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A Time To Every Purpose Under Heaven

Part 1

An Emergency Story by

Mypiot
 

Links to Part 1. 2. 3.

 

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A Time To Every Purpose Under Heaven 

 

 

 


  Cad EMS gold    EMS Capt        EMS      EMS Capt   Cad EMS gold    

                           

 

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                                                                                                                      By Mypiot


Prologue:

 

This is the sequel to Medicine Man.

 

It is a year later from when Station 51 took their ill-fated vacation to San Francisco that sent Johnny on his journey through hell, and the tragic course of events that unfolded on board bus # 87 out of San Francisco to Los Angeles. It is now early March once again.

Johnny having spent nearly eight months on medical leave has now been back on active duty for four months.

 

In the time line of the Emergency sequence of events, this story takes place at what would be the end of season six in the series but before season seven (the movies)…I for one found too little of the boys in those movies and was never happy with how they ended Emergency, So my muse and I have decided to create our own version of what happened next after season six ended…. And so let us begin our journey……………….. Mypiot

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Disclaimer: Emergency and its characters are the property of Mark VII Productions and Universal Studios. All rights reserved.

 

No infringements of any copyrights are intended or should be inferred.

 

This is a fictional story written for entertainment purposes only. No financial gain is being realized from it.

 

The story itself and all original characters are property of the author.

 

Some of the names of places and facts in this story are born of true detail while others are simply “creative flavouring”

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A Time to Every Purpose Under Heaven

 

by Mypiot

 

Excerpt from Medicine Man: …Hank knew that one day, one by one, they would all move on, and some of them may drift off and gradually lose contact with each other. But there was one thing he was sure of. No matter where life’s path took each of them, no matter where they all ended up, Johnny and Roy would end up on the same path, taking their journey together…

 

Chapter One

 

 

Johnny Gage lay on his back pondering the vagaries of his life, while he stared up at the ceiling waiting for his breathing treatment to be over.

 

He couldn’t believe he had ended up at Rampart being treated for smoke inhalation. His exposure had been minimal and he had not really taken in much smoke at all on the scene, but his body’s reaction had been almost instantaneous and severe. Its severity had taken him by surprise...it had taken everyone by surprise.

 

vehicles4It had been just before noon when Station 51 had been called out to the scene of a multi-vehicle accident on the 405. Johnny had been inside an overturned van in the southbound lane, treating a victim whose legs were pinned beneath the dash of his vehicle. It appeared one of his legs had been fractured but other than being pinned by the dash, the broken leg seemed to be his only injury.

 

Roy was across the road beside the squad in the northbound lane loading the injured driver of a crumpled station wagon into the waiting ambulance. She had escaped with nothing more than a broken wrist and a minor scalp laceration. All in all the injuries were minor compared to the condition of the two vehicles. It was a miracle no one had been more severely injured, as both vehicles were total right offs.

 

Chet and Marco were hosing down a small stream of gas that was leaking from the station wagon’s gas tank, while Cap had come over with the jaws to help Johnny extricate his victim.

 

Everything had been going along fine until a bystander pulled out a cigarette and started to light it. Ignoring the shouts of the firefighters, he flicked his match onto the cement, which touched off the small stream of gasoline. It had gone up in a flash and had separated Cap, Johnny and their victim from the rest of the crew as well as the squad and Engine and their SCBA gear.

 

The fire had been extinguished quickly and there had not been a lot of smoke, but due to the prevailing winds what smoke there had been, had blown right into the overturned vehicle that held Johnny and Cap.

 

Johnny had done his best to avoid breathing in the smoke not only for himself but for his victim as well, but without SCBA gear, Johnny, Cap and the victim had all taken in some of the dark smoke.

 

While the victim and Cap had only suffered a few bouts of minor coughing, Johnny had immediately felt like someone had covered his face with a pillow and he had found it almost impossible to take in enough air to breath.

 

By the time Cap had gotten Roy’s attention, Johnny had lost consciousness and had remembered nothing more until he woke up in treatment room four of Rampart with an airway inserted into his throat and a very worried partner standing beside his gurney.

 

That had been just over two hours ago, and he was now lying alone waiting for his treatment to be over. Roy had been called back to the station to meet Johnny’s replacement.

 

Brackett had informed them both that Johnny would be staying at Rampart for at least forty eight hours, and he now was just waiting for a room to be made ready for him.

 

He sighed and he silently railed at how fate seemed to have conspired against him yet again. He had been released back to work only four months ago, after being off for seven and half months because of a serious and life threatening complication of bacterial pneumonia.

 

He and six others had been taken hostage while returning to L.A. from San Francisco on a bus, which had been hijacked by three men, two of which were escaped convicts. It had been a harrowing ordeal and only he and two small children had survived.

 

Johnny had had to hike for several days in cold wet conditions to escape and he had come down with pneumonia in the process, which ended up resulting in a pleural effusion, a very serious complication from the bacterial pneumonia. It had kept him in Rampart for over a month and on medical leave for six months after his release from the hospital. Two of those months had been at the DeSoto home under the loving and watchful care of his adopted family.

 

Dr. Brackett had finally released him to return to active duty at the end of October with a stern warning to remember that his lungs would be susceptible to pneumonia and other respiratory ailments, from now on.

 

jgandrs_304x219Ever since he had returned to work, Johnny had been almost obsessive in making sure he always wore his SCBA gear at all fire scenes…he even kept it on during clean up and overhaul to avoid any lingering toxic fumes and gases. Even if he hadn’t been vigilant about wearing it, he knew that Cap, Roy and the other guys would have made him.

 

They were all determined that Johnny would be protected, as they knew if he had a recurrence of the empyema, his career in the LACFD would be over. That was something they ALL wanted to avoid.

 

 Johnny gave up trying to make sense of how come it always seemed to be him that fate chose to pick on. He gave a deep sigh, which trigged a fresh round of hacking and coughing. Finally gaining control of his breathing once more, he lay back and closed his eyes and let the medications he had been given do their job. In less than a minute he had drifted off to sleep, leaving the mystery of how the fates worked for someone else to ponder.

 

If Johnny had only realized it, that is exactly what several other people were doing at precisely that very moment in time.

                                                                

 

   

 

 

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Chapter Two

                           

John Gage’s pulmonologist, Dr. Andrew Manning, sat in Kelly Brackett’s office going over Johnny’s chart, and reviewing his x-rays with Dr. Brackett.

 

Neither man’s countenance was one of happiness. In fact both men looked dismayed as they both had come to the same conclusion…and it wasn’t the one either man had been hoping for. Both doctors were now convinced that Johnny Gage should NOT continue working as a firefighter.

 

Technically, he had passed the Fire Departments physical just fine. In fact all Johnny’s doctors had been more than pleased with his progress up to this point. Although Johnny had been ill once during the winter with an upper respiratory infection, he had been diligent when it came to his health, and had come right in to see Dr. Brackett at the first sign of a cough, and so they had caught it early. With a heavy dose of strong antibiotics and a week in bed, under the watchful eyes of Joanne and Roy, he had gotten over it fine and had only missed two shifts off of work. 

 

It was no surprise that his first three-month checkup had shown he was still recovering from the empyema, but by six months his lung function had fully returned and he was declared healed and released for duty. His nine-month check up also came back perfect, but to be fair, he had not been fully put to the test as far as what would happen if he should be exposed to smoke.

 

When he had taken his fire department physical and re-certification he had been protected by SCBA gear, and in the four months since his return he had been very, very vigilant about keeping himself protected when near a fire scene.

 

Neither doctor had been prepared for his lung’s severe reaction today. It was made even more worrisome by the fact that he had only been exposed to a small amount of smoke for a very brief period of time. If this had been a large building or warehouse fire and he had found himself exposed to that kind of thick dense smoke because his regulator had malfunctioned, or he had run out of air unexpectedly, both doctors were certain that John Gage would have died before anyone found him and help had arrived.

 

The problem was, they knew all firefighters technically were under a possible death sentence each time they entered a burning building, and as long as they passed the physical they were accepted. Of course the paramedics often found themselves in a position where they would have to remove there SCBA in order to share their air with a victim…it was clear that if that were to happen to Johnny, the very real outcome would most probably be death to both he and the victim.

 

As much as he hated to do it, Kel was going to have to recommend to the LACFD that Johnny Gage be put on a permanent medical disability and retired from the department.

Unfortunately because the paramedics were part of the Fire Department Johnny would be unable to be a paramedic either. This part bothered Kel, because he realized that Johnny was more than able to continue being a paramedic, it was just being involved with putting out or being exposed to fires that was the problem here.

 

brackettKelly Brackett sat down and sighed as he looked over dismally towards his colleague, “There is no getting around it, Andrew, by the time Johnny arrived here at Rampart, he had needed to be intubated and his breathing was being assisted, his pulse ox level was down to 90…. it’s still only 94 with one treatment under his belt. How likely is it that this was a freak occurrence and not a sign that his lungs are extremely sensitive to smoke inhalation? In your opinion is this a direct and lasting result of the empyema he had last year?”

 

Andrew Manning sat looking over John Gage’s charts once more. “I can’t say for sure, but yes, Kel, in all likelihood this is probably a permanent issue that is a direct result of the empyema. Thankfully it hasn’t turned chronic, but it could, and that is just another reason for him to avoid going through another episode like today. Right now this is nothing more than a severe reaction by his respiratory system. He already had a tendency toward respiratory ailments and losing his spleen and developing that pleural effusion less than a year apart…well I guess we really shouldn’t be surprised something like this has cropped up. Of all the jobs he could have had, firefighter is probably the worst and most high risk for John Gage.

 

Dr. Manning got up and moved over to the opposite side of the office. “Now that I stop to think of all his body has gone through, I can’t say I’m surprised, in fact I’m more surprised that he has thus far appeared to escape with no ill effects whatsoever. The one thing we can be grateful for is that it was a small exposure and his partner was right there immediately. Had this exposure been in more severe circumstances or a larger amount for a longer period, we would most likely have been attending his funeral.”

 

Kel Brackett gave a sad grin… “I know what your saying is true, but it’s not going to make breaking the news to him and his partner any easier.” Kel got up and closed up Johnny’s chart. “Come on Andrew, what do you say I buy you a coffee and a piece of pie. I missed lunch and I am more than ready for something to eat.”

 

Both men got up slowly and walked out into the corridor, towards the cafeteria.

Down in the cafeteria, both doctors, picked up their trays of food and headed out into the open courtyard to find a table. It only took them a moment of scanning the tables, for their eyes to find Dixie and Joe Early sitting in a quiet corner of the courtyard drinking coffee.

 

Dixie McCall had been enjoying a quiet break while she and Joe Early sat discussing a local jazz club they both liked to frequent; as she looked up she noticed Kel and Andrew walking toward them, both of them wore frowns on their faces. Joe Early noticed his two colleagues as they got closer and motioned for the two men to join he and Dixie at their table.

 

“What’s the matter? You look like you just lost your best friend Kel.” Dixie said

 

“You’re close Dix.” Kel replied sadly. “I didn’t just lose my best friend, but I did just lose one half of the best paramedic team to ever come out of the program.”

Before either Joe or Dixie could say anymore, Kel raised his hand to stop them… “No it’s nothing like that Dixie, but Andrew and I have been going over Johnny’s charts and we have both come to the conclusion that we can’t clear Johnny to go back to work as a fire fighter…his lungs are just not able to handle the exposure to the smoke anymore.”

 

Dixie sat in her chair in stunned silence. “Have you told him yet?” she asked.

 

“No,” said Kel, as he rubbed his forehead in frustration. “He finally stopped fighting the meds and fell asleep shortly before he was settled into his room. I am hoping he’ll sleep for a few hours yet…besides, I think it may be better if Roy’s here when I break the news to Johnny, after all this will affect Roy as well. He is going to be upset over losing Johnny for his partner…” suddenly his voice trailed off and he face fell even more… “Shit” he said and dropped his head into his hands.

 

“What is it Kel?” Joe asked.

 

Dr. Brackett looked over at Dixie. “Dix you’ve grown close to the guys, ever since you became Johnny’s Tipsy thingy…”

 

Dixie snorted with laughter…”Tiyospaye” she corrected. “And yes, I am Johnny’s adopted sister now, and he is my adopted brother.”

 

Kel just rolled his eyes, but he never lost the serious look on his face. “Do you think they were serious about that whole, staying together pact Roy said that they made?” he asked grimly.

 

INFERNO89Dixie finally understood where Kel was going with this and she too sighed deeply… “Well Kel, I think Johnny will try to talk Roy into staying with the department, but I also know for a fact that Roy won’t stay without Johnny. Hell, Kel, it’s to be expected. Can you really picture either one of them being happy or content as a paramedic without the other by his side? We all know they think, breathe and act as one entity when they’re on the job. It’s part of the magic that is the Gage/DeSoto machine.”

 

She stopped for a few more moments, and then went on… “No, Kel there’s no way Roy will stay if Johnny has to go…I can tell you with 100% certainty that we just lost both of our best paramedics.”

 

She looked across the table towards the doctors and pleaded, “Isn’t there something we can do Kel? Can’t we arrange it so Johnny just does rescue and medical calls, and have someone else respond to fire calls? It’s such a waste of talent and skill to have him leave the program entirely. How many people are alive today that wouldn’t be, because it was Johnny and Roy who were called out to the rescue?”

 

“I know, Dix. That’s the aggravating part of this whole deal. Johnny could still be a paramedic, he just can’t be a firefighter going into smoke filled buildings and fighting fires or pulling people out. But as for other types of rescues where no smoke or toxic fumes would be involved, he would be perfectly fine. His lungs have shown that they can handle the physical labour, but what they can’t seem to handle is smoke. It’s just something Andrew feels is a result from his illness last year.”

 

“Damn it!” Brackett slammed his fist down on the table. “I have to try and find some way to get around the system, to see if we can’t keep Johnny on as a paramedic. If we lose John, we lose Roy too. Surely the department will realize what a loss that will be to everyone involved. John’s going to be upset enough when he finds out his days as a hose jockey are over. I would at least like to be able to salvage his paramedic career. The program can’t afford to lose their best team. How many new trainees have benefited from their guidance?” Pushing his plate of pie back, he stood up.

 

“Where are you going Kel?” Joe asked.

 

“I’m going to make a few phone calls before I call Roy to come in…hopefully I can work something out and prevent Rampart from losing the best thing to come out of the program since it’s inception.”

 

Without further ado, he turned and strode purposefully back towards the elevators.

 

Back at Station 51 Roy sat in Cap’s office while Hank filed the incident report on this afternoon’s accident. He finally finished writing his final paragraph, and quickly read over his report one final time before scrawling his signature across the bottom and set it in his out box.

 

mHank hated having to fill those in, especially when it involved John Gage. Somehow he, like everyone else, had come to realize that over the course of the last 6 years he had become in some ways a kind of surrogate parent to his youngest crewmember.

The maddening part of all this, was that Johnny had been the epitome of careful since his return four months ago, and this had not been his fault. It was the fault of some idiot who didn’t know or care enough about the danger of tossing a lit match down onto gasoline soaked ground. None of this had been Johnny’s fault.

 

The one aspect of this whole thing that bothered him was how quickly and how serious Johnny’s condition had deteriorated over what had clearly been a minor exposure. Both he and the victim had barely been affected. Neither had had more than a bit of minor coughing because of their brief exposure to the smoke. It just didn’t make any sense.

 

The whole situation left him with an ominous feeling of foreboding that made his stomach do flip flops…he just couldn’t nail down what that uneasy feeling meant; or if it indicated anything at all.

 

One thing was for sure, this day that had started out normally had left him wishing he could rewind and start it all over again, because inside his gut he knew that somehow or in same way this was just the calm before the storm.

He looked over at Roy who was sitting across from him, seemingly lost in deep thought.

 

Roy was going over the events of the last rescue in his mind as well. The whole thing had clearly shaken him to the core. The fact that such a small amount of exposure had literally sent Johnny into an almost immediate respiratory arrest had been unsettling. It had also raised some serious questions in his mind about Johnny’s future with the department. Unlike Hank Stanley, Roy’s mind had pieced together the correlation, between what had happened today regarding Johnny’s reaction to the smoke exposure, and the pleural effusion he had suffered several months back. He had a pretty good idea of what may be happening and he knew what the probable outcome would be.

 

He knew that if what he suspected was the case, then Johnny’s days with the LACFD were over. He was also still firm in his decision that if Johnny’s days as a firefighter were over, then his were too. He realized that since it was a smoke issue that had felled Johnny today, then that ruled out Johnny even going for Captain or Engineer, as both required one to be on the fire scene.

 

Unlike Johnny though, the thought of no longer being a hose jockey didn’t upset Roy in the least, nor would it upset Joanne. His heart had always been with the paramedic program more than the fire department. And he knew Joanne’s biggest fears came from him being a firefighter, not a paramedic.

 

E0231

 

He would however, miss being a paramedic, but California’s system was set up as such, that paramedics worked in conjunction with the fire department. All paramedics were firefighters as well. This meant that he could not have one without the other.

 

But then would he really want to continue being a paramedic without Johnny by his side? That thought was worse than the thought of leaving the program altogether.

 

He knew the main reason he enjoyed his work so much was the fact that he had Johnny for a partner. He knew he wouldn’t be happy at the job anyway should John be gone.

It wasn’t even something he was second-guessing, he knew in his heart what he really wanted more than anything was to continue working with Johnny, in whatever job they decided upon. If he had Johnny by his side, he could be happy almost anywhere.

