A Woman Scorned
By The Twits
John Gage trudged
wearily down the narrow mountain road, his injured left arm cradled against his
chest. He'd been walking for hours, always hoping that rescue was around the
next bend in the road, but he hadn't seen another human being all day. Nor was
he likely to unless someone came looking for him. He'd deliberately chosen the
most isolated campsite he could find, wanting privacy for his weekend with Mary
Mary Jane. What a piece of work she'd turned out to be.
A gust of wind shook the evergreens and raised goose bumps on his already chilled flesh. He shivered and wrapped his arms more tightly around his chest, taking care not to jostle his left wrist. The sun was beginning to dip low in the western sky, and the shadows were growing longer. Only another three or four hours until sunset, he estimated. If he didn't find help soon, he'd have to start looking for shelter. It was late summer, so he didn't have to worry about freezing to death. But he knew how cool it could get at night this high up in the mountains, and he didn't relish the thought of spending a long, uncomfortable night outside.
Johnny froze in his tracks when he heard a rustling sound in the dense undergrowth that bordered the road. "Hello?" he called cautiously, praying for a hiker, a park ranger, anyone who could take him back to civilization. There was no answer except more rustling and the snap of a twig. He took a hesitant step toward the tree line. "Hello?" he called again. "Is someone there?"
A porcupine poked its spiky head out of the brush. "Shit!" Gage backpedaled rapidly. The last thing he needed was an encounter with those six-inch quills … especially in his current condition. The creature regarded him balefully for a moment, and then apparently deciding he posed no threat, ambled across the road and disappeared into the underbrush on the other side. Johnny waited until he could no longer hear the animal's progress through the forest before he started back down the road.
Another gust of wind buffeted the trees, and this time it carried the scent of rain.
"Great," Johnny sighed. "Just great. That's all I need." He yelped as he stepped on a sharp edged stone, bruising the already tender sole of his foot. Suddenly furious, he snatched up the rock and threw it into the forest with a curse. It felt so good he found another rock and did it again. And again. By the time he ran out of rocks … and curses … he was breathless and exhausted and his wrist was throbbing. But strangely, he felt a little better.
Turning back toward the road, Johnny resumed his lonely trek down the mountainside. Far in the distance he could see a fork in the road. He remembered stopping there yesterday and fumbling with the map, unsure of whether to go right or left. He remembered Mary Jane plucking the map from his hands with a teasing remark about his lousy sense of direction.
How could he have been so stupid? How could he have allowed himself to be so blinded by a bright smile and a nice pair of legs that he didn't see her for what she really was?
"But she seemed so nice," he told a squirrel who sat, staring at him, on a nearby tree branch. And she was nice. Right up until that morning when she'd attacked him with a tire iron, stolen his Rover, his camping gear, and his clothes, and left him stranded … stark naked … in the middle of the Los Angeles National Forest.
Taking the road on the
left, Johnny hoped that it was indeed the one he wanted to be on. A short
distance down, he turned around, pretending to hold up a map. He looked beside
him, remembering the conversation with Mary Jane, and then returned his eyes to
the ‘map.’ Pretending to pull it down from view, he looked at the fork in the
road again. Yep, he was going back the right way.
See, Mary Jane? I have a sense of direction..
As Johnny turned back around and continued down the road, he felt a drop hit his head. Then another. Soon, he was caught in a sprinkle. The paramedic looked around for cover. Not only was he getting wet, but the sensation of drops on his privates was uncomfortable. He carefully cupped his hands over his lower extremities and hurried to shelter under a tree. The branches above were thick, providing the protection from the rain he wanted. Luckily, it wasn’t a severe thunderstorm, or he would have been in even more trouble. Johnny stood shivering under the tree as the sprinkle soon turned to a downpour, and the air temperature cooled considerably.
A sudden rustling in the tree branches above, followed by a pinecone hitting him in the head, had the wet man looking up.
Another squirrel was high up in the branches, knocking pinecones down at the new intruder.
“Would ya’ cut it out?” Johnny groaned, as another one hit him on the forehead.
Some excessive chattering, a quick exit by the rodent, and the onslaught was over.
Johnny leaned against the tree trunk, immediately standing up straight again, as the rough bark poked at his backside. Gage sighed. “Man, what am I gonna do?”
He stood under the tree with a frown on his face, watching the pouring rain come down.
Johnny sat for what an hour watching it rain. He had
gathered some pine needles into a pile and used them as a place to sit. It
wasn't the most...comfortable, but it was better than sitting on the cold, wet
ground, or on a tree stump. The dark haired man sighed and continued to watch
the rain from the shelter of the pine trees.
Lost in thought, he failed to notice that the rain had slowed to a light drizzle. A noise startled him from his brooding. He laughed when he realized it was his stomach reminding him that he had not eaten all day.
A light breeze caused him to shiver again. He shook his head, sending droplets of water in every direction. Rubbing his right hand over his left arm he attempted to warm at least one part of him.
Man, I wish I had some matches. A fire would feel good right now...then again, so would a pair of jeans! What was with that chick? How could she leave me with...with...nothing?
Another breeze reminded him of his lack of clothing, and he huddled a little closer to the pine straw.
This is just great!
Johnny looked around the area for something - anything he could use to cover himself, but found nothing. Growling in anger and frustration, he slapped his right hand on the closest tree trunk. A small bird squawked, and a squirrel chattered in response to his outburst, then the area once again became silent. Johnny chided himself for adding more pain to his predicament.
That was really stupid, Gage. Trying to break something? It’s bad enough that she took a tire iron to your arm...no need to make the situation worse.
Sighing, Johnny got up and ventured out from under the tree. Brushing the pine needles off his backside, he knew he needed to find food and shelter. The fading daylight and the desolate area had him doubting he'd find either before nightfall.
He walked a little farther down the road. John Gage was fortunate in that he knew a lot about the outdoors and camping. He soon found some berries to eat. It wasn't much of a meal, but he wasn't about to be picky either. Curious stares from the local wildlife had him feeling self-conscious again. He averted his gaze and continued to eat his ‘dinner.’
Several broken branches littered the ground near the berry patch. Johnny carefully maneuvered himself through the bushes so as not to further injure himself. This was going to be tough enough to explain, he didn't need to suffer the added humiliation of explaining scratches in private places! He sat on a bolder and managed to fashion a makeshift splint for his left wrist using two sturdy branches, and wrapping them in place with some vines he found growing near the base of a tree.
His right hand was a little sore from his assault on the tree, but all he could see was a small scrape and a little bruise. He was worried about the left wrist. His medical training suggested it might be broken, or at the very least, sprained. There was a large, dark bruise from the tire iron and some swelling.
One problem remained. Where was he going to spend the night?
Why couldn't she have just taken the Rover? Why did she have to take everything? It's almost as if she had this planned. This is ridiculous! What did I ever do to her to deserve this?
Getting up from the boulder, Johnny felt a slight chill. The rock had retained some of the day’s heat, so it had felt good to sit on it. It was getting later, and the paramedic knew he didn't have much time left to find a place to sleep for the night. Some place warm and safe...but where?
Johnny walked another mile down the road and found a large stand of pine trees. They were tall, and had obviously been there a long time. Their branches were intertwined and formed a canopy, and there were loads of pine needles on the forest floor. As much as the idea made Johnny shudder, he decided to stop there for the evening. The light was rapidly fading, and he didn't want to take any chances that he wouldn’t find an adequate place to sleep if he traveled farther. Steeling himself for the discomfort, Johnny made a large pile of the pine straw and prepared to settle in for the evening.
The sounds of the forest at night did little to comfort Johnny as he closed his eyes and tried to get some sleep. He gave up attempting to get comfortable, to instead keep his mind occupied by focusing on the small amounts of moonlight sifting through the branches.
Roy looked outside and
watched the rain splatter against the deck. He stood and shut the patio door
half way, hoping to keep the rain out while still allowing a breeze to circulate
through the house. He sat back down at the kitchen table. It was Sunday
morning, and he and Joanne were lingering over a second cup of coffee. The kids
were playing a game in Chris’s room, so for the moment, all was quiet.
Roy glanced outside again as the rain began to fall harder. “I wonder how Johnny and Mary Jane are doing?”
“I’m sure they’re doing fine.”
“But it’s raining.”
“Yes, it is,” Joanne agreed, while hiding her smile behind the rim of her coffee cup. “And knowing Johnny, I’m sure he’ll think of…something, that will keep them occupied until the weather clears.”
Joanne silently enjoyed this odd role reversal she and her husband were experiencing. Usually it was Joanne who set Johnny up with some woman she deemed perfect for him, while Roy steered clear of the situation. Though that had sometimes frustrated Joanne, she understood the reasons for it. Johnny was Roy’s best friend, and added to that, they worked together for twenty-four hours at a time. She knew that friendship had a better chance to stay on a smooth course if Roy wasn’t sticking his nose in Johnny’s personal life. Or so Roy had often told her.
