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October 29, 1974
Dust billowed from behind Susan Miller’s old green Buick as she drove up the dirt fire road from her Topanga Canyon home. They were on the way home from costume shopping for the big Halloween excursion two days away.
Her son David was very excited about it and he planned on going as a fireman. Even at eight, it was his dream just as it was with his brothers Steven and Nate.
The bumping from the rutted roads brought Susan’s eyes to the rearview mirror. David was still happily engrossed with his model fire truck.
She smiled as her hazel eyes traveled to the photo taped to her dashboard. The image of her three boys and their golden retriever Beau grinned back at her.
She sighed as her eyes returned to the road and she sucked in her breath sharply as an oncoming car came around the sharp corner and suddenly veered into her lane. Susan yanked the wheel hard to the right. The tires hit the grassy easement alongside the road, wrenching the wheel from her hands.
“MOMMY,” David cried out fearfully from the back seat.
She never had time to try and reassure her frightened son as the car plowed through a small stand of bushes and rumbled down the steep embankment, rolling over twice before disappearing into the brush below.
The car that had caused the accident slid to a stop a bit further up the road. Seventeen year old Mark Walker looked back at the scene. Fear clouded his hazel eyes at what his recklessness had just brought about.
The teenager sat in indecision for a long moment. He knew he should call for help but fear overrode common sense. No one had seen the accident and it was more than likely that whoever was in the vehicle hadn’t survived. His father would kill him if he found out that he’d been playing with the radio while driving.
He made his decision…No one ever needed to know what he’d done. Mark Walker slowly pulled out onto the deeply rutted road and drove away.
Down below, Susan Miller and her young son lay unconscious and badly injured. Susan’s hazel eyes fluttered briefly before sliding open to squint painfully into the brilliant sunlight. It took a long moment to remember what had happened and to realize exactly where she was.
Images flashed through her mind and then the full memory…David…Her son had been with her. Where was David? Was he okay? She carefully turned her head…Pain exploded into her awareness with the first movement and she quickly stopped. A low moan slipped from between her lips. She hurt so badly but she had to find her son.
Where was she? She was lying on the ground…She could at least tell that much. She bit back a groan and forced herself to move despite the pain. Her hazel eyes fell on the remains of her car and she gasped in horror…Was her son still in it or had he, like her… been thrown clear?
This couldn’t be happening again…Not again. “Oh David,” she whispered through bloodied lips.
Susan tried to turn herself to crawl toward the car but pain assailed her once again and blackness washed over like a wave. She fought against its relentless pull but soon lost the battle and slid once more into unconsciousness.
Twenty four year old paramedic John Gage bounced into the day room of Los Angeles county fire station 51. His partner of two and a half years sat at the table sipping his coffee.
Chet Kelly, one of their two linemen was reading the paper on the other side…Chores finished for the morning, Johnny, as the others called him was looking forward to coffee and some conversation with his best friend.
He poured himself a cup and plopped down in the chair next to his partner. “You two joined at the hip?” Chet asked teasingly as he noticed their proximity.
They often noted that the two tended to stay close to one another even when it wasn’t necessary. A team in the field and at the station…Best friends off duty as well as on.
“Ah shut up Chet,” Johnny shot back with his usual rejoinder to the Irish fire fighters jibes. “I just wanted to ask him about Halloween,” he added defensively. “And don’t you have somewhere to be?” He questioned.
“No,” Chet shot back, realizing that whatever John wanted to talk about, he wanted privacy to do it and Chet wasn’t about to give up that easily.
Roy shot his partner a ’calm down’ look, knowing Chet would pounce on the over sensitive younger man if he thought he could rattle his cage. “About what Junior?” He asked his friend curiously.
“Well…About after we take the kids out trick or treating…You know…DEB’S party next door,” he hinted, not wanting to come right out and ask about wearing a costume in front of Chet, knowing he’d tease him about dressing up for Halloween like a kid.
“Oh you mean the costume party?” Roy asked innocently, not catching the subtle hint that John didn’t want to discuss this particular aspect in front of Chet.
The curly haired Irishman’s blue eyes lit up and John’s did an impressive roll of annoyance.
“WHAT?” He asked in confusion.
“So what are ya goin as Gage?” Chet asked, looking more than a little curious.
“None of your business,” he muttered.
“What’s the big deal?” Roy questioned with a frown. “We’ll all be in costume Junior…It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”
“I…I’m not…I mean I…,” he sputtered with his hand splayed over his chest. He finally shrugged helplessly.
“Slow down junior…” the senior paramedic soothed, recognizing the warning signs that his young partner was getting distressed. “What’s the problem?” Roy questioned again.
“I’ve never…Well…Only once but I was a kid and I…I…,” he stammered in his usual roundabout fashion.
“You’re still a kid,” Chet prodded.
“Ah shut up Chet,” John growled in annoyance.
And you don’t know what to go as?” Roy finished, finally understanding his friends dilemma.
“Yeah,” he admitted sheepishly.
“Go as an Indian,” Chet offered helpfully.
John shot him a withering glare. “Oh that’s original,” John growled.
“How about a ghost,” he offered.
“A ghost…Why?” John asked, falling right into Chet’s trap.
“It’s simple and easy just like you besides…If you wear a sheet you can cover up your face,” he guffawed.
“Ah go play on the freeway Chet,” John growled. “Besides…I don’t believe in ghosts.”
Chet grinned knowing he’d gotten under his skin. “I thought all of your ‘people’ believed in spirits and stuff,” he asked waving his hands about mystically.
John’s dark eyes practically rolled into the back of his head in irritation. “Oh for Pete’s sake Chet…You don’t know anything about ‘MY PEOPLE’ or what they believe in,” he snapped.
“So enlighten me,” Chet challenged with a smirk.
“We believe in a lot of things. Like God…We just call him something different…,” he said almost primly. “And…and…some, mostly the old ones believe there are spirit guides,” he added reluctantly.
Roy frowned. “Like what?”
“Animals mostly,” Johnny admitted.
“Then you can go as the ghost of a tall, skinny giraffe,” Chet proposed with a giggle.
“And you can come along as the ghost of a jack ass…You’ve already got half the costume,” John shot back. Roy snickered but decided to stay out of the fight. “And if you don’t leave me alone,” the younger man continued. “I might just finish the other half for you,” the younger man threatened, stepping toward his shorter crewmate.
Chet back peddled with a giggle, having successfully riled the over sensitive paramedic.
Roy shook his head at the other man’s antics.
“So you do believe in ghosts then?” The blonde paramedic questioned.
“C’mon Roy…Those are myths and old wives tales taught to children by the old storytellers.”
“Storytellers?” He questioned curiously.
“Yeah…The old ones that pass down the story’s of our past and our heritage and stuff like that…So we won’t forget the old ways. Our storyteller was the old chief’s sister Little Fox. She told great stories and even claimed to have visions and stuff,” he admitted with a shrug, vaguely remembering her foretelling him of his own future.
“But you don’t believe them?” Roy pressed, breaking John’s reverie.
“In visions?” John asked incredulously. Roy nodded. “Of course not,” his young friend scoffed, casting a glance toward Chet once more. John would never admit to that in front of the Irish fireman.
“You know…Like seeing a plane crash?” Roy asked innocently. John’s face flushed in embarrassment at the memory. Roy and his family had been flying to Washington for a family gathering and the plane had been struck by lightning and crashed. John had witnessed the whole thing in a dream and had successfully led the searchers to the downed plane despite the skepticism of the rescue team. They thought he’d been having fever induced hallucinations since he’d been developing a nasty case of bronchial pneumonia at the time.
“That was a one time thing,” John mumbled quietly, looking a little sheepish. “Like déjà vu or something,” he argued.
Roy grinned and scruffed his young partner’s hair, “Well I’m certainly glad for whatever it was you had but maybe your old story teller’s got a better grip on it,” Roy suggested.
John swatted his partner’s hand away, glaring at his friend and the affectionate gesture in front of his acerbic crewmate.
“Yeah Gage,” Chet agreed, “Don’t be such a cynic,” he pressed.
“Chet,” Johnny began in annoyance but the station control unit began to tone, cutting off his irritated reply.
“Station 51…Vehicle accident with injuries… Intersection of fifth and Alameda…Intersection of Fifth and Alameda…Time out…10:17,” Sam Lanier’s voice intoned.
Chet, John and Roy turned without further argument and ran for their respective vehicles as their Captain, Hank Stanley stepped up to the podium to respond the call. The Station’s engineer, Mike Stoker pressed the button that would raise the huge bay doors before racing for the engine while their second lineman Marco Lopez was already climbing into the jump seat behind the driver. He tossed a grin at his friend as Chet climbed aboard behind the Captains seat.
Within moments the rigs began to roll.
The two vehicles raced down 223rd street. Johnny was looking at the address on the slip of paper Hank had given to them, trying to plot out the best, fastest route in his head. He glanced up and noted the street sign nearest them.
“Take your next right,” he instructed his partner.
Roy nodded in agreement but said nothing, trusting his young partner’s judgment implicitly and concentrating on the traffic around them. He started to make the turn but suddenly hit the brakes at his partners shouted warning.
Roy easily navigated the squad through the morning traffic. He glanced quickly at his partner. John’s left hand rested on the dashboard as his dark eyes intently scanned the road ahead for possible hazards. Roy turned the wheel to make requested right turn.
John suddenly noticed a boy standing on the street corner…A large yellow dog stood at his side. Just as Roy started into his turn, the boy stepped off the sidewalk. “LOOK OUT,” John shouted.
Roy’s foot hit the brakes, his blue eyes sweeping the area ahead of him to see what had startled his partner but there was nothing apparent.
Behind him the huge Crown Coach Engine’s brakes were locking up to avoid rear ending the squad after its rapid deceleration. Chet and Marco were hanging on to avoid being tossed from their seats. Mike laid on the air horn in protest at his senior paramedic’s odd behavior.
“What the hell did he do that for?” He barked at Hank.
“I don’t know,” Cap replied…His own eyes scanning the area for whatever had caused DeSoto to brake so unexpectedly.
“Didn’t you see that kid?” John questioned in surprise at his partner’s surly tone as he looked into the huge side mirror, trying to see where the boy had gone.
“The kid…The boy with the dog?”
“I didn’t see any boy or a dog,” Roy shot back uncertainly. How could he have missed that?
“He was there Roy…He almost stepped right in front of you.”
“I didn’t see anything John,” he repeated. “Doesn’t matter now I guess…I obviously didn’t hit him and neither did the engine but we’ve got some explaining to do to Cap and Mike when we’re done,” he warned.
John bit his lip worriedly…How could Roy not have seen the boy. He could only hope that one of the engine crew had noticed him or Roy would think he was nuts. He put it out of his head as they pulled up near the accident scene. He had a job to do.
Captain Stanley stepped down from the engine and looked over the scene. One car had plowed through the intersection and broadsided another. “Chet…,” he began giving orders. “Pull the battery cables on the blue car…Marco, take the white one. Check for any sign of gas leakage or fire…”
Both of his linemen nodded and started for the wreck shooting a glance at the two paramedics as they gathered their gear from squad’s side compartment.
Hank headed that way. “You two okay?” He questioned brusquely.
They both threw him a look, Roy’s was apologetic, John’s was hopeful.
“Yeah Cap…Sorry about that,” Roy said a bit sheepishly.
“You care to explain that maneuver out there?”
“We were trying to avoid the boy that stepped off the sidewalk,” John said defensively. “He stepped right in front of us.”
Hank frowned. He hadn’t seen anyone. “I didn’t see any boy John…Did you Roy?”
“No sir,” he admitted, tugging the trauma box from the compartment. “But if John said he saw him,” he shrugged in ‘there you are then’ gesture. Roy would believe him without question.
“He was there,” John insisted.
Hank pursed his lips. His youngest crew member could be a little flighty at times but he didn’t lie and wasn’t prone to hallucinations. “Alright…I’ll take your word for it John,” he said with a sigh. Maybe the boy had backed up and they’d just been too concentrated on the near miss with the squad to notice him but then…Why hadn’t DeSoto seen him too? Hank decided to let it go for now…They had more important things to worry about.
The two paramedics headed for the wreck.