 

He knew that he needed to have a long talk with both Joanne and Johnny, and after he had done that he needed to talk with both Brackett and Cap.

 

As much as he loved being a paramedic, he loved his family more, and Johnny was a very important part of his family. And seeing him today and how he had nearly died had scared him. In fact he had decided that even if Brackett signed Johnny off for duty, he was going to try and find some way to convince Johnny that maybe it was time for them both to move on and find a new career.

 

He knew as much as he hated to leave, he could live without being a paramedic if he had to. But what he couldn’t stand the thought of was living without his little brother. And clearly this job and Johnny’s health and welfare were no longer compatible, nor was it something he was willing to risk.

 

He had no intentions of voicing his thoughts to Cap right now…he had a lot to think about and he needed to talk to his wife and his little brother. But since Johnny was at this very moment laying in a hospital bed hopefully asleep and recovering, and he was still on duty, he would have to be content with calling Joanne only…He would wait until Johnny was released and then discuss the matter with him. Besides maybe it would be better for him and Joanne to present a united front. He knew Johnny would try and talk him into staying with the department. But Roy had been serious when he and John had made their pact a few years back, and he did have a couple ideas to fall back on…unlike Johnny, he had thought this through many times before this event.

 

 

Heaving a heavy sigh, he rose slowly from his chair and looked over at Cap and gave him a weak smile. “I think I’ll go into the dorms and use the phone in there to call Joanne and let her know what’s happened. She’ll want to know and I need to talk to her anyway.”

 

Hank got up and slid his chair back from his desk. “Don’t bother going to the dorms Roy, I’m going to go get some coffee and try and catch some of the ball game on T.V. You might as well stay here and use the phone in the office. I’ll close the door on my way out to give you some privacy.”

 

“Thanks Cap,” said Roy gratefully. As soon as Hank had left and closed the door, Roy reached over to the phone and lifted the receiver and began to dial his home phone number. Damn it, this whole situation was giving him a headache he thought as he waited for his wife to pick up the phone on the other end. He sighed once again as he rubbed his hands over his eyes.

 

Suddenly Jo’s voice came over the line. “Hi, Honey” he said.  He took a deep breath and plunged forward with what it was he knew he needed to do now.

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

Johnny opened his eyes slowly and glanced around the room. It took him a minute or two to orient himself to his surroundings, and come to the conclusion that he was once again in Rampart. He looked towards the window and seen that it was now dark outside.

 

He took notice of the fact that he had an IV running in his left arm and an oxygen mask on. Gradually as he became more aware, the events of earlier in the day came sliding back into clarity in his mind. He lay there silently as his mind processed and filed the events as he remembered them.

 

He groaned inwardly as he realized what had happened. Only he could have nearly died from such a minor smoke exposure. Maybe it was all the drugs in his system, or maybe his body’s own exhaustion at the ordeal he had just been through that made his mind so sluggish, but as he lay there playing the days events over and over in his mind, it took his thought processes several minutes before the missing piece of the puzzle finally slipped into place inside Johnny’s head…suddenly a new light went off in his mind and he started to become aware of just exactly what the implications of the event could possibly mean, and that his current condition meant that he had suddenly had a relapse of his empyema.

 

As the reality and the fear of what it could mean set in, his heart began to race and his breathing began to increase rapidly. He could feel himself begin to gasp for breath as he began to hyperventilate…he knew he should slow down his breathing, but once he started to panic, it became a vicious cycle beyond his ability to control. He began to feel like he was smothering and he broke out into a cold sweat.

 

Roy at hospitalOut of nowhere he could hear Roy talking to him, trying to calm him down. It was at that precise moment his mind went into sensory overload and it seemed to disconnect from his body. Suddenly everything became surreal and it was if he was watching the scene unfold before him from a distance. He tried to figure out just exactly when Roy had arrived in his room…funny he hadn’t noticed him there when he first woke up…he could hear a the monitor screeching as well as Dr. Bracketts voice now intermingling with Roy’s, and he could feel his world start to tunnel out. It was then he felt the familiar cool sensation of diazepam running up his arm and sending his over stressed senses to rest in the arms of Hypnos once more.

 

The next time Johnny woke up he could tell it was now late at night. He still had an IV and was hooked to the monitors, but he had been switched to a nasal cannula; he could tell that he had obviously received another breathing treatment while he’d been out, by all the paraphernalia sitting around his bed. He took an experimental deep breath and found that his chest was not nearly as tight as it had been earlier. He sighed in relief.

 

Instinctively he looked around the room for Roy, but instead of Roy, he found Dixie dozing in the chair beside his bed with her right hand holding his. He smiled to himself and willed himself to keep his panic under control about what he was afraid had happened to his body earlier that day at the accident scene.

 

dixie3When he felt he had it all together, he gently squeezed Dixie’s hand and tried to ease himself up higher in the bed. The moment he shifted his body, her eyes popped open and she surreptitiously moved her hand from his hand to his wrist as she took his pulse, and glanced over at the monitor beside the bed.

 

“It’s ok Dix, I’m not going to freak out…it’s under control now.” Johnny said sheepishly.

 

“So just exactly what was that all about before?” she asked.

 

Johnny could tell she was doing her best to be the stern big sister/nurse, but the worry and fear bled through her voice, and he felt badly for putting his friends through the stress his earlier panic attack had caused.

 

“Nothing,”… Ok, so, I’m lying…“I was just a bit disoriented when I woke up and panicked.” Ok, another lie. But he wasn’t ready to talk about his fear at what he suspected had been the cause of his severe smoke inhalation reaction earlier… not just yet anyway, at least not with anyone other than Roy

 

All right Johnny, he thought to himself, time to change the subject.

 

 “Did Roy go home? I mean I was sure he was here in the room with me last time I woke up and well…you know… when I did my little freak out routine.” He looked up at Dixie and hoped his sudden change of subject had worked.

 

“No, you’re right Johnny. He was here with you, and you didn’t freak out, you were just a bit confused and upset. It’s perfectly understandable.” She reached over and smoothed the hair back on his forehead. She smiled down at her little brother and continued on.

 “Roy got Bellingham to come in and finish off his shift for him. In fact he’s been here for quite a few hours, so Kel finally took him…well ordered him,” she snickered as she remembered Kel practically dragging a protesting Roy out of Johnny’s room, “down to the kitchen in the doctor’s lounge to get something to eat since the cafeteria’s closed this late at night.”

 

She knew what Johnny was doing by changing the subject, but she herself wasn’t prepared to get into a deep discussion with him right now either, since she didn’t want him to ask her about when he would be released and be able to go back to work…especially since she knew the answer was going to be never.

 

Johnny nodded and fell silent, and Dixie continued to stroke his brow gently hoping it would lull him back to sleep once more. Thankfully, her tactic worked like a charm and Johnny’s eyes slowly drifted closed as his breathing deepened and evened out once more.

 

Heaving a deep sigh of relief, Dixie looked down sadly on the young man in the bed. Her heart broke as she thought about the news she knew he was going to find out the next morning. She gently leaned over and gave him a soft kiss on the cheek and then took his hand in hers once more and sat back down in the chair to resume her vigil. After all, that’s was what protective big sisters did, right?

 

Down stairs Roy was having a serious heart to heart with Kelly Brackett…both men had decided that there was no sense in putting off what they both knew in their hearts had to be said and done. They might as well, get a plan of attack in place now, so they would both be on the same page about what it was they needed to do, in order to help Johnny get through the next few days while he adjusted to what was going to be a life changing event in his world.

 

coffeeRoy sat and picked at the sandwich that sat on the plate in front of him…he was now on his third cup of coffee. “This is going to be so much harder on Johnny than it is on me, you know that don’t you doc?” Roy asked his friend and soon to be ex-boss. “I mean he’s going to blame himself for my leaving the program and he’s going to start carrying around a whole shitload of guilt if we can’t convince him that it’s not his fault this happened. I just wish there was another way around this you know…being a paramedic and a firefighter means a lot to Johnny. He worked so hard to come from where he started out in life to where he is now. And he wouldn’t even have this condition if it hadn’t been for his heroic actions in saving himself and those kids last year…it’s just so damn unfair,” he said bitterly.

 

Kelly Brackett looked over at Roy before he began to answer. Finally after a few minutes of silence he began to speak. “Roy, what I’m going to tell you next is still strictly off the record. So far only the administration knows about this.”

 

Roy sat up and leaned forward, “What is it Doc?”

 

Brackett took a deep breath and proceeded. “Well first let me tell you that I have been on the phone all day with the hospital administration, the head of the fire department and the head of the paramedic programs working out of St. Francis, and Harbor General, trying to work out how we can keep you boys in the paramedics at least.  It’s not been openly talked about but both Dwyer and Brice are going for Captain in September, and Bellingham and Wheeler have stated that they will be taking the engineer’s exam in September too. Mainly it’s down to promotion and money.”

 

“The big problem is the fire department just isn’t willing to budge, and why should they?  In the end they are not losing anyone are they? I mean when you stop to think about it, none of the men are actually leaving the fire department; they are just changing titles or changing jobs within the department. This means there isn’t really any motivation for the fire department to loosen or update the rules regarding Firefighter/Paramedics is there?”

 

“Now those of us who are in charge of the paramedic end of things and the hospital administration see the danger in losing all of our most experienced paramedics at the same time. Our one ace in the hole was that we still had our two best paramedics, you and Johnny, active in the field. We still had you two there to use as mentors for the new trainees.”

 

Brackett sighed heavily and rubbed his hand over his fore head in frustration.

 

brackett“But with today’s news that Johnny’s lungs just can’t handle the smoke anymore, it changes things. The way the system is set up now here in California, John will have no other choice but to leave the department. That in turn means he’ll have to leave the paramedic program as well.  We were hoping that the fire department would realize that you are a team and won’t be split up, which means you will both leave the department entirely unless some changes are made to the way the system is run…we were hoping they would see the necessity of keeping you on as active paramedics at least, and maybe make some concessions; maybe having you two as a strictly elite paramedic team that dealt strictly with medical treatment and all search and rescue operations that do not involve fires. I know of several other states where the paramedics are separate from the fire department. Oh they work together and in conjunction with the fire department at times, but they are not governed or controlled by the fire department. They are their own separate organization. However right now in California, it isn’t going to be happening anytime soon I’m afraid. I talked until I was blue in the face and they wouldn’t even listen,” he said angrily.

 

Brackett looked over and seen Roy sadly nodding his head in agreement.

 

Kel smiled and then continued on. “Now this is the hush-hush part Roy, I haven’t announced it officially, because I haven’t even had a chance to tell Joe or Dixie yet, and I made the hospital administration promise me to hold off until I can talk to them.” Brackett took a sip of his coffee and stood up. “I have been summoned back to Baltimore, back to Johns Hopkins. I have been offered the position of head of the biomedical department, …and I have accepted. I’ll be leaving Rampart at the end of August. The administration wants to outsource the paramedic training program. I have been talking to them all afternoon and explained the situation to them. They are more than interested in having you and Johnny take over the training program. It would mean a promotion in rank as well as a pay raise for both of you.”  Kel stopped and looked up expectantly at Roy.

 

Roy sat there dumfounded for a moment and then began to speak.

 

“Wow, Doc. This is really huge news. You’re really leaving L.A. and going back to Baltimore? Who’s going to take over running the ER here?”

 

Kel shrugged his shoulders. “That’ll be up to the administration, but I suspect they’ll offer it to Mike Morton and Joe Early for now anyway, unless they bring in someone new all together. I doubt Joe will accept though. I happen to know for a fact that he is planning to scale back his hours here to 2 or 3 days a week. He wants to semi-retire. And I can’t blame him for that; he’s already had to have one heart surgery. So I’m not too sure what the big wigs will come up with. I’m sure Mike Morton can handle the work and the ER itself, but I’m not convinced he has the patience or temperament to deal with all the politics and games that go on with the administrators. But they have five months to figure

that one out anyway. The big question here Roy, is are you interested in taking over the paramedic training program? It allows you to not only keep your paramedic certification, but it will also come with a higher rank for both you and Johnny, not to mention substantially more money, which you both deserve.”

 

Roy sat quietly for a moment and stared down into his now cold coffee.

 

“Well, Doc, it sounds great to me, and yes, I’d consider it, but honestly, I’m not too sure I can see Johnny wearing a suit and tie, sitting indoors all day teaching, not to mention the paperwork involved. I don’t think Johnny would be happy at all. He’s just so active, and he has so much pent up energy all the time. He literally thrives on all the intense action and adrenaline rushes that come with our job. He’d feel like a caged animal I think. It’s really something Johnny and I would need to discuss once he gets over the shock of having to leave the department. When do you need an answer?”

 

Brackett smiled sadly. “I guess I never thought about it that way, but you’re probably right…but maybe he might consider it a better option than leaving the paramedics completely.” He paused once again and then poured himself another coffee.

 

“Well, let’s just get Johnny back on his feet and let him get used to all the changes that will be happening in his life, and then maybe you guys can sit and talk it over and see what you think. I can promise you that you’ll have a couple of weeks before anyone will be pushing you for an answer anyway.”                        

 

Roy stood up and shook Kel’s hand.

 

“Either way I’m going to miss you when you leave L.A. Doc. Whatever Johnny and I decide to do, we’ll be ok, but I just want you to know that both Johnny and I consider it an honor to not only call you boss, but that we are also able to call you friend too.”

 

Kel returned the handshake warmly and laughed, “Yes, considering the rocky start we got off on, I think we’ve come a helluva long way. I was pretty hard headed in the beginning, but it was you and Johnny that opened my eyes to just how important and necessary paramedics are out in the field…in a big way it was you and Johnny that are responsible for the paramedic program here in California. I never would have changed my mind and testified before the legislative committee in support of Assemblyman Wolskie and the bill, if it wasn’t for you guys and your skill and dedication. You two single handedly changed my mind by showing me first hand just how capable and effective paramedics can be. It would be a literal crime for you to both leave like this now.”

 

When Johnny woke up again it was just breaking dawn. He still had his IV and the nasal cannula, but the monitors had been turned off.

 

He looked around his room and noticed that he was alone. For once he was glad that no one else was here. Johnny needed a chance to think, and he just couldn’t do that freely when someone else was with him. He always felt like he had to put on a brave face so he wouldn’t worry others.

 

It wasn’t like he couldn’t be himself around Roy; he knew he could trust Roy with anything, and most of the time that included Dixie and Joanne as well, although there would always be things he could only…and would only, talk to Roy about.

 As close as he had gotten to the whole DeSoto family, Dixie, and to some extent, even Cap, it was still vastly different when it came to talking to Roy.

 

 Roy was on a whole different level of trust. Talking to Roy was like talking to his own soul.

 

But there were still times when he just needed to be alone so he could figure out just exactly how it was he felt. He couldn’t let others know what he was thinking and feeling until he had had a chance to figure it out for himself, and to do that, he needed some time alone.

 

Right now what he needed to figure out, was what the hell had happened yesterday, and what exactly did it mean?

 

He looked up at the ceiling and sighed. Johnny wasn’t a doctor and he didn’t know everything there was to know about medical issues, at least not enough to work out all the fine details to medicine. It’s not like he knew enough about medicine that he could perform surgery on anyone.

 

But being a Paramedic, he understood, and had a lot more knowledge on the subject than most other people did. He certainly knew enough about the human anatomy and medicine to know how the human body functioned, or how it was supposed to function. He also knew what happened to the body when it malfunctioned, and he had the training and skills to know how to treat and counteract those issues in an emergency situation.

 

So he knew full well, that what had happened yesterday was not normal; that his lungs had not functioned as they should have. His lungs certainly should have been able to handle such a minor smoke exposure without too much difficulty…some minor coughing at best.

 

The fact that he had nearly died was a clear sign that his lungs were not handling the smoke as they should have. He was also aware that it had never been an issue before now. He knew the only thing in his life that had happened that could have possibly been the culprit for yesterday’s reaction was his recent illness…that damn pleural effusion.

 

He looked up and sighed heavily. Who was he trying to kid here? There really was nothing to figure out. This wasn’t exactly rocket science; he had enough medical acuity to know that. He understood fully what had happened and he was almost positive he knew why it had happened. He also knew the ramifications of the entire event. It was more than obvious that his days at the fire department were probably over, which meant his days as a paramedic were over too.

 

Most certainly Doctor Brackett knew, and he knew Roy would know by now too. Roy had the same knowledge as Johnny, so he had to have put the puzzle together as well. Did Dixie know? … Probably, which was most likely the reason why she didn’t push him to talk about it last night. He just wondered who else had been told.

Cap? The Department? The guys?

 

No, he was sure Brackett wouldn’t tell anyone else other than Roy and the other medical personnel who were taking care of him. There was still patient confidentiality here, and Roy, as his next of kin, did have the right to that kind of privileged information, but Roy would not talk to anyone without Johnny’s consent.

 

 His and Roy’s loyalty to each other was always a given.

 

Roy… what was he going to do about Roy? He had to somehow convince Roy to stay on with the department. Roy had a wife and kids to feed and a mortgage to pay.

 

Even if he didn’t want to be a paramedic without Johnny, which is something Johnny understood, he had to at least get him to take the Engineers exam or the Captains exam.

 

Johnny knew those were not options for him now, this illness meant he’d have to leave the department completely. But Roy still had other options in the department. He somehow had to make sure Roy didn’t give up his security… his family’s security, out of loyalty and friendship…out of love for his little brother.

