnny continued to stare at the ceiling in thought, wondering if the false alarms they’d been getting were related to these prank telephone calls after all.
The door to Sarah’s bedroom slowly opened, the moonlight pattern shifting with the motion. The little girl’s heart raced faster and she quickly pulled the covers up over her head. Even though she’d been waiting for the arrival, it still scared the daylights out of her.
The station didn’t get a run the remainder of the night. But it hadn’t helped Johnny get solid sleep. He’d been too curious about his caller and so sure that they’d be sent out to the Peabody home, he suffered a restless night filled with interrupted sleep. It reminded the paramedic of the time a few years prior when he had insomnia waiting for them to be dispatched out on an overnight run when none came.
Now the only one awake at 6:00 in the morning, he got out of bed and stepped into his turnout pants and boots. He then pulled up the pants, securing them over his shoulders with the attached suspenders and headed for the dayroom to make some coffee.
Once he had the brew ready, Johnny sipped at a cup as he sat at the table thinking about the call from the night before.
It can’t be Sarah Peabody. I’ve never seen her before yesterday, so how would she know who I was or what station I was at? Well, I guess she *does* know now, so. . .
Nah. . . He shook his head. It just doesn’t make sense.
He looked at the two phones on the wall, almost wishing he could will the one to ring. With having missed out on so much sleep, he was definitely in the mood to set the mysterious little prankster straight.
Luanne Peabody made her way down to the kitchen while her husband showered upstairs. Though used to getting up early to see him off to work, she wasn’t a ‘morning person’ and always looked forward to a cup of coffee to help her get motivated.
She pushed open the kitchen door, her gaze immediately going to a chair against the wall under the telephone; a chair that had been at the table with the others when she and her husband turned out the lights to go to bed.
“What. . .?”
There was only one person in the house who would need a chair to reach the phone.
“Sarah. What on earth was she doing calling someone while she was supposed to be in bed?” she wondered out loud. But that was the only explanation she could think of. With a sigh and a shake of her head, she walked over and returned the chair to its place.
“I’m surprised we didn’t have the fire department knocking at our door again.”
She then noticed the cupboard under the sink partially open. Luanne sighed again as she closed it.
“That kid. . .”
Upstairs, Sarah lay wide awake, as she had most the night, at times peeking out from under her covers. Each time she’d caught a glimpse of the deceiving angelic face framed by long dark hair peering back at her, the moonlight casting an eerie shadow across the features. Sitting in a small plastic chair across the room, with her legs crossed at the ankles and hands in the lap of her new frilly skirt, the image was of total innocence and sweetness. But Sarah knew better. And she’d never wanted anyone to just disappear so much before in her life.
Roy was surprised to see his partner’s bed empty when the wake-up tones from headquarters came at 7:00 in the morning. He listened as Captain Stanley responded, then climbed out of bed himself and after pulling on his turnout pants, went in search of Johnny.
After her husband left for work, Luanne went upstairs to wake Sarah. It was a school morning and the little girl would need to be ready in time to catch the bus down the street.
“Rise and shine,” the mother said as she walked in the room and opened the curtains. She was surprised to see her daughter already scrambling from the bed. “Wow, what’s got you so raring to go this morning?”
No reply from the child had her suggesting one.
“Could it be something to do with a late night phone call?”
When Sarah turned to give her a puzzled look, she continued. “You forgot to push the chair you used to reach the phone back over to the table. Who’d’ you call, Sarah?”
The girl glanced at the plastic chair. It was empty.
Where’d she go?
Sarah glanced around before bringing her attention back to her mother who was waiting for an answer.
“N. . .no one, Mommy.”
Her mom raised an eyebrow in doubt. “Saaarah?” It was then she noticed dark circles under her eyes and concern replaced anger. “Honey, do you feel okay? Are you sick?” she asked as she quickly stepped over. She reached out and placed the back of her hand on her daughter’s forehead. “You aren’t feverish, but you look like you didn’t even get much sleep last night.”
“Maybe I should keep you home from school today.”