They managed to extricate the three victims from the two cars without too much difficulty. Only the driver of the car that had been broadsided had been badly hurt. They’d quickly loaded her on a backboard and started an IV of D5W at Dr. Early’s direction. The passenger was a bit banged up but not seriously injured.
The driver of the other car had cracked his head on the steering wheel and most likely had a pretty severe concussion but he was fairly alert and oriented. They loaded them both in the ambulance while the third victim went with Vince Howard in his squad car.
John climbed into the back of the ambulance with them. “See you at Rampart,” the blonde paramedic promised. John nodded as his partner slammed the doors closed and slapped the back twice to signal the attendants that they were clear.
John glanced out the small window as the vehicle began to move. He frowned slightly as his dark eyes caught sight of the same boy and the dog that he’d seen earlier.
John found Roy at the base station when he came out of treatment room three. The senior paramedic was leaning on the counter talking with the head nurse Dixie McCall.
Officer Vince Howard was deep in conversation with a very distraught man. A young boy of about six stood next to him. John’s brows furrowed over the bridge of his nose. The boy looked familiar but he couldn’t place where he’d seen him before.
He stepped behind the base station to pour himself a cup of coffee but he could hear the conversation quite clearly. Roy and Dixie were also listening.
“I’ve been searching officer…They should have been home a couple of hours ago but they never came back…I’ve been to every hospital…Can’t you please ask your people to look for them?”
“Mr. Miller…I can’t even begin a report on a missing persons case for twenty four hours,” Vince explained. “Maybe they just couldn’t find what they wanted and went to shop somewhere else.”
“What’s goin on?” Johnny whispered to Roy as he leaned on the counter near his partner.
“Guys wife and son went out early this morning to buy a Halloween costume for the kid and never came home.”
“Wow…Well maybe they just decided to stop somewhere for lunch or something?” John suggested softly to his partner.
Roy shrugged as the man shook his head in response to Vince’s earlier question. “She wouldn’t do that… She’d have called if she was changing her plans,” he argued.
The HT suddenly beeped. “Squad 51…What is your status?”
Roy raised the handy talkie to his lips. “Squad 51 available.”
“Squad 51…Man down…Possible heart attack. 1159 Maple…1-1-5-9 Maple cross street Rosencrantz…Time out 11:57.”
“Squad 51 10-4,” The older man replied. “C’mon Junior.”
John set down his coffee cup and threw the distraught man a final glance but there didn’t seem to be much he could do for the guy. The dark eyes fell on the boy who stood listening…Why did he seem so eerily familiar? John didn’t have time to ponder as he followed his partner out.
John slid into the cab next to his partner. They’d just dropped off their heart attack victim to Rampart in stable condition. Vince and the man were gone. John hoped he’d go home and find his wife and son had returned in his absence but he had an odd feeling that wouldn’t be the case.
He shook it off, not wanting Roy to notice he was obsessing over it and tease him about his strange feelings and premonitions again as he had this morning. Johnny couldn’t explain the dream he’d had about the plane crash himself except that he and Roy both knew they were somehow bonded beyond the relationship of mere partners. They’d become very close…Brothers in all but blood, but even still he certainly wasn’t going to let Chet or Roy talk him into believing in visions and ghosts.
He glanced at his best friend. “So what are you going to this party as?” He questioned, hoping to get this conversation over with before they got back to the station.
“Dr. Brackett loaned me a set of scrubs and Dixie loaned Jo one of her nurse’s uniforms,” he explained.
“Hmmm,” Johnny murmured. That wasn’t much help for him…Wasn’t too much he could add to that theme.
“Look Junior…It’s not a big deal. Show up in uniform and they’ll all think it’s a great costume,” Roy offered.
“That’s not a costume,” John argued. “I want something original.”
Roy heaved a martyred sigh knowing John wouldn’t let this go.
Johnny suddenly sat up as Roy drove along the quiet street. His dark eyes widened at the sight of the same boy and his dog. He spun in his seat as they passed. The boy lifted his hand as if hailing the squad.
“What is it Junior?” Roy asked as John practically leaned out the open window. “Get your head inside…You look like my dog,” he growled.
“Stop Roy…,” Johnny said suddenly.
Roy pulled the squad to the curb and John jumped out stepping up on the sidewalk to look back to where the boy had been but he was gone.
Roy climbed from the cab and came around to see what his young partner was looking at but there was nothing but an empty sidewalk.
“What are you looking for?” The senior paramedic questioned.
“Didn’t you see him?” John asked.
“The boy…The one I saw this morning with the dog?”
“This morning? That was clear across town Johnny…How would he get all the way over here?”
“I don’t know but he was flagging us down…You didn’t see him?”
Roy shook his head, shooting his young friend a worried glance. Either his partner was seeing things or he was going blind not to see whatever or whoever John was seeing, he wasn’t sure which was the most disconcerting at this point.
“I didn’t see anyone junior.”
John stared at him incredulously. How could he not have seen him? Then it suddenly clicked…The boy at the hospital had reminded him of this boy only much younger. He frowned. What was going on here? His eyes narrowed at his partner. “Is this some kind of joke you and Chet are playing on me?” He accused sourly.
“WHAT?” Roy asked in shocked surprise.
“A joke…I mean did you set this up? The guy at the hospital…The kid?”
“The Guy…The kid…What are you talkin about? Johnny come on…How could I have set up a joke like this.”
John looked a bit deflated at that…It was true…Roy hadn’t had any time to set this all up and after all he’d been the one to bring up Halloween so even Chet wouldn’t have had an opportunity to line up something this elaborate.
John chewed his lower lip worriedly but nodded his head at his partner. “Sorry Roy,” he mumbled, throwing a final glance up the sidewalk...
Roy ruffled the sable hair teasingly. “It’s okay junior…I believe you. If you said you saw someone then I’ll take your word for it but I didn’t see him…Maybe he just likes fire trucks,” the older man suggested.
John swatted Roy’s hand away and smoothed his dark hair back into place. “Let’s go,” he mumbled, starting to feel as if he were losing his mind.
The guys were clearing the lunch dishes away as the two paramedics came into the dayroom. “Lunch is in the oven guys,” Cap told them, glancing up from his report.
Mike shot them an annoyed glance but said nothing as his eyes returned to the paper Hank was working on.
“So what happened out there?” Chet asked from the sofa as Roy headed for the coffee pot.
“Out where?” Roy questioned over his shoulder. John shot a look at the Irishman but went to see what Marco was working on.
“Why’d you lock up the brakes like that?” Mike asked, looking a bit put out.
John shot his partner a nervous glance. “It was my fault,” Johnny admitted. “I saw that kid step off the sidewalk and I thought he was gonna walk right in front of us.”
“What kid?” Chet questioned.
“The kid…The kid with the dog. Didn’t you see him?” He asked plaintively.
The others exchanged a glance to see if anyone would corroborate what their youngest crew member was saying but they all shook their heads.
“None of you?” He questioned in disbelief.
They shook their heads. Roy came to the table and handed his partner a cup of coffee. “It doesn’t matter Johnny…If you say you saw him then I believe you,” Roy assured him.
“He was there,” he insisted.
“Look guys…Roy’s right. If John says he saw the kid then we’ll take his word for it okay?” Cap said diplomatically.
The others nodded ruefully. John wasn’t prone to making things up even to cover his mistakes. He must have seen something even if it had just been a trick of the light and shadows.
They let it go but John heaved a sigh of frustration. Why hadn’t anyone else seen the boy?
The two paramedics had finished their lunch and were putting the last dish in the drainer as the station control unit began to tone.
“Squad 51…Woman injured in a fall…1421 Palisades drive 1-4-2-1 Palisades Dr. Cross street Sunset Blvd. Time out 13:08,” Sam Lanier’s voice reverberated through the station.
Roy quickly dried his hands and ran for the squad. John was already rounding the back as Hank responded. “Squad 51…KMG-365.” Mike had already hit the button and the bay doors were half way up as the senior paramedic started the engine. He flipped on the lights and sirens as they cleared the bay.
John was once again plotting out their most direct route but he knew this was a long haul for this run. “That’s almost a half hour out?” He muttered to his partner. “Isn’t there someone closer?”
Roy shrugged. “Maybe they’re all out on other runs,” he suggested.
“I guess,” John murmured. This certainly wouldn’t be the first time they’d been sent that far from home.
They drove on. John’s dark eyes searched the road ahead and he seemed tense. Roy shot him a glance. “What’s wrong Junior?” He questioned as he turned onto Palisades Dr.
John jumped at the sound of his voice. “Nothin…Just…Nothin,” he murmured again, unwilling to admit that he was looking for the boy and his dog.
Roy reached over and patted his arm. “Let it go junior…It’s just a coincidence that you saw this kid a couple of times okay?”
John shot him a grateful grin that Roy was saying that he believed him. “Thanks Pally.”
They pulled up in front of a small home set back in the woods. They pulled their equipment from the side compartment and headed up the walk. The door opened before they could get to the steps. An elderly man stepped out on the porch.
“Please hurry…It’s my wife. She fell from a stepladder.”
“Okay…Show us where she is,” Roy replied soothingly.
He led the way into the kitchen. An older gray haired woman lay on the floor…She moaned softly as Roy knelt next to her.
“Ma’am, can you hear me?”
“Y…yes,” she stammered.
“Can you tell me what hurts?” He asked as Johnny knelt on the opposite side and began to set up the Biophone. He pulled open the drug box and pulled out the BP cuff and the stethoscope as the woman answered his partner.
“My left arm,” she murmured quietly. “And my hip.”
“Okay… My names Roy and this is my partner John. We’re gonna just check you out here okay?”
She gave a brief nod as Roy began to feel her limbs over carefully. John quickly finished his own assessment and jotted down his findings.
“I’ll get the backboard,” he said as he climbed to his feet and ran out the door. Roy nodded but kept his attention on the patient. He returned quickly and set the board aside before he picked up the Biophone.
“Rampart base this is squad 51…What have you got?” He asked his partner.
“Broken left radius and ulna,” he replied quietly. Possible hip fracture.”
John nodded and returned his attention to the Biophone as Dr. Joe Early’s voice came back.
“This is Rampart go ahead 51…,” he replied.
“Rampart…We have female approximately sixty five. She’s fallen from a stepladder. She appears to have broken her left radius and ulna and a possible hip fracture. Her vitals are BP 140/90, pulse is 60 respirations 12…Her pupils are equal and reactive and it doesn’t appear that she hit her head.”
“10-4 51…Immobilize her head and neck as a precaution. Use spinal precautions. Splint her arm and start an IV…D5WTKO. Give her .5 mgs of MS IV.”
Johnny quickly repeated the instructions back to the doctor followed with an acknowledging “10-4 Rampart.” He pulled the bag of dextrose and water from the drug box, along with the IV kit and handed it to Roy as he prepared the injection of MS.
Roy efficiently started the IV and took the syringe from his partner, leaving John free to splint the woman’s arm. They moved like a well choreographed dance around each other. Each knowing what the other would need before it was asked for. It was something they’d become well known for.
They quickly had her loaded on the backboard and on a gurney for her trip to Rampart. Roy climbed aboard with her. The woman’s husband climbed in up front with the driver.
“See ya at Rampart,” Johnny said with a smile as he closed the door and gave it the normal two slaps.
The vehicle pulled away and John headed back to gather the rest of the equipment and return it to its proper place in the side compartment before climbing into the squad and following his partner.
The dust was still settling behind the departing ambulance as Johnny pulled out of the drive. They had a good head start but the dark haired paramedic knew he could catch up fairly quickly. He saw the flashing red lights make the turn away from the entrance to the fire road that led higher up into the hills and a few sparse dwellings at the top of the crest. He accelerated a bit in an effort to catch up.
He was approaching the intersection when motion and a flash of blue caught his eye. His mouth dropped open in disbelief.
The same boy and a large golden retriever stood at the crossroads.
“What the Hell?” He mumbled to himself. John scrubbed his hand over his eyes, hoping it was just his mind playing tricks on him but the boy was still there when he chanced to look again. He shook his head, wondering if he needed one of Brackett’s friends in the psych ward on the fifth floor.
The boy suddenly lifted his hand and waved toward him in a follow me gesture and then turned and ran.
John’s foot hit the brakes bringing the squad to a screeching halt. He glanced once more toward the diminishing tail lights of the ambulance and then back to the retreating figure of the boy and his dog.