 

Johnny had three great loves in his life. And by loves in his life, he did not mean people.

His Tiyospaye…his family, Roy, Joanne, Chris, Jenny, Dixie … these were not just loves in his life… to Johnny they were life itself.

 

By loves in his life, he meant the activities that brought him joy and gave him a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

 

Being a paramedic and firefighter was one. The second was being out in nature. The third was his ranch and his horses. Now that his first love would no longer be his to enjoy, he had some decisions to make.

            

 

He and Roy had made a pact. The terms were clear and specific, they were simply… if you go, then I go too. Neither Johnny, nor Roy, had the heart or will to consider having anyone else as a permanent paramedic partner.

 

Johnny knew Roy would make good on that pact…he knew, because if the roles were reversed, he would do the same. This would not even be open for discussion, nor would Johnny even try, because he really did know how Roy would feel having another partner…again, it was because he felt the same way and understood that feeling all too well. But he was going to try and persuade him to stay on in the department in another capacity…try to convince him to take the promotion he deserved and the raise in pay that he needed with his growing family.

 

He also knew he had some decisions of his own to make now too.

 

Truth be told, Johnny Gage had thought about what he would do if he couldn’t be a firefighter/Paramedic before. How could he not have, when just a few months earlier his career had such a huge question mark over it? Even when he knew he would be returning to work he had continued to think about it.

 

He had thought about what he would do if Roy was injured and disabled to the point where he could no longer stay with the department…even worse what if Roy were killed?

 

If Roy were disabled, then he would have found some way for the two of them to work together doing something that would make them both happy.

 

If Roy ever died, he would make sure that Jo and the kids were looked after, financially the department would pay benefits, but there were so many other areas to consider, home repair, car repairs, honey-do lists, being a father figure to the kids. All these things Johnny would accept as his responsibility if that day ever came. It’s what family’s do.

 

But this was something else…yes technically this would be put down as a disability and he would get some kind of benefits from it…but physically he was still able bodied in all areas of his life…as long as it doesn’t involve fires and smoke.

 

Unlike Johnny, who would be pensioned off now as disabled as far as the fire department was concerned, for Roy to leave the department entirely, he would be quitting, which meant he would forfeit all of his benefits, which included his medical insurance package… there would be no pension cheques coming in for Roy, no continued benefits like Johnny would get. And Roy’s family needed that security. Somehow he would have to convince Roy to stay on in the department.

 

As for himself, he had decided that he would do what he had always wished he had the time to do….he was going to turn his ranch into a full time horse ranch, breeding and selling horses.

 

As much as he was upset about leaving the job he loved so well behind…hell, being a firefighter and more importantly a paramedic, was who he was… But even despite that fact, at least he knew that he would still be able to do something he loved just as much as being a paramedic.

 

 At least he had his ranch and his horses. Hadn’t he always lamented to Roy that he wished he had more time to spend on being a serious horse rancher? He was always saying to Roy that that was what he planned to do when he retired from the department.

 Be careful what you wish for Johnny boy…was now running through his mind.

 

Still he knew he could be more than content and happy running his ranch, it was after all one of the great loves of his life too.

 

Now he just needed to convince Roy to stay with the department, and to go for engineer or Captain. He needed to talk to Joanne. It was dirty pool, but he would do what ever it took, come hell or high water, to make sure his family was taken care of. It was all about what was best for Roy, Jo, and the kids. Their happiness and well being was paramount.

 

Now that he had things settled in his mind, he was ready to talk to Brackett to confirm his fears. Then he needed to talk to Roy and Jo.

 

 After everything had been settled between him and Roy, then and only then, would he talk to Cap and the guys.

 

 

 

                                                   Chapter Four

 

 

Just before breakfast had been served at Rampart, both Roy and Doctor Brackett arrived in Johnny’s room. He was extremely nervous as he watched them enter and walk over to stand beside his bed.

 

It wasn’t as if he hadn’t been expecting it, but he was still not looking forward to having Doctor Brackett confirm out loud, once and for all, the verdict on Johnny’s career. It felt just like the feeling you got when they lower the coffin into the ground at he end of a funeral. The finality of it was still painfully hard for him to bear.

 

As much as he had told himself he was at peace with the outcome, he couldn’t help the overwhelming sense of loss from creeping into his heart, because John Roderick Gage loved his job. It was such a huge part of who he was. He had battled so hard from life on the streets as a homeless orphan, to where he was now.

 

He was proud of all the successes he had, proud of the hard fought for battles between life and death that he waged every shift. Sure there were the heartbreaking losses, but more often than not, there were the saves.

 

He loved the feeling it gave him when he saw the look of relief on the faces of the victims and their families, when they realized that Johnny and Roy had given them a chance to live another day, to celebrate another Christmas or birthday with their loved ones.

 

He was also proud each time they tamed the wild beast called fire; when they extinguished the flames that roared and ravaged everything in its wake.

Sure it was messy, dirty and mind numbingly exhausting, and yes, sometimes he got hurt.

jrg10But at the end of the day it was worth it, because that was what made him tick. It was his passion. And the thought that it was now all about to be lost to him forever, still left him feeling somewhat lost and empty, like someone he loved had just died…in fact that’s exactly what it felt like…it felt like grief.

 

For the first moment or two, no one said anything, and then finally Doctor Brackett sat down on the edge of his bed. “How are you feeling this morning Johnny?” he asked

 

Johnny gave a sad smile, “Like I’m heading to my own execution. I have a good idea what you’re going to say, and as much as I know it’s not what I want to hear, I guess maybe it’s better if we just address it now. Kinda like ripping the band aid off fast so it’s over quickly.”

 

Kel looked over at Roy and almost seemed like he was at a loss for words about how to begin the conversation, so in his usual headstrong John Gage style, Johnny took the proverbial bull by the horns. Although this time, it was pure bravado on Johnny’s part. In fact it was all Johnny could do to say the words and still keep his voice steady. But his stubborn will won out.

 

To show his tears and pain in front of Roy was one thing, but to let Brackett see his weak side was more than Johnny would be able to stand. So Johnny put on a brave front and plunged forward.

 

“Look, both of you, I know I’m done with the department, just tell me please, is what happened yesterday a recurrence of the empyema or is it just a permanent aftereffect?”

 

With the door now open on the subject, Doctor Brackett spoke up. “No, Johnny it’s not a recurrence, but it is a residual ‘aftereffect’ as you put it, that both Dr. Manning and I have agreed is permanent. And yes, as much as it pains me say this to you, we will be notifying the LACFD, that your last run and injury was career ending and that you are no longer physically able to be a firefighter. I’m so sorry Johnny, I wish it wasn’t so, I know how much you love your job, but your body clearly can no longer handle even a small exposure to smoke. The nearest thing I can compare it to, would be like saying that it’s the same idea as being an anaphylactic whose allergy trigger is smoke…of course that’s not what it is, but it’s the same type of deal. Even a minor exposure could potentially kill you, as we all unfortunately discovered yesterday.”

 

“Now before we get into this conversation any further, I’d like to check you out.” And with that he proceeded to examine the young man.

 

After taking Johnny’s vitals and listening to his lungs, Kel stood up and smiled.

 

“Well, your lungs still have some minor congestion, but they are 100% better than what you were like yesterday. I think we can remove the IV, and clear away the monitor for good. I’ll have the nasal cannula and oxygen removed, but only after you’ve had one last breathing treatment to clear away that last bit of congestion. Then we’ll see how your lungs do on their own without oxygen supplementation for today and tonight…if all goes well, I see no reason why you can’t go home tomorrow…but I don’t want you to do any chores or overly strenuous activity for a week, just give your lungs a good rest, they’ve been severely stressed in the last 24 hours.”

 

He stood up and patted Johnny on the knee, “Now Roy and I have had a long, long talk, and I think maybe it’s best if I leave you two to talk about all of this alone. But if you need me, or have any questions, just tell the nurse, and I’ll be back up in a second. I’ll make sure that they bring your breakfast tray and then leave you two undisturbed for as long as you need” The good doctor then gave Roy a pat on the shoulder and exited the room.

 

As soon as Doctor Brackett left the room, Roy came over and sat on the chair next to Johnny’s bed. Both men looked at each other for a long moment, in silent communication. Finally after several long seconds had passed, Johnny opened his mouth to speak.

 

“Look, Roy….” He started.

 

Roy interrupted before Johnny could get another word out.

 

roy4“Don’t you dare Junior…don’t even think of finishing that sentence. There is nothing to discuss here, it’s a done deal, you go- I go, end of story.”

 

“I think you should at least try for Engineer or Captain Roy…you don’t have to leave the department completely. Remember it’s not just about you. You have to think of Jo and the kids too.” Johnny said softly.

 

“Look, Johnny,” Roy said as he moved to sit on the bed beside his ill friend. “I don’t think this is the time to get into this. I think we need to wait until you are home and we can discuss this whole thing as a family. We have time. Jo and I have talked, yesterday and again this morning before I came here to visit you, and we have decided to look at all our options before we make a final decision about what I should do once I leave the paramedics. Doctor Brackett has an idea too, but I’m just not sure it’s an option that will make you happy. But like I said before, this isn’t the place to talk about it…let’s wait until you’ve had your next breathing treatment and another days rest before we get into it”

 

Just then Johnny’s breakfast arrived. He was shocked to discover it was being brought in by Joanne DeSoto and not a nurse.

 

“Good morning sweetheart,” smiled Joanne as she walked over and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Dixie tells me that you are doing much better this morning. She says to tell

you she’ll be by later with your lunch. She’s making something extra special just for you.” Joanne said, giving him a wink.

 

She pulled over his hospital table and set down a tray covered with a large cloth napkin. As she lifted if off she revealed a large plate of her homemade pancakes and sausage, as well as two fresh baked cinnamon rolls and a hot cup of coffee.

 

 

“I’ll have you know I got up an hour early this morning Mr. Gage to bake those cinnamon buns just for you because I know they’re a favorite of yours, so I expect you to eat them, young man.”

 

Johnny blushed and gave her a small smile. “Aw Jo, you shouldn’t have done that. I could have lived with hospital food. But thanks for this, it looks and smells great.”

 

Joanne rolled her eyes and scruffed his hair. “You mean you would have sat here and moved the stuff that passes for food in this place around your plate until you thought we had forgotten about it, and ended up not eating anything. That’s not going to help you get well now is it? Now I expect you to eat this all and no excuses because I happen to know how much you love pancakes and sausage.”

 

Johnny giggled and grabbed his fork… “Just your pancakes Jo, no one cooks like you do. It’s a wonder Roy here doesn’t weigh 300 pounds.”

 

For the next five minutes Roy and Jo sat and made small talk about the goings on at the DeSoto house that morning, including the kid’s antics, while Johnny ate his meal. As he was just digging in to his second cinnamon bun, Joanne came over and sat on the other side of Johnny’s bed.

 

“I got your room all ready for you Johnny, Chris and Jenny were up early drawing you some feel better soon pictures to tape to the wall.”

 

Johnny looked up in shock.

 

“Jo…I’m ok now, I don’t need to come over. I’ll be just fine at the ranch. Don’t go to any trouble… really. If Roy just drops my Rover off at the hospital, then I can just go home straight from here tomorrow.”

 

Joanne walked over and picked up the empty tray and removed it from his table. “Give it up John, this is an argument you’ve already lost. Besides, your Rover is in our garage and the only way you’re leaving here tomorrow is in Roy’s car, which will be bringing you to our place, besides we have business to discuss.”  Joanne looked over at Johnny, giving him a look that dared him to argue with her.

 

Johnny just leaned back against his pillow and remained silent. Finally after a couple of seconds he looked over at Roy.

 

“Has Brackett told the Chief yet?”

 

Roy shook his head. “No, not yet, but he’ll have to before you are released tomorrow. Why?”

 

Johnny pushed himself up higher in the bed. “Look Roy, just do me one favour please? Just don’t quit yet, not until we talk. There is so much to consider here. You know, you have two weeks vacation time owing to you anyway, why don’t you take it now, and that gives us some time to work out a plan.”

 

 “Anyway it would be a shame to lose your paid vacation. You’ve earned that much.”

 

Roy looked over at Johnny and grinned. “You know Junior, I hadn’t thought of that. That’s actually a really good idea. I’ll call the department this afternoon and see if I can arrange something on short notice. With the new class of trainees now fully qualified it shouldn’t be a huge issue finding someone to cover for me for a couple weeks. Most of them are floating right now waiting for a final placement anyway. It would give them someplace to work while the department works things out.”

 

jrg10Johnny nodded. Suddenly his voice got very quiet, and he began to nervously twist the edge of his blanket. Without raising his eyes to look at either of the DeSoto’s he said, “Roy, there is one more thing. I want to ask Cap and the guys to come here … this afternoon if you can get them to come. I’d like to be the one to tell them that I won’t be coming back to 51’s. And I’m asking you to not tell them about what you are going to do just yet…not until we see how things are going to turn out. I mean I know you’re leaving the paramedics, but maybe there is a way to for you to stay with the department…so let’s not tell them anything just yet.” 

 

Roy could hear Johnny’s voice begin to falter as he spoke of having to tell Cap and the guys, he wouldn’t be back. Not wanting Johnny to get upset, he walked over and put his hands on Johnny’s shoulder. “Ok Johnny, if that’s what you want, I’ll get them here.”

 

Johnny paused and took a deep breath, and gave a small cough. There was just a trace of a wheeze, which made Joanne look at him in alarm.

 

He smiled sheepishly at Joanne. “Don’t worry Jo, Doc Brackett says after this next breathing treatment the last of the congestion should be gone.”

 

Suddenly he looked up at Roy and raised his eyebrows. “Hey…just what exactly is this idea of Brackett’s anyway?”

 

Roy sat down with a sigh, and began to repeat the entire conversation to Johnny that he and Brackett had had the day before.

 

Johnny just sat in stunned silence. “Wow, Brackett’s really leaving? This hospital just won’t be the same without him. Especially if what you said is true and Dr. Early cuts his hours back to a couple days a week… You said he was going to tell Early and Dix today?”

 

“Man with Joe Early scaling back his hours and Brackett leaving, and you and I leaving, Dix is going to be really upset.”

 

Then he sat back as he thought about the rest of what Roy had said. He hated the idea of having to be indoors all day, in a classroom environment. It was far too stifling and constricting to Johnny’s active nature. He was just about to tell Roy it wasn’t something he really wanted to do, but before he opened his mouth, another thought occurred to him. If he agreed to this, then Roy wouldn’t have to worry. Sure he would not be part of the fire department, but as an employee of the county, he would still get full benefits, plus Brackett had said they would both rise up higher in rank and pay.

 

As much as he hated the idea, he knew he would do it, for Roy, Joanne and the kids sake…they were his family and he loved them dearly. It was a sacrifice he would gladly make for his family; there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for them.

 

He looked over at Roy and smiled…”Okay Roy, let’s do it…we’ll take over teaching the training class. The promotion and the money are too good to pass up, and this way we would at least be involved in the paramedics in some form.”

 

Both Roy and Jo had watched the different emotions play across Johnny’s face. The one thing Johnny did not have was a good poker face. Each emotion and thought as it passed through his mind was easy to read on his face. Even Joanne had gotten good at reading his emotions. They both immediately knew what he was doing. They could tell that he was only doing this for them, in an effort to keep Roy from losing his job security.

 

In fact it was something he and Jo had discussed that very morning. They both knew this was what he would try and do. They had agreed that they did not want Johnny to take a job he would be unhappy with, just to keep Roy from quitting his job.

 

It was a sacrifice neither of them wanted Johnny to make. Roy decided this was an issue they needed to address right away.

 

“No Junior. I know you would hate being indoors all day. Your personality and make up is not meant to be caged up inside some stuffy room. You need to be in the thick of things, burning up that seemingly endless supply of energy you seem to possess. You’re just not suited for that kind of job. You would either end up severely depressed or go crazy. I won’t let you do that.”

 

Johnny sat up. “You can’t stop me from accepting Roy, if I say I’m doing it, then I’m doing it, so you might as well just accept it.” He said stubbornly.

 

“Well, I can make decisions too, Junior, so you just go ahead and accept, but you do it alone, because I won’t accept. I won’t take a job, knowing you’re sacrificing your happiness for me. I can’t live with that kind of guilt.”

 

Johnny sat back against his pillow. “Well, why don’t you accept it alone then? You would be great at it, and I think you’d be happy doing it too. And I’ll just run my horse ranch. It’s kinda what I’d like to do anyway. With the pension I’ll be getting from the department coming in, it gives me a bit of breathing space to get it up and running. I’d always planned to try ranching full time some day…now’s a perfect time to try my hand at it.”

 

“Look Johnny, It’s the great working relationship we have together that has made me happy at my job. The deal has always been, whatever we do, we do as a team. Now let’s just wait and discuss this after you’re home okay?”

 

Johnny lay back once more and sighed heavily…”Okay, whatever you want, but I still say you should tell Brackett yes, if for no other reason, you would get your promotion, a raise and be able to keep your benefits.”

 

“Look John, stop worrying about our finances…Jo and I have a fair amount of savings in the bank and thanks to that old Engine we sold, the kid’s college fund is solid. We’ll be okay until we figure something out. Please just concentrate on getting out of here, and stop worrying about it okay?”

 

Jo came over and took his hand. “He’s right sweetheart, we have enough set by to take care of finance’s while we decide what we want to do, so stop worrying about it okay?”