Roy had barely taken notice of the women Joanne had set Johnny up with in the past, and rarely offered his opinion about them one way or another. If she’d heard him say once, “Jo, if you wanna set Johnny up on a date that’s between you and Johnny. Leave me out of it,” then she’d heard him say it twenty times. Which was exactly how many times over the years that Joanne had thought she’d found the perfect woman for Johnny, only to discover that, after a few dates, the woman didn’t agree with her. But, that didn’t keep Joanne from trying. Granted, Johnny still had some growing up to do, and granted, he was impulsive and egotistical at times, but Joanne knew another side to the man. The side that contained deep loyalty to friends, honesty, good morals, a good work ethic, and a terrific sense of fun that was bound to make him a great father some day, if his relationship with Chris and Jennifer was any indication of the type of dad he’d be.
So, despite the fact that Joanne had yet to give up in her quest for the perfect woman for Johnny, this time it was, surprisingly enough, Roy who had found said woman. Or so he thought anyway, and Joanne couldn’t disagree with him.
Mary Jane Becker was a
friend of Joanne’s sister Eileen. Eileen was single and lived alone. Six months
earlier a series of predawn break-ins near her apartment building had resulted
in two women being sexually assaulted. At Roy’s urging, it was then that Eileen
had decided to take self-defense classes. She’d chosen judo as the form of
martial arts she was interested in, simply because there was a studio close to
her home. It was there that she’d met Mary Jane, who was also a new student.
The two women had immediately struck up a friendship, and often went out for
dinner after class, or caught a movie together, or went to some other event on
The first time Roy and Joanne had met Mary Jane had been two months ago, when Joanne hosted a birthday dinner for Eileen. It had been a small gathering. Just Joanne, Roy, the kids, Joanne’s parents, along with Eileen, Mary Jane, and another good friend of Eileen’s named Sherry.
If Joanne hadn’t been the secure woman she was, she would have wondered why her husband kept casting subtle glances at the blond, vivacious, petite Mary Jane. But she was secure, so knew whatever was on Roy’s mind had nothing to do with him being interested in the pretty young woman. After everyone was gone and the kids were in bed, Roy had helped his wife get the house back in order. As he put clean dishes away in the cabinets Roy commented, “You know, I think Mary Jane and Johnny would make a good pair.”
Joanne almost dropped the drinking glass she was holding.
“Roy DeSoto, are you actually thinking of fixing Johnny up with Mary Jane?”
“Well…I…maybe it’s not such a good idea, huh?”
Joanne had smiled. “I think it’s a great idea. And you’re right; they would make a good pair. Mary Jane is as lively and fun as Johnny. Did you hear her talking about how she likes to go rock climbing, and hiking, and camping?”
“Yeah, I know. That’s what made me think that she and Johnny might make a good pair. She kind of capped it off when she said her favorite thing to do on a Saturday night was bowl, and then eat at McDonald’s afterwards. She sounds like a woman after Johnny’s own heart.”
Joanne had laughed while agreeing, “She sure does. But you’ve always said you don’t want to get involved in setting Johnny up with anyone.”
“I know. And normally I don’t want to. But there’s just something about Mary Jane that leads me to believe she and Johnny will make a good pair.”
“And I think you’re right. So, how do you want to go about doing this?”
Roy shrugged. “I don’t know. You’re usually the expert in this area.”
“That’s true, but this is your idea, so you tell me how we’re going to get Johnny and Mary Jane together.”
Roy had thought a moment, then offered, “First of all, we bounce this off of Eileen and see what she thinks. She’s known Mary Jane about six months now, and she’s known Johnny for close to five years, so she’ll be able to tell us if this is a good idea or not. If she does think Johnny and Mary Jane will make a good match, then maybe we can start out slow. You know, have a cookout and invite Eileen, Mary Jane, and Johnny, and then see where it leads as far as Mary Jane and Johnny are concerned. After that, if things look promising, we could invite Mary Jane and Johnny to go to a movie with us, or out to dinner.”
“That’s a good plan. It will give them a chance to get to know one another without any pressure.”
“And if it works, it works,” Roy said. “And if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t. I talked to Mary Jane for quite a while, though, and she seems like a nice gal. She’s a little zany like Johnny, which is a good prerequisite for dating him, but she also seemed to have a lot of common sense, which is also a good prerequisite when it comes to dating Johnny. If he ever gets married, he’s gonna need a woman who can pull him back down to earth every so often.”
“That’s true,” Joanne had said, surprised at her husband’s perceptiveness where the subject of Johnny and the perfect mate were concerned. Roy didn’t usually spend much time thinking about other people’s relationships, simply because he deemed them none of his business. But again, he worked a lot of hours with Johnny, so she knew that lent to his insight in this area.
It had been exactly one month ago this weekend that Joanne and Roy had hosted the ‘matchmaking’ cookout, as they’d privately referred to it. Eileen thought they were right on target where Mary Jane and Johnny were concerned, so once they had the go ahead from her, they put their plan in motion. Having struck out with every woman Joanne Desoto had set him up with in the past; meant that Johnny was reluctant to agree to this blind date. The only way Roy was able to convince him to give it a try had been by saying, “I’ve met Mary Jane. She’s a really nice gal. I think you and she will hit it off.”
Johnny and Roy had been checking the squad’s supplies the morning this conversation had taken place. Johnny looked up and grinned. “You’re kidding me, right?”
“Kidding you about what?”
“This set up was your idea, and not Joanne’s?”
“Uh…no. No, not just sorta. It was my idea.”
“Well, then, okay. I’ll be there.”
“You will be?”
“Sure,” Johnny had nodded. “You found a classy woman in Joanne, so I trust your judgment. If you say Mary Jane and I will make a good pair, then I’m willing to give it a try.”
“Great. That’s great. Be at our place around six on Saturday night. We’re gonna eat at seven, but if you come a little earlier, you and Mary Jane can have a chance to get to know one another.”
That first meeting between Johnny and Mary Jane went off a lot smoother than even Roy had imagined it would. As a matter of fact, it went off so smoothly that there was no need for a double date with Roy and Joanne. Johnny set up a date for one night that week with the woman, and that date led to another, and another, and then another, until the day arrived that they made arrangements to go camping together this weekend. Joanne hadn’t reached the point where she was hearing wedding bells yet, but she knew Roy thought that marriage was where Johnny and Mary Jane might be headed within the next twelve months. It was funny to see her husband trying to hide the excitement he felt for his partner in regards to this relationship that Johnny himself was so excited about.
Joanne’s thoughts came back to the present when Roy looked out the patio doors once again and said, “I sure hope Mary Jane and Johnny are having a good time.”
Joanne rose to clear the breakfast dishes from the table. “I can’t imagine that they’re not. They both have a terrific sense of fun. Rain or no rain, your partner is having a good time, Roy. You can count on that.”
shifted the Land Rover into third gear as she rounded a curve. She looked at
the pile of clothes sitting on the passenger seat, Johnny’s wallet tossed
haphazardly amongst them. She’d only netted forty dollars from the wallet, but
that didn’t surprise her. Gage was a cheapskate. She’d known that the night of
their first date. But the two credit cards might be of value, and she could
probably get a few dollars out of his paramedic badge at a pawnshop. Overall,
it didn’t matter much, because she never did this for the money anyway. It was
the thrill of the hunt, and it was the thrill it brought Kate to know she’d
left an egotistical jerk like Gage naked, injured, in need of help, and above
all else, humiliated and alone. Just like she’d been humiliated and left alone
when Greg had walked out on her the night before they were supposed to get
Men, Kate thought as she rounded another curve. Who needs them? Not me, and I intend to prove that to every one of them I encounter from now on.
She looked in the rearview mirror and primped her hair while trying to come up with her next alias. She’d already used Cindy Stone, Margie Simmons, and now most recently, Mary Jane Becker. She couldn’t think of a new name at the moment, but she’d come up with something before the next tall, dark, and handsome stranger crossed her path who was unlucky enough to remind her of Greg. Of that, Kate was certain.
After a restless night with brief periods of
sleep on his pine needle ‘bed,’ Johnny slowly sat up. A chill from the morning
air ran through his body, as the breeze once again hit his wet skin. Although
the thick branches of the tree had provided some shelter, the off and on again
rain showers during the night had still filtered through.
It was early on Sunday morning yet, but Johnny could see that the sky was going to remain gray, meaning more rain was probably on the way. Knowing things couldn’t get anything but worse if he stayed where he was, the dark-haired man decided to head out, hoping his luck would be better when it came to finding help. He’d figure out how to explain his current state when the time came.
Just don’t let it be a cute chick that finds me. . .please!
As the paramedic trudged down the road, he thought back to how he came to know Mary Jane to begin with.
“Roy,” Johnny shook his head while grumbling to himself. “Everyone thinks Roy’s the responsible one, but look at the nut case he hooked me up with. I’m better off letting Joanne fix me up.”
Johnny thought about the many blind dates he’d had courtesy of Joanne’s meddling.
“Come to think of it, I’m better off home alone
on a Saturday night.”
He shuddered as another chill ran through his exposed body. He glanced at the left wrist that he’d been cradling against his abdomen. It was black and blue and swollen.
Man, would I have been better off alone this weekend.
After hours of walking,
the bottoms of Johnny’s feet felt like they were shredded. He limped along as
he continued on the gravel road. Finally, a paved two-lane road was in sight.
“All right! Finally, I’m gettin’ somewhere.”