That was the last thing Sarah wanted. She wanted to get away. . .away from her playmate. At first the discovery of her new friend had brought an enchanted feeling to her. Sarah thought she was the luckiest girl in the world the day she discovered she had a live-in pal who would become her best friend. It happened after another little girl gave her a special gift for her birthday in late September. Now Sarah wished the party and gifts had never come about. She’d trade them all just to get rid of ‘her’.
The girl shook her head and with hopeful eyes offered, “I’m not sick. I can go ta school.”
Luanne folded her arms across her chest and sighed. The child looked exhausted. But if she was that willing to go. . . “Okay.”
She couldn’t get over how bright those tired eyes suddenly looked.
“But it doesn’t get you off the hook about the phone,” Luanne reminded.
Sarah eagerly ran to her dresser to get out her clothes.
Once their current time on duty ended, Roy and Johnny walked out together to their cars in the rear lot of the station.
“I still can’t believe you let that call keep you up most of the night.”
“Well, I thought for sure we’d get another run to the Peabodys’ after that. Heck, you know how it goes sometimes, Roy. When you’re expecting to be sent out during the night and aren’t, it can keep a guy awake.”
Roy grinned. “You mean it can keep you awake. You’re the only one who’s done it before.”
“Okay, okay. . .man, give a guy a break, would ya? That was a few years ago.”
“Yeah, and apparently you haven’t changed a bit.”
Johnny sighed and glowered. “Okay, you’ve made your point already. But,” he stated, his right index finger raised as they stopped behind their vehicles, “You’ve gotta admit it’s weird that the calls were coming close to each other. You know, we go on a run and I get a call from this person. Now all of a sudden they aren’t.”
“Maybe the other one moved on.”
“Maybe. But I think I’m still gonna stop by the Peabody house on the way home and see if I can talk to Sarah’s mom. I just have a hunch the kid knows who’s makin’ these calls. Aside from the one she made, I mean.”
The younger man rolled his eyes as he stepped toward the driver’s side of his white Land Rover and gave a wave, a slight grin on his face. “See ya tomorrow mornin’, Watson.”
After seeing that her daughter got onto the bus, Luanne returned home and began her morning of housework. She had just filled the kitchen sink with soapy water and placed the breakfast dishes in it when she heard a knock at the front door in the other room.
The woman wiped her damp hands on her apron as she walked into the livingroom. When she got to the door, she opened it, very surprised to see John Gage standing on the porch in uniform but without his partner. She immediately looked beyond him in search of the squad. She didn’t see it anywhere. Instead there was a white vehicle that resembled a jeep parked out in front.
Johnny put up a hand and gave an explanation for what he figured she was thinking. “Relax. It’s okay. We didn’t get another call here. In fact I’m off duty.”
“Oh. . .”
He rested his hands on his waist and glanced around, unsure of how to begin.
“You want to come in?” she offered as she stepped back and off to the side.
Once inside and seated on the couch, he explained about the late night phone call and that gut instinct told him her daughter probably knew who might be on the other end of the line.
Luanne thought about the misplaced chair in the kitchen, Sarah looking as though she’d not gotten much sleep. There was only one conclusion she could draw.
“No, I think it was her.”
Johnny raised his eyebrows in surprise. He’d almost expected her to get defensive; as if he’d made a mistake. “You do? But how would she know who I am? I mean, I got a coupla prank calls before we ever came over here.”
“I don’t know who started it. I do know Cathy Hinson wasn’t involved. Her mother verified that. But your strange call last night explains why one of the chairs in the kitchen was placed under the phone on the wall.”
Johnny just sat back and sighed. So it really *was* Sarah. . .
“And don’t worry,” the mother reassured, “We’ll put a stop to it. When she finds out her trick-or-treating tomorrow night is cancelled, I’m sure she’ll re-think what she’s been doing before she loses more than that.” She eyed the paramedic from the chair she was sitting in across from him. “You look like you could use some coffee. There’s some left over from breakfast. . .”
“I’ll be right back,” she said as she stood. She disappeared into the kitchen.
Johnny glanced around the room and noticed a baby doll that had been left sitting on the floor near a wall. The body was facing outward, but the head was turned around backward. The odd sight took him back in thought to another little girl he’d encountered on a few runs.
Abigail. . .