 

 

Johnny looked up and smiled. “Hey we’re family right? Family is supposed to worry about each other.”

 

Roy stood up and came over to the side of the bed. “Well, not today Junior; today is about healing…when we get home tomorrow, we can talk. Now Jo and I are going to head out, so you can get your breathing treatment and a nap before lunch. I’ll get the guys together and we’ll be back this afternoon okay? But right now, you just rest.”

 

Roy patted Johnny on the legs while Joanne leaned over and kissed his cheek. “He’s right Johnny, stop worrying and rest.”

 

With that Roy and Joanne walked over to the door and with a small wave they quietly exited the room.

 

Down in the cafeteria, Kelly Brackett had just broken the news of his leaving to Joe and Dixie. He had asked Dixie to come in on her day off, so he could tell them both together. He knew Joe would understand, and so would Dixie, but he also knew that he and Dixie had a past and she was liable to be upset by his announcement. And he’d been right. Dixie, sat in stunned silence. She was at a loss for words; she really didn’t know what to say.

 

She had come to the realization a long time ago that she and Kel would never have been able to make a go of things as far as marriage was concerned. Both were far too headstrong in their ways. They made perfect friends and a flawless team in the ER, but on an intimate level they just seemed to clash. Still the thought of his leaving was a hard blow. Especially since it was only last month Joe had informed them that he would be scaling back to a couple days a week. Now with the boys leaving the paramedics she felt like she was going to be left all alone.

 

dixOh sure, she’d still see the boys, but not as often as she would like. The same went for Joe. But Kel was really leaving L.A. for good. Just then another thought hit her like a lead weight. She didn’t really know what the future held for Johnny and Roy, what if they found work that took them away too? Not to mention that she knew once Joe made this transition in his life; full retirement might not be far off. Suddenly she felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and she couldn’t sit there pretending everything was all right; not when her whole world was changing so quickly. In the span of 24 hours three of the people she was closest to at work were leaving.  She couldn’t shake the feeling that her life was now in a state of inertia, and that everyone she loved the most were moving on. The feeling that she would end up being left behind was more than a little unsettling.

 

Suddenly she knew she needed some space. She needed some air. She stood up and looked at Joe and Kel. “Excuse me, I need some time alone …besides I have a lunch to make for Johnny.” Her voice was quivering and she had betrayed how upset she was to both men at the table, but she didn’t care. Before either man could stop her, she fled the cafeteria and headed out to the parking lot, and into her car.

 

Kel sighed heavily, “Damn it, I knew she was going to be upset. But I wasn’t counting on that reaction.”

 

Joe looked over at his colleague, “Look Kel, it’s not just you. Think about it, I’m cutting back my hours; you just announced that you’re leaving and now Johnny and Roy will be gone too, at least from the hospital. She got most of that dropped on her lap in less than 24 hours…she was bound to feel a little overwhelmed. We aren’t just co-workers. We’ve become a family and she has just been told most of us will be leaving for good, or at the very least, not around as much. Give her some space to digest it all.”

 

“You’re right Joe, it is a lot to take in for all of us.” Kel paused and then looked over at Joe. “I offered the job of taking over the paramedic training course to the boys, but Roy didn’t seem too optimistic that they would accept. He doesn’t think Johnny would be happy in a classroom situation, stuck indoors all day. And when I think of it, I have to agree… But it was worth a shot.”

 

 

“And I appreciate it too doc. But your right, I am going to have to decline.”

 

Roy’s voice behind them startled both men momentarily. Roy and Jo came around the table and sat down in the empty chairs across from the two doctors. “Johnny would do it, but he would be doing it for me and not for him, even though he’d hate every minute of it. He would be so unhappy and miserable, and there is just no way I will let him make that sacrifice for me, no matter how willingly he would do it. And the honest truth of the matter is I wouldn’t like it either, not if I was doing it without him. When it comes to anything to do with the paramedics …whether being one, or teaching one; Johnny and I are a team. Neither one of us would get the same enjoyment from doing it alone or with anyone else.”

 

“I just couldn’t let him do it…He has got such a big heart and is unfailingly kind and loyal when it comes to those he loves. He would do this for me, and he would force himself to rein all that energy in. But I don’t want to be the one who is responsible for crushing that wonderfully free spirit of his. It would break my heart. I couldn’t bear to watch that happen to Johnny… I refuse to allow it to happen.”

 

Kel looked over at Roy and gave a small smile. “I think I already knew that Roy, but I had to take a chance on the small hope that maybe it was something the both of you would like. I understand, and I agree, it would make Johnny miserable, and yes, he would suffer in silence, but I don’t think any of us would want that for him. He deserves to be happy as much as the rest of us, maybe even more so, considering his past.”

 

“Well,” said Roy. “Right now I just want to get him home tomorrow and then we’ll sit down and make some decisions. But today will be hard enough for him to get through. It’s actually why I came over to talk to you. Johnny wants a chance to talk to Cap and the guys himself, before you phone the Chief. So I was hoping you could hold off until later this afternoon before you told the Chief officially. Johnny wants to be the one to break the news to the rest of the guys. I just called Cap from the phone in your office, and he and the others were planning on coming to visit John this afternoon around two anyway, so Johnny and I will tell them then.”

 

“That’s not a problem Roy; I’ll also make sure I’m close by with something, in case this afternoon is too upsetting for John. His oxygen levels are only slightly down now, and I am sure that with this last breathing treatment he’ll be fine, but the last thing I want is a repeat of yesterday. Getting himself worked up to the point of hyperventilating is not what he needs. So I’ll order a mild sedative to be on hand should we need it. You know Johnny; he could easily over think himself into frenzy before this afternoon even arrives. I’ll be keeping a close eye on him.” Doctor Brackett set down his coffee cup and slid it back from the edge of the table.  He looked over pointedly at Roy and Joanne. “Dixie is planning on spending lunchtime with him, so I am sure that will help him…hopefully it will help them both.”

 

Roy looked over at Kel, “what do you mean help them both…where is Dixie anyway, I thought she was down here with you Doctor Early?”

 

“Well, Roy, said Brackett. “ She got a bit upset when I broke my news to her. I guess with Joe cutting back on his hours, and you boys leaving, and now my big announcement today, it was a bit overwhelming for her. All the people she cares about most are moving on, and she’ll be left behind.” Before either one of the DeSoto’s could interject, Kel stopped them. “I know none of us will cut her out of our lives, but it’s still a huge change, and she will be seeing a lot less of us. She just needed some time to get herself together.”

 

Roy and Jo nodded in understanding. “I just wish the department was a little less rigid. If it wasn’t for the firefighting end of it, Johnny could still continue being a paramedic. A lot of our rescues and calls are separate from the Engine as it is. Technically he is still able to be a paramedic, he just can’t be a firefighter, but the system we have here just won’t allow for it. Unfortunately I doubt the department will ever change. They will stick to their policies and keep spouting the same old rhetoric ad infinitum. I have decided not to tell them I’m leaving just yet.” Roy stated. “I have agreed not to make anything final until Johnny and I have a plan in place. Right now I’m going to use up what holiday time I have banked so Johnny and I can really take the time to work something out.”

 

 

Joe Early had been sitting back silently listening to the conversation, suddenly he had an idea, and he stood up. “Well folks,” he declared. “It’s been nice visiting, but this old guy has a few phone calls he needs to make, so I’ll have to ask you to excuse me.”

 

After saying that, he got up and left his friends sitting at the table to continue their conversation with out him…He had some phone calls to make.

                                                                         

 

Chapter Five

 

 

Johnny Gage was lying on his bed, thinking about the events of the last twenty-four hours. He had finished his last breathing treatment an hour before, and was now free of the nasal cannula. In fact they had removed all of the equipment and monitors from his room entirely.

 

Brackett had come in and listened to his lungs and had been pleased at the effect the last treatment had had on John’s body.  In fact he had been so pleased that he had promised Johnny that if his breathing remained stable, he could be released before lunch the following day.

 

Johnny was pleased with the news that the congestion appeared to have finally cleared. He was disappointed however, that he would have to stay another twenty-four hours, and had said so to the good doctor. “Twenty four hours! … But if the congestion is gone now, and my vital signs are all normal, why can’t I just go home this afternoon? Roy and Jo

have already put the kibosh on my going home for a few days anyway, so it’s not like I’m going to be alone for a while.”

 

brackettKelly Brackett let out a frustrated sigh. It was always the same with this man. He just hoped that once he was no longer at Rampart, whoever was in charge of Johnny’s care when he was ill, would have a tough resolve. Because once Johnny turned on those sad pleading eyes, and that damn crooked grin, he could charm a snake out of its skin. Steeling his own resolve he turned to face Johnny knowing full well what he would see in the young man’s eyes. “Because Mr. Gage less than twenty four hours ago, you were brought in here in full respiratory arrest and had to have an airway inserted while your partner did your breathing for you, just from a very minor smoke exposure. Not to mention that it has only been an hour since your last breathing treatment…before that your lungs were still not clearing away the congestion entirely…your body still needed the treatment, because it was unable to do it on its own. So I am going to make damn sure that your lungs stay stable, and that means a further monitoring for another twenty four hours.”

 

Johnny gave up and lay back in his bed resigned to his fate…He grinned up apologetically at his physician and friend. “Okay. Okay, point taken. And thanks. I really am grateful for all you have done for me. I know I’ve never been the easiest patient in the world to look after.”

 

Now it was Brackett’s turn to grin and roll his eyes.

 

Johnny reached over and took Bracketts hand and shook it warmly. “You know, even though we started out butting heads, I am really going to miss you. I’ve come to think of you as a very good friend, and I hope you intend on staying in touch with me, even after you leave here.”

 

“I wouldn’t have it any other way Johnny. I too have come to think of you and Roy as very good friends, and I admit now how wrong I was about my first impression of you. In fact I am more proud of you than I am of any other paramedic...any man… I’ve personally known. I have never met anyone else who has had to overcome so much adversity at such a young age. You have had to face more than any human should ever have to, and despite all of the shit you’ve had tossed at you in your life, you have come far and accomplished so much. I am both proud and honored to call you friend Johnny. And it’s a friendship I intend to keep for as long as I live.”

 

Once again the two men shook hands, before Kel left Johnny’s room. Johnny’s face was still red from embarrassment. The color in his cheeks having been brought on by hearing Kelly Brackett sing his praises. With an exasperated sigh he sunk back into his pillows. He may have acquiesced to the good doctors wishes…but he still silently thought to himself that he should be allowed to go home this afternoon.

 

Johnny had so much going on in his mind, and he really just wanted to get out of here, so he could begin to get things settled. He, Roy and Jo had agreed not to make any final decisions until Johnny was released and they’d had a chance to really sit down and discuss things.

 

After Brackett had left, Johnny had phoned Roy and they had decided that since Joanne had insisted Johnny stay with them over the weekend at least, so she could make sure he ‘rested’, that they might as well use the time to ‘get their ducks in a row’, as it were.

 

As he was going over in his mind all the things he wanted to make sure they discussed, the door opened and Dixie stepped into his room bearing a wicker picnic basket.

 

“Hey, anybody up for a picnic in here?” she asked brightly. Dixie came the rest of the way inside, and looked around his room. “Well Johnny, I see you’ve been freed of all your accoutrements.” She joked.

 

Johnny grinned back. “That’s right Dix, just one step away from being out the door. Assuming my body behaves itself tonight, I can blow this popsicle stand sometime late tomorrow morning.” Johnny eyed the wicker basket and sniffed the air. “Now, on to more important things, do I smell your homemade fried chicken in that basket? Because this hose jockey is ravenous.” Suddenly Johnny’s face fell, and his eyes reflected an almost instant shock and regret as he realized what he had just said. He immediately lowered his gaze to the bed as his voice dropped to almost a whisper…“Ex- hose jockey, now,” he whispered sadly. He suddenly found himself struggling to hold in the overwhelming urge to weep, as the sound of this last statement echoed in his ears.

 

Dixie looked over and seen the struggle going on inside of Johnny mind, reflected on his face.  She quickly came over setting the wicker basket on the bedside table and pulled Johnny into a comforting hug. “It’s okay Johnny. Just let it all out, you don’t have to try and keep it together for me.”

 

Whether it was because of the comfort of her hug, or just his overwhelming emotional fatigue, Johnny found he could no longer stop all of the pent up emotions he’d been holding in, from spilling out. All of the grief and sorrow that Johnny had been trying to deny was there, inside of him, came pouring out. He leaned into Dixie’s hug and wept openly.

 

Dixie too began to shed her own tears while she held Johnny close. She was shedding her tears for all the things that were changing far too fast in her world. She knew deep in her heart that she and Kel would never have worked out as a couple, but somehow she had always held onto the irrational idea that maybe someday things would change. It was just another hope, another unrequited love that was lost to her now. She wept for Johnny and Roy, and the fact that fate had stolen away their paramedic career from them…a career that they both dearly loved and were good at. They were better than good; …they were the best there was.

 

As close as she was to all of her paramedics, she was only truly close to Roy and Johnny.

It had always been different when it came to those two. It just wasn’t the same with Brice, Dwyer, Bellingham, Wheeler or any of the others. Not that there was anything wrong with the others. They were friendly enough, but Roy and especially Johnny were family. And now they would be gone too…moving on to other things, while she stayed behind alone at Rampart.

 

It felt like somehow, life was starting to pass her by.

 

Even Joe would only be at Rampart off and on, and who was to say his days on duty, might turn out to be her days off. Suddenly she felt very, very lonely.

 

She held Johnny tighter and she mourned her loss, as he mourned his.

 

After a good five minutes had passed, the two broke apart and wiped their eyes

Johnny looked up at Dixie and gave her a sad, understanding smile.

 

“I take it Doc Brackett told you he was leaving huh? I’m really sorry Dix, I know it must be tearing you up inside.”

 

Dixie wiped her eyes once again and sat on the edge of Johnny’s bed. “Yeah, I guess the two of us are going to have to get used to a lot of big changes in our lives.” She sniffed.

 

Johnny sat up straighter in his bed and pulled himself together, “Well, like it or not, life changes” he said with a firm determination. “I just have to focus on all the positive things I still have going for me…like my family.” Johnny reached over and grabbed Dixie’s hand. He then flashed her an impish crooked grin and added, “Especially since both my big sisters happen to be amazingly good cooks.” He then winked at her and reached over to snag hold of the picnic basket sitting on the table beside them.

 

Dixie found herself laughing… “Ah Mr. Gage, I bet you say that to all the head nurses who come in to your hospital room bringing you homemade fried chicken and potato salad.”

 

“What!” Johnny gasped in mock horror…”No Apple pie?”

 

Dixie scruffed him on the top of his head, “Yes, little brother, there is also pasta salads and homemade apple pie in there she said nodding toward the hamper. “Now let’s get this picnic underway before we get interrupted.” And without further delay Dixie unpacked the basket and the two of them sat back and passed the next hour enjoying some companionable conversation as they partook of their repast.

 

It was much later on in the afternoon when Roy arrived back at Rampart. He was just reaching for the elevator button, when he heard Cap call out to him.

 

 

“Hold up for a minute Roy…the rest of the guys are right behind me. We might as well all go up to John’s room together.”

 

It was only moment later when first Chet and then Marco appeared, followed by Mike another minute or so after that. As soon as the group of men had all gathered together, they stepped inside the elevator and Roy hit the button that would take them up to the fourth floor and Johnny’s room. The other men of station 51 were all here under the impression that this was just a ‘get well’ visit to cheer up their sick friend.

 

Only Roy was aware that it was actually a ‘goodbye’ visit…at least as far as their ‘working family relationship’ was concerned. He just hoped that Johnny really was physically and emotionally up for this visit. He didn’t want him upsetting himself. Not when he had finally stabilized and would be ready to come home tomorrow. Still, like it or not, this had to be done. Cap and the guys needed to be told, and Johnny had insisted that he be the one to tell them. Both Johnny and Roy knew that if Johnny didn’t do it now, then the guys, or at the very least Cap, would most certainly be told by the end of today anyway.

 

Brackett had phoned him an hour ago to let him know that he had just informed the department headquarters about John, and that he had informed the Fire Chief, that John had wanted a chance to break the news to his friends himself. Both of the department heads had agreed to hold off until the next morning to make things official in order to give the men of Station 51 a chance to deal with this privately. It was a hard blow to the department, because Station 51’s A shift had always been the crew the department held up as an example of how a team should function. And now the driving spirit, the energetic and popular Johnny Gage, the spark that seemed to ignite the whole crew, would no longer be there.

 

Roy snapped his attention back to the impending visit, and how stressful it was going to be on Johnny. Hell, it was going to devastate all of them. He just wished that Johnny had had more time to get used to the idea himself first before he had to break the news to the guys. And he knew it would not be long until he himself made the same announcement to the rest of the crew. Thankfully he had been able to get his holidays covered. They began as of tomorrow morning, when his next shift would have been. Still he wished that Johnny didn’t have to do this right now. Roy knew he still hadn’t fully dealt with this news emotionally... Not yet at least.

 

But once again, life never made anything easy for John Gage.

 

Roy rubbed his temples, trying to will away the headache beginning to form in his head as he waited for the elevator doors to open at the fourth floor.

 

When the crew of Station 51’s A shift arrived in Johnny’s room, they found their young friend fast asleep in his bed. They looked over questioningly at Roy, as if they were seeking direction as to whether or not they should wake the young man, or leave him asleep.