Only trouble was, he was still one hundred percent exposed. The paramedic had no desire to be showing his equipment off to everyone. But what was he going to use to cover up? Johnny spotted something white and red lying on the ground several feet away. Wondering if that was his answer, he walked over to it and picked the item up. It was an old wrapper from a kid’s meal at a fast food place, the words Dinky Burger printed on it.
Oh man. I gotta wear a thing that says ‘Dinky’ on it? There? If a chick picks me up, I’m dead. That’s it.
He held the paper over his privates and started down the road. The light sprinkle of rain let him know the situation was about to get worse.
Oh, man, not again.
Roy stared into the backyard through the patio doors. There were things he had planned to be doing on his weekend off, but the rain had put an end to those ideas. Even after periods when it let up, everything in the yard remained too wet for any type of work. He didn’t envy Johnny and Mary Jane being out in the wilderness camping. Hopefully, Joanne was right. The couple was making the best of a soggy situation.
As the rain once again abated, Johnny refused to give up staying on the road. He had gotten soaked from the latest rainfall, but it didn’t matter. When he heard an air horn blow behind him, the man realized his determination had paid off. . .sort of.
Coming down the road was a massive black and silver semi truck. Johnny held the ‘Dinky’ wrapper in place with his right hand, and winced while waving his splinted left wrist in the air. He ignored the drips falling on his skin from his wet hair.
The truck came to a stop and the passenger door popped open. Johnny trotted up to the open door, ignoring the pain it caused his sore feet.
“You look like you lost something,” the man said with a smirk.
Johnny screwed up his face. Did the guy have to remind him? He just wished the whole thing were over with.
“Can I get a lift into
“Sure, but you ain’t sittin’ on the seat like that.” He tossed a dirty rag up on the seat. “You can sit on this. I don’t want no wet bare butt on my leather upholstery.”
Johnny gave a grateful nod and climbed in, pulling himself up with his good hand, his left one now holding on to the paper. He glanced at the oily rag on the seat. Gage didn’t relish the thought of sitting on the soiled cloth, but if it meant getting a ride. . . As Johnny sat down, he tried to look anywhere but at the man.
“So, what are you doin’ out here like that... Dinky?” The man snickered.
“It’s not Dink--” Johnny sighed. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Try me. I’m a trucker, man. I’m on the road more days out of the year than I’m off. I’ve seen just about everything.” He eyed the wrapper that was now across Johnny’s lap.
“ ‘Cept I’ve never met a guy who was willing to label himself as bein’ dinky.”
“I’m not dinky.” Johnny defended, wondering why he was even participating in this discussion. “It’s all I could find to cover up with.”
“So what exactly are you doing way out here naked as a jaybird?”
After Johnny explained his ordeal with a woman named Mary Jane Becker, the man shook his head. “Man. That is one crazy woman you hooked up with.”
“Tell me about it. And I’m on my way to thank Roy right now.”
The trucker eyed Johnny’s injured wrist. “Shouldn’t you go to the hospital first?”
“No . . .no!” Johnny answered quickly, while thoughts of Dixie seeing him with nothing but a Dinky wrapper on flashed through his mind. He’d never live it down. He looked out the passenger window, wondering what he should say to Roy, and if he’d be able to say it without yelling.
Once they reached
Carson, Johnny gave the man directions to Roy’s home. As the truck approached
the DeSoto house, Johnny glanced down at his lap. He had no desire to give Roy
room for Dinky jokes.
“Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have
extra clothes in here would you?”
“Nope. Sorry.” The man grinned. “ This was a short haul – I’m only on the road for today. Should be home by eight o’clock tonight. But do you want somethin’ that doesn’t say Dinky?”
“Uh . . .yeah. . .”
“Here,” the man said, tossing Johnny a baseball cap. “It’s the only thing I got.”
Gage picked up the cap and examined the design on it. Oakland Raiders. Well, you can’t get anymore manly than that, I suppose. He gave a weak grin and carefully put the cap in place before removing the wrapper.
The trucker brought the vehicle to a stop in front of Roy’s home. “Well, here ya’ are.”
“Thanks,” Johnny muttered as he opened the passenger door.
“Hey, don’t mention it. And, buddy. . .I’d be careful what women I went out with if I were you.”
Johnny snorted. “Oh yeah. It’ll be a long time before I go out on a date again.”
Heck, it’ll be a long time before I go anywhere until I get wheels again. . .stupid, crazy broad.
Roy heard the rumble of a large truck outside. He started for the living room window to see what was going on, when a knock came at the door. Joanne was upstairs making the beds, and the kids were playing in the den. Roy made his way over and opened the door, expecting to see someone trying to sell something. Instead, he was greeted by his partner, who was standing in the doorway wearing nothing but a baseball cap between his legs.
Roy stared open mouthed.
“What the hell happened to you?”
“Shhh, do you want everyone in the neighborhood to hear you?” Johnny growled as he let out a huge sneeze. “I’ve got enough problems without being arrested for indecent exposure.” Johnny looked over Roy’s shoulder, firmly keeping the cap in place in front, while holding the oily rag against his rear end that the trucker had made him sit on. “Where are Joanne and the kids?”
“Joanne’s making the beds,” Roy said, as he continued to stare at Johnny. The sight of his partner standing, for all intents and purposes, naked on his doorstep, meant Roy was so stunned he didn’t have the presence of mind to usher the man inside. “The kids are playing in the den.”
“Are you just gonna stand there starin’ at me, or can I come in? It’s cold out here dressed like this…or not dressed, or whatever.”
“Sure, sure,” Roy opened the door wide and stepped aside. “Come on in.”
Roy circled Johnny while eyeing his partner, taking in the left wrist still encased in the makeshift splint, the goose bumps on his bare flesh, and the way Johnny grimaced as he walked. “I’ll ask again. What the hell happened to you?”
“What happened to me was that nutcase of a woman you hooked me up with!”
“Yes, Mary Jane! Who the heck else do you think I went camping with this weekend?”
“But how could a tiny little woman like Mary Jane beat you up?”
“She didn’t beat me up!”
“Looks like it to me.”
“Well, she didn’t. What a tiny little woman like Mary Jane did, was hit me with a tire iron, take my clothes, steal my wallet, my keys, and my Land Rover.”
“She hit you with a tire iron?”
“She knows judo for Christ sake, Roy! And she’s not just a beginner like she says. She could give Bruce Lee a run for his money.” Johnny shivered. “Do you have a blanket I can cover up with while you drive me home?”
“You’re not going anywhere at the moment. Let me get my robe for you, and then you’re going to sit down on the couch while I have a look at you. I’ll have Joanne get you something to eat. After you’re cleaned up and uh…clothed, I’m taking you to Rampart. That wrist needs to be x-rayed.”
“Quit looking at my cap!”
“I’m not looking at your cap,” Roy denied. “I was looking you over. As in, trying to assess you’re injuries.”
“I’m fine. I don’t need to go to Rampart.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, your wrist is swollen. It’s probably sprained – could even be broken.”
“Oh, man, this has not been my weekend. Everyone at Rampart will laugh when they hear this story.”
“No one is gonna laugh. You could have been seriously injured. You’re lucky she used that tire iron on your wrist, and not on your skull.”
“I know, but--”
Johnny’s sentence was cut off by a shriek of, “Johnny! What in the world are you--”
Oh, man. Why me?
Roy moved so his body blocked his wife’s view of Johnny.
“Jo, I’ll explain later. Could you get my robe
for Johnny? And keep the kids out of here. Tell them to play another game, or
let them watch TV.”
Knowing the television could mesmerize her children for several hours, and knowing she didn’t want them to see Johnny standing in her living room wearing nothing but a…cap, caused Joanne to agree. “Sure. I’ll take care of the kids, and then be right back with your robe.”
After the woman hurried away, Roy turned around. “Let me see that wrist.”
Whatta’ ya’ mean, no?”
“I mean I need my left arm to…”
“Johnny, just let the rag fall. No one’ standing behind you, and I’m sure not going to look.”
“You’d better not.”
Roy refrained from reminding his partner that they’d changed their clothes countless of times while standing next to each other in Station 51’s locker room. Given Johnny’s current mood, and state of dress, it was best not to get him wound up any more than he already was.
“I won’t look,” Roy promised. “Now let me see that wrist.”
The rag dropped to the floor as Johnny brought his left arm out from behind himself. Roy carefully untied the vines and removed the branches Johnny had used for a splint. He set everything on the coffee table, and then palpated Johnny’s arm in several places. He didn’t miss the way Johnny grimaced throughout the procedure.
“So what happened?”
“Just what I told you. Mary Jane attacked me and then stole all my stuff.”
“What you’d do to her?”
“What did I do to her? Roy, if you haven’t noticed, I’m the one standing in your living room buck-ass naked,” Johnny said, getting warmed up for a classic Gage rant. “I didn’t do a damn thing to her. The woman is a fruitcake. She’s certifiable. She should be locked up. She should be declared mentally--”
“Uh…I don’t think you should be waving your arm around like that.”
Johnny bent to pick up the cap that had fallen when he’d begun waving his right arm in the air. “Very funny.”
Joanne called from the hallway, “Roy, I have the robe!”
Roy went to the juncture between the living room and hall. He caught the robe that was tossed to him. “Thanks.”