When he’d asked then why her mother’s dolls that were on display all had their heads turned around, he’d gotten the bizarre explanation that they did it on their own because they didn’t like her. But that girl’s mother had said Abigail did it because she didn’t like them staring at her. He wondered if Sarah had the same kind of hang up.
At least she doesn’t have one like Lynette. . .
Lynette had been a larger doll that Abigail had sworn didn’t like Johnny. He’d almost been convinced that the doll was sneering at him. He shuddered at the recollection of a strange experience during a house fire when it seemed as though Lynette were alive.
Luanne came back into the room with the cup of coffee, interrupting his thoughts. She noticed him staring at the doll.
“I keep telling Sarah to put her toys away when she’s done with them. But the way she reacts, you’d think they come out on their own.”
“She turn their heads around backwards often?” he asked with a grin.
“You know, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen it,” she replied as she handed him the hot beverage.
Johnny suddenly got an uneasy feeling. And his dislike of dolls came back with a flourish.
When he got to his apartment, Johnny plopped his tired body down on the couch and sat staring at nothing in particular as he gave what he’d seen at the Peabody house more thought. Though logically he knew he could go into any house in Carson that had a doll in it and likely come across the same thing on any given day, it bothered him to the extent that he couldn’t get it off of his mind.
C’mon man. Forget it; it’s just another damn doll.
He couldn’t believe he was bugged by a kid’s toy. A girl’s toy at that.
Man, not even *Roy’ll* let me live it down if he finds out.
So there was only one solution. Get over it and not say a word to anyone else about it. In the meantime, he needed a shower to get refreshed so he could run some errands.
After another night of broken sleep thanks to a wacky dream about dolls on shelves in a store turning their heads away from him as he walked by, Johnny was once again on his way to work. He didn’t feel as tired as the morning before when he’d gotten off duty, but he knew he could’ve stood to get a night of solid rest.
And just like with Sarah’s doll, he was going to keep his mouth shut about the strange dream. It would open the door wide for unending jokes if the guys at the station found out he had a dream. . .crazy or otherwise. . . about dolls.
At least I shouldn’t be getting anymore prank calls. . .maybe our false runs’ll stop now too. But remembering what holiday it was, he frowned. Then again, maybe not.
Sarah Peabody sat on her bedroom floor as she tied her shoes. Though very upset the day before when she’d found out she was grounded from trick-or-treating for something she didn’t do, this morning she wore a smirk.
She gave a knowing glance at the dark-haired brown-eyed figure in the plastic chair, who wore a smug grin in return. The two had formulated a plan, her friend being the instigator, so as not to have Halloween ruined. Though Sarah had been wishing her gone, when the little girl heard the other's suggestion to help her out, some of the fear had gone and the feeling of being lucky returned.
“Good mornin’,” Johnny said with a smile as he entered the dayroom. The rest of the crew was already in the room, Chet on the couch and Mike, Roy and Marco at the table. Captain Stanley would be gathering them for roll call in just a matter of minutes.
“Well, you certainly are chipper today,” Roy remarked. “I take it you got your problem solved?”
The younger man grabbed a cup out of the cupboard and glanced over his shoulder as he reached for the coffee pot. “Yep, I sure did.” As he poured the hot brew, he continued. “Sarah’s mom found one of the kitchen chairs outta place yesterday morning. It was directly underneath the phone on the wall. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened. So she was gonna put a stop to it as soon as Sarah got home from school yesterday.”
“So it was the girl.”
Johnny turned and rested his backside against the counter. He took a sip of coffee, then answered, “Sure looks that way, Marco. Only thing is, we didn’t know her until after I got a call or two here. So there almost had to be someone else involved. But only time’ll tell,” he shrugged. “Or it may not even matter anymore.”
Roy leaned back in his chair. “It’s a good thing you listened to your hunch and stopped by their house yesterday.”
A smug grin on his face, Johnny nodded in agreement, then took another sip of his coffee.
Before more conversation could go on, Hank Stanley peeked in through the doorway. “Roll call, guys. Let’s get this over with.”
The men filed out and got lined up so the captain could go over his notes with them. Johnny half listened as his mind wandered back to the phone calls and the fact they’d started before he and Roy had been dispatched to Sarah’s. Though he’d tried to convince himself it really didn’t matter, he had a gut feeling it did.
