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House Divided ; House United

Part 1

An Emergency Story By

Donato
 

 

Links To Parts 1. 2. 3.

 

Dedication: I would like to thank my Beta, yes, I’m talking about you. Thank you, Possum. Without your unfailing support and encouragement I don’t think it would’ve ended where it did or how it did.  You have done such a fantastic job at correcting all my errors and made the story stronger and a better read. Thank you, Possum, from the bottom of my heart.

Guest appearance: Dr Gregory House.

 

Chapter One

The crackle and pop of wood as it succumbed to the fire. The screaming death cries of structures as they gave up to the all-consuming flames. The hiss of steam that was created as water sizzled on white hot materials. Smoke growing and hanging like a forbidding thunder cloud just above their heads, growing in size and depth, coming down to greet them. The smell clinging to their turnouts, imbedding itself, reluctant to leave.

Sweat running down their skin, little rivulets leaving traces of salt in their wake. Soot lying in the creases around their eyes and face; making them look like a bad interpretation of Al Jolson.

This is what got his adrenaline going. He was feeling so alive, and in the moment. This is what he lived for. Captain’s orders being issued over HT’s.  Firemen, following those orders, scurried around. Flames being attacked from every direction. Hoses lay crisscrossed over one another like demented spider webs. Water was everywhere, reflecting the fire and sky.  Puddles rippled as the men ran through them, distorting the warehouse, flames and sky in their wake.

Johnny loved a good fire. Was he a secret pyromaniac? He often wondered. He found this thrilling and horrific at the same time. I can understand what drives firebugs he thought as he wielded the hose at the flames before him.

“Station 51, advance to the west side” came over the bull horn. The Battalion Chief had turned up and assumed command.

Captain Stanley joined his men on the lines. Mike stayed by Big Red and manned the gauges. His crew mates’ lives were in his hands. He watched as they moved around the side of the building. They were now out of his sight. Mike’s anxiety went up another five notches.

Station 36 was ordered into the area just vacated by Johnny and Marco. The flames flicked out from the doorway. Heat cascaded in waves around the men. Water was directed to the base of the flames. Loose papers and other detritus were pushed up into the air by the force of the water from the hoses.

An explosion was heard from inside. Mike’s heart raced in his chest. Was 51 alright? He wished he could see them. The signal was given for everyone to pull out from inside.

The Battalion Chief must have been notified of something by one of the four fire stations there, for that order to be made.

Mike was looking around to see what it was that brought that order on. He couldn’t see anything from his spot amongst all the action.

Suddenly the flames retracted and sucked in on themselves. BACKDRAFT!!! Mike thought immediately. Oh God, please be OK guys he thought, as he turned his back to the fire and crouched down before the building blew. A shockwave of heat and air whistled past him, blowing anything loose into the elements. A cloud of dust saturated the air around them. Mike knew from experience that some of the building had come down.

HT’s were up against Captain’s mouths, and Mike noted the Battalion Chief looking stressed and anxious. He was waiting to hear from two crews from what Mike could make out. Lip reading came in handy, he realized, not for the first time in his career.

Mike’s anxiety was equal to that of the Battalion Chief, he thought. It seemed like an eternity while he waited to hear about 51’s fate. His gauges were still pumping out water at high pressure, so he figured they must still be working the hoses. At least, that is what he was hoping. He didn’t want to think of his friends lying unconscious, buried under rubble and the hoses writhing in the air like angry cobras with gallons of water raining down on them, possibly drowning them in the worst case scenario.

He had often had nightmares about that. The men all had nightmares, but Mike never told them what his was about. Well, he had told Cap once after a particularly bad dream, after a bad fire where Marco and Chet had both been hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

Was this the stuff of another bad dream? Mike wondered.

He was starting to fear for the lives of his friends when he saw Chet and Roy half carrying, half dragging Johnny between them. Cap was carrying Marco in a fireman’s lift.

Marco’s arm dangled down by Cap’s side. It swung with every step he took.

The men made their way over to the squad and Chet held Johnny upright while Roy opened the compartments and got out the supplies. He laid a yellow sheet on the ground and Johnny and Marco were deposited on it. Roy helped Cap to place Marco down gently on the sheet as best they could. Mike was watching to see what was going on. He saw the paramedics from Station 24 run over. JC and Reyboy knelt down to help Roy with the injured men.

Johnny was sweating profusely and complaining of a headache and chest pain. Roy took Johnny’s SCBA gear off and stripped him down to his shirt, which he opened up. Roy noted Johnny’s flushed face and the pain filled grimaces Johnny made every time he moved his head.

Johnny had been supporting Marco on the line when the explosion had brought the wall down on them. Johnny had received a good bang to the head and his face mask had been knocked off. He had inhaled smoke and was trying hard not to cough, but the coughing was erupting from him every time he breathed in.

Marco was out cold. It also looked like he had a broken arm and a laceration to his lower leg.  JC was seeing to Marco and Roy to Johnny. Reyboy had got Rampart on the biophone and was acting as relay.

“Rampart, this is Squad 24, we have two Code I’s, from a building collapse. First victim is male, approximately 30, he has not regained consciousness, pupils are reactive but sluggish, he has a broken right arm and laceration approximately 10 cm long to right lower leg. First victim is Marco Lopez.” Reyboy told Dr Brackett. “His vitals are bp 120/75, pulse 80 and 20 respirations.”

“Squad 24, splint the arm; put a sterile dressing over the laceration; commence on oxygen at 4L; start IV Normal Saline TKO; take spinal precautions and monitor vitals and report any changes.”  Brackett released the button and told Dixie that they had two firefighters coming in.

Reyboy repeated the orders to Dr Brackett while writing them down. JC was listening to the orders as they were relayed back. He started to splint Marco’s arm.

 Reyboy then looked at Roy and started to relay Johnny’s condition.

“Second victim is approximately 25 years old. He is diaphoretic, complaining of a headache and chest pain. He has bilateral wheezing and coughing from possible smoke inhalation and is currently on 6L oxygen. Patient is denying being knocked out. Pupils are equal and reactive.  There are no rib fractures that we can determine. Vitals are bp 160/110, pulse 140, respirations are fast and shallow. Johnny Gage is victim number 2.” Reyboy finished his report to Dr Brackett. He then relayed the instructions back to Roy.

Twenty minutes later the ambulance backed into Rampart. The doors were opened and Roy and Sam, the attendant, got Johnny out. Next was JC with Marco. Sam helped JC get the stretcher out and wheel it into the ER.

Marco had still not regained consciousness.

“Room 2.” Dixie ordered Roy, who was pushing Johnny’s gurney. Johnny was sitting upright at a 90-degree angle to help with his breathing. He was still coughing hard and looked in pain with every breath.

Marco was ordered into room 1 where Dr Early was waiting for him. During the exam, Marco regained consciousness but his memory was scant and missing the last two days.

He promptly threw up into an emesis basin which was quickly thrust under his head.

Head, chest, spine, right arm and leg x-rays were ordered. Marco was going to be a guest of Hotel Rampart for the next few days at least.

Johnny was coughing continuously and clutching his chest. Tears were streaming down his face. A skull series and chest x-ray was ordered. Johnny was given his first nebulizer for his smoke inhalation. He too, would be a guest at Rampart at least overnight.

New vital signs were taken by Carol. Johnny’s blood pressure had slowly come down during the ride into Rampart. It was now 135/85. He was still slightly tachy at 110 but he was dehydrated and receiving a bag of Normal Saline. The breathing treatments were also elevating his pulse and it was slowly going back up again.

Brackett reviewed the x-rays and went over to talk to Johnny. Roy stepped closer to the gurney.

“Well, Johnny, you’ve earned at least one night at Rampart. There is considerable wheezing in your lungs and you’ll be on breathing treatments for a while yet. I’m also going to start you on IV antibiotics just as a precaution while you’re here. Your skull series shows no trauma so we can give you a small amount of MS to help with that headache. I think you’re just dehydrated and have a case of moderate smoke inhalation.”

Johnny just nodded his head. Any attempt he had made to talk so far just made him cough longer and harder, hurting his chest and throat more.

Marco went to the neuro step down ward and Johnny to medical respiratory ward. Marco was on hourly neuro observation and Johnny on hourly breathing treatments. Johnny’s treatments were spaced out to 2 hourly as the night progressed.

 

Chapter Two

In the morning, Johnny made his way to Marco’s room and helped him eat his breakfast as he was proving that his left arm wasn’t that hand to mouth co-ordinated. His casted arm rested on a pillow and his fingers resembled little sausages. Johnny reminded him several times to wiggle his fingers and make a fist to help the swelling to go down. Marco still wasn’t firing on all cylinders.

Johnny was doing much better. He still had a hoarse throat from the smoke and coughing but at least he could talk and breathe without coughing every time. His headache was gone and he was hoping to be discharged. He was waiting for Dr. Brackett to swing by and listen to his chest so he could be given the all clear.

Station 51 turned up shortly after shift change. Johnny was telling them all he was fine. Marco was talking in Spanish and had a dazed look in his eyes. He obviously wasn’t fine yet.

“Did he just say something about cornmeal and kneading?” Chet asked, indicating Marco with a nod of his head.

The men just shrugged their shoulders not knowing Spanish very well. Johnny, who did, hadn’t been paying any attention as he had been talking to Roy.

Cap was telling Johnny and Marco, that Tommy from 39’s had stepped in for Marco yesterday and Dwyer for Johnny. HQ had informed Cap prior to leaving the station this morning that they were getting a new boot, named Chip McKendry, and he would be at the station under the tutelage of Chet for the next year.

Chet was in his glory. He had already thought of several pranks he could pull on the boot. Cap had warned him to take it easy when he saw the glint in Chet’s eyes at the news. Somehow Cap knew he was talking to deaf ears.

Dr. Brackett entered the room and wasn’t surprised to see all of Station 51 there. The men stepped out of the room giving the guys some privacy while Dr Brackett gave Johnny the once over. Finding Johnny’s lungs much improved, he ordered one final breathing treatment before he could go. It would take him that long to do the paperwork anyway. Marco just smiled in his easy going manner at the doc and answered him in Spanish.

Johnny laughed as he realized Marco was reciting his recipe for his mother’s famous tamales. Brackett, not understanding Spanish, had no idea that Marco was on a different planet. That is, until Johnny, who had finally stopped coughing from the unexpected laughter, told Dr Brackett what Marco was saying.

The men returned to the room to hear the outcome. They were relieved that Johnny was being discharged but were concerned for Marco, who was now looking very tired, and with drooping eyelids, finally succumbed to the call of St Elijah, the patron saint of sleep.

Mrs Lopez and Carmelita, Marco’s sister, were coming to sit with Marco, Johnny told everyone. They had been there yesterday, when Johnny had popped in to see how Marco was doing. They were coming back today after Mrs Lopez had her hair done by her cousin Angelica. Johnny then left to go back to his floor to get his last breathing treatment and eat his cold oatmeal. The thought brought on new nausea.

When Roy brought Johnny’s clothes into the hospital, he told him that Joanne insisted that he come and spend one night with the De Soto’s at least. If all was well, he would take Johnny back to the station to get his Land Rover tomorrow and Johnny would spend their second day off at his ranch. He had phoned his neighbor, Dennis, and informed him about his partner’s latest mishap. Dennis offered to tend to the animals until the young man was home again.

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Jenny squealed with delight as she saw her Uncle Johnny get out of Daddy’s little broom broom as she called it. She rushed out the door and straight into Johnny’s long legs.

Johnny had to hold onto the car to stop himself from being thrown backwards. Jenny clung on tightly to his legs and had to be slowly extricated so that Johnny could pick her up. He gave her a raspberry kiss on the cheek, causing her to squirm in his arms and scream with delight.

“Do ‘nother again Uncle Johnny,” she demanded. Johnny obliged three more times. Jenny was in fits of laughter as she hugged him tight.

They made their way into the house and were met by Jo, who was wiping her hands on a dish towel. “I’ve made you both breakfast,” she said and kissed Roy on the lips and Johnny on the cheek as they made their way to the kitchen table.

“Thank you, Jo, I’m absolutely starved.” Johnny said as he rubbed his stomach to emphasize his hunger comment, regardless of his hospital breakfast earlier.

Pancakes with bacon and sausages sat appetizingly on the plates. A pot of hot steaming coffee was put on the table.

“This looks absolutely amazing, Jo. Thank you for going to so much trouble. Me and my stomach sure are gonna enjoy this. You’re a lucky man, Roy. What I wouldn’t give to have this to come home to every day.” Johnny ended on a lopsided grin. He let little Jenny down and sat at the table. Roy sat opposite him and both men tucked into breakfast.

Johnny’s appetite never ceased to amaze Roy. Furthermore, his inability to put on excess amounts of weight just compounded Roy’s jealousy. Roy was prone to putting weight on easily and he regularly had to go on little diets to drop a few extra pounds. He was never fat but he had to work hard at keeping himself fit and trim.

Jenny went to get her latest artwork to show her favorite uncle. Jo caught her as she came running back and grabbed her before she went to shove the pictures between Johnny’s mouth and knife and fork.

“He will look at them later, Jenny, if you ask him nicely. Now, let him have his breakfast and a rest then you can ask, OK?” Jo put the pictures on the coffee table in the living room for later. Jenny went and sat quietly beside her uncle, waiting impatiently for him to finish eating and resting up. She was swinging her little legs back and forth and if she could get away with it, doing the occasional dramatic sigh. Jo gave her a threatening look and she immediately stopped her antics.

Having seen and admired the beautiful artwork, played with her Barbie dolls and read her two stories all in short order, Jenny went off to her afternoon preschool class. The three adults sat down to a quiet house and enjoyed just talking. Johnny fell asleep as the day wore on as his disrupted sleep from the hospital caught up to him. Roy threw a comforter over him and he and Jo went upstairs to their bedroom for a bit of afternoon delight.

After their shared shower, they both came down to see Johnny still fast asleep with his arm flung over his face. The little band aid in the crook in his arm from where Roy had cannulated him was just visible from his pushed up shirt sleeve.

Jo made them both a coffee and they sat outside on the porch swing smooching until Roy went to pick the children up from their schools. Thankfully the children schools were next door to each other.

Roy warned the children to enter the house quietly as Johnny was sleeping on the couch. He wasn’t to be woken as he had had a long night in the hospital and was catching up on his sleep. Both children nodded solemnly and agreed to be good and quiet.

They entered and saw that Johnny was rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and sitting up with the comforter half over his legs and the rest swaddling the floor. He was coughing but not very harshly, Roy noted. It ended quickly and Johnny gave the De Soto children a big smile as they bounded into the room.