“Let me know when he’s decent.”
Within seconds, Johnny had exchanged the cap for the warm brown velour robe. He clenched his teeth as he put his left arm through it, and let Roy tie the belt for him. As Roy led Johnny to the couch he called, “He’s dressed, Jo!”
The woman entered the living room to see Roy easing Johnny’s feet onto the coffee table. When she caught sight of the bloody, blistered, scraped soles, Roy was examining, she exclaimed, “Johnny, what happened?”
“The woman your husband set me up with is psycho.”
“Little Mary Jane did this to you?”
“Yes, little Mary Jane did this to me.”
“Joanne, let’s just say she’s nuts and leave it at that. Let’s just say that the next time a DeSoto wants to set me up with a woman, his name better not be Roy. Ouch!”
Roy looked at his wife. “Would you get me a towel, a washcloth, soap, a bowl of warm water, and the tweezers?”
“Sure,” Joanne said as she hurried to get the things her husband had requested.
“Tweezers?” Johnny strained to see his feet between sneezes. “Whatta ya’ need tweezers for?”
“You’ve got some pine needles embedded in your feet, as well as some gravel. I don’t know how you walked on them.”
“It was that, or stay up there naked.”
“How’d you get here, anyway?”
“A sympathetic trucker.”
“That was lucky.”
“No kidding. Especially since the only thing I had found to cover up with at that point was a Dinky Burger wrapper.”
“What kind of a wrapper?”
“You know. Dinky Burgers. The hamburger joint over on Halverson.”
“Oh, yeah. Chris and Jen love their commercials for some reason. Something about - ‘We’re just a little larger than your pinky, but there’s nothing wrong with being dinky.’ ”
“Yeah, well tell that to some chick who sees you holding a Dinky Burger wrapper over your…”
“Over your what?”
“Never mind,” Johnny sighed as Joanne entered the room laughing, because she’d heard the tale end of the men’s conversation. “Joanne gets it.”
“Yes, I do,” the woman agreed, while Roy shrugged at the humor that was passing him by.
“Do you need my help, Roy, or should I make Johnny something to eat?”
“Go ahead and make him something to eat, but keep it light. I’m going to take him to Rampart as soon as I get him cleaned up and he’s taken a shower. Soup would be the best thing for him right now, since I don’t know what kind of tests they might want to do at the hospital.”
“I don’t need to go to the hos...achoo! achoo! achoo!”
“You’re going to the hospital,” was all Roy would say while Joanne said, “God bless you,” before going the kitchen and pulling out a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup.
Johnny tossed out a few “ouches” and three “goddammits” while Roy took care of his feet. Roy then went and got a twin-sized sheet from the linen closet and made a sling for his partner’s left arm. He helped Johnny hobble to the kitchen table when Joanne set a steaming bowl of soup down on a placemat, along with a glass of milk.
While he ate, Johnny told the couple what had happened. How one minute Mary Jane had been acting like the fun-loving woman he’d gotten to know during the past month, and how the next minute she was screaming obscenities at him, calling him a stupid man, and beating him with the tire iron.
“We were…you know…she said yes, so I…you know…I mean, I didn’t force her or anything. She started the whole thing. She suggested we have…and then…you know…we started to…and…”
Joanne and Roy nodded, while Johnny looked anywhere but at their faces. They exchanged glances as the man blushed bright red. At least this much of a stammered explanation told Joanne and Roy how Mary Jane had gotten Johnny’s clothes off of him.
“So anyway, we were getting ready to have…you know…and then she went nuts. She flipped me onto the ground, grabbed the tire iron, whacked my arm with it, scooped up my clothes, got in the Rover, and took off. By the time I caught my breath and could get up, she was gone.”
“She flipped you?” Roy questioned. “Little Mary Jane?”
“Roy, would you quit callin’ her ‘Little’ Mary Jane! I already told you, the woman’s gotta be a black belt. She’s no beginner when it comes to that judo stuff.”
“We’re going to have to talk to Eileen,” Joanne said. “I hope she knows where Mary Jane lives.”
“Call Eileen and find out what you can while Johnny’s in the shower,” Roy instructed. “I’m sure the police will wanna talk to her.”
When Johnny’s soup bowl was empty, Roy helped him stand. “Come on. Let’s get you under a hot shower. Jo’s already got clothes in the bathroom for you. You left some things here the last time you stayed overnight babysitting for the kids. I keep forgetting to bring them to the station, so I guess that’s a good thing.”
“Yeah,” Johnny agreed, knowing he’d at least have the comfort of being able to put on his own clothes.
“You’ll have to wear my slippers though. I don’t think you’re gonna be able to get your feet in a pair of shoes for a couple of days at least. After you shower, we’ll head to Rampart, then contact Vince.”
“Okay,” Johnny agreed as he started sneezing again. “But…uh…I don’t think a shower is such a good idea right now,” the paramedic said as he struggled to climb the stairs. “Washing one handed is gonna be kinda tough.”
“I can help--”
“Look, it’s me, or some nurse at Rampart.”
“Considering the only nurses I ever seem to get at Rampart are sixty years old, I guess I’ll let you help.”
“Don’t worry, I’m only planning to help you get this robe off, step over the tub, and hand you whatever you need in the way of soap and shampoo. As far as the rest goes…you do the best you can.”
Great. Just great. Johnny thought as Roy shut the bathroom door and began to loosen the bathrobe’s belt. I can’t get any more humiliated than this. Oh wait, yes I can. I still have to go through the whole story at Rampart. Man, if Chet gets wind of this…
The hot water of the shower felt great on his
chilled body. Despite the humiliation, he was grateful to Roy and Jo for the
opportunity to warm up. Johnny stood for several minutes, letting the heat from
the water do its job.
"Johnny? You okay in there?"
"I'm fine, Roy. Just trying to get warm."
"Don't take too long. Here's the shampoo. If you don't need anything else, I'll be waiting outside. Oh, and make sure you get that grease off your butt."
"Sorry, but it was hard to miss. "
Johnny heard Roy laughing as he pulled the door closed behind him.
Nothing like adding insult to injury. First
he sets me up with this nutcase, and now he's a comedian. With friends like
this, who needs the Phantom?
Stepping put of the shower, Johnny was happy to see that the clothes waiting for him on the back of the toilet were the gray sweatpants and sweatshirt he slept in if he spent the night at the DeSotos’ while babysitting for the kids. He knew he'd never get his jeans buttoned one-handed, and Roy had already seen quite enough of him.
His face flushed again when he remembered that not only had Roy seen him almost completely naked, but so had Joanne.
This whole thing
just keeps getting worse.
Roy was waiting in the hall when Johnny opened the door. They slowly made their way to the living room with Johnny cradling his left arm while carrying the sling Roy had fashioned for him earlier. Gage observed the first aid supplies on the coffee table, and a pair of well-worn slippers sitting nearby. A soft voice from behind startled him.
"Feel any better?"
He turned to look at Joanne, but couldn't meet her eyes. "Uh, yeah. Thanks."
The woman walked up to him and handed him a cup of coffee. Once he accepted it, she gave him a firm but gentle hug. "It'll be okay. I'm just glad you weren't seriously injured."
"Same here," replied Roy. "C'mon. Let's get you wrapped up so we can get your arm taken care of at Rampart."
Johnny sighed again and sat down. Once Roy had bandaged his feet and helped him get the slippers on, he stood up.
"Not so fast, Junior. I want to immobilize that arm before we go."
Johnny sat down and Roy reached for a stack of magazines on the coffee table, picking up a Ladies Home Journal. Johnny's eyes widened at the prospect of that being secured around his injured wrist. Roy chuckled and dropped it in favor of Popular Mechanics.
"Relax, will you?"
"Easy for you to say. You don't have to tell them what happened. I'll never live this down," he muttered, as DeSoto expertly wrapped the magazine around Johnny's wrist and secured it with masking tape, before slipping it back inside the make-shift sling.
"Let's get this over with," Roy said as he guided Johnny to the door and kissed his wife goodbye.
Joanne DeSoto watched the car disappear down the street. She picked the oily rag up off the floor and took it and the coffee mug to the kitchen. She put the rag in the garbage can, then put the mug in the dishwasher. Joanne smiled sadly at Johnny's latest misfortune.
"At least it wasn't me that set him up with Mary Jane!"
Cal Jenkins entered his favorite diner on the outskirts of L.A., Greasy Al's. Despite the establishment’s odd name, he ate there regularly on his trips to this area. It was lunchtime, and he was starved.
"Hey, Pearl!" Cal hollered as he made his way to the lunch counter. Sitting on his favorite stool he tapped his hands on the counter in time to the music playing on the jukebox.
"Hey, there, Cal. What'll you have?" Pearl couldn't help noticing that Cal looked happier than usual.
"Meatloaf special, extra gravy."
"I thought the doctor told you to ease up on the gravy."
"He did.” Cal grinned and looked eager to talk. “But I need it today!"
"Oh?" Pearl was curious over the way Cal seemed ready to bust if he didn't start talking soon.
"You aren't gonna believe this one. I was driving my usual route and I came across this guy hitching out by the L.A. Forest."