Once Sarah had gone to school, and Luanne out and about with a few morning errands, the small dark-haired figure in the frilly dress made her way from Sarah’s room to the parents’. There she opened a drawer in the nightstand on Daniel Peabody’s side of the bed. Her little hand let go of the drawer knob as she peered inside, her brown eyes open wide. Her mouth formed a satisfied grin at the sight of the object inside. Her gaze traveled to the telephone on the other night stand.
Johnny leaned inside the oven in an effort to clean off some stubborn baked on casserole that was left from the previous shift. It wasn’t the first time he’d gotten stuck with the chore and he certainly doubted it would be his last.
I wish they’d remember to clean it up.
He envied Roy, who only had to sweep over the dorm and locker room floors, and the three engine crew members out on the hose rack.
He almost had the worst of the stain scrubbed off when one of the telephones near the doorway rang. Johnny quickly dropped the sponge on the oven surface and pulled away, immediately reaching out for the receiver to catch the call on the third ring.
“Station 51, Fireman Gage speaking.”
There was a brief second of silence, followed by a soft spoken child-like voice. “I remember you. Do you remember me?” A couple of seconds passed, then, “You’d better.” A click and dial tone followed.
He looked forward a moment, then at the receiver still in his hand. He couldn’t place the voice at all. But with as many people as they met into in their job, that didn’t surprise him.
Johnny returned the receiver to its cradle and leaned with his right shoulder against the wall as he stared blankly ahead. ‘Do you remember me?’ I’d better?
“What’s wrong with you?” Roy wondered as he walked in. “Oven cleaner fumes getting to ya?”
“Hmm?” He looked up to see his partner staring at him. “You say somethin’?”
“I asked you if the fumes from cleaning the oven were getting to you.”
“Oh. No. No they aren’t.”
“Uh. .” Surely he could handle any more prank calls on his own. It was just another little girl on the other end of the line. It wasn’t like he was dealing with some adult nut case. “Just a wrong number. I better get back to cleaning the oven,” he said as he quickly returned to his sponge.
Roy was surprised at his partner’s eagerness. Normally Johnny would be on a rant about having to clean up someone else’s mess.
I’ll never figure him out.
“Okay, Mrs. Blevins. Just relax and let us do the work and we’ll have you out of here in no time,” Johnny reassured. It was early afternoon and Station 51 had been dispatched to a motor vehicle accident.
Two cars collided in an intersection, one with the driver fairing okay, the other belonging to Juanita Blevins who was pinned by her steering wheel. Pumpkin and ghost shaped sugar cookies littered the front passenger side floor where an uncovered tray on the seat had landed from the impact.
Johnny covered himself and her with a yellow blanket as the engine crew used chains and the jaws to pull the steering column back. Soon they had her freed and ready to transport.
She was more upset about not making it to a children’s Halloween party than anything else. But Johnny reminded her kids could be pretty forgiving.
“I’ll bet they’ll just be glad to know you’re gonna be okay.”
Juanita smiled. “I guess your right.”
Johnny sure hoped he was. He recalled the phone call he’d gotten earlier in the day. That kid sure didn’t sound very forgiving and all he’d done was. . .he didn’t know. But he was fairly sure it wasn’t a little admirer calling him.
Later in the evening, after leaving another patient in the care of Doctor Early, Johnny joined Roy at Dixie McCall’s desk where he was getting their supplies refilled. The younger man grinned as he watched a very slow moving werewolf get ushered into one of the treatment rooms by a nurse. She didn’t look too pleased with her assignment.
“Things are gettin’ pretty hairy around here,” he commented.
Roy rolled his eyes while Dixie gave him a smile.
“Aren’t you the clever one,” she teased.
“What’s wrong with ‘im?” Roy wondered.
“Hurt his back, as I understand it.”
“Maybe he’d be a little more comfortable if he took off the costume.”
She shook her head at Johnny’s suggestion. “We tried to get him to take it off. He refused to do it till he was behind closed doors so it doesn’t ruin the effect. And don’t ask me ‘effect on who’,” she added when Johnny opened his mouth, obviously about to ask. “I have no idea why it’s going to matter here, but I’m not questioning any strangeness on Halloween.”