Chris ran up and hugged his Uncle Johnny and sat right up close to him. Jenny did the same but slobbered a wet kiss over his cheek and left ear. Johnny’s two little companions then told him all about their busy and exciting day at school. Chris had learned about chrysalises and wanted to go out and find some. He wanted to see a butterfly get born. Jenny said she would help. They had one in her preschool on the window sill and it was real pretty.

Johnny, feeling more alive, agreed to help them look after he had a cup of coffee and a sandwich. His stomach was rumbling and could be heard across the room.

Three bodies sat at the table. Their mouths full with cheeks bulging. Johnny looked like a chipmunk with a milk moustache. Jenny laughed at her silly uncle. Chris tried to copy his uncle and got told off by Jo. Johnny seeing that he was setting a bad example wiped his mouth and swallowed his food and slowed his eating down. He took his oral antibiotic to stave off any chest infection as ordered.

Returning from the walk around the neighborhood looking for a chrysalis but finding none, the three adventurous explorers returned home to get ready for dinner. Johnny promised to look around his property to see if he had any baby butterflies incubating in little sleeping bags as Jenny put it.

Everyone was fed and watered. The children then got ready for bed after watching an hour of TV, coming back downstairs for a bedtime story. Both children had their favorite soft toy with them and all ‘four’ of them settled down while Uncle Johnny read them a bedtime story and then told them an Indian story. After kissing their parents and Uncle Johnny goodnight, Roy took them upstairs and tucked them and their sleeping buddies into bed.

Johnny wasn’t that far behind them really. He was still feeling tired and even though he had had a nap in the afternoon he was more than ready to hit the sack. He took his last antibiotic for that day and taking his leave, wished Jo and Roy a good night and made his way into the guest room.

Jo and Roy watched “The Late Show” with Johnny Carson. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were on tonight and the promo looked very funny and Jo had been looking forward to the show all week. She sat curled up on the couch with Roy, her head resting on his shoulder and his arm around her, both munching on popcorn and drinking soda.

The occasional cough could be heard emanating from the guest room but it didn’t sound too bad and each episode was short lived. Roy’s mother hen instinct subsided, and it eventually settled on its’ perch for the night and went to sleep.

Turning the TV off after the show, Jo and Roy made it upstairs where they checked on their children. Jenny had tossed the covers off and her doll had fallen to the floor. Roy picked up the doll and put it back in Jenny’s out flung arm which instinctively pulled the doll into her chest in a firm embrace. He then pulled up the covers and kissed her gently on the forehead.

“Good night, my little princess.  Sweet dreams.” He whispered quietly before leaving the room.

He met Jo coming out of Chris’s room. Content that both kiddies were settled and sleeping soundly, Roy went to check on Johnny. A quick look in the guest room showed Johnny on his back, arm over his eye. The moonlight was peeping into the room through the gap in the curtains. It helped to show the slow and steady rise and fall of his chest. Roy listened for a while but could hear no wheeze or stridor. Reassured that Johnny was OK, he gently pulled the door closed and made his way into his bedroom.

Sometime through the night Johnny woke up with a massive headache.

Oh great, another headache he thought. He had a couple of drinks of water and took some Anacin he found in the bathroom cabinet. He tried to get back to sleep but the headache stayed with him and wouldn’t release its hold for a couple of hours. He was tempted to wake Roy and ask him to take him to Rampart but thought better of it. He didn’t want to wake Roy and Joanne. The headache would go away and he would get back to sleep. Three hours later that’s exactly what happened.

Next morning Johnny woke up and made his way downstairs after freshening up. Roy was sitting on the porch swing and Jo had taken Jenny to the mall to get new shoes. Johnny was amazed to find it was 11 AM. He had slept soundly for several hours after his headache finally went.

After a cup of coffee and some toast, Roy took Johnny back to the station so he could get his Land Rover. He had to go to Rampart and be seen by Dr Brackett. He needed medical clearance before he could return to work tomorrow.

 

Chapter Three

He arrived at Rampart and it was a beehive of activity. Dixie was doing a good impersonation of an MC at the circus.  “Kel’s tied up in surgery for several hours. Go into room 7 and when I find a free doctor I’ll send them in.” Dixie told Johnny as she picked up a clipboard and gave it to Dr Morton before he could ask for it.

Johnny waited for 25 minutes before he went out to approach Dixie again to see if he could offer his services since they were swamped from an MVA from the freeway as well as the walk ins. He found Dixie talking to a tall thin sandy haired man that he didn’t recognize. He was wearing a white lab coat so he had to be a doctor. He didn’t look old enough, Johnny thought, as he approached Dixie at the nurse’s station.

Dixie saw Johnny approach and gave a small gasp. She had forgotten all about him.

“Doctor House, could you see to my friend here? He was in the other day with a case of smoke inhalation and needs medical clearance before he can return to work as a firefighter.” Dixie asked in her soft husky voice.

The young doctor turned around and met Johnny with an easy smile and penetrating blue eyes that looked like they missed nothing.

“Why sure, Dix.” He said. “Hi, I’m Gregory House, but my friends just call me House.” He extended his arm and shook Johnny’s with an easy confidence that spoke of a self-assured young man.

“Hi, I’m John Gage, but just call me Johnny,” Johnny replied as they were shaking hands.

“Room 7 guys.” Dixie redirected them away from her station. The place was still crazy and she was starting to get a headache and just wanted some peace and quiet and to get on with her budget report.

Settled on the gurney and with his shirt off, Johnny sat quietly while House listened to his chest.

“There’s still a very slight wheeze going on. How do you feel?” House asked Johnny as he placed his stethoscope in his lab coat pocket.

“Never better, doc.”

“I’m gonna order you another breathing treatment and give you a prescription for a salbutamol inhaler. I will get the respiratory therapist to show you how to use it.”

“I don’t need to be shown how to use it. I give it to patients when ordered, myself. Honestly doc, I don’t think I need an inhaler. I’m not asthmatic or anything. I ate a little smoke the other day and got a wheezy cough. These things are a work related hazard.” Johnny tried to explain, hoping he could talk the doctor out of the inhaler.

“I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll give you the prescription, you humor me and get it filled, then carry it with you for a while in your pocket there,” House pointed at Johnny’s shirt which was draped across the end of the gurney “and then when you’ve had enough of carrying it around, put it into your locker until it finally ends up at the back in a dusty corner.”

Johnny’s jaw dropped open. Was this guy serious? Was he a mind reader? What the hell was he? Apart from correct in what Johnny would do.

Sensing Johnny’s thoughts he laughed, “I’m a very good observer of human nature. The truth is, inevitably our best intentions soon become mere shadows, everyone reverts back to their true self, until the next crisis that is.” House scribbled on his prescription pad and then charted Johnny that breathing treatment. “Oh, one more thing, don’t take it into burning structures. It’s liable to explode if it gets too hot. Come back to the desk when you’re done and your medical clearance will be there, ready and waiting for you.” With that the young intern left the room and an admiring but slightly shocked Johnny was left behind, still sitting on the gurney. He was definitely a better, more understanding doctor than Morton.

One breathing treatment behind him, one medical certificate in hand, one inhaler in his pocket, one John Gage asked one Dixie out to lunch, his treat. How could a lady refuse lunch with such a good looking man? She gladly accepted and together they made their way to the cafeteria and sat outside with their coffee and sandwiches for her and a burger, fries and a malt for him.

“What do you think of our new intern?” Dixie asked Johnny as he took his first bite of the burger.

Quickly chewing and swallowing his mouthful, he looked at Dixie and told her what had happened during their consult.

 A loud feminine laugh rented the air and everyone turned to see who it had come from and what had made her laugh so loud.

Johnny turned bright red when he saw all the diners staring at their table. Dixie was too busy wiping the tears from her eyes as she regained her composure.

“He’s different, but in a good way ya know. He doesn’t beat around the bush. He’s very direct.” Johnny said when Dixie was back to normal.

“He definitely is that. I like him a lot and he’s an excellent doctor. He’s very intense though and his mind is like a razor. It’s sharp and to the point. It’s a pity we only have him for six months. That is one doctor that will go far. He reminds me a lot of you. He’s always on the go and doesn’t know how to relax.” Dixie acknowledged as she went to take a bite of her lunch. “Come on hose jockey, eat up. You need to put some flesh on that skinny carcass you call a body.”

Dixie and Johnny had a pleasant lunch talking about their plans for the upcoming weekend which they both had off. Johnny invited Dixie over to go horseback riding with him on Sunday. She readily accepted and details were finalized over the last mouthfuls of their meal.

 

Chapter Four

Johnny phoned HQ and Station 51 and informed them that he would be back to work the next day with his medical clearance in hand. He automatically put his hand up to his shirt pocket and felt the inhaler there. He gave a silent chuckle to himself. I wonder how long it will be before I do just throw this into my locker and forget about it, he thought.

He took Pretty Owl, his American paint mare, out for a ride in the hills surrounding his ranch and then cooled and brushed her down. Red Cloud was baying in his stall, wanting attention.

“I know boy, you’re next. I’ll take you for a ride too. Don’t get your mane in a mangle” Johnny told his stallion.

In short order Johnny was on Red Cloud. He was riding him bareback with his shirt undone and flapping out behind him. The sun was beating down on his body. He let go of the reins and just controlled him with his legs. The horse and man acted as one. They were so attuned to each other. It was poetry in motion. Dust was stirred up behind the pounding hooves and depicted the trail they had taken before it settled showing no trace of man or beast being this way.

Going high into the hills on a different trail he had gone with Pretty Owl, Johnny sat on Red Cloud and admired the views this vantage point afforded. No clouds adorned the sky today and the sun was sitting high and proud up in the crystalline clear blue Californian sky. Hawks were circling further over to the east. Some poor animal had probably died and they were eyeing up their meal for tonight. It looked like the hawks were having take out for dinner again Johnny mused before he nudged Red Cloud and they made their way sedately back to the corral. It was far too beautiful to race it. Sometimes it was nice to just sit back and go slow and take everything in.

With both horses cooled down and brushed till their coats gleamed in the sunlight, Johnny went looking for Sotkazi. He hadn’t seen him since he had got back from the hospital. Since it was a hot day, no doubt he was lying somewhere in the shade and would become more active as the night time hours approached. He set a bowl of fresh, clean water out for him and some dried cat treats. He would do fresh meat when Sotkazi came inside and made his presence known.

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Having done some overdue chores around the house and yard, he grabbed a six pack and went over to see his neighbor, Dennis. He was sure Dennis would help him to down a few cold ones.

Calling out as he approached he saw a strange car parked next to a half filled wheelbarrow of weeds by the flower garden. Gardening utensils lay on top of the small heap of weeds. Johnny could hear voices coming out from around back. There was a soft feminine voice talking and Johnny followed the voice.

Sitting on the swing seat, Johnny saw a vision in a soft white cotton dress. Her softly curled shoulder length raven hair shone with auburn highlights as the summer’s sun caressed it. It fell around the most beautiful face he had ever seen. Her fair skin looked like smooth alabaster. Her lips were full and luscious and drew you in. Johnny wanted to kiss them and feel their softness yield to him. She had the bluest of eyes, they were almost violet and they sparkled at him as he walked over to this siren that had captured his heart and stopped his breath in an instant.

“Ah, Johnny, how are you feeling now? Better I hope? Let me introduce you to my niece. Johnny, this is Susan Sommers. Susan, this is Johnny Gage. He’s my nearest neighbor. He lives across the way there in the white house.” Dennis said.

Susan offered Johnny a warm hello and put her hand out to greet him. Johnny, overcome temporarily by her beauty, returned a hello and gave her hand a soft shake. “How do you do?” he asked.

“I do very nicely, and even better now, thank you for asking.” Her voice was soft and melodious. They both just stared at each other. Neither one moving as both didn’t want to disrupt this moment.

“Here Johnny, pull up a seat and take a load off.” Dennis said as he saw the sparks fly between the two young people. If it had been night time the sky would be a brilliant white. Finally, Johnny pulled up a seat and made himself comfortable. His eyes never leaving Susan for long, and vice versa.

“Um, I brought over some beer, I didn’t know you had such beautiful company, otherwise I would’ve come sooner. Um, sorry, I meant I would’ve not come sooner. No that’s not what I meant. I don’t know what I meant, sorry.” Johnny fumbled through his tongue tied thoughts. Get a grip, Gage. This woman will think you’re an idiot and not want to have anything to do with ya, he thought to himself.

Dennis went and got fresh glasses and a bottle opener. Susan requested a shandy. Her friend from England had put her onto them and she loved them. Receiving blank looks from the men, she just asked for her Uncle to bring out the lemonade soda in the fridge and she would open up a whole new world to them, she told the men.

Having got his brain to start functioning, he and Susan learned quite a bit about each other. They both loved bowling and reading, history for her and geography for Johnny. They also loved going to the movies and the great outdoors. Susan loved camping and photography just like Johnny did.

Somewhere in the afternoon Johnny realized that she was THE ONE. He could feel it in his bones and everything about her felt so right. She was his soulmate. He just knew it. Oh Great Spirit, what if it’s not mutual his mind was saying filling his heart with icy dread. Take it slow Gage, see how it goes. Oh, please Great Spirit, please may she feel about me what I feel about her, Johnny was praying.

Johnny gave her his shandy. He had tried it but he preferred his beer without lemonade pop. Susan gladly accepted his glass and sipped away at her second shandy while listening to her Uncle and Johnny organize what days he would need to tend to Johnny’s animals because of Johnny’s work schedule.

The sun was coming to rest a bit lower in the sky. Shadows were leaving longer impressions on the ground. The earlier glare of the day was fading into a duller glow and a simmering, not boiling, heat remained. A balmy breeze was wafting through now and then.

It lifted the fine hair from Susan’s face revealing a slender alabaster neck. A sweet floral perfume drifted over to him from time to time. It was so enticing and alluring. Johnny found himself leaning into the last tendrils of the scent as it faded away on the breeze. He wanted to hold onto the smell, hold onto Susan and clutch her close to his chest and breathe in her very essence.

It had never been like this with any of his other girlfriends. He couldn’t wait to ask Roy if this is what he felt for Joanne all the time. Johnny was in love with a petite raven haired beauty.

Not wanting to leave, but having to still do chores at home, he regrettably made his goodbyes, but not before arranging a date with Susan on Saturday.

Once back at home, he found Sotkazi waiting by the back door, tail curled around his front paws, and the tip slowly flicking up and down against the deck. A bright green, unwavering stare following him as he approached the steps leading into the house. He had tried to outstare cats in the past, but they always won. Did cats never need to blink? He wondered.

That night he went to bed thinking of Susan and eagerly waiting for Saturday to come.

 

 Chapter Five

At roll call, five men lined up. The new Boot was a young man who wore his blond hair in a short crewcut. His blue eyes were wary and whether out of habit, or just plain nervousness, kept flicking to the sides, taking sly glances at the men and surroundings. He stood proud and tall and his Adam’s apple bobbed when he talked. At 5’10” and 190 pounds, a lot of which was hard muscle, he gave off the air of one you didn’t mess with.