"What's so hard to believe about a guy hitching?" the waitress asked as she set his coffee down in front of him.
"He was butt naked!"
"Yep...nothing on but what the good Lord gave him at birth. Poor guy was attacked by some crazy chick he took camping, and all he could find to cover himself with was an old burger wrapper."
They laughed at the thought of some poor, helpless guy standing by the side of the road wearing a burger wrapper and nothing else. This story was going to be the talk of the diner for a long time to come.
"What did you do, Cal?"
"Gave him a ride to his friend's place. I felt sorry for him."
"You're a sweet man, Cal Jenkins. I'm sure he appreciated it."
"Yeah, but I'd have given anything to see the look on his friend’s face when he opened the door!" Cal was still laughing as he dug into his plate of meatloaf smothered in gravy.
Unbeknownst to Cal and the rest of the regulars at Greasy Al's, the entire conversation was overheard by a news reporter who had stopped in to use the restroom and grab a cup of coffee. He headed to the bank of payphones in the corner and dialed his station. A quick conversation with the news director, and he was ready to interview the trucker. He was sure this story would get him a shot at an anchor position. He rubbed his hands together and picked up his notebook.
The two men rode in silence to Rampart General. Roy's thoughts were occupied with wondering how his partner managed to get himself into situations like this. He also wondered how such a seemingly nice girl like Mary Jane could turn out to be so weird.
Johnny was dreading the explanation he'd have to give to the hospital staff. He hoped that no one he knew was on duty, but with his luck those who tended to him would probably be Dixie and Brackett. The more he thought about it, the more unsettled his stomach felt. He sneezed again, and wondered how much more he'd have to endure thanks to the psycho chick his best friend had set him up with.
Johnny closed his eyes and prayed that this was all just a nightmare, and that when he opened his eyes everything would be back to normal.
"Johnny?" Roy reached over and gently shook his friend's shoulder.
Johnny's eyes flew open. Startled from sleep, it took him a few seconds to remember where he was and why he was there. Immediately, he regretted that recall.
"Johnny? We're here."
"Guess that means it wasn't all just a bad dream, huh?"
"Sorry, Junior. C'mon, let's get you inside."
Roy helped his friend out of the car and into
the hospital. Johnny sneezed.
No one was at the Base Station, so Roy parked Johnny in a chair in the waiting room and talked to an unfamiliar nurse at the reception desk. He was informed that there would be a short wait, but that his friend would be seen as soon as a room was available.
Johnny sat trying to pretend that he was anywhere but Rampart, and Roy kept an eye on the nurses’ desk in the ER. None of the nurses that stopped there were familiar to him.
Finally, they were escorted to a treatment room. The nurse, Karen, took Johnny's vitals and some preliminary information, and then left to get the doctor.
The dark-haired half of the duo didn't know whether to laugh or cry when Mike Morton entered the room.
"John. Roy. What brings you two here...as
if I didn't know?" He approached Gage, chart in hand.
Johnny sneezed, and Mike stuck a thermometer in his mouth before placed his fingers at the pulse point on Johnny’s right wrist. Looking expectantly at Roy, he waited for an answer.
"He went camping, got caught in the rain, and may have a broken wrist."
"Why do I get the feeling that’s the abbreviated version of the story?" Mike checked his watch while Gage shrugged. Morton was in a good mood, and looked back and forth between the two men.
He knew they were closer than most siblings, and that they would do anything to help each other. He just wondered what it was that Gage was trying to hide, and why Roy was covering for him. When John Gage got injured on the job it was always out of his sense of duty, and he often went to extreme lengths to protect or rescue a patient or fellow firefighter. His off-duty injuries were always accompanied by some outlandish tale, and were usually amusing, despite the fact that they often embarrassed the injured party.
Taking the thermometer out of Gage's mouth, Doctor Morton was greeted with another sneeze. He handed his patient a tissue and wrote the information on the chart regarding temperature and pulse rate.
"Okay, Gage. Your version of the story. I want the truth."
"Yeah, right. How did you hurt your arm?" Mike carefully removed the sling and makeshift splint. "This is good thinking.” He glanced at Roy. “Your idea?"
Roy nodded and wondered how much of the truth Johnny was going to tell the doctor.
Like Roy had done in his living room, Mike palpated Johnny’s arm.
“Did that hurt?” Mike asked.
“I said ouch, didn’t I?”
“I guess you did. Well, I don’t think it’s as bad as it looks, or as bad as you
make it sound, but I want to get an x-ray." Gage sneezed a few more times.
"I'll call for a portable machine. No need for you to spread your germs
all over the hospital."
Johnny rolled his eyes while Morton made the call. Roy looked at Johnny, only to have his partner shake his head at him.
"I saw that,” Doctor Morton said, as he hung up the phone. “Now, out with it. Your wrist might not be broken, but that’s a nasty looking bruise.” He lifted Gage's shirt and listened to his heart and lungs. "I'm waiting."
"I fell. I was out in the woods camping."
"What did you fall on?"
"A small log."
Okay, a big log.”
“Gage, am I going to have to put in a call to Doctor Brackett in order to get the truth out of you?”
"Alright, alright! I didn't fall. I was
hit with a tire iron! Are you happy?"
Morton didn't expect his patient to tell him that, nor did he expect Gage to be so upset. The man was clearly distressed and agitated.
"Calm down. Who hit you?"
"Some crazy chick," Johnny mumbled.
"A girl did this to you?" Mike smiled until he saw the look on Gage's face. "Sorry. Are you serious?"
"I hope you press charges. That's assault. She could have killed you if she'd hit you anywhere else," he said, and pointed to Johnny's head.
The x-ray tech showed up then, so Doctor Morton and Roy left the room.
Mike turned to Roy as the trauma room door
swung shut behind them. "Is he
"Afraid so. I thought she was a nice girl. She must be nuts."
"You knew her?"
"Sort of. She was a friend of Jo's sister. I arranged their introduction."
"He took her camping?"
"Yeah. This whole thing has him a little rattled."
"I don't blame him. It has me rattled. Has he reported it yet?"
"No, that's next on the list. I'm going to call Vince while you wait for the x-rays."
"There's more to the story, isn't there?” Mike asked. “Johnny’s not telling me everything."
"No, he’s not, but that's his decision. He's not injured anywhere else, other than his feet. I'm sure of that."
"Yeah, he did a lot of walking without shoes on. They’re pretty bruised and tender. I debrided them, and he soaked in the shower a while. Other than a head cold, I think he's okay physically speaking."
"Thanks, Roy. I'll take a look at his feet, and then I'll take care of that arm. I believe it’s just a sprain, but I’ll hold off on saying that for certain until I see the x-rays."
"If it is just a sprain, how long will he be off work?”
“Probably for this coming week. Especially given the condition you say his feet are in.”
He's not going to be happy."
"No, but he's alive to complain about it. That will give him time to recover from his cold as well. He needs to be careful it doesn't turn into bronchitis or pneumonia. Without a spleen, that’s always a possibility."
The x-ray tech rolled the machine out of the treatment room, and Doctor Morton returned to his patient. Roy went to the doctors’ lounge to call the police station.
With Roy out of the room, the doctor gave Gage a more thorough exam and assured his anxious patient that what Johnny had told him would not leave the confines of the ER treatment room, or his chart. When Morton was satisfied his patient had no other physical wounds, he went to the lounge to wait for the x-rays. Roy returned to sit with his friend.
When the x-ray results were back, Johnny was relieved to discover his wrist was sprained, as opposed to being broken. By the time Doctor Morton had Johnny’s wrist wrapped in an Ace bandage, and had new bandages on his feet, Vince had arrived. Johnny waited until Morton left the treatment room for good before giving Vince a statement. After he finished telling his tale of woe, Johnny was free to leave the hospital. Vince couldn’t make Johnny any promises in regards to finding his Land Rover, or Mary Jane Becker, but he assured the paramedic that detectives would be assigned to his case.
“After they quit laughing,” Johnny had mumbled as Roy helped him off the examination table.
Roy and Vince exchanged smiles. It wasn’t that they thought what happened to the man was funny, but rather, it was Johnny’s demeanor that was amusing.
“Listen, you two, you wouldn’t think it was so funny if you’d gotten beaten up by a girl.”
“No, Johnny, I’m sure we wouldn’t,” Vince said. “And we don’t think it’s funny that this Miss Becker hurt you. You’re lucky she didn’t hit you in--”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m lucky she didn’t hit me in the head with the tire iron. Well, at least if she had I’d be unconscious, which also means I wouldn’t know what happened to me, which also means…”
Roy allowed his partner’s rant to continue as they walked down the corridor and out the exit doors. Sometimes, with Johnny, it was just best to let him get it out of his system, even if you did wish you were one hundred miles away so that you didn’t have to hear it.
Roy stole a glance at his sullen and thoroughly
embarrassed partner. He slowly shook his head and tried to hide his smirk.
Several blocks later he stopped at a light.
"Hmmm?" the young man asked and yawned. Johnny had dozed off again.
"I asked if you were hungry. Wanna stop and get something to eat?"
"Where'd you have in mind?"
Roy smiled. That sounded more like the man he knew so well. "I was kinda in the mood for a...Dinky Burger." Roy burst out laughing as he pulled out from the green light.