“So far we haven’t encountered much out in the field,” Roy stated.
“Knock wood.” Johnny rapped lightly on his partner’s head with his kunckles, eliciting an annoyed look from the older man.
“And on that, I think we’ll be going.” Roy picked up their supplies in one hand and gave a wave. “See ya later.”
“Yeah, see ya, Dix.”
“Bye. And be careful out there.”
Johnny glanced over his shoulder. “Always,” he said with a crooked grin. He was just relieved that he hadn’t had to deal with anymore kids calling him, and no prank runs. In fact things were going so well, he hadn’t even thought about the doll at the Peabodys’ or the strange dream he’d had because of it. Johnny even found himself enjoying the holiday on duty.
When the paramedics were within two blocks of the station, a voice from dispatch came over the radio.
“Squad 51, unknown type rescue, 2123 West Patterson Place, two one two three West Patterson Place, cross street Madison, time out 20:15.”
Johnny reached for the mic to acknowledge the call.
“Squad 51, 10-4.”
As he replaced it in its holder, Roy flicked on the lights and siren.
“Looks like you might not’ve solved your problem after all.”
Johnny just nodded, and looked out the window.
When the paramedics arrived at the Peabody house, they quickly climbed out of the squad and opened the compartments on the passenger side. Both turned around as they removed their supplies when they saw Luanne run toward them from the home.
“I’m not. . . even gonna ask. . . why you’re here,” she said breathlessly as she reached the squad.
“You didn’t call us?”
She shook her head at Johnny’s question.
“Sarah. . .” he began, but once again she shook her head.
Johnny exchanged a concerned glance with Roy.
“You know we grounded her from trick-or-treating,” she explained, her voice more solid having caught her breath. “I went to her room to check on her. . .and she was gone! She must’ve snuck out!”
“How long ago was this?” Roy wondered.
“About ten minutes. . .maybe fifteen. Daniel just left in the car to look for her.”
“Did you call the police?”
With a lost look, she answered, “I thought a person had to be missing twenty-four hours first.”
“That’s mostly on TV.” Roy couldn’t help but smile slightly. “It won’t hurt to call them. I’m sure they’d alert units in the area to at least be on the lookout for her.”
“Since you’re here anyway, can you help us find her?” She nervously wrung her hands together as she looked hopefully from one man to the other.
“We can until we get another call,” Johnny offered. “But we hafta make ourselves available.”
“That’s fine. . .anything.” They could hear the relief in her voice.
Johnny and Roy secured their supplies in the compartments, and Johnny grabbed the mic in the squad and reported them in as available.
“I’ll start down that way.” The younger man pointed to the right, a flashlight in his hand.
“Okay, but let’s not separate too much. Remember, I’ve got the HT.”
“Right.” He trotted off, calling out for the girl while Roy reminded the mother that she should go inside and call the police.
Hank Stanley got up from his seat in the dorm room to answer the telephone. He and the rest of the engine crew were watching an old scary movie to pass the time.
“Station 51, Captain Stanley speaking.”
A voice that sounded even younger than the other girl who he’d talked to before spoke. “Can Johnny play?”
“What? Look, I’ve--” But before he could say more, the line clicked and the voice was replaced with a dial tone.
Seeing the strange look on his face, Mike asked, “Who was it, Cap?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know.” He then went on to tell them what had been said.
“Sarah!” Johnny called out again. “Sarah!” He passed a small group of curious little costumed children as he looked around in the semi-darkened area, the beam of his flashlight scanning in the darker spots around hedges and bushes.
At the end of the block, he heard a small sound from across the street. “Sarah?” He peered over and couldn’t see anything. After a couple of cars passed by, Johnny hurried over. “Sarah, is that you?”
He heard a child’s whimper from the driveway that ran along side the house. With no lights on inside, he assumed the people that lived there were not at home or the place wasn’t occupied at all. The paramedic shined his flashlight toward the sound, but didn’t see anyone.
“Sarah? It’s okay. It’s John Gage.”