One by one he assessed the men he would be working with. They all looked like nice guys. He would have no problem working here. Cap welcomed him to Station 51 and gave Chet instructions to show Chip where everything was.

Chet had thought of some great pranks he could pull on his Boot. Cap’s warning had fallen on deaf ears. Everyone knew that Boots had to go through initiation rites before they were a fully-fledged member of the fire service.

After roll call, the men gravitated to the kitchen where they introduced themselves again and shook the new Boot’s hand. Chip had been told by a fellow classmate of the familial relationship of 51 and the reputation of their paramedics. His fellow classmate wished it was him going there.

---***---   ---***---   ---***---   ---***---

“I’m telling you Roy, I’ve never, NEVER, felt like this before!” Johnny was saying. “She’s absolutely beautiful, and smart and witty and sensitive and compassionate and everything I’ve ever wanted in a woman and more. She has qualities and attributes that even I didn’t know I wanted. Roy, I can’t stop thinking about her. Was it like this with Joanne? How soon did you know she was the one?”

Roy looked over at Johnny as they were driving to Rampart to fill up on supplies. The C shift had got back late after doing 17 runs throughout their shift and they were low on many essential items.

“Well, Junior, we were only nine when we met but as we got older it became more like that. So yeah, I remember not being able to think of anything but Joanne. As for knowing she was the one, I think I was 11!” Roy laughed. “I was a bit slow on the uptake; Jo said she knew when she was 10!”

“I can only hope that Susan feels the same way about me. Now where will I take her on Saturday? I thought bowling followed by a romantic walk on the beach. But I don’t think that’s special enough, ya know? When we look back at our first date in years to come, it won’t be that memorable. Maybe dinner and dancing at Le Palais d’Or, and then a walk along the beach under the night sky.”

Le Palais d’Or, Roy had wanted to take Jo there but it was way out of his price bracket. It was a seriously fantastic restaurant. Johnny was going in strong and hard. Roy was slightly concerned it might scare this girl off.

“Keep it simple, Junior, you don’t want to scare her off. That’s the type of place for special celebrations, or maybe proposals.” Roy let Johnny think about that for a bit as they were just about to pull up outside Rampart’s ER.

“Hello, how are my two favorite paramedics this morning?” Dixie asked. “Pete and Charlie were here quite a few times overnight, they were saying on their last run this morning. They looked dead on their feet. They couldn’t wait to get back to the station and hand over the keys to you. Let’s hope you have an easier shift than them.”

“We intend to.” Roy said to Dixie as he handed her their supply list. Johnny was standing to the side and was totally ignorant of the new nursing students that were being shown around the hospital on their induction day. Dixie saw Johnny miss the latest potential dating parade and gave Roy a quizzical look with the raise of her eyebrow.

“He’s met THE ONE.” Roy said.

“THE ONE?” Dixie was amazed at how quickly Johnny had met her considering that less than 24 hours earlier he was in-between girlfriends.

‘Yep! Her name’s Susan.” Roy nodded his head knowingly. He would be around to pick up the pieces when THE ONE inevitably dumped him.

Dixie saw House coming out from treatment room 4 with his latest patient. They parted ways as the patient left to go home and House came up to get his next patient.

“Greg, this is Roy, he’s Johnny’s partner, and Roy this is our new intern, Dr. Gregory House.”

Once pleasantries were exchanged, House turned around and noted the bulge in Johnny’s shirt pocket. “In all honesty, I thought it would be in your locker already. I’m duly impressed.”

Johnny gave House a blank look and then the lightbulb went on.

“Oh, um it is. These are flat batteries from the handy talkie that I need to dispose of.” Johnny said as he patted his pocket and then looked for a suitable receptacle to put them into. Dixie pointed out the bin behind him with her pen.

“It’s always reassuring to be proven right about human nature.” House said before smiling and picking up his next patient’s chart. “It was nice to meet you, Roy.” With that House went to see a 42 year old woman with intermittent upper abdominal pain especially after eating fatty meals. Sometimes things were just too dull for words, he thought.

“What was that about?” Roy asked.

“Oh, just about a salbutamol inhaler, which I don’t need!” Johnny added on quickly seeing the startled looks on his friends’ faces. “I still had a slight wheeze when I came in for my medical clearance yesterday. Really, you guys need to take a chill pill. You should see the look on your faces.”

Johnny, picked up the supplies, turned and walked to the exit.

“Guess I’ll see ya later.” Roy said to Dixie as he went to join Johnny in the squad after answering a call from the handy talkie.

---***---   ---***---   ---***---   ---***---

She was gasping and coughing while scratching her neck. The mother was frightened and held her daughter close to her chest. She relaxed slightly as Johnny and Roy announced their arrival to the child with the difficulty breathing call. With adrenaline, Benadryl and an IV access in, the child was put into the ambulance breathing easier and on her way to Rampart.

That was the first of eight calls and the two paramedics made their way into the apparatus bay.  Tiredness and hunger were battling it out in Roy’s body. Johnny was just plain hungry and his stomach was having no qualms in letting him and those close to him know as it rumbled loudly.

Johnny dished up two bowls of Mike’s still warm casserole. Roy grabbed the bread and butter. Within minutes the men were at the table quenching their hunger and thirst as Mike brought over the pot of coffee and sat it on the table in front of them with cups. Johnny also got a tall glass of milk.

“So, how’s Marco doing?” Cap asked.

“He’s doing a lot better. His memory appears to be back, apart from the fire itself. His fingers look like little sausages but Dr Brackett said he will be discharged in a day or two. His mother will look after him when he finally out of Rampart.” Roy said. 

With dishes done and chores still to do, the paramedics set about doing their tasks. Johnny had beds to do and Roy was responsible for the apparatus bay. The pressure was on to do the beds as the men wouldn’t want to sleep in the dirty sheets from the previous shift.

Doing the six beds at a maniacal speed, then sweeping and mopping the dorm floor, Johnny worked up quite a sweat. His shirt was wet under his arms and down the middle of his back. In fact, everywhere his clothes were touching him he noticed he felt wet.

Sweat glistened across his forehead and upper lip. His arms were slick with perspiration. Feeling hot and uncomfortable, Johnny made his way into the latrine and splashed cold water on his face. What he really wanted to do was jump into a cool shower.

Chet came in to use the facility when he saw Gage dripping water over the sink and floor. His hair hung in black strings over his forehead. Water had splashed onto his shirt. Johnny looked up into the mirror to see who had entered.

“Jeeze, Gage, you look like a drowned rat.” Chet teased.

“Take a good look, Chet; this is what hard work looks like, not that you would know.”

Johnny threw back at Chet, before straightening up and reaching for some paper towels to dry his face with.

Chet tossed Johnny a retort that if Johnny was accustomed to hard work, he wouldn’t work up a sweat just making beds.

The rest of the shift went with a few more callouts for the squad and two for the engine. The station was called out to a two alarm structure fire and finally made it back to the barn at 3AM. The men were all thankful to finally get into bed and catch a few hours’ sleep.

“Chet, I don’t believe you!” Johnny stated in a loud voice. Roy looked over and found Johnny scrunched up in his bed. True to Phantom style, Johnny’s bed had been short sheeted. “Ya know Chet, your humor is so immature, it belongs in a juvenile detention center.”

The men in the dorm started laughing at Johnny’s comment.

“What ya gonna do Gage? Come over and scalp me in the middle of the night!” Chet yelled back

“Enough.” Cap said, “Chet not another word, Johnny straighten out your bed and not another word from you either. Lights out in two minutes.” Cap then resettled into his bed, smirking at Johnny’s comeback.

Johnny remade his bed, and thumping his pillow a few times till he had it just right, he assumed his favorite sleeping position. He sighed and within a few minutes was fast asleep as was Roy. The rest took a few more minutes but eventually soft snores filled the dorm.

All except Chip. When he heard the comment about Johnny and scalping he was shocked that the Cap or Johnny didn’t rebuke it. Johnny had the dark hair and eyes like a filthy injun. He also had the bone structure the more he thought about it. Suddenly Chip felt sick. He was sharing the room with a good for nothing, filthy red skin. He sat up and looked over at Johnny’s bunk, sneering at this man who thought he was as good as a white man. I’ll put you in your place, you’re nothing but red trash, Chip thought as he swallowed down the bile making its way up his throat.

The morning tones came and all six men stretched and yawned as they greeted another day. It was the first weekend they were having off for some time. So they were all eager to hand it over to B shift.

Chapter Six

Chip was talking to Chet about the prank he pulled on Johnny. He found out from Chet that Johnny was a half breed injun. He also heard of some of the pranks Chet had pulled on Johnny and it started to give him ideas. It would be even better if Chet got the blame.

Chip was in his car and out of the parking lot shortly after the other shift had finally arrived. Roy, Chet, Mike and Johnny wished him a good weekend. Chip wished all the guys likewise but deliberately ignored Johnny. He wasn’t gonna talk to a red skin if he could help it. In all the goodbye’s being said Chip’s deliberate slight was missed by the men.

One by one the A shift drove away. Johnny was eagerly awaiting his date with Susan. He had spent most of yesterday between runs planning their date. Roy was right. He didn’t want to scare her off but he wanted it to be special all the same. He had devised a plan and had most of the day to put it into action.

He had a bit of shopping to do.

Later that afternoon he went to collect Susan from her apartment in town. As he knocked on her door, Johnny’s heart was beating fast in his chest. He could feel it hammering against his ribs. His palms were sweating. In fact, all of him was sweating. He felt really nervous and anxious. Get it together, man, you’re acting like a teenager going out on their very first date, Johnny thought. Then all thoughts of teenage angst went as a vision of beauty opened the door.

“Johnny, it’s so good to see you again. You’re looking very handsome.” Susan said as she eyed the tall dark haired man dressed in jeans and a checked shirt.  Susan was in a blue flowing dress, her hair tied back in a ponytail, emphasizing her slender neck.

“And you look beautiful.” Johnny said as he bent down and gave her a small peck on the cheek, taking in her perfume and the softness of her skin and hair all at the same time. He then gave her the small posy of flowers he had picked up at a florist’s on the way over.

“Oh, Johnny, they’re beautiful. I’ll just put them in some water and then we can go.”

A short while later with their arms linked together, Johnny walked her to his Land Rover and opened the door for her. They then set off on their first date.

“Johnny, where are we going?” Susan asked as they headed out of town in the direction of her Uncle’s house.

“We are going to a beautiful place I know, it’s out in the country. There’s a stream, swaying trees, sweet grass and camomile under your feet and it’s private and peaceful. It’s so pristine, it’s perfect. Just like you. It also serves pretty decent food and nice wine”

Susan thought they were going to a country restaurant by a stream. It sounded very romantic.

They settled back into a comfortable silence. They passed her Uncle’s house and turned down a gravel driveway and stopped before a white ranch style house. Susan swung around and looked at Johnny.

“This is your place.” Susan said without reproach.

Johnny gave her his lopsided grin and replied, “That is true, but we are not dining in there.” He said nodding to the house, “But over there.” His finger pointed to the hills surrounding his property.

He helped Susan out of the Land Rover and led her to the trail taking him to his favorite place.

Sitting at a white cloth picnic table, Johnny lit the candles setting the scene. The pair dined on cold chicken and salad with white wine. As the evening wore on, Johnny asked Susan to dance.

“There’s no music, Johnny.” Susan said.

Johnny leaned down and retrieved his tape deck from his picnic hamper. He placed it on the table and depressed the button. Soft tones of music enriched the air by Johnny’s stream.

“May I have the pleasure of this dance?” Johnny held his hand out to Susan. She gently clasped her hand in his and allowed herself to be lead around the ‘dance floor’.

Together the couple swayed around the grassy dance floor while a compilation of instrumentals, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Roberta Flack filled the air. The tape deck stopped and clicked off. Listening to the music in their hearts, lost to everything around them but each other, the couple kept dancing.

With the warmth of the Californian evening caressing them, and the sweet smell of crushed camomile and sweet grass beneath their feet perfumed the air as they continued to dance. With the moonlight glittering off the ripples in the water as it babbled over stone and with the swaying tendrils of the weeping willows as their backdrop the couple finally kissed. They were oblivious to the flickering candlelight illuminating the desire in each other’s eyes.

Their passion for each other quickly consumed their need, turning the kiss into something deeper. It connected the two in a shared promise of a future together. Susan had found THE ONE, and her heart couldn’t stop rejoicing as she and Johnny lay down in the grass and committed themselves to each other.

 

Chapter Seven

The next morning the sunlight came through the windows of the master bedroom. It splayed across the bed shared by the new couple, lighting across their faces as it skittered across the room. Fine raven curls sprawled across his chest and soft breath ghosted across his nipple. Her hand lay reposed on his chest. His arm curled around her shoulders and his head bowed to hers, their legs entwined.

It was soft kisses along his jawline that awoke Johnny. A pair of the deepest blue eyes he had ever seen greeted him and a smile that melted his heart.

“Good morning Beautiful. How are you today?” Johnny asked the love of his life. 

“Never better, um Johnny, I don’t want you to think I do this all the time; sleep with a guy on the first date, I mean.” Susan said quietly.

“I never thought that you did, and for the record, neither do I. As for last night and this morning, I can’t explain ….”

“Shush, something so good and beautiful like we shared doesn’t need to be explained or justified.”  Susan whispered into Johnny’s ear as she straddled his body and kissed him passionately.

Having a late brunch, they heard a car drive up on the gravel driveway.

“Dixie!” Johnny expounded. “I forgot, I invited her over to go horseback riding today.”

“It will be nice to meet your friends, and don’t worry; I’ll go see Uncle Dennis. I’m sure he will be pleased to see me since I’m the only family we have left to each other.” Susan relayed to Johnny.

Next minute a hello was heard from the front door. “Are you in, Johnny?” Dixie called out.

“C’mon in Dix, the door’s open.”

Dixie opened the door and stepped into the great room. Her eyes took a short time to adjust.

“We’re having brunch; do you care to join us?” Johnny inquired as he got up from the table and went to hug Dixie.

“Us?” Dixie was slightly confused. There was only Johnny’s Land Rover outside. Who were us? She wondered.

“Dixie, this is Susan, my girlfriend and Susan this is Dixie, head nurse at Rampart Emergency and one of my dearest friends.”

Both women smiled at each other and extended their hands in greeting. Dixie sat at the table and Johnny put an extra plate and cutlery out for her while Susan poured her a cup of coffee.

An enjoyable hour was spent just talking around the table. Dixie was very impressed with the woman sitting opposite her and felt Johnny would do well to hold on to her.

“You two go and get a move on before the sun is too hot to take the horses out for their rides. I’ll clean up here and then I’ll pop over and see my uncle. It was lovely meeting you Dixie.”