"Oh you are so not funny Roy. You know what? I'm not hungry. I can't believe you."
"Sorry, I couldn't resist. You sure you aren't hungry?"
"I've lost my appetite."
Roy was still chuckling when they pulled into a spot in front of Johnny's apartment building. He got out and crossed in front of the car, opening the door for his friend. A stony glare from Gage let Roy know that his previous remarks had not been forgotten or forgiven.
"We can avoid this problem in the future if you'd remember to make a copy of your keys for me to keep at the house you know."
"Yeah, I know. I wish I had done that months ago. This isn’t gonna be easy. The Fergusons are nice people, but they’re nosier than Chet."
"That's a frightening thought."
Roy followed his partner to the apartment’s rental office. He couldn't help thinking that his friend was walking like an old man. He knew there was nothing funny about what had happened, but this could only have happened to Johnny Gage.
"Afternoon, young fella!" Mr. Ferguson greeted his tenant. "What can I do for you?"
"I need a copy of my keys."
"Keys? You lost 'em? You know the policy on copies of keys. It's in your lease."
"Yes, Mr. Ferguson, I know. I didn't lose them."
"It's gonna cost ya’. I hate to charge a good tenant like you, Mr. Gage, but I really have no choice."
"I know, and I have no problem with that. I just need a copy of them so I can get in my apartment. This has been a weekend I'd like to forget."
"Hmmm...let me find them, and I'll get Maggie to make the copies."
He returned a few minutes later. "She's running down to the hardware store right now. Good thing it's during business hours or you'd be in trouble till tomorrow."
"Thanks, Mr. Ferguson. How much?"
"Twenty? I had no idea it would be that much."
"Inflation, ya’ know?"
“But it only costs fifty cents a key for a duplicate at K-mart.”
“That may be so. But if we didn’t tag something
on for our time and inconvenience, our tenants would be losin’ keys right and
left. This way, it gives everyone a reason to be more careful, plus it means
less hassles for me and Maggie.”
"Yeah, I guess,” Johnny agreed, because he had no other choice but to pay the man what he had requested. “Uh, Roy? Could I borrow--"
"Sure. Good thing I went to the bank yesterday."
"Thanks, and I'll pay ya’ back."
Mr. Ferguson noticed the Ace bandage on Gage's arm, and realized it was odd that the young man had no keys and no money. "What happened to your arm?"
"I...uh...went camping and sprained it."
"You should be more careful."
"Believe me, I’ll be very careful in the future." The younger man shot his friend an icy look before returning his attention to the receipt he was being handed.
"Lose your wallet, too?"
"Couldn't help but notice that you had to borrow from your friend here. So, did you lose your wallet, too?"
"I didn't really lose it. I was...mugged."
"Mugged? In the woods?"
"Yeah. I'm gonna wait outside okay? I need to sit down." He sneezed.
"Sounds like you caught a cold, too. You shouldn't go camping in the rain, or by yourself. There are a lot of weirdoes out there. I was down at that old diner, the one on the edge of town, Greasy Somebody's, and you won't believe what I heard! Some trucker says he came across a hitchhiker on the highway this morning and he was buck-naked. Gave him a ride to some guy's house here in Carson. People ain't wrapped too tight these days."
Johnny nearly choked and shuffled out the door. Roy felt bad for his friend. He hadn't thought about the fact that the trucker might spill the beans. Of course, this was just the kind of thing most people wouldn’t be able to keep to themselves, either. Roy hoped the guy didn't know Johnny's name, or that could spell trouble.
"Yeah, you never can tell,” Roy agreed. “We'll be outside. Thanks again."
Roy went after Johnny
and he swore the man was several shades paler.
"Aw, man, Roy. What are the odds? I swear I'll die if it gets out that it was me! Oh God, if Chet finds out-- "
"Calm down. You've had enough excitement for the weekend. Once we get you into your apartment I'll call Cap and tell him something that’s close to the truth, without it being the truth. I know I've been teasing you about this, but I don't want Chet to find out either. He'll make your life a living--"
"You don't have to remind me. I just can't believe this." He sat heavily on the steps outside the office and sighed. Sneezing again, he rested his head on the cool metal railing. Roy sat next to him and they waited for Mrs. Ferguson.
Thirty minutes later, she returned with the keys. "Here you go, Mr. Gage. Try not to lose them this time."
"Thanks, Mrs. Ferguson. I won't."
"What on earth did you do to your arm?"
Johnny started to open his mouth but Roy spoke up. "He was mugged."
"I'm so sorry to hear that. You really should be more careful. There are a lot of strange people out there."
"Yes, ma'am. We know."
She turned and went into the office. Johnny wearily got up and followed his partner to the complex’s main entrance. They entered into the small foyer, and then through the door that led to the apartments. Roy helped Johnny climb the stairs to his second floor unit. Once inside, he flopped down on the sofa and curled up on his side. He had another sneezing fit while Roy dialed Hank Stanley's phone number.
As Doctor Morton said he would, he kept Johnny off work for a week due to his tender, swollen feet, and the fact that he came down with a raging head cold.
So much for doctors saying you can’t catch a cold from being out in the rain, Johnny would think each time he’d sneeze and then blow his nose.
“All because of one crazy chick,” Johnny had
said to Roy at least fifteen times during that week he spent at home
“Hey, look at the bright side,” Roy would remind him. “No one knows the whole story about what happened, and you got your Land Rover back.”
Johnny had to admit that if there was a bright side, this was it. Other than Joanne, Roy, and Eileen, no one knew the exact facts regarding his camping trip, not even the police. Johnny had provided Vince with Mary Jane’s name, but had kept the rest of the details to a minimum. More than anything else, he wanted his Land Rover back, so the paramedic emphasized to Vince that stealing the vehicle was obviously the woman’s motive. He didn’t tell Vince that Mary Jane had taken his clothes from him, and when he was asked how he’d sprained his wrist, all Johnny had said was, “I fell. When Mary Jane was taking off in the Rover, I started running, hoping I could jump in on the passenger side. I tripped over a log and landed on my arm.”
Mike Morton, on the other hand, knew that
Johnny’s sprained wrist came as a result of him being hit by a tire iron that
had been wielded by a woman, but that was all he knew, and he’d had the good
grace not to tell even that much of the story to anyone at Rampart. To some
degree, doctor/patient confidentiality came into play, and to some degree Mike put
himself in Johnny’s place and knew how he would feel if he’d been beaten up by
a woman, and then his friends found out about it. It wasn’t exactly something a
man wanted to go around advertising, that’s for certain. So, when Kelly
Brackett questioned Mike as to what had happened to Johnny after seeing his
name on the medical-leave paramedic roster, Mike’s only answer was, “Gage was
on a camping trip over the weekend and took a fall. It’s nothing serious, Kel.
He should be back on duty in next week.”
The story Mike Morton
provided Kelly Brackett with didn’t differ much from what Roy had told Hank
Stanley over the phone the day he took Johnny to his apartment, and then told
the rest of his co-workers when he saw them at the start of the next shift.
“But how could Gage sprain his wrist hiking?” Chet had asked.
“It happens,” had been Roy’s response while they changed into their uniforms before roll call. “Sometimes all it takes is landing the right way…or the wrong way, rather. It doesn’t have to be a hard fall necessarily.”
“Boy, I bet that chick Mary Jane thinks Gage is a big dope now.”
“I doubt it,” Roy said, as he turned his back on Chet. “Like I said, things happen. I’m sure she understands that.”
“Didn’t you talk to her?”
“What do ya’ mean?”
“Well, if you were at the hospital with Johnny, wasn’t she there, too?”
“Uh…no. No. He showed up at…he came to my house on Sunday without her.”
“Why didn’t she take him to the hospital?”
Geez, Chet, don’t you ever quit asking questions? Had been Roy’s thoughts as he tried to think of a quick way to end this conversation. Heaven forbid if he finds out Johnny’s Rover was stolen. That will just start a whole new round of questions.
“Johnny didn’t realize he’d suffered a sprain. He took Mary Jane home, and then…then stopped by my house to return some camping gear he’d borrowed. I saw the arm, didn’t think it looked good - thought it might even be broken – so I took him to have it x-rayed.”
“Oh,” Chet said as they heard Hank’s voice shout from the apparatus bay that roll call was in five minutes. “Well, anyway, I bet Mary Jane thinks he’s a dope. He might as well kiss any future with that chick goodbye.”
Believe me, Chet, I’m sure he already has.
“So, hey, Roy,” Chet said as he walked by and clapped the paramedic on the shoulder. “How many days do you think you’ll get stuck with Brice while Johnny’s out?”
Though under normal circumstances Roy wouldn’t have wanted to contemplate that thought, he was grateful for the change of subject. Fortunately, the real reason behind Johnny’s injury was able to remain a secret from the A-shift crew, because the Land Rover was found two days later twenty miles north of Los Angeles. Johnny’s wallet and keys were still missing, however, as were his clothes.
“The whacked out broad probably took them as souvenirs,” Johnny told Roy on Friday when the off-duty paramedic had stopped by Johnny’s apartment to have lunch with his friend.