“Oh Hell,” he muttered as he turned the wheel to follow the boy. John squinted into the glare of the sun. He could barely make out the figure of the boy and his dog but now they were way ahead of him.
How had they covered that much distance that quickly? “What in the world…What’s goin on?” he mumbled softly to himself.
He hit the gas to try and catch up, afraid he’d lose him if he rounded the corner up ahead.
The boy approached the curve and vanished. John’s heart pounded fearfully. Had the boy fallen over the edge of the steep drop off? He reached for the Mic. to call in his location. “LA this is squad 51…”
“Squad 51 LA…,” Sam Lanier’s voice came back.
John keyed the Mic as he approached the spot he’d last seen the boy but then suddenly the child reappeared…Straight in front of him. “OH GOD!” John shouted, dropping the Mic and jerking the wheel hard to the right.
The squad’s rear end swung ponderously from side to side, yanking the wheel from the young paramedic’s hands. The top heavy vehicle tilted up on its two wheels, slamming Johnny into the door. His head connected with the glass and it was all he could do to fight off the wave of dizziness that washed over him from the impact. He could feel something warm trickle down his cheek and his head throbbed.
The driver’s door flew open and Johnny hung onto the wheel and sucked in his breath as he realized it was about to roll and he was helpless to stop it.
The listing Dodge hit a stand of brush and righted itself. John breathed a sigh of relief but it was short lived as the truck continued to plummet out of control down the hillside.
Branches slapped against the windshield and John threw his hands up instinctively to protect himself from flying glass should the window shatter.
The squad slammed into a large tree…The impact not only stopping the vehicles downhill slalom but throwing its helpless driver from his seat to tumble down the hillside.
Johnny felt pain explode inside his brain…His head, his shoulder…His knee and then he felt nothing as darkness washed over him.
Above him on the now silent hill, the radio continued to broadcast. “Squad 51 come in…Squad 51 do you copy…” There was no one to hear it.
Sam Lanier glanced worriedly at the telephone switchboard operator who sat behind him. “I can’t raise Squad 51. I thought I heard a yell but I’m not sure.”
“I’ll call the Chief,” he replied. Sam nodded in agreement.
A moment later Chief Houts stepped from his office. “What’s happening Sam?”
“I had Squad 51 on the radio and I heard what sounded like a yell and then they clicked off…I can’t raise them.”
“What was their last known location?”
Houts glanced at the map on the wall. “There are some pretty steep peaks and valleys in that area, maybe they dropped into a dead zone.”
“Maybe sir but I’ve been trying to reach them for about seven minutes now…If they dropped into a dead zone they should have come out of it by now.”
“Possible sir but I’d think they’d call in on the landline…They know we copied their last transmission and we’d be trying to reach them.”
“Who’s on shift at 51’s?”
Sam looked at his clipboard. “A shift sir…Gage and DeSoto.”
Houts frowned. They were both very professional and responsible paramedics. Sam was right…If they were having a problem with the radio, the first thing they’d have done was find a pay phone if they were able.
“I’ll call Hank Stanley and see if he’s heard from them.” Houts turned and headed for his office. A moment later he was on the phone.
“Station 51…Captain Stanley speaking.”
“Hank…This is Chief Houts.”
“Yes sir?” Hank replied, sounding a little curious as to why the Chief would be calling him.
“Hank…We had a transmission from your squad about ten minutes ago. Have they called in with any problems?”
“No sir…I haven’t heard from them,” Cap said sounding concerned.
Houts sighed… “Alright Hank…I’ll call the Sheriff’s Department and ask them to take a ride up there and look for them.”
“Thank you sir…I’ll call Rampart and see if they were in contact with them.”
“Let me know?”
Hank hung up the phone and rubbed his face worriedly. What had happened to his men or man? Who was driving the squad? Was it one or both? There was only one way to find out. He picked up the phone and called Rampart.
“Rampart Emergency Miss McCall,” a soft voice replied.
“Miss McCall…This is Captain Stanley Station 51.”
“I just got a call from headquarters…It seems that they’ve lost contact with the squad…They were talking to them and then the radio went dead. Have you heard from John and Roy?”
“Roy is on his way in with the ambulance,” she told him, sounding worried now herself.
“I see…,” he replied but he chewed his lip worriedly. “Well…Maybe John’s having engine trouble,” he said soothingly, hearing the worry in her voice. “Have Roy call me when he gets there and hopefully by then…John will be back in contact.”
“Alright Captain…Please let us know if you hear from him and I’ll see to it Roy calls you.”
Dr. Kelly Brackett came out of treatment four and walked to the base station to pour a cup of coffee but stopped short at the worried look on Dixie’s face as she hung up the phone.
“What’s wrong Dix?” He asked in concern.
“That was Captain Stanley, Station 51.”
“Seems Johnny was on his way in from their last run…” Kel nodded encouragingly. “He was on the radio with dispatch when they suddenly lost contact.”
“I see,” he murmured. “Maybe he just hit a bad spot…It’s happened before.”
“I would imagine they took that into account before they called us. Roy’s been inbound for at least twenty minutes now.”
Kel frowned. “Electrical problem?”
Dix shrugged. “I guess we’ll find out soon enough…They must be planning to send someone up there to check on him.”
“I hope so…He’ll probably be in soon with some exciting story about what happened,” he teased setting down his coffee mug as he spotted a gurney being wheeled in by Bob Belliveau and Jay Cameron from Station 36. “Does Roy know?” He asked over his shoulder as he held the door to treatment room one open for the attendants.
“I don’t know…I doubt it,” she said solemnly, not looking forward to telling the older paramedic that his young partner was missing.
Dixie was well aware of how protective Roy was of Johnny and how upset he was likely to get at the news. She knew the guilt would be overwhelming if something had happened to John.
She heard a commotion down the hall and grimaced as she spotted the object of her musings coming in from the ambulance bay.
He rushed alongside the gurney and into treatment room two where Joe Early was waiting. Dixie waved Carol Williams over. “Help Dr. Early in two please and send Roy out as soon as Joe’s done with him.”
Carol nodded, frowning at the troubled look on her supervisor’s face. She hoped everything was okay with Roy. She turned and headed for the treatment room.
Dixie poured two cups of coffee and settled on her chair to wait.
Dixie blew out a breath a few minutes later when Roy stepped from the room and approached the base station. He set the handy talkie on the counter and tossed a smile at the pretty blonde nurse. “Hi Dix…Carol said you wanted to see me.”
“Yeah Roy…Um I spoke to your Captain a little while ago.”
Roy frowned. About what?” He asked, starting to grow a little suspicious that something was wrong.
“Roy…You need to call your station.”
“Why?” He glanced around as if suddenly realizing his partner hadn’t arrived yet. “Have you seen Johnny?” He asked suddenly.
“No Roy…Roy? Like I said...I spoke to your Captain a few minutes ago. “
“And…?” He asked, feeling the first stirrings of fear in the pit of his stomach.
“They lost contact with the squad about a half hour ago. They can’t reach Johnny on the radio.”
“Well…Well maybe he uh…Blew a fuse or something. That’s happened before,” Roy said, trying to sound confidant.
“That would explain the radio but…”
“Then where is he?” He finished, glancing around as if by sheer will John would come bouncing through the door. “That would have killed the radio but not the squad…Maybe an electrical short or something.”
“That’s probably it Roy…But you need to call the station.”
“Yeah…Yeah,” he mumbled worriedly.
Hank drew a deep breath as the phone rang in his office. He knew it was most likely either Roy or Chief Houts and he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear what either of them had to say
He was very worried about John, knowing that while his youngest crew member could be very naïve and boyish in his personal life, he was the epitome of the professional paramedic. He’d have called if he could.
He blew out a breath and picked up the phone. “Station 51…Captain Stanley speaking,” he said quietly.
“Cap…This is Roy. Has anyone heard from Johnny yet?” He asked without preamble.
Hank sighed. “No word yet Roy but…”
“Well are they sending someone up there?” He interrupted urgently.
“Settle down Roy,” he soothed. “Yes they’re sending the sheriff’s department up there,” he assured the senior paramedic. “He’s probably fine…just waiting for someone to come and get him.”
“Yeah…Yeah…You’re probably right. You want me to wait here or are you sending someone to get me?”
“Probably better for you to come back here till we hear from the Chief. When they find John they’ll drop him off here. They’ll probably have to tow the squad in and you guys will have to wait for Charlie to check it out,” Cap said, trying to sound optimistic.
“I’ll see if squad 36 can give me a ride back,” Roy said, seeing Belliveau and Cameron coming out of treatment room one.
“Alright…Just leave word at the desk in case John manages to get the squad running again and shows up there looking for you.”
Roy waved Belliveau over. “What’s up Roy?” He asked.
The blonde paramedic gave him a weak smile. “Seems Johnny had a breakdown with the squad or something. They uh…Lost contact with him a little while ago. Can you give me a lift back to the station?”
“Sure Roy,” Bob said softly, seeing the worried look the younger man couldn’t hide. The entire department knew how close this particular team was and Bob knew DeSoto would be beside himself if something had happened to his young partner. “Is Johnny okay?”
“Um…They don’t know yet…The Sheriff’s department is on their way up to look for him…I’m sure he’s fine,” Roy said more to reassure himself than Bob.
“C’mon then…We’ll get you home to wait for him. He’s probably either kicking the tires or taking a nap while he waits for someone to notice he’s missing,” he joked trying to lighten the mood.
Deputy Don Hansen and his partner Deputy Charlie Powell cruised slowly up Palisades Drive looking for any sign of the missing fire department squad but there was nothing. They peered into driveways in the hopes that maybe the missing driver had managed to find a house to call for help but to no avail.
They looped around through every side road on the possibility that he’d simply taken a wrong turn and gotten lost but they doubted it. They both knew John Gage and they knew the kid had an uncanny sense of direction. He’d have turned back immediately even if he’d taken a wrong turn.
Charlie waved toward the fire road as they approached the intersection. “Maybe he went that way?” He suggested.
“Why? He’d have known he didn’t come in on a dirt road and turned back,” Don argued.
“Maybe he went to check something out and got stuck.”
Hansen shrugged and turned up the road. The rain from the previous evening had left the road heavily rutted and the two men could barely tell if there had been any recent traffic on the road. They drove on, slowing as another car rounded the curve toward them. They passed each other carefully on the narrow lane…Neither noticed the deep gouges in the grass that marked the squad’s departure from the furrowed dirt road or the matching one from the other direction that showed Susan Millers.
They continued on, circling around and returning once more to Palisades Dr. They threw each other a worried glance. How could a Rescue Squad simply disappear? They drove on.
Hank stepped from his office. He needed to tell his men what was happening but he wasn’t even sure himself. Was Johnny missing or just waiting for someone to come along and rescue him from whatever trouble had plagued the squad.
Hank almost smiled as he tried to envision the Gage rant that would be unleashed on them when John finally got back. Roy would never be able to go with the ambulance again after this.
Mike and Marco looked up from where they were polishing the Engine as he came out of his office. They noted the half amused and half worried expression and tossed a glance at each other. “Something wrong Cap?” Mike asked in concern.
Chet heard the question and came around the front of the engine from the other side where he’d been working as well.
Hank tried to smile reassuringly but the fact that it had now been almost forty five minutes with no word was troublesome. There were plenty of homes in that area and John would have found a phone by now if he was able and surely the Sheriff had had enough time to get up there and locate the missing squad hadn’t they?
Hank was trying to remain positive but as more and more time passed he was becoming more concerned that something bad had happened to John.
“Guys…I spoke to Chief Houts a little while ago.”
“And?” Marco questioned.
“Not another inspection?” Chet groaned.
“No…No nothing like that…It’s possibly more serious,” he said with a sigh.
“What is it Cap?” Mike asked.
“Well…It seems like John may be in some trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?” Marco questioned.
“They were on that last run up in the hills and I guess Roy took off with the ambulance. John was following. Dispatch got a transmission from him a short time later but it cut off and they couldn’t reestablish contact.”
“He probably hit a dead zone,” Mike said reassuringly. It had happened to him many times in his travels in this part of the county.
“It’s been over forty five minutes now,” he told them.