---***---   ---***---   ---***---   ---***---

Soon after, Johnny and Dixie were sitting atop Red Cloud and Pretty Owl. The horses were galloping along the trail. Hair and manes flying in the wind. The sun was beating down and there was a golden haze shimmering in the distance. Johnny felt exhilarated. Life was good and he felt on top of the world.

“I like Susan, Johnny. She’s a keeper!”

“I think you’re right, Dix.”

They were slowly trotting the horses back, cooling them down after having done a strenuous workout.

As they crested the rise, Johnny’s ranch was spread out before them. The corral was set to one side next to the barn and the driveway swept up between that and the house. The porch wrapped itself around most of the house and the sun was shining off the windows.

“You’ve got it looking lovely Johnny. You sure have put a lot of work into it.”

Johnny was quiet and when Dixie didn’t hear from him she turned in her saddle and saw Johnny rubbing his head and sweating profusely.

“Johnny, are you alright?” A concerned Dixie asked.

“Yeah, just a headache. I think I’ve overdone it in the heat today and not enough sleep. Sometimes it just catches up to you. Nothing that a cool drink, and sitting in the shade won’t cure. That and a couple of aspirin.” Johnny added on the end with his trademark lopsided grin at only half wattage.

“OK, cowboy. Let’s get back and get you and the horses cooled down and watered.”

The pair made their way back down the trail with the horse’s heads dipping with every step they took. They led the horses into the stalls and started to cool them down. They had both worked up a bit of a sweat and fine dirt was clinging to their bodies.

“I think a shower may be in order. There’s a shower in the mud room, I’ll get you some clean towels. I wonder if Susie’s back.” Johnny said. “If not, ya wanna come for a walk and meet her uncle. He’s lives across the road.”

“I’d love a shower and I couldn’t tell you the last time I went for a walk in the country. I’d love that Johnny.”

They made their way to Dennis’ house, all one mile away. Introductions were made and a few enjoyable hours were spent sitting out back in the shade exchanging stories with every one getting to know each other better.

Finally, all four went back to Johnny’s place for an impromptu grill. Dennis brought with him some corn still in its husks to throw right on the hot bars on the grill. A quick look at Johnny’s pantry and fridge revealed a bachelor lived there and an impromptu meal to feed four was out of the question. While the coals were getting to the right temperature, Johnny and Susie jumped into the Land Rover and drove to the nearest grocery store.

Johnny went and got steaks and Susie got ingredients to make a salad.

In quick order the salads were made and meat was on the grill. The foursome sat around the wooden table, that Johnny had made, and had a lovely evening; exchanging laughter and information about themselves over drinks and food.

Dixie offered to do the dishes and Dennis, seeing what Dixie was orchestrating, volunteered to help her. Thus the two lovebirds were free to enjoy some private time together.

Dennis was delighted that his niece’s life was blossoming. He had raised Susie from the age of 9 when her parents and sister had died in a car crash with her as the sole survivor. Dennis was Susie’s uncle but she looked upon him as her Dad. He was her father’s identical twin so it was hard to look at him sometimes and not see her father and how he would look today. The thought saddened her at times.

Johnny took Susan to the corral to say goodnight to the horses. He gave them carrots from a sack he had in the tack room. Susie was a natural around the horses and they seem to take to her very quickly. Red Cloud gave her a kiss and muzzled her ear, shooting hot breath across her neck and shoulder. Susie shivered and Johnny wrapped himself around her and dispelled any further shivers.

They made plans for Johnny to come to her place on Tuesday evening before going out for pizza and bowling. They stepped in closer to each other and with arms wrapped around their lover’s waists they met with a long and passionate kiss.

Dixie proffered her services as a chauffeur seeing as Johnny had an early start and it was getting late. Johnny waved the two ladies off, Dennis said he would walk back as it was a hot night and it would do him good to get rid of some of the calories from dinner.

 Johnny took his uniforms and duffle bag out to his Land Rover to save time in the morning. After closing up the house he settled into bed pulling the covers up over his hips. Johnny replayed the day’s events in his head. With pictures of Susie smiling at him, and the memory of her lips on his and the velvet feel of her skin, Johnny eventually fell asleep with a smile on his face. His alarm clock set to go off in seven hours at 5.30 AM.

The night was hot and sticky, the bedcovers ended up on the floor and sweat glistened on Johnny’s body, drenching the bed. Johnny slept on, none the wiser. His naked body rolled to the other side of the bed, his head burrowed into the plump pillows and the faint smell of Susie’s perfume drifted into his senses with every breath. A smile lighted across Johnny face as he snuggled into the pillow, pulling it closer to his body.

 

Chapter Eight

Five weeks had passed, and Susan and Johnny were still going strong. The relationship was serious and Johnny had sworn Roy to secrecy. He didn’t want Chet to pester him. Although it was pretty obvious that Johnny was seeing someone. Phone calls between the two, and Johnny taking the calls in Cap’s office or the dorm, confirmed everyone’s suspicions. Johnny was also more settled and happier.

Chip had bided his time. He couldn’t believe how these guys could rub shoulders with the red skin, let alone call him their friend. He had decided that the LACoFD would be better off without him and any other non-white firefighters. Chip wasn’t aware that Marco was of Latino descent, since they hadn’t met. 

He had watched Chet set up pranks including water bombs over doors and in Johnny’s locker. Heck, Chet had short sheeted Johnny’s bed the first shift he had worked here. It gave him an idea and if he played his cards right, everyone would think that Chet had pulled another prank and that it had just gone slightly wrong. If he was successful, Johnny would never work in the Fire Department again. Not even in Dispatch. Liquid acid, in a water bomb launcher, to Johnny’s face and eyes would soon wipe the smile off this injuns’ pretty face. He had kept a water bomb launcher from an earlier time when Chet had used one on him.

Chet had been an equal opportunity prankster. Both Johnny and he had been victims of whatever scheme Chet had played on them. This would be payback on Chet as well. No one played pranks on Chip McKendry and got away with it, he thought.

He had done a few practice runs with water bombs and poor Chet had got the blame. Mind you, it was a bit harder when Chet was the victim. Everyone denied being the Phantom then and it was soon forgotten, but not by Chet. Was his pigeon coming out of the roost at long last?

---***---   ---***---   ---***---   ---***---

On their next shift, Cap put himself down for KP. He had taken a phone call shortly after the men were disbanded from roll call. Cap came out a short time later smiling. He would leave the phone call as a surprise for later.

The men came in from various parts of the station at Cap’s lunch time call and took their place around the table. The heavenly aroma of Mac and Cheese wafted through the station. It was into this that Roy and Johnny entered after coming back from a hoax call.

Johnny was going on about how the police should trace the call and then charge them for premeditated waste of emergency services or something to that effect. Roy just nodded his head. He had heard this argument before, after other hoax calls.

Getting plates and glasses out of the cupboard the men sat down and dished up their lunch. Talk around the table ranged from Mike’s surfing, Chet’s latest scavenging hunt and finding a long time desired piece of one of the earliest ever made forms of barbed wire. Cap was looking at replacing his wife’s clutch on her Edsel. Chip had volunteered a really good place to get second hand parts to help Cap keep the cost down. Roy was planning on taking Jo out to dinner for their anniversary. Johnny offered to take the kids back to the ranch to give Jo and Roy a night on their own. Roy quickly accepted the offer.

They were discussing where to go out for dinner. Johnny suggested Le Palais d’Or.

It was do-able if Roy pulled some overtime shifts and not having to pay babysitting fees helped. Roy went and contacted Joanne. He told her the latest plans for their upcoming 10th wedding anniversary. Jo, although not happy with the OT, gave Roy her blessing; she had wanted to go to Le Palais as well. He then phoned HQ requesting OT shifts. He came back with two shifts already. He would only have to do another two maybe to safely cover their night out.

Cap put the men through some rope drills. Johnny was once again the fastest. Chet this time came second to last. Chip had the dubious honor of coming last. He was not happy to lose to an injun. He quietly seethed underneath. Johnny was going to pay for making him look slow and clumsy.

The engine was called out to a run and the paramedics took the opportunity to catch up on their log book. Cap had dinner to do and the guys offered to get the food prep started, but Cap said he had it all under control.

Johnny was looking for something to tide him over. “You know, I don’t see anything prepared for tonight. I wonder what Cap’s doing for supper?” Johnny mused out loud to Roy. He sat back down munching on an apple. He was still hungry but he didn’t want to spoil his appetite.

Roy just shook his head. He saw Johnny eating an apple and asked if there were any more left. Johnny got up and retrieved one for Roy from the crisper in the fridge.

Someone was knocking on the back door. Johnny went to answer it, depositing his apple core in the bin on the way out.

 “Marco! How’s ya doing buddy? How’s the arm?” Seeing Marco struggling to hold the box in his arms he quickly relieved Marco from his burden, while standing aside to let Marco in. His mother was right behind him, and she too was loaded down with boxes from which a rich and spicy aroma was making its way to Johnny’s nose.

Marco went into the kitchen; Roy looked up and greeted his friend with a smile. “How’s the arm?”  Roy enquired as he cleared the logbook away.

Marco went to answer when Mama Lopez walked in with Johnny following both talking in Spanish. Both bearing food by the smell of it. No wonder Cap had things under control, Roy thought. Marco was doing dinner. Well, Marco and his Mom that is.

The cold food was put in the fridge after shuffling some things around. Johnny put the oven on to keep the food warm, although he couldn’t resist a tamale which he found in the second box.

I thought I would treat you all for saving my little Marco from serious injury. You are alright, no?” She asked of Johnny as she looked him over as only a mother would. “You are too thin. One puff of wind and you blow over.”

Johnny smiled and said he was fine. His stomach rumbled regardless of the tamale he had just eaten.

She was looking at him quizzically. “You have a secret, I think, a very good secret. She is good for you, Juanito. I’m very happy for you.” She whispered in his ear. “Roy and his wife like her Juanito, soon everyone will get to know her and like her too. Don’t let her go; the Gods have heard your prayer and answered it. You are a lucky man, my Juanito. Your parents have sent her to you. She is your gift from them. They want you to be happy.”

Johnny blushed and hugged his second mom. A single tear silently slipped down his face and he kissed his Mama Lopez on the top of her head before giving one final squeeze and released her after saying thank you and that she was right. But for the time being he was keeping it quiet as it was still too new and precious to be bandied about.

Mama Lopez smiled up at Johnny and gave him a conspiratorial wink.

He made Marco and Mama Lopez a cup of coffee. Marco was telling the guys how everything was going. Johnny was listening from the kitchen. He was setting up the table for eight diners.

Johnny’s mouth was watering and he was wishing the other men were here so they could be eating it now. He was praying that Roy and he didn’t get a run.

About five minutes later the engine backed into the bay. Johnny thanked the Great Spirit for bringing the men home safely and quickly. Now they could eat, after the men had washed up.

Warm hellos and slaps on the back greeted Marco. Mama Lopez was hugged and kissed by all the men but Chip. She put it down initially, to him not knowing her. However, as the evening wore on, she noted that Chip didn’t talk to Marco or Johnny. She even saw Chip give Johnny a foul look as Johnny made some comment about teaching Roy’s children to ride horses. Apparently the other men didn’t seem to notice. Maybe it had been already brought to their attention and things were just as they were. He would not be the last bigot that they would encounter in the world, she thought sadly.

While the men were complimenting Mama Lopez on the excellent food, Chip wondered why Johnny wasn’t having any of the chicken mole. It was then he learned that Johnny was allergic to chocolate. “You can’t have that Juanito, it has chocolate in it. It’s chicken mole, a famous dish from the homeland. I made for you a special dish of beef barbacoa with guacamole and salsa. Unless you have a deathly allergy to barbacoa as well, you should be fine. If the other men are good they may get some too.” Mama Lopez told Johnny.

Chip couldn’t believe the little nugget of gold that had been handed to him. He had some Hersey kisses in his locker. All he had to do was just wait for an opportunity to present itself.

The squad was called out to a woman down. Johnny thanked Marco and gave Mama Lopez a kiss on the cheek and hug before running to the squad.

The remaining men helped clear up the dishes and put the food in the fridge for snacks; not that there was much left.

Mama Lopez and Marco wished everyone a safe night and would call on them again soon. Everyone asked if they could come, with food of course, when Johnny had KP. Chet said he would phone Marco and let him know when that misfortune was allocated to Johnny and subsequently their stomachs.

Mama Lopez had heard about Johnny’s lack of kitchen skills. She came up with an idea but thought she might disguise its primary target by making it an open invitation. She would talk to Marco first.

 

Chapter Nine

The squad returned an hour and a half later. The woman down was heavily pregnant and was bleeding from her vagina. She was adamant she wasn’t full term. “I was bigger with my last two pregnancies.” She said. “I don’t know how far along I am, OK?” She replied angrily to Roy’s question.

She had track marks up her arms and obviously hadn’t had regular prenatal care. The signs of malnutrition and neglect on her scrawny frame and swollen belly were painfully obvious. She had managed to find money for her fixes as some of the track marks were fresh. It’s a pity she didn’t find money for food and things for the baby Roy thought.

“Who’s looking after your babies now?” Johnny enquired as he struggled to find a place to put a needle in.

“First one died, second one is with some holier than thou do-gooders. They want to adopt, but I won’t let him go, ya know. Someone’s got to look after me when I get too old for the streets.”  She got tired of Johnny trying to find a vein. “There’s a good one over here. Don’t stuff it up! If ya do you’ll have to use my feet.” Her finger pointed to a vein on the outer side of her forearm. All the other sites were hard and knotted. They were thrombosed years ago. There was always the neck but some marks were there too, Johnny saw on closer inspection. Aiming between needle marks on the arm Johnny got the IV in.

The patient was delivered into Rampart and was met by an obstetrician. She was taken over to maternity. Betty was on duty as well as Drs. House and Early. There were a few patients sitting in the waiting room still to be seen. Other nurses were coming and going from rooms. It was just the usual pace for a weekday night at Rampart.

---***---   ---***---   ---***---   ---***---

It was an unpleasant run. Both Johnny and Roy were unsettled by the events. They got out of the squad and made a beeline for the coffee pot. A couple of the men were watching TV.  Cap must’ve been in his office, Johnny surmised and Chip anywhere but in the dayroom.

The guys went outside and sat at the picnic table just mulling over their last run.  It was one of Roy’s fears. He had seen good parents with bad kids, junkie kids, criminal kids, spoiled kids… the list was endless. He didn’t have a manual for child rearing and there were times he was in a quandary about if his actions would lead his children to a less than desirable path. He could only pray that he was doing everything right, and that his mistakes were small.