“Could be,” Roy had agreed, as they sat at the kitchen table eating the food Roy had purchased at McDonald’s. “Or she might have thrown them out the window while she was driving, like Vince said.”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
Roy’s sister-in-law, Eileen, had been more than willing to give the police whatever information she could. She found it hard to believe that ‘little Mary Jane’ could have done to Johnny what Joanne relayed to her, but she knew it was no joke when she saw Johnny on Monday afternoon. Joanne was taking a crock-pot filled with homemade chicken and dumplings to the injured man, and Eileen rode along. Between Johnny’s sprained wrist, injured feet, head cold, and the fact that Eileen knew the details regarding what happened to him, the poor guy was miserable throughout the women’s visit. After they got back in the car, Eileen said to her sister, “I’ve never seen Johnny so…well, so quiet. And he wouldn’t even look at me.”
Joanne smiled. “That’s because you know.”
“That Mary Jane left him up in the mountains naked, and that he showed up at our house wearing nothing but a…baseball cap.”
Eileen laughed, and though she felt guilty doing so, Joanne did as well.
“So?” Eileen had questioned with twinkling eyes.
“So, how big is--”
“Eileen! I didn’t look!”
“Oh, come on. You did, too.”
“I did not! Besides, I told you he was wearing a baseball cap over…well, you know over what. And then Roy asked me to get his bathrobe for Johnny. I was more concerned with getting Johnny covered up, and with keeping the kids out of the living room, then I was in sneaking a peek.”
“Leave it to you not to open the door when opportunity knocks. After all, it’s not every day your husband’s best friend shows up at your house naked.”
“No, it’s not every day. But when your husband’s best friend is John Gage, you expect some bizarre happenings every so often,” Joanne had said as she drove her vehicle out of the parking lot and toward the home of a friend where Chris and Jennifer were attending a birthday party. “Though, I admit, never in a million years did I expect Johnny to show up at my house naked, while at the same time telling us he’d been beaten up by a woman.”
And though Joanne knew she shouldn’t do it, she couldn’t help but laugh again with her sister over the absurdity of it all.
Johnny assumed Roy, Joanne and Eileen got a few good laughs out of his latest adventure, but at least they had the good grace not to partake in any ‘little Mary Jane’ humor in front of him. The police hadn’t been able to locate the woman as of yet. The apartment building she’d told Eileen she lived in had no record of a Mary Jane Becker, and the landlord said he had no tenants who matched the description Eileen, Johnny, and the DeSotos had provided the police with. Mary Jane hadn’t returned to the studio where Eileen was taking judo lessons, and as the police suspected would be the case, she had been registered for her class under the name of Mary Jane Becker. Therefore, as Johnny was getting ready to return to duty at Station 51 after his week off of work, the true identity and exact location of one Mary Jane Becker remained unknown. But despite his ordeal, Johnny knew he had a lot to be thankful for. As Doctor Morton and Roy had said, he could have been hurt far more seriously had Mary Jane hit him over the skull with that tire iron, as opposed to hitting his arm. He had his Land Rover back, and other than Joanne, Roy, and Eileen, no one knew the true story behind what had happened to him on that camping trip from hell.
Johnny was whistling as he walked through the rear door of Station 51 on his first day back on duty as a paramedic. So, he’d lost forty bucks to crazy Mary Jane, his key ring, two credit cards that he’d reported as stolen to their respective companies, his paramedic badge, his wallet, and the clothes he’d been wearing. All things considered, that wasn’t the worst that could have happened. His Land Rover didn’t have a scratch on it, and was running just as good as it had been before it was stolen. Mary Jane hadn’t tried to use the credit cards, which meant Johnny hadn’t been liable for any money in that regard, and the department had replaced his paramedic badge at no cost to him. He’d shelled out five dollars to get duplicates made of all his keys so he could keep a set, and give an extra set to Roy, plus the twenty bucks he’d had to give his landlord for a key, but Johnny figured that was a small price to pay. The worst that could have happened, was that somehow the truth behind Johnny’s camping trip could have reached the wrong ears, and this story could have hit the newspapers, radio, and television. But over a week had passed now since his Saturday afternoon altercation with the woman, and that hadn’t happened, so Johnny figured he was home-free in that regard.
“Hey, Gage,” Chet greeted as he saw Johnny enter the locker room. “Long time no see. Good to have you back. But don’t let that go to your head or anything. It’s just that the Phantom doesn’t enjoy tormenting Brice, nearly as much as he enjoys tormenting you.”
“I suppose not,” came the comment that was totally uncharacteristic for Johnny where mention of the Phantom was concerned. But he was too lost in his own thoughts at that moment, to be worried about what Chet was saying.
Thank God Chet didn’t find out what happened to me. I’d never hear the end of it if he did.
Before Chet had a chance to question Johnny about the camping trip, Roy, Marco, and Mike entered the locker room. Small talk insinuated as everyone welcomed Johnny back, and then they had to hurry and get dressed for roll call.
The shift was fairly quiet, considering it turned
into a drizzly day. There was a slight mist that refused to go away. It was
just enough to be an annoyance more than anything else. It was dinnertime, and
Mike had just put his spaghetti specialty on the table. Johnny set the table,
Marco got the drinks, and the guys gathered at the table to eat before they got
“Man, this is great, Mike,” Johnny mumbled around a mouthful of food. “What’d ya’ do to it?”
“Just spiced it up a little more this time,” Mike answered as he wiped some of the sauce off his plate with a piece of bread.
“Roy, you should tell Joanne about this new way Stoker is making his...” Johnny glanced up at Roy, to see him staring at him with a look that would kill. “What?”
“Have you forgotten what your little reference to Mike’s spaghetti did the last time? Just forget it.” Roy made a point of letting him know that the subject was closed. “This is great, but I like the recipe Joanne uses, too!”
“Sheese. All right. Just trying to make a suggestion.”
“Make it to someone else.”
“Fine.” Johnny swallowed the rest of his milk, took his plate and brought it to the sink. “Fine.”
The rest of the guys followed suit, glad not to have been interrupted at dinner. With the dishes in the sink and Marco with dish detail, the guys made their way to the television.
Chet turned on the set, adjusted the volume, and took the seat closest to the TV. Cindy Tomson, the weather girl, was just finishing her weather outlook for the next few days.
“And with a slight breeze, the drizzle should be turning into bright sunshine for tomorrow, high in the 80s,” she concluded. “Now back to you, Jerry.”
“Thanks, Cindy. And on that bright note, we have a Good Samaritan story for you. We go now to Larry Davis with an interesting tale for you. Larry, take it away.”
“Thanks, Jerry,” Larry began. “Well, it’s nice to know that human kindness is still among us. I happened to be in a local diner recently, and overheard a trucker named, Cal Jenkins, say he gave a ride to a poor fellow who happened to come across a woman claiming to be one Mary Jane Becker. The alleged Ms. Becker attacked the man while they were camping, took his clothes, wallet, and car, and left the poor guy stranded in the Angeles Forest. When Cal happened upon the lone traveler, all that he had covering him was an old wrapper from a hamburger joint. Mr. Jenkins was kind enough to offer the victim a ride to a house in Carson, where the victim said a friend of his lived who would give him help.”
Chet’s ears perked up at the mention of the words “camping,” “Mary Jane Becker,” and “Carson.” He glanced at Johnny. The look on the man’s face told Chet all he needed to know. Larry proceeded to give a description of Johnny as supplied to him by Cal, and put a sketch in front of the camera.
“If anyone knows of a man that fits this
description, call 555-4792 and ask for me, Larry Davis. Cal would like to know
how the guy made out…and if he ever found himself some clothes,” Larry
chuckled. “And so would we.”
Chet grinned and turned to look at Johnny.
“It was you, Gage? You were attacked by a
woman?” Chet hugged his middle and laughed until tears streamed down his face.
“Oh, this is rich.”
Johnny paled with mortification. He could just see the years of torment he would now be subjected to from Chet. Roy grabbed him and urged him to sit at the kitchen table before he fell down. He stole a glance at Cap, Mike, and Marco. The three men were standing there with their mouths hanging open, while Chet’s hysterics continued.
“Gage…oh Gage…only you would be dumb enough to date a chick so whacky that she’d manage to get your clothes, your wallet, and your Land Rover,” Chet gasped out between laughs, “plus leave you naked in the middle of nowhere.”
“She took the tire iron and hit Johnny as he
tried to defend himself, Chet,” Roy said in an effort to shut Chet up, which he
knew right from the start, was futile. Chet was going to have a field day with
this at Johnny’s expense.
Poor Johnny looked like he was ready to pass out.
My life is ruined.
Chet will identify me to that news guy, and I’ll be the mock of the department.
I’ll never be able to show my face at the hospital, either.
Captain Stanley looked like a deer caught in headlights. For as much as he wanted to come to Johnny’s defense, he couldn’t think of a thing to say. He figured Chet was beyond trying to reason with, so he just let him laugh it out of his system. Despite the fact that Hank would try to put a stop to any shenanigans, he knew what the future held for his young paramedic at the mercy of one Chester B. Kelly.
Twenty minutes after the news broadcast ended Larry Davis was told he had a phone call. He went into his cluttered office and shut the door. He moved a stack of manila file folders from his chair to the floor, sat down behind his desk, and picked up the phone’s receiver.