Johnny thought he caught a movement near the rear corner of the home. He kept the beam of his light ahead as he continued forward.
While Roy and Johnny continued to search for Sarah, Luanne went into the kitchen to call the police as Roy had suggested. But when she lifted the receiver and put it to her ear, it sounded like someone else was already dialing.
Startled, she pulled the ear piece away and with the phone still in her left hand, looked upwards.
Sarah? Could she have been hiding in the house all along?
The mother quickly replaced the receiver and hurried up to her own bedroom. As she entered the room, she stopped and stared at the sight before her.
The telephone from her nightstand was on the floor, the receiver off the hook and in the lap of her daughter’s baby doll. One hand was resting on the body of the phone. The doll’s head was tilted upwards, as if looking at her. But she wasn’t jointed in the neck to be able to have her head set at a tilt.
Expecting to see Sarah nearby, Luanne gazed across the room. She noticed the drawer of the nightstand on her husband’s side of the bed was open a crack. She hurried around and pulled it out farther to peer inside. A gasp escaped her lips when she saw that the .22 caliber handgun her husband normally kept there was missing.
“Oh my God. . .” She brought a hand up to her mouth as she once again eyed the room, and then the doll with the phone. None of it made sense.
Who was dialing the phone?
The recorded voice of an operator saying, “If you’d like to make a call, please hang up and dial again” broke into her thoughts. She took one last quick glance at the doll and ran from the room. She not only wanted to get away from something she couldn’t logically explain; but also needed to alert the paramedics of the new development with the missing gun. On the way down the hall, she could hear a distant beeping sound behind her, indicating the telephone was still off the hook.
Roy hoped his partner was having better luck than him. The only children he’d seen around the area were the mostly older trick-or-treaters who were apparently allowed to be out later on a school night.
He glanced around and saw Luanne Peabody come out of her house in the distance, her head turning from side to side as she ran down their sidewalk. Wondering if she was searching for them, he hurried back.
When Johnny got to the corner of the house, he shone his light across the back yard. He couldn’t see anyone, but once again the faint sound of a whimper could be heard. It seemed to be coming from an unkempt group of bushes that lined the other side of the yard.
“All right, this is enough,” Johnny muttered to himself. He walked firmly across the grassy ground, determined to solve the issue.
Sarah looked at her friend with a nervous grin, her hair partially catching on their leafy cover. The fireman was approaching with his flashlight beam sweeping across their hiding spot.
It had been fun to see where they could lead him without being fully discovered. She hadn’t expected him to be around; the plan was just supposed to be to get out of the house without her parents spotting her so she could still go trick-or-treating, even if it was without a costume. Like most young ones, she hadn’t thought about the consequences when her mom and dad eventually figured it out.
Sarah briefly wondered why he’d come to their place again; if her mother had called the firemen about her.
She slunk farther into the shrubbery so as not to be spotted easily, carefully holding onto her orange plastic pumpkin basket with a few candies in it. The closer he got, the more nervous she grew.
Sarah glanced beside her again. Her eyes opened wide in astonishment when she caught a glimpse of a shiny object that was partially out of a small paper bag belonging to her companion.
“What’s that?” she whispered.
Roy picked up the pace when he saw Luanne come running toward him.
“What is it?” he asked when they came together in front of another yard on the block.
The image of the baby doll crossed her mind, but she dismissed it, going instead directly to what was most important. “The gun’s gone!”
“Daniel keeps a handgun in a drawer beside the bed,” she frantically explained. “I noticed the drawer wasn’t shut all the way, so I looked. And it was empty!”
Concern crossed his features. “Did Sarah know about it?”
“Yes. But we taught her that it was off limits.”
Johnny, the phone calls, Sarah, the false alarm responses, now the missing gun. . .nah, she’s just a kid. . .she wouldn’t do anything drastic. . .she doesn’t even *know* him.
The thoughts ran through his mind quickly, as he tried to reason everything out. He was immediately jarred out of his thoughts at the sound of a gunshot from down the street.
Johnny was a few feet away from the bushes when he noticed two light-blue sneaker covered feet just inside the greenery. He stopped where he was and shook his head slightly, eyeing the ground. With a sigh, he once again looked at the shoes and coaxed, “Okay, c’mon out, Sarah. It’s time to go home.”
