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House Divided; House United

Part 2

An Emergency Story By

Donato
 

 

Links To Parts 1. 2. 3.

 

Chapter Sixteen

The police officers and Chief Houts made their way into his outer office where Roy sat in a chair and Johnny was asleep on the couch.

Johnny didn’t stir when the door quietly opened. The Chief held a finger up to his lips in a ‘shush’ motion; he nodded his head towards his inner office. Roy got up and making sure Johnny was still sleeping, he went with the others into the office.

Roy gave his statement which didn’t differ from the others. He was released and then Vince had to get a statement from Johnny. He was loathe to wake him up. He wasn’t aware of Johnny’s lack of voice and strict instructions to not talk. Roy explained all this to Vince. It was decided to let Johnny sleep and to bring his written statement in tomorrow. Roy said he would let Johnny know. The police officers quietly made their way out of the building.

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

Roy was about to go and check on Johnny when he was stopped by Chief Houts.

“Take a seat Mr De Soto.” The Chief then picked up his phone and requested both Chief McConnikee and Captain Stanley to come to his office, there were to be no interruptions he told Penny.

A minute later both men quietly entered the room and closed the door behind them.

After pleasantries and introductions were made, which Roy found oddly out of place given what had happened, until he realized it was more a gesture to let the men settle themselves.

Chief Houts got right down to business.

“What type of man is firefighter paramedic John Gage?” He asked.

Captain Stanley gave his appraisal of the fine man John Gage was.

Roy continued where Cap left off.

“What I really want to know,” Chief Houts asked, “is he the type of man that would sue. He has every right to. We failed to screen our recruits well enough to notice an unbalanced bigot and instead welcomed him into our service. Now from what you say there is a very real prospect of one of our finest paramedics being medically unfit to ever return. Sorry Roy. I see this is painful for you but it has to be addressed.” Chief Houts said when he saw Roy swallow hard on his last comment.

“I don’t want to see you split as a team either, but as head of the department, I need to look at the bigger picture. Regardless of whether he sues us or not, the LACoFD will be covering all his medical costs and he will be on full pay, not sickness as would normally be the case. This Dr Cooper that you mentioned is he the best? I feel it only fair to have Mr Gage treated by the best.”

The men around the table didn’t know and it was Roy that said he would ask around at Rampart and let Captain Stanley know in due course.

“He’s not the type of man to sue, either. He is an honorable and proud man. He would see this as no ones’ fault but the man who inflicted it. I feel that John has had a lot of dealings with bigots and racists in his young life. He has always handled himself with great dignity and never lowered himself to their level. I have every confidence that he would not see this as a failing of the LACoFD employment process. We all know that bigots are everywhere, unfortunately they don’t have it tattooed on their foreheads.” Captain Stanley boldly stated.

Cap would back John Gage to an inch of his life if he had too. The young man possessed a lot of fine qualities, which when you looked past the quirkiness and frenetic energy exuding from the young man, were plainly there for all to see.

Roy seconded what his Cap had said.

Chief Houts picked up the phone and requested coffee for his guests and Misters Whitehouse and Gibb to also come in very quietly to his office. It had been a long day and wasn’t over yet.

Roy popped out to check on Johnny who was still sleeping soundly with his arm now flung over his face.

Penny had warned the two new gentlemen to enter the inner office very quietly as there was someone sleeping in there and he was unwell and not to be woken. She had put a large portable map of LA, used for brushfires, in front of Johnny earlier to act as a screen to afford him some privacy.

Mr Gibb was the LACoFD head lawyer. Mr Whitehouse was the press release officer.

Roy knew of Mr Whitehouse, he had seen him on TV a few times. He looked smaller in real life. He had heard that TV added ten pounds; he didn’t think it added height as well as the man before him was a lot smaller in stature. Maybe it was his preconceived ideas that had this man being taller. He had only ever seen the man from shoulders up and normally he was focused more on the fire in the background that the man delivering the updates.

Over cups of coffee and sandwiches, the new men were brought up to speed. Mr Whitehouse said he would know more about the court case when charges were laid and the DA and Prosecutor were known. He would be contacted by the DA office soon he imagined, as a matter of courtesy.

“Sadly I feel that this will be big news. A civil servant trying to kill two other civil servants in different field’s and with racial overtones there’s no way to play it down no matter which way you look at it. Before long I reckon we will have a lot of different factions getting in on the act. This could be a major headache. Somewhere in there will be us. We must appear strong and united in our stand and weather the storm that’s coming,” the lawyer, Tony Gibb, said.

“Tony has nailed it on the head. I will prepare statements for the upcoming circus. I can only advise that any and all enquiries be directed to me. I request that all persons’ concerned keep their mouths shut and say absolutely nothing.” Patrick Whitehouse said.

This last comment was met with laughter from around the table. Patrick and Tony looked at each other; they didn’t know what was so funny. Chief McConnikee enlightened both men about the injury their main witness had received indirectly from the actions of the accused.

“It would appear that Mr Gage is getting practice in early, he will need to remain tight mouthed as a lot of media attention is going to be focused on him.” Tony Gibb said.

The somber and serious mood broke momentarily around the table and then with assurances that they would be in touch to those concerned, the men left the room just as quietly on their way out.

Roy also excused himself. He could see that the conversation was going to take on a more serious tone and he was not required. He went back to his chair in the outer office waiting for Johnny to wake up. They had driven in together so it was just a matter of waiting for Johnny to rouse. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too long, Roy thought.

 

Chapter Seventeen

A short while later Johnny stirred. A light cough heralded his return to wakefulness, it quickly turned into a harsher, hacking cough. Roy looked around and found some tissues on a side table. He went over to Johnny who was now sitting on the couch and hunched over coughing. Roy held out the box of tissues.

Roy saw blood on the tissue when Johnny removed it from his lips. He was immediately concerned for his friend’s ultimate health and recovery. He was also fearful that their days of riding together had come to an end. Johnny grabbed another tissue out of the box and wiped his eyes. The coughing hurt his throat each time. He felt suddenly weary. He didn’t feel as if his throat was getting any better and he too was fearful that he wouldn’t return to work.

“Johnny, does this happen all the time?” A worried Roy asked his friend.

Johnny shook his head. He threw the tissues into the bin but they missed and he went to get up to put them in.

“Leave it, I’ll get it in a bit, do you need to see a doctor?”

Johnny vehemently shook his head again. His headache was still there but not as bad as before, but anymore shaking and nodding was doing his head in.

Roy went and asked Penny for a glass of water for Johnny. She came back a short while later and handed it to Roy. He gave it to Johnny who took several small sips and found although painful, he could tolerate it. He finished the glass. He got out his notebook and wrote “Can we go or what?”

“I’ll just go check.”

Roy came back smiling. “Let’s go Junior. I think you still need to rest, c’mon.”

Johnny was up and out of that building before you could say jack rabbit. He gave a nod of thanks to Penny on his way out and then surprised Roy by handing the keys to his Land Rover over to him.

He must still have a pretty bad headache for me to be driving Roy thought. He didn’t make an issue of it. He unlocked the Land Rover and both men got in. It was a very quiet drive back to the ranch. Johnny stared out the window for a bit but eventually he fell asleep, his head resting against the side of the door and window and slack jaw breaths told Roy that Johnny was out for the count. Looks like I’m not the only one catching up on sleep, he mused to himself.

His overtime shifts had left him tired. He had done two so far and had another three lined up over the next two weeks. But when he thought of the reason why, it was all worth it. He just hoped Johnny would be well enough by then for his babysitting offer.

They made it to the ranch in good time and Roy pulled up next to his little convertible. He shook Johnny’s shoulder and called his name out a few times. Johnny stirred and saw he was finally at home. He went to say thanks and immediately felt his throat tightened. He swallowed what little voice there was and nodded his thanks to Roy. Both men got out and made tracks inside. Susie had left a note on the bench, next to the coffee machine.

Don’t even think about it. There’s a banana and apricot smoothie for you in the fridge. Enjoy. I will be home, which had been crossed out, back about six. There’s custard or yogurt in the fridge and fruit salad too. I‘ve made a gazpacho soup if you’re interested and Mama Lopez is bringing over some pulled pork tamales. Love you with all my heart. Your Chotkwa Hantasacotsi. xx

Johnny laughed. It hurt his throat but his little hummingbird knew him well. He retrieved the smoothie and put the kettle on to make Roy a cup of coffee.

Roy watched as Johnny took Susie’s note and kissed it. He then put it lovingly inside a finely hand carved wooden box. There were other notes and cards inside. Roy didn’t want to pry on this private moment, so he pretended to be looking out to the horses in the field. It looked very peaceful watching them standing still and eating grass or walk leisurely around the paddock.

The two friends sat on the porch with drinks in hand. They didn’t need to talk, which was just as well for Johnny. They watched the horses flick their tails at pesky flies and birds sweep through the air in search of food. Sotkazi rubbed his head against Johnny’s lower leg, leaving fur on Johnny’s dress pants. He was purring loudly. Something caught the cat’s eye and he was off running into the thick grass at the edge of his property and before you knew it the black streak was swallowed up in the tall waving weeds and grasses. Johnny settled himself against the steps and newel posts and tilted his head up to the sun. The warmth felt good on his skin. The meeting was over and now he could relax for a bit.

Roy thought Johnny had fallen asleep at one stage there. He called out his friend’s name and Johnny opened his eyes and gave Roy a questioning look.

“Just checking to see if you’re awake. You want a cold one?” Roy asked.

Johnny thought about it and nodded his head.

Roy returned with two beers and the friends drank leisurely out of the bottles. Both men had removed their blazers and ties. Roy’s top two shirt buttons were undone and his sleeves rolled back. Johnny had undone all his buttons and untucked his shirt completely and his bronzed skin was absorbing the sun and going browner. Roy envied his friend’s melanin. Roy just went red, peeled and back to white again.

Time ticked on and pleasant as it was to just sit there in companionable silence, Roy had to be getting back. He tapped Johnny and getting his attention asked if he could use the phone to see if Joanne needed him to bring anything home.

Johnny waved as Roy maneuvred his car around and down the driveway. A plume of dust rose in the air in its wake. Johnny stripped off his dress shirt, and picked up his discarded clothes on the way back inside. He changed into jeans and a t shirt and was sitting down to write his statement when Mama Lopez drove up with Marco and Chet in tow.

A smile came to his lips. When it came to friends he had the best!

 

Chapter Eighteen

The friends sat around the table.  They were stunned and shocked at what Johnny had written. Chip arrested, court case, media frenzy. It was hard to believe.

Chet and Marco swore their support to Johnny and promised to be in the courthouse on their days off.

Mama Lopez gave Johnny a strong motherly hug and promised her Juanito that she would be there every day come rain, hail or shine. She could feel his ribs and thin body as she hugged him.

“You are too thin, my Juanito. I am planning on teaching single woman at the local Mexican community hall how to cook both homeland and American food. However, I am nervous and want to practice on people that know me, will you help out your second mama and come to my home? I will give you private lessons and you can tell me where I can improve.”

Johnny jumped at the chance. He was on sick leave for an indefinite period and was getting bored already. Also Mama Lopez was an excellent cook and he would love to make Susie a real home cooked dinner. It wouldn’t hurt the guys at the station to get a break from his hamburgers and hotdogs either, he thought.

Marco nudged Chet in the ribs.

“What, I already know how to cook chili.” Chet replied, while giving Marco a filthy look.

“Ah, but I plan on cooking sweets to snacks to mains and more. There is more to Mexican food than just chili.” Mama Lopez said.

“Alright I’ll come too. Who knows it might be fun.” Chet reluctantly agreed.

Mama Lopez smiled, her plan had worked. She would get her Juanito to put weight on and become a better cook in the process. He had no idea that he was the primary target all along.

It was getting on to six and Mama Lopez instructed Johnny on putting the tamales into a preheated oven for 30 minutes. She then produced the salsa from the fridge.

“This is to help you to get the tamales down. I have made a lot so that you can swallow each bite with a good amount. It is time for us to go. Susie will be back soon and I’m sure she doesn’t need us here cluttering up the place.” Mama Lopez said.

Johnny grabbed Mama’s hand and stayed her movements. He quickly wrote for everyone to stay. There was ample food and meals were best enjoyed among friends.

Johnny set the table and got the food ready. Susie arrived at 6.30 and the smell of the tamales permeated through the house. It smelled divine. The friends sat down to gazpacho soup and tamales with salsa.

After dinner the men went out to settle the animals for the night. Sotkazi came bounding in from somewhere dusty and cobwebby. Matted cobwebs stuck to his ears and whiskers. Streaks of dust coated his black, silky fur. Johnny set out his food and water for him and was rewarded with a loud purr and the cat weaving in and out of his legs with its tail curling around his calves as he made figure eight circuits hampering Johnny’s movements.

The women sat inside and talked. The doors had been left open and the inside lights were drawing the bugs and moths in. Susie quickly closed the door and swore that men must’ve been born in tents. Quickly realizing that she had just insulted Marco in front of his mother, she put her hand up to her mouth and apologized to Mama Lopez.

“Don’t need to apologize to me, I am always telling Marco to close the door. Though with Johnny, it is more likely to be a tepee than a tent.” Both women laughed.  

The guests left shortly after 8.30pm. With the dishes done and Susie curled up next to him on the couch, Johnny showed Susie the notes from earlier about the meeting and outcome. She was shocked at what had occurred and hugged her lover closer. She watched him closely as he gave affirmative nods that he was OK.

He showed Susie the last note explaining that he would know more tomorrow when he went to the police station to hand in his statement, he would talk to Crockett about what was happening. Hopefully he would get some answers. The couple snuggled up to one another and watched a bit of TV before heading off to bed.

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

The next morning Johnny made his way into see Det. Crockett. He handed his statement in. He wrote a few answers out to Crockett’s questions and then had his own questions answered.

After everything was completed he made his way to see Roy and Joanne to fill them in on the news and to also let them know that Susie would also be helping him babysit the kiddies for their anniversary weekend, but only if they were happy for their children to be exposed to that living arrangement over the weekend. Johnny didn’t know if his voice would be back in time.

Joanne met Johnny at the door, Roy was doing an OT shift and she wouldn’t see him for the next two days. Johnny noted that their lawn needed to be cut, he volunteered to do it. After all, he had monopolized most of Roy’s day yesterday and this was his brother’s family. It was the least he could do.

With hedges trimmed, lawns cut and weeds sprayed down the back fence, Johnny sat stripped to his waist soaking up the sun and drinking iced cold lemonade. The sweat on his body glistened in the sun and his hair hung lankily around his face and neck.

Jo threw Johnny a towel and told him to help himself to a shower when he was ready. Johnny gave a lopsided grin and raised his glass in thanks. She placed a bowl of left over spaghetti, Stoker’s recipe, in front of Johnny for an overdue lunch. Jo then sat beside Johnny on the deck and enjoyed the quietness and companionship for a while. The scene was reminiscent of Roy and him just the other day at his place. Johnny smiled to himself as he thought it. He had no family left but his friends were his family and he couldn’t ask or wish for better.

When Jo went to collect the children, Johnny slipped inside and had a refreshing shower. Jo had placed clean clothes there for Johnny. He always had a change of clothes there. He would leave his dirty clothes from today here and Jo would wash and dry them.  Then the next time he needed to change clothes he would wear those when and if the need arose. The clothes he was gonna put on now were from when he and Roy had finished building the deck.

He heard the slamming of car doors, Jo telling the children to settle down and walk not run. Then excited chatter as the back door opened and two little voices erupted into the quietness calling out for Uncle Johnny.

A big smile lit up Johnny’s face, and kneeling on the floor inside the living room, he met his little fan club with open arms and gave them a big bear hug before swinging them in the air. Giggles and screams of delight resounded throughout the house.

After the three of them had had a snack of fruit and milk, Johnny played with Jenny for a bit while Chris did his homework. Jenny was all excited to tell them about how the chrysalis had opened up and a monarch butterfly sat by the window for a couple of hours, flapping its wings which were all scrunched up, but in the end were beautiful and all orange and black.

Mrs Wallister, her preschool teacher, had put some sugar water by the butterfly and it drank some and then it flew away when they took it outside. She and her friends had gone looking for it during recess but it hadn’t come home yet, and it had better as it was only a baby and would get grounded for being out so long.

Johnny and Jo laughed at the seriousness of Jenny’s last comment. Johnny’s throat still hurt after laughing but he didn’t think it hurt as much, or was it wishful thinking, he sorely hoped not.

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

Three weeks passed and Johnny had his appointment with Dr Cooper, the ENT specialist. Dr Early had referred well as Dr Cooper was one of the top specialists in his field. Johnny had been trying out his voice in secret. It sounded slightly hoarse to him but it was there in full measure. Hopefully Dr Cooper would deem him fit to return to work. He was hoping to have good news to share with everyone. This would be an extra anniversary present for Roy tomorrow if everything went OK.

That night he took Susie to the stream where they had their first date. He laid a blanket out and the two sat down and enjoyed the ambience and each other’s company. Susie had known of the ENT appointment and was eager to know how it went and Johnny was prolonging her agony. She threatened him with all sorts of nasty judo throws and moves. If worse came to worse, she threatened to tickle it out of him.

Johnny retrieved his duffel bag and brought out a bottle of wine and two glasses. “I’m back to work on Monday.” Johnny said. His voice was strong but slightly hoarse. His happiness was evident. Susie let out a squeal of delight and kissed the man that was her life. Her passion was equally returned. After a while, with Susie snuggled into Johnny’s lap with his arms around her, they watched the water turned silver by the moonlight, race over the stones and boulders in the stream. They drank the wine and talked into the late hours of the evening. The spring night was warm and still on their skin. The moonlight filtered between the leaves of the weeping willow added romance to the air. The dappled moonlight played across their skin as they moved in closer for a passionate, wine tasting kiss.

 

Chapter Nineteen

The next morning the couple went to the De Soto residence and Johnny told his partner that he would be back next shift. They also wanted to know if they could take the children early as Susie had her Judo 4th dan exam today and if they were happy for the kids to come along they would take them with them and start the babysitting early.

Jo wanted to see Susie in action. The De Soto family went in Jo’s car and followed Johnny and Susie.

The competition was already underway. The children were going first and Chris was immediately enthralled at children as young as him doing the sport. Susie was already in her outfit with her black belt tied around her trim waist, she looked even smaller that her 5’4” in her loosely fitting judogi.