“C’mon Cap…this is Gage we’re talking about,” Chet teased. “He probably took a wrong turn and he’s half way to Sacramento right now.”
“This isn’t a joke Chet,” Hank said quietly. “I’m getting very worried. John could find his way out of those hills blind folded and we all know that.”
Chet’s smile faded. He did know that. John Gage didn’t get lost in these mountains…He knew them like the back of his hand.
“Does Roy know?” Marco asked softly.
Hank nodded. “I spoke to him at Rampart a little while ago. He’s on his way back here with squad 36.”
“They’ll find him Cap,” Mike said reassuringly. “He’s probably just sitting there spitting mad that the squad broke down,” he added.
The others nodded but none of them looked convinced. They glanced up as Roy came through from the kitchen. “Any word Cap?” He asked without wasting time with greeting the others.
“No Roy…Nothing yet.”
The blonde paramedic blew out a breath. He knew he’d had no choice but to go with the patient but the infamous DeSoto guilt was rearing its ugly head but really…What else could he have done?
Cap read the look correctly. “It’s not your fault Roy,” he assured him.
“I know Cap,” he said softly. “Doesn’t make it any easier not to worry about him though,” he added.
The others knew Roy would be crushed if something had happened to Johnny…They knew that even though neither would admit it out loud that John had become a member of Roy’s family…A younger brother to the senior paramedic and Roy took that role seriously. They prayed John would be found safe and sound or Roy would beat himself up over it for days.
John seemed to be swimming in blackness as he fought his way back to consciousness. The first sign that he was succeeding was the sudden intrusion of blinding pain that shot through his awareness as he tried to move.
“Mmmmm,” the groan slipped from his lips. His dark lashes fluttered against his bruised cheekbone. The chocolate brown eyes slowly blinked open but quickly closed once more as the sun glared down upon him. “Arghhh,” gritted out between clenched teeth as he instinctively tried to raise his arm to shield his eyes from the painfully bright light.
His shoulder hurt… “Oh man,” he moaned worriedly. Was it broken? He couldn’t tell for sure. His head was throbbing now in a matching rhythm as well. He felt the warm trickle of blood on his face and neck.
He didn’t want to but he knew he had to force himself to sit up…To check himself out…To assess the damage. How long had he been here? Did they know he was missing? He tried to remember exactly what had happened.
He’d been on the radio with dispatch…The boy! Oh God…had he hit him? Where was he? John heard a whisper of sound.
“I’m sorry…You weren’t supposed to get hurt,” a faint almost childish voice seemed to whisper to him.
“Wha?” He slurred as he tried to force his eyes open once more. He finally succeeded and glanced around for the source of the quietly spoken words but there was no one there. Great…Now I’m hearing things, he mused worriedly.
Another sound intruded in his brain. “Help me,” a low keening moan came. John turned his head, squinting at the dizziness that washed through him but he fought it off. Someone was in trouble just like him…they needed his help.
“Hello,” he tried to call out but he knew the sound that actually came from his lips was barely audible.
He struggled against the pain in his shoulder as he tried to sit up but then a new problem presented itself as his knee seemed to scream in open rebellion against his body. “Oh man,” he almost whimpered, knowing he’d be in for some time in a brace at the very least. Involuntary tears of pain welled in the dark eyes and leaked from the corners as he clenched his eyes shut against the throbbing ache.
It finally seemed to recede to some degree and the young paramedic opened his eyes and looked around. His mouth dropped open in stunned shock at the sight that greeted him.
An overturned green car lay in the heavily brush covered gully…A woman lay about eight feet away from it. For a long moment he couldn’t tell if she were dead or alive but he had to assume the latter since she was the most likely source of the cry for help that he’d heard earlier as well as that whispered voice.
What had she meant by that…he wasn’t supposed to get hurt? He’d figure that out later…Right now he just needed to get to her to check her out.
He struggled to turn himself onto his stomach, swallowing back the nausea that threatened to bring his breakfast back for a second time. He closed his eyes and rode out the dizziness that accompanied it. He finally managed to use his good leg and one uninjured arm to push himself over to a boulder.
John braced his right arm to help push himself upright until he was standing on his right leg. Agony lanced through him but John forced himself to half hobble and half hop over to where the woman lay.
He carefully lowered himself next to her, grateful to be sitting once again. He looked down into pain filled hazel eyes.
He tried a reassuring smile but was very afraid that it had come out more like a grimace as pain washed over him with every movement. He panted heavily for a moment to bring his body under control.
“Hi,” he finally managed to grit out.
“H…help me,” she murmured softly.
“I’m gonna…Help you,” he replied a bit breathlessly. “Wha…What’s your name” He gasped.
“Okay Susan…M…My name is Johnny…I’m a paramedic with LA County okay,” he assured her even as he fought off another wave of dizziness.
“Son…,” she moaned through her own pain. “My son,” she murmured again.
John glanced around. Son…? Was there another victim? John was well aware of the confusion victim’s sometimes suffered. “Where?” He asked urgently. Had that been the boy he’d seen earlier? Had he somehow been thrown clear and tried to go for help? Where was he now?
“C…car,” she stammered.
John’s dark eyes lifted to the car. Oh man…This was going to be tough. He glanced up the hill toward where the squad had come to rest. Could he reach it? He prayed the radio still worked so he could call for help but the first thing he needed to do was check the boy.
“Okay Susan…I…I’m gonna go c…check okay?” He panted. “What’s his n…name?”
“David,” she replied as she lost consciousness once more.
John blew out a breath but took the opportunity to quickly feel down the woman’s arms and legs for broken bones. He quickly found the broken right Humerus and the three broken ribs along the lower right part of the cage. He gritted his teeth and prayed they hadn’t punctured a lung. He couldn’t tell about her back or neck yet.
She was breathing shallowly but it was hard to tell if it was because she was unable to draw a breath or if it simply hurt too much to do so. John knew from experience that either might be the correct answer.
He carefully lowered his body to place his ear against her chest. His head swam dizzily for a moment and he fought off the desire to let himself sink into unconsciousness alongside the woman.
John once again heard the whispered voice… “Please help them…” the words seemed to brush past his ear. Johnny shivered with a sudden chill and glanced around.
“David…?” he questioned uncertainly. Where was the boy?
There was no answer outright but again that feeling seemed to touch him. ‘Steven,’ it seemed to sigh.
John frowned and almost shook his head to clear his muddled mind but caught himself at the last moment. He was pretty sure he had a rather nasty concussion and the last thing he needed to do was rattle his already shaken brain.
He was already afraid he was losing it here. John gritted his teeth and struggled to push himself back to his feet. There wasn’t much he could do for Susan without the trauma box and that was in the squad. Unfortunately the drug box and the Biophone had gone with Roy in the ambulance.
John once again managed to push himself to his feet. He clenched his eyes shut against the pain as he hobbled his way toward the overturned car. His knee throbbed angrily at the least amount of pressure but he continued on.
He carefully lowered himself next to the vehicle and peered in the window. The boy hung upside down from his seat belt and John felt his stomach turn a small flip, unable to tell if the boy was dead or simply unconscious.
He tried the door but it was jammed. He swallowed heavily. He’d have to get in through the back window. He shifted his body around until he could drag himself toward the back of the car. The window was shattered but there were jagged edges all around. He reached in and pried them loose, wincing as the glass sliced at his unprotected fingers.
He finally managed to clear a path wide enough to slide his slender frame into the vehicle. His blood stained fingers found the carotid artery on the boy’s neck. The pulse beat weakly beneath them. John blew out a relieved breath. The child was still alive.
The dark eyes blinked against the trickle of sweat and blood that dripped into them. He knew this was going to hurt but he’d need both arms to get the boy out. He could only hope that the left one wasn’t broken.
He carefully turned onto his back and used his right hand to feel along the boy’s body, searching for broken bones. The right wrist appeared to be fractured and there was a large contusion on the right side of his head. John hoped it wasn’t a skull fracture, especially since he had no idea how long these people had been here and the boy had been hanging upside down.
He had to get him out of here right now. He’d have to risk moving him. He reached up with his right arm and braced it around the boy’s middle. He gritted his teeth. “Arrrgh,” the cry of pain still slipped from between the clenched lips as he raised his left to free the seat belt. David was small but even so, the sudden release of the belt almost sent him crashing down on the paramedic.
It took all John’s remaining strength to let him settle carefully against his chest. He lay panting for several long minutes before he began to wiggle his way out of the car, using his body as a human stretcher for the injured boy.
Once clear, he carefully cradled the boy with his right arm, using the left as little possible and hobbled his way over to the woman before laying the boy next to her.
These people like himself, were badly injured. He needed the trauma box and the backboard as well as blankets from the squad.
He knew that by now they had to be searching for him and he knew Roy would never give up till he found him but could he and the victim's hold out that long?
John lifted pain filled dark eyes up the hill to where the squad was wedged against the trees…He needed to get up there but he wasn’t sure he could make it. He looked toward the boy and the woman lying unconscious on the ground and knew he had to try.
Roy paced nervously in the apparatus bay. What was taking the Sheriff’s Department so long to get back to them? Surely they had enough time to get up there and find Johnny. How far could he have gotten after all in a broken down squad?
Marco, Mike and Chet sat on the running board of the engine, nervously waiting and watching their anxious senior paramedic as he wore out the concrete between Caps office and the kitchen doorway.
The sound of a ringing phone brought Roy up short in mid trip back to the dayroom. He quickly spun on his heel and hot footed it back to his Captains doorway to listen to the conversation. From the part he could hear…It didn’t sound good. He felt more than saw the others as they gathered around him to listen as well.
“Yes sir…Did they find him?” He questioned the person on the other end hopefully.
“I see,” he said softly, glancing at his crew and shaking his head in the negative. Roy’s heart sank into his stomach. How could they not have found him? Where could he be? He returned his attention to his Captain as he continued. “Are they going to keep looking?” He asked. “Yes sir…Thank you…Please keep us informed…We’re very worried about John.” He hung up the phone and looked to his men.
“They didn’t find any sign of the squad…It’s like John just vanished.”
“Foul play?” Mike asked.
“No way to know that at this point.”
“Are they gonna keep looking?” Roy asked anxiously.
“Of course Roy. The Sheriff’s Department is putting together a search team and they’re putting a chopper up as well…It’s not like a bright red squad can disappear into thin air.”
“What about me…Are we getting another squad?”
“Yes…They’re sending one over…It’s an older one that’s been out of service from 45’s but it’s running alright now.” They’re sending Doug Stone over to work the rest of the shift until we find John.”
Roy ran his hands through his hair in frustration. Where the hell was his partner? What had happened to his best friend?
He needed to call Jo but didn’t know what to tell her…He decided to wait till they knew more.
Susan Miller’s husband hadn’t taken Vince’s no for an answer. He’d called the local TV station to ask for help. By mid afternoon the station was interrupting regular programming to ask for the public’s help in locating the missing woman and child.
Mark Walker was lounged out on the couch in his living room watching some boring talk show with his mother. The image of the green car plunging off the road haunted his thoughts and he hoped that the TV might take his mind from what had happened this morning.
He sat up with renewed attention as the television suddenly shifted to a news report. His face blanched as he listened to the man’s words.
“We’re asking for your help to locate a missing Topanga Canyon mother of two. Susan Miller and her eight year old son David left home early this morning on a quick shopping trip and haven’t been seen since. She was driving a green Buick Skylark…If you have any information please call the Sheriff’s Department at…”
Mark almost cringed as he listened. He knew the Miller’s...They were friends of his parents.
“Oh dear,” his mother muttered softly. “Poor Barry... I hope Susan and David are alright. It’s been such a hard year for them after what happened last October,” she added.
“Yeah,” he agreed weakly. God…What had he done?
Roy was also watching the TV…He hadn’t felt much like eating and had flipped on the set to take his mind off of Johnny. He paced back and forth before it worriedly. Cap and the others exchanged concerned glances.
The blonde paramedic had desperately wanted to take Doug and the replacement squad up to the canyon to search for Johnny himself.
“How about Cap…Just a quick look around?” He almost begged.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“You’d be too far out of our area to respond if you’re called out …” The senior paramedic looked thoroughly frustrated and Hank’s expression softened. “Look Roy…I know you’re worried…We all are but the last thing we need is the search teams calling in sightings of you…It’ll just hinder their efforts.”