He saw the feet pull back and a rustling could be heard. The paramedic figured she was getting onto her hands and knees to crawl out. He glanced over his shoulder a moment when he heard the young voices of more trick-or-treaters passing by in the distance near the street.
When he returned his attention forward, Johnny startled. Standing in the open was a large doll with long dark hair and wearing a frilly dress. The clothes were different, but there was no mistaking that sneering face.
Oh man. . .Lynette? What in the hell is she doing *here*?
He quickly looked around, wondering where the person who placed her there could’ve gone so fast without him hearing them. But it was just he and she left out in the open.
The doll looked eerie in the flashlight beam. He could see what might’ve been traces of dark smudges from the house fire she was in on her face, which added to the eeriness. Now he was sure he hated dolls.
“Remember me?” The sneer appeared to suddenly form into a smile. “You’d better.”
Johnny reeled. No way, man. No way. . . He had to be imagining it. . .it had to be the light playing tricks on him and Sarah’s voice instead. It had to have been Sarah who made the phone call.
But how would she know about what happened with Abigail? Did the little girls know each other?
Sarah crawled out dragging her pumpkin basket and got to her feet. Standing beside the doll, she looked at the paramedic. “She tol’ me she doesn’t like you.”
His eyes widened when he saw her pull a handgun out of her basket and drop the plastic toy on the ground.
“Where’d you get that? Sweetheart, that’s nothin’ to play around with. You know you could get seriously hurt or you might hurt someone else.” When she didn’t respond, he took a step forward and reached out. In a calm voice, he stated, “Lemme have the gun, Sarah.”
She glared at him a moment, then stuck the gun in front of Lynette’s hands. Johnny saw that as a good time to grab for it. As he lunged forward, he saw a flash, at the same time there was a loud bang. In a matter of seconds, the paramedic found himself lying on the ground, a seering pain in his right side. He grabbed for the offending area, immediately feeling a wetness.
Shit. . .
He looked up to see Sarah standing over him. She was visibly shaking from head to foot and had tears running down her cheeks.
“I didn’t think she’d do it,” she cried. “It was jus’ a game!”
“Go. . .go get help,” he panted. “Go_get_help.”
She bit her trembling lower lip and disappeared from his view. Johnny closed his eyes against the pain, his mouth in a grimace.
I shoulda’ knocked on *my* head instead of Roy’s. . .
Roy hurried to the squad and after tossing the HT onto the passenger seat, he drove toward where the gun shot had sounded, his own safety not a concern as he worried about his partner’s where a bouts. He stopped and climbed out at the end of the block when he saw Sarah run from a yard across the street. Other people were here and there along the block wondering where the loud noise had come from, some not sure if it was a gun shot or a car backfiring.
The senior paramedic tried to make sense of what she was saying, but all he could decipher between her sobs was that someone else was playing a game and she didn’t believe her. He noticed there were several drops of blood spattered on her hands and lower arms.
“Stay here,” he directed, and after grabbing the trauma box and biophone, he trotted in the direction she’d come from.
Luanne ran into her kitchen and without giving thought to the phone being off the hook upstairs, lifted the receiver and dialed the phone number for the police. This time there was no interference and the call went through.
Roy heard a groan as he hurried around the rear corner of the house. He could see a flashlight beam ahead on the ground and shone his own as he made his way over. His partner was lying on the ground. A few feet in front of him was a doll lying on the ground as well, a handgun about a foot away from her left arm. She was splattered with spots of blood here and there.
Bewildered, Roy knelt down by Johnny and saw the growing stain on the side of his uniform shirt and dark blue jacket. The younger man opened his eyes and blearily looked up at Roy as the other ripped opened the shirt, the buttons popping off in the process, to get a better look at the wound.
“Man. . .wha. . .where’s. . .the. . .doll?”
“Relax, the doll’s gonna be fine. It’s you I’m worried about.” And Sarah, he thought.
“Nn. . .no. . .the doll,” He winced in pain as Roy gently examined the wound. “Roy. . .she. . .”
“Did Sarah do this?”