Johnny was thinking how someone couldn’t see what she was doing to herself. She would be lucky to be alive in five years. You never saw an old junkie. He had seen a few ‘past their best by date’ prostitutes in his line of work and wondered what twist of fate had brought them to that.

Chet came out after his TV show had finished and sat with the two guys. He had a cup of coffee that Chip had made. It tasted really nice. It was spicy and had a bit of a kick to it. It smelled really good too.

With both their cups of coffee long finished, Roy offered to get a refill. Johnny requested a plate of tamales or the beef and salsa with guacamole if there was any left.

A short while later Roy returned with Mike in tow. Mike had the food and Roy the spiced coffees.

Johnny thanked them as he relieved Roy of one coffee and Mike of a plate of food.

“Man I don’t know how you can fit it all in and still stay thin.” Chet complained.

“I’m a lean, mean firefighting machine.” Johnny joked. “I need my energy. It’s not my fault I can’t put weight on easily”

“Oh, to be blessed with such a curse!” Chet moaned. He was currently sporting a few extra pounds, as was Roy and both men envied their friend’s metabolism.

“This is good.” Johnny said after taking another mouthful of coffee. “I wonder what’s in it?”

“A bit of this and that.” Chip replied as he was walking over to the men at the table. He wanted to be there to see his prank on Johnny play out.

Johnny was finishing off his cup of coffee when he felt a slight tickle in his throat. The tickle sensation became more intense. He started ahem-ing and clearing his throat.

Oh, this is going so well, Chip thought.

Johnny put his hand up to his throat. It felt like it was huge and burning on the inside. He was finding it difficult to breathe. By now the other guys had noticed his difficulty.

“Johnny, are you OK?” Roy asked. He was getting up from the table to get a better look at Johnny. He had his penlight out from his pocket but it didn’t afford him much light.

Johnny could barely get air into himself, let alone answer Roy. He just shook his head while he struggled more to get air in and out of his lungs. He was clawing at his neck. Panic and fear dilated his pupils and sweat poured from every pore on Johnny’s body. Johnny was shaking all over with the effort to breathe. His heart was pounding, his head felt set to explode. I’m going to die Johnny thought as he collapsed on the ground. All this had occurred in less than a minute from his first symptom.

---***---   ---***---   ---***---   ---***---

“Quick, get him inside and get the trauma box, biophone and oxygen. Chip, call in a still alarm and get an ambulance here stat.” Roy ordered.

Mike and Chet carried a limp and lifeless looking Johnny into the apparatus bay. They laid him down by the squad. Johnny’s breaths were becoming more futile. His chest was heaving with the effort of trying to get air in. He was diaphoretic and his light blue shirt was not only darker from the heavy perspiration but clung to his body. The effort of trying to breathe showed right through the clothes. The veins in his neck stood out. His eyes were closed and still under the lids. A loud and harsh expiratory wheeze and inspiratory stridor as the air struggled to get through his rapidly swelling larynx were audible. The men worked with quick efficiency while icy sweat trickled down their backs.

Cap, hearing all the commotion came out of his office to see what was going on. He saw his junior paramedic lying still, apart from the monstrous effort Johnny was making trying to breathe. Now was not the time to ask what happened. Now was the time for quick lifesaving action.

Roy was on the biophone to Rampart. Chet was getting Johnny’s blood pressure. Mike was counting respirations and Cap was counting Johnny’s pulse. Chip came back and said the ambulance was on its way.

Chip was even angrier at Johnny for making a big production number out of a little itsy bitsy bit of chocolate in his coffee. No doubt about it Gage was an attention seeker. He had no time for attention seekers. His hatred for Johnny went up another notch.

Suddenly a thought hit Chip. What if Johnny died? Could he be charged with manslaughter or murder? He didn’t want to go to jail for knocking off an injun. It wasn’t worth it. In the future it would be better to just maim them, he thought.

House was at the base station handling the call. Roy had relayed Johnny’s vitals: pulse 89, respirations 12 and labored, blood pressure 80/55. He ordered adrenaline IM, Dexamethasone IV, oxygen at 15L, IV D5W wide open and to have a tube ready in case they had to intubate him.

Roy gave the adrenaline, Mike put the O2 on and Chet helped Roy with the line and fluid.  Roy then gave the iv med. Cap had the apparatus bay door open and drove the engine out to give the ambulance attendants room to back in and take Gage to Rampart when they arrived. Chip just stood there with his mouth set in a firm line and his eyes narrowed to mere slits. His thoughts portrayed on his face. Everyone was focused on Johnny, so his look of hatred went unnoticed.

The ambulance arrived and Johnny was still breathing harshly and ineffectively. He needed some additional help; Roy was bagging Johnny with every attempt Johnny made to breathe. Johnny’s lips and nails were slightly cyanotic. His respiratory effort was getting weaker as time went by. Another shot of IM adrenaline was ordered and IV Hydrocortisone.

Roy was counting the respirations when he noted that Johnny had stopped breathing. He felt for Johnny’s pulse and it was fast and bounding. He alerted Rampart and was instructed to secure an airway and take over breathing for the patient. An EKG was requested. The line was kept open and the doctor could hear everything going on.

Roy’s first attempt at inserting the tube was unsuccessful. Johnny’s throat was swollen.

Faced with a time critical event, Roy got a bougie out. He had only ever used it once before. It was only to be used when the throat was severely occluded as it helped to guide the tube into the throat and into the lungs. It was twice the length of the tube and very thin. He put lubricant on the bougie, and with difficulty he put it down Johnny’s throat, through his voice box and into his trachea. It required a fair amount of force. He then resorted to a much smaller endotracheal tube used for a child and with great difficulty got it down by threading it over and down the bougie, when he was happy that the tube was now in his lungs he removed the bougie from inside the endotracheal tube. It was a traumatic intubation and everyone noticed the blood coated bougie when it was pulled out.

“Sorry Johnny.” Roy said quickly before Mike connected the ambubag and started bagging Johnny, feeling the resistance with every squeeze of the bag. Roy listened to Johnny’s chest and heard the air being forced into uncompromising lungs swollen with fluid.

“It’s in.” Roy said. “Aim for 20 breaths per minute.” He told Mike. Mike nodded his head in response.

Roy then set about getting the EKG. He was having difficulty. The leads didn’t stick to Johnny’s skin as it was so clammy. “Chip go get me a towel or dish towel, anything that’s dry.” Roy asked.

Chip went off to get what was requested. Gotta keep up appearances he thought.

“This will be on lead two, Rampart.” Roy said a short while later having dried Johnny’s skin down with the towel.

“I read sinus tach, rate 146. What is his blood pressure and is the ambulance there?” House wanted to know.

Roy set about getting his blood pressure. He gave a startled look as he had to keep pumping the cuff up until he finally was happy with what he got. He then did it again, not believing the first reading or maybe Chet’s reading was wrong.

“BP is 235/120, that has been checked twice Rampart.  Ambulance has just arrived.” Roy released the button and waited for Rampart to reply.

“Repeat vitals again, I have a blood pressure reading of 80/55 initially. Was that correct?” House asked.

Roy looked at Chet. Chet feeling the pressure said he thought it was. That’s what he heard anyway but maybe he hadn’t gone up high enough like Roy did and therefore only got the end of it or something. He really didn’t have an answer. He thought he had got it right but in all the excitement and panic maybe he hadn’t. Roy repeated the blood pressure and the reading was 235/125, he relayed it to Rampart. He was told to slow the fluid down and monitor every five minutes.

Johnny was loaded onto the stretcher. The oxygen cylinder placed between his legs and IV fluids tucked under his shoulder. Mike was still bagging Johnny. Sam and Walt helped to wheel Johnny into the back of the ambulance. Roy carried the biophone and trauma box. He sat on the stretcher opposite Johnny; Walt sat at the top and took over bagging from Mike. The EKG machine was connected again and with everyone and everything loaded, Sam gunned the accelerator and the ambulance took off with sirens wailing and lights flashing.

Johnny remained unconscious, sweating heavily and his body was shaking. Walt was working hard on getting air into the prostrate paramedic. Everybody was sweating in the tiny back compartment while the ambulance roared to the hospital.

 

Chapter Ten

House and Nurse Sally Lewis were waiting for Squad 51’s victim. Next minute the doors from the ambulance bay flew open and a gurney came flying round the corner with Roy standing on the lower support bars doing chest compressions.

“He went into V Tach just now!” Roy stated while pushing on his best friend’s chest.

“Into 4.” House ordered. “Get me Early and another nurse now!” he directed at Sally. She went running off to page them stat to code blue in room 4.

They entered the room a short while later seeing Roy doing chest compressions, Sam was still bagging the patient and House had hooked up the EKG to theirs and was reviewing the rhythm. Both Early and Betty gasped as they saw who the patient was.

“What have you got?” Joe asked House.

“Originally anaphylactic reaction to unidentified substance is my guess, then respiratory arrest of approximately 10 minutes duration followed by 1 minute V Tach. Adrenaline in and I shock given” House showed Early the EKG strip. Johnny heart was still in V Tach.

Roy was still doing chest compressions and watching the EKG monitor.

“Stand back everybody…..Clear.” Joe said as he put the paddles on Johnny’s chest and shocked him. “Don’t you die on me Johnny.” He said out loud as Johnny’s body arched and leapt off the table. It took 2 more shocks, several rounds of CPR and another 3 doses of adrenaline and one of intra cardiac adrenaline before they got Johnny back.

“Vitals are bp 60/30, pulse 70 irregular and bounding, respirations are 4 unassisted and 16 assisted.” Sally told the Doctors.

“Repeat vitals every five minutes.” House ordered the nurse. Early and House were checking for any bite marks from spiders that may have caused this.

“Doctors, his pulse is now 129, and blood pressure is 210/105. I’ve checked it twice.” Nurse Sally said aloud.

“It must be a toxin causing all this. Let’s slow the IV fluid down again, I want a bed for him in ICU and bloods and blood gases drawn. Let’s get him connected to that ventilator now that we’ve got him through this crisis.” House told Betty.

“He’s stable for the moment but there’s still considerable congestion in his lungs. He’s not out of the woods yet. Put a Foley in him and monitor his output. We may need to give frusemide to help get the excess fluid out of his lungs.” House ordered.

“Let’s just wait awhile before we do any frusemide, we might tip him over into cardiogenic shock.” Joe said with his hand resting on House’s forearm. “He’s just come back from death’s door let’s not put him there again.”

A short while later Johnny was wheeled up to ICU. He was placed into a medically induced coma. He remained intubated and was now sporting a Foley and draining amber liquid into a bag hanging at the side of the bed.

---***---   ---***---   ---***---   ---***---

JC and Reyboy from 24’s had just dropped off a patient and were having a cup of coffee while filling up their supplies. To say they were shocked to see Johnny wheeled past them on life support was an understatement. It was Reyboy who found his voice first.

“Was that Gage and if so what happened to him this time?” Reyboy asked a stunned and dazed Roy.

Seeing that Roy was now in shock, they led him over to the doctor’s lounge and gave him a cup of sweet coffee. Roy took a sip, grimaced at the sweetness and then absentmindedly continued to take sips, grimacing each time as if he was encountering the sugar for the first time.

“Best we can think right now is anaphylactic shock. But he’s only allergic to chocolate as far as I know. We didn’t have any chocolate. Oh, wait. Momma Lopez made chicken mole. It couldn’t be that though. He didn’t have any. Unless some got into his food by mistake. That was hours ago, could it take that long given how severe his response was?” Roy was more or less talking himself through the events trying to find the cause, he had seen the effect and he was still coming to terms with just about losing his best friend.

JC went off to find Joe or House. Roy was in no fit state to go back to work. While he was looking for a doctor, Chet came into the doctor’s lounge.

“Betty said you were in here. She looked upset. How’s Johnny? Is he OK? He’s not dead is he?” he added when he saw the distraught and pale face of Roy and Reyboy supporting Roy as best as he could.

“He went into full cardiac arrest. We couldn’t get him back and..”

Chet ears started to buzz, his vision narrowed. Johnny’s dead. Oh my God, Johnny’s dead!!! These were his last thoughts as Chet’s knees buckled and he hit the floor in a dead faint.

Reyboy left Roy’s side and went over to Chet. He checked him over for any injuries and then put him into the recovery position. This was turning out to be a stressful night.

Heaven only knew how 51 was coping. Everyone knew they were a close knit family in A shift.

“Maybe you should have started out stating that Johnny was in ICU. I’m pretty sure Chet thinks Johnny’s dead.” Reyboy told a stunned Roy.

“Ah…yeah. I think you’re right. Well it proves one thing at least. Chet must like Johnny if this is his reaction when he thinks he’s dead. I wasn’t thinking. I’m a bit shocked myself.” Roy told Reyboy.

Dr Early and JC were approaching the doctor’s lounge when they both saw a pair of blue trouser clad legs sticking out from the doorway. They broke into a run and approached the prostrate figure.

“It’s OK, he just fainted. He passed out at hearing about Johnny’s practice run at checking out. He thinks Johnny’s dead. He will be feeling mighty foolish and relieved when he finds out that his pigeon lives.” Roy told the newcomers. “It was my fault, I didn’t word it correctly. I’m having a bit of trouble processing things.” He added lamely.

“I’m putting you on sick leave Roy, I don’t think you are in any fit state to be working tonight. Chet will be fine in a minute or two. When he’s awake I’ll give you the latest news on Johnny.

Chet finally did come to. He looked around and then remembered what had happened and burst into tears. Life without Johnny just wasn’t possible.

“It’s OK, Chet. Johnny’s not dead. He’s sick and in the ICU, but if all goes well he will be up and around in no time. I’m, ah, sorry for how I told you. I was still processing it myself so it was still a bit raw. Sorry about that.” Roy told Chet as he helped him up off the floor, steadied him and then led him over to the couch.

Dr Early then told them all how Johnny was stable, his vitals were still elevated but were being closely monitored and he had been given some verapamil to reduce his blood pressure and remedy his current heart arrhythmia. Dr Early was hopeful by morning his lungs would be in a stronger and less congested condition. If they were, he would be weaned off the ventilator. There was no reason to think of brain damage from hypoxia. Johnny had artificial airway support throughout and he would be running some tests tomorrow to confirm his prognosis. As to what had caused this they would need to go into more detail. Maybe book Johnny into an allergy testing session.

Chet went to speak but Squad 24’s HT went off calling the paramedics away to another response.

“It was chocolate. Chip put a small amount in the spiced coffee he made everyone. He said he had forgotten about Johnny‘s allergy. I believed him at first but then he said he didn’t think Johnny would have that severe a reaction. That would mean he would have to have remembered the suppertime conversation, right? So why did he lie? I’ve been thinking about it all the way over. It just doesn’t make sense.” Chet looked between Roy and Joe Early.