Cap was right and he knew it but it didn’t change the fact that he and the entire crew were on edge and that Roy was getting more and more distraught with every minute that passed without word of his young partner’s whereabouts but now his attention was caught as the show was interrupted for a news break.
He turned toward his crew as the brief ended. “Cap did you hear that? That woman and her son went missing in Topanga Canyon the same way Johnny did.”
“But that was hours before John disappeared,” he pointed out.
“Yeah,” he admitted. “I think that’s the guy Johnny and I saw at Rampart with Vince after our first run this morning but they could be related.”
“I doubt it Roy…Not that far apart.” The younger man nodded looking depressed.
“Try and relax Roy. I’m sure they’ll find him broken down on some back road or something,” he said trying to sound reassuring.
The blonde paramedic’s eyebrow arched dubiously and cap seemed to wilt. “He’s been missing for almost four hours Cap.”
“I know,” he whispered.
It took awhile but Johnny managed to hop and alternately dragged himself to the base of the hill. He glanced upward and heaved a sigh. He needed to get to that squad but the way was steep and rough as his pain wracked body could attest. He’d hit every rock and bush on his way down. Blood still trickled from his forehead and a half dozen other cuts and abrasions.
It took him almost an hour to pull himself up the steep grade, stopping frequently to rest and fight off the waves of dizziness and nausea that threatened to overcome him but he finally made it.
The front end of the squad was wedged against a stand of trees. The front bumper and hood were crushed but the rest of the cab seemed intact. He couldn’t see what kind of damage had been done to the underside. Man… Charlie would kill him for this and he’d never hear the end of it from the rest of his crew either.
The driver’s door stood open and was dented and scratched. John leaned against it gratefully, panting heavily and trying to catch his breath.
He jumped as a burst of static came over the radio just before he heard Sam Lanier’s voice. “Squad 51, do you copy? Squad 51…Come in 51…Please respond.”
Johnny breathed a sigh of relief for this little piece of luck being thrown his way. He snatched the mic from the floor where it had fallen but he almost wept in frustration as he pressed the transmit button. A high pitched whine filled the air.
John winced as the piercing tone seemed to stab his brain like a knife. He released the button and rested his head against the seat until the pounding receded once again to a dull throb.
Sam’s voice once again came from the radio. “Unit calling in please repeat…We’re getting feedback.”
John lifted his head and blew out a breath. He pressed the button once more but again a high pitched whistle filled the air. The young paramedic almost threw the offending instrument in irritation.
“Unit calling in repeat…you are breaking up…”
“In more ways than one,” John panted miserably.
All he could do now was get the backboard and the trauma box and make the two victims and himself as comfortable as possible until someone found them. He moved carefully along the side of the listing vehicle to the rear where the compartment that housed the backboard and stokes was located. Sweat trickled down his face, stinging the open wounds.
His shoulder and knee were throbbing and his head continued a relentless pounding that was threatening to make him sick. He swallowed it back and waited out the wave of dizziness. He should be laying down resting but that wasn’t an option right now. He finally flipped the door open and pulled the backboard free.
He carefully circled around to the compartments on the passenger side. He was gasping now but he opened the door and pulled two blankets and the trauma box from their slots and half dropped and half set them on the ground.
He wiped the sweat from his eyes with the back of his hand. He was so tired but he had to keep trying. He managed to haul the trauma box around to the back of the squad. He glanced down the steep embankment in despair, knowing he was exhausted and the going would be difficult with only one good arm and one good leg.
He had no option…He flung the plastic wrapped blankets as far down the hill as he could before setting the backboard down and giving it a shove to send it tobogganing down the steep hillside. He threw one last longing glance at the useless radio which was still intermittently calling for him to answer before he hefted the heavy trauma box and started down the hill.
He was partway down when he heard the first ‘whump whump whump of a helicopter’s rotor blades. He looked up and shaded his eyes as it appeared in the distance and came toward him. A huge grin broke over his face. Help was coming.
The smile faded as the chopper banked away from him. What were they doing? Where were they going? Couldn’t they see him? What about the Squad? It took him a moment to realize that the bright red vehicle was buried under the sprawling canopy of oak trees that it was nestled against and he wasn’t much more visible on the heavily brush covered hillside.
He needed something they could see. His eyes fell on the yellow blankets…He needed to get to them and quickly. The helicopter banked again and John began to hobble as quickly as he could down the hill.
Partway down, his knee called it quits. John lost his balance and felt himself start to fall and grabbed at the first thing he could…A low hanging branch. He lost his grip on the trauma box and it tumbled away from him. The branch cracked under his weight and his precarious perch was lost. John fell…Thumping and rolling down the steep incline. Thankfully it was only half as far as the first time but just as painful, especially since he was already injured from the previous tumble.
John lay gasping in agony and breathless at the bottom…Tears of pain and frustration pooled in the dark eyes. Waves of dizziness and despair washed over him in equal proportions as the helicopter banked once more and disappeared. The thumping sound receded in the distance along with John’s effort to remain conscious. Blackness washed over him and he gave up the fight letting the darkness claim him.
Sam had been attempting to call the missing squad every thirty minutes while continuing to maintain contact with the search teams but both efforts had been fruitless.
He glanced at the clock overhead and noted that another thirty minutes had passed. He flipped the toggle switch to open the channel.
“Squad 51, do you copy? Squad 51…Come in 51…Please respond.”
Sam almost jumped from his seat as a high pitched whine suddenly filled the room. He blew out a startled breath and reached for the button as the sound suddenly cut off.
“Unit calling in please repeat…We’re getting feedback.”
Once again the piercing sound reverberated through the small room followed by a burst of static before it cut off.
“Unit calling in repeat…you are breaking up…,” Sam tried again but now there was only silence.
Chief Houts pushed the door open and came inside. “Any luck Sam?” He asked brusquely, trying not to sound as worried as he felt. There was now no room for doubt that something serious had happened to John Gage.
“No sir…No response but…”
“Well…I did get a couple of bursts of feedback a few seconds ago while I was trying to call 51 again but then it cut off.”
“You think it might be Gage?”
“I don’t know…If it was he’s not responding anymore,” he replied somberly.
Houts shook his head. That could mean two things…That it was just what Sam had said it was…Feedback or it was Gage and for some reason he could no longer respond which in turn could mean that he was either injured or being kept from responding by someone or…Houts didn’t want to think of the last possibility.
“Keep trying…Do a radio check on the stations just to be sure.”
“Yes sir…,” Sam replied as he turned back to his console. The station control unit began to tone…“All Stations stand by for radio check…,” he waited for a few seconds before he began. Station 23...”
“LA Station 23,” came back over the speakers.
“LA Station 27…”
Sam continued down the list 36, 45.”
“Station 51,” he requested.
“LA Station 51,” Hank’s voice replied.
The roll continued but no further feedback was heard. Houts heaved a sigh of disappointment. “Let me know if you hear anything else,” he ordered as he returned to his office.
“What do you thinks goin on Cap?” Roy asked anxiously as he and the others gathered around Hank, listening to Sam’s voice calling each station and waiting for a response.
“I don’t know Roy but I’m sure if it was about John, Houts would have called us,” he soothed.
“I guess,” he mumbled, sounding depressed. “Where is he Cap?” He whispered as he glanced up at his superior.
Hank saw the sparkle of tears in the worried blue eyes gazing back at him but Roy swallowed hard and blinked them away.
“I don’t know Roy but all we can do is pray that wherever he is, that he’s safe and we’ll find him soon. John’s pretty resourceful.”
“Yeah…,” he agreed half heartedly.
“Johnny’s tough Roy…He’ll be okay,” Mike reassured him, patting him lightly on the back.
The blonde paramedic nodded but it was obvious that the platitudes weren’t really sinking in. Roy sighed in resignation as he looked at the clock. Almost five hours now…Where was John? He was well aware that if his young partner were injured that the longer it took to find him the greater the chance that John could die from his injuries or shock. That golden hour had long since slipped away.
“Guess I better go call Jo,” he whispered softly.
“What do you mean missing?” Jo’s voice was shrill with worry. “How can he be missing?
“He was behind us while I came in with the ambulance but then he just vanished.”
“You can’t just make a rescue squad and its driver disappear into thin air Roy,” she argued. “Just how long has Johnny been missing?”
“Over five hours now,” he admitted, almost wincing at the anger in her voice as she replied.
“Five hours…And you just thought to call me?”
“I was hoping they’d find him quickly and I wouldn’t even need to worry you over it,” he soothed.
Jo drew in a deep breath, trying to calm herself down. She knew Roy had to be worried sick about Johnny. The young man had become a part of their family and he and Roy had become very close…Almost like brothers. She knew he had to be devastated. She’d let him know later that she’d rather be kept in the loop on these things but now wasn’t the time. She could hear the tremor in his voice and she knew he was scared… Now he needed her.
“I’m sorry honey,” she apologized. “I know you’re worried about him too and you’ve got a lot on your mind.”
“Yeah…Look I’m sorry too…I should have called you sooner. I know how much Johnny means to you too.”
“It’s okay…Just please call me…Let me know what’s going on?”
“I will babe,” he assured her. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
The sun had moved considerably when Johnny once again began to rouse. He felt what seemed to be a dog’s hot breath against his cheek. John’s hand lifted weakly to swat the animal away. “Go way Boot,” he mumbled tiredly but his hand encountered no furry body.
He once again heard that softly whispered voice. “Wake up...Please…You need to help them.”
Help who? He wondered idly. His eyelashes fluttered briefly against his cheeks before the dark eyes finally cracked open. He glanced about him but saw no one.
Memory rushed in. He’d had an accident and two other people had been hurt. He ached all over and remembered that he’d fallen once again but he needed to move…He needed to find the trauma box.
How long had he been unconscious? Were they alright? From the position of the sun he must have been out of it for some time.
“OH MAN,” he groaned as he tried to move. Pain shot through him as the old injuries plus a few new ones made their presence known. A wave of dizziness washed over him.
Bile rose in his throat and another moan slipped from him as nausea swept through him. He managed to roll to his right side as he finally lost the battle to keep his stomach under control. His body heaved as what little remained in his stomach from this morning made a reappearance.
Sweat broke out once again on his forehead as he lay gasping for breath. He rolled onto his back for a long moment before he tried to sit up again. This time he made it.
He struggled to his feet and glanced around him. The trauma box was battered and dented but had thankfully remained closed. John tried to walk but his knee refused to take his weight. He hopped over to it…Each jolting movement sending another shockwave of pain through his battered body.
John picked up the yellow wrapped blankets and tucked them under his damaged left arm and turned to carefully lift the heavy trauma box. He'd come back for the backboard later, right now he knew he had to get these people warm and splinted. It had already been too long.
John fought the waves of dizziness that continued to wash over him and finally made his way back to Susan and David. He set the box down before he lowered himself carefully to the ground. His left arm was growing numb and he knew he’d get no more use from it, he mused in frustration…Worried that he may have caused irreparable damage but what else could he have done in this situation. He couldn’t abandon these people to their injuries, not even to save himself or his career.
He held the blanket between his right leg and right arm and used his teeth to tear the plastic open before spreading it over the boy. He did the same with the second before covering Susan. He opened the trauma box and began the difficult task of splinting their injuries with only one good hand. Neither of them had regained consciousness though the woman had moaned softly several times during the procedure.
By the time he finished getting a collar on both of them he was exhausted. His mouth was dry and he mentally kicked himself for forgetting the canteens of water that hung in the compartment behind the driver’s door…Though in all fairness his brain had been a little fuzzy at the time. He looked up the hill as the sun was beginning to set in the western sky.
He didn’t relish the idea of climbing that steep incline again, especially in the gathering dusk but they needed the water. He glanced back at his victims and realized that the boy’s eyes were now open and watching him with a mixture of pain and curiosity.
“Hi David,” he said gently. The boy frowned in confusion as John continued. “My name is Johnny G…Gage,” he panted. “I’m a p…para…medic,” he explained a bit breathlessly. The boy gave him a short nod of acceptance. “You and your mom here,” he said tipping his head toward Susan, “have had an accident.”
The boy tried to turn his head toward his mother but the collar prevented it. The blue eyes widened in fear but John quickly reassured him. “Don’t move okay? I put that c…collar on your neck as a precaution al…alright? But you’re both gonna be o…okay,” he said, trying to sound positive. He prayed he was right.