 

Roy quietly went over and gently shook Johnny’s shoulder. “Hey Junior, the guys are all here to visit, how about you wake up now and grace us all with your presence.”

 

Johnny stirred and slowly opened his eyes. Roy and the rest of the crew waited for Johnny’s eyes to focus as he came around to full awareness. 

 

He gradually pushed himself up higher in the bed, and gave a big yawn.

 

 

“Oh hey Cap, guys. What time is it?” he asked sleepily.

 

Roy sat down in the chair next to the bed in order to be close enough to Johnny to lend him moral support for this visit. “It’s just about 4 o’clock Junior. Did ya have a good nap?”

 

“Yeah, I guess I did at that. Dix was here until about 1:30 and then I got sleepy after that wonderful lunch she made for me, so I decided to have a bit of a nap. That was around two. So I guess I’ve been asleep for a couple of hours now.”

 

“Well, that’s good Junior, your body has had a pretty taxing 30 hours or so, and it’s obviously telling you that it needs the rest.”

 

Johnny laughed in disgust. “No kidding, only I could make such a big deal out of a minor little smoke inhalation.”

 

Roy put his hand on Johnny’s chin and turned his head so they were looking eye to eye. “John.” Roy said using his given name to emphasize the seriousness of his next statement. “You and I both know that this a hell of a lot more serious than just a minor smoke inhalation issue. There’s a lot more to it than that. That’s the reason we asked all the guys to be here this afternoon…right?”

 

Johnny sighed and lowered his eyes. “Yeah, I know, I just hate this ya know…I mean why is it always me huh?”

 

Cap shifted uncomfortably in his chair…suddenly the uneasiness he had felt in the pit of his stomach the day before returned with a vengeance.“What do you mean Roy…John? Just what is going on here? Is something seriously wrong with Johnny?”

 

By now all the other guys were beginning to look concerned as well. Chet came over and with an uncharacteristic show of concern, sat down on the bed next to Johnny.

 

“What’s going on Johnny?” Chet questioned. “You’re going to be alright aren’t you? I mean you’ll be back at work in a couple of shifts right?”

Johnny looked over at Roy and took a deep breath.

 

“Look, there’s no real easy way to say this guys, so I’m going to just come out and say it. The reason I had such a bad reaction yesterday, is because my lungs have decided that they can no longer handle exposure to smoke. My pulmonologist and Brackett both feel it is largely due to the empyema I suffered a while ago. It also doesn’t help that I no longer have my spleen. I already had a tendency towards pneumonia as it was. I guess the empyema was just one injury too many for my lungs to handle. It only showed up yesterday, because it was the first time since I came back to work that I’ve been caught without the protection of my SCBA gear on.

 

“I guess what I’m trying to say, is that this condition is permanent, and as of two hours ago, Brackett phoned the Chief at headquarters and informed them that yesterday’s accident was a career ending injury. I won’t be coming back to Station 51...except to clear out my locker. Johnny paused and looked around sadly. “I just wanted you to hear the news from me before the Chief came and told you at the Station tomorrow. I owe you all that much.”

 

Johnny stopped talking and lay back against his pillow. He was emotionally drained and didn’t think he could continue. He looked over at Roy and let him know with a pleading look, that any further questions the guys asked would be up to him to answer.

 

Roy silently acknowledged, with a return look of his own and reached out to squeeze Johnny’s hand in comfort and support.

 

For the first couple of minutes you could have heard a pin drop in Johnny’s hospital room…no one said a word.

 

Finally Chet spoke up. “You’re kidding right? He looked over at Johnny and then over at Roy. “If this is a joke it’s not very damn funny Gage.” Chet practically yelled.

 

Roy looked over at Cap and gave a sad shake of his head. “No, Chet,” he said. “As much as I wish I could say it was all a joke, …I just can’t. This is for real. Johnny’s days as a hose jockey are over as of today.” He said sadly.

 

“No, it’s not true…they can’t do that, I won’t let them!” Chet yelled, and he turned and ran out of the room.

                                                                

 

 

Chapter Six

 

 

Roy sat on his recliner, while he waited for Joanne to return with the refreshments she was preparing in the kitchen for their guest. Captain Stanley had shown up on their doorstep just after nine that evening and had asked if he could talk to the both of them. Hank was now sitting on their couch just waiting for Joanne to return with their coffee and something to eat.

 

It was only few minutes before Joanne returned and set a tray bearing the coffee and a plate of club sandwiches down on the coffee table in front of the two men.

 

“Help yourself Hank,” she said as she sat down on the other end of the couch, close to Roy’s chair. “It doesn’t sound like you had much of a chance get anything to eat for your supper.”

 

Hank reached over and gratefully helped himself to a sandwich and a mug of coffee. “Thanks Joanne. You’re right; I went straight to headquarters from the hospital and ended up having an impromptu meeting with both the Fire Chief and the Battalion Chief. It went on until after eight. Then I had to make a stopover at Mike’s.  I had some business to discuss with him, and ended up being there for almost 45 minutes. After that, I came straight over here.”

 

Roy reached over and grabbed a sandwich and a mug of coffee for himself. “Thanks Jo,” he leaned over and gave his wife a tender peck on the cheek. He then turned to address Hank. “I haven’t been home long myself. I didn’t have much of a chance to eat either. After what happened this afternoon, I didn’t want to leave Johnny until I was sure he would sleep through the night without waking up, he was pretty stressed… Brackett drugged him to the gills to make sure he’ll sleep until the morning. I’ve only been home about half an hour myself.”

 

Roy paused while he took a bite of his sandwich and a drink of his coffee, before he continued on. “Did anyone ever catch up to Chet after he left Johnny’s room? I didn’t want to leave Johnny when it happened. You saw how badly he was shaken up by Chet’s reaction. I was afraid he might have a set back. That’s why I asked the nurse to call for Brackett to come in.

 

“I didn’t actually mean for Brackett to make you all leave like that. But in the end it was probably for the best, because he ended up giving Johnny a pretty strong sedative and it put him to sleep soon after anyway. I ended up talking with Dixie and Brackett for over an hour in his office, and then I went back to sit with Johnny in his room for a while …well, until Brackett came in and gave him enough of the good stuff to convince me that Johnny would stay sleeping through the night. So it was almost eight before I left to come home.”

 

Roy then turned to Joanne, “By the way honey, I hope you don’t mind, but Dixie will be coming home with me and Johnny tomorrow. We’ll have to wait until the doctors give Johnny one final going over and sign his release, so it will probably be close to lunch time before we all arrive.”

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Joanne smiled, “I think that’s a wonderful idea…how about if we plan a barbeque? That way we’ll keep the atmosphere light and lessen the tension a bit. We have some serious stuff to discuss, and anything to help keep it relaxed will help. You know how wound up Johnny can get himself sometimes.”

 

Hank cleared his throat and began to speak. “Well, Roy, as for your question about Chet; Marco caught up with him, and managed to calm him down a bit. But he is taking the news badly. But we all know how much Chet really cares about Johnny…no matter how hard he’s always tried to hide that fact. It’s going to be a big adjustment for him, but thankfully he has Marco, and so that will help a lot.”

 

Hank then sat his coffee cup down on the tray and turned to face both of the DeSoto’s.

 

“Look, I ‘m just going to come down to the real reason I came here tonight. First and foremost Roy…and this is strictly off the record…whatever we say here tonight won’t leave this house until everyone involved is ready. But I have some decisions to make and I need to know some things first. Number one on that list is…are you going to leave the department Roy? When John was missing last year and no one was sure if he was even alive, and then when we weren’t sure he was going to be able to return to work, you told me about the deal you two had made. The one where you said you both agreed that neither of you would continue to work, if it meant you could no longer be partners…Did you mean that?”

 

Roy looked over at his Captain and nodded. “Yeah, Cap…there’s no question about it. I won’t be staying on at 51’s. But what my plans are yet… well that’s what we’ll be deciding tomorrow. Johnny wants me to stay on with the department and go for either Engineer or Captain. He’s trying to convince me to delay my departure and continue being a paramedic until exam time rolls around.”

 

Roy stood up and began to pace across the living room, as he continued to talk. “Johnny’s mainly worried that if I quit the department entirely, that I’ll lose both my pension and my benefits, including my medical insurance. So I’ve promised him not do anything until we talk tomorrow. I had two weeks holiday time banked and that’s why I’m taking them now. It gives me a bit of breathing space to figure things out. But to be frank with you Cap. I can’t see me staying on in the department. Whatever I do, I want to do it with Johnny. Having a career is all well and good, but if you’re unhappy at your job and your heart just isn’t in it anymore…well it’s just not worth it. Not to mention it has always been the firefighting end of the job that has worried Joanne. For me to go back into firefighting full time in any capacity wouldn’t be fair to her…but like I said before, nothing is final yet.”

 

Roy sat down beside Hank and looked him in the eyes. “I guess the best answer I can give you is…yes Cap, I’ll be leaving. The real question is, how soon. I may delay my departure for a month or two until I can get something in place to replace it, but yes, my days with the department are numbered. I promise I will give at least 3 weeks notice before I leave though… Now, may I ask why you needed to know all of this tonight?”

 

It was now Hanks turn to rise and begin to pace. “Well, things are happening in the department too Roy…changes. Originally the Chief was not willing to mess with the dynamics of the Station 51 A shift, but with Johnny having to leave…well let’s just say that option was taken out of everyone’s hands. Although they didn’t say so, the Chief  kind of figures with Johnny gone that you would most likely move on yourself; although I think they were figuring more along the lines that you would go for Engineer or Captain. Either way it changes things at head office.

 

“It hasn’t been announced yet, but the Fire Chief is retiring in September and the department has offered the position to McConnike, which would leave the job of Battalion Chief open. They have been tossing around names of replacements, with no luck…until today. One of the reasons for the meeting tonight was; with Station 51’s A shift changing now anyway, the Chief thinks it would be the perfect time for me to move up in the ranks.

 

“He’s been so impressed by how our station functioned and performed, that he feels I am the best man for the Battalion Chief’s job.

 

“They’ll fast track the Chief’s exam so I can take it in July, instead of mid September so I’ll be ready to take over for McConnike the first of September… If you had been planning on staying with the crew, I might have turned it down in order to be a stabilizing influence with the crew…but with you confirming what I already knew in my heart…well I’m going to accept the offer.”

 

Roy got up and shook Hanks hand warmly, and then pulled him into a hug. “Congratulations Cap…no one deserves it more than you do.”

 

Hank smiled back at Roy. “Thanks a lot pal…the reason I was such a successful Captain was because I have the best damn crew ever assembled working for me.”

 

Roy sat back down on the couch and reached for another sandwich. “So was that why you went over to Mikes…to see what he thought about it all?”

 

“Well, No Roy…that is the next part of the news. Mike has been talking to me for the last couple of months. Sort of quizzing me about being a Captain, and it didn’t take a genius to figure out that he’s considering taking the Captains exam soon.  I made mention of it to the Chief, and it was decided it might be easier on both Chet and Marco if their next Captain was someone they were comfortable with…the change is going to be hard enough on them as it is…especially Chet.

 

“Anyway, Mike has been offered the same deal. They’ll fast track the Captains exam, so he can take it in July when I take the Chief’s exam, instead of waiting until mid September when they usually give the exams. That way when the first of September rolls around no one will be left scrambling.

 

“It will give Mike a few weeks to take over gradually with me still around to help transition. It will also help this situation in the sense that Mike will already be comfortable with half of his crew, and they with him. In turn that will allow me to spend some time working with McConnike, getting some idea what I’m in for as well, before the reins are officially handed over.”

 

Captain Stanley looked down at his watch and noted the time, and he stood up once more.

“Well, Roy, Joanne…it’s getting late and some of us have to be on duty tomorrow. And don’t worry Roy; none of this will be talked about. Of course Mike knows, but he’s already been told not to say anything to anyone except his wife until everyone has made their final decisions… The only official announcement that will be made is about Johnny leaving.”

 

After shaking hands one final time, Roy walked Hank to the front door and seen him out.

 

After he had closed the front door, Roy turned to face Joanne. “Well, honey, it’s almost like it’s a sign from above…it seems like someone is trying to tell us it’s time to move on to the next chapter in our lives… are you really okay with me leaving the security of the department?”

 

Joanne came over and pulled her husband into a warm embrace…”Roy,” she said. “If you think for one minute I’m going to miss cringing every time the phone rings while you’re at work, wondering if I’m going to get the call that tells me either you or Johnny have been burned to death in a fire or crushed to death by a falling ceiling, you’ve got another thing coming,” she said as she began to nuzzle his neck.

 

Roy wrapped his arm around Jo’s waist and pulled her in closer, as he reached around and switched off the lights in the living room and led his wife to bed.

 

Roy arrived very early at Rampart to be with Johnny the next morning. He was nervous about what kind of mood he’d find his little brother in, and he wanted to be there with Johnny in case he was still upset.

 

Johnny had been so shaken yesterday by Chet’s outburst that Roy had been afraid of him hyperventilating himself to the point where he would need to be back on the oxygen. Thankfully Brackett arrived on scene with a sedative, and he had forestalled that from happening. Roy just hoped Johnny was calmer this morning.

 

Roy had stopped off at the bakery and had picked up some fresh baked pastry and some ‘real’ coffee to take with him, so he and Johnny could have some breakfast together, before the doctor’s made their rounds.

 

He was just about to push open the door to Johnny’s room, when it opened up and Roy found himself face to face with Captain Stanley and Chief McConnike. Startled he jumped back, before he composed himself.

 

“Good morning Cap, …Chief. I didn’t expect to see you here this morning.”

 

“Good morning Roy,” said Cap.

 

“DeSoto,” Chief McConnike acknowledged the man before him. “We just had some forms we needed to get signed and a couple other loose ends to tie up with both Gage and Doctor Brackett. We decided to jump right on this now, so we can get the paperwork processed and Gage can start getting his disability cheques as soon as possible, so he isn’t left with no money coming in. I can’t tell you how sorry we are that this has happened DeSoto.”  With a brisk nod of his head Chief McConnike walked further on down the hall, leaving Hank alone to speak with Roy.

 

“I guess because of all good the PR that surrounded Johnny last year over the whole bus incident, the department wants to make sure it does right by Johnny.” Hank gave a rather sardonic grin and winked at Roy… “But what they really don’t want is to look bad on the outside chance some newshound hears about this and it shows up in some newspaper article. It wouldn’t go over too well if Los Angeles’ hero paramedic was left high and dry by very the department who benefited so richly from all Johnny’s good PR just a few months back, now would it? Especially since this disability is a direct result of his heroic deed.”

 

Hank’s grin widened and leaned in closer to Roy as he spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. “Of course I’ll never admit to being the one that suggested that scenario to the department in the first place. We all know how much they can drag things out in departmental red tape. I just thought a friendly reminder that they might want to make sure they didn’t do that to Johnny. Because it would be terrible if the press found out and vilified the department for screwing over their own golden boy, now wouldn’t it?”

 

Roy grinned back. “Thanks, Cap…I’m sure Johnny appreciates it too.”

 

Hank sobered. “Well, I know there’s nothing I can do along those lines for you, when the time comes when you do decide to give your notice. Unfortunately quitting the department will mean forfeiture of your benefits.”

 

Roy patted Hank on the shoulder. “It’s okay Cap, Joanne and I are going into this with our eyes open, and we’ll make out okay. Besides the plan is to already have something else lined up before I give my notice, so hopefully it won’t be a big issue anyway.”

As soon as both men had entered the elevator at the end of the hall and the door closed, Roy pushed open the door and entered Johnny’s room.

 

Johnny was sitting up in bed, frowning down at what was supposed to be a bowl of oatmeal sitting untouched on his breakfast tray. It was the hospitals idea of a hearty breakfast.

 

“I guess that’s supposed to be oatmeal huh Junior?” Roy said as he stepped over beside the bed.

 

Johnny frowned and poked at the unappetizing, congealed mess sitting in the bowl in front of him. “I’m not too sure what it’s supposed to be Pally…I’ve never eaten anything that looked like this before, he said pointing at the goop in front of him disgustedly. “I’ve stepped in it once or twice while I’ve been mucking out the stalls on the ranch…but I’ve never eaten it.” Looking up Johnny’s face broke into a broad grin when he seen the pastries and coffee Roy was carrying. “On the other hand… that,” he said, motioning to the tasty treats in his partners hands… “looks exactly like breakfast.”

 

Roy laughed and set the food down on top of Johnny’s bedside table and he reached over and removed the hospital’s breakfast tray and it’s now cold food, and set it in the bathroom out of the way for the moment.

 

“So, I seen Cap and the Chief out in the hall…getting all the fine details sorted out huh?” Roy was curious to see how Johnny was handling it all, now that the reality of it was starting to sink in.

 

“Yeah,” Johnny said as he swallowed down a mouthful of pastry. “It just feels weird to be listed as disabled when I feel completely able bodied…except for this smoke thing…It doesn’t feel right to be getting a disability pension when I don’t feel disabled.”

 

“Yea, but Junior as far as firefighting goes, you are disabled. Being susceptible to smoke inhalation like you are now, is a huge disability to a fire fighter…and it’s the departments’ own rigid rules and their refusal to make concessions, that won’t let you continue on as a paramedic without being a firefighter at the same time. That’s what has put you in this position in the first place.”