“No Chet, you’re right it doesn’t. I don’t remember tasting chocolate in my coffee, otherwise I would have warned Johnny about it.”  Roy said

“You’re right! I don’t think there was any in mine either. If we are both right, then this makes it even worse. Mama Lopez had only mentioned it two hours previously. I don’t like where this is going. I think we need to talk to Cap when we get back.” Chet stood up, ready to get straight back to the barn and talk to Cap.

“I’m fine now, Doc. Honest. I think it was just the initial shock of everything and having to do CPR and then seeing my partner getting shocked. Well, it was a bit overwhelming but I’m good now. Can we go see Johnny before we leave?” Roy asked Joe.

“Sure, come with me. We’ll go up and see him together. He should be settled in by now.” Joe gently said. He could see the strain around Roy’s eyes. He would release him to go back to work. Maybe it would be better that he did. That way he wouldn’t be sitting by Johnny’s bed brooding and worrying.

The three men made their way up to ICU and into Johnny’s room. It was really just a space with a bed in the middle, machines and pumps at the back and curtains that went around from both sides to define your room. The ICU nursing staff was familiar with this routine when it came to any of the paramedics being their patients. House was still by Johnny bed. He was mulling over the charts. A look of puzzlement on his face.

 What is it Greg?” Joe asked as he too, looked at the chart House was holding and scrutinizing minutely.

“I don’t know but I think there’s something else here, I just can’t see it and it’s not from a lack of looking.” House laughed, “I must be desperate looking for things that aren’t there.”

He turned to Johnny’s colleagues, “Well, he’s stable. There have been no more dramas. We will be monitoring him closely but I’m quietly optimistic that he will recover completely and be back on his feet in no time.”

Joe and House left conferring over what Joe had learned downstairs.

“He looks real pale. Must be the paleface side of him coming out. I think I prefer him red and healthy.” Chet ended on a quiet hitch of his voice.

“I know what you mean. I don’t think Johnny would appreciate the paleface comment but in case you can hear us, Johnny, we prefer you with a bit more color in your cheeks. And not blue like before. Red, tan, even green is better than the white as sheets look you’re trying to pull off, a bit too successfully too, I might add. We’ll see you tomorrow, Johnny. You just rest and take it easy. No dramatics. Ya hear me!” Roy patted Johnny arm.

The two men made their way back to the squad.

“I’m tired. I can’t wait for this shift to end. I feel completely drained.” Chet said.

“I hear ya, pal.” Roy then turned the key in the ignition and steered the squad home.

Cap made no pretense of waiting for his men and news of Johnny. He had called HQ and requested a replacement for his junior paramedic. He gave Roy a quick assessing look. Apart from looking tired and slightly stressed he seemed OK to work but, he would offer him leave if he thought he needed it.

Both men went into Cap’s office. Chet closed the door. He didn’t want a certain person to hear what they had to say.

 

Chapter Eleven

Cap was very disturbed at what he heard. He had spoken to Chip privately after he had mentioned the chocolate in the coffee. He felt that Chip had accidentally let it slip.

There was no chocolate in his spiced up Chip brew either. He felt sick to his stomach. No one but Gage had chocolate in their coffee. No one but Gage had a severe allergy to it.

The more he thought about it, the more intentional it became. How was this going to look on the incident report. He told the men to keep everything they had discussed here under wraps. He needed to think. It was going to be a long troublesome night for his mind, Cap thought.

Chip was delighted with his actions. It was hit or miss whether Gage got the chocolate laced coffee. It was even more of a fluke that Roy and Mike came in to get refreshments when they did. He had just poured the last of the coffee into the mugs when the men came in laughing and talking about Johnny’s empty leg syndrome.

He surmised that Johnny must be OK, as Roy and Chet had been in the office for some length of time. He felt that if Johnny was dead, they would be out now and he would have to be acting all upset and maybe even try to cry to make it look real.

The men came out and made their way into the dayroom where Mike and Chip sat watching whatever mindless show was on. Canned laughter erupted into the air at times. Chet went and turned the volume down. He then turned and watched Chip’s face while Cap relayed the news about Johnny, including the full arrest and defib.

Cap was sure he saw Chip’s mouth curl up into a smile before Chip put his hand up to cover his mouth. My God! He’s actually pleased that Johnny just about died. What sicko have I got working under me and sleeping just a few feet away from me? Cap felt his stomach lurch. He thought he was going to be physically sick.

He wasn’t the only one to notice it. Chet and Roy also saw what Chip was too late to hide. Chip’s smile made both men sick and angry.

Roy wanted to go up and bash the living daylights out of him, but not before he had squeezed his throat so tight that tears came out of his eyes, just like they did for Johnny.

He wanted his throat swollen and rubbed raw where tubes had been forced down them grazing the delicate lining and making the tissues bleed from the trauma of it all. He wanted to defib him 4 times and see how he liked the current of electricity as it coursed through his body, causing painful spasms and contractions of all his muscles, twisting his body off the table. He wanted to stick a knife, not a long wide bore needle into this man’s heart, see if you find that funny, you piece of dirt! He wanted to jump on his chest and see how he liked having a bruised and sore ribcage every time he took a breath. He basically just wanted to do to Chip, what Chip had done and submitted Johnny to.

Roy was amazed at the level of hatred and revenge he felt for this man. He didn’t think he was a violent man but he was learning new things about himself every day.

It was only Mike who hadn’t seen the smirk across Chip’s face. He had been paying attention to Cap and occasionally looking at Roy to see how his friend was coping. At the time Chip gave himself away, Mike was looking at Cap. He thought Cap going suddenly pale and rubbing his stomach was just a natural reaction to what had unfolded here tonight. Heck, even Mike was feeling sick and on edge with the recent collapse of his friend.  He didn’t know what his friends now knew to be the truth. Chip had deliberately tried to kill Johnny.

---***---   ---***---   ---***---   ---***---

Cap left the room. He needed some Alka Seltzer for his stomach. He also needed to phone his wife. Right now he needed to hear her; she always helped him regain his composure. His Emily was the voice of reason and would soon have him seeing if his racing thoughts were headed in the right direction or had got lost in the overload of supposition.

Roy couldn’t be in the same room as Chip right now, maybe never. He left to phone Joanne. He was currently stood down until Johnny’s replacement turned up. They still had ten hours to go until shift change.

“Jo, I’m sorry to wake you honey but something happened to Johnny and we need to contact Susan and let her know what’s happened.” Roy was sitting in the dark of the dorm room. He didn’t feel up to having the lights on. There was enough light coming through the windows from the streetlights and the moon.

He told Jo everything that had happened and told her he would tell her more in the morning. He would be late getting home as he was going to pop in to see Johnny after work. Jo had Susan’s number, they had become very good friends and she promised to phone her right away.

Susan was sleeping. She had had a busy day at the practice. One of the top clients’ mares had developed colic and she had spent seven hours dealing with the emergency, ultimately saving both the mare and her unborn foal. She was a junior partner at Walker, Clarke and Associates Veterinary Hospital. Susan was a big animal vet. The practice also did small animals but Susan loved the outdoors so specialized in horses, cows and the like.

The ringing phone woke her and she slurred a hello into the phone.

She woke very quickly when she heard Jo on the other end mentioning something about Johnny. Her heart was in her mouth; she was too scared to ask Joanne to repeat what she said. Her brain, like her heart, had frozen on the words ICU and Johnny in the same sentence; that was several sentences ago.

“I’m on my way and thanks Jo for letting me know. Is Roy OK? He’s not hurt too is he?”

Jo relayed again, this time more slowly and emphasized that it was only Johnny that was ill not Roy. She didn’t think Susan had heard her correctly the first time. Shock, Jo reckoned. Susan now had a better picture of what had happened. She was anxious and hopeful that Johnny would be alright. She looked for her clothes and pulled on jeans and a sweatshirt. Grabbing her keys, she was out of her apartment within minutes of the phone call.

 

Chapter Twelve

The next morning Roy was up and dressed early. He had dark circles under his eyes. He and Animal had had three callouts through the night. None of them required follow up at Rampart. They blamed the full moon for the crank calls. Roy had been too wound up about Johnny to get much sleep in-between calls. He kept looking over at Chip’s bed and thinking what could drive a man to do that to another human being.

As soon as the first B shift paramedic turned up Roy got permission to go. He headed straight to Rampart. Dixie and Dr Brackett had heard the news from Joe at shift change. Kel was upstairs reviewing Johnny’s chart while the ER was quiet.

Dixie saw Roy come in and head straight to the elevators. She went over and putting her hand on his shoulder got his attention. “He had an uneventful night, Roy. Kel’s up there with him now, reviewing everything. Susan came in about eleven last night, and she’s still up there. She had to phone me so that she could stay the night, as she wasn’t next of kin, I had to vouch for her. I didn’t think you’d mind. Why don’t I come up with you?”  Dixie then let Carol know where she was going to be. Together Roy and Dixie headed to ICU. While in the elevator, Roy asked about the junkie mom in labor from their run last night.

“I don’t know anything about it Roy. I’ll look into it and find out for you.”

‘Thanks, Dix. It wasn’t a good run, all things considered.”

Johnny’s room had quite an audience. Kel was looking Johnny over and listening to his chest. The ICU nurse stood on the other side of the bed, opposite Dr Brackett. Roy and Dixie then entered and made the space appear even smaller.

”Johnny’s lungs are much better. I want to do a chest x-ray to make sure. His blood pressure is back to his normal range and his pulse is stable and back to below 100. All in all, I think we will stop the sedation and see how he goes on his own. If he does well and his x-rays are clear then we will extubate him later today.” Brackett told Roy, Johnny’s next of kin.

A collective release of breath resounded in the room. Roy thanked the Doctor and went up to stand next to his partner. Johnny’s skin was now pink and dry. Gone was the pale clammy skin of just eleven to twelve hours ago. The rhythmic hiss and whoosh of the ventilator filled the room.

---***---   ---***---   ---***---   ---***---

Having satisfied himself that Johnny was going to be OK, he made his way into the ICU waiting room, where Susie had been for the night after a brief visit with Johnny earlier.

“He’s definitely gonna be OK, Roy? I… I was so worried. I don’t want to lose him. He…. he’s too precious to lose.” Susan said wiping at the hot tears now running down her cheeks. Now that the fear and uncertainty had been replaced with kind words and reassurances, Susie felt such relief that the tears were a cathartic release. Funny how it was always the kindness that was the undoing of one’s emotions during a stressful time, Susan mused as Roy held her close while she sobbed onto his chest.

She was only 5”4’ but she packed an awful lot of emotion into her petite frame. She was also inordinately strong Roy noted absently. She held Roy with a grip he didn’t think a woman possessed.

“He’s gonna be fine. You’re gonna be fine too. I don’t think he would leave us, he’s too stubborn. Now go wash your face and I’ll get us a cup of coffee.” Roy suddenly went pale. He realized this all started over a cup of coffee and Johnny had yet to be told.

Susan noted the change in Roy and went back to him.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Something I need to tell Johnny and I don’t think he will be pleased to hear it. Oh, God. It makes me sick just thinking about it.”

Roy sat in the chair Susan had spent the night in, worried about Johnny.

“Will you be OK? Do I need to get someone for you?” Now it was Susan comforting Roy.

What a fine pair we are, Roy thought. It was their mutual love and concern for the man lying in the bed with a tube down his throat that had brought them to this period of roller coaster emotions.

“I’ll be fine.  Let’s get that coffee.”

Cap, Mike and Chet entered as Roy and Susie were about to make a cup of coffee.

There was a momentary silence as the men looked at the beautiful, petite woman standing next to Roy. Roy had his arm around her shoulder in a protective and brotherly way. No one knew what to say until Susan stepped up to Hank.

“You must be Captain Stanley? Johnny has told me so much about you. I’m Susan, Johnny’s girlfriend. My friends call me Susie.”

The last bit of news came as a revelation to the guys. No one, apart from Roy, obviously, knew he had a girlfriend. Normally Johnny would be talking about her non-stop. Then they remembered all the phone calls and the mysterious woman phoning Johnny. It all made sense.

“Why yes I am, and I’m pleased to meet you. Just wish I had heard about you. I’m sorry we get to meet at a time like this. I believe he’s going to be alright. We spoke with Dr Brackett on his way out.” Cap then introduced the rest of the men.

“So you’re the phantom!” Susie said to Chet.

Chet blushed and mumbled that he was.

“Relax, between you and me, I don’t think Johnny really minds too much. But should you hurt him in any of these pranks I will have to come after you. Oh, did you know I have a black belt in judo and am going for my fourth dan next month?” Susie said to Chet.

Chet was speechless. He was trying to work out if she was serious or not. He decided that she must be pulling his leg. How could someone that tiny be a third dan judo expert? However, he decided to play it cool until he knew more.

Joanne walked hurriedly down the corridor. She had dropped Chris off at school and Jenny was having a play date with her friend down the street. Her heels clicking on the linoleum floor announced the arrival of a woman on a mission. She opened the door expecting to see Roy and maybe Susie but instead got met by everyone.

“Roy, Susie, Cap, guys. Any word yet on Johnny? I phoned the hospital but they just said he was stable and holding his own. That doesn’t tell you much at all.” Joanne said as she went up to Roy and kissed him on his cheek. She gave Susie a warm hug and stood back to eye up everyone. The men looked strained apart from Mike who looked well rested and bright eyed. Chet, Cap and Roy all looked tired and worn out like last weeks’ newspaper.

Roy brought everyone up to speed with Johnny’s condition and the plan. It was then that Chet wanted to know what was going to happen with Chip.

Mike, Susie and Joanne looked at Chet as if he had two heads.

Cap cleared his throat and started to relate what had happened and what the men had pieced together so far. Roy was so angry he couldn’t sit still. He paced back and forth until finally Jo caught his arm as he went past her again and pulled him into the chair beside her.

When all the facts were laid bare it seemed incredible that this could happen. The room was quiet as everyone digested it.

“I better not come across him in a dark alley as I’ll uchi mata him until he couldn’t stand, failing that I’d go for certain pressure points and leave him crying for his mother! What type of monster is he? How would he like that done to him?” Susie finished on a sob. Hot tears sprung from her eyes and she hastily blew her nose and wiped her bloodshot eyes on a tissue that Jo handed her. Her emotions were all over the place. She hadn’t slept while sitting in the waiting room in a hard plastic chair and everything was catching up with her.

The crew of 51 looked at Susie and decided she was one lady you didn’t want to mess with. Chet had his answer, she wasn’t messing with him.

“What’s a coochee momma?” Chet asked.

“An Uchi Mata is a judo throw where you are standing beside or behind your opponent and you hook your leg through theirs and pull them down by exerting pressure on their groin and upper body. It can make a soprano out of a man if done right and trust me, I know how to do it right.”

The men in the room, swallowed and in various ways, whether from crossing their legs or sitting slightly more forward, protected their family jewels.