“Hello. This is Larry Davis.”
“Mr. Davis?” a female voice inquired.
“About the man you’re looking for?”
Larry’s heart rate sped up, but he tried not to sound too eager. He’d been given plenty of false leads during his years as a reporter, and this could turn out to be another one.
“Yes, the man who was found naked wandering around the Angeles Forest.”
“Oh. Oh him. Sure. What about him?”
“His name is John Gage.”
Larry scrambled to find a pen and pad of paper amongst the mess. “Pardon me?”
“John Gage. That’s J-o-h-n. And the last name is spelled G-a-g-e. His middle name is Roderick, by the way. Do I need to spell that for you too?”
Larry scribbled, John Roderick Gage, on the paper. “No. No, I’ve got it.”
“He’s a paramedic with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. He works out of Station 51. The house the trucker dropped him off at belongs to Mr. Gage’s partner and best friend, Roy DeSoto. That’s R-o-y, and then Capital D, small e, capitol S and small o-t-o. Do you have all that?”
“Yeah, I have it,” Larry said, as he again scribbled down what he was being told. “Ma’am, may I ask you how you’ve come by your information?”
The woman laughed. “How do you think I’ve come by it, you idiot? I’m Mary Jane Becker.”
With that, the connection was broken, and Larry was left listening to nothing but a dial tone.
Johnny sat on his bunk with his head cradled in his hands.
“I can’t believe this. I just can’t believe it.”
Roy was sitting on his own bunk, facing his partner.
“Johnny, come on. It’s not that bad.”
Johnny’s head shot up. “Not that bad! Roy, you saw the news report. You saw that sketch.”
“Yeah, I saw it. So what? It didn’t look anything like you.”
“It did, too.”
“Johnny, it was nothing more than a bad pencil drawing of a guy between the ages of twenty-five and thirty with dark hair. It was pretty non-descript, if you ask me.”
“It doesn’t matter if it was non-descript or not. Chet will call that news guy and--”
“Chet’s not going to call anyone.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because Cap’s got him in his office right now. I’m willing to bet a month’s pay that Chet’s being told if one word of this leaves this station, he’ll be looking for a new job. Besides, while Chet might have a field day teasing you about this for the next fifty years, he’s not gonna do something as low as call Larry Davis.”
“You sound a lot more certain of that than I am.”
“That’s because I am certain. Chet can be obnoxious sometimes, and I’ll be the first to admit that he doesn’t always know when to put a stop to the teasing and pranks, but he wouldn’t do something like that to you, Johnny.”
“Nah, Gage, I wouldn’t,” Chet said, as he sauntered into the room. “Now maybe one of my brothers would if I tipped him off and asked him to call Larry Davis, but as for me--”
Roy glared at the Irishman. “Chet--”
“Okay, okay, I was only kidding. Listen, Gage, I do have some standards, you know. I never kick a guy who’s been beat up by a chick and left buck naked in a forest.”
“I wasn’t beat up by a chick.”
“Sounds like it to me, but hey, if that’s what you wanna keep tellin’ yourself, buddy, then you go right ahead.”
From the doorway came the shout of, “Kelly!”
Chet swallowed hard and turned around. “Yeah, Cap?”
“What did I just get done telling you?”
“Uh…that I wasn’t supposed to say anything about this to anyone.”
“So what are you doing?”
“Just talking to Johnny and Roy. Cap, come on. Give me a break here. I gotta talk about it to someone, and they already know, so what difference does it make?”
Hank jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Get outta here and leave John alone. I told you to keep your lip zipped about this, and I meant it.”
Chet sighed. “Yes, sir.” He scooted past Hank and went in search of Mike and Marco. Maybe he could gossip about Johnny’s misfortune with them until Cap came around and put a stop to it.
Johnny had dropped his head back into his hands. The click of Hank’s boot heels against the tiles signaled his approach.
“John, come on, pal. It’s not that bad.”
“So Roy was just telling me.”
“Listen, the important thing is, that you weren’t seriously injured.”
“I just wish you fellas had been a little more forthright with me where all of this was concerned.”
“Sorry, Cap,” Roy apologized. “I thought--”
Johnny lifted his head. “Cap, it wasn’t Roy’s fault. He was covering for me. I just…I just didn’t want anyone to know.”
“I understand,” Hank said, as he placed a hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “Believe me, back in the days when I worked for McConnikee, a good buddy and I used to cover for each other all the time. Of course, I’d like to think that you fellas look upon me as a little more understanding than the chief ever was.”
“Yeah, Cap,” Roy assured. “We do.”
“Sure, Cap,” Johnny agreed. “It’s just…well, like I said, I didn’t want anyone to know. It’s bad enough that Joanne knows, and that Roy’s sister-in-law knows.”
Johnny sighed. “You might as well have a seat. It’s kind of a long story.”
Hank got the wooden chair from the small dorm room desk, and carried it over to the aisle. He placed it at the end of Johnny’s bunk, sat down, and listened as the story of Mary Jane Becker unfolded.
Station 51 was at the scene of a traffic accident when the news was aired at ten o’clock that night. Kelly Brackett was in his office finishing paperwork that never seemed to get finished, when the news broadcast came across the thirteen inch TV he had sitting on a shelf across from his desk. He only half-listened to what was being said until he heard the name, John Gage. He looked up and focused in on what Larry Davis was reporting, and focused on the picture of Johnny in his fire department dress uniform that the reporter had somehow obtained. When the man’s story was done, Brackett got up from his desk and hurried toward the nurses’ station. There was no one around on this quiet evening in the ER, but it didn’t take Brackett long to find a group of laughing young women in white gathered in front of the TV set in the waiting area.
“Ladies, that’s enough,” Dixie McCall was saying. Brackett could tell by the look on the head nurse’s face that she had heard the news broadcast as well, and that she was regretting the fact that she’d switched shifts with the night charge nurse, who needed the evening off. “Ladies, find something to do please.”
Doctor Brackett walked into the middle of the chaos and slammed a fist against the television’s on/off switch. “Ladies, you heard Dixie. I suggest you find a way to make yourselves useful that isn’t at John Gage’s expense.”
The young women scattered like chickens, though their whispers and giggles drifted back to Brackett and Dixie.
“Poor Johnny,” Dixie said. “I wonder how this happened?”
“I don’t know, but I’ve got a feeling Mike knows some of the story.”
“He was the one who treated Johnny for a sprained wrist when Roy brought him in here.”
“Larry Davis said the woman hit Johnny with a tire iron.”
“And if that’s the case,” Brackett said, “then Johnny’s damn lucky to be alive.”
“He might not feel that way now that his name’s been broadcast in connection with all of this.”
“No, he might not, but he’s got no reason to be embarrassed.”
“Uh…Kel, did you hear what Larry Davis said?”
“Even the part about Johnny being found…naked?”
“Yes. And what about it?”
Dixie rolled her eyes. Only the practical Kelly Brackett couldn’t see the human side to this. “Well, if it had been you, wouldn’t you be embarrassed to have your name broadcast over the news?”
“No, I wouldn’t be. As far as I’m concerned, what happened to Johnny is assault with a deadly weapon, and if no one else sees it that way then that’s their problem. Dix, if this same thing had happened to a woman…if a woman had been found wandering around naked and in need of help after being attacked by a man, would people find it funny? Would nurses have been gathered in front of this television set laughing?”
Dixie had to admit that Doctor Brackett had a good point. A very good point.
“No,” Dixie said, “No, they wouldn’t.”
“All right then. So you tell me why Johnny should be embarrassed.”
“He shouldn’t be.”
“No, he shouldn’t. And I plan to tell him that the next time I see him.”
“You’ll get your chance in about five minutes. Johnny is on his way here with the victim of a traffic accident.”
“How serious is it?”
“Not serious at all. Minor injuries – a few abrasions and some cuts made by shattered glass. They’re transporting the man using full spinal precautions, but only for routine reasons. Joe is set up in two and waiting for them.”
Brackett nodded. “Fine. I was getting ready to head home, but I’m going to hang around a while so I can talk to Johnny. I’ll be in my office. Please tell him that I’d like to see him before he leaves.”
As the doctor turned away, he felt a hand come to rest on his arm. He turned around and saw Dixie smiling up at him.
“For what?” Brackett questioned.
“For understanding even better than I did.”
The doctor smiled in return. “Well, since that doesn’t happen very often, Miss McCall, I’d suggest you note it on my chart.”
“Oh, I will, Doctor,” Dixie promised with a wink. “I will.”
Katherine Connelly sat curled up on her living room sofa. She laughed as the news broadcast came to an end. What could have been more perfect than ‘Mary Jane Becker’ calling into the TV station to tip that egotistical jerk Larry Davis off about Johnny? Kate was far from stupid. She knew Davis, though hungry for the story, would have also called the police by now. That didn’t matter, however. In the first place, she expected him to, and in the second place, she’d called from a payphone five miles away that was located outside of a busy cinema complex. On the remote chance they would be able to trace the location the call came from, they certainly wouldn’t be able to tie it to her.
Kate stood and shut off the television. Like the rest of America, she had to get up early the next morning to head for work. After all, it wasn’t like assaulting hapless men was her only job.