 

Johnny shrugged his shoulders. “Well anyway, the way it goes is like this; I will keep my full health benefits and coverage unless I become gainfully employed by someone else and qualify for their benefit package, at which time my benefits from the department will cease, once the new ones kick in. If, however, someone who does not offer benefits employs me, then I will retain my departmental benefits permanently. As for the disability pension cheques, those are mine regardless of my future employment status. They will be paid in perpetuity. So even if I were to go work for a doctor’s office somewhere, those cheques will always be mine…it still seems weird to me though.”

 

 

Roy stood up, “Hey you have done a lot for the department, and you deserve a little recognition. It’s not like this is your idea. They are the ones forcing you to end your career with the department. You still could be a paramedic; separate from the fire department…other States do it that way. It’s their own system that has robbed you of your paramedic status along with your firefighter status, so take your pension…it’s rightfully yours Johnny.”

 

By the time the two men had finished breakfast, Doctor Brackett had arrived and gave Johnny one final examination.

 

After listening to his lungs one final time, Brackett folded up his stethoscope and put it in his pocket. “Well Johnny, it looks like you’re good to go, but I meant what I said…nothing strenuous for a week okay? I want you to just lie around and give your lungs a good rest. They were severely stressed and it won’t do you any harm to just take it easy…just to be on the safe side. I’ve already signed the release papers and Dixie will be up with your wheelchair in a few minutes…I understand she’s heading back to Roy’s with you for the day.”

 

“Yep, Roy says we’re having a barbeque, plus we have a lot to discuss about our futures as well. Anyway Dixie is coming to help Jo get dinner going and she is part of my family, so I do want to hear her input on this stuff too.”

 

Brackett patted Johnny on the shoulder. “Well, I just want to say thanks to you both, and I’m sure as hell going to miss seeing you around here John. Don’t be a stranger okay?”

 

“No way doc…you don’t get rid of me that easily. As soon as I get things settled, I plan on having a big get together at my ranch with all the gang and I expect you and Doctor Early to be there too.”

 

Kel stood up and headed for the door… “I wouldn’t miss it for the world fellas. Now you go on and get out of here, while I get back to work,” and with that, he turned and exited the room leaving Roy and Johnny alone.

 

Johnny tossed back his covers and slid his legs over the edge of his bed. “Well, I’m ready to lose this bloody hospital gown and get into some real clothes.” He stood up and walked over to the closet in the corner of the room and reached inside for his clothes. As soon as he pulled them out, he got very quiet as he realized the only clothes he had with him was his departmental uniform that he had been wearing when he was brought in. Even now they still reeked of smoke. He gently fingered his badge and his paramedic pin, and try as he might, he could not prevent the moisture that began to pool in his eyes.

 

 

 

Roy realized his error too late and he could have kicked himself for the oversight. Damn, why didn’t I get rid of those last night when he was asleep and bring him some clothes from home this morning. He thought to himself. He walked over and put his arms around Johnny’s shoulders… “Damn it Johnny, I’m sorry. I should have thought to bring you clothes from the ranch…I just never even thought…his voice trailed off.

 

Johnny gave a sad smile through his tears and shook his head. “It’s okay Roy. It’s not your fault. I never thought of it either. There’s just been so much going on the last couple of days. It’s not surprising something like this slipped our minds.” He sighed and carried his clothes to the bathroom to get changed.

 

While he was in the bathroom, Dixie entered with the wheelchair and Johnny’s release papers.

 

Roy took her aside and whispered. “Keep him occupied for a while will ya? I totally forgot to bring him some clothes from his ranch and all he has to put on now is his uniform. He’s putting on a brave face, but it’s really upset him again. I’m just going to slip out and phone Joanne, and get her to run out to Johnny’s ranch and get her to pick up some of his personal items and a couple sets of clothes, and bring them back to the house for him to change into.”

 

“Oh, poor Johnny,’ Dixie said sadly. “None of us even thought about that…you go ahead Roy, I’ll keep him distracted while you go and make the call to Joanne.”

 

Roy quickly slipped out of the room and walked up the hall to the payphone to quickly make his call.

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

Johnny and Roy arrived at the DeSoto home shortly before noon. As they entered the house the first thing Johnny noticed was how deathly quiet it seemed. Usually the DeSoto home was a hive of activity at almost any given hour of the day. True it was Friday and so both Chris and Jenny were still in school, but even then Joanne was usually bustling about with cooking or cleaning. And she was always there to greet Roy and Johnny at the door whenever they arrived. It was at that moment that he realized that he hadn’t seen Joanne’s station wagon in the drive when they pulled up

.

 

“Wow, it’s so quiet in here, I think the only time I’ve ever heard your place so quiet is in the middle of the night. I wonder where Jo is?” he asked.

 

“Oh, she probably just ran out to pick up a few things for this afternoon Junior, don’t worry, the noise level will pick up soon enough.”  Roy wasn’t about to tell Johnny that he had asked Joanne to go out to the ranch on a mission of mercy for Johnny. Not just yet.

 

“Look Junior, how about you use this time to hit the showers and get out of those smoky clothes?” Roy purposely avoided referring to them as his uniform. “Just throw them in the laundry room, and I’ll toss them in the washer. I’ll get you something to wear from my closet for now. I have a pair of sweats that are too small for me anyway, so they shouldn’t be too big on you.”

 

Johnny looked down and sniffed his clothes and grimaced at the acrid smell of smoke that still hung thickly on the material, it filled his nostrils and caused him to let out with an involuntary cough. He never noticed the brief look of panic that flashed across Roy’s face when he coughed.

 

Roy went into his room and returned a few minutes later with a clean T-shirt and a pair of navy sweat pants, and handed them to Johnny as he entered the guest bathroom. The sweat pants had been given to Roy as a Christmas present last year from Joanne’s mother. As usual it was nothing more than a polite grudge gift and she hadn’t even bothered to check and see if the size was right for Roy. He momentarily wondered what her reaction would be to his quitting his job…but it soon passed as he realized that he really didn’t give a rat’s ass what the old hag thought anymore.

 

Johnny was still in the shower when Joanne arrived back home with a suitcase and a duffle bag full of Johnny’s possessions.

 

 

Roy grinned over at Joanne. “Did you bring everything he owns honey?” he teased.

 

Joanne set the bags down on the bed in Johnny’s room and turned to face her husband.

 

“Well, Roy I brought him some casual clothes, but I also brought him some dressier clothes. I thought maybe tomorrow we could all go out somewhere nice for dinner. It’s been such a crazy week, that I thought a nice evening out for the five of us is just what the doctor ordered. And of course I brought both books that were on his nightstand and a couple different pairs of shoes, his robe, some pajamas; which I might add were very hard to locate. He’s obviously a ‘sleep in the buff’ man when he is alone,” she said with a sly wink. She then continued down her list. “I also brought some extra boxers and socks, his hairbrush and shaving gear…all that stuff takes up room you know.”

 

Roy reached over and pulled her into a hug. “Ah, see, I never would have thought of all that. It’s a good job we men have you women around to think of that stuff for us.”

“And don’t you ever forget it mister” she whispered in his ear, as she nuzzled his neck.

 

After sharing a long passionate kiss, the couple pulled apart.

 

Roy got serious for a moment. “Thanks a lot Jo, for doing this,” he said as he gestured to the luggage sitting on Johnny’s bed.

 

“I felt like such a heel for not thinking of this yesterday… Jo, if you could have seen his face when he pulled out his uniform this morning and realized it was probably the last time he would be ever be wearing it” Roy’s own voice began to falter as he spoke. “The look on Johnny’s face is going to haunt me for a long time Jo. It just broke my heart to see how much leaving the department was tearing him up inside.”

 

Roy paused and composed himself once more. “I put his uniform in the laundry room. I thought maybe we could just quietly put it in a bag in the trunk of the car. I’ll drop it off at the dry cleaners. I’ve removed his nametag, his paramedic pin, his badge, and his lucky 

green pen and set them aside. Once he has gotten over the shock of all of this, I’m sure he’ll want to keep them.”

 

Joanne gave her husband a comforting hug. “It’s not your fault Roy…it’s been so hectic, it’s just one of those unfortunate things that happens…I’ll get rid of it now. By the way, I thought Dixie was coming home with you this morning?” Joanne asked as she gathered up Johnny’s soiled uniform and shoved it into a paper bag.

 

Roy spoke over his shoulder as he picked up the bag and started for the front door. “She said she wanted to pick up something for dessert before she came over here. I told her it wasn’t necessary, but there was no talking her out of it…she’ll be here soon. I figure if we just have a light lunch now, we can start the barbeque about four this afternoon after the kids get home and they have had enough time to maul Johnny to death.” Roy stepped through the front door and headed out to the car to deposit Johnny’s uniform in the trunk where it was safely out of sight.

 

Joanne chuckled at her husbands’ last comment, and the truth behind those words. The minute Chris and Jenny seen their Uncle Johnny it would be pandemonium for the first half an hour as the three of them romped and rough housed until they had expended some of the boundless energy that all three of them seemed to possess in spades.

 

By the time Johnny had exited the shower, Dixie had arrived and was sitting in the kitchen with Joanne waiting for the coffee to brew.  Johnny came into the kitchen finger combing his damp hair. His face broke into a huge grin when he seen both of the women sitting at the table. He walked over and leaned down between them, one on each side of him, his left arm around Dixie’s shoulders and his right arm around Joanne’s. He flashed his two favorite women his famous crooked grin and planted a kiss, first one on Joanne’s cheek and then one on Dixie’s.

 

“Hey, sis,” he said, including both women in the greeting. “That coffee smells wonderful, is there any chance of a guy getting a nice hot cup as soon as it’s finished brewing?”

 

Dixie smiled at the term of endearment. Whenever Johnny was on duty or they were at the hospital, or around the other paramedics, he referred to her as Dix…but once they were both away from the ‘official’ setting he always referred to Dixie as ‘sis’.  It had been that way since she had become a part of his Tiyospaye, and she loved hearing it.

 

Ever since Dixie had agreed to it, and Johnny had accepted her into his ‘family’, her life had changed for the better. Being alone and unmarried, with no family living in California, had meant that she had always been the one who volunteered to work on the holidays so the nurses with families could spend the day with their loved ones. It was something she, Joe and Kel had in common. Joe’s parents had long since passed away and he only had a few cousins that he wasn’t very close too left.  Kel’s family was all on the East Coast in the Boston area, and Dixie’s family was in Tampa Bay in Florida.

 

So it was such a wonderful change when she became part of Johnny’s world. He would no longer let her work on Thanksgiving or Christmas if she wasn’t supposed to be on duty.

Thus it was that last year she had been included in the Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations at the DeSoto home. She and Joanne had found they had a lot in common and had become very close friends now too.

 

It made her smile as she looked over at Johnny who was now standing at the counter with Joanne helping her out, by reaching down the coffee mugs from the top shelf of the cupboard.

 

Johnny Gage had been the catalyst that had brought them all together…this gentle soul who had been on his own and unloved for most of his young life had touched all of their hearts… his loneliness, vulnerability and desire to just have someone love and care about him, had brought them all here today, and she for one, felt truly blessed to be included in that small group of people.

 

John Roderick Gage was inherently a gentle man. He was unfailingly soft hearted and loyal to those he loved most. Yet he was also the strongest and most determined man she knew as well. He could be extremely intense and often stubborn or willful when he felt the situation dictated. He was a true survivor.

 

johnpris3.jpgJohnny’s birth certificate, like Johnny himself, was a contradiction in terms. The dates displayed on the document where a perfect example of incongruity. Because if the truth be told, Johnny Gage was both older and younger than those dates averred.

 

Anyone who truly got to know the real man, behind that crooked grin, soon learned that Johnny Gage carried inside his heart, a spirit and a soul that could display alternately, both a childlike, youthful, enthusiasm and lust for life that would burst forth from him like a bolt of lightening; or, at other times, he would transform into the very embodiment of a very old soul, who could display a wisdom and sorrow that was well beyond his years.

 

Johnny’s life experiences had molded and shaped him into both personas’ that shared one body.

 

 The personal tragedies, abject poverty and abuses he’d lived through and experienced his whole life…especially since the age of ten when he had lost his parents, had robbed him of his right to a normal carefree childhood, and that was what had made him the man he was today.

 

So it was that Roy, Joanne and Dixie had all seen many personal glimpses of the many layers that made up the man called, Johnny Gage. There were times when he would tumble around and play with Chris and Jenny with joyous abandon. He reveled in the fun of the amusement park, or the beach, where he would get down with the kids and spend hours building the perfect sandcastle…or they would find him giggling madly as the three of them would manage to get themselves covered in a sticky gooey mess while roasting marshmallows.

 

It was heartwarming to watch and yet, sad at the same time, because many times they suspected that it was probably the first time in his entire life he had experienced such pleasures.

 

Then there were the heart wrenching moments, when they would catch him observing the children, or the DeSoto family in general, as they shared a loving family moment and Johnny’s eyes would suddenly be filled with a deep and haunting sadness. It was the tangible evidence of someone who was battle weary and wounded, one to whom life had beaten down and trodden upon over and over again. It was then his past was plainly evident to all who witnessed it.

 

It made them all want to hold him close and wrap him up in cotton wool, so they could protect him from further harm and anguish.

 

But it was these very qualities that made Johnny the phenomenal paramedic that he was.

It allowed him to relate to the victims of all the various tragedies they dealt with daily, with empathy and tenderness when needed… or alternately, with nerves of steel and the confidence of a true survivor, whichever the situation called for. He just had an innate sense of how to handle everyone, from small children and the elderly, to truck drivers and construction workers, and he did it on their level, catering to whatever need each victim required, with complete skill and self-assurance.

 

“UNCLE JOHNNY!!!” The joyous squeal of excitement that rang through the DeSoto home brought Dixie abruptly back from her reverie.

 

Jenny and Chris had arrived home and instantly started to make a beeline towards their favorite playmate. But before they could make it out to the back yard, Joanne intervened.

 

“Not so fast you two…you can go say hi to Uncle Johnny, but then I want you both to go upstairs and change out of your school clothes and do your homework before supper.”

 

“Aww mom, we’ve been in school all day and we wanna play with Uncle Johnny,” they whined.

 

Johnny looked up from where he and Roy were sitting on the back deck and grinned, “Yeah, mom…can’t we play… just for a few minutes?” he whined imitating the tone both children had used.

 

The other three adults smiled at Johnny plea. Johnny referred to Joanne as ‘mom’, almost as often as he did sister. But then again Joanne frequently filled both roles in the young man’s life. It was both understood and accepted by everyone. Johnny had lost his parents at such a young age, that it was something he had missed out on and still craved, so it wasn’t uncommon for Joanne or even Dixie to assume that role in his life, anymore than it was uncommon for Roy and even on occasions, Hank Stanley, to assume the paternal role.

 

Joanne reached over and lightly scruffed the back of Johnny’s head. “Don’t encourage them young man.” She said playfully. “And you two,” she said looking over at Chris and Jenny, “do as I say, right now.” Grudgingly the two children greeted Roy, Dixie and their Uncle Johnny with a quick hug and a hello, and headed off to their respective bedrooms to change their clothes and do their homework.

 

 

Roy stood up and stretched. “Well, I guess I had better get this barbeque going so I can feed everyone.” He was in the process of getting the charcoal lit, when he suddenly stopped and surreptitiously glanced over at Johnny who was now lying back in the lounger with his eyes closed. Roy cleared his throat. “Johnny would you mind going inside and making sure that Joanne put some beer in the fridge to get cold?”

 

Johnny opened his eyes and sat upright. “Sure Pally, no problem.”

 

Joanne looked over at Roy and raised her eyebrows. She knew perfectly well that Roy had already done that before he had left that morning to pick up Johnny at Rampart.

 

As soon as Johnny had gone indoors Joanne nudged Roy in the ribs “Do you mind telling me what that was all about? You and I both know there is plenty of beer in the fridge Roy.”

 

Roy looked over and nodded. “Yeah, I know…just do me a favor and keep Johnny busy in the kitchen helping you out until the burgers are cooked okay? I’m just not comfortable with him laying out here so close to the barbeque. The last thing I want to have happen is for him to get a face full of smoke…at least not so soon after what happened two days ago.

 

“Roy?” the sound of Johnny’s voice behind them made both Roy and Joanne jump.

 

“You could have just told me outright you know. I have already asked both Dr. Manning and Brackett about this kind of stuff, and not just barbeques but stuff like camp fires as well. Right now they can’t say for sure if either one would cause me any problems. What happened the other day was true enough, a small exposure, but it was also in a very confined space with no other fresh air available. And I have been camping with bon fires since I suffered from the empyema, and had no problems with those. True I haven’t had a good face full of smoke from them either, but then again, I usually only build very small cooking fires when I’m camping alone, plus the smoke from a barbeque or a campfire is not as concentrated, or filled with chemicals, and because I am also surrounded by lots of fresh air with the others, it could make a difference. Still, neither doctor could predict with any certainty that if I did get a good face full of smoke from either source, that it would be enough to cause the same reaction, nor could they guarantee that it wouldn’t happen either. It’s kind of a wicked learning curve. Right now it would be a crap shoot as to how my lungs would react.”

 

Johnny put his hand on Roy’s shoulder. “But I can promise you this Pally, I’m not in any big hurry to find out. So how about we just put our cards on the table and be open about this okay? Now how about I head indoors and help these two beautiful ladies make some salad to go with our burgers, while you burn up this meat.”