“Someone better warn Gage not to tick you off.” Chet told the room at large. A few laughs were heard around the room.

---***---   ---***---   ---***---   ---***---

The door to the waiting room opened up and Mama Lopez entered after Marco.

“Marco! Mama Lopez! How did you know?” Roy asked.

“Chet phoned just before they left the station. Sorry I couldn’t get here earlier.”

Marco and Mama Lopez were then given the latest news about Johnny coming off the ventilator.

Mama Lopez looked around the room and was happy with what she saw but not the circumstances that brought them together. A family united in crisis. She was not surprised to find Chip wasn’t there.

“So, where is Chip? Tell me when did you find out he doesn’t like colored people?”

“MAMA, you can’t make accusations like that.” Marco said.

“Marco, I feel it in my bones, and my eyes tell me it is so. Last night he ignored you and Johnny. He kept casting evil looks at you both. You are my blood son, and Johnny my spirit son. A mother protects her children. Chip is a bigot and he has a hard road ahead of him. Before you say anything, Grandmother Trujillo told me.” Crossing her arms across her ample bosom she defied her son to challenge her.

“Oh mi Dios, Grandmother has been dead for twenty years or more.” Marco said, not believing his mother could say this.

“And she had the gift. She comes to visit me quite often. You mark my words. This Chip is no good. Whereas, you my dear, you are perfect for my Juanito, yes. His, um…amiga del alma.” Mama Lopez was waving her hands in the air trying to think of the English word. When that failed her she simply said it in Spanish and put her hands to her heart.

“Mama!” Marco didn’t know who this beautiful woman was, but calling her Johnny’s soulmate was way over the line.

“Gracias. Creo que tienes razon. Mi Corazon me dice asi tambien.” Susie said to Mama Lopez, smiling and instantly liking this woman.

That stopped Marco in his tracks. She was agreeing with his mother.

Mama Lopez gave a knowing look to Susie and nodded her head.

Cap cleared his throat and told Mama Lopez and Marco what had happened to Johnny. Each time he said it, it didn’t make him feel any better.

Mama Lopez looked at her son and saw the pain in his eyes. She took his good hand and gently squeezed it.

The room fell back into a somber quietness. Once again the gloom of the situation had permeated into everyone’s consciousness. Johnny could so easily have died from the hands of a “brother.”

Roy went and spoke to the head nurse and got permission for them all to see Johnny, two at a time.

Cap and Mike went in and sat with Johnny for a bit. Seeing the bruising coming out of Johnny chest and the tube still in his throat brought home the reality of how close it had been. Cap promised Johnny that he would not let the matter lie. He owed Johnny that much. This had happened on his watch, and he took it as a slap in the face that Chip could do this to a firefighter brother.

Marco and Chet went next. Chet hesitated by the nurse’s station in front of Johnny’s bed. He never liked seeing anyone so sick especially his friends. He put on a hard exterior but he was really a marshmallow inside. Johnny lay still in the bed. He didn’t look right. Chet then got his arm and gently put it up over his face in his preferred sleeping position. Johnny looked better like this. Not so mummified as before. Marco said a prayer to St John of God, the patron saint of firefighters and the sick. He said two prayers since Johnny qualified for both right now, or as Chet said, Johnny had upsized his order.

Mama Lopez and Susie were waiting outside the ICU doors while Marco and Chet were in visiting Johnny. They were talking in Spanish and getting more acquainted.

Susie gave a little giggle when she saw Johnny’s arm over his face. She figured one of the guys must have done it as Johnny was still under the influence of muscle relaxants and couldn’t move anything.

She went up and kissed Johnny on the side of his face. She whispered words of love and promises into his ear. She held his other hand and kissed it before she and Mama Lopez left. Mama Lopez told her Juanito to get better soon as he had a whole lot of good times coming up and being in bed, pretending to be sick, was not where he was meant to be.

Susie told Roy and Joanne that she had to go to work. She had surgery in two hours’ time and needed to get home and freshen up. Joanne said she’d talk to her later if not before. Susie gave her work number to both Jo and Roy before she left. “Call me if there’s any change for the worse, please. I’ll come back as soon as I’m able.” Susie said before she left for the elevators.

Roy and Joanne were the last to enter. Joanne had not seen Johnny so quiet, and to her, he still looked very pale. Roy assured her that he looked 100 times better than yesterday. They sat in the chairs watching their friend as the machine breathed for him. Roy removed Johnny’s arm from his face as it was a dead weight and already leaving an imprint on his face.

A few hours later he started to move his legs, then he flung his arm onto his face and turned his head into the crook of his elbow. The alarm on the ventilator went off as Johnny tried to breath over it.

“Looks like Sleeping Beauty’s waking up.” Jo said.

Roy silenced the alarms and went to inform the nurses.

His nurse came in and took vitals and called Johnny’s name. She got a weak fluttering of Johnny’s eyelids and that was all.

“He should be more with it in an hour or so.” She said as she plotted his vitals down on the chart and went to leave the room. “I’ll let Dr Brackett know.” Was the last thing she said before she left Johnny’s cubicle.

---***---   ---***---   ---***---   ---***---

Roy was sitting by himself. He had tried to read the magazine Jo had brought for Johnny from the gift shop downstairs, but his mind was too unsettled. Jo had left twenty minutes earlier to pick up the children and take them home.

Dixie came into Johnny’s cubicle. “How’s he doing, Roy?”

“He’s starting to wake up. I’m just waiting for the grand eye opening.”

“How are you holding up?” Dixie could see the strain around Roy’s eyes.

“I’m doing OK.” His words didn’t match his face or body language. He looked crumpled and was sitting slumped in the chair. It was obvious he hadn’t slept well, the dark circles under his eyes told the story.

“Oh, I’m sorry I thought I was talking to Roy, not Johnny.” Dixie said while giving Roy a look.

Roy gave a small laugh, “Sorry, Dix. Just a lot on my mind. It’s not been a good 24 hours. You ever wish you could take time back and just change that one second that changes everything?” Roy said desolately. He looked as sad as his comment.

“Yes, many a time, and, for many a reason. But what I’ve learned in those times is that they are out of our control, they always make you grow from an emotional angle, and they usually make you stronger and wiser. They build character, how you deal with them, helps to define you as a human being. Ultimately the reason those times hurt so much is because they involve people we love even more. Just remember, you’re not going through this alone, Roy. A lot of people are going through the same thing too. Johnny is well loved. There are a lot of hurting souls out there all worried for their friend here.”

Dixie emphasized the point by giving Johnny’s hand a squeeze. Johnny moved his legs in response and turned his head towards Dixie but his eyes didn’t open when she called his name.

“By the way Roy, I’m sorry to say but that junkie mother you two brought in last night, she had to have an emergency caesarean. She had a grade 4 placenta previa. She bled out in the OR.  Both mother and child didn’t make it. I’m sorry Roy, I was hoping to bring you good news.” Dixie said softly.

“Thanks Dix, maybe it was good news. She was too far gone with drugs and that baby would have been born addicted and have to go through withdrawal, and she obviously hadn’t been looking after herself so I doubt the baby would have been strong. Now they will both be in Heaven and out of pain.” Roy said. “Now maybe those ‘holier than thou’s’ can adopt her other child.”

Dixie raised an eyebrow and Roy told her about what their patient had told them.

“Like I said, you get stronger and wiser and you’ve just proven it. There are times when death is a mercy for some.” Dixie leaned down and kissed Johnny on the cheek, she then went over and gave Roy a kiss and hug too.

Once Dixie had left the room Roy looked over at Johnny and saw him grimacing over the tube in his throat. It was obviously causing him pain. It also meant Johnny was closer to waking up.

Chip had introduced so much pain and worry into the house of 51. He had torn down the walls built of friendship, trust and love and brought racism and hatred in his wake. How dare HE! Roy thought. How dare Chip hurt his little brother; Johnny had done nothing more than been born with Indian blood.

Brackett came in some time later. He hadn’t been paged to the ICU so he figured Johnny must still be sleeping under the influence.

“How’s he been Roy?” Dr Brackett asked.

“Quiet. He’s moving a lot more. He seems to be in pain when he moves his neck. He grimaces a lot. I think it’s from the tube. I had a difficult time intubating him last night. His throat just about closed up on me.”

Dr Brackett could hear the guilt in Roy’s voice. “You saved his life Roy. Without you he would be in the morgue right now. Just you remember that!”

“Thanks Doc. I just hope Johnny forgives me for his throat and ribs. He’s pretty bruised up”

“I think Johnny is wise enough to know what was happening to him and I think he’s going to be happy to be waking up at all, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right.” Suddenly Roy didn’t feel so bad with guilt anymore. He had saved his friend’s life and Johnny probably did know he was dying. Then the realization of his best friend knowing that as one of his last conscious thoughts appalled him.

Dr Brackett went up and called Johnny’s name. Johnny rolled his head to the sound of the voice. His face gave an involuntary frown as the tube rubbed his raw throat.

“That’s it Johnny, now open your eyes for me.”

Johnny complied. He blinked several times. His vision was blurry. He went to rub his eyes and took a deep breath. The alarms on the ventilator went off. Johnny turned his head sharply to see where the noise was coming from. His throat kicked up a protest.

Tears squeezed out of his eyes and ran down his cheeks. His chest was killing him, his back hurt him, he felt sure his skin over his shoulder blades was bruised. His lungs felt tight and his chest was heavy. What had happened to him? He started to panic.

Roy grabbed Johnny’s hand and moved it away from Johnny’s mouth. Johnny was going to pull out this obnoxious thing in his throat. Roy got Johnny’s attention and coached him to slow his breathing down, that all was okay now and he needed to be calm and relax. Roy quietly told his friend that Dr Brackett would tell him what was going on.

Johnny looked over to Dr Brackett. His vision had cleared and he gave an enquiring look to Dr Brackett.

With Johnny calming down, Kel turned off the alarm again. Once everything was explained to him, he nodded his understanding and Dr Brackett removed the tube on an exhale. Johnny gagged and his throat was suctioned. Blood stained sputum made its way up the suction wand.

After a few sips of water which Johnny choked on, his throat was too sore to swallow.

Johnny croaked out a barely audible thanks to Roy and Dr Brackett. He received two puzzled looks in return.

“Saved…. life.” Right now the barest minimum of words suited Johnny fine. It hurt too much to talk as well.

Johnny was discharged from the hospital four days later. He had tartan bruising over his chest and shoulder blades from the force of Roy pushing against his body with a wooden board under his back, when Roy was doing CPR on him. He had no voice to speak of, but his eyes, as always, did his talking for him, that and pen and paper. He was on sick leave until he could at least talk and be heard. Until then he was on strict orders to not speak. He wasn’t to answer the phone or even hum and definitely not to whisper. Susie was staying with Johnny during his recovery, she was his voice over the phone as a lot of get well phone calls came his way.

Chapter Thirteen

Cap had a meeting with Chief McConnikee the day that they had all been up to see Johnny in ICU. Over lunch they discussed the situation and a plan was made with policies and procedures followed.

The next day at work, Cap called Chip into his office. He asked Chip what happened regarding the chocolate in Johnny coffee. Chip got so caught up in his lies that he was getting himself confused with what he had told Cap and the other guys earlier. In trying to keep his lies straight, he ended up contradicting himself till in the end he had tied himself up into knots. Cap’s line of questioning and laid back encouragement helped Chip to make mistake after mistake. In the end Chip admitted he did it on purpose because the red skin half breed deserved it.

Cap felt like he was going to throw up when he heard that.

Chip was asked to write a statement about everything he had said and he and Cap would sign it and then it would go to the Battalion Chief as it was a serious matter.

Cap read the statement, it mentioned that he had known about Johnny’s allergy from Mrs Lopez. It also went on to say that he thought it would be fun to see if Johnny truly did have a severe allergy, he wasn’t too concerned as Roy was there and could give him some antihistamine pills if they were needed. He had used derogatory language in reference to Johnny and even Marco, whom he had met only once.

Cap then suspended Chip immediately from duty without pay due to the seriousness of the complaint.

“You will be notified in due course of the meeting at HQ. It is strongly recommended that you bring representation with you.” Cap informed Chip.

Chip was flabbergasted. They were making him out to be the criminal. Couldn’t they see that these coloreds weren’t fit to be anywhere near white men. Hitler had the right idea. The pure breeds should rule the earth.

Cap phoned HQ and got through to Chief McConnikee. He informed him of the outcome and suspension. He was requesting another linesman as the station had to be stood down.

Chief McConnikee advised Cap that he would be in touch with the time for Chip’s disciplinary meeting. They discussed a few pertinent items and when the call was finally disconnected it was with a certain amount of dread that Cap picked up the phone and dialed a number he knew by heart.

---***---   ---***---   ---***---   ---***---

The next morning Cap drove up a gravel driveway located forty-five minutes away from the station. He was met by Susie standing on the porch smiling and the snickering of two horses as they frolicked in the field. Sotkazi was curled up on one of the chairs on the porch. It was a picture of domestic bless, Cap thought, as Johnny came out and wrapped his arms around Susie. Johnny kissed the top of Susan’s head as they stood together on the porch waiting for Cap to retrieve things out of the car and make his way inside.

They sat around the table, hot cups of coffee for all but Johnny. He wasn’t allowed any hot drinks because of his throat, so Susie had made him a coffee and banana smoothie instead. Johnny had lost a bit of weight since this had all happened and he was having difficulty swallowing anything that wasn’t very soft.

Cap explained what was going on at the station and what was going to happen. He then told Johnny what the possible outcomes were and wanted Johnny to be prepared. Johnny was going to hear things that would be upsetting. He really just wanted to protect him as much as he could from the emotional pain he knew was instore for his youngest charge.

Johnny’s hands started to shake and beads of sweat broke out over his brow. Johnny was feeling very nervous about all this. He didn’t want to be involved in it and wished that it had never happened. The stress was getting to him and he felt the start of another headache. He got up and downed a couple of Tylenol.

Having written questions and answers till his hand cramped, Johnny finally slumped in the chair, resigned to his fate. Susan wished she could be there but it was a closed meeting.

Cap gave Johnny a copy of all the statements for him to read before he left.

“I’m sorry John, if there was another way to do this without needing your input I would gladly take it, but it’s not up to me and the whole case revolves around you and Chip. So it’s imperative that you be there.”  Cap said to Johnny with his hands resting on Johnny’s shoulders. “Hopefully, you won’t be called on to talk per se, but if Chip’s testimony differs and he makes allegations, then we think it’s best you be there to defend yourself.”

Johnny shrugged his shoulders and looked away at the distance. This was one experience he could do without.

After Cap left, Susie took him back to the bedroom to lift his spirits. The reading of the statements could wait till later, she thought. They had other, better, things to do.