“I’m thirsty,” the boy whispered.
“Me too,” Johnny agreed. “Now…I’m gonna t…try and get up to my t…truck up there,” he said pointing. The blue eyes followed his finger and widened when they spotted the rescue vehicle nestled in the trees. “I need you to stay as s…still as possible okay?” The boy nodded. “Alright…Watch out for y…your mom now. Tell her n…not to move if she wakes up okay?” Again the boy gave a brief nod. “Good…I’ll be back,” he mumbled tiredly.
John hoped he’d be able to keep that promise. He was so tired and he hurt all over. He wanted a warm bed and something to make the pain go away so he could sleep but he couldn’t dwell on that right now, these people needed him.
He pushed himself to his feet and once again began the painful climb up the hill.
Sam had been at this for six hours now and even though there had been no further feedback from the radio he continued to periodically call the squad in the hopes that it had been Gage trying to reach them and that the young paramedic would try again.
The radio check with the stations had produced no results so he was reasonably sure that it wasn’t coming from them…All of them had responded clearly and without a hint of static so if it wasn’t Gage…What had caused it and why had it stopped and if it was..Well…Sam didn’t want to think about why he’d suddenly stopped responding.
He picked up the radio… “Squad 51 LA…Do you copy? Come in Squad 51…”
Sam had been hoping to hear it but even so his heart skipped a beat as the static whine of feedback once again filled the room.
He spun around to the switchboard operator. Get Houts,” he said urgently.
The man nodded and ran from the room as Sam pressed the button… “Unit calling in repeat…You are breaking up.”
Houts and the other man returned at a run. “What is it?” The older man asked.
“I’ve got that feedback again.”
“Alright…Ask for radio silence for moment from the other stations.”
Sam nodded. He toggled the switch that usually sent the wake up tones broadcasting to all stations. “LA to all stations…Please maintain radio silence…We are experiencing feedback…Units needing assistance switch to tac two…”
Houts nodded. “Alright… Let’s ask him outright.”
Sam toggled the switch… “Squad 51…Gage…Is that you? If so please…repeat the burst twice.”
There was a long moment of silence and then the whine repeated and cut off…A moment later it sounded again.
“It’s him,” Sam almost yelled in excitement.
“Alright…,” Houts said sounding a bit excited now himself. “He’s alive…Let’s find out if he’s hurt.” Houts glanced around and noticed the doorway was beginning to grow crowded with other fire personnel that had been following this drama all day and had been worrying over the missing paramedic. Gage was well liked in the department.
He waved one of them over. “Call station 51…Tell Captain Stanley that we think we have established contact with Gage. Tell them to stand by while we try to figure out his location.”
“Yes sir,” he said with a grin before he spun and ran for the door.
Houts leaned over his dispatcher and keyed the mic. “John…This is Chief Houts…If you can hear me I want you to give two bursts again.”
The whine filled the room before going silent and then repeated. A cheer echoed briefly from the doorway amid some back slapping.
The crew of station 51 had just returned from a vehicle accident. They’d had a fairly quiet day which had only prolonged their long wait for word on their missing friend. Roy had been holding it together pretty well considering but they all saw the tension in his face and the fear for his best friend in his eyes as the day progressed without word.
No one had told them what the radio check had been for and they along with the rest of the LA county fire department could only guess at what had occurred at headquarters to cause it. Roy had wondered if it had something to do with Johnny but if it had, then he was pretty sure someone would have called him. He was listed as Johnny’s next of kin after all but there had been no news forthcoming.
Now he and Captain Stanley were at the table while the rest of the crew busied themselves preparing dinner. Johnny had been on all their minds today as well. Their fears for their young crewmate were being kept in silence…No one wanted to cause the blonde paramedic any more stress by voicing their own concerns but they were scared…It was reflected in their faces as well.
The phone rang and they all jumped at the sound. Captain Stanley exchanged a glance with his senior paramedic before climbing to his feet to go and answer it. He snapped it up by the second ring.
“Station 51, Captain Stanley speaking.” There was a long moment of silence before a relieved smile broke out on Hank’s face. “They’re sure?” Another long pause followed. “I see… Yes…Yes we’ll be right there.” Hank slammed the phone down. “They think they’ve established contact with John. They’re trying to figure out his location but they think the radio has been damaged and can’t get a verbal response…Only some kind of static bursts on the radio.”
“So that must have been what the radio check was about,” Chet said.
“Probably trying to be sure it was him,” Mike added.
“But that was over an hour ago,” Marco pointed out.
Hank shrugged. “Can I go up there?” Roy asked.
“No…They want us at headquarters…We can respond from there if they find him.”
They all nodded…Dinner forgotten. Mike shut off the stove and they all ran for their vehicles.
“You okay to drive?” Doug asked, noting the shakiness of DeSoto’s hands.
“I’ll be alright,” he assured him. “I’m just relieved that they’ve heard from him. I just hope he’s alright,” he said worriedly. If Johnny was uninjured, what had taken him so long to call for help? And if he was…How bad was it?
Mark Walker sat at the table listening to his parents talk about their day. He pushed the food on his plate around listlessly…His mind on what had happened earlier that morning. Was Susan Miller still alive…Was David? How could he live with himself knowing that Barry and Nate were searching for them and they would never know for certain what had happened?
He glanced up as his mother began to tell his father of their disappearance. "It was on the news this afternoon Lou…Susan and poor little David have simply vanished.”
“That’s awful,” he agreed.
“Poor Barry…And little Nate and so soon after…”
“Mom…Dad,” Mark interrupted. They looked at him curiously. “I have something to tell you.”
John had made it to the top…He leaned heavily on the squad’s door for a long moment. Panting and gasping for breath. His head was now throbbing and he knew he was near the end of his reserves. He guessed he had a pretty nasty concussion and that he should be resting and not climbing around on this hillside and hopping around on his bad leg but what else could he do?
He pulled the compartment open and grasped the straps on the canteens hanging there. He was about to turn away when the radio crackled to life once more.
“Squad 51 LA…Do you copy? Come in Squad 51…,” Sam’s voice called to him.
John cast it a sour glance…As if it was mocking him. He started to turn away but then changed his mind. He had to try one more time. He picked up the mic and pushed the button. The whine of feedback filled the air, seeming to pierce his concussed brain. “Arghhh,” he groaned as he released the button.
He was about to throw it down in disgust just as Sam’s voice came again. Man…Didn’t that guy ever go home? John mused in wonder… “Unit calling in repeat…You are breaking up.” John was about to try again when Sam’s voice once again broke the quiet night air. “LA to all stations…Please maintain radio silence…We are experiencing feedback…Units needing assistance switch to tac two…”
John thought about it for a long moment. Had they figured out that it was him. He felt his heart pound with hopeful excitement. If he could just find a way to make them understand. Once again the radio came to life. “Squad 51…Gage…Is that you? If so please…repeat the burst twice.”
John grinned. They had figured it out. He pushed the button, wincing at the high pitched tone before letting go of the button and then pressing it again.
There was a long moment of silence and for a few seconds John was afraid they hadn’t heard him. His heart sank a bit but then a new voice came. “John…This is Chief Houts…If you can hear me I want you to give two bursts again.”
“Okay,” he muttered to himself as he pressed the button and then repeated it.
“Okay son…,” the gruff voice came back. “Are you injured? Give me one burst for yes and two for no.”
Houts exchanged a worried glance with Sam as one spurt of static erupted.
“Are you near your last known location on Palisades?”
There was a long moment of hesitation. John wasn’t sure how to answer that…He wasn’t on Palisades but he was close. He squeezed the button twice.
Houts frowned. Where the heck was the boy then and how could they figure out where to look?
“Ask him if he’s within a couple of miles?” Sam suggested.
“John…Are you within a two mile radius of your last location?”
John smiled…They were figuring this out. He gave them a single burst.
Houts nodded… “Okay…Get the sheriff’s department back up there and the chopper…” He glanced up as the door opened and the crew from 51’s came inside. He might need to have a word with Hank about just how fast they’d been driving to get here so quickly but on second thought…He really couldn’t blame them. This crew was tight…Like a small family.
Houts waved Roy over. “We think we have him pin pointed to within two miles of his last known location.”
“Oh thank God,” Roy murmured.
“Why don’t you talk to him Roy? See if you can get any closer.”
“Yes sir,” he said as he took the mic. “Johnny…It’s me Roy. Can you hear me junior?”
The radio exploded with a high pitched whine. Roy broke into a smile as if John had shouted his name.
On the other end, John almost lost it at the sound of Roy’s voice but he pulled himself together even as a wave of dizziness and nausea shot through him. He wanted to shout… "Help me…I’m here,” but he knew it wouldn’t be heard.
“Okay Junior…Hang on.” He looked to Houts. “Do you have a map?”
One of the other men in the room was quick to comply. He handed Roy a map. “Here you go Roy.”
“Thanks.” He looked it over carefully. “Johnny…Are you on Sunset Drive?” Two bursts came back…
“That means no.”
John was starting to feel very dizzy now. He laid his head against the cool glass. He thought he heard a groan of pain from down below. He lifted his head. They needed him but Roy was so close…
“Temescal Park Road?” Roy questioned again. There were two more bursts…A little further apart. “Junior…Are you okay?” There were two short bursts but the second cut off abruptly. “Johnny…Can you still hear me?”
There was only silence… Roy looked at the mic in his hand, willing it to make any sound at all but nothing happened.
“Johnny…?” He tried again. His blue eyes grew frightened as he looked at Hank the Chief. “He’s gone.”
“Okay Roy…We’ve narrowed it down some,” Cap said as they returned to the map.
The phone on the switchboard operator’s desk began to ring.
John looked at the mic in his hand as he heard the moan from the woman once more. “Hey mister…,” a child’s voice called. “P…please help us…You prom…promised you’d c…come back,” it sniffled.
John heard Roy’s voice… “Junior…Are you okay?”
He started to respond but a woman’s shrill cry of pain echoed around him. He keyed the mic twice quickly and threw it down. He needed to get back to his patients right now. They couldn’t wait any longer.
“Please find us Roy,” he mumbled as he grabbed the canteens and began to make his way down the steep hillside. His feet skidded several times, sending shockwaves of pain through his injured knee and a dull throb through his brain. His left arm was tingling and his shoulder ached miserably but he finally made it down. He glanced up at the squad in frustration, unsure if he’d be able to make it up that hill again.
He began to hop his way over to Susan and David but his foot caught on a root in the darkness and John fell. He lay there winded and exhausted for a long moment. “Help them,” a voice whispered close to his ear.
“I’m trying to,” he murmured softly. He opened his eyes but the sun had disappeared below the horizon. John could barely see by the moonlight but he managed to pull himself along until he found the injured mother and son.
Susan Miller was awake and trying to sit up to get to her son. John pulled himself upright. “Pl…please ma’am,” he panted. “You n…need to lie still.”
“Da…vid,” she moaned softly.
“I’ll take care of David,” he reassured her as he pressed her back. “I br…brought some water,” he told her as he carefully held the canteen to her lips to allow her to sip from it. She swallowed it gratefully. He inched around to the boy and repeated the process.
He checked their injuries and his splinting before tucking the yellow blankets close about their bodies.
John was starting to feel a bit cold himself and he knew his last reserves were spent. He just needed to lie down for a minute…Just a minute. The weary dark eyes drifted closed.
The telephone operator turned toward Houts as Roy looked forlornly at the now silent mic. “Sir…I have a man on the phone…He says he thinks his son may have run a car off the road on the Topanga Canyon Fire Road.”
“A car…Not a squad?”
“No sir…He said it was a green car… Early this morning.”
“The woman and her son,” Roy said quietly. “They were on the news.”
“Get an ambulance dispatched. Roy…Hank…Head up there. Maybe we’ll get Gage back on the radio and we’ll find him too while you’re up there…Sounds like he’s close to that location as well. Sam…Dispatch Station 23 up there as well.”
“Do you suppose he found them Cap?” Roy asked as they ran for their respective vehicles.
“Maybe…But then why didn’t he just call it in and why can’t we find the squad?”