She wasn’t performing until later, so she acted as commentator on what was going on to her bewildered guests. She was explaining the throws and what depicted a good throw over a bad one. Jo was slightly mortified to see most of the participants landing on the mats in various positions. Susie went on to explain that they get taught how to land and that judo actually stood for the gentle way. It was not designed to kill but rather to show restraint and thinking.

“Can I do this too, please Mommy and Daddy. Please, please, please.” Chris begged.

“We will need to think it over Chris, alright. We are not promising anything, young man.” Jo said with Roy nodding in agreement.

Susie overheard his plea and went up to Roy and Jo when Johnny had taken the children with him to bring back refreshments for all.

“I could teach him for free at your place or Johnny’s. Heck, I could teach all of you. I’ve shown Johnny a few moves. It helps with balance and poise and centers the mind and teaches discipline. It also keeps kids out of trouble and off the streets. I’ll let you think about it, the offer is always there.” Susie finished just before the masses of food and drinks appeared in front of three smiling faces.

Susie’s level was called up and she proceeded to the floor. The amount of competitors in this level was substantially smaller.  The opponents bowed to each other as a form of respect and then set about trying to throw their opponent to the floor. Susie’s opponent was a 6’3” heavily built man. The height difference made the match exciting. Susie darted around her opponent, escaping his obvious lunges and flying throws.

“C’mon chotkwa hantasacotsi!” Johnny whispered under his breath. He was watching the match intensely and clenching his fists and grimacing when his little hummingbird got thrown onto the mat and pinned by the bigger man.

Susie did manage to get her opponent down twice as did he to her. They were very evenly matched competitors.

Chris and Jenny seeing Johnny so caught up in the match before them, joined in on the act. Jo and Roy, giggling at their children’s behavior, told them to settle down.

The match was over and both opponents got up and bowed to each other before leaving the mat. Susie made her way back to her ardent admirers and Johnny bent down and kissed her sweaty face. She looked radiant and full of life.

“How do you think you did?” asked Johnny.

“I’m pretty sure I did OK, he was a formidable opponent. The markings will be posted out at the end of the rounds. It is pretty obvious if you aren’t up to the next level.” Susie said while rubbing her shoulder. “He got me good on that last throw, I’m sure he’s gonna get his 4th dan.”

There were two more matches after Susie’s then the 4th dans going for their 5th dan were called up.

In a short while Susie who had been watching the master’s table saw the runner go to the announcement board and put the results up for all to see.

“Well here goes.” Susie said as she got up and made her way with Johnny and the De Soto children in tow, until Roy called them back.

“You will find out soon enough.” Roy told his children.

Four sets of De Soto eyes watched as Susie jumped with joy and Johnny swung her around and landed a kiss on her lips. Their happiness plain for all to see.

“I guess she passed.” Jo said, pleased for her friend.

“You think?” Roy laughed into his wife’s ear as he bestowed a kiss on the woman he had married on this day 10 years ago.

The mood around the De Soto-Gage-Sommers camp was upbeat and full of laughter.

The matches drew to an end and the competitors lined up per their rank. The lowest levels got awarded first. Finally, it was Susie’s turn. She and four other competitors, including her match opponent, received their 4th dan black belt. Johnny had his camera ready and took more photos of this as well. He was onto his second roll. He had already gone through a roll when she was flinging her opponent, or vice versa, around the mats earlier today.

Making their way back to the cars at the end of the competition, Roy retrieved the overnight bags for Jenny and Chris and put them into the back of Johnny’s Rover.

The kids kissed their parents goodbye and promised to be good, then they clambered into the back seat where Susie started buckling them in.

Johnny went over and promised to take good care of them, and wished them a lovely evening. Soon the cars left in different directions.

Arriving back at the ranch, the kids quickly undid their safety belts and scrambled out the back and made a beeline for the two horses. Chris took a slight detour into the barn and came out a short while later with a whole lot of carrots tucked into the rolled up bottom of his t shirt. Jenny went and helped him free half his bounty.

The horses, seeing their little visitors, but more importantly the orange sticks waved through the fence, made their way over and started munching on the carrots. Both children taking delight in this simple act and squealing when the horse’s mouths got too close to their hands. Johnny got the overnight bags out of the Rover and Susie made tracks over to the children. Susie relieved Chris’s tee shirt of a few carrots and started feeding them to the horses too.

Having got the horses fed and then settled into the corral for the night, it was decided that they would eat out. Johnny loaded up the cooler into the back of the Rover. Within twenty minutes all four were outside Gino’s Pizzeria.

After eating their fill of hot cheesy pizzas and an ice cream sundae they went to go back to Johnny’s. He took a slight detour and knowing that Roy’s dinner reservation was at 8 PM, swung by the De Soto house about 8.30pm. The car was not in the driveway and the house was in darkness.

“Whatcha doing Uncle Johnny? Can I come too?” Chris asked.

Jenny who was half asleep saw her house and went to get out of the car.

“No, Jenny love, stay in the car. Uncle Johnny just has to drop something off for your parents. OK. He won’t be long. Chris make sure Jenny is still buckled up.” Susie said.

Meanwhile Johnny used his spare key and entered the house and made his way upstairs. He was out again in 10 minutes.

“All done?” Susie asked.

“Yep.  Right kiddoes, back to the ranch, story and beddy-byes I think.” Johnny said as he started up the Rover and steered the wheels home.

Jenny had to be carried in, she was fast asleep. Susie got her into her nightie and then pulled the covers up to the little girl’s chin and put her favorite soft toy in beside her.

Jenny didn’t stir throughout. Her blond tresses framed her little face. She looked like an angel, so pure and innocent. It made Susie feel very broody.

Chris brushed his teeth and washed his hands and face. He changed into his Batman pajamas and brought his favorite book and teddy bear with him into the lounge. He selected a story from the collected works of the Brothers Grimm. Chris sat next to Johnny and listened as the elves came and made a pair of shoes for the poor tired shoemaker. He was asleep before the elves had received their new clothes.

Johnny closed the book and picking Chris up took him to his bed and settled him for the night.

He then sat next to Susie and nuzzled on her neck till she relented and they made their way to bed, too.

Later that evening, Roy and Joanne got home after a fantastic meal and dancing. After leaving Le Palais d’Or restaurant they drove down to the marine parade. Taking off their shoes and walking on the cool sand as it squelched between their toes, Roy and Joanne strolled along the sand, hand in hand, giggling and running away from the waves as they caressed their bare feet and ankles. The sea was cold and sounded more menacing in the silvery moonlight. 

The warmth of the day had long since gone and with a slight shiver the couple made it back to the car. The sound of the waves crashing against the shore and the briny smell of the sea was replaced by the hum of the motors and the gas fumes of the city.

Thirty minutes later Roy was pulling the car into their driveway. He helped Joanne out of the car and escorted her into the house. There was soft music playing on their record player. It was Mantovani and his Orchestra. The player was set to repeat.

“Johnny” Roy and Jo said at the same time. Then laughed at their synchronicity. “Well, it would be a shame to let the music go to waste.” Roy said as he asked his wife to dance.

As they made their way around the living room, a soft glow was noted coming down the hallway.

“What else has that partner of yours thought of?” Jo asked Roy.

Together they went into their bedroom where the light was dimmed and a bottle of champagne stood in a wine cooler and two champagne flutes sat beside it. Red rose petals were strewn over the bed. Unlit candles were placed around the room and the soft music could be heard from downstairs.

“Either, this is Susie’s work or Johnny is a bigger romantic than I thought.” Roy whispered into Jo’s ear as they took the scene in.

Roy found the box of matches and set about lighting all the candles. He then turned out the main light. The room was cast in a soft light that enhanced the beauty of the two people in the room.

“I love you, Mrs De Soto, will you do me the honor of forever being my wife?” Roy whispered into his wife’s ear before he laid a trail of kisses down her neck and then up to her lips. 

A breathy “Yes” was her only reply.

 

Chapter Twenty

“Mommy and Daddy are here!” Chris yelled from the living room window as he saw the station wagon drive up. The weather had turned slightly cool and everyone was playing pick-up sticks. Chris was winning, followed by Jenny. Johnny and Susie were yet to get a stick between them. They were accidently on purpose losing by moving the sticks so that the children could get them on their turn.

Roy and Jo entered the living room and saw the game being played. Jenny was very serious when she told her mommy that Uncle Johnny and Miss Susie weren’t very good, “I’ve told them a thousand times how to play it too, but they don’t have good hands like me and Chris.”

“Is that right? Well, looks like they need more practice, doesn’t it? Maybe next time you play, they might be better. Were you a good for your Uncle Johnny and Miss Susie?” Jo asked Chris and Jenny.

“Uh huh” They both nodded their heads and then told their parents all that they had done from yesterday.

After the information had been said at the speed of light, Johnny offered his friends a coffee, or would they prefer something stronger. Roy took a beer and Jo a coffee.

“Looks like I’ll be driving.” Jo said, as Roy put his order in.

“Thank you for the beautiful surprise last night. It was very romantic. Whose idea was it?” Jo wanted to know.

“Mine, and don’t go spreading it around, I have a macho image to uphold!” Johnny told Jo and Roy.

A pleasant afternoon between the four adults was spent while the kids played pick-up sticks and connect the dots, with Chris winning both times.

Johnny and Susie waved the De Soto family goodbye then made their way over to the corral and settled the horses. Sotkazi came in, smooched a bit then ate and took off again.

With everything done for the night, Susie and Johnny spent the evening watching TV.

They had an early night as both had work in the morning.

Having kissed Susie goodbye with a see you tomorrow and a promise to take care and her not too work to hard they left for work. It was Johnny’s first day back in a month. His voice was stronger and only slightly hoarse. He wasn’t to yell or raise his voice, Roy would do the biophone in those circumstances but he was back to full duties, nonetheless.

“Welcome back, John.” Cap said as Johnny entered the station. Mike gave him a smile and nod. Marco slapped Johnny on the back and welcomed his amigo back to work adding that it had been quiet without him and it was good to have the family back together again. Johnny returned the slap to Marco’s back and said he was truly pleased to be back. Johnny made his way into the locker room where Roy was tying his shoes.

“Howdy, partner, welcome back.” Roy smiled up at Johnny.

Chet was last in and saw Johnny standing at his locker getting undressed.

“Look who’s back? Don’t tell me you’ve got your voice back. The peace and quiet was nice while it lasted.” Chet said on a sigh, then spoiled it by slapping Johnny on the same shoulder Marco had only ten minutes earlier. “It’s good to have you back, Gage.”

Chet was given latrines as he was last in and Roy and Johnny had hoses.

Johnny did the biophone check and got Dixie on the other end. “Welcome back, Tiger. I’ll buy you a coffee next time you’re in.”

The guys had three runs before lunchtime; none required a follow up at Rampart. Mike’s spaghetti sat in the middle of the table and six men voraciously ate while the going was good.

“So have you heard anything about the trial yet, Johnny?” Chet asked.

Johnny just shook his head. His mouth was full of spaghetti and he was waiting to hear like the rest of them about the trial. Johnny wasn’t pleased to be one of the main witnesses in an upcoming trial. Just the thought set his nerves on edge. He noticed the fine tremor in his hands. Get a grip, he told himself, not for the first time. He left the table and returned with two aspirin. He washed them down with a large glass of milk and returned to the table, having topped up his drink.

“What’s with the aspirin?” Cap asked.

“Slight headache, just thinking of the trial lately gives me a headache. I try not to think about it very often but it doesn’t seem to work. I’m really not looking forward to being media fodder.” Johnny said as he resumed eating his lunch.

The matter was dropped, as they could all see the effect these last few weeks had had on Johnny. He had lost a bit of weight and his nerves were easily upset. He seemed to get tension headaches a lot more too. Hopefully, now that he wasn’t solely existing on soft boiled eggs, custard, ice cream, soup and smoothies he might start putting weight on. Then again the stress of the upcoming trial and media frenzy would undoubtedly have Johnny losing instead of gaining weight.

Lunch was interrupted for the squad. Quickly downing another mouthful of spaghetti as he was rising from the table, Johnny ran out to the passenger side and got into the squad. He donned his helmet, his chin strap loosely dangling under his chin. Roy gave Johnny the call slip that Cap had just given him. With the motor started and the accelerator depressed and the gears engaged, the squad started to move to the scene of a child not breathing.

Having arrived at 1139 Sycamore Lane they found a small girl lying prostrate on the front lawn. Her mother was bent over the little lifeless form and breathing air into her and looking white with fear and panic.

“Please, help my baby, she was on her scooter and fell off, then she didn’t get up. When I came out she wasn’t breathing. I….I.. can’t get air into her. I don’t know why she’s not breathing.”

Johnny was down beside the mother. He was feeling for a pulse in the child’s neck.

There was still a weak, slow pulse, if they didn’t reverse this respiratory arrest a cardiac arrest would follow very quickly. He tilted the girl’s head up and breathed into her mouth. He felt the air force its way back out from his mouth. He repositioned the child’s head and tried two more times but was still unsuccessful at ventilating the child.

Roy was setting up the biophone and taking the little girl’s vital signs. He, like Johnny, noticed the blueness around the girl’s mouth and hands. It was spreading. The little girl was dying on them right in front of their eyes.

“Give me the laryngoscope and Magill’s.” Johnny asked as he opened the girl’s mouth.

“It’s as I thought, Roy, she’s got something lodged in her throat. It’s blocking her airway.” Johnny said as he grabbed the Magill forceps and angled them down into the girl’s throat.

With delicate care and skill, he grasped the foreign body from the girl’s throat and slowly removed a jawbreaker. Johnny then bent over the child’s mouth again and blew sweet revitalizing air into the girl. After several breaths, the little girl’s face and hands were pinking up. She took a shaky breath of her own and then resumed normal breathing. Roy administered oxygen via a child’s mask and the errant jawbreaker was looked at with disdain.

“Oh my God,” the mother cried, “Cindy went to the shop to get some candy. I didn’t think of checking her airway for an obstruction.” The mother turned bright red and silent tears of relief ran down her face. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I can never thank you enough. You saved my baby.”

The ambulance arrived a short time later and the child was loaded up onto the gurney with Johnny riding in, Roy following and the mother following behind in her car. The entourage arrived in Rampart and Johnny helped get Cindy into treatment room two where Dr Early was waiting for her.

“You did nice work today, Gage.” Morton told Johnny, when he saw the jawbreaker and how slippery it was to hold on to with the forceps. The men were leaning over the nurses’ desk and Johnny was looking out for Roy who was returning from the washroom.

“It’s all the practice he’s had playing Operation with my kids.” Roy said as he overheard the last comment as he approached the desk.

Johnny went bright red and said nothing in his defense. He had played a LOT of Operation with them.

“What’s this I hear about you performing a lifesaving procedure in the field?” Dr Brackett wanted to know in a teasing manner. He had heard about the call out and the candy stuck in the little girl’s throat. “Next they will be asking for a pay raise.”

“I don’t know, but if they did, I know of one mother that would gladly support it right now.” Dixie said.

The thought of what could so easily have gone the other way and the pain they would all be feeling, stilled the group momentarily. It was into this stillness that the mother saw the huddled group and more importantly a tall, slender dark haired man in blue.

She went up to Johnny and tapped him on his shoulder. Johnny turned around and saw the mother with tear bright eyes.

“I really can’t thank you enough. Cindy is our only child, I can’t have anymore. If she had died today, I think Martin, that’s my husband, and I would have died too.” The mother ended on a sob. She gave Johnny a strong hug and then thanking all the others for their help she went back into the room to sit with her daughter who was breathing easy with no significant trauma to her throat.

“She looks familiar.” Dr Morton said.

“She’s a nurse in orthopedics.” Dixie said. “I’m amazed that you of all people didn’t recognize her, Johnny.” Dixie said on a laugh.

“Well, she looks different with her clothes on.” Johnny said in his defense.

Realizing what he had said and the surprised looks from around the desk, Johnny replied, “You know what I mean. I meant out of her uniform. Before you go there, I’ve never seen her naked not that there’s anything wrong with the naked female form. I….I…, oh heck, now I’m not sure what I mean. I don’t think I’ve even seen her before. She doesn’t look familiar to me at all. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t know, nor have I dated, every nurse in the hospital.”

Seeing that Johnny was getting slightly flustered and annoyed, the friends relented and said they were just pulling his leg.

“Yeah, well, these legs better start making tracks to the squad. We’ve got drills this afternoon and I’m hoping that there will still be some of Mike’s spaghetti left over, I’m hungry.” Johnny said rubbing his flat washboard stomach.

“We’ll catch ya later.” Roy said as the two men made their way to the squad. After completing drills, being called out three times and once with the engine the men returned and made their weary way into the day room. Johnny grabbed a glass of milk and Roy a coffee.

They hadn’t been back at the station long, when the tones sounded and the station was called out to a structure fire.  When they got to within a block of 459 Stevens Crescent the smell of smoke hung densely in the air. People were milling around the burning two story house. More people were making their way there. Kids on their bikes were zipping up the road following the little red fire squad and the big red fire truck.

Johnny got out of the temporarily stopped squad and waited for Big Red to drop a hose. He connected it to the hydrant and then hopped back into the squad that was now following the truck.

The men were donning their SCBA gear and Cap was appraising the scene. He found an agitated man standing outside looking wide eyed and distressed. Guessing that this may be the home owner he made his way to the man. He was indeed the home owner. He had come home from work and found his house ablaze.

He lived by himself and apart from obvious shock he was alright. Cap instructed his paramedics to grab an inch and a half and attack the fire from the north side. Cap meanwhile draped a blanket around the shoulders of the distraught homeowner. A neighbor had brought him out a hot cup of tea. Cap could smell the alcohol from where he stood. He felt like telling the man not to stand close to the flames in case he should spontaneously combust via the alcohol.

Chapter Twenty One

Returning to the station, six sooty and smoky men climbed out of their respective vehicles. The men made their way to the latrine, while the first two to the sinks cleaned up, the other two hung back waiting for their turn.

The car parked outside showed signs of life and a tall, thin black man got out wearing his glasses. He acknowledged Cap, who recognized him instantly.

“Detective Crockett, it’s good to see you. What brings you here? Or needn’t I ask?” Cap said as he placed his helmet into the cab.