Johnny knew he should say yes. But Lynette was the one who didn’t like him, as absurd as it seemed. There was only one answer to give that sounded logical. “Was. . .an accident,” he responded in a weak voice.
“Well, it looks like it just clipped your side pretty good.”
Roy opened the trauma box and got out a compress. He placed it over the wound, then after getting Johnny’s vital signs, he set up the biophone and contacted Rampart.
Johnny swallowed hard and listened to the distant sound of sirens approaching.
In a just a couple of minutes, police were on scene and Roy had one patrolman retrieve the drug box, a blanket and oxygen from the squad while he continued to tend to his partner. The officer who remained with them stepped over to Lynette and squatted down. He couldn’t help but shudder at the blood drops on her dress and vinyl skin. It looked like something out of a horror movie.
He noticed something and focused his flashlight beam directly on it.
“That’s odd,” he voiced aloud.
Roy looked over, but it was Johnny who spoke.
“Wha. . .?”
The officer stood up, his eyes still on Lynette. “Looks like she’s got gun powder residue on both of her hands. If she weren’t made of rubber, I’d say we had our shooter.”
Roy noticed Johnny shiver, but attributed it to his being shocky.
“Hang in there, partner,” he said as he reached for the blanket when the other policeman returned with the needed supplies.
Luanne waited for word on Johnny near the squad and an ambulance that had just arrived on scene. Since Sarah had obviously been through a traumatic experience, she didn’t want to make it worse by having her see the fireman suffering. It was bad enough the police said they were going to need to talk to the little girl about what happened.
Suddenly it dawned on her that she’d been able to call them; the line was no longer in use.
“What the hell’s going on?” Daniel Peabody asked as he approached his wife and daughter.
The mother sighed. She wished someone could explain some of it to her.
Johnny sat at the table in his kitchen with a cup of coffee in front of him. He’d been out of the hospital for a few days now and would be going back to work before long.
The paramedic thought back to what one of the police officers from Halloween night told him the day after while he was still at Rampart. Both Roy and the policeman had come in together.
Roy plopped two miniature candy bars on the tray over Johnny’s lap.
"From Chris and Jennifer," he explained. "They wanted to share some of their Halloween loot with ya."
"Tell ‘em I said thanks." Johnny wasn’t surprised at Roy’s children sending the candy over to him. They always tried to include him in their holidays somehow.
The officer pulled over a chair and sat while the blond paramedic stood nearby. Roy’s smile faded as he waited for the cop to give the news.
"Mr. Gage, I don’t know how to tell you this."
Johnny looked from the officer to Roy, and back to the officer. He couldn’t read their expressions except that they were about to deliver not so good news.
"What is it?"
"It seems that when the handgun at the scene was dusted for fingerprints, the only ones we could find on the trigger were Mr. Peabody’s. Sarah’s were on the body of the gun, but she didn’t pull the trigger."
"Mr. Peabody wasn’t there."
"That’s right. But we have no evidence pointing to anyone else. And since Daniel Peabody has a solid alibi, we can’t pin this shooting on anyone, accident or not."
“Can’t pin it on anyone,” Johnny said to himself, coming out of his thoughts. “But what if the one who pulled the trigger didn’t have any fingerprints. . .” Man, here ya go thinkin’ crazy again. . .
At least he’d been given the good news that Lynette was incinerated. She was gone. It was the only solution the Peabodys could think of to get Sarah to stop talking about her, plus the doll was stained with his blood.
Johnny shuddered involuntarily. Not even Art Fromish would come up with something like this.
There was just one thing he couldn’t figure out. If Sarah and Lynette were outside together, who had called the squad to the Peabodys' house that night? When he’d asked Luanne, she’d just shrugged. But there was something in her eyes that hinted she was holding something back.
Guess we’ll never know. . .
The baby doll in the Goodwill box eyed the toy plastic phone beside her. She lifted the red receiver off the white base and pressed the buttons, then listened as a storybook character carried on a one-sided conversation. . .it wasn’t as much fun as talking to a real person, but until she found a new home, it was just going to have to do.
Many thanks to Jill Hargan for the beta read and encouragement. :o) This story is a sequel to 'Fantasy or Reality'
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