 

Roy looked over at Johnny and smiled…”Okay Junior, I can live with that.” Suddenly Johnny’s last comment sunk in and Roy looked indignant. “Hey! What do you mean ‘burn up this meat’? I’ll have you know I’m a damn fine cook when it comes to cooking on the barbeque.”

 

Both Johnny and Joanne headed into the house giggling madly and joined Dixie who was already in the kitchen slicing up the tomatoes and the onions for the burgers.

 

By the time the DeSoto children came back downstairs, wearing their play clothes and promising Joanne that they had completed all of their homework, Roy had finished grilling the last of the burgers and hotdogs. Joanne had put together a Caesar salad while Johnny and Dixie worked together putting together a fruit salad to go with the ice-cream Dixie had brought over for dessert.

 

Chris and Jenny were immediately put to work carrying the paper plates, cups and napkins, out to the picnic table on the back deck.

 

They were just about to sit down and dig in when the front doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” said Roy while rising. He walked into the house and into the living room to the front door.

He pulled it open, and there standing before him was Joe Early.

 “Hi Roy.” Joe said. “I hope I’m not interrupting, but I really need to talk to both you and Johnny, and Kel said Johnny would be staying here with you and Joanne for a few days. May I come in?”

 

“Sure Doc” said a very surprised Roy. “We’re just sitting down to eat, we’d be happy to have you join us.”

 

Joe was apologetic. “I didn’t mean to disturb your dinner Roy.”

 

“Nonsense,” said Roy. “The more the merrier, come on in,” he said as he led the doctor through the house and out onto the back deck.

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

Joe Early stepped through the patio doors and out on to the DeSoto’s back deck. Sitting on one side of the picnic table were Joanne and Dixie with seven year old Jenny in between them, and on the other side of the table, sat ten year old Chris DeSoto at the far end of the bench. By looking at the place settings, it was clear Roy had been sitting on the other end of the picnic bench, with Johnny seated in the middle.

 

“Hey Doc, great to see you. What brings you into our neck of the woods on your day off?” asked Johnny.

 

Joe smiled inwardly as he noticed that Johnny hadn’t referred to it as, Roy’s neck of the woods, but as ‘our’ neck of the woods. John was as much at home here as he was out at his ranch.

 

Neither was Joe shocked to see Dixie here; in the last year, Dixie had become a frequent visitor at the DeSoto home … at least when Johnny was there. She was now included and accepted as extended family, and she obviously felt comfortable being included.

 

Joanne smiled, and stood up to greet the new arrival. “What a lovely surprise, I’m glad you’ve joined us. I hope you don’t mind ‘casual’ dining?”

 

Dix, Jenny, and Joanne shifted down on their side of the bench to make room for Joe, while Roy brought over a plate and napkin and set in front of the man.

 

Joe returned her smile, “I love this relaxed atmosphere. Especially after the sterile and hectic conditions at Rampart, but I really didn’t mean to intrude.”

 

Dixie rolled her eyes and leaned over until she was in Joe’s line of sight. “For heavens sake, Joe, we’re all friends here, it’s not intruding. It’s just we don’t often see you in this kind of setting, it’s actually a nice change of pace.”

 

Roy looked over at their new arrival. “So Doc, what’s your pleasure, will you have a burger, a dog, or are you like Chris and Johnny and want one of each?”

 

 

Joe grinned, “Well since I rarely get this kind of opportunity, I think I’ll follow Johnny and Chris’s lead and try one of each.”

 

It wasn’t long before the happy group was enjoying their meal. They were nearly finished with their dessert when Roy reached over and handed Joe a cold beer from the fridge. “So, you said you had something you needed to discuss with Johnny and me. It sounded kind of important. Is something wrong?”

 

Joe accepted his drink and wiped his mouth with his napkin. “Well, no, nothing is wrong per se; but I do have an idea to run by you. It just may be a solution to your current situation, not to mention a way for you both to continue on as fully functioning, active paramedics, without having to be firefighters.”

 

Johnny and Roy both looked over and Joe, their faces showed their intense interest in what their Doctor friend had said.

 

Joe continued on. “Look, why don’t we finish our meal and then we can discuss this in the living room so the kids here aren’t bored silly, listening to us grownups talk.”

 

It wasn’t long before the table had been cleared and Chris and Jenny were left to play a board game on the now empty picnic table, while the adults switched from beer to coffee and went inside to talk.

 

 

“So, what’s all this you were saying before about my being able to continue being a paramedic, doc?” Johnny had no idea how that could be. He knew Kelly Brackett had argued with the department heads until he was blue in the face, to no avail. If they wouldn’t listen to someone with as much influence as Kelly Brackett, what hope did any of the rest of them have?”

 

Joe looked over at Johnny and Roy. “Well, it’s kind of a long story boys. You both know that I have been planning since Christmas to scale back on my hours starting the first of June.”

 

 Both men nodded, it hadn’t been a big secret, the entire hospital knew.

 

 “I’ve already had to have one heart surgery and I just decided while I still have my health, I’d like to sit back a bit and take some time to enjoy life more.”

 

Everyone in the room nodded their heads, but did not speak.

 

Joe took a sip of coffee and proceeded to go on with his tale. “That’s when I thought of Byron and his proposal.”

 

Who’s Byron, Joe?” asked Dixie.

 

Joe drained the last of his coffee and went on with his story.


”It was about 2 months ago, when an old friend of mine from med school showed up in L.A. We had both gone through medical school together, and we’ve stayed in contact through the years. His name is Byron Fellowes, and he’s the head of ER at the Medical Center Hospital in Burlington Vermont. He also works closely with the newer University Health Center in Burlington as well.”

 

Joe set down his empty coffee cup and sank back further into the couch. “I had mentioned to Byron about my plans to scale back on my work and take some time to relax more. It was then that he told me about George Wellington Danforth III.” Joe paused, and he looked around for any signs of recognition on the faces of the group of people sitting around him in the DeSoto living room. “I don’t suppose any of you have heard of him?”

 

Everyone in the room shook their heads no, so Joe continued.

 

 

 

“Well, George Wellington Danforth III is the only grandson of George Wellington Danforth the shipping magnate. He’s inherited the business as it’s been passed down, from his grandfather to his father, and from his father to him. George III has a natural acuity for the business and has added to its massive fortune over the years.”

 

“He’s a widower. His wife Elizabeth died several years ago leaving him to raise his two children, a daughter Michelle and a son George Wellington the IV. He has never remarried nor does he have the desire to. It seems Elizabeth was his soul mate and he has spent the last few years of his life running his business and doting on his two children. They live on a large Estate on the outskirts of a very small town called Swanton Vermont, that’s located about forty minutes north of Burlington.

 

Their family has amassed a large fortune since they first began their foray into overseas shipping and the lucrative import/export business. They have a large fleet of Merchant Ships including Dry Cargo ships, Container ships and Bulk Carriers. Anyway, the point is, the man is a multi-millionaire.”

 

“Now the reason this is relevant is because the man is on a mission and I think we might be able to help each other, if it is something you would be interested in.”

 

“Go on,” said Roy with interest.

 

“Well, to make a long story short, early last December, George’s 20 year old daughter Michelle was out skating on Lake Champlain when she hit a weak spot in the ice and fell through. The volunteer fire department was called and they managed to pull her out, but she wasn’t breathing, and without the advanced training like you boys have, they were unable to provide anything more than basic CPR. She died before they could get her to the hospital in Burlington 40 minutes away. For all his wealth and money, the one thing George Wellington Danforth III couldn’t buy…was his child’s life. She died for want of immediate medical care. George vowed to never let that happen again.”

 

The DeSoto living room was eerily quiet as everyone contemplated the sad story. The silence was soon broken as Joe continued on.

 

“For the last three months now, George has been on a one man mission, a crusade if you will to bring definitive medical care to his rural community. He has pledged his fortune to making it happen. He has already begun construction on a clinic. Once finished, it will have a dozen beds. It will also be equipped on a small scale with all the latest technology; including x-ray equipment, two fully stocked treatment rooms, and a small but fully equipped surgical suite and a recovery room. All the latest medical equipment will be on hand. He’s already spent over a million dollars on his project. He has 3 nurses who are willing to work at the clinic, all on a part time basis, sharing the shifts.

 

“He has one doctor lined up who is willing to work 4 days a week at the clinic, but this doctor also services another clinic in another county 2 days a week, so he cannot devote anymore time than that to the facility. That was what Byron wanted to talk to me about. He wanted to know if I would be willing to ‘semi-retire’ up to Swanton and work the other 3 days a week at the clinic. It’s a small community of about 5000 people, but it would include the surrounding area as well. Apparently Mr. Danforth is going all out for the county. He has even paid for a life flight helicopter and a pilot, and is building a landing pad near the clinic.

 

“When Byron asked me 2 months ago, I turned him down. I had no thoughts of leaving Los Angeles and Rampart. Everything I had was here; my condo, my job and most importantly my friends…everything. I figured why upset the status quo?  But now with Kel announcing that he’s leaving, and Roy and Johnny leaving, and who knows with all the shifting schedules that happen at Rampart, if Dixie and I will even see each other while on duty anymore. Well, it’s made me reconsider.”

 

Joe turned in his seat to face Dixie. “Anyway, yesterday when I realized how upset you were Dix, it got me to thinking. So I went back to my office and I phoned Byron and did some inquiring. I told him about Johnny’s situation, and what was happening here and I ran a few questions and ideas by him. I left it with him yesterday afternoon.

 

“Well, just about two hours ago, he called me back. It seems he took my questions and ideas to George Danforth in person. George being a man of great influence and action immediately started investigating. George is a man of great power, and influence, and when he decides he wants something, very few people are able to stop him. I think you’ll be interested in what he has been able to come up with. First of all he did some research on the paramedic program and in particular Roy and John.”

 

Both men looked up in shock. But Joe continued before either man could comment.

 

“At first, he didn’t realize that you were that paramedic Johnny. The incident last year with the bus was headline news all over the United States and Canada. Then he spent the entire afternoon researching you guys. When he discovered that you were the first active paramedics in California, and that you and Roy in particular were the first team to actually put those skills into practice, he got quite excited. He wants to bring the paramedic program up to Swanton and the surrounding area. He’s read all newspaper accounts of past rescues where you two were mentioned, and inquired about your service records, and he is most interested in meeting you both.”

 

“He also looked into the paramedic program in Vermont and found out that although it works in conjunction with the fire department, it has its own separate governance. Up there paramedics are not firefighters as well. They are separate entities which means Johnny, that you could be an active paramedic without being a firefighter. That’s only the half of it. You see it seems George went another step further, and this morning he got in contact with the state boards that govern the paramedic programs, in both Vermont and New York, and after looking over your test scores and credentials and your service records, the powers that be, are willing to accept your current California paramedic certificates as valid and are willing to carry over the certification of both you and Roy, allowing you to be paramedics in the States of Vermont and New York, without having to retake the test. Johnny just re-certified four months ago anyway, and the test doesn’t vary from State to State. It’s a standard test...That’s of course, if you two would be interested in relocating and running out of the Michelle Danforth Clinic. That’s what the clinic will be called in memory of George’s daughter.

 

“I myself have agreed to go up to talk, and if we all agree, I would be willing to relocate to Vermont, to work with you boys out of the clinic. I know it would be a huge change from L.A., but it’s a chance to continue being a paramedic, if that’s what you really want…and Dixie, I know it was presumptuous of me, but if you want the job of head nurse at the clinic, working full time which would mean five days a week,… it’s yours. In fact they would be thrilled as it’s not that easy to find experienced professionals who are willing to work in small rural areas. Most professionals head for the big cities.”

 

Joe looked around the room as he made his next statement. “Byron is waiting for my call, and if I tell him we’d like to meet and discuss this further, George Danforth will send his own private jet here to fly us to Vermont to meet to talk with him...no strings attached.”

 

Joe sat back and waited to see how his news would be accepted.

 

The reaction was instantaneous, and Johnny was the first to speak. “We’d be certified in both the State of Vermont and New York?”

 

Joe smiled, “Yes, Johnny. It seems the clinic would be working in conjunction with the Burlington hospital, which in turn works with a few of the neighboring hospitals in upstate New York. You see Vermont is on one side of Lake Champlain with New York on the other. Therefore the paramedic programs in New York and Vermont are attached to each other, so certification in those two States is inclusive, as you might find yourself involved in patient transfers from State to State, and so their paramedic certification needs to cover both States.”

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Roy just sat back with his mouth agape, finally he spoke. “Wow doc, this is quite a bombshell. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it sure wasn’t this. I’m not sure what to say. I mean Joanne and I as well as Johnny would have to talk it over. It would mean taking my family across the country, selling my home and getting all of our stuff moved to Vermont not to mention finding a home to live in, once we got to Vermont… It would be a big chore.”

 

Suddenly out of nowhere Joanne spoke up.

 

“Well I for one say we should go up and talk to the man Roy. I mean you’re the breadwinner and so it’s up to you, but if you want my opinion, I think it’s worth looking into. This could be the answer to our prayers. I mean is it that much more of a change than walking away from your career and livelihood here in California is going to be?”

 

Roy looked over at his wife. He had actually expected her to be the one to balk at the idea and here she was the first one on board, without even needing time to think things through. But now that he heard what she had to say, he did have to agree, he literally was committing to starting his life over here in L.A. anyway. Maybe Jo was right, maybe this was the answer to their prayers…besides it couldn’t hurt to investigate the idea further, could it? “Well, he said slowly, I guess it does merit further investigation, what do you say Junior?”

 

Johnny sat back for a moment in deep thought, and then his face slowly lit up with his infamous mega watt Gage grin.

 

“I say, let’s do it. Let’s fly up to Vermont and see what the man has to say. How about Dix? Are you on board with all of this?”

 

Joe looked over and could see the indecision in her eyes. “Come on Dix, would it really hurt you to at least come and hear what the man has to say? I know how upset you were with Kel’s announcement and the fact the boys here are leaving…you have no family here, and now with all of us potentially leaving, what’s left to hold you here?”

 

 

“Yeah, sis…I don’t want to leave any of my family behind…at least think about it,” pleaded Johnny

 

Dixie looked around the room. They were right; this would be a way that they could all stay close. She’d been so down about feeling left alone at Rampart. Here was a chance at not having to deal with it. If the boys did go, there’d be no Kel, Joe, Johnny or Roy or anyone else she had grown to love, left in L.A. anyway.  She knew without a doubt what she wanted. She’d grown too used to being a part of this little nuclear family, and she didn’t want to lose it. She would relocate if it meant keeping those that meant the most to her in her life.”

 

“Well, I’m on duty for the next two days and so are you Joe. How does leaving Monday sound to everyone?” she said. Joe stood up and grinned. “I’ll phone Byron tonight and make the arrangements. I’ll call you from Rampart tomorrow Roy and let you know what’s going on.”

 

The small group of friends talked excitedly together for another hour, before Dixie and Joe both left and Joanne put her two young children to bed.

 

It was now almost ten pm that same evening and Johnny, Joanne, and Roy where sitting out on the back deck talking. “You know Johnny,” said Roy. “another plus to leaving L.A. would be getting those lungs of yours away from all of the pollution and smog…it wouldn’t hurt any of us to be away from that.”

 

“Not to mention,” added Joanne, “all the gangs and drugs and crime that have been increasing here in Los Angeles. You hear about more and more murders, and rapes and robberies everyday. Twenty years ago we didn’t really have the problem with gangs and drugs. It scares me to think of what the high schools here will be like by the time Chris and Jenny are old enough to go.”

 

Finally Roy stood up and stretched. “Well Junior, you were just released from the hospital today and I did promise Brackett to make sure you rested…which is why I said no earlier to that game of tag you and the kids wanted to start. Resting doesn’t mean running around getting yourself out of breath. Now I think it’s time you were in bed young man.”

 

Johnny stood up and rolled his eyes. “Yes dad,” he said as he stood and wished them both good night and headed off to his room.

 

After Johnny had gone, Roy leaned over and pulled his wife close.

 

 “So, we’re really gonna do this Jo?” She leaned in and kissed him softly. “Yes Roy, we’re really gonna do this, are you happy about it?” Roy’s face broke into a huge grin…”Yes, honey, …you know I really am. I think that if we like what we see and hear in Vermont, then this is going to be a fabulous move for all of us.”

                                                                   

 

                                                                      Chapter Nine

 

Eight thirty the next morning found Roy and Joanne DeSoto sitting at their kitchen table having a coffee after breakfast. The children had eaten a half hour before and were now out in the back yard playing on their jungle gym. Johnny, who was usually the first to wake up in the morning, was still asleep.

 

At first Joanne had been concerned, but Roy assured that it was normal and was exactly what Johnny needed.

 

“Actually Jo,” he had said. “I am glad he’s still asleep. It’s only been a couple of days, since I rushed him to Rampart in full respiratory arrest. I know his lungs are fine now, but putting the body through that much stress takes a huge toll on his system, and it’s going to take the good part of this week, for Johnny’s body to really get over it. The fact that he hasn’t woken up yet, is proof that it still needs a lot of rest. And I intend to see that he does. It’s why I pushed to have him come here.”

 

Roy picked up his breakfast dishes and carried them over to the sink.