 

Chapter Fourteen

The day of the disciplinary meeting arrived. Chip was mildly surprised to see so many people in the room. Battalion Chief McConnikee, his secretary Connie, Captain Stanley and FF/PM John Gage, looking pale and pathetic so he could ham up his so called life threatening injuries, Chip thought.  Next to Johnny sat FF/PM Roy De Soto. Chip sat in an empty chair away from Antonio Perez - Guadalupe, the union rep, in this case here to ensure that Chip’s rights were met. All the firefighters were in their dress uniforms and looked very smart.

Dr Cooper, an ENT specialist, Dr Gregory House and Dr Early were all seated around a table and sworn statements from the men of 51, including Johnny’s and Chip’s, were sitting in a see through folder in front of Chief McConnikee. There was even one there from Mrs Lopez describing Chip’s behavior that night as it pertained to Johnny and Marco. She also wrote how she had mentioned about Johnny’s allergy while they all sat around the table only two hours before the incident.

Chip was given a copy of each to read at his leisure. They all stated the same thing about his admission with the chocolate. A tape recorder sat between him and Chief McConnikee. A stenographer sat to the side and quietly tapped away at her keyboard throughout the meeting.

Roy was the first to speak. He told of how Johnny started coughing and trying to clear his throat after finishing Chip’s special coffee. He then went on to describe how quickly Johnny had succumbed and how he had to intubate his partner.

It was at this juncture that Roy’s testimony was stopped, and the tape of Roy’s call over the biophone to Rampart General Hospital Base station was played to a quiet and enthralled room. You could hear the stress and worry in Roy’s voice and the other men of Station 51 as they were calling out Johnny’s vitals. Mike could be heard saying the air wasn’t getting in. Roy was asking for a smaller airway and the bougie. Chet was heard in the background stating quite clearly about blood being on the bougie when it was removed. Then Chet telling Roy that Johnny’s fingers were still blue and cold. All the while Johnny’s loud and harsh stridor and wheezing was audible from start to finish throughout the tape, until he was tubed and bagged. Then Roy’s quiet voice came from the tape, “I’m sorry Johnny.” Johnny’s breath hitched slightly on that.

It was a powerful and damning piece of evidence portraying the severity of Chip’s actions on an unsuspecting and innocent brother and colleague.

Throughout the playing of the tape, Johnny’s eyes never left Roy. The two friends were sitting beside each other. Johnny had no idea, until now, just how hard it had been on Roy. He saw his best friend, head turned away from everybody and looking out the window, wipe a tear and then another from his eyes. Johnny reached over and squeezed Roy’s hand with a firmness that demonstrated his support and thank you to his best friend and savior. He knew Roy was feeling guilty over something, he just didn’t know what until now. His best friend, who had saved his life, was feeling needless guilt for hurting his throat in the process.

Drs. House and Early then recounted the grave condition that John Gage had arrived in the ER that night and the fact that John was clinically dead for several minutes until they could get a heartbeat back after four electric shocks to the heart and numerous lifesaving drugs, the last being straight into the heart. The subsequent 2 days in ICU, one of which John Gage remained on life support, then his three days in the ENT ward before discharge.

Johnny didn’t know about the intra cardiac drug and automatically put his hand up onto his chest, over his heart, and rubbed it. He was shocked to say the least. He really had died. No wonder his body hurt like anything when he was in the hospital and for a while after. They had pulled out all the stops and got him back.

Dr Cooper then spoke about his findings when Johnny had been referred to him. Johnny was looking at a prolonged recovery. The damage to his throat was moderate to severe and his voice box had been badly damaged in the intubation which had been necessary to keep him alive.

Johnny, who was still holding his friend’s hand, gave it another squeeze. He knew his partner well, just as Roy knew Johnny. Johnny knew that his best friend would be feeling guilty and responsible for Johnny’s throat. Johnny didn’t blame Roy, he blamed Chip 100%. He would need to work on Roy a bit to see this.

Dr. Cooper was explaining now about the possibility of scarring and how Johnny’s ability to talk as before with full pitch and tone was unknown, but he was very hopeful for a positive outcome, but he hadn’t ruled out the need for delicate surgery to repair any long term damage. So far it was just a waiting game. He would know more in three weeks when Johnny had a follow up appointment.

Roy looked sharply at Johnny, He was not aware of this possibility but it looked like Johnny was. If Johnny didn’t get his voice back, they were over as paramedic partners. Heck, Johnny was out of the fire service full stop. Roy looked pained and fearful for his friend.

Johnny looked depressed when faced again with the harshness of this reality. He had been trying not to think about it. It made him feel anxious and fearful. What would he do?  Would he ever have a voice again? How would he pay the mortgage? Would Susie stay with him as a mute? His hands belied his fear as a fine tremor started in them. Roy noticed Johnny trying hard to control his fears. He squeezed Johnny’s hand to offer him support this time around. Eventually Johnny got his shaking under control.

Dr Cooper then had to excuse himself from the proceedings as he had surgery in an hour and had to go.

The brass around the table hadn’t realized that Chip’s actions still hadn’t finished for Johnny or for them. The worst case scenario was that Johnny’s voice would never return to its previous level due to scarring and then LACoFD would lose a highly trained, respected and commended paramedic. Not to mention one half of the best team ever to ride the streets of LA.

It was an outcome no reasonable man around the table wanted to befall one of their own.

Having the statements read out including his own, Chip was given the opportunity to defend himself after their lunch break.

When Chief McConnikee, who was running the meeting hadn’t heard from the union requesting copies of statements several days ago, nor enquiries about what charges were to be laid in order to help the accused, he contacted the union directly. He found out that they hadn’t heard from a Chip McKendry, the Chief went on to explain what was happening and requested one to attend on Chip’s behalf.

During the lunch break, Antonio approached Chip. This would be the first time they would be able to talk. Chip had refused to meet with him prior to this. He hadn’t done anything wrong in his eyes. It was everybody else that had it wrong.

Chip sneered at the man before him. He told him to go away. He didn’t need the likes of him by his side. The union rep suggested he ask for leniency and support from the LACoFD to attend psychological therapy. Chip was enraged. How dare a spic tell him what to do? He spat at the rep and everyone in the room froze at such ugly and racist behavior especially as it seemed to come out of nowhere.

Antonio wiped his face dry with a napkin and excused himself so he could go to the washroom and clean his face. He had never been spat at before and it made him feel sick and belittled.

The Chief waited until Antonio reappeared, his face scrubbed clean and sporting a pink glow especially over his left cheek where Chip’s spittle had landed on him.

The Chief then reconvened the meeting. Chip had no defense. His actions once again had spoken louder than words. Chip wisely refused to talk.

The Battalion Chief found Chip McKendry guilty of causing grievous bodily harm and racial discrimination. He was fired from the LACoFD, effective immediately. He was then asked to stay as Detective Lieutenant Crockett from LAPD was coming to question him on further charges.

 

Chapter Fifteen

Chip’s white face became several shades whiter and while he was getting his breath back a knock at the door announced the detective’s arrival.

Detective Crockett didn’t have to come from very far. He had been in the next room awaiting his summons. Connie had left the room at the conclusion of the meeting and informed him he was needed next door. The matter had already been taken to his boss and the evidence was put before the DA’s Office and it was agreed that a case did exist and charges would be laid regardless of the outcome at the LACoFD meeting.

Detective Crockett addressed the pale, young, blond man before him. He identified Chip McKendry and duly placed him under arrest for the attempted murder and grievous bodily harm to one John Roderick Gage. A startled gasp followed by a painful cough broke the sudden hush in the room. Johnny wasn’t expecting that and the subsequent coughing was agony on his throat.

When Chip saw the black detective approach him, he couldn’t believe his eyes. It completely bypassed him that he was being arrested for attempted murder and grievous bodily harm. All he could see was the black man coming for him.

As Crockett stood in front of a seated Chip, he recited the Miranda rights to him. He asked him if he understood, Chip nodded his head and said yes. Next Chip was asked to stand up and face the wall with his arms and legs spread. Chip saw the gun sitting in Crockett’s shoulder holster. He grabbed it out of the leather sheath and aiming the gun at Crockett, he fired.

Crockett saw what was happening a split second behind Chip’s actions. He went to grab Chip’s arm. He successfully directed Chip’s arms up to the ceiling. The hole in the white plaster wasn’t very big. The noise of a gun going off in a confined space was. Chip, not being used to guns, was momentarily deafened and shocked by the noise, he wasn’t prepared for that. In fact, he wasn’t prepared for any of this and kept thinking it was somebody else doing all this, not him.

Crockett seeing his advantage, grabbed the gun out of Chip’s hand and threw it across the room over towards the stenographer who was as white as a ghost and sitting stock still like a statue.

In one swift motion, Crockett had Chip’s right arm twisted up behind his back and with handcuffs swooping out of his waist band he clicked them over the young firefighter’s right wrist and then his left. They were secured tightly and then Crockett did a quick pat down, ensuring the accused didn’t have a weapon on him. Crockett retrieved his gun and clutching Chip in one hand and the statements in the other proceeded out to his car.

Chip was placed in the back of the unmarked police car, the door closed and he was taken away to the police station to be booked and charged. Except now there would be new charges laid; attempted murder of a police officer, illegal use of a firearm and resisting arrest. Chip McKendry wasn’t going to be a free man for a very, very long time, if ever.

What a waste of a young life, Crockett thought as he looked in the rear view mirror and saw the dazed and confused look of a young 21-year-old man that would never marry and have children in the foreseeable future. This might even be his last day of freedom. It was highly unlikely given the charges in front of him that he would get bail.  

---***---   ---***---   ---***---   ---***---

Back at the Los Angeles County Fire Department HQ a stunned group of people sat around the table.

“I never thought that would happen.” Captain Stanley said out loud to no one in particular.

“The gun came right at me, it hit my leg. It could’ve gone off.” The stenographer was definitely in shock. Connie, Chief McConnikee’s secretary, went and got her a strong sweet drink of tea. She raided her boss’s drinks cabinet and put a good slug of whiskey in it. Then thinking what the heck, she grabbed the bottle and several glasses as well, and made her way back into the room with the stunned crowd.

Chief McConnikee looked very pale and sweaty. He loosened his tie from his neck and sat slumped in his chair. “He’s mad, he’s certifiably mad.” He kept muttering.

No one had to ask who he meant.

Antonio was covered in white plaster dust and was busy brushing it off his uniform. He only succeeded in rubbing it in. He would need to take another trip to the washroom before leaving. Every time he moved his head, more dust would settle on his shoulders.

He looked like he had gone prematurely grey, although it was only temporary as a good shower would get his hair back to rights.

Roy was shaken but coping. He looked at Johnny and saw him shaking like a leaf. The tremors in his hands were back, his skin was clammy and Johnny was holding his head.

Johnny’s eyes were squinting at the brightness of the midday sun as it hit the highly polished table and reflected back into his retinas increasing his headache. His pulse was racing like there was no tomorrow and was magnifying his headache as it pulsated through his head. Roy thought Johnny was having another one of his migraines.

Drs. Early and House gave each person a quick visual once over and apart from obvious shock, no one was hurt. Roy called them over to see to Johnny. Cap came over with them. He could tell that Johnny wasn’t well. He didn’t think Johnny would be up to this meeting so soon and it looked like he was right.

Dr Early recognized a migraine when he saw one. He asked Johnny if he was having a migraine attack. Johnny nodded his head. Joe sent House out to his car to retrieve his medical bag.

House came back in after a few minutes accompanied by a secretary from down the hall who announced that Crockett was sending someone over to get police statements about what had just happened; and that they all had to remain in the room until their statements had been gathered. A collective groan went out.

House put the bag down on the table, next to Johnny. Dr Early pushed his combination into the locks and opened up his bag. He retrieved his penlight, and blood pressure equipment.

“Never leave home without it.” He told his audience. “Your blood pressure’s a bit high there Johnny”

Johnny looked up at Joe and mouthed the words ‘how high’?

“It’s 160/90.” Johnny wasn’t the only one shocked to hear that. Cap and Roy were well aware that Johnny ran at the lower end of the scale.

“Your pulse is up. It’s 115. I reckon the excitement, stress and pain are playing a big part in your condition right now” Joe said, trying to reassure his young and extremely excitable friend. Both doctors noted the tremor in Johnny’s hands.

“You’re not having a good day and instead of going home to bed to sleep it off we have to wait for the police. Let’s see if we can’t get you comfortable and out of here in very short order.” Joe said to Johnny.

Chief Houts had been alerted as to the drama that had unfolded just down the hallway from him. He, like a lot of others, had heard the gunshot but weren’t too sure what it was they had heard so continued on with their work. Chief Houts entered the room to be met with a dishevelled group of people in various states of shock.

Chief McConnikee was sitting at the head of the table with a glass of untouched whiskey in front of him. Chief Houts approached him for an overview of what had transpired and saw the tremble in his friend’s hands and gently handed him the glass.

“Here take a sip and settle your nerves. When you’re ready, tell me what happened. There’s no rush, Mack. Tell Captain Stanley that I will want to talk to him too, so he’s not to leave until then”

Chief Houts saw the small group huddled around someone. He then noticed the medical bag on the table. Oh my God, someone’s been shot! Was his first thought. He quickly made his way over and saw a pale and sweaty John Gage clutching his head. No blood, can’t see any blood, not shot, I don’t think he’s been shot, thank God. He doesn’t look good though.

What’s going on here? Is he hurt? Has he been shot?” Chief Houts asked the two doctors.

“I think it’s just a stress induced migraine, we need somewhere quiet and dark where we can lie him down for a bit. We have to stay to give police statements but I think Johnny would recover better if there was some place quiet we could take him within the building?” Joe asked hoping that the Chief would know of such a place.

“He can go lie down in my outer office, there’s a couch there and it’s quiet enough. I’ll get my secretary to act as a bouncer and keep everybody out.”

Penny, his secretary who was pouring Chief McConnikee a cup of tea, overheard and nodded her head to acknowledge her boss.

The group got up and helped Johnny to his feet. The color drained from Johnny’s face and his knees went to buckle. Johnny quickly grabbed the table to support himself. He stood there for a moment or two until he felt his body strengthen under him. Standing straighter, he signalled he was ready to go on.

Johnny was led out by Penny, Roy and Joe. Finally, with Johnny laid out on the Chief’s couch and a blanket and pillow retrieved from a side cupboard which raised an eyebrow from Roy, “The Chief gets migraines too,” Penny stated. Together they got Johnny settled and then Joe gave Johnny some codeine.

In due course, police officers Vince Howard and his rookie Trudy Gaynor, arrived and were escorted to the room where a captive audience waited for their arrival.

With statements obtained and orders to come to the police station tomorrow to complete official business one by one the witnesses left the room.

Continued in Part 2

 

Posted to Site 3/24/16

 

Links To Parts 1. 2. 3.

 

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