“I’m doing well, Captain Stanley. I’m here to see John. Is he available?” Crockett said while eyeing the squad. He had already checked with LACoFD HQ and knew that Johnny was working today so the question was rather moot.

“Mike, go get Gage and tell him he has a visitor in my office. If you see Chet, tell him to stay well away or he will have me to deal with.” Cap instructed Mike who was last out of the engine.

Mike went and found the men washing up in the latrine. He relayed Cap’s instruction to Johnny. Johnny quickly dried his face. He still had vestiges of dirt and dried sweat clinging to his body but only a shower would remove them. His limbs felt heavy and fatigue was niggling away at his stamina, not for the first time he thought fleetingly.

Chet went to see who the visitor was and found a hand splayed across his chest and the owner of that hand glaring down at him. “Cap said if you follow, you will have him to answer to.” Mike then released his hand and quietly walked out and went to make a pot of coffee.

This last interchange had the men’s interest piqued. Roy correctly surmised it might be to do with Chip’s upcoming trial. The men made their way into the kitchen. Cap was standing close to his office to make sure no one, especially a short, curly haired Irishman, eavesdropped. When all the men went into the kitchen, Cap followed.

They were all thirsty and drinking various liquids when Cap entered.

“Take John and his guest a coffee, please Mike, oh, and in John’s case a large glass of milk too. I don’t want him dropping from dehydration.” Cap then went over to the phone and stood down the squad until further notice.

Quickly downing the milk and now sipping the coffee, Johnny listened as Crockett explained what was happening in the attempted murder cases. The court date for the hearing was next week. The judge would see if he felt there was enough evidence to proceed to a trial.

There was always hope that Chip would change his plea to guilty as the evidence against him was overwhelming.

“Between you and me, John, he doesn’t think like you and I. I’m not talking about his racism, it’s something deeper, more integral to his personality. I’ve seen it a few times in other criminals. They don’t respond to the same situation like we do, it’s almost as if they have to copy our emotions and actions to fit in. I’m not explaining myself well, but I’m pretty sure the presiding Judge may order a psychiatric report on him too.”

The two men talked a bit more and then Crockett went to say goodbye to the other men and tell them briefly about the court date. They may or may not be called to give evidence at the hearing so their presence was also required. Johnny definitely had to be there as did Crockett.

As Crockett made his way out, Cap took this opportunity to remind the men that they were not to talk to the media. Johnny went and drank two large glasses of water as his headache was getting worse and he felt very thirsty. He needed food and fluid and for this whole mess to be over.

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

He was hunting for aspirin in his locker but was having no luck. Roy quietly entered the locker room. Johnny jumped a foot off the floor when Roy asked what he was doing. He immediately rubbed his chest. His heart was thumping wildly against his ribs with that unexpected surprise.

“Are you alright, Johnny?” Roy asked.

“Yeah, yeah. Just looking for some aspirin but I’m out, do you have any?”

“You’re going through a lot of aspirin lately, you got another headache?” Roy asked as he opened his locker and retrieved a bottle of aspirin and handed it to Johnny.

“Yeah, but I don’t think I drank enough water after that fire. I should also not drink so much coffee as it dehydrates you. In fact, I think I’m gonna cut back on coffee, I’ve been reading about it and it’s not good for you. Too much can give you a headache, did you know that?”

“Ah, no I didn’t,” said a surprised Roy.

“I’m feeling really stressed out about this trial Roy. I’ve decided that I need to make some healthy changes to my life as I’ve been having more than enough headaches or migraines to last a lifetime recently. I’ll be perfectly frank with ya Roy, I feel like I’m drowning under the stress and my body is telling me to do something about it.”

“Have ya spoken to one of the docs about it. They might have some advice that could help you.” Roy said, now concerned for his friend. He took a good look at Johnny and saw he was looking tired and had lost weight. Chip had a lot to answer for, Roy thought.

“No, but I think talking to Dr Early might be a good idea since he gets migraines too. He might be able to help me identify some triggers and help me get through this ordeal. I think I will be fine after the trial is over.” Johnny said.

With the aspirins now in his hand and the bottle returned to Roy’s locker, the two friends left the room and headed to the dayroom.

Johnny took the aspirin and settled himself onto the couch. He was wishing the pounding in his head and chest would go away. He was absently rubbing his chest. His heart was racing as his thoughts of the trial resumed and took up his attention once again. Now he was feeling slightly queasy as the aspirin settled in his stomach.

Cap saw Johnny and was instantly concerned.

“Roy, my office, please.”

Once Roy was in Cap’s office, Cap got straight to the point.

“John doesn’t look good. I know that this trial with Chip is playing on his nerves and that’s not helping. Has he said anything to you about it?”

“Just now, actually. He’s gonna talk to one of the doctors over at Rampart. He’s aware he’s not doing well with this trial coming up.”

“Do you think a run to Rampart for ‘supplies’ might be in order?” Cap asked Roy.

“I’ll put it to him but even if he says no today, I think he will go on his own volition when the time is right for him.” said Roy.

Cap got up from his desk and he and Roy left to go back to the dayroom. Johnny was looking pale and the aspirin wasn’t working.

“You wanna go to Rampart, Johnny?” Roy said quietly into Johnny’s ear so only Johnny could hear.

“What….um, no. I’ll be fine. Just need some time. I might go rest for a little while.”

Johnny went and laid down on his bunk. His arm flung over his eyes and his other hand rubbing his chest.

Cap entered shortly afterwards, He sat on Roy’s bunk. Johnny could tell by the footsteps that it wasn’t Roy. He opened his eyes and saw Cap looking at him intently.

“Johnny, do I need to call a replacement in for you?” Cap gently asked.

“No, Cap. I’ll be fine. I’ve just got a headache is ‘all.”

“If it gets worse I want you to go to Rampart, and that’s an order pal.” Cap patted Johnny’s leg and told him to rest.

Five minutes later the tones went off and ended Johnny’s rest.

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The multiple tones sent four stations and squads out to a pile up on the 405.

Station 51 was the second engine to arrive. They saw car after car smashed into each other. Twisted metal that once were cars were sad relics of their former self. Gasoline was puddling on the asphalt and cries and screams rented the air. There were some bodies lying on the asphalt or the banks as they had travelled through their windshields.

There was black smoke curdling the air with its acridity making the eyes sting and water and laying a thick coat across the olfactory and taste buds. It was an ugly sight and traffic was piling up behind the scene; meanwhile the north bound traffic slowed down and was gawking at the carnage on the south bound lanes. The gawker’s just about causing accidents in their own lanes. Flashing lights heralded the arrival of the fire, police and ambulance. News helicopters hovered in the air getting film for tonight’s news. CHiPs officers were trying to keep the traffic moving on north bound lanes, while others were detouring traffic coming onto the south bound lanes.

Turnout gear donned and handy talkies in pockets, the paramedics set about triaging patients. Black tags attached to people too late to be saved. Their dead bodies covered with blankets. Other victims were from all walks of life and at every age of man. The ambulances were diverted to several hospitals based on the nature of the injuries.

Rampart was getting mainly neurosurgical patients and a fair smattering of orthopedic.

A woman driver in late pregnancy was diverted to St Francis Hospital, as they had an outstanding maternity and neonatal ICU service. Johnny was escorting the victim to St Francis. As he was relaying the vitals, the lady went into a seizure and an IM injection of diazepam was ordered immediately, settling the patient. 

The patient was delivered to St Francis two long minutes later. Once he had given a handover to the receiving Doctors he was back in the ambulance and on his way back to the scene. Johnny made one more visit to St Francis and two to Rampart before all the victims were seen to.

Roy was going to Harbor General with a spinal injury patient. The young teenage boy had no feeling from his neck down. His vitals were dangerously low and mast trousers were ordered. The ambulance attendant helped Roy put them on the patient. The teenager was handed over to the staff at Harbor General and then Roy was on his way back. He had another four trips to Rampart before he would meet up with his partner.

So it went for several hours. Ambulances and life flights taking the critical, the seriously injured and the not so seriously injured to the hospital. The walking wounded were the last to go. Some opted to see their family doctors and signed MICU forms. Others went to the hospital and sat for hours waiting to be seen. They didn’t need to be told why they had to wait. They had been there and seen it for themselves.

Gas and debris were washed down from the accident scene which extended for over 600 yards. Tow trucks were clearing away mangled wrecks and the employee’s from the Medical Examiner’s office were there taking the dead away. Police were gathering data about what had happened from the injured. It appeared a semi had overtaken a small family car and jack knifed blocking the lanes and with no escape route. The oncoming traffic had piled in to each other with unmitigated speed and disaster. The screeching of tires applied too late to avoid the inevitable.

For all the emergency services attending the scene it wasn’t their first time at a multiple MVA and, it sadly, wouldn’t be their last. As the carnage was cleared away and all the victims dealt with the services started winding down. Their jobs here done for another day. The order was given for some stations to leave. Station 51 was one of the last stations to go.

The Battalion Chief and Captain Stanley had digressed from talking about the car pile-up and were now talking about Chip McKendry’s trial. The LACoFD had been kept informed of what was happening and Chief McConnikee was also a witness and he’d received a subpoena that day at home to appear at the pre-trial hearing next week. Cap realized that all of Station 51 were probably going home tomorrow to see the same summons in their mailboxes.

“I’ll release ya boys and you can all go back to the station now. You all did fine work tonight Hank.” Chief McConnikee said as he raised his helmet as a salute to his former engineer.

“C’mon guys, we’ve been released from the scene. Let’s get back to the barn, cleaned up and maybe order a pizza for supper. Whatcha all reckon?” Cap asked his men as they were pulling the hoses back on Big Red.

“Sounds great to me, I’m starvin’” Johnny said as he wiped the sweat from his forehead.

“When are you never starvin’ Gage, I swear, I think you have worms in your belly.” Chet said as he leapt down from the back of Big Red. Her hoses secured and ready for another call out should they be unfortunate to get one before reaching the barn.

“Yeah, oh, yeah, well you’re just jealous because some of us don’t need to worry about putting on weight, Chester B. Kelly.” Johnny threw back with a smug grin on his face.

“Yeah, but some of us don’t need to worry about being kicked out of the service from being underweight either!” Chet retorted.

“Enough! Kelly, go take your seat in Big Red; Gage, my office when we are back at the station. And no, you haven’t done anything wrong, so relax, you’re not in trouble.” Cap then made his way to the front of the cab and climbed in. His men followed suit and soon the loud diesel motors started up and headed back to the station.

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

“Johnny, Chief McConnikee received a summons today. I think we may all find one waiting for us tomorrow when we get home. If you want to talk to me about it, my door whether it is here or my home, is always open for you. Not just for this but for anything now and in the future. That offer stands for all the men here Johnny. I don’t want you to think you are being singled out.” Cap quickly added on when he saw Johnny’s downtrodden look.

“You are an integral part of this team, Johnny. You may not realize it but you are the glue that holds these men together. When you hurt, they hurt. When you laugh, they laugh. Don’t feel you are going through this alone, we are all going through it with you. Is there anything I can do for you Johnny?” Cap asked.

“Um, no Sir. I’m OK, really I am. I have my moments when it gets to me but I think that’s only to be expected all things considered. Roy helps and even Chet, believe it or not.

Thank you, Cap, for your, ah… kind words just now. If I’m the glue, then I want you to know that you and the guys are what gives me my strength”

“Thank you, John. Now let’s get back out there and get cleaned up before the pizza arrives and they eat it all. God, I hope they remembered not to order anchovies on all of them.” Cap said feeling slightly dismayed at the thought.

“I think your dislike of fish is well known Cap.” Johnny said with a laugh in his voice.

Both men made their way to the latrine to clean up. The room was empty apart from steam billowing out from the shower and a bad rendition of Jerry Lee Lewis’s ‘Great Balls of Fire’ being sung by Mike. Both men looked at each other and smiled. They had never heard Mike sing before. He obviously thought he was alone in the latrine.

Later six men sat around the table, eating pizzas, with and without anchovies, and drinking sodas while talking about anything and everything. Within the hour all men were in bed, lights were out and turnouts sat by their bunks in case they got any call outs. Station 51 was settled for the night. Even Henry was sleeping.

 

Chapter Twenty Two

It was Susie’s birthday on Saturday and both Susie and Johnny had the day off.

Johnny had decided to throw his girlfriend a party. Susie had said she was happy just to spend the day doing nothing as long as she was with him. However, he wanted to do something more celebratory and fun. Susie would be turning 25 and it was their first birthday together. She then admitted she had never really had a big party to celebrate her birthdays as it had only been her and Uncle Dennis, or she was away at the university and studying. Deep down she was thrilled to be having a big birthday party.

She was looking forward to it like a little kid looks forward to Christmas.

Finally, it was decided to heat up the grill and have an outdoor celebration. The guys and their families from 51 were coming as well as Dixie, Kel, Joe and Greg House. Susie had gotten to know the doctors quite well when Johnny was in the hospital.  Dr Morton was working the night of the party and couldn’t attend. Susie had invited her work partners and some close friends as well as Uncle Dennis.

There was going to be about thirty to forty guests.

Marco was organizing a pig on a spit and Mama Lopez was bringing some salsas and dips condiments. It quickly turned into a potluck grill. From the sounds of it there would be food galore. Mama Lopez said she could get trestle tables from her Community Hall. Roy volunteered to load them on his pickup truck and take them to Johnny’s.

With plans quickly made and details seen to, Johnny was on the phone and talking to Mike’s cousin, Richard Stoker a manufacturing jeweler. He had an appointment to see him the next morning at the end of shift and to pick up Susie’s present. Johnny had commissioned Richard to make some bespoke pieces of jewelry and they were now finished. He couldn’t wait to see them. Everything was coming together nicely.

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Come Saturday morning, Roy De Soto was the first to arrive with the tables in the back of his pickup. Marco and two of his brothers arrived next who Johnny asked to stay and enjoy the day’s activities as there would be plenty of food and drink to go around. They volunteered to cook the pig thereby freeing Johnny up so that he could see to his guests and Susie.

Roy stayed and helped Johnny with getting the lights strung up over the porch and candles in jars sat around the tables or were nestled in trees in lantern like glass cylinders. A bucket of water was filled and left close to the grill in case a small fire broke out anywhere. Susie’s little portable record player from her student days was set up on the porch close to the designated dance floor where lights were strung from the porch to the tree, sheets of plywood rectangles were laid next to each other depicting the dance floor. A selection of records ready to play later that night, were stacked beside the player.

Preparations were just about complete. The five tables had been dressed and looked like a country fair. The plastic gingham print tablecloths adorned each trestle table.  There were two jars with candles placed on them to help keep the cloths on, not that there was any breeze to speak of. Chairs were festooned 8 to a table. Plastic plates and glasses sat ready to take food and drink. Cutlery was placed in jars at each table, along with paper napkins. Everything was purchased with a view for a quick and easy clean up.

Johnny’s fridge was full of sodas and beer. There was some wine there for the ladies and several bags of ice. His wheelbarrow was washed and put in the shade to dry. It wouldn’t be needed till later that evening.

Marco, Pedro and Frances were working the spit and the smoke from the hot coals was wafting in the air. They had the pig trussed up on the spit and were waiting for the embers to die down a bit before they set the pig over the coals and started the slow process of turning it. Two hours later the smell of roast pork was wafting through the air.

Everyone present was salivating and couldn’t wait to have some. Johnny gave the Lopez brothers several bottles of refreshment as it was hot and hard work and they couldn’t leave the pig as it would burn.

The afternoon quickly approached and one by one people started to arrive. Johnny’s front paddock was turned into a temporary parking lot. Marco and Roy were directing the guests with the parking. Jo and the children came about 3pm and Roy helped get the food out of the car. Joanne was impressed with all the hard work done by the guys. The preparation for the night time looked impressive. Jenny and Chris ran on ahead and were calling out for Uncle Johnny. When they spied him their voices became louder with excitement and they made a slight change in their initial flight path and ran to their Uncle for hugs and kisses.

Jenny was bubbling over with excitement. She and Chris had made Miss Susie a birthday card and brought her a small gift. Johnny had asked Jo to make two red velvet birthday cakes with cream cheese icing. It was Susie’s favorite. 25 candles were to be placed in one of the two cakes shaped as two hearts. It was put into the laundry room as it was the coolest place in the house. It was left in the large cardboard box for protection until later when it would be brought out with candles ablaze. It was to be a surprise for Susie.

The De Soto children had made marzipan figures of Johnny and Susie for the cake at Johnny’s request. Jo had helped slightly but the two wobbly figures bore a resemblance to a male and female with dark hair and big smiley faces. Johnny saw them and couldn’t be happier.

Susie and Uncle Dennis arrived at 3.20 pm and her work colleagues and friends arrived at 4pm. Susie had told them this time as she wanted to be there to greet them as they didn’t know anybody else there. Introductions were made and drinks were offered and food put into the kitchen and overloaded fridge.

By 5pm the last guests had arrived. They had finished work not that long ago and Marco was showing Dr Early where to park in the now very full front paddock. The Rampart staff got out and made their way around the back to meet everybody.

Laughter and chatter versed through the air. Music was playing and Chet was doing a great job as the DJ. Little groups stood around in clusters and children were running around playing tag or hide and seek. Some of Susie’s colleagues and friends had small children similar in age to Chris and Jenny. Everybody was enjoying themselves.

Johnny placed the wheelbarrow under a tree, tipped several bags of ice into it and then placed all the drinks from the fridge into it. The empty fridge then got loaded up with salads and other foods ready for eating later.

Susie and Johnny had shared many a look at each other but being host and guest of honor was keeping them apart at this stage. Later in the evening once the food was consumed and the dancing commenced they knew they would spend time together.

The aroma from the spit had appetites growing by the minute. Johnny had the grill ready to go and started cooking the meat and vegetable kebabs. Mama Lopez was overseeing the spit and her boys. When the pig was removed from the spit she organized the ladies to help set out the food from the kitchen to the table. Her sons were cutting up the meat and placing it on a large platter. The food cooked on the grill was placed on another platter and carried over to the table.

Johnny announced to the gathered audience that the parents with small children were to go first and to see to their children’s meal. Then the adults were to follow. The two tables were fairly groaning with food, both hot and cold, and little burgers ideal for children sat at one end for easy access to the kiddies table. This was a trick Mama Lopez shared with Johnny in one of her cooking classes. She had given Johnny lots of ideas as she had been to, and hosted a lot of Lopez family functions.