 

“If I had just let him go back to the ranch, it wouldn’t have been very long before he was out in that barn. I know he said he wouldn’t do any riding or chores for the first week, and just let Bob do it all... And when he said it, he would have honestly meant it. But he’s like a hyperactive puppy. He can’t sit still, and he gets too bored, too easily. It wouldn’t take him half a day before he was doing little stuff around the barn. Then he wouldn’t be able to resist a ‘small, quick’ ride on his horse. And before he even knew it, he would be riding full tilt across his ranch… It’s better that he stays here for a few days, because while he’s here, he’s more liable to let his body rest. So as far as I’m concerned, the later he sleeps, the quicker his body will recover.”

 

Joanne stood up… “Well, in that case, how about I load up the kids and take them grocery shopping with me right now. That way the house will stay quieter, so there’s less chance of the kids waking up Johnny.”

 

 Without waiting for a reply from Roy, she bent down and gave him a kiss on the top of his head and then leaned over until she was next to his ear and whispered, “and while I do that you can do up the breakfast dishes.”  She playful poked him in the ribs and quickly slipped out the patio doors to collect the kids.

Roy stood up and began to rinse off the dishes that were piled in the sink. He smiled to himself as he thought about what he had just said to his wife about Johnny and his horses.

 

It had been just over four years ago now that Johnny had bought his ranch. He had been so excited and worked up when he had come over to Roy and Joanne’s, flushed and breathless. He could barely contain himself, Roy was actually afraid he was going to make himself sick.

 

He remembered Johnny dragging the entire DeSoto family out to see his new ranch, which was a good forty-five minute drive from the DeSoto home. He insisted upon it, even though it was eight o’clock at  night, when he had gotten the call from the broker to say the deal was final and the ranch was now officially his, that they all had to see it…right now.  The only way to calm his exuberant young partner down had been for the entire family to jump into the car and drive out and see his new “baby.”

 

 Roy had to admit, it was a beautiful piece of land and Johnny had gotten a good deal. He had bought it from a friend of his who volunteered with the Grace Foundation along with Johnny.

 

His friend had been moving to Arizona, and had offered sell the 30 acre ranch to Johnny below the market price. It also had meant that when arranging for a mortgage to buy the ranch, Johnny had been able to include enough extra cash to be able to buy a horse as well.

 

Johnny had already owned a horse for over a year before he even bought the ranch. Once again it was through the equine rescue organization, the Grace Foundation, that Johnny acquired his horse.

 

 Johnny being a natural horseman had been volunteering there for almost 6 months, when a young gelding paint had arrived. He was badly malnourished and the organization was debating whether or not it would be better to humanely put the horse down, as the vet bills to bring him back to health would be large, and even then it was questionable if the horse would make it. Their budget just didn’t allow for such things, not when that money could be spent on saving three or four other horses whose recovery was more certain.

But Johnny had instantly fallen in love with the horse and in some ways seemed to identify with him. He had insisted the horse be saved, and even agreed to foot the vet bills himself in order to give the horse his chance to survive. And so ownership of the horse was given to Johnny.

 

Johnny went home and sold his motorcycle so he could pay for the mounting vet bills. But to Johnny it had been a good trade off. Johnny spent every spare day off he had with his horse; and soon with Johnny’s love and attention, combined with the vets medical care; the horse not only recovered, but thrived and developed into a beautiful animal. Johnny being a natural with the horses was valued by the organization and they had offered to let him stable his horse there in return for all the volunteer work he had done for them.

 

Johnny named the young paint, Koda, which he explained to Roy, was a Dakota Sioux word that simply meant, “friend”.

 

Roy and his family had been taken to the stables where Johnny had shown off his pride and joy.  It was also the first time he had heard Johnny speak in his native tongue. One of the grooms at the stables told Roy that Johnny only spoke to Koda in his native language, and indeed, Koda always seemed to respond back to Johnny’s words more readily than the horse would for the grooms who tended to him when Johnny was not there.

 

When Johnny eventually bought the ranch, he took the extra money he had arranged for, and bought his first purebred “breeding mare” as he called her. Although in actual fact she was just a yearling filly and not actually a mare yet, because she was still too young to breed. Johnny had explained he intended to one day breed champion American Quarter Horses. And so his first purchase was the young yearling, a beautiful chestnut, named Pandora. Within a week Johnny had brought Koda home to join Pandora as the first residents on Johnny’s new ranch.

 

 

It was when they had sold the antique fire engine that they had restored, that Johnny had used some of his share of the profits, and added the next two members of his ‘herd’. Once again they were purebred American quarter horses. The first was a beautiful jet-black colt that was only ten months old. Johnny immediately christened his new ‘son’, Obsidian…Johnny’s reasoning was that the young colt was indeed, as black as coal.

 

His other purchase was another American quarter horse. This was another yearling, only it was a beautiful buckskin filly. Johnny christened her, Odyssey.

 

The horses had been a God-send when Johnny was stuck at home recovering from his illness last year, for it was early on in his recovery when Pandora had reached her breeding maturity. Using Obsidian as the sire, it was no time at all before Johnny was looking forward to his ranches first foal.

 

Roy and Jo had teased Johnny mercilessly, saying he worried and fretted more over his foals impending arrival than they had with either Chris or Jenny.

 

Johnny took it all in stride and he spent hours in his barn building the perfect foaling stall for Pandora.

 

It was about six weeks before Johnny’s return to active duty when the foal finally arrived. A beautiful little filly, that was jet black, just like her father. She was quickly named “Raven”.

 

Roy chuckled to himself as he recalled an incident at the station when “city boy” Chet had asked Johnny if he wasn’t afraid of Koda accidentally getting in with his mares and breeding with one of his American’s.

 

 Johnny smirked, as he looked over curiously at Chet.

 

“Ah Chet…Koda is a gelding.” He giggled.

 

Chet being a city boy, didn’t understand, and replied. “Yeah, that’s what I mean….what if you mix up the breeds?”

 

This caused Johnny to break into paroxysms of laughter. “Chet…a gelding isn’t a breed. It means he’s been castrated.”

 

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This time the others joined in the laughter as Chet’s face grew several different shades of red.

 

Koda was however, Johnny’s special ‘child’ and the only one Chris and Jen were allowed to ride, when they were at Johnny’s ranch. Being a gelding also meant that Koda was calmer and gentler and easier to handle. Johnny made sure that he and he alone, exclusively rode the others, although the kids were more than welcome to stroke and feed them as long as Johnny was with them to oversee things.

 

Roy was still chuckling to himself over the Chet incident, when Johnny wandered sleepily into the kitchen.

 

“You know Roy, laughing to yourself is one of the first signs of insanity,” he joked.

 

Roy turned around and threw the dishtowel at him. “Just for that, as soon as you’ve had some breakfast, you can dry… Actually I was just remembering Chet and his confusion over what a gelding was.” He said grinning back at Johnny.

 

Johnny started giggling as he too remembered the look on Chet’s face, when Johnny had explained to him, why a gelding could not sire. He reached over and poured himself a mug of coffee from the still hot coffee pot, and sat down at the kitchen table.

 

“Actually Roy, I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t mind if I slipped away for a while this morning.” He said.

 

Roy turned around and looked at him questioningly. “Is there something wrong Johnny?” he asked.

 

“No, but I would like to go out and check on Raven…and Koda gets a bit antsy when I haven’t been around for a while.” He hesitated and then continued quietly. “I was also hoping to slip by the Station and clear out my locker, since this is A shifts day off… I don’t think I could handle doing that with Cap and the guys all watching me.” He said quietly.

 

Roy came over to the table and pulled out a chair and sat beside Johnny. “Look, there’s no hurry to clean out your locker…no one is going to push you to do that. Why don’t you leave it for a few days until we see what happens in Vermont. It could well be Johnny, that we’ll both be going in together to clear out our lockers.”

 

Johnny sighed and nodded his head. “Okay Roy, I won’t go to the station, but I still want to get out to the ranch.”

 

Roy stood up and went back to the sink… “Fine, but I’m going with you to make sure you follow Brackett’s edict.”

 

Johnny glared back at Roy. “Roy I am an adult and I don’t need you to baby sit me.”

 

Roy turned back, his eyes set in an equally stubborn glare. “Yeah, well I know you, and how you are once you get close to those horses. And it’s not about baby-sitting you; it’s about being family and looking out for each other. As I recall when I was electrocuted that time, you showed up here every day for over a week just to make sure I didn’t over do things and was following doctor’s orders. It works both ways Junior.”

 

Johnny’s look softened and he walked over to beside Roy. “Yeah, okay, I’m sorry. We’ll both go. How about if we go after lunch and take the kids and give Joanne some alone time?”

 

“Joanne will love you for that, in fact it’s a sure fire way to ensure she makes you her famous lasagna for dinner.”

 Johnny reached over and snagged a couple of homemade blueberry muffins from a container on the back of the counter and a plate from the cupboard. He walked back over and sat down at the table to eat them, while he finished off the last of his coffee.

 

“Yep, it’s all part of my master plan Pally,” he said as he spoke around his mouth full of muffin.

 

The ringing of the telephone interrupted any further conversation, as Roy went over and picked up the receiver.

 

“DeSoto Residence”…

 

“Oh hi Doc, so what’s the verdict?…Okay , that will work out fine with us, I’ll just get Joanne to see if either Mrs. Harrison or Elaine will watch the kids for a couple of days while we’re away. So do you have the itinerary?”

 

Roy listened intently for a few minutes to the man on the other end of the phone, and then spoke again. “Okay, so what’s the plan, do you just want to meet here or at the airstrip?”

Once again Roy was silent for several moments before he began to speak into the receiver once more. “Yeah, okay that’s fine doc, thanks for getting back to us so quickly…okay, I guess we’ll see you Monday morning then….okay doc, thanks again…bye.”

 

Johnny looked over at Roy and stood up.

 

“So, what did he say Roy?”

Roy came back over to the counter and resumed washing the dishes. A very curious Johnny got up and wiped the crumbs from his plate into the trash bin, and handed the dirty plate to Roy. He reached over and picked up the dishtowel and began to dry the dishes, while he waited anxiously for Roy to speak.

 

“Well, George Danforth is going to have his private jet leave Burlington about six am Vermont time. Factoring in the three hour time difference and the fact it’s about a six to six and half hour flight, it should get here sometime after nine Monday morning. The schedule is for us to leave here at ten. That puts us in Burlington about seven at night... Joe’s doctor friend Byron Fellowes will meet us, and drive us to the Danforth estate where we will be staying. He’ll provide us with a meal, and let us get settled and acquainted over dinner.” Roy continued talking as he walked over to the table and began to wipe it down.

 

“Then the next morning we’ll meet up again with Byron, because he is the doctor in charge of the paramedic program and he is also the one who oversees their training in the Burlington area.

 

He’ll go over their system and how it works and what is expected of the paramedics up there, and what exactly their duties entail. Then we’ll all meet up with Danforth for lunch and he’ll give us a tour of how far along he is in the construction of his clinic, and when he expects it to be ready to open. He’s also interested in all of our input and any suggestions or ideas about what Joe and Dixie would ideally need for the clinic, and what type of communication system we use at Rampart. He wants us to come prepared to give him a list of what we would want for a vehicle and what we would want it stocked with. Being rural, our needs and supplies will probably have to be modified, as we will be both rescue and paramedics, without having the aid of an Engine with us on every rescue.

“Mr. Danforth will also discuss salaries as well, because even though we’ll be state certified and working for the state for some of the time, we’ll primarily be working from his clinic. He is hiring us separately to come to his area, because right now, there’s no provision in the state budget to provide paramedics to rural areas. So if a rural area wants to hire paramedics it is up to each individual county to fund it. Therefore being hired by a private clinic means our wages and benefit package will be negotiable.”

 

Roy emptied the water from the sink and wiped off the counter as Johnny finished drying the last dish and put it in the cupboard.

 

Roy turned and leaned against the counter and crossed his arms.

 

“Then he’s given us free run of his estate and he’ll provide us with vehicles so we can get out and explore the area and look around and see what we’d be getting ourselves into, for a couple of days. Then Thursday afternoon Byron will give us a tour of his ER and how it functions. There will be times when a serious case comes up and we may have to take our patient to Burlington or even Northern New York State. Those times we will be working with those other hospitals and doctors, during the time we’re transporting them to and from their larger city hospitals. Then Thursday evening he’ll show us around Burlington a bit. Danforth will then fly us back home on Friday morning.”

 

Johnny grinned as he looked over at Roy. “You know Roy, I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of excited about all of this. If this turns out to be as great as it sounds, this could be the best thing that’s happened to us in a while. It just sort of feels like a golden opportunity to me.”

 

Roy couldn’t help but grin. “Ya know Junior, I was thinking the same thing myself.”

 

Johnny stood up and stretched. “Well if you don’t mind Pally, I’m going to grab a quick shower before Jo and the kids get back.”

 

He reached over and grabbed a cookie out of the cookie jar, and with another grin, he slipped out of the kitchen.

 

He went back to his room and walked over to the suitcase that was sitting on his bed. He had been surprised to see it sitting there when he had gone to bed last night. He wondered when Roy had gone and picked up his clothes.

 

As soon as he opened his suitcase, he knew it hadn’t been Roy, but Joanne who had procured his belongings for him. A woman had definitely packed it. It was organized, and included all the little but necessary items men usually never bothered with. He smiled when he seen both his dress shoes and his dressier clothing packed neatly. Yup definitely Jo’s doing…  Then it slowly dawned on him … so, that’s why she wasn’t here when he and Roy had arrived from Rampart yesterday.

 

He should have known, it all made sense now. Roy would not have given him those sweats to put on yesterday, had his own clothes already been here.

 

He then thought back to the awkward moment the day before when both he and Roy had realized that he only had his uniform to wear home. Roy had obviously slipped out while he was getting dressed and phoned Joanne. So that’s why Dixie insisted on taking my vitals one last time…she was stalling for time.

 

In fact now that he thought about it, his uniform had mysteriously disappeared yesterday while he was in the shower. Not that he minded of course, looking at his uniform still filled him with an overwhelming feeling of sadness. Even if this new deal worked out, he would still be leaving Cap and the rest of the guys behind for good. Seeing his uniform was a sad reminder of all of that. Even now, Chet’s reaction was unsettling to him. For all of their male posturing, he and Chet were actually very good friends.

 

He paused in his thoughts as he suddenly wondered where his badge and paramedic pin had ended up. Of course he quickly realized that Roy obviously had them, and was keeping them safe until Johnny asked for them back…well maybe he’d let him keep them for a while longer. Roy was right, he really wasn’t up to having those reminders that his days with Los Angeles County were over now, sitting in his hands just yet. He’d ask for them when he was ready.

 

He shook himself back to the task at hand of getting his shower…come on Johnny don’t start getting mawkish All this maudlin behavior just isn’t like you…You could be on the threshold of a really awesome opportunity here. He grabbed some clean clothes out of his suitcase and closed the lid, once again thankful for thoughtfulness of these people who had become his family.

 

 He grinned as he realized he had fallen for their little conspiracy, hook, line and sinker.

“Chet’s right Gage,” he chuckled to himself. “You are a gullible pigeon.”

 

Although in my defense, he thought to himself, I was just coming off an injury that had been pretty intense and I am dealing with some pretty big life changes, all within a forty eight hour period. And truthfully, he really was glad his uniform had disappeared from sight for the time being.

 

Picking up his clothes from the bed, he stepped into the guest bathroom to have his shower.

 

By the time he was finished and had stepped into the living room Joanne and the kids had returned home.

 

 

“Good morning Johnny,” Joanne greeted warmly.

 

 Jenny ran over and leapt into his arms and planted a kiss on his cheek. “Good morning Uncle Johnny, did you have a good sleep?” she asked.

 

JennyRoy came over and lifted the seven year old out of his partner’s arms. “Uncle Johnny is supposed to be resting for a few days, so how about if we keep the leaping into his arms for another day, okay sweetie?” said her father gently.

 

Johnny rolled his eyes at Roy, and squatted down in front of the child. “Uncle Johnny slept fine, and maybe if you and Chris are really good, you can come with your daddy and me out to the ranch to check on the horses after lunch.”

 

Both children smiled. “GREAT,” squealed Jenny. Can we help feed Raven today Uncle Johnny?”

 

Johnny tweaked her nose, “sure kiddo, if you want.”

chris

 “Cool, can I have a ride on Koda?” asked Chris.

 

“Only if Bob is around to help,” Roy answered before Johnny had a chance to reply.

 

Johnny looked at Roy and once again, rolled his eyes; he gave the kids each a small hug and smiled.

 

“Yes, if Bob’s okay with it, I guess you could have a small ride” he said casting a sideways glance at Roy.

 

“At least someone should get to ride today.” He then stood up and walked over to Joanne, and reached over and gave her a sideways hug and a gentle kiss on the cheek.  “Thanks for bringing my clothes yesterday Jo.” He looked over and Roy and smiled. “You too Pally. I really appreciate it.”

 

Jo gave him a hug back and Roy came over and patted his back. “Our pleasure Junior.”

 

After a quiet pause, Johnny got up and spoke to the kids… “Hey who wants to play a game of monopoly before lunch?” he asked.

 

Soon all three had exited the living room on their way to Chris’s bedroom to play their game.

 

Both Roy and Joanne noticed that Johnny hadn’t made any effort to ask about his uniform.

 

They both knew that for now, the uniform and what it was a reminder of, was still a source of raw emotion for Johnny. Joanne had dropped it off at the dry cleaners this morning. When she picked it up, Roy would make sure it was stored safely at the very back of his closet until his little brother was ready for it.

 

Links to Part 1. 2. 3.

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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.

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