Roy and Doug led the way up to the Topanga Canyon fire road. The Engine followed close behind. Every eye was searching for any sign of the car the boy had said was out here and all of them were hoping to see some sign of Johnny or their missing squad.
They heard the whumping sound of a helicopter before the aircraft flew over the tops of the trees…The bright search lights trained on the side of the steep, brush covered hillside.
Two cars approached them from the other direction…The flashing blue lights of one of them making it obvious that the Sheriff’s department was searching as well. The second car drove slowly behind it.
Things suddenly seemed to happen all at once. Roy suddenly hit the brakes as a shadow seemed to leap out from the bushes in front of him. He had the fleeting impression of a young boy and a dog but then it was gone.
“What happened?” Doug shouted looking around, trying to see what had startled the blonde paramedic.
Roy rubbed a hand over his face. “Johnny must be rubbing off on me,” he mumbled, looking a bit red faced.
The engine slowed to a stop behind them. “Squad 51…This is engine 51…Is there a problem?”
“Engine 51…Sorry…I thought I saw something.”
Roy was about to step on the gas when the radio squawked once more. “This is copter 12… I think I see something at the bottom of the hill…”
“What is it copter 12?” Hank asked anxiously as the Sheriff’s car pulled up facing them...Their own search lights pointing down the incline.
Copter 12’s response was cut off by an excited shout from the deputy’s own radio. “I think I have a visual on the missing squad,” he exclaimed, aiming the light at the splash of red showing through the trees and brush.
Roy’s heart thumped wildly in his chest as he threw the borrowed squad in park and climbed from the cab. He ran around to help Doug pull their equipment from the compartments. He barely noted the teenage boy that stepped from the back of the car and a man that was most likely the boy’s father.
Hank was calling dispatch. “LA Engine 51…We think we may have found both vehicles. Dispatch Station 23 and a second ambulance to the Topanga Fire Road…About two miles up on the curve.”
“10-4 Engine 51,” Sam’s voice came back. The relief in it was evident.
Lines were quickly tied into place and tossed down the hillside. Every searchlight was turned on and aimed down the hillside. Roy searched the darkness as he and Doug began to hook their belts onto the line.
He finally saw the splash of color against the brilliant glare of light. It was the squad. He pointed at it. “Cap…Doug…That’s our squad,” he said excitedly.
“Go check it out Roy,” Hank told him. “Doug…Head on down to the car. Chet…Marco. Follow them down. Mike… Send 23’s paramedics as soon as they get here. Let me know what you find,” he said softly to Doug...I’m going to go and check the squad with Roy.”
Roy shot a glance at his Captain and he could see the worry that Hank couldn’t hide in the sherry brown eyes. He was just as concerned about John as the senior paramedic was.
The two crews split up and headed down the hill.
Roy and Hank made it first. They carefully maneuvered their way around the trapped squad and peered inside the dark cab. It was empty. The mic lay on the seat where John had tossed it before he’d headed back down the hill.
The compartment doors stood open. The canteens were missing… “Well the squad’s pretty beat up but there’s not a lot of blood or anything,” Hank said reassuringly as he shone the flashlight around.
“Yeah, Roy muttered, not sounding reassured at all. “Let’s get down there,” he said with a nod toward the hill.
The two set out. They’d only gone a few feet when they heard Chet’s shout. “Cap…Roy hurry…We’ve found them.”
Roy and Hank both picked up speed. Roy’s feet had barely touched the bottom before he was unclipping from the line and racing toward the beams of light a few feet away. He slid to a stop as his eyes found the prone still form of his young partner.
Doug grinned up at him. “He’s alive Roy…Why don’t you check him out while I check out his handy work over here?” He suggested, nodding toward the mother and son that were warmly wrapped and thoroughly splinted.
Hank pulled the handy talkie from his pocket and contacted Mike and the arriving Captain from Station 23.
Roy knelt next to Johnny. His hand reached out to turn the young face toward him. He frowned at the crimson trails that streaked John’s left eye and cheek. A deep gash about two inches long arched over the dark brow and the black and purple discoloration around it was clearly evident even in the shadowy beams of light. Dirt smudged his face along with several scrapes and clean trails where sweat or tears had trickled down his face.
He noted that John’s left arm was cradled in his right hand as if it had been injured. He felt along the shoulder gently and nodded to himself. “He’s got a bad contusion over his left eyebrow and some bruising,” he told Doug as the man set up the Biophone. “He’s also got a dislocated left shoulder.”
Roy continued the exam… He felt down John’s legs and heard the soft moan of pain as his hand touched his knee. Roy pulled his pen knife and slit the pant leg to mid thigh. He winced at the swelling around John’s kneecap.”Looks like he twisted his knee pretty bad too,” he added as Doug tossed him the BP cuff and the stethoscope. Roy glanced up the hill toward the squad and shook his head in wonder. How had Johnny managed to get up that hill in this condition? He blew out a breath…He had to admit he was impressed by the kid’s perseverance. “What do you need?” Roy asked his partner, turning back to the matter at hand.
Doug grinned. “Other than a couple of IV’s I probably won’t need much,’ he admitted. “John’s already handled the worst of it.”
Roy smiled and reached out to gently smooth the dark hair back from John’s forehead. The others pretended not to notice. “Hey junior…Can you hear me?” He asked softly.
A quiet moan slipped from John’s lips. The eyelashes fluttered weakly as the BP Cuff tightened around the younger man’s arm. “R…Roy,” he mumbled.
“Yeah junior it’s me…I’m here and I’ll take care of you,” he promised quietly.
“Knew you’d f…find me,” Johnny sighed as the dark eyes drifted closed once more. Roy grinned and blinked back the burning sensation behind his blue eyes.
“Yeah junior…I’ll always find you,” he said softly. “What would I be without you huh?” He added to the now unconscious figure.
“What have you got Roy?” Doug asked as he finished giving Rampart the vitals on David and his mom.
“BP is 100/70…Pulse is 80 and his respirations are 16. He’s got a lot of bruises and scrapes and I’d suspect a concussion from the bruising... Pupil’s are equal and reactive.”
“Got it,” he said as he repeated the vitals to Kelly Brackett.
“Rampart…Victim number 3… We have a code I…A twenty four year old paramedic. Bp 100/70 Pulse is 80 and his respirations are 16…He has a contusion over his left eye and possible concussion but his pupil’s are equal and reactive. His left shoulder is dislocated and his left knee is swollen pretty badly.”
“Is this John Gage we’re talking about?” Kel asked, sounding almost hopeful.
The dark haired doctor threw Dixie a grin. “Thank God they’ve found him,” she murmured with a relieved smile.
“Start an IV on victim number two…D5WTKO… Splint the injuries on both one and two. Is the mother able to give permission to start an IV on the boy?” He asked.
“Negative Rampart...She is unconscious.”
“Tell him the Sheriff’s department is already contacting the father…He’ll meet us there,” Hank informed them.
“The father is en route to the hospital Rampart…He’ll meet us there.”
“10-4…Start an IV on Johnny,” he instructed. “D5WTKO as well…Immobilize his shoulder and splint his knee…Get them in here stat.”
“10-4 Rampart,” Doug replied as Roy started pulling the required items from the drug box. He handed two of the bags to Doug who passed one over to the newly arrived team from 23’s. They all set to work.
John winced slightly as his partner inserted the IV but the dark eyes remained closed but whether from injury or sheer exhaustion Roy couldn’t tell.
They got all three victims into the stokes that the crews had sent down and the long, treacherous climb up the steep hillside began.
“How the hell did Johnny make it up this hill?” Doug asked as he puffed out a tired breath.
Roy grinned as Marco and Chet covered their own knowing chuckles. “Pure Gage stubbornness,” Roy said with an arch to one blonde eyebrow.
Doug shook his head but kept climbing.
Joe Early, Mike Morton and Kelly Brackett met the ambulances as they backed into the bay. The man and small boy that Roy and Johnny had seen earlier was standing with a deputy. His eyes anxious and frightened as the doors were pulled open and the gurneys were pulled out.
Joe waved the attendants pushing Susan’s stretcher into treatment room two while Mike escorted the boy and his father into one.
John was last…Kel looked him over briefly before nodding his head. “Take him in four.”
They quickly transferred the unconscious young man to the exam table. The attendants left and Roy moved closer to Brackett’s side. His own eyes reflecting the same anxious look as Barry Miller’s had held.
Kel looked up at the nurse who was assisting him. “Carol…Get X-Ray down here…I want a full skull serious and his left shoulder and knee.”
She nodded and went to the phone.
Roy bit his lip nervously as he watched Brackett examine his best friend. He flashed the pen light into his eyes. His practiced fingers felt along John’s shoulder before moving to his knee. John moaned softly at the pain his touch brought. Kel frowned a bit but kept on.
“Is he gonna be alright Doc?” Roy finally asked.
Kel threw him a half grin that Roy had come to know very well over the last two years. “I’ll have to see the X-Rays of course to be certain but I don’t think he broke anything…I’d say Johnny’s probably going to be just fine,” he reassured the younger man.
Roy threw him a relieved grin. “Thanks Doc. I need to call Joanne.”
“Don’t bother,” Dixie said as she sailed into the room. “She’s on her way.”
“Thanks Dix,” Roy said quietly.
“Anytime,” she replied with a smile as she watched the blue eyes anxiously scan the younger man’s face.
“I’ll get him cleaned up,” she said as she pushed Roy toward the door. “You and Joanne can see him after X Ray is done with him okay?” She promised him gently. “Go get some coffee and tell your friends that he’ll be fine.”
The blonde paramedic stepped out the door and was met by Hank and the rest of the crew. “How is he?” Cap asked.
“Brackett thinks he’ll be fine Cap…They have to take some X Rays to be sure but…”
“But…,” Chet prompted, nodding his head as if to force a piece of good news.
“He doesn’t think John broke anything…So he’ll make a pretty fast recovery.”
“That’s great news,” Mike said with a grin.
“But he might not make as a fast a recovery as you think,” Marco added with a grin.
“Why’s that?” Roy asked the Hispanic lineman in confusion.
“Just wait’ll Charlie see’s the squad…He’ll kill him,” he teased.
“I wonder what happened?” Mike asked
“Yeah…Why was Johnny up on the fire road anyway?” Doug questioned.
“I’m sure he’ll tell us as soon as he’s able to talk,” Cap assured them.
“Let’s get some coffee,” Roy suggested, leading the way to the doctors lounge as the portable X Ray unit was wheeled into John’s room.
They sat sipping their coffee impatiently while they waited for the X Ray tech to finish up. The door was pushed open and Joanne stepped into the room. She smiled at the crew before moving to Roy’s side as he stood up to greet his wife.
She kissed him gently before asking. “How’s Johnny?” She questioned worriedly.
“They think he’s gonna be fine babe,” Roy assured her with a smile.
She breathed out a relieved sigh. “I was so worried about him all day.”
“I know…I was too…Where are the kids?”
“With Deb next door…She said she’ll keep them till morning.”
“Can I see Johnny?” She asked.
“Yes,” Kel said from the doorway as he stepped into the room.
The others climbed to their feet. “How is he?” Roy asked.
“He’s good Roy…He’s gonna have a whopper of headache when he wakes up… We had to put six stitches in his forehead. We’ve reset his shoulder and he’ll be on crutches for a couple of weeks till that knee heals but other than that I’d say he’s pretty lucky.”
“Thanks Doc,” Roy said hugging Jo to him.
“We’ll be moving him to a room soon,” Kel told them. “But you can go sit with him…Probably do him good to hear your voice Roy.”
The younger man flushed a bit as the others grinned at that remark.
Hank smiled. “Relax Roy…We know how you feel about John,” he teased.
Roy grinned ruefully and nodded in agreement. He wasn’t exactly subtle about it.
“Look pal,” Hank said. “We’ve gotta get back to the station. Why don’t you stay till they get John settled.”
“Thanks Cap…C’mon Jo.”
The couple pushed the door open and stepped inside. John’s eyes were still closed and Carol threw them a smile as they came to his side. Jo reached out to smooth the sable hair away from the young face. John always reminded her of a child when he slept…the features relaxed and vulnerable.
She frowned at the dark scrapes and the stark white bandage that covered the left part of his forehead. An IV dripped fluids into his right arm and his left was tightly strapped to his chest. She leaned down to kiss the battered cheek.