Soon food was loaded onto plates. People had settled into groups and sat eating and talking. Trips for seconds and in some cases thirds were made. Mothers saw to their children making sure they had enough to eat and drink. Dirty faces and hands were wiped clean with napkins. Johnny had nailed the trash bags to the barn with big signs saying used plates and trash here. Another sign was over cardboard boxes saying Bottles. The guests were only too happy to oblige.

When all the guests were finished with the main course, the food was cleared away and covered in plastic wrap and put into the fridge. Desserts were gathered and taken out and put on the now cleared food table.

The evening was getting slowly darker and the fairy lights were turned on apart from the one over the porch steps and newel posts. The candles were lit on the tables and trees.

The children’s table had battery operated lanterns as a fire precaution. With all the lights on, the backyard was well lit up and looked very romantic. Soft music was put on and left to repeat while guests went and got their dessert.

Susie had managed to sit next to Johnny and her Uncle at the table. She looked radiant in a fine silvery blue long dress and accompanying shawl. Her hair was pinned up with fine tendrils of curly raven wisps hanging down. Johnny’s birthday present sat around her slender neck. It was a necklace with a silver hummingbird in flight with a violet aquamarine for its eye. Johnny had chosen Susie’s birthstone and had gone for a very expensive deep blue to reflect her eyes. Her soft alabaster skin was warmed by the closeness of Johnny by her side. Her heart beat faster every time he touched or looked at her. It had been doing that ever since they had met 3 months ago. Johnny stole a kiss from her lips tasting the citrus cheesecake that Mrs Stanley had brought to the party.

 

 

Chapter Twenty Three

Everyone was asked to fill their glasses as a toast to the birthday girl was due. When everybody had their drinks replenished, silence was called for. As soon as the hush came over the crowd, Johnny got up and called for Susie to stand beside him on the steps of the porch. He nodded to Roy and when Susie was beside him the final set of fairy lights went on and the couple was bathed in soft red and white light from the strings of fairy lights wrapped around the porch and newels. A heart with red fairy lights dangled from the top of the roof over the porch steps. The couple stood just below it.

Everyone was looking at the couple on the steps of the porch, glass in hand. Roy went and stopped the music, he gave Johnny a wink and patted him on the back before going to join Jo and the children on the lawn below. Jo gave him his beer and he put his arm around her waist, kissed her on the cheek and held her close.

Johnny cleared his throat, took a sip of beer before he spoke. His nerves were making his hands shake and his knees weak. Johnny took a few deep breaths and regained his composure. He turned and spoke to the woman standing beside him.

“It is testament to the beautiful person that you are, that your friends and family are here to share in your special day. 25 years ago today your parents gave the world a very precious gift. I thank them for giving me you. I’m sure that if they were with us today they would be extremely proud of what you have achieved and of the friends you have made along the way as they reflect the person that you have become. I thank Dennis for raising you to be the bright and intelligent woman that makes my heart flutter. I thank you for being my other half, you give my heart wings and send it soaring to the heavens and back. You put the sunlight in my day and the starlight in my night. You are my breath, my life, my soul and my reason to be. I love you Susie Sommers, my little hummingbird.”

Johnny then got down on one knee, he took a little red box out from his pocket and opened it up. Nestled inside was a beautiful engagement ring with a diamond offset with violet aquamarines. Taking Susie’s hand in his he asked, “Will you do me the greatest honor of being my wife?”

The air was still with anticipation, some women were wiping their eyes at the pure love and romance emanating from the young man that had just pledged his love.

Susie, had put her hand up to her mouth, she was feeling very nervous and her knees were shaking. Her heart was pounding in her chest and she gave a little gasp.

“Yes, Johnny, with all my heart, YES! I would love to be your wife. You are my breath, my life, my soul and my reason to be. I love you John Gage.”

Johnny slipped the ring on her ring finger and kissed her hand before standing up.

Chet yelled out from the lawn below, “Give her a kiss.” Johnny now on his feet, took her in his arms and did just that to the future Mrs Susan Gage.

Wolf whistles, cheers and clapping accompanied the kiss. Until finally Chet once again yelled out, “Enough already, get a room.” The guests laughed and Johnny and Susie broke the kiss a little while later. They weren’t going to stop it for anybody’s sake.

Susie’s eyes had started to tear and she could barely speak. She had dreamt of this moment all her life and here it was. Her soulmate stood before her and unbeknownst to her, the diamond ring reflected off the early evening moonlight and fairy lights, making it sparkle. Johnny kissed the ring on her finger again and then kissed her open palm. Before once again joining lips and kissed her before their guests started coming up to congratulate them.

Cap and Emily, were one of the first to offer their congratulations to the happy couple. Johnny thanked Uncle Dennis again, when he came up to congratulate them. Johnny had gone to see Dennis last week and requested permission for his niece’s hand in marriage. When the congratulations were over, music was started and Johnny and Susie took to the ‘dance floor’. Chet resumed his role of DJ.

Joe Early asked Mama Lopez to dance; Dixie and Kel stepped onto the floor as did Roy and Jo. Soon the floor was awash with couples swaying to the crooning of Dean Martin and various other artists.

Chet was approached by Nellie, a receptionist at Susie’s work. She was slightly shorter than Chet and had brown straight hair down to her waist.

“Hi, I’m Nellie. I work with Susie. Would you care to dance?” Nellie enquired shyly.

“Sure Babe, let’s go. My name’s Chester but everyone calls me Chet.” He took her hand and together they made their way down the steps to the dance floor.

Mike Stoker and Marco approached friends of Susan’s and the couples joined into the swaying mass moving around the lawn.

Jo and Roy slipped off the dance floor and made their way into the house. They quickly came back out and placed the cakes on the food table.

Roy put the 25 candles in one cake and the figurines adorned the other cake. Roy went up to the porch and turned off the music. Johnny and Susie continued to sway to the music in their hearts. They were completely oblivious to what was going on around them.

“Will someone get the two lovebirds attention.” Roy asked.

Greg House stepped up to Johnny as he was the closest and tapped him on the shoulder.

“I think your attention is required up there.” House said.

A blushing Johnny and Susie stopped to find everyone looking at them. They smiled and quickly turned to face the direction that House had pointed to. Roy was on the porch and seeing the newly engaged couple now looking at him, he proceeded with his speech.

“We have been very honored tonight to be invited to share in not only the birthday of a beautiful and intelligent woman but in her proposal of marriage and, luckily for Johnny, her acceptance of that proposal.” Everybody laughed, including the happy couple. “May I ask you all to raise your glasses once again.”

Several minutes later, with glasses filled and raised in the air, Roy lead a chorus of Happy Birthday Susie followed by three hip, hip hoorays for the happy couple. With the toasts out of the way, Jo lit the candles and Roy directed Susie to the food table to make a wish and blow out her candles.

Susie started to cry and Johnny wiping the tears from her eyes kissed her gently on the lips and walked her to the table.

“Come on my love, your guests are waiting for their cake.” Johnny whispered in her ear, before kissing her earlobe and making her shiver with desire.

Susie laughed when she saw the two little figurines, obviously made by little hands.

Once Susie had thanked everyone for coming, a wish was made, the candles were blown out, and the cake was cut. Johnny retrieved the figurines and with a slice of cake each, he and Susie sat down under the twinkling fairy lights and feed each other.

Jenny rushed up to Uncle Johnny and Miss Susie asking if they liked the figurines. Johnny told her he had them and showed her the two figurines wrapped in a napkin. “These are going into my treasured memory box” Johnny told Jenny.

“I made you Miss Susie, I wanted to make you Uncle Johnny but Chris said he wasn’t gonna make a woman mercy pain doll. So Chris made you Uncle Johnny. Do you like your dolly Miss Susie?” Jenny asked.

“I think it is the loveliest marzipan dolly in the world and I’m so very lucky that you made it for me. You made my dolly look beautiful, thank you for doing such a wonderful job.”

The smile on Jenny face was reward enough. “Are you going to marry Uncle Johnny?” Jenny asked.

“Yes, I am. Why do you ask?”

“I’m pleased cos you’re real nice and now you get to be my Aunty too.” Jenny said before she saw Chris and went to boast about how her dolly was better than his as it was the most beautiful and loveliest one ever made.

Susie sat there for a while and was speechless. A silent tear running down her face. She wiped it away feeling foolish and overly emotional.

Johnny saw the tear and asked if she was alright.

“You have given me so much. You have made my world big, full, happy, fun, boisterous, crazy and full of love. I am overwhelmed and couldn’t ask for another thing. You do know that I honestly love you. Take all this away,” Susie spread her arm out around the backyard, “and just leave the bare bones of us and I will still be deeply and truly in love with you. Thank you for loving me. I don’t know what I did to be so lucky.” Susie then kissed Johnny.

“Well, the way I see it, it’s me who is the lucky one.” Johnny said returning the kiss.

The evening continued to be full of laughter and happiness. Johnny offered his guest room or the couch for the sleepy children while their parents enjoyed the party. Some parents took Johnny up on his offer and little bodies were settled on the couch or in the bed. Others took their kiddies home.

The music and dancing went on till close to midnight then one by one the guests started to leave. The couple were given kisses and birthday wishes mingled with congratulations again as people left. Johnny had quite a sore back from all the thumping on it he had received from his friends and his hand was slightly throbbing from all the handshaking he had done. Susie saw him rubbing his hand after her boss had left.

“He’s got a very strong handshake hasn’t he?” Susie laughed.

“I think he’s crushed every bone in my hand.” Johnny replied as he flicked his hand out shaking it.

Roy and Joanne were the last to leave. Each was carrying a sleeping child. Johnny and Susie walked them to her car and helped to buckle them in. Jo hadn’t really had a chance to talk to Susie much after the engagement had happened. Johnny had monopolized most of her time. It would seem Roy was in on the proposal but she had been surprised like everyone else.

“You and I need to talk, sister to be, about this wonderful night. Somehow I think the women were left out of the plans.” Jo said giving Johnny and Roy a piercing look. “I’ll phone you or you phone me and we will get together over coffee. Now that you’re gonna be family, I’ll spill all the dirt I have on your fiancé.” Jo told Susie.

“Hey, I don’t think I like that idea very much. What dirt?” Johnny demanded to know but his playful tone took any sting out of the words. He kept his arm around Susie’s waist pulling her in closer to him as if to protect her from gossip.

Jo just tapped her nose a few times and gave a wink to Susie. “Later,” she said to Susie as she gave her a goodnight kiss and hug. “Welcome to the family.”

Roy then thumped Johnny on the back again and made a comment about not feeling he could call Johnny, Junior anymore as he was all growed up and, hiccup, getting married to a wonderful, hiccup lady vet doctor. Hiccup, hiccup.

“How much has he had to drink?” Johnny asked.

“Enough that he won’t be driving.” Jo said as she took the keys out of his hand.

“But what about my car.” Roy  asked.

Johnny put his hand out and Jo placed the keys in his palm. “I’ll bring it over tomorrow, sometime in the morning or early afternoon. We’ll phone before we come over, Susie will follow and bring me back here.” Johnny looked at Susie for confirmation and she nodded her head.

“Did I ever tell you that, hiccup, you’re a great friend. You’re just like my brother. I don’t have a, hiccup, brother. BUT, if I ever had a brother that is, I’d wanted him to be like you and that‘s the way it is. Hiccup” Roy said. His words were just verging on being slurred.

“Come on pal, let’s get you into the car before you fall down. Do you think you’ll be able to manage Walter Cronkite here at the other end, if you can’t we have the beds, you can all stay here the night.” Johnny told Jo.

“I will manage just fine. He’s not that far gone, besides something tells me you two lovebirds will be wanting your privacy tonight.”

Johnny and Susie had the decency to blush and Jo could feel the heat coming off their faces.

Johnny helped Roy into the car, and the pair waved at the De Soto’s car as it turned up the driveway making its way home under the careful driving of Jo.

The candles were blown out one by one as the couple went around and tidied up. Paper and plastic plates, scrunched up napkins and bottles were put into their respective trash receptacles. When it was looking tidier, Johnny went over to the record player and found what he was looking for. He put it on repeat.

The soft strains and gentle harmony of ‘The First Time Ever I saw Your Face’ by Roberta Flack drifted down to Susie and Johnny approached with his hand extended, “I do believe they are playing our song. Will you do me the honor of having this dance with me?”

Susie put her hand in Johnny’s, “Always.”

The pair just stood together swaying in time to the music. No words were shared or thoughts expressed. It was just Johnny and Susie, the twinkling of fairy lights and the sounds of the night competing with the beating of their hearts and the melding of their souls.

 

Chapter Twenty Four

Johnny drove into the station on Monday. They had a 48-hour shift. He was running late after being delayed by Susie when his alarm went off. She promised to see to the animals as Johnny would’ve been even later.

Johnny entered through the kitchen and was greeted by the off going C shift. The men got up and surrounded Johnny. They had been waiting for his arrival. More back slaps and handshakes were given to Johnny along with congratulations.

Pete and Charlie, C shifts paramedics, joked that now that Johnny was off the market, they had a better chance of getting dates from the nurses at Rampart. Pete then thought about how that sounded and wasn’t sure if he had phrased it right. Eventually the men left to go home and Cap tapped his watch and Johnny, head bowed raced to his locker to get changed.

“CHET!!!” echoed through the apparatus bay and Cap looked at Chet, along with Roy, Marco and Mike.

Chet just smiled and said “I don’t know why ya acting so surprised. I’m amazed nobody else did anything.”

Johnny didn’t have time to tidy himself up much as roll call was waiting for him. He quickly shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair. It didn’t really help that much.

Johnny entered the bay leaving a trail of confetti, rice and sparkling glitter behind him. There were even stars and crescent moons in amongst it all. Several looks were thrown Johnny’s way and then loud laughter reverberated around the apparatus bay. Johnny tried to give Chet the evil eye but, the myriad of multi-colored glitters and confetti sticking to his shirt and skin, not to mention his hair, failed the look he was trying to give Chet.

“Twits, I’m in charge of twits.” Cap gasped between laughs.

Congratulations were given out again with more back slapping after the men had got their breath back. More glitter and confetti fell to the floor after every celebratory slap.

After roll call and the assignment of duties, Johnny had latrines, all the men went into the kitchen for coffee. Chet and Mike went to their lockers and came back and put photos down on the table.

“Here you go Gage, you can start your wedding photo album off with these.” Chet said as he pulled a wad of photo’s out of their packet.

Mike added his to Chet’s. “I got duplicates” was all he said.

“Thanks guys.” Johnny started going through them but was dropping glitter and confetti over everything.

“Gage, go outside and shake yourself free of all that stuff.” Cap ordered.

The men watched as Johnny went into the parking lot out back and started jitterbugging around. His hands were messing up his hair trying to get all the confetti and glitter out, and then he was brushing down his clothes. Thinking that he had gotten most of it off he went to go back in. He saw four men staring out the kitchen window laughing at his impromptu dancing. Chet was standing out by the back door, he held his camera up and gave Johnny a thumbs up sign. Johnny was feeling too happy about everything to even raise a retort. “I’ll have a copy too, if that’s ok.”

Over coffee and a glass of milk for Johnny, the men poured over the photos from the party. There were quite a few of Johnny on his knee proposing to Susie. Johnny realized he had been so lost in the moment he hadn’t even noticed the flashing of cameras. The photos were rather good and Johnny asked Mike if he could get a particular photo enlarged from the negative, and he would pay him for it. It was of Johnny holding Susie’s hand while he was on bended knee and they were looking deeply into each other’s eyes. The look of love between the two was there for all to see; even ‘Mr Magoo’ would be hard pressed not to see it.

Johnny stowed the photos in Roy’s locker. It was a double shift and even he knew that the phantom had only just started with the pranks. He didn’t want anything to happen to the photos. Roy volunteered to keep them safe.

The first day of their double was a long and hard one. The squad had been called out to thirteen runs in the daytime and didn’t get back to the barn until after nine that night. They had hardly been in the station all day. They sat down and ate warmed up Irish stew. Johnny was starting to get a headache again. As he was leaving to get some aspirin, Roy asked where he was going.

“Can you bring me some too, I think with all the runs today and lack of fluid and food it’s only inevitable we got a headache.” Roy said as he rubbed his temples.

Johnny left the table and retrieved the aspirin out from his locker and both he and Roy downed them with a large glass of water.

Johnny was feeling quite fatigued. Slight nausea was just starting to set in and he had the beginnings of a stomach ache. His hands had a fine tremor to them and his heart was doing the rumba in his chest. He was feeling slightly nervous. This was the first quiet moment they had had since starting work this morning and his thoughts, as usual, had drifted to the pre-trial hearing set for two days’ time. His subconscious was letting him know that it hadn’t forgotten.

Roy saw Johnny rubbing his chest and holding his head. Johnny pushed the food away when he sat back down. “Are you sure you’re okay?” Roy asked quietly. “Is it a headache or a migraine?”

“I think it’s just a headache coupled with starvation and dehydration. I feel slightly sick. Too long without food, ya know what I mean.” Johnny said as he held his throbbing head. “I think I’ll get Dr Early to look at it tomorrow. I thought cutting back on coffee would help but it hasn’t so far.”

Roy, concerned for his partner’s health, and not for the first time, made Johnny swear he was going to see Dr Early tomorrow regardless of how he felt. He would also get something for these bouts of nausea too, his stomach was so unsettled and the mountain of aspirin’s he’d been taking wasn’t helping it, more than likely they were adding to it.

Not feeling any better, Johnny washed his dishes after scraping his barely eaten meal into the bin. He then went and got ready for bed. He needed an early night with no distractions, he thought. He hoped the tones wouldn’t go off.

At 3.30am the tones called the engine out to a dumpster fire. Johnny tossed and turned for a bit and then finally fell back to sleep. Roy had been awake and watched his friend resettle. He knew something wasn’t right with Johnny, he just couldn’t put his finger on it.

The squad was called out to a woman in labor at 6.20am. They made it back to the barn at 1050 after another three runs. Johnny had been given the dorms and Roy the apparatus bay and sweeping the parking lot.

The men got stuck straight into their tasks when Roy remembered Johnny’s promise to see Dr Early. He knocked on Cap’s door and entered. He told Cap about Johnny’s promise and that at their next run they would seek him out so they may be a little later back than usual. Cap having concerns himself for Johnny’s health agreed wholeheartedly.

“Make sure they find out what’s wrong with him, Roy, before you come back. Failing that he needs something stronger for all these headaches but not too strong to render him incapable and unsafe to work.” Cap said. “I think the trial might be the overall culprit and we have a long way to go on that. Tomorrow’s only the start, unfortunately.”

The next run saw them take a broken ankle attached to a teenage girl wanting to improve her athletic prowess, into Rampart. She had been trying to high jump her height, as well as missing the bar she missed the pads and landed badly, her high jumping days on hold for the foreseeable future.

Roy was looking for Dr Early but he was tied up in surgery but should be free soon. The guys decided to have lunch while they waited, hoping that Dr Early would be finished before they left. On the way to the cafeteria Johnny got congratulated several times by nurses, orderlies and Doctors alike.

“News sure does travel fast around here, I thought the fire station was bad enough. But it seems the hospital gossip mill spreads faster than a wild fire in the Santa Ana winds.” Johnny jokingly laughed to Roy.

They got their food and the two paramedics made their way to the outside courtyard from the hospital cafeteria. They saw Drs. Mike Morton and House sitting at a table having lunch together. Mike saw them and waved them over.

“Oh great, Morton.” Johnny groaned.

“Don’t worry you’re not a patient this time, so you don’t need to worry about his bedside manner.” Roy replied trying to jolly his partner up as they weaved their way through the tables over to join the young doctors.

“Yeah, well his tableside manner ain’t that great either!” Johnny said as an aside to Roy, through clenched teeth while trying to maintain his smile. The paramedics pulled up two chairs from surrounding tables and sat down with the Doctors. 

“Congratulations John. I heard you got engaged over the weekend in front of forty guests. You don’t do anything on the quiet side.” Morton said. “You didn’t waste much time either. I didn’t know you were seeing anyone seriously! How long you been going out?”

“If you saw the beauty he proposed too, you wouldn’t waste any time either.” House said.

“We have been going steady for 3 months and no, I don’t do anything on the quiet side. My fiancée said afterwards we could have done it the first day we met as that’s how right it felt. I’m one very, very lucky man.”

“Then I’m nothing but pleased for you Johnny. I wish you and your fiancée only the very best. I’m sorry I couldn’t have been there to share in your special moment.” Morton put his hand out and Johnny shook it. Morton also gave the customary two back slaps.

Yep it’s definitely bruised, Johnny thought as he felt the slight sting from where a hundred and two back slaps hand landed in the last 2 days. He was taken aback at the sincerity in Morton’s gestures and words. Maybe he had the guy pegged wrong after all. He made a mental note to invite him to his wedding.

“So what does your fiancée do John?” Mike asked.

“She’s a large animal veterinarian.”

“You did well for yourself there, Gage.” Mike stated between a bite of his sandwich.

“Yes, I did, but not because of what she does but because of who she is.  I’m very fortunate that she loves me because I love her. But even if we were both paupers with not a cent between us or clothes on out back and nowhere to live, we would still be together and getting married. I would have thought that you of all people, would‘ve known better about the many forms that prejudice can take Doctor Morton.” Johnny said with an icy edge to his voice.

“You’re right. I’m sorry, John. I seem to be putting my foot in it a lot today. Please accept my apology. I didn’t mean to infer you were social climbing or marrying someone above your station. I’m truly sorry.”

“Apology accepted.” Johnny said with more warmth in his voice now that his point had been made.

The men then talked about other topics and ate their lunch in a pleasant camaraderie.

They all went back to the ER together. Johnny was hoping that Dr Early was out from surgery.

Dixie saw the four men enter and make their way down to her desk.

“Before you ask, Joe’s in room 1, waiting for you Johnny. He’s having a coffee while he waited and no, he hasn’t been waiting long. Mike and Greg you have patients in rooms 3 and 5 respectively.” Dixie then handed the Drs their charts and all four men left to go to their ordered rooms.

“And just where do you think you are going Roy De Soto? Have you not heard about patient confidentiality? You come back here with me and tell me all that you know about these wedding plans.” She gave Johnny a wink as he left to see Joe.

 

Chapter Twenty Five

Joe was sitting on a stool, using the gurney as a table. He was resting an elbow on it and his other hand held the coffee.

“Ah, Johnny, I take it you haven’t been feeling that great lately?” Joe said as he got up from the stool and deposited his coffee on the bench.

“I don’t know what it is Doc, but now I’m getting concerned.”

For Johnny to admit that, a man who was on first name basis with denial, Joe was instantly alerted.

“Why don’t you sit here,” Joe said patting the table, “and tell me what’s got you concerned?”

“Jeeze, it may be nothing but I’m getting headaches all the time. Some of ‘em are really bad, and nothing touches them. Some even wake me up at night. I’m getting ‘em just about every day, sometimes twice a day or if I’m really lucky every second day. I’ve cut back on my caffeine intake but it hasn’t helped. I’ve also been getting nausea with them. I dunno if it’s from all the aspirin I’m taking or just part of the migraine. I know I’m stressed about the hearing and the possibility of a trial and I think that’s causing all this. I need something for the pain Doc and ways to avoid them, trigger signs and reduction, ya know.” Johnny looked at Joe, his brown eyes reflecting the misery that he had been through lately.

Joe then examined Johnny, with vitals and an eye test done to rule out eye strain, Joe set about asking Johnny a series of questions.

 “Well, Johnny from what you describe it could be a condition called Cluster Headaches, but you don’t have all the symptoms of them either. I can give you a drug called verapamil which may help with the headaches but it would then necessitate the LA Fire Department reviewing your suitability to be a paramedic and firefighter. I’ll be honest with you; you could lose your job.”   

Johnny audibly gulped on hearing that. “Then in that case I don’t want it. Firefighting’s my life and being a paramedic is the icing on the cake, Doc. All I want is knowledge of trigger alerts and better pain relief for my headaches. But the pills can’t interfere with my work. I need to keep working as I’ve a wedding to pay for now.” Johnny smiled at the thought of Susie and how one day she would be his wife.

“I don’t want to pry but isn’t it customary for the bride’s family to pay?”

“Susie only has her Uncle Dennis and she’s quite a liberated and fiercely independent woman. No, we both see it as our responsibility to pay for the wedding.” Johnny ended looking happy and moonstruck in love.

“That’s an honorable stance to take John, it’s very rarely seen in people today. Now, as for your headaches I’ll give you a prescription for Tylenol 3 and plain codeine for when they get really bad. If that doesn’t work then I’ll book you in for some tests on an outpatient basis and we’ll see if we can’t get to the bottom of this.”

Early wrote him out a prescription and Johnny tucked it into his shirt pocket. He knew he had better go put his partner out of his misery. No doubt by now, Roy would have bitten most of his fingernails to the quick.

“Thanks Doc. I better go get Roy and tell him the outcome. He’ll no doubt be pacing the floor like an expectant father.” Johnny said and both men laughed as they made their way to the door.

Dr Early went to go and get a fresh cup of coffee as his had gone cold and had a fine layer of scabby milk on the top; he looked at it with distaste.

Johnny found Roy leaning on the nurse’s station desk talking to Dixie. Roy saw the men leave the treatment room and stood up and gave his partner a critical once over. No band aid was over his inner elbow so no blood was taken. Johnny was smiling and laughing over something so it couldn’t have been that bad.

“Will he live, Doc?” Roy asked as Joe Early shuffled in behind the desk to get a hot refill.

“I can’t see why not. Besides, I’ve a vested interest, I want an invitation to John and Susie’s wedding. Ya know I never thought I’d ever say the words wedding and John Gage in the same sentence. It stills feels alien on my tongue.” Joe said.

“Have you set the date yet?” Dixie asked.

“No. We are thinking sometime next year. There’s a lot to organize and I want it to be everything she’s ever dreamed of since she was a little girl. We will be working out the plans for some time I think. We briefly sat down to do the guest list and realized it’s going to be an intimate wedding as we are both in the same boat. I’ve only an Aunt who won’t be able to attend, and Susie’s only got Uncle Dennis. The wedding will be more friends than family.”

“I wish Jo and I had that problem when we got married. It was more family than friends. Neither of us knew who half the guests were. If we were getting married again, it would definitely be more friends than family.” Roy said.

“You could renew your vows on your wedding anniversary. Just have a backyard wedding, invite your friends over and have the priest do his thing then open the grill and viola the wedding of more friends than family accomplished.” Johnny said in a joking manner.

Roy looked at Johnny. “Johnny that’s brilliant, just one problem, we’ve just celebrated our wedding anniversary, in case you’ve forgotten.”

“There’s always next year. Why don’t you talk to Jo about it when we are off shift and see what she thinks? I’m just going to take this prescription to the hospital pharmacy. I won’t be long but I’ll take the handy talkie just in case we get a call.”

Arriving back at the station with pills in his pocket and a raving hunger, Johnny jumped out of the squad and darted into the kitchen.

“I’m starvin, what we got to eat?”

“There’s cold cuts and salad in the fridge.” Marco said from the day room as he was watching something on TV.

Cap got up and approached Johnny. “Did it all go well, John?”

“Yeah, got my pain pills right here.” Johnny said tapping his pocket with the hand holding the mayo while the other held the meat with a salad bowl tucked into the crook of his arm. Johnny then closed the fridge with his hip and made his way over to the bench and relieved himself of all the fixings and then got the bread and a ripe red tomato from the fruit bowl. “Cheese, I need Cheese.” Johnny said more to himself than to anyone else.

“You need de-worming,” Chet yelled from the couch, waking up Henry who was drooling all over the corner of the couch and down the side.

“Har har, very funny.” Johnny then set about making a very seriously filled sub sandwich. Roy shook his head when Johnny offered him half. Twenty minutes later Johnny was finishing his second lunch and downing the last of a couple of glasses of milk. He wiped off the milk moustache, burped loudly, apologized and then complained he had eaten too much. His stomach was slightly distended and he undid his belt a couple of notches which helped marginally.

“I don’t think I can move, and if we get a call I don’t think I could run as I’d get a stitch after two steps. Oh, why did I eat so much, Roy? You should’ve stopped me.”

“Don’t blame me Junior. You’re the one with eyes bigger than your stomach.”

Johnny stayed sitting at the table with his long legs splayed out and his hands resting on his little paunch. His head started drooping down and resting on his chin in short order. Little snores could be heard now and then.

“Leave him alone Chet. You wake him and you will have me to answer to.” Mike said from across the room. Chet resettled himself on the couch and turned his attention back to the TV, he watched Phil Donahue introduce his latest guest onto the floor.

“I’m amazed that they can keep coming up with topics to base their shows on.

Eventually they will run out of ideas.” Chet put out into the ether. None of the four other awake firemen commented. The female guest was quite striking and deserved a lot more TV time they were all thinking quietly.

The tones sounded and Johnny woke with a start. He jumped up and made his way into the squad, the rest of the guys followed and got into their seats. Within two minutes the men were on their way to a structure fire.

 

Chapter Twenty Six

The day of the pre-trial hearing was upon them. 51 all arrived at various times in their dress blues. They were huddling outside the door to Courtroom 3. Chief McConnikee was present, as was Paddy Whitehouse, the press officer. Mama Lopez stood with the men from 51. Talking was kept to low murmurs. An almost reverent stillness was in the air and the feeling of being arrested for disturbing the peace was pervasive after entering the wide open marbled atrium.

Eventually their case was called and the men entered the courtroom and sat down. They were all asked to stand and the Judge entered.

The door to their right opened and all the heads swivelled to see who was entering.

Johnny felt sick and could’ve sworn he was as white as a ghost. His hand went subconsciously up to his very dry throat and he swallowed a few times to try to put moisture in it.

Johnny’s hand started to tremble and his knees were shaking. For Heaven’s sake, calm down. It’s only a hearing, you probably won’t even have to get up there and talk. Take deep breaths….. Settle down, I need to settle down. I can do this. You’ve done and gone through worse things before. It’s only a trial… yeah right, a trial of attempted murder.. of ME! Johnny’s thoughts were buzzing in his head.

After recovering from his initial shock he sat up straighter in the seat and looked directly at the Judge who was looking directly back at him.

Chip looked brazenly out to everyone, he espied Johnny in the row of blue and his eyes narrowed. He gave Johnny a sneer and screwed his mouth up as if he had eaten something rotten and bitter. Marco and his mother were sitting at the end of the row and Chip gave them the same look that he had given Johnny only a moment before. Det. Crockett sat two rows in front and was used to looks of hatred coming from the accused when he had been the arresting officer. However, the look of disgust on Chip’s face was more to do with Crockett being black than being the one putting handcuffs on him.

The Judge looked over at Chip and saw the look of pure venom and hatred on the young blond man’s features. It made him look rather repugnant the Judge thought.

One by one, the witnesses took the stand as they were called to testify. Their statements were read and the Judge asked a few questions. Dr Cooper had testified to the severity of the injury to the victim. Drs Early and House testified to the full cardiac and respiratory arrest and Roy and Cap attested to the state of emergency as it unfolded in the apparatus bay that fateful night just under three months ago. Johnny was called and his answers were mainly yes and no’s. As he went to sit back down, Chip spat at Johnny, his spittle hit Johnny in the face. A collective gasp was heard, Johnny, taken aback as he wasn’t expecting that stood and retrieved a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face. To his amazement he looked Chip in the eye and didn’t flinch as he wiped the saliva away.

The Judge banged his gavel calling for order and instructed counsel to control their client and that if he did it again he would be found guilty for contempt of court and with another outburst like that and he would be muzzled for the remainder of the proceedings.

Johnny, although looking undeterred on the outside, felt nauseous with the utter hatred that this man had for him and those of non-white extraction.

Roy gave his friend a look of support and patted Johnny’s knee when he was seated again. He leaned over and asked if he was alright, Johnny nodded his head and the judge called a recess for lunch when Johnny was seated. Court was to resume in an hour time. Judge Mendoza then left his courtroom and everyone filed out and congregated in a huddled group outside the steps of the courthouse.

“Tell Johnny that we had to leave as we have work this afternoon and we are not sure how long this hearing will take. It looks pretty open and shut. I don’t think Johnny needs to worry about it so much.” Dr Early said. House agreed and the two men left to go to Rampart.

Johnny was the last to arrive as he had taken a detour to the washroom and cleaned his face. He then felt bile rise into his stomach and without warning Johnny threw up into the sink. Luckily he was the only occupant. It was just a small amount of coffee and bile stained fluid. He still felt queasy and a bit shaky when he returned to his colleagues outside.

The men went to the nearest diner. With orders placed and coffee with limitless refills seen to, the men somberly talked about what had transpired so far. They were all convinced that it would go to trial. This hearing was just a formality. Chip had cast his own die today and in front of a Hispanic Judge no less.

Crockett sauntered over and joined 51 and Chief McConnikee. He gave a nod to Delores, the owner waitress, and she brought him over his coffee and confirmed his order for his usual.

“I spend a lot of time in the courthouse. Delores knows me well, heck my wife thinks she’s my mistress.” Crockett said before taking a mouthful of coffee.

Delores looked over her shoulder, coffee pot in hand and replied with “I tire my lovers out too quick. You’re just a wee whippersnapper of a man. You wouldn’t last a day, let alone a night!” Her quick repartee made the men around the table laugh.

Delores was well into her 60’s and was of a rubenesque physique and her greying dreadlocks were held off her face with a green, yellow and black bandanna. Her sweet Jamaican accent highlighted her words and added a lilting note to her laughter.

With food quickly eaten and coffees drank, the men walked over to the court house.

Detective Crockett was called to the witness box and he gave his account of the arrest and subsequent attempted murder of himself as the accused used his own gun against him.

Finally, Chip McKendry was called to take the stand.

There was a flurry of activity from the back of the courtroom and heads turned to see what all the commotion was about. A group of young men with crew cut hairstyles similar to Chip’s and wearing badges and arm bands with swastikas stood at the back of the room. They were making no attempt to sit down. Their arms linked in a show of support to their brother in arms. Chip smiled at his comrades and the head man, who looked like Chip but older, returned the smile.

“We are here for you, brother.” An older version of Chip yelled from the back.

The judge banged his gavel loudly and ordered the young men to leave his courtroom, failure to do so would result in contempt of court and they would find themselves sitting in the cells until he saw fit to release them or they apologized; whichever came first.

The group of neo-Nazi’s stood united and refused to move or apologize. Bailiffs were summoned and the eight men were led away to the cells below for contempt of court.

Paddy Whitehouse felt a major headache coming on. So far, only one reporter from the Los Angeles Daily News crime desk sat in the room. He had watched him scribble something down when Chip had spat at Johnny. Now he was writing furiously. The media nightmare had begun.

The revelation that Chip was a neo-Nazi stunned everybody from the fire service.

Chief McConnikee wondered fleetingly if they could ask questions on their application forms regarding applicants having any links to subversive organizations. Probably not, he decided on a sigh. This trial had just got a whole lot messier. He looked over to Paddy and saw his thoughts replicated by the body language and look Paddy returned to him.

Once order had been restored, the Judge called the accused to the stand.

It quickly became apparent that Chip harbored some very disturbing thoughts, and even more disconcerting was the fact that Chip thought everybody thought like him and couldn’t grasp that his thinking was way off base. He had no remorse for what he’d done, in fact, he seemed angry that he had failed.

“I should have stuck to my original plan,” Chip stated while looking directly at Johnny.

“You deserved to have acid scar your face and body, make you look as ugly on the outside as you are on the inside!”

The mention of acid drew several gasps and murmurs from the courtroom. The Judge had to call for quiet. It was a while before order resumed.

Chip’s answers showed he was an extremely emotionally unstable young man. He had had several outbursts and the judge had used his gavel more in one day than he had in the last week.

The judge gave his findings, having found there was sufficient evidence, a date was set for the trial of the People vs Chip McKendry for the attempted murders of John Gage and Det. Ronald Crockett. Judge Mendoza then went on to add other charges pertaining to his resisting arrest and discharge of a firearm in an enclosed space and illegal possession of a firearm, which collectively could add considerable years onto his sentence, if found guilty.

Chip McKendry was ordered to undergo a full psychiatric assessment. There was the possibility that Chip might be found criminally insane and unfit for trial. If that was the case, Chip would spend his natural life behind bars of a different institution; Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino.

Chip was denied bail and remanded to the local jail. Judge Mendoza then made a surprise announcement. The future trial was to be a closed court. No media or public were to attend. Judge Mendoza acknowledged the undercurrent of racism and the neo-Nazi movement that constituted a large portion of the upcoming trial and he didn’t want it to gain any publicity through his court room. He then directed his last statement to the journalist sitting in the back row. He was ordered to not report anything from today’s pre-trial hearing and if he did so he would be found in contempt of court and would spend a long time in the cells.

Chief McConnikee, Paddy Whitehouse and several witnesses breathed a huge sigh of relief. Paddy felt like doing an Irish jig there and then but refrained. More than likely he would be found in contempt of court for such action. A smile erupted on his face and his headache was working its way back to where it had come from.

After being dismissed, and watching Chip being lead back down to the cells with handcuffs on as he was deemed a high risk and violent offender, the men went back to Delores’ Diner. They ordered coffee and pie in a much more joyous mood than they had been at lunch time.

It had been a long day and emotionally tiring for them all. The brief respite and sojourn into happiness, however brief, was welcomed by one and all.

 

Chapter Twenty Seven

It would seem that the closed court had everybody feeling relieved. The reason why hadn’t been overlooked but for now not being on public display and vulnerable to media, had lifted the spirits of all involved. Susie and Dennis, like everybody else, were elated at the closed court, but dismayed at the neo-Nazi undertones.

Given the distasteful nature the case was taking and the strain it was taking on Johnny, Susie couldn’t wait for the case to be over. For the hundredth time she wished she was allowed five minutes with Chip. Given her way there wouldn’t be a case at all, just a funeral for some small minded, bigoted, neo-Nazi, redneck that had smashed into their lives, leaving behind a trail of poison everywhere he had been.

Susie had to console herself that in three months the court room chairs would once again be filled with her fiancé and all of 51. On a bright note, it would be the beginning of the end of this unpleasant affair.

Johnny called Susie in from her ruminations on the swing seat outside and sat down to a chicken dish that Mama Lopez had taught Johnny last week. Johnny had been trying out his cooking on Susie and then when he felt comfortable at upsizing the meals he would take his new found talents to 51 next time he had KP duty.

Susie and Johnny sat around the dinner table after supper and the conversation drifted to their upcoming wedding. With the calendar laid out on the table between coffee cups, a date was finally chosen. Next was where to have the wedding and reception. Several places were discussed and a list was written down on a pad. They would go check them out on their days off.

With choices made for the main bridal party, a list of wedding guests were drawn up. It was decided to keep the party small and intimate. With the list completed they expected 72 guests to their wedding. The list would be reviewed, no doubt, as time went by.

The evening progressed and several other aspects were discussed and ideas written down. Feeling happy with the plans and decisions they had made so far, the pair went for a stroll to the corral and settled the horses for the night.

The couple sat on the porch swing, breathing in the sweet air warmed by the evening heat. Now and then a gentle wisp of wind would gust across the fields and wrap itself around the couple, bathing them in warm kisses from the hills. Susie had her legs curled under her and Johnny was cuddled up to her with his arm around her shoulders. The couple just bathed in their love for each other and every now and then the moonlight would show the couple sharing gentle kisses and whispering terms of endearment to each other.

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

Another month had passed and everything was returning back to normal.  Thoughts of Chip and the trial were forgotten to some extent, more for some than others. Johnny thought of him quite a bit. He had tried to put him into the back of his mind and keep him there as he had other more pleasant things to do. Johnny started focusing more on his upcoming nuptials even though they were still a far way off.

“Good morning, good morning, good morning.” Johnny gave out his customary hellos to his fellow colleagues as he made his way into the locker room. Mike was retrieving something out of his locker and returned the gesture. Marco and Chet were deep in a conversation about their double date on Friday night. Chet wanted to go to a dinner then a disco, and Marco wanted to go to a Salsa Club.

“Mornin’ Gage,” came from Chet before he resumed his argument for why TGIF’s was a better venue than La Bamba Nightclub.

Johnny nodded his head over to Marco and Chet and asked Roy if they had been going at it for long.

“Dunno, I just got here myself and they were in the thick of it when I got here. I think Marco might have the winning argument. What are you doing this Friday?” Roy asked Johnny.

“I’m pleased you asked. How would you and Jo like to go on a double date with Susie and I. We could do dinner and a dance or go bowling or to the movies. We‘re easy, so talk to Jo and see if it’s a go and if so, where to?” Johnny told Roy when he saw Roy smile and nod his head in agreement to the double date suggestion.

“Jo was saying just the other day that we should all go out together. We can get Amy to babysit and I’ll let you know what Jo wants to do.” Roy then stood up and attached his paramedic pin and badge to his shirt.

He stood by the locker watching Johnny get changed. He was slightly taken aback at the thinness of Johnny’s chest. His ribs appeared more noticeable.

“I thought it was the bride that went on a diet and lost weight before the wedding. It looks like you’ve lost weight, what’s ya secret?” Roy asked in a teasing way but secretly he was quite shocked at the weight loss.

“I dunno, guess I haven’t been eating as much with all this stress with Chip.” Johnny said as he shrugged his shoulders, making his collarbones stick out more.

Chet, overhearing Johnny’s comment looked at Gage and saw what Roy saw. “I don’t believe that for a minute, Gage, you’re always eating. It‘s like I said you’ve got worms.”

An idea popped into Chet’s head. He closed his locker and made his way into the dayroom. He picked up the phone and dialed a very familiar number. Afterwards he went and made a cup of coffee before anyone else came into the room.

Johnny got KP duty. His smile split his face in two. “Your guy’s stomachs are in for a treat.”

“Yeah, I can see it now, Gage. All of us running to the toilet puking our hearts out. I call dibs to be in front of the queue to talk to God through the big white telephone.” Chet quipped.

“Ye of little faith. You’ll see. You won’t be disappointed.”

Chet had stopped going to Mama Lopez’s classes after one cooking class. He wasn’t aware that Gage was still going.

Cap was prepared for the hamburgers or hotdogs, heck he even felt like them. Now he was having second thoughts. John wasn’t doing his usual. He had stepped out of the box a time or two before and it was with dubious results. Some attempts were good others less so and once he had ended up giving everybody an upset stomach. He did a mental check and a brief smile came and went as he remembered the Pepto Bismol in his desk drawer.

Mike and Roy got hoses. Chet got latrines, although not the last in, that honor went to Johnny, Chet was working out his punishment for getting Cap with a water bomb last shift. He had mistimed it and Gage had walked in after the event and quickly left as he couldn’t stop laughing but didn’t want in on the punishment for laughing at his very wet superior.

Johnny did the checks and made a list of the medical supplies they needed. He could pick up the foodstuffs for lunch and supper after their trip to Rampart to get supplies. He was going out to see how far into the two hundred feet of hose were hung when the tones went off calling the Station out to a gas leak.

The men scrambled to the respective seats and along with Station 41 made their way to 8770 Prebbleton Way. Cross street Collingwood West.

51 and 41 arrived within minutes of each other. They disembarked from their engines and donned their turnouts and SCBA gear. 41 unloaded their large extractor fan and Captain Stanley ordered his men to find the leak which was pervading from the house and left its identifiable stench in the air. Johnny and Roy were to look for victims.

The doors were locked and avoiding sparks, the pry bar was not used. A window was broken around the back and Roy clasped his hands together as a foothold for Johnny. A minute later he was in the house and making his way to the front door where he opened it and his partner walked in.

They did a systematic search of the house and found it empty, apart from a little tabby with a pink flea collar and bell. She had not survived the gas.

Johnny carried the little victim out and placed her on the lawn not far from the house. They administered some oxygen in case it could be saved but it was too late.

Marco found the pipe under the house, it had been sawed and little tooth marks from the blade were visible with a flashlight. 41 had the extractor fan set up and were removing the contaminated air from the house.

Several onlookers, mainly housewives and small children had gathered across the road. A couple of teenage boys, playing truant on a school day were also watching the excitement. They saw Marco go under the house and come out a while later and approach the guy wearing the white striped helmet. Next they saw the guy with the helmet go over to the engine and talk into the microphone.

The two boys watched and saw the police arrive and the LACoFD arson unit. The police started evacuating the neighborhood until they were given the all clear by the Gas Company. Station 51 was released from the scene.

Carl the bigger of the two teenaged boys, and the leader, whispered something into Larry’s ear and the two took off on their skateboards to the nearest gas station. Carl made sure the little pruning saw was firmly in his inside jacket pocket.

The neighbors confirmed that the lady occupier was at work, but no one knew where she worked or her last name as she had only moved in by a week or so. They did have the name of the realtor that sold her the house. Officers Vince and rookie Trudy Gaynor, left to speak to the realtor.

On their way back to the station, Squad 51, made a slight detour to Rampart, got their supplies, then headed to the grocery store and picked up the extra ingredients for lunch and dinner tonight. Johnny was keeping things close to his vest. He didn’t even tell Roy what he had planned for them that day.

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

Johnny quickly unloaded the paper bags and ordered everyone out, but had a quick word with Marco, who agreed to finish off the meal if they were called out. Johnny then worked like a whirling dervish, chopping, mixing, grinding and simmering. He had 3 pots on the stove and had two slow roasted chickens that he had done earlier, now sitting in the fridge. He had done the prep for dinner as well.

Johnny put his homemade guacamole and several salsas on the table. The spiced beef and fillings were next followed by warmed tortillas that he would have made had he had time but instead Johnny used shop bought ones. Lunch was called and the men came in sniffing the air in appreciation.   

On the table before them sat a virtual feast. Johnny had outdone himself. Even he was taken aback at how nice it all looked and smelled. “Well, don’t just look at it, dig in.” Johnny said as he grabbed a tortilla and started to fill it up. He took a portion of spiced beef, lettuce, guacamole, pico de gallo and black bean salsa and then sprinkled some grated cheese over the top. He then rolled and tucked the tortilla like a true Mexican and went to take a bite when he was stopped by Chet’s comment.

“OK, who are you and what have you done with the real John Gage.”

Johnny realized that apart from Marco, the other men hadn’t even started.

“Mama Lopez’s cooking classes for the last three and a half months, give or take.”

He didn’t need to say anymore. The men quickly grabbed a tortilla, Mike and Chet grabbing the same one only for Chet to win. Within minutes the sounds of mmms and ahhs were heard.

It was Cap who finally gave Johnny some validation. “This is good, John. It’s right up there with Marco and Mama Lopez.”

“Thanks, Cap. I’m glad you liked it. I’ve learned quite a lot from Mama L. and I’ve even taught her a few dishes from my ancestors. She’s even helped me cook them better.”

“I’d like to try some of them one day, John. I’d feel honored to have you cook them here, as long as there was no fish in them, of course.”

“Don’t worry Cap, no fish but getting the alligator meat in LA may prove difficult.”

Laughter rang out from the table.

Chet believing Johnny to be joking added, “I’d like a belt and shoes with mine to go please.” Causing more laughter to erupt from around the table.

“I’m a size 9,” said Marco.

“I’m a 10, and Jo is a size 7”

“Who said I was joking.” Johnny said mystified as to why they were all laughing and making fun of him after being invited to cook his native food.

 “I don’t think I could stomach alligator, John. Got any beef, pork or chicken dishes in your family recipes?” Cap asked hopefully, wiping a tear away from his eyes after laughing so hard.

“Sure do, don’t worry I wouldn’t waste good alligator on este-hvtke who hadn’t tried it before.” Johnny said as he put down his tortilla, his appetite suddenly gone.

“Have we just been insulted?” Chet asked.

“No, that ‘honor’ fell to me. I wouldn’t want to ruin your ‘pilgrim’ sensibilities. Just remember when your ancestors came to the land of MY ancestors, it was MY ancestors that helped and fed YOUR ancestors. Without us your ancestors would’ve died and you wouldn’t be here today. What did we get in return but YOUR diseases and theft of our land and rape of our women. We were rounded up like cattle and relegated to reservations and banned from practicing our ways and culture.”

“Don’t tell me you would be honored to eat my ancestor’s food and then laugh and belittle it. There are times when your lack of understanding and ignorance sits right up there next to Chip’s. I get it in ways like just now or downright disgusting ways like peace pipes and so called tomahawks adorned with cheap feathers. You guys just don’t get it, do you? For me to bestow you a meal of alligator meat would’ve been one of the highest honors I could bestow on my friends.”

“Meat was scarce and armed with only a bow and arrow and our wits to trap and kill an alligator was not an everyday event. There were inherent dangers and it was done as part of the tradition turning young boys of twelve and thirteen into braves.”

“To share something that was scarce and revered as a delicacy by my people was me extending my hand in friendship and showing you the respect and esteem I have for you all! If you had bothered to ask questions about my ethnic background and beliefs and traditions, instead of making fun of them, maybe you would’ve known that I wasn’t joking about the alligator! And…and that it’s an honor to be served it. Oh, and for your information, it would be farmed gator and it tastes better than you think.”

“What I don’t understand is that you ask Marco questions about his ethnic background and you never make fun of his beliefs, culture and traditions and yet you make a travesty of MINE!!! Excuse me, I’ve lost my appetite.”

“Oh, by the way the salsas and the cooked chickens in the fridge are for tonight, so hands off.” The last point was made directly to Chet. Johnny then left the room and a short time later the door to the parking lot was heard closing.

“Oh God, he’s right.” said Mike.

Cap and the other men sat looking at the food in front of them. They weren’t laughing now. Everything that Johnny had said was true. They had laughed at him and his culture.

Not once had they asked about his peoples’ ways and their beliefs. They knew that Johnny went and gave talks at primary schools in Carson and the surrounding suburbs, so they knew he would be only too happy to share it with them.

Chris had gone on for days about how interesting it was and he had learned a lot from Johnny’s talk, after Johnny had spoken to his school in assembly the week before Thanksgiving. It suddenly dawned on Roy that Chris probably knew more about Johnny’s culture than he did. He too had lost his appetite as had every man around the table.

“I’ll go talk to him.” Cap said, “After all I was the one to insult him first.”

“I think we all need to apologize. We all laughed and made fun, not just this time, but a lot of times in the past. I’m not feeling very proud right now.” Chet said.

Marco was berating himself in Spanish, at least that is what the guys thought he was doing, because each and every one of them was doing the same.

 

Chapter Twenty Eight

The tones sounded calling station 45, 24, 51, 10 and 110 for sea support to an abandoned warehouse down at the docks. Cap diverted his steps to the parking lot and went to the dais instead, where he picked up the mic and confirmed their response.

Johnny climbed down from the hose tower and made his way into the apparatus bay. He wasn’t feeling particularly jovial and the spring in his step was definitely missing. He looked at no one as he entered through the back door and made his way into the squad.

“Johnny, I want to apologize for my…”

“Save it Roy. Now is not the time or place to get into this. I think we all need to step back. I know I need to give some serious thought to whether I stay here or not.” Johnny then turned his head and looked resolutely out the window. His hand cupping his chin, his eyes not seeing the passing buildings but looking far, far ahead. 

Roy went even paler. Johnny’s hurt feelings went deeper than what he had thought. His partner was an enigma. He appeared so flighty with his crazy ideas and money making schemes but he knew it was just a superficial cover to the real John Gage.

John was a man of complex, deep emotions, outstanding qualities and unbidden loyalty. When he was truly hurt, he hurt deeply and put on a false cheer to hide the depth of his pain. God, what had they done? Roy thought not for the last time that day. It was only when he had had enough that he would explode like that. It was like playing Russian roulette. Every empty chamber was filled with a deep hurt or transgression and finally the bullet would come out on the last one. Now Johnny was looking at leaving.

He should have paid more attention to what Johnny had said in the past. He told them then that it wasn’t funny and it was insulting to his people. They had heard him say it enough times and yet they chose to ignore it. Now their prejudices were splitting the station apart. Johnny was right!, Roy thought as he rounded a corner taking them closer to the fire, we are no better than Chip. Oh, God, and we are his friends; with friends like us who needs enemies.

The other men in the engine were thinking along the same lines. They remembered all the jokes, both verbal and physical played on John’s culture. Some even remembered how they had spoken to Johnny, the words they had used. When reflected upon it looked remarkably like succinct slurs and slithers of racism peppered their speech. Did they think they were better than John? Would they use the same phrases, words and terminology to their white friends? Chet, Mike and Captain Stanley had a lot of soul searching to do.

Marco was feeling exceedingly bad. He too had laughed at Johnny and his ethnic background. He joined in doing the pranks. He had been the one to supply Chet with the feathers for the tomahawk knowing what Chet wanted to do with them. He had hurt his spirit brother. Mama would box his ears if she knew what he had done. He was not feeling very proud right now either.

He knew better than most of what Johnny had gone through. He had been a victim of racism and prejudice too. Just because the guys didn’t make fun of his background, did that make him think he was ethnically superior to Johnny?

The squad led the way to the fire. The engine followed and pulled up next to Station 24. Battalion Chief McConnikee was there and already directing the stations as they arrived. 24’s was working the south side. 45’s the east, 51’s were given the north side, 110’s were at the back and the fireboat was spraying seawater at the decrepit old wooden building. Its red paint flaking off under the pressure of the water spray.

“HEEELLPPP!!! HEEEELLLPPPP US, PLEASEEEE!!!”

Every one’s attention was directed up to the second floor. There at the broken glass window were two teenage boys. One of the guys was waving frantically with his right arm while he held onto his limp friend with his left arm.

“Squad 51, prepare to do a search and rescue. There appears to be two males in the building, second floor, west corner.” Chief McConnikee informed them over the bull horn. He saw Johnny wave his arm in acknowledgement and both he and Roy secured their breathing apparatus and entered the building.

The groaning and creaking of the beams sagging in the middle were long past their structural solidity. The licking of the flames up the walls and across the ceiling was sending a message to the men that the building was surrendering to the almighty power of the fire. They knew they didn’t have long.

Johnny was first up the stairs and made his way along the corridor to the west corner. There was an area of no floorboards and only a few rotten joists remained. Why is it that kids always pick the hardest or most dangerous places to get stuck in, Johnny thought.

Treading carefully, Johnny only just made it across as the last joist gave way under his weight and Johnny fell to his knees as he toppled forward and landed with a grunt on the dusty floor on the other side of the great divide. Roy went to go next. Johnny stood at the edge waiting for him with his hand outstretched to help him across the last gap.

“Stop!” Johnny screamed out to Roy.

Roy halted in his tracks and looked up at Johnny.

“The next two joists are cracked right through. I don’t think they would take your weight, or mine and the victims. Go back and get help up to the window as it might be our only way out.

Roy nodded his head and threw Johnny the handy talkie before going the way he had come.

Johnny made it to the room with the two boys in.

“Help us, please. I’m Larry, and this is my friend Carl. He got hurt when some of the roof fell on him. I can’t wake him up. We have to get out of here, there are more Molotov cocktails to go off. We got caught and our escape route was cut off. How did you get in? Can we get out that way?”

Johnny shook his head. Urgency was in his actions. Smoke was seeping its way into every corner and was starting its downward descent. Carl was unconscious and there was no reply to painful stimuli. His left pupil was slow and sluggish. Johnny thought he felt a depression over the young man’s right side of the skull.

The boy needs help, we’re trapped and there are Molotov cocktails that still have to go off. This day just keeps getting better and better, Johnny thought.

Johnny spoke into the HT to Cap informing him of the Molotov’s and that they couldn’t get out but Roy was on his way out now by the way they had got in.

“We are getting a ladder set up against the window. Can you make your way over? Chet will be coming up to help with the victim.” Cap instructed Johnny

“We are already there. Tell Chet to hurry up. If the Molotov’s don’t get us I think the flashover will. The heat is getting unbearable. HT 51 out.”

Sweat was trickling down Johnny’s back and arms. He so desperately wanted to wipe his forehead but that was a no go for now. He blinked salty sweat away as it ran into his eyes causing them to sting.

Hoses were angled over to the second story and water sprayed out trying to delay the flames eating away at the structure until the men were out. Roy had made it outside and ran up to Cap to see what was going on. He was instructed to set up a triage area.

Johnny had broken out the remaining glass to help speed up their escape before the ladder was placed against the building. Chet, finally made it to the top of the ladder. He helped to put the injured teenager over Chet’s shoulder and then he watched as Chet settled the patient more comfortably across his back and then started to slowly descend down the ladder. Larry was next with Johnny following. Johnny was the only person on the ladder. He was just about halfway down the ladder when Hell came and paid a visit.

It was hard to say what came first. Whether it was the flashover or the Molotov cocktails was anybody’s guess. Whatever it was the outcome was the same, carnage.

There was an eerie silence. It wasn’t of long standing. If you didn’t know it was a precursor to a fireman’s fear, then you would’ve missed it.  After the quietness, came a deep alto sounding rumble followed by a loud blast with flying debris piercing the air like javelins. The heat of the blast caused flames to appear as if they were being pushed out with force between the wooden slats of the dying building. Windows broke and dirty, soot covered glass went flying, slicing the air with their sharpness and deadly trajectory.

Smoke billowed out in angry streams like witch’s fingers clawing at the sky. Internal structures gave up their valiant fight and succumbed at last to gravity and the heat of destruction. The warehouse imploded and the debris that fell into the crater of hell was hungrily eaten up by the insatiable flames.

The shockwaves of the explosion felt like a punch in the solar plexus.  Many firemen were brought to their knees. Others staggered under the power of the pummelling air pulsating through their bodies. Johnny was lifted up into the air, his hands and feet forcibly removed off the ladder. With nothing behind him, the momentum of the blast caused Johnny to sail through the smoke laden air and come crashing down to the hard asphalt below.

Roy ran over to him, calling out his name, stopping when he arrived at the crumpled heap. He immediately saw a piece of jagged glass sticking out from his partner’s side. The blood was turning his turnout coat red and a little pool of blood was forming on the tarmac mingling with the water from the hoses.

Roy fell to his knees and put a hand out to feel for Johnny’s carotid.

Debris continued to rain down but the force wasn’t in it as before. The flames leapt out of the windows. The heat was all encompassing. Some firefighters were shaking themselves to rid them of the debris that had landed on them. Others were getting back up on their feet. Hoses were recharged and aimed at the beast.

The battle had recommenced.

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

When the blast came, Chet and his victim were making their way over to the triage area; Larry had just got off the ladder. Roy was knelt over the biophone getting it set up. Chet, Carl and Larry were knocked to the ground. Chet was dazed and he hadn’t been able to put his arms out to break his fall. He had a laceration along his forehead and was seeing stars. His victim received another knock to the head from the hard impact with the asphalt. Larry was winded as his breath had been knocked out of him.

All the time that Roy was working on his best friend he saw a stillness that didn’t belong to his partner. He was pleased that Johnny wasn’t moving as he had no idea how deep or big the piece of glass impaled in his friend’s side was.

Johnny was carefully placed onto a backboard and strapped down. Roy was cutting off the turnout coat, carefully working around the glass. A donut dressing was placed around the glass and he wrapped a c-collar around the swan like neck of his partner.

He contacted Rampart and relayed his initial findings and proceeded to do their orders.

“Rampart, IV now secured and lactated ringers running TKO. Victim has still not woken. Repeat vitals are bp 115/70, pulse 89, resps 20. Pupils are equal and reactive. Squad 51 out.”

“Continue to monitor, maintain spinal precautions and bring in ASAP.” Dr House instructed.

Roy watched the fluid run into his partner’s arm and the paleness stay on Johnny’s face. The donut dressing was starting to turn red. Roy carefully added more packing around the wound, hoping to staunch the bleeding.

The ambulance attendants helped to load Johnny and Chet into separate ambulances. The young man named Carl was loaded and the ambulance whisked away with Reyboy from 24 tending to the young man. His friend sat in the front nursing a winded chest and shock.

“I need you to wake up now, Johnny. I have a lot of apologizing to do.” Roy said as he held Johnny’s hand squeezing it, hoping that Johnny would wake and give him a lopsided smile and tell him that everything was okay and to let go of his hand. Roy was overcome with despair and guilt. “Please don’t let the last thoughts of my best friend be of how I belittled his culture. Roy did something he hadn’t done in a long time, he prayed.

“Hurts” Johnny said.

Roy broke his prayer and looked at Johnny’s face, “I know Junior, but we are just about at Rampart. Can you open your eyes for me? Can you tell me where it hurts?”  Roy asked, suddenly feeling hopeful of a good outcome.

“No, sleeping. Got headache, chest hurzzz. Tired….What’s… arrgghhh ….whaz wrong with my side?” Johnny went to put his hand over his side but found them tied to the board. He started to panic. His eyes opened but he was completely disorientated. This wasn’t the station. What was going on? He became more combative but just caused more pain for himself. “Not station.” He kept repeating.

Roy was on the biophone to Rampart relaying Johnny’s agitation and apparent disorientation. 2mg diazepam IV were ordered. The last thing anyone wanted was Johnny slicing his internal organs to pieces.

Roy administered the drug and then seeing Johnny settle slightly got new vitals

“Rampart, patient given 2 mg diazepam IV, patient has become more settled. Vital signs are pulse 122 and bounding, resps 26, bp 130/90. Pupils, equal but slightly sluggish. Rampart, be aware that I have rechecked pupillary response twice and reading is consistent. Pt awoke briefly and complained of headache, chest pain and pain in side before becoming distressed. Squad 51, out.”

“Retake vital signs and pupillary response every 5 minutes. What’s your ETA 51?” Dr House asked

“We are entering the hospital grounds now, over.”

The ambulance reversed up to the entrance. Roy felt some relief that they were finally at the hospital and Johnny would get treatment.

The back doors flew open and Drs House, Early and Brackett stood waiting to help get the gurney out.

“He’s going into 3.” House ordered. Dr Early followed them all into room 3 helping to guide the gurney. House had called him in for a neuro consult. Johnny’s behavior, pupil response and climbing vital signs didn’t bode well for the young man.

Brackett was waiting for his patient and the ambulance was pulling up now to reverse in.

“How’s he doing?” Brackett asked Reyboy from squad 24.

“His bp is starting to climb with widening pulse pressure and he’s becoming bradycardic. Respirations are starting to decrease. Pupils are dilated and non-reactive.” Reyboy replied.

“Damn.” Brackett mouth twitched and he helped wheel the young man into treatment room 2. “Have the family been notified yet, do we know?”

“Negative, Doc. His friend sat in the front of the ambulance on the way in. He’s in shock after his friend convulsed that first time. He says the patient is Carl Simpson, 15, of Carson City High School. Police have been informed and they are tracking down the parents now.” Reyboy said. The door opened and JC popped in.

“Chet is in room 7 with Carol and Morton. We ready to go?” JC asked. Brackett released them and they made their way over to room 3. JC juggled the HT out of nerves. Reyboy was chewing his lip. They waited for someone to come out of the room to let them know how Gage was doing.

“It doesn’t seem that long ago when Gage was a patient here.”

“Yeah and Chet fainted on the floor thinking he was dead. Thing was, he did die and they struggled to bring him back then. How many times can you cheat death?” JC asked his partner.

“I don’t know, but Gage is sure testing the limits isn’t he?”

Next minute, the portable x-ray machine was trundling down the corridor, heading in their direction.

“Here we go, we’ll find out soon enough now.” Reyboy said.

They held the door open for the machine and heard House call out for skull, c-spine, chest and abdominal pictures.

JC noted Johnny’s uniform cut up and in a plastic bag over in the corner. A catheter bag was attached to the table and hematuria was present. Johnny lay naked on the back board with only a sheet draped over his lower half affording him a modicum of decency. 

He was still unconscious and deathly white. A large shard of glass was protruding from his left side. An oxygen mask was fogging with every exhalation. Student nurse Sharon Walters came out carrying several tubes of blood. She was rushing them down to the lab.

The Drs left the room with Roy following. Dixie stayed behind to help position Johnny and ensure that the glass didn’t move during the x-ray taking. Everybody else, stood just outside, ready to return at a moment’s notice if needed. The x-rays were going to take some time, Johnny was having a lot taken. Roy wouldn’t be surprised if Johnny glowed when they were all done.

“How is he?” JC asked.

“Too soon to tell,” House replied.

The tones sounded and JC and Reyboy got called out to an MVA with casualties. “We might see you later. If not, hope all goes well.” JC said as the two paramedics left.

 “I can’t rule out a lacerated kidney at this stage. The x-rays and ultra sound scan will help us with that. I can guarantee that there is damage to his kidneys given the hematuria. In all honesty I don’t think that they are lacerated as his bp is holding only too well and there’s no abdominal rigidity that you would expect with a major injury. However, his vital signs don’t fit with what’s going on. They too are a bit of an enigma right now. I think they might be pain related. We will just have to wait and see.” Dr House said.

“I need to phone Susie. Excuse me.”

Roy made his way to the payphone and dropped a coin in and dialed Jo. He told her what had happened and got Susie’s phone number. He then dialed Walker, Clarke and Associates Veterinary Hospital and got Nellie on the phone. He was put through to Susie who was just back from tending a sick cow with mastitis.

Susie was instantly concerned when she got the news. She had to reschedule some visits and one of her colleagues volunteered to get his wife to drive her to the hospital but Susie declined the offer. Nellie said she would see to her appointments for the rest of the day thereby freeing Susie up to go right away.

Forty-five minutes later, Susie came through the doors at Rampart’s ER. She saw Dixie and Roy huddled together. Dixie had her arms around Roy and was patting his back. Roy had his head resting on her shoulder.

Susie stopped in her tracks. Her heart lurched and she was instantly frozen to the bone. Johnny’s gone, Susie thought. Her hand clutched her chest and she could feel the bile coming up her throat. Clasping a hand over her mouth, she looked around wildly for the nearest ladies. Please don’t let me make a mess here. She spied the international logo and ran to the woman’s room. 

She found the nearest empty cubicle and a gush of vomit forced its way out splashing into the bowl. Her heaving and retching echoed around the room. A fellow woman heard her distress and left to seek medical aid for her. She saw a blonde nurse consoling a man in turnouts.

“Excuse me, but there’s a young woman in the washroom. She’s not doing very well. I think she needs some help.” The kindly woman said.

Dixie excused herself from Roy and made her way into the washroom. She found the woman kneeling on the floor, her hair dishevelled and the occasional sob and further retching coming from the woman in obvious despair.

“Can I help you, dear?”  Dixie said as she knelt next to the woman, a vague sense of recognition struck Dixie. It was the perfume the woman wore. It was the same as Susie’s, as was the hair and physique. “Susie?”

“Dix…Dixie, oh… God, Did he …..suffer? Please….tell me he didn’t suffer.”

“Oh, Susie, he’s still alive. He’s hurt, but the Doctors are optimistic he will make a full recovery. Let’s clean you up and then maybe you can go in and see him.”

“I saw you comforting Roy, it looked like Johnny had died as he looked so sad and… and … my imagination put two and two together and got six. Oh, Dixie you don’t know how relieved I am.” Susie was still feeling emotionally wrought.

“Oh, I think I do. C’mon Susie we have a very important man to go see.”

Having washed her face and rinsed her mouth out. Susie dragged a comb through her hair returning its shine and bounce as it fell into its wavy curls. Dabbing on a cherry red lipstick and pinching her cheeks, Susie squared her shoulders and took a couple of deep breaths.

“Right, I’m ready. Does it look like I’ve been crying?” Susie said with slightly pink eyes.

“You look like a woman whose fiancé has been hurt in an explosion. Beautiful and worried. Now, why don’t we go see that fiancé of yours and see if we can’t wake him up again.”

Dixie led them to room 3. Johnny lay quiet and still on the table. The rails were up and the bruising down his right side of his body was evident. The glass sticking out from his left side with a blood soaked donut bandage around it was glaringly obvious.  The white hospital sheet lay just below the wound. Susie noticed there was a small amount of blood ooze that had stained the edge of the sheet. His oxygen mask ghosted over every few seconds with the warmth of his breath. The regular beep of the heart monitor set a steady and fast pace.

“He looks so pale.” Susie said. Roy was standing on the other side of the gurney. He looked sad and older than his years. “What happened, Roy?”

Roy told her what happened and was about to tell her about how Johnny was upset with all the guys when Dr House came in.

“Dr House, how badly is Johnny hurt and will he be alright?” Roy asked.

Susie stood next to the gurney, listening avidly. She gripped Johnny’s hand tighter as the injuries were relayed.

“I’ll start from the top and work my way down. He has a moderate to severe concussion but no skull fracture or bleed on the brain. He has bruised ribs on his right side but no fractures. There is bruising to his kidneys and we expect the hematuria to lessen as time goes by. We will be monitoring his input and output very closely, and here is the good part, the glass has not hit anything major, but we will need to remove it under light sedation given his head injury. There’s no significant intra-abdominal bleeding. He has a few small cuts and contusions. All up, I would say that Johnny was very lucky. We will be moving him up to the OR soon. Why don’t you stay with him for a while and talk to him.” Dr House said before he patted Johnny on his shoulder and then walked out of the room.

 

Chapter Twenty Nine

The men from 51’s entered the ER. Cap was looking around for someone to tell him what was happening to his two men. The station had been stood down until replacements could be found. Cap decided they could be stood down just as well at the hospital as they could back at the station. Three grimy, sweaty men entered in full turnout gear.

Roy saw them as he and Susie were coming out of room 3. Johnny was wheeled out next with an orderly.

“What’s happening with Johnny?”

“He’s off to surgery to get the glass removed. We are going up now with him. I don’t know how Chet is, sorry. I believe he was in room 7.” Roy told Cap as they followed the gurney to the elevator.

Cap said he’d find out about Chet and meet him up in the OR waiting room.

Unfortunately, they were all familiar with its whereabouts from previous vigils when one or the other had been hurt.

Mike and Marco joined Johnny’s entourage to the elevator. It was the first time Marco had seen Johnny and he was sickened when he espied the glass sticking out from Johnny’s side. Mike had seen the blood and glass but now that the clothes were removed it looked worse that what he thought it would. The procession waited at the elevator, after pushing the button the lights showed an elevator descending from the 4th floor. The others were on the 6th floor, and not moving, while the last one was going up.

Cap entered the waiting room. It was very quiet and the faces all looked up expectantly.

He hadn’t been gone that long, had he? He looked at his watch and saw 30 minutes had gone by from when Johnny was wheeled into the elevator.

“How’s Chet?” Mike asked.

“Apart from a slight concussion, fourteen stitches on his forehead and bruised wrist and knees, he’s going to be fine. They are keeping him here overnight and will review him in the morning for possible discharge. He’s more concerned about Johnny. I promised him I wouldn’t leave without telling him how he’s doing, but if we have to go before then, could you tell him Susie? He’s in room 219.” Cap stated.

“Not a problem, I’ll be pleased to help out.” Susie replied and gave Hank a small smile. He looked tired and world weary Susie thought, it must be hard when your crew gets injured during your command. She studied Hank a bit longer and could see why Johnny held him in great esteem.

Suddenly it occurred to her that Chet was actually injured, even though it had been mentioned a couple of times. “Has anybody phoned his girlfriend?”

Blank faces stared back at her. “When you phoned me Roy, had you told Nellie about Chet?” Seeing Roy looking confused as to who Nellie was, Susie elucidated, “Nellie was the woman you spoke to before me. She’s our receptionist and Chet’s girlfriend. They met the night of my birthday and surprise engagement party.”

Recognition lit up his face and then consternation quickly followed.

“Um, no, I didn’t know she was his girlfriend, I knew Chet had a girlfriend but didn’t know who it was.”

“I’ll phone her and let her know, I’m sure that my colleagues will be eager to hear how Johnny is as well.” Susie got up from the table and made her way to the payphone across the room. She was hunting through her bag looking for her purse when Cap walked up and gave her some loose change, she thanked him and then phoned work.

“I met Dr Brackett downstairs just before I came up. He wanted me to tell you, Roy that the young boy that Johnny got out of the building isn’t going to make it. Something about a depressed skull fracture extending down to the base of the skull and major bleed causing his brain to cone from the increased pressure. Does that make sense?” Cap asked.

“Sadly, yes. He’s only 15 apparently. What a waste.” Roy said dejectedly to the room at large.

“His parents consented to donate his organs so they are doing all sorts of tests and phone calls. He said if he has time he will pop up to see how Johnny’s doing. The transplant team is coming over from Harbor General and Dr Brackett will be handing over the case to them. He said he will be free later on today.” Cap then sat down at the table and joined in the silence that was momentarily broken.

Susie eventually got off the phone having updated her boss and informing him about Nellie’s boyfriend. Losing two staff to sick boyfriends wasn’t an everyday occurrence and wouldn’t happen again she hoped. She resumed her place at the table and waited for word on Johnny. It seemed to be taking forever.

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

 “I want to thank you, Roy for being there for Johnny when he was hurt. You have no idea how much it means to both of us.” Susie said. The other men from 51 looked at Susie and then down to the floor. They were all feeling guilty from lunch still and now Johnny was injured and their chance to apologize was hindered by this new inconvenience.

“I… I need to tell you something Susie. It’s what I was telling Dixie when you saw us. I’m afraid you may change your mind about Johnny wanting me around.”

Susie looking confused, went to speak, but Roy put his hand up and continued. “Please this is so hard. I need to do this without interruption. Then if you want me to leave, I will.”

Roy then told her everything that had happened over lunch, he then went on to explain previous times they had laughed at Johnny’s culture and how there must have been times that Johnny had been spoken to less than respectfully because of his bloodline. He looked at Susie throughout the explanation. He saw her face take on a distant look and realized that by hurting Johnny he had hurt her too. “I’m so sorry, Susie, Johnny is looking at leaving 51’s. You have no idea how much I am so truly sorry. My best friend and little brother’s been hurt on so many levels and it is us, his friends, that have done it to him. I’m really very, very, sorry. If I could turn the clock back I would. I can understand if you never want to see or speak to me again.”

Roy went to leave but was stopped by Susie.

“Oh, no you don’t buster! You will stay right here and we will discuss this here and now!” Susie was only little, but she was a powerhouse to be reckoned with.

Susie looked around the room and saw the guilty looks on the men’s faces. That was answer enough for her to know that they admitted their part in it.

“I’m not going to bite your heads off, I may do a coochee mama, as Chet calls it, but I think we all need to talk this out, don’t you?” Susie wasn’t smiling but her voice held no anger and that somehow was reassuring for Roy. However, as with Chet that one time, Roy wasn’t completely sure if Susie was joking about kicking him in the balls. She not only said it so seriously, she looked it too.

He sat at the table with the other men and Susie was sitting opposite him.

“I understand about prejudice. I’m a female working in a predominantly male workforce. I’ve been mistaken for our receptionist I don’t know how many times and have had to listen to new clients say ‘Don’t send out that female vet. I’ve heard she ain’t no good with the strong ‘uns.’” Susie laughed at that.  “If only they knew that size and gender has nothing to do with it, it’s all about fulcrums and position - just like judo. I’m also a short person in a world built for tall people. Also let’s face it I, like over half the population, am a woman living in a man’s world. You guys don’t make it easy on us woman. You don’t even let woman into the fire service. Heck, until I started teaching judo to you and your family Roy, you couldn’t even throw me to the floor, now you’re throwing Johnny. Women aren’t weak and dropping with the vapors, like you all like to think. We are strong and just as capable, sometimes even more so.”

“Johnny will get over this but I do think you all need to look at your behavior and see where you can improve it. I know, as does Johnny deep down, that you are all his friends and as such you love him. I also know that you are his best friend, Roy, and will always be so. And Cap, Johnny holds you in very high regard, he looks upon you as a father since he doesn’t have one anymore. Mike and Marco, he sees you, and Chet as well, as his brothers in every sense of the word. Maybe it was about time it was brought to all of your attention, granted the timing sucks, but there will be plenty of time for you all to reflect on it. Johnny will be on sick leave for a while. Maybe Roy, you and the guys need some time without Johnny around so you can reflect on things without guilt or pressure. OK? Then, given the nature of the hurt, I think individual talks and apologies would be better, don’t you?”

Roy and the guys just nodded. The disharmony and widening gap in the 51 A shift family was reparable with a bit of work. They had a lot of thinking to do. Given how it was a personal thing maybe one to one apologies would be better than a group apology.

“Johnny sure did choose wisely, he got one smart woman as his future wife, didn’t he?” Roy said. It suddenly dawned on him that Susie was a lot like Jo. She was tough when needed but compassionate also and offered sage advice that only a woman could.

“Yep, and don’t you forget it, buster!”

They both laughed and got up from the table and hugged each other. “Thank you.” Roy whispered into her ear.

Roy poured them both a cup of coffee and sat back at the table putting Susie’s coffee in front of her.

“Thanks Roy.” Susie said.

A quietness settled in the room as everyone mulled over the last conversation. Everyone, but Susie, she was praying that everything was going alright in the OR.

Lost in thought, everyone was startled out of their reverie when the door opened and Jo walked in. Seeing Roy, she went over and gave him a kiss.

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

“How’s Johnny?” She asked.

After receiving an update, she sat down next to Roy and seeing an untouched coffee in front of Roy, she took it and quickly drank it. Roy gave her an offended look and muttered under his breath about petty larceny and knowing a cop or two.

“What? You weren’t drinking it, I’ve been running all day and organizing a last minute babysitter so that I could be here. I’m thirsty. In fact, I could do with another one, and since you’re the one complaining about it, why don’t you make another one for yourself.

While you’re up there, can you get me a refill, please honey?” Jo smiled sweetly at the end and gave Susie a wink. “How are you holding up?” She asked Susie when Roy retrieved the cup and was making his way back to the coffee pot.

“I’m doing okay, but I’ll be better once Johnny’s out of surgery and doing alright. The Dr said that his main injuries are a moderate to severe concussion, and he has bruised ribs and kidneys. Amazingly enough there are no fractures, and the glass hasn’t cut anything major. He should be okay and back at work in a few weeks or so. He seems to always be getting hurt. How do you cope when Roy’s hurt?”

“He’s not hurt as much as Johnny because he is always being saved or protected by Johnny who takes the brunt of the injuries so that Roy can come home to his family each day. But now I’m thinking that Roy may be getting hurt a bit more as Johnny will be wanting to get home to you now that he has someone special in his life. Knowing Roy, he will probably reverse the role just to make sure Johnny comes home to you at night. Oh, my. I don’t think I reassured you at all. This isn’t the time or place really to go into the life of a being a fireman’s wife. How about we go to lunch or something and talk about it. I can answer any question you have, how does that sound?” Jo extended her arm across the table and squeezed Susie’s.

“It sounds like a good idea to me. Don’t worry, I won’t be running into the hills shrieking about it all being too much. I’m made of pretty strong stuff.” Susie said while remembering her earlier visit to the ladies and how she had a mini breakdown. She started to blush and a smile broke out on her face. I won’t be running to the hills but I may make a mad dash to the ladies’ room and throw up till there’s nothing left, Susie thought on a silent giggle to herself. You’re not really that tough after all, little hummingbird.

 

Chapter Thirty

It was another twenty minutes before Dr House entered the waiting room. He saw the remaining crew of 51 and two women clustered around the table with empty coffee cups dotted here and there.

Susie was the first one up and asking the usual questions “How is he? Is he going to be alright? Can I see him?”

“The operation went well, he will be fine, and yes you may see him. He is awake at times. The light sedation and concussion are playing havoc with his ability to stay awake and his lucidity. Don’t expect miracles. He has one heck of a headache that I can tell.”

House went to take Susie in to see Johnny. Susie turned around to Roy and held out her hand. “Aren’t you coming too?”

The three of them entered the recovery room and saw one pale, slightly greenish Johnny sleeping with his arm thrown over his eyes blocking out the bright light of the room. Susie carefully grasped his other hand, mindful of the IV.

“Johnny, honey, can you hear me. Open your eyes if you can hear me. Roy and I are here sweetheart. Open your eyes for me, my talaofo.”

Johnny stirred, he opened his eyes halfway and saw blurred images that doubled then became one then blurred and morphed into two. He groaned and slammed his eyes shut.

The morphing made him feel sick and the light hurt his eyes. He swallowed a couple of times with difficulty as his mouth and throat felt dry from the continuous oxygen. The plastic was making him feel nauseated down to his toes.

“Johnny, are you going to be sick?” Susie asked.

Instead of answering verbally he answered physically and rolled over onto his bruised side and started dry retching causing him to gasp in pain. He was clutching his left side where he now sported a bandage and had the dressing been visible they would have seen small dots of blood dotted along the dressing where his incision lay. Sweat glistened on his body and the back of his hair was damply stuck to his head, outlining the shape of his skull.

His hospital gown was not done up at the back and Roy could see the vertebrae and ribs clearly defined. The bruising extended to his back and the vivid purple and almost black discoloration was hot to the touch. That amount of bruising would significantly lower his hemoglobin and that could explain why a blood transfusion was dripping into his arm. The machines attached to Johnny showed he was still tachycardic at 140 and his blood pressure was 210/160.

Surely that wasn’t right and they had done something about it.

“What’s going on with his vitals? They’ve never been like that before when he’s been hurt. They are almost off the scale for Johnny.” Roy enquired of Dr House.

“I think it’s a stress response to the injury and pain. His bp and pulse have been high ever since the accident. Believe it or not, his blood pressure is coming down, it was 230/165 before. I have given him a blood pressure medication, metoprolol, to help lower it. I would have thought that it would be working a bit more by now but we will just have to give it a bit more time.” Dr House said.

House then got paged to the ER. He made his way to the nurse’s desk and quickly scribbled something in Johnny’s chart then made his way down to the ground floor.

Johnny stayed in the recovery room for another two hours until he was stable enough to be transferred to his room. He was sharing it with Chet.

Cap got notified via his HT that replacements for Chet and Johnny had been found. Roy returned to the station following the engine.

Chet was lightly sleeping when Johnny was wheeled in and transferred onto his bed. The noise woke Chet up. He wasn’t aware he was getting a roommate and hoped the guy wasn’t a snorer. He had a doozy of a headache going on and the local had worn off and his forehead smarted every time he moved his eyebrows. He rolled over and went back to sleep.

He was woken to the sound of his roommate vomiting. He rang the call bell and his nurse came in.

“It’s not for me, but the other guy is vomiting.”

“Johnny, are you feeling a bit better now?” The nurse asked as she went around the dividing curtain and saw Johnny lying on his side clutching an emesis bowl. It contained sputum stained with yellow bile and little streaks of blood. He had vomited so much that some blood vessels in his gullet had burst. It wasn’t uncommon with persistent nausea and vomiting.  

The nurse checked the chart and saw that he could have some more anti emetic. She was leaving the room to get it when Chet asked if his roommate was John Gage. The nurse confirmed it as she left to get the medication.

“Gage, are you awake?”

“Yeah. Is that you Chet?”

“The one and only. How you doing Johnny? Are you okay? Can I get you something?”

“Water.”

Chet got out of bed and pulling the curtain back saw his friend huddled into a ball of misery. His eyes were squeezed shut, his face was pale and sweaty, and he looked like he was in a lot of pain. His catheter bag was full of dark colored urine and looked fit to explode. Chet brought over a glass of water with a straw and gently placed it against Johnny’s lips.

“Just a bit, Johnny. We all know you don’t handle anesthetics well and too much fluid after an operation for you could be a disaster for me. I’ll start sympathy chucking just to keep you company. I don’t want you spewing all night for another reason, you need to rest and get some sleep to get better soon.”

Johnny took two small sips of water and spat it out into the bowl. Then he took another couple of sips to swallow and wet his dry mouth and throat.

“Finished, thanks Chet.”

“What are you doing out of bed?” the nurse asked when she saw Chet tending to Johnny.

“He’s my friend, and I was seeing that he was alright.”

“He’s fine, you need to get back into bed, you’re not meant to get out without someone with you.”

She then turned her attention on to Johnny, and after checking his details, gave him the Compazine IM for his nausea and vomiting. She then did his neuro observations and took his vitals. He still was moderately concussed and missing things like his birthday and today’s date. His blood pressure was down to 190/150 and pulse 128, temp was 101.4. GCS 13/15.

Chet pointed out the bulging catheter bag and the nurse made a comment that she would be back soon to drain it.

“Always knew you were a great pisser, Gage.”

Johnny didn’t answer, he had gone back to sleep.

“Typical, I get a great one liner and have no audience.” Chet grumbled.

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

The nurse came back a short while later and was draining the bag. She glanced a look at Johnny and saw he had gone very pale and was breathing very fast and shallowly.

“Johnny. Johnny.” She called into his ear while rubbing his chest.

The nurse’s call went unanswered.

“He doesn’t look right.” Chet said, stating the obvious.

The nurse retook Johnny vitals and then retook his blood pressure another two times. She got the same reading every time. She plotted them down on his chart and then pushed the emergency call button and tipped Johnny’s foot of the bed up so that he was lying head down.

The nurses came running into the room.

“What is it?” the head nurse asked.

“I dunno. His blood pressure has crashed and he’s more tachycardic. I also can’t wake him to voice or painful stimuli. He was talking just before he crashed.

Within minutes Dr Early rushed into the room. He was part of the crash team and had been paged to Johnny’s room by a junior nurse. Dr House, recognizing the room, also came running in.

With all the excitement, no one thought to draw the curtain back around. Chet said nothing hoping they would forget he was there and he could see what was happening to his friend.

Susie came bounding into the room next. She had been in the hospital cafeteria having supper while Johnny was sleeping. She planned to see him till the end of visiting hours.

Chet saw Susie and put his fingers up to his mouth, signalling her to be quiet. Maybe the Drs and nurses wouldn’t see her arrival and kick her out, with Chet included. Picking up on Chet’s plan she moved to the corner of the room by the head of Chet’s bed. They were afforded a good view at times depending on where Dr Early stood.

The nurse repeated her story to the attending doctors. Early was looking at the chart and saw the blood pressure of 80/60 and pulse 140  and resps of 32 documented next to 190/150 blood pressure and 128 pulse and resps 18 from only a few minutes earlier. The only thing done in that time was IM Compazine. It shouldn’t cause that reaction so suddenly, if at all. What’s going on with you, Gage, this time round? Can’t you for once just be normal? I sure don’t need to look very far when I’m trying to find the cause of me going prematurely grey now, do I. You and all these complications? What has brought about this sudden shock response? Dr Early thought as he ruminated over the readings. Further blood pressure readings showed no improvement.

House reviewed the charts and conferred with Dr Early. He then charted a levarterenol infusion. He saw the small bore needle in Johnny’s arm and unable to palpate a vein called for a cut down kit. Early left the room to call the OR and ICU to see if a bed was available. He saw Susie and Chet staring over at Johnny and back at him then at Johnny again. He nodded his head to them and they followed him out of the room, even though Chet was on bed rest.

"I’ll be honest with you. Right now we don’t know what caused Johnny’s blood pressure to drop. He’s exhibiting severe signs of shock but I don’t think he is bleeding out. There is no abdominal tenderness of rigidity or distension. He had IM Compazine which he has had several times before and this has never happened. It’s also not an appropriate response to that drug. We need to get his blood pressure back up and prevent multi organ failure. I see his blood pressure was running at a very high level before and that isn’t normal for him either. I’m baffled as to what’s going on.”

“We will need to move him to ICU for very close monitoring. Greg is placing a wide bore needle in him as a precaution. We will be taking him to the OR to insert a central venous catheter in him, and we may just open up that wound again and see if there’s any free blood in his belly. If there is we will need to perform an exploratory laparotomy. We will be doing some special monitoring due to the medication we want to give him. If you’ll excuse me I need to organize a bed and operating room for Johnny. I’ll answer any questions you have when we have Johnny upstairs and everything attended to.” Dr Early then turned on his heel and swiftly made his way to the phone and called the OR.

The two stood in the hallway stunned at what they had just heard.

Susie started to gently weep as she realized she could lose Johnny. Chet went and put his arms around her and she cried into his hospital gown. Chet could feel cool air around his lower back and down to his toes. Susie had managed to pull his gown apart and Chet was standing in the middle of the corridor at peak visiting time with his butt hanging out for all to see. Somehow that didn’t seem that important, the young woman crying in his arms right now was of higher priority.

Chet didn’t like to see women crying at any time. He offered soft words of encouragement and support to Susie. He was gently patting her back while he consoled her, just like a father would a child.

“I phoned work and told Nellie about you being admitted.” Susie told Chet.

“I know, she phoned to see how I was doing. They have a late clinic tonight so she won’t be in until just before the end of visiting hours. I told her not to visit as it’s a long drive over from your clinic. I’ll more than likely catch up with her tomorrow after work.” Chet said. He also had told her not to bother with the deworming tablets, they weren’t needed anymore. It would’ve been a great prank but with all that had happened that day he decided that the Phantom was going to take a vacation for a while. He would also never do another racially based ‘joke’ again. 

They saw Dr Early hang up the phone and then pick it up again and make another call. He turned and came back to Johnny’s room when he was done on the phone.

“We’ll be taking him to the OR shortly. It will be about a minimum two hour wait or so until he will be able to see visitors again, just so you know.”

Early then went into the room and they followed him, Chet hopped into bed. He was feeling a bit lightheaded and standing for too long hurt his head and made his headache come on a bit stronger.

Dr House had secured a large bore needle into Johnny’s right femoral vein. A stat bag of plasmanate was running into his groin. There was another 1L normal saline bag set up to go after the blood filler was through.

The head ward nurse came into the room and was assisting Johnny’s nurse with the emergency. She handed Dr Early an operation consent form, and he filled it out and went over to Susie. She already knew what they had to do. She signed the form as his next of kin. Little did either one of them know that when Johnny had changed his next of kin to Susie after their engagement that it would be put into use so soon.

The OR orderlies arrived and Johnny was wheeled out in his bed to the OR.

Susie stayed with Chet for a little while but Chet was starting to droop and she politely left so he could get some sleep. Johnny’s bed came back. It was stripped and freshly made waiting for a new occupant. Susie went to a bank of phones on the wall and phoned work requesting emergency leave for the foreseeable future. She then phoned Station 51 and got Cap and informed him about the change in Johnny’s condition and how he was returning to surgery and then ICU.

Cap promised to inform the others and asked Susie if she needed some company there as he could get his wife over to be with her. Susie thanked Cap, but declined the offer.

She would wait till Johnny was settled into ICU and then leave. She then phoned Dennis and brought him up to date with what was going on and then the conversation moved onto more general topics. He offered to come and sit with his niece while she waited at the hospital but once again Susie turned the offer down.

Susie was given interim leave for the next day but if Steve was unable to find a locum vet at short notice Susie would have to return to work the day after tomorrow. Her work schedule was heavily booked and there was no available vet at the practice to pick up her workload. They had struggled today and that was partly why they were still open two hours after their closing time.

 

Concluded in Part 3

 

Posted to Site .3/24/16

Links To Parts 1. 2. 3.

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