John moaned quietly.
Roy reached out and took the slender fingers in a gentle grip. “Hey junior,” he said. Can you wake up for me? I need you to wake up now Johnny?” Roy pressed, giving the fingers a squeeze.
The dark lashes fluttered…John heard a voice he knew as well as his own. Roy was close by. He let the darkness seep away and forced his eyes to open.
The faces of the two people who’d become like a brother and sister to him swam into focus. A small smile played about his lips. “Hey,” he murmured.
“How ya feelin?” Roy questioned.
“My head hurs,” he slurred.
“I’ll bet it does,” Roy agreed with a grin.
“How’re the Miller’s?” he asked sleepily.
“I don’t know junior…They were both alive when we brought them in thanks to you. How’d you find them?” Roy asked.
“Steven,” Johnny murmured as his eyes closed once more.
“Steven?” Roy questioned. “Who’s Steven junior?”
John didn’t answer. Roy tossed a glance at Jo and shrugged. She shook her head in equal bafflement. They have to wait to find out the answer to that question.
“I have to go back to the station junior but Jo’s gonna stay with you for awhile once they get you upstairs alright?”
John’s head nodded subtly but Roy suspected he wasn’t understanding much of what he was saying at this point. He swept the dark hair back gently. “I’m glad you’re home Johnny,” he said quietly.
They left the room and the door swung closed behind them. John felt a slight chill and he struggled to open his eyes. He heard a whispered voice close to his ear. “Thank you for saving them,” it sighed softly and then it was gone. John thought he heard a dog bark but that was impossible...He was in the hospital wasn’t he?
John let the pain killers send him off to sleep. He never woke as they moved him into a bed upstairs.
John woke the next morning to find Roy seated in the chair beside the bed. He carefully turned his head, wincing as the throb he’d experienced all day yesterday returned with a vengeance. He groaned.
The sound was soft but it woke Roy instantly. “Hey junior,” he said as he reached out to take hold of John’s hand.
“Hi Roy,” John replied tiredly. There was pain reflected in the dark eyes.
“You need your meds?” The older man asked.
John nodded. Roy pressed the nurse call. A nurse peeked into the room a few seconds later. “Can I help you?”
Roy nodded. “John needs his medication,” he told her. She smiled in acknowledgment and left the room.
Once they were alone, Roy reached out to gently smooth the dark, sleep tangled hair from John’s face. “You gave me one hell of a scare,” he told him, looking stern.
“I’m sorry Roy…,” he began but stopped as the door opened and Chief Houts and Captain Stanley came into the room.
“Gage,” Houts greeted gruffly.
“Morning sir,” John replied trying to sit up a little straighter.
Houts waved him back onto his pillows. “Relax Gage.”
John laid back and looked to his Captain. “Morning Cap.”
“Good morning John…How are you feeling?”
“I hurt all over,” he admitted.
Hank grinned. “I’ll bet you do.”
“John…We’d like to ask you a couple of questions alright?” Houts asked.
John shot an anxious look at his partner, wondering if he was in serious trouble. “Did I total the squad?” He murmured worriedly.
Houts waved that off. “The squad can be repaired. Charlie’s not too happy about its condition but it’s fixable.”
John breathed a sigh of relief. “John…What were you doing up on the fire road?”
“Th…there was a boy,” he mumbled tiredly.
“A boy?” Roy asked in concern. “The same one John?” He asked, remembering John’s encounter’s with the same boy twice the day before.
“Same one?” Hank asked. “You mean the one he thought stepped in front of the squad on the first run?”
“Yeah Cap,” John murmured. “I saw him in the f…fire road. He was waving at me t…to follow him so…I turned up Topanga but then…He was so far ahead of me and…I hit the gas. I just picked up the radio to call it in and then all of a s…sudden he was right in front of me,” John was breathing heavily at the memory.
“Shh shh,” Roy soothed as he once again swept the sable hair from John’s forehead. John laid back.
The nurse returned and injected something into John’s IV line. She cast a frowning glance at three men. “Please try not to upset him,” she warned as she headed for the door.
“We’ll be more careful,” Hank assured her.
The lines of pain in John’s face began to smooth out as the medication kicked in. “Anyway…I swerved to avoid him and lost control of the squad.”
“John…That’s quite a story but what was that boy doing up there? You said you saw him in town as well.”
John shot his captain a wounded look. “You don’t believe me?” He asked.
“I believe you John but…,” Hank began.
“I saw him too,” Roy said quietly.
“What?” Hank asked. “You told me you didn’t see anything.”
“I didn’t yesterday morning Cap…But I did last night…I saw something that looked like a boy…And a dog.”
“A yellow dog?” John asked.
Roy nodded. Hank and Houts exchanged a confused glance. They were about to question it further when the door opened and a man Roy recognized as Barry Miller came into the room.
“I’m sorry…Am I interrupting?” he asked quietly.
“No…No come in Mr. Miller,” Roy replied.
The man came to John’s side. He shuffled his feet a bit nervously for a moment while his fingers worried a photo held in his hands.
“You know me?” He asked the blonde paramedic.
“I saw you on TV.”
“Oh…Well…I just wanted to thank you Mr. Gage. You saved my wife and my son.”
“You’re welcome,” John murmured tiredly. “Just doin my job,” he added.
“Sue said David was trapped in the car and you were injured as well…Bu you still got em out.” John nodded, looking a little embarrassed. “I don’t know how you found them but ‘m grateful…I don’t think I coulda handled another loss.”
John frowned at that, unsure what he meant. “You’re welcome Mr. Miller,” he said, laying his head back. “But I’d have never f…found them without the kid,” he admitted as his eyes drooped.
“What kid?” The man asked.
“Steven,” John murmured.
Barry Miller’s eyes almost bugged from his head and then narrowed. “Is that some kind of sick joke Mr. Gage?” He questioned angrily.
John’s eyes snapped open at the tone. He shot a glance at his partner. “No sir,” he mumbled. “There was a…a boy…About twelve…He said his name was Steven,” John said with a frown. Did he really remember that or was it a dream? “He had a dog with him.”
“You spoke to him?” Roy asked.
“I think so,” John mumbled, looking a bit confused. “I was pretty out or it a couple of times.”
“Why were you so angry Mr. Miller?” Hank asked the stricken looking man.
The man looked down at the photo in his hand. “I picked up the stuff that was in my wife’s car this morning,” he explained as he suddenly held the photo out to John.
John’s dark eyes widened in surprise as he looked at it. “That’s him…,” he said excitedly but he quickly laid his head back as his pain shot through him. “Ahhh,” he groaned.
“Easy junior,” Roy soothed, sweeping the hair back.
“But this is him,” he panted, showing the picture to Roy and Houts and Hank.
Roy nodded… “That’s the same boy and dog I thought I saw last night…They’re the reason I stopped where I did.
“Those are my sons Steven, David and Nate The dog’s name is Beau.”
“What was your son doing out on the road yesterday and in town?” Hank asked.
“He wasn’t,” Miller assured him.
“He was…I saw him,” John insisted agitatedly.
“Mr. Gage…My son Steven is dead. He and Beau were hit by a car on Halloween night a year ago, he said softly.
John’s mouth dropped open in shock. So did Roy’s and the other two men in the room.
“But I talked to him,” he whispered, worried that he was going crazy.
“What did he say Johnny?” Roy asked gently.
“He said he was sorry…That I wasn’t supposed to get hurt. He said his name was Steven and he asked me to help them.”
Tears ran down Barry Millers cheeks as John spoke but for some reason he didn’t doubt the young firefighters words. “He wanted to be a fireman…He was dressed as one the night he died,” he added.
“I don’t understand any of this,” John murmured.
“I don’t either Mr. Gage but if you said you saw him I believe you…He was always looking out for other people, especially his little brothers.”
John nodded but he still looked stricken by the man’s words. Why? Why had he come to him? Why not someone else?
John looked up at the man. “I’m sorry about your son,” he said quietly.
“Don’t be…You’ve given me hope that he’s okay Mr. Gage. Thank you for saving my family.”
“You’re welcome,” he said again.
The man took the photo from John and left the room.
Hank and Houts exchanged a glance. They weren’t sure what to believe at this point but how could either of them refute what they’d just seen and heard?
“Well John,” Houts said quietly. “I’m not sure I believe in ghosts but I guess we’ll have to simply chock this up as an accident…Your record will remain clear…I don’t believe you could have avoided this accident regardless of who or…what actually ran in front of you,” he finished.
“Thank you sir,” John replied, laying his head back in relief.
“Get some rest John,” Hank said patting his youngest crewman’s shoulder.
“I will Cap.”
Hank pulled the door open and turned back. “You might not want to mention this little uh…Ghost story to anyone.”
“Who’d believe me?” John asked with a grin.
Hank smiled back and left.
The dark eyes turned to Roy. “What do you think…?”
“I think you’re tired and you need to rest, that’s what I think.”
“No Roy…I mean about Steven.”
The older man smiled down at his friend and let his hand rest against the dark head. His thumb swept across John’s forehead and over his temple gently.
“I don’t know junior…You’re the one who said they didn’t believe in ghosts.”
John’s eyes began to close under Roy’s soothing motion. “Why me then?” He asked.
“Kindred spirit…,” Roy replied. “You both just want to help people…Steven would know that.”
"Why didn't you see him the first time?"
"He didn't need me...He needed you."
“You think…so?” John murmured as he nodded off.
“Yeah junior…I think so.”
“Take him home Roy…See that he rests and stays off his feet.”
“I will doc.”
“I guess going trick or treating with the kids is out,” he mumbled in annoyance.
Roy grinned. “So I’ll take them out and then we’ll go over to Deb’s for the party.”
“I’m supposed to rest,” he grumbled.
“So…You’ll rest…Just over at Deb’s.”
John grinned at his best friend. “Yeah…He didn’t say it had to be at your house… but… I don’t have a costume,” he reminded his partner.
“Sure you do,” Roy teased.
Later that night the party was in full swing. John sat on the couch with his foot propped on a pillow on the coffee table. His left arm was pinned against his side. A roll of kerlex was wound about his forehead holding the bandage in place. His crutch was leaning against the wall next to him.
John watched the others dancing and sighed. A moment later a blonde doctor and a pretty auburn haired nurse joined him. They handed him a plate with cookies and a cup of punch. “How you doing Junior?” Roy asked as they sat next to him.
John shrugged. “Better now that I have some company,” he mumbled.
Jo grinned and leaned over to kiss his cheek. “We just decided to come check on you.”
A figure garbed in a white sheet approached them. “What’s he doing here?” John growled in annoyance.
“Who?” Roy asked.
He pointed at the ‘ghost’, “Him,” he said again as the figure stopped before them. “What are you doing here Kelly?” He said in irritation.
“How’d you know it was me?” Chet grouched, flipping the sheet off.
“I was raised on a ranch Kelly.”
“What’s that got to do with it?” He asked.
“I always know a horse’s ass when I see one,” he retorted.
Jo giggled and Roy snorted with laughter at the look on Chet’s face. John would never admit that he’d recognized the Irishman’s boots that he’d worn on the last double date he’d accompanied Johnny on.
“Original costume,” John said with a smirk.
“Well yeah…It was the best I could do on short notice,” he said primly. “What about you…Where’s your costume.”
“You’re lookin at it,” John replied with a grin.
Chet frowned. “He’s our patient,” Jo said with a giggle.
“Original don’t you think?” John said as he shot a smile at his two friends.
Kelly just rolled his eyes and turned away.
The music began again and Roy stood up and offered his hand to his wife. “Come dance with me nurse,” he teased as he tossed a wink at John. The younger man grinned back and picked up a cookie. John glanced toward the large window at the front of the house…He could see the reflection of the dancers as they moved about the room…Suddenly a new figure appeared.
The image of a twelve year old boy and a golden retriever reflected back at him. John’s eyes widened in shock for a moment and then a moment of understanding. “Goodbye Steven,” he said softly.
The small hand lifted briefly. “Goodbye Johnny,” the young voice whispered back. “Thank you.”
“Go with God,” he whispered as the image faded. A small smile curled John’s lips.
Happy Halloween Everybody
Posted to Site 10/28/12
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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order. The characters of Emergency belong to Universal and Mark VII but this story itself however, is the property of